I. What becomes of the Old Stage-coaches.
COME to look closely at the vehicle, it was an old stage-coach all of the olden time, upholstered in faded deep blue cloth, with those enormous rough woollen balls which, after a few hours’ journey, finally establish a raw spot in the small of your back.
Tartarin of Tarascon had a corner of the inside, where he installed himself most free-and-easily: and, preliminarily to inspiring the rank emanations of the great African felines, the hero had to content himself with that homely old odour of the stage-coach, oddly composed of a thousand smells, of man and woman, horses and harness, eatables and mildewed straw.
There was a little of everything inside — a Trappist monk, some Jew merchants, two fast ladies going to join their regiment, the Third Hussars, a photographic artist from Orleansville, and so on. But, however charming and varied was the company, the Tarasconian was not in the mood for chatting; he remained quite thoughtful, with an arm in the arm-rest sling-strap and his guns between his knees. All churned up his wits — the precipitate departure, Baya’s eyes of jet, the terrible chase he was about to undertake, to say nothing of this European coach; with its Noah’s Ark aspect, rediscovered in the heart of Africa, vaguely recalling the Tarascon of his youth, with its races in the suburbs, jolly dinners on the river-side — a throng of memories, in short.
Gradually night came on. The guard lit up the lamps. The rusty diligence danced creakingly on its old springs; the horses trotted and their bells jangled. From time to time in the boot arose a dreadful clank of iron: that was the war material.
Tartarin of Tarascon, nearly overcome, dwelt a moment scanning the fellow-passengers, comically shaken by the jolts, and dancing before him like the shadows in galanty-shows, till his eyes grew cloudy and his mind befogged, and only vaguely he heard the wheels grind and the sides of the conveyance squeak complainingly.
Suddenly a voice called Tartarin by his name, the voice of an old fairy godmother, hoarse, broken, and cracked.
“Monsieur Tartarin!” three times.
“Who’s calling me?”
“It’s I, Monsieur Tartarin. Don’t you recognise me? I am the old stage-coach who used to do the road betwixt Nimes and Tarascon twenty year agone. How many times I have carried you and your friends when you went to shoot at caps over Joncquieres or Bellegarde way! I did not know you again at the first, on account of your Turk’s cap and the flesh you have accumulated; but as soon as you began snoring — what a rascal is good-luck! — I twigged you straight away.”
“All right, that’s all right enough!” observed the Tarasconian, a shade vexed; but softening, he added, “But to the point, my poor old girl; whatever did you come out here for?”
“Pooh! my good Monsieur Tartarin, I assure you I never came of my own free will. As soon as the Beaucaire railway was finished I was considered good for nought, and shipped away into Algeria. And I am not the only one either! Bless you, next to all the old stage-coaches of France have been packed off like me. We were regarded as too much the conservative —‘the slow-coaches’— d’ye see, and now we are here leading the life of a dog. This is what you in France call the Algerian railways.”
Here the ancient vehicle heaved a long-drawn sigh before proceeding. “My wheels and linchpin! Monsieur Tartarin, how I regret my lovely Tarascon! That was the good time for me, when I was young! — You ought to have seen me starting off in the morning, washed with no stint of water and all a-shine, with my wheels freshly varnished, my lamps blazing like a brace of suns, and my boot always rubbed up with oil! It was indeed lovely when the postillion cracked his whip to the tune of ‘Lagadigadeou, the Tarasque! the Tarasque!’ and the guard, his horn in its sling and laced cap cocked well over one ear, chucking his little dog, always in a fury, upon the top, climbed up himself with a shout: ‘Right-away!’
“Then would my four horses dash off to the medley of bells, barks, and horn-blasts, and the windows fly open for all Tarascon to look with pride upon the royal mail coach dart over the king’s highway.
“What a splendid road that was, Monsieur Tartarin, broad and well kept, with its mile-stones, its little heaps of road-metal at regular distances, and its pretty clumps of vines and olive-trees on either hand! Then, again, the roadside inns so close together, and the changes of horses every five minutes! And what jolly, honest chaps my patrons were! — village mayors and parish priests going up to Nimes to see their prefect or bishop, taffety-weavers returning openly from the Mazet, collegians out on holiday leave, peasants in worked smock-frocks, all fresh shaven for the occasion that morning; and up above, on the top, you gentlemen-sportsmen, always in high spirits, and singing each your own family ballad to the stars as you came back in the dark.
“Deary me! it’s a change of times now! Lord knows what rubbish I am carting here, come from nobody guesses where! They fill me with small deer, these negroes, Bedouin Arabs, swashbucklers, adventurers from every land, and ragged settlers who poison me with their pipes, and all jabbering a language that the Tower of Babel itself could make nothing of! And, furthermore, you should see how they treat me — I mean, how they never treat me: never a brush or a wash. They begrudge me grease for my axles. Instead of my good fat quiet horses of other days, little Arab ponies, with the devil in their frames, who fight and bite, caper as they run like so many goats, and break my splatterboard all to smithereens with their lashing out behind. Ouch! ouch! there they are at it again!
“And such roads! Just here it is bearable, because we are near the governmental headquarters; but out a bit there’s nothing, Monsieur — not the ghost of a road at all. We get along as best we can over hill and dale, over dwarf palms and mastic-trees. Ne’er a fixed change of horses, the stopping being at the whim of the guard, now at one farm, again at another.
“Somewhiles this rogue goes a couple of leagues out of the way to have a glass of absinthe or champoreau with a chum. After which, ‘Crack on, postillion!’ to make up for the lost time. Though the sun be broiling and the dust scorching, we whip on! We catch in the scrub and spill over, but whip on! We swim rivers, we catch cold, we get swamped, we drown, but whip! whip! whip! Then in the evening, streaming — a nice thing for my age, with my rheumatics — I have to sleep in the open air of some caravanseral yard, open to all the winds. In the dead o’ night jackals and hyaenas come sniffing of my body; and the marauders who don’t like dews get into my compartment to keep warm.
