Near at hand there happened to be an old marabout’s, or saint’s, tomb, with a white cupola, and the defunct’s large yellow slippers placed in a niche over the door, and a mass of odd offerings — hems of blankets, gold thread, red hair — hung on the wall.
Tartarin of Tarascon left his prince and his camel and went in search of a good spot for lying in wait. Prince Gregory wanted to follow him, but the Tarasconian refused, bent on confronting Leo alone. But still he besought His Highness not to go too far away, and, as a measure of foresight, he entrusted him with his pocket-book, a good-sized one, full of precious papers and bank-notes, which he feared would get torn by the lion’s claws. This done, our hero looked up a good place.
A hundred steps in front of the temple a little clump of rose-laurel shook in the twilight haze on the edge of a rivulet all but dried up. There it was that Tartarin went and ensconced himself, one knee on the ground, according to the regular rule, his rifle in his hand, and his huge hunting-knife stuck boldly before him in the sandy bank.
The rosy tint of nature changed into violet, and then into dark blue. A pretty pool of clear water gleamed like a hand-glass over the river-pebbles; this was the watering-place of the wild animals.
On the other slope the whitish trail was dimly to be discerned which their heavy paws had traced in the brush — a mysterious path which made one’s flesh creep. Join to this sensation that from the vague swarming sound in African forests, the swishing of branches, the velvety-pads of roving creatures, the jackal’s shrill yelp, and up in the sky, two or three hundred feet aloft, vast flocks of cranes passing on with screams like poor little children having their weasands slit. You will own that there were grounds for a man being moved.
Tartarin was so, and even more than that, for the poor fellow’s teeth chattered, and on the cross-bar of his hunting-knife, planted upright in the bank, as we repeat, his rifle-barrel rattled like a pair of castanets. Do not ask too much of a man! There are times when one is not in the mood; and, moreover, where would be the merit if heroes were never afraid?
Well, yes, Tartarin was afraid, and all the time, too, for the matter of that. Nevertheless, he held out for an hour; better, for two; but heroism has its limits. Nigh him, in the dry part of the rivulet-bed, the Tarasconian unexpectedly heard the sound of steps and of pebbles rolling. This time terror lifted him off the ground. He banged away both barrels at haphazard into the night, and retreated as fast as his legs would carry him to the marabout’s chapel-vault, leaving his knife standing up in the sand like a cross commemorative of the grandest panic that ever assailed the soul of a conqueror of hydras.
“Help! this Way, prince; the lion is on me!”
There was silence. “Prince, prince, are you there?”