A POOR little fellow was one day gathering faggots in the forest when a gay, handsomely dressed gentleman passed him, and, noticing the lad's ragged and forlorn condition, said to him: "What are you doing there, my boy?"
"I am looking for wood, sir," replied the boy. "If I did not do so we should have no fire at home."
"You are very poor at home, then?" asked the gentleman.
"So poor," said the lad, "that sometimes we only eat once a day, and often go supperless to bed."
"That is a sad tale," said the gentleman. "If you will promise to meet me here within a month I will give you some money, which will help your parents and feed and clothe your small brothers and sisters."
Prompt to the day and the hour, the boy kept the tryst in the forest glade, at the very spot where he had met the gentleman. But though he looked anxiously on every side he could see no signs of his friend. In his anxiety he pushed farther into the forest, and came to the borders of a pond, where three damsels were preparing to bathe. One was dressed in white, another in grey, and the third in blue. The boy pulled off his cap, gave them good-day, and asked politely if they had not seen a gentleman in the neighbourhood. The maiden who was dressed in white told him where the gentleman was to be found, and pointed out a road by which he might arrive at his castle.
"He will ask you," said she, "to become his servant, and if you accept he will wish you to eat. The first time that he presents the food to you, say: 'It is I who should serve you.' If he asks you a second time make the same reply; but if he should press you a third time refuse brusquely and thrust away the plate which he offers you."
The boy was not long in finding the castle, and was at once shown into the gentleman's presence. As the maiden dressed in white had foretold, he requested the youth to enter his service, and when his offer was accepted placed before him a plate of viands. The lad bowed politely, but refused the food. A second time it was offered, but he persisted in his refusal, and when it was proffered to him a third time he thrust it away from him so roughly that it fell to the ground and the plate was broken.
"Ah," said the gentleman, "you are just the kind of servant I require. You are now my lackey, and if you are able to do three things that I command you I will give you one of my daughters for your wife and you shall be my son-in-law."
The next day he gave the boy a hatchet of lead, a saw of paper, and a wheelbarrow made of oak-leaves, bidding him fell, bind up, and measure all the wood in the forest within a radius of seven leagues. The new servant at once commenced his task, but the hatchet of lead broke at the first blow, the saw of paper buckled at the first stroke, and the wheelbarrow of oak-leaves was broken by the weight of the first little branch he placed on it. The lad in despair sat down, and could do nothing but gaze at the useless implements. At midday the damsel dressed in white whom he had seen at the pond came to bring him something to eat.
"Alas!" she cried, "why do you sit thus idle? If my father should come and find that you have done nothing he would kill you."
"I can do nothing with such wretched tools," grumbled the lad.
"Do you see this wand?" said the damsel, producing a little rod. "Take it in your hand and walk round the forest, and the work will take care of itself. At the same time say these words: 'Let the wood fall, tie itself into bundles, and be measured.'"
The boy did as the damsel advised him, and matters proceeded so satisfactorily that by a little after midday the work was completed. In the evening the gentleman said to him:
"Have you accomplished your task?"
"Yes, sir. Do you wish to see it? The wood is cut and tied into bundles of the proper weight and measurement."
"It is well," said the gentleman. "Tomorrow I will set you the second task."
On the following morning he took the lad to a knoll some distance from the castle, and said to him:
"You see this rising ground? By this evening you must have made it a garden well planted with fruit-trees and having a fish-pond in the middle, where ducks and other water-fowl may swim. Here are your tools."
The tools were a pick of glass and a spade of earthenware. The boy commenced the work, but at the first stroke his fragile pick and spade broke into a thousand fragments. For the second time he sat down helplessly. Time passed slowly, and as before at midday the damsel in white brought him his dinner.
"So I find you once more with your arms folded," she said.
"I cannot work with a pick of glass and an earthenware spade," complained the youth.
"Here is another wand," said the damsel. "Take it and walk round this knoll, saying: 'Let the place be planted and become a beautiful garden with fruit-trees, in the middle of which is a fish-pond with ducks swimming on it.'"
