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The Adventures of Pyramus, edited by Andrew Lang


Pyramus was a large brown dog, born of a good family, who had been given, when a mere pup, to Alexandre Dumas, the great French novelist, then quite a young man. Now the keeper to whom Pyramus first belonged had also a tiny little fox-cub without any relations about the place, so both fox-cub and dog-pup were handed over to the same mother, who brought them up side by side, until they were able to do for themselves. So when the keeper made young Dumas a present of Pyramus, he thought he had better bestow Cartouche on him as well.

Of course it is hardly necessary to say that these fine names were not invented by the keeper, who had never heard of either Pyramus or Cartouche, but were given to his pets by Dumas, after he had spent a little time in observing their characters.

Certainly it was a very curious study. Here were two animals, who had never been apart since they were born, and were now living together in two kennels side by side in the court-yard of the house, and yet after the first three or four months, when they were mere babies, every day showed some difference, and soon they ceased to be friends at all and became open enemies.

The earliest fight known to have taken place between them happened in this way. One day some bones were thrown by accident within the bounds of Cartouche’s territory, and though if they belonged to anybody, it was clearly Cartouche, Pyramus resolved most unfairly to get hold of them. The first time Pyramus tried secretly to  commit this act of piracy, Cartouche growled; the second time he showed his teeth; the third time he bit.

It must be owned that Cartouche had shown some excuse for his violent behaviour, because he always remained chained up, whereas Pyramus was allowed certain hours of liberty; and it was during one of these that he made up his mind to steal the bones from Cartouche, whose chain (he thought) would prevent any attempt at reprisals. Indeed, he even tried to make out to his conscience that probably the bones were not dainty enough for Cartouche, who loved delicate food, whereas anything was good enough for him, Pyramus. However, whether he wanted to eat the bones or not, Cartouche had no intention of letting them be stolen from him, and having managed to drive off Pyramus on the first occasion, he determined to get safely hold of the bones before his enemy was unchained again.

Now the chains of each were the same length, four feet, and in addition to that, Pyramus had a bigger head and longer nose than Cartouche, who was much smaller altogether. So it follows that when they were both chained up, Pyramus could stretch farther towards any object that lay at an equal distance between their kennels. Pyramus knew this, and so he counted on always getting the better of Cartouche.

But Cartouche had not been born a fox for nothing, and he watched with a scornful expression the great Pyramus straining at his chain with his eyes nearly jumping out of his head with greed and rage. ‘Really,’ said Cartouche to himself, ‘if he goes on like that much longer, I shall have a mad dog for a neighbour before the day is out. Let me see if I can’t manage better.’ But as we know, being a much smaller animal than Pyramus, his nose did not come nearly so close to the bones; and after one or two efforts to reach the tempting morsel which was lying about six feet from each kennel, he gave it up, and retired to his warm bed, hoping that he might somehow  hit upon some idea which would enable him to reach the ‘bones of contention.’

All at once he jumped up, for after hard thought he had got what he wanted. He trotted merrily to the length of his chain, and now it was Pyramus’s turn to look on and to think with satisfaction: ‘Well, if I can’t get them, you can’t either, which is a comfort.’

Cartouche pulls the bone closer with his hind foot


But gradually his grin of delight changed into a savage snarl, as Cartouche turned himself round when he had got to the end of his chain, and stretching out his paw, hooked the bone which he gradually drew within reach, and before Pyramus had recovered from his astonishment, Cartouche had got possession of all the bones and was cracking them with great enjoyment inside his kennel.

It may seem very unjust that Cartouche was always kept chained up, while Pyramus was allowed to roam about freely, but the fact was that Pyramus only ate or stole when he was really hungry, while Cartouche was by  nature the murderer of everything he came across. One day he broke his chain and ran off to the fowl-yard of Monsieur Mauprivez, who lived next door. In less than ten minutes he had strangled seventeen hens and two cocks: nineteen corpses in all! It was impossible to find any ‘extenuating circumstances’ in his favour. He was condemned to death and promptly executed.

Henceforth Pyramus reigned alone, and it is sad to think that he seemed to enjoy it, and even that his appetite grew bigger.

It is bad enough for any dog to have an appetite like Pyramus when he was at home, but when he was out shooting, and should have been doing his duty as a retriever, this fault became a positive vice. Whatever might be the first bird shot by his master, whether it happened to be partridge or pheasant, quail or snipe, down it would go into Pyramus’s wide throat. It was seldom, indeed, that his master arrived in time to see even the last feathers.

A smart blow from a whip kept him in order all the rest of the day, and it was very rarely that he sinned twice in this way while on the same expedition, but unluckily before the next day’s shooting came round, he had entirely forgotten all about his previous caning, and justice had to be done again.

On two separate occasions, however, Pyramus’s greediness brought its own punishment. One day his master was shooting with a friend in a place where a small wood had been cut down early in the year, and after the low shrubs had been sawn in pieces and bound in bundles, the grass was left to grow into hay, and this hay was now in process of cutting. The shooting party reached the spot just at the time that the reapers were having their dinner and taking their midday rest, and one of the reapers had laid his scythe against a little stack of wood about three feet high. At this moment a snipe got up, and M. Dumas fired and killed it. It  fell on the other side of the stack of wood against which the scythe was leaning.

As it was the first bird he had killed that day, he knew of course that it would become the prey of Pyramus, so he did not hurry himself to go after it, but watched with amusement, Pyramus tearing along, even jumping over the stack in his haste.

But when after giving the dog the usual time to swallow his fat morsel, Monsieur did not see Pyramus coming back to him as usual in leaps and bounds, he began to wonder what could have happened, and made hastily for the stack of wood behind which he had disappeared. There he found the unlucky Pyramus lying on the ground, with the point of the scythe right through his neck. The blood was pouring from the wound, and he lay motionless, with the snipe dead on the ground about six inches from his nose.

The two men raised him as gently as possible, and carried him to the river, and here they bathed the wound with water. They then folded a pocket-handkerchief into a band, and tied it tightly round his neck to staunch the blood, and when this was done, and they were wondering how to get him home, a peasant fortunately passed driving a donkey with two panniers, and he was laid in one of the panniers and taken to the nearest village, where he was put safely into a carriage.

For eight days Pyramus lay between life and death. For a whole month his head hung on one side, and it was only after six weeks (which seems like six years to a dog) that he was able to run about as usual, and appeared to have forgotten his accident.

Only, whenever he saw a scythe he made a long round to avoid coming in contact with it.

Some time afterwards he returned to the house with his body as full of holes as a sieve. On this occasion he was taking a walk through the forest, and, seeing a goat feeding, jumped at its throat. The goat screamed  loudly, and the keeper, who was smoking at a little distance off, ran to his help; but before he could come up the goat was half dead. On hearing the steps of the keeper, and on listening to his strong language, Pyramus understood very well that this stout man dressed in blue would have something very serious to say to him, so he stretched his legs to their fullest extent, and started off like an arrow from a bow. But, as Man Friday long ago remarked, ‘My little ball of lead can run faster than thou,’ the keeper’s little ball of lead ran faster than Pyramus, and that is how he came home with all the holes in his body.

There is no denying that Pyramus was a very bad dog, and as his master was fond of him, it is impossible to believe that he can always have been hungry, as, for instance, when he jumped up in a butcher’s shop to steal a piece of meat and got the hook on which it was hung through his own jaws, so that someone had to come and unhook him. But hungry or not, Monsieur Dumas had no time to be perpetually getting him out of scrapes, and when a few months later an Englishman who wanted a sporting dog took a fancy to Pyramus, his master was not altogether sorry to say good-bye.