There was once a turtle who lived among people near a large river. There were also other turtles there, and this turtle was kind and pleasant to them all, but felt rather lonely. Therefore he built himself a hut and made it as comfortable as any hut around, and when it was quite finished he went out looking for a wife.
It took him some time to make up his mind, but one sunny day he found a girl who looked prettier and more industrious than the rest, and said:
"Will you marry me?"
The young woman was startled. She dropped the beaded slipper she was making, and stared at the turtle. But she was kind-hearted and polite, and therefore she looked as grave as she could when she answered:
"How will you provide for a family? How can we keep up with the rest?"
"I can keep up with the best of them," replied the turtle, tossing his head and making the girl agree also.
"You'll have to wait, though," she said; "I must make a whole lot of slippers and dresses first, as I shall not have much time afterwards."
This didn't please the turtle. He took out his displeasure:
"I shall go to war and take some captives. Then, when I return I expect you are ready to marry me."
He went back to his hut. The first thing he did was to call all his relations together, and ask them if they would come with him and make war on the people of a neighbouring village. The others agreed at once, and next day they left the camp. The girl was standing at the door of her hut as they passed, and laughed out loud because they moved so slowly.
The leader turtle cried out:
"In four days from now you'll be weeping instead of laughing, because there will be hundreds of miles between you and me."
"In four days you'll hardly be out of sight," said the girl.
The army marched on. One day they found a large tree lying across their path. They looked at it for a long while, and the oldest among them put their heads together to see what was to be done.
"Getting past by the top would take us years," one of them exclaimed.
"We could go round by the bottom," said another.
"That would amount to about the same. No, the only way I can think of, is to burn a large hole in the trunk," said a third. This they did, but the trunk was very thick, and would not burn through.
"It's no use, we must give it up," they agreed at last. "After all, nobody need ever know!" And so the whole company turned homewards again.
They were tired and footsore with their journey and began to sing a good war-song. The villagers heard it, and came flocking to see what was happening. Then the leader turtle hurried and seized his betrothed from among them. No one could stop him as he seized her by the wrist.
"Come with me," he said.
Everybody got angry at this behaviour, but the turtles were too strong. Then the girl said,
"You broke your promise. You said you would be back soon, and it is more than a year since you went! I have married since then."
The turtle got angry at this and drew his knife.
"Look here, if she won't be my wife, she shan't be the wife of anyone else. I'll cut her in two; and a man shall have one half, and I the other."
"But half a woman is no use to me," answered a man who was wed to the girl by then. "If you want her so much you had better take her."
And the turtle carried her off to his own hut.
The woman saw she would gain nothing by being sulky, so she pretended to be happy while she was trying to find a way to get rid of the turtle. At last she remembered that one of her friends had a large iron pot. She ran over to her and brought it back. Then she filled it with water and hung it over the fire to boil.
"What are you doing there?" asked the turtle when he came in through the door, for he was always afraid of things that he didn't understand.
"Just warming some water. Do you know how to float and swim?"
"Yes, of course. But does it matter to you?" said the turtle, very suspiciously.
"Well, after your long journey you might like to wash. And I could rub your shell for you.
"Well, I am rather muddy, and I should certainly be more comfortable if my back was washed."
The woman didn't wait. She caught him up by his shell and popped him straight into the pot. The boiling water killed him in a thrice and he sank to the bottom. The other turtles felt it was their duty as soldiers to follow him. They sprang into the pot and there they died too.
You may meet his kindred still.
In Brittany near the sea there is a village called Plouhinec. It is surrounded by moors with a grove of fir trees here and there. There is not enough grass in the whole parish to rear an ox for the butcher nor enough bran to fatten a little pig.
But if the folk there have neither corn nor cattle they have more stones than you would need to build a town.
Near there, on the banks of the river there once lived a man named Marzin. He was rich for the place - that is to say, he could salt down a pig every day, eat as much black bread as he wanted, and buy a pair of wooden shoes every Palm Sunday.
So everyone said he was proud and haughty. He had refused his sister Rozen's hand to several ardent lovers, who earned their daily bread by the sweat of their brows.
Among the suitors for the hand of Rozen was a youth named Bernez. He was a steadfast toiler, upright as the day is long, but unfortunately he owned nothing in the world save his industry.
