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Tom, an Adventure in the Life of a Bear in Paris,

edited by Andrew Lang

From Alexandre Dumas.

Some sixty years ago and more, a well-known artist named Décamps lived in Paris. He was the intimate friend of some of the first authors, artists, and scientific men of the day, and was devotedly fond of animals of all sorts. He loved to paint them, and he kept quite a small ménagerie in his studio where a bear, a monkey, a tortoise, and a frog lived (more or less) in peace and harmony together.

The bear’s name was ‘Tom,’ the monkey was called ‘Jacko I.,’[1] the frog was ‘Mademoiselle Camargo,’ and the tortoise ‘Gazelle.’

[1] To distinguish him from Jacko II., a monkey belonging to Tony Johannot, the painter.

Here follows the story of Tom, the bear.

It was the night of Shrove Tuesday in the year 1832. Tom had as yet only spent six months in Paris, but he was really one of the most attractive bears you could wish to meet.

He ran to open the door when the bell rang, he mounted guard for hours together, halberd in hand, standing on his hind legs, and he danced a minuet with infinite grace, holding a broomstick behind his head.

He had spent the whole day in the exercise of these varied accomplishments, to the great delight of the frequenters of his master’s studio, and had just retired to the  press which did duty as his hutch, to seek a little repose, when there was a knock at the street door. Jacko instantly showed such signs of joy that Décamps made a shrewd guess that the visitor could be no other than Fan, the self-elected tutor in chief to the two animals—nor was he mistaken. The door opened, Fan appeared, dressed as a clown, and Jacko flung himself in rapture into his arms.

‘Very good, very good,’ said Fan, placing the monkey on the table and handing him a cane. ‘You’re really a charming creature. Carry arms, present arms, make ready, fire! Capital!’

‘I’ll have a complete uniform made for you, and you shall mount guard instead of me. But I haven’t come for you to-night; it’s your friend Tom I want. Where may he be?’

‘Why, in his hutch, I suppose,’ said Décamps.

‘Tom! here, Tom!’ cried Fan.

Tom gave a low growl, just to show that he knew very well who they were talking of, but that he was in no hurry to show himself.

‘Well!’ exclaimed Fan, ‘is this how my orders are obeyed? Tom, my friend, don’t force me to resort to extreme measures.’

Tom stretched one great paw beyond the cupboard without allowing any more of his person to be seen, and began to yawn plaintively like a child just wakened from its first sleep.

‘Where is the broomstick?’ inquired Fan in threatening tones, and rattling the collection of Indian bows, arrows, and spears which stood behind the door.

‘Ready!’ cried Décamps, pointing to Tom, who, on hearing these well known sounds, had roused himself without more ado, and advanced towards his tutor with a perfectly innocent and unconscious air.

‘That’s right,’ said Fan: ‘now be a good fellow, particularly as one has come all this way on purpose to fetch you.’

Fan and Tom shake hands

TOM IS INVITED TO THE BALL

 Tom waved his head up and down.

‘So, so—now shake hands with your friends:—first rate!’

‘Do you mean to take him with you?’ asked Décamps.

‘Rather!’ replied Fan; ‘and give him a good time into the bargain.’

‘And where are you going?’

‘To the Carnival Masked Ball, nothing less! Now then Tom, my friend, come along. We’ve got a cab outside waiting by the hour.’

As though fully appreciating the force of this argument, Tom trundled down stairs four steps at a time followed by his friend. The driver opened the cab door, and Tom, under Fan’s guidance, stepped in as if he had done nothing else all his life.

‘My eye! that’s a queer sort of a fancy dress,’ said cabby; ‘anyone might take him for a real bear. Where to, gentlemen?’

‘Odéon Theatre,’ said Fan.

‘Grrrooonnn,’ observed Tom.

‘All right,’ said the cabman. ‘Keep your temper. It’s a good step from here, but we shall get there all in good time.’

Half an hour later the cab drew up at the door of the theatre. Fan got down first, paid the driver, handed out Tom, took two tickets, and passed in without exciting any special attention.

At the second turn they made round the crush-room people began to follow Fan. The perfection with which the newcomer imitated the walk and movements of the animal whose skin he wore attracted the notice of some lovers of natural history. They pressed closer and closer, and anxious to find out whether he was equally clever in imitating the bear’s voice, they began to pull his hairs and prick his ears—‘Grrrooonnn,’ said Tom.

 A murmur of admiration ran through the crowd—nothing could be more lifelike.

Fan led Tom to the buffet and offered him some little cakes, to which he was very partial, and which he proceeded to swallow with so admirable a pretence of voracity that the bystanders burst out laughing. Then the mentor poured out a tumbler full of water, which Tom took gingerly between his paws, as he was accustomed to whenever Décamps did him the honour of permitting him to appear at table, and gulped down the contents at one draught. Enthusiasm knew no bounds! Indeed such was the delight and interest shown that when, at length, Fan wished to leave the buffet, he found they were hemmed in by so dense a crowd that he felt nervous lest Tom should think of clearing the road with claws and teeth. So he promptly led his bear to a corner, placed him with his back against the wall, and told him to stay there till further orders.

