Stories by Foreign Authors (French II)/The Virgin's God-Child
THE VIRGIN'S GOD-CHILD
From "Tales of Brittany and La Vendee."
After a long absence I revisited this country a few years ago, to recover from the effects of the marrow and bone, the soul and spirit consuming business of the metropolis. I had wandered away to the northern tongue of land, my whole being open to the impressions conveyed by its scenery, and to the influence of the strengthening sea breeze which blew over me from both sides, to the left from the bay, to the right from the open sea. Opposite Rostudel, not far from the hamlet of Kerkolleorch, I observed, on my left, a little green dingle which opened out between gray masses of rocks, and led down to the shore of the bay. Below me, the little brook which had given rise to a kindly vegetation around—to grass, bushes, and some low trees—had been, by the help of a few rough, upright stones, converted into a well that a few willows shaded over.
A young peasant girl sat on a stone near this well, her arm resting upon one of the large red earthern jugs which are universally used in these parts, and have from time immemorial been brought over from the opposite coast of Cornwall, which was once inhabited by a kindred race. I stepped towards her; for even at a distance I was attracted by the peculiar and surprising charm of such an apparition in this lonely and savage spot. She was of a remarkably pure and touching order of beauty, and the simple costume of the district, poor but delicately clean, the blue gown with a broad red border, the brown kerchief around the head, and which fell over her shoulders and bosom like a pair of wings, the small bare feet, the round arm leaning on the red pitcher—all formed an unspeakably charming tout ensemble. She greeted me in the dialect of the country, with so gentle a voice, and such a frank, friendly glance and nod, that I could not resist the temptation to become somewhat better acquainted with her, which would, I knew, in all probability be the result of a little conversation. As I approached, returning her greeting, and wiping away the drops that stood on my brow, she praised the water of the well, and offered me some to drink; and upon my making a sign of assent, she rose, and, with fascinating grace and alacrity, raised the pitcher to my lips. While I drained long draughts of the pure stream, she held the heavy pitcher and looked at me with a smile.
As, according to the custom of the country, I thanked her by bidding God bless her, and was about to enter into conversation, a harsh voice broke in:
"The Holy Trinity protect us! Can it be Dinorah, who, on the open heath, sets up a liquor-shop for the townsfolk?"
I looked round, and saw a miller of the neighborhood, whom I knew by sight, sitting upon his sacks, which a strong horse carried without difficulty together with his master, and on his way apparently to one hamlet after another. Under other circumstances he would have been a welcome companion to me, for he knew the country and its inhabitants intimately, and, apart from his self-satisfied, levelling, liberal views, and the spirit of contradiction which he caught from his newspapers—apart, I say, from this, and an utter absence of all feeling for what was deepest, tenderest, and most earnest in the heart of the people, he was by no means a bad sort of man, nay, for every-day life, he might be called a cheerful and useful companion.
At this moment, however, his appearance, and the antagonism between him and such a creature as Dinorah, as well as his discordance with the place, and with all that united to form the mood which he disturbed, were extremely unwelcome to me. Half offended, half embarrassed, I was silent, and turned away, that I might not be tempted to say anything rude to him. But Dinorah did not long owe him an answer.
"Go your ways elsewhere, Guiller Three-Tongues," cried she, with a gay and unconstrained laugh. "You are well entitled to the nickname else you never could speak so much arrant nonsense."
"Come, come, girl, give me at least a drink as well," said he conciliatingly, while he saluted me very politely—for he knew me at once, in spite of my turning away.
"Not I, indeed," replied she tartly. "This is only spring-water for good Christians; such as you want fire-water, and that I do not sell; so go your ways."
"My time is thine, child; for it so happens that I am taking this flour to Kerkolleorch."
"Except that portion of it which remains behind sticking to the mill-stones—is it not so, Guiller?"
I could not help laughing at this allusion to the well-known foible of the miller, or rather at the droll, pert way in which the girl brought it out; but the miller turned to me, and said, with a shrug of his shoulders:
"Monsieur, then, understands the gour lanchenn (the bad tongue) already. But who ever would believe it of a little saint that she could be so sharp? I have seen her when she was not higher than her pitcher—when she could not even call me by my name, and now I can get on less well with her than if she were an advocate. That shows plainly enough that when God took the tongue from the serpent He gave it to the woman. I should like to know if she serves Bauzec the Black in the same way when he passes by her door."
The miller had evidently touched his fair opponent on a tender point. At all events she was silent, blushed perceptibly, and pulled her headgear about with some embarrassment. But when he tried to follow up his advantage, she soon found her tongue again, and some light-hearted and harmless bantering was carried on between them for some time longer.
At last, he replied to the reproach of not knowing how to prevent his three tongues from contradicting each other, by an allusion that I did not understand, and which soon put an end to all jesting on the part of Dinorah.
