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- Tartarin de Tarascon - 6/14 -
What was every bit as cruel was that, shut in his cabin, between his groans he could hear the other passengers in the saloon, laughing, eating, singing, playing cards. The society in the Zouave was as cheerful as it was diverse. There were some officers on their way to rejoin their units, a bevy of tarts from Marseille, a rich Mahommedan merchant, returning from Mecca, some strolling players, a Montenegran prince, a great joker this, who did impersonations....Not one of these people was sea-sick and they spent the time drinking champagne with the captain of the Zouave, a fat "Bon viveur" from Marseille, who had an establishment there and another in Algiers, and who rejoiced in the name of Barbassou. Tartarin hated all these people. Their gaity redoubled his misery.
At last, in the afternoon of the third day, there was some unusual activity on board the ship, which roused our hero from his torpor. The bell in the bows rang out...the heavy boots of the sailors could be heard running on the deck..."Engine ahead!...engine astern!." Shouted the hoarse voice of Captain Barbassou. Then "Stop engine!."
The engine stopped, there was a little tremor and then nothing. The ferry lay rocking gently from side to side, like a balloon in the air. This strange silence horrified Tartarin. "My God! We are sinking!" He cried in a voice of terror, and recovering his strength as if by magic, he rushed up onto the deck.
Chapter 13. The Zouave was not sinking. She had just dropped her anchor in a fine anchorage of deep, dark water. Opposite, on the hillside, was Algiers, its little matt-white houses running down to the sea, huddled one against the other, like a pile of white washing laid out on a river bank. Up above a great sky of satin blue...but oh!... So blue!
Tartarin, somewhat recovered from his fright, gazed at the landscape, while listening respectfully to the Montenegrin prince, who standing beside him, pointed out the different quarters of the town. The Casbah, the upper town, the Rue Bab-Azoum. Very well educated this prince of Montenegro. What is more he knew Algiers well and spoke Arabic. Tartarin had decided to cultivate his acquaintance when suddenly, along the rail on which they were leaning, he saw a row of big black hands grasping it from below. Almost immediately a curly black head appeared in front of him and before he could open his mouth the deck was invaded from all side by a swarm of pirates; black, yellow, half naked, hideous and terrible. Tartarin knew at once that it was "Them" The fearsome "Them" who he had so often expected at night in the streets of Tarascon. Now they had arrived.
At first surprise glued him to the spot, but when he saw the pirates hurl themselves on the baggage, tear off the tarpaulin covers and begin to pillage the ship, our hero came to life. Drawing his hunting knife and shouting "Aux armes!...Aux armes!" To his fellow passengers, he prepared tp lead an assault on the raiders. "Ques aco?... What's the matter with you? Said Captain Barbassou as he came off the bridge. "Ah!...There you are Captain....Quick! Quick! Arm your men!" "Hé!...Do what? Why for God's sake?" "But don't you see?" "See what?" "There, in front of you...the pirates! Captain Barbassou regarded him with astonishment..... At that moment a huge monster of a black man ran past carrying the medicine chest. "Wretch! Wait till I catch you!" Yelled Tartarin, starting forward with his knife held aloft. Barbassou caught him and held him by his sash. "Calm down for Chrissake." He said, "These are not pirates, there have been no pirates for ages, these are stevedores." "Stevedores?" "Hé! Yes, stevedores who have come to collect the baggage and take it ashore. Put away your cutlass, give me your ticket and follow that negro, an excellent fellow , who will take you ashore and even to your hotel if you wish."
Somewhat confused Tartarin surrendered his ticket and following the negro he went down the gangplank into a large boat which was bobbing alongside the ferry. All his baggage was there, his trunks, cases of weapons and preserved food, as they took up all the room in the boat, there was no need to wait for other passengers. The negro climbed onto the baggage and squatted there with his arms wrapped round his knees. Another negro took the oars...the two of them regarded Tartarin,laughing and showing their white teeth.
Standing in the stern, wearing his fiercest expression, Tartarin nervously fingered the handle of his hunting knife, for in spite of what Barbassou had told him, he was only half reassured about the intentions of these ebony-skinned stevedores, who looked so different from honest longshoremen of Tarascon.
Three minutes later the boat reached land and Tartarin set foot on the little Barbary quay, where three hundred years earlier a galley-slave named Michael Cervantes, under the whip of an Algerian galley-master, had begun to plan the wonderful story of Don Quixote.
Chapter 14. If by any chance the ghost of Micheal Cervantes was abroad on that bit of the Barbary coast, it must have been delighted at the arrival of this splendid specimen of a Frenchman from the Midi, in whom were combined the two heroes of his book, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
It was a warm day. On the quay, bathed in sunshine, were five or six customs officers, some settlers awaiting news from France, some squatting Moors, smoking their long pipes, some Maltese fishermen, hauling in a large net, in the meshes of which thousands of sardines glittered like pieces of silver; but scarcely had Tartarin set foot there when the quay sprang into life and changed entirely its appearance.
