THE stories told here under the title of 'folktales' are such as do not partake so much of the universal element which enters so largely into Breton romance, but those which have a more national or even local tinge and are yet not legendary. The homely flavour attached to many stories of this kind is very apparent, and it is evident that they have been put together in oral form by unknown 'makers,' some of whom had either a natural or artistic aptitude for story-telling. In the first of the following 'tales it is curious to note how the ancient Breton theme has been put by its peasant narrator into almost a modern dress.
An aged Breton couple had two sons, the elder of whom went to Paris to seek his fortune, while the younger one was timid by nature and would not leave the paternal roof. His mother, w, ho felt the burden of her age, wished the stay-at-home to marry. At first he would not hear of the idea, but at last, persuaded by her, he took a wife. He had only been married a few weeks, however, when his young bride sickened and died. La Rose, for such was his name, was inconsolable. Every evening he went to the cemetery where his wife was buried, and wept over her tomb.
One night he was about to enter the graveyard on his sad errand when he beheld a terrible phantom standing before him, which asked him in awful tones what he did there.
"I am going to pray at the tomb of my wife," replied the terrified La Rose.
"Do you wish that she were alive again?" asked the spirit.
"Ah, yes!" cried the sorrowing husband. "There is nothing that I would not do in order that she might be restored to me."
"Hearken, then," said the phantom. "Return to this place to-morrow night at the same hour. Provide yourself with a pick and you will see what comes to pass."
On the following night the young widower was punctually at the rendezvous. The phantom presented itself before him and said:
"Go to the tomb of your wife and strike it with your pick; the earth will turn aside and you will behold her lying in her shroud. Take this little silver box, which contains a rose; open it and pass it before her nostrils three times, when she will awake as if from a deep sleep."
La Rose hastened to the tomb of his wife, and everything happened as the phantom had predicted. He placed the box containing the rose to his wife's nostrils and she awoke with a sigh, saying: "Ah, I have been asleep for a long time." Her husband provided her with clothes which he had brought with him, and they returned to their house, much to the joy of his parents.
Some time afterward La Rose's father died at a great age, and the grief-stricken mother was not long in following him to the grave. La Rose wrote to his brother in Paris to return to Brittany in order to receive his portion of the paternal inheritance, but he was unable to leave the capital, so La Rose had perforce to journey to Paris. He promised his wife before
leaving that he would write to her every day, but on his arrival in the city he found his brother very ill, and in the anxiety of nursing him back to health he quite forgot to send his wife news of how he fared. The weeks passed and La Rose's wife, without word of, her husband, began to dread that something untoward had happened to him. Day by day she sat at her, window weeping and watching for the courier who brought letters from Paris. A regiment of dragoons chanced to be billeted in the town, and the captain, who lodged at the inn directly opposite La Rose's house, was greatly attracted by the young wife. He inquired of the landlady who was the beautiful dame who sat constantly weeping at her window, and learned, the details of her history. He wrote a letter to her purporting to come from La Rose's brother in Paris, telling her that her husband had died in the capital, and some time after paid his addresses to the supposed widow, who accepted him. They were married, and. when the regiment left the town the newly wedded pair accompanied it. Meanwhile La Rose's brother recovered from his illness, and the eager husband hastened back to Brittany. But when he arrived at his home he was surprised to find the doors closed, and was speedily informed of what had occurred during his absence. For a while he was too grief-stricken to act, but, recovering himself somewhat, he resolved to enlist in the regiment of dragoons in which the false captain held his commission. The beauty of his handwriting procured him the post of secretary to one of the lieutenants, but although he frequently attempted to gain sight of his wife he never succeeded in doing so. One day the captain entered
the lieutenant's office, observed the writing of La Rose, and asked his brother officer if he would kindly lend him his secretary for a few days to assist him with some correspondence. While helping the captain La Rose beheld his wife, who did not, however, recognize him. Greatly pleased with his work, the captain invited him to dinner. During the repast a servant, who had stolen a silver dish, fearing that it was about to be missed, slid it into La Rose's pocket, and when it could not be found, accused the secretary of the theft. La Rose was brought before a court-martial, which condemned him to be shot.
While in prison awaiting his execution La Rose struck up an acquaintance with an old veteran named Père La Chique, who brought him his meals and seemed kindly disposed to him.