"Well," cried he, "we can't all be the blessed Virgin's god-children—that is only the lot of such little saints as Dinorah."
"Do not mock at holy things, Guiller," said she, with a sudden earnestness of voice, look, and gesture, while raising her pitcher to her head, and preparing to go away.
"Old Williammay burn me black," replied he, "if I meant to mock. Every child in the district knows the story, and if the gentleman has not heard it already, I will tell it him now.
"You must know that the little Dinorah was just born, and was to be, as is right and proper, baptized as soon as possible. All were assembled in the church, and quite ready. The sexton had brought the shell with the salt in it—the priest had put on his stole; they were only waiting for one of the godmothers. At that moment came a messenger out of breath to say that she had suddenly dropped down dead. You may imagine the confusion and distress. It would never do to take the first come for the god-mother of such a jewel of a child, and in short she was very near being carried out of the church unbaptized, home. At that moment, out of the Chapel of the Holy Virgin Mary, which stands on one side of the choir, there came a wonderfully beautiful lady, dressed in silk and lace, and offered to hold the child for baptism. The priest had nothing to say against it, and all the rest of the party assembled held their breath at the apparition; and before they rightly knew what had happened to them, our little Dinorah was baptized, and the apparition had vanished again into the chapel. But pray, sir, do not think of disputing with Dinorah here, or with any of the good folk of this province, as to whether it really was the Blessed Virgin, or a distinguished lady from Paris, who was sketching at that time in the neighborhood, and hunting out cromlechs and other antiquities and curiosities. So now you see it was no bad joke of mine, but that it is in good, downright earnest that we call Dinorah the little saint, and the Virgin's god-daughter!"
I looked inquiringly at Dinorah, who replied, half in anger and half in embarrassment:
"Guiller can lie, even while telling the truth; but, however, no one can alter what God willed should happen. The dog may bark at the moon, indeed; but the moon does not, on that account, fall from the sky."
So saying, she went away with a quick step, and soon disappeared behind the rocks.
We took the same way more slowly. The miller went on rattling for some time, but I did not heed him. The little legend I had just heard had in no way diminished my interest in Dinorah. I knew well that the people in Brittany are always pleased with stories of some wonderful distinction paid to one or other of themselves by the Lord of Heaven, or by some of His saints. Such highly favored ones are objects of pride to a whole district. I had already heard of the widow of a baker of St. Mathieu, whose dough had been kneaded by the archangel Gabriel; and of Lotsen of Batz, to whom the Saviour Himself had taught certain words which had the power of guiding a ship safely over the most perilous seas, and had never yet seen one of these distinguished individuals. Here, however, was a maiden who was evidently fully persuaded that she stood in a peculiar relation to the Queen of Heaven. No one who saw her could doubt the genuineness of such belief on her part; nay, this story alone gave the key to her peculiar bearing—at once lively and dignified, modest, retiring, mysterious, and yet firm, self-possessed, and even daring as it was. Moreover—as Guiller confessed cordially enough, when he found that his light talk found no response in me—though Dinorah was certainly rather too proud of her exalted sponsor, she did her credit by being the most pious, most honorable, and, in short, the best girl in all the country far and near; and if all saints were like her, added he, he would himself think seriously about being converted and trying to get to heaven.
Meanwhile, we had reached one of those cottages standing close by the shore, where the so-called Gabariers were wont to live, that they might collect tang, fine sand, and other productions or refuse of the sea, which they sold to potash and glass manufacturers, in order to eke out by these small earnings the fishing which was their special vocation. But this cottage of which I speak was in far better order than the generality. It was built of granite blocks, pretty regularly arranged, and roofed with large slates. Its situation was sheltered, standing as it did at the opening of a little hollow in the steep banks which rose from behind it, leaving room for a little bit of garden, where herbs and a few flowers, protected by a green hedge, seemed to flourish very well. A deep curve of the shore reached to a few steps of the cottage door. The little waves, sparkling in the evening sun, lifted in their play a neat boat on to the snow-white sand of the beach, which was diversified here and there by gay shells. Nets were hanging up to dry upon a neighboring rock.
Guiller observed to me:
"That's the home of Dinorah's father, old Salaun. And there lies the old man himself," continued he, laughing, as he pointed out a man asleep in the shadow of a rock, "and repeats the paternoster of St. Do-nothing. These people live as they used to do in Paradise. The sea brings them all they want while they sleep, and they have only got to stretch their hand out to take it in. No doubt he is dreaming at this moment of the great lobster with pearl eyes, and of the bank with silver anchovies; and he is ready to sell his soul to Satan if he will but get him a net made of sand, with which to fish out all these marvels from the depths of the Bay of Douarnenez. I will waken him just in time to prevent the bargain being struck."
