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Daudet, Alphonse / Tartarin De Tarascon
Produced by Oliver C. Colt and David Widger





TARTARIN DE TARASCON

By A. Daudet.


Translated by Oliver C. Colt.





Introduction.

The tale of Tartarin de Tarascon was written by Alphonse Daudet in 1872,
and was one of the many works which he produced. In it he pokes gentle
fun at a type of Frenchman who comes from the Midi, the area where he
himself was born. Tartarin has characteristics which may remind the
English-speaking reader of Toad of Toad Hall, a boastful braggart,
easily deceived, but good-hearted au fond.

The world he inhabits is, of course, very different from ours. There is
no radio or television, the motor car is no more than a plaything for
the rich. There is only the beginnings of a telephone system. Much sea
transport is still by sailing ship and the idea of mass air travel is in
the realm of science-fiction. France lost the Franco-Prussian war at the
battle of Sedan in 1870, which accounts for the flood of refugees from
Alsasce. She had also, in the 19th century rush to carve up the African
continent, seized among other places, Algeria, which she held in
subjection by force of arms. So-called Big Game Hunters were regarded
with some admiration, and indeed it was a much more perilous activity
than it is today, when high power repeating rifles with telescopic
sights make motor-borne "Sportsmen" little more than butchers.

Daudet's humour is on the whole inoffensive, but anti-semitism was rife
in certain circles in France. It was the era of the Dreyfus scandal, and
he indulges in one or two tasteless gibes at the expense of the Jews,
which I have suppressed or at least amended. He also has a passage which
might well offend the delicate susceptabilities of the less tolerant
believers in Islam, although to anyone with a nodding acquaintance with
the tents of that faith, the incident is so far-fetched as to neutralise
"The willing suspension of disbelief" I have therefore decided to
eliminate it from this version of the story. It is not very amusing and
is no great loss.

Although Daudet's humour is in the main kindly, he does not spare the
French colonial administration of the time. His treatment of the subject
is acidly satirical. It may be said that Daudet seems to know little
about firearms, less about lions and nothing about camels, but he is not
striving for verisimilitude. After all, the adventures of James Bond do
not mirror the reality of international espionage, nor do the exploits
of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves truely reflect life in the upper echelons
of British society.

This is not a schoolroom exercise in translation. It might be more
accurately described as a version in English. I have not tampered with
the story line nor made any changes in the events related, but where
I thought it necessary I have not shrunk from altering the words and
phrases used in the original to describe them. All translation must be
a matter of paraphrase. What sounds well in one language may sound
ridiculous if translated literally into another, and it is for the
translator to judge how far this process of paraphrase may be carried.

I have attempted to produce a text which will entertain the average
reader. Those who want to know exactly what Daudet wrote must consult
the French original.




TARTARIN DE TARASCON



Chapter 1.


Although it is now some twelve or fifteen years since my first meeting
with Tartarin de Tarascon, the memory of the encounter remains as fresh
as if it had been yesterday.

At that time Tartarin lived near the entrance to the town, in the third
house on the left on the Avignon road, a pretty little Tarascon villa,
with a garden in front, a balcony behind, very white walls and green
shutters.

From outside the place looked perfectly ordinary, one would never have
believed that it was the home of a hero, but when one went inside,
well... My goodness! The whole establishment had an heroic air, even the
garden!

Ah...! The Garden... there was not another like it in Europe. Not one
indigenous tree grew there, not one French flower; nothing but exotic
plants, gum trees, calabashes, cotton trees, coconut palms, mangos,
bananas, cactuses, figs and a baobab. One might have thought oneself in
the middle of Africa, thousands of miles from Tarascon. Of course none
of these trees was fully grown, the coconut palm was about the size of
a swede and the baobab (arbos gigantica) fitted comfortably into a
pot full of earth and gravel. No matter.... For Tarascon it was quite
splendid, and those citizens who were admitted, on Sundays, to have the
privilege of inspecting Tartarin's baobab went home full of admiration.

You may imagine my emotions as I walked through this remarkable
garden... they were nothing, however, to what I felt on being admitted to
the sanctum of the great man himself.

This building, one of the curiosities of the town, was at the end of the
garden, to which it opened through a glass door. Picture a large room
hung from floor to ceiling with firearms and swords; weapons from every
country in the world. Guns, carbines, rifles, blunderbusses,
knives, spears, revolvers, daggers, arrows, assegais, knobkerries,
knuckledusters and I know not what.

