The Dog of Montargis

 

retold by James Baldwin

 

This unusual old story reminds us that loyalty is
the virtue that helps us stand fast beside our friends
and our memories of our friends.

In the old castle of Montargis in France, there was once a stone mantelpiece of workmanship so rare that it was talked about by the whole country. And yet it was not altogether its beauty that caused people to speak of it and remember it. It was famous  rather on account of the strange scene that was carved upon it.  To those who asked about its meaning, the old custodian of the  castle would sometimes tell the following story.

 

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I t happened more than five hundred years ago, when this castle was new and strong, and people lived and thought in a  very different ways than they do now. Among the young men of that time there was none more noble than Aubrey de  Montdidier, the nephew of the Count of Montargis; and among all the knights who had favor at the royal court, there was none  braver than the young Sieur DeNarsac, captain of the king's men  at arms.

Now these two men were devoted friends, and whenever  their other duties allowed them, they were to be in each other's company. Indeed, it was rare thing to see either of them walking the streets of Paris alone. "I will meet you at the  tournament tomorrow," said DeNarsac, "and be sure that you  come early."

The Tournament was to be a grand affair. A gentleman from  Provence was to run a tilt with a famous Burgundian knight.  Both men were noted for their horsemanship and their skill with the lance. All Paris would be out to see them.

When the time came, DeNarsac was at the place appointed.  But Aubrey failed to appear. What could it mean? It was not at all like Aubrey to forget his promise; it was seldom that he  allowed anything to keep him away from the tournament.

"Have you seen my friend Aubrey today?" DeNarsac asked this  question a hundred times. Everybody gave the same  answer and wondered what had happened.

The day passed and another day came, and still there was no news from Aubrey. DeNarsac had called at his friend's lodgings, but could learn nothing. The young man had not been seen since the morning before the tournament.

Three days passed, and still not a word. DeNarsac was greatly troubled. He knew now that some accident must have  happened to Aubrey. But what could it have been?

E arly in the morning of the fourth day he was aroused by a strange noise at his door. He dressed himself in haste and opened it. A dog was crouching there. It was a Greyhound, so thin that its ribs stuck out, so weak that it could hardly stand.

DeNarsac knew the animal without looking at the collar on its neck. It was Dragon, his friend Aubrey's Greyhound;  the dog who went with him whenever he went out, the dog was never seen save in its master's company.

The poor creature tried to stand. His legs trembled from weakness. He swayed from side to side. He wagged his tail feebly, and tried to put his nose in DeNarsac's hand. DeNarsac saw at once that he was half starved.

He led the dog into his room and fed him some warm milk.  He bathed the poor fellow's nose and bloodshot eyes with cold water. "Tell me where your master is," he said. Then he set before him a full meal that would have tempted any dog.

The Greyhound ate heartily, and seemed to be much stronger. He licked DeNarsac's hands. Then he ran to the  door and tried to make signs to his friend to follow him. He whined pitifully.

DeNarsac understood. "You want to lead me to your master,  I see." He put on his hat and went out with the dog.


 

T hrough the narrow lanes and crooked streets of the old city,  Dragon led the way. At each corner he would stop and look back to make sure that DeNarsac was following. He went over the long bridge; the only one that spanned the river in those days. Then he trotted out through the gate of St. Martin and into the open country beyond the walls.

In a little while the dog left the main road and took a bypath that led into the forest of Bondy. DeNarsac kept his hand on his sword now, for they were on dangerous ground. The forest was a great hangout for robbers and lawless men, and more than one wild and wicked deed had been enacted there. But Dragon did not go far into the woods. He stopped suddenly near a dense  thicket of brier and tangled vines. He whined as though in great  distress. Then he took hold of the sleeve of DeNarsac's coat, and  led him round to the other side of the thicket.

There under a low-spreading oak the grass had been  trampled down. There were signs, too, of freshly turned-up earth. With moans of distress the dog stretched himself upon the  ground, and with pleading eye looked up into DeNarsac's face.

"Ah, my poor fellow!" said DeNarsac, "you have led me here to show me your master's grave." And with that he turned and  hurried back to the city; but the dog would not stir from his  place.

T hat afternoon a company of men, led by DeNarsac, rode out to the forest. They found in the ground beneath the oak what they had expected; the murdered body of young Aubrey de Montdidier.

"Who could have done this foul deed?" they asked of one  another. And with that they wept, for they all loved Aubrey.