He did this in rather a summary manner; and after a few jokes, both men began to unlade the sacks of flour which the miller had brought. During this process I engaged the Gabarier to take me in his boat, at the next ebb of the tide, to the cave of Morgate, which was opposite, at the very extremity of the southern point. To while away the short intervening time, I ascended the banks behind the cottage, and delighted myself with the glorious scene presented by the bay: its rocky shores, the wide sea beyond, the promontories and fissures far and near, the hundred sails of small and large vessels traversing the blue expanse in every direction; and all this brightly lighted up by the sun, which already neared the misty horizon.
I was roused out of the dreamy condition into which the scene had plunged me by the noise that the fisherman and miller made in shutting the cottage-door after they had finished their task. I had begun to descend, but involuntarily stood still as I saw Dinorah come out of the cottage. She had placed her distaff on her hip, and as she went along she whirled the spindle with great speed and accuracy. In the other hand, she held up her apron, in which she seemed to be carrying something or other. She came up the cliff near to where I was standing, behind a projection of rock, and then stood still, a few steps below me. She looked round on every side, raised her hand to the four points of the compass successively, while she pronounced two or three words which I did not understand. She was instantly answered by a loud chirping from the low bushes around, and from every side different kinds of birds—bulfinches, robin-redbreasts, hedge-sparrows, titmice, and many more—flew down to pick up the food she had brought them in her apron, and which she now carefully and lovingly distributed in little handfuls, while, in an undertone, she sang to herself in a strange sort of way.
It was a lovely picture, seen thus in the red glow of evening; and the pure outline of her face, with its rich waves of golden hair around, would certainly have afforded to a painter a most admirable study for the head of a saint.
At length I approached, but she beckoned me away, without, however, evincing the least surprise or embarrassment.
"If monsieur comes nearer, all my little birdies will fly away, and they are not half satisfied," said she in a whisper, that her protégés might not be disturbed by the sound of a strange language.
However, at that moment both the men came noisily out of the cottage, and the little birds dispersed on every side, with a loud twittering, expressive of their alarm and displeasure.
So Dinorah, after having called out a few quieting and sympathizing words after them, found herself obliged to speak to me. In answer to my question, by what means she had contrived thus to tame such shy little creatures, she looked at me in astonishment, and said:
"Why, by the same that attracts all God's creatures—by love; by showing them that one is fond of them. In winter, when they cannot find food for themselves, I strew it for them before our door, and in summer they know me again."
As she spoke, we reached the cottage, and the miller could not refrain from teasing her a little more.
"The little saint has again given alms to the beggars of the air. No doubt she expects to find one or other amongst them who will bring her tidings from her high and holy godmother."
Dinorah went into the house, silent, and evidently offended; but old Salaun said gravely:
"And why not, pray? If our fathers have not deceived us, there are birds who know the way to the upper sea, and can, no doubt, carry a message to the blest in Paradise."
"Well, all I know," replied the miller, "is that it is just the contrary with my horse and me. We have to find our way to one who comes much nearer to the lost in hell. Or has the devil at last hunted down his prey—Judock Shipwreck of the Ravens' Cliff?"
Salaun, it was plain, wished to avoid giving an answer, and went accordingly towards the boat, remarking that it was high time to think of our expedition. But the name of Judock happened to recall to my mind, though indistinctly, certain criminal prosecutions in which I had been engaged. And upon inquiry the miller convinced me that it was indeed this very man who had been brought before the Court at Brest several years before, charged with heavy crimes, but who had been acquitted, contrary to the general expectation, owing to some deficiency in the evidence.
"If I only knew," added the miller, "whether the old villain were at home, that he might himself receive his flour from me, and make no more ado about it, I would rather" here he interrupted himself. "But here comes his boy—Bauzec the Black—and he can give us the surest information if he but choose to do so."
The new-comer was a young lad in the very poorest dress of the district. His thick, unkempt, rough, coal-black hair fell like a mane over his shoulders. In his right hand he held a long cudgel, which, with strength and agility, he swung round in circles; while his left hand clutched with fierce grasp the sack which he carried on his shoulders. His features, as well as his expression, wore no trace of the old Armorican type, had about them nothing of its sad, severe earnestness and indomitable fidelity. There was evidently the wild, cunning, gypsy character about the dark, contracted features, and the bright, deeply cut eyes. In short, there was something in his whole appearance that awakened dislike as well as fear.
When he saw that he was observed, he stopped for an instant in his rapid walk, and seemed doubtful as to whether or not he would turn back. But just at that moment Dinorah happened to come to the door, busied with her spindle, and looking down.
As soon as he saw her, he came on again, but so slowly, that the miller more than once called upon him to make haste, adding, that in general he was light-footed enough, otherwise there would have been an end of his light feet long ago, and he would have had a couple of pounds of iron hung upon them. When the lad had come within a few steps of us, he stood still again, and cast furtive glances—differing, however, wonderfully in expression—first at us, and then at Dinorah. The miller then asked him if Judock was at home. He made no answer till Dinorah repeated the question, when he slowly said:
"He only can know that who comes from the Ravens' Cliff."