"Père La Chique," said La Rose one day, "I have two thousand francs; if you will do as I ask you they shall be yours."
The veteran promised instantly, and La Rose requested that after he was shot La Chique should go to the cemetery where he was buried and resuscitate him with the magic rose, which he had carefully preserved. On the appointed day La Rose was duly executed, but Père La Chique, with his pockets full of money, went from inn to inn, drinking and making merry. Whenever the thought of La Rose crossed his mind, he muttered to himself in bibulous accents: "Poor fellow, poor fellow, he is better dead. This is a weary world; why should I bring him back to it?"
When Père La Chique had caroused with his comrades for some days the two thousand francs had almost disappeared. Then remorse assailed him and he made up
his mind to do as La Rose had wished. Taking a pick and an axe he went to the graveyard, but when he struck the grave with his tools and the earth rolled back, disclosing the body of La Rose, the old fellow was so terrified that he ran helter-skelter from the spot A draught of good wine brought back his failing courage, however, and he returned and passed the rose three times under the nostrils of his late acquaintance. Instantly La Rose sat up.
"By my faith, I've had a good sleep!" he said, rubbing his eyes. "Where are my clothes?"
Père La Chique handed him his garments, and after he had donned them they quitted the graveyard with all haste.
La Rose now found it necessary to cast about for a living. One day he heard the sound of a drum in the street, and, following it, found that it was beaten by a crier who promised in the King's name a large reward to those who would enlist as sentinels to guard a chapel where the King's daughter, who had been changed into a monster, was imprisoned. La Rose accepted the offer, and then learned to his dismay that the sentinel who guarded the place between the hours of eleven and midnight was never seen again. On the very first night that he took up his duties this perilous watch fell to his lot. He felt his courage deserting him, and he was about to fly when he heard a voice say: "La Rose, where are you?"
La Rose trembled. "What do you wish with me?" he asked.
"Hearken to me, and no evil will befall you," replied the voice. "Soon a great and grisly beast will appear. Leave your musket by the side of the sentry
box, climb on the top, and the beast will not touch you.
As eleven o'clock struck La Rose heard a noise and hastened to climb on the top of the sentry-box. Soon a hideous monster came out of the chapel, breathing flames and crying: "Sentinel of my father, where art thou, that I may devour thee?" As it uttered these words, it fell against the musket, which it seized between its teeth. Then the creature disappeared into the chapel and La Rose descended from his perch. He found the musket broken into a thousand pieces.
The old King was delighted to learn that his sentinel had not been devoured, for in order that his daughter should be delivered from her enchantment as a beast it was necessary that the same sentinel should mount guard for three consecutive nights between the hours of eleven and midnight.
On the following night La Rose was pacing up and down on guard, when the same voice addressed him, telling him on this occasion to place his musket before the door of the chapel. The beast issued as before, seized the musket, broke it into small Pieces, and returned to the chapel. On the third night the voice advised him to throw open the door of the chapel, and when the beast came out to run into the building himself, where he would see a leaden shrine, behind which he could take refuge, and where he would find a small bottle, with the contents of which he was to sprinkle the beast's head. With its usual dreadful roar the monster issued from the chapel. La Rose leapt past it and ran for the leaden shrine. It followed him with hideous howls, and he only reached the protective sanctuary in time. Seizing the little bottle which lay there, he fearlessly
fronted the beast and sprinkled its contents over its head. Instantly it changed into a beautiful princess, whom La Rose escorted to her delighted parents. La Rose and the princess were betrothed and duly married, and shortly afterward the King gave up his throne to his son-in-law.
One day the new King was inspecting the regiment of dragoons to which he had once belonged.
"Colonel," he said, "I miss a man from your regiment."
"It is true, sire," replied the Colonel. "It is an old fellow called Père La Chique, whom we have left at the barracks playing his violin, the old good-for-nothing!"
"I wish to see him," said the King.
Père La Chique was brought forward trembling, and the King, tearing the epaulettes from the shoulders of the captain who had stolen his wife, placed them on those of Père La Chique. He then gave orders for a great fire to be lit, in which were burned the wicked captain and the wife who had so soon forgotten her husband.