A band of savages, more hideous even than the pirates of the boat, seemed to rise from the very cobble-stones to hurl themselves on the newcomer. Huge Arabs, naked beneath their long woolen garments, little Moors dressed in rags, Negroes, Tunisians, hotel waiters in white aprons, pushing and shouting, plucking at his clothes, fighting over his luggage; one grabbong his preserves another his medicine chest and, in a screeching babel of noise, throwing at his head the improbable names of hotels....Deafened by this tumult, Tartarin ran hither and thither,struggling, fuming, and cursing after his baggage, and not knowing how to communicate with these barbarians, harangued them in French, Provencal and even what he could remember of Latin. It was a wasted effort, no one was listening....Happily, however, a little man dressed in a tunic with a yellow collar and armed with a long cane arrived on the scene and dispersed the rabble with blows from his stick. He was an Algerian policeman. Very politely he arranged for Tartarin to go to the Hotel de l'Europe, and confided him to the care of some locals who led him away with all his baggage loaded on several barrows.
As he took his first steps in Algiers, Tartarin looked about him wide- eyed. He had imagined beforehand a fairylike Arabian city, something between Constantinople and Zanzibar...but here he was back in Tarascon. Some cafés some restaurants, wide streets, houses of four stories, a small tarmac square where a military band played Offenbach polkas, men seated on chairs, drinking beer and nibbling snacks, a few ladies, a sprinkling of tarts and soldiers, more soldiers, everywhere soldiers...and not a single "Teur" in sight except for him...so he found walking across the square a bit embarrassing. Everyone stared....The military band stopped playing and the Offenbach polka came to a halt with one foot in the air.
With his two rifles on his shoulders, his revolver by his side, unflinching and stately he passed through the throng, but on reaching the hotel his strength deserted him. The departure from Tarascon. The harbour at Marseille. The crossing. The Montenegrin prince. The pirates, all whirled in confusion round his brain. He had to be taken up to his room, disarmed and undressed...there was even talk of sending for a doctor, but hardly had his head touched the pillow than he began to snore so loudly and vigorously that the hotel manager decided that medical assistance was not required, and everyone discretly withdrew. Chapter 15. The bell of the government clock was sounding three when Tartarin awoke. He had slept all evening, all night, all morning and even a good part of the afternoon. It has, of course, to be admitted that over the preceding three days the chechia had had a pretty rough time.
His first thought on waking was "Here I am, in lion country!" and it must be confessed that this notion that he was surrounded by lions and was about to go in pursuit of them produced a marked chill, and he buried himself safely under the bedclothes.
Soon, however, the gaiety of the scene outside, the sky so blue, the bright sunshine which flooded into his room through the large window which opened towards the sea, and a good meal which he had served in bed, washed down by a carafe of wine, quickly restored his courage. "To the lions! To the lions!" He cried, and throwing off the bed clothes he dressed himself hurriedly.
His plan of action was this. Leave town and go well out into the desert. Wait until nightfall. Lie in hiding, and at the first lion that comes along... Pan! Pan!....Return in the morning. Lunch at hotel. Receive the congratulations of the Algerians and hire a cart to go and collect the kill.
He armed himself hastily, strapped onto his back the bivouac tent, the pole of which stuck up above his head, and then, held rigid by this contraption, he went down to the street. He turned sharply to the right and walked to the end of the shopping arcade of Bab-Azoum, where a series of Algerian store-keepers watched him pass, concealed in corners of their dark boutiques like spiders. He went through the Place du théatre. through the suburbs and eventually reached the dusty main road to Mustapha.
Here was a fantastic confusion of traffic. There were coaches, cabs, curricles, military supply wagons, great carts of hay drawn by oxen, some squadrons of Chasseurs d'Afrique, troops of microscopic little donkeys, negresses selling galettes, loads of emigrants from Alsasce, some Spahis in red cloaks. All passing in a great cloud of dust, with cries, songs and trumpet calls, between two rows of miserable shacks, where could be seen prostitutes applying their make-up at their doors, tap-rooms full of soldiers and the stalls of butchers and slaughtermen. The tales I have been told about this place are quite untrue, thought Tartarin, there are fewer "Teurs" here than there are in Marseille.
Suddenly he saw striding past him, long-legged and proud as a turkey cock, a magnificent camel. The sight quickened his pulse; where there were camels lions could not be far away, and indeed within five minutes he saw coming towards him with guns on their shoulders, a whole company of lion hunters with their dogs.
A cowardly lot, thought Tartarin, as he came alongside them... hunting lions in a group and with dogs... for it had never occurred to him that In Algeria one could hunt anything but lions. However these hunters looked like comfortably retired businessmen, and Tartarin, curious about this way of hunting lions with dogs and game-bags, took it on himself to address one of them.
"Et autrement, my friend,a good day?"
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