"And thou, lad, comest as usual," said the fisherman, advancing towards us from his boat, "only from some place or other thou shouldest not come from, and which no one asks thee about."
"Where should he come from, indeed, but from some poaching expedition?" suggested the miller. "Let us see what your booty is to-day—fruit or roots, fish or flesh!"
And so saying, he was going to snatch at the sack, but the youth looked at him in such a way, and made such an expressive motion with the cudgel, that the miller, strong as he was, drew back, with an exclamation that called forth the interposition of Dinorah.
"Bauzec comes from the downs," she calmly said; "I saw him wandering about there an hour or so ago."
"He has been hunting with the gentry. I have met him out with them before now," exclaimed Guiller spitefully.
"And why not?" replied the youth, in a tone of defiance. "Here is my gun, which never fails, and here is my sporting dog, which never loses scent of the game," added he triumphantly, as he swung round his cudgel, and opened his sack a little, out of which peeped a little white, hairy head, with small, red eyes, and a pointed and blood-stained little nose.
"A ferret!" exclaimed Salaun; "no wonder, then, that the gentry complain that they can hardly get a roasted rabbit out of all their rabbit warrens."
Bauzec grinned with delight at this acknowledgment of his heroic deeds. He fumbled in his bag, and brought out four fine rabbits, on whose white breasts the little track of blood showed where the ferret had sucked their veins. That little creature evinced a strong fellow-feeling with his master, looking complacently upon its victims, and licking its lips and whiskers with its small red tongue.
To the miller's question as to whether he was willing to sell them, Bauzec replied:
"Not here; I shall get a better price for them at the tavern in Crozon, as well as a glass of firewater into the bargain."
So saying, he replaced his booty in the bag, lingered for a moment or two as if in indecision, and then prepared, to leave without any further salutation. But he suddenly recollected himself, drew one of the rabbits out of the bag again, and threw it at Dinorah's feet, with the bold yet shy manner of a rough youth who would willingly be gallant but does not know how.
"It is the finest of them," muttered he; "the little saint may keep it if she will."
Dinorah looked at him gravely, almost severely. But her father pushed away the present with his foot, and said rudely: "Take thy game along with thee, lad; we only receive presents from Christian people."
Bauzec shrank back, and for a moment appeared discomfited; but he soon regained his savage air of defiance. He uttered a sort of hissing sound, which might pass for a laugh of contempt, took up his bag again, and with a few strides vanished behind a projection of the rocks.
The miller, meanwhile, had picked up the rabbit, and said that his conscience was not so tender; and that, if they despised the dainty roast it would make, it would do nicely for him.
He then prepared to join Bauzec, as he had to go to the Ravens' Cliff. I resolved to accompany him; for I was curious to make the personal acquaintance of this Judock, whose innocence as to the charges already referred to had always appeared to me something more than doubtful, while their nature had left on my mind a picture of a remarkable and original villain. The fisherman promised, though evidently with some reluctance, to bring the boat round for me to Ravens' Cliff at the proper time. I took a short farewell of Dinorah, but found her far more silent and reserved than she had been at first, and went on my way, accompanied by the miller.
"You will find Judock an odd sort of saint," said my companion, in his obtrusive way; "or rather, I should say, no saint at all, but a regular limb of Satan, with whose sins and crimes one could fill up the whole way between Camaret and Crozon. For twenty years he lit false lights from Loquirnk to Trevignon, and has had more to do with shipwrecks upon this coast than the southwest wind itself."
I asked whether this creditable occupation enriched its pursuer.
"One cannot exactly tell," rejoined Guiller; "he lives in his den yonder as poor as a Klasker-bara—a bread-seeker, as we call beggars about here. But the question is, whether his miserliness be not greater than all his other vices. Many believe that he has tons of buried gold. And besides, he gains something every now and then as a flayer and rope-maker; and on that account, too, the people look askance at him as anything but a Christian, and aver that he is a Kakous."
After an hour's good walk, as we followed a bend of the down, we came in sight of Judock's hut. It was built into a small and narrow fissure in the rocks, and stood close to the shore. The natural walls thus afforded, the moss-grown flagstones that formed its roof, and whose broad crevices were stuffed up with sea-tang, held together by strong fir-branches, rendered it difficult to distinguish the dwelling from the rocks around, and the sea-produce strewn upon them. Everything was barren, rude, and inhospitable-looking. Some pointed piles of bones lay about, and the projecting roof of the gable had two or three horses' skulls nailed to it, a decoration worthy of the whole.
