' Why, what your tortoise has been up to! '
' What on earth do you mean ? '
' Well, sir, could you believe that it got out of your room — goodness knows how — and walked downstairs and right into the tank ? '
' You owl! you might have guessed I put it there myself.'
'Did you indeed, sir? Well, you certainly have made a mess of it then.'
' How so ? '
' Why the tortoise has eaten up a tench — a superb tench weighing three pounds — which the master of the restaurant put into the tank only last night. The waiter has just been telling me about it.'
' Go at once and fetch me Gazelle and the scales.'
During Joseph's absence his master took down a volume of Buff on, and consulted that eminent authority on the subject of tortoises and turtles. There seemed to be no doubt, according to the celebrated naturalist, that these creatures did eat fish voraciously when they got the chance.
' Dear, dear,' thought Dumas, ' I fear the owner of the tank has Buffon on his side.'
Just then Joseph returned with the accused in one hand and the kitchen scales in the other.
'You see,' began the irrepressible valet, ' these sort of creatures eat a lot. They need it to keep up their strength, and fish is particularly nourishing. Only see how strong sailors are, and they live so much on fish------'
His master cut him short.
' How much did you say that tench weighed ? '
' Three pounds. The waiter asks nine francs for it.'
' And Gazelle ate it all?'
'Every bit except the head, the back-bone, and the inside.'
' Quite correct, Monsieur Buffon had said as much.