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Title: Tartarin On The Alps
Author: Daudet, Alphonse
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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TARTARIN ON THE ALPS.

By Alphonse Daudet



TARTARIN ON THE ALPS.



I.

     Apparition on the Rigi-Kulm. Who is it? What was said around
     a table of six hundred covers. Rice and Prunes, An
     improvised ball. The Unknown signs his name on the hotel
     register, P. C. A.

On the 10th of August, 1880, at that fabled hour of the setting sun so
vaunted by the guide-books Joanne and Baedeker, an hermetic yellow fog,
complicated with a flurry of snow in white spirals, enveloped the summit
of the Rigi (_Regina monhum_) and its gigantic hotel, extraordinary to
behold on the arid waste of those heights,--that Rigi-Kulm, glassed-in
like a conservatory, massive as a citadel, where alight for a night and
a day a flock of tourists, worshippers of the sun.

While awaiting the second dinner-gong, the transient inmates of the
vast and gorgeous caravansary, half frozen in their chambers above, or
gasping on the divans of the reading-rooms in the damp heat of lighted
furnaces, were gazing, in default of the promised splendours, at the
whirling white atoms and the lighting of the great lamps on the portico,
the double glasses of which were creaking in the wind.

To climb so high, to come from all four corners of the earth to see
that... Oh, Baedeker!..

Suddenly, something emerged from the fog and advanced toward the hotel
with a rattling of metal, an exaggeration of motions, caused by strange
accessories.

At a distance of twenty feet through the fog the torpid tourists, their
noses against the panes, the _misses_ with curious little heads trimmed
like those of boys, took this apparition for a cow, and then for a
tinker bearing his utensils.

Ten feet nearer the apparition changed again, showing a crossbow on the
shoulder, and the visored cap of an archer of the middle ages, with
the visor lowered, an object even more unlikely to meet with on these
heights than a strayed cow or an ambulating tinker.

On the portico the archer was no longer anything but a fat, squat,
broad-backed man, who stopped to get breath and to shake the snow from
his leggings, made like his cap of yellow cloth, and from his knitted
comforter, which allowed scarcely more of his face to be seen than a few
tufts of grizzling beard and a pair of enormous green spectacles made as
convex as the glass of a stereoscope. An alpenstock, knapsack, coil of
rope worn in saltire, crampons and iron hooks hanging to the belt of
an English blouse with broad pleats, completed the accoutrement of this
perfect Alpinist.

On the desolate summits of Mont Blanc or the Finsteraarhorn this
clambering apparel would have seemed very natural, but on the Rigi-Kulm
ten feet from a railway track!--

The Alpinist, it is true, came from the side opposite to the station,
and the state of his leggings testified to a long march through snow and
mud.

For a moment he gazed at the hotel and its surrounding buildings,
seemingly stupefied at finding, two thousand and more yards above the
sea, a building of such importance, glazed galleries, colonnades, seven
storeys of windows, and a broad portico stretching away between two
rows of globe-lamps which gave to this mountain-summit the aspect of the
Place de l’Opéra of a winter’s evening.

But, surprised as he may have been, the people in the hotel were
more surprised still, and when he entered the immense antechamber an
inquisitive hustling took place in the doorways of all the salons:
gentlemen armed with billiard-cues, others with open newspapers, ladies
still holding their book or their work pressed forward, while in the
background, on the landing of the staircase, heads leaned over the
baluster and between the chains of the lift.

The man said aloud, in a powerful deep bass voice, the chest voice of
the South, resounding like cymbals:--

“_Coquin de bon sort!_ what an atmosphere!”

Then he stopped short, to take off his cap and his spectacles.

He was suffocating.

The dazzle of the lights, the heat of the gas and furnace, in contrast
with the cold darkness without, and this sumptuous display, these lofty
ceilings, these porters bedizened with _Regina Montium_ in letters
of gold on their naval caps, the white cravats of the waiters and the
battalion of Swiss girls in their native costumes coming forward at
sound of the gong, all these things bewildered him for a second--but
only one.

He felt himself looked at and instantly recovered his self-possession,
like a comedian facing a full house.

“Monsieur desires..?”

This was the manager of the hotel, making the inquiry with the tips of
his teeth, a very dashing manager, striped jacket, silken whiskers, the
head of a lady’s dressmaker.

The Alpinist, not disturbed, asked for a room, “A good little room,
_au mouain?_” perfectly at ease with that majestic manager, as if with a
former schoolmate.

But he came near being angry when a Bernese servant-girl, advancing,
candle in hand, and stiff in her gilt stomacher and puffed muslin
sleeves, inquired if Monsieur would be pleased to take the lift. The
proposal to commit a crime would not have made him more indignant.

“A lift! he!.. for him!..” And his cry, his gesture, set all his metals
rattling.

Quickly appeased, however, he said to the maiden, in an amiable tone:
“_Pedibusse cum jambisse_, my pretty little cat...” And he went up
behind her, his broad back filling the stairway, parting the persons he
met on his way, while throughout the hotel the clamorous questions ran:
“Who is he? What’s this?” muttered in the divers languages of all four
quarters of the globe. Then the second dinner-gong sounded, and nobody
thought any longer of this extraordinary personage.

A sight to behold, that dining-room of the Rigi-Kulm.

Six hundred covers around an immense horseshoe table, where tall,
shallow dishes of rice and of prunes, alternating in long files with
green plants, reflected in their dark or transparent sauces the flame of
the candles in the chandeliers and the gilding of the panelled ceiling.

As in all Swiss _tables d’hôte_, rice and prunes divided the dinner into
two rival factions, and merely by the looks of hatred or of hankering
cast upon those dishes it was easy to tell to which party the guests
belonged. The Rices were known by their anaemic pallor, the Prunes by
their congested skins.

That evening the latter were the most numerous, counting among them
several important personalities, European celebrities, such as the great
historian Astier-Réhu, of the French Academy, Baron von Stolz, an
old Austro-Hungarian diplomat, Lord Chipendale (?), a member of the
Jockey-Club and his niece (h’m, h’m!), the illustrious doctor-professor
Schwanthaler, from the University of Bonn, a Peruvian general with eight
young daughters.

To these the Rices could only oppose as a picket-guard a Belgian senator
and his family, Mme. Schwanthaler, the professor’s wife, and an Italian
tenor, returning from Russia, who displayed his cuffs, with buttons as
big as saucers, upon the tablecloth.

It was these opposing currents which no doubt caused the stiffness
and embarrassment of the company. How else explain the silence of six
hundred half-frozen, scowling, distrustful persons, and the sovereign
contempt they appeared to affect for one another? A superficial observer
might perhaps have attributed this stiffness to stupid Anglo-Saxon
haughtiness which, nowadays, gives the tone in all countries to the
travelling world.

No! no! Beings with human faces are not born to hate one another thus at
first sight, to despise each other with their very noses, lips, and eyes
for lack of a previous introduction. There must be another cause.

Rice and Prunes, I tell you. There you have the explanation of the
gloomy silence weighing upon this dinner at the Rigi-Kulm, which,
considering the number and international variety of the guests, ought to
have been lively, tumultuous, such as we imagine the repasts at the foot
of the Tower of Babel to have been.

The Alpinist entered the room, a little overcome by this refectory of
monks, apparently doing penance beneath the glare of chandeliers; he
coughed noisily without any one taking notice of him, and seated himself
in his place of last-comer at the end of the room. Divested of his
accoutrements, he was now a tourist like any other, but of aspect more
amiable, bald, barrel-bellied, his beard pointed and bunchy, his nose
majestic, his eyebrows thick and ferocious, overhanging the glance of a
downright good fellow.

Rice or Prunes? No one knew as yet.

Hardly was he installed before he became uneasy, and leaving his place
with an alarming bound: “Ouf! what a draught!” he said aloud, as he
sprang to an empty chair with its back laid over on the table.

He was stopped by the Swiss maid on duty--from the canton of Uri, that
one--silver chains and white muslin chemisette.

“Monsieur, this place is engaged...”

Then a young lady, seated next to the chair, of whom the Alpinist could
see only her blond hair rising from the whiteness of virgin snows, said,
without turning round, and with a foreign accent:

“That place is free; my brother is ill, and will not be down.”

“Ill?..” said the Alpinist, seating himself, with an anxious, almost
affectionate manner... “Ill? Not dangerously, _au moins_.”

He said _au mouain_, and the word recurred in all his remarks, with
other vocable parasites, such as _hé, que, téy zou, vé, vaï, et
autrement, différemment_, etc., still further emphasized by a Southern
accent, displeasing, apparently, to the young lady, for she answered
with a glacial glance of a black blue, the blue of an abyss.

His neighbour on the right had nothing encouraging about him either;
this was the Italian tenor, a gay bird with a low forehead, oily pupils,
and the moustache of a matador, which he twirled with nervous fingers
at being thus separated from his pretty neighbour. But the good Alpinist
had a habit of talking as he ate; it was necessary for his health.

“_Vé!_ the pretty buttons...” he said to himself, aloud, eying the cuffs
of his neighbour. “Notes of music, inlaid in jasper--why, the effect is
_charmain!_..”

His metallic voice rang on the silence, but found no echo.

“Surely monsieur is a singer, _que?_”

“_Non capisco_,” growled the Italian into his moustache.

For a moment the man resigned himself to devour without uttering a word,
but the morsels choked him. At last, as his opposite neighbour, the
Austro-Hungarian diplomat, endeavoured to reach the mustard-pot with the
tips of his shaky old fingers, covered with mittens, he passed it to him
obligingly. “Happy to serve you, Monsieur le baron,” for he had heard
some one call him so.

Unfortunately, poor M. de Stoltz, in spite of his shrewd and knowing air
contracted in diplomatic juggling, had now lost both words and ideas,
and was travelling among the mountains for the special purpose of
recovering them. He opened his eyes wide upon that unknown face, and
shut them again without a word. It would have taken ten old diplomats of
his present intellectual force to have constructed in common a formula
of thanks.

At this fresh failure the Alpinist made a terrible grimace, and the
abrupt manner in which he seized the bottle standing near him might have
made one fear he was about to cleave the already cracked head of the
diplomatist Not so! It was only to offer wine to his pretty neighbour,
who did not hear him, being absorbed by a semi-whispered conversation in
a soft and lively foreign warble with two young men seated next to her.
She bent to them, and grew animated. Little frizzles of hair were seen
shining in the light against a dainty, transparent, rosy ear... Polish,
Russian, Norwegian?.. from the North certainly; and a pretty song of
those distant lands coming to his lips, the man of the South began
tranquilly to hum:--

     O coumtesso gento,
     Estelo dou Nord,
     Que la neu argento,
     Qu’ Amour friso en or. {*}

     * O pretty countess,
     Light of the North,
     Which the snow silvers,
     And Love curls in gold.

         (Frédéric Mistral.)

The whole table turned round; they thought him mad. He coloured,
subsided into his plate, and did not issue again except to repulse
vehemently one of the sacred compote-dishes that was handed to him.

“Prunes! again!.. Never in my life!”

This was too much.

A grating of chairs was heard. The academician, Lord Chipendale (?),
the Bonn professor, and other notabilities rose, and left the room as if
protesting.

The Rices followed almost immediately, on see-tog the second
compote-dish rejected as violently as the first.

Neither Rice nor Prunes!.. then what?..

All withdrew; and it was truly glacial, that silent defile of scornful
noses and mouths with their corners disdainfully turned down at the
luckless man, who was left alone in the vast gorgeous dining-room,
engaged in sopping his bread in his wine after the fashion of his
country, crushed beneath the weight of universal disdain.

My friends, let us never despise any one. Contempt is the resource
of parvenus, prigs, ugly folk, and fools; it is the mask behind which
nonentity shelters itself, and sometimes blackguardism; it dispenses
with mind, judgment, and good-will. All humpbacked persons are
contemptuous; all crooked noses wrinkle with disdain when they see a
straight one.

He knew that, this worthy Alpinist. Having passed, by several years, his
“fortieth,” that landing on the fourth storey where man discovers and
picks up the magic key which opens life to its recesses, and reveals its
monotonous and deceptive labyrinth; conscious, moreover, of his value,
of the importance of his mission, and of the great name he bore, he
cared nothing for the opinion of such persons as these. He knew that he
need only name himself and cry out “‘Tis I...” to change to grovelling
respect those haughty lips; but he found his incognito amusing.

He suffered only at not being able to talk, to make a noise, unbosom
himself, press hands, lean familiarly on shoulders, and call men by
their Christian names. That is what oppressed him on the Rigi-Kulm.

Oh! above all, not being able to speak.

“I shall have dyspepsia as sure as fate,” said the poor devil, wandering
about the hotel and not knowing what to do with himself.

He entered a café, vast and deserted as a church on a week day, called
the waiter, “My good friend,” and ordered “a mocha without sugar,
_que’_.” And as the waiter did not ask, “Why no sugar?” the Alpinist
added quickly, “‘Tis a habit I acquired in Africa, at the period of my
great hunts.”

He was about to recount them, but the waiter had fled on his phantom
slippers to Lord Chipendale, stranded, full length, upon a sofa and
crying, in mournful tones: “Tchempègne!.. tchempègne!..” The cork flew
with its silly noise, and nothing more was heard save the gusts of wind
in the monumental chimney and the hissing click of the snow against the
panes.

Very dismal too was the reading-room; all the journals in hand, hundreds
of heads bent down around the long green tables beneath the reflectors.
From time to time a yawn, a cough, the rustle of a turned leaf; and
soaring high above the calm of this hall of study, erect and motionless,
their backs to the stove, both solemn and both smelling equally musty,
were the two pontiffs of official history, Astier-Réhu and Schwanthaler,
whom a singular fatality had brought face to face on the summit of the
Rigi, after thirty years of insults and of rending each other to
shreds in explanatory notes referring to “Schwanthaler, jackass,” “_vir
ineptissimus_, Astier-Réhu.”

You can imagine the reception which the kindly Alpinist received on
drawing up a chair for a bit of instructive conversation in that chimney
corner. From the height of these two caryatides there fell upon him
suddenly one of those currents of air of which he was so afraid.
He rose, paced the hall, as much to warm himself as to recover
self-confidence, and opened the bookcase. A few English novels lay
scattered about in company with several heavy Bibles and tattered
volumes of the Alpine Club. He took up one of the latter, and carried
it off to read in bed, but was forced to leave it at the door, the rules
not allowing the transference of the library to the chambers.

Then, still continuing to wander about, he opened the door of the
billiard-room, where the Italian tenor, playing alone, was producing
effects of torso and cuffs for the edification of their pretty
neighbour, seated on a divan, between the two young men, to whom she was
reading a letter. On the entrance of the Alpinist she stopped, and one
of the young men rose, the taller, a sort of moujik, a dog-man, with
hairy paws, and long, straight, shining black hair joining an unkempt
beard. He made two steps in the direction of the new-comer, looked at
him provocatively, and so fiercely that the worthy Alpinist, without
demanding an explanation, made a prudent and judicious half-turn to the
right.

“_Différemment_, they are not affable, these Northerners,” he said
aloud; and he shut the door noisily, to prove to that savage that he was
not afraid of him.

The salon remained as a last refuge; he went there... _Coquin de
sort!_... The morgue, my good friends, the morgue of the Saint-Bernard
where the monks expose the frozen bodies found beneath the snows in
the various attitudes in which congealing death has stiffened them, can
alone describe that salon of the Rigi-Kulm.

All those numbed, mute women, in groups upon the circular sofas, or
isolated and fallen into chairs here and there; all those misses,
motionless be-. neath the lamps on the round tables, still holding in
their hands the book or the work they were employed on when the cold
congealed them. Among them were the daughters of the general, eight
little Peruvians with saffron skins, their features convulsed, the vivid
ribbons on their gowns contrasting with the dead-leaf tones of English
fashions; poor little _sunny-climes_, easy to imagine as laughing and
frolicking beneath their cocoa-trees and now more distressing
to behold than the rest in their glacial, mute condition. In the
background, before the piano, was the death-mask of the old diplomat,
his mittened hands resting inert upon the keyboard, the yellowing tones
of which were reflected on his face.

Betrayed by his strength and his memory, lost in a polka of his own
composition, beginning it again and again, unable to remember its
conclusion, the unfortunate Stoltz had gone to sleep while playing,
and with him all the ladies on the Rigi, nodding, as they slumbered,
romantic curls, or those peculiar lace caps, in shape like the crust of
a vol-au-vent, that English dames affect, and which seem to be part of
the canf of travelling.

The entrance of the Alpinist did not awaken them, and he himself had
dropped upon a divan, overcome by such icy discouragement, when the
sound of vigorous, joyous chords burst from the vestibule; where three
“musicos,” harp, flute, and violin, ambulating minstrels with pitiful
faces, and long overcoats flapping their legs, who infest the Swiss
hostelries, had just arrived with their instruments.

At the very first notes our man sprang up as if galvanized.

“_Zou!_ bravo!.. forward, music!”

And off he went, opening the great doors, feting the musicians, soaking
them with champagne, drunk himself without drinking a drop, solely with
the music which brought him back to life. He mimicked the piston, he
mimicked the harp, he snapped his fingers over his head, and rolled his
eyes and danced his steps, to the utter stupefaction of the tourists
running in from all sides at the racket. Then suddenly, as the
exhilarated musicos struck up a Strauss waltz with the fury of true
tziganes, the Alpinist, perceiving in the doorway the wife of Professor
Schwanthaler, a rotund little Viennese with mischievous eyes, still
youthful in spite of her powdered gray hair, he sprang up her, caught
her by the waist, and whirled her into the room, crying put to the
others; “Come on! come on! let us waltz!”

The impetus was given, the hotel thawed and twirled, carried off its
centre. People danced in the vestibule, in the salon, round the long
green table of the reading-room. ‘Twas that devil of a man who set fire
to ice. He, however, danced no more, being out of breath at the end of
a couple of turns; but he guided his ball, urged the musicians, coupled
the dancers, cast into the arms of the Bonn professor an elderly
Englishwoman; and into those of the austere Astier-Réhu the friskiest
of the Peruvian damsels. Resistance was impossible. From that terrible
Alpinist issued I know not what mysterious aura which lightened and
buoyed up every one. And _zou! zou! zou!_ No more contempt and disdain.
Neither Rice nor Prunes, only waltzers. Presently the madness spread;
it reached the upper storeys, and up through the well of the staircase
could be seen to the sixth-floor landing the heavy and high-coloured
skirts of the Swiss maids on duty, twirling with the stiffness of
automatons before a musical chalet.

Ah! the wind may blow without and shake the lamp-posts, make the
telegraph wires groan, and whirl the snow in spirals across that
desolate summit Within all are warm, all are comforted, and remain so
for that one night.

“_Différemment_, I must go to bed, myself,” thought the worthy Alpinist,
a prudent man, coming from a country where every one packs and unpacks
himself rapidly. Laughing in his grizzled beard, he slipped away,
covertly escaping Madame Schwanthaler, who was seeking to hook him again
ever since that initial waltz.

He took his key and his bedroom candle; then, on the first landing, he
paused a moment to enjoy his work and to look at the mass of congealed
ones whom he had forced to thaw and amuse themselves.

A Swiss maid approached him all breathless from the waltz, and said,
presenting a pen and the hotel register:--

“Might I venture to ask t_mossié_ to be so good as to sign his name?”

He hesitated a moment. Should he, or should he not preserve his
incognito?

After all, what matter! Supposing that the news of his presence on the
Rigi should reach _down there_, no one would know what he had come to
do in Switzerland. And besides, it would be so droll to see, to-morrow
morning, the stupor of those “Inglichemans” when they should learn the
truth... For that Swiss girl, of course, would not hold her tongue...
What surprise, what excitement throughout the hotel!..

“Was it really he?.. he?.. himself?..” These reflections, rapid and
vibrant, passed through his head like the notes of a violin in an
orchestra. He took the pen, and with careless hand he signed, beneath
Schwanthaler, Astier-Réhu, and other notabilities, the name that
eclipsed them all, his name; then he went to his room, without so much
as glancing round to see the effect, of which he was sure.

Behind him the Swiss maid looked at the name:

TARTARIN OF TARASCON,

beneath which was added:

P. C. A.

She read it, that Bernese girl, and was not the least dazzled. She did
not know what P. C. A. signified, nor had she ever heard of “Dardarin.”

Barbarian, _Vaï!_



II.

     Tarascon, five minutes’ stop! The Club of the Alpines.
     Explanation of P. C. A. Rabbits of warren and cabbage
     rabbits. This is my last will and testament. The Sirop de
     cadavre. First ascension, Tartarin takes out his spectacles.

When that name “Tarascon” sounds trumpetlike along the track of the
Paris-Lyons-Mediterranean, in the limpid, vibrant blue of a Provençal
sky, inquisitive heads are visible at all the doors of the express
train, and from carriage to carriage the travellers say to each other:
“Ah! here is Tarascon!.. Now, for a look at Tarascon.”

What they can see of it is, nevertheless, nothing more than a very
ordinary, quiet, clean little town with towers, roofs, and a bridge
across the Rhone. But the Tarasconese sun and its marvellous effects
of mirage, so fruitful in surprises, inventions, delirious absurdities,
this joyous little populace, not much larger than a chick-pea, which
reflects and sums up in itself the instincts of the whole French South,
lively, restless, gabbling, exaggerated, comical, impressionable--that
is what the people on the express-train look out for as they pass, and
it is that which has made the popularity of the place.

In memorable pages, which modesty prevents him from mentioning more
explicitly, the historiographer of Tarascon essayed, once upon a time,
to depict the happy days of the little town, leading its club life,
singing its romantic songs (each his own) and, for want of real game,
organizing curious cap-hunts. Then, war having come and the dark times,
Tarascon became known by its heroic defence, its torpedoed esplanade,
the club and the Café de la Comédie, both made impregnable; all the
inhabitants enrolled in guerilla companies, their breasts braided with
death’s head and cross-bones, all beards grown, and such a display
of battle-axes, boarding cutlasses, and American revolvers that the
unfortunate inhabitants ended by frightening themselves and no longer
daring to approach one another in the streets.

Many years have passed since the war, many a worthless almanac has been
put in the fire, but Tarascon has never forgotten; and, renouncing the
futile amusements of other days, it thinks of nothing now but how to
make blood and muscle for the service of future revenge. Societies for
pistol-shooting and gymnastics, costumed and equipped, all having band
and banners; armouries, boxing-gloves, single-sticks, list-shoes; foot
races and flat-hand fights between persons in the best society; these
things have taken the place of the former cap-hunts and the platonic
cynegetical discussions in the shop of the gunsmith Costecalde.

And finally the club, the old club itself, abjuring bouillotte and
bézique, is now transformed into a “Club Alpin” under the patronage of
the famous Alpine Club of London, which has borne even to India the fame
of its climbers. With this difference, that the Tarasconese, instead of
expatriating themselves on foreign summits, are content with those they
have in hand, or rather underfoot, at the gates of their town.

“The Alps of Tarascon?” you ask. No; but the Alpines, that chain of
mountainettes, redolent of thyme and lavender, not very dangerous, nor
yet very high (five to six hundred feet above sea-level), which make an
horizon of blue waves along the Provençal roads and are decorated by the
local imagination with the fabulous and characteristic names of: Mount
Terrible; The End of the World; The Peak of the Giants, etc.

‘T is a pleasure to see, of a Sunday morning, the gaitered Tarasconese,
pickaxe in hand, knapsack and tent on their backs, starting off, bugles
in advance, for ascensions, of which the _Forum_, the local
journal, gives full account with a descriptive luxury and wealth of
epithets--abysses, gulfs, terrifying gorges--as if the said ascension
were among the Himalayas. You can well believe that from this exercise
the aborigines have acquired fresh strength and the “double muscles”
 heretofore reserved to the only Tartarin, the good, the brave, the
heroic Tartarin.

If Tarascon epitomizes the South, Tartarin epitomizes Tarascon. He is
not only the first citizen of the town, he is its soul, its genius, he
has all its finest whimseys. We know his former exploits, his triumphs
as a singer (oh! that duet of “Robert le Diable” in Bézuquet’s
pharmacy!), and the amazing odyssey of his lion-hunts, from which he
returned with that splendid camel, the last in Algeria, since deceased,
laden with honours and preserved in skeleton at the town museum among
other Tarasconese curiosities.

Tartarin himself has not degenerated; teeth still good and eyes good, in
spite of his fifties; still that amazing imagination which brings nearer
and enlarges all objects with the power of a telescope. He remains the
same man as he of whom the brave Commander Bravida used to say: “He’s a
_lapin_...”

Or, rather, _two lapins!_ For in Tartarin, as in all the Tarasconese,
there is a warren race and a cabbage race, very clearly accentuated:
the roving rabbit of the warren, adventurous, headlong; and the
cabbage-rabbit, homekeeping, coddling, nervously afraid of fatigue, of
draughts, and of any and all accidents that may lead to death.

We know that this prudence did not prevent him from showing himself
brave and even heroic on occasion; but it is permissible to ask what
he was doing on the Rigi (_Regina Montium_) at his age, when he had so
dearly bought the right to rest and comfort.

To that inquiry the infamous Costecalde can alone reply.

Costecalde, gunsmith by trade, represents a type that is rather rare in
Tarascon. Envy, base, malignant envy, is visible in the wicked curve of
his thin lips, and a species of yellow bile, proceeding from his liver
in puffs, suffuses his broad, clean-shaven, regular face, with its
surface dented as if by a hammer, like an ancient coin of Tiberius or
Caracalla. Envy with him is a disease, which he makes no attempt
to hide, and, with the fine Tarasconese temperament that overlays
everything, he sometimes says in speaking of his infirmity: “You don’t
know how that hurts me...”

Naturally the curse of Costecalde is Tartarin. So much fame for a single
man! He everywhere! always he! And slowly, subterraneously, like a
worm within the gilded wood of an idol, he saps from below for the last
twenty years that triumphant renown, and gnaws it, and hollows it. When,
in the evening, at the club, Tartarin relates his encounters with lions
and his wanderings in the great Sahara, Costecalde sits by with mute
little laughs, and incredulous shakes of the head.

“But the skins, _au mouain_, Costecalde... those lions’ skins he sent
us, which are there, in the salon of the club?..”

“_Té! pardi_... Do you suppose there are no furriers in Algeria?..”

“But the marks of the balls, all round, in the heads?”

“_Et autremain_, did n’t we ourselves in the days of the cap-hunts see
ragged caps torn with bullets at the hatters’ for sale to clumsy shots?”

No doubt the long established fame of Tartarin as a slayer of wild
beasts resisted these attacks; but the Alpinist in himself was open to
criticism, and Costecalde did not deprive himself of the opportunity,
being furious that a man should be elected as president of the “Club
of the Alpines” whom age had visibly overweighted and whose liking,
acquired in Algeria, for Turkish slippers and flowing garments
predisposed to laziness.

In fact, Tartarin seldom took part in the ascensions; he was satisfied
to accompany them with votive wishes, and to read in full session, with
rolling eyes, and intonations that turned the ladies pale, the tragic
narratives of the expeditions.

Costecalde, on the contrary, wiry, vigorous “Cock-leg,” as they called
him, was always the foremost climber; he had done the Alpines, one by
one, planting on their summits inaccessible the banner of the Club, _La
Tarasque_, starred in silver. Nevertheless, he was only vice-president,
V. P. C. A. But he manipulated the place so well that evidently, at the
coming elections, Tartarin would be made to skip.

Warned by his faithfuls--Bézuquet the apothecary, Excourbaniès, the
brave Commander Bravida--the hero was at first possessed by black
disgust, by that indignant rancour which ingratitude and injustice
arouse in the noblest soul. He wanted to quit everything, to expatriate
himself, to cross the bridge and go and live in Beaucaire, among the
Volsci; after that, he grew calmer.

To quit his little house, his garden, his beloved habits, to renounce
his chair as president of the Club of the Alpines, founded by himself,
to resign that majestic P. C. A. which adorned and distinguished his
cards, his letter-paper, and even the lining of his hat! Not possible,
_vé!_ Suddenly there came into his head an electrifying idea...

In a word, the exploits of Costecalde were limited to excursions among
the Alpines. Why should not Tartarin, during the three months that
still intervened before the elections, why should he not attempt some
grandiose adventure? plant, for instance, the standard of the Club on
the highest peak of Europe, the Jungfrau or the Mont Blanc?

What triumph on his return! what a slap in the face to Costecalde when
the _Forum_ should publish an account of the ascension! Who would dare
to dispute his presidency after that?

Immediately he set to work; sent secretly to Paris for quantities of
works on Alpine adventure: Whymper’s “Scrambles,” Tyndall’s “Glaciers,”
 the “Mont-Blanc” of Stephen d’Arve, reports of the Alpine Club,
English and Swiss; cramming his head with a mass of mountaineering
terms--chimneys, couloirs, moulins, névés, séracs, moraines,
rotures--without knowing very well what they meant.

At night, his dreams were fearful with interminable slides and sudden
falls into bottomless crevasses. Avalanches rolled him down, icy arêtes
caught his body on the descent; and long after his waking and the
chocolate he always took in bed, the agony and the oppression of that
nightmare clung to him. But all this did not hinder him, once afoot,
from devoting his whole morning to the most laborious training
exercises.

Around Tarascon is a promenade planted with trees which, in the local
dictionary, is called the “Tour de Ville.” Every Sunday afternoon,
the Tarasconese, who, in spite of their imagination, are a people of
routine, make the tour of their town, and always in the same direction.
Tartarin now exercised himself by making it eight times, ten times, of
a morning, and often reversed the way. He walked, his hands behind
his back, with short-mountain-steps, both slow and sure, till the
shopkeepers, alarmed by this infraction of local habits, were lost in
suppositions of all possible kinds.

At home, in his exotic garden, he practised the art of leaping
crevasses, by jumping over the basin in which a few gold-fish were
swimming about among the water-weeds. On two occasions he fell in, and
was forced to change his clothes. Such mishaps inspired him only the
more, and, being subject to vertigo, he practised walking on the
narrow masonry round the edge of the water, to the terror of his old
servant-woman, who understood nothing of these performances.

During this time, he ordered, _in Avignon_, from an excellent locksmith,
crampons of the Whymper pattern, and a Kennedy ice-axe; also he procured
himself a reed-wick lamp, two impermeable coverlets, and two hundred
feet of rope of his own invention, woven with iron wire.

The arrival of these different articles from Avignon, the mysterious
goings and comings which their construction required, puzzled the
Taras-conese much, and it was generally said about town: “The president
is preparing a stroke.” But what? Something grand, you may be sure, for,
in the beautiful words of the brave and sententious Commander Bravida,
retired captain of equipment, who never spoke except in apothegms:
“Eagles hunt no flies.”

With his closest intimates Tartarin remained impenetrable. Only, at the
sessions of the Club, they noticed the quivering of his voice and
the lightning flash of his eyes whenever he addressed Costecalde--the
indirect cause of this new expedition, the dangers and fatigues of which
became more pronounced to his mind the nearer he approached it. The
unfortunate man did not attempt to disguise them; in fact he took so
black a view of the matter that he thought it indispensable to set his
affairs in order, to write those last wishes, the expression of which
is so trying to the Tarasconese, lovers of life, that most of them die
intestate.

On a radiant morning in June, beneath a cloudless arched and splendid
sky, the door of his study open upon the neat little garden with
its gravelled paths, where the exotic plants stretched forth their
motionless lilac shadows, where the fountain tinkled its silvery note
‘mid the merry shouts of the Savoyards, playing at marbles before the
gate, behold Tartarin! in Turkish slippers, wide flannel under-garments,
easy in body, his pipe at hand, reading aloud as he wrote the words:--

“This is my last will and testament.”

Ha! one may have one’s heart in the right place and solidly hooked
there, but these are cruel moments. Nevertheless, neither his hand nor
his voice trembled while he distributed among his fellow-citizens all
the ethnographical riches piled in his little home, carefully dusted and
preserved in immaculate order.

“To the Club of the Alpines, my baobab (_arbos gigantea_) to stand on
the chimney-piece of the hall of sessions;”

To Bravida, his carbines, revolvers, hunting knives, Malay krishes,
tomahawks, and other murderous weapons;

To Excourbaniès, all his pipes, calumets, narghilés, and pipelets for
smoking kif and opium;

To Costecalde--yes, Costecalde himself had his legacy--the famous
poisoned arrows (Do not touch).