Judock sat at his door, busied with some old cordage, which he was pulling to pieces. He was a little, thin, shrivelled old man, with a large bald head. The prevailing hue of his face was almost brick-colored, but in the countless wrinkles the skin was lighter; and as these wrinkles widened more or less at every change of feature, or when he spoke, they gave him a strange repulsive appearance, and made a varying and confusing impression upon the beholder. His restless, piercing glance, his beak-like nose, his low forehead, his toothless mouth, his under jaw in constant motion,—all completed a picture which only answered too well to the opinion that I had already formed of him.
As soon as he saw me he started, and furtively watched all my movements with visible unrest and suspicion. But he pretended not to observe me.
"Now then, old sinner," said Guiller to him at last, "canst thou not give God's blessing and the good-day to this gentleman?"
"What is the nobleman seeking for on this coast?" was the ungracious answer, spoken in an undertone.
"Ay, what indeed?—old Judock, perhaps," said the miller, laughing.
At these words Judock sprang up, and seemed doubtful whether to flee or to defend himself. I however soon calmed him, by assuring him that I was only a lover of rock and ocean, and that I had a boat ready to take me to see the cave. Without returning me any answer, he seized the sack of flour that Guiller had brought, and carried it into the hut. No sooner had I crossed the threshold, however, than Judock let his burden fall and gave a loud scream.
"He here!" exclaimed he, with an expression of extremest amazement. "The saints be gracious to me! how has he got in?"
The intruder was Bauzec, who, to all appearance quite unconcerned, sat upon the hearth and roasted potatoes in the ashes.
"Why," observed the miller, showing himself upon the doorsill, "you have not left more than one hole to your palace; how could he have got in otherwise than by it, old boy?"
"No, no; the door was shut, and I—but I must ferret out how this vermin crept in here without my knowledge, or—"
He raised his hand threateningly against the lad, who, however, replied calmly, and with an ironical emphasis upon the expression:
"Why, my dear father, does not the wind find its way in without asking your leave, and why should not your dear little son do the same?"
"Only hear him, the young imp!" exclaimed the old man, half angrily and half piteously. "He himself confesses that he has slipped in here to rob his poor old father!"
"Eh, father dear!" continued the youth in the same mocking tone; "so there is then something to rob you of, and people are not so far wrong—eh?"
That last sentence was too much for the old man. He seized an iron implement which lay at hand, and rushed upon Bauzec; but with a laugh he slipped away from him, and out at the door, with cat-like agility. The old man followed, but he very soon returned out of breath, apparently without having effected anything. He spent himself in asseverations respecting his poverty, his age, and his wretchedness; the untruth, and indeed impossibility, of any reports to the contrary; the bad-heartedness and ingratitude of the "vermin," as he called his well-educated son.
The miller put an end to the repulsive garrulity of the old man—whose mind was actually weakened by the alarm given to his covetousness—by reminding him of the payment due, and of the glass of brandy that was to accompany it. But he could only bring him to the point by the positive threat of no longer grinding for him.
At last the boat of old Salaun touched the shore, and he called out to me that there was no time to lose. I was glad to leave the inhospitable hut and its owner, and the miller too, whose manner towards the old man was disagreeable to me. So I soon found myself sitting in the boat, and gave myself up to the strange and sublime scenes that shore and sea afforded me, as he rowed to the outlet of the bay. Salaun had made visible haste to push off from the shore, and had at first exerted all his energies to get away as fast as possible out of sight of the Kakous' hut.
His exertions, and the anxious look that he cast towards the cloudless horizon, induced me at last to ask him whether we had a sudden squall to apprehend.
"Ask them who cause such, sir; it would not be the first storm that has come from that quarter in perfectly still weather," said he significantly, while he pointed to the direction where stood the dwelling of the Kakous.
And strange enough, at that very moment, a light white cloud arose from the point in question, and spread out to the horizon. But I soon convinced myself that it must be smoke and concerned myself no further about the matter, seeing that the Gabarier, to my query as to how a fire could take place on so nearly uninhabited a coast, merely replied by shrugs of the shoulders and other strange gestures. And besides this, we had now reached the vicinity of the Grotto of Morgate, where Nature claimed and absorbed all my attention.
I let the conversation drop, and soon we glided through the narrow entrance into the cave, whose noble dome—looking, in the wonderfully blue light, as if it were built of sapphires—rose suddenly upon the astonished and bewildered sight. This cave certainly surpasses the so much more widely famed blue Grotto of Capri; and this particular point, as well as the whole coast indeed, possesses, in a much higher degree than those southern shores, the charm of ancient local traditions and national songs.
These are for the most part connected, in this district, with the mythic King Grallon-Mawr (Grallon the Great), and with the magic Princess Morgane, or Morgate, who, as is well known, occupies so prominent a position in the legends and lays of Arthur's Round Table.
Nothing was wanting but a hint on my part to induce my companion, who had been hitherto so monosyllabic, to set off fluently upon these subjects.