As has been already mentioned, this kind of drill was quite familiar to Tom, and was well suited to his natural indolence, and when a harlequin offered his hat to complete the picture, he settled himself comfortably, gravely laying one great paw on his wooden gun.

‘Do you happen to know,’ said Fan to the obliging harlequin, ‘who you have lent your hat to?’

‘No,’ replied harlequin.

‘You mean to say you don’t guess?’

‘Not in the least.’

‘Come, take a good look at him. From the grace of all his movements, from the manner in which he carries his head, slightly on one side, like Alexander the Great—from the admirable imitations of the bear’s voice—you don’t mean to say you don’t recognise him?’

‘Upon my word I don’t.’

‘Odry!’[2] whispered Fan mysteriously; ‘Odry, in his costume from “The Bear and the Pacha”!’

[2] A well-known actor of the time.

 ‘Oh, but he acts a white bear, you know.’

‘Just so; that’s why he has chosen a brown bear’s skin as a disguise.’

‘Ho, ho! You’re a good one,’ cried harlequin.

‘Grrooonnn,’ observed Tom.

‘Well, now you mention it, I do recognise his voice. Really, I wonder it had not struck me before. Do ask him to disguise it better.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Fan, moving towards the ball-room, ‘but it will never do to worry him. However, I’ll try to persuade him to dance a minuet presently.’

‘Oh, could you really?’

‘He promised to do so. Just give a hint to your friends and try to prevent their teasing him.’

‘All right.’

Tom made his way through the crowd, whilst the delighted harlequin moved from one mask to another, telling his news with warnings to be discreet, which were well received. Just then, too, the sounds of a lively galop were heard, and a general rush to the ball-room took place, harlequin only pausing to murmur in Tom’s ear: ‘I know you, my fine mask.’

‘Grroooonnn,’ replied Tom.

‘Ah, it’s all very well to growl, but you’ll dance a minuet, won’t you, old fellow?’

Tom waved his head up and down as his way was when anyone asked him a question, and harlequin, satisfied with this silent consent, ran off to find a columbine and to dance the galop.

Meanwhile, Tom remained alone with the waiters; motionless at his post, but with longing eyes turned towards the counter on which the most tempting piles of cake were heaped on numerous dishes. The waiters, remarking his rapt attention, and pleased to tempt a customer, stretched out a dish, Tom extended his paw and gingerly took a cake—then a second—then a third: the waiters seemed never tired of offering, or Tom of  accepting these delicacies, and so, when the galop ended and the dancers returned to the crush-room, he had made short work of some dozens of little cakes.

Harlequin had recruited a columbine and a shepherdess, and he introduced these ladies as partners for the promised minuet. With all the air of an old friend he whispered a few words to Tom, who, in the best of humours after so many cakes, replied with his most gracious growl. The harlequin, turning towards the gallery, announced that his lordship had much pleasure in complying with the universal request, and amidst loud applause, the shepherdess took one of Tom’s paws and the columbine the other. Tom, for his part, like an accomplished cavalier, walked between his two partners, glancing at them by turns with looks of some surprise, and soon found himself with them in the middle of the pit of the theatre which was used as a ball-room. All took their places, some in the boxes, others in the galleries, the greater number forming a circle round the dancers. The band struck up.

The minuet was Tom’s greatest triumph and Fan’s masterpiece, and with the very first steps success was assured and went on increasing with each movement, till at the last figure the applause became delirious. Tom was swept off in triumph to a stage box where the shepherdess, removing her wreath of roses, crowned him with it, whilst the whole theatre resounded with the applause of the spectators.

Tom leant over the front of the box with a grace all his own; at the same time the strains of a fresh dance were heard, and everyone hurried to secure partners except a few courtiers of the new star who hovered round in hope of extracting an order for the play from him, but Tom only replied to their broadest hints with his perpetual ‘Grroonnn.’

By degrees this became rather monotonous, and gradually Tom’s court dwindled away, people murmuring that, though his dancing powers were certainly unrivalled, his  conversation was a trifle insipid. An hour later Tom was alone! So fleeting is public favour.

Tom dancing with two women

‘THE MINUET WAS TOM’S GREATEST TRIUMPH’

And now the hour of departure drew near. The pit was thinning and the boxes empty, and pale rays of morning light were glinting into the hall when the box-opener, who was going her rounds, heard sounds of snoring proceeding from one of the stage boxes. She opened  the door, and there was Tom, who, tired out after his eventful night, had fallen fast asleep on the floor. The box-opener stepped in and politely hinted that it was six o’clock and time to go home.

