Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > French
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. X–XI: French
 
Noiraud
By Ludovic Halévy (1834–1908)
 
“DO not be afraid, sir; you will not miss your train. For fifteen years have I taken travelers to the station, and not one has ever missed his train! Believe me, not one!”  1
  “However——”  2
  “Oh, don’t look at your watch! There is something which you don’t know, but which must be taken into account; your watch can’t tell you that the train is always a quarter of an hour late. In fact, it has never been known to be less than a quarter of an hour late.”  3
  That day the unexpected happened. The train was punctual, and I missed it. My cabman was furious.  4
  “It must be announced,” said he to the station-master, “if your trains suddenly take to arriving at the right time. It’s outrageous!”  5
  He appealed to all the bystanders:  6
  “Isn’t it true that it’s outrageous? I don’t want to be put in the wrong before the gentleman. A punctual train! Explain to him that it has never happened before.”  7
  A general cry arose, “Yes, yes; it is usually late!” I had no less than three long hours to wait in this very melancholy village of the Canton of Vaud, overshadowed by two melancholy mountains, with little caps of snow on their heads.  8
  How was I to kill time? Well, it now became my turn to make an appeal, and again there was a unanimous cry, “Visit the Cauldron; there’s nothing else worth seeing in this part of the country!” And where was this Cauldron? On the mountain to the right, half-way up, but the road was rather a complicated affair. I was advised to take a guide, and was told that down below, in the little white house with the green shutters, I should find the best guide in the neighborhood, a man named Simon.  9
  I went, and knocked at the door of the little house.  10
  An old woman opened the door.  11
  “Does Father Simon live here?”  12
  “Yes, he lives here; but if you want to go to the Cauldron——”  13
  “Yes, that’s where I want to go.”  14
  “Well, Father Simon cannot walk very well this morning. He has a pain in his legs. But don’t worry; there’s some one to take his place; there’s Noiraud.”  15
  “Well, let’s have Noiraud.”  16
  “Yes, but I must warn you that Noiraud is nor a person——”  17
  “Not a person?”  18
  “No; he is our dog.”  19
  “Your dog?”  20
  “Yes—Noiraud. He will guide you just as well as my husband. He is in the habit of doing so.”  21
  “In the habit?”  22
  “Certainly. For years and years Father Simon always took him. So he learned to know the place, and now he does his little job quite well alone. He has often guided travelers, and they have always complimented him. As for his intelligence, have no fear; he has as much as either you or I. Of course he can’t speak; but that does not matter. If there were a monument to be shown, it would be different, because then he would have to know historic facts and dates. But we have only the beauties of nature here. Take Noiraud. Then, too, he will cost you less. My husband charges three francs, Noiraud only thirty sous; and you will see as much for your thirty sous as my husband could show you for three francs.”  23
  “Very well, then. Where is Noiraud?”  24
  “Sunning himself in the garden. He has already taken an Englishman this morning. But I’ll call him—eh?”  25
  “Very well.”  26
  “Noiraud! Noiraud!”  27
  With one jump through the window he was there. He was a rather wretched looking little black dog, with long, tousled hair. Yet he had in his whole little person a certain something of seriousness, decision, and importance.  28
  He first looked at me. It was a clear, self-assured, firm glance, which ran me over from top to toe, and measured me up immediately: I was evidently a traveler to see the Cauldron.  29
  To miss one train is quite sufficient for a day, and I clung to the point of not doing the same thing again. I therefore impressed the fact on this good woman that I had only three hours to stay.  30
  “I quite understand,” she said; “you want to take the four o’clock train. Don’t be afraid! Noiraud will bring you back in time. Come, Noiraud, start off!”  31
  But Noiraud seemed at first indisposed to start off. He remained motionless, and looked at his mistress with a certain agitation.  32
  “To be sure!” cried the old woman. “How stupid of me to have forgotten the sugar!” She took four lumps of sugar from a drawer, and, handing them to me, said:  33
  “That’s why he wouldn’t go; he did not have his sugar. You see, Noiraud, the gentleman has the sugar. Start off, then, my boy, to the Cauldron, the Cauldron, the Cauldron!”  34
  While she repeated these words three times very slowly and distinctly, I looked at Noiraud attentively. He answered his mistress’s words with little motions of the head, which waxed quicker and seemed at last to show that he was being put out of patience and humor. One might translate them in some such way: “Yes, yes; to the Cauldron. The gentleman has the pieces of sugar. I understand. Do you take me for a fool?”  35
  Noiraud’s feelings were evidently hurt. He turned round, stared at me, and said, clearly as any dog can, “Come, you there, let’s be off!”  36
  I followed him obediently. We started together—he in front, I behind. Thus we passed through the village. Children playing in the street recognized my guide.  37
  “Hullo, Noiraud! Good day, Noiraud!”  38
  They wanted to play with the dog, but he turned away his head disdainfully, with the air of a dog who has sterner duties to perform, and who is earning his thirty sous. One of the children cried:  39
  “Leave him alone! He’s taking the gentleman to the Cauldron. Good day, mister!”  40
  And they all laughed, and repeated, “Good day, mister!”  41
