ELINAS, king of Albania, to divert his grief for the death of his wife, amused himself with hunting. One day, at the chase, he went to a fountain to quench his thirst: as he approached it he heard the voice of a woman singing, and on coming to it he found there the beautiful Fay Pressina.
After some time the Fay bestowed her hand upon him, on the condition that he should never visit her at the time of her lying-in. She had three daughters at a birth: Melusina, Melior, and Palatina. Nathas, the king's son by a former wife, hastened to convey the joyful tidings to his father, who, without reflection, flew to the chamber of the queen, and entered as she was bathing her daughters. Pressina, on seeing him, cried out that he had broken his word, and she must depart; and taking up her three daughters, she disappeared.
She retired to the Lost Island; [a] so called because it was only by chance any, even those who had repeatedly visited it, could find it. Here she reared her children, taking them every morning to a high mountain, whence Albania might be seen, and telling them that but for their father's breach of promise they might have lived happily in the distant land which they beheld. When they were fifteen years of age, Melusina asked her mother particularly of what their father had been guilty. On being informed of it, she conceived the design of being revenged on him. Engaging her sisters to join in her plans, they set out for Albania: arrived there, they took the king and all his wealth, and, by a charm, inclosed him in a high mountain, called Brandelois. On telling their mother what they had clone, she, to punish them for the unnatural action, condemned Melusina to become every Saturday a serpent, from the waist downwards, till she should meet a man who would marry her under the condition of never seeing her on a Saturday, and should keep his promise. She inflicted other judgements on her two sisters, less severe in proportion to their guilt. Melusina now went roaming through the world in search of the man who was to deliver her. She passed through the Black Forest, and that of Ardennes, and at last she arrived in the forest of Colombiers, in Poitou, where all the Fays of the neighbourhood came before her, telling her they had been waiting for her to reign in that place.
Raymond having accidentally killed the count, his uncle, by the glancing aside of his boar-spear, was wandering by night in the forest of Colombiers. he arrived at a fountain that rose at the foot of a high rock. This fountain was called by the people the Fountain of Thirst, or the Fountain of the Fays,[b] on account of the many marvellous things which had happened at it. At the time, when Raymond arrived at the fountain, three lathes were diverting themselves there by the light of the moon, the principal of whom was Melusina. Her beauty and her amiable manners quickly won his love: she soothed him, concealed the deed he had done, and married him, he promising on his oath never to desire to see her on a Saturday. She assured him that a breach of his oath would for ever deprive him of her whom he so much loved, and be followed by the unhappiness of both .for life. Out of her great wealth, she built for him, in the neighbourhood of the Fountain of Thirst, where he first saw her, the castle of Lusignan. She also built La Rochelle, Cloitre Malliers, Mersent, and other places.
But destiny, that would have Melusina single, was incensed against her. The marriage was made unhappy by the deformity of the children born of one that was enchanted; but still Raymond's love for the beauty that ravished both heart and eyes remained unshaken. Destiny now renewed her attacks. Raymond's cousin had excited him to jealousy and to secret concealment, by malicious suggestions of the purport of the Saturday retirement of the countess. He hid himself; and then saw how the lovely form of Melusina ended below in a snake, gray and sky-blue, mixed with white. But it was not horror that seized him at the sight, it was infinite anguish at the reflection that through his breach of faith he might lose his lovely wife for ever. Yet this misfortune had not speedily come on him, were it not that his son, Geoffroi with the tooth, [c] had burned his brother Freimund, who would stay in the abbey of Malliers, with the abbot and a hundred monks. At which the afflicted father, count Raymond, when his wife Melusina was entering his closet to comfort him, broke out into these words against her, before all the courtiers who attended her:--" Out of my sight, thou pernicious snake and odious serpent! thou contaminator of my race!"
Melusina's former anxiety was now verified, and the evil that had lain so long in ambush had now fearfully sprung on him and her. At these reproaches she fainted away; and when at length she revived, full of the profoundest grief, she declared to him that she must now depart from him, and, in obedience to a decree of destiny, fleet about the earth in pain and suffering, as a spectre, until the day of doom; and that only when one of her race was to die at Lusignan would she become visible.
