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- Tartarin de Tarascon - 3/14 -
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 somethig 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.
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