“Such is the life I lead, my poor Monsieur Tartarin, and that I shall lead to the day when — burnt up by the sun and rotted by the damp nights until unable to do anything else, I shall fall in some spot of bad road, where the Arabs will boil their kouskous with the bones of my old carcass”—
“Blidah! Blidah!” called out the guard as he opened the door.
II. A little gentleman drops in and “drops upon” Tartarin.
VAGUELY through the mud-dimmed glass Tartarin of Tarascon caught a glimpse of a second-rate but pretty town market-place, regular in shape, surrounded by colonnades and planted with orange-trees, in the midst of which what seemed toy leaden soldiers were going through the morning exercise in the clear roseate mist. The cafes were shedding their shutters. In one corner there was a vegetable market. It was bewitching, but it did not smack of lions yet.
“To the South! farther to the South!” muttered the good old desperado, sinking back in his corner.
At this moment the door opened. A puff of fresh air rushed in, bearing upon its wings, in the perfume of the orange-blossoms, a little person in a brown frock-coat, old and dry, wrinkled and formal, his face no bigger than your fist, his neckcloth of black silk five fingers wide, a notary’s letter-case, and umbrella — the very picture of a village solicitor.
On perceiving the Tarasconian’s warlike equipment, the little gentleman, who was seated over against him, appeared excessively surprised, and set to studying him with burdensome persistency.
The horses were taken out and the fresh ones put in, whereupon the coach started off again. The little weasel still gazed at Tartarin, who in the end took snuff at it.
“Does this astonish you?” he demanded, staring the little gentleman full in the face in his turn.
“Oh, dear, no! it only annoys me,” responded the other, very tranquilly.
And the fact is, that, with his shelter-tent, revolvers, pair of guns in their cases, and hunting-knife, not to speak of his natural corpulence, Tartarin of Tarascon did take up a lot of room.
The little gentleman’s reply angered him.
“Do you by any chance fancy that I am going lion-hunting with your umbrella?” queried the great man haughtily.
The little man looked at his umbrella, smiled blandly, and still with the same lack of emotion, inquired:
“Oho, then you are Monsieur”—
“Tartarin of Tarascon, lion-killer!”
In uttering these words the dauntless son of Tarascon shook the blue tassel of his fez like a mane.
Through the vehicle was a spell of stupefaction.
The Trappist brother crossed himself, the dubious women uttered little screams of affright, and the Orleansville photographer bent over towards the lion-slayer, already cherishing the unequalled honour of taking his likeness.
The little gentleman, though, was not awed.
“Do you mean to say that you have killed many lions, Monsieur Tartarin?” he asked, very quietly.
The Tarasconian received his charge in the handsomest manner.
“Is it many have I killed, Monsieur? I wish you had only as many hairs on your head as I have killed of them.”
All the coach laughed on observing three yellow bristles standing up on the little gentleman’s skull.
In his turn, the Orleansville photographer struck in:
“Yours must be a terrible profession, Monsieur Tartarin. You must pass some ugly moments sometimes. I have heard that poor Monsieur Bombonnel”—“Oh, yes, the panther-killer,” said Tartarin, rather disdainfully.
“Do you happen to be acquainted with him?” inquired the insignificant person.
“Eh! of course! Know him? Why, we have been out on the hunt over twenty times together.”
The little gentleman smiled.
“So you also hunt panthers, Monsieur Tartarin?” he asked.
“Sometimes, just for pastime,” said the fiery Tarasconian. “But,” he added, as he tossed his head with a heroic movement that inflamed the hearts of the two sweethearts of the regiment, “that’s not worth lion-hunting.”
“When all’s said and done,” ventured the photographer, “a panther is nothing but a big cat.”
“Right you are!” said Tartarin, not sorry to abate the celebrated Bombonnel’s glory a little, particularly in the presence of ladies.
Here the coach stopped. The conductor came to open the door, and addressed the insignificant little gentleman most respectfully, saying:
“We have arrived, Monsieur.”
The little gentleman got up, stepped out, and said, before the door was closed again:
“Will you allow me to give you a bit of advice, Monsieur Tartarin?”
“What is it, Monsieur?”
“Faith! you wear the look of a good sort of fellow, so I would, rather than not, let you have it. Get you back quickly to Tarascon, Monsieur Tartarin, for you are wasting your time here. There do remain a few panthers in the colony, but, out upon the big cats! they are too small game for you. As for lion-hunting, that’s all over. There are none left in Algeria, my friend Chassaing having lately knocked over the last.”
Upon which the little gentleman saluted, closed the door, and trotted away chuckling, with his document-wallet and umbrella.
“Guard,” asked Tartarin, screwing up his face contemptuously, “who under the sun is that poor little mannikin?”
“What! don’t you know him? Why, that there’s Monsieur Bombonnel!”
III. A Monastery of Lions.
AT Milianah, Tartarin of Tarascon alighted, leaving the stage-coach to continue its way towards the South.
Two days’ rough jolting, two nights spent with eyes open to spy out of window if there were not discoverable the dread figure of a lion in the fields beyond the road — so much sleeplessness well deserved some hours repose. Besides, if we must tell everything, since his misadventure with Bombonnel, the outspoken Tartarin felt ill at ease, notwithstanding his weapons, his terrifying visage, and his red cap, before the Orleansville photographer and the two ladies fond of the military.