Bernez had known Rozen since she was a tiny girl and when she grew up his love had grown up, too. So you can quite understand that Marzin's refusal to consider him as worthy of his sister's hand nearly broke poor Bernez' heart. Rozen, however, was still permitted to welcome Bernez on the farm.
Now one Christmas eve there was a storm and people were unable to get to midnight mass. So Marzin invited all the field-hands and several neighbors to his farm. Bernez was among them. The master of the house, to show his generosity, had planned to treat them all to a supper of pig's pudding, and a whole-meal pudding sweetened with honey. All eyes were fixed on the open fire where the supper was cooking, all, that is, except those of Bernez, who kept gazing at his darling Rozen.
Now just as Bernez was drawing the benches up to the table and Rozen had stuck the wooden spoons in a circle in the huge pasty basin, the door was pushed open and an ugly old man stepped into the room.
He was a beggar, a strange man, who had never put his foot inside a church door, and the God-fearing people were afraid of him. They accused him of placing a curse on the cattle and making the corn blacken in the ear. Some folk even went so far as to say he could turn himself into a werewolf.
However, as he wore a beggar's habit, farmer Marzin let him come near the fire, gave him a three-legged stool to sit on and the same share of the food as the invited guests.
When the old beggar, whom folks called a wizard, had finished his meal, he asked where he could sleep. Marzin opened the door of the stable where there was only a skinny donkey and a scraggy ox. The beggar went into the stable, lay down between them to get their warmth and put his head on a sack filled with chopped heather.
Now you must remember that it was Christmas eve, and just as the beggar was about to fall asleep, midnight struck, that mysterious hour when animals of the stable are said to talk like men.
The old donkey shook his long ears and turned toward the scraggy ox.
"Well, cousin, how have you been getting on since Christmas a year ago when I last spoke to you?" he asked in a friendly voice.
"It is not worth while for us to have a gift of speech on Christmas eve on account of our ancestors having been present at the birth of the Holy Babe," the ox answered crossly, "if our only hearer is an old-good-for-nothing like this beggar."
"You are very proud, my lord of Lowing Castle," said the donkey, laughing. "But I know how to be satisfied with what I have. Anyhow can you not see that the old beggar is asleep?"
"All his witchcraft doesn't make him any the richer," the ox said, "and then when he dies he will go to a nice warm place without much profit to himself. It is strange that his chum, Old Nick, has not told him of the good luck to be had near here merely for the asking."
"What luck is that?" said the donkey.
"Well," sniffed the ox, "didn't you know that once every hundred years, and the time is drawing near, for it is on this New Year's eve, a strange thing happens? The great rocks just outside the village leave their places and go down to the river to drink. Then it is that the treasures they guard beneath them are laid bare."
"Yes, yes, I remember now," answered the donkey, "but the rocks return so quickly that they catch you and grind you into powder. Folks say that the only way to avoid their fury is to hunt a branch of verbena and bind it with a five-leaved clover. This is magic against all disaster."
"But there is another condition harder to fulfill," said the ox. "The treasures that you find will fall into dust unless in return a human soul be sacrificed. Yes, you must cause a human death if you wish to enjoy the wealth of Plouhinec." When he had said this both the animals became silent.
Now all this time the beggar had been listening to their conversation, hardly daring to breathe.
"Ah, dear beasts," he thought to himself, "you have made me rich. And you can wager your last wisp of hay that this old beggar will not go below for nothing!"
And so the wizard fell asleep. But at crack of dawn, he hastened out into the country, his eyes all eagerness to find verbena and the five-leaved clover. Well-nigh endlessly he looked, up and down, here and there, hunting inland where the air is mild and plants keep green all the year round. At last, on New Year's eve, he came back to the little town of Plouhinec. His hands were clutching as though at treasure. His face bore a striking resemblance to that of a weasel that has found its way into a dove-cote.
As he was walking across the heath to the place where the huge rocks stand, he saw Bernez. Bernez, with a pointed hammer in his hand, was chipping away at one of the largest rocks.
"Well, well," mocked the wizard, "are you trying to hollow a house out of this great stone pillar?"
