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The Strange History of Cagnotte, edited by Andrew Lang

Ménagerie Intime.

In the early part of this century, a little boy of three years old, named Théophile Gautier, travelled with his parents from Tarbes, in the south of France, to Paris. He was so small that he could not speak any proper French, but talked like the country people; and he divided the world into those who spoke like him and were his friends, and those who did not, and were strangers.

But though he was only three, and a great baby in many ways, he loved his home dearly, and everything about it, and it nearly broke his heart to come away. His parents tried to comfort him by giving him the most beautiful chocolates and little cakes, and when that failed they tried what drums and trumpets would do. But drums and trumpets succeeded no better than cakes and chocolates, for the greater part of poor Théophile’s tears were shed for the ‘dog he had left behind him,’ called Cagnotte, which his father had given away to a friend, as he did not think that any dog who had been accustomed to run along the hills and valleys above Tarbes, could ever make himself happy in Paris.

Théophile, however, did not understand this, but cried for Cagnotte all day long; and one morning he could bear it no longer. His nurse had put out all his tin soldiers neatly on the table, with a little German village surrounded by stiff green trees just in front of them, hoping Théophile might play at a battle or a siege, and she had also placed his fiddle (which was painted bright  scarlet) quite handy, so that he might play the triumphal march of the victor. Nothing was of any use. As soon as Josephine’s back was turned Théophile threw soldiers and village and fiddle out of the window, and then prepared to jump after them, so that he might take the shortest way back to Tarbes and Cagnotte. Luckily, just as his foot was on the sill, Josephine came back from the next room, and saw what he was about. She rushed after him and caught him by the jacket, and then took him on her knee, and asked him why he was going to do anything so naughty and dangerous. When Théophile explained that it was Cagnotte whom he wanted and must have, and that nobody else mattered at all, Josephine was so afraid he would try to run away again, that she told him that if he would only have patience and wait a little Cagnotte would come to him.

All day long Théophile gave Josephine no peace. Every few minutes he came running to his nurse to know if Cagnotte had arrived, and he was only quieted when Josephine went out and returned carrying a little dog, which in some ways was very like his beloved Cagnotte. Théophile was not quite satisfied at first, till he remembered that Cagnotte had travelled a long, long way, and it was not to be expected that he should look the same dog as when he started; so he put aside his doubts, and knelt down to give Cagnotte a great hug of welcome. The new Cagnotte, like the old, was a lovely black poodle, and had excellent manners, besides being full of fun. He licked Théophile on both cheeks, and was altogether so friendly that he was ready to eat bread and butter off the same plate as his little master.

The two got on beautifully, and were perfectly happy for some time, and then gradually Cagnotte began to lose his spirits, and instead of jumping and running about the world, he moved slowly, as if he was in pain. He breathed shortly and heavily, and refused to eat anything, and even Théophile could see he was feeling ill. One day Cagnotte  was lying stretched out on his master’s lap, and Théophile was softly stroking his skin, when suddenly his hand caught in what seemed to be string, or strong thread. In great surprise, Josephine was at once called, to explain the strange matter. She stooped down, and peered closely at the dog’s skin, then took her scissors and cut the thread. Cagnotte stretched himself, gave a shake, and jumped down from Théophile’s lap, leaving a sort of black sheep-skin behind him.

Josephine cuts off the dog's sheep-skin

CAGNOTTE COMES OUT OF HIS SKIN

Some wicked men had sewn him up in this coat, so that they might get more money for him; and without it he was not a poodle at all, but just an ugly little street dog, without beauty of any kind.

After helping to eat Théophile’s bread and butter and soup for some weeks, Cagnotte began to grow fatter, and his outside skin became too tight for him, and he was  nearly suffocated. Once delivered from it, he shook his ears for joy, and danced a waltz of his own round the room, not caring a straw how ugly he might be as long as he was comfortable. A very few weeks spent in the society of Cagnotte made the memory of Tarbes and its mountains grow dim in the mind of Théophile. He learnt French, and forgot the way the country people talked, and soon he had become, thanks to Cagnotte, such a thorough little Parisian, that he would not have understood what his old friends said, if one of them had spoken to him.