So he proceeded through the broad streets of Milianah, full of fine trees and fountains; but whilst looking up a suitable hotel, the poor fellow could not help musing over Bombonnel’s words. Suppose they were true! Suppose there were no more lions in Algeria? What would be the good then of so much running about and fatigue?
Suddenly, at the turn of a street, our hero found himself face to face with — with what? Guess! “A donkey, of course!” A donkey? A splendid lion this time, waiting before a coffee-house door, royally sitting up on his hind-quarters, with his tawny mane gleaming in the sun.
“What possessed them to tell me that there were no more of them?” exclaimed the Tarasconian, as he made a backward jump.
On hearing this outcry the lion lowered his head, and taking up in his mouth a wooden bowl that was before him on the footway, humbly held it out towards Tartarin, who was immovable with stupefaction. A passing Arab tossed a copper into the bowl, and the lion wagged his tail. Thereupon Tartarin understood it all. He saw what emotion had prevented him previously perceiving: that the crowd was gathered around a poor tame blind lion, and that two stalwart Negroes, armed with staves, were marching him through the town as a Savoyard does a marmot.
The blood of Tarascon boiled over at once.
“Wretches that you are!” he roared in a voice of thunder, “thus to debase such noble beasts!”
Springing to the lion, he wrenched the loathsome bowl from between his royal jaws. The two Africans, believing they had a thief to contend with, rushed upon the foreigner with uplifted cudgels. There was a dreadful conflict: the blackamoors smiting, the women screaming, and the youngsters laughing. An old Jew cobbler bleated out of the hollow of his stall, “Dake him to the shustish of the beace!” The lion himself; in his dark state, tried to roar as his hapless champion, after a desperate struggle, rolled on the ground among the spilt pence and the sweepings.
At this juncture a man cleft the throng, made the Negroes stand back with a word, and the women and urchins with a wave of the hand, lifted up Tartarin, brushed him down, shook him into shape, and sat him breathless upon a corner-post.
“What, prince, is it you?” said the good Tartarin, rubbing his ribs.
“Yes, indeed, it is I, my valiant friend. As soon as your letter was received, I entrusted Baya to her brother, hired a post-chaise, flew fifty leagues as fast as a horse could go, and here I am, just in time to snatch you from the brutality of these ruffians. What have you done, in the name of just Heaven, to bring this ugly trouble upon you?”
“What done, prince? It was too much for me to see this unfortunate lion with a begging-bowl in his mouth, humiliated, conquered, buffeted about, set up as a laughing-stock to all this Moslem rabble”—
“But you are wrong, my noble friend. On the contrary, this lion is an object of respect and adoration. This is a sacred beast who belongs to a great monastery of lions, founded three hundred years ago by Mahomet Ben Aouda, a kind of fierce and forbidding La Trappe, full of roarings and wild-beastly odours, where strange monks rear and feed lions by hundreds, and send them out all over Northern Africa, accompanied by begging brothers. The alms they receive serve for the maintenance of the monastery and its mosques; and the two Negroes showed so much displeasure just now because it was their conviction that the lion under their charge would forthwith devour them if a single penny of their collection were lost or stolen through any fault of theirs.”
On hearing this incredible and yet veracious story Tartarin of Tarascon was delighted, and sniffed the air noisily. “What pleases me in this,” he remarked, as the summing up of his opinion, “is that, whether Monsieur Bombonnel likes it or not, there are still lions in Algeria."—
“I should think there were!” ejaculated the prince enthusiastically. “We will start to-morrow beating up the Shelliff Plain, and you will see lions enough!”
“What, prince! have you an intention to go a-hunting, too?”
“Of course! Do you think I am going to leave you to march by yourself into the heart of Africa, in the midst of ferocious tribes of whose languages and usages you are ignorant! No, no, illustrious Tartarin, I shall quit you no more. Go where you will, I shall make one of the party.”
“O Prince! prince!”
The beaming Tartarin hugged the devoted Gregory to his breast at the proud thought of his going to have a foreign prince to accompany him in his hunting, after the example of Jules Gerard, Bombonnel, and other famous lion-slayers.
IV. The Caravan on the March.
LEAVING Milianah at the earliest hour next morning, the intrepid Tartarin and the no less intrepid Prince Gregory descended towards the Shelliff Plain through a delightful gorge shaded with jessamine, carouba, tuyas, and wild olive-trees, between hedges of little native gardens and thousands of merry, lively rills which scampered down from rock to rock with a singing splash — a bit of landscape meet for the Lebanon.
As much loaded with arms as the great Tartarin, Prince Gregory had, over and above that, donned a queer but magnificent military cap, all covered with gold lace and a trimming of oak-leaves in silver cord, which gave His Highness the aspect of a Mexican general or a railway station-master on the banks of the Danube.
This plague of a cap much puzzled the beholder; and as he timidly craved some explanation, the prince gravely answered:
“It is a kind of headgear indispensable for travel in Algeria.”
Whilst brightening up the peak with a sweep of his sleeve, he instructed his simple companion in the important part which the military cap plays in the French connection with the Arabs, and the terror this article of army insignia alone has the privilege of inspiring, so that the Civil Service has been obliged to put all its employees in caps, from the extra-copyist to the receiver-general. To govern Algeria (the prince is still speaking) there is no need of a strong head, or even of any head at all. A military cap does it alone, if showy and belaced, and shining at the top of a non-human pole, like Gessler’s .
Thus chatting and philosophising, the caravan proceeded. The barefooted porters leaped from rock to rock with ape-like screams. The guncases clanked, and the guns themselves flashed. The natives who were passing, salaamed to the ground before the magic cap. Up above, on the ramparts of Milianah, the head of the Arab Department, who was out for an airing with his wife, hearing these unusual noises, and seeing the weapons gleam between the branches, fancied there was a revolt, and ordered the drawbridge to be raised, the general alarm to be sounded, and the whole town put under a state of siege. A capital commencement for the caravan!
