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Tartarin On The Alps
by Alphonse Daudet
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TARTARIN ON THE ALPS.

By Alphonse Daudet



TARTARIN ON THE ALPS.



I.

Apparition on the Rigi-Kulm. Who is it? What was said around a table of six hundred covers. Rice and Prunes, An improvised ball. The Unknown signs his name on the hotel register, P. C. A.

On the 10th of August, 1880, at that fabled hour of the setting sun so vaunted by the guide-books Joanne and Baedeker, an hermetic yellow fog, complicated with a flurry of snow in white spirals, enveloped the summit of the Rigi (Regina monhum) and its gigantic hotel, extraordinary to behold on the arid waste of those heights,—that Rigi-Kulm, glassed-in like a conservatory, massive as a citadel, where alight for a night and a day a flock of tourists, worshippers of the sun.

While awaiting the second dinner-gong, the transient inmates of the vast and gorgeous caravansary, half frozen in their chambers above, or gasping on the divans of the reading-rooms in the damp heat of lighted furnaces, were gazing, in default of the promised splendours, at the whirling white atoms and the lighting of the great lamps on the portico, the double glasses of which were creaking in the wind.

To climb so high, to come from all four corners of the earth to see that... Oh, Baedeker!..

Suddenly, something emerged from the fog and advanced toward the hotel with a rattling of metal, an exaggeration of motions, caused by strange accessories.

At a distance of twenty feet through the fog the torpid tourists, their noses against the panes, the misses with curious little heads trimmed like those of boys, took this apparition for a cow, and then for a tinker bearing his utensils.

Ten feet nearer the apparition changed again, showing a crossbow on the shoulder, and the visored cap of an archer of the middle ages, with the visor lowered, an object even more unlikely to meet with on these heights than a strayed cow or an ambulating tinker.

On the portico the archer was no longer anything but a fat, squat, broad-backed man, who stopped to get breath and to shake the snow from his leggings, made like his cap of yellow cloth, and from his knitted comforter, which allowed scarcely more of his face to be seen than a few tufts of grizzling beard and a pair of enormous green spectacles made as convex as the glass of a stereoscope. An alpenstock, knapsack, coil of rope worn in saltire, crampons and iron hooks hanging to the belt of an English blouse with broad pleats, completed the accoutrement of this perfect Alpinist.

On the desolate summits of Mont Blanc or the Finsteraarhorn this clambering apparel would have seemed very natural, but on the Rigi-Kulm ten feet from a railway track!—

The Alpinist, it is true, came from the side opposite to the station, and the state of his leggings testified to a long march through snow and mud.

For a moment he gazed at the hotel and its surrounding buildings, seemingly stupefied at finding, two thousand and more yards above the sea, a building of such importance, glazed galleries, colonnades, seven storeys of windows, and a broad portico stretching away between two rows of globe-lamps which gave to this mountain-summit the aspect of the Place de l'Opera of a winter's evening.

But, surprised as he may have been, the people in the hotel were more surprised still, and when he entered the immense antechamber an inquisitive hustling took place in the doorways of all the salons: gentlemen armed with billiard-cues, others with open newspapers, ladies still holding their book or their work pressed forward, while in the background, on the landing of the staircase, heads leaned over the baluster and between the chains of the lift.

The man said aloud, in a powerful deep bass voice, the chest voice of the South, resounding like cymbals:—

"Coquin de bon sort! what an atmosphere!"

Then he stopped short, to take off his cap and his spectacles.

He was suffocating.

The dazzle of the lights, the heat of the gas and furnace, in contrast with the cold darkness without, and this sumptuous display, these lofty ceilings, these porters bedizened with Regina Montium in letters of gold on their naval caps, the white cravats of the waiters and the battalion of Swiss girls in their native costumes coming forward at sound of the gong, all these things bewildered him for a second—but only one.

He felt himself looked at and instantly recovered his self-possession, like a comedian facing a full house.

"Monsieur desires..?"

This was the manager of the hotel, making the inquiry with the tips of his teeth, a very dashing manager, striped jacket, silken whiskers, the head of a lady's dressmaker.

The Alpinist, not disturbed, asked for a room, "A good little room, au mouain?" perfectly at ease with that majestic manager, as if with a former schoolmate.

But he came near being angry when a Bernese servant-girl, advancing, candle in hand, and stiff in her gilt stomacher and puffed muslin sleeves, inquired if Monsieur would be pleased to take the lift. The proposal to commit a crime would not have made him more indignant.

"A lift! he!.. for him!.." And his cry, his gesture, set all his metals rattling.

Quickly appeased, however, he said to the maiden, in an amiable tone: "Pedibusse cum jambisse, my pretty little cat..." And he went up behind her, his broad back filling the stairway, parting the persons he met on his way, while throughout the hotel the clamorous questions ran: "Who is he? What's this?" muttered in the divers languages of all four quarters of the globe. Then the second dinner-gong sounded, and nobody thought any longer of this extraordinary personage.

A sight to behold, that dining-room of the Rigi-Kulm.

Six hundred covers around an immense horseshoe table, where tall, shallow dishes of rice and of prunes, alternating in long files with green plants, reflected in their dark or transparent sauces the flame of the candles in the chandeliers and the gilding of the panelled ceiling.

As in all Swiss tables d'hote, rice and prunes divided the dinner into two rival factions, and merely by the looks of hatred or of hankering cast upon those dishes it was easy to tell to which party the guests belonged. The Rices were known by their anaemic pallor, the Prunes by their congested skins.

That evening the latter were the most numerous, counting among them several important personalities, European celebrities, such as the great historian Astier-Rehu, of the French Academy, Baron von Stolz, an old Austro-Hungarian diplomat, Lord Chipendale (?), a member of the Jockey-Club and his niece (h'm, h'm!), the illustrious doctor-professor Schwanthaler, from the University of Bonn, a Peruvian general with eight young daughters.

To these the Rices could only oppose as a picket-guard a Belgian senator and his family, Mme. Schwanthaler, the professor's wife, and an Italian tenor, returning from Russia, who displayed his cuffs, with buttons as big as saucers, upon the tablecloth.

It was these opposing currents which no doubt caused the stiffness and embarrassment of the company. How else explain the silence of six hundred half-frozen, scowling, distrustful persons, and the sovereign contempt they appeared to affect for one another? A superficial observer might perhaps have attributed this stiffness to stupid Anglo-Saxon haughtiness which, nowadays, gives the tone in all countries to the travelling world.

No! no! Beings with human faces are not born to hate one another thus at first sight, to despise each other with their very noses, lips, and eyes for lack of a previous introduction. There must be another cause.

Rice and Prunes, I tell you. There you have the explanation of the gloomy silence weighing upon this dinner at the Rigi-Kulm, which, considering the number and international variety of the guests, ought to have been lively, tumultuous, such as we imagine the repasts at the foot of the Tower of Babel to have been.

The Alpinist entered the room, a little overcome by this refectory of monks, apparently doing penance beneath the glare of chandeliers; he coughed noisily without any one taking notice of him, and seated himself in his place of last-comer at the end of the room. Divested of his accoutrements, he was now a tourist like any other, but of aspect more amiable, bald, barrel-bellied, his beard pointed and bunchy, his nose majestic, his eyebrows thick and ferocious, overhanging the glance of a downright good fellow.

Rice or Prunes? No one knew as yet.

Hardly was he installed before he became uneasy, and leaving his place with an alarming bound: "Ouf! what a draught!" he said aloud, as he sprang to an empty chair with its back laid over on the table.

He was stopped by the Swiss maid on duty—from the canton of Uri, that one—silver chains and white muslin chemisette.

"Monsieur, this place is engaged..."

Then a young lady, seated next to the chair, of whom the Alpinist could see only her blond hair rising from the whiteness of virgin snows, said, without turning round, and with a foreign accent:

"That place is free; my brother is ill, and will not be down."

"Ill?.." said the Alpinist, seating himself, with an anxious, almost affectionate manner... "Ill? Not dangerously, au moins."

He said au mouain, and the word recurred in all his remarks, with other vocable parasites, such as he, que, tey zou, ve, vai, et autrement, differemment, etc., still further emphasized by a Southern accent, displeasing, apparently, to the young lady, for she answered with a glacial glance of a black blue, the blue of an abyss.

His neighbour on the right had nothing encouraging about him either; this was the Italian tenor, a gay bird with a low forehead, oily pupils, and the moustache of a matador, which he twirled with nervous fingers at being thus separated from his pretty neighbour. But the good Alpinist had a habit of talking as he ate; it was necessary for his health.

"Ve! the pretty buttons..." he said to himself, aloud, eying the cuffs of his neighbour. "Notes of music, inlaid in jasper—why, the effect is charmain!.."

His metallic voice rang on the silence, but found no echo.

"Surely monsieur is a singer, que?"

"Non capisco," growled the Italian into his moustache.