Perhaps beneath this gift was the secret hope that the traitor would
touch and die; but nothing of the kind was exhaled by the will, which
closed with the following words, of a divine meekness:

“I beg my dear Alpinists not to forget their president... I wish them
to forgive my enemy as I have forgiven him, although it is he who has
caused my death...”

Here Tartarin was forced to stop, blinded by a flood of tears. For a
minute he beheld himself crushed, lying in fragments at the foot of
a high mountain, his shapeless remains gathered up in a barrow, and
brought back to Tarascon. Oh, the power of that Provençal imagination!
he was present at his own funeral; he heard the lugubrious chants, and
the talk above his grave: “Poor Tartarin, _péchère!_” and, mingling with
the crowd of his faithful friends, he wept for himself.

But immediately after, the sight of the sun streaming into his study and
glittering on the weapons and pipes in their usual order, the song of
that thread of a fountain in the middle of the garden recalled him to
the actual state of things. _Différemment_, why die? Why go, even? Who
obliged him? What foolish vanity! Risk his life for a presidential chair
and three letters!..

‘Twas a passing weakness, and it lasted no longer than any other. At the
end of five minutes the will was finished, signed, the flourish added,
sealed with an enormous black seal, and the great man had concluded his
last preparations for departure.

Once more had the warren Tartarin triumphed over the cabbage Tartarin.
It could be said of the Tarasconese hero, as was said of Turenne: “His
body was not always willing to go into battle, but his will led him
there in spite of himself.”

The evening of that same day, as the last stroke of ten was sounding
from the tower of the town-hall, the streets being already deserted, a
man, after brusquely slamming a door, glided along through the
darkened town, where nothing lighted the fronts of the houses, save
the hanging-lamps of the streets and the pink and green bottles of the
pharmacy Bézuquet, which projected their reflections on the pavement,
together with a silhouette of the apothecary himself resting his elbows
on his desk and sound asleep on the Codex;--a little nap, which he took
every evening from nine to ten, to make himself, so he said, the fresher
at night for those who might need his services. That, between ourselves,
was a mere tarasconade, for no one ever waked him at night, in fact
he himself had cut the bell-wire, in order that he might sleep more
tranquilly.

Suddenly Tartarin entered, loaded with rugs, carpet-bag in hand, and
so pale, so discomposed, that the apothecary, with that fiery local
imagination from which the pharmacy was no preservative, jumped to the
conclusion of some alarming misadventure and was terrified. “Unhappy
man!” he cried, “what is it?.. you are poisoned?.. Quick! quick! some
ipeca...”

And he sprang forward, bustling among his bottles. To stop him, Tartarin
was forced to catch him round the waist. “Listen to me, _qué diable!_”
 and his voice grated with the vexation of an actor whose entrance
has been made to miss fire. As soon as the apothecary was rendered
motionless behind the counter by an iron wrist, Tartarin said in a low
voice:--

“Are we alone, Bézuquet?”

“_Bé_! yes,” ejaculated the other, looking about in vague alarm...
“Pascalon has gone to bed.” [ Pascalon was his pupil.] “Mamma too; why do
you ask?”

“Shut the shutters,” commanded Tartarin, without replying; “we might be
seen from without.”

Bézuquet obeyed, trembling. An old bachelor, living with his mother,
whom he never quitted, he had all the gentleness and timidity of a
girl, contrasting oddly with his swarthy skin, his hairy lips, his
great hooked nose above a spreading moustache; in short, the head of an
Algerine pirate before the conquest. These antitheses are frequent in
Tarascon, where heads have too much character, Roman or Saracen, heads
with the expression of models for a school of design, but quite out
of place in bourgeois trades among the manners and customs of a little
town.

For instance, Excourbaniès, who has all the air of a _conquistador_,
companion of Pizarro, rolls flaming eyes in selling haberdashery
to induce the purchase of two sous’ worth of thread. And Bézuquet,
labelling liquorice and _sirupus gummi_, resembles an old sea-rover of
the Barbary coast.

When the shutters were put up and secured by iron bolts and transversal
bars, “Listen, Ferdinand...” said Tartarin, who was fond of calling
people by their Christian names. And thereupon he unbosomed himself,
emptied his heart full of bitterness at the ingratitude of his
compatriots, related the manoeuvres of “Cock-leg,” the trick about to
be played upon him at the coming elections, and the manner in which he
expected to parry the blow.

Before all else, the matter must be kept very secret; it must not
be revealed until the moment when success was assured, unless some
unforeseen accident, one of those frightful catastrophes--“Hey,
Bézuquet! don’t whistle in that way when I talk to you.”

This was one of the apothecary’s ridiculous habits. Not talkative by
nature (a negative quality seldom met with in Tarascon, and which won
him this confidence of the president), his thick lips, always in the
form of an O, had a habit of perpetually whistling that gave him an
appearance of laughing in the nose of the world, even on the gravest
occasions.

So that, while the hero made allusion to his possible death, saying, as
he laid upon the counter a large sealed envelope, “This is my last will
and testament, Bézuquet; it is you whom I have chosen as testamentary
executor...” “Hui... hui... hui...” whistled the apothecary, carried
away by his mania, while at heart he was deeply moved and fully
conscious of the grandeur of his rôle.

Then, the hour of departure being at hand, he desired to drink to the
enterprise, “something good, _qué?_ a glass of the elixir of Garus,
hey?” After several closets had been opened and searched, he remembered
that mamma had the keys of the Garus. To get them it would be necessary
to awaken her and tell who was there. The elixir was therefore changed
to a glass of the _sirop de Calabre_, a summer drink, inoffensive
and modest, which Bézuquet invented, advertising it in the _Forum_
as follows: _Sirop de Calabre, ten sous a bottle, including the glass
(verre)_. “Sirop de Cadavre, including the worms (_vers_),” said that
infernal Costecalde, who spat upon all success. But, after all,
that horrid play upon words only served to swell the sale, and the
Tarasconese to this day delight in their _sirop de cadavre_.

Libations made and a few last words exchanged, they embraced, Bézuquet
whistling as usual in his moustache, adown which rolled great tears.

“Adieu, _au mouain_”... said Tartarin in a rough tone, feeling that
he was about to weep himself, and as the shutter of the door had been
lowered the hero was compelled to creep out of the pharmacy on his hands
and knees.

This was one of the trials of the journey now about to begin.

Three days later he landed in Vitznau at the foot of the Rigi. As the
mountain for his début, the Rigi had attracted him by its low altitude
(5900 feet, about ten times that of Mount Terrible, the highest of the
Alpines) and also on account of the splendid panorama to be seen from
the summit--the Bernese Alps marshalled in line, all white and rosy,
around the lakes, awaiting the moment when the great ascensionist should
cast his ice-axe upon one of them.

Certain of being recognized on the way and perhaps followed--‘t was
a foible of his to believe that throughout all France his fame was as
great and popular as it was at Tarascon--he had made a great détour
before entering Switzerland and did not don his accoutrements until
after he had crossed the frontier. Luckily for him; for never could his
armament have been contained in one French railway-carriage.

But, however convenient the Swiss compartments might be, the Alpinist,
hampered with utensils to which he was not, as yet, accustomed, crushed
toe-nails with his crampons, harpooned travellers who came in his way
with the point of his alpenstock, and wherever he went, in the stations,
the steamers, and the hotel salons, he excited as much amazement as he
did maledictions, avoidance, and angry looks, which he could not explain
to himself though his affectionate and communicative nature suffered
from them. To complete his discomfort, the sky was always gray, with
flocks of clouds and a driving rain.

It rained at Bâle, on the little white houses, washed and rewashed by
the hands of a maid and the waters of heaven. It rained at Lucerne, on
the quay where the trunks and boxes appeared to be saved, as it were,
from shipwreck, and when he arrived at the station of Vitznau, on the
shore of the lake of the Four-Cantons, the same deluge was descending
on the verdant slopes of the Rigi, straddled by inky clouds and striped
with torrents that leaped from rock to rock in cascades of misty sleet,
bringing down as they came the loose stones and the pine-needles. Never
had Tartarin seen so much water.

He entered an inn and ordered a _café au lait_ with honey and butter,
the only really good things he had as yet tasted during his journey.
Then, reinvigorated, and his beard sticky with honey, cleaned on a
corner of his napkin, he prepared to attempt his first ascension.

“_Et autremain_” he asked, as he shifted his knapsack, “how long does it
take to ascend the Rigi?”

“One hour, one hour and a quarter, monsieur; but make haste about it;
the train is just starting.”

“A train upon the Rigi!.. you are joking!..”

Through the leaded panes of the tavern window he was shown the train
that was really starting. Two great covered carriages, windowless,
pushed by a locomotive with a short, corpulent chimney, in shape like a
saucepan, a monstrous insect, clinging to the mountain and clambering,
breathless up its vertiginous slopes.

The two Tartarins, cabbage and warren, both, at the same instant,
revolted at the thought of going up in that hideous mechanism. One
of them thought it ridiculous to climb the Alps in a lift; as for
the other, those aerial bridges on which the track was laid, with the
prospect of a fall of 4000 feet at the slightest derailment, inspired
him with all sorts of lamentable reflections, justified by the little
cemetery of Vitzgau, the white tombs of which lay huddled together at
the foot of the slope, like linen spread out to bleach in the yard of
a wash-house. Evidently the cemetery is there by way of precaution, so
that, in case of accident, the travellers may drop on the very spot.

“I’ll go afoot,” the valiant Tarasconese said to himself; “‘twill
exercise me... zou!”

And he started, wholly preoccupied with manoeuvring his alpenstock
in presence of the staff of the hotel, collected about the door and
shouting directions to him about the path, to which he did not listen.
He first followed an ascending road, paved with large irregular, pointed
stones like a lane at the South, and bordered with wooden gutters to
carry off the rains.

To right and left were great orchards, fields of rank, lush grass
crossed by the same wooden conduits for irrigation through hollowed
trunks of trees. All this made a constant rippling from top to bottom
of the mountain, and every time that the ice-axe of the Alpinist
became hooked as he walked along in the lower branches of an oak or a
walnut-tree, his cap crackled as if beneath the nozzle of a watering-pot.

“Diou! what a lot of water!” sighed the man of the South. But it was
much worse when the pebbly path abruptly ceased and he was forced
to puddle along in the torrent or jump from rock to rock to save his
gaiters. Then a shower joined in, penetrating, steady, and seeming to
get colder the higher he went. When he stopped to recover breath he
could hear nothing else than a vast noise of waters in which he seemed
to be sunk, and he saw, as he turned round, the clouds descending into
the lake in delicate long filaments of spun glass through which the
chalets of Vitznau shone like freshly varnished toys.

Men and children passed him with lowered heads and backs bent beneath
hods of white-wood, containing provisions for some villa or _pension_,
the balconies of which could be distinguished on the slopes.
“Rigi-Kulm?” asked Tartarin, to be sure he was heading in the right
direction. But his extraordinary equipment, especially, that knitted
muffler which masked his face, cast terror along the way, and all
whom he addressed only opened their eyes wide and hastened their steps
without replying.

Soon these encounters became rare. The last human being whom he saw was
an old woman washing her linen in the hollowed trunk of a tree under the
shelter of an enormous red umbrella, planted in the ground.

“Rigi-Kulm?” asked the Alpinist.

The old woman raised an idiotic, cadaverous face, with a goitre swaying
upon her throat as large as the rustic bell of a Swiss cow. Then, after
gazing at him for a long time, she was seized with inextinguishable
laughter, which stretched her mouth from ear to ear, wrinkled up the
corners of her little eyes, and every time she opened them the sight of
Tartarin, planted before her with his ice-axe on his shoulder, redoubled
her joy.

“_Tron de l’air!_” growled the Tarasconese, “lucky for her that she’s
a woman...” Snorting with anger, he continued his way and lost it in a
pine-wood, where his boots slipped on the oozing moss.

Beyond this point the landscape changed. No more paths, or trees, or
pastures. Gloomy, denuded slopes, great boulders of rock which he scaled
on his knees for fear of falling; sloughs full of yellow mud, which he
crossed slowly, feeling before him with his alpenstock and lifting his
feet like a knife-grinder. At every moment he looked at the compass
hanging to his broad watch-ribbon; but whether it were the altitude or
the variations of the temperature, the needle seemed untrue. And how
could he find his bearings in a thick yellow fog that hindered him
from seeing ten steps about him--steps that were now, within a moment,
covered with an icy glaze that made the ascent more difficult.

Suddenly he stopped; the ground whitened vaguely before him... Look out
for your eyes!..

He had come to the region of snows...

Immediately he pulled out his spectacles, took them from their case, and
settled them securely on his nose. The moment was a solemn one. Slightly
agitated, yet proud all the same, it seemed to Tar-tarin that in
one bound he had risen 3000 feet toward the summits and his greatest
dangers.

He now advanced with more precaution, dreaming of crevasses and fissures
such as the books tell of, and cursing in the depths of his heart those
people at the inn who advised him to mount straight and take no guide.
After all, perhaps he had mistaken the mountain! More than six hours had
he tramped, and the Rigi required only three. The wind blew, a chilling
wind that whirled the snow in that crepuscular fog.

Night was about to overtake him. Where find a hut? or even a projecting
rock to shelter him? All of a sudden, he saw before his nose on the
arid, naked plain a species of wooden chalet, bearing, on a long placard
in gigantic type, these letters, which he deciphered with difficulty:
PHO... TO... GRA... PHIE DU RI... GI KULM. At the same instant the vast
hotel with its three hundred windows loomed up before him between the
great lamp-posts, the globes of which were now being lighted in the fog.



III.

     An alarm on the Rigi. “Keep cool! Keep cool!” The Alpine
     horn. What Tartarin saw, on awaking, in his looking-glass,
     Perplexity. A guide is ordered by telephone.

“Quès aco?.. Quî vive?” cried Tartarin, ears alert and eyes straining
hard into the darkness.

Feet were running through the hotel, doors were slamming, breathless
voices were crying: “Make haste! make haste!..” while without was
ringing what seemed to be a trumpet-call, as flashes of flame illumined
both panes and curtains.

Fire!..

At a bound he was out of bed, shod, clothed, and running headlong
down the staircase, where the gas still burned and a rustling swarm of
_misses_ were descending, with hair put up in haste, and they themselves
swathed in shawls and red woollen jackets, or anything else that came to
hand as they jumped out of bed.

Tartarin, to fortify himself and also to reassure the young ladies,
cried out, as he rushed on, hustling everybody: “Keep cool! Keep cool!”
 in the voice of a gull, pallid, distraught, one of those voices that we
hear in dreams sending chills down the back of the bravest man. Now, can
you understand those young _misses_, who laughed as they looked at him
and seemed to think it very funny? Girls have no notion of danger, at
that age!..

Happily, the old diplomatist came along behind them, very cursorily
clothed in a top-coat below which appeared his white drawers with
trailing ends of tape-string.

Here was a man, at last!..

Tartarin ran to him waving his arms: “Ah! Monsieur le baron, what a
disaster!.. Do you know about it?.. Where is it?.. How did it take?..”

“Who? What?” stuttered the terrified baron, not understanding.

“Why, the fire...”

“What fire?..”

The poor man’s countenance was so inexpressibly vacant and stupid that
Tartarin abandoned him and rushed away abruptly to “organize help...”

“Help!” repeated the baron, and after him four or five waiters,
sound asleep on their feet in the antechamber, looked at one another
completely bewildered and echoed, “Help!..”

At the first step that Tartarin made out-of-doors he saw his error.
Not the slightest conflagration! Only savage cold, and pitchy darkness,
scarcely lighted by the resinous torches that were being carried hither
and thither, casting on the snow long, blood-coloured traces.

On the steps of the portico, a performer on the Alpine horn was
bellowing his modulated moan, that monotonous _rànz des vaches_ on three
notes, with which the Rigi-Kulm is wont to waken the worshippers of the
sun and announce to them the rising of their star.

_It is said_ that it shows itself, sometimes, on rising, at the extreme
top of the mountain behind the hotel. To get his bearings, Tartarin had
only to follow the long peal of the misses’ laughter which now went past
him. But he walked more slowly, still full of sleep and his legs heavy
with his six hours’ climb.

“Is that you, Manilof?..” said a clear voice from the darkness, the
voice of a woman. “Help me... I have lost my shoe.”

He recognized at once the foreign warble of his pretty little neighbour
at the dinner-table, whose delicate silhouette he now saw in the first
pale gleam of the coming sun.

“It is not Manilof, mademoiselle, but if I can be useful to you...”

She gave a little cry of surprise and alarm as she made a recoiling
gesture that Tartarin did not perceive, having already stooped to feel
about the short and crackling grass around them.

“_Té, pardi!_ here it is!” he cried joyfully. He shook the dainty shoe
which the snow had powdered, and putting a knee to earth, most gallantly
in the snow and the dampness, he asked, for all reward, the honour of
replacing it on Cinderella’s foot.

She, more repellent than in the tale, replied with a very curt “no;” and
endeavoured, by hopping on one foot, to reinstate her silk stocking
in its little bronze shoe; but in that she could never have succeeded
without the help of the hero, who was greatly moved by feeling for an
instant that delicate hand upon his shoulder.

“You have good eyes,” she said, by way of thanks as they now walked side
by side, and feeling their way.

“The habit of watching for game, mademoiselle.”

“Ah! you are a sportsman?”

She said it with an incredulous, satirical, accent Tartarin had only
to name himself in order to convince her, but, like the bearers of all
illustrious names, he preferred discretion, coquetry. So, wishing to
graduate the surprise, he answered:--

“I am a sportsman, _efféctivemain_.”

She continued in the same tone of irony:--

“And what game do you prefer to hunt?”

“The great carnivora, wild beasts...” uttered Tartarin, thinking to
dazzle her.

“Do you find many on the Rigi?”

Always gallant, and ready in reply, Tartarin was about to say that
on the Rigi he had so far met none but gazelles, when his answer was
suddenly cut short by the appearance of two shadows, who called out:--

“Sonia!.. Sonia!..”

“I’m coming,” she said, and turning to Tartarin, whose eyes, now
accustomed to the darkness, could distinguish her pale and pretty face
beneath her mantle, she added, this time seriously:--

“You have undertaken a dangerous enterprise, my good man... take care
you do not leave your bones here.”

So saying, she instantly disappeared in the darkness with her
companions.

Later, the threatening intonation that emphasized those words was fated
to trouble the imagination of the Southerner; but now, he was simply
vexed at the term “good man,” cast upon his elderly embonpoint, and also
at the abrupt departure of the young girl just at the moment when he was
about to name himself, and enjoy her stupefaction.

He made a few steps in the direction the group had taken, hearing a
confused murmur, with coughs and sneezes, of the clustering tourists
waiting impatiently for the rising of the sun, the most vigorous among
them having climbed to a little belvedere, the steps of which, wadded
with snow, could be whitely distinguished in the vanishing darkness.

A gleam was beginning to light the Orient, saluted by a fresh blast from
the Alpine horn, and that “Ah!!” of relief, always heard in theatres
when the third bell raises the curtain.

Slight as a ray through a shutter, this gleam, nevertheless, enlarged
the horizon, but, at the same moment a fog, opaque and yellow, rose from
the valley, a steam that grew more thick, more penetrating as the day
advanced. ‘T was a veil between the scene and the spectators.

All hope was now renounced of the gigantic effects predicted in the
guide-books. On the other hand, the heteroclite array of the dancers of
the night before, torn from their slumbers, appeared in fantastic and
ridiculous outline like the shades of a magic lantern; shawls, rugs, and
even bed-quilts wrapped around them. Under varied headgear, nightcaps
of silk or cotton, broad-brimmed female hats, turbans, fur caps with
ear-pads, were haggard faces, swollen faces, heads of shipwrecked beings
cast upon a desert island in mid-ocean, watching for a sail in the
offing with staring eyes.

But nothing--everlastingly nothing!

Nevertheless, certain among them strove, in a gush of good-will, to
distinguish the surrounding summits, and, on the top of the belvedere
could be heard the clucking of the Peruvian family, pressing around a
big devil, wrapped to his feet in a checked ulster, who was pointing out
imperturbably, the invisible panorama of the Bernese Alps, naming in a
loud voice the peaks that were lost in the fog.

“You see on the left the Finsteraarhorn, thirteen thousand seven hundred
and ninety-five feet high... the Schreckhorn, the Wetterhorn, the Monk,
the Jungfrau, the elegant proportions of which I especially point out to
these young ladies...”

“_Bé! vé!_ there’s one who does n’t lack cheek!” thought Tartarin; then,
on reflection, he added: “I know that voice, _au mouain._”

He recognized the accent, that accent of the South, distinguishable
from afar like garlic; but, quite preoccupied in finding again his fair
Unknown, he did not pause, and continued to inspect the groups--without
result. She must have reentered the hotel, as they all did now, weary
with standing about, shivering, to no purpose, so that presently no one
remained on the cold and desolate plateau of that gray dawn but Tartarin
and the Alpine horn-player, who continued to blow a melancholy note
through his huge instrument, like a dog baying the moon.

He was a short old man, with a long beard, wearing a Tyrolese hat
adorned with green woollen tassels that hung down upon his back and,
in letters of gold, the words (common to all the hats and caps in the
service of the hotel) _Regina Montium_. Tartarin went up to give him a
pourboire, as he had seen all the other tourists do. “Let us go to
bed again, my old friend,” he said, tapping him on the shoulder with
Tarasconese familiarity. “A fine humbug, _qué!_ the sunrise on the
Rigi.”

The old man continued to blow into his horn, concluding his ritornelle
in three notes with a mute laugh that wrinkled the corners of his eyes
and shook the green glands of his head-gear.

Tartarin, in spite of all, did not regret his night. That meeting with
the pretty blonde repaid him for his loss of sleep, for, though nigh
upon fifty, he still had a warm heart, a romantic imagination, a glowing
hearthstone of life. Returning to bed, and shutting his eyes to make
himself go to sleep, he fancied he felt in his hand that dainty little
shoe, and heard again the gentle call of the fair young girl: “Is it
you, Manilof?”

Sonia... what a pretty name!.. She was certainly Russian; and those
young men were travelling with her; friends of her brother, no doubt.

Then all grew hazy; the pretty face in its golden curls joined the other
floating visions,--Rigi slopes, cascades like plumes of feathers,--and
soon the heroic breathing of the great man, sonorous and rhythmical,
filled the little room and the greater part of the long corridor...

The next morning, before descending at the first gong for breakfast,
Tartarin was about to make sure that his beard was well brushed, and
that he himself did not look too badly in his Alpine costume, when,
all of a sudden, he quivered. Before him, open, and gummed to his
looking-glass by two wafers, was an anonymous letter, containing the
following threats:--

“_Devil of a Frenchman, your queer old clothes do not conceal you.
You are forgiven once more for this attempt; but if you cross our path
again, beware!_”

Bewildered, he read this two or three times over without understanding
it. Of whom, of what must he beware? How came that letter there?
Evidently during his sleep; for he did not see it on returning from his
auroral promenade. He rang for the maid on duty; a fat, white face, all
pitted with the small-pox, a perfect gruyère cheese, from which nothing
intelligible could be drawn, except that she was of “bon famille,” and
never entered the rooms of the gentlemen unless they were there.

“A queer thing, _au mouain_,” thought Tartarin, turning and returning
the letter, and much impressed by it. For a moment the name of
Coste-calde crossed his mind,--Costecalde, informed of his projects of
ascension, and endeavouring to prevent them by manoeuvres and threats.
On reflection, this appeared to him unlikely, and he ended by persuading
himself that the letter was a joke... perhaps those little misses who
had laughed at him so heartily... they are so free, those English and
American young girls!

The second breakfast gong sounded. He put the letter in his pocket:
“After all, we’ll soon see...” and the formidable grimace with which he
accompanied that reflection showed the heroism of his soul.

Fresh surprise when he sat down to table. Instead of his pretty
neighbour, “whom Love had curled with gold,” he perceived the vulture
throat of an old Englishwoman, whose long lappets swept the cloth. It
was rumoured about him that the young lady and her companions had left
the hotel by one of the early morning trains.

“‘_Cri nom!_ I’m fooled...” exclaimed aloud the Italian tenor, who, the
evening before, had so rudely signified to Tartarin that he could not
speak French. He must have learned it in a single night! The tenor
rose, threw down his napkin, and hurried away, leaving the Southerner
completely nonplussed.

Of all the guests of the night before, none now remained but himself.
That is always so on the Rigi-Kulm; no one stays there more than
twenty-four hours. In other respects the scene was invariably the same;
the compote-dishes in files divided the factions. But on this particular
morning the Rices triumphed by a great majority, reinforced by certain
illustrious personages, and the Prunes did not, as they say, have it all
their own way.

Tartarin, without taking sides with one or the other, went up to his
room before the dessert, buckled his bag, and asked for his bill. He
had had enough of _Regina Montium_ and its dreary table d’hôte of deaf
mutes.

Abruptly recalled to his Alpine madness by the touch of his ice-axe, his
crampons, and the rope in which he rewound himself, he burned to attack
a real mountain, a summit deprived of a lift and a photographer. He
hesitated between the Finsteraarhorn, as being the highest, and the
Jungfrau, whose pretty name of virginal whiteness made him think more
than once of the little Russian.

Ruminating on these alternatives while they made out his bill, he amused
himself in the vast, lugubrious, silent hall of the hotel by looking at
the coloured photographs hanging to the walls, representing glaciers,
snowy slopes, famous and perilous mountain passes: here, were
ascensionists in file, like ants on a quest, creeping along an icy
_arête_ sharply defined and blue; farther on was a deep crevasse, with
glaucous sides, over which was thrown a ladder, and a lady crossing it
on her knees, with an abbé after her raising his cassock.

The Alpinist of Tarascon, both hands on his ice-axe, had never, as
yet, had an idea of such difficulties; he would have to meet them, _pas
mouain!_..

Suddenly he paled fearfully.

In a black frame, an engraving from the famous drawing of Gustave Doré,
reproducing the catastrophe on the Matterhorn, met his eye. Four human
bodies on the flat of their backs or stomachs were coming headlong
down the almost perpendicular slope of a _névé_, with extended arms
and clutching hands, seeking the broken rope which held this string of
lives, and only served to drag them down to death in the gulf where the
mass was to fall pell-mell, with ropes, axes, veils, and all the gay
outfit of Alpine ascension, grown suddenly tragic.

“Awful!” cried Tartarin, speaking aloud in his horror.

A very civil maître d’hôtel heard the exclamation, and thought best
to reassure him. Accidents of that nature, he said, were becoming very
rare: the essential thing was to commit no imprudence and, above all, to
procure good guides.

Tartarin asked if he could be told of one there, “with confidence...”
 Not that he himself had any fear, but it was always best to have a sure
man.

The waiter reflected, with an important air, twirling his moustache.
“With confidence?.. Ah! if monsieur had only spoken sooner; we had a man
here this morning who was just the thing... the courier of that Peruvian
family...”

“He understands the mountain?” said Tartarin, with a knowing air.

“Oh, yes, monsieur, all the mountains, in Switzerland, Savoie, Tyrol,
India, in fact, the whole world; he has done them all, he knows them
all, he can tell you all about them, and that’s something!.. I think
he might easily be induced... With a man like that a child could go
anywhere without danger.”

“Where is he? How could I find him?”

“At the Kaltbad, monsieur, preparing the rooms for his party... I could
telephone to him.”

A telephone! on the Rigi!

That was the climax. But Tartarin could no longer be amazed.

Five minutes later the man returned bringing an answer.

The courier of the Peruvian party had just started for the Tellsplatte,
where he would certainly pass the night.

The Tellsplatte is a memorial chapel, to which pilgrimages are made in
honour of William Tell. Some persons go there to see the mural pictures
which a famous painter of Bâle has lately executed in the chapel...

As it only took by boat an hour or an hour and a half to reach the
place, Tartarin did not hesitate. It would make him lose a day, but he
owed it to himself to render that homage to William Tell, for whom he
had always felt a peculiar predilection. And, besides, what a chance if
he could there pick up this marvellous guide and induce him to do the
Jungfrau with him.

Forward, _zou!_

He paid his bill, in which the setting and the rising sun were reckoned
as extras, also the candles and the attendance. Then, still preceded by
the rattle of his metals, which sowed surprise and terror on his way,
he went to the railway station, because to descend the Rigi as he had
ascended it, on foot, would have been lost time, and, really, it was
doing too much honour to that very artificial mountain.



IV.

     On the boat. It rains. The Tarasconese hero salutes the
     Ashes. The truth about William Tell. Disillusion. Tartarin
     of Tarascon never existed. “Té! Bompard.”

He had left the snows of the Rigi-Kulm; down below, on the lake, he
returned to rain, fine, close, misty, a vapour of water through which
the mountains stumped themselves in, graduating in the distance to the
form of clouds.

The “Föhn” whistled, raising white caps on the lake where the gulls,
flying low, seemed borne upon the waves; one might have thought one’s
self on the open ocean.

Tartarin recalled to mind his departure from the port of Marseilles,
fifteen years earlier, when he started to hunt the lion--that spotless
sky, dazzling with silvery light, that sea so blue, blue as the water of
dye-works, blown back by the mistral in sparkling white saline crystals,
the bugles of the forts and the bells of all the steeples echoing joy,
rapture, sun--the fairy world of a first journey.

What a contrast to this black dripping wharf, almost deserted, on which
were seen, through the mist as through a sheet of oiled paper, a few
passengers wrapped in ulsters and formless india-rubber garments, and
the helmsman standing motionless, muffled in his hooded cloak, his
manner grave and sibylline, behind this notice printed in three
languages:--

“Forbidden to speak to the man at the wheel.”

Very useless caution, for nobody spoke on board the “Winkelried,”
 neither on deck, nor in the first and second saloons crowded with
lugubrious-looking passengers, sleeping, reading, yawning, pell-mell,
with their smaller packages scattered on the seats--the sort of scene we
imagine that a batch of exiles on the morning after a coup-d’État might
present.

From time to time the hoarse bellow of the steam-pipe announced the
arrival of the boat at a stopping-place. A noise of steps, and of
baggage dragged about the deck. The shore, looming through the fog, came
nearer and showed its slopes of a sombre green, its villas shivering
amid inundated groves, files of poplars flanking the muddy roads along
which sumptuous hotels were formed in line with their names in letters
of gold upon their façades, Hôtel Meyer, Müller, du Lac, etc., where
heads, bored with existence, made themselves visible behind the
streaming window-panes.

The wharf was reached, the passengers disembarked and went upward, all
equally muddy, soaked, and silent. ‘Twas a coming and going of umbrellas
and omnibuses, quickly vanishing. Then a great beating of the wheels,
churning up the water with their paddles, and the shore retreated,
becoming once more a misty landscape with its _pensions_ Meyer,
Müller, du Lac, etc., the windows of which, opened for an instant, gave
fluttering handkerchiefs to view from every floor, and outstretched
arms that seemed to say: “Mercy! pity! take us, take us... if you only
knew!..”

At times the “Winkelried” crossed on its way some other steamer with its
name in black letters on its white paddle-box: “Germania.”.. “Guillaume
Tell”... The same lugubrious deck, the same refracting caoutchoucs, the
same most lamentable pleasure trip as that of the other phantom vessel
going its different way, and the same heart-broken glances exchanged
from deck to deck.

And to say that those people travelled for enjoyment! and that all
those boarders in the Hôtels du Lac, Meyer, and Müller were captives for
pleasure!

Here, as on the Rigi-Kulm, the thing that above all suffocated Tartarin,
agonized him, froze him, even more than the cold rain and the murky sky,
was the utter impossibility of talking. True, he had again met faces
that he knew--the member of the Jockey Club with his niece (h’m!
h’m!..), the academician Astier-Réhu, and the Bonn Professor
Schwanthaler, those two implacable enemies condemned to live side by
side for a month manacled to the itinerary of a Cook’s Circular,
and others. But none of these illustrious Prunes would recognize the
Tarasconese Alpinist, although his mountain muffler, his metal utensils,
his ropes in saltire, distinguished him from others, and marked him in
a manner that was quite peculiar. They all seemed ashamed of the night
before, and the inexplicable impulse communicated to them by the fiery
ardour of that fat man.

Mme. Schwanthaler, alone, approached her partner, with the rosy,
laughing face of a plump little fairy, and taking her skirt in her two
fingers as if to suggest a minuet. “Ballir... dantsir... very choli...”
 remarked the good lady. Was this a memory that she evoked, or a
temptation that she offered? At any rate, as she did not let go of him,
Tartarin, to escape her pertinacity, went up on deck, preferring to be
soaked to the skin rather than be made ridiculous.