The brilliant sunlight glittered on the steel blades of sabres and the
polished butts of firearms. It was really quite a menacing scene... what
was a little reassuring was the good order and discipline which ruled
over this arsenal. Everything was neat tidy and dusted. Here and there a
simple notice, reading "Poison arrows, Do not touch." or "Beware. Loaded
firearms." made one feel it safe to approach.

In the middle of the room was a table. On the table was a flagon of
rum, a turkish tobacco pouch, The voyages of Captain Cook, stories
of adventure, treatises on falconry, descriptions of big-game hunts
etc... and finally seated at the table was the man himself. Forty
to forty-five years of age, short, fat, stocky and ruddy, clad in
shirt-sleeves and flannel trousers, with a close-clipped wiry beard
and a flamboyant eye. In one hand he held a book and with the other he
brandished an enormous pipe, its bowl covered by a metal cap; and as
he read some stirring tale of the pursuit of hairy creatures, he made,
pushing out his lower lip, a fierce grimace which gave his features,
those of a comfortable Tarascon "Rentier", the same air of hearty
ferocity which was evident throughout the whole house. This man was
Tartarin... Tartarin de Tarascon... the intrepid, great and incomparable
Tartarin de Tarascon.

At that time Tartarin was not the Tartarin which he is today, the great
Tartarin de Tarascon who is so popular throughout the Midi of France,
however, even at this epoch, he was already the king of Tarascon.

Let us examine how he acquired his crown. You will be aware, for a
start, that everyone in these parts is a hunter. From the highest to the
lowest hunting is a passion with the Tarasconais and has been ever since
the legendary Tarasque prowled in the marshes near the town and was
hunted down by the citizens.

Now, every Sunday morning, the men of Tarascon take up arms and leave
town, bag on back and gun on shoulder, with an excited collection of
dogs, with ferrets, with trumpets and hunting horns, it is a splendid
spectacle.... Sadly, however, there is a shortage of game... in fact
there is a total absence of game.... Animals may be dumb but they are
not stupid, so for miles around Tarascon the burrows are empty and the
nests abandoned. There is not a quail, not a blackbird, not the smallest
rabbit nor even the tiniest wheatear.

These pretty little Tarascon hills, scented with lavender, myrtle and
rosemary are very tempting, and those fine muscat grapes, swollen
with sugar, which line the banks of the Rhone, are wonderfully
appetising... yes, but there is Tarascon in he distance, and in the world
of fur and feather Tarascon is bad news. The birds of passage seem to
have marked it with a cross on their maps, and when the long wedges of
wild duck, heading for the Camargue, see far off the town's steeples,
the whole flight veers away. In short there is nothing left by way of
game in this part of the country but an old rascal of a hare, who has
escaped by some miracle the guns of Tarascon and appears determined to
stay there. This hare is well known. He has been given a name. He
is called "Speedy". He is known to live on land belonging to
M. Bompard... which, by the way, has doubled or even tripled its value.
No one has yet been able to catch him, and at the present time there
are not more than two or three fanatics who go after him. The rest have
given up and Speedy has become something of a protected species, though
the Tarasconais are not very conservation minded and would make a stew
of the rarest of creatures, if they managed to shoot one.

Now, you may say, "Since game is in such short supply, what do these
Tarasconais sportsmen do every Sunday?" What do they do? Eh! Mon Dieu!
They go out into the country, several miles from the town. They assemble
in little groups of five or six. They settle down comfortably in
some shady spot. They take out of their game-bags a nice piece of
boeuf-en-daube, some raw onions, a sausage and some anchovies and they
begin a very long luncheon, washed down by one of these jolly Rhone
wines, which encourage singing and laughter.

When all have had enough, they whistle for the dogs, load their guns and
commence the shoot. That is to say each of these gentlemen takes off his
hat, sends it spinning through the air with all his strength and takes
a pot-shot at it. The one who hits his hat most frequently is proclaimed
king of the hunt and returns to Tarascon that evening in triumph, his
perforated hat hanging from the end of his gun and to the accompaniment
of much barking and blowing of trumpets.

One need hardly tell you that there is a brisk trade in hats in the
town, and there are even hatters who sell hats already full of holes and
tears for use by the less skillful, but scarcely anyone is known to buy
them except Bezuquet the chemist.

