From Tales of Humour, Anonymous, London: Burns and Oates; New York: Benzigers; undated (c. 1890); pp. 95-114.
THE SHOOTING EXCURSION
MONSIEUR CHAY, the distinguished artist of Marseilles, sallied forth on a shooting excursion early one day in the month of October. Arrived at a wood where game was usually found, his eager eye at length discovered a bird flitting about in a small grove of pines. It was yet the dusky grey of morning; and feeling uncertain of his object, the sportsman ventured not to fire, but determined to await the rising of the sun.
At length the increasing light fully exposed the poor bird to its watchful enemy, who hastened to shoot. He missed his aim, however, and the bird was only warned by the detonation. Running to the tree whence it had been scared, the sportsman carefully examined the ground, picking up several mossy stones and a few pieces of bark; but no bird was to be found. One single feather, only, was discovered, adhering to the resinous leaves with which the ground was covered. M. Chay hastily seized the solitary feather, and for a long time remained in melancholy contemplation of this memento of his want of skill. At length, attaching the feather to his button-hole as an ornithological decoration, he began to look about him. The newly risen sun seemed to shine in mockery of his attempt; the air was clear and 98 undisturbed. Reloading his gun, M. Chay passed onward through the wood, occasionally stirring the decaying leaves, with a faint hope of yet discovering his fallen prey. He glanced at the tops of the trees, listened to the buzzing of every insect, mistook a wasp for a bird on the wing, and bestowed liberal maledictions upon dim lights and treacherous firelocks.
“There she is again!” exclaimed M. Chay; and in fact the bird was really there, just rising up from the tall grass. Again he fired, and again without effect; two cones from a neighbouring fir-tree were all that fell. The bird, soaring up in triumph, flitted from the wood to the hill, thence to the plain, and from the plain to the sea-shore. M. Chay courageously followed her air-traced path. It was eight o’clock in the morning.
M. Chay was indefatigable in the pursuit. The bird rested as regularly every thousand steps as if it had counted them, and as regularly resumed its flight at the moment when the murderous gun was aimed for its destruction. In this manner many a hill and plain were traversed by pursuer and pursued; both were fatigued. Night at length closed in, and lights began to appear in the houses of the pretty village of St. Cyr. M. Chay, hungry, thirsty, and tired, leaned his gun against the door-post of the Black Eagle public-house, while the poor bird sought for itself an appropriate resting-place.
A friendly inn is the paradise of weary travellers. M. Chay called for a good meal, which he intended should serve for both supper and breakfast, and then retired to bed. During the night he dreamed constantly of beautiful birds, which fluttered about him in the most friendly manner, and tamely suffered themselves to be caught in the hand.
The first blush of dawn had hardly appeared, when 99 he arose, refreshed, and ready to renew his sport. The true sportsman always rises with the break of day. Before, however, striking into the Marseilles road, he cast a wishful glance toward the smiling fields of Chastelbet, where his unattainable bird had, he supposed, found quarters for the night. M. Chay bent his steps toward a breach in the ruinous wall which bounded the highway, and unwittingly commenced stirring the dead leaves with the end of his gun-barrel. Suddenly a slight rustling, and directly thereafter a flapping of wings, betrayed the presence of the fugitive. M. Chay fired as it rose, and was soon in full pursuit over the vine-clad hills. In the excitement of the chase, he entirely forgot his object of returning to Marseilles; and thus, over hill and dale, he came, at evening, to the beautiful town of Hyeres, so celebrated for its fragrant orange-groves.
M. Chay had never before visited Hyeres, and he was, moreover, extravagantly fond of oranges. Before retiring to rest, he wandered forth to visit the noble garden belonging to M. Filhe. He entered it with his fowling-piece under his arm. The bright rays of the full moon silvered the tops of the palm-trees. The artist sportsman had all the poetical spirit peculiar to the children of the sunny South. Yielding to its softening influence, he inhaled, with a feeling of voluptuous melancholy, the fragrance of the thyme and the orange, diffused everywhere by the evening sea-breeze.