His favorite tradition—the scene of which, moreover, was, he asserted, this very grotto—appeared to be the story of the fair Genossa, which is also preserved in an old national song (Guerz) of Brittany.
Genossa was the daughter of a mighty lord, who lived in the castle whose giant ruins are still shown on the island of Rozan, at the mouth of the Laber. Genossa lived without God, and without a wish. Her father let her grow up as do the flowers of the field, and no priest had ever approached the island, which was devoted to the Evil Spirit. Sitting upon a snow-white cow with golden horns, she wandered all the day long through the meadows and woods that lay around the shore, catching in her silken net the birds on the wing.
One day she chanced to meet a beautiful young man upon a black bull with silver horns. His approach thrilled her through and through. He spoke such wondrously sweet words to her, that she was bewitched by them. The black bull and the white cow walked so closely together, and so slowly, that they could crop the grass at their feet, and pull at the same flowers; and the blended sound of their hoofs echoed like music in the heart of Genossa.
The fisherman had at first told the tale in his own way, and with sundry pauses; but soon the words of the old ditty fell from him in their original form, and he continued without interruption, in a strange half-chanting, half-reciting tone:
"It seemed to Genossa as though every tree were hung around with wreaths of flowers, and sweet bird-notes sprung from under every leaf, and the sea breezes were laden with incense-like perfume. Genossa met the handsome man on the black bull more than once, and ever his magic power grew stronger and stronger over her. She soon thought and wished only what the stranger wished and thought. And so it came to pass that one day the white cow returned to the castle alone, and Genossa sat behind the stranger upon the black bull with the silver horns. The lord of the island of Rozan, however, gathered all his men together in pursuit, each bearing in one hand a sword, and in the other a dagger. For this lord had promised to cover with gold every drop of blood spilt, whether of their own or their enemy's.
"Soon Genossa found herself resting by the stranger's side on the sea-shore, while the black bull pastured near. As soon as the stranger saw the pursuers advancing, he vaulted with Genossa on the back of the bull, who plunged into the blue sea, and soon carried them over to the Grotto of Morgane. Arrived there, the stranger began to caress the maiden; she shrank away abashed, and said:
"'Leave off, Spountus. I hear my mother weeping and sobbing between the boards of the narrow house.'
"'It is the sighing of the waves in the narrow fissures of the rock, my sweet Genossa.'
"'Listen, listen, Spountus! my mother speaks from under the consecrated earth!'
"'What says she, then, from under the consecrated earth, Genossa?'
"'She says that her daughter is not to give herself up body and soul without the show of consecrated altar-lights, and without the priest's holy chants.'
"'Be it, then, as she wishes, Genossa, my beloved; I honor the dead!'
"Then the handsome stranger made a sign, and suddenly there rose out of the darkness priest and choristers, and surrounded the rock that rises in the little island in the midst of the grotto. They covered the rock with a cloth of scarlet silk embroidered in silver, and kindled around it tall wax lights in golden candlesticks. The marriage ceremony began. But at the moment when the priest spoke the blessing, and placed the ring upon her finger, Genossa screamed aloud till the whole grotto rang with the sound. The ring burned her finger like fire. She tried to tear herself away—to fly, but it was too late! Spountus seized her arm, and forced her to follow him through long, endlessly long and dismal passages. Her heart died within her, and, trembling and sorrowful, she leaned on the one who had become master of her soul and body.
"'Listen, Spountus,' whispered she, 'does it not seem as if all around us—here, there, and everywhere—there came the sounds of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth?'
"'It is nothing, Genossa, my sweet soul, but the workmen who are boring the rock above us, and singing their songs the while.'
"'Seems it not, Spountus, as though bitter tears were trickling on us down the rocks?'
"'It is only the water of the springs that oozes through the rock, Genossa, my sweet soul.'
"'Lord of my life, the air that surrounds us is like the breath of a furnace!'
"'Genossa, joy of my heart, look there! Fire, fire, everywhere fire! this is hell, heathen maiden, and thou art mine for ever!'"
This is the Guerz of Genossa, which must of course lose indescribably by translation, and by the absence of all the circumstances under which I heard it.
We rowed once more in silence round the devil's altar, and by way of dispelling the oppressive and shuddering mood into which the old song had unconsciously plunged me, I inquired whether Spountus were still occasionally to be seen in the grotto. The fisherman did not answer at once, but first with a couple of powerful oar-strokes made the boat shoot out through the entrance of the grotto into the clear daylight and the free expanse of sea. Then he said:
"The gentleman ought to have asked old Judock that question—he knows its answer."