As a hat shooter Tartarin had no equal. Every Sunday morning he left
with a new hat. Every evening he returned with a rag. In the little
house of the baobab, the attic was full of these glorious trophies.
All of Tarascon recognised him as their master in this respect. The
gentlemen elected him as their chief justice in matters relating to
the chase and arbitrator in any dispute, so that every day, between the
hours of three and four in the afternoon, at Costecalde the gunsmith's
one could see the plump figure of a man, seated gravely on a green
leather arm-chair, in the middle of the shop, which was full of hat
hunters standing about and arguing. It was Tartarin delivering justice.
Nimrod doubling as Soloman.




Chapter 2.

In addition to their passion for hunting the good people of Tarascon
had another passion, which was for drawing-room ballads. The number of
ballads which were sung in this part of the world passed all belief. All
the old sentimental songs, yellowing in ancient cardboard boxes, could
be found in Tarascon alive and flourishing. Each family had its own
ballad and in the town this was well understood. One knew, for example,
that for Bezuquet the chemist it was:-"Thou pale star whom I adore."

For the gunsmith Costecalde:-"Come with me to the forest glade."

For the Town Clark:--"If I was invisible, no one would see me." (a comic
song) Two or three times a week people would gather in one house or
another and sing, and the remarkable thing is that the songs were always
the same. No matter for how long they had been singing them, the people
of Tarascon had no desire to change them. They were handed down in
families from father to son and nobody dared to interfere with them,
they were sacrosanct. They were never even borrowed. It would never
occur to the Bezuquets to sing the Costecaldes' song or to the
Costecaldes to sing that of the Bezuquets. You might suppose that
having known them for some forty years they might sometimes sing them to
themselves, but no, everyone stuck to his own.

In the matter of ballads, as in that of hats, Tartarin played a leading
role. His superiority over his fellow citizens arose from the fact that
he did not have a song of his own, and so he could take part in all of
them, only it was extremely difficult to get him to sing at all.

Returning early from some drawing-room success, our hero preferred to
immerse himself in his books on hunting or spend the evening at the
club rather than join in a sing-song round a Nimes piano, between two
Tarascon candles. He felt that musical evenings were a little beneath
him.

Sometimes, however, when there was music at Bezuquet the chemists,
he would drop in as if by chance, and after much persuasion he would
consent to take part in the great duet from "Robert le Diable" with
madame Bezuquet the elder.

Anyone who has not heard this has heard nothing. For my part, if I live
to be a hundred, I shall always recall the great Tartarin approaching
the piano with solemn steps, leaning his elbow upon it, making his
grimace and in the greenish light reflected from the chemist's jars,
trying to give his homely face the savage and satanic expression of
Robert le Diable.

As soon as he had taken up his position, a quiver of expectation ran
through the gathering. One felt that something great was about to
happen.

After a moment of silence, madame Bezuquet the elder, accompanying
herself on the piano, began:

"Robert, thou whom I adore

And in whom I trust,

You see my fear (twice)

Have mercy on yourself

And mercy on me."

She added, sotto voce, "Its you now Tartarin."

Then Tartarin, with arm extended, clenched fist and quivering nostrils,
said three times in a formidable voice which rolled like a clap of
thunder in the entrails of the piano "Non! Non! Non!" Which as a good
southerner he pronounced "Nan. Nan. Nan" Upon which madame Bezuquet
repeated "Mercy on yourself and on me" "Nan! Nan! Nan!" Bellowed
Tartarin even more loudly... and the matter ended there.... It was not
very long, but it was so well presented, so well acted, so diabolic that
a frisson ran round the pharmacy and he was made to repeat his "Nan.
Nan. Nan." four or five times.

Afterwards Tartarin wiped his forehead, smiled at the ladies, winked at
the men and went off triumphantly to the club, where, with a casual air,
he would say, "I've just come from the Bezuquets. They had me singing in
the duet from Robert le Diable." What is more he believed it.




Chapter 3.

It was to the possession of these various talents that Tartarin owed his
high standing in the town. There were, however, other ways in which he
had made his mark on society.

In Tarascon the army supported Tartarin. The gallant Commandant Bravida
(Quartermaster. Ret) said of him "He's a stout fellow," and one may
suppose that having kitted out so many stout fellows in his time, he
knew what he was talking about.

The magistrature supported Tartarin. Two or three times, on a full
bench, the aged president Ladevèze had said of him "He's quite a
character".

