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The Story of a Frog, edited by Andrew Lang

PART I

Everyone knows what excitement the approach of the shooting season causes to a certain class of people in Paris. One is perpetually meeting some of them on their way back from the canal where they have been ‘getting their hands in’ by popping at larks and sparrows, dragging a dog after them, and stopping each acquaintance to ask: ‘Do you like quails and partridges?’ ‘Certainly.’ ‘Ah, well, I’ll send you some about the second or third of next month.’ ‘Many thanks.’ ‘By the way I hit five sparrows out of eight shots just now. Not bad, was it?’ ‘First rate indeed!’

Well, towards the end of August, 1830, one of these sportsmen called at No. 109, in the Faubourg St.-Denis, and on being told that Décamps was at home, climbed to the fifth floor, dragging his dog up step by step, and knocking his gun against every corner till he reached the studio of that eminent painter. However, he only found his brother Alexandre, one of those brilliant and original persons whose inherent laziness alone prevented his bringing his great natural gifts to perfection.

He was universally voted a very good fellow, for his easy good nature made him ready to do or give whatever anyone asked. It was not surprising, therefore, that the new comer soon managed to persuade Alexandre that nothing could be more delightful than to attend the  opening of the shooting season on the plains of St.-Denis, where, according to general report, there were swarms of quails, clouds of partridges, and troops of hares.

As a result of this visit, Alexandre Décamps ordered a shooting coat from his tailor, a gun from the first gun-maker’s in Paris, and a pair of gaiters from an equally celebrated firm; all of which cost him 660 francs, not to mention the price of his licence.

On August 31 Alexandre discovered that one important item was still wanting to his outfit—a dog. He went at once to a man who had supplied various models to his brother Eugène’s well-known picture of ‘performing dogs,’ and asked if he happened to have any sporting dogs.

The man declared he had the very thing, and going to the kennel promptly whipped off the three-cornered hat and little coat worn by a black and white mongrel whom he hastened to present to his customer as a dog of the purest breed. Alexandre hinted that it was not usual for a pointer to have such sharp-pointed ears, but the dealer replied that ‘Love’ was an English dog, and that it was considered the very best form for English dogs to have pointed ears. As this statement might be true, Alexandre made no further objections, but paid for the dog and took Love home with him.

At five o’clock next morning Alexandre was roused up by his sporting friend, who, scolding him well for not being ready earlier, hurried him off as fast as possible, declaring the whole plain would be shot before they could get there.

It was certainly a curious sight; not a swallow, not even the meanest little sparrow, could rise without a volley of shots after it, and everyone was anxiously on the look-out for any and every sort of bird that could possibly be called game.

Alexandre’s friend was soon bitten by the general fever and threw himself energetically amidst the excited  crowd, whilst Alexandre strolled along more calmly, dutifully followed by Love. Now everyone knows that the first duty of any sporting dog is to scour the field and not to count the nails in his master’s boots. This thought naturally occurred to Alexandre, and he accordingly made a sign to Love and said: ‘Seek!’

Love dances around on his hind legs

LOVE’S DISGRACEFUL BEHAVIOUR OUT SHOOTING

 Love promptly stood up on his hind legs and began to dance.

‘Dear me,’ said Alexandre, as he lowered his gun and contemplated his dog: ‘It appears that Love unites the lighter accomplishments to his more serious education. I seem to have made rather a good bargain.’ However, having bought Love to point and not to dance, he waited till the dance was over and repeated in firm tones: ‘Seek!’

Love stretched himself out at full length and appeared to be dead.

Alexandre put his glass into his eye and inspected Love. The intelligent creature was perfectly immovable; not a hair on his body stirred, he might have been dead for twenty-four hours.

‘This is all very pretty,’ said Alexandre, ‘but, my friend, this is not the time for these jokes. We are here to shoot—let us shoot. Come! get up.’

Love did not stir an inch.

‘Wait a bit,’ remarked Alexandre, as he picked up a stick from the ground and took a step towards Love, intending to stir him up with it: ‘Wait a bit.’ But no sooner did Love see the stick in his master’s hand than he sprang to his feet and eagerly watched his movements. Alexandre thinking the dog was at last going to obey, held the stick towards him, and for the third time ordered him to ‘seek.’

Love took a run and sprang gracefully over the stick.

Love could do three things to perfection—dance on his hind legs, sham dead, and jump for the king!

Alexandre, however, who did not appreciate the third accomplishment any more than he had done the two others, broke the stick over Love’s back, which sent him off howling to his master’s friend.

As fate would have it the friend fired at that very moment, and an unfortunate lark fell right into Love’s jaws. Love thankfully accepted this windfall, and made  but one mouthful of the lark. The infuriated sportsman threw himself on the dog, and seizing him by the throat to force open his jaws, thrust in his hand and drew out—three tail feathers: the bird itself was not to be thought of.