La Rose and his Queen lived happily ever afterward--which is rather odd, is it not, when one thinks of the treatment meted out to his resuscitated spouse? But if the lights in folk-tale are bright, the shadows are correspondingly heavy, and rarely does justice go hand in hand with mercy in legend!
Brittany has an entire cycle of folk-tales dealing with the subject of the winds--which, indeed, play an extraordinary part in Breton folk-lore. The fishermen of the north coast frequently address the winds as if they were living beings, hurling opprobrious epithets
at them if the direction in which they blow does not suit their purpose, shaking their fists at them in a most menacing manner the while. The following story, the only wind-tale it is possible to give here, well illustrates this personalization of the winds by the Breton folk.
There was once a goodman and his wife who had a little field on which they grew flax. One season their patch yielded a particularly fine crop, and after it had been cut they laid it out to dry. But Norouas, the North-west Wind, came along and with one sweep of his mighty wings tossed it as high as the tree-tops, so that it fell into the sea and was lost.
When the goodman saw what had happened he began to swear at the Wind, and, taking his stick, he set out to follow and slay Norouas, who had spoiled his flax. So hasty had he been in setting forth that he had taken no food or money with him, and when evening came he arrived at an inn hungry and penniless. He explained his plight to the hostess, who gave him a morsel of bread and permitted him to sleep in a corner of the stable. In the morning he asked the dame the way to the abode of Norouas, and she conducted him to the foot of a mountain, where she said the Winds dwelt.
The goodman climbed the mountain, and at the top met with Surouas, the South-west Wind.
"Are you he whom they call Norouas?" he asked. "No, I am Surouas," said the South-west Wind.
"Where then is that villain Norouas?" cried the goodman.
"Hush!" said Surouas, "do not speak so loud, goodman, for if he hears you he will toss you into the air like a straw."
At that moment Norouas arrived, whistling wildly and vigorously.
"Ah, thief of a Norouas," cried the goodman, "it was you who stole my beautiful crop of flax!" But the Wind took no notice of him. Nevertheless he did not cease to cry: "Norouas, Norouas, give me back my flax!"
"Hush, hush!" cried Norouas. "Here is a napkin that will perhaps make you keep quiet."
"With my crop of flax," howled the goodman, "I could have made a hundred napkins such as this. Norouas, give me back my flax!"
"Be silent, fellow," said Norouas. "This is no common napkin which I give you. You have only to say, 'Napkin, unfold thyself,' to have the best spread table in the world standing before you."
The goodman took the napkin with a grumble, descended the mountain, and there, only half believing what Norouas had said, placed the napkin before him, saying, "Napkin, unfold thyself." Immediately a table appeared spread with a princely repast. The odour of cunningly cooked dishes arose, and rare wines sparkled in glittering vessels. After he had feasted the table vanished, and the goodman folded up his napkin and went back to the inn where he had slept the night before.
"Well, did you get any satisfaction out of Norouas?" asked the hostess.
"Indeed I did," replied the goodman, producing the napkin. "Behold this: Napkin, unfold thyself!" and as he spoke the magic table appeared before their eyes. The hostess, struck dumb with astonishment, at once became covetous and resolved to have the napkin for herself So that night she placed the goodman in a handsome apartment where there was a beautiful bed
with a soft feather mattress, on which he slept more soundly than ever he had done in his life. When he was fast asleep the cunning hostess entered the room and stole the napkin, leaving one of similar appearance in its place.
In the morning the goodman set his face homeward, and duly arrived at his little farm. His wife eagerly asked him if Norouas had made good the damage done to the flax, to which her husband replied affirmatively and drew the substituted napkin from his pocket.
"Why," quoth the dame, "we could have made two hundred napkins like this out of the flax that was destroyed."
"Ah, but," said the goodman, "this napkin is not the same as others. I have only to say, 'Napkin, unfold thyself,' and a table covered with a most splendid feast appears. Napkin, unfold thyself--unfold thyself, dost thou hear?"
"You are an old fool, goodman," said his wife when, nothing happened. Her husband's jaw dropped and he seized his stick.
"I have been sold by that rascal Norouas," he cried. "Well, I shall not spare him this time," and without more ado he rushed out of the house and took the road to the home of the Winds.