As it was evident that my companion had no pleasure in telling either what he knew or what he thought upon this subject, and as moreover we were suddenly surrounded by a thick fog, occasioning all manner of optical illusions, and requiring his whole attention to be given to the management of the boat, we both continued silent. But after about a quarter of an hour, when a fresh wind rose and drove away the fog, Salaun suddenly touched me on the shoulder, exclaiming:
"Look there! Judock's hut is on fire!"
On looking round, I remarked a ruddy light on the Ravens' Cliff, which was scarcely distinguished from the rosy glow still thrown by the setting sun upon the higher rocks. It was only at intervals that a brighter flame leaped up. Agreeably to my wish, Salaun steered our boat to the spot; curiosity, or the wish to assist, overcoming the repugnance which he had previously shown to the Ravens' Cliff and to its owner.
As we drew near we saw a number of men busily engaged about the fire, while numbers more were hurrying towards it in every direction. Having landed, we soon found out that, as is generally the case on such occasions, the greatest part of them by screams and useless gestures impeded the assistance that might yet have been afforded. A few only were occupied with the door, which, however, they had vainly tried to break open with the half of a fir-tree stem torn off the roof, while the fire appeared to be devouring slowly the inside of the hut, which had no vent or opening of any kind. On approaching nearer, a loud groaning and whining was distinctly heard within. We listened for a moment; another voice arose, a sharp, mocking tone, which at last broke out into a yell of fiendish laughter. Then hard blows were repeatedly given—then again the same wailing and whimpering, the same mocking rejoinder.
Salaun and the remainder drew back in horror, and a few words, spoken half aloud, showed that they were in no doubt as to whom the old villain had to deal with, and that, in their opinion, no human help could avail to deliver him from the grasp of the spirits whom he had served all his life long.
It was in vain that I requested Salaun to join me in an attempt to break open the door.
"This fire is not kindled by mortal hands, and we poor sinners can never put it out."
"The Church will put it out, then," here interfered a deep, well-toned voice.
It was that of a priest who had joined us. All surrounded him, taking off their hats with much respect, while I in a few words explained the state of things. Though advanced in years, he was still strong and active in mind and body. We understood each other instantly. While he sent a messenger to fetch an axe from the nearest village, and gave some other judicious orders, which the people unhesitatingly obeyed, I climbed to the top of the rock into whose fissures the hut was squeezed, that I might thence try to find out whether it had any other opening or not.
I was, however, unable to discover anything of the kind, and was therefore about to descend, when I saw a dark figure glide behind some low bushes at a little distance, but the very same moment it vanished behind the next projection of rock. It had already become too dark, and the apparition was too sudden and momentary for me to have any distinct impression as to its form or features.
At first I felt half inclined to pursue it, but after two or three onward steps I felt convinced that to do so along such a road as this, over such masses of rocks, such crevices, and through such brushwood, would be not only vain, but dangerous. At the same time, too, the strokes of the axe upon the door announced that the chief point—that of forcing an entrance into the hut—would soon be gained, and I therefore rapidly made my way down again.
Just as I arrived the door gave way. A stream of flame, clouds of smoke, and sparks rushed out, and scared the bystanders away; but the fury of the fire was already spent, and in a few moments the priest was able to enter, followed by Salaun and myself. The others remained standing outside, partly out of respect to the injunctions of the priest, partly through terror of the things that might have to be encountered within.
The first sight that met our eyes was Judock lying upon the hearth in a pool of blood. He was still alive, and we instantly carried him out into the open air; and at the earnest entreaty of the priest, the barber of the neighboring village, who, like the many others, found himself on the spot, undertook to examine, and, as far as he was able, to treat the severely-wounded man. At the same time, all that could be done was done to save the hut. It was found that all that was combustible was already consumed, and the glowing embers were easily quenched. No trace was found of the perpetrator, or of the cause of the crime, except, indeed, a mattock, which had evidently served to raise the hearthstone, and to dig under it.
That this calamity was not accidental, we none of us had any doubt; and as I, in company with the priest, again approached the late possessor of the hut, the surgeon, as he called himself, showed us a deep wound in the breast, and a considerable dint in the head of the old Kakous, which could only have been dealt by a murderer's hand.
It was quite plain that no recovery was to be looked for. Before we found the old man, he had bled almost to death, and seemed to have already entirely lost consciousness. But after a few minutes, he came to himself a little, moved his lips, opened his eyes, and tried, with the convulsive energy of a dying effort, to shape his loud groans into intelligible words. If his appearance had been repulsive in life, it was now almost insufferably horrible. At length he was able to make it understood that he wished to confess. The bystanders seemed to look upon such a request not only with wonder, but displeasure, as involving unheard-of presumption, and actual desecration of the rite. But the priest knelt down at once by the head of the dying man, and at a sign from him the people reverentially retired, the greatest part evincing their sympathy with the solemn occasion by kneeling also, with heads uncovered, and hands folded in silent prayer.
