“And furthermore, when is that trip coming off?”
In Costecalde’s shop, his opinions gained no credence, for the cap-poppers renounced their chief!
Next, epigrams dropped into the affair. Chief Judge Ladevese, who willingly paid court in his leisure hours to the native Muse, composed in local dialect a song which won much success. It told of a sportsman called “Master Gervais,” whose dreaded rifle was bound to exterminate all the lions in Africa to the very last. Unluckily, this terrible gun was of a strange kind: “though loaded daily, it never went off.”
“It never went off” — you will catch the drift.
In less than no time, this ditty became popular; and when Tartarin came by, the longshoremen and the little shoeblacks before his door sang in chorus —
“Muster Jarvey’s roifle Allus gittin’ chaarged; Muster Jarvey’s roifle ’il hev to git enlaarged; Muster Jarvey’s roifle’s Loaded oft — don’t scoff; Muster Jarvey’s roifle Nivver do go off!”
But it was shouted out from a safe distance, on account of the double muscles.
Oh, the fragility of Tarascon’s fads!
The great object himself feigned to see and hear nothing; but, under the surface, this sullen and venomous petty warfare much afflicted him. He felt aware that Tarascon was slipping out of his grip, and that popular favour was going to others; and this made him suffer horribly.
Ah, the huge bowl of popularity! it’s all very well to have a seat in front of it, but what a scalding you catch when it is overturned!
Notwithstanding his pain, Tartarin smiled and peacefully jogged on in the same life as if nothing untoward had happened. Still, the mask of jovial heedlessness glued by pride on his face would sometimes be suddenly detached. Then, in lieu of laughter, one saw grief and indignation. Thus it was that one morning, when the little blackguards yelped “Muster Jarvey’s Roifle” beneath his window, the wretches’ voices rose even into the poor great man’s room, where he was shaving before the glass. (Tartarin wore a full beard, but as it grew very thick, he was obliged to keep it trimmed orderly.)
All at once the window was violently opened, and Tartarin appeared in shirt-sleeves and nightcap, smothered in lather, flourishing his razor and shaving-brush, and roaring with a formidable voice:
“Let’s have it out with swords, gentlemen, not pins!”
Fine words, worthy of history’s record, with only the blemish that they were addressed to little scamps not higher than their boot-boxes, and who were quite incapable of holding a smallsword.
Amid the general falling off, the army alone stuck out firmly for Tartarin. Brave Commandant Bravida (the former captain in the Army Clothing Department) continued to show him the same esteem as ever. “He’s game!” he persisted in saying — an assertion, I beg to believe, fully worth the chemist Bezuquet’s. Not once did the brave officer let out any allusion to the trip to Africa; but when the public clamour grew too loud, he determined to have his say.