Unfortunately, before the day ended, things went wrong. Of the black luggage-bearers, one was doubled up with atrocious colics from having eaten the diachylon out of the medicine-chest: another fell on the roadside dead drunk with camphorated brandy; the third, carrier of the travelling-album, deceived by the gilding on the clasps into the persuasion that he was flying with the treasures of Mecca, ran off into the Zaccar on his best legs.
This required consideration. The caravan halted, and held a council in the broken shadow of an old fig-tree.
“It’s my advice that we turn up Negro porters from this evening forward,” said the prince, trying without success to melt a cake of compressed meat in an improved patent triple-bottomed sauce-pan. “There is, haply, an Arab trader quite near here. The best thing to do is to stop there, and buy some donkeys.”
“No, no; no donkeys,” quickly interrupted Tartarin, becoming quite red at memory of Noiraud. “How can you expect,” he added, hypocrite that he was, “that such little beasts could carry all our apparatus?”
The prince smiled.
“You are making a mistake, my illustrious friend. However weakly and meagre the Algerian bourriquot may appear to you, he has solid loins. He must have them so to support all that he does. Just ask the Arabs. Hark to how they explain the French colonial organisation. ‘On the top,’ they say, ‘is Mossoo, the Governor, with a heavy club to rap the staff; the staff, for revenge, canes the soldier; the soldier clubs the settler, and he hammers the Arab; the Arab smites the Negro, the Negro beats the Jew, and he takes it out of the donkey. The poor bourriquot having nobody to belabour, arches up his back and bears it all.’ You see clearly now that he can bear your boxes.”
“All the same,” remonstrated Tartarin, “it strikes me that jackasses will not chime in nicely with the effect of our caravan. I want something more Oriental. For instance, if we could only get a camel”—
“As many as you like,” said His Highness; and off they started for the Arab mart.
It was held a few miles away, on the banks of the Shelliff. There were five or six thousand Arabs in tatters here, grovelling in the sunshine and noisily trafficking, amid jars of black olives, pots of honey, bags of spices; and great heaps of cigars; huge fires were roasting whole sheep, basted with butter; in open air slaughter-houses stark naked Negroes, with ruddy arms and their feet in gore, were cutting up kids hanging from crosspoles, with small knives.
In one corner, under a tent patched with a thousand colours, a Moorish clerk of the market in spectacles scrawled in a large book. Here was a cluster of men shouting with rage: it was a spinning-jenny game, set on a corn-measure, and Kabyles were ready to cut one another’s throats over it. Yonder were laughs and contortions of delight: it was a Jew trader on a mule drowning in the Shelliff. Then there were dogs, scorpions, ravens, and flies — rather flies than anything else.
But a plentiful lack of camels abounded. They finally unearthed one, though, of which the M’zabites were trying to get rid — the real ship of the desert, the classical, standard camel, bald, woe-begone, with a long Bedouin head, and its hump, become limp in consequence of unduly long fasts, hanging melancholically on one side.
Tartarin considered it so handsome that he wanted the entire party to get upon it. Still his Oriental craze!
The beast knelt down for them to strap on the boxes.
The prince enthroned himself on the animal’s neck. For the sake of the greater majesty, Tartarin got them to hoist him on the top of the hump between two boxes, where, proud, and cosily settled down, he saluted the whole market with a lofty wave of the hand, and gave the signal of departure.
Thunderation! if the people of Tarascon could only have seen him!
The camel rose, straightened up its long knotty legs, and stepped out.
Oh, stupor! At the end of a few strides Tartarin felt he was losing colour, and the heroic chechia assumed one by one its former positions in the days of sailing in the Zouave. This devil’s own camel pitched and tossed like a frigate.
“Prince! prince!” gasped Tartarin pallid as a ghost, as he clung to the dry tuft of the hump, “prince, let’s get down. I find — I feel that I m-m-must get off; or I shall disgrace France.”
A deal of good that talk was — the camel was on the go, and nothing could stop it. Behind it raced four thousand barefooted Arabs, waving their hands and laughing like mad, so that they made six hundred thousand white teeth glitter in the sun.
The great man of Tarascon had to resign himself to circumstances. He sadly collapsed on the hump, where the fez took all the positions it fancied, and France was disgraced.
V. The Night-watch in a Poison-tree Grove.
SWEETLY picturesque as was their new steed, our lion-hunters had to give it up, purely out of consideration for the red cap, of course. So they continued the journey on foot as before, the caravan tranquilly proceeding southwardly by short stages, the Tarasconian in the van, the Montenegrin in the rear, and the camel, with the weapons in their cases, in the ranks.
The expedition lasted nearly a month.
During that seeking for lions which he never found, the dreadful Tartarin roamed from douar to douar on the immense plain of the Shelliff, through the odd but formidable French Algeria, where the old Oriental perfumes are complicated by a strong blend of absinthe and the barracks, Abraham and “the Zouzou” mingled, something fairy-tale-like and simply burlesque, like a page of the Old Testament related by Tommy Atkins.
A curious sight for those who have eyes that can see.
A wild and corrupted people whom we are civilising by teaching them our vices. The ferocious and uncontrolled authority of grotesque bashaws, who gravely use their grand cordons of the Legion of Honour as handkerchiefs, and for a mere yea or nay order a man to be bastinadoed. It is the justice of the conscienceless, bespectacled cadis under the palm-tree, Maw-worms of the Koran and Law, who dream languidly of promotion and sell their decrees, as Esau did his birthright, for a dish of lentils or sweetened kouskous. Drunken and libertine cadis are they, formerly servants to some General Yusuf or the like, who get intoxicated on champagne, along with laundresses from Port Mahon, and fatten on roast mutton, whilst before their tents the whole tribe waste away with hunger, and fight with the harriers for the bones of the lordly feast.
