1839-1908 Ouida.

La Strega and other stories online

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in the gaslight. There was scarcely any one
about ; the night was chilly and wet. He
reached home with his foundling in safety,
having been obh'ged to take it up in his arms
for the last few yards, because it was so tired.

"It is very dirty," said Nanon, when he and
the pup reached the Pot aux Roses.

" It is very wet," said Chariot.

" It will be a great trouble," said Nanon.

" I will take the trouble."

"There will be the tax to pay," persisted



"I will go without my piquette."

" He will destroy everything."

"We will keep him in the yard."

" There is no shape nor make in him."

" That is because he is young."

" He must be kept in the yard."

" Yes, yes ; in the yard — yes," replied Chariot,
who was practised in the art of giving an inch
to get an ell. The yard had once been a
portion of an old palace court ; it was spacious,
flagged, and contained, beside its well, a large
fig tree.

The puppy whimpered. Nanon ran into the
kitchen for some bread and milk.

"Now he has eaten with us he must stay.
The very savages would say that," said Chariot.
And the waif was put for that night in the wood-
cellar. It was raining too heavily to turn him
out into the yard.

That was now seven years ago, and the stray
was still at the Pot aux Roses. With time he
had shown himself to be a magnificent New-
foundland dog, black except for one white spot
on his chest and one white glove ; a very
monarch and god amongst dogs, grave as
Buddha, powerful as Zeus, kind as Krishna.



When his nose was out of the shop-doorway
his tail was in the Httle room behind. He was
a Colossus in a nutshell ; but he was as happy
as his owners, and he was the idol of the neigh-
bourhood. There was always eager competition
for the honour of taking Toto for his daily swim
in the Seine.

Chariot was a good walker, and the apothe-
cary had told him to walk to keep down his
tendency to embonpoint^ and often in the very
early mornings or the late evenings he left the
shop to his wife and took Toto to Bercy, or to
Charenton, along the quays, or over one of
the bridges, and even sometimes to Vincennes
and St. Mand^ on Sundays ; to Nogent, where
Toto could plunge in the Marne as much as he
pleased ; to the Lac Dumesnil, where he was
sure to get sugar and biscuits and cutlets from
the merry-makers at the cafi of the two little
isles ; or to Joinville-le-Pont, where he was
welcomed as a comrade by the oarsmen and
swimmers who assembled there.

He and Chariot became an attraction to the
canotiers at that double bend where Marne and
Seine embrace, and Toto used to swim now with
one canoe, now with another, and dive, and go



after sticks, and steer himself with his great tail.
Sunday would not have been Sunday on the
water without him to a great many frequenters
of the river. No doubt in that little house, in
that city life, Toto had not all the freedom he
deserved. No doubt he would have liked to see
the meadows and the woods oftener than now
and then on a fete day ; no doubt his line
instincts and his vast strength were cribbed,
cabined, and confined. But he had always
about him that affection which to the dog, as to
the child, makes up for so much else that may
be lacking in his home. They both loved him,
Chariot the more ardently of the two, and they
were very proud of him : he was so big, and so
beautiful ; and he had saved the lives of people
— once at Charenton, when a wherry had been
upset by a river steamer; and once one bitter
black night when in the ice-cold muddy water
by the Pont d'Austerlitz a woman had been

A little paragraph had been put in the
Gaulois about this latter good action, and
Chariot cut it out and framed it under a photo-
graph of the hero. It hung in the shop, and
every one saw it and read it, and to those who



might otherwise have missed it, Chariot said,
as he served them over the counter —

" It is in print what Toto did — yes — over there ;
you can read it ; I cut it out of the Gaitlois. I
was with him, such a night as it was ! Ink-black,
with broken ice in the Seine, and he in the water
— pong! pouf! as if it were summer, without
waiting a moment, once he had seen that poor
drowning creature struggling. The light from
the bridge was on her."

Many new customers, as well as old ones,
came to the Pot aux Roses to see the dog who
had been mentioned in the Gaulois, and, of
course, all of them bought something, and the
till was the fuller for it.

" See the injustice of it," said Nanon, proud
and pleased, yet vexed. " What Toto did at
Charenton was really finer than what he did off
the Pont d'Austerlitz, because there were three
of them at Charenton, and he saved all three,
one after another ; and he had to fight with the
swirl and froth that were made by the paddles
of the moiicJie which had upset the wherry ; but,
ouf! no one of the newspapers noticed that, and
so nobody ever asked to see him then — not
even the lads he had saved, if you will believe it.