  I smiled, but awkwardly enough. I was embarrassed, a little humiliated even. I was dominated by that little beast. For the moment he was master. I hastened from the village, and was alone with Noiraud and the scenery which he was to show me.  42
  This scenery was, to begin with, a horribly dusty road over which the sun flared and burned. The dog went on with an alert stride, and I became tired following him. I tried to moderate his pace.  43
  “Come, Noiraud, not so fast; there’s a good fellow!”  44
  Noiraud turned a deaf ear to my pleading, and became quite violently angry when I ventured, at the corner of a field, to sit down under the shadow of a tree. He barked at me in a ragged little voice, and looked at me severely. Evidently I was breaking the rules of the game. It was not the custom to stop here. And his yaps became so sharp and indignant that I hastened to start off again. Noiraud immediately regained his temper, and trotted merrily before me. What a thing it is to be understood!  45
  A few minutes, and we were upon a charming road, shady and full of flowers, and melodious with the murmur of streams. Noiraud suddenly made a bolt, and I speedily followed him. There he stood, with head erect and beaming eye, in a cool little glade, where, by the side of a tiny waterfall, stood a rustic bench. He looked at the bench and looked at me, and I felt that I was beginning to appreciate Noiraud’s method of communication.  46
  “There we are,” he said to me; “here’s the place to rest. And you were so idiotic as to stop in the sun! Come, sit down; I permit it.”  47
  I did sit down, and lit a cigar. I was almost on the point of offering one to Noiraud. Perhaps he smoked. But I imagined that he would prefer a bit of sugar. He caught it adroitly, cracked it between his teeth, lay down at my feet, and closed his eyes. Here he was evidently in the habit of making a little halt and taking a little nap. He did not sleep longer than ten minutes, during which I remained quiet. I was beginning to have confidence in Noiraud. I determined to obey him blindly. He got up, stretched himself, and looked at me as if to say, “Come, my friend, we must be off!” And there we were, like two old friends, walking through the woods, but now at a slower pace. Noiraud evidently appreciated the charm and silence of the place. Hither he had hastened to escape from the heat, and that is why he had hurried so. Now we could take our time, and enjoy one of the prettiest roads in Vaud at our leisure.  48
  A little road extended to the left. For a moment Noiraud hesitated, but then went on, though not without some signs of uncertainty. And then he stopped. We had made a mistake! He returned and took a road to the left, which presently brought us to a circle of rocks, and Noiraud, nose in air, invited me to contemplate the respectable altitude of the rocks in question. When he thought that I had looked at them long enough, he faced about, and regained the main road. He had made up to me for his momentary forgetfulness.  49
  Soon the road became more mountainous and steeper. I got on slowly, and with difficulty. Noiraud jumped nimbly from rock to rock, but never abandoned me. He watched me with the most touching solicitude, and yapped encouragement. “We’ll be there in a moment,” he said, “and then you’ll see the Cauldron.”  50
  We saw it. A moderately large waterfall tumbled from a moderate height into a rather ordinary basin of rock, hissing and rebounding on the way. I should have been sorry to have taken the trouble of climbing up had I not made Noiraud’s acquaintance, who was far more interesting and remarkable than the waterfall.  51
  On each side of the stream, in a little Swiss hut, was installed a little Swiss milkmaid, one dark, the other fair, both in national costume, and both eager for my arrival at the threshold of their boxlike little houses. The fair girl struck me as having very pretty eyes, and I was going toward her when Noiraud stopped me with furious barks. Did he prefer dark ladies? It seemed so, for Noiraud was appeased when I went the other way, and presently sat at a little table before the hut of his young friend. I asked for a cup of milk. Noiraud’s friend went into her little toyshop house, whither Noiraud followed her. Through the window I watched the little wretch. He was served first.  52
  After that, with white drops of milk clinging to his mustache, Noiraud came out to keep me company and see me drink my milk. I gave him a bit of sugar; and so we two, very much satisfied with each other, and breathing the vital and clear air of the mountain, spent a delicious half hour.  53
  But soon Noiraud became impatient and agitated. I read in his eyes that it was time to start back. I arose, paid, and was about to proceed on the road by which we had come. Noiraud looked at me with disapproval and severity. What progress I had made within the last two hours in learning to understand his silent eloquence!  54
  “What an opinion you must have of me!” said Noiraud. “Do you think that I’ll take you twice by the same road? Not at all! I understand my business better. We will now take the other road back.”  55
  We did, and it was even prettier than the first. Noiraud would sometimes turn round, and look at me with merry and triumphant glances. On the way to the station we had to pass through the village again, and there Noiraud was spoken to by several of his canine friends, who very much wanted to play with him; but Noiraud, growling and grumbling, repelled all their advances.  56
  “Do you not see,” said he, “that I am busy taking this gentleman to the station?”  57
  It was not until we had reached the waiting-room that he consented to part with me. Gaily he munched his last pieces of sugar, and said:  58
  “We’re twenty minutes early. I wouldn’t let you miss the train! A pleasant journey to you!”  59
 
 
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