Bestowing a vicious kick on the unhappy Love, he turned on Alexandre, exclaiming: ‘Never again do you catch me shooting with you. Your brute of a dog has just devoured a superb quail. Ah! come here if you dare, you rascal!’

Poor Love had not the least wish to go near him. He ran as fast as he could to his master, a sure proof that he preferred blows to kicks.

However, the lark seemed to have whetted Love’s appetite: and perceiving creatures of apparently the same kind rise now and then from the ground, he took to scampering about in hopes of some second piece of good luck.

Alexandre had some difficulty in keeping up with him, for Love hunted his game after a fashion of his own, that is to say with his head up and his tail down. This would seem to prove that his sight was better than his scent, but it was particularly objectionable to his master, for he put up the birds before they were within reach, and then ran barking after them. This went on nearly all day.

Towards five o’clock Alexandre had walked about fifteen miles and Love at least fifty; the former was exhausted with calling and the latter with barking, when, all of a sudden Love began to point, so firmly and steadily that he seemed changed to stone.

At this surprising sight Alexandre, forgetful of all his fatigues and disappointments, hurried up, trembling lest Love should break off before he could get within reach. No fear; Love might have been glued to the spot. Alexandre came up to him, noted the direction of his eyes and saw that they were fixed on a tuft of grass, and that under this grass there appeared to be some greyish object.  Thinking it must be a young bird which had strayed from its covey, he laid down his gun, took his cap in his hand, and cautiously creeping near, like a child about to catch a butterfly, he flung the cap over the unknown object, put in his hand and drew out—a frog!

Anyone else would have flung the frog away, but Alexandre philosophically reflected that there must certainly be some great future in store for this, the sole result of his day’s sport; so he accordingly put the frog carefully into his game bag and brought it home, where he transferred it to an empty glass jam jar and poured the contents of his water-bottle on its head.

A frog

THE SOLE RESULT OF HIS DAY’S SPORT

So much care and trouble for a frog may appear excessive; but Alexandre knew what this particular frog had cost him, and he treated it accordingly.

It had cost him 660 francs, without counting his licence.

PART II

‘Ah, ah!’ cried Dr. Thierry as he entered the studio next day, ‘so you’ve got a new inmate.’ And without paying any attention to Tom’s friendly growls or to Jacko’s engaging grimaces, he walked straight up to the  jar which contained Mademoiselle Camargo—as she had already been named.[10]

[10] A fashionable dancer in Paris.

Mademoiselle Camargo, unaware that Thierry was not only a learned doctor, but also a most intellectual and delightful person, fell to swimming round and round her jar as fast as she could go, which however did not prevent her being seized by one of her hind legs.

The frog in a tall jar with water and a ladder

MADEMOISELLE CAMARGO BECOMES A BAROMETER

‘Dear me,’ said Thierry, as he turned the little creature about, ‘a specimen of the Rana temporaria. See, there are the two black spots near the eyes which give it the name. Now if you only had a few dozens of this species, I should advise you to have a fricassée made of their hind legs, to send for a couple of bottles of good  claret, and to ask me to dinner. But as you only happen to have one, we will, with your leave, content ourselves with making a barometer.

‘Now,’ said Thierry, opening a drawer, ‘let us attend to the prisoner’s furniture.’ Saying which he took out two cartridges, a gimlet, a penknife, two paint-brushes, and four matches. Décamps watched him without in the least understanding the object of all these preparations, which the doctor was making with as much care as though for some surgical operation.

First he emptied the powder out of the cartridges into a tray and kept the bullets. Then he threw the brushes and ties to Jacko and kept the handles.

‘What the deuce are you about?’ cried Décamps, snatching his two best paint-brushes from Jacko. ‘Why you’re ruining my establishment!’

‘I’m making a ladder,’ gravely replied Thierry.

And true enough, having bored holes in the bullets, he fixed the brush handles into them so as to form the sides of the ladder, using the matches to make the rungs. Five minutes later the ladder was completed and placed in the jar, where the weight of the bullets kept it firmly down.

No sooner did Mademoiselle Camargo find herself the owner of this article of furniture than she prepared to test it by climbing up to the top rung.

‘We shall have rain,’ said Thierry.

‘You don’t say so,’ replied Décamps, ‘and there’s my brother who wanted to go out shooting again to-day.’

‘Mademoiselle Camargo does not advise his doing so,’ remarked the doctor.

‘How so?’

‘My dear friend, I have been providing you with an inexpensive but reliable barometer. Each time you see Mademoiselle Camargo climb to the top of her ladder it’s a sure sign of rain; when she remains at the bottom you may count on fine weather, and if she goes up half-way,  don’t venture out without your umbrella; changeable, changeable.’

‘Dear me, dear me,’ said Décamps.

During the next six months Mademoiselle Camargo continued to foretell the weather with perfect and unerring regularity. But for painful reasons into which we need not inquire too closely, Mademoiselle’s useful career soon closed, and she left a blank in the ménagerie.