Her words at parting were these:
"But one thing will I say unto thee before I part, that thou, and those who for more than a hundred years shall succeed thee, shall know that whenever I am seen to hover over the fair castle of Lusignan, then will it be certain that in that very year the castle will get a new lord; and though people may not perceive me in the air, yet they will see me by the Fountain of Thirst; and thus shall it be so long as the castle stands in honour and flourishing--especially on the Friday before the lord of the castle shall die." Immediately, with wailing and loud lamentation, she left the castle of Lusignan, [d] and has ever since existed as a spectre of the night. Raymond died as a hermit on Monserrat.
The president de Boissieu says, [e] that she chose for her retreat one of the mountains of Sassenage, near Grenoble, on account of certain vats that are there, and to which she communicated a virtue which makes them, at this day, one of the seven wonders of Dauphiné. They are two in number, of great beauty, and so admirably cut in the rock, that it is easy to see they are not the work of unaided nature, The virtue which Melusina communicated to them was, that of announcing, by the water they contain, the abundance or scantiness of the crops. When there is to be an abundant harvest, it rises over the edges, and overflows; in middling years, the vats are but half full; and when the crops are to fail, they are quite dry. One of these vats is consecrated to corn, the other to wine.
The popular belief was strong in France that she used to appear on what was called the tower of Melusina as often as any of the lords of the race of Lusignan was to die; and that when the family was extinct, and the castle had fallen to the crown,, she was seen whenever a king of France was to depart this life. Mézeray informs us that he was assured of the truth of the appearance of Melusina on this tower previous to the death of a Lusignan, or a king of France, by people of reputation, and who were not by any means credulous. She appeared in a mourning dress, and continued for a long time to utter the most heart-piercing lamentation.
The following passage occurs in Brantôme's Eloge of the Duke of Montpensier, who in 1574 destroyed Lusignan, and several other retreats of the Huguenots:
"I heard, more than forty years ago, an old veteran say, that when the Emperor Charles V came to France, they brought him by Lusignan for the sake of the recreation of hunting the deer, which were there in great abundance in fine old parks of France; that he was never tired admiring and praising the beauty, the size, and the chef d'ceuvre of that house, built, which is more, by such a lady, of whom he made them tell him several fabulous tales, which are there quite common, even to the good old women who washed their linen at the fountain, whom Queen Catherine of Medicis, mother to the king, would also question and listen to. Some told her that they used sometimes to see her come to the fountain to bathe in it, in the form of a most beautiful woman, and in the dress of a widow. Others said that they used to see her, but very rarely, and that on Saturday evening, (for in that state she did not let herself be seen,) bathing, half her body being that of a very beautiful lady, the other half ending in a snake: others, that she used to appear a-top of the great tower in a very beautiful form, and as a snake. Some said, that when any great disaster was to come on the kingdom, or a change of reign, or a death, or misfortune among her relatives, who were the greatest people of France, and were kings, that three days before she was heard to cry, with a cry most shrill and terrible, three times.
"This is held to be perfectly true. Several persons of that place, who have heard it, are positive of it, and hand it from father to son; and say that, even when the siege came on, many soldiers and men of honour who were there affirmed it. But it was when the order was given to throw down and destroy her castles that she uttered her loudest cries and wails. This is perfectly true, according to the saying of people of honour. Since then she has not been heard. Some old wives, however, say she has appeared to them, but very rarely."
Jean d'Arras declares that Servile, who defended the castle of Lusignan for the English against the Duke of Bern, swore to that prince, upon his faith and honour, "that, three days before the surrender of the fortress, there entered into his chamber, though the doors were shut, a large serpent, enamelled with white and blue, which came and struck its tail several times against the feet of the bed where he was lying with his wife, who was not at all frightened at it, though he was very much so; and that when he seized his sword, the serpent changed all at once into a woman, arid said to him, How, Serville, you who have been at so many sieges and battles, are you afraid! Know that I am the mistress of this castle, which I have built, and that you must surrender it very soon. When she had ended these words she resumed her serpent-shape, and glided away so swiftly that he could not perceive her." The author adds, that the prince told him that other credible people had sworn to him that they too had seen her at the same time in other places in the neighbourhood, and in the same form.