For a moment the man resigned himself to devour without uttering a word, but the morsels choked him. At last, as his opposite neighbour, the Austro-Hungarian diplomat, endeavoured to reach the mustard-pot with the tips of his shaky old fingers, covered with mittens, he passed it to him obligingly. "Happy to serve you, Monsieur le baron," for he had heard some one call him so.

Unfortunately, poor M. de Stoltz, in spite of his shrewd and knowing air contracted in diplomatic juggling, had now lost both words and ideas, and was travelling among the mountains for the special purpose of recovering them. He opened his eyes wide upon that unknown face, and shut them again without a word. It would have taken ten old diplomats of his present intellectual force to have constructed in common a formula of thanks.

At this fresh failure the Alpinist made a terrible grimace, and the abrupt manner in which he seized the bottle standing near him might have made one fear he was about to cleave the already cracked head of the diplomatist Not so! It was only to offer wine to his pretty neighbour, who did not hear him, being absorbed by a semi-whispered conversation in a soft and lively foreign warble with two young men seated next to her. She bent to them, and grew animated. Little frizzles of hair were seen shining in the light against a dainty, transparent, rosy ear... Polish, Russian, Norwegian?.. from the North certainly; and a pretty song of those distant lands coming to his lips, the man of the South began tranquilly to hum:—

O coumtesso gento, Estelo dou Nord, Que la neu argento, Qu' Amour friso en or. {*}

* O pretty countess, Light of the North, Which the snow silvers, And Love curls in gold.

(Frederic Mistral.)

The whole table turned round; they thought him mad. He coloured, subsided into his plate, and did not issue again except to repulse vehemently one of the sacred compote-dishes that was handed to him.

"Prunes! again!.. Never in my life!"

This was too much.

A grating of chairs was heard. The academician, Lord Chipendale (?), the Bonn professor, and other notabilities rose, and left the room as if protesting.

The Rices followed almost immediately, on see-tog the second compote-dish rejected as violently as the first.

Neither Rice nor Prunes!.. then what?..

All withdrew; and it was truly glacial, that silent defile of scornful noses and mouths with their corners disdainfully turned down at the luckless man, who was left alone in the vast gorgeous dining-room, engaged in sopping his bread in his wine after the fashion of his country, crushed beneath the weight of universal disdain.

My friends, let us never despise any one. Contempt is the resource of parvenus, prigs, ugly folk, and fools; it is the mask behind which nonentity shelters itself, and sometimes blackguardism; it dispenses with mind, judgment, and good-will. All humpbacked persons are contemptuous; all crooked noses wrinkle with disdain when they see a straight one.

He knew that, this worthy Alpinist. Having passed, by several years, his "fortieth," that landing on the fourth storey where man discovers and picks up the magic key which opens life to its recesses, and reveals its monotonous and deceptive labyrinth; conscious, moreover, of his value, of the importance of his mission, and of the great name he bore, he cared nothing for the opinion of such persons as these. He knew that he need only name himself and cry out "'Tis I..." to change to grovelling respect those haughty lips; but he found his incognito amusing.

He suffered only at not being able to talk, to make a noise, unbosom himself, press hands, lean familiarly on shoulders, and call men by their Christian names. That is what oppressed him on the Rigi-Kulm.

Oh! above all, not being able to speak.

"I shall have dyspepsia as sure as fate," said the poor devil, wandering about the hotel and not knowing what to do with himself.

He entered a cafe, vast and deserted as a church on a week day, called the waiter, "My good friend," and ordered "a mocha without sugar, que'." And as the waiter did not ask, "Why no sugar?" the Alpinist added quickly, "'Tis a habit I acquired in Africa, at the period of my great hunts."

He was about to recount them, but the waiter had fled on his phantom slippers to Lord Chipendale, stranded, full length, upon a sofa and crying, in mournful tones: "Tchempegne!.. tchempegne!.." The cork flew with its silly noise, and nothing more was heard save the gusts of wind in the monumental chimney and the hissing click of the snow against the panes.

Very dismal too was the reading-room; all the journals in hand, hundreds of heads bent down around the long green tables beneath the reflectors. From time to time a yawn, a cough, the rustle of a turned leaf; and soaring high above the calm of this hall of study, erect and motionless, their backs to the stove, both solemn and both smelling equally musty, were the two pontiffs of official history, Astier-Rehu and Schwanthaler, whom a singular fatality had brought face to face on the summit of the Rigi, after thirty years of insults and of rending each other to shreds in explanatory notes referring to "Schwanthaler, jackass," "vir ineptissimus, Astier-Rehu."

You can imagine the reception which the kindly Alpinist received on drawing up a chair for a bit of instructive conversation in that chimney corner. From the height of these two caryatides there fell upon him suddenly one of those currents of air of which he was so afraid. He rose, paced the hall, as much to warm himself as to recover self-confidence, and opened the bookcase. A few English novels lay scattered about in company with several heavy Bibles and tattered volumes of the Alpine Club. He took up one of the latter, and carried it off to read in bed, but was forced to leave it at the door, the rules not allowing the transference of the library to the chambers.

Then, still continuing to wander about, he opened the door of the billiard-room, where the Italian tenor, playing alone, was producing effects of torso and cuffs for the edification of their pretty neighbour, seated on a divan, between the two young men, to whom she was reading a letter. On the entrance of the Alpinist she stopped, and one of the young men rose, the taller, a sort of moujik, a dog-man, with hairy paws, and long, straight, shining black hair joining an unkempt beard. He made two steps in the direction of the new-comer, looked at him provocatively, and so fiercely that the worthy Alpinist, without demanding an explanation, made a prudent and judicious half-turn to the right.

"Differemment, they are not affable, these Northerners," he said aloud; and he shut the door noisily, to prove to that savage that he was not afraid of him.

The salon remained as a last refuge; he went there... Coquin de sort!... The morgue, my good friends, the morgue of the Saint-Bernard where the monks expose the frozen bodies found beneath the snows in the various attitudes in which congealing death has stiffened them, can alone describe that salon of the Rigi-Kulm.

All those numbed, mute women, in groups upon the circular sofas, or isolated and fallen into chairs here and there; all those misses, motionless be-. neath the lamps on the round tables, still holding in their hands the book or the work they were employed on when the cold congealed them. Among them were the daughters of the general, eight little Peruvians with saffron skins, their features convulsed, the vivid ribbons on their gowns contrasting with the dead-leaf tones of English fashions; poor little sunny-climes, easy to imagine as laughing and frolicking beneath their cocoa-trees and now more distressing to behold than the rest in their glacial, mute condition. In the background, before the piano, was the death-mask of the old diplomat, his mittened hands resting inert upon the keyboard, the yellowing tones of which were reflected on his face.

Betrayed by his strength and his memory, lost in a polka of his own composition, beginning it again and again, unable to remember its conclusion, the unfortunate Stoltz had gone to sleep while playing, and with him all the ladies on the Rigi, nodding, as they slumbered, romantic curls, or those peculiar lace caps, in shape like the crust of a vol-au-vent, that English dames affect, and which seem to be part of the canf of travelling.

The entrance of the Alpinist did not awaken them, and he himself had dropped upon a divan, overcome by such icy discouragement, when the sound of vigorous, joyous chords burst from the vestibule; where three "musicos," harp, flute, and violin, ambulating minstrels with pitiful faces, and long overcoats flapping their legs, who infest the Swiss hostelries, had just arrived with their instruments.

At the very first notes our man sprang up as if galvanized.

"Zou! bravo!.. forward, music!"

And off he went, opening the great doors, feting the musicians, soaking them with champagne, drunk himself without drinking a drop, solely with the music which brought him back to life. He mimicked the piston, he mimicked the harp, he snapped his fingers over his head, and rolled his eyes and danced his steps, to the utter stupefaction of the tourists running in from all sides at the racket. Then suddenly, as the exhilarated musicos struck up a Strauss waltz with the fury of true tziganes, the Alpinist, perceiving in the doorway the wife of Professor Schwanthaler, a rotund little Viennese with mischievous eyes, still youthful in spite of her powdered gray hair, he sprang up her, caught her by the waist, and whirled her into the room, crying put to the others; "Come on! come on! let us waltz!"

The impetus was given, the hotel thawed and twirled, carried off its centre. People danced in the vestibule, in the salon, round the long green table of the reading-room. 'Twas that devil of a man who set fire to ice. He, however, danced no more, being out of breath at the end of a couple of turns; but he guided his ball, urged the musicians, coupled the dancers, cast into the arms of the Bonn professor an elderly Englishwoman; and into those of the austere Astier-Rehu the friskiest of the Peruvian damsels. Resistance was impossible. From that terrible Alpinist issued I know not what mysterious aura which lightened and buoyed up every one. And zou! zou! zou! No more contempt and disdain. Neither Rice nor Prunes, only waltzers. Presently the madness spread; it reached the upper storeys, and up through the well of the staircase could be seen to the sixth-floor landing the heavy and high-coloured skirts of the Swiss maids on duty, twirling with the stiffness of automatons before a musical chalet.

Ah! the wind may blow without and shake the lamp-posts, make the telegraph wires groan, and whirl the snow in spirals across that desolate summit Within all are warm, all are comforted, and remain so for that one night.