He was suddenly interrupted. Upon a leafless twig, not five steps from him, he descried a bird. It was gently agitating its plumage, and seemingly enjoying the freshness of the evening breeze. There was no mistake; it was indeed the bird! But the tenderness of his heart withheld his finger from the fatal lock: to shoot a poor bird at five paces seemed to him shocking; besides, it was in Hyeres, as every 100 where else, strictly forbidden to shoot after seven at night. The sportsman remained rooted to the spot. The bird, meanwhile, thrust its beak under its wing, and, with the utmost indifference, went to sleep.
While thus awaiting the approach of morning, our sportsman employed himself in rehearsing the tragedy which he intended to perform at break of day. His imagination showed him the bird dead at his feet, then presented it ready cooked for his breakfast, and finally luxuriated upon the composition of a relish-sauce which was to add to the delicate morsel. Nor must M. Chay be blamed for this, since he had not broke his fast during the whole day, and was now reduced to the necessity of taking his meals when and where he could.
After having many times examined his watch to accelerate the rising of the sun, he finally had the pleasure of seeing its rays darting over Hyeres. He now deliberately stepped ten paces to the rear, took careful aim at the bird, and pulled trigger. But, alas! no echo was awakened by his shot; his priming had suffered from the moisture of the night-air. The loud and bitter malediction that relieved the breast of M. Chay awoke the bird, which immediately flew off toward the south; the sportsman followed in the same direction. His hunting passion had now increased almost to a frenzy. He annihilated every bush which stood in his way, fired at every bird within five hundred paces, and utterly disregarded his empty stomach and smarting feet. With tremulous lip, glazed eye, streaming hair, and dripping forehead, he made, next morning, his entrance into Nizza. Immediately hastening to a public-house, he threw himself upon a bed. Beneficent Nature blessed him with a refreshing sleep of eighteen hours. On awaking, he rung, for the purpose of ordering breakfast. A servant appeared, bowed low, and asked: —101
“Che demanda la sua eccellenza?”
“Alas!” cried our huntsman, “am I, then, in Italy — in a country of whose language I cannot speak a word? That horrid bird!” In this dilemma, he restored to the universal language, and by signs succeeded in giving the servant to understand that he was near starvation.
“Brodo, manzo, vitello?” asked the servant.
“Brodo, manzo, vitello!” repeated M. Chay, in his distress. He next proceeded to dress. While putting on his vest, a horrible idea suggested itself: he had expended his last sous at Hyeres! His purse lay like a dried snake-skin upon the mantel-piece of his chamber, and the sight of it brought tears into his eyes. He began to soliloquize:
“What a sorry figure I shall cut when my host presents a bill which I cannot pay! I cannot speak Italian enough to explain my situation and do myself justice. I can starve, but I cannot become a knave; I will not, therefore, touch the breakfast, until I know how I am to pay for it.”
Hardly had he formed this heroic determination when the smoking breakfast came in, filling the whole chamber with its grateful fragrance. M. Chay made a sign of dissatisfaction, and motioned the servant, with his eatables, to the door.
“I want a violoncello,” said he; “un gran violino, una cosa che fa cosi.”
“Ah!” cried the servant, “una bassa cantanta! Un violoncello! ce n’è uno nell’ osteria.”
The servant, however, having retired, soon returned with the desired instrument, which he laid at the feet of the guest. The features of the unfortunate sportsman were lighted up with the sunshine of joy. He embraced the instrument with all the tenderness one would exhibit on accidentally meeting a dear friend in a strange land. “I forget both hunger and misery,” 102 said he, with a melancholy smile, “when I am permitted the exercise of my divine art.” The fine tones of the instrument were heard through the spacious hotel. The people of Nizza, passionately devoted to music, gathered about the house from all parts of the town; they listened with open mouths, and made the welkin ring with their applause. The news that Apollo had condescended to bless the city with his presence was soon spread in every direction; and that evening thirty sonnets were in circulation, all beginning with the words,
“Oh, Febo francese, dio della musica!”
