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Timbuctoo
by [?]

The boulevard, that river of humanity, was alive with people in the golden light of the setting sun. The whole sky was red, blinding, and behind the Madeleine an immense bank of flaming clouds cast a shower of light the whole length of tile boulevard, vibrant as the heat from a brazier.

The gay, animated crowd went by in this golden mist and seemed to be glorified. Their faces were gilded, their black hats and clothes took on purple tints, the patent leather of their shoes cast bright reflections on the asphalt of the sidewalk.

Before the cafes a mass of men were drinking opalescent liquids that looked like precious stones dissolved in the glasses.

In the midst of the drinkers two officers in full uniform dazzled all eyes with their glittering gold lace. They chatted, happy without asking why, in this glory of life, in this radiant light of sunset, and they looked at the crowd, the leisurely men and the hurrying women who left a bewildering odor of perfume as they passed by.

All at once an enormous negro, dressed in black, with a paunch beneath his jean waistcoat, which was covered with charms, his face shining as if it had been polished, passed before them with a triumphant air. He laughed at the passers-by, at the news venders, at the dazzling sky, at the whole of Paris. He was so tall that he overtopped everyone else, and when he passed all the loungers turned round to look at his back.

But he suddenly perceived the officers and darted towards them, jostling the drinkers in his path. As soon as he reached their table he fixed his gleaming and delighted eyes upon them and the corners of his mouth expanded to his ears, showing his dazzling white teeth like a crescent moon in a black sky. The two men looked in astonishment at this ebony giant, unable to understand his delight.

With a voice that made all the guests laugh, he said:

“Good-day, my lieutenant.”

One of the officers was commander of a battalion, the other was a colonel. The former said:

“I do not know you, sir. I am at a loss to know what you want of me.”

“Me like you much, Lieutenant Vedie, siege of Bezi, much grapes, find me.”

The officer, utterly bewildered, looked at the man intently, trying to refresh his memory. Then he cried abruptly:

“Timbuctoo?”

The negro, radiant, slapped his thigh as he uttered a tremendous laugh and roared:

“Yes, yes, my lieutenant; you remember Timbuctoo, ya. How do you do?”

The commandant held out his hand, laughing heartily as he did so. Then Timbuctoo became serious. He seized the officer’s hand and, before the other could prevent it, he kissed it, according to negro and Arab custom. The officer embarrassed, said in a severe tone:

“Come now, Timbuctoo, we are not in Africa. Sit down there and tell me how it is I find you here.”

Timbuctoo swelled himself out and, his words falling over one another, replied hurriedly:

“Make much money, much, big restaurant, good food; Prussians, me, much steal, much, French cooking; Timbuctoo cook to the emperor; two thousand francs mine. Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

And he laughed, doubling himself up, roaring, with wild delight in his glances.

When the officer, who understood his strange manner of expressing himself, had questioned him he said:

“Well, au revoir, Timbuctoo. I will see you again.”

The negro rose, this time shaking the hand that was extended to him and, smiling still, cried:

“Good-day, good-day, my lieutenant!”

He went off so happy that he gesticulated as he walked, and people thought he was crazy.

“Who is that brute?” asked the colonel.

“A fine fellow and a brave soldier. I will tell you what I know about him. It is funny enough.

“You know that at the commencement of the war of 1870 I was shut up in Bezieres, that this negro calls Bezi. We were not besieged, but blockaded. The Prussian lines surrounded us on all sides, outside the reach of cannon, not firing on us, but slowly starving us out.