The best proof that Tartarin was not scared is, that instead of going to the club by the shortest cut, he went over the town by the longest and darkest way round, through a mass of vile, paltry alleys, at the mouth of which the Rhone could be seen ominously gleaming. The poor knight constantly hoped that, beyond the turn of one of these cut-throats’ haunts, “they” would leap from the shadow and fall on his back. I warrant you, “they” would have been warmly received, though; but, alack! by reason of some nasty meanness of destiny, never indeed did Tartarin of Tarascon enjoy the luck to meet any ugly customers — not so much as a dog or a drunken man — nothing at all!
Still, there were false alarms somewhiles. He would catch a sound of steps and muffled voices.
“Ware hawks!” Tartarin would mutter, and stop short, as if taking root on the spot, scrutinising the gloom, sniffing the wind, even glueing his ear to the ground in the orthodox Red Indian mode. The steps would draw nearer, and the voices grow more distinct, till no more doubt was possible. “They” were coming — in fact, here “they” were!
Steady, with eye afire and heaving breast, Tartarin would gather himself like a jaguar in readiness to spring forward whilst uttering his war-cry, when, all of a sudden, out of the thick of the murkiness, he would hear honest Tarasconian voices quite tranquilly hailing him with:
“Hullo! you, by Jove! it’s Tartarin! Good night, old fellow!”
Maledictions upon it! It was the chemist Bezuquet, with his family, coming from singing their family ballad at Costecalde’s.
“Oh, good even, good even!” Tartarin would growl, furious at his blunder, and plunging fiercely into the gloom with his cane waved on high.
On arriving in the street where stood his club-house, the dauntless one would linger yet a moment, walking up and down before the portals ere entering. But, finally, weary of awaiting “them,” and certain “they” would not show “themselves,” he would fling a last glare of defiance into the shades and snarl wrathfully:
“Nothing, nothing at all! there never is nothing!”
Upon which double negation, which he meant as a stronger affirmative, the worthy champion would walk in to play his game of bezique with the commandant.
Answer me, you will say, how the mischief is it that Tartarin of Tarascon never left Tarascon with all this mania for adventure, need of powerful sensations, and folly about travel, rides, and journeys from the Pole to the Equator?
For that is a fact: up to the age of five-and-forty, the dreadless Tarasconian had never once slept outside his own room. He had not even taken that obligatory trip to Marseilles which every sound Provencal makes upon coming of age. The most of his knowledge included Beaucaire, and yet that’s not far from Tarascon, there being merely the bridge to go over. Unfortunately, this rascally bridge has so often been blown away by the gales, it is so long and frail, and the Rhone has such a width at this spot that — well, faith! you understand! Tartarin of Tarascon preferred terra firma.