Meanwhile the poor Apollo had eaten nothing. The landlord of the inn very reverentially entered the chamber, and asked, in broken French, if the stranger artist were willing to give a public concert, at two francs per ticket. This was a lightning-flash in the midnight darkness.
“That is precisely my wish,” answered M. Chay. “Do but make the matter public, and arrange the hall. Think you it will prove attractive?”
“I will be answerable for fifty dollars at least,” said the landlord.
“Good!” answered M. Chay. “To-morrow I give the concert. Meanwhile bring me my breakfast.”
Thereupon he sat down and made out his programme, in which a fantasia, with variations, entitled, “The Bird, a night-piece,” excited especial curiosity.
“Do you remain long in Nizza?” asked the landlord, taking the programme.
“No; I should like to leave the city immediately after the concert. How can I best reach Marseilles from hence?”
“An excellent opportunity occurs. Early on the morning after to-morrow, the ‘Virgin of the Seven 103 Sorrows,’ a superb brig, sails for Toulon; it is a mere pleasure excursion.”
“You are right, landlord. Have the goodness to bespeak a passage for me in this brig. When shall we be in Toulon?”
“You will arrive the same evening, before dark. The wind is always fair at this time of year.”
“Excellent! I have never seen Toulon; I came by the way of Hyeres, without disturbing Toulon. I travelled in great haste; I followed a bird, a very eccentric bird; yes! yes!”
The concert was rather frosty, but nevertheless it yielded two hundred francs. “With this sum,” said the artist, “I have more than I shall need for my homeward journey;” and he gave fifty francs to the servant. This liberality excited enthusiasm.
The brig, with the artist on board, was under sail at the appointed time. The wind was fair; the surface of the Mediterranean was curled into innumerable wreaths of foam, and every drop of water glittered with golden spangles. The gradually filling sails sent the bright keel through the water with a gentle murmur.
M. Chay walked the quarter-deck, a happy man. “What a fine spectacle!” said he proudly to himself, smilingly glancing at the blue waters, crossing his arms upon his breast, and thanking his tutelary genius. The captain was sitting near the mast, discussing his breakfast.
“Charming weather, captain!”
“Land-breeze!” grumbled the sailor.
“Now — and then —”
“Aha!” exclaimed M. Chay, glancing at the sky and humming an air. He went to the pilot.
The pilot gave him no answer, and our discomfited traveller returned to the captain.
“This evening we shall have the pleasure of drinking a bowl of punch with the captain in Toulon.”
The captain nodded.
“Captain, is not that Cape Sicié which we see yonder?”
“The infernal English! — there they are!” cries the captain, springing to his feet, and throwing his breakfast into the sea.
“The English! where are the English!” cried M. Chay, recoiling with terror.
“Four, five, six, seven frigates,” said the captain, stamping the deck with rage.
“Think you they will capture us?” asked the artist, turning pale.
“Capture us? — no!”
“Ah, God be praised!”
“I would sooner light the powder-magazine with my pipe, and blow the brig into the air!”
“But reflect, captain, that you have fathers of families on board. Think of your own dear wife.”
“I have no wife.”
“Well, but consider —”
“What mean you, Mr. Comedian? Consider for yourself; and know, once for all, that I will never fall into the hands of those English rascals. Do you understand me?”
“Perfectly, captain; but do not get into a passion.”
“Right, Mr. Comedian. Leave us undisturbed in the discharge of our duties, and do you go below.”
The dispersion of the morning mist discovered the whole fleet of Sir Hudson Lowe, forming a barrier which the best sailor could not hope to pass.
“And all this for a good-for-nothing bird!” moaned M. Chay, with tears in his eyes.105
While the stentorian voice of the rough old captain was heard issuing orders, an English cutter approached, like a shark intent on its prey.
“Captain,” cried M. Chay, wringing his hands, “let us return to Nizza.”