"Differemment, I must go to bed, myself," thought the worthy Alpinist, a prudent man, coming from a country where every one packs and unpacks himself rapidly. Laughing in his grizzled beard, he slipped away, covertly escaping Madame Schwanthaler, who was seeking to hook him again ever since that initial waltz.

He took his key and his bedroom candle; then, on the first landing, he paused a moment to enjoy his work and to look at the mass of congealed ones whom he had forced to thaw and amuse themselves.

A Swiss maid approached him all breathless from the waltz, and said, presenting a pen and the hotel register:—

"Might I venture to ask tmossie to be so good as to sign his name?"

He hesitated a moment. Should he, or should he not preserve his incognito?

After all, what matter! Supposing that the news of his presence on the Rigi should reach down there, no one would know what he had come to do in Switzerland. And besides, it would be so droll to see, to-morrow morning, the stupor of those "Inglichemans" when they should learn the truth... For that Swiss girl, of course, would not hold her tongue... What surprise, what excitement throughout the hotel!..

"Was it really he?.. he?.. himself?.." These reflections, rapid and vibrant, passed through his head like the notes of a violin in an orchestra. He took the pen, and with careless hand he signed, beneath Schwanthaler, Astier-Rehu, and other notabilities, the name that eclipsed them all, his name; then he went to his room, without so much as glancing round to see the effect, of which he was sure.

Behind him the Swiss maid looked at the name:

TARTARIN OF TARASCON,

beneath which was added:

P. C. A.

She read it, that Bernese girl, and was not the least dazzled. She did not know what P. C. A. signified, nor had she ever heard of "Dardarin."

Barbarian, Vai!



II.

Tarascon, five minutes' stop! The Club of the Alpines. Explanation of P. C. A. Rabbits of warren and cabbage rabbits. This is my last will and testament. The Sirop de cadavre. First ascension, Tartarin takes out his spectacles.

When that name "Tarascon" sounds trumpetlike along the track of the Paris-Lyons-Mediterranean, in the limpid, vibrant blue of a Provencal sky, inquisitive heads are visible at all the doors of the express train, and from carriage to carriage the travellers say to each other: "Ah! here is Tarascon!.. Now, for a look at Tarascon."

What they can see of it is, nevertheless, nothing more than a very ordinary, quiet, clean little town with towers, roofs, and a bridge across the Rhone. But the Tarasconese sun and its marvellous effects of mirage, so fruitful in surprises, inventions, delirious absurdities, this joyous little populace, not much larger than a chick-pea, which reflects and sums up in itself the instincts of the whole French South, lively, restless, gabbling, exaggerated, comical, impressionable—that is what the people on the express-train look out for as they pass, and it is that which has made the popularity of the place.

In memorable pages, which modesty prevents him from mentioning more explicitly, the historiographer of Tarascon essayed, once upon a time, to depict the happy days of the little town, leading its club life, singing its romantic songs (each his own) and, for want of real game, organizing curious cap-hunts. Then, war having come and the dark times, Tarascon became known by its heroic defence, its torpedoed esplanade, the club and the Cafe de la Comedie, both made impregnable; all the inhabitants enrolled in guerilla companies, their breasts braided with death's head and cross-bones, all beards grown, and such a display of battle-axes, boarding cutlasses, and American revolvers that the unfortunate inhabitants ended by frightening themselves and no longer daring to approach one another in the streets.

Many years have passed since the war, many a worthless almanac has been put in the fire, but Tarascon has never forgotten; and, renouncing the futile amusements of other days, it thinks of nothing now but how to make blood and muscle for the service of future revenge. Societies for pistol-shooting and gymnastics, costumed and equipped, all having band and banners; armouries, boxing-gloves, single-sticks, list-shoes; foot races and flat-hand fights between persons in the best society; these things have taken the place of the former cap-hunts and the platonic cynegetical discussions in the shop of the gunsmith Costecalde.

And finally the club, the old club itself, abjuring bouillotte and bezique, is now transformed into a "Club Alpin" under the patronage of the famous Alpine Club of London, which has borne even to India the fame of its climbers. With this difference, that the Tarasconese, instead of expatriating themselves on foreign summits, are content with those they have in hand, or rather underfoot, at the gates of their town.

"The Alps of Tarascon?" you ask. No; but the Alpines, that chain of mountainettes, redolent of thyme and lavender, not very dangerous, nor yet very high (five to six hundred feet above sea-level), which make an horizon of blue waves along the Provencal roads and are decorated by the local imagination with the fabulous and characteristic names of: Mount Terrible; The End of the World; The Peak of the Giants, etc.

'T is a pleasure to see, of a Sunday morning, the gaitered Tarasconese, pickaxe in hand, knapsack and tent on their backs, starting off, bugles in advance, for ascensions, of which the Forum, the local journal, gives full account with a descriptive luxury and wealth of epithets—abysses, gulfs, terrifying gorges—as if the said ascension were among the Himalayas. You can well believe that from this exercise the aborigines have acquired fresh strength and the "double muscles" heretofore reserved to the only Tartarin, the good, the brave, the heroic Tartarin.

If Tarascon epitomizes the South, Tartarin epitomizes Tarascon. He is not only the first citizen of the town, he is its soul, its genius, he has all its finest whimseys. We know his former exploits, his triumphs as a singer (oh! that duet of "Robert le Diable" in Bezuquet's pharmacy!), and the amazing odyssey of his lion-hunts, from which he returned with that splendid camel, the last in Algeria, since deceased, laden with honours and preserved in skeleton at the town museum among other Tarasconese curiosities.

Tartarin himself has not degenerated; teeth still good and eyes good, in spite of his fifties; still that amazing imagination which brings nearer and enlarges all objects with the power of a telescope. He remains the same man as he of whom the brave Commander Bravida used to say: "He's a lapin..."

Or, rather, two lapins! For in Tartarin, as in all the Tarasconese, there is a warren race and a cabbage race, very clearly accentuated: the roving rabbit of the warren, adventurous, headlong; and the cabbage-rabbit, homekeeping, coddling, nervously afraid of fatigue, of draughts, and of any and all accidents that may lead to death.

We know that this prudence did not prevent him from showing himself brave and even heroic on occasion; but it is permissible to ask what he was doing on the Rigi (Regina Montium) at his age, when he had so dearly bought the right to rest and comfort.

To that inquiry the infamous Costecalde can alone reply.

Costecalde, gunsmith by trade, represents a type that is rather rare in Tarascon. Envy, base, malignant envy, is visible in the wicked curve of his thin lips, and a species of yellow bile, proceeding from his liver in puffs, suffuses his broad, clean-shaven, regular face, with its surface dented as if by a hammer, like an ancient coin of Tiberius or Caracalla. Envy with him is a disease, which he makes no attempt to hide, and, with the fine Tarasconese temperament that overlays everything, he sometimes says in speaking of his infirmity: "You don't know how that hurts me..."

Naturally the curse of Costecalde is Tartarin. So much fame for a single man! He everywhere! always he! And slowly, subterraneously, like a worm within the gilded wood of an idol, he saps from below for the last twenty years that triumphant renown, and gnaws it, and hollows it. When, in the evening, at the club, Tartarin relates his encounters with lions and his wanderings in the great Sahara, Costecalde sits by with mute little laughs, and incredulous shakes of the head.

"But the skins, au mouain, Costecalde... those lions' skins he sent us, which are there, in the salon of the club?.."

"Te! pardi... Do you suppose there are no furriers in Algeria?.."

"But the marks of the balls, all round, in the heads?"

"Et autremain, did n't we ourselves in the days of the cap-hunts see ragged caps torn with bullets at the hatters' for sale to clumsy shots?"

No doubt the long established fame of Tartarin as a slayer of wild beasts resisted these attacks; but the Alpinist in himself was open to criticism, and Costecalde did not deprive himself of the opportunity, being furious that a man should be elected as president of the "Club of the Alpines" whom age had visibly overweighted and whose liking, acquired in Algeria, for Turkish slippers and flowing garments predisposed to laziness.

In fact, Tartarin seldom took part in the ascensions; he was satisfied to accompany them with votive wishes, and to read in full session, with rolling eyes, and intonations that turned the ladies pale, the tragic narratives of the expeditions.

Costecalde, on the contrary, wiry, vigorous "Cock-leg," as they called him, was always the foremost climber; he had done the Alpines, one by one, planting on their summits inaccessible the banner of the Club, La Tarasque, starred in silver. Nevertheless, he was only vice-president, V. P. C. A. But he manipulated the place so well that evidently, at the coming elections, Tartarin would be made to skip.

Warned by his faithfuls—Bezuquet the apothecary, Excourbanies, the brave Commander Bravida—the hero was at first possessed by black disgust, by that indignant rancour which ingratitude and injustice arouse in the noblest soul. He wanted to quit everything, to expatriate himself, to cross the bridge and go and live in Beaucaire, among the Volsci; after that, he grew calmer.