He slept as before at the inn, and next morning climbed the mountain. He began at once to call loudly upon Norouas, who was whistling up aloft, demanding that he should return him his crop of flax.
"Be quiet, down there!" cried Norouas.
"I shall not be quiet!" screamed the goodman, brandishing his bludgeon. "You have made matters worse by cheating me with that napkin of yours!"
"Well, well, then," replied Norouas, "here is an ass; you have only to say 'Ass, make me some gold,' and it will fall from his tail."
The goodman, eager to test the value of the new gift, at once led the ass to the foot of the mountain and said: "Ass, make me some gold." The ass shook his tail, and a rouleau of gold pieces fell to the ground. The goodman hastened to the inn, where, as before, he displayed the phenomenon to the hostess, who that night went into the stable and exchanged for the magical animal another similar in appearance to it. On the evening of the following day the goodman returned home and acquainted his wife with his good luck, but when he charged the ass to make gold and nothing happened, she railed at him once more for a fool, and in a towering passion he again set out to slay Norouas. Arrived at the mountain for the third time, he called loudly on the North-west Wind, and when he came heaped insults and reproaches upon him.
"Softly," replied Norouas; "I am not to blame for your misfortune. You must know that it is the hostess at the inn where you slept who is the guilty party, for she stole your napkin and your ass. Take this cudgel. When you say to it, 'Strike, cudgel,' it will at once attack your enemies, and when you want it to stop you have only to cry, 'Ora pro nobis.'"
The goodman, eager to test the efficacy of the cudgel, at once said to it, "Strike, cudgel," whereupon it commenced to belabour him so soundly that he yelled, "Ora Pro nobis!" when it ceased.
Returning to the inn in a very stormy mood, he loudly demanded the return of his napkin and his ass, whereupon the hostess threatened to fetch the gendarmes.
"Strike, cudgel!" cried the goodman, and the stick immediately set about the hostess in such vigorous style that she cried to the goodman to call it off and she would at once return his ass and his napkin.
When his property had been returned to him the goodman lost no time in making his way homeward, where he rejoiced his wife by the sight of the treasures he brought with him. He rapidly grew rich, and his neighbours, becoming suspicious at the sight of so much wealth, had him arrested and brought before a magistrate on a charge of wholesale murder and robbery. He was sentenced to death, and on the day of his execution he was about to mount the scaffold, when he begged as a last request that his old cudgel might be brought him. The boon was granted, and no sooner had the stick been given into his hands than he cried, "Strike, cudgel!"
And the cudgel did strike. It belaboured judge, gendarmes, and spectators in such a manner that they fled howling from the scene. It demolished the scaffold and cracked the hangman's crown. A great cry for mercy arose. The goodman was instantly pardoned, and was never further molested in the enjoyment of the treasures the North-west Wind had given him as compensation for his crop of flax.
The weird tale which follows has many parallels in world folk-lore, but is localized at Tréguier, an old cathedral town in the Côtes-du-Nord at the junction of the Jaudy and the Guindy, famous for the beautiful windows of its celebrated church, founded by St Tugdual. Gwennolaïk was the most noble and beautiful maiden in
[paragraph continues] Tréguier, but, alas! she was almost friendless, for at an early age she had lost her father, her mother, and her two sisters, and her sole remaining relative was her stepmother. Pitiful it was to see her standing at the door of her manor, weeping as if her heart would break. But although she had none of her own blood to cherish she still nursed the hope that her foster-brother, who had journeyed abroad for some years, might one day return, and often would she stand gazing fixedly over the sea as if in search of the vessel that would bring him home. They had been playmates, and although six years had passed since he had left the country, the time had gone: quickly, and when Gwennolaïk thought of the young man it was as the boy who had shared the games and little amusements of her childhood. From these day-dreams she would be rudely awakened by the harsh voice of her stepmother calling to her: "Come here, my girl, and attend to the animals. I don't feed you for loafing and doing nothing."
Poor Gwennolaïk had a sad life with her stepmother. Noble as she was she was yet forced by the vindictive old woman to rise in the early hours of the morning, even two or three hours before daylight in winter, to light the fire and sweep the house and perform other menial work. One evening as she was breaking the ice in the well in order to draw water for the household she was interrupted by a cavalier returning to Nantes.
"Good een to you, maiden. Are you affianced to anyone?'"