Finally, the people supported Tartarin, his stolid appearance, the
heroic reputation he had somehow acquired, the distribution of small
sums of money and a few clips round the ear to the youngsters who hung
around his doorstep, had made him lord of the neighbourhood and king
of the Tarascon market-place. On the quay, on sunday evenings, when
Tartarin returned from the hunt, his hat dangling from the end of his
gun, the stevedores would nod to him respectfully and eying the arms
bulging the sleeves of his tightly buttoned jacket, would murmur to one
another, "He's strong he is. He's got double muscles." The possession of
double muscles is something you hear about only in Tarascon.

However, in spite of his numerous talents, double muscles, popular
favour and the so precious esteem of the gallant Commandant Bravida
(Quartermaster. Ret) Tartarin was not happy. This small-town life
weighed him down, stifled him. The great man of Tarascon was bored
with Tarascon. The fact is that for an heroic nature such as his, for a
daring and adventurous spirit which dreamt of battles, explorations, big
game hunting, desert sands, hurricanes and typhoons, to go every Sunday
hat shooting and for the rest of the time dispense justice at Costecalde
the gunsmith's was... well... hardly satisfying. It was enough indeed to
send one into a decline.

In vain, in order to widen his horizon and forget for a while the club
and the market square, did he surround himself with African plants; in
vain did he pile up a collection of weapons; in vain did he pore over
tales of daring-do trying to escape by the power of his imagination from
the pitiless grip of reality. Alas all that he did to satisfy his lust
for adventure seemed only to increase it. The sight of his weapons kept
him in a perpetual state of furious agitation. His rifles, his arrows
and his spears rang out war-cries. In the branches of the baobab the
wind whispered enticingly of great voyages.

How often on these heavy summer afternoons, when he was alone, reading
amongst his weaponry, did Tartarin jump to his feet and throwing down
his book rush to the wall to arm himself, then, quite forgetting that
he was in his own house at Tarascon, cry, brandishing a gun or a spear,
"Let them all come"!!... Them?... What them? Tartarin did not quite know
himself, "Them" was everything that attacked, that bit, that clawed.
"Them" was the Indian brave dancing round the stake to which his
wretched prisoner was tied. It was the grizzly bear, shuffling and
swaying, licking bloodstained lips. The Toureg of the desert, the Malay
pirate, the Corsican bandit. In a word it was "Them!"

Alas it was fruitless for the fearless Tartarin to challenge them... they
never appeared; but though it seemed unlikely that they would come
to Tarascon, Tartarin was always ready for them, particularly in the
evenings when he went to the club.




Chapter 4.

The knight of the temple preparing for a sortie against the Saracen. The
Chinese warrior equipping himself for battle. The Comanchee brave taking
to the warpath were as nothing compared to Tartarin de Tarascon arming
himself to go to the club at nine o'clock on a dark evening, an hour
after the bugle had blown the retreat. He was cleared for action as the
sailors say.

On his left hand he had a metal knuckleduster. In his right he carried
a sword-stick. In his left pocket there was a cosh and in his right a
revolver. Stuck into his waistband was a knife. Before setting out, in
the privacy of his den, he carried out a few exercises. He made a pass
at the wall with his sword-stick, drew his revolver, flexed his
muscles and then taking his identity papers he crossed the
garden... steadily... unhurriedly... à l'Anglais. That is the mark of true
courage.

At the end of the garden he opened the heavy iron gate. He opened it
brusquely, violently, so that it banged against the wall. If "They" had
been behind it, it would have made a fine mess of them. Unfortunately
they were not behind it.

Having opened the gate Tartarin went out, cast a quick look right and
left, closed the gate swiftly and double locked it. Then he set off.

On the Avignon road there was not so much as a cat. Doors were shut and
curtains drawn across windows. Here and there a street light blinked in
the mist rising from the Rhône.

Superb and calm Tartarin de Tarascon strode through the night, his heels
striking the road with measured tread and the metal tip of his cane
raising sparks from the paving-stones. On boulevards, roads or lanes he
was always careful to walk in the middle of the causeway, an excellent
precaution which allows one to see approaching danger and moreover to
avoid things which at night, in the streets of Tarascon, sometimes fall
from windows. Seeing this prudence you should not entertain the notion
that Tartarin was afraid. No! He was just being cautious.