The boy took the wand, did as he was bid, and the work was speedily accomplished. A beautiful garden arose as if by enchantment, well furnished with fruit-trees of all descriptions and ornamented with a small sheet of water.
Once more his master was quite satisfied with the result, and on the third morning set him his third task. He took him beneath one of the towers of the castle.
"Behold this tower," he said. "It is of polished marble. You must climb it, and at the top you will find a turtle-dove, which you must bring to me."
The gentleman, who was; of opinion that the damsel in white had helped his servant in the first two tasks, sent her to the town to buy provisions. When she received this order the maiden retired to her chamber and burst into tears. Her sisters asked her what was the matter, and she told them that she wished to remain at the castle, so they promised to go to the town in her stead. At midday she found the lad sitting at the foot of the tower bewailing the fact that he could not climb its smooth and glassy sides.
"I have come to help you once more," said the damsel. "You must get a cauldron, then cut me into morsels and throw in all my bones, without missing a single one. It is the only way to succeed."
"Never!" exclaimed the youth. "I would sooner die than harm such a beautiful lady as you."
"Yet you must do as I say," she replied.
For a long time the youth. refused, but at last he gave way to the maiden's entreaties, cut her into little pieces, and placed the bones in a large cauldron, forgetting, however, the little toe of her left foot. Then he rose as if by magic to the top of the tower, found the turtle-dove, and came down again. Having completed his task, he took a wand which lay beside the cauldron, and when he touched the bones they came together again and the damsel stepped out of the great pot none the worse for her experience.
When the young fellow carried the dove to his master the gentleman said:
"It is well. I shall carry out my promise and give you one of my daughters for your wife, but all three shall be veiled and you must pick the one you desire without seeing her face."
The three damsels were then brought into his presence, but the lad easily recognized the one who had assisted him, because she lacked the small toe of the left foot. So he chose her without hesitation, and they were married.
But the gentleman was not content with the marriage. On the day of the bridal he placed the bed of the young folks over a vault, and hung it from the roof by four cords. When they had gone to bed he came to the door of the chamber and said: "Son-in-law, are you asleep?"
"No, not yet," replied the youth. Some time afterward he repeated his question, and met with a similar answer.
"The next time he comes," said the bride, "pretend that you are sleeping."
Shortly after that his father-in-law asked once more if he were asleep, and receiving no answer retired, evidently well satisfied.
When he had gone the bride made her husband rise at once. "Go instantly to the stables," said she, "and take there the horse which is called Little Wind, mount him, and fly."
The young fellow hastened to comply with her request, and he had scarcely left the chamber when the master of the castle returned and asked if his daughter were asleep. She answered "No," and, bidding her arise and come with him, he cut the cords, so that the bed fell into the vault beneath. The bride now heard the trampling of hoofs in the garden outside, and rushed out to find her husband in the act of mounting.
"Stay!" she cried. "You have taken Great Wind instead of Little Wind, as I advised you, but there is no help for it," and she mounted behind him. Great Wind did not belie his name, and dashed into the night like a tempest.
"Do you see anything?" asked the girl. "No, nothing," said her husband.
"Look again," she said. "Do you see anything now?"
"Yes," he replied, "I see a great flame of fire."
The bride took her wand, struck it three times, and said: "I change thee, Great Wind, into a garden, myself into a pear-tree, and my husband into a gardener."
The transformation had hardly been effected when the master of the castle and his wife came up with them.
"Ha, my good man," cried he to the seeming gardener, "has anyone on horseback passed this way?"
"Three pears for a sou," said the gardener.
"That is not an answer to my question," fumed the old wizard, for such he was. "I asked if you had seen anyone on horseback in this direction."
"Four for a sou, then, if you will," said the gardener.
"Idiot!" foamed the enchanter, and dashed on in pursuit. The young wife then changed herself, her horse, and her husband into their natural forms, and, mounting once more, they rode onward.
"Do you see anything now?" asked she.
"Yes, I see a great flame of fire," he replied.
Once more she took her wand. "I change this steed into a church," she said, "myself into an altar, and my husband into a priest."
Very soon the wizard and his wife came to the doors of the church and asked the priest if a youth and a lady had passed that way on horseback.