'•' That is the way of the world," said Chariot,
with his cheery laugh. " Toto did not do it for
praise or for profit ; he did it because his good,
big heart told him. He would do the same for
a Tropmann, for a Bismarck, for — for — even for
a sergent-de-vilU ! "

He selected the worst epithet he could think

"Christian charity!" he continued. "Ah,
ma mie, if you want to see Christian charity,
you must leave your priests and come to Toto."

Chariot was not so fond of the Church as
his wife, and often let her go alone to Mass,
whilst he smoked his best tobacco in the yard
under the fig-tree with Toto stretched out on
the flags.

" Give me your hand, my friend," he would
say often ; and Toto would lift up his right foot,
the one with a white glove, and have it solemnly
shaken. Then Chariot would call him " dear
little cabbage," "sweet little pigeon," "angel
of the hearth," "glory of the quarter," and
many other caressing epithets ; to which Toto
responded with a bang of his tail on the stones,
the tail which Chariot called Ic phimeau de
paradis !

193 O


" What a child you are, Chariot ! " said his
wife, when she came back with her prayer-book
in her hand ; but she smiled as she said it, for
Chariot, childish as he might be, never forgot
to keep the charcoal alive and look at the sim-
mering broth in her absence. He had always,
too, laid the table ready, with its washed radishes
and its modest pint of wine ; its long baker's
roll ; its sugared flat cake ; its old flowered
Rouen plates ; and its oil and vinegar and
lemon waiting their combination for that crown
of a French feast, the salad. Toto did not care
for the salad, but he did care very much for
what was left of the stewed meat and the sweet
cake, which came to him as bojtnes boiiches after
his own solid meal on ship-biscuits and dried fish.

On the whole he was a very happy dog. He
was the darling of the quarter ; he knew all
the families by their names ; he let the shoe-
maker's three-year-old baby ride on his back ;
he carried the slates and schoolbooks in his
mouth ; he would sit erect, grave as a judge,
while Aimee and Jeannot, the tailor's children,
explained their lessons to him ; he was friends
with all the dogs around, for the biggest of them
was so small beside him that they evoked that



magnanimity which was his most marked
characteristic. Even when a little loidou which
belonged to a notary near flew at him every
morning, he only shook his leonine head and
walked onward in peace. The notary's loiilou
was convinced that Toto was a coward. So
was the notary's wife. The only quarrel which
was ever heard over the counter of the Pot aux
Roses came out of this.

"Your big hippopotamus has no courage,"
said the notary's wife, a stout, red-faced lady
in a yellow wig, to Nanon, of whom she had
been buying some needles and thread.

" No courage ! " echoed Nanon, her little
bright brown eyes sparkling. "Say that again,
Madame Viret, if you will be so good."

" I will say it again, and ten times again, and
twenty times again," said the notary's wife.
" My loiilou has the spirit of a lion, but your
rhinoceros is a poltroon. Large animals and
big men are often the poorest in temper."

"Your little fox is a little devil," retorted
Nanon, furiously, forgetful of her commercial
interests. " He is a spitfire, a bully, a fiend.
Toto is but too good to him ; he could snap him
up in one mouthful if he chose ; he refrains



because Toto is truly great — truly great, madame
— he would not soil his teeth with your little
bully and bastard."

" If I only come here to be insulted," Madame
Viret began very hotly, growing red in the face,
for she was a choleric woman, and liked her
wine at breakfast and dinner.

" Insulted ! What did you call our angel ?
A hippopotamus — a rhinoceros ! Is that not
insult? I tell you if Chariot but lifted one
finger, Toto would kill your little bastard with
a single stroke of his paw ! "

" I will never buy a paper of pins in your den
again if I live fifty years ! "

" Ah, madame, there is no fear of that. People
who love the juice of the grape too well "

"What! After all you owe to my custom;
paying you three times over the prices of the
Bon Marche for your rubbish ! "

" Nanon, ma ink ! Oh, Madame, pray, pray,
a thousand pardons ! But you did say ' hippo-
potamus,' and you did say 'rhinoceros'! I
was in the kitchen peeling the potatoes, but
I heard," cried Chariot, as he rushed into the
shop very greatly alarmed, for the notary was
a man of weight in the neighbourhood.