"No," said Bernez quietly, "but as I am out of work just now I thought I would carve a blossom on one of these accursed rocks. Perhaps it will be agreeable to Providence, and possibly I shall some day be rewarded."
"You have a request to make then?" asked the old beggar slyly.
"Every Christian wishes the salvation of his soul," answered the lad.
"Have you nothing else to ask for?" whispered the beggar.
"Ah, so you know that too!" exclaimed poor Bernez.
"Well, after all it is no sin. I love the dearest maid of all Brittany and long to go before the priest with her. But alas, her brother wants for her a husband who can count out more silver coins than I have lucky pennies."
"What would you say if I could put you in the way of earning more gold coins than the maiden's brother has silver?" murmured the wizard.
"You!" exclaimed Bernez.
"But what will you want in return?" inquired Bernez.
"Only a prayer when you say yours," answered the wicked wizard.
"Then tell me what to do!" cried Bernez, letting his hammer fall. "I am willing to risk a score of deaths. For I should rather die than not win Rozen."
When the wizard saw Bernez was so eager he explained that the next night at the stroke of twelve the great rocks would go down to the river to drink, leaving their treasures uncovered, But the crafty beggar did not tell Bernez how to avoid being crushed when the stones returned to their places.
The lad suspected nothing. He thought he had but to be brave and swift.
"As there is a Heaven above us I shall do what you say, old man," said he. "And there will always be a pint of my blood at your service for what you have told me. Let me finish the blossom that I am cutting on this rock," he continued, picking up his hammer, "and when the appointed hour arrives I shall meet you on the edge of the moor."
Bernez kept his word and was at the meeting place one hour before midnight. The beggar was already there. He had three knapsacks, one in each hand, and another hanging around his neck ready to be filled with treasure.
"Well," said the beggar to the young man, "sit down beside me and tell me what you will do when you have as much silver, gold and precious stones as you can dream of," said he.
Bernez stretched out on the heather. "When I have as much as I like," said he, "I shall give my sweet Rozen everything she wishes, linen and silk, white bread and oranges."
"And what will you do when you have as much gold as you like?" the wizard asked.
"When I have as much gold as I like," the lad answered, "I shall make Rozen's family rich, and all their friends and all their friends, too, to the limits of the parish!"
"And what will you do when you have many precious stones?" went on the wizard, laughing up his sleeve.
"Then," cried Bernez, "I shall make everyone rich and happy, and I shall declare it to be of Rozen's doing!"
While they were talking, an hour slipped by. From the distant village came the stroke of midnight. Scarcely had the last note sounded when there was convulsion on the heath and in the starlight the huge rocks could be seen, leaping from their beds, tumbling headlong towards the river to quench a century's thirst. They rushed down the hillside tearing up the soil and reeling like a throng of drunken giants. They then disappeared into the darkness.
The beggar leapt through the heather, followed by Bernez, to the place where the rocks had been. There, where they stood, two wells were glittering, filled up to their brims with gold, silver and precious stones.
Bernez uttered a cry of delight, but the beggar began to cram his wallets in the wildest haste, all the while listening for the return of the rocks, his ear turned toward the river.
He had just finished stuffing his knapsacks and Bernez had managed to pocket a few gold pieces for himself when a dull rumbling was heard, which swelled rapidly to thunder.
The rocks had finished drinking and were coming to their places. Tumultuously they plunged forward, faster than man can run, crushing everything before them.
When Bernez saw the rocks on them he could not move: he cried aloud, "We are done for!"
"You are!" sneered the wizard, "but this will save me," and he clasped tightly in his hand the verbena and the clover. "You must die in order for this wealth to be mine!" shouted the wizard. "Give up your dear Rozen and think about your sins!"
While the beggar was shouting the rocks rushed headlong on him but he held up his magic leaves and the huge stones stopped with a violent jerk; then passing to the right and to the left, they rushed on Bernez.
Bernez saw that all was over. He fell on his knees and closed his eyes. The mightiest rock of all was leading. Suddenly as it reached the kneeling Bernez, a strange thing happened. The huge stone stopped, closing up the way, standing before Bernez like a barrier to protect him.
Bernez opened his eyes. On the mighty stone he beheld the blossom that he had carved. The stone now could do no harm to a Christian. There it remained motionless before the young man till all the others had resumed their places, and then on it went, tumbling toward its own. It came on the beggar by this time bent double with his laden bags.