And it rained!.. and the sky was dirty!.. To complete his gloom, a whole
squad of the Salvation Army, who had come aboard at Beckenried, a dozen
stout girls with stolid faces, in navy-blue gowns and Greenaway bonnets,
were grouped under three enormous scarlet umbrellas, and were singing
verses, accompanied on the accordion by a man, a sort of David-la-Gamme,
tall and fleshless with crazy eyes. These sharp, flat, discordant
voices, like the cry of gulls, rolled dragging, drawling through the
rain and the black smoke of the engine which the wind beat down upon the
deck. Never had Tartarin heard anything so lamentable.

At Brünnen the squad landed, leaving the pockets of the other travellers
swollen with pious little tracts; and almost immediately after the songs
and the accordion of these poor larvae ceased, the sky began to clear
and patches of blue were seen.

They now entered the lake of Uri, closed in and darkened by lofty,
untrodden mountains, and the tourists pointed out to each other, on
the right at the foot of the Seelisberg, the field of Grütli, where
Melchtal, Fürst, and Stauffacher made oath to deliver their country.

Tartarin, with much emotion, took off his cap, paying no attention to
environing amazement, and waved it in the air three times, to do honour
to the ashes of those heroes. A few of the passengers mistook his
purpose, and politely returned his bow.

The engine at last gave a hoarse roar, its echo repercussioning from
cliff to cliff of the narrow space. The notice hung out on deck before
each new landing-place (as they do at public balls to vary the country
dances) announced the Tells-platte.

They arrived.

The chapel is situated just five minutes’ walk from the landing, at the
edge of the lake, on the very rock to which William Tell sprang, during
the tempest, from Gessler’s boat. It was to Tartarin a most delightful
emotion to tread, as he followed the travellers of the Circular Cook
along the lakeside, that historic soil, to recall and live again the
principal episodes of the great drama which he knew as he did his own
life.

From his earliest years, William Tell had been his type. When, in the
Bézuquet pharmacy, they played the game of preference, each person
writing secretly on folded slips the poet, the tree, the odour, the
hero, the woman he preferred, one of the papers invariably ran thus:--

     “Tree preferred? ........... the baobab.
     Odour? ..................... gunpowder.
     Writer? .................... Fenimore Cooper.
     What I would prefer to be .. William Tell.”

And every voice in the pharmacy cried out: “That’s Tartarin!”

Imagine, therefore, how happy he was and how his heart was beating as he
stood before that memorial chapel raised to a hero by the gratitude of
a whole people. It seemed to him that William Tell in person, still
dripping with the waters of the lake, his crossbow and his arrows in
hand, was about to open the door to him.

“No entrance... I am at work... This is not the day...” cried a loud
voice from within, made louder by the sonority of the vaulted roof.

“Monsieur Astier-Réhu, of the French Academy...”

“Herr Doctor Professor Schwanthaler...”

“Tartarin of Tarascon...”

In the arch above the portal, perched upon a scaffolding, appeared a
half-length of the painter in working-blouse, palette in hand.

“My _famulus_ will come down and open to you, messieurs,” he said with
respectful intonations.

“I was sure of it, _pardi!_” thought Tartarin; “I had only to name
myself.”

However, he had the good taste to stand aside modestly, and only entered
after all the others.

The painter, superb fellow, with the gilded, ruddy head of an artist of
the Renaissance, received his visitors on the wooden steps which led to
the temporary staging put up for the purpose of painting the roof. The
frescos, representing the principal episodes in the life of William
Tell, were finished, all but one, namely: the scene of the apple in
the market-place of Altorf. On this he was now at work, and his young
_famulus_, as he called him, feet and legs bare under a toga of the
middle ages, and his hair archangelically arranged, was posing as the
son of William Tell.

All these archaic personages, red, green, yellow, blue, made taller than
nature in narrow streets and under the posterns of the period, intended,
of course, to be seen at a distance, impressed the spectators rather
sadly. However, they were there to admire, and they admired. Besides,
none of them knew anything.

“I consider that a fine characterization,” said the pontifical
Astier-Réhu, carpet-bag in hand.

And Schwanthaler, a camp-stool under his arm, not willing to be
behindhand, quoted two verses of Schiller, most of it remaining in his
flowing beard. Then the ladies exclaimed, and for a time nothing was
heard but:--

“Schön!.. schön...”

“Yes... lovely...”

“Exquisite! delicious!..”

One might have thought one’s self at a confectioner’s.

Abruptly a voice broke forth, rending with the ring of a trumpet that
composed silence.

“Badly shouldered, I tell you... That crossbow is not in place...”

Imagine the stupor of the painter in presence of this exorbitant
Alpinist, who, alpenstock in hand and ice-axe on his shoulder, risking
the annihilation of somebody at each of his many evolutions, was
demonstrating to him by A + B that the motions of his William Tell were
not correct.

“I know what I am talking about, _au mouain_... I beg you to believe
it...”

“Who are you?”

“Who am I!” exclaimed the Alpinist, now thoroughly vexed... So it was
not to him that the door was opened; and drawing himself up he said: “Go
ask my name of the panthers of the Zaccar, of the lions of Atlas... they
will answer you, perhaps.”

The company recoiled; there was general alarm.

“But,” asked the painter, “in what way is my action wrong?”

“Look at me, _té!_”

Falling into position with a thud of his heels that made the planks
beneath them smoke, Tar-tarin, shouldering his ice-axe like a crossbow,
stood rigid.

“Superb! He’s right... Don’t stir...”

Then to the _famulus_: “Quick! a block, charcoal!..”

The fact is, the Tarasconese hero was something worth painting,--squat,
round-shouldered, head bent forward, the muffler round his chin like a
strap, and his flaming little eye taking aim at the terrified _famulus_.

Imagination, O magic power!.. He thought himself on the marketplace of
Altorf, in front of his own child, he, who had never had any; an arrow
in his bow, another in his belt to pierce the heart of the tyrant. His
conviction became so strong that it conveyed itself to others.

“‘T is William Tell himself!..” said the painter, crouched on a stool
and driving his sketch with a feverish hand. “Ah! monsieur, why did I
not know you earlier? What a model you would have been for me!..”

“Really! then you see some resemblance?” said Tartarin, much flattered,
but keeping his pose.

Yes, it was just so that the artist imagined his hero.

“The head, too?”

“Oh! the head, that’s no matter...” and the painter stepped back to
look at his sketch. “Yes, a virile mask, energetic, just what I
wanted--inasmuch as nobody knows anything about William Tell, who
probably never existed.”

Tartarin dropped the cross-bow from stupefaction.

“_Outre!_ {*}.. Never existed!.. What is that you are saying?”

     * “Outre” and “boufre” are Tarasconese oaths of mysterious
     etymology.

“Ask these gentlemen...”

Astier-Réhu, solemn, his three chins in his white cravat, said: “That is
a Danish legend.”

“Icelandic..” affirmed Schwanthaler, no less majestic.

“Saxo Grammaticus relates that a valiant archer named Tobé or
Paltanoke...”

“Es ist in der Vilkinasaga geschrieben...”

Both together:--

     was condemned by the   | dass der Islandische König
     King of Denmark Harold | Needing...”
      of the Blue Teeth...”  |

With staring eyes and arms extended, neither looking at nor
comprehending each other, they both talked at once, as if on a rostrum,
in the doctoral, despotic tones of professors certain of never being
refuted; until, getting angry, they only shouted names: “Justinger of
Berne!.. Jean of Winterthur!..”

Little by little, the discussion became general, excited, and furious
among the visitors. Umbrellas, camp-stools, and valises were brandished;
the unhappy artist, trembling for the safety of his scaffolding, went
from one to another imploring peace. When the tempest had abated, he
returned to his sketch and looked for his mysterious model, for him
whose name the panthers of the Zaccar and the lions of Atlas could alone
pronounce; but he was nowhere to be seen; the Alpinist had disappeared.

At that moment he was clambering with furious strides up a little path
among beeches and birches that led to the Hôtel Tellsplatte, where the
courier of the Peruvian family was to pass the night; and under the
shock of his deception he was talking to himself in a loud voice and
ramming his alpenstock furiously into the sodden ground:--

Never existed! William Tell! William Tell a myth! And it was a painter
charged with the duty of decorating the Tellsplatte who said that
calmly. He hated him as if for a sacrilege; he hated those learned
men, and this denying, demolishing impious age, which respects nothing,
neither fame nor grandeur--_coquin de sort!_

And so, two hundred, three hundred years hence, when _Tartarin_ was
spoken of there would always be Astier-Réhus and Professor Schwanthalers
to deny that he ever existed--a Provençal myth! a Barbary legend!..
He stopped, choking with indignation and his rapid climb, and seated
himself on a rustic bench.

From there he could see the lake between the branches, and the white
walls of the chapel like a new mausoleum. A roaring of steam and the
bustle of getting to the wharf announced the arrival of fresh visitors.
They collected on the bank, guide-books in hand, and then advanced with
thoughtful gestures and extended arms, evidently relating the “legend.”
 Suddenly, by an abrupt revulsion of ideas, the comicality of the whole
thing struck him.

He pictured to himself all historical Switzerland living upon this
imaginary hero; raising statues and chapels in his honour on the little
squares of the little towns, and placing monuments in the museums of
the great ones; organizing patriotic fêtes, to which everybody rushed,
banners displayed, from all the cantons, with banquets, toasts,
speeches, hurrahs, songs, and tears swelling all breasts, and this for a
great patriot, whom everybody knew had never existed.

Talk of Tarascon indeed! There’s a tarasconade for you, the like of
which was never invented down there!

His good-humour quite restored, Tartarin in a few sturdy strides struck
the highroad to Fluelen, at the side of which the Hôtel Tellsplatte
spreads out its long façade. While awaiting the dinner-bell the guests
were walking about in front of a cascade over rock-work on the gullied
road, where landaus were drawn up, their poles on the ground among
puddles of water in which was reflected a copper-coloured sun.

Tartarin inquired for his man. They told him he was dining. “Then take
me to him, _zou!_” and this was said with such authority that in
spite of the respectful repugnance shown to disturbing so important
a personage, a maid-servant conducted the Alpinist through the whole
hotel, where his advent created some amazement, to the invaluable
courier who was dining alone in a little room that looked upon the
court-yard.

“Monsieur,” said Tartarin as he entered, his ice-axe on his shoulder,
“excuse me if...”

He stopped stupefied, and the courier, tall, lank, his napkin at his
chin, in the savoury steam of a plateful of hot soup, let fall his
spoon.

“_Vé!_ Monsieur Tartarin...”

“_Té!_ Bompard.”

It was Bompard, former manager of the Club, a good fellow, but afflicted
with a fabulous imagination which rendered him incapable of telling
a word of truth, and had caused him to be nicknamed in Tarascon “The
Impostor.”

Called an impostor in Tarascon! you can judge what he must have been.
And this was the incomparable guide, the climber of the Alps, the
Himalayas, the Mountains of the Moon.

“Oh! now, then, I understand,” ejaculated Tartarin, rather nonplussed;
but, even so, joyful to see a face from home and to hear once more that
dear, delicious accent of the Cours.

“_Différemment_, Monsieur Tartarin, you ‘ll dine with me, _qué?_”

Tartarin hastened to accept, delighted at the pleasure of sitting down
at a private table opposite to a friend, without the very smallest
litigious compote-dish between them, to be able to hobnob, to talk as
he ate, and to eat good things, carefully cooked and fresh; for couriers
are admirably treated by innkeepers, and served apart with all the best
wines and the extra dainties.

Many were the _au mouains, pas mouains_, and _différemments_.

“Then, my dear fellow, it was really you I heard last night, up there,
on the platform?..”

“Hey! _parfaitemain_... I was making those young ladies admire... Fine,
isn’t it, sunrise on the Alps?”

“Superb!” cried Tartarin, at first without conviction and merely to
avoid contradicting him, but caught the next minute; and after that it
was really bewildering to hear those two Tarasconese enthusiasts
lauding the splendours they had found on the Rigi. It was Joanne capping
Baedeker.

Then, as the meal went on, the conversation became more intimate, full
of confidences and effusive protestations, which brought real tears
to their Provençal eyes, lively, brilliant eyes, but keeping always in
their facile emotion a little corner of jest and satire. In that alone
did the two friends resemble each other; for in person one was as lean,
tanned, weatherbeaten, seamed with the wrinkles special to the grimaces
of his profession, as the other was short, stocky, sleek-skinned, and
sound-blooded.

He had seen all, that poor Bompard, since his exodus from the Club. That
insatiable imagination of his which prevented him from ever staying in
one place had kept him wandering under so many suns, and through such
diverse fortunes. He related his adventures, and counted up the
fine occasions to enrich himself which had snapped, there! in his
fingers--such as his last invention for saving the war-budget the cost
of boots and shoes... “Do you know how?.. Oh, _moun Diou!_ it is very
simple... by shoeing the feet of the soldiers.”

“_Outre!_” cried Tartarin, horrified.

Bompard continued very calmly, with his natural air of cold madness:--

“A great idea, wasn’t it? Eh! _be!_ at the ministry they did not even
answer me... Ah! my poor Monsieur Tartarin, I have had my bad moments,
I have eaten the bread of poverty before I entered the service of the
Company...”

“Company! what Company?”

Bompard lowered his voice discreetly.

“Hush! presently, not here...” Then returning to his natural tones, “_Et
autremain_, you people at Tarascon, what are you all doing? You haven’t
yet told me what brings you to our mountains...”

It was now for Tartarin to pour himself out. Without anger, but with
that melancholy of declining years, that ennui which attacks as they
grow elderly great artists, beautiful women, and all conquerors of
peoples and hearts, he told of the defection of his compatriots, the
plot laid against him to deprive him of the presidency, the decision
he had come to to do some act of heroism, a great ascension, the
Tarasconese banner borne higher than it had ever before been planted; in
short, to prove to the Alpinists of Tarascon that he was still
worthy... still worthy of... Emotion overcame him, he was forced to keep
silence... Then he added:--

“You know me, Gonzague...” and nothing can ever render the effusion,
the caressing charm with which he uttered that troubadouresque Christian
name of the courier. It was like one way of pressing his hands, of
coming nearer to his heart... “You know me, _que!_ You know if I balked
when the question came up of marching upon the lion; and during the war,
when we organized together the defences of the Club...”

Bompard nodded his head with terrible emphasis; he thought he was there
still.

“Well, my good fellow, what the lions, what the Krupp cannon could never
do, the Alps have accomplished... I am afraid.”

“Don’t say that, Tartarin!”

“Why not?” said the hero, with great gentleness... “I say it, because it
is so...”

And tranquilly, without posing, he acknowledged the impression made upon
him by Doré’s drawing of that catastrophe on the Matterhorn, which
was ever before his eyes. He feared those perils, and being told of an
extraordinary guide, capable of avoiding them, he resolved to seek him
out and confide in him.

Then, in a tone more natural, he added: “You have never been a guide,
have you, Gonzague?”

“_Hé!_ yes,” replied Bompard, smiling... “Only, I never did all that I
related.”

“That’s understood,” assented Tartarin.

And the other added in a whisper:--

“Let us go out on the road; we can talk more freely there.”

It was getting dark; a warm damp breeze was rolling up black clouds upon
the sky, where the setting sun had left behind it a vague gray mist.

They went along the shore in the direction of Fluelen, crossing the mute
shadows of hungry tourists returning to the hotel; shadows themselves,
and not speaking until they reached a tunnel through which the road is
cut, opening at intervals to little terraces overhanging the lake.

“Let us stop here,” pealed forth the hollow voice of Bompard, which
resounded under the vaulted roof like a cannon-shot. There, seated on
the parapet, they contemplated that admirable view of the lake, the
downward rush of the fir-trees and beeches pressing blackly together
in the foreground, and farther on, the higher mountains with waving
summits, and farther still, others of a bluish-gray confusion as of
clouds, in the midst of which lay, though scarcely visible, the long
white trail of a glacier, winding through the hollows and suddenly
illumined with irised fire, yellow, red, and green. They were exhibiting
the mountain with Bengal lights!

From Fluelen the rockets rose, scattering their multicoloured stars;
Venetian lanterns went and came in boats that remained invisible while
bearing bands of music and pleasure-seekers.

A fairylike decoration seen through the frame, cold and architectural,
of the granite walls of the tunnel.

“What a queer country, _pas mouain_, this Switzerland...” cried
Tartarin.

Bompard burst out laughing.

“Ah! _vaï_, Switzerland!.. In the first place, there is no Switzerland.”



V.

     Confidences in a tunnel.

“Switzerland, in our day, _vé!_ Monsieur Tar-tarin, is nothing more than
a vast Kursaal, open from June to September, a panoramic casino, where
people come from all four quarters of the globe to amuse themselves, and
which is manipulated and managed by a Company _richissime_ by hundreds
of thousands of millions, which has its offices in London and Geneva.
It costs money, you may be sure, to lease and brush up and trick out all
this territory, lakes, forests, mountains, cascades, and to keep a whole
people of employés, supernumeraries, and what not, and set up miraculous
hotels on the highest summits, with gas, telegraphs, telephones...”

“That, at least, is true,” said Tartarin, thinking aloud, and
remembering the Rigi.

“True!.. But you have seen nothing yet... Go on through the country and
you ‘ll not find one corner that is n’t engineered and machine-worked
like the under stage of the Opera,--cascades lighted _à giorno_,
turnstiles at the entrance to the glaciers, and loads of railways,
hydraulic and funicular, for ascensions. To be sure, the Company, in
view of its clients the English and American climbers, keeps up on the
noted mountains, Jungfrau, Monk, Finsteraarhorn, an appearance of danger
and desolation, though in reality there is no more risk there than
elsewhere...”

“But the crevasses, my good fellow, those horrible crevasses... Suppose
one falls into them?”

“You fall on snow, Monsieur Tartarin, and you don’t hurt yourself, and
there is always at the bottom a porter, a hunter, at any rate some one,
who picks you up, shakes and brushes you, and asks graciously: ‘Has
monsieur any baggage?’”

“What stuff are you telling me now, Gonzague?”

Bompard redoubled in gravity.

“The keeping up of those crevasses is one of the heaviest expenses of
the Company.”

Silence fell for a moment under the tunnel, the surroundings of which
were quieting down. No more varied fireworks, Bengal lights, or boats
on the water; but the moon had risen and made another conventional
landscape, bluish, liquides-cent, with masses of impenetrable shadow...

Tartarin hesitated to believe his companion on his word. Nevertheless,
he reflected on the extraordinary things he had seen in four days--the
sun on the Rigi, the farce of William Tell--and Bompard’s inventions
seemed to him all the more probable because in every Tarasconese the
braggart is leashed with a gull.

“_Différemment_, my good friend, how do you explain certain awful
catastrophes... that of the Matterhorn, for instance?..”

“It is sixteen years since that happened; the Company was not then
constituted, Monsieur Tartarin.”

“But last year, the accident on the Wetterhorn, two guides buried with
their travellers!..”

“Must, sometimes, _té, pardi!_.. you understand... whets the
Alpinists... The English won’t come to mountains now where heads are not
broke... The Wetterhorn had been running down for some time, but after
that little item in the papers the receipts went up at once.”

“Then the two guides?..”

“They are just as safe as the travellers; only they are kept out of
sight, supported in foreign parts, for six months... A puff like that
costs dear, but the Company is rich enough to afford it.”

“Listen to me, Gonzague...”

Tartarin had risen, one hand on Bompard’s shoulder.

“You would not wish to have any misfortune happen to me, _que?_.. Well,
then! speak to me frankly... you know my capacities as an Alpinist; they
are moderate.”

“Very moderate, that’s true.”

“Do you think, nevertheless, that I could, without too much danger,
undertake the ascension of the Jungfrau?”

“I ‘ll answer for it, my head in the fire, Monsieur Tartarin... You have
only to trust to your guide, _vé!_”

“And if I turn giddy?”

“Shut your eyes.”

“And if I slip?”

“Let yourself go... just as they do on the stage... sort of
trap-doors... there ‘s no risk...”

“Ah! if I could have you there to tell me all that, to keep repeating it
to me... Look here, my good fellow, make an effort, and come with me.”

Bompard desired nothing better, _pécaïré!_ but he had those Peruvians on
his hands for the rest of the season; and, replying to his old friend,
who expressed surprise at seeing him accept the functions of a courier,
a subaltern,--

“I could n’t help myself, Monsieur Tartarin,” he said. “It is in our
engagement. The Company has the right to employ us as it pleases.”

On which he began to count upon his fingers his varied avatars during
the last three years... guide in the Oberland, performer on the Alpine
horn, chamois-hunter, veteran soldier of Charles X., Protestant pastor
on the heights...

“_Quès aco?_” demanded Tartarin, astonished.

“_Bé!_ yes,” replied the other, composedly. “When you travel in German
Switzerland you will see pastors preaching on giddy heights, standing
on rocks or rustic pulpits of the trunks of trees. A few shepherds and
cheese-makers, their leather caps in their hands, and women with their
heads dressed up in the costume of the canton group themselves about in
picturesque attitudes; the scenery is pretty, the pastures green, or
the harvest just over, cascades to the road, and flocks with their bells
ringing every note on the mountain. All that, _vé_ that’s decorative,
suggestive. Only, none but the employés of the Company, guides, pastors,
couriers, hotel-keepers are in the secret, and it is their interest not
to let it get wind, for fear of startling the clients.”

The Alpinist was dumfounded, silent--in him the acme of stupefaction. In
his heart, whatever doubt he may have had as to Bompard’s veracity, he
felt himself comforted and calmed as to Alpine ascensions, and presently
the conversation grew joyous. The two friends talked of Tarascon, of
their good, hearty laughs in the olden time when both were younger.

“Apropos of _galéjade_ [jokes],” said Tartarin, suddenly, “they played
me a fine one on the Rigi-Kulm... Just imagine that this morning...” and
he told of the letter gummed to his glass, reciting it with emphasis:
“‘Devil of a Frenchman’... A hoax, of course, _que?_”

“May be... who knows?..” said Bompard, seeming to take the matter
more seriously. He asked if Tartarin during his stay on the Rigi had
relations with any one, and whether he had n’t said a word too much.

“Ha! _vaï!_ a word too much! as if one even opened one’s mouth among
those English and Germans, mute as carp under pretence of good manners!”

On reflection, however, he did remember having clinched a matter, and
sharply too! with a species of Cossack, a certain Mi... Milanof.

“Manilof,” corrected Bompard.

“Do you know him?.. Between you and me, I think that Manilof had a spite
against me about a little Russian girl...”

“Yes, Sonia... “murmured Bompard.

“Do you know her too? Ah! my friend, a pearl! a pretty little gray
partridge!”

“Sonia Wassilief... It was she who killed with one shot of her revolver
in the open that General Felianine, the president of the Council of War
which condemned her brother to perpetual exile.”

Sonia an assassin? that child, that little blond fairy!.. Tartarin could
not believe it. But Bompard gave precise particulars and details of the
affair--which, indeed, is very well known. Sonia had lived for the
last two years in Zurich, where her brother Boris, having escaped from
Siberia, joined her, his lungs gone; and during the summers she took him
for better air to the mountains. Bompard had often met them, attended
by friends who were all exiles, conspirators. The Wassiliefs, very
intelligent, very energetic, and still possessed of some fortune, were
at the head of the Nihilist party, with Bolibine, the man who murdered
the prefect of police, and this very Manilof, who blew up the Winter
Palace last year.

“_Boufre!_” exclaimed Tartarin, “one meets with queer neighbours on the
Rigi.”

But here’s another thing. Bompard took it into his head that Tartarin’s
letter came from these young people; it was just like their Nihilist
proceedings. The czar, every morning, found warnings in his study, under
his napkin...

“But,” said Tartarin, turning pale, “why such threats? What have I done
to them?”

Bompard thought they must have taken him for a spy.

“A spy! I!

“_Be!_ yes.” In all the Nihilist centres, at Zurich, Lausanne, Geneva,
Russia maintained at great cost, a numerous body of spies; in fact, for
some time past she had had in her service the former chief of the French
Imperial police, with a dozen Corsicans, who followed and watched all
Russian exiles, and took countless disguises in order to detect them.
The costume of the Alpinist, his spectacles, his accent, were quite
enough to confound him in their minds with those agents.

“_Coquin de sort!_ now I think of it,” said Tartarin, “they had at their
heels the whole time a rascally Italian tenor... undoubtedly a spy...
_Différemment_, what must I do?”

“Above all things, never put yourself in the way of those people again;
now that they have warned you they will do you harm...”

“Ha! _vaï! harm!_.. The first one that comes near me I shall cleave his
head with my ice-axe.”

And in the gloom of the tunnel the eyes of the Tarasconese hero glared.
But Bompard, less confident than he, knew well that the hatred of
Nihilists is terrible; it attacks from below, it undermines, and plots.
It is all very well to be a _lapin_ like the president, but you had
better beware of that inn bed you sleep in, and the chair you sit upon,
and the rail of the steamboat, which will give way suddenly and drop
you to death. And think of the cooking-dishes prepared, the glass rubbed
over with invisible poison!

“Beware of the kirsch in your flask, and the frothing milk that cow-man
in sabots brings you. They stop at nothing, I tell you.”

“If so, what’s to be done! I’m doomed!” groaned Tartarin; then, grasping
the hand of his companion:--

“Advise me, Gonzague.”

After a moment’s reflection, Bompard traced out to him a programme. To
leave the next day, early, cross the lake and the Brünig pass, and sleep
at Interlaken. The next day, to Grindelwald and the Little Scheideck.
And the day after, the JUNGFRAU! After that, home to Tarascon, without
losing an hour, or looking back.

“I ‘ll start to-morrow, Gonzague...” declared the hero, in a virile
voice, with a look of terror at the mysterious horizon, now dim in the
darkness, and at the lake which seemed to him to harbour all treachery
beneath the glassy calm of its pale reflections.



VI.

     The Brünig pass. Tartarin falls into the hands of Nihilists,
     Disappearance of an Italian tenor and a rope made at
     Avignon, Fresh exploits of the cap-sportsman. Pan! pan!

“Get in! get in!”

“But how the devil, que! am I to get in? the places are full... they
won’t make room for me.”

This was said at the extreme end of the lake of the Four Cantons,
on that shore at Alpnach, damp and soggy as a delta, where the
post-carriages wait in line to convey tourists leaving the boat to cross
the Brünig.

A fine rain like needle-points had been falling since morning; and the
worthy Tartarin, hampered by his armament, hustled by the porters and
the custom-house officials, ran from carriage to carriage, sonorous and
lumbering as that orchestra-man one sees at fairs, whose every movement
sets a-going triangles, big drums, Chinese bells, and cymbals. At all
the doors the same cry of terror, the same crabbed “Full!” growled in
all dialects, the same swelling-out of bodies and garments to take
as much room as possible and prevent the entrance of so dangerous and
resounding a companion.

The unfortunate Alpinist puffed, sweated, and replied with “_Coquin
de bon sort!_” and despairing gestures to the impatient clamour of the
convoy: “En route!.. All right!.. Andiamo!.. Vorwarts!..” The horses
pawed, the drivers swore. Finally, the manager of the post-route, a
tall, ruddy fellow in a tunic and flat cap, interfered himself, and
opening forcibly the door of a landau, the top of which was half up,
he pushed in Tartarin, hoisting him like a bundle, and then stood,
majestically, with outstretched hand for his _trinkgeld_.

Humiliated, furious with the people in the carriage who were forced
to accept him _manu militari_, Tartarin affected not to look at them,
rammed his porte-monnaie back into his pocket, wedged his ice-axe on
one side of him with ill-humoured motions and an air of determined
brutality, as if he were a passenger by the Dover steamer landing at
Calais.

“Good-morning, monsieur,” said a gentle voice he had heard already.

He raised his eyes, and sat horrified, terrified before the pretty,
round and rosy face of Sonia, seated directly in front of him, beneath
the hood of the landau, which also sheltered a tall young man, wrapped
in shawls and rugs, of whom nothing could be seen but a forehead of
livid paleness and a few thin meshes of hair, golden like the rim of
his near-sighted spectacles. A third person, whom Tartarin knew but too
well, accompanied them,--Manilof, the incendiary of the Winter Palace.

Sonia, Manilof, what a mouse-trap!

This was the moment when they meant to accomplish their threat, on that
Brünig pass, so craggy, so surrounded with abysses. And the hero, by
one of those flashes of horror which reveal the depths of danger, beheld
himself stretched on the rocks of a ravine, or swinging from the topmost
branches of an oak. Fly! yes, but where, how? The vehicles had started
in file at the sound of a trumpet, a crowd of little ragamuffins were
clambering at the doors with bunches of edelweiss. Tartarin, maddened,
had a mind to begin the attack by cleaving the head of the Cossack
beside him with his alpenstock; then, on reflection, he felt it was
more prudent to refrain. Evidently, these people would not attempt their
scheme till farther on, in regions uninhabited, and before that, there
might come means of getting out. Besides, their intentions no longer
seemed to him quite so malevolent. Sonia smiled gently upon him from her
pretty turquoise eyes, the pale young man looked pleasantly at him, and
Manilof, visibly milder, moved obligingly aside and helped him to put
his bag between them. Had they discovered their mistake by reading on
the register of the Rigi-Kulm the illustrious name of Tartarin?.. He
wished to make sure, and, familiarly, good-humouredly, he began:--

“Enchanted with this meeting, beautiful young lady... only, permit me
to introduce myself... you are ignorant with whom you have to do, _vé!_
whereas, I am perfectly aware who _you_ are.”

“Hush!” said the little Sonia, still smiling, but pointing with her
gloved finger to the seat beside the driver, where sat the tenor with
his sleeve-buttons, and another young Russian, sheltering themselves
under the same umbrella, and laughing and talking in Italian.

Between the police and the Nihilists, Tartarin did not hesitate.

“Do you know that man, _au mouain?_” he said in a low voice, putting
his head quite close to Sonia’s fresh cheeks, and seeing himself in her
clear eyes, which suddenly turned hard and savage as she answered “yes,”
 with a snap of their lids.

The hero shuddered, but as one shudders at the theatre, with that
delightful creeping of the epidermis which takes you when the action
becomes Corsican, and you settle yourself in your seat to see and to
listen more attentively. Personally out of the affair, delivered from
the mortal terrors which had haunted him all night and prevented him
from swallowing his usual Swiss coffee, honey, and butter, he breathed
with free lungs, thought life good, and this little Russian irresistibly
pleasing in her travelling hat, her jersey close to the throat, tight to
the arms, and moulding her slender figure of perfect elegance. And such
a child! Child in the candour of her laugh, in the down upon her cheeks,
in the pretty grace with which she spread her shawl upon the knees of
her poor brother. “Are you comfortable?..” “You are not cold?” How could
any one suppose that little hand, so delicate beneath its chamois glove,
had had the physical force and the moral courage to kill a man?

Nor did the others of the party seem ferocious: all had the same
ingenuous laugh, rather constrained and sad on the drawn lips of the
poor invalid, and noisy in Manilof, who, very young behind his bushy
beard, gave way to explosions of mirth like a schoolboy in his holidays,
bursts of a gayety that was really exuberant.

The third companion, whom they called Boli-bine, and who talked on the
box with the tenor, amused himself much and was constantly turning back
to translate to his friends the Italian’s adventures, his successes
at the Petersburg Opera, his _bonnes fortunes_, the sleeve-buttons the
ladies had subscribed to present to him on his departure, extraordinary
buttons, with, three notes of music engraved thereon, _la do ré_
(l’adoré), which professional pun, repeated in the landau, caused such
delight, the tenor himself swelling up with pride and twirling his
moustache with so silly and conquering a look at Sonia, that Tartarin
began to ask himself whether, after all, they were not mere tourists,
and he a genuine tenor.

Meantime the carriages, going at a good pace, rolled over bridges,
skirted little lakes and flowery meads, and fine vineyards running with
water and deserted; for it was Sunday, and all the peasants whom they
met wore their gala costumes, the women with long braids of hair hanging
down their backs and silver chainlets. They began at last to mount the
road in zigzags among forests of oak and beech; little by little the
marvellous horizon displayed itself on the left; at each turn of the
zigzag, rivers, valleys with their spires pointing upward came
into view, and far away in the distance, the hoary head of the
Finsteraarhorn, whitening beneath an invisible sun.