To quit his little house, his garden, his beloved habits, to renounce his chair as president of the Club of the Alpines, founded by himself, to resign that majestic P. C. A. which adorned and distinguished his cards, his letter-paper, and even the lining of his hat! Not possible, ve! Suddenly there came into his head an electrifying idea...

In a word, the exploits of Costecalde were limited to excursions among the Alpines. Why should not Tartarin, during the three months that still intervened before the elections, why should he not attempt some grandiose adventure? plant, for instance, the standard of the Club on the highest peak of Europe, the Jungfrau or the Mont Blanc?

What triumph on his return! what a slap in the face to Costecalde when the Forum should publish an account of the ascension! Who would dare to dispute his presidency after that?

Immediately he set to work; sent secretly to Paris for quantities of works on Alpine adventure: Whymper's "Scrambles," Tyndall's "Glaciers," the "Mont-Blanc" of Stephen d'Arve, reports of the Alpine Club, English and Swiss; cramming his head with a mass of mountaineering terms—chimneys, couloirs, moulins, neves, seracs, moraines, rotures—without knowing very well what they meant.

At night, his dreams were fearful with interminable slides and sudden falls into bottomless crevasses. Avalanches rolled him down, icy aretes caught his body on the descent; and long after his waking and the chocolate he always took in bed, the agony and the oppression of that nightmare clung to him. But all this did not hinder him, once afoot, from devoting his whole morning to the most laborious training exercises.

Around Tarascon is a promenade planted with trees which, in the local dictionary, is called the "Tour de Ville." Every Sunday afternoon, the Tarasconese, who, in spite of their imagination, are a people of routine, make the tour of their town, and always in the same direction. Tartarin now exercised himself by making it eight times, ten times, of a morning, and often reversed the way. He walked, his hands behind his back, with short-mountain-steps, both slow and sure, till the shopkeepers, alarmed by this infraction of local habits, were lost in suppositions of all possible kinds.

At home, in his exotic garden, he practised the art of leaping crevasses, by jumping over the basin in which a few gold-fish were swimming about among the water-weeds. On two occasions he fell in, and was forced to change his clothes. Such mishaps inspired him only the more, and, being subject to vertigo, he practised walking on the narrow masonry round the edge of the water, to the terror of his old servant-woman, who understood nothing of these performances.

During this time, he ordered, in Avignon, from an excellent locksmith, crampons of the Whymper pattern, and a Kennedy ice-axe; also he procured himself a reed-wick lamp, two impermeable coverlets, and two hundred feet of rope of his own invention, woven with iron wire.

The arrival of these different articles from Avignon, the mysterious goings and comings which their construction required, puzzled the Taras-conese much, and it was generally said about town: "The president is preparing a stroke." But what? Something grand, you may be sure, for, in the beautiful words of the brave and sententious Commander Bravida, retired captain of equipment, who never spoke except in apothegms: "Eagles hunt no flies."

With his closest intimates Tartarin remained impenetrable. Only, at the sessions of the Club, they noticed the quivering of his voice and the lightning flash of his eyes whenever he addressed Costecalde—the indirect cause of this new expedition, the dangers and fatigues of which became more pronounced to his mind the nearer he approached it. The unfortunate man did not attempt to disguise them; in fact he took so black a view of the matter that he thought it indispensable to set his affairs in order, to write those last wishes, the expression of which is so trying to the Tarasconese, lovers of life, that most of them die intestate.

On a radiant morning in June, beneath a cloudless arched and splendid sky, the door of his study open upon the neat little garden with its gravelled paths, where the exotic plants stretched forth their motionless lilac shadows, where the fountain tinkled its silvery note 'mid the merry shouts of the Savoyards, playing at marbles before the gate, behold Tartarin! in Turkish slippers, wide flannel under-garments, easy in body, his pipe at hand, reading aloud as he wrote the words:—

"This is my last will and testament."

Ha! one may have one's heart in the right place and solidly hooked there, but these are cruel moments. Nevertheless, neither his hand nor his voice trembled while he distributed among his fellow-citizens all the ethnographical riches piled in his little home, carefully dusted and preserved in immaculate order.

"To the Club of the Alpines, my baobab (arbos gigantea) to stand on the chimney-piece of the hall of sessions;"

To Bravida, his carbines, revolvers, hunting knives, Malay krishes, tomahawks, and other murderous weapons;

To Excourbanies, all his pipes, calumets, narghiles, and pipelets for smoking kif and opium;

To Costecalde—yes, Costecalde himself had his legacy—the famous poisoned arrows (Do not touch).

Perhaps beneath this gift was the secret hope that the traitor would touch and die; but nothing of the kind was exhaled by the will, which closed with the following words, of a divine meekness:

"I beg my dear Alpinists not to forget their president... I wish them to forgive my enemy as I have forgiven him, although it is he who has caused my death..."

Here Tartarin was forced to stop, blinded by a flood of tears. For a minute he beheld himself crushed, lying in fragments at the foot of a high mountain, his shapeless remains gathered up in a barrow, and brought back to Tarascon. Oh, the power of that Provencal imagination! he was present at his own funeral; he heard the lugubrious chants, and the talk above his grave: "Poor Tartarin, pechere!" and, mingling with the crowd of his faithful friends, he wept for himself.

But immediately after, the sight of the sun streaming into his study and glittering on the weapons and pipes in their usual order, the song of that thread of a fountain in the middle of the garden recalled him to the actual state of things. Differemment, why die? Why go, even? Who obliged him? What foolish vanity! Risk his life for a presidential chair and three letters!..

'Twas a passing weakness, and it lasted no longer than any other. At the end of five minutes the will was finished, signed, the flourish added, sealed with an enormous black seal, and the great man had concluded his last preparations for departure.

Once more had the warren Tartarin triumphed over the cabbage Tartarin. It could be said of the Tarasconese hero, as was said of Turenne: "His body was not always willing to go into battle, but his will led him there in spite of himself."

The evening of that same day, as the last stroke of ten was sounding from the tower of the town-hall, the streets being already deserted, a man, after brusquely slamming a door, glided along through the darkened town, where nothing lighted the fronts of the houses, save the hanging-lamps of the streets and the pink and green bottles of the pharmacy Bezuquet, which projected their reflections on the pavement, together with a silhouette of the apothecary himself resting his elbows on his desk and sound asleep on the Codex;—a little nap, which he took every evening from nine to ten, to make himself, so he said, the fresher at night for those who might need his services. That, between ourselves, was a mere tarasconade, for no one ever waked him at night, in fact he himself had cut the bell-wire, in order that he might sleep more tranquilly.

Suddenly Tartarin entered, loaded with rugs, carpet-bag in hand, and so pale, so discomposed, that the apothecary, with that fiery local imagination from which the pharmacy was no preservative, jumped to the conclusion of some alarming misadventure and was terrified. "Unhappy man!" he cried, "what is it?.. you are poisoned?.. Quick! quick! some ipeca..."

And he sprang forward, bustling among his bottles. To stop him, Tartarin was forced to catch him round the waist. "Listen to me, que diable!" and his voice grated with the vexation of an actor whose entrance has been made to miss fire. As soon as the apothecary was rendered motionless behind the counter by an iron wrist, Tartarin said in a low voice:—

"Are we alone, Bezuquet?"

"Be! yes," ejaculated the other, looking about in vague alarm... "Pascalon has gone to bed." [ Pascalon was his pupil.] "Mamma too; why do you ask?"

"Shut the shutters," commanded Tartarin, without replying; "we might be seen from without."

Bezuquet obeyed, trembling. An old bachelor, living with his mother, whom he never quitted, he had all the gentleness and timidity of a girl, contrasting oddly with his swarthy skin, his hairy lips, his great hooked nose above a spreading moustache; in short, the head of an Algerine pirate before the conquest. These antitheses are frequent in Tarascon, where heads have too much character, Roman or Saracen, heads with the expression of models for a school of design, but quite out of place in bourgeois trades among the manners and customs of a little town.

For instance, Excourbanies, who has all the air of a conquistador, companion of Pizarro, rolls flaming eyes in selling haberdashery to induce the purchase of two sous' worth of thread. And Bezuquet, labelling liquorice and sirupus gummi, resembles an old sea-rover of the Barbary coast.

When the shutters were put up and secured by iron bolts and transversal bars, "Listen, Ferdinand..." said Tartarin, who was fond of calling people by their Christian names. And thereupon he unbosomed himself, emptied his heart full of bitterness at the ingratitude of his compatriots, related the manoeuvres of "Cock-leg," the trick about to be played upon him at the coming elections, and the manner in which he expected to parry the blow.

Before all else, the matter must be kept very secret; it must not be revealed until the moment when success was assured, unless some unforeseen accident, one of those frightful catastrophes—"Hey, Bezuquet! don't whistle in that way when I talk to you."

This was one of the apothecary's ridiculous habits. Not talkative by nature (a negative quality seldom met with in Tarascon, and which won him this confidence of the president), his thick lips, always in the form of an O, had a habit of perpetually whistling that gave him an appearance of laughing in the nose of the world, even on the gravest occasions.