The beggar held up the magic plants but the rock was carved with a blossom and in consequence was no longer in the power of evil spells. It hurled itself on the wizard and crushed him into powder.
As for Bernez, he picked himself up and slung on his back the wizard's bags of silver, gold and precious stones, and trudged off for home with them.
And so he married pretty Rozen after all. Together they lived as happily as both their hearts desired, and brought up as many children as a jenny-wren has in a brood.
Once there lived in France a man named Jalmar Riou. No one was happier or more contented, for he had a large farm, plenty of money, and a daughter who was the best-dressed girl in the whole country side. Her clothes were finer than anyone else's, and she had more admirers than any other girl, and she loved to dance.
Among all the young men who wanted to marry her was her father's head man, Gustave. He was very ugly, and his manners were rough, so she would have nothing to do with him. What was worse, she often made fun of him with the rest.
Gustave heard of this, and it made him very unhappy. Still he would not leave the farm and look for work in other places, for then he would never see the farmer's daughter at all, and was life worth much without that?
One evening he was bringing back his horses from the fields, and stopped at a little lake on the way home to let them drink. He was tired with a long day's work, and stood with his hand on the mane of one of the animals, waiting till they had done, and thinking all the while of the girl, Yvonne. Then a voice came out of the gorse close by.
"What is the matter? You mustn't despair yet."
The young man glanced up, and asked who was there.
"It is I, the brownie of the lake," replied the voice. "Look close, and you will see me among the reeds in the form of a little green frog."
"Now, show yourself to me in the shape your family generally appears in," replied Gustave.
"If you wish," and the frog changed into a little dwarf in green clothes.
"Should you take any interest in me?" asked the peasant suspiciously.
"You did me a great service last winter. I have never forgotten," answered the little fellow. "You know the spiteful fairies who dwell in the White Corn country once drove us to take refuge in distant lands, and to hide ourselves at first under different bodily shapes. Since that time we have continued to transform ourselves, and that was how I got to know you."
"And how?" exclaimed Gustave.
"When you were digging in the field near the river, three months ago, you found a robin redbreast caught in a net. You opened the net and let him go. I was that robin redbreast. I have vowed to be your friend.
As you want to marry Yvonne, I will help you to do so."
"Ah!" said the peasant Gustave.
"Then, in a very few months you shall be master of the farm and of the pretty girl Yvonne. You just go on as earlier, eat and sleep and don't worry yourself."
Gustave took off his hat and thanked the dwarf heartily, and then led his horses back to the farm.
Next morning was a holiday. Yvonne was awake earlier than usual, for she wished to get through her work as soon as possible, and be ready to start for a dance which was to be held some distance off. She went first to the cow-house, which it was her duty to keep clean, but to her amazement she found fresh straw put down, the racks filled with hay, the cows milked, and the pails standing neatly in a row.
"Why, Gustave must have done this in the hope that I would be giving him a dance," she thought to herself, and when she met him outside the door she stopped and thanked him for his help. Gustave replied that he didn't know what she was talking about, but this answer made her feel all the more sure that it was he and nobody else.
The same thing happened every day, and never had the cow-house been so clean or the cows so fat. Morning and evening Yvonne found her earthen pots full of milk and a pound of butter freshly churned, ornamented with leaves. At the end of a few weeks she grew so used to this state of affairs that she only got up just in time to prepare breakfast.
Soon even this grew to be unnecessary, for a day arrived when, coming downstairs, she discovered that the house was swept, the furniture polished, the fire lit, and the food ready, so that she had nothing to do except to ring the great bell which called the labourers from the fields to come and eat it. This, also, she thought was the work of Gustave, and she could not help feeling that a husband of this sort would be very useful to a girl who liked to lie in bed and to amuse herself.
Yvonne had only to express a wish to get it satisfied. If she found the rye bread too hard to bake, or the oven taking too long to heat, she just murmured, "I should like to see my six loaves on the shelf above the bread box," and two hours after there they were.
