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The Dog of Montargis, edited by Andrew Lang


For three days Aubrey de Montdidier had not been seen by his friends and comrades in arms. On Sunday morning he had attended mass in the Church of Our Lady, but it was noticed that in the afternoon he was absent from the great tournament which was held at Saint Katherine’s. This astonished his friend the young Sieur de Narsac, who had appointed to meet him there, that they might watch together the encounter between a Burgundian knight and a gentleman from Provence, both renowned in tilting, who were to meet together for the first time that day in Paris. It was unlike Aubrey to fail to be present on such an occasion, and when for three successive days he did not appear at his accustomed haunts, his friends grew anxious, and began to question among themselves whether some accident might not have befallen him. Early on the morning of the fourth day De Narsac was awakened by a continuous sound, as of something scratching against his door. Starting up to listen, he heard, in the intervals of the scratching, a low whine, as of a dog in pain. Thoroughly aroused, he got up and opened the door. Stretched before it, apparently too weak to stand, was a great, gaunt greyhound, spent with exhaustion and hunger. His ribs stood out like the bars of a gridiron beneath his smooth coat; his tongue hung down between his jaws, parched and stiff; his eyes were bloodshot, and he trembled in every limb.

De Narsac pets the emaciated dog


On seeing De Narsac the poor creature struggled to his feet, feebly wagged his tail, and thrust his nose into  the young man’s hands. Then only did De Narsac recognise in the half-starved skeleton before him the favourite dog and constant companion of his friend, Aubrey de Montdidier. It was clear from the poor animal’s emaciated appearance that it was in the last stage of exhaustion. Summoning his servant, De Narsac  ordered food and water to be brought at once, and the dog devoured the huge meal set before it. From his starved appearance, and from the voracity with which he devoured the food set before him, it was evident that he had had nothing to eat for some days. No sooner was his hunger appeased than he began to move uneasily about the room. Uttering low howls of distress from time to time, he approached the door; then, returning to De Narsac’s side, he looked up in his face and gently tugged at his mantle, as if to attract attention. There was something at once so appealing and peculiar in the dog’s behaviour that De Narsac’s curiosity was aroused, and he became convinced that there was some connection between the dog’s starved appearance and strange manner and the unaccountable disappearance of his master. Perhaps the dog might supply the clue to Aubrey’s place of concealment. Watching the dog’s behaviour closely, De Narsac became aware that the dumb beast was inviting him to accompany him. Accordingly he yielded to the dog’s apparent wish, and, leaving the house, followed him out into the streets of Paris.

Looking round from time to time to see that De Narsac was coming after him, the greyhound pursued its way through the narrow, tortuous streets of the ancient city, over the Bridge, and out by the Porte St.-Martin, into the open country outside the gates of the town. Then, continuing on its track, the dog headed for the Forest of Bondy, a place of evil fame in those far-off days, as its solitudes were known to be infested by bands of robbers. Stopping suddenly in a deep and densely wooded glade of the wood, the dog uttered a succession of low, angry growls; then, tugging at De Narsac’s mantle, it led him to some freshly turned-up earth, beneath a wide-spreading oak-tree. With a piteous whine the dog stretched himself on the spot, and could not be induced by De Narsac to follow him back to Paris, where he straightway betook himself, as he at once suspected foul  play. A few hours later a party of men, guided to the spot by the young Sieur de Narsac, removed the earth and dead leaves and ferns from the hole into which they had been hastily flung, and discovered the murdered body of Aubrey de Montdidier. Hurriedly a litter was constructed of boughs of trees, and, followed by the dog, the body was borne into Paris, where it was soon afterwards buried.

From that hour the greyhound attached himself to the Sieur de Narsac. It slept in his room, ate from his table, and followed close at his heels when he went out of doors. One morning, as the two were threading their way through the crowded Rue St.-Martin, De Narsac was startled by hearing a low, fierce growl from the greyhound. Looking down he saw that the creature was shaking in every limb; his smooth coat was bristling, his tail was straight and stiff, and he was showing his teeth. In another moment he had made a dart from De Narsac’s side, and had sprung on a young gentleman named Macaire, in the uniform of the king’s bodyguard, who, with several comrades in arms, was sauntering along on the opposite side of the street. There was something so sudden in the attack that the Chevalier Macaire was almost thrown on the ground. With their walking-canes he and his friends beat off the dog, and on De Narsac coming up, it was called away, and, still trembling and growling, followed its master down the street.

A few days later the same thing occurred. De Narsac and the Chevalier Macaire chanced to encounter each other walking in the royal park. In a moment the dog had rushed at Macaire, and, with a fierce spring at his throat, had tried to pull him to the ground. De Narsac and some officers of the king’s bodyguard came to Macaire’s assistance, and the dog was called off. The rumour of this attack reached the ears of the king, and mixed with the rumour were whisperings of a long-standing quarrel between Macaire and Aubrey de Montdidier.  Might not the dog’s strange and unaccountable hatred for the young officer be a clue to the mysterious murder of his late master? Determined to sift the matter to the bottom, the king summoned De Narsac and the dog to his presence at the Hôtel St.-Pol. Following close on his master’s heels, the greyhound entered the audience-room, where the king was seated, surrounded by his courtiers. As De Narsac bowed low before his sovereign, a short, fierce bark was heard from the dog, and, before he could be held back, he had darted in among the startled courtiers, and had sprung at the throat of the Chevalier Macaire, who, with several other knights, formed a little group behind the king’s chair.

It was impossible longer to doubt that there was some ground for the surmises that had rapidly grown to suspicion, and that had received sudden confirmation from the fresh evidence of the dog’s hatred.

The king decided that there should be a trial by the judgment of God, and that a combat should take place between man, the accused, and dog, the accuser. The place chosen for the combat was a waste, uninhabited plot of ground, frequently selected as a duelling-ground by the young gallants of Paris.

In the presence of the king and his courtiers the strange unnatural combat took place that afternoon. The knight was armed with a short thick stick; the dog was provided with an empty barrel, as a retreating ground from the attacks of his adversary. At a given signal the combatants entered the lists. The dog seemed quite to understand the strange duel on which it was engaged. Barking savagely, and darting round his opponent, he made attempts to leap at his throat; now on this side, now on that he sprang, jumping into the air, and then bounding back out of reach of the stick. There was such swiftness and determination about his movements, and something so unnatural in the combat, that Macaire’s nerve failed him. His blows beat the air, without hitting  the dog; his breath came in quick short gasps; there was a look of terror on his face, and for a moment, overcome by the horror of the situation, his eye quailed and sought the ground. At that instant the dog sprang at his throat and pinned him to the earth. In his terror, he called out and acknowledged his crime, and implored the king’s mercy. But the judgment of God had decided. The dog was called off before it had strangled its victim, but the man was hurried away to the place of execution, and atoned that evening for the murder of the faithful greyhound’s master.

The King watches as the dog attacks Macaire


The dog has been known to posterity as the Dog of Montargis, as in the Castle of Montargis there stood for many centuries a sculptured stone mantelpiece, on which the combat was carved.