"She said 'juice of the grape'!" cried the
notary's lady. "Your wife said, 'juice of the
grape,' Monsieur ! It is libel ! I will tell my
husband. He will summon her. Juice of the
grape ! And your prices, which are a score
of times higher than those of the Printemps !
I will never come down into your dusky hole
again ! No, not if the Prussians come back
and burn down every shop except yours ! And
Pierrot a bastard, a bastard ! It is libel ! My
husband will make you pay ! "

"Pierrot is a lovely little dog, pur sang,''
murmured Chariot, very conciliatingly. " But
he does fly at Toto."

"Because Toto is a poltroon!" said the
notary's wife.

Then Chariot himself flung prudence to the
winds and cried, "A poltroon! If Toto is a
poltroon, then so were Alexander, and Caesar,
and Charlemagne, and Napoleon Premier ! "

And Nanon muttered —

"If I did say 'juice of the grape,' many
people say worse of you, Madame. Many
people say, ' drinks of the American Bars.' "

Then the notary's wife, incensed and enraged,
threw the packet of needles and thread which



she had bought, down on the counter, and
Nanon gathered up the sous she had received
for them, and cast them forth into the gutter,
and Toto, having heard his own name uttered
by his master amidst all this pother, came into
the shop from his broken slumbers under the

" A poltroon, you, Toto ! " cried Chariot. " So
were the Trois Mousquetaires then, so were the
Sept Fils d'Aymon, so was the great Roland

Toto, seeing the bronze coins lying in the
gutter, went out, put his paw on them, and
picked them up with his teeth one by one, then
trotted off, as he had been taught to do, to the
baker's round the corner, and received in return
a pound of gaiiffres in a paper bag, which he
brought intact to his friends at the Pot aux
Roses. They had been too absorbed in vexation
and misgiving to see what he was doing, but
when he laid the bag of gauffres between them
on the counter they kissed him.

" What intelligence ! " cried Nanon.

"What honesty!" cried Chariot.

" What kindheartedness ! "

*' What a memory ! "



" He deserves one," said Chariot ; and gave
him two.

"But I must send her the needles and thread
since he has spent her money," said Nanon.

She did so by Aimee, the tailor's little
daughter ; and the notary's wife refused to take
them ; and the little girl went backwards and
forwards with the packet a great many times,
until, getting tired and being less honest than
Toto, she fibbed about the matter, told Nanon
that the notary's wife had kept them, and in
reality kept them herself.

The breach between the Pot aux Roses and
the notary's house remained impassable.

" You told her she drank ! How can she for-
give that ? " said Chariot. " If she did not drink
she might, perhaps, forgive it ; but when she
does " He shook his head.

To lose a customer so regular and so in-
fluential as Madame Viret was no light matter ;
but Nanon would have let herself be chopped in
fine pieces like parsley for a potage rather than
take any steps towards apology. " We do not
want their sous," she said proudly ; but she would
not have been a Parisian shopkeeper if she had
not known that no single sou is ever flouted by



the wise. The notary, who was a meek man,
regretted his bizique and his can siicr^ with
his lost friend, Chariot ; but his wife told him
that he was a miserable creature not to summon
Toto and his owner before the tribunal, and
he dared make no movement towards recon-

Three months had gone by thus, when one
day Chariot and Toto, walking on the Quai de
Bercy, saw Madame Viret with her Pierrot
walking some yards ahead, the little loulou, with
his tail curled over his back, very smart with
silver bells and a blue bow of ribbon.

On the other side of the road there was a
large Ulm dog. Pierrot, with his habitual
impertinence, darted across the road and flew
at the foreigner. The German hound bore the
attack for a second or two, then struck Pierrot
down with one of his huge paws, and would then
and there have ended his days, had not Toto
seen the danger, and thinking, no doubt, " He
has always been rude to me, but he is a neigh-
bour and a compatriot, this big fellow is a
Prussian, and the odds are unfair," he rushed
across the road before Chariot had realized what
he was about, and threw himself forcibly upon



the Ulin hound's back. The German let go the
loulou to turn upon his mightier assailant.
Pierrot scampered off in terror to his mistress,
and Toto and the Ulm hound looked at each
other and measured their respective forces,
growling low.

Happily, there were no policemen near to
make mischief; the passers-by did not interfere ;
Chariot watched, breathless and agonized ;
Madame Virct watched too, clasping her Pierrot,
whose blue ribbon was torn and bedraggled.

