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- Tartarin de Tarascon - 5/14 -


roofs, up trees. Bargees from the Rhône, stevedores, boot-blacks, clerks, weavers, the club members, in fact the whole town. Then there were people from Beaucaire who had come across the bridge, market- gardeners from the suburbs, carts with big hoods, vignerons mounted on fine mules ornamented with ribbons, tassels, bows and bells, and even here and there some pretty girls from Arles, with blue kerchiefs round their heads, riding on the crupper behind their sweethearts on the small iron-grey horses of the Camargue. All this crowd pushed and jostled before Tartarin's gate, the gate of this fine M.Tartarin who was going to kill lions in the country of the "Teurs". (In Tarascon: Africa, Greece, Turkey and Mesopotamia formed a vast, vague almost mythical country which was called the Teurs...that is the Turks). Throughout this mob the hat shooters came and went, proud of the triumph of their leader, and leaving in their wake, as it were, little trails of glory.

In front of the house of the baobab there were two large handcarts. From time to time the gate was opened and one could see men walking busily about in the garden. They carried out trunks, cases and carpet- bags which they piled onto the carts. On the arrival of each new package the crowd stirred and a description of the article was shouted out." That's his tent! There's the preserved foods! The medicine chest! The arms chest!." While the hat shooters gave a running commentary.

Suddenly, at about ten o'clock, there was a great movement in the crowd. The garden gate swung back violently on its hinges...." It's him!....Its him!" they cried.

It was indeed him. When he appeared on the threshold, two cries of amazement rose from the crowd:- "He's a Teur!....He's wearing sun- glasses!"....Tartarin, it is true, had believed that as he was going to Algeria he should adopt Algerian costume. Large baggy pantaloons of white cloth, a small tight jacket with metal buttons, a red sash wound round his stomach and on his head a gigantic "Chechia" (a red floppy bonnet) with an immensely long blue tassel dangling from its crown. Added to this, he carried two rifles, one on each shoulder, a hunting knife stuck into the sash round his middle, a cartridge-bag slung on one side and a revolver in a leather holster on the other. That was it. Ah!... forgive me...I forgot the sun-glasses, a huge pair of blue sun-glasses which were just the very thing to correct any suggestion of extravagance in his turnout.

"Vive Tartarin!...Vive Tartarin!" Yelled the people. The great man smiled but did not wave, partly because of the rifles, which were giving him some trouble and partly because he had learned what little value one can place on popular favour. Perhaps even, in the depths of his soul, he cursed these terrible compatriots who were forcing him to leave, to quit his pretty little house with its green shutters and white walls, but if so he did not show it. Calm and proud, though a little pale, he marched down the pathway, inspected his handcarts and seeing that all was in order set off jauntily on the road to the station, without looking back even once at the house of the baobab.

On his arrival at the station he was greeted by the station-master, a former soldier, who shook him warmly by the hand several times. The Paris-Marseille express had not yet arrived, so Tartarin and his general staff went into the waiting-room. To keep back the following crowd the station-master closed the barriers.

For fifteen minutes Tartarin paced back and forward, surrounded by the hat shooters. He spoke to them of his coming expedition, promising to send them skins, and entering their orders in his note-book as if they were a list of groceries. As tranquil as was Socrates at the moment when he drank the hemlock, the bold Tartarin had a word for everyone. He spoke simply and affably, as if before departing he wished to leave behind a legacy of charm, happy memories and regrets. To hear their chief speak thus brought tears to the eyes of the hat shooters, and to some, such as the president Ladevèze and the chemist Bezuquet, even a twinge of remorse. Some of the station staff were dabbing their eyes in corners, while outside the crowd peered through the railings and shouted "Vive Tartarin!"

Then a bell rang. There was a rumbling noise of wheels. A piercing whistle split the heavens...All aboard!...All aboard!... Goodbye Tartarin!...Goodbye Tartarin!. "Goodbye everyone" murmured the great man, and on the cheeks of the brave Commandant Bravida he planted a farewell salute to his beloved Tarascon. Then he hurried along the platform and got into a carriage full of Parisian ladies, who almost died of fright at the appearance of this strange man with his revolver and rifles.

Chapter 11. On the first day of December 186-, in the clear bright winter sunshine of Provence, the startled inhabitants of Marseille witnessed the arrival of a Teur. Never had they seen one like this before, though God knows there is no shortage of Teurs in Marseille. The Teur, need I tell you, was none other than Tartarin de Tarascon, who was proceeding down the quay followed by his case of arms, his medecine chest and his preserved foods, in search of the embarkation point of the Compagnie Touache and the ferry-boat "Le Zouave" which was to carry him away.

His ears still ringing with the cheers of Tarascon and bemused by the brightness of the sky and the smell of the sea,Tartarin marched along, his rifles slung on his shoulders, gazing around in wonder at this marvellous port of Marseille, which he was seeing for the first time and which quite dazzled him. He almost felt that he was dreaming and that like Sinbad he was wandering in one of the fabulous cities of the Thousand and one Nights.