If she was too lazy to walk all the way to market along a dirty road, she would say out loud the night before, "Why, am I already back from Morlaix with my milk pot empty, my butter bowl inside it, a pound of wild cherries on my wooden plate, and the money I have gained in my apron pocket?" - And in the morning when she got up, at the foot of her bed she found the empty milk pot with the butter bowl inside, the black cherries on the wooden plate, and six new pieces of silver in the pocket of her apron. She believed that all this was due to Gustave, and she could no longer do without him, even in her thoughts.
When things had come so far the brownie told the young man that he had better ask Yvonne to marry him, and this time the girl did not turn rudely away, but listened patiently to the end. He would certainly make a most useful husband, and she could sleep every morning till breakfast time, and she would wear the beautiful dresses that came when she wished for them, and she would be able to dance as much as she wished. Gustave would always be there to work for her and save for her.
So Yvonne answered that her father had to say yes to it, knowing that old Riou had often said that after he was dead there was no one so capable of carrying on the farm as Gustave.
The couple married next month, and a few days later the old man suddenly died. Now Gustave took care of everything, and somehow it did not seem so easy as when the farmer was alive. But once more the brownie stepped in, and was better than ten labourers. He ploughed and sowed and reaped, and when it occasionally was needful to get some work done quickly, he called in some of his friends to help in the work all unnoticed.
All the payment the brownie ever asked for was a bowl of broth.
From the day of her marriage Yvonne had noted with surprise that things ceased to be done for her as they had been done all the weeks and months before. She complained to Gustave, but he did not understand what she was talking about. But the brownie, who was standing by, burst out laughing, and confessed that all the good help she spoke of had been given by him, for the sake of Gustave. But now he had other business to do. Iit was high time that she looked after her house herself.
Yvonne was furious. Each morning she had to get up before dawn to milk the cows and go to market. Each evening she had to sit up till midnight in order to churn the butter. Her heart was filled with rage against the brownie who had caused her to expect a life of ease and pleasure. And when she looked at Gustave and beheld his red face, squinting eyes and untidy hair, she got twice as angry.
"If it had not been for you, miserable dwarf!" she would say between her teeth, "if it had not been for you I should never have married that man. Now I can receive no presents except from my husband. I can never dance, except with my husband. Oh, I will never forgive you!"
In spite of her fierce scorn, no one knew better than Yvonne how to put her pride in her pocket when it suited her. After receiving an invitation to a wedding, she begged the brownie to get her a horse to ride there. To her great joy he agreed, bidding her set out for the city of the dwarfs and to tell them exactly what she wanted. Yvonne started on her journey. It was not long, and when she reached the town she went straight to the dwarfs who were gathered in a wide green place, and said to them,
"Listen, my friends! I have come to beg you to lend me a black horse with eyes, a mouth, ears, bridle and saddle."
At once the horse appeared. Mounting on his back she started for the village where the wedding was to be held.
She was so glad for having a day off that she didn't notice anything particular about her horse till people she passed along the road laughed and looked at her horse, saying, "Why, the farmer's wife has sold her horse's tail!" Her horse had no tail! She had forgotten to ask for one. Her horse also refused to gallop, so she was forced to hear all the jokes that were made on her.
In the evening she returned to the farm more angry than ever and quite determined to revenge herself on the brownie when she had the chance. It happened to be very soon.
It was the spring, and just the time of year when the dwarfs held their feast, so one day the brownie asked Gustave if he might bring his friends to have supper in the great barn, and whether he would allow them to dance there. Gustave was pleased to be able to do anything for the brownie, and he ordered Yvonne to spread her best table-cloths in the barn, and to make many tiny loaves and pancakes, and, besides, to keep all the milk given by the cows that morning. He expected she would refuse, for he knew she hated the dwarfs, but she said nothing, and prepared the supper as her husband told her..
When all was ready, the dwarfs came bustling in in new green suits. They were happy and merry, and took their seats at the table. But in a moment they all sprang up with a cry, and ran away screaming, for Yvonne had placed pans of hot coals under their feet. All their little toes were burnt.
"You won't forget that in a hurry," she said, smiling grimly to herself, but in a moment they were back again with large pots of water, which they poured on the fire. Then they joined hands and danced round it, singing:
Wicked traitress, Barne Riou,
That evening they left the country for ever, and now that Gustave was without their help, he grew poorer and poorer. At last he died of misery, while Yvonne was glad to find work in the market of Morlaix.