For one — two — three minutes the two stately
combatants stood facing each other like human
duellists ; their attitude was superb ; then some-
thing in Toto's gaze cowed the other ; some-
thing in his regard said, " You are in the wrong
— go." The German dog felt that he had met
his master ; very stiffly, very slowly, very re-
luctantly, he acknowledged himself vanquished.
He turned and went away without fighting ; not
afraid, but humbled and rebuked, like Launcelot
by Arthur. Toto stood like a rock until his
adversary had disappeared, then he shook him-
self and trotted up to Chariot ; some working
men who had looked on cheered him. Madame
Viret burst into tears.



« And I called him a coward ! And he has
saved Pierrot's life ! "

Everything was forgotten and forgiven.
Chariot and the notary played bhiqtie that
evening, and Madame Viret told the tale for
the seventieth time to an admiring crowd around
the counter of the Pot aux Roses.

Even Pierrot conquered his natural temper so
far that he never again flew at his saviour.

Thus slipped the pleasant years away ; and
with each season Toto grew in dignity, and was
held in higher consideration by his neighbours.
All round the tower of Louis d'Orleans, people
loved and were proud of the hero of the Pot aux
Roses who had avenged Sedan.

When, in the winter evenings, the lamp was
lit, and the two little people talked together of
their early life, of their courtship and marriage,
of their dear children, of all which had been and
all which might have been, they always wound
up by looking at Toto asleep in the warmth on
his bit of carpet, and saying in chorus —

" But we have had many mercies, and we have

And they looked forward with just confidence
and natural hope to a green old age.



But they had reckoned without that fiend
which everywhere ruins the natural lives of the
people, seizes and wastes their earnings, poisons
and kills their wholesome pleasures : that fiend
which is called the State, and which is always
equally a devil whatever its disguise be called —
Republic, Empire, or Monarchy.

Chariot had often been worried by fine, by
interference, by citation for this, that, and the
other ; he had always dreaded the sight of a
printed paper, he had always heard with a
quickened pulse the step of the police on the
pavement, but he had been prudent, he had been
fortunate, and no great trouble had ever come
upon him since the days of the Siege of Paris.

He had many friends, too, even in the Ad-
ministration ; he was so kind himself, so cheery,
pleasant, and sociable, other men could not be
very morose with him.

" No one can tell why the Good God made
spiders, and beetles, and sergenis-de-ville," he
said once ; but all the rest of the races upon
earth seemed to him amiable and agreeable.
Nanon thought less well of the world on the
whole : he always told her she had a defective
digestion, pessimism was spleen. And then



they laughed together, for the notion of
associating pessimism with his little, round,
bright-eyed, chirping tomtit of a wife struck
both as very comical.

One morning in one month of June, when all
Paris was gay with green leaves, glancing waters,
red geraniums, and the sunshine made mirth
even in the warehouses of Bercy and the mad-
house of Charenton, Toto was lying outside the
shop-door waiting for the hour to come for his
splash and his swim in the Seine. There was
no one in the shop itself; Nanon was milling
coffee, and Chariot was shelling peas ; each
could leave in a moment if a customer entered.
The sun-rays came into the little dusky interior
and lighted up the gilded frame which contained
the paragraph from the Gaiilois about Toto's
exploit by the Pont d'Austerhtz.

As Nanon turned the handle of the coffee-
mill, and Chariot cracked the pea-pods, they
heard a loud, deep-toned bay ; it was the bark
of the grand dog, in anger ; they heard also
voices, outcries, the sound of stamping feet, the
jingle of scabbards, the oaths of men. They
both became as white as the linen of Nanon's
coif and Chariot's apron.



" Toto ! " they exclaimed in one breath,
and both rushed into the street. That which
they had ahvays so piteously dreaded had
happened. The dog-snatchers, with their pro-
tecting posse of poHce, had come into the passage
at the moment when Toto was basking in the
sun under the sign of the Pot aux Roses. The
murderous noose was round his noble throat.
He had sprung to his feet and was struggling
against the brutes half strangled.

" Messieurs ! Messieurs ! " shrieked Chariot.
" Stop, for the love of Heaven ! "

" Let go ! He is choking ! " screamed Nanon.
" Let go, let go ! "

" He pays his tax."

" He has saved two lives."

" Messieurs ! Messieurs ! Enter my shop and
see ! There is the bit out of the Gaulois

" He is choking ! "

" You will kill him ! "

"There is his silver medal in there. Come
and see it ; his medal for life saved ! "

" Let me pay any fine — any fine — what you
will ! "

"Oh, God help me ! They are strangling him !"