All around spread the plains in waste, burnt grass, leafless shrubs, thickets of cactus and mastic —“the Granary of France!"— a granary void of grain, alas! and rich alone in vermin and jackals. Abandoned camps, frightened tribes fleeing from them and famine, they know not whither, and strewing the road with corpses. At long intervals French villages, with the dwellings in ruins, the fields untilled, the maddened locusts gnawing even the window-blinds, and all the settlers in the drinking-places, absorbing absinthe and discussing projects of reform and the Constitution.
This is what Tartarin might have seen had he given himself the trouble; but, wrapped up entirely in his leonine-hunger, the son of Tarascon went straight on, looking to neither right nor left, his eyes steadfastly fixed on the imaginary monsters which never really appeared.
As the shelter-tent was stubborn in not unfolding, and the compressed meat-cakes would not dissolve, the caravan was obliged to stop, morn and eve, at tribal camps. Everywhere, thanks to the gorgeous cap of Prince Gregory, our hunters were welcomed with open arms. They lodged in the aghas’ odd palaces, large white windowless farmhouses, where they found, pell-mell, narghilehs and mahogany furniture, Smyrna carpets and moderator lamps, cedar coffers full of Turkish sequins, and French statuette-decked clocks in the Louis Philippe style.
Everywhere, too, Tartarin was given splendrous galas, diffas, and fantasias, which, being interpreted, mean feasts and circuses. In his honour whole goums blazed away powder, and floated their burnouses in the sun. When the powder was burnt, the agha would come and hand in his bill. This is what is called Arab hospitality.
But always no lions, no more than on London Bridge.
Nevertheless, the Tarasconian did not grow disheartened. Ever bravely diving more deeply into the South, he spent the days in beating up the thickets, probing the dwarf-palms with the muzzle of his rifle, and saying “Boh!” to every bush. And every evening, before lying down, he went into ambush for two or three hours. Useless trouble, however, for the lion did not show himself.
One evening, though, going on six o’clock, as the caravan scrambled through a violet-hued mastic-grove, where fat quails tumbled about in the grass, drowsy through the heat, Tartarin of Tarascon fancied he heard though afar and very vague, and thinned down by the breeze — that wondrous roaring to which he had so often listened by Mitaine’s Menagerie at home.
At first the hero feared he was dreaming; but in an instant further the roaring recommenced more distinct, although yet remote; and this time the camel’s hump shivered in terror, and made the tinned meats and arms in the cases rattle, whilst all the dogs in the camps were heard howling in every corner of the horizon.
Beyond doubt this was the lion.
Quick, quick! to the ambush. There was not a minute to lose.
Near at hand there happened to be an old marabout’s, or saint’s, tomb, with a white cupola, and the defunct’s large yellow slippers placed in a niche over the door, and a mass of odd offerings — hems of blankets, gold thread, red hair — hung on the wall.
Tartarin of Tarascon left his prince and his camel and went in search of a good spot for lying in wait. Prince Gregory wanted to follow him, but the Tarasconian refused, bent on confronting Leo alone. But still he besought His Highness not to go too far away, and, as a measure of foresight, he entrusted him with his pocket-book, a good-sized one, full of precious papers and bank-notes, which he feared would get torn by the lion’s claws. This done, our hero looked up a good place.
A hundred steps in front of the temple a little clump of rose-laurel shook in the twilight haze on the edge of a rivulet all but dried up. There it was that Tartarin went and ensconced himself, one knee on the ground, according to the regular rule, his rifle in his hand, and his huge hunting-knife stuck boldly before him in the sandy bank.
The rosy tint of nature changed into violet, and then into dark blue. A pretty pool of clear water gleamed like a hand-glass over the river-pebbles; this was the watering-place of the wild animals.
On the other slope the whitish trail was dimly to be discerned which their heavy paws had traced in the brush — a mysterious path which made one’s flesh creep. Join to this sensation that from the vague swarming sound in African forests, the swishing of branches, the velvety-pads of roving creatures, the jackal’s shrill yelp, and up in the sky, two or three hundred feet aloft, vast flocks of cranes passing on with screams like poor little children having their weasands slit. You will own that there were grounds for a man being moved.
Tartarin was so, and even more than that, for the poor fellow’s teeth chattered, and on the cross-bar of his hunting-knife, planted upright in the bank, as we repeat, his rifle-barrel rattled like a pair of castanets. Do not ask too much of a man! There are times when one is not in the mood; and, moreover, where would be the merit if heroes were never afraid?
Well, yes, Tartarin was afraid, and all the time, too, for the matter of that. Nevertheless, he held out for an hour; better, for two; but heroism has its limits. Nigh him, in the dry part of the rivulet-bed, the Tarasconian unexpectedly heard the sound of steps and of pebbles rolling. This time terror lifted him off the ground. He banged away both barrels at haphazard into the night, and retreated as fast as his legs would carry him to the marabout’s chapel-vault, leaving his knife standing up in the sand like a cross commemorative of the grandest panic that ever assailed the soul of a conqueror of hydras.
“Help! this Way, prince; the lion is on me!”
There was silence. “Prince, prince, are you there?”
The prince was not there. On the white moonlit wall of the fane the camel alone cast the queer-shaped shadow of his protuberance. Prince Gregory had cut and run with the wallet of bank-notes. His Highness had been for the month past awaiting this opportunity.