The girl did not reply, but hung her head'.
"Come, don't be afraid," said the handsome horseman, "but answer my question."
She looked at him almost fearfully. "Saving your grace, I have never been affianced to anyone."
"Good," replied the cavalier. "Take this gold ring and say to your stepmother that you are now affianced to a cavalier of Nantes who has been in a great battle and who has lost his squire in the combat; and you may also add that he has been wounded in the side by a sword-stroke. In three weeks and three days, when my wound is healed, I will return and will take you to my manor with joy and festival."
The maiden returned to the house and looked at the ring. It was the same as her foster-brother used to wear on his left hand!
Three weeks ran by, but the cavalier did not return. Then the stepmother said one morning: "It is time, daughter, that you, should marry, and I may tell you that I have found you a husband after my own heart."
"Saving your grace, good stepmother, I do not wish to marry anyone except my foster-brother, who has returned. He has given me a golden wedding-ring, and has promised to come for me within a few days."
"A fig for your gold ring," cried the malignant hag.
"Bon gré, mal gré, you shall marry job the Witless the stable boy."
"Marry Job! Oh, horror! I should die of grief! Alas, my mother, were you but here now to protect me!"
"If you must howl, pray do so in the courtyard. You may make as many grimaces as you please, but in three days you shall be married for all that."
. . . . . .
The old grave-digger slowly patrolled the road, his bell in his hand, carrying the news of those who had died from village to village. In his doleful whine he
cried "Pray for the soul of a noble cavalier, a worthy gentleman of a good heart, who was mortally wounded in the side by the stroke of a sword in the battle near Nantes. He is to be buried to-day in the White Church."
At the marriage feast the bride was all in tears. All the guests, young and old, wept with her, all except her stepmother. She was conducted to the place of honour at supper-time, but she only drank a sip of water and ate a morsel of bread. By and by the dancing commenced, but when it was proposed that the bride should join in the revels she was not to be found; she had, indeed, escaped from the house, her hair flying in disorder, and where she had gone no one knew.
All the lights were out at the manor, every one slept profoundly. The poor young woman alone lay concealed in the garden in the throes of a fever. She heard a footstep close by. "Who is there?" she asked fearfully.
"It is I, Nola, your foster-brother."
"Ah, is it you? You are truly welcome, my dear brother," cried Gwennolaïk, rising in rapture.
"Come with me," he whispered, and swinging her on to the crupper of his white horse he plunged madly into the night.
"We fly fast," she cried. "We must have ridden a hundred leagues, I think. Ah, but I am happy with thee! I will never leave thee more."
The owl hooted and night noises came to her ears.
"Ah, but thy horse is swift," said she, "and thine armour, how brilliant it is! How happy I am to have found thee, my foster-brother! But are we near thy manor?
Click to enlarge
GWENNOLAÏK AND NOLA
"We shall arrive there in good time, my sister," he replied.
"Thy heart is cold, thy hair is wet! Ah, how chill are thy hands!"
"Listen, my sister; do you not hear the noise of the gay musicians who shall play at our wedding?" He had not finished speaking when his horse threw itself back on its haunches all at once, trembling and whinnying loudly.
Gwennolaïk looked around, and found herself on an island where a crowd of people were dancing. Lads and lasses, they danced most bravely beneath the green trees heavy with apples, and the music to which they tripped was as that of heaven.
Suddenly the sun rose above the eastern mountains and flooded this strange new world with rich light, and there Gwennolaïk found her mother and her two sisters, and there was nothing in her heart but beauty and joy.
On the following morning, as the sun rose, the young women carried the body of Gwennolaïk and laid it in the tomb of her foster-brother in the White Church.
In this ballad--for the original from which we take the tale is cast in ballad form--we are once more in touch with the Celtic Otherworld. It is a thousand pities that this interesting piece breaks off where it does, thus failing to provide us with a fuller account of that most elusive realm. The short glimpse we do get of it, however, reminds us very much of the descriptions of it we possess in Irish lore. We have also once more the phenomenon of the dead lover who comes to claim the living bride, the midnight gallop, and other circumstances
characteristic of ballad literature. There was a tradition in Lower Brittany, however, that no soul might be admitted to the other world which had not first received burial, but here, of course, we must look for Christian influence.