Soon the road became gloomy, the aspect savage. On one side, heavy
shadows, a chaos of trees, twisted and gnarled on a steep slope, down
which foamed a torrent noisily; to right, an enormous rock overhanging
the road and bristling with branches that sprouted from its fissures.

They laughed no more in the landau; but they all admired, raising their
heads and trying to see the summit of this tunnel of granite.

“The forests of Atlas!.. I seem to see them again...” said Tartarin,
gravely, and then, as the remark passed unnoticed, he added: “Without
the lion’s roar, however.”

“You have heard it, monsieur?” asked Sonia.

Heard the lion, he!.. Then, with an indulgent smile: “I am Tartarin of
Tarascon, mademoiselle...”

And just see what such barbarians are! He might have said, “My name is
Dupont;” it would have been exactly the same thing to them. They were
ignorant of the name of Tartarin!

Nevertheless, he was not angry, and he answered the young lady,
who wished to know if the lion’s roar had frightened him: “No,
mademoiselle... My camel trembled between my legs, but I looked to my
priming as tranquilly as before a herd of cows... At a distance their
cry is much the same, like this, _té!_”

To give Sonia an exact impression of the thing, he bellowed in his most
sonorous voice a formidable “Meuh...” which swelled, spread, echoed and
reechoed against the rock. The horses reared; in all the carriages the
travellers sprang up alarmed, looking round for the accident, the
cause of such an uproar; but recognizing the Alpinist, whose head and
overwhelming accoutrements could be seen in the uncovered half of the
landau, they asked themselves once more: “Who is that animal?”

He, very calm, continued to give details: when to attack the beast,
where to strike him, how to despatch him, and about the diamond sight he
affixed to his carbines to enable him to aim correctly in the darkness.
The young girl listened to him, leaning forward with a little panting of
the nostrils, in deep attention.

“They say that Bombonnel still hunts; do you know him?” asked the
brother.

“Yes,” replied Tartarin, without enthusiasm... “He is not a clumsy
fellow, but we have better than he.”

A word to the wise! Then in a melancholy tone, “_Pas mouain_, they give
us strong emotions, these hunts of the great carnivora. When we have
them no longer life seems empty; we do not know how to fill it.”

Here Manilof, who understood French without speaking it, and seemed to
be listening to Tartarin very intently, his peasant forehead slashed
with the wrinkle of a great scar, said a few words, laughing, to his
friends.

“Manilof says we are all of the same brotherhood,” explained Sonia to
Tartarin... “We hunt, like you, the great wild beasts.”

“_Té!_ yes, _pardi_... wolves, white bears...”

“Yes, wolves, white bears, and other noxious animals...”

And the laughing began again, noisy, interminable, but in a sharp,
ferocious key this time, laughs that showed their teeth and reminded
Tartarin in what sad and singular company he was travelling.

Suddenly the carriages stopped. The road became steeper and made at this
spot a long circuit to reach the top of the Brünig pass, which could
also be reached on foot in twenty minutes less time through a noble
forest of birches. In spite of the rain in the morning, making the earth
sodden and slippery, the tourists nearly all left the carriages and
started, single file, along the narrow path called a _schlittage_.

From Tartarin’s landau, the last in line, all the men got out; but
Sonia, thinking the path too muddy, settled herself back in the
carriage, and as the Alpinist was getting out with the rest, a little
delayed by his equipments, she said to him in a low voice: “Stay! keep
me company...” in such a coaxing way! The poor man, quite overcome,
began immediately to forge a romance, as delightful as it was
improbable, which made his old heart beat and throb.

He was quickly undeceived when he saw the young girl leaning anxiously
forward to watch Bolibine and the Italian, who were talking eagerly
together at the opening of the path, Manilof and Boris having already
gone forward. The so-called tenor hesitated. An instinct seemed to
warn him not to risk himself alone in company with those three men.
He decided at last to go on, and Sonia looked at him as he mounted
the path, all the while stroking her cheek with a bouquet of purple
cyclamen, those mountain violets, the leaf of which is lined with the
same fresh colour as the flowers.

The landau proceeded slowly. The driver got down to walk in front with
other comrades, and the convoy of more than fifteen empty vehicles,
drawn nearer together by the steepness of the road, rolled silently
along. Tartarin, greatly agitated, and foreboding something sinister,
dared not look at his companion, so much did he fear that a word or a
look might compel him to be an actor in the drama he felt impending. But
Sonia was paying no attention to him; her eyes were rather fixed, and
she did not cease caressing the down of her skin mechanically with the
flowers.

“So,” she said at length, “so you know who we are, I and my friends...
Well, what do you think of us? What do Frenchmen think of us?”

The hero turned pale, then red. He was desirous of not offending by
rash or imprudent words such vindictive beings; on the other hand, how
consort with murderers? He got out of it by a metaphor:--

“_Différemment_, mademoiselle, you were telling me just now that we
belonged to the same brotherhood, hunters of hydras and monsters,
despots and carnivora... It is therefore to a companion of St. Hubert
that I now make answer... My sentiment is that, even against wild beasts
we should use loyal weapons... Our Jules Gérard, a famous lion-slayer,
employed explosive balls. I myself have never given in to that, I do
not use them... When I hunted the lion or the panther I planted myself
before the beast, face to face, with a good double-barrelled carbine,
and pan! pan! a ball in each eye.”

“In each eye!..” repeated Sonia.

“Never did I miss my aim.”

He affirmed it and he believed it.

The young girl looked at him with naïve admiration, thinking aloud:--

“That must certainly be the surest way.”

A sudden rending of the branches and the underbrush, and the thicket
parted above them, so quickly and in so feline a way that Tartarin, his
head now full of hunting adventures, might have thought himself still on
the watch in the Zaccar. But Manilof sprang from the slope, noiselessly,
and close to the carriage. His small, cunning eyes were shining in a
face that was flayed by the briers; his beard and his long lank hair
were streaming with water from the branches. Breathless, holding with
his coarse, hairy hands to the doorway, he spoke in Russian to Sonia,
who turned instantly to Tartarin and said in a curt voice:--

“Your rope... quick...”

“My... my rope?..” stammered the hero.

“Quick, quick... you shall have it again in half an hour.”

Offering no other explanation, she helped him with her little gloved
hands to divest himself of his famous rope made in Avignon. Manilof
took the coil, grunting with joy; in two bounds he sprang, with the
elasticity of a wild-cat, into the thicket and disappeared.

“What has happened? What are they going to do?.. He looked ferocious...”
 murmured Tartaric not daring to utter his whole thought.

Ferocious, Manilof! Ah! how plain it was he did not know him. No human
being was ever better, gentler, more compassionate; and to show Tartarin
a trait of that exceptionally kind nature, Sonia, with her clear, blue
glance, told him how her friend, having executed a dangerous mandate of
the Revolutionary Committee and jumped into the sledge which awaited him
for escape, had threatened the driver to get out, cost what it might, if
he persisted in whipping the horse whose fleetness alone could save him.

Tartarin thought the act worthy of antiquity. Then, having reflected on
all the human lives sacrificed by that same Manilof, as conscienceless
as an earthquake or a volcano in eruption, who yet would not let others
hurt an animal in his presence, he questioned the young girl with an
ingenuous air:--

“Were there many killed by the explosion at the Winter Palace?”

“Too many,” replied Sonia, sadly; “and the only one that ought to have
died escaped.”

She remained silent, as if displeased, looking so pretty, her head
lowered, with her long auburn eyelashes sweeping her pale rose cheeks.
Tartarin, angry with himself for having pained her, was caught once more
by that charm of youth and freshness which the strange little creature
shed around her.

“So, monsieur, the war that we are making seems to you unjust, inhuman?”
 She said it quite close to him in a caress, as it were, of her breath
and her eye; the hero felt himself weakening...

“You do not see that all means are good and legitimate to deliver a
people who groan and suffocate?..”

“No doubt, no doubt...”

The young girl, growing more insistent as Tartarin weakened, went on:--

“You spoke just now of a void to be filled; does it not seem to you more
noble, more interesting to risk your life for a great cause than to risk
it in slaying lions or scaling glaciers?”

“The fact is,” said Tartarin, intoxicated, losing his head and mad with
an irresistible desire to take and kiss that ardent, persuasive little
hand which she laid upon his arm, as she had done once before, up there,
on the Rigi when he put on her shoe. Finally, unable to resist, and
seizing the little gloved hand between both his own,--

“Listen, Sonia,” he said, in a good hearty voice, paternal and
familiar... “Listen, Sonia...”

A sudden stop of the landau interrupted him. They had reached the summit
of the Brünig; travellers and drivers were getting into their carriages
to catch up lost time and reach, at a gallop, the next village where the
convoy was to breakfast and relay. The three Russians took their places,
but that of the Italian tenor remained unoccupied.

“That gentleman got into one of the first carriages,” said Boris to the
driver, who asked about him; then, addressing Tartarin, whose uneasiness
was visible:--

“We must ask him for your rope; he chose to keep it with him.”

Thereupon, fresh laughter in the landau, and the resumption for poor
Tartarin of horrid perplexity, not knowing what to think or believe in
presence of the good-humour and ingenuous countenances of the suspected
assassins. Sonia, while wrapping up her invalid in cloaks and plaids,
for the air on the summit was all the keener from the rapidity with
which the carriages were now driven, related in Russian her conversation
with Tartarin, uttering his pan! pan! with a pretty intonation which
her companions repeated after her, two of them admiring the hero, while
Manilof shook his head incredulously.

The relay!

This was on the market-place of a large village, at an old tavern with
a worm-eaten wooden balcony, and a sign hanging to a rusty iron
bracket. The file of vehicles stopped, and while the horses were being
unharnessed the hungry tourists jumped hurriedly down and rushed into a
room on the lower floor, painted green and smelling of mildew, where
the table was laid for twenty guests. Sixty had arrived, and for five
minutes nothing could be heard but a frightful tumult, cries, and
a vehement altercation between the Rices and the Prunes around the
compote-dishes, to the great alarm of the tavern-keeper, who lost his
head (as if daily, at the same hour, the same post-carriages did
not pass) and bustled about his servants, also seized with chronic
bewilderment--excellent method of serving only half the dishes called
for by the _carte_, and of giving change in a way that made the white
sous of Switzerland count for fifty centimes. “Suppose we dine in the
carriage,” said Sonia, I annoyed by such confusion; and as no one had
time to pay attention to them the young men themselves did the waiting.
Manilof returned with a cold leg of mutton, Bolibine with a long loaf
of bread and sausages; but the best forager was Tartarin. Certainly the
opportunity to get away from his companions in the bustle of relay ing
was a fine one; he might at least have assured himself that the
Italian had reappeared; but he never once thought of it, being solely
preoccupied with Sonia’s breakfast, and in showing Manilof and the
others how a Tarasconese can manage matters.

When he stepped down the portico of the hotel, gravely, with fixed eyes,
bearing in his robust hands a large tray laden with plates, napkins,
assorted food, and Swiss champagne in its gilt-necked bottles, Sonia
clapped her hands, and congratulated him.

“How did you manage it?” she said.

“I don’t know... somehow, _té!_.. We are all like that in Tarascon.”

Oh! those happy minutes! That pleasant breakfast opposite to Sonia,
almost on his knees, the village market-place, like the scene of an
operetta, with clumps of green trees, beneath which sparkled the gold
ornaments and the muslin sleeves of the Swiss girls, walking about, two
and two, like dolls!

How good the bread tasted! what savoury sausages! The heavens themselves
took part in the scene, and were soft, veiled, clement; it rained, of
course, but so gently, the drops so rare, though just enough to temper
the Swiss champagne, always dangerous to Southern heads.

Under the veranda of the hotel, a Tyrolian quartette, two giants and
two female dwarfs in resplendent and heavy rags, looking as if they had
escaped from the failure of a theatre at a fair, were mingling their
throat notes: “aou... aou...” with the clinking of plates and glasses.
They were ugly, stupid, motionless, straining the cords of their skinny
necks. Tartarin thought them delightful, and gave them a handful
of sous, to the great amazement of the villagers who surrounded the
unhorsed landau.

“Vife la Vranze!” quavered a voice in the crowd, from which issued a
tall old man, clothed in a singular blue coat with silver buttons, the
skirts of which swept the ground; on his head was a gigantic shako, in
form like a bucket of sauerkraut, and so weighted by its enormous plume
that the old man was forced to balance himself with his arms as he
walked, like an acrobat.

“Old soldier... Charles X...”

Tartarin, fresh from Bompard’s revelations, began to laugh, and said in
a low voice with a wink of his eye:--

“Up to _that_, old fellow...” But even so, he gave him a white sou
and poured him out a bumper, which the old man accepted, laughing, and
winking himself, though without knowing why. Then, dislodging from a
corner of his mouth an enormous china pipe, he raised his glass and
drank “to the company,” which confirmed Tartarin in his opinion that
here was a colleague of Bompard.

No matter! one toast deserved another. So, standing up in the carriage,
his glass held high, his voice strong, Tartarin brought tears to his
eyes by drinking, first: To France, my country!.. next to hospitable
Switzerland, which he was happy to honour publicly and thank for the
generous welcome she affords to the vanquished, to the exiled of
all lands. Then, lowering his voice and inclining his glass to the
companions of his journey, he wished them a quick return to their
country, restoration to their family, safe friends, honourable careers,
and an end to all dissensions; for, he said, it is impossible to spend
one’s life in eating each other up.

During the utterance of this toast Soma’s brother smiled, cold and
sarcastic behind his blue spectacles; Manilof, his neck pushed forth,
his swollen eyebrows emphasizing his wrinkle, seemed to be asking
himself if that “big barrel” would soon be done with his gabble, while
Bolibine, perched on the box, was twisting his comical yellow face,
wrinkled as a Barbary ape, till he looked like one of those villanous
little monkeys squatting on the shoulders of the Alpinist.

The young girl alone listened to him very seriously, striving to
comprehend such a singular type of man. Did he think all that he said?
Had he done all that he related? Was he a madman, a comedian, or simply
a gabbler, as Manilof in his quality of man of action insisted, giving
to the word a most contemptuous signification.

The answer was given at once. His toast ended, Tartarin had just sat
down when a sudden shot, a second, then a third, fired close to the
tavern, brought him again to his feet, ears straining and nostrils
scenting powder.

“Who fired?.. where is it?.. what is happening?..”

In his inventive noddle a whole drama was already defiling; attack on
the convoy by armed bands; opportunity given him to defend the honour
and life of that charming young lady. But no! the discharges only came
from the Stand, where the youths of the village practise at a mark
every Sunday. As the horses were not yet harnessed, Tartarin, as if
carelessly, proposed to go and look at them. He had his idea, and Sonia
had hers in accepting the proposal. Guided by the old soldier of Charles
X. wobbling under his shako, they crossed the market-place, opening the
ranks of the crowd, who followed them with curiosity.

Beneath its thatched roof and its square uprights of pine wood the
Stand resembled one of our own pistol-galleries at a fair, with this
difference, that the amateurs brought their own weapons, breech-loading
muskets of the oldest pattern, which they managed, however, with some
adroitness. Tar-tarin, his arms crossed, observed the shots, criticised
them aloud, gave his advice, but did not fire himself. The Russians
watched him, making signs to each other.

“Pan!.. pan!..” sneered Bolibine, making the gesture of taking aim
and mimicking Tartarin’s accent. Tartarin turned round very red, and
swelling with anger.

“_Parfaitemain_, young man... Pan!.. pan!.. and as often as you like.”

The time to load an old double-barrelled carbine which must have served
several generations of chamois hunters, and--pan!.. pan!.. T is done.
Both balls are in the bull’s-eye. Hurrahs of admiration burst forth on
all sides. Sonia triumphed. Bolibine laughed no more.

“But that is nothing, that!” said Tartarin; “you shall see...”

The Stand did not suffice him; he looked about for another target,
and the crowd recoiled alarmed from this strange Alpinist, thick-set,
savage-looking and carbine in hand, when they heard him propose to the
old guard of Charles X. to break his pipe between his teeth at fifty
paces. The old fellow howled in terror and plunged into the crowd, his
trembling plume remaining visible above their serried heads. None the
less, Tartarin felt that he must put it somewhere, that ball. “_Té!
pardi!_ as we did at Tarascon!..” And the former cap-hunter pitched his
headgear high into the air with all the strength of his double muscles,
shot it on the fly, and pierced it. “Bravo!” cried Sonia, sticking into
the small hole made by the ball the bouquet of cyclamen with which she
had stroked her cheek.

With that charming trophy in his cap Tartarin returned to the landau.
The trumpet sounded, the convoy started, the horses went rapidly down to
Brienz along that marvellous corniche road, blasted in the side of the
rock, separated from an abyss of over a thousand feet by single stones
a couple of yards apart. But Tartarin was no longer conscious of danger;
no longer did he look at the scenery--that Meyringen valley, seen
through a light veil of mist, with its river in straight lines, the
lake, the villages massing themselves in the distance, and that whole
horizon of mountains, of glaciers, blending at times with the clouds,
displaced by the turns of the road, lost apparently, and then returning,
like the shifting scenes of a stage.

Softened by tender thoughts, the hero admired the sweet child before
him, reflecting that glory is only a semi-happiness, that ‘tis sad to
grow old all alone in your greatness, like Moses, and that this fragile
flower of the North transplanted into the little garden at Tarascon
would brighten its monotony, and be sweeter to see and breathe than
that everlasting baobab, _arbos gigantea_, diminutively confined in the
mignonette pot. With her childlike eyes, and her broad brow, thoughtful
and self-willed, Sonia looked at him, and she, too, dreamed--but who
knows what the young girls dream of?



VII.

     The nights at Tarascon, Where is he? Anxiety. The
     grasshoppers on the promenade call for Tartarin. Martyrdom
     of a great Tarasconese saint. The Club of the Alpines. What
     was happening at the pharmacy. “Help! help! Bêzuquet!”

“A letter, Monsieur Bêzuquet!.. Comes from Switzerland, _vé!_..
Switzerland!” cried the postman joyously, from the other end of the
little square, waving something in the air, and hurrying along in the
coming darkness.

The apothecary, who took the air, as they say, of an evening before his
door in his shirt-sleeves, gave a jump, seized the letter with feverish
hands and carried it into his lair among the varied odours of elixirs
and dried herbs, but did not open it till the postman had departed,
refreshed by a glass of that delicious _sirop de cadavre_ in recompense
for what he brought.

Fifteen days had Bêzuquet expected it, this letter from Switzerland,
fifteen days of agonized watching! And here it was. Merely from looking
at the cramped and resolute little writing on the envelope, the postmark
“Interlaken” and the broad purple stamp of the “Hôtel Jungfrau, kept
by Meyer,” the tears filled his eyes, and the heavy moustache of the
Barbary corsair through which whispered softly the idle whistle of a
kindly soul, quivered.

“_Confidential. Destroy when read._” Those words, written large at
the head of the page, in the telegraphic style of the pharmacopoeia
(“external use; shake before using”) troubled him to the point of
making him read aloud, as one does in a bad dream: “_Fearful things
are happening to me_...” In the salon beside the pharmacy where she was
taking her little nap after supper, Mme. Bézuquet, _mère_, might hear
him, or the pupil whose pestle was pounding its regular blows in the big
marble mortar of the laboratory. Bézuquet continued his reading in a low
voice, beginning it over again two or three times, very pale, his hair
literally standing on end. Then, with a rapid look about him, _cra
cra_... and the letter in a thousand scraps went into the waste-paper
basket; but there it might be found, and pieced together, and as he was
stooping to gather up the fragments a quavering voice called to him:

“_Vé!_ Ferdinand, are you there?” “Yes, mamma,” replied the unlucky
corsair, curdling with fear, the whole of his long body on its hands and
knees beneath the desk. “What are you doing, my treasure?” “I am... h’m,
I am making Mile. Tournatoire’s eye-salve.”

Mamma went to sleep again, the pupil’s pestle, suspended for a moment,
began once more its slow clock movement, while Bézuquet walked up and
down before his door in the deserted little square, turning pink or
green according as he passed before one or other of his bottles. From
time to time he threw up his arms, uttering disjointed words: “Unhappy
man!.. lost... fatal love... how can we extricate him?” and, in spite of
his trouble of mind, accompanying with a lively whistle the bugle “taps”
 of a dragoon regiment echoing among the plane-trees of the Tour de
Ville.

“_Hé!_ good night, Bézuquet,” said a shadow hurrying along in the
ash-coloured twilight.

“Where are you going, Pégoulade?”

“To the Club, _pardi!_.. Night session... they are going to discuss
Tartarin and the presidency... You ought to come.”

“_Té!_ yes, I ‘ll come...” said the apothecary vehemently, a
providential idea darting through his mind. He went in, put on his
frock-coat, felt in its pocket to assure himself that his latchkey was
there, and also the American tomahawk, without which no Tarasconese
whatsoever would risk himself in the streets after “taps.” Then he
called: “Pascalon!.. Pascalon!..” but not too loudly, for fear of waking
the old lady.

Almost a child, though bald, wearing all his hair in his curly blond
beard, Pascalon the pupil had the ardent soul of a partizan, a dome-like
forehead, the eyes of crazy goat, and on his chubby cheeks the delicate
tints of a shiny crusty Beaucaire roll. On all the grand Alpine
excursions it was to him that the Club entrusted its banner, and
his childish soul had vowed to the P. C. A. a fanatical worship, the
burning, silent adoration of a taper consuming itself before an altar in
the Easter season.

“Pascalon,” said the apothecary in a low voice, and so close to him
that the bristle of his moustache pricked his ear. “I have news of
Tartarin... It is heart-breaking...”

Seeing him turn pale, he added:

“Courage, child! all can be repaired... _Différemment_ I confide to you
the pharmacy... If any one asks you for arsenic, don’t give it; opium,
don’t give that either, nor rhubarb... don’t give anything. If I am not
in by ten o’clock, lock the door and go to bed.”

With intrepid step, he plunged into the darkness, not once looking back,
which allowed Pascalon to spring at the waste-paper basket, turn it over
and over with feverish eager hands and finally tip out its contents on
the leather of the desk to see if no scrap remained of the mysterious
letter brought by the postman.

To those who know Tarasconese excitability, it is easy to imagine
the frantic condition of the little town after Tartarin’s abrupt
disappearance. _Et autrement, pas moins, différemment_, they lost their
heads, all the more because it was the middle of August and their brains
boiled in the sun till their skulls were fit to crack. From morning till
night they talked of nothing else; that one name “Tartarin” alone was
heard on the pinched lips of the elderly ladies in hoods, in the rosy
mouths of grisettes, their hair tied up with velvet ribbons:

“Tartarin, Tartarin...” Even among the plane-trees on the Promenade,
heavy with white dust, distracted grasshoppers, vibrating in the
sunlight, seemed to strangle with those two sonorous syllables: “Tar..
tar.. tar.. tar.. tar...”

As no one knew anything, naturally every one was well-informed and gave
explanations of the departure of the president. Extravagant versions
appeared. According to some, he had entered La Trappe; he had eloped
with the Dugazon; others declared he had gone to the Isles to found a
colony to be called Port-Tarascon, or else to roam Central Africa in
search of Livingstone.

“Ah! _vaï!_ Livingstone!.. Why he has been dead these two years.”

But Tarasconese imagination defies all hints of time and space. And the
curious thing is that these ideas of La Trappe, colonization, distant
travel, were Tartarin’s own ideas, dreams of that sleeper awake,
communicated in past days to his intimate friends, who now, not knowing
what to think, and vexed in their hearts at not being duly informed,
affected toward the public the greatest reserve and behaved to one
another with a sly air of private understanding. Excourbaniès suspected
Bravida of being in the secret; Bravida, on his side, thought: “Bézuquet
knows the truth; he looks about him like a dog with a bone.”

True it was that the apothecary suffered a thousand deaths from this
hair-shirt of a secret, which cut him, skinned him, turned him pale and
red in the same minute and caused him to squint continually. Remember
that he belonged to Tarascon, unfortunate man, and say if, in all
martyrology, you can find so terrible a torture as this--the torture of
Saint Bézuquet, who knew a secret and could not tell it.

This is why, on that particular evening, in spite of the terrifying news
he had just received, his step had something, I hardly know what, freer,
more buoyant, as he went to the session of the Club. _Enfin!_.. He was
now to speak, to unbosom himself, to tell that which weighed so heavily
upon him; and in his haste to unload his breast he cast a few half words
as he went along to the loiterers on the Promenade. The day had been
so hot, that in spite of the unusual hour (_a quarter to eight_ on the
clock of the town hall!) and the terrifying darkness, quite a crowd of
reckless persons, bourgeois families getting the good of the air while
that of their houses evaporated, bands of five or six sewing-women,
rambling along in an undulating line of chatter and laughter, were
abroad. In every group they were talking of Tartarin.

“_Et autrement_, Monsieur Bézuquet, still no letter?” they asked of the
apothecary, stopping him on his way.

“Yes, yes, my friends, yes, there is... Read the _Forum_ to-morrow
morning...”

He hastened his steps, but they followed him, fastened on him, and along
the Promenade rose a murmuring sound, the bleating of a flock, which
gathered beneath the windows of the Club, left wide open in great
squares of light.

The sessions were held in the _bouillotte_ room, where the long
table covered with green cloth served as a desk. At the centre, the
presidential arm-chair, with P. C. A. embroidered on the back of it; at
one end, humbly, the armless chair of the secretary. Behind, the banner
of the Club, draped above a long glazed map in relief, on which the
Alpines stood up with their respective names and altitudes. Alpenstocks
of honour, inlaid with ivory, stacked like billiard cues, ornamented
the corners, and a glass-case displayed curiosities, crystals, silex,
petrifactions, two porcupines and a salamander, collected on the
mountains.

In Tartarin’s absence, Costecalde, rejuvenated and radiant, occupied
the presidential arm-chair; the armless chair was for Excourbaniès, who
fulfilled the functions of secretary; but that devil of a man, frizzled,
hairy, bearded, was incessantly in need of noise, motion, activity which
hindered his sedentary employments. At the smallest pretext, he threw
out his arms and legs, uttered fearful howls and “Ha! ha! has!” of
ferocious, exuberant joy which always ended with a war-cry in the
Tarasconese patois: “_Fen dé brut_... let us make a noise “... He was
called “the gong” on account of his metallic voice, which cracked the
ears of his friends with its ceaseless explosions.

Here and there, on a horsehair divan that ran round the room were the
members of the committee.

In the first row, sat the former captain of equipment, Bravida, whom all
Tarascon called the Commander; a very small man, clean as a new penny,
who redeemed his childish figure by making himself as moustached and
savage a head as Vercingétorix.

Next came the long, hollow, sickly face of Pégoulade, the collector,
last survivor of the wreck of the “Medusa.” Within the memory of man,
Tarascon has never been without a last survivor of the wreck of the
“Medusa.” At one time they even numbered three, who treated one another
mutually as impostors, and never con~ sented to meet in the same room.
Of these three the only true one was Pégoulade. Setting sail with his
parents on the “Medusa,” he met with the fatal disaster when six months
old,--which did not prevent him from relating the event, _de visu_,
in its smallest details, famine, boats, raft, and how he had taken the
captain, who was selfishly saving himself, by the throat: “To your duty,
wretch!.. “At six months old, _outre!_... Wearisome, to tell the truth,
with that eternal tale which everybody was sick of for the last fifty
years; but he took it as a pretext to assume a melancholy air, detached
from life: “After what I have seen!” he would say--very unjustly,
because it was to that he owed his post as collector and kept it ‘under
all administrations.

Near him sat the brothers Rognonas, twins and sexagenarians, who never
parted, but always quarrelled and said the most monstrous things to
each other; their two old heads, defaced, corroded, irregular, and ever
looking in opposite directions out of antipathy, were so alike that they
might have figured in a collection of coins with IANVS BIFRONS on the
exergue.

Here and there, were Judge Bédaride, Barjavel the lawyer, the notary
Cambalalette, and the terrible Doctor Tournatoire, of whom Bravida
remarked that he could draw blood from a radish.

In consequence of the great heat, increased by the gas, these gentlemen
held the session in their shirt-sleeves, which detracted much from the
solemnity of the occasion. It is true that the meeting was a very
small one; and the infamous Costecalde was anxious to profit by that
circumstance to fix the earliest possible date for the elections without
awaiting Tartarin’s return. Confident in this manoeuvre, he was enjoying
his triumph in advance, and when, after the reading of the minutes by
Excourbaniès, he rose to insinuate his scheme, an infernal smile curled
up the corners of his thin lips.

“Distrust the man who smiles before he speaks,” murmured the Commander.

Costecalde, not flinching, and winking with one eye at the faithful
Tournatoire, began in a spiteful voice:--

“Gentlemen, the extraordinary conduct of our president, the uncertainty
in which he leaves us...”

“False!.. The president has written...”

Bézuquet, quivering, planted himself squarely before the table; but
conscious that his attitude was anti-parliamentary, he changed his tone,
and, raising one hand according to usage, he asked for the floor, to
make an urgent communication.

“Speak! Speak!”

Costecalde, very yellow, his throat tightened, gave him the floor by a
motion of his head. Then, and not till then, Bézuquet spoke:

“Tartarin is at the foot of the Jungfrau... he is about to make the
ascent... he desires to take with him our banner...”

Silence; broken by the heavy breathing of chests; then a loud hurrah,
bravos, stamping of the feet, above which rose the gong of Excourbaniès
uttering his war-cry “Ha! ha! ha! _fen dé brut!_” to which the anxious
crowd without responded.

Costecalde, getting more and more yellow, tinkled the presidential
bell desperately. Bézuquet at last was allowed to continue, mopping his
forehead and puffing as if he had just mounted five pairs of stairs.

_Différemment_, the banner that their president requested in order to
plant it on virgin heights, should it be wrapped up, packed up, and sent
by express like an ordinary trunk?..

“Never!.. Ah! ah! ah!..” roared Excourbaniès.

Would it not be better to appoint a delegation--draw lots for three
members of the committee?..

He was not allowed to finish. The time to say _zou!_ and Bézuquet’s
proposition was voted by acclamation, and the names of three delegates
drawn in the following order: 1, Bravida; 2, Pégoulade; 3, the
apothecary.

No. 2, protested. The long journey frightened him, so feeble and ill as
he was, _péchèrel_ ever since that terrible event of the “Medusa.”

“I ‘ll go for you, Pégoulade,” roared Excour-baniès, telegraphing with
all his limbs. As for Bézuquet, he could not leave the pharmacy, the
safety of the town depended on him. One imprudence of the pupil, and all
Tarascon might be poisoned, decimated:

“_Outre!_” cried the whole committee, agreeing as one man.

Certainly the apothecary could not go himself, but he could send
Fascalon; Pascalon could take charge of the banner. That was his
business. Thereupon, fresh exclamations, further explosions of the gong,
and on the Promenade such a popular tempest that Excourbaniès was forced
to show himself and address the crowd above its roarings, which his
matchless voice soon mastered.

“My friends, Tartarin is found. He is about to cover himself with
glory.”

Without adding more than “Vive Tartarin!” and his war-cry, given
with all the force of his lungs, he stood for a moment enjoying the
tremendous clamour of the crowd below, rolling and hustling confusedly
in clouds of dust, while from the branches of the trees the grasshoppers
added their queer little rattle as if it were broad day.

Hearing all this, Costecalde, who had gone to a window with the rest,
returned, staggering, to his arm-chair.

“_Vé!_ Costecalde,” said some one. “What’s the matter with him?.. Look
how yellow he is!”

They sprang to him; already the terrible Tournatoire had whipped out his
lancet: but the gunsmith, writhing in distress, made a horrible grimace,
and said ingenuously:

“Nothing... nothing... let me alone... I know what it is... it is envy.”

Poor Costecalde, he seemed to suffer much.

While these things were happening, at the other end of the Tour de
Ville, in the pharmacy, Bézuquet’s pupil, seated before his master’s
desk, was patiently patching and gumming together the fragments of
Tartarin’s letter overlooked by the apothecary at the bottom of the
basket. But numerous bits were lacking in the reconstruction, for here
is the singular and sinister enigma spread out before him, not unlike a
map of Central Africa, with voids and spaces of _terra incognita_,
which the artless standard-bearer explored in a state of terrified
imagination:

            mad with love reed
    -wick lam
                     preserves of Chicago.
                                   cannot tear myself
     Nihilist
                to death condition
          abom                          in exchange
     for her
                You know me, Ferdi
     know my liberal ideas,
                       but from there to tzaricide
             rrible consequences
     Siberia hung
                                     adore her
     Ah! press thy loyal hand

     Tar Tar



VIII.