VI. Bagged him at Last.
IT was not until early on the morrow of this adventurous and dramatic eve that our hero awoke, and acquired assurance doubly sure that the prince and the treasure had really gone off, without any prospect of return. When he saw himself alone in the little white tombhouse, betrayed, robbed, abandoned in the heart of savage Algeria, with a one-humped camel and some pocket-money as all his resources, then did the representative of Tarascon for the first time doubt. He doubted Montenegro, friendship, glory, and even lions; and the great man blubbered bitterly.
Whilst he was pensively seated on the sill of the sanctuary, holding his head between his hands and his gun between his legs, with the camel mooning at him, the thicket over the way was divided, and the stupor-stricken Tartarin saw a gigantic lion appear not a dozen paces off. It thrust out its high head and emitted powerful roars, which made the temple walls shake beneath their votive decorations, and even the saint’s slippers dance in their niche.
The Tarasconian alone did not tremble.
“At last you’ve come!” he shouted, jumping up and levelling the rifle.
Bang, bang! went a brace of shells into its head.
It was done. For a minute, on the fiery background of the African sky, there was a dreadful firework display of scattered brains, smoking blood, and tawny hair. When all fell, Tartarin perceived two colossal Negroes furiously running towards him, brandishing cudgels. They were his two Negro acquaintances of Milianah!
This was the domesticated lion, the poor blind beggar of the Mohammed Monastery, whom the Tarasconian’s bullets had knocked over.
This time, spite of Mahound, Tartarin escaped neatly. Drunk with fanatical fury, the two African collectors would have surely beaten him to pulp had not the god of chase and war sent him a delivering angel in the shape of the rural constable of the Orleansville commune. By a bypath this garde champetre came up, his sword tucked under his arm.
The sight of the municipal cap suddenly calmed the Negroes’ choler. Peaceful and majestic, the officer with the brass badge drew up a report on the affair, ordered the camel to be loaded with what remained of the king of beasts, and the plaintiffs as well as the delinquent to follow him, proceeding to Orleansville, where all was deposited with the law-courts receiver.
There issued a long and alarming case!
After the Algeria of the native tribes which he had overrun, Tartarin of Tarascon became thence acquainted with another Algeria, not less weird and to be dreaded — the Algeria in the towns, surcharged with lawyers and their papers. He got to know the pettifogger who does business at the back of a cafe — the legal Bohemian with documents reeking of wormwood bitters and white neckcloths spotted with champoreau; the ushers, the attorneys, all the locusts of stamped paper, meagre and famished, who eat up the colonist body and boots — ay, to the very straps of them, and leave him peeled to the core like an Indian cornstalk, stripped leaf by leaf.
Before all else it was necessary to ascertain whether the lion had been killed on the civil or the military territory. In the former case the matter regarded the Tribunal of Commerce; in the second, Tartarin would be dealt with by the Council of War: and at the mere name the impressionable Tarasconian saw himself shot at the foot of the ramparts or huddled up in a casemate-silo.
The puzzle lay in the limitation of the two territories being very hazy in Algeria.
At length, after a month’s running about, entanglements, and waiting under the sun in the yards of Arab Departmental offices, it was established that, whereas the lion had been killed on the military territory, on the other hand Tartarin was in the civil territory when he shot. So the case was decided in the civil courts, and our hero was let off on paying two thousand five hundred francs damages, costs not included.
How could he pay such a sum?
The few piashtres escaped from the prince’s sweep had long since gone in legal documents and judicial libations. The unfortunate lion-destroyer was therefore reduced to selling the store of guns by retail, rifle by rifle; so went the daggers, the Malay kreeses, and the life-preservers. A grocer purchased the preserved aliments; an apothecary what remained of the medicaments. The big boots themselves walked off after the improved tent to a dealer of curiosities, who elevated them to the dignity of “rarities from Cochin-China.”
When everything was paid up, only the lion’s skin and the camel remained to Tartarin. The hide he had carefully packed, to be sent to Tarascon to the address of brave Commandant Bravida, and, later on, we shall see what came of this fabulous trophy. As for the camel, he reckoned on making use of him to get back to Algiers, not by riding on him, but by selling him to pay his coach-fare — the best way to employ a camel in travelling. Unhappily the beast was difficult to place, and no one would offer a copper for him.
Still Tartarin wanted to regain Algiers by hook or crook. He was in haste again to behold Baya’s blue bodice, his little snuggery and his fountains, as well as to repose on the white trefoils of his little cloister whilst awaiting money from France. So our hero did not hesitate; distressed but not downcast, he undertook to make the journey afoot and penniless by short stages.
In this enterprise the camel did not cast him off. The strange animal had taken an unaccountable fancy for his master, and on seeing him leave Orleansville, he set to striding steadfastly behind him, regulating his pace by this, and never quitting him by a yard.
At the first outset Tartarin found this touching; such fidelity and devotion above proof went to his heart, all the more because the creature was accommodating, and fed himself on nothing. Nevertheless, after a few days, the Tarasconian was worried by having this glum companion perpetually at his heels, to remind him of his misadventures. Ire arising, he hated him for his sad aspect, hump and gait of a goose in harness. To tell the whole truth, he held him as his Old Man of the Sea, and only pondered on how to shake him off; but the follower would not be shaken off. Tartarin attempted to lose him, but the camel always found him; he tried to outrun him, but the camel ran faster. He bade him begone, and hurled stones at him. The camel stopped with a mournful mien, but in a minute resumed the pursuit, and always ended by overtaking him. Tartarin had to resign himself.
For all that, when, after eight full days of tramping, the dusty and harassed Tarasconian espied the first white housetops of Algiers glimmer from afar in the verdure, and when he got to the city gates on the noisy Mustapha Avenue, amid the Zouaves, Biskris, and Mahonnais, all swarming around him and staring at him trudging by with his camel, overtasked patience escaped him.
“No! no!” he growled, “it is not likely! I cannot enter Algiers with such an animal!”