"Dominus vobiscum," said the priest, and nothing more could the wizard get from him.
Pursued once more, the young wife changed the horse into a river, herself into a boat, and her husband into a boatman. When the wizard came up with them he asked to be ferried across the river. The boatman at once made room for them, but in the middle of the stream the boat capsized and the enchanter and his wife were drowned.
The young lady and her husband returned to the castle, seized the treasure of its fairy lord, and, says tradition, lived happily ever afterward, as all young spouses do in fairy-tale.
IN Brittany near the sea there is a village called Plouhinec. It is surrounded by moors with here and there a grove of fir trees. 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. For just outside the village there is a big stretch of heather where long ago the elves had planted two rows of tall rocks which look for all the world like an avenue, except that they lead nowhere.
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 has a jenny-wren in a brood.
[From Masson, Elsie. Folk Tales of Brittany. Edited by Amena Pendleton. Philadelphia: Macrae Smith, 1929: 141-150]
Saying "Nice dog, nice dog" won't always do.
AMONG the peaks of the mountains somewhere in western France lies a vast and dismal peat bog known as the Yeun. It is a remarkable territory. A part of the bog is a treacherous quagmire that has brought forth many legends. This part of the bog, whose victims have been many, is known as the Youdic. As one leans over it, its waters may sometimes be seen to simmer and boil.
There are many, many stories about this weird maelstrom of mud and bubbling water. Malevolent fiends, it was thought, were wont to materialize in the form of great black dogs. Therefore unfortunate black dogs under suspicion were taken to the Youdic by a member of the priesthood and were cast into its seething depths.
Job Ann Drez was a sexton and assisted the parish priest in his dealings with the black dogs and such stuff. One evening Job was walking along with the priest after sunset to the gloomy waters of the Youdic, dragging behind him a large black dog that was much distrusted.
The priest was much afraid the animal should break loose. "If he should get away," he said nervously, "both of us are lost."
"I bet he does not," replied Job, tying the cord by which the brute was led securely to his wrist.
"Forward, then," said the priest, and he walked boldly in front, until they came to the foot of the mountain top where the Youdic lies.
The priest turned warningly to Job. "You must be circumspect in this place," he said very gravely. "Whatever you may hear, be sure not to turn your head. Your life in this world and your salvation in the next depend absolutely on this. You understand me?"
"Yes, sir, "not turn my head", and be circumspect. I understand."
A vast desolation surrounded them. So dark was the night that it seemed to envelop them like a velvet curtain. Beneath their feet they heard the hissing and moaning of the bog, almost like a restless and hungry and thirsty wild beast. Through the dense blackness they could see the iridescent waters writhing and gleaming below.
"Ohoi," said Job half to himself, "this could be the gateway to hell!"
At that word the dog uttered a frightful howl - it froze Job's blood in his veins. It tugged and strained at the cord which held it with the strength of a man, striving to turn on Job and rend him.
"Hold on!" cried the priest in mortal terror, keeping at a safe distance, however. "Hold on, I beg you, or else we are both undone!"
Job held on to the black dog with all his strength. Indeed, it was necessary to exert every thew and sinew if the animal were to be prevented from tearing him to pieces. The howls were quite enough to strike terror to the stoutest heart. "Iou! Iou!" it yelled again and again. But Job held on desperately, although the cord cut his hands and blood ran from the scarred palms. Inch by inch he dragged the brute toward the Youdic. The creature in a last desperate effort turned and was about to spring on him open-mouthed, when all at once the priest, darting forward, threw his cloak over its head. It uttered a shriek which sounded through the night like the cry of a lost soul.
"Quick!" cried the priest. "Lie flat on the earth and put your face on the ground!"
Scarcely had the two men done so than a frightful tumult ensued. First there was the sound of a body leaping into the morass, then a terrible uproar. Shrieks, cries, hissings, explosions followed in quick succession for upward of half an hour; then gradually they died away and a horrible stillness took their place. The two men rose trembling and unnerved, and slowly took their way through the darkness, groping and stumbling till they had left the bog behind them.