“To the gallows, if you will, Mr. Comedian! but if you speak another word here, I will order you to be shot.”
At this moment the brig’s bell was rung.
“Who struck the bell?” asked the captain.
“No one,” was the answer.
“Who did strike the bell?” whispered M. Chay to the pilot.
“A six-and-thirty pounder which passed over our heads. On board the Pluto, at Trafalgar, we had ten thousand such pills to swallow.”
“And all for that miserable bird!” again sighed M. Chay.
“What?” said the man.
“Children, to your pieces!” commanded the captain, in a voice of thunder. He was an old sea-wolf whose heart leaped with joy at the smell of gunpowder.
M. Chay ventured to steal a look at the enemy. The sight he saw caused each particular hair to stand on end: the cutter within a hundred yards — a white smoke — a flash! A crash was heard forward.
“Well aimed!” exclaimed the pilot.
M. Chay could bear the scene no longer. He perceived the whole extent of his misfortune, and was overwhelmed. He tremblingly groped his way to the cabin, and, as his tottering limbs could support him no longer, he threw himself into a hammock.
Artists have peculiarly susceptible nervous systems. A strong excitement, however, is always followed by a reaction; the nerves relax, the activity of the brain ceases, and the senses are sealed in slumber; and the 106 fact that M. Chay unconsciously fell asleep in his hammock, goes to prove the truth of this theory. The motion of his hammock was strange and disagreeable; his dreams were fantastic and frightful. These dreams prolonged his sleep. On awaking, he found himself encompassed by midnight darkness, and concluded that he must be dead. But hearing something resembling the sound of human footsteps, he made an extraordinary effort to speak, and at length called out, in a dull, hollow voice, “Who goes there?”
“Ah! Mr. Comedian,” answered some one, “are you still asleep? Up, up! we are in port.”
M. Chay leaped from the hammock, tottered to the companion-way, and ascended to the deck. There he saw the stars glistening over his head, descried the lights of a city before him, and inhaled the strong odour usual floating about the docks. “Thank God, we are at length in Toulon!” exclaimed he, with a joyfully beating heart. “We have made a happy escape,” observed the sportsman to the pilot.
“Yes; truly. It was quite a miracle. The storm which came on just as we were on the point of being captured, has saved us.”
“The storm? — have we had a storm?” screamed M. Chay, with retrospective terror.
“In Toulon at last; only ten hours from Marseilles! Now for a hotel and a good bed!” exclaimed M. Chay, as he stepped on shore. He found himself in a broad and handsome street, in which a few shops were still open. By the light of a lantern he perceived the sign of a public-house. “Another Black Eagle,” said he; “it must be for my especial accommodation. Garçon, a good chamber and a bed!”
A silent, sleepy fellow, in a white night-cap, led him to a chamber, set the light upon a table, and disappeared. The slumber that now followed, interwoven as it was with bright and happy dreams, fully recompensed 107 him for all past sufferings; so that M. Chay and the sun both rose together next morning, like two friends who had slept in each other’s arms. M. Chay rang the bell, threw a five-franc piece to the servant, and then slowly descended to the street with his gun under his arm.
“Truly!” said M. Chay, “this Toulon has very fine streets. Had I time, I would visit the arsenal. But first of all, I must seek a conveyance to Marseilles, that I may arrive there before night.”
He approached a group of coachmen who were standing with their carriages in a large public square. One of them gave an affirmative nod in reply to his inquiry, and pointed to his carriage, which already contained three personages, and appeared to be waiting for the fourth.
“Do you start immediately?” asked M. Chay.
The coachman, who was mounting the box, gave another affirmative nod.
“Excellent!” exclaimed M. Chay; “since yesterday everything has gone according to my wishes.”
His fellow-passengers, whom he politely greeted, preserved a profound silence. The carriage rolled rapidly away. M. Chay was sadly troubled by the continued silence of his companions, and made many attempts to engage them in conversation. Seeing that he must make some more direct attack, he turned to his next neighbour, with the words:
“Can you tell me, sir, at what hour we shall arrive?”
