In the little town of Tarascon in the Midi, Tartarin enjoyed an enviable reputation which was based first of all on his garden. Tartarin, however, grew no plants of France. He had banana trees, palm trees, cacti, and all the most exotic plants he could find.
To understand the second reason for Tartarin’s fame, one must know the town of Tarascon. The Tarasconese were mighty hunters, and all the men had ample arsenals. Tartarin’s study contained a complete collection of deadly weapons. He had rifles, carbines, blunderbusses, Malayan krishes, and Indian tomahawks. It was too bad that there was no game at all for many leagues around the town, for in order to indulge their passion for the chase, the Tarasconese had to hunt their own caps. A man would throw his cap in the air and fire while it was still in flight. Tartarin had the distinction of ruining more caps than all of his rivals put together.
The third reason for his fame came from the custom of each Tarasconese to sing his own particular song at all social events. Tartarin had no particular song, for he could sing them all. It was a brave thing to hear Tartarin sing “NO, NO, NO” in a duet with Madame Bezuquet. True, all Tartarin could sing was “No,” but he sang this with enviable gusto.
Fourth, Tartarin had once been offered a job as clerk in the Shanghai office of a French importing firm. Although he had not taken the job, it was almost the same to him in later years, when he talked in a knowing way of the mysterious customs of the Far East. Even if he had never stayed overnight outside of Tarascon, he was a true cosmopolite.
Often he would roam the poorer streets of Tarascon looking for those stealthy people who carry on international intrigue and thuggery. He would arm himself with knuckle-dusters, his bowie knife, his trusty forty-five, and then fearlessly seek adventure. Everyone he met, unfortunately, was a harmless citizen who greeted him by name, but one never knew when something unusual might happen.
One night a member of the club came running to announce that a carnival had brought a lion to Tarascon. Tartarin bravely affixed a bayonet to his elephant gun and went to the carnival. It was an inspiring sight to see Tartarin swagger in front of the lion’s cage, and he never flinched no matter how ferociously the lion roared.
This experience, coupled with his own ability at telling tales, soon gave Tartarin a reputation as a great lion hunter, and in some way the impression grew that Tartarin was actually going to Africa to hunt lions. It must be admitted that Tartarin enjoyed the story and actually talked about his coming trip. As the months went by, however, he showed no signs of leaving. He could not bring himself to give up his regular hot chocolate.
Finally even the Tarasconese could no longer stand the suspense. When Commander Bravida told Tartarin that he must go, Tartarin, with uneasy heart, put on his costume of full white linen trousers, a cummerbund two feet wide, and a gigantic red fez. On each shoulder he carried a heavy gun, in his belt a hunting knife, and on his hip a revolver. In his two copper-lined chests were his reserve weapons. Other boxes contained drugs, pemmican for emergency rations, and a shelter tent. Thus attired and supplied, he put on his spectacles and left, amid the hurrahs of the town.
On the trip across the sea, the good ship Zouave was unsteady, and Tartarin’s great fez was often inclined over the rail. In Algeria, however, he still had strength to go on deck, where to his horror he saw the ship invaded by hordes of natives he mistook for Algerian pirates. He took out his sheath knife and courageously rushed upon the invaders. Luckily Captain Barbassou caught him around the middle before he could harm the startled porters.
The first morning in Algiers, Tartarin arose at daybreak and prepared to hunt lions. Dashing out into the road, he met hunters with game bags filled with rabbits. Tartarin pushed on over the desert country....
(The entire section is 1,402 words.)