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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897)

The Cap-Hunters

From “Tartarin of Tarascon”

EVERY Sunday morning Tarascon takes arms and sallies forth from her walls, with game-bag and gun, accompanied by the clamor of dogs, ferrets, trumpets, and hunting-horns. It is a glorious sight. Unfortunately, game is lacking, absolutely lacking. Soulless as animals may be, yet in the end they become distrustful. For five miles round about Tarascon the burrows are empty, the nests abandoned; not a blackbird, not a quail, not the smallest rabbit, not the tiniest whitetail is to be seen….

In short, as for game, there now remains in the country only one old rascal of a hare, who has escaped, as if by miracle, the Tarasconian September massacres, and persists in living there. At Tarascon this hare is very well known. They have given him a name: he is called the Express. It is known that he has his abode on the land of M. Bompard—which, by the way, has doubled and even trebled the price of this land—but thus far they have not been able to catch him. At the present moment there are only two or three desperate fellows in fierce pursuit of him. The rest have buried the hatchet, and the Express has long since passed into a local superstition, even though the Tarasconian is scarcely superstitious by nature, and eats jugged swallows when he finds them.

“Well, then,” you will say, “since game is so scarce at Tarascon, what do the Tarasconian hunters do every Sunday?”

Why, bless me! they go off into the open country, two or three miles from the town. They assemble in groups of five or six, stretch out quietly in the shade of a well, an old wall, or a tree, take from their game-bags a good slice of beef, some raw onions, a sausage, and anchovies, and begin an interminable lunch, washed down with one of those pleasant Rhône wines which excite mirth and song.

After this, when they are well ballasted, they get up, whistle to the dogs, load the guns, and begin the chase; that is to say, each of these gentlemen takes his cap, throws it into the air with all his might, and shoots it on the wing with number five, six, or two, according to agreement. He who hits his cap oftenest is proclaimed king of the hunt, and enters Tarascon triumphantly in the evening with the riddled cap on the end of his gun, in the midst of barking and trumpet flourishes.

Needless to say, there is a brisk trade in hunting-caps in the town. There are even hatters who sell caps already riddled and ragged for the use of the unskilful; but scarcely any one but Bézuquet, the apothecary, is known to buy them.

As a cap-hunter, Tartarin of Tarascon had no equal. Every Sunday morning he would set out with a new cap, every Sunday evening coming back with a rag. In his little house the garrets were full of these glorious trophies. So all the Tarasconians recognized him as their master; and, since Tartarin was thoroughly familiar with the hunting code, and had read all the treatises and all the manuals on every possible kind of hunting, from cap-hunting to tiger-hunting, the sportsmen of the place had made him judge and umpire for all their disputes.