“Alle venti tre!” answered the gentleman.
“Alle venti tre! the gentleman must be an Italian! Signor Italiano?”
“Di Firenze — Florence.”108
“From Florence! Indeed, you are very far from home! And you, sir — I beg your pardon — it seems to me I have seen you before — are you from Marseilles?”
“Signor, no — di Livorno.”
Ah, you are from Livorno; I have never been there.”
The fourth traveller now took up the conversation, observing:
“Io sono di Pisa.”
“Indeed!” said M. Chay with a smile, “that is singular — three Italians and one Frenchman.”
“I speak a little French,” said the traveller from Pisa.
“So much the better,” answered M. Chay; “I understand Italian, but cannot speak it. If I can render you any service in Marseilles, I beg you will command me.”
“You are very kind.”
“Not at all; I put myself in your place: in a strange country one often stands in need of friendly assistance. Were you ever at Marseilles?”
“You will find it a beautiful city — much finer than Toulon. Have you commercial business to transact in Marseilles?”
“In Marseilles? — I am going to Florence.”
“Aha! you will go from Marseilles by water?”
“No; I go direct.”
“Do you fear the passage by water?”
“Perhaps you fear the English?”
“The English! — I do not understand you. I tell you that with both of these gentlemen I am going directly to Florence.”109
“These gentlemen also bound to Florence! You will require at least ten days for the journey.”
“You jest. Ten days! We hope to arrive this very evening.”
“With this carriage?” exclaimed M. Chay, in utter astonishment.
“Certainly, with this carriage.”
“By the way of Marseilles?”
“But from whence came you here?”
“Like you, from Livorno.”
“I come from Livorno!” shrieked M. Chay, at the top of his voice.
“Why, what call you the name of that city we left this morning?”
“Toulon! — surely it was Toulon where I landed last night.”
The Pisan here burst into a loud laugh.
“Hold! for one moment hold!” screamed M. Chay. “Hallo, coachman — conducteur! am I in the wrong coach, conducteur?”
The conducteur stopped the coach, and thrust his head in at the window.
“Where are you carrying me?” cried M. Chay, with anguish and alarm; “dove andate? dove caminate?”
“A Firenze,” answered the conducteur.
“To Florence! Then I go no further. I will get out here — here in this village. I think this must be Le Bausset Here are five francs. I will go the rest of the way to Marseilles on foot.”
* * * * * * * *
“Well, I have walked a good distance,” said M. Chay to himself, opening the door of a little auberge. “Garçon, bring me some good beer!” 110
He was met by a sprightly young girl, who answered: “Non c’ è bierra.”
“What can this mean? I am answered in Italian even here!” said M. Chay. “What is the name of this village? Il nome di quel vilagio?”
“Is not this Le Bausset?”
“I never heard that name before. But next to Ponto d’Era, che si trova? Le Bausset?”
“Doppo Ponto d’Era, Empoli.”
“E doppo Empoli? Le Bausset?”
At this M. Chay let both hands fall flat upon the table, utterly confounded and overcome by the blow. After remaining some time in this situation, he was at length so far restored by a glass of liquor, that he went forth to examine the locality.
Some soldiers belonging to a French regiment were perambulating the village, and M. Chay felt impelled to apply to his countrymen for information. It was still difficult for him to realize the truth of his singular position, and he required additional assurance before giving himself entirely up to despair. “Comrades,” said he to the soldiers, “you see before you a poor Frenchman who has lost his way. What is the name of the nearest city?”
“Livorno,” answered a sergeant.
“Alas, I can doubt no longer! But tell me, friend, what is the name of the nearest city in the opposite direction?”
“Florence. Is that all you wish to know?”
“Yes — I thank you, sergeant.”