     Memorable dialogue between the jungfrau and Tartarin. A
     nihilist salon. The duel with hunting-knives. Frightful
     nightmare, “Is it I you are seeking, messieurs?” Strange
     reception given by the hotel-keeper Meyer to the Tarasconese
     delegation.

Like all the other choice hotels at Interlaken, the Hôtel Jungfrau, kept
by Meyer, is situated on the Höheweg, a wide promenade between double
rows of chestnut-trees that vaguely reminded Tar-tarin of the beloved
Tour de Ville of his native town, minus the sun, the grasshoppers, and
the dust; for during his week’s sojourn at Interlaken the rain had never
ceased to fall.

He occupied a very fine chamber with a balcony on the first floor, and
trimmed his beard in the morning before a little hand-glass hanging to
the window, an old habit of his when travelling. The first object that
daily struck his eyes beyond the fields of grass and corn, the nursery
gardens, and an amphitheatre of solemn verdure in rising stages, was
the Jungfrau, lifting from the clouds her summit, like a horn, white and
pure with unbroken snow, to which was daily clinging a furtive ray of
the still invisible rising sun. Then between the white and rosy Alp
and the Alpinist a little dialogue took place regularly, which was not
without its grandeur.

“Tartarin, are you coming?” asked the Jung-frau sternly.

“Here, here...” replied the hero, his thumb under his nose and finishing
his beard as fast as possible. Then he would hastily take down his
ascensionist outfit and, swearing at himself, put it on.

“_Coquin de sort!_ there’s no name for it...”

But a soft voice rose, demure and clear among the myrtles in the border
beneath his window.

“Good-morning,” said Sonia, as he appeared upon the balcony, “the landau
is ready... Come, make haste, lazy man...”

“I ‘m coming, I ‘m coming...”

In a trice he had changed his thick flannel shirt for linen of the
finest quality, his mountain knickerbockers for a suit of serpent-green
that turned the heads of all the women in Tarascon at the Sunday
concerts.

The horses of the landau were pawing before the door; Sonia was already
installed beside Boris, paler, more emaciated day by day in spite of
the beneficent climate of Interlaken. But, regularly, at the moment of
starting, Tartarin was fated to see two forms arise from a bench on
the promenade and approach him with the heavy rolling step of mountain
bears; these were Rodolphe Kaufmann and Christian Inebnit, two famous
Grindelwald guides, engaged by Tartarin for the ascension of the
Jungfrau, who came every morning to ascertain if their monsieur were
ready to start.

The apparition of these two men, in their iron-clamped shoes and fustian
jackets worn threadbare on the back and shoulder by knapsacks and ropes,
their naïve and serious faces, and the four words of French which they
managed to splutter as they twisted their broad-brimmed hats, were a
positive torture to Tartarin. In vain he said to them: “Don’t trouble
yourselves to come; I ‘ll send for you...”

Every day he found them in the same place and got rid of them by a large
coin proportioned to the enormity of his remorse. Enchanted with
this method of “doing the Jungfrau,” the mountaineers pocketed their
_trinkgeld_ gravely, and took, with resigned step, the path to their
native village, leaving Tartarin confused and despairing at his own
weakness. Then the broad open air, the flowering plains reflected in the
limpid pupils of Sonia’s eyes, the touch of her little foot against his
boot in the carriage... The devil take that Jungfrau! The hero thought
only of his love, or rather of the mission he had given himself to
bring back into the right path that poor little Sonia, so unconsciously
criminal, cast by sisterly devotion outside of the law, and outside of
human nature.

This was the motive that kept him at Interlaken, in the same hotel as
the Wassiliefs. At his age, with his air of a good papa, he certainly
could not dream of making that poor child love him, but he saw her so
sweet, so brave, so generous to all the unfortunates of her party, so
devoted to that brother whom the mines of Siberia had sent back to her,
his body eaten with ulcers, poisoned with verdigris, and he himself
condemned to death by phthisis more surely than by any court. There was
enough in all that to touch a man!

Tartarin proposed to take them to Tarascon and settle them in a villa
full of sun at the gates of the town, that good little town where it
never rains and where life is spent in fêtes and song. And with that
he grew excited, rattled a tambourine air on the crown of his hat, and
trolled out the gay native chorus of the farandole dance:

          Lagadigadeoù
     La Tarasque, la Tarasque,
          Lagadigadeoù
     La Tarasque de Casteoù.

But while a satirical smile pinched still closer the lips of the sick
man, Sonia shook her head. Neither fêtes nor sun for her so long as the
Russians groaned beneath the yoke of the tyrant. As soon as her brother
was well--her despairing eyes said another thing--nothing could prevent
her from returning up there to suffer and die in the sacred cause.

“But, _coquin de bon sort!_” cried Tartarin, “if you blow up one tyrant
there ‘ll come another... You will have it all to do over again... And
the years will go by, _vé!_ the days for happiness and love...” His way
of saying love--_amour_--à la Tarasconese, with three r’s in it and his
eyes starting out of his head, amused the young girl; then, serious
once more, she declared she would never love any man but the one who
delivered her country. Yes, that man, were he as ugly as Bolibine, more
rustic and common than Manilof, she was ready to give herself wholly to
him, to live at his side, a free gift, as long as her youth lasted and
the man wished for her.

“Free gift!” the term used by Nihilists to express those illegal unions
they contract among themselves by reciprocal consent. And of such
primitive marriage Sonia spoke tranquilly with her virgin air before the
Tarasconese, who, worthy bourgeois, peaceful elector, was now ready
to spend his days beside that adorable girl in the said state of “free
gift” if she had not added those murderous and abominable conditions.

While they were conversing of these extremely delicate matters, the
fields, the lakes, the forests, the mountains lay spread before them,
and always at each new turn, through the cool mist of that perpetual
shower which accompanied our hero on all his excursions, the Jungfrau
raised her white crest, as if to poison by remorse those delicious
hours. They returned to breakfast at a vast _table d’hôte_ where the
Rices and Prunes continued their silent hostilities, to which Tartarin
was wholly indifferent, seated by Sonia, watching that Boris had no open
window at his back, assiduous, paternal, exhibiting all his seductions
as man of the world and his domestic qualities as an excellent
cabbage-rabbit.

After this, he took tea with the Russians in their little salon opening
on a tiny garden at the end of the terrace. Another exquisite hour for
Tartarin of intimate chat in a low voice while Boris slept on a sofa.
The hot water bubbled in the samovar; a perfume of moist flowers slipped
through the half-opened door with the blue reflection of the solanums
that were clustering about it. A little more sun, more warmth, and here
was his dream realized, his pretty Russian installed beside him, taking
care of the garden of the baobab.

Suddenly Sonia gave a jump.

“Two o’clock!.. And the letters?”

“I’m going for them,” said the good Tartarin, and, merely from the tones
of his voice and the resolute, theatrical gesture with which he buttoned
his coat and seized his cane, any one would have guessed the gravity of
the action, apparently so simple, of going to the post-office to fetch
the Wassilief letters.

Closely watched by the local authorities and the Russian police, all
Nihilists, but especially their leaders, are compelled to take certain
precautions, such as having their letters and papers addressed _poste
restante_ to simple initials.

Since their installation at Interlaken, Boris being scarcely able to
drag himself about, Tartarin, to spare Sonia the annoyance of waiting
in line before the post-office wicket exposed to inquisitive eyes, had
taken upon himself the risks and perils of this daily nuisance. The
post-office is not more than ten minutes’ walk from the hotel, in a wide
and noisy street at the end of a promenade lined with cafés, breweries,
shops for the tourists displaying alpenstocks, gaiters, straps,
opera-glasses, smoked glasses, flasks, travelling-bags, all of which
articles seemed placed there expressly to shame the renegade Alpinist.
Tourists were defiling in caravans, with horses, guides, mules, veils
green and blue, and a tintinnabulation of canteens as the animals
ambled, the ice-picks marking each step on the cobble-stones. But this
festive scene, hourly renewed, left Tartarin indifferent. He never even
felt the fresh north wind with a touch of snow coming in gusts from the
mountains, so intent was he on baffling the spies whom he supposed to be
upon his traces.

The foremost soldier of a vanguard, the sharpshooter skirting the
walls of an enemy’s town, never advanced with more mistrust than the
Taras-conese hero while crossing the short distance between the hotel
and the post-office. At the slightest heel-tap sounding behind his own,
he stopped, looked attentively at the photographs in the windows, or
fingered an English or German book lying on a stall, to oblige the
police spy to pass him. Or else he turned suddenly round, to stare with
ferocious eyes at a stout servant-girl going to market, or some harmless
tourist, a _table d’hôte_ Prune, who, taking him for a madman, turned
off, alarmed, from the sidewalk to avoid him.

When he reached the office, where the wickets open, rather oddly,
into the street itself, Tartarin passed and repassed, to observe the
surrounding physiognomies before he himself approached: then, suddenly
darting forward, he inserted his whole head and shoulders into the
opening, muttered a few indistinct syllables (which they always made him
repeat, to his great despair), and, possessor at last of the mysterious
trust, he returned to the hotel by a great détour on the kitchen side,
his hand in his pocket clutching the package of letters and papers,
prepared to tear up and swallow everything at the first alarm.

Manilof and Bolibine were usually awaiting his return with the
Wassiliefs. They did not lodge in the hotel, out of prudence and
economy. Bolibine had found work in a printing-office, and Manilof, a
very clever cabinetmaker, was employed by a builder. Tartarin did not
like them: one annoyed him by his grimaces and his jeering airs; the
other kept looking at him savagely. Besides, they took too much space in
Sonia’s heart.

“He is a hero!” she said of Bolibine; and she told how for three
years he had printed all alone, in the very heart of St. Petersburg, a
revolutionary paper. Three years without ever leaving his upper room, or
showing himself at a window, sleeping at night in a great cupboard built
in the wall, where the woman who lodged him locked him up till morning
with his clandestine press.

And then, that life of Manilof, spent for six months in the subterranean
passages beneath the Winter Palace, watching his opportunity, sleeping
at night on his provision of dynamite, which resulted in giving him
frightful headaches, and nervous troubles; all this, aggravated by
perpetual anxiety, sudden irruptions of the police, vaguely informed
that something was plotting, and coming, suddenly and unexpectedly,
to surprise the workmen employed at the Palace. On one of the rare
occasions when Manilof came out of the mine, he met on the Place de
l’Amirauté a delegate of the Revolutionary Committee, who asked him in a
low voice, as he walked along:

“Is it finished?”

“No, not yet...” said the other, scarcely moving his lips. At last,
on an evening in February, to the same question in the same words he
answered, with the greatest calmness:

“It is finished...”

And almost immediately a horrible uproar confirmed his words, all the
lights of the palace went out suddenly, the place was plunged into
complete obscurity, rent by cries of agony and terror, the blowing of
bugles, the galloping of soldiers, and firemen tearing along with their
trucks.

Here Sonia interrupted her tale:

“Is it not horrible, so many human lives sacrificed, such efforts, such
courage, such wasted intelligence?.. No, no, it is a bad means, these
butcheries in the mass... He who should be killed always escapes... The
true way, the most humane, would be to seek the czar himself as you seek
the lion, fully determined, fully armed, post yourself at a window or
the door of a carriage... and, when he passes.....”

“_Bé!_ yes, _certainemain_...” responded Tartarin embarrassed, and
pretending not to seize her meaning; then, suddenly, he would launch
into a philosophical, humanitarian discussion with one of the numerous
assistants. For Bolibine and Manilof were not the only visitors to the
Wassiliefs. Every day new faces appeared of young people, men or women,
with the cut of poor students; elated teachers, blond and rosy, with
the self-willed forehead and the childlike ferocity of Sonia; outlawed
exiles, some of them already condemned to death, which lessened in no
way their youthful expansiveness.

They laughed, they talked openly, and as most of them spoke French,
Tartarin was soon at his ease. They called him “uncle,” conscious of
something childlike and artless about him that they liked. Perhaps he
was over-ready with his hunting tales; turning up his sleeve to his
biceps in order to show the scar of a blow from a panther’s claws, or
making his hearers feel beneath his beard the holes left there by the
fangs of a lion; perhaps also he became too rapidly familiar with these
persons, catching them round the waist, leaning on their shoulders,
calling them by their Christian names after five minutes’ intercourse:

“Listen, Dmitri...” “You know me, Fédor Ivanovich...” They knew him only
since yesterday, in any case; but they liked him all the same for
his jovial frankness, his amiable, trustful air, and his readiness to
please. They read their letters before him, planned their plots,
and told their passwords to foil the police: a whole atmosphere
of conspiracy which amused the imagination of the Tarasconese hero
immensely: so that, however opposed by nature to acts of violence, he
could not help, at times, discussing their homicidal plans, approving,
criticising, and giving advice dictated by the experience of a great
leader who has trod the path of war, trained to the handling of all
weapons, and to hand-to-hand conflicts with wild beasts.

One day, when they told in his presence of the murder of a policeman,
stabbed by a Nihilist at the theatre, Tartarin showed them how badly the
blow had been struck, and gave them a lesson in knifing.

“Like this, _vé!_ from the top down. Then there’s no risk of wounding
yourself...”

And, excited by his own imitation:

“Let’s suppose, _té!_ that I hold your despot between four eyes in a
boar-hunt He is over there, where you are, Fédor, and I’m here,
near this round table, each of us with our hunting-knife... Come on,
monseigneur, we ‘ll have it out now...”

Planting himself in the middle of the salon, gathering his sturdy legs
under him for a spring, and snorting like a woodchopper, he mimicked a
real fight, ending by his cry of triumph as he plunged the weapon to
the hilt, from the top down, _coquin de sort!_ into the bowels of his
adversary.

“That’s how it ought to be done, my little fellows!”

But what subsequent remorse! what anguish when, escaping from the
magnetism of Sonia’s blue eyes, he found himself alone, in his nightcap,
alone with his reflections and his nightly glass of _eau sucrée!_

_Différemment_, what was he meddling with? The czar was not his czar,
decidedly, and all these matters didn’t concern him in the least... And
don’t you see that some of these days he would be captured, extradited
and delivered over to Muscovite justice... _Boufre!_ they don’t joke,
those Cossacks... And in the obscurity of his hotel chamber, with that
horrible imaginative faculty which the horizontal position increases,
there developed before him--like one of those unfolding pictures given
to him in childhood--the various and terrible punishments to which
he should be subjected: Tartarin in the verdigris mines, like Boris,
working in water to his belly, his body ulcerated, poisoned. He
escapes, he hides amid forests laden with snow, pursued by Tartars and
bloodhounds trained to hunt men. Exhausted with cold and hunger, he is
retaken and finally hung between two thieves, embraced by a pope with
greasy hair smelling of brandy and seal-oil; while away down there, at
Tarascon in the sunshine, the band playing of a fine Sunday, the crowd,
the ungrateful crowd, are installing a radiant Costecalde in the chair
of the P. C. A.

It was during the agony of one of these dreadful dreams that he uttered
his cry of distress, “Help, help, Bézuquet!” and sent to the apothecary
that confidential letter, all moist with the sweat of his nightmare. But
Sonia’s pretty “Good morning” beneath his window sufficed to cast him
back into the weaknesses of indecision.

One evening, returning from the Kursaal to the hotel with the Wassiliefs
and Bolibine, after two hours of intoxicating music, the unfortunate man
forgot all prudence, and the “Sonia, I love you,” which he had so long
restrained, was uttered as he pressed the arm that rested on his own.
She was not agitated. Perfectly pale, she gazed at him under the gas
of the portico on which they had paused: “Then deserve me...” she said,
with a pretty enigmatical smile, a smile that gleamed upon her delicate
white teeth. Tartarin was about to reply, to bind himself by an oath to
some criminal madness when the porter of the hotel came up to him:

“There are persons waiting for you, upstairs... some gentlemen... They
want you.”

“Want me!.. _Outre!_.. What for?” And No. 1 of his folding series
appeared before him: Tartarin captured, extradited... Of course he was
frightened, but his attitude was heroic. Quickly detaching himself from
Sonia: “Fly, save yourself!” he said to her in a smothered voice. Then
he mounted the stairs as if to the scaffold, his head high, his eyes
proud, but so disturbed in mind that he was forced to cling to the
baluster.

As he entered the corridor, he saw persons grouped at the farther end
of it before his door, looking through the keyhole, rapping, and calling
out: “Hey! Tartarin...”

He made two steps forward, and said, with parched lips: “Is it I whom
you are seeking, messieurs?”

“_Te! pardi_, yes, my president!.”

And a little old man, alert and wiry, dressed in gray, and apparently
bringing on his coat, his hat, his gaiters and his long and pendent
moustache all the dust of his native town, fell upon the neck of the
hero and rubbed against his smooth fat cheeks the withered leathery skin
of the retired captain of equipment.

“Bravida!.. not possible!.. Excourbaniès too!.. and who is that over
there?..”

A bleating answered: “Dear ma-a-aster!..” and the pupil advanced,
banging against the wall a sort of long fishing-rod with a packet at one
end wrapped in gray paper, and oilcloth tied round it with string.

“Hey! _vè!_ why it’s Pascalon... Embrace me, little one... What’s that
you are carrying?.. Put it down...”

“The paper... take off the paper!..” whispered Bravida. The youth undid
the roll with a rapid hand and the Tarasconese banner was displayed to
the eyes of the amazed Tartarin.

The delegates took off their hats.

“President”--the voice of Bravida trembled solemnly--“you asked for the
banner and we have brought it, _té!_”

The president opened a pair of eyes as round as apples: “I! I asked for
it?”

“What! you did not ask for it? Bézuquet said so.

“Yes, yes, _certainemain_...” said Tartarin, suddenly enlightened by
the mention of Bézuquet. He understood all and guessed the rest, and,
tenderly moved by the ingenious lie of the apothecary to recall him to
a sense of duty and honour, he choked, and stammered in his short beard:
“Ah! my children, how kind you are! What good you have done me!”

“_Vive le présidain!_” yelped Pascalon, brandishing the oriflamme.
Excourbaniès’ gong responded, rolling its war-cry (” Ha! ha! ha! _fen
dé brut_..”) to the very cellars of the hotel. Doors opened, inquisitive
heads protruded on every floor and then disappeared, alarmed, before
that standard and the dark and hairy men who were roaring singular
words and tossing their arms in the air. Never had the peaceable Hôtel
Jungfrau been subjected to such a racket.

“Come into my room,” said Tartarin, rather disconcerted. He was feeling
about in the darkness to find matches when an authoritative rap on the
door made it open of itself to admit the consequential, yellow, and
puffy face of the innkeeper Meyer. He was about to enter, but stopped
short before the darkness of the room, and said with closed teeth:

“Try to keep quiet... or I ‘ll have you taken up by the police...”

A grunt as of wild bulls issued from the shadow at that brutal term
“taken up.” The hotel-keeper recoiled one step, but added: “It is known
who you are; they have their eye upon you; for my part, I don’t want any
more such persons in my house!..”

“Monsieur Meyer,” said Tartarin, gently, politely, but very firmly...
“Send me my bill... These gentlemen and myself start to-morrow morning
for the Jungfrau.”

O native soil! O little country within a great one! by only hearing the
Tarasconese accent, quivering still with the air of that beloved land
beneath the azure folds of its banner, behold Tartarin, delivered from
love and its snares and restored to his friends, his mission, his glory.

And now, _zou!_



IX.

     At the “Faithful Chamois.”

The next day it was charming, that trip on foot from Interlaken to
Grindelwald, where they were, in passing, to take guides for the Little
Scheideck; charming, that triumphal march of the P. C. A., restored to
his trappings and mountain habiliments, leaning on one side on the lean
little shoulder of Commander Bravida, and on the other, the robust arm
of Excourbaniès, proud, both of them, to be nearest to him, to
support their dear president, to carry his ice-axe, his knapsack, his
alpenstock, while sometimes before, sometimes behind or on their flanks
the fanatical Pascalon gambolled like a puppy, his banner duly rolled up
into a package to avoid the tumultuous scenes of the night before.

The gayety of his companions, the sense of duty accomplished, the
Jungfrau all white upon the sky, over there, like a vapour--nothing
short of all this could have made the hero forget what he left behind
him, for ever and ever it may be, and without farewell. However, at the
last houses of Interlaken his eyelids swelled and, still walking on, he
poured out his feelings in turn into the bosom of Excourbanîès: “Listen,
Spiridion,” or that of Bravida: “You know me, Placide...” For, by an
irony on nature, that indomitable warrior was called Placide, and that
rough buffalo, with all his instincts material, Spiridion.

Unhappily, the Tarasconese race, more gallant than sentimental, never
takes its love-affairs very seriously. “Whoso loses a woman and ten
sous, is to be pitied about the money...” replied the sententious
Placide to Tartarin’s tale, and Spiridion thought exactly like him. As
for the innocent Pascalon, he was horribly afraid of women, and reddened
to the ears when the name of the Little Scheideck was uttered before
him, thinking some lady of flimsy morals was referred to. The poor lover
was therefore reduced to keep his confidences to himself, and console
himself alone--which, after all, is the surest way.

But what grief could have resisted the attractions of the way through
that narrow, deep and sombre valley, where they walked on the banks of
a winding river all white with foam, rumbling with an echo like thunder
among the pine-woods which skirted both its shores.

The Tarasconese delegation, their heads in the air, advanced with a sort
of religious awe and admiration, like the comrades of Sinbad the Sailor
when they stood before the mangoes, the cotton-trees, and all the giant
flora of the Indian coasts. Knowing nothing but their own little bald
and stony mountains they had never imagined there could be so many trees
together or such tall ones.

“That is nothing, as yet... wait till you see the Jungfrau,” said the P.
C. A., who enjoyed their amazement and felt himself magnified in their
eyes.

At the same time, as if to brighten the scene and humanize its solemn
note, cavalcades went by them, great landaus going at full speed, with
veils floating from the doorways where curious heads leaned out to look
at the delegation pressing round its president. From point to point
along the roadside were booths spread with knick-knacks of carved wood,
while young girls, stiff in their laced bodices, their striped skirts
and broad-brimmed straw hats, were offering bunches of strawberries and
edelweiss. Occasionally, an Alpine horn sent among the mountains its
melancholy ritornello, swelling, echoing from gorge to gorge, and slowly
diminishing, like a cloud that dissolves into vapour.

“‘T is fine, ‘t is like an organ,” murmured Pascalon, his eyes
moist, in ecstasy, like the stained-glass saint of a church window.
Excourbaniès roared, undiscouraged, and the echoes repeated, till sight
and sound were lost, his Tarasconese intonations: “Ha! ha! ha! _fen dé
brut!_”

But people grow weary after marching for two hours through the same sort
of decorative scene, however well it may be organized, green on blue,
glaciers in the distance, and all things sonorous as a musical clock.
The dash of the torrents, the singers in triplets, the sellers of
carved objects, the little flower-girls, soon became intolerable to our
friends,--above all, the dampness, the steam rising in this species of
tunnel, the soaked soil full of water-plants, where never had the sun
penetrated.

“It is enough to give one a pleurisy,” said Bravida, turning up the
collar of his coat. Then weariness set in, hunger, ill-humour. They
could find no inn; and presently Excourbaniès and Bravida, having
stuffed themselves with strawberries, began to suffer cruelly. Pascalon
himself, that angel, bearing not only the banner, but the ice-axe, the
knapsack, the alpenstock, of which the others had rid themselves basely
upon him, even Pascalon had lost his gayety and ceased his lively
gambolling.

At a turn of the road, after they had just crossed the Lutschine by one
of those covered bridges that are found in regions of deep snow, a loud
blast on a horn greeted them.

“Ah! _vaï_, enough!.. enough!” howled the exasperated delegation.

The man, a giant, ensconced by the roadside, let go an enormous
trumpet of pine wood reaching to the ground and ending there in
a percussion-box, which gave to this prehistoric instrument the
sonorousness of a piece of artillery.

“Ask him if he knows of an inn,” said the president to Excourbaniès,
who, with enormous cheek and a small pocket dictionary undertook,
now that they were in German Switzerland, to serve the delegation as
interpreter. But before he could pull out his dictionary the man replied
in very good French:

“An inn, messieurs? Why certainly... The ‘Faithful Chamois’ is close by;
allow me to show you the place.”

On the way, he told them he had lived in Paris for several years, as
commissionnaire at the corner of the rue Vivienne.

“Another employé of the Company, _parbleu!_” thought Tartarin, leaving
his friends to be surprised. However, Bompard’s comrade was very useful,
for, in spite of its French sign, _Le Chamois Fidèle_ the people of the
“Faithful Chamois” could speak nothing but a horrible German patois.

Presently, the Tarasconese delegation, seated around an enormous potato
omelet, recovered both the health and the good-humour as essential
to Southerners as the sun of their skies. They drank deep, they ate
solidly. After many toasts to the president and his coming ascension,
Tartarin, who had puzzled over the tavern-sign ever since his arrival,
inquired of the horn-player, who was breaking a crust in a corner of the
room:

“So you have chamois here, it seems?.. I thought there were none left in
Switzerland.”

The man winked:

“There are not many, but enough to let you see them now and then.”

“Shoot them, is what he wants, _vé_” said Pas-calon, full of enthusiasm;
“never did the president miss a shot!”

Tartarin regretted that he had not brought his carbine.

“Wait a minute, and I ‘ll speak to the landlord.”

It so happened that the landlord was an old chamois hunter; he offered
his gun, his powder, his buck-shot, and even himself as guide to a haunt
he knew.

“Forward, _zou!_” cried Tartarin, granting to his happy Alpinists the
opportunity to show off the prowess of their chief. It was only a slight
delay, after all; the Jungfrau lost nothing by waiting.

Leaving the inn at the back, they had only to walk through an orchard,
no bigger than the garden of a station-master, before they found
themselves on a mountain, gashed with great crevasses, among the
fir-trees and underbrush.

The innkeeper took the advance, and the Taras-conese presently saw him
far up the height, waving his arms and throwing stones, no doubt to
rouse the chamois. They rejoined him with much pain and difficulty over
that rocky slope, hard especially to persons who had just been eating
and were as little used to climbing as these good Alpinists of Tarascon.
The air was heavy, moreover, with a tempest breath that was slowly
rolling the clouds along the summits above their heads.

“_Boufre!_” groaned Bravida.

Excourbaniès growled: “_Outre!_”

“What shall I be made to say!” added the gentle, bleating Pascalon.

But the guide having, by a violent gesture, ordered them to hold their
tongues, and not to stir, Tartarin remarked, “Never speak under arms,”
 with a sternness that rebuked every one, although the president alone
had a weapon. They stood stock still, holding their breaths. Suddenly,
Pas-calon cried out:

“_Vé _ the chamois, _vé_..”

About three hundred feet above them, the upright horns, the light buff
coat and the four feet gathered together of the pretty creature stood
defined like a carved image at the edge of the rock, looking at them
fearlessly. Tartarin brought his piece to his shoulder methodically, as
his habit was, and was just about to fire when the chamois disappeared.

“It is your fault,” said the Commander to Pascalon... “you whistled...
and that frightened him.”

“I whistled!.. I?”

“Then it was Spiridion...”

“Ah, _vaï!_ never in my life.”

Nevertheless, they had all heard a whistle, strident, prolonged. The
president settled the question by relating how the chamois, at the
approach of enemies, gives a sharp danger signal through the nostrils.
That devil of a Tartarin knew everything about this kind of hunt, as
about all others!

At the call of their guide they started again; but the acclivity became
steeper and steeper, the rocks more ragged, with bogs between them to
right and left. Tartarin kept the lead, turning constantly to help the
delegates, holding out his hand or his carbine: “Your hand, your hand,
if you don’t mind,” cried honest Bravida, who was very much afraid of
loaded weapons.

Another sign of the guide, another stop of the delegation, their noses
in the air.

“I felt a drop!” murmured the Commander, very uneasy. At the same
instant the thunder growled, but louder than the thunder roared the
voice of Excourbaniès: “Fire, Tartarin!” and the chamois bounded past
them, crossing the ravine like a golden flash, too quickly for Tartarin
to take aim, but not so fast that they did not hear that whistle of his
nostrils.

“I ‘ll have him yet, _coquin de sort!_” cried the president, but the
delegates protested. Excourbaniès, becoming suddenly very sour, demanded
if he had sworn to exterminate them.

“Dear ma-a-aster,” bleated Pascalon, timidly, “I have heard say that
chamois if you corner them in abysses turn at bay against the hunter and
are very dangerous.”

“Then don’t let us corner him!” said Bravida hastily.

Tartarin called them milksops. But while they were arguing, suddenly,
abruptly, they all disappeared from one another’s gaze in a warm thick
vapour that smelt of sulphur, through which they sought each other,
calling:

“Hey! Tartarin.”

“Are you there, Placide?”

“Ma-a-as-ter!”

“Keep cool! Keep cool!”

A regular panic. Then a gust of wind broke through the mist and whirled
it away like a torn veil clinging to the briers, through which a zigzag
flash of lightning fell at their feet with a frightful clap of thunder.
“My cap!” cried Spiridion, as the tempest bared his head, its hairs
erect and crackling with electric sparks. They were in the very heart of
the storm, the forge itself of Vulcan. Bravida was the first to fly, at
full speed, the rest of the delegation flew behind him, when a cry from
the president, who thought of everything, stopped them:

“Thunder!.. beware of the thunder!..”

At any rate, outside of the very real danger of which he warned them,
there was no possibility of running on those steep and gullied slopes,
now transformed into torrents, into cascades, by the pouring rain. The
return was awful, by slow steps under that crazy cliff, amid the sharp,
short flashes of lightning followed by explosions, slipping, falling,
and forced at times to halt. Pascalon crossed himself and invoked
aloud, as at Tarascon: “Sainte Marthe and Sainte Hélène, Sainte
Marie-Madeleine,” while Excourbaniès swore: “_Coquin de sort!_” and
Bravida, the rearguard, looked back in trepidation:

“What the devil is that behind us?.. It is galloping... it is
whistling... there, it has stopped...”

The idea of a furious chamois flinging itself upon its hunters was in
the mind of the old warrior. In a low voice, in order not to alarm the
others, he communicated his fears to Tartarin, who bravely took his
place as the rearguard and marched along, soaked to the skin, his head
high, with that mute determination which is given by the imminence of
danger. But when he reached the inn and saw his dear Alpinists under
shelter, drying their wet things, which smoked around a huge porcelain
stove in a first floor chamber, to which rose an odour of grog already
ordered, the president shivered and said, looking very pale: “I believe
I have taken cold.”

“Taken cold!” No question now of starting again; the delegation asked
only for rest Quick, a bed was warmed, they hurried the hot wine
grog, and after his second glass the president felt throughout his
comfort-loving body a warmth, a tingling that augured well. Two pillows
at his back, a “_plumeau_” on his feet, his muffler round his head, he
experienced a delightful sense of well-being in listening to the roaring
of the storm, inhaling that good pine odour of the rustic little room
with its wooden walls and leaden panes, and in looking at his dear
Alpinists, gathered, glass in hand, around his bed in the anomalous
character given to their Gallic, Roman or Saracenic types by the
counterpanes, curtains, and carpets in which they were bundled while
their own clothes steamed before the stove. Forgetful of himself, he
questioned each of them in a sympathetic voice:

“Are you well, Placide?.. Spiridion, you seemed to be suffering just
now?..”

No, Spiridion suffered no longer, all that had passed away on seeing the
president so ill. Bravida, who adapted moral truths to the proverbs
of his nation, added cynically: “_Neighbour’s ill comforts, and even
cures_.” Then they talked of their hunt, exciting one another with the
recollection of certain dangerous episodes, such as the moment when the
animal turned upon them furiously; and without complicity of lying,
in fact, most ingenuously, they fabricated the fable they afterwards
related on their return to Tarascon.

Suddenly, Pascalon, who had been sent in search of another supply of
grog, reappeared in terror, one arm out of the blue-flowered curtain
that he gathered about him with the chaste gesture of a Polyeucte.
He was more than a second before he could articulate, in a whisper,
breathlessly: “The chamois!..”

“Well, what of the chamois?..”

“He’s down there, in the kitchen... warming himself...”

