TARTARIN OF TARASCON
By Alphonse Daudet
EPISODE THE FIRST, IN TARASCON
I. The Garden Round the Giant Trees.
MY first visit to Tartarin of Tarascon has remained a
never-to-be-forgotten date in my life; although quite ten or a dozen
years ago, I remember it better than yesterday.
At that time the intrepid Tartarin lived in the third house on the left
as the town begins, on the Avignon road. A pretty little villa in
the local style, with a front garden and a balcony
behind, the walls
glaringly white and the venetians very green; and always about the
doorsteps a brood of little Savoyard shoe-blackguards playing hopscotch,
or dozing in the broad sunshine
with their heads pillowed on their
Outwardly the dwelling
had no remarkable
features, and none would ever
believe it the abode of a hero; but when you stepped inside, ye gods and
little fishes! what a change! From turret
to foundation-stone--I mean,
to garret,--the whole building wore a heroic
front; even so
O that garden of Tartarin's! there's not its match in Europe! Not a
native tree was there--not one flower of France; nothing hut exotic
plants, gum-trees, gourds, cotton-woods, cocoa and cacao, mangoes,
bananas, palms, a baobab, nopals, cacti, Barbary figs--well, you would
believe yourself in the very midst of Central Africa, ten thousand
leagues away. It is but fair to say that these were none of full growth;
indeed, the cocoa-palms were no bigger than beet root and the baobab
(arbos gigantea--"giant tree," you know) was easily enough circumscribed
by a window-pot; but, notwithstanding
this, it was rather a sensation
for Tarascon, and the townsfolk who were admitted on Sundays to the
honour of contemplating Tartarin's baobab, went home chokeful of
Try to conceive
my own emotion, which I was bound to feel on that day of
days when I crossed through this marvellous garden, and that was capped
when I was ushered into the hero's sanctum.
His study, one of the lions--I should say, lions' dens--of the town, was
at the end of the garden, its glass door opening
right on to the baobab.
You are to picture a capaciousapartment
adorned with firearms and steel
blades from top to bottom: all the weapons of all the countries in the
wide world--carbines, rifles, blunderbusses, Corsican, Catalan, and
dagger knives, Malay kreeses, revolvers with spring-bayonets, Carib and
flint arrows, knuckle-dusters, life-preservers, Hottentot clubs, Mexican
lassoes--now, can you expect me to name the rest? Upon the whole fell a
fierce sunlight, which made the blades and the brass butt-plate of the
muskets gleam as if all the more to set your flesh creeping. Still,
the beholder was soothed a little by the tame air of order and tidiness
reigning over the arsenal. Everything was in place, brushed, dusted,
labelled, as in a museum; from point to point the eye descried some
obliging little card reading:
I Poisoned Arrows! I
I Do Not Touch! I
I Loaded! I
I Take care, please! I
If it had not been for these cautions I never should have dared venture
In the middle of the room was an occasional
table, on which stood
a decanter of rum, a siphon of soda-water, a Turkish tobacco-pouch,
"Captain Cook's Voyages," the Indian tales of Fenimore Cooper and
Gustave Aimard, stories of hunting
the bear, eagle, elephant, and so
on. Lastly, beside the table sat a man of between forty and forty-five,
short, stout, thick-set, ruddy, with flaming
eyes and a strong stubbly
beard; he wore flannel
tights, and was in his shirt sleeves; one hand
held a book, and the other brandished a very large pipe with an iron
bowl-cap. Whilst reading
heaven only knows what startling
scalp-hunters, he pouted out his lower lip in a terrifying way, which
gave the honest phiz of the man living placidly on his means the same
impression of kindly ferocity
which abounded throughout the house.
This man was Tartarin himself--the Tartarin of Tarascon, the great,
Tartarin of Tarascon.
II. A general glance bestowed upon the good town of Tarascon, and a
particular one on "the cap-poppers."
AT the time I am telling of, Tartarin of Tarascon had not become the
present-day Tartarin, the great one so popular in the whole South of
France: but yet he was even then the cock of the walk at Tarascon.
Let us show whence
arose this sovereignty.
In the first place you must know that everybody is shooting mad in these
parts, from the greatest to the least. The chase is the local craze, and
so it has ever been since the mythological times when the Tarasque, as
the county dragon
was called, flourished himself and his tail in the
town marshes, and entertained shooting parties got up against him. So
you see the passion
has lasted a goodish bit.