Profiting by a jam of vehicles, he turned off into the fields and jumped into a ditch. In a minute or so he saw over his head on the highway the camel flying off with long strides and stretching his neck with a wistful air.
Relieved of a great weight thereby, the hero sneaked out of his covert, and entered the town anew by a circuitous path which skirted the wall of his own little garden.
VII. Catastrophes upon Catastrophes.
ENTIRELY astonished was Tartarin before his Moorish dwelling when he stopped.
Day was dying and the street deserted. Through the low pointed-arch doorway which the negress had forgotten to close, laughter was heard; and the clink of wine-glasses, the popping of champagne corks; and, floating over all the jolly uproar, a feminine voice singing clearly and joyously:
“Do you like, Marco la Bella, to dance in the hall hung with bloom?”
“Throne of heaven!” ejaculated the Tarasconian, turning pale, as he rushed into the enclosure.
Hapless Tartarin! what a sight awaited him! Beneath the arches of the little cloister, amongst bottles, pastry, scattered cushions, pipes, tambourines, and guitars, Baya was singing “Marco la Bella” with a ship captain’s cap over one ear. She had on no blue vest or bodice; indeed, her only wear was a silvery gauze wrapper and full pink trousers. At her feet, on a rug, surfeited with love and sweetmeats, Barbassou, the infamous skipper Barbassou, was bursting with laughter at hearing her.
The apparition of Tartarin, haggard, thinned, dusty, his flaming eyes, and the bristling up fez tassel, sharply interrupted this tender Turkish-Marseillais orgie. Baya piped the low whine of a frightened leveret, and ran for safety into the house. But Barbassou did not wince; he only laughed the louder, saying:
“Ha, ha, Monsieur Tartarin! What do you say to that now? You see she does know French.”
Tartarin of Tarascon advanced furiously, crying:
“Digo-li que vengue, moun bon! — Tell him what’s happened, old dear!” screamed the Moorish woman, leaning over the first floor gallery with a pretty low-bred gesture!
The poor man, overwhelmed, let himself collapse upon a drum. His genuine Moorish beauty not only knew French, but the French of Marseilles!
“I told you not to trust the Algerian girls,” observed Captain Barbassou sententiously! “They’re as tricky as your Montenegrin prince.”
Tartarin lifted his head
“Do you know where the prince is?”
“Oh, he’s not far off. He has gone to live five years in the handsome prison of Mustapha. The rogue let himself be caught with his hand in the pocket. Anyways, this is not the first time he has been clapped into the calaboose. His Highness has already done three years somewhere, and — stop a bit! I believe it was at Tarascon.”
“At Tarascon!” cried out her worthiest son, abruptly enlightened. “That’s how he only knew one part of the Town.”
“Hey? Of course. Tarascon — a jail bird’s -eye view from the state prison. I tell you, my poor Monsieur Tartarin, you have to keep your peepers jolly well skinned in this deuce of a country, or be exposed to very disagreeable things. For a sample, there’s the muezzin’s game with you.”
“What game? Which muezzin?”
“Why your’n, of course! The chap across the way who is making up to Baya. That newspaper, the Akbar, told the yarn t’other day, and all Algiers is laughing over it even now. It is so funny for that steeplejack up aloft in his crow’s -nest to make declarations of love under your very nose to the little beauty whilst singing out his prayers, and making appointments with her between bits of the Koran.”
“Why, then, they’re all scamps in this country!” howled the unlucky Tarasconian.
Barbassou snapped his fingers like a philosopher.
“My dear lad, you know, these new countries are ‘rum!’ But, anyhow, if you’ll believe me, you’d best cut back to Tarascon at full speed.”
“It’s easy to say, ‘Cut back.’ Where’s the money to come from? Don’t you know that I was plucked out there in the desert?”
“What does that matter?” said the captain merrily. “The Zouave sails tomorrow, and if you like I will take you home. Does that suit you, mate? Ay? Then all goes well. You have only one thing to do. There are some bottles of fizz left, and half the pie. Sit you down and pitch in without any grudge.”
After the minute’s wavering which self-respect commanded, the Tarasconian chose his course manfully. Down he sat, and they touched glasses. Baya, gliding down at that chink, sang the finale of “Marco la Bella,” and the jollification was prolonged deep into the night.
About 3 A.M., with a light head but a heavy foot, our good Tarasconian was returning from seeing his friend the captain off when, in passing the mosque, the remembrance of his muezzin and his practical jokes made him laugh, and instantly a capital idea of revenge flitted through his brain.
The door was open. He entered, threaded long corridors hung with mats, mounted and kept on mounting till he finally found himself in a little oratory, where an openwork iron lantern swung from the ceiling, and embroidered an odd pattern in shadows upon the blanched walls.
There sat the crier on a divan, in his large turban and white pelisse, with his Mostaganam pipe, and a bumper of absinthe before him, which he whipped up in the orthodox manner, whilst awaiting the hour to call true believers to prayer. At view of Tartarin, he dropped his pipe in terror.
“Not a word, knave!” said the Tarasconian, full of his project. “Quick! Off with turban and coat!”
The Turkish priest-crier tremblingly handed over his outer garments, as he would have done with anything else. Tartarin donned them, and gravely stepped out upon the minaret platform.
In the distance the sea shone. The white roofs glittered in the moonbeams. On the sea breeze was heard the strumming of a few belated guitars. The Tarasconian muezzin gathered himself up for the effort during a space, and then, raising his arms, he set to chanting in a very shrill voice:
“La Allah il Allah! Mahomet is an old humbug! The Orient, the Koran, bashaws, lions, Moorish beauties — they are all not worth a fly’s skip! There is nothing left but gammoners. Long live Tarascon!”