So that, while the hero made allusion to his possible death, saying, as he laid upon the counter a large sealed envelope, "This is my last will and testament, Bezuquet; it is you whom I have chosen as testamentary executor..." "Hui... hui... hui..." whistled the apothecary, carried away by his mania, while at heart he was deeply moved and fully conscious of the grandeur of his role.

Then, the hour of departure being at hand, he desired to drink to the enterprise, "something good, que? a glass of the elixir of Garus, hey?" After several closets had been opened and searched, he remembered that mamma had the keys of the Garus. To get them it would be necessary to awaken her and tell who was there. The elixir was therefore changed to a glass of the sirop de Calabre, a summer drink, inoffensive and modest, which Bezuquet invented, advertising it in the Forum as follows: Sirop de Calabre, ten sous a bottle, including the glass (verre). "Sirop de Cadavre, including the worms (vers)," said that infernal Costecalde, who spat upon all success. But, after all, that horrid play upon words only served to swell the sale, and the Tarasconese to this day delight in their sirop de cadavre.

Libations made and a few last words exchanged, they embraced, Bezuquet whistling as usual in his moustache, adown which rolled great tears.

"Adieu, au mouain"... said Tartarin in a rough tone, feeling that he was about to weep himself, and as the shutter of the door had been lowered the hero was compelled to creep out of the pharmacy on his hands and knees.

This was one of the trials of the journey now about to begin.

Three days later he landed in Vitznau at the foot of the Rigi. As the mountain for his debut, the Rigi had attracted him by its low altitude (5900 feet, about ten times that of Mount Terrible, the highest of the Alpines) and also on account of the splendid panorama to be seen from the summit—the Bernese Alps marshalled in line, all white and rosy, around the lakes, awaiting the moment when the great ascensionist should cast his ice-axe upon one of them.

Certain of being recognized on the way and perhaps followed—'t was a foible of his to believe that throughout all France his fame was as great and popular as it was at Tarascon—he had made a great detour before entering Switzerland and did not don his accoutrements until after he had crossed the frontier. Luckily for him; for never could his armament have been contained in one French railway-carriage.

But, however convenient the Swiss compartments might be, the Alpinist, hampered with utensils to which he was not, as yet, accustomed, crushed toe-nails with his crampons, harpooned travellers who came in his way with the point of his alpenstock, and wherever he went, in the stations, the steamers, and the hotel salons, he excited as much amazement as he did maledictions, avoidance, and angry looks, which he could not explain to himself though his affectionate and communicative nature suffered from them. To complete his discomfort, the sky was always gray, with flocks of clouds and a driving rain.

It rained at Bale, on the little white houses, washed and rewashed by the hands of a maid and the waters of heaven. It rained at Lucerne, on the quay where the trunks and boxes appeared to be saved, as it were, from shipwreck, and when he arrived at the station of Vitznau, on the shore of the lake of the Four-Cantons, the same deluge was descending on the verdant slopes of the Rigi, straddled by inky clouds and striped with torrents that leaped from rock to rock in cascades of misty sleet, bringing down as they came the loose stones and the pine-needles. Never had Tartarin seen so much water.

He entered an inn and ordered a cafe au lait with honey and butter, the only really good things he had as yet tasted during his journey. Then, reinvigorated, and his beard sticky with honey, cleaned on a corner of his napkin, he prepared to attempt his first ascension.

"Et autremain" he asked, as he shifted his knapsack, "how long does it take to ascend the Rigi?"

"One hour, one hour and a quarter, monsieur; but make haste about it; the train is just starting."

"A train upon the Rigi!.. you are joking!.."

Through the leaded panes of the tavern window he was shown the train that was really starting. Two great covered carriages, windowless, pushed by a locomotive with a short, corpulent chimney, in shape like a saucepan, a monstrous insect, clinging to the mountain and clambering, breathless up its vertiginous slopes.

The two Tartarins, cabbage and warren, both, at the same instant, revolted at the thought of going up in that hideous mechanism. One of them thought it ridiculous to climb the Alps in a lift; as for the other, those aerial bridges on which the track was laid, with the prospect of a fall of 4000 feet at the slightest derailment, inspired him with all sorts of lamentable reflections, justified by the little cemetery of Vitzgau, the white tombs of which lay huddled together at the foot of the slope, like linen spread out to bleach in the yard of a wash-house. Evidently the cemetery is there by way of precaution, so that, in case of accident, the travellers may drop on the very spot.

"I'll go afoot," the valiant Tarasconese said to himself; "'twill exercise me... zou!"

And he started, wholly preoccupied with manoeuvring his alpenstock in presence of the staff of the hotel, collected about the door and shouting directions to him about the path, to which he did not listen. He first followed an ascending road, paved with large irregular, pointed stones like a lane at the South, and bordered with wooden gutters to carry off the rains.

To right and left were great orchards, fields of rank, lush grass crossed by the same wooden conduits for irrigation through hollowed trunks of trees. All this made a constant rippling from top to bottom of the mountain, and every time that the ice-axe of the Alpinist became hooked as he walked along in the lower branches of an oak or a walnut-tree, his cap crackled as if beneath the nozzle of a watering-pot.

"Diou! what a lot of water!" sighed the man of the South. But it was much worse when the pebbly path abruptly ceased and he was forced to puddle along in the torrent or jump from rock to rock to save his gaiters. Then a shower joined in, penetrating, steady, and seeming to get colder the higher he went. When he stopped to recover breath he could hear nothing else than a vast noise of waters in which he seemed to be sunk, and he saw, as he turned round, the clouds descending into the lake in delicate long filaments of spun glass through which the chalets of Vitznau shone like freshly varnished toys.

Men and children passed him with lowered heads and backs bent beneath hods of white-wood, containing provisions for some villa or pension, the balconies of which could be distinguished on the slopes. "Rigi-Kulm?" asked Tartarin, to be sure he was heading in the right direction. But his extraordinary equipment, especially, that knitted muffler which masked his face, cast terror along the way, and all whom he addressed only opened their eyes wide and hastened their steps without replying.

Soon these encounters became rare. The last human being whom he saw was an old woman washing her linen in the hollowed trunk of a tree under the shelter of an enormous red umbrella, planted in the ground.

"Rigi-Kulm?" asked the Alpinist.

The old woman raised an idiotic, cadaverous face, with a goitre swaying upon her throat as large as the rustic bell of a Swiss cow. Then, after gazing at him for a long time, she was seized with inextinguishable laughter, which stretched her mouth from ear to ear, wrinkled up the corners of her little eyes, and every time she opened them the sight of Tartarin, planted before her with his ice-axe on his shoulder, redoubled her joy.

"Tron de l'air!" growled the Tarasconese, "lucky for her that she's a woman..." Snorting with anger, he continued his way and lost it in a pine-wood, where his boots slipped on the oozing moss.

Beyond this point the landscape changed. No more paths, or trees, or pastures. Gloomy, denuded slopes, great boulders of rock which he scaled on his knees for fear of falling; sloughs full of yellow mud, which he crossed slowly, feeling before him with his alpenstock and lifting his feet like a knife-grinder. At every moment he looked at the compass hanging to his broad watch-ribbon; but whether it were the altitude or the variations of the temperature, the needle seemed untrue. And how could he find his bearings in a thick yellow fog that hindered him from seeing ten steps about him—steps that were now, within a moment, covered with an icy glaze that made the ascent more difficult.

Suddenly he stopped; the ground whitened vaguely before him... Look out for your eyes!..

He had come to the region of snows...

Immediately he pulled out his spectacles, took them from their case, and settled them securely on his nose. The moment was a solemn one. Slightly agitated, yet proud all the same, it seemed to Tar-tarin that in one bound he had risen 3000 feet toward the summits and his greatest dangers.

He now advanced with more precaution, dreaming of crevasses and fissures such as the books tell of, and cursing in the depths of his heart those people at the inn who advised him to mount straight and take no guide. After all, perhaps he had mistaken the mountain! More than six hours had he tramped, and the Rigi required only three. The wind blew, a chilling wind that whirled the snow in that crepuscular fog.

Night was about to overtake him. Where find a hut? or even a projecting rock to shelter him? All of a sudden, he saw before his nose on the arid, naked plain a species of wooden chalet, bearing, on a long placard in gigantic type, these letters, which he deciphered with difficulty: PHO... TO... GRA... PHIE DU RI... GI KULM. At the same instant the vast hotel with its three hundred windows loomed up before him between the great lamp-posts, the globes of which were now being lighted in the fog.



III.

An alarm on the Rigi. "Keep cool! Keep cool!" The Alpine horn. What Tartarin saw, on awaking, in his looking-glass, Perplexity. A guide is ordered by telephone.

"Ques aco?.. Qui vive?" cried Tartarin, ears alert and eyes straining hard into the darkness.

Feet were running through the hotel, doors were slamming, breathless voices were crying: "Make haste! make haste!.." while without was ringing what seemed to be a trumpet-call, as flashes of flame illumined both panes and curtains.