The clearest evidence that Tartarin was unafraid is that he went to the
club not by the short way but by the longest and darkest way, through
a tangle of mean little streets, at the end of which one glimpsed the
sinister gleam of the Rhone. He almost hoped that at a bend in one of
these alleys "They" would come rushing from the shadows to attack him
from behind. They would have had a hot reception I can promise you;
but sadly Tartarin was never fated to encounter any danger... not even a
dog... not even a drunk... Nothing.

Sometimes however there was an alarm. The sound of footsteps... Muffled
voices. Tartarin comes to a halt, peering into the shadows, sniffing
the air, straining his ears. The steps draw nearer, the voices more
distinct... there can be no doubt..."They" are here. With heaving
breast and eyes ablaze Tartarin is gathering himself like a jaguar and
preparing to leap on his foes, when suddenly out of the gloom a good
Tarasconais voice calls "Look! There's Tartarin! Hulloa there Tartarin!"
Malediction! It is Bezuquet the chemist and his family who have been
singing their ballad at the Costecaldes. "Bon soir, bon soir" growls
Tartarin, furious at his mistake, and shouldering his cane he disappears
angrily into the night.

Arrived at the club the fearless Tarasconais waits a little longer,
walking up and down in front of the door before entering. In the
end, tired of waiting for "them" and certain that they will not show
themselves, he throws a last look of defiance into the dark and mutters
crossly "Nothing... nothing... always nothing" With that our hero goes in
to play bezique with the Commandant.




Chapter 5.

With this lust for adventure, this need for excitement, this longing for
journeys to Lord knows where, how on earth, you may ask, does it happen
that Tartarin had never left Tarascon? For it is a fact that up to the
age of forty-five the bold Tarasconais had never slept away from his
home town. He had never even made the ritual journey to Marseille which
every good Provencal makes when he comes of age. He might, of course,
have visited Beaucaire, albeit Beaucaire is not very far from Tarascon,
as one has only to cross the bridge over the Rhône. Regrettably,
however, this wretched bridge is so often swept by high winds, is so
long and so flimsy and the river at that point is so wide that... Ma
foi... you will understand...!

At this point I think one has to admit that there were two sides to our
hero's character. On the one hand was the spirit of Don Quixote, devoted
to chivalry, to heroic ideals, to grandiose romantic folly, but lacking
the body of the celebrated hidalgo, that thin, bony apology of a body,
careless of material wants, capable of going for twenty nights without
unbuckling its breastplate and surviving for twenty-four hours on a
handful of rice. Tartarin, on the other hand, had a good solid body,
fat, heavy, sybaritic, soft and complaining, full of bourgeois appetites
and domestic necessities, the short-legged, full-bellied body of Sancho
Panza.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the same man! You may imagine the
arguments, the quarrels, the fights. Carried away by some lurid tale
of adventure, Tartarin-Quixote would clamour to be off to the fields of
glory, to set sail for distant lands, but then Tartarin-Sancho ringing
for the maid servant, would say "Jeanette, my chocolate." Upon which
Jeanette would return with a fine cup of chocolate, hot, silky and
scented, and some succulent grilled snacks, flavoured with anise;
greatly pleasing Tartarin-Sancho and silencing the cries of
Tartarin-Quixote.

That is how it happens that Tartarin de Tarascon had never left
Tarascon.




Chapter 6.

There was one occasion when Tartarin nearly went on a long
journey. The three brothers Garcio-Camus, Tarasconais who were in
business in Shanghai, offered him the management of one of their
establishments. Now this was the sort of life he needed. Important
transactions. An office full of clerks to control. Relations with
Russia, Persia, Turkey. In short, Big Business, which in Tartarin's eyes
was of enormous proportions.

The establishment had another advantage in that it was sometimes
attacked by bandits. On these occasions the gates were slammed shut, the
staff armed themselves, the consular flag was hoisted and "Pan! Pan!"
They fired through the windows at the bandits.

I need hardly tell you with what enthusiasm Tartarin-Quixote greeted
this proposal; unfortunately Tartarin-Sancho did not see the matter in
the same light, and as his views prevailed the affair came to nothing.

At the time there was a great deal of talk in the town. Was he going or
not going? It was a matter for eager discussion.

Although in the end Tartarin did not go, the event brought him a great
deal of credit. To have nearly gone to Shanghai and actually to have
gone there was for Tarascon much the same thing. As a result of so much
talk about Tartarin's journey, people ended by believing that he had
just returned, and in the evenings at the club the members would ask him
for a description of the life in Shanghai, the customs, the climate, and
big business.

