“Deary me! it’s a change of times now! Lord knows what rubbish I am carting here, come from nobody guesses where! They fill me with small deer, these negroes, Bedouin Arabs, swashbucklers, adventurers from every land, and ragged settlers who poison me with their pipes, and all jabbering a language that the Tower of Babel itself could make nothing of! And, furthermore, you should see how they treat me — I mean, how they never treat me: never a brush or a wash. They begrudge me grease for my axles. Instead of my good fat quiet horses of other days, little Arab ponies, with the devil in their frames, who fight and bite, caper as they run like so many goats, and break my splatterboard all to smithereens with their lashing out behind. Ouch! ouch! there they are at it again!
“And such roads! Just here it is bearable, because we are near the governmental headquarters; but out a bit there’s nothing, Monsieur — not the ghost of a road at all. We get along as best we can over hill and dale, over dwarf palms and mastic-trees. Ne’er a fixed change of horses, the stopping being at the whim of the guard, now at one farm, again at another.
“Somewhiles this rogue goes a couple of leagues out of the way to have a glass of absinthe or champoreau with a chum. After which, ‘Crack on, postillion!’ to make up for the lost time. Though the sun be broiling and the dust scorching, we whip on! We catch in the scrub and spill over, but whip on! We swim rivers, we catch cold, we get swamped, we drown, but whip! whip! whip! Then in the evening, streaming — a nice thing for my age, with my rheumatics — I have to sleep in the open air of some caravanseral yard, open to all the winds. In the dead o’ night jackals and hyaenas come sniffing of my body; and the marauders who don’t like dews get into my compartment to keep warm.
“Such is the life I lead, my poor Monsieur Tartarin, and that I shall lead to the day when — burnt up by the sun and rotted by the damp nights until unable to do anything else, I shall fall in some spot of bad road, where the Arabs will boil their kouskous with the bones of my old carcass” —
“Blidah! Blidah!” called out the guard as he opened the door.
Vaguely through the mud-dimmed glass Tartarin of Tarascon caught a glimpse of a second-rate but pretty town market-place, regular in shape, surrounded by colonnades and planted with orange-trees, in the midst of which what seemed toy leaden soldiers were going through the morning exercise in the clear roseate mist. The cafes were shedding their shutters. In one corner there was a vegetable market. It was bewitching, but it did not smack of lions yet.
“To the South! farther to the South!” muttered the good old desperado, sinking back in his corner.
At this moment the door opened. A puff of fresh air rushed in, bearing upon its wings, in the perfume of the orange-blossoms, a little person in a brown frock-coat, old and dry, wrinkled and formal, his face no bigger than your fist, his neckcloth of black silk five fingers wide, a notary’s letter-case, and umbrella — the very picture of a village solicitor.