“Ah! _vaï_...”

“You are joking...”

“Suppose you go and see, Placide.”

Bravida hesitated. Excourbaniès descended on the tips of his toes,
but returned almost immediately, his face convulsed... More and more
astounding!.. the chamois was drinking grog.

They certainly owed it to him, poor beast, after the wild run he had
been made to take on the mountain, dispatched and recalled by his
master, who, as a usual thing, put him through his evolutions in the
house, to show to tourists how easily a chamois could be trained.

“It is overwhelming!” said Bravida, making no further effort at
comprehension; as for Tartarin, he dragged the muffler over his eyes
like a nightcap to hide from the delegates the soft hilarity that
overcame him at encountering wherever he went the dodges and the
performers of Bompard’s Switzerland.



X.

     The ascension of the Jungfrau. Vé! the oxen. The Kennedy
     crampons will not work. Nor the reedlamp either. Apparition
     of masked men at the chalet of the Alpine Club. The
     president in a crevasse. On the summit. Tartarin becomes a
     god.

Great influx, that morning, to the Hôtel Bellevue on the Little
Scheideck. In spite of the rain and the squalls, tables had been
laid outside in the shelter of the veranda, amid a great display of
alpenstocks, flasks, telescopes, cuckoo clocks in carved wood, so
that tourists could, while breakfasting, contemplate at a depth of six
thousand feet before them the wonderful valley of Grindel-wald on the
left, that of Lauterbrunnen on the right, and opposite, within gunshot
as it seemed, the immaculate, grandiose slopes of the Jungfrau, its
_névés_, glaciers, all that reverberating whiteness which illumines the
air about it, making glasses more transparent, and linen whiter.

But now, for a time, general attention was attracted to a noisy, bearded
caravan, which had just arrived on horse, mule, and donkey-back, also in
a _chaise à porteurs_, who had prepared themselves to climb the mountain
by a copious breakfast, and were now in a state of hilarity, the
racket of which contrasted with the bored and solemn airs of the very
distinguished Rices and Prunes collected on the Scheideck, such as: Lord
Chipendale, the Belgian senator and his family, the Austro-Hungarian
diplomat, and several others. It would certainly have been supposed
that the whole party of these bearded men sitting together at table
were about to attempt the ascension, for one and all were busy with
preparations for departure, rising, rushing about to give directions to
the guides, inspecting the provisions, and calling to each other from
end to end of the terrace in stentorian tones.

“Hey! Placide, _vé!_ the cooking-pan, see if it is in the knapsack!..
Don’t forget the reed-lamp, _au mouain_.”

Not until the actual departure took place was it seen that, of all the
caravan, only one was to make the ascension: but which one?

“Children, are we ready?” said the good Tar-tarin in a joyous,
triumphant voice, in which not a shade of anxiety trembled at the
possible dangers of the trip--his last doubt as to the Company’s
manipulation of Switzerland being dissipated that very morning before
the two glaciers of Grindel-wald each protected by a wicket and a
turnstile, with this inscription “Entrance to the glacier: one franc
fifty.”

He could, therefore, enjoy without anxiety this departure in apotheosis,
the joy of feeling himself looked at, envied, admired by those bold
little misses in boys’ caps who laughed at him so prettily on the
Rigi-Kulm, and were now enthusiastically comparing his short person with
the enormous mountain he was about to climb. One drew his portrait
in her album, another sought the honour of touching his alpenstock.
“Tchemppegne!.. Tchemppegne!..” called out of a sudden a tall, funereal
Englishman with a brick-coloured skin, coming up to him, bottle and
glass in hand. Then, after obliging the hero to drink with him:

“Lord Chipendale, sir... And you?”

“Tartarin of Tarascon.”

“Oh! yes... Tartarine... Capital name for a horse,” said the lord, who
must have been one of those great turfmen across the Channel.

The Austro-Hungarian diplomat also came to press the Alpinist’s hand
between his mittens, remembering vaguely to have seen him somewhere.
“Enchanted!.. enchanted!..” he enunciated several times, and then, not
knowing how to get out of it, he added: “My compliments to madame...”
 his social formula for cutting short presentations.

But the guides were impatient; they must reach before nightfall the hut
of the Alpine Club, where they were to sleep for the first stage, and
there was not a minute to lose. Tartarin felt it, saluted all with a
circular gesture, smiled at the malicious misses, and then, in a voice
of thunder, commanded:

“Pascalon, the banner!”

It waved to the breeze; the Southerners took off their hats, for they
love theatricals at Tarascon; and at the cry, a score of times repeated:
“Long live the president!.. Long live Tartarin!.. Ah! ah!.._fen dé
brut!_..” the column moved off, the two guides in front carrying the
knapsack, the provisions, and a supply of wood; then came Pascalon
bearing the oriflamme, and lastly the P. C. A. with the delegates who
proposed to accompany him as far as the glacier of the Guggi.

Thus deployed in procession, bearing its flapping flag along the sodden
way beneath those barren or snowy crests, the cortège vaguely recalled
the funeral marches of an All Souls’ day in the country.

Suddenly the Commander cried out, alarmed: “_Vé!_ those oxen!”

Some cattle were now seen browsing the short grass in the hollows of
the ground. The former captain of equipment had a nervous and quite
insurmountable terror of those animals, and as he could not be left
alone the delegation was forced to stop. Pascalon transmitted the
standard to the guides. Then, with a last embrace, hasty injunctions,
and one eye on the cows:

“Adieu, adieu, _qué!_”

“No imprudence, _au mouain_...” they parted. As for proposing to the
president to go up with him, no one even thought of it; ‘twas so high,
_boufre!_ And the nearer they came to it the higher it grew, the abysses
were more abysmal, the peaks bristled up in a white chaos, which looked
to be insurmountable. It was better to look at the ascension from the
Scheideck.

In all his life, naturally, the president of the Club of the Alpines
had never set foot on a glacier. There is nothing of that sort on the
mountainettes of Tarascon, little hills as balmy and dry as a packet of
lavender; and yet the approaches to the Guggi gave him the impression of
having already seen them, and wakened recollections of hunts in Provence
at the end of the Camargue, near to the sea. The same turf always
getting shorter and parched, as if seared by fire. Here and there were
puddles of water, infiltrations of the ground betrayed by puny reeds,
then came the moraine, like a sandy dune full of broken shells and
cinders, and, far at the end, the glacier, with its blue-green
waves crested with white and rounded in form, a silent, congealed
ground-swell. The wind which came athwart it, whistling and strong, had
the same biting, salubrious freshness as his own sea-breeze.

“No, thank you... I have my crampons...” said Tartarin to the guide,
who offered him woollen socks to draw on over his boots; “Kennedy
crampons... perfected... very convenient...” He shouted, as if to a deaf
person, in order to make himself understood by Christian Inebnit, who
knew no more French than his comrade Kaufmann; and then the P. C. A.
sat down upon the moraine and strapped on a species of sandal with three
enormous and very strong iron spikes. He had practised them a hundred
times, these Kennedy crampons, manoeuvring them in the garden of the
baobab; nevertheless, the present effect was unexpected. Beneath the
weight of the hero the spikes were driven into the ice with such force
that all efforts to withdraw them were vain. Behold him, therefore,
nailed to the glacier, sweating, swearing, making with arms and
alpenstock most desperate gymnastics and reduced finally to shouting for
his guides, who had gone forward, convinced that they had to do with an
experienced Alpinist.

Under the impossibility of uprooting him, they undid the straps, and,
the crampons, abandoned in the ice, being replaced by a pair of knitted
socks, the president continued his way, not without much difficulty and
fatigue. Unskilful in holding his stick, his legs stumbled over it, then
its iron point skated and dragged him along if he leaned upon it too
heavily. He tried the ice-axe--still harder to manoeuvre, the swell of
the glacier increasing by degrees, and pressing up, one above another,
its motionless waves with all the appearance of a furious and petrified
tempest.

Apparent immobility only, for hollow crackings, subterranean gurgles,
enormous masses of ice displacing themselves slowly, as if moved by the
machinery of a stage, indicated the inward life of this frozen mass and
its treacherous elements. To the eyes of our Alpinist, wherever he cast
his axe crevasses were opening, bottomless pits, where masses of ice
in fragments rolled indefinitely. The hero fell repeatedly; once to his
middle in one of those greenish gullies, where his broad shoulders alone
kept him from going to the bottom.

On seeing him so clumsy, and yet so tranquil, so sure of himself,
laughing, singing, gesticulating, as he did while breakfasting, the
guides imagined that Swiss champagne had made an impression upon him.
What else could they suppose of the president of an Alpine Club, a
renowned ascensionist, of whom his friends spoke only with “Ahs!” and
exultant gestures. After taking him each by the arm with the respectful
firmness of policemen putting into a carriage an overcome heir to a
title, they endeavoured, by the help of monosyllables and gestures, to
rouse his mind to a sense of the dangers of the route, the necessity
of reaching the hut before nightfall, with threats of crevasses, cold,
avalanches. Finally, with the point of their ice-picks they showed him
the enormous accumulation of ice, of _névé_ not yet transformed into
glacier rising before them to the zenith in blinding repetition.

But the worthy Tartarin laughed at all that: “Ha! _vaï!_ crevasses!..
Ha! _vaï!_ those avalanches!..” and he burst out laughing, winked his
eye, and prodded their sides with his elbows to let them know they could
not fool him, for _he_ was in the secret of the comedy.

The guides at last ended by making merry with the Tarasconese songs, and
when they rested a moment on a solid block to let their monsieur get his
breath, they yodelled in the Swiss way, though not too loudly, for fear
of avalanches, nor very long, for time was getting on. They knew the
coming of night by the sharper cold, but especially by the singular
change in hue of these snows and ice-packs, heaped-up, overhanging,
which always keep, even under misty skies, a rainbow tinge of colour
until the daylight fades, rising higher and higher to the vanishing
summits, where the snows take on the livid, spectral tints of the lunar
universe. Pallor, petrifaction, silence, death itself. And the good
Tartarin, so warm, so living, was beginning to lose his liveliness when
the distant cry of a bird, the note of a “snow partridge” brought back
before his eyes a baked landscape, a copper-coloured setting sun, and
a band of Taras-conese sportsmen, mopping their faces, seated on their
empty game-bags, in the slender shade of an olive-tree. The recollection
was a comfort to him.

At the same moment Kaufmann pointed to something that looked like a
faggot of wood on the snow. ‘T was the hut. It seemed as if they could
get to it in a few strides, but, in point of fact, it took a good
half-hour’s walking. One of the guides went on ahead to light the fire.
Darkness had now come on; the north wind rattled on the cadaverous way,
and Tartarin, no longer paying attention to anything, supported by the
stout arm of the mountaineer, stumbled and bounded along without a dry
thread on him in spite of the falling temperature. All of a sudden a
flame shot up before him, together with an appetizing smell of onion
soup.

They were there.

Nothing can be more rudimentary than these halting-places established on
the mountains by the Alpine Club of Switzerland. A single room, in which
an inclined plane of hard wood serves as a bed and takes up nearly all
the space, leaving but little for the stove and the long table, screwed
to the floor like the benches that are round it. The table was already
laid; three bowls, pewter spoons, the reed-lamp to heat the coffee, two
cans of Chicago preserved meats already opened. Tartarin thought the
dinner delicious although the fumes of the onion soup infected the
atmosphere, and the famous spirit-lamp, which ought to have made its
pint of coffee in three minutes, refused to perform its functions.

At the dessert he sang; that was his only means of conversing with his
guides. He sang them the airs of his native land: _La Tarasque_, and
_Les Filles d’Avignon_. To which the guides responded with local songs
in German patois: _Mi Vater isch en Appenzeller... aou... aou_... Worthy
fellows with hard, weather-beaten features as if cut from the rock,
beards in the hollows that looked like moss and those clear eyes, used
to great spaces, like the eyes of sailors. The same sensation of the sea
and the open, which he had felt just now on approaching Guggi, Tartarin
again felt here, in presence of these mariners of the glacier in this
close cabin, low and smoky, the regular forecastle of a ship; in the
dripping of the snow from the roof as it melted with the warmth; in the
great gusts of wind, shaking everything, cracking the boards, fluttering
the flame of the lamp, and falling abruptly into vast, unnatural
silence, like the end of the world.

They had just finished dinner when heavy steps upon the ringing path
and voices were heard approaching. Violent blows with the butt end of
some weapon shook the door. Tartarin, greatly excited, looked at his
guides... A nocturnal attack on these heights!.. The blows redoubled.
“Who goes there?” cried the hero, jumping for his ice-axe; but already
the hut was invaded by two gigantic Yankees, in white linen masks, their
clothing soaked with snow and sweat, and behind them guides, porters, a
whole caravan, on its return from ascending the Jungfrau.

“You are welcome, milords,” said Tartarin, with a liberal, dispensing
gesture, of which the milords showed not the slightest need in making
themselves free of everything. In a trice the table was surrounded, the
dishes removed, the bowls and spoons rinsed in hot water for the use of
the new arrivals (according to established custom in Alpine huts); the
boots of the milords smoked before the stove, while they themselves,
bare-footed, their feet wrapped in straw, were sprawling at their ease
before a fresh onion soup.

Father and son, these two Americans; two red-haired giants, with heads
of pioneers, hard and self-reliant. One of them, the elder, had two
dilated eyes, almost white, in a bloated, sun-burned, fissured face,
and presently, by the hesitating way in which he groped for his bowl and
spoon, and the care with which his son looked after him, Tartarin became
aware that this was the famous blind Alpinist of whom he had been told,
not believing the tale, at the Hôtel Bellevue; a celebrated climber in
his youth, who now, in spite of his sixty years and his infirmity,
was going over with his son the scenes of his former exploits. He had
already done the Wetterhorn and the Jungfrau, and was intending to
attack the Matterhorn and the Mont Blanc, declaring that the air
upon summits, that glacial breath with its taste of snow, caused him
inexpressible joy, and a perfect recall of his lost vigour.

“_Différemment_,” asked Tartarin of one of the porters, for the Yankees
were not communicative, and answered only by a “yes” or a “no” to all
his advances “_différemment_ inasmuch as he can’t see, how does he
manage at the dangerous places?”

“Oh! he has got the mountaineer’s foot; besides, his son watches over
him, and places his heels... And it is a fact that he has never had an
accident.”

“All the more because accidents in Switzerland are never very terrible,
_qué?_” With a comprehending smile to the puzzled porter, Tartarin,
more and more convinced that the “whole thing was _blague_,” stretched
himself out on the plank rolled in his blanket, the muffler up to his
eyes, and went to sleep, in spite of the light, the noise, the smoke of
the pipes and the smell of the onion soup...

“Mossié!.. Mossié!..”

One of his guides was shaking him for departure, while the other poured
boiling coffee into the bowls. A few oaths and the groans of sleepers
whom Tartarin crushed on his way to the table, and then to the door.
Abruptly he found himself outside, stung by the cold, dazzled by the
fairy-like reflections of the moon upon that white expanse, those
motionless congealed cascades, where the shadow of the peaks, the
_aiguilles_, the _séracs_, were sharply defined in the densest black. No
longer the sparkling chaos of the afternoon, nor the livid rising upward
of the gray tints of evening, but a strange irregular city of darksome
alleys, mysterious passages, doubtful corners between marble monuments
and crumbling ruins--a dead city, with broad desert spaces.

Two o’clock! By walking well they could be at the top by mid-day.
“_Zou!_” said the P. C. A., very lively, and dashing forward, as if
to the assault. But his guides stopped him. They must be roped for the
dangerous passages.

“Ah! _vaï_, roped!.. Very good, if that amuses you.”

Christian Inebnit took the lead, leaving twelve feet of rope between
himself and Tartarin, who was separated by the same length from the
second guide who carried the provisions and the banner. The hero kept
his footing better than he did the day before; and confidence in the
Company must indeed have been strong, for he did not take seriously the
difficulties of the path--if we can call a path the terrible ridge of
ice along which they now advanced with precaution, a ridge but a few
feet wide and so slippery that Christian was forced to cut steps with
his ice-axe.

The line of the ridge sparkled between two depths of abysses on either
side. But if you think that Tartarin was frightened, not at all!
Scarcely did he feel the little quiver of the cuticle of a freemason
novice when subjected to his opening test. He placed his feet most
precisely in the holes which the first guide cut for them, doing all
that he saw the guide do, as tranquil as he was in the garden of the
baobab when he practised around the margin of the pond, to the terror of
the goldfish. At one place the ridge became so narrow that he was
forced to sit astride of it, and while they went slowly forward, helping
themselves with their hands, a loud detonation echoed up, on their
right, from beneath them. “Avalanche!” said Inebnit, keeping motionless
till the repercussion of the echoes, numerous, grandiose, filling the
sky, died away at last in a long roll of thunder in the far distance,
where the final detonation was lost. After which, silence once more
covered all as with a winding-sheet.

The ridge passed, they went up a _névé_ the slope of which was rather
gentle but its length interminable. They had been climbing nearly an
hour when a slender pink line began to define the summits far, far
above their heads. It was the dawn, thus announcing itself. Like a true
Southerner, enemy to shade, Tartarin trolled out his liveliest song:

     Grand souleu de la Provenço
     Gai compaire dou mistrau--

A violent shake of the rope from before and behind stopped him short in
the middle of his couplet. “Hush... Hush...” said Inebnit, pointing
with his ice-axe to the threatening line of gigantic _séracs_ on their
tottering foundations which the slightest jar might send thundering down
the steep. But Tartarin knew what _that_ meant; he was not the man to
ply with any such tales, and he went on singing in a resounding voice:

     Tu qu ‘escoulès la Duranço
        Commo un flot dé vin de Crau.

The guides, seeing that they could not silence their crazy singer, made
a great détour to get away from the _séracs_, and presently were stopped
by an enormous crevasse, the glaucous green sides of which were lighted,
far down their depths, by the first furtive rays of the dawn. What is
called in Switzerland “a snow bridge” spanned it; but so slight was it,
so fragile, that they had scarcely advanced a step before it crumbled
away in a cloud of white dust, dragging down the leading guide and
Tartarin, hanging to the rope which Rodolphe Kaufmann, the rear guide,
was alone left to hold, clinging with all the strength of his mountain
vigour to his pick-axe, driven deeply into the ice. But although he was
able to hold the two men suspended in the gulf he had not enough force
to draw them up and he remained, crouching on the snow, his teeth
clenched, his muscles straining, and too far from the crevasse to see
what was happening.

Stunned at first by the fall, and blinded by snow, Tartarin waved his
arms and legs at random, like a puppet out of order; then, drawing
himself up by means of the rope, he hung suspended over the abyss, his
nose against its icy side, which his breath polished, in the attitude of
a plumber in the act of soldering a waste-pipe. He saw the sky above him
growing paler and the stars disappearing; below he could fathom the gulf
and its opaque shadows, from which rose a chilling breath.

Nevertheless, his first bewilderment over, he recovered his
self-possession and his fine good-humour.

“Hey! up there! _père_ Kaufmann, don’t leave us to mildew here, _qué!_
there ‘s a draught all round, and besides, this cursed rope is cutting
our loins.”

Kaufmann was unable to answer; to have unclenched his teeth would have
lessened his strength. But Inebnit shouted from below:

“Mossié... Mossié... ice-axe...” for his own had been lost in the fall;
and, the heavy implement being now passed from the hands of Tartarin to
those of the guide (with difficulty, owing to the space that separated
the two hanged ones), the mountaineer used it to make notches in the
ice-wall before him, into which he could fasten both hands and feet.

The weight of the rope being thus lessened by at least one-half,
Rodolphe Kaufmann, with carefully calculated vigour and infinite
precautions, began to draw up the president, whose Tarasconese cap
appeared at last at the edge of the crevasse. Inebnit followed him in
turn and the two mountaineers met again with that effusion of brief
words which, in persons of limited elocution, follows great dangers.
Both were trembling with their effort, and Tartarin passed them his
flask of kirsch to steady their legs. He himself was nimble and calm,
and while he shook himself free of snow he hummed his song under the
nose of his wondering guides, beating time with his foot to the measure:

“_Brav... brav... Franzose_...” said Kaufmann, tapping him on the
shoulder; to which Tartarin answered with his fine laugh:

“You rogue! I knew very well there was no danger...”

Never within the memory of guides was there seen such an Alpinist.

They started again, climbing perpendicularly a sort of gigantic wall of
ice some thousand feet high, in which they were forced to cut steps as
they went along, which took much time. The man of Tarascon began to
feel his strength give way under the brilliant sun which flooded the
whiteness of the landscape and was all the more fatiguing to his
eyes because he had dropped his green spectacles into the crevasse.
Presently, a dreadful sense of weakness seized him, that mountain
sickness which produces the same effects as sea-sickness. Exhausted, his
head empty, his legs flaccid, he stumbled and lost his feet, so that
the guides were forced to grasp him, one on each side, supporting and
hoisting him to the top of that wall of ice. Scarcely three hundred feet
now separated them from the summit of the Jungfrau; but although the
snow was hard and bore them, and the path much easier, this last stage
took an almost interminable time, the fatigue and the suffocation of the
P. C. A. increasing all the while.

Suddenly the mountaineers loosed their hold upon him, and waving their
caps began to yodel in a transport of joy. They were there! This spot in
immaculate space, this white crest, somewhat rounded, was the goal, and
for that good Tartarin the end of the somnambulic torpor in which he had
wandered for an hour or more.

“Scheideck! Scheideck!” shouted the guides, showing him far, far below,
on a verdant plateau emerging from the mists of the valley, the Hôtel
Bellevue about the size of a thimble.

Thence to where they stood lay a wondrous panorama, an ascent of fields
of gilded snow, oranged by the sun, or else of a deep, cold blue,
a piling up of mounds of ice, fantastically structured into towers,
_flèches, aiguilles, arêtes_, and gigantic heaps, under which one could
well believe that the lost megatherium or mastodon lay sleeping. All the
tints of the rainbow played there and met in the bed of vast glaciers
rolling down their immovable cascades, crossed by other little frozen
torrents, the surfaces of which the sun’s warmth liquefied, making them
smoother and more glittering. But, at the great height at which they
stood, all this sparkling brilliance calmed itself; a light floated,
cold, ecliptic, which made Tartarin shudder even more than the sense of
silence and solitude in that white desert with its mysterious recesses.

A little smoke, with hollow detonations, rose from the hotel. They were
seen, a cannon was fired in their honour, and the thought that they
were being looked at, that his Alpinists were there, and the misses, the
illustrious Prunes and Rices, all with their opera-glasses levelled up
to him, recalled Tartarin to a sense of the grandeur of his mission. He
tore thee, O Tarasconese banner! from the hands of the guide, waved thee
twice or thrice, and then, plunging the handle of his ice-axe deep into
the snow, he seated himself upon the iron of the pick, banner in hand,
superb, facing the public. And there--unknown to himself--by one of
those spectral reflections frequent upon summits, taken between the sun
and the mists that rose behind him, a gigantic Tartarin was outlined on
the sky, broader, dumpier, his beard bristling beyond the muffler, like
one of those Scandinavian gods enthroned, as the legend has it, among
the clouds.



XI.

     En route for Tarascon. The Lake of Geneva. Tartarin proposes
     a visit to the dungeon of Bonnivard. Short dialogue amid the
     roses. The whole band under lock and key. The unfortunate
     Bonnivard. Where the rope made at Avignon was found.

As a result of the ascension, Tartarin’s nose peeled, pimpled, and
his cheeks cracked. He kept to his room in the Hôtel Bellevue for five
days--five days of salves and compresses, the sticky unsavouriness
and ennui of which he endeavoured to elude by playing cards with the
delegates or dictating to them a long, circumstantial account of his
expedition, to be read in session, before the Club of the Alpines and
published in the _Forum_. Then, as the general lumbago had disappeared
and nothing remained upon the noble countenance of the P. C. A. but a
few blisters, sloughs and chilblains on a fine complexion of Etruscan
pottery, the delegation and its president set out for Tarascon, via
Geneva.

Let me omit the episodes of that journey, the alarm cast by the Southern
band into narrow railway carriages, steamers, _tables d’hôte_, by
its songs, its shouts, its overflowing hilarity, its banner, and its
alpenstocks; for since the ascension of the P. C. A. they had all
supplied themselves with those mountain sticks, on which the names
of celebrated climbs were inscribed, burnt in, together with popular
verses.

Montreux!

Here the delegates, at the suggestion of their master, decided to halt
for two or three days in order to visit the famous shores of Lake Leman,
Chillon especially, and its legendary dungeon, where the great patriot
Bonnivard languished, and which Byron and Delacroix have immortalized.

At heart, Tartarin cared little for Bonnivard, his adventure with
William Tell having enlightened him about Swiss legends; but in passing
through Interlaken he had heard that Sonia had gone to Montreux with
her brother, whose health was much worse, and this invention of an
historical pilgrimage was only a pretext to meet the young girl again,
and, who knows? persuade her perhaps to follow him to Tarascon.

Let it be fully understood, however, that his companions believed,
with the best faith in the world, that they were on their way to render
homage to a great Genevese citizen whose history the P. C. A. had
related to them; in fact, with their native taste for theatrical
manifestations they were desirous, as soon as they landed at Montreux,
of forming in line, banner displayed and marching at once to Chillon
with repeated cries of “Vive Bonnivard!” The president was forced to
calm them: “Breakfast first,” he said, “and after that we ‘ll see
about it.” So they filled the omnibus of some Pension Müller or other,
situated, with many of its kind, close to the landing.

“_Vé!_ that gendarme, how he looks at us,” said Pascalon, the last to
get in, with the banner, always very troublesome to install. “True,”
 said Bravida, uneasily; “what does he want of us, that gendarme? Why
does he examine us like that?”

“He recognizes me, _pardi!_” said the worthy Tartarin modestly; and he
smiled upon the soldier of the Vaudois police, whose long blue hooded
coat followed perseveringly behind the omnibus as it threaded its way
among the poplars on the shore.

It was market-day at Montreux. Rows of little booths were open to the
winds of the lake, displaying fruit, vegetables, laces very cheap, and
that white jewellery, looking like manufactured snow or pearls of ice,
with which the Swiss women ornament their costumes. With all this were
mingled the bustle of the little port, the jostling of a whole flotilla
of gayly painted pleasure-boats, the transshipment of casks and sacks
from large brigantines with lateen sails, the hoarse cries, the bells
of the steamers, the stir among the cafés, the breweries, the traffic of
the florists and the second-hand dealers who lined the quay. If a ray of
sun had fallen upon the scene, one might have thought one’s self on the
marina of a Mediterranean resort between Mentone and Bordighera. But sun
was lacking, and the Tarasconese gazed at the pretty landscape through a
watery vapour that rose from the azure lake, climbed the steep path and
the pebbly little streets, and joined, above the houses, other clouds,
black and gray that were clinging about the sombre verdure of the
mountain, big with rain.

“_Coquin de sort!_ I’m not a lacustrian,” said Spiridion Excourbaniès,
wiping the glass of the window to look at the perspective of glaciers
and white vapours that closed the horizon in front of him...

“Nor I, either,” sighed Pascalon, “this fog, this stagnant water...
makes me want to cry.”

Bravida complained also, in dread of his sciatic gout.

Tartarin reproved them sternly. Was it nothing to be able to relate,
on their return, that they had seen the dungeon of Bonnivard, inscribed
their names on its historic walls beside the signatures of Rousseau,
Byron, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Eugène Sue? Suddenly, in the middle of
his tirade, the president interrupted himself and changed colour... He
had just caught sight of a little round hat on a coil of blond hair.
Without stopping the omnibus, the pace of which had slackened in going
up hill, he sprang out, calling back to the stupefied Alpinists: “Go on
to the hotel...”

“Sonia!.. Sonia!..”

He feared that he might not be able to catch her, she walked so rapidly,
the delicate silhouette of her shadow falling on the macadam of the
road. She turned at his call and waited for him. “Ah! is it you?” she
said; and as soon as they had shaken hands she walked on. He fell into
step beside her, much out of breath, and began to excuse himself for
having left her so abruptly... arrival of friends... necessity of
making the ascension (of which his face was still bearing traces)...
She listened without a word, hastening her pace, her eyes strained and
fixed. Looking at her profile, she seemed to him paler, her features no
longer soft with childlike innocence, but hard, a something resolute
on them which till now had existed only in her voice and her imperious
will; and yet her youthful grace was there, and the gold of her waving
hair.

“And Boris, how is he?” asked Tartarin, rather discomfited by her
silence and coldness, which began to affect him.

“Boris?..” she quivered: “Ah! true, you do not know... Well then! come,
come...”

They followed a country lane leading past vineyards sloping to the
lake, and villas with gardens, and elegant terraces laden with clematis,
blooming with roses, petunias, and myrtles in pots. Now and then they
met some foreigner with haggard cheeks and melancholy glance, walking
slowly and feebly, like the many whom one meets at Mentone and Monaco;
only, away down yonder the sunshine laps round all, absorbs all, while
beneath this lowering cloudy sky suffering is more apparent, though the
flowers seem fresher.

“Enter,” said Sonia, pushing open the railed iron door of a white marble
façade on which were Russian words in gilded letters.

At first Tartarin did not understand where he was. A little garden was
before him with gravelled paths very carefully kept, and quantities of
climbing roses hanging among the green of the trees, and bearing great
clusters of white and yellow blooms, which filled the narrow space
with their fragrance and glow. Among these garlands, this lovely
efflorescence, a few stones were standing or lying with dates and names;
the newest of which bore the words, carved on its surface:

               “Boris Wassilief.
                  22 years.”

He had been there a few days, dying almost as soon as they arrived at
Montreux; and in this cemetery of foreigners the exile had found a sort
of country among other Russians and Poles and Swedes, buried beneath the
roses, consumptives of cold climates sent to this Northern Nice, because
the Southern sun would be for them too violent, the transition too
abrupt.

They stood for a moment motionless and mute before the whiteness of that
new stone lying on the blackness of the fresh-turned earth; the young
girl, with her head bent down, inhaling the breath of the roses, and
calming, as she stood, her reddened eyes.

“Poor little girl!” said Tartarin with emotion, taking in his strong
rough hands the tips of Sonia’s fingers. “And you? what will you do
now?”

She looked him full in the face with dry and shining eyes in which the
tears no longer trembled.

“I? I leave within an hour.”

“You are going?..”

“Bolibine is already in St. Petersburg... Manilof is waiting for me
to cross the frontier... I return to the work. We shall be heard from.”
 Then, in a low voice, she added with a half-smile, planting her blue
glance full into that of Tartarin, which avoided it: “He who loves me
follows me.”

Ah! _vaï_, follow her! The little fanatic frightened him. Besides, this
funereal scene had cooled his love. Still, he ought not to appear to
back down like a scoundrel. So, with his hand on his heart and the
gesture of an Abencerrage, the hero began: “You know me, Sonia...”

She did not need to hear more.

“Gabbler!” she said, shrugging her shoulders. And she walked away, erect
and proud, beneath the roses, without once turning round... Gabbler!..
not one word more, but the intonation was so contemptuous that the
worthy Tartarin blushed beneath his beard, and looked about to see if
they had been quite alone in the garden so that no one had overheard
her.

Among our Tarasconese, fortunately, impressions do not last long. Five
minutes later Tartarin was going up the terraces of Montreux with a
lively step in quest of the Pension Müller and his Alpinists, who must
certainly be waiting breakfast for him; and his whole person breathed a
relief, a joy at getting rid finally of that dangerous acquaintance.
As he walked along he emphasized with many energetic nods the eloquent
explanations which Sonia would not wait to hear, but which he gave to
himself mentally: _Bé!_.. yes, despotism certainly... He didn’t deny
that... but from that to action, _boufre!_.. And then, to make it his
profession to shoot despots!.. Why, if all oppressed peoples applied to
him--just as the Arabs did to Bombonnel whenever a panther roamed round
their village--he couldn’t suffice for them all, never!

At this moment a hired carriage coming down the hill at full speed cut
short his monologue. He had scarcely time to jump upon the sidewalk with
a “Take care, you brute!” when his cry of anger was changed to one of
stupefaction: “_Quès aco!.. Boudiou!_.. Not possible!..”

I give you a thousand guesses to say what he saw in that old landau...