The old castle of Pirou, on the coast of the Cotentin, in Lower Normandy, likewise owes its origin to the Fées. [f] These were the daughters of a great lord of the country, who was a celebrated magician. They built the castle long before the time of the invasions of the Northmen, and dwelt there in peace and unity. But when these pirates began to make their descents on the coast, the Fees, fearing their violence, changed themselves into wild geese, and thus set them at defiance. They did not, however, altogether abandon their castle; for the elders of the place assert that every year, on the first of March, a flock of wild geese returns to take possession of the nests they had hollowed out for themselves in its walls. It was also said that when a male child was born to the illustrious house of Pirou, the males of these geese, displaying their finest grey plumage, strutted about on the pavement in the courts of the castle; while, if it was a girl, the females, in plumage whiter than snow, took precedence then over the males. If the new-born maiden was to be a nun, it was remarked that one of them did not join with the rest, but kept alone in a corner, eating little, and deeply sighing.
The following traditions are attached to the castles of Argouges and Rânes, in Normandy:--[g]
One of the lords of Argouges, when out hunting one day, met a bevy of twenty ladies of rare beauty, all mounted on palfreys white as the driven snow. One of them appeared to be their queen, and the lord of Argouges became all at once so deeply enamoured of her, that he offered on the spot to marry her. This lady was fée; she had for a long time past secretly protected the Sire d'Argouges, and even caused him to come off victorious in a combat with a terrible giant. As she loved the object of her care, she willingly accepted his troth, but under the express condition that he should never pronounce in her presence the name of Death. So light a condition caused no difficulty; the marriage took place under the happiest auspices, and lovely children crowned their union. The fatal word was never heard, and their happiness seemed without alloy. It came to pass, however, one day at length, that the wedded pair were preparing to give their presence at a tournament. The lady was long at her toilet, and her husband waited for her with impatience. At length she made her appearance. "Fair dame," said he, when he saw her, "you would be a good person to send to fetch Death; for you take long enough to perform what you are about." [h] Hardly had he pronounced the fatal word when, uttering a piercing cry, as if actually struck by death, the Fée lady disappeared, leaving the mark of her hand on the gate. She comes every night clad in a white robe, and wanders round and round the castle, uttering deep and continuous groans, amid which may be heard, in funereal notes, Death! Death!
The same legend, as we have said, adheres to the castle of Ranes, where, however, it was on the top of a tower that the Fee vanished, leaving, like Melusina, the mark of her foot on the battlements, where it is still to be seen.
In explication of the former legend, M. Pluque observes, that at the siege of Bayeux by Henry I., in 1106, Robert d'Argouges vanquished in single combat a German of huge stature; and that the crest of the house of Argouges is Faith, under the form of a woman naked to the waist, seated in a bark, with the motto, or war-cry, A la Fé! (i. e. à la foi!) which the people pronounce A la Fée!
So far the genuine French Fees. On the revival of learning they appear to have fallen into neglect, till the memory of them was awakened by the appearance of the translation of the Italian tales of Straparola, many of which seem to have become current among the people; and in the end of the seventeenth century, the Contes des Fées of Perrault, Madame d'Aulnoy, and their imitators and successors, gave them vogue throughout Europe. These tales are too well known to our readers to require us to make any observations on them.
[a] i. e. Cephalonia, see above, p. 41.
[b] It is at this day (1698) corruptly called La Font de Sée; and every year in the month of May a fair is held in the neighbouring mead, where the pastry-cooks sell figures of women, bien coiffées, called Merlusines.--French Author's Note
[c] A boar's tusk projected from his mouth. According to Brantôme, a figure of him, cut in stone, stood at the portal of the Mélusine tower, which was destroyed in 1574.
[d] At her departure she left the mark of her foot on the stone of one of the windows, where it remained till the castle was destroyed.
[e] In his poem of Melusina, dedicated to Christina of Sweden.
[f] Mlle Bosquet, ut sup. p. 100.
[g] Mlle. Bosquet, ut sup. p. 98. The castle of Argouges is near Bayeux, that of Rànes is in the arrondissement of Argentan.
[h] This proverbial expression is to be met with in various languages: see Grimm, Deut. Mythol. p. 802.