Fire!..

At a bound he was out of bed, shod, clothed, and running headlong down the staircase, where the gas still burned and a rustling swarm of misses were descending, with hair put up in haste, and they themselves swathed in shawls and red woollen jackets, or anything else that came to hand as they jumped out of bed.

Tartarin, to fortify himself and also to reassure the young ladies, cried out, as he rushed on, hustling everybody: "Keep cool! Keep cool!" in the voice of a gull, pallid, distraught, one of those voices that we hear in dreams sending chills down the back of the bravest man. Now, can you understand those young misses, who laughed as they looked at him and seemed to think it very funny? Girls have no notion of danger, at that age!..

Happily, the old diplomatist came along behind them, very cursorily clothed in a top-coat below which appeared his white drawers with trailing ends of tape-string.

Here was a man, at last!..

Tartarin ran to him waving his arms: "Ah! Monsieur le baron, what a disaster!.. Do you know about it?.. Where is it?.. How did it take?.."

"Who? What?" stuttered the terrified baron, not understanding.

"Why, the fire..."

"What fire?.."

The poor man's countenance was so inexpressibly vacant and stupid that Tartarin abandoned him and rushed away abruptly to "organize help..."

"Help!" repeated the baron, and after him four or five waiters, sound asleep on their feet in the antechamber, looked at one another completely bewildered and echoed, "Help!.."

At the first step that Tartarin made out-of-doors he saw his error. Not the slightest conflagration! Only savage cold, and pitchy darkness, scarcely lighted by the resinous torches that were being carried hither and thither, casting on the snow long, blood-coloured traces.

On the steps of the portico, a performer on the Alpine horn was bellowing his modulated moan, that monotonous ranz des vaches on three notes, with which the Rigi-Kulm is wont to waken the worshippers of the sun and announce to them the rising of their star.

It is said that it shows itself, sometimes, on rising, at the extreme top of the mountain behind the hotel. To get his bearings, Tartarin had only to follow the long peal of the misses' laughter which now went past him. But he walked more slowly, still full of sleep and his legs heavy with his six hours' climb.

"Is that you, Manilof?.." said a clear voice from the darkness, the voice of a woman. "Help me... I have lost my shoe."

He recognized at once the foreign warble of his pretty little neighbour at the dinner-table, whose delicate silhouette he now saw in the first pale gleam of the coming sun.

"It is not Manilof, mademoiselle, but if I can be useful to you..."

She gave a little cry of surprise and alarm as she made a recoiling gesture that Tartarin did not perceive, having already stooped to feel about the short and crackling grass around them.

"Te, pardi! here it is!" he cried joyfully. He shook the dainty shoe which the snow had powdered, and putting a knee to earth, most gallantly in the snow and the dampness, he asked, for all reward, the honour of replacing it on Cinderella's foot.

She, more repellent than in the tale, replied with a very curt "no;" and endeavoured, by hopping on one foot, to reinstate her silk stocking in its little bronze shoe; but in that she could never have succeeded without the help of the hero, who was greatly moved by feeling for an instant that delicate hand upon his shoulder.

"You have good eyes," she said, by way of thanks as they now walked side by side, and feeling their way.

"The habit of watching for game, mademoiselle."

"Ah! you are a sportsman?"

She said it with an incredulous, satirical, accent Tartarin had only to name himself in order to convince her, but, like the bearers of all illustrious names, he preferred discretion, coquetry. So, wishing to graduate the surprise, he answered:—

"I am a sportsman, effectivemain."

She continued in the same tone of irony:—

"And what game do you prefer to hunt?"

"The great carnivora, wild beasts..." uttered Tartarin, thinking to dazzle her.

"Do you find many on the Rigi?"

Always gallant, and ready in reply, Tartarin was about to say that on the Rigi he had so far met none but gazelles, when his answer was suddenly cut short by the appearance of two shadows, who called out:—

"Sonia!.. Sonia!.."

"I'm coming," she said, and turning to Tartarin, whose eyes, now accustomed to the darkness, could distinguish her pale and pretty face beneath her mantle, she added, this time seriously:—

"You have undertaken a dangerous enterprise, my good man... take care you do not leave your bones here."

So saying, she instantly disappeared in the darkness with her companions.

Later, the threatening intonation that emphasized those words was fated to trouble the imagination of the Southerner; but now, he was simply vexed at the term "good man," cast upon his elderly embonpoint, and also at the abrupt departure of the young girl just at the moment when he was about to name himself, and enjoy her stupefaction.

He made a few steps in the direction the group had taken, hearing a confused murmur, with coughs and sneezes, of the clustering tourists waiting impatiently for the rising of the sun, the most vigorous among them having climbed to a little belvedere, the steps of which, wadded with snow, could be whitely distinguished in the vanishing darkness.

A gleam was beginning to light the Orient, saluted by a fresh blast from the Alpine horn, and that "Ah!!" of relief, always heard in theatres when the third bell raises the curtain.

Slight as a ray through a shutter, this gleam, nevertheless, enlarged the horizon, but, at the same moment a fog, opaque and yellow, rose from the valley, a steam that grew more thick, more penetrating as the day advanced. 'T was a veil between the scene and the spectators.

All hope was now renounced of the gigantic effects predicted in the guide-books. On the other hand, the heteroclite array of the dancers of the night before, torn from their slumbers, appeared in fantastic and ridiculous outline like the shades of a magic lantern; shawls, rugs, and even bed-quilts wrapped around them. Under varied headgear, nightcaps of silk or cotton, broad-brimmed female hats, turbans, fur caps with ear-pads, were haggard faces, swollen faces, heads of shipwrecked beings cast upon a desert island in mid-ocean, watching for a sail in the offing with staring eyes.

But nothing—everlastingly nothing!

Nevertheless, certain among them strove, in a gush of good-will, to distinguish the surrounding summits, and, on the top of the belvedere could be heard the clucking of the Peruvian family, pressing around a big devil, wrapped to his feet in a checked ulster, who was pointing out imperturbably, the invisible panorama of the Bernese Alps, naming in a loud voice the peaks that were lost in the fog.

"You see on the left the Finsteraarhorn, thirteen thousand seven hundred and ninety-five feet high... the Schreckhorn, the Wetterhorn, the Monk, the Jungfrau, the elegant proportions of which I especially point out to these young ladies..."

"Be! ve! there's one who does n't lack cheek!" thought Tartarin; then, on reflection, he added: "I know that voice, au mouain."

He recognized the accent, that accent of the South, distinguishable from afar like garlic; but, quite preoccupied in finding again his fair Unknown, he did not pause, and continued to inspect the groups—without result. She must have reentered the hotel, as they all did now, weary with standing about, shivering, to no purpose, so that presently no one remained on the cold and desolate plateau of that gray dawn but Tartarin and the Alpine horn-player, who continued to blow a melancholy note through his huge instrument, like a dog baying the moon.

He was a short old man, with a long beard, wearing a Tyrolese hat adorned with green woollen tassels that hung down upon his back and, in letters of gold, the words (common to all the hats and caps in the service of the hotel) Regina Montium. Tartarin went up to give him a pourboire, as he had seen all the other tourists do. "Let us go to bed again, my old friend," he said, tapping him on the shoulder with Tarasconese familiarity. "A fine humbug, que! the sunrise on the Rigi."

The old man continued to blow into his horn, concluding his ritornelle in three notes with a mute laugh that wrinkled the corners of his eyes and shook the green glands of his head-gear.

Tartarin, in spite of all, did not regret his night. That meeting with the pretty blonde repaid him for his loss of sleep, for, though nigh upon fifty, he still had a warm heart, a romantic imagination, a glowing hearthstone of life. Returning to bed, and shutting his eyes to make himself go to sleep, he fancied he felt in his hand that dainty little shoe, and heard again the gentle call of the fair young girl: "Is it you, Manilof?"

Sonia... what a pretty name!.. She was certainly Russian; and those young men were travelling with her; friends of her brother, no doubt.

Then all grew hazy; the pretty face in its golden curls joined the other floating visions,—Rigi slopes, cascades like plumes of feathers,—and soon the heroic breathing of the great man, sonorous and rhythmical, filled the little room and the greater part of the long corridor...

The next morning, before descending at the first gong for breakfast, Tartarin was about to make sure that his beard was well brushed, and that he himself did not look too badly in his Alpine costume, when, all of a sudden, he quivered. Before him, open, and gummed to his looking-glass by two wafers, was an anonymous letter, containing the following threats:—

"Devil of a Frenchman, your queer old clothes do not conceal you. You are forgiven once more for this attempt; but if you cross our path again, beware!"

Bewildered, he read this two or three times over without understanding it. Of whom, of what must he beware? How came that letter there? Evidently during his sleep; for he did not see it on returning from his auroral promenade. He rang for the maid on duty; a fat, white face, all pitted with the small-pox, a perfect gruyere cheese, from which nothing intelligible could be drawn, except that she was of "bon famille," and never entered the rooms of the gentlemen unless they were there.