The delegation! the full delegation, Bravida, Pascalon, Excourbaniès,
piled upon the back seat, pale, horror-stricken, ghastly, and two
gendarmes in front of them, muskets in hand! The sight of all those
profiles, motionless and mute, visible through the narrow frame of the
carriage window, was like a nightmare. Nailed to the ground, as
formerly on the ice by his Kennedy crampons, Tartarin was gazing at that
fantastic vehicle flying along at a gallop, followed at full speed by a
flock of schoolboys, their atlases swinging on their backs, when a
voice shouted in his ears: “And here’s the fourth!..” At the same time
clutched, garotted, bound, he, too, was hoisted into a _locati_ with
gendarmes, among them an officer armed with a gigantic cavalry sabre,
which he held straight up from between his knees, the point of it
touching the roof of the vehicle.

Tartarin wanted to speak, to explain. Evidently there must be some
mistake... He told his name, his nation, demanded his consul, and
named a seller of Swiss honey, Ichener, whom he had met at the fair at
Beaucaire. Then, on the persistent silence of his captors, he bethought
him that this might be another bit of machinery in Bompard’s fairyland;
so, addressing the officer, he said with sly air: “For fun, _qué!_.. ha!
_vaï_, you rogue, I know very well it is all a joke.”

“Not another word, or I’ll gag you,” said the officer, rolling terrible
eyes as if he meant to spit him on his sabre.

The other kept quiet, and stirred no more, but gazed through the door at
the lake, the tall mountains of a humid green, the hotels and pensions
with variegated roofs and gilded signs visible for miles, and on the
slopes, as at the Rigi, a coming and going of market and provision
baskets, and (like the Rigi again) a comical little railway, a dangerous
mechanical plaything crawling up the height to Glion, and--to complete
the resemblance to _Regina Montium_--a pouring, beating rain, an
exchange of water and mist from the sky to Leman and Leman to the sky,
the clouds descending till they touched the waves.

The vehicle crossed a drawbridge between a cluster of little shops of
“chamoiseries,” penknives, corkscrews, pocket-combs, etc., and stopped
in the courtyard of an old castle overgrown with weeds, flanked by two
round pepper-pot towers with black balconies guarded by parapets and
supported by beams. Where was he? Tartarin learned where when he heard
the officer of gendarmerie discussing the matter with the concierge of
the castle, a fat man in a Greek cap who was jangling a bunch of rusty
keys.

“Solitary confinement... but I haven’t a place for him. The others have
taken all... unless we put him in Bonnivard’s dungeon.”

“Yes, put him in Bonnivard’s dungeon; that’s good enough for him,”
 ordered the captain; and it was done as he said.

This Castle of Chillon, about which the P. C. A. had never for two days
ceased to discourse to his dear Alpinists, and in which, by the irony of
fate, he found himself suddenly incarcerated without knowing why, is one
of the most frequented historical monuments in Switzerland. After
having served as a summer residence to the Dukes of Savoie, then as a
state-prison, afterwards as an arsenal for arms and munitions, it
is to-day the mere pretext for an excursion, like the Rigi and the
Tellsplatte. It still contains, however, a post of gendarmerie and a
“violon,” that is, a cell for drunkards and the naughty boys of the
neighbourhood; but they are so rare in the peaceable Canton of Vaud that
the “violon” is always empty and the concierge uses it as a receptacle
to store his wood for winter. Therefore the arrival of all these
prisoners had put him out of temper, especially at the thought that he
could no longer take visitors to see the famous dungeon, which at this
season of the year is the chief profit of the place.

Furious, he showed the way to Tartarin, who followed him without the
courage to make the slightest resistance. A few crumbling steps, a damp
corridor smelling like a cellar, a door thick as a wall with enormous
hinges, and there they were, in a vast subterranean vault, with earthen
floor and heavy Roman pillars in which were still the iron rings to
which prisoners of state had been chained. A dim light fell, tremulous
with the shimmer of the lake, through narrow slits in the wall, which
scarcely showed more than a scrap of the sky.

“Here you are at home,” said the jailer. “Be careful you don’t go to the
farther end: the pit is there...”

Tartarin recoiled, horrified:--

“The pit! _Boudiou!_”

“What do you expect, my lad? I am ordered to put you in Bonnivard’s
dungeon... I have put you in Bonnivard’s dungeon... Now, if you have
the means, you can be furnished with certain comforts, for instance, a
mattress and coverlet for the night.”

“Something to eat, in the first place,” said Tartarin, from whom, very
luckily, they had not taken his purse.

The concierge returned with a fresh roll, beer, and a sausage, greedily
devoured by the new prisoner of Chillon, fasting since the night before
and hollow with fatigue and emotion. While he ate on his stone bench
in the gleam of his vent-hole window, the jailer examined him with a
good-natured eye.

“Faith,” said he, “I don’t know what you have done, nor why they should
treat you so severely...”

“Nor I either, _coquin de sort!_ I know nothing about it,” said
Tartarin, with his mouth full.

“Well, it is very certain that you don’t look like a bad man, and,
surely, you would n’t hinder a poor father of a family from earning
his living, would you?.. Now, see here!.. I have got, up above there, a
whole party of people who have come to see Bonnivard’s dungeon... If you
would promise me to keep quiet, and not try to run away...”

The worthy Tartarin bound himself by an oath; and five minutes later he
beheld his dungeon invaded by his old acquaintances on the Rigi-Kulm
and the Tellsplatte, that jackass Schwan-thaler, the ineptissimus
Astier-Réhu, the member of the Jockey-Club with his niece (h’m! h’m!..)
and all the travellers on Cook’s Circular. Ashamed, dreading to be
recognized, the unfortunate man concealed himself behind pillars,
getting farther and farther away as the troop of tourists advanced,
preceded by the concierge and his homily, delivered in a doleful voice:
“Here is where the unfortunate Bonnivard, etc...”

They advanced slowly, retarded by discussions between the two _savants_,
quarrelling as usual and ready to jump at each other’s throats; the
one waving his campstool, the other his travelling-bag in fantastic
attitudes, which the twilight from the window-slits lengthened upon the
vaulted roof.

By dint of retreating, Tartarin presently found himself close to the
hole of the pit, a black pit open to the level of the soil, emitting the
breath of ages, malarious and glacial. Frightened, he stopped short,
and curled himself into a corner, his cap over his eyes. But the damp
saltpetre of the walls affected him, and suddenly a stentorian sneeze,
which made the tourists recoil, gave notice of his presence.

“_Tiens_, there’s Bonnivard!..” cried the bold little Parisian woman
in a Directory hat whom the gentleman from the Jockey-Club called his
niece.

The Tarasconese hero did not allow himself to be disconcerted.

“They are really very curious, these pits,” he said, in the most natural
tone in the world, as if he was visiting the dungeon, like them, for
pleasure; and so saying, he mingled with the other travellers,
who smiled at recognizing the Alpinist of the Rigi-Kulm, the merry
instigator of the famous ball.

“_Hi!_ mossié... ballir... dantsir!..”

The comical silhouette of the little fairy Schwan-thaler rose up before
him ready to seize him for a country dance. A fine mood he was in now
for dancing! But not knowing how to rid himself of that determined
little scrap of a woman, he offered his arm and gallantly showed her
his dungeon, the ring to which the captive was chained, the trace of his
steps on the stone round that pillar; and never, hearing him converse
with such ease, did the good lady even dream that he too was a prisoner
of state, a victim of the injustice and the wickedness of men. Terrible,
however, was the departure, when the unfortunate Bonnivard, having
conducted his partner to the door, took leave of her with the smile of a
man of the world: “No, thank you, _vé!_.. I stay a few moments longer.”
 Thereupon he bowed, and the jailer, who had his eye upon him, locked and
bolted the door, to the stupefaction of everybody.

What a degradation! He perspired with anguish, unhappy man, while
listening to the exclamations of the tourists as they walked away.
Fortunately, the anguish was not renewed. No more tourists arrived that
day on account of the bad weather. A terrible wind blew through the
rotten boards, moans came up from the pit as from victims ill-buried,
and the wash of the lake, swollen with rain, beat against the walls to
the level of the window-slits and spattered its water upon the
captive. At intervals the bell of a passing steamer, the clack of its
paddle-wheels cut short the reflections of poor Tartarin, as evening,
gray and gloomy, fell into the dungeon and seemed to enlarge it.

How explain this arrest, this imprisonment in the ill-omened place?
Costecalde, perhaps... electioneering manoeuvre at the last hour?..
Or, could it be that the Russian police, warned of his very imprudent
language, his liaison with Sonia, had asked for his extradition? But if
so, why arrest the delegates?.. What blame could attach to those poor
unfortunates, whose terror and despair he imagined, although they were
not, like him, in Bonnivard’s dungeon, beneath those granite arches,
where, since night had fallen, roamed monstrous rats, cockroaches,
silent spiders with hairy, crooked legs.

But see what it is to possess a good conscience! In spite of rats, cold,
spiders, and beetles, the great Tartarin found in the horror of that
state-prison, haunted by the shades of martyrs, the same solid and
sonorous sleep, mouth open, fists closed, which came to him, between
the abysses and heaven, in the hut of the Alpine Club. He fancied he was
dreaming when he heard his jailer say in the morning:--

“Get up; the prefect of the district is here... He has come to examine
you...” Adding, with a certain respect, “To bring the prefect out in
this way... why, you must be a famous scoundrel.”

Scoundrel! no--but you may look like one, after spending the night in a
damp and dusty dungeon without having a chance to make a toilet, however
limited. And when, in the former stable of the castle transformed into a
guardroom with muskets in racks along the walls,--when, I say, Tartarin,
after a reassuring glance at his Alpinists seated between two gendarmes,
appeared before the prefect of the district, he felt his disreputable
appearance in presence of that correct and solemn magistrate with the
carefully trimmed beard, who said to him sternly:--

“You call yourself Manilof, do you not?.. Russian subject... incendiary
at St. Petersburg, refugee and murderer in Switzerland.”

“Never in my life... It is all a mistake, an error...”

“Silence, or I ‘ll gag you...” interrupted the captain.

The immaculate prefect continued: “To put an end to your denials... Do
you know this rope?”

His rope! _coquin de sort!_ His rope, woven with iron, made at Avignon.
He lowered his head, to the stupefaction of the delegates, and said: “I
know it.”

“With this rope a man has been hung in the Canton of Unterwald...”

Tartarin, with a shudder, swore that he had nothing to do with it.

“We shall see!”

The Italian tenor was now introduced,--in other words, the police spy
whom the Nihilists had hung to the branch of an oak-tree on the Brünig,
but whose life was miraculously saved by wood-choppers.

The spy looked at Tartarin. “That is not the man,” he said; then at the
delegates, “Nor they, either... A mistake has been made.”

The prefect, furious, turned to Tartarin. “Then, what are you doing
here?” he asked.

“That is what I ask myself, _vé!_..” replied the president, with the
aplomb of innocence.

After a short explanation the Alpinists of Tarascon, restored to
liberty, departed from the Castle of Chillon, where none have ever felt
its oppressive and romantic melancholy more than they. They stopped at
the Pension Müller to get their luggage and banner, and to pay for the
breakfast of the day before which they had not had time to eat; then
they started for Geneva by the train. It rained. Through the streaming
windows they read the names of stations of aristocratic villeggiatura:
Clarens, Vevey, Lausanne; red chalets, little gardens of rare shrubs
passed them under a misty veil, the branches of the trees, the turrets
on the roofs, the galleries of the hotels all dripping.

Installed in one corner of a long railway carriage, on two seats facing
each other, the Alpinists had a downcast and discomfited appearance.
Bravida, very sour, complained of aches, and repeatedly asked Tartarin
with savage irony: “Eh _bé!_you’ve seen it now, that dungeon of
Bonnivard’s that you were so set on seeing... I think you have seen it,
_qué?_” Excourbaniès, voiceless for the first time in his life, gazed
piteously at the lake which escorted them the whole way: “Water! more
water, _Boudiou!_.. after this, I ‘ll never in my life take another
bath.”

Stupefied by a terror which still lasts, Pascalon, the banner between
his legs, sat back in his seat, looking to right and left like a hare
fearful of being caught again... And Tartarin?.. Oh! he, ever dignified
and calm, he was diverting himself by reading the Southern newspapers, a
package of which had been sent to the Pension Müller, all of them having
reproduced from the _Forum_ the account of his ascension, the same he
had himself dictated, but enlarged, magnified, and embellished with
ineffable laudations. Suddenly the hero gave a cry, a formidable cry,
which resounded to the end of the carriage. All the travellers sat up
excitedly, expecting an accident. It was simply an item in the _Forum_,
which Tartarin now read to his Alpinists:--

“Listen to this: ‘Rumour has it that V. P. C. A. Costecalde, though
scarcely recovered from the jaundice which kept him in bed for some
days, is about to start for the ascension of Mont Blanc; to climb higher
than Tartarin!..’ Oh! the villain... He wants to ruin the effect of my
Jung-frau... Well, well! wait a bit; I ‘ll blow you out of water, you
and your mountain... Chamounix is only a few hours from Geneva; I’ll do
Mont Blanc before him! Will you come, my children?”

Bravida protested. _Outre!_ he had had enough of adventures.

“Enough and more than enough...” howled Excourbaniès, in his almost
extinct voice.

“And you, Pascalon?” asked Tartarin, gently.

The pupil dared not raise his eyes:--

“Ma-a-aster...” He, too, abandoned him!

“Very good,” said the hero, solemnly and angrily. “I will go alone; all
the honour will be mine... _Zou!_ give me back the banner...”



XII.

     Hôtel Baltet at Chamonix. “I smell garlic!” The use of rope
     in Alpine climbing. “Shake hands.” A pupil of Schopenhauer.
     At the hut on the Grands-Mulets. “Tartarin, I must speak to
     you.”

Nine o’clock was ringing from the belfry at Chamonix of a cold night
shivering with the north wind and rain; the black streets, the darkened
houses (except, here and there, the façades and courtyards of hotels
where the gas was still burning) made the surroundings still more gloomy
under the vague reflection of the snow of the mountains, white as a
planet on the night of the sky.

At the Hôtel Baltet, one of the best and most frequented inns of this
Alpine village, the numerous travellers and boarders had disappeared one
by one, weary with the excursions of the day, until no one was left in
the grand salon but one English traveller playing silently at backgammon
with his wife, his innumerable daughters, in brown-holland aprons with
bibs, engaged in copying notices of an approaching evangelical service,
and a young Swede sitting before the fireplace, in which was a good fire
of blazing logs. The latter was pale, hollow-cheeked, and gazed at the
flame with a gloomy air as he drank his grog of kirsch and seltzer.
From time to time some belated traveller crossed the salon, with soaked
gaiters and streaming mackintosh, looked at the great barometer hanging
to the wall, tapped it, consulted the mercury as to the weather of the
following day, and went off to bed in consternation. Not a word;
no other manifestations of life than the crackling of the fire, the
pattering on the panes, and the angry roll of the Arve under the arches
of its wooden bridge, a few yards distant from the hotel.

Suddenly the door of the salon opened, a porter in a silver-laced coat
came in, carrying valises and rugs, with four shivering Alpinists behind
him, dazzled by the sudden change from icy darkness into warmth and
light.

“_Boudiou!_ what weather!..”

“Something to eat, _zou!_”

“Warm the beds, _que!_”

They all talked at once from the depths of their mufflers and ear-pads,
and it was hard to know which to obey, when a short stout man, whom the
others called “_présidain_” enforced silence by shouting more loudly
than they.

“In the first place, give me the visitors’ book,” he ordered. Turning it
over with a numbed hand, he read aloud the names of all who had been at
the hotel for the last week: “‘Doctor Schwanthaler and madame.’ Again!..
‘Astier-Réhu of the French Academy... ‘“ He deciphered thus two or three
pages, turning pale when he thought he saw the name he was in search
of. Then, at the end, flinging the book on the table with a laugh of
triumph, the squat man made a boyish gambol quite extraordinary in one
of his bulky shape: “He is not here, _vé!_ he has n’t come... And yet
he must have stopped here if he had... Done for! Coste-calde...
lagadigadeou!.. quick! to our suppers, children!.. “And the worthy
Tartarin, having bowed to the ladies, marched to the dining-room,
followed by the famished and tumultuous delegation.

Ah, yes! the delegation, all of them, even Bravida himself... Is it
possible? come now!.. But--just think what would be said of them down
there in Tarascon, if they returned without Tartarin? They each felt
this. And, at the moment of separation in the station at Geneva, the
buffet witnessed a pathetic scene of tears, embraces, heartrending
adieus to the banner; as the result of which adieus the whole company
piled itself into the landau which Tartarin had chartered to take him to
Chamonix. A glorious route, which they did with their eyes shut, wrapped
in their rugs and filling the carriage with sonorous snores, unmindful
of the wonderful landscape, which, from Sallanches, was unrolling before
them in a mist of blue rain: ravines, forests, foaming waterfalls,
with the crest of Mont Blanc above the clouds, visible or vanishing,
according to the lay of the land in the valley they were crossing. Tired
of that sort of natural beauty, our Tarasconese friends thought only
of making up for the wretched night they had spent behind the bolts
of Chillon. And even now, at the farther end of the long, deserted
dining-room of the Hôtel Baltet, when served with the warmed-over soup
and _entrées_ of the _table d’hôte_, they ate voraciously, without
saying a word, eager only to get to bed. All of a sudden, Excourbaniès,
who was swallowing his food like a somnambulist, came out of his plate,
and sniffing the air about him, remarked: “I smell garlic!..”

“True, I smell it,” said Bravida. And the whole party, revived by this
reminder of home, these fumes of the national dishes, which Tartarin,
at least, had not inhaled for so long, turned round in their chairs
with gluttonous anxiety. The odour came from the other end of the
dining-room, from a little room where some one was supping apart, a
personage of importance, no doubt, for the white cap of the head cook
was constantly appearing at the wicket that opened into the kitchen as
he passed to the girl in waiting certain little covered dishes which she
conveyed to the inner apartment.

“Some one from the South, that’s certain,” murmured the gentle Pascalon;
and the president, becoming ghastly at the idea of Costecalde, said
commandingly:--

“Go and see, Spiridion... and bring us word who it is...”

A loud roar of laughter came from that little apartment as soon as the
brave “gong” entered it, at the order of his chief; and he presently
returned, leading by the hand a tall devil with a big nose, a
mischievous eye, and a napkin under his chin, like the gastronomic
horse.

“_Vi!_ Bompard...”

“_Té!_ the Impostor...”

“_Hé!_ Gonzague... How are you?”

“_Différemment_, messieurs: your most obedient...” said the courier,
shaking hands with all, and sitting down at the table of the Tarasconese
to share with them a dish of mushrooms with garlic prepared by _mère_
Baltet, who, together with her husband had a horror of the cooking for
the _table d’hôte_.

Was it the national concoction, or the joy of meeting a compatriot, that
delightful Bompard with his inexhaustible imagination? Certain it
is that weariness and the desire to sleep took wings, champagne was
uncorked, and, with moustachios all messy with froth, they laughed and
shouted and gesticulated, clasping one another round the body effusively
happy.

“I’ll not leave you now, _vé!_” said Bompard. “My Peruvians have gone...
I am free...”

“Free!.. Then to-morrow you and I will ascend Mont Blanc.”

“Ah! you do Mont Blanc to-morrow?” said Bompard, without enthusiasm.

“Yes, I knock out Costecalde... When he gets here, _uit!_.. No Mont Blanc
for him... You’ll go, _qué_, Gonzague?”

“I ‘ll go... I ‘ll go... that is, if the weather permits... The fact is,
that the mountain is not always suitable at this season.”

“Ah! _vaï_! not suitable indeed!..” exclaimed Tartarin, crinkling up his
eyes by a meaning laugh which Bompard seemed not to understand.

“Let us go into the salon for our coffee... We ‘ll consult _père_
Baltet. He knows all about it, he ‘s an old guide who has made the
ascension twenty-seven times.”

All the delegates cried out: “Twenty-seven times! _Boufre!_”

“Bompard always exaggerates,” said the P. C. A. severely, but not
without a touch of envy.

In the salon they found the daughters of the minister still bending
over their notices, while the father and mother were asleep at their
backgammon, and the tall Swede was stirring his seltzer grog with
the same disheartened gesture. But the invasion of the Tarasconese
Alpinists, warmed by champagne, caused, as may well be supposed, some
distraction of mind to the young conventiclers. Never had those charming
young persons seen coffee taken with such rollings of the eyes and
pantomimic action.

“Sugar, Tartarin?”

“Of course not, commander... You know very well... Since Africa!..”

“True; excuse me... _Té!_ here comes M. Baltet.”

“Sit down there, _qué_. Monsieur Baltet.”

“Vive Monsieur Baltet!.. Ha! ha! _fen dé brut_.”

Surrounded, captured by all these men whom he had never seen before in
his life, _père_ Baltet smiled with a tranquil air. A robust Savoyard,
tall and broad, with a round back and slow walk, a heavy face,
close-shaven, enlivened by two shrewd eyes, that were still young,
contrasting oddly with his baldness, caused by chills at dawn upon the
mountain.

“These gentlemen wish to ascend Mont Blanc?” he said, gauging the
Tarasconese Alpinists with a glance both humble and sarcastic. Tartarin
was about to reply, but Bompard forestalled him:-- “Isn’t the season
too far advanced?” “Why, no,” replied the former guide. “Here’s a
Swedish gentleman who goes up to-morrow, and I am expecting at the end
of this week two American gentlemen to make the ascent; and one of them
is blind.”

“I know. I met them on the Guggi.” “Ah! monsieur has been upon the
Guggi?” “Yes, a week ago, in doing the Jungfrau.” Here a quiver among
the evangelical conventiclers; all pens stopped, and heads were raised
in the direction of Tartarin, who, to the eyes of these English
maidens, resolute climbers, expert in all sports, acquired considerable
authority. He had gone up the Jungfrau!

“A fine thing!” said _père_ Baltet, considering the P. C. A. with some
astonishment; while Pascalon, intimidated by the ladies and blushing and
stuttering, murmured softly:--

“Ma-a-aster, tell them the... the... thing... crevasse.”

The president smiled. “Child!..” he said: but, all the same, he began
the tale of his fall; first with a careless, indifferent air, and then
with startled motions, jigglings at the end of the rope over the
abyss, hands outstretched and appealing. The young ladies quivered, and
devoured him with those cold English eyes, those eyes that open round.

In the silence that followed, rose the voice of Bompard:--

“On Chimborazo we never roped one another to cross crevasses.”

The delegates looked at one another. As a tarasconade that remark
surpassed them all.

“Oh, _that_ Bompard, _pas mouain_...” murmured Pascalon, with ingenuous
admiration.

But père Baltet, taking Chimborazo seriously, protested against the
practice of not roping. According to him, no ascension over ice was
possible without a rope, a good rope of Manila hemp; then, if one
slipped, the others could hold him.

“Unless the rope breaks, Monsieur Baltet,” said Tartarin, remembering
the catastrophe on the Matterhorn.

But the landlord, weighing his words, replied:

“The rope did not break on the Matterhorn... the rear guide cut it with
a blow of his axe...”

As Tartarin expressed indignation,--

“Beg pardon, monsieur, but the guide had a right to do it... He saw
the impossibility of holding back those who had fallen, and he detached
himself from them to save his life, that of his son, and of the
traveller they were accompanying... Without his action seven persons
would have lost their lives instead of four.”

Then a discussion began. Tartarin thought that in letting yourself be
roped in file you were bound in honour to live and die together; and
growing excited, especially in presence of ladies, he backed his opinion
by facts and by persons present: “Tomorrow, _té!_ to-morrow, in roping
myself to Bom-pard, it is not a simple precaution that I shall take,
it is an oath before God and man to be one with my companion and to die
sooner than return without him, _coquin de sort!_”

“I accept the oath for myself, as for you, Tar-tarin...” cried Bompard
from the other side of the round table.

Exciting moment!

The minister, electrified, rose, came to the hero and inflicted upon him
a pump-handle exercise of the hand that was truly English. His wife did
likewise, then all the young ladies continued the _shake hands_ with
enough vigour to have brought water to the fifth floor of the house. The
delegates, I ought to mention, were less enthusiastic.

“Eh, _bé!_ as for me,” said Bravida, “I am of M. Baltet’s opinion. In
matters of this kind, each man should look to his own skin, _pardi!_ and
I understand that cut of the axe perfectly.”

“You amaze me, Placide,” said Tartarin, severely; adding in a low voice:
“Behave yourself! England is watching us.”

The old captain, who certainly had kept a root of bitterness in
his heart ever since the excursion to Chillon, made a gesture that
signified: “I don’t care _that_ for England...” and might perhaps have
drawn upon himself a sharp rebuke from the president, irritated at so
much cynicism, but at this moment the young man with the heart-broken
look, filled to the full with grog and melancholy, brought his extremely
bad French into the conversation. He thought, he said, that the
guide was right to cut the rope: to deliver from existence those four
unfortunate men, still young, condemned to live for many years longer;
to send them, by a mere gesture, to peace, to nothingness,--what a noble
and generous action!

Tartarin exclaimed against it:--

“Pooh! young man, at your age, to talk of life with such aversion, such
anger... What has life done to you?”

“Nothing; it bores me.” He had studied philosophy at Christiania, and
since then, won to the ideas of Schopenhauer and Hartmann, he had found
existence dreary, inept, chaotic. On the verge of suicide he shut his
books, at the entreaty of his parents, and started to travel, striking
everywhere against the same distress, the gloomy wretchedness of this
life. Tartarin and his friends, he said, seemed to him the only beings
content to live that he had ever met with.

The worthy P. C. A. began to laugh. “It is all race, young man.
Everybody feels like that in Tarascon. That’s the land of the good God.
From morning till night we laugh and sing, and the rest of the time we
dance the farandole... like this... _té!_” So saying, he cut a double
shuffle with the grace and lightness of a big cockchafer trying its
wings.

But the delegates had not the steel nerves nor the indefatigable spirit
of their chief. Excour-baniès growled out: “He ‘ll keep us here till
midnight.” But Bravida jumped up, furious. “Let us go to bed, _vé!_
I can’t stand my sciatica...” Tartarin consented, remembering the
ascension on the morrow; and the Tarasconese, candlesticks in hand, went
up the broad staircase of granite that led to the chambers, while Baltet
went to see about provisions and hire the mules and guides.

“_Té!_ it is snowing...”

Those were the first words of the worthy Tartarin when he woke in the
morning and saw his windows covered with frost and his bedroom inundated
with white reflections. But when he hooked his little mirror as usual
to the window-fastening, he understood his mistake, and saw that Mont
Blanc, sparkling before him in the splendid sunshine, was the cause of
that light. He opened his window to the breeze of the glacier, keen and
refreshing, bringing with it the sound of the cattle-bells as the
herds followed the long, lowing sound of the shepherd’s horn. Something
fortifying, pastoral, filled the atmosphere such as he had never before
breathed in Switzerland.

Below, an assemblage of guides and porters awaited him. The Swede was
already mounted upon his mule, and among the spectators, who formed a
circle, was the minister’s family, all those active young ladies, their
hair in early morning style, who had come for another “shake hands” with
the hero who had haunted their dreams.

“Splendid weather! make haste!..” cried the landlord, whose skull was
gleaming in the sunshine like a pebble. But though Tartarin himself
might hasten, it was not so easy a matter to rouse from sleep his dear
Alpinists, who intended to accompany him as far as the Pierre-Pointue,
where the mule-path ends. Neither prayers nor arguments could persuade
the Commander to get out of bed. With his cotton nightcap over his
ears and his face to the wall, he contented himself with replying to
Tartarin’s objurgations by a cynical Tarasconese proverb: “Whoso has the
credit of getting up early may sleep until midday...” As for Bom-pard,
he kept repeating, the whole time, “Ah, _vaï_, Mont Blanc... what a
humbug...” Nor did they rise until the P. C. A. had issued a formal
order.

At last, however, the caravan started, and passed through the little
streets in very imposing array: Pascalon on the leading mule, banner
unfurled; and last in file, grave as a mandarin amid the guides
and porters on either side his mule, came the worthy Tartarin, more
stupendously Alpinist than ever, wearing a pair of new spectacles
with smoked and convex glasses, and his famous rope made at Avignon,
recovered--we know at what cost.

Very much looked at, almost as much as the banner, he was jubilant
under his dignified mask, enjoyed the picturesqueness of these Savoyard
village streets, so different from the too neat, too varnished Swiss
village, looking like a new toy; he enjoyed the contrast of these hovels
scarcely rising above the ground, where the stable fills the largest
space, with the grand and sumptuous hotels five storeys high, the
glittering signs of which were as much out of keeping with the hovels
as the gold-laced cap of the porter and the pumps and black coats of the
waiters with the Savoyard head-gear, the fustian jackets, the felt hats
of the charcoal-burners with their broad wings.

On the square were landaus with the horses taken out, manure-carts side
by side with travelling-carriages, and a troop of pigs idling in the sun
before the post-office, from which issued an Englishman in a white linen
cap, with a package of letters and a copy of _The Times_, which he read
as he walked along, before he opened his correspondence. The cavalcade
of the Tarasconese passed all this, accompanied by the scuffling of
mules, the war-cry of Excourbaniès (to whom the sun had restored the use
of his gong), the pastoral chimes on the neighbouring slopes, and the
dash of the river, gushing from the glacier in a torrent all white and
sparkling, as if it bore upon its breast both sun and snow.

On leaving the village Bompard rode his mule beside that of the
president, and said to the latter; rolling his eyes in a most
extraordinary manner: “Tartarin, I _must_ speak to you...”

“Presently...” said the P. C. A., then engaged in a philosophical
discussion with the young Swede, whose black pessimism he was
endeavouring to correct by the marvellous spectacle around them, those
pastures with great zones of light and shade, those forests of sombre
green crested with the whiteness of the dazzling _névés_.

After two attempts to speak to the president, Bompard was forced to give
it up. The Arve having been crossed by a little bridge, the caravan
now entered one of those narrow, zigzag roads among the firs where
the mules, one by one, follow with their fantastic sabots all the
sinuosities of the ravines, and our tourists had their attention fully
occupied in keeping their equilibrium by the help of many an “_Outre!..
Boufre!_.. gently, gently!..” with which they guided their beasts.

At the chalet of the Pierre-Pointue, where Pas-calon and Excourbaniès
were to wait the return of the excursionists, Tartarin, much occupied in
ordering breakfast and in looking after porters and guides, still paid
no attention to Bompard’s whisperings. But--singular fact, which was not
remarked until later--in spite of the fine weather, the good wine,
and that purified atmosphere of ten thousand feet above sea-level,
the breakfast was melancholy. While they heard the guides laughing and
making merry apart, the table of the Taras-conese was silent except for
the rattle of glasses and the clatter of the heavy plates and covers on
the white wood. Was it the presence of that morose Swede, or the visible
uneasiness of Bompard, or some presentiment? At any rate, the party set
forth, sad as a battalion without its band, towards the glacier of the
Bossons, where the true ascent begins.

On setting foot upon the ice, Tartarin could not help smiling at the
recollection of the Guggi and his perfected crampons. What a difference
between the neophyte he then was and the first-class Alpinist he felt he
had become! Steady on his heavy boots, which the porter of the hotel had
ironed that very morning with four stout nails, expert in wielding
his ice-axe, he scarcely needed the hand of a guide, and then less to
support him than to show him the way. The smoked glasses moderated the
reflections of the glacier, which a recent avalanche had powdered with
fresh snow, and through which little spaces of a glaucous green
showed themselves here and there, slippery and treacherous. Very calm,
confident through experience that there was not the slightest danger,
Tartarin walked along the verge of the crevasses with their smooth,
iridescent sides stretching downward indefinitely, and made his way
among the _séracs_, solely intent on keeping up with the Swedish
student, an intrepid walker, whose long gaiters with their silver
buckles marched, thin and lank, beside his alpenstock, which looked like
a third leg. Their philosophical discussion continuing, in spite of the
difficulties of the way, a good stout voice, familiar and panting, could
be heard in the frozen space, sonorous as the swell of a river: “You
know me, Otto...”