They made a litter of green branches, and laid the body upon  it. Then, the dog following them, they carried it back to the city and buried it in the king's cemetery. And all Paris mourned the untimely end of the brave young knight.

After this, the Greyhound went to live with the young Sieur DeNarsac. He followed the knight wherever he went. He  slept in his room and ate from his hand. He seemed to be as much devoted to his new master as he had been to the old.

O ne morning they went out for a stroll through the city. The streets were crowded, for it was a holiday and all the fine people of Paris were enjoying the sunlight and the fresh air.  Dragon, as usual, kept close to the heels of his master.

DeNarsac walked down one street and up another, meeting many of his friends, and now and then stopping to talk a little while. Suddenly, as they were passing a corner, the dog leaped forward and planted himself in front of his master. He  growled fiercely and crouched as though ready for a spring. His eyes were fixed on someone in the crowd.

Then, before DeNarsac could speak, he leaped forward upon  a young man whom he had singled out. The man threw up his arm to protect his throat, but the quickness of the attack and the weight of the dog caused him to fall to the ground. There was no telling what might have followed had not those who were with him beaten the dog with their canes, and driven him  away.

DeNarsac knew the man. His name was Richard Macaire, and he belonged to the king's bodyguard.

Never before had the Greyhound been known to show anger toward any person. "What do you mean by such conduct?" asked his master as they walked homeward. Dragon's only answer was a low growl, but it was the best that he could give. The affair had put a thought into DeNarsac's mind which he could not dismiss.

Within less than a week the thing happened again. This  time Macaire was walking in the public garden.

DeNarsac and the dog were some distance away. But as soon as Dragon saw the man, he rushed at him. It was all that the bystanders could do to keep him from throttling Macaire. DeNarsac hurried up and called him away but the dog's anger was fearful to see.

It was well known in Paris that Macaire and young Aubrey had not been friends. It was remembered that they had had more than one quarrel. And now the people began to talk about  the dog's strange actions, and some went so far as to put this and that together.

At last the matter reached the ears of the king. He sent for DeNarsac and had a long talk with him. "Come back  tomorrow and bring the dog with you," he said. "We must find out more about this strange affair."

T he next day DeNarsac, with Dragon at his heels, was admitted into the king's audience room. The king was seated in his great chair, and many knights and men at arms were standing around him. Hardly had DeNarsac stepped inside when the dog leaped quickly forward. He had seen Macaire, and had singled him out from among all the rest. He sprang upon him.  He would have torn him in pieces if no one had interfered.

There is now only one way to explain the matter.

T his Greyhound," said DeNarsac, "is here to denounce the  Chevalier Macaire as the slayer of his master, young Aubrey de Montdidier. He demands that justice be done, and that the murderer be punished for his crime."

The Chevalier Macaire was pale and trembling. He  stammered a denial of his guilt, and declared that the dog was a dangerous beast, and ought to be put out of the way.  "Shall a soldier in the service of the king be accused by a dog?"  he cried. "Shall he be condemned on such testimony as this? I,  too, demand justice."

"Let the judgment of God decide!" cried the knights who were  present.

And so the king declared that there should be a trial by the  judgment of God. For in those rude times it was a very  common thing to determine guilt or innocence in this way; that  is, by a combat between accuser and the accused. In such cases it was believed that God would always aid the cause of the innocent and bring about defeat of the guilty.

T he combat was to take place that very afternoon in the great  common by the riverside. The king's herald made a public  announcement of it, naming the dog as the accuser and the Chevalier Macaire as the accused. A great crowd of people assembled to see this strange trial by the judgment of God.

The king and his officers were there to make sure that no injustice was done to either the man or the dog. The man was allowed to defend himself with a short stick. The dog was given a barrel into which he might run if too closely pressed.

At a signal the combat began. Macaire stood on his guard while the dog darted swiftly around him, and trying to get at  his enemy's throat. The man seemed to have lost all his courage.  His breath came short and quick. He was trembling from head to  foot.

Suddenly the dog leaped upon him and threw him to the ground. In great terror Macaire cried to the king for mercy, and acknowledged his guilt.

"It is the judgment of God!" cried the king.

The officers rushed in and dragged the dog away before he could harm the guilty man. Macaire was hurried off to the punishment which his crimes deserved.

A nd this is the scene that was carved on the old mantelpiece in the castle of Montargis; this strange trial by the judgment of God. Is it not fitting that a dog so faithful, devoted and brave should have his memory thus preserved in stone?

From the book, "The Moral Compass" by William Bennett, pp 279-284.

 

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