When he read this, the son of Tarascon reddened, blanched, and shuddered. All Tarascon appeared unto him: the club, the cap-poppers, Costecalde’s green arm-chair, and, hovering over all like a spread eagle, the imposing moustaches of brave Commandant Bravida.
At seeing himself here, as he was, cowardly lolling on a mat, whilst his friends believed him slaughtering wild beasts, Tartarin of Tarascon was ashamed of himself, and could have wept had he not been a hero.
Suddenly he leaped up and thundered:
“The lion, the lion! Down with him!”
And dashing into the dusty lumber-hole where mouldered the shelter-tent, the medicine-chest, the potted meats, and the gun-cases, he dragged them out into the middle of the court.
Sancho-Tartarin was no more: Quixote-Tartarin occupied the field of active life.
Only the time to inspect his armament and stores, don his harness, get into his heavy boots, scribble a couple of words to confide Baya to the prince, and slip a few bank-notes sprinkled with tears into the envelope, and then the dauntless Tarasconian rolled away in the stage-coach on the Blidah road, leaving the house to the negress, stupor-stricken before the pipe, the turban, and babooshes — all the Moslem shell of Sidi Tart’ri which sprawled piteously under the little white trefoils of the gallery.
I. What becomes of the Old Stage-coaches.
Come to look closely at the vehicle, it was an old stage-coach all of the olden time, upholstered in faded deep blue cloth, with those enormous rough woollen balls which, after a few hours’ journey, finally establish a raw spot in the small of your back.
Tartarin of Tarascon had a corner of the inside, where he installed himself most free-and-easily: and, preliminarily to inspiring the rank emanations of the great African felines, the hero had to content himself with that homely old odour of the stage-coach, oddly composed of a thousand smells, of man and woman, horses and harness, eatables and mildewed straw.
There was a little of everything inside — a Trappist monk, some Jew merchants, two fast ladies going to join their regiment, the Third Hussars, a photographic artist from Orleansville, and so on. But, however charming and varied was the company, the Tarasconian was not in the mood for chatting; he remained quite thoughtful, with an arm in the arm-rest sling-strap and his guns between his knees. All churned up his wits — the precipitate departure, Baya’s eyes of jet, the terrible chase he was about to undertake, to say nothing of this European coach; with its Noah’s Ark aspect, rediscovered in the heart of Africa, vaguely recalling the Tarascon of his youth, with its races in the suburbs, jolly dinners on the river-side — a throng of memories, in short.
Gradually night came on. The guard lit up the lamps. The rusty diligence danced creakingly on its old springs; the horses trotted and their bells jangled. From time to time in the boot arose a dreadful clank of iron: that was the war material.