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- Tartarin de Tarascon - 4/14 -
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 pronouced "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 decription 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 ths 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....It never went off...you will understand the allusion. This song achieved instant popularity, and when Tartarin was passing, the stevedores on the quay and the grubby urchins hanging round his door would chant this insulting little ditty...only they sang it from a safe distance because of the double muscles.
The great man himself pretended to see nothing, to hear nothing. Although at heart this underhand, venomous campaign hurt him deeply, in spite of his suffering, he continued to go about his life with a smile; but sometimes the mask of cheerful indifference which pride had pinned on his features slipped, then instead of laughter one saw indignation and grief. So it was one morning when some street urchins were chanting their jeers beneath the window of the room where our poor hero was trimming his beard. Suddenly the window was thrown open and Tartarin's head appeared, his face covered in soapsuds, waving a razor and shaving brush and shouting "Sword-thrusts, gentlemen, sword- thrusts, not pin-pricks!" Fine words but wasted on a bunch of brats about two bricks tall.
Amid the general defection, the army alone stood firmly by Tartarin, the brave Commandant Bravida continued to treat him with esteem. "He's a stout fellow," He persisted in saying, and this affirmation was worth a good deal more, I should imagine, than anything said by Bezuquet the chemist.
The gallant Commandant had never uttered a word about the African journey, but at last, when the public clamour became too loud to ignore, he decided to speak.
One evening, the unhappy Tartarin was alone in his study thinking sad thoughts, when the Commandant appeared, somberly dressed and gloved, with every button fastened "Tartarin!" said the former captain, with authority,"Tartarin, you must go!" and he stood, upright and rigid in the doorway, the very embodiment of duty.
All that was implied in that "Tartarin you must go" Tartarin understood. Very pale, he rose to his feet and cast a tender look round his pleasant study, so snug, so warm, so well lit, and at the the large, so comfortable armchair, at his books, his carpet and at the big white blinds of his window, beyond which swayed the slender stems of the little garden. Then advancing to the the brave Commandant, he took his hand, shook it vigorously and in a voice close to tears said stoicly, "I shall go, Bravida." And he did go as he had said he would. Though not before he had gathered the necessary equipment.
First, he ordered from Blompard two large cases lined with copper and with a large plaque inscribed TARTARIN DE TARASCON. FIREARMS. The lining and the engraving took a long time. He ordered from M.Tastevin a magnificent log-book in which to write his journal. Then he sent to Marseille for a whole cargo of preserved food, for pemmican tablets to make soup, for a bivouac tent of the latest design, which could be erected or struck in a few minutes, a pair of sea-boots, two umbrellas, a waterproof and a pair of dark glasses to protect his eyes. Finally, Bezuquet the chemist made up a medicine chest full of sticking plaster, pills and lotions. All these preparations were made in the hope that by these and other delicate attentions he could appease the fury of Tartarin-Sancho, which, since the departure had been decided, had raged unabated by day and by night.
Chapter 10. At last the great day arrived. From first light the whole of Terascon was afoot, blocking the Avignon road and the approaches to the little house of the baobab. There were people at windows, on
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