It follows that, every Sunday morning, Tarascon flies to arms, lets
loose the dogs of the hunt, and rushes out of its walls, with game-bag
slung and fowling-piece on the shoulder, together with a hurly-burly of
hounds, cracking of whips, and blowing of whistles and hunting-horns.
It's splendid to see! Unfortunately, there's a lack of game, an absolute
Stupid as the brute creation
is, you can readily
understand that, in
time, it learnt
For five leagues around about Tarascon, forms, lairs, and burrows are
empty, and nesting-places abandoned. You'll not find a single quail or
blackbird, one little leveret, or the tiniest tit. And yet the pretty
hillocks are mightily tempting, sweet smelling as they are of myrtle,
lavender, and rosemary; and the fine muscatels plumped out with
sweetness even unto bursting, as they spread along the banks of the
Rhone, are deucedly tempting
too. True, true; but Tarascon lies behind
all this, and Tarascon is down in the black books of the world of fur
and feather. The very birds of passage have ticked it off on their
guide-books, and when the wild ducks, coming down towards the Camargue
in long triangles, spy the town steeples from afar, the outermost flyers
squawk out loudly:
"Look out! there's Tarascon! give Tarascon the go-by, duckies!"
And the flocks take a swerve.
In short, as far as game goes, there's not a specimen
left in the land
save one old rogue of a hare, escaped by miracle
from the massacres, who
determined to stick to it all his life! He is very well
known at Tarascon, and a name has been given him. "Rapid" is what
they call him. It is known that he has his form on M. Bompard's
grounds--which, by the way, has doubled, ay, tripled, the value of the
property--but nobody has yet managed to lay him low. At present, only
two or three inveterate fellows worry themselves about him. The rest
have given him up as a bad job, and old Rapid has long ago passed
into the legendary world, although your Tarasconer is very slightly
superstitious naturally, and would eat cock-robins on toast, or the
swallow, which is Our Lady's own bird, for that matter, if he could find
"But that won't do!" you will say. Inasmuch as game is so scarce, what
can the sportsmen do every Sunday?
What can they do?
gracious! they go out into the real country two or
three leagues from town. They gather in knots of five or six, recline
tranquilly in the shade of some well, old wall, or olive tree, extract
from their game-bags a good-sized piece of boiled beef, raw onions, a
sausage, and anchovies, and commence
a next to endless snack, washed
down with one of those nice Rhone wines, which sets a toper laughing and
singing. After that, when thoroughly
braced up, they rise, whistle
dogs to heel, set the guns on half cock, and go "on the shoot"--another
way of saying
that every man plucks off his cap, "shies" it up with all
his might, and pops it on the fly with No. 5, 6, or 2 shot, according to
what he is loaded for.
The man who lodges most shot in his cap is hailed as king of the hunt,
and stalks back triumphantly
at dusk into Tarascon, with his riddled
cap on the end of his gun-barrel, amid any quantity of dog-barks and
It is needless
to say that cap-selling is a fine business in the town.
There are even some hatters who sell hunting-caps ready shot, torn, and
perforated for the bad shots; but the only buyer known is the chemist
Bezuquet. This is dishonourable!
As a marksman at caps, Tartarin of Tarascon never had his match.
Every Sunday morning out he would march in a new cap, and back he would
strut every Sunday evening with a mere thing of shreds. The loft of
Baobab Villa was full of these glorious
trophies. Hence all Tarascon
acknowledged him as master; and as Tartarin thoroughly
hunting, and had read all the handbooks of all possible kinds of venery,
from cap-popping to Burmese tiger-shooting, the sportsmen constituted
him their great cynegetical judge, and took him for referee and
arbitrator in all their differences.
Between three and four daily, at Costecalde the gunsmith's, a stout
stern pipe-smoker might be seen in a green leather-covered arm-chair in
the centre of the shop crammed with cap-poppers, they all on foot and
wrangling. This was Tartarin of Tarascon delivering judgement--Nimrod
III. "Naw, naw, naw!" The general glance protracted upon the good town.
AFTER the craze for sporting, the lusty Tarascon race cherishes one
love: ballad-singing. There's no believing what a quantity of ballads
is used up in that little region. All the sentimental
stuff turning into
sere and yellow leaves in the oldest portfolios, are to be found in full
pristine lustre in Tarascon. Ay, the entire collection. Every family has
its own pet, as is known to the town.