Nanon seized the noose in her hands and
wrenched it open ; Chariot flung himself on the
man who had thrown it.

" Resistance to authority ! " shouted the

" Yes ! yes ! a hundred times yes ! Resis-
tance to the death ! " shrieked Chariot. " We
are good citizens. We pay all that is asked of
us. We have lived here for forty years. We
deserve respect and "

The brigadier in command dealt him a blow
in the chest with the pommel of his sword.
Chariot reeled back against the wall of his
house. Toto, feeling Nanon's hands round him
and the noose loosening, aided her efforts with
a weighty wrench of his great shoulders, and
rushed to his fallen master. The guards seized
Nanon and flung her as if she were a rag into
the middle of the road.

" Arrest them both ! " said the brigadier.
" They revolt against authority."

Toto saw two men seize Chariot ; with one
bound he sprang upon them, and they lay
prostrate in the gutter.

" The dog is mad ! " cried the brigadier, and
he plucked his revolver from his belt and fired



between the dog's eyes. Toto dropped like a
stone, his brains oozed out upon the pavement.
Chariot saw from where he leaned, sick and
dizzy, against the wall of his house. With a
shrill scream he fell forward on the body of his
dead friend, his face bathed in blood.

" He is dead, too ; so best," said the brigadier ;
and he kicked the bodies of the man and the
dog where they were lying one on the other.

A crowd had assembled, and at the windows
and in the doorways the people who dwelt in
all the houses near were looking on, horrified,
grieved, but paralyzed by their fear of the
police. Nanon lay insensible upon the stones ;
Madame Viret ran to her, and raised her head
and wiped her temple, which was cut and

The brigadier wrote his prods-verbal in his
note book. It began —

" Whereas, resistance to authority "

He foresaw praise and promotion which
would accrue to him for his zeal in defence of
authority : it is such servants as these that the
State prizes.

His narration set forth how he had slain a
rabid animal at great risk, in his own defence,



and for the public safety ; he felt sure that the
Pasteur Institute would send him some recom-
pense ; perhaps even put his statue in the
garden there, beside that of the Swiss shepherd,
who beat a dog to death with his sabots.

That night the notary and his wife buried by
stealth the body of Toto in a cherry orchard
which they possessed at St. Mande, and buried
with him the little gilded frame which held the
record of the life he had saved at the Pont

Nanon was lying on her bed, with the wounds
on her temple and forehead bandaged, and her
brain dulled with morphine. In the shop, on
the counter, a mattress was spread, and on the
mattress there was stretched the body of Chariot.
The medical certificate of his death wrote down
its cause as hemiplegia. The populace was
quiet for fear of the police ; but it muttered, low
and bitterly, savage words, and many small
traders near closed their shutters.

The Pot aux Roses was never opened as a
shop again.

Nanon partially recovered her health, but she
was childish and stupid ever after that day. She
lived for more than a year, but she never fully



recovered her senses. She murmured, " Chariot
— Toto" almost incessantly, and spent the whole
of her time, from dawn to dark, in watching for
them, looking up and down the street from what
had been so long the shop door, expecting them
home to dinner.

Then, one night, in her sleep, she also died,
from the breaking of a blood-vessel on the

The old house has been pulled down this
summer, and the sign of the Pot aux Roses has
been broken up and sold for matchwood.

Four years have gone by, and every one has
forgotten Nanon and Chariot, and the grass
grows long over their graves in the Cemetery of
Mont Parnasse, as over that of Toto in the
orchard at St. Mandc. Only now and then
Madame Virct still says to little Pierrot —

" Ah, ce panvre Toto ! C^tait un brave ! "




It was a little shawl, of a golden yellow, made
of floss silk and interwoven with threads of gold
twist. It was of oriental make, and had a heavy
fringe of its own silk. The girl Tonia did not
know its manufacture or its value, but she knew
it was some lady's toy, where it hung on a low
branch of vine among the dock-leaves and fox-



The sun was shining on it, and made its
golden hue gleam like molten gold ; she looked
round her, up and down hill, and across the
fields. There was no one in sight. She pulled
up her apron, and into the pocket which she
wore beneath it she thrust the shawl, in company
with a pair of rusty scissors, a clasp-knife, some
coppers, a dead chaffinch, and a half-eaten piece

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Online Library1839-1908 OuidaLa Strega and other stories → online text (page 9 of 12)