Tartarin, who had gathered much information from the brothers was happy
to reply to their questions, and before long he was not entirely sure
himself whether he had been to Shanghai or not; so much so that when
describing for the hundredth time the raid by bandits he got to the
point of saying "Then I dished out arms to my staff. Hoisted the
consular flag and we fired 'Pan! Pan!' Through the windows at the
bandits." On hearing this the members would exchange suitably solemn
looks.

Tartarin then, you will say, is just a frightful liar. No!.... A
thousand times no! How is that? you may say, he must know vey well that
he has not been to Shanghai... to be sure he knows... only.... Perhaps the
time has come when we should settle the question of the reputation for
lying which has been given to the people of the Midi.

There are no liars in the Midi, neither at Marseille, nor Nimes, nor
Toulouse, nor Tarascon. The man of the Midi does not lie, he deceives
himself. He does not always speak the truth but he believes he speaks
it. His untruth, for him, is not a lie, it is a sort of mirage. To
understand better you must visit the Midi yourself. You will see a
countryside where the sun transfigures everything and makes it larger
than life-size. The little hills of Provence, no bigger than the Butte
Montmartre will seem to you gigantic. The Maison Carrée at Nimes, a
pretty little Roman temple, will seem to you as big as Notre Dame. You
will see that the only liar in the Midi, if there is one, is the sun;
everything that he touches he exaggerates. Can you be surprised that
this sun shining down on Tarascon has been able to make a retired
Captain Quartermaster into the gallant Commandant Bravida, to make a
thing like a turnip into a baobab and a man who almost went to Shanghai
into one who has really been there.




Chapter 7.

Now that we have shown Tartarin as he was in his private life, before
fame had crowned his head with laurels. Now that we have recounted the
story of his heroic existance in modest surroundings, the story of his
joys and sorrows, his dreams and his hopes, let us hurry forward to the
important pages of his history and to the event which lent wings to his
destiny.

It was one evening at Costecalde the gunsmith's; Tartarin was explaining
to some listeners the working of a pin-fire rifle, then something quite
new, when suddenly the door was opened and a hat hunter rushed into
the room in a great state shouting "A lion! a lion!" General amazement,
fright, tumult and confusion. Tartarin grabbed a bayonet, Costecalde ran
to close the door. The newcomer was surrounded and questioned nosily.
What they learned was that the Menagerie Mitaine, returning from the
fair at Beaucaire, had arranged to make a stop of several days at
Tarascon, and had just set itself up in the Place du Château with a
collection of snakes, seals, crocodiles, and a magnificent African
lion.... An African lion at Tarascon!... such a thing had never been seen
before, never in living memory.

The brave band of hat hunters gazed proudly at one another. Their manly
features glowed with pleasure and, in every corner of the shop, firm
handshakes were silently exchanged. The emotion was so overwhelming, so
unforseen that no one could find a word to say. Not even Tartarin. Pale
and trembling, with the new rifle clutched in his hands, he stood in a
trance at the shop counter. A lion!... an African lion!... nearby... a few
paces away... A lion, the ferocious king of the beasts... the quarry of
his dreams... one of the leading actors in that imaginary cast which
played out such fine dramas in his fantasies. It was too much for
Tartarin to bear. Suddenly the blood flooded to his cheeks. His eyes
blazed, and with a convulsive gesture he slapped the rifle onto his
shoulder, then turning to the brave Commandant Bravida (quartermaster.
Ret) he said in a voice of thunder, "Come, Commandant, let us go and
see this." "Excuse me. Excuse me. My new rifle." The prudent Costecalde
hazarded timidly, but Tartarin was already in the street, and behind him
all the hat hunters fell proudly into step.

When they arrived at the menagerie it was already crowded. The brave
people of Tarascon, too long deprived of sensational spectacles, had
descended on the place and taken it by storm. The big madame Mitaine
was in her element; dressed in an oriental costume, her arms bare to the
elbows and with iron bracelets round her ankles, she had a whip in one
hand and in the other a live chicken. She welcomed the Tarasconais to
the show, and as she too had "Double muscles" she aroused almost as much
interest as the animals in her charge.

The arrival of Tartarin with the rifle on his shoulder produced
something of a chill, all the bold Tarasconais who had been walking
tranquilly before the cages, unarmed, trusting, with no notion of
danger, became suddenly alarmed at the sight of the great Tartarin
entering the place, carrying this lethal weapon. There must be something
to fear if he, their hero.... In the blink of an eye the area in front of
the cages was deserted, children were crying with fright and the ladies
were eying the doorway. Bezuquet the chemist left hurridly, saying that
he was going to fetch a gun.