M. Chay now passed on through the village soliloquizing as he went: “Yes, I see it all — my folly will cost me my life! — That good-for-nothing bird!”111
He was again among open fields, upon the road to Florence, and he soon arrived at that smiling vale which Alfieri loved so well, the Vale of Arno, with its luxuriant hills, bright villas, and slowly meandering stream. Our romantic and contemplative sportsman beheld it with ecstasies of delight; he embraced the whole valley in the person of the first tree which stood in his way. Yielding to the pleasure imparted by the charming landscape, with that artist-like levity which so easily changes from despair to joy, he hummed a favourite air, gave a shot every fifteen minutes, killing or missing his bird with equal indifference, and felt as if he were translated into a new world.
At early dusk he arrived at Florence, and entered the Black Eagle public-house, borg’ ogni santi. Calling a servant, he generously handed over to him fifteen pieces of game which his gun had brought down in the Vale of Arno.
The groom of the Black Eagle was an old French soldier. “It would seem,” said he to M. Chay, “that you are a dexterous sportsman.”
“Without boasting, I am,” answered the artist.
“This is a fine country for game. If you are not afraid of fatigue, you should take a turn through our mountains, in the direction of Poggi-Bonzi2 and Siena. You will find it very abundant: I often shoot there.”
“Good! I will go to-morrow. In what direction did you say?”
“Charming! I shall ask you to favour me by writing down the name and showing me the way.”
Next morning when M. Chay called for his bill, he was informed that he had nothing to pay, and was, besides, heartily thanked for his present of game. Having thus agreeably settled his reckoning, 112 he lost no time in seeking the road to Poggi-Bonzi and the Apennines.
It was late in the evening when he arrived at Siena. He was again laden with game, which he freely gave to the landlord of an inn, and was as freely entertained in return. The next morning he was, with many thanks, directed on his way toward Torriniera.
This economical mode of travelling was very delightful to our artist. He left a bloody track behind him in the sombre plains of Torriniera; in the marshy vales of Nicorsi, upon the volcanic summits of Radicoffani, by the serpentine Paglia, through the shrubbery of Acquapendente, upon the banks of the lake of Bolsena, upon the vine-clad hills of Monte-Fiascone, the desert waste and dark forest near Viterbo, among the pines of Ronciglione, over the undulating meadows of Boccano, and the monotonous marshes of Storta. In five days he had scoured the whole chain of the Appenines.
About nine o’clock one evening he entered a strange city, in the streets of which no lanterns were burning. The indefatigable sportsman was fatigued at last. At the corner of a square he discovered a coffee-house, which he entered for the purpose of procuring some refreshment. A group of gentlemen near him were conversing in the French language.
“I beg your pardon,” said M. Chay, to one of the speakers; “but will you favour me with the name of this city?”
“This in which I have just arrived.”
“You must be jesting, Sir.”
“Not at all: I am in earnest.”
“Well, then, you are in Rome.”
“In Rome! is it possible? Will you, Sir, confer 113 on me an additional favour by directing me to a public-house?”
“Go to Monte-Citorio, the place St. Augustin; there you will find the hotel alla Torretta, with which you will be satisfied.”
“A thousand thanks, Sir.”
Here ends the strange history of M. Chay’s shooting excursion: he came to Rome in consequence of having missed a bird in a little wood near Marseilles. M. Chay was deterred, by his fear of the English, from returning by water; and as he found the distance by land inconveniently great, he solicited an audience of M. Norvins, and explained his situation. The kind-hearted consul appointed him to an office which provided for his subsistence, and which he continued to fill for several years. After the general peace he ventured to return to Marseilles, where he still continues to shoot birds and play the violoncello.
1 This is an anonymous translation from the French story “La chasse au châstre,” in Le chasse au châstre, by Joseph Méry, Paris: Michael Lévy Frères, 1860; pp. 7-53.
2 The text has Poggi-bouzi instead of Poggi-bonzi everywhere it is used, which is a mis-transcripton of the French text which spells it properly. The letters n and u were easily confused when throwing type in the olden days, because they look the same, except orientation. Thanks to Bill Thayer for knowing Italian cities so well (even tiny ones) and catching this.