"A queer thing, au mouain," thought Tartarin, turning and returning the letter, and much impressed by it. For a moment the name of Coste-calde crossed his mind,—Costecalde, informed of his projects of ascension, and endeavouring to prevent them by manoeuvres and threats. On reflection, this appeared to him unlikely, and he ended by persuading himself that the letter was a joke... perhaps those little misses who had laughed at him so heartily... they are so free, those English and American young girls!

The second breakfast gong sounded. He put the letter in his pocket: "After all, we'll soon see..." and the formidable grimace with which he accompanied that reflection showed the heroism of his soul.

Fresh surprise when he sat down to table. Instead of his pretty neighbour, "whom Love had curled with gold," he perceived the vulture throat of an old Englishwoman, whose long lappets swept the cloth. It was rumoured about him that the young lady and her companions had left the hotel by one of the early morning trains.

"'Cri nom! I'm fooled..." exclaimed aloud the Italian tenor, who, the evening before, had so rudely signified to Tartarin that he could not speak French. He must have learned it in a single night! The tenor rose, threw down his napkin, and hurried away, leaving the Southerner completely nonplussed.

Of all the guests of the night before, none now remained but himself. That is always so on the Rigi-Kulm; no one stays there more than twenty-four hours. In other respects the scene was invariably the same; the compote-dishes in files divided the factions. But on this particular morning the Rices triumphed by a great majority, reinforced by certain illustrious personages, and the Prunes did not, as they say, have it all their own way.

Tartarin, without taking sides with one or the other, went up to his room before the dessert, buckled his bag, and asked for his bill. He had had enough of Regina Montium and its dreary table d'hote of deaf mutes.

Abruptly recalled to his Alpine madness by the touch of his ice-axe, his crampons, and the rope in which he rewound himself, he burned to attack a real mountain, a summit deprived of a lift and a photographer. He hesitated between the Finsteraarhorn, as being the highest, and the Jungfrau, whose pretty name of virginal whiteness made him think more than once of the little Russian.

Ruminating on these alternatives while they made out his bill, he amused himself in the vast, lugubrious, silent hall of the hotel by looking at the coloured photographs hanging to the walls, representing glaciers, snowy slopes, famous and perilous mountain passes: here, were ascensionists in file, like ants on a quest, creeping along an icy arete sharply defined and blue; farther on was a deep crevasse, with glaucous sides, over which was thrown a ladder, and a lady crossing it on her knees, with an abbe after her raising his cassock.

The Alpinist of Tarascon, both hands on his ice-axe, had never, as yet, had an idea of such difficulties; he would have to meet them, pas mouain!..

Suddenly he paled fearfully.

In a black frame, an engraving from the famous drawing of Gustave Dore, reproducing the catastrophe on the Matterhorn, met his eye. Four human bodies on the flat of their backs or stomachs were coming headlong down the almost perpendicular slope of a neve, with extended arms and clutching hands, seeking the broken rope which held this string of lives, and only served to drag them down to death in the gulf where the mass was to fall pell-mell, with ropes, axes, veils, and all the gay outfit of Alpine ascension, grown suddenly tragic.

"Awful!" cried Tartarin, speaking aloud in his horror.

A very civil maitre d'hotel heard the exclamation, and thought best to reassure him. Accidents of that nature, he said, were becoming very rare: the essential thing was to commit no imprudence and, above all, to procure good guides.

Tartarin asked if he could be told of one there, "with confidence..." Not that he himself had any fear, but it was always best to have a sure man.

The waiter reflected, with an important air, twirling his moustache. "With confidence?.. Ah! if monsieur had only spoken sooner; we had a man here this morning who was just the thing... the courier of that Peruvian family..."

"He understands the mountain?" said Tartarin, with a knowing air.

"Oh, yes, monsieur, all the mountains, in Switzerland, Savoie, Tyrol, India, in fact, the whole world; he has done them all, he knows them all, he can tell you all about them, and that's something!.. I think he might easily be induced... With a man like that a child could go anywhere without danger."

"Where is he? How could I find him?"

"At the Kaltbad, monsieur, preparing the rooms for his party... I could telephone to him."

A telephone! on the Rigi!

That was the climax. But Tartarin could no longer be amazed.

Five minutes later the man returned bringing an answer.

The courier of the Peruvian party had just started for the Tellsplatte, where he would certainly pass the night.

The Tellsplatte is a memorial chapel, to which pilgrimages are made in honour of William Tell. Some persons go there to see the mural pictures which a famous painter of Bale has lately executed in the chapel...

As it only took by boat an hour or an hour and a half to reach the place, Tartarin did not hesitate. It would make him lose a day, but he owed it to himself to render that homage to William Tell, for whom he had always felt a peculiar predilection. And, besides, what a chance if he could there pick up this marvellous guide and induce him to do the Jungfrau with him.

Forward, zou!

He paid his bill, in which the setting and the rising sun were reckoned as extras, also the candles and the attendance. Then, still preceded by the rattle of his metals, which sowed surprise and terror on his way, he went to the railway station, because to descend the Rigi as he had ascended it, on foot, would have been lost time, and, really, it was doing too much honour to that very artificial mountain.



IV.

On the boat. It rains. The Tarasconese hero salutes the Ashes. The truth about William Tell. Disillusion. Tartarin of Tarascon never existed. "Te! Bompard."

He had left the snows of the Rigi-Kulm; down below, on the lake, he returned to rain, fine, close, misty, a vapour of water through which the mountains stumped themselves in, graduating in the distance to the form of clouds.

The "Foehn" whistled, raising white caps on the lake where the gulls, flying low, seemed borne upon the waves; one might have thought one's self on the open ocean.

Tartarin recalled to mind his departure from the port of Marseilles, fifteen years earlier, when he started to hunt the lion—that spotless sky, dazzling with silvery light, that sea so blue, blue as the water of dye-works, blown back by the mistral in sparkling white saline crystals, the bugles of the forts and the bells of all the steeples echoing joy, rapture, sun—the fairy world of a first journey.

What a contrast to this black dripping wharf, almost deserted, on which were seen, through the mist as through a sheet of oiled paper, a few passengers wrapped in ulsters and formless india-rubber garments, and the helmsman standing motionless, muffled in his hooded cloak, his manner grave and sibylline, behind this notice printed in three languages:—

"Forbidden to speak to the man at the wheel."

Very useless caution, for nobody spoke on board the "Winkelried," neither on deck, nor in the first and second saloons crowded with lugubrious-looking passengers, sleeping, reading, yawning, pell-mell, with their smaller packages scattered on the seats—the sort of scene we imagine that a batch of exiles on the morning after a coup-d'Etat might present.

From time to time the hoarse bellow of the steam-pipe announced the arrival of the boat at a stopping-place. A noise of steps, and of baggage dragged about the deck. The shore, looming through the fog, came nearer and showed its slopes of a sombre green, its villas shivering amid inundated groves, files of poplars flanking the muddy roads along which sumptuous hotels were formed in line with their names in letters of gold upon their facades, Hotel Meyer, Mueller, du Lac, etc., where heads, bored with existence, made themselves visible behind the streaming window-panes.

The wharf was reached, the passengers disembarked and went upward, all equally muddy, soaked, and silent. 'Twas a coming and going of umbrellas and omnibuses, quickly vanishing. Then a great beating of the wheels, churning up the water with their paddles, and the shore retreated, becoming once more a misty landscape with its pensions Meyer, Mueller, du Lac, etc., the windows of which, opened for an instant, gave fluttering handkerchiefs to view from every floor, and outstretched arms that seemed to say: "Mercy! pity! take us, take us... if you only knew!.."

At times the "Winkelried" crossed on its way some other steamer with its name in black letters on its white paddle-box: "Germania.".. "Guillaume Tell"... The same lugubrious deck, the same refracting caoutchoucs, the same most lamentable pleasure trip as that of the other phantom vessel going its different way, and the same heart-broken glances exchanged from deck to deck.

And to say that those people travelled for enjoyment! and that all those boarders in the Hotels du Lac, Meyer, and Mueller were captives for pleasure!

Here, as on the Rigi-Kulm, the thing that above all suffocated Tartarin, agonized him, froze him, even more than the cold rain and the murky sky, was the utter impossibility of talking. True, he had again met faces that he knew—the member of the Jockey Club with his niece (h'm! h'm!..), the academician Astier-Rehu, and the Bonn Professor Schwanthaler, those two implacable enemies condemned to live side by side for a month manacled to the itinerary of a Cook's Circular, and others. But none of these illustrious Prunes would recognize the Tarasconese Alpinist, although his mountain muffler, his metal utensils, his ropes in saltire, distinguished him from others, and marked him in a manner that was quite peculiar. They all seemed ashamed of the night before, and the inexplicable impulse communicated to them by the fiery ardour of that fat man.