As far as the eye could see, there stretched a jumble of masts and yards, criss-crossing in all directions. The flags of a multitude of nations fluttering in the wind. The ships level with the quay, their bowsprits projecting over the edge like a row of bayonets, and below them the carved and painted wooden figureheads of nymphs, goddesses and saintly virgins from which the ships took their names. From time to time, between the hulls one could see a patch of sea, like a great sheet of cloth spattered with oil, while in the entanglement of yardarms a host of seagulls made pretty splashes of white against the blue sky. On the quay, amid the streams which trickled from the soapworks, thick, green, streaked with black, full of oil and soda, there was a whole population of customs officers, shipping agents, and stevedores with trollies drawn by little Corsican ponies. There were shops selling strange sweetmeats. Smoke enshrouded huts where seamen were cooking. There were merchants selling monkeys, parrots, rope, sailcloth and fantastic collections of bric-a-brac where, heaped up pell-mell, were old culverins, great gilded lanterns, old blocks and tackle, old rusting anchors, old rigging, old megaphones, old telescopes, dating from the time of Jean Bart.

There were women selling shellfish, crouched bawling beside their wares, sailors passing, some with pots of tar, some with steaming pots of stew, others with baskets full of squid which they were taking to wash in the fresh water of the fountains. Everywhere prodigious heaps of merchandise of every kind. Silks, minerals, baulks of timber, ingots of lead, carobs, rape-seed, liquorice, sugar cane, great piles of dutch cheeses. East and west hugger-mugger.

Here is the grain berth. Stevedores empty the sacks onto the quay from a scaffold, the grain pours down in a golden torrent raising a cloud of pale dust, and is loaded by men wearing red fezes into carts, which set off followed by a regiment of women and children with brushes and buckets for gleaning.

There is the careening basin. The huge vessels lie over on one side and are flamed with fires of brushwood to rid them of seaweed, while their yardarms soak in the water. There is a smell of pitch and the deafening hammering of shipwrights lining the hulls with sheets of copper.

Sometimes, between the masts, a gap opened and Tartarin could see the harbour mouth and the movement of ships. An English frigate leaving for Malta, spruce and scrubbed, with officers in yellow gloves, or a big Marseilles brig, casting off amid shouting and cursing, with, in the bows, a fat captain in an overcoat and a top hat, supervising the manoeuvre in broad provencal. There were ships outward bound, running before the wind with all sails set, there were others, far out at sea, beating their way in and seeming in the sunshine to be floating on air.

Then, all the time the most fearsome racket. The rumbling of cart wheels, the cries of the sailors, oaths, songs, the sirens of steam- boats, the drums and bugles of Fort St.Jean and Fort St.Nicolas, the bells of nearby churches and, up above, the mistral, which took all of these sounds, rolled them together, shook them up and mingled them with its own voice to make mad, wild, heroic music, like a great fanfare, urging one to set sail for distant lands, to spread one's wings and go. It was to the sound of this fine fanfare that Tartarin embarked for the country of lions.

Chapter 12. I wish that I was a painter, a really good painter, so that I could present to you a picture of the different positions adopted by Tartarin's chechia during the three days of the passage from France to Algeria.

I would show it to you first at the departure, proud and stately as it was then, crowning that noble Tarascon head. I would show it next when, having left the harbour, the Zouave began to lift on the swell. I would show it fluttering and astonished, as if feeling the first premonitions of distress.

Then, in the gulf of Lion, when the Zouave was further offshore and the sea a little rougher, I would present it at grips with the storm, clutching, bewildered, at the head of our hero, its long blue woollen tassel streaming in the spume and gusting wind.

The fourth position. Six in the evening. Off the coast of Corsica. The wretched chechia is leaning over the rail and sadly contemplating the depths of the ocean.

Fifth and last position. Down in a narrow cabin, in a little bed which has the appearance of a drawer in a commode, something formless and desolate rolls about, moaning, on the pillow. It is the chechia, the heroic chechia, now reduced to the vulgar status of a night-cap, and jammed down to the ears of a pallid and convulsing invalid.

Ah! If the townsfolk of Tarascon could have seen the great Tartarin, lying in his commode drawer, in the pale, dismal light which filtered through the porthole, amongst the stale smell of cooking and wet wood, the depressing odour of the ferry boat. If they had heard him groan at every turn of the propeller, ask for tea every five minutes, and complain to the steward in the weak voice of a child, would they have regretted having forced him to leave? On my word,the poor Tuer deserved pity. Overcome by sea-sickness, he had not the will even to loosen his sash or rid himself of his weapons. The hunting knife with the big handle dug into his ribs. His revolver bruised his leg, and the final straw was the nagging of Tartarin-Sancho, who never ceased whining and carping:- "Imbecile! Va! I warned you didn't I?....But you had to go to Africa!....Well now you're on your way, how do you like it?"


Tartarin de Tarascon - 5/14

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