Little by little, however, the attitude of Tartarin restored their
courage. Calm and erect, the intrepid Tarasconais strolled round the
menagerie. He passed the seals without stopping. He cast a contemptuous
eye on the container full of noise, where the boa was swallowing its
chicken, and at last halted in front of the lion's cage.... A dramatic
confrontation.... The lion of Tarascon and the lion of the Atlas
mountains face to face.

On one side stood Tartarin, his legs planted firmly apart, his arms
resting on his rifle, on the other was the lion, a gigantic lion,
sprawling in the straw, blinking its eyes drowsily and resting its
enormous yellow-haired muzzle on its front paws... they regarded one
another calmly... then something odd happened. Perhaps it was the sight
of the rifle, perhaps it recognised an enemy of its kind, but the lion
which up until then had looked on the people of Tarascon with sovereign
disdain, yawning in their faces, seemed to feel a stirring of anger.
First it sniffed and uttered a rumbling growl, it stretched out its
forefeet and unsheathed its claws, then it got up, raised its head,
shook its mane, opened its huge maw and directed at Tartarin a most
ear-splitting roar.

This was greeted by a cry of terror. Tarascon, in panic, rushed for the
doors. Everyone, men, women, children, the hat shooters and even the
brave Commandant Bravida himself. Only Tartarin did not move... he
remained firm and resolute before the cage, a light shining in his eyes,
and wearing that grim expression which the town knew so well. After a
few moments, the hat shooters, somewhat reassured by his attitude and
the solidity of the cage bars, rejoined their chief, to hear him mutter
"Now that is something worth hunting." And that was all that he said.




Chapter 8.

Although at the memagerie he had said nothing more, he had already
said too much. The following day all the talk of the town was of the
impending departure of Tartarin for Africa, to shoot lions.

You will bear witness that the good fellow had not breathed a word
of this, but you know how it is... the mirage.... In short the whole of
Tarascon could talk of nothing else.

On the pavement, at the club, at Costecalde's shop, people accosted one
another with an air of excitement.

"Et autrement, have you heard the latest, au moins?"

"Et autrement, what now, is Tartarin going, au moins?" For in Tarascon
every remark begins with "Et autrement" which is pronounced "autremain"
and ends with "au moins" which is pronounced "au mouain" and in these
days the sound of "autremain" and "au mouain" was enough to rattle the
windows.

The most surprised person in the town to hear that he was leaving for
Africa was Tartarin, but now see the effects of vanity. Instead of
replying that he was not going and had never intended to go, poor
Tartarin, on the first occasion that the subject was broached adopted a
somewhat evasive air, "Hé!... Hé!... perhaps... I can't say." On the
second occasion, now a little more accustomed to the idea, he replied
"Probably" and on the third "Yes, definitely."

Eventually, one evening at the club, carried away by some glasses of
egg-nog, the public interest and the plaudits, he declared formally that
he was tired of shooting at hats and was going shortly in pursuit of the
great lions of Africa.

A loud cheer greeted this declaration, then came more egg-nog,
handshakes, embraces and torchlight serenades until midnight before the
little house of the baobab.

Tartarin-Sancho, however, was far from pleased. The idea of travelling
to Africa and hunting lions scared him stiff and when they went into the
house, and while the serenade of honour was still going on outside, he
made the most frightful scene with Tartarin-Quixote, calling him a crazy
dreamer, a rash triple idiot and detailing one by one the catastrophes
which would await him on such an expedition. Shipwreck, fever,
dysentery, plague, elephantiasis and so on... it was useless for
Tartarin-Quixote to swear that he would be careful, that he would dress
warmly, that he would take with him everything that might be needed,
Tartarin-Sancho refused to listen. The poor fellow saw himself already
torn to pieces by lions or swallowed up in the sands of the desert, and
the other Tartarin could pacify him only a little by pointing out that
these were plans for the future, that there was no hurry, that they had
not yet actually started.

Obviously one cannot embark on such an expedition without some
preparation. One cannot take off like a bird. As a first measure
Tartarin set about reading the reports of the great African explorers,
the journals of Livingstone, Burton, Caillé‚ and the like, there he saw
that those intrepid travellers, before they put their boots on for these
distant excursions, prepared themselves in advance to undergo hunger,
thirst, long treks and privations of all sorts.