Bompard all this time was undergoing misadventures. Firmly convinced, up
to that very morning, that Tartarin would never go to the length of his
vaunting, and would no more ascend Mont Blanc than he had the Jungfrau,
the luckless courier had dressed himself as usual, without nailing his
boots, or even utilizing his famous invention for shoeing the feet of
soldiers, and without so much as his alpenstock, the mountaineers of the
Chimborazo never using them. Armed only with a little switch, quite in
keeping with the blue ribbon of his hat and his ulster, this approach to
the glacier terrified him, for, in spite of his tales, it is, of
course, well understood that the Impostor had never in his life made an
ascension. He was somewhat reassured, however, on seeing from the top of
the moraine with what facility Tartarin made his way on the ice; and he
resolved to follow him as far as the hut on the Grands-Mulets, where it
was intended to pass the night. He did not get there without difficulty.
His first step laid him flat on his back; at the second he fell forward
on his hands and knees: “No, thank you, I did it on purpose,” he said to
the guides who endeavoured to pick him up. “American fashion, _vé!_.. as
they do on the Chimborazo.” That position seeming to be convenient,
he kept it, creeping on four paws, his hat pushed back, and his ulster
sweeping the ice like the pelt of a gray bear; very calm, withal, and
relating to those about him that in the Cordilleras of the Andes he had
scaled a mountain thirty thousand feet high. He did not say how much
time it took him, but it must have been long, judging by this stage to
the Grands-Mulets, where he arrived an hour after Tartarin, a disgusting
mass of muddy snow, with frozen hands in his knitted gloves.

In comparison with the hut on the Guggi, that which the commune of
Chamonix has built on the Grands-Mulets is really comfortable. When
Bompard entered the kitchen, where a grand wood-fire was blazing, he
found Tartarin and the Swedish student drying their boots, while the
hut-keeper, a shrivelled old fellow with long white hair that fell in
meshes, exhibited the treasures of his little museum.

Of evil augury, this museum is a reminder of all the catastrophes known
to have taken place on the Mont Blanc for the forty years that the
old man had kept the inn, and as he took them from their show-case, he
related the lamentable origin of each of them... This piece of cloth and
those waistcoat buttons were the memorial of a Russian _savant_, hurled
by a hurricane upon the Brenva glacier... These jaw teeth were all that
remained of one of the guides of a famous caravan of eleven travellers
and porters who disappeared forever in a _tourmente_ of snow... In the
fading light and the pale reflection of the _névés_ against the window,
the production of these mortuary relics, these monotonous recitals, had
something very poignant about them, and all the more because the old man
softened his quavering voice at pathetic items, and even shed tears on
displaying a scrap of green veil worn by an English lady rolled down by
an avalanche in 1827.

In vain Tartarin reassured himself by dates, convinced that in those
early days the Company had not yet organized the ascensions without
danger; this Savoyard _vocero_ oppressed his heart, and he went to the
doorway for a moment to breathe.

Night had fallen, engulfing the depths. The Bossons stood out, livid,
and very close; while the Mont Blanc reared its summit, still rosy,
still caressed by the departed sun. The Southerner was recovering his
serenity from this smile of nature when the shadow of Bompard rose
behind him.

“Is that you, Gonzague... As you see, I am getting the good of the
air... He annoyed me, that old fellow, with his stories.”

“Tartarin,” said Bompard, squeezing the arm of the P. C. A. till he
nearly ground it, “I hope that this is enough, and that you are going to
put an end to this ridiculous expedition.”

The great man opened wide a pair of astonished eyes.

“What stuff are you talking to me now?”

Whereupon Bompard made a terrible picture of the thousand deaths that
awaited him; crevasses, avalanches, hurricanes, whirlwinds...

Tartarin interrupted him:--

“Ah! _vaï_, you rogue; and the Company? Isn’t Mont Blanc managed like
the rest?”

“Managed?. the Company?..” said Bompard, bewildered, remembering nothing
whatever of his tarasconade, which Tartarin now repeated to him word for
word--Switzerland a vast Association, lease of the mountains, machinery
of the crevasses; on which the former courier burst out laughing.

“What! you really believed me?.. Why, that was a _galéjade_ a fib...
Among us Taras-conese you ought surely to know what talking means...”

“Then,” asked Tartarin, with much emotion, “the Jungfrau was not_
prepared?_”

“Of course not.”

“And if the rope had broken?..”

“Ah! my poor friend...”

The hero closed his eyes, pale with retrospective terror, and for one
moment he hesitated... This landscape of polar cataclysm, cold, gloomy,
yawning with gulfs... those laments of the old hut-man still weeping
in his ears... _Outre!_ what will they make me do?.. Then, suddenly,
he thought of the _folk_ at Tarascon, of the banner to be unfurled
“up there,” and he said to himself that with good guides and a trusty
companion like Bompard... He had done the Jungfrau... why should n’t he
do Mont Blanc?

Laying his large hand on the shoulder of his friend, he began in a
virile voice:--

“Listen to me, Gonzague...”



XIII.

     The catastrophe.

On a dark, dark night, moonless, starless, skyless, on the trembling
whiteness of a vast ledge of snow, slowly a long rope unrolled itself,
to which were attached in file certain timorous and very small shades,
preceded, at the distance of a hundred feet, by a lantern casting a red
light along the way. Blows of an ice-axe ringing on the hard snow, the
roll of the ice blocks thus detached, alone broke the silence of the
_névé_ on which the steps of the caravan made no sound. From minute to
minute, a cry, a smothered groan, the fall of a body on the ice, and
then immediately a strong voice sounding from the end of the rope: “Go
gently, Gonzague, and don’t fall.” For poor Bompard had made up his mind
to follow his friend Tartarin to the summit of Mont Blanc. Since two in
the morning--it was now four by the president’s repeater--the hapless
courier had groped along, a galley slave on the chain, dragged, pushed,
vacillating, balking, compelled to restrain the varied exclamations
extorted from him by his mishaps, for an avalanche was on the watch, and
the slightest concussion, a mere vibration of the crystalline air, might
send down its masses of snow and ice. To suffer in silence! what torture
to a native of Tarascon!

But the caravan halted. Tartarin asked why. A discussion in low voice
was heard; animated whisperings: “It is your companion who won’t come
on,” said the Swedish student. The order of march was broken; the human
chaplet returned upon itself, and they found themselves all at the edge
of a vast crevasse, called by the mountaineers a _roture_. Preceding
ones they had crossed by means of a ladder, over which they crawled
on their hands and knees; here the crevasse was much wider and the
ice-cliff rose on the other side to a height of eighty or a hundred
feet. It was necessary to descend to the bottom of the gully, which
grew smaller as it went down, by means of steps cut in the ice, and
to reascend in the same way on the other side. But Bompard obstinately
refused to do so.

Leaning over the abyss, which the shadows represented as bottomless, he
watched through the damp vapour the movements of the little lantern by
which the guides below were preparing the way. Tartarin, none too easy
himself, warmed his own courage by exhorting his friend: “Come now,
Gonzague, _zou!_” and then in a lower voice coaxed him to honour,
invoked the banner, Tarascon, the Club...

“Ah! _vaï_, the Club indeed!.. I don’t belong to it,” replied the other,
cynically.

Then Tartarin explained to him where to set his feet, and assured him
that nothing was easier.

“For you, perhaps, but not for me...” “But you said you had a habit of
it...” “_Bé!_ yes! habit, of course... which habit? I have so many...
habit of smoking, sleeping...” “And lying, especially,” interrupted the
president.

“Exaggerating--come now!” said Bompard, not the least in the world
annoyed.

However, after much hesitation, the threat of leaving him there all
alone decided him to go slowly, deliberately, down that terrible
miller’s ladder... The going up was more difficult, for the other face
was nearly perpendicular, smooth as marble, and higher than King Rene’s
tower at Tarascon. From below, the winking light of the guides going up,
looked like a glow-worm on the march. He was forced to follow, however,
for the snow beneath his feet was not solid, and gurgling sounds of
circulating water heard round a fissure told of more than could be seen
at the foot of that wall of ice, of depths that were sending upward the
chilling breath of subterranean abysses.

“Go gently, Gonzague, for fear of falling...” That phrase, which
Tartarin uttered with tender intonations, almost supplicating,
borrowed a solemn signification from the respective positions of the
ascensionists, clinging with feet and hands one above the other to the
wall, bound by the rope and the similarity of their movements, so that
the fall or the awkwardness of one put all in danger. And what danger!
_coquin de sort!_ It sufficed to hear fragments of the ice-wall bounding
and dashing downward with the echo of their fall to imagine the open
jaws of the monster watching there below to snap you up at the least
false step.

But what is this?.. Lo, the tall Swede, next above Tartarin, has stopped
and touches with his iron heels the cap of the P. C. A. In vain the
guides called: “Forward!..” And the president: “Go on, young man!..”
 He did not stir. Stretched at full length, clinging to the ice with
careless hand, the Swede leaned down, the glimmering dawn touching his
scanty beard and giving light to the singular expression of his dilated
eyes, while he made a sign to Tartarin:--

“What a fall, hey? if one let go...”

“_Outre!_ I should say so... you would drag us all down... Go on!”

The other remained motionless.

“A fine chance to be done with life, to return into chaos through the
bowels of the earth, and roll from fissure to fissure like that bit
of ice which I kick with my foot...” And he leaned over frightfully
to watch the fragment bounding downward and echoing endlessly in the
blackness.

“Take care!..” cried Tartarin, livid with terror. Then, desperately
clinging to the oozing wall, he resumed, with hot ardour, his argument
of the night before in favour of existence. “There’s _good_ in it...
What the deuce!.. At your age, a fine young fellow like you... Don’t you
believe in love, _qué!_”

No, the Swede did not believe in it. Ideal love is a poet’s lie; the
other, only a need he had never felt...

“_Bé!_ yes! _bé!_ yes!.. It is true poets lie, they always say more than
there is; but for all that, she is nice, the _femellan_--that’s what
they call women in our parts. Besides, there’s children, pretty little
darlings that look like us.”

“Children! a source of grief. Ever since she had them my mother has done
nothing but weep.”

“Listen, Otto, you know me, my good friend...”

And with all the valorous ardour of his soul Tartarin exhausted himself
to revive and rub to life at that distance this victim of Schopenhauer
and of Hartmann, two rascals he’d like to catch at the corner of a
wood, _coquin de sort!_ and make them pay for all the harm they had done
to youth...

Represent to yourselves during this discussion the high wall of
freezing, glaucous, streaming ice touched by a pallid ray of light,
and that string of human beings glued to it in echelon, with ill-omened
rumblings rising from the yawning depth, together with the curses of the
guides and their threats to detach and abandon the travellers. Tartarin,
seeing that no argument could convince the madman or clear off his
vertigo of death, suggested to him the idea of throwing himself from
the highest peak of the Mont Blanc... That indeed! _that_ would be
worth doing, up there! A fine end among the elements... But here, at the
bottom of a cave... Ah! _vaï_, what a blunder!.. And he put such tone
into his words, brusque and yet persuasive, such conviction, that the
Swede allowed himself to be conquered, and there they were, at last, one
by one, at the top of that terrible _roture_.

They were now unroped, and a halt was called for a bite and sup. It
was daylight; a cold wan light among a circle of peaks and shafts,
overtopped by the Mont Blanc, still thousands of feet above them. The
guides were apart, gesticulating and consulting, with many shakings of
the head. Seated on the white ground, heavy and huddled up, their round
backs in their brown jackets, they looked like marmots getting ready to
hibernate. Bompard and Tartarin, uneasy, shocked, left the young Swede
to eat alone, and came up to the guides just as their leader was saying
with a grave air:--

“He is smoking his pipe; there’s no denying it.”

“Who is smoking his pipe?” asked Tartarin.

“Mont Blanc, monsieur; look there...”

And the guide pointed to the extreme top of the highest peak, where,
like a plume, a white vapour floated toward Italy.

“_Et autremain_, my good friend, when the Mont Blanc smokes his pipe,
what does that mean?”

“It means, monsieur, that there is a terrible wind on the summit, and
a snow-storm which will be down upon us before long. And I tell you,
that’s dangerous.”

“Let us go back,” said Bompard, turning green; and Tartarin added:--

“Yes, yes, certainly; no false vanity, of course.”

But here the Swedish student interfered. He had paid his money to be
taken to the top of Mont Blanc, and nothing should prevent his getting
there. He would go alone, if no one would accompany him. “Cowards!
cowards!” he added, turning to the guides; and he uttered the insult in
the same ghostly voice with which he had roused himself just before to
suicide.

“You shall see if we are cowards... Fasten to the rope and forward!”
 cried the head guide. This time, it was Bompard who protested
energetically. He had had enough, and he wanted to be taken back.
Tartarin supported him vigorously.

“You see very well that that young man is insane...” he said, pointing
to the Swede, who had already started with great strides through the
heavy snow-flakes which the wind was beginning to whirl on all sides.
But nothing could stop the men who had just been called cowards. The
marmots were now wide-awake and heroic. Tartarin could not even obtain
a conductor to take him back with Bompard to the Grands-Mulets. Besides,
the way was very easy; three hours’ march, counting a detour of twenty
minutes to get round that _roture_, if they were afraid to go through it
alone.

“_Outre!_ yes, we are afraid of it...” said Bompard, without the
slightest shame; and the two parties separated.

Bompard and the P. C. A. were now alone. They advanced with caution on
the snowy desert, fastened to a rope: Tartarin first, feeling his way
gravely with his ice-axe; filled with a sense of responsibility and
finding relief in it.

“Courage! keep cool!.. We shall get out of it all right,” he called to
Bompard repeatedly. It is thus that an officer in battle, seeking to
drive away his own fear, brandishes his sword and shouts to his men:
“Forward! _s. n. de D_!.. all balls don’t kill.”

At last, here they were at the end of that horrible crevasse. From there
to the hut there were no great obstacles; but the wind blew, and blinded
them with snowy whirlwinds. Further advance was impossible for fear of
losing their way.

“Let us stop here for a moment,” said Tartarin. A gigantic _sérac_ of
ice offered them a hollow at its base. Into it they crept, spreading
down the india-rubber rug of the president and opening a flask of rum,
the sole article of provision left them by the guides. A little warmth
and comfort followed thereon, while the blows of the ice-axes, getting
fainter and fainter up the height, told them of the progress of the
expedition. They echoed in the heart of the P. C. A. like a pang of
regret for not having done the Mont Blanc to the summit.

“Who ‘ll know it?” returned Bompard, cynically. “The porters kept the
banner, and Chamonix will believe it is you.”

“You are right,” cried Tartarin, in a tone of conviction; “the honour of
Tarascon is safe...”

But the elements grew furious, the north-wind a hurricane, the snow flew
in volumes. Both were silent, haunted by sinister ideas; they remembered
those ill-omened relics in the glass case of the old inn-keeper, his
laments, the legend of that American tourist found petrified with cold
and hunger, holding in his stiffened hand a note-book, in which his
agonies were written down even to the last convulsion, which made the
pencil slip and the signature uneven.

“Have you a note-book, Gonzague?”

And the other, comprehending without further explanation:--

“Ha! _vaï_, a note-book!.. If you think I am going to let myself die
like that American!.. Quick, let’s get on! come out of this.”

“Impossible... At the first step we should be blown like straws and
pitched into some abyss.”

“Well then, we had better shout; the Grands-Mulets is not far off...”
 And Bompard, on his knees, in the attitude of a cow at pasture, lowing,
roared out, “Help! help! help!..”

“To arms!” shouted Tartarin, in his most sonorous chest voice, which the
grotto repercussioned in thunder.

Bompard seized his arm: “Horrors! the _sérac!_”.. Positively the whole
block was trembling; another shout and that mass of accumulated icicles
would be down upon their heads. They stopped, rigid, motionless, wrapped
in a horrid silence, presently broken by a distant rolling sound, coming
nearer, increasing, spreading to the horizon, and dying at last far
down, from gulf to gulf.

“Poor souls!” murmured Tartarin, thinking of the Swede and his guides
caught, no doubt, and swept away by the avalanche.

Bompard shook his head: “We are scarcely better off than they,” he said.

And truly, their situation was alarming; but they did not dare to stir
from their icy grotto, nor to risk even their heads outside in the
squall.

To complete the oppression of their hearts, from the depths of the
valley rose the howling of a dog, baying at death. Suddenly Tartarin,
with swollen eyes, his lips quivering, grasped the hands of his
companion, and looking at him gently, said:--

“Forgive me, Gonzague, yes, yes, forgive me. I was rough to you just
now; I treated you as a liar...”

“Ah! _vaï_. What harm did that do me?”

“I had less right than any man to do so, for I have lied a great deal
myself, and at this supreme moment I feel the need to open my heart, to
free my bosom, to publicly confess my imposture...”

“Imposture, you?”

“Listen to me, my friend... In the first place, I never killed a lion.”

“I am not surprised at that,” said Bompard, composedly. “But why do you
worry yourself for such a trifle?.. It is our sun that does it... we are
born to lies... _Vé!_ look at me... Did I ever tell the truth since I
came into the world? As soon as I open my mouth my South gets up into my
head like a fit. The people I talk about I never knew; the countries,
I ‘ve never set foot in them; and all that makes such a tissue of
inventions that I can’t unravel it myself any longer.”

“That’s imagination, _péchère!_” sighed Tartarin; “we are liars of
imagination.”

“And such lies never do any harm to any one; whereas a malicious,
envious man, like Coste-calde...”

“Don’t ever speak to me of that wretch,” interrupted the P. C. A.; then,
seized with a sudden attack of wrath, he shouted: “_Coquin de bon
sorti_ it is, all the same, rather vexing...” He stopped, at a terrified
gesture from Bompard, “Ah! yes, true... the _sérac_;” and, forced
to lower his tone and mutter his rage, poor Tartarin continued his
imprecations in a whisper, with a comical and amazing dislocation of the
mouth,--“yes, vexing to die in the flower of one’s age through the
fault of a scoundrel who at this very moment is taking his coffee on the
Promenade!..”

But while he thus fulminated, a clear spot began to show itself, little
by little, in the sky. It snowed no more, it blew no more; and blue
dashes tore away the gray of the sky. Quick, quick, _en route_; and once
more fastened to the same rope, Tartarin, who took the lead as before,
turned round, put a finger on his lips, and said:--

“You know, Gonzague, that all we have just been saying is between
ourselves.”

“_Té! pardi_...”

Full of ardour, they started, plunging to their knees in the fresh snow,
which had buried in its immaculate cotton-wool all the traces of the
caravan; consequently Tartarin was forced to consult his compass
every five minutes. But that Taras-conese compass, accustomed to warm
climates, had been numb with cold ever since its arrival in Switzerland.
The needle whirled to all four quarters, agitated, hesitating; therefore
they determined to march straight before them, expecting to see the
black rocks of the Grands-Mulets rise suddenly from the uniform silent
whiteness of the slope, the peaks, the turrets, and _aiguilles_
that surrounded, dazzled, and also terrified them, for who knew what
dangerous crevasses it concealed beneath their feet?

“Keep cool, Gonzague, keep cool!”

“That ‘s just what I can’t do,” responded Bom-pard, in a lamentable
voice. And he moaned: “_Aïe_, my foot!.. _aïe_, my leg!.. we are lost;
never shall we get there...”

They had walked for over two hours when, about the middle of a field of
snow very difficult to climb, Bompard called out, quite terrified:--

“Tartarin, we are going _up!_”

“Eh! _parbleu!_ I know that well enough,” returned the P. C. A., almost
losing his serenity.

“But according to my ideas, we ought to be going down.”

“_Be!_ yes! but how can I help it? Let’s go on to the top, at any rate;
it may go down on the other side.”

It went down certainly--and terribly, by a succession of _névés_ and
glaciers, and quite at the end of this dazzling scene of dangerous
whiteness a little hut was seen upon a rock at a depth which seemed to
them unattainable. It was a haven that they must reach before nightfall,
inasmuch as they had evidently lost the way to the Grands-Mulets, but at
what cost! what efforts! what dangers, perhaps!

“Above all, don’t let go of me, Gonzague, _qué!_..”

“Nor you either, Tartarin.”

They exchanged these requests without seeing each other, being separated
by a ridge behind which Tartarin disappeared, being in advance and
beginning to descend, while the other was going up, slowly and in
terror. They spoke no more, concentrating all their forces, fearful of a
false step, a slip. Suddenly, when Bompard was within three feet of
the crest, he heard a dreadful cry from his companion, and at the same
instant, the rope tightened with a violent, irregular jerk... He tried
to resist, to hold fast himself and save his friend from the abyss. But
the rope was old, no doubt, for it parted, suddenly, under his efforts.

“_Outre!_”

“_Boufre!_”

The two cries crossed each other, awful, heartrending, echoing through
the silence and solitude, then a frightful stillness, the stillness of
death that nothing more could trouble in that waste of eternal snows.

Towards evening a man who vaguely resembled Bompard, a spectre with its
hair on end, muddy, soaked, arrived at the inn of the Grands-Mulets,
where they rubbed him, warmed him, and put him to bed, before he could
utter other words than these--choked with tears, and his hands raised to
heaven: “Tartarin... lost!.. broken rope...” At last, however, they were
able to make out the great misfortune which had happened.

While the old hut-man was lamenting and adding another chapter to the
horrors of the mountain, hoping for fresh ossuary relics for his charnel
glass-case, the Swedish youth and his guides, who had returned from
their expedition, set off in search of the hapless Tartarin with ropes,
ladders, in short a whole life-saving outfit, alas! unavailing...
Bompard, rendered half idiotic, could give no precise indications as
to the drama, nor as to the spot where it happened. They found nothing
except, on the Dôme du Goûter, one piece of rope which was caught in a
cleft of the ice. But that piece of rope, very singular thing! was cut
at both ends, as with some sharp instrument; the Chambéry newspapers
gave a facsimile of it, which proved the fact.

Finally, after eight days of the most conscientious search, and when the
conviction became irresistible that the poor president would never be
found, that he was lost beyond recall, the despairing delegates started
for Tarascon, taking with them the unhappy Bompard, whose shaken brain
was a visible result of the terrible shock.

“Do not talk to me about it,” he replied when questioned as to the
accident, “never speak to me about it again!”

Undoubtedly the White Mountain could reckon one victim the more--and
what a victim!



XIV.

     Epilogue.

A REGION more impressionable than Tarascon was never seen under the
sun of any land. At times, of a fine festal Sunday, all the town out,
tambourines a-going, the Promenade swarming, tumultuous, enamelled
with red and green petticoats, Arlesian neckerchiefs, and, on big
multi-coloured posters, the announcement of wrestling-matches for men
and lads, races of Camargue bulls, etc., it is all-sufficient for some
wag to call out: “Mad dog!” or “Cattle loose!” and everybody runs,
jostles, men and women fright themselves out of their wits, doors are
locked and bolted, shutters clang as with a storm, and behold Tarascon,
deserted, mute, not a cat, not a sound, even the grasshoppers themselves
lying low and attentive.

This was its aspect on a certain morning, which, however, was neither a
fête-day nor a Sunday; the shops closed, houses dead, squares and alleys
seemingly enlarged by silence and solitude. _Vasta silentio_, says
Tacitus, describing Rome at the funeral of Germanicus; and that citation
of his mourning Rome applies all the better to Tarascon, because a
funeral service for the soul of Tartarin was being said at this moment
in the cathedral, where the population _en masse_ wept for its hero,
its god, its invincible leader with double muscles, left lying among the
glaciers of Mont Blanc.

Now, while the death-knell dropped its heavy notes along the silent
streets, Mile. Tournatoire, the doctor’s sister, whose ailments kept
her always at home, was sitting in her big armchair close to the window,
looking out into the street and listening to the bells. The house of the
Tournatoires was on the road to Avignon, very nearly opposite to that
of Tartarin; and the sight of that illustrious home to which its master
would return no more, that garden gate forever closed, all, even the
boxes of the little shoe-blacks drawn up in line near the entrance,
swelled the heart of the poor spinster, consumed for more than thirty
years with a secret passion for the Tarasconese hero. Oh, mystery of the
heart of an old maid! It was her joy to watch him pass at his regular
hours and to ask herself: “Where is he going?..” to observe the
permutations of his toilet, whether he was clothed as an Alpinist or
dressed in his suit of serpent-green. And now! she would see him no
more! even the consolation of praying for his soul with all the other
ladies of the town was denied her.

Suddenly the long white horse head of Mile. Tournatoire coloured
faintly; her faded eyes with a pink rim dilated in a remarkable manner,
while her thin hand with its prominent veins made the sign of the
cross.. He! it _was_ he, slipping along by the wall on the other side of
the paved road... At first she thought it an hallucinating apparition...
No, Tartarin himself, in flesh and blood, only paler, pitiable, ragged,
was creeping along that wall like a beggar or a thief. But in order to
explain his furtive presence in Tarascon, it is necessary to return to
the Mont Blanc and the Dôme du Goûter at the precise instant when, the
two friends being each on either side of the ridge, Bompard felt the
rope that bound them violently jerked as if by the fall of a body.

In reality, the rope was only caught in a cleft of the ice; but
Tartarin, feeling the same jerk, believed, he too, that his companion
was rolling down and dragging him with him. Then, at that supreme
moment--good heavens! how shall I tell it?--in that agony of fear, both,
at the same instant, forgetting their solemn vow at the Hôtel
Baltet, with the same impulse, the same instinctive action, cut the
rope,--Bompard with his knife, Tartarin with his axe; then, horrified at
their crime, convinced, each of them, that he had sacrificed his friend,
they fled in opposite directions.

When the spectre of Bompard appeared at the Grands-Mulets, that of
Tartarin was arriving at the tavern of the Avesailles. How, by what
miracle? after what slips, what falls? Mont Blanc alone could tell.
The poor P. C. A. remained for two days in a state of complete apathy,
unable to utter a single sound. As soon as he was fit to move they took
him down to Courmayeur, the Italian Chamonix. At the hotel where he
stopped to recover his strength, there was talk of nothing but the
frightful catastrophe on Mont Blanc, a perfect pendant to that on the
Matterhorn: another Alpinist engulfed by the breaking of the rope.

In his conviction that this meant Bompard, Tartarin, torn by remorse,
dared not rejoin the delegation, or return to his own town. He saw, in
advance, on every lip, in every eye, the question: “Cain, what hast thou
done with thy brother?..” Nevertheless, the lack of money, deficiency
of linen, the frosts of September which were beginning to thin the
hostelries, obliged him to set out for home. After all, no one had seen
him commit the crime... Nothing hindered him from inventing some tale,
no matter what... and so (the amusements of the journey lending their
aid), he began to feel better. But when, on approaching Tarascon, he
saw, iridescent beneath the azure heavens, the fine sky-line of the
Alpines, all, all grasped him once more; shame, remorse, the fear of
justice, and, to avoid the notoriety of arriving at the station, he left
the train at the preceding stopping-place.

Ah! that beautiful Tarasconese highroad, all white and creaking with
dust, without other shade than the telegraph poles and their wires,
erected along the triumphal way he had so often trod at the head of his
Alpinists and the sportsmen of caps. Would they now have known him, he,
the valiant, the jauntily attired, in his ragged and filthy clothes,
with that furtive eye of a tramp looking out for gendarmes? The
atmosphere was burning, though the season was late, and the watermelon
which he bought of a marketman seemed to him delicious as he ate it
in the scanty shade of the barrow, while the peasant exhaled his wrath
against the housekeepers of Tarascon, all of them absent from market
that morning “on account of a black mass being sung for a man of the
town who was lost in a hole, over there in the Swiss mountains... _Té!_
how the bells rang... You can hear ‘em from here...”

No longer any doubt. For Bompard were those lugubrious chimes of death,
which a warm breeze wafted through the country solitudes.

What an accompaniment of the return of the great Tartarin to his native
town!

For one moment, one, when the gate of the little garden hurriedly opened
and closed behind him and Tartarin found himself at home, when he saw
the little paths with their borders so neatly raked, the basin, the
fountain, the gold fish (squirming as the gravel creaked beneath his
feet), and the baobab giant in its mignonette pot, the comfort of that
cabbage-rabbit burrow wrapped him like a security after all his dangers
and adversities... But the bells, those cursed bells, tolled louder than
ever; their black heavy notes fell plumb upon his heart and crushed it
again. In funereal fashion they were saying to him: “Cain, what hast
thou done with thy brother? Tartarin, where is Bompard?” Then, without
courage to take one step, he sat down upon the hot coping of the little
basin and stayed there, broken down, annihilated, to the great agitation
of the gold fish.

The bells no longer toll. The porch of the cathedral, lately so
resounding, is restored to the mutterings of the beggarwoman sitting
by the door, and to the cold immovability of its stone saints. The
religious ceremony is over; all Taras-con has gone to the Club of the
Alpines, where, in solemn session, Bompard is to tell the tale of the
catastrophe and relate the last moments of the P. C. A. Besides the
members of the Club, many privileged persons of the army, clergy,
nobility, and higher commerce have taken seats in the hall of
conference, the windows of which, wide open, allow the city band,
installed below on the portico, to mingle a few heroic or plaintive
notes with the remarks of the gentlemen. An enormous crowd, pressing
around the musicians, is standing on the tips of its toes and stretching
its necks in hopes to catch a fragment of what is said in session. But
the windows are too high, and no one would have any idea of what
was going on without the help of two or three urchins perched in the
branches of a tall linden who fling down scraps of information as they
are wont to fling cherries from a tree:

“_Vé_, there’s Costecalde, trying to cry. Ha! the beggar! he’s got the
armchair now... And that poor Bézuquet, how he blows his nose! and his
eyes are all red!.. _Té!_ they’ve put crape on the banner... There’s
Bompard, coming to the table with the three delegates... He has laid
something down on the desk... He’s speaking now... It must be fine! They
are all crying...”

In truth, the grief became general as Bompard advanced in his narrative.
Ah! memory had come back to him--imagination also. After picturing
himself and his illustrious companion alone on the summit of Mont Blanc,
without guides (who had all refused to follow them on account of the
bad weather), alone with the banner, unfurled for five minutes on
the highest peak of Europe, he recounted, and with what emotion! the
perilous descent and fall; Tartarin rolling to the bottom of a crevasse,
and he, Bompard, fastening himself to a rope two hundred feet long in
order to explore that gulf to its very depths.

“More than twenty times, gentlemen--what am I saying? more than
ninety times I sounded that icy abyss without being able to reach our
unfortunate _présidain_ whose fall, however, I was able to prove by
certain fragments left clinging in the crevices of the ice...”

So saying, he spread upon the table-cloth a fragment of a tooth, some
hairs from a beard, a morsel of waistcoat, and one suspender buckle;
almost the whole ossuary of the Grands-Mulets.

In presence of such an exhibition the sorrowful emotions of the assembly
could not be restrained; even the hardest hearts, the partisans of
Costecalde, and the gravest personages--Cambalalette, the notary, the
doctor, Tournatoire--shed tears as big as the stopper of a water-bottle.
The invited ladies uttered heart-rending cries, smothered, however, by
the sobbing howls of Excourbaniès and the bleatings of Pascalon, while
the funeral march of the drums and trumpets played a slow and lugubrious
bass.

Then, when he saw the emotion, the nervous excitement at its height,
Bompard ended his tale with a grand gesture of pity toward the scraps
and the buckles, as he said:--

“And there, gentlemen and dear fellow-citizens, there is all that I
recovered of our illustrious and beloved president... The remainder the
glacier will restore to us in forty years...”

He was about to explain, for ignorant persons, the recent discoveries
as to the slow but regular movement of glaciers, when the squeaking of
a door opening at the other end of the room interrupted him; some one
entered, paler than one of Home’s apparitions, directly in front of the
orator.

“_Vé!_ Tartarin!..”

“_Té!_ Gonzague!..”

And this race is so singular, so ready to believe all improbable tales,
all audacious and easily refuted lies, that the arrival of the great man
whose remains were still lying on the table caused only a very moderate
amazement in the assembly.

“It is a misunderstanding, that’s all,” said Tartarin, comforted,
beaming, his hand on the shoulder of the man whom he thought he had
killed. “I did Mont Blanc on both sides. Went up one way and came down
the other; and that is why I was thought to have disappeared.”

He did not mention that he had come down on his back.

“That damned Bompard!” said Bézuquet; “all the same, he harrowed us up
with his tale...” And they laughed and clasped hands, while the drums
and trumpets, which they vainly tried to silence, went madly on with
Tartarin’s funeral march.

“_Vé!_ Costecalde, just see how yellow he is!..” murmured Pascalon to
Bravida, pointing to the gunsmith as he rose to yield the chair to the
rightful president, whose good face beamed, Bravida, always sententious,
said in a low voice as he looked at the fallen Costecalde returning
to his subaltern rank: “The fate of the Abbé Mandaire, from being the
rector he now is _vicaire!_”

And the session went on.





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