Mme. Schwanthaler, alone, approached her partner, with the rosy, laughing face of a plump little fairy, and taking her skirt in her two fingers as if to suggest a minuet. "Ballir... dantsir... very choli..." remarked the good lady. Was this a memory that she evoked, or a temptation that she offered? At any rate, as she did not let go of him, Tartarin, to escape her pertinacity, went up on deck, preferring to be soaked to the skin rather than be made ridiculous.

And it rained!.. and the sky was dirty!.. To complete his gloom, a whole squad of the Salvation Army, who had come aboard at Beckenried, a dozen stout girls with stolid faces, in navy-blue gowns and Greenaway bonnets, were grouped under three enormous scarlet umbrellas, and were singing verses, accompanied on the accordion by a man, a sort of David-la-Gamme, tall and fleshless with crazy eyes. These sharp, flat, discordant voices, like the cry of gulls, rolled dragging, drawling through the rain and the black smoke of the engine which the wind beat down upon the deck. Never had Tartarin heard anything so lamentable.

At Bruennen the squad landed, leaving the pockets of the other travellers swollen with pious little tracts; and almost immediately after the songs and the accordion of these poor larvae ceased, the sky began to clear and patches of blue were seen.

They now entered the lake of Uri, closed in and darkened by lofty, untrodden mountains, and the tourists pointed out to each other, on the right at the foot of the Seelisberg, the field of Gruetli, where Melchtal, Fuerst, and Stauffacher made oath to deliver their country.

Tartarin, with much emotion, took off his cap, paying no attention to environing amazement, and waved it in the air three times, to do honour to the ashes of those heroes. A few of the passengers mistook his purpose, and politely returned his bow.

The engine at last gave a hoarse roar, its echo repercussioning from cliff to cliff of the narrow space. The notice hung out on deck before each new landing-place (as they do at public balls to vary the country dances) announced the Tells-platte.

They arrived.

The chapel is situated just five minutes' walk from the landing, at the edge of the lake, on the very rock to which William Tell sprang, during the tempest, from Gessler's boat. It was to Tartarin a most delightful emotion to tread, as he followed the travellers of the Circular Cook along the lakeside, that historic soil, to recall and live again the principal episodes of the great drama which he knew as he did his own life.

From his earliest years, William Tell had been his type. When, in the Bezuquet pharmacy, they played the game of preference, each person writing secretly on folded slips the poet, the tree, the odour, the hero, the woman he preferred, one of the papers invariably ran thus:—

"Tree preferred? ........... the baobab. Odour? ..................... gunpowder. Writer? .................... Fenimore Cooper. What I would prefer to be .. William Tell."

And every voice in the pharmacy cried out: "That's Tartarin!"

Imagine, therefore, how happy he was and how his heart was beating as he stood before that memorial chapel raised to a hero by the gratitude of a whole people. It seemed to him that William Tell in person, still dripping with the waters of the lake, his crossbow and his arrows in hand, was about to open the door to him.

"No entrance... I am at work... This is not the day..." cried a loud voice from within, made louder by the sonority of the vaulted roof.

"Monsieur Astier-Rehu, of the French Academy..."

"Herr Doctor Professor Schwanthaler..."

"Tartarin of Tarascon..."

In the arch above the portal, perched upon a scaffolding, appeared a half-length of the painter in working-blouse, palette in hand.

"My famulus will come down and open to you, messieurs," he said with respectful intonations.

"I was sure of it, pardi!" thought Tartarin; "I had only to name myself."

However, he had the good taste to stand aside modestly, and only entered after all the others.

The painter, superb fellow, with the gilded, ruddy head of an artist of the Renaissance, received his visitors on the wooden steps which led to the temporary staging put up for the purpose of painting the roof. The frescos, representing the principal episodes in the life of William Tell, were finished, all but one, namely: the scene of the apple in the market-place of Altorf. On this he was now at work, and his young famulus, as he called him, feet and legs bare under a toga of the middle ages, and his hair archangelically arranged, was posing as the son of William Tell.

All these archaic personages, red, green, yellow, blue, made taller than nature in narrow streets and under the posterns of the period, intended, of course, to be seen at a distance, impressed the spectators rather sadly. However, they were there to admire, and they admired. Besides, none of them knew anything.

"I consider that a fine characterization," said the pontifical Astier-Rehu, carpet-bag in hand.

And Schwanthaler, a camp-stool under his arm, not willing to be behindhand, quoted two verses of Schiller, most of it remaining in his flowing beard. Then the ladies exclaimed, and for a time nothing was heard but:—

"Schoen!.. schoen..."

"Yes... lovely..."

"Exquisite! delicious!.."

One might have thought one's self at a confectioner's.

Abruptly a voice broke forth, rending with the ring of a trumpet that composed silence.

"Badly shouldered, I tell you... That crossbow is not in place..."

Imagine the stupor of the painter in presence of this exorbitant Alpinist, who, alpenstock in hand and ice-axe on his shoulder, risking the annihilation of somebody at each of his many evolutions, was demonstrating to him by A + B that the motions of his William Tell were not correct.

"I know what I am talking about, au mouain... I beg you to believe it..."

"Who are you?"

"Who am I!" exclaimed the Alpinist, now thoroughly vexed... So it was not to him that the door was opened; and drawing himself up he said: "Go ask my name of the panthers of the Zaccar, of the lions of Atlas... they will answer you, perhaps."

The company recoiled; there was general alarm.

"But," asked the painter, "in what way is my action wrong?"

"Look at me, te!"

Falling into position with a thud of his heels that made the planks beneath them smoke, Tar-tarin, shouldering his ice-axe like a crossbow, stood rigid.

"Superb! He's right... Don't stir..."

Then to the famulus: "Quick! a block, charcoal!.."

The fact is, the Tarasconese hero was something worth painting,—squat, round-shouldered, head bent forward, the muffler round his chin like a strap, and his flaming little eye taking aim at the terrified famulus.

Imagination, O magic power!.. He thought himself on the marketplace of Altorf, in front of his own child, he, who had never had any; an arrow in his bow, another in his belt to pierce the heart of the tyrant. His conviction became so strong that it conveyed itself to others.

"'T is William Tell himself!.." said the painter, crouched on a stool and driving his sketch with a feverish hand. "Ah! monsieur, why did I not know you earlier? What a model you would have been for me!.."

"Really! then you see some resemblance?" said Tartarin, much flattered, but keeping his pose.

Yes, it was just so that the artist imagined his hero.

"The head, too?"

"Oh! the head, that's no matter..." and the painter stepped back to look at his sketch. "Yes, a virile mask, energetic, just what I wanted—inasmuch as nobody knows anything about William Tell, who probably never existed."

Tartarin dropped the cross-bow from stupefaction.

"Outre! {*}.. Never existed!.. What is that you are saying?"

* "Outre" and "boufre" are Tarasconese oaths of mysterious etymology.

"Ask these gentlemen..."

Astier-Rehu, solemn, his three chins in his white cravat, said: "That is a Danish legend."

"Icelandic.." affirmed Schwanthaler, no less majestic.

"Saxo Grammaticus relates that a valiant archer named Tobe or Paltanoke..."

"Es ist in der Vilkinasaga geschrieben..."

Both together:—

was condemned by the dass der Islandische Koenig King of Denmark Harold Needing..." of the Blue Teeth..."

With staring eyes and arms extended, neither looking at nor comprehending each other, they both talked at once, as if on a rostrum, in the doctoral, despotic tones of professors certain of never being refuted; until, getting angry, they only shouted names: "Justinger of Berne!.. Jean of Winterthur!.."

Little by little, the discussion became general, excited, and furious among the visitors. Umbrellas, camp-stools, and valises were brandished; the unhappy artist, trembling for the safety of his scaffolding, went from one to another imploring peace. When the tempest had abated, he returned to his sketch and looked for his mysterious model, for him whose name the panthers of the Zaccar and the lions of Atlas could alone pronounce; but he was nowhere to be seen; the Alpinist had disappeared.

At that moment he was clambering with furious strides up a little path among beeches and birches that led to the Hotel Tellsplatte, where the courier of the Peruvian family was to pass the night; and under the shock of his deception he was talking to himself in a loud voice and ramming his alpenstock furiously into the sodden ground:—

Never existed! William Tell! William Tell a myth! And it was a painter charged with the duty of decorating the Tellsplatte who said that calmly. He hated him as if for a sacrilege; he hated those learned men, and this denying, demolishing impious age, which respects nothing, neither fame nor grandeur—coquin de sort!

And so, two hundred, three hundred years hence, when Tartarin was spoken of there would always be Astier-Rehus and Professor Schwanthalers to deny that he ever existed—a Provencal myth! a Barbary legend!.. He stopped, choking with indignation and his rapid climb, and seated himself on a rustic bench.

From there he could see the lake between the branches, and the white walls of the chapel like a new mausoleum. A roaring of steam and the bustle of getting to the wharf announced the arrival of fresh visitors. They collected on the bank, guide-books in hand, and then advanced with thoughtful gestures and extended arms, evidently relating the "legend." Suddenly, by an abrupt revulsion of ideas, the comicality of the whole thing struck him.

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