‘Grrooonnn,’ said Tom.

‘I hear you,’ said the box-opener; ‘you’re asleep, my good man, but you’ll sleep better still in your own bed. Come, come, your wife must be getting quite anxious! Upon my word I don’t believe he hears a word I say. How heavily he sleeps!’ And she shook him by the shoulder.

‘Grrrooonnn!’

‘All right, all right! This isn’t a time to make believe. Besides, we all know you. There now, they’re putting out the lights. Shall I send for a cab for you?’

‘Grrroooonnn.’

‘Come, come, the Odéon Theatre isn’t an inn; come, be off! Oh, that’s what you’re after, is it? Fie, Monsieur Odry, fie! I shall call the guard; the inspector hasn’t gone to bed yet. Ah, indeed! You won’t obey rules! You are trying to beat me, are you? You would beat a woman—and a former artiste to M. Odry, would you? For shame! But we shall see. Here, help—police—inspector—help!’

‘What’s the matter?’ cried the fireman on duty.

‘Help!’ screamed the box-opener, ‘help!’

‘What’s the matter?’ asked the sergeant commanding the patrol.

‘Oh, it’s old mother what’s her name, shrieking for help in one of the stage boxes.’

‘Coming!’ shouted the sergeant.

‘This way, Mr. Sergeant, this way,’ cried the box-opener.

‘All right, my dear, here I am. But where are you?’

‘Don’t be afraid; there are no steps—straight on this way—he’s in the corner. Oh, the rascal, he’s as strong as a Turk!’

 ‘Grrrooonnn,’ said Tom.

‘There, do you hear him? Is that to be called a Christian language?’

‘Come, come, my friend,’ said the sergeant, who had at last managed to distinguish Tom in the faint twilight. ‘We all know what it is to be young—no one likes a joke better than I do—but rules are rules, and the hour for going home has struck, so right about face, march! and quick step too.’

‘Grrrooonnn’—

‘Very pretty; a first-rate imitation. But suppose we try something else now for a change. Come, old fellow, step out with a good will. Ah! you won’t. You’re going to cut up rough, are you? Here, my man, lay hold and turn him out.’

‘He won’t walk, sergeant.’

‘Well, what are the butt ends of your muskets for? Come, a tap or two will do no harm.’

‘Grrrooonnn—Grrrooonnn—Grrrooonnn—’

‘Go on, give it him well!’

‘I say, sergeant,’ said one of the men, ‘it strikes me he’s a real bear. I caught hold of him by the collar just now, and the skin seems to grow on the flesh.’

‘Oh, if he’s a real bear treat him with every consideration. His owner might claim damages. Go and fetch the fireman’s lantern.’

‘Grrrooonnn.’

‘Here’s the lantern,’ said a man; ‘now then, throw some light on the prisoner.’

The soldier obeyed.

‘It is certainly a real snout,’ declared the sergeant.

‘Goodness gracious me!’ shrieked the box-opener as she took to her heels, ‘a real live bear!’

‘Well, yes, a real live bear. Let’s see if he has any name or address on him and take him home. I expect he has strayed, and being of a sociable disposition, came in to the Masked Ball.’

 ‘Grrrooonnn.’

‘There, you see, he agrees.’

‘Hallo!’ exclaimed one of the soldiers.

‘What’s the matter?’

The box-opener and sergeant discover Tom asleep

TOM DISCOVERED IN THE BOX

‘He has a little bag hung round his neck.’

‘Open the bag.’

‘A card.’

‘Read the card.’

The soldier took it and read:

 ‘My name is Tom. I live at No. 109 Rue Faubourg St.-Denis. I have five francs in my purse. Two for a cab, and three for whoever takes me home.’

‘True enough; there are the five francs,’ cried the sergeant. ‘Now then, two volunteers for escort duty.’

‘Here!’ cried the guard in chorus.

‘Don’t all speak at once! Let the two seniors have the benefit of the job; off with you, my lads.’

Two of the municipal guards advanced towards Tom, slipped a rope round his neck and, for precaution’s sake, gave it a twist or two round his snout. Tom offered no resistance—the butt ends of the muskets had made him as supple as a glove. When they were fifty yards from the theatre, ‘Bah!’ said one of the soldiers, ‘’tis a fine morning. Suppose we don’t take a cab. The walk will do him good.’

‘Besides,’ remarked the other, ‘we should each have two and a half francs instead of only one and a half.’

‘Agreed.’

Half an hour later they stood at the door of 109. After some knocking, a very sleepy portress looked out.

‘Look here, Mother Wideawake,’ said one of the guard; ‘here’s one of your lodgers. Do you recognise him?’

‘Why, I should rather think so. It’s Monsieur Décamps’ bear!’

The same day, Odry the actor received a bill for little cakes, amounting to seven francs and a half.