Tartarin decided to follow their example and took to a diet of "Eau
bouillie". What is called eau bouillie in Tarascon consists of several
slices of bread soaked in warm water, with a clove of garlic, a little
thyme and a bay leaf. It is not very palatable and you may imagine how
Tartarin-Sancho enjoyed it.

Tartarin de Tarascon combined this with several other sensible methods
of training. For instance, to habituate himself to long marches he would
go round his morning constitutional seven or eight times, sometimes at a
brisk walk, sometimes at the trot with two pebbles in his mouth. Then to
accustom himself to nocturnal chills and the mists of dawn, he went into
the garden and stayed there until ten or eleven at night, alone with his
rifle, on watch behind the baobab.

Finally, for as long as the menagerie remained in Tarascon, those hat
hunters who had stayed late at Costecalde's could see in the shadows, as
they passed the Place du Château, a figure pacing up and down behind
the cages... it was Tartarin training himself to listen unmoved to the
roaring of lions in the African night.




Chapter 9.

While Tartarin was preparing himself by these strenuous methods, all
Tarascon had its eyes on him. Nothing else was of interest. Hat shooting
was abandoned, the ballads languished; in Bezuquet the chemist's the
piano was silent beneath a green dust cover, with cantharides flies
drying, belly up, on the top... Tartarin's expedition had brought
everything to a halt.

You should have seen the success of our hero in the drawing-rooms. He
was seized, squabbled over, borrowed and stolen. There was no greater
triumph for the ladies than to go, on the arm of Tartarin, to the
menagerie Mitaine and to have him explain, in front of the lion's cage,
how one goes about hunting these great beasts, at what point one
aims and at what distance, whether there are many accidents, and so
on... through his reading Tartarin had gained almost as much knowledge
about lion hunting as if he had actually engaged in it himself, and so
he spoke of these matters with much authority.

Where Tartarin really excelled, however, was after dinner at the home of
president Ladevèze or the brave Commandant Bravida (quartermaster. Ret)
when coffee had been served and the chairs pulled together, then with
his elbow on the table, between sips of his coffee, our hero gave a
moving description of all the dangers which awaited him "Over there"
He spoke of long moonless watches, of pestilential marshes, of rivers
poisoned by the leaves of oleanders, of snows, scorching suns, scorpions
and clouds of locusts; he also spoke of the habits of the great lions
of the Atlas, their phenomenal strength, their ferocity in the mating
season.... Then, carried away by his own words, he would rise from the
table and bound into the middle of the room, imitating the roar of the
lion, the noise of the rifle "Pan! Pan!" The whistle of the bullet.
Gesticulating, shouting, knocking over chairs... while at the table faces
are grave, the men looking at one another and nodding their heads, the
ladies closing their eyes with little cries of alarm. A grandfather
brandishes his walking-stick in a bellicose manner and, in the next
room, the small children who have been put to bed earlier are startled
out of their sleep by the banging and bellowing, and greatly frightened
demand lights.

Tartarin, however, showed no sign of leaving for Africa... did he really
have any intention of going? That is a delicate question and one to
which his biographer would find difficulty in replying. The fact is that
the menagerie had now been gone for three months but the killer of lions
had not budged... could it be that our innocent hero, blinded perhaps
by a new mirage, honestly believed that he had been to Africa, and
by talking so much about his hunting expedition believed that it had
actually taken place. Unfortunately, if this was the case and Tartarin
had once more fallen victim to the mirage, the people of Tarascon had
not. When it was observed that after three months of waiting the hunter
had not packed a single bag, people began to talk.

"This will turn out to be another Shanghai." Said Costecalde, smiling,
and this remark spread round the town like wildfire, for people had lost
their belief in Tartarin. The ignorant, the chicken-hearted, people like
Bezuquet, whom a flea could put to flight, and who could not fire a gun
without closing both eyes, these above all were pitiless. At the club,
on the esplanade, they accosted poor Tartarin with little mocking
remarks, "Et autremain, what about this trip then?" At Costecalde's
shop his opinion was no longer law. The hat hunters had deserted their
leader.

Then there were the epigrams. President Ladevèze who in his spare time
dabbled in provencal poetry, composed a little song in dialect which
was a great success. It concerned a certain hunter named master Gervaise
whose redoubtable rifle was to exterminate every last lion in Africa.
Sadly this rifle had a singular fault, although always loaded it never
went off....



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