Whilst the illustrious Tartarin, in his queer jumbling of Arabic and Provencal, flung his mirthful maledictions to the four quarters, sea, town, plain and mountain, the clear, solemn voices of the other muezzins answered him, taking up the strain from minaret to minaret, and the believers of the upper town devoutly beat their bosoms.
VIII. Tarascon again!
MID-DAY has come.
The Zouave had her steam up, ready to go. Upon the balcony of the Valentin Cafe, high above, the officers were levelling telescopes, and, with the colonel at their head, looking at the lucky little craft that was going back to France. This is the main distraction of the staff. On the lower level, the roads glittered. The old Turkish cannon breaches, stuck up along the waterside, blazed in the sun. The passengers hurried, Biskris and Mahonnais piled their luggage up in the wherries.
Tartarin of Tarascon had no luggage. Here he comes down the Rue de la Marine through the little market, full of bananas and melons, accompanied by his friend Barbassou. The hapless Tarasconian left on the Moorish strand his gun-cases and his illusions, and now he had to sail for Tarascon with his hands in his otherwise empty pockets. He had barely leaped into the captain’s cutter before a breathless beast slid down from the heights of the square and galloped towards him. It was the faithful camel, who had been hunting after his master in Algiers during the last four-and-twenty hours.
On seeing him, Tartarin changed countenance, and feigned not to know him, but the camel was not going to be put off. He scampered along the quay; he whinnied for his friend, and regarded him with affection.
“Take me away,” his sad eyes seemed to say, “take me away in your ship, far, far from this sham Arabia, this ridiculous Land of the East, full of locomotives and stage coaches, where a camel is so sorely out of keeping that I do not know what will become of me. You are the last real Turk, and I am the last camel. Do not let us part, O my Tartarin!”
“Is that camel yours?” the captain inquired.
“Not a bit of it!” replied Tartarin, who shuddered at the idea of entering Tarascon with that ridiculous escort; and, impudently denying the companion of his misfortunes, he spurned the Algerian soil with his foot, and gave the cutter the shoving-off start. The camel sniffed of the water, extended its neck, cracked its joints, and, jumping in behind the row-boat at haphazard, he swam towards the Zouave with his humpback floating like a bladder, and his long neck projecting over the wave like the beak of a galley.
Cutter and camel came alongside the mail steamer together.
“This dromedary regularly cuts me up,” observed Captain Barbassou, quite affected. “I have a good mind to take him aboard and make a present of him to the Zoological Gardens at Marseilles.”
And so they hauled up the camel with many blocks and tackles upon the deck, being increased in weight by the brine, and the Zouave started.
Tartarin spent the two days of the crossing by himself in his stateroom, not because the sea was rough, or that the red fez had too much to suffer, but because the deuced camel, as soon as his master appeared above decks, showed him the most preposterous attentions. You never did see a camel make such an exhibition of a man as this.
From hour to hour, through the cabin portholes, where he stuck out his nose now and then, Tartarin saw the Algerian blue sky pale away; until one morning, in a silvery fog, he heard with delight Marseilles bells ringing out. The Zouave had arrived and cast anchor.
Our man, having no luggage, got off without saying anything, hastily slipped through Marseilles for fear he was still pursued by the camel, and never breathed till he was in a third-class carriage making for Tarascon.
Hardly were they two leagues from the city before every head was stuck out of window. There were outcries and astonishment. Tartarin looked in his turn, and what did he descry! the camel, reader, the inevitable camel, racing along the line behind the train, and keeping up with it! The dismayed Tartarin drew back and shut his eyes.
After this disastrous expedition of his he had reckoned on slipping into his house incognito. But the presence of this burdensome quadruped rendered the thing impossible. What kind of a triumphal entry would he make? Good heavens! not a sou, not a lion, nothing to show for it save a camel!
He was obliged to get down.
Scarce had the hero’s red fez popped out of the doorway before a loud shout of “Tartarin for ever!” made the glazed roof of the railway station tremble. “Long life to Tartarin, the lion-slayer!” And out burst the windings of horns and the choruses of the local musical societies.
Tartarin felt death had come: he believed in a hoax. But, no! all Tarascon was there, waving their hats, all of the same way of thinking. Behold the brave Commandant Bravida, Costecalde the armourer, the Chief Judge, the chemist, and the whole noble corps of cap-poppers, who pressed around their leader, and carried him in triumph out through the passages.
Singular effects of the mirage! — the hide of the blind lion sent to Bravida was the cause of all this riot. With that humble fur exhibited in the club-room, the Tarasconians, and, at the back of them, the whole South of France, had grown exalted. The Semaphore newspaper had spoken of it. A drama had been invented. It was not merely a solitary lion which Tartarin had slain, but ten, nay, twenty — pooh! a herd of lions had been made marmalade of. Hence, on disembarking at Marseilles, Tartarin was already celebrated without being aware of it, and an enthusiastic telegram had gone on before him by two hours to his native place.
But what capped the climax of the popular gladness was to see a fancifully shaped animal, covered with foam and dust, appear behind the hero, and stumble down the station stairs.
Tarascon for an instant believed that its dragon was come again.
Tartarin set his fellow-citizens at ease.
“This is my camel,” he said.
Already feeling the influence of the splendid sun of Tarascon, which makes people tell “bouncers” unwittingly, he added, as he fondled the camel’s hump:
“It is a noble beast! It saw me kill all my lions!”
Whereupon he familiarly took the arm of the commandant, who was red with pleasure; and followed by his camel, surrounded by the cap-hunters, acclaimed by all the population, he placidly proceeded towards the Baobab Villa; and, on the march, thus commenced the account of his mighty hunting:
“Once upon an evening, you are to imagine that, out in the depths of the Sahara”—
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07