For instance, it is an established fact that this is the chemist
"Thou art the fair star that I adore!"
The gunmaker Costecalde's family's:
"Would'st thou come to the land Where the log-cabins rise?"
The official registrar's family's:
"If I wore a coat of invisible
green, Do you think for a moment
I could be seen?"
And so on for the whole of Tarascon. Two or three times a week there
were parties where they were sung. The singularity was their being
always the same, and that the honest Tarasconers had never had an
inclination to change them during the long, long time they had been
harping on them. They were handed down from father to son in the
families, without anybody improving on them or bowdlerising them:
they were sacred. Never did it occur to Costecalde's mind to sing
the Bezuquets', or the Bezuquets to try Costecalde's. And yet you may
believe that they ought to know by heart what they had been singing for
two-score years! But, nay! everybody stuck to his own,and they were all
In ballad-singing, as in cap-popping, Tartarin was still the foremost.
over his fellow-townsmen consisted in his not having
any one song of his own, but in knowing
the lot, the whole, mind you!
But--there's a but--it was the devil's own work to get him to sing them.
Surfeited early in life with his drawing-room successes, our hero
preferred by far burying himself in his hunting
story-books, or spending
the evening at the club, to making a personal exhibition
before a Nimes
piano between a pair of home-made candles. These musical
beneath him. Nevertheless, at whiles, when there was a harmonic party at
Bezuquet's, he would drop into the chemist's shop, as if by chance,
and, after a deal of pressure, consent to do the grand duo in Robert
le Diable with old Madame Bezuquet. Whoso never heard that never heard
anything! For my part, even if I lived a hundred years, I should always
see the mighty
stepping up to the piano, setting
his arms akimbo, working
up his tragic
mien, and, beneath the green
reflection from the show-bottles in the window, trying
to give his
and satanic expression of Robert the Devil.
Hardly would he fall into position before the whole audience
shuddering with the foreboding that something uncommon
hand. After a hush, old Madame Bezuquet would commence
to her own
"Robert, my love is thine!
To thee I my faith did plight,
Thou seest my affright,--
Mercy for thine own sake,
And mercy for mine!"
In an undertone she would add: "Now, then, Tartarin!" Whereupon Tartarin
of Tarascon, with crooked
arms, clenched fists, and quivering nostrils,
would roar three times in a formidable
voice, rolling like a thunderclap
in the bowels of the instrument:
"No! no! no!" which, like the thorough
southerner he was, he pronounced
nasally as "Naw! naw! naw!" Then would old Madame Bezuquet again sing:
"Mercy for thine own sake,
And mercy for mine!"
"Naw! naw! naw!" bellowed Tartarin at his loudest, and there the gem
Not long, you see; but it was so handsomely voiced forth, so clearly
gesticulated, and so diabolical, that a tremor of terror
chemist's shop, and the "Naw! naw! naw!" would be encored several times
Upon this Tartarin would sponge
his brow, smile on the ladies, wink to
the sterner sex, and withdraw
upon his triumph
to go remark at the club
with a trifling, offhand air:
"I have just come from the Bezuquets', where I was forced to sing 'em
the duo from Robert le Diable."
The cream of the joke was that he really believed it!
CHIEFLY to the account
of these diverse
talents did Tartarin owe his
lofty position in the town of Tarascon. Talking of captivating, though,
this deuce of a fellow knew how to ensnare everybody. Why, the army,
at Tarascon, was for Tartarin. The brave commandant, Bravida, honorary
captain retired--in the Military Clothing Factory Department--called him
a game fellow; and you may well admit that the warrior
knew all about
game fellows, he played such a capital knife and fork on game of all
So was the legislature
on Tartarin's side. Two or three times, in open
court, the old chief judge, Ladevese, had said, in alluding to him:
"He is a character!"
Lastly, the masses were for Tartarin. He had become the swell bruiser,
pugilist, the crack bully of the local Corinthians
for the Tarasconers, from his build, bearing, style--that aspect
which fears no noise; his reputation
hero coming from nobody knew whence
or for what, and some scramblings
for coppers and a few kicks to the little ragamuffins basking at his
Along the waterside, when Tartarin came home from hunting
evenings, with his cap on the muzzle
of his gun, and his fustian