The moon had by this time risen, and spread a mild, peaceful light on the shore, the rocks, and the sea, whose low murmur the solemn stillness of the men, so loud a few minutes before, rendered more impressive. The silence was only broken every now and then by the increasingly painful groans of the dying man, or by an outburst of sparks, as some remnants of the woodwork within the hut, or rather the cleft that it formerly occupied, fell in.
After a few minutes, the priest beckoned me to approach. He had, according to his apprehension of the duties of his calling, endeavored, before all things, to awaken the feeble consciousness of the expiring sinner to the necessity of preparing for death after the manner of the Catholic Church, as far as it was possible to do so under such circumstances. But when this was over, he was anxious to make an attempt to elicit some words which might lead to the discovery of the murderer; and it was with this view that he wished to have me both as assistant and witness—and also called old Salaun.
The dying man's words were for the most part incoherent, and spoken in an unintelligible voice; but, however, such as they were, they tended to confirm a suspicion that had already crossed my mind, and led me to connect the mysterious presence in the hut, of the youth called Bauzec, on the occasion of my first visit, with the apparition I had just witnessed on the rocks above. In the mind of the dying man, shaken as it was by the death-struggle, and the terrors of conscience, the same opinion evidently often obtained respecting the personality of his murderer, which the people are wont to offer in connection with the most varied circumstances, namely, that the Evil One had surprised him counting his ill-won wealth, and asserted his own claim to it.
But every now and then the recollection of the true state of the case would pierce through, as he repeated:
"The vermin! the black! the vermin!" over and over again, with such rage and abhorrence, that his energies seemed more and more exhausted by each repetition of the words, and at last he died in pronouncing them.
It was to me a very significant fact that Judock should, in his wanderings, use many common English phrases, which rendered it beyond a doubt that he had carried on treasonable communications with the enemy during the war, and it was with these that the criminal prosecutions already referred to were connected.
The priest and Salaun shared my conviction. But when I exclaimed with horror:
"The son the murderer of the father!" the fisherman rejoined:
"It is bad enough as it is, but Bauzec the Black is not the son of Judock Shipwreck. I myself saw him draw the fellow with his hook out of the hen-coop of a ship that had gone to pieces. He knew best what wind had driven it upon the Ravens' Cliff. And then the little black imp sat upon the coop, and was scarcely on shore before he shook off the water like a poodle, and danced and screamed, so that it was awful to see him. But as he had been almost drowned, the country people called him 'Bauzec,' which means in the gentleman's language 'the drowned one.'"
"Judock, then, adopted him as a son?" asked I. "That is more than I should have believed of him."
"That was not the case either," replied Salaun, "but just the contrary. The boy hung upon the old man like a chain; hooked himself to him like a kitten. He could neither be shaken off nor driven away by blows, kicks, or hunger—he always returned. If Judock had flung him out at night, and driven him far away across the downs, believing that he would not find his way back; when morning came, there he was again cowering at the door. But you are not to suppose that gratitude or attachment had anything to do with this. On the contrary, from the very first he took to playing all manner of tricks upon the old man; and if he ever failed to get out of the way of blows with cat-like expertness, and chanced to be caught, which was rare, he would bite and scratch like a young wild beast. It really seemed as though he were an evil spirit, and had a hold over the old sinner's soul. At all events, he was obliged to tolerate what he could not avoid. For, you see, he was grown old and feeble, and had, besides, a horror of the lad, whom he never called by any other name than the 'vermin'; or else what could have prevented him from tying a stone about his neck and throwing him into the sea? Certainly it was not conscience or tender-heartedness, for—"
Here Salaun interrupted himself.
"The Kakous is now dead, and has to give an account of himself elsewhere, and so I will say no more about him. We poor folk about here have never doubted that Bauzec was given to Judock Shipwreck as a plague and a punishment—whether man or devil, it's all one."
Meanwhile the corpse had been carried into the burnt-out hut, and a watch over it appointed for the night. We at length contrived, by the light of the tapers brought, to discover a narrow opening at the end of the fissure, which wound up to the top of the cliff, and opened out amidst the brushwood there. This might possibly have afforded an inlet to a slender and active youth. But how it happened that the builder and owner of the hut should not have been aware of this way of entrance, or how, on the other hand, he should not have stopped it up, fearing that his good-for-nothing comrade might learn to make use of it without his leave, and probably to his hurt, this certainly did remain a mystery to us.
Midnight was already past before the country people dispersed, and I again took my place in the boat, to be rowed by the old fisherman to his own dwelling. We were both silent, meditating, no doubt, upon what we had just witnessed. We now approached the little bay in which Salaun's cottage stood, and by the unsteady and changing light of the clouded moon were already able to distinguish it, when we heard a loud cry for help proceeding thence. The next moment two figures rushed out on the shore, and struggled violently—or rather, one struggled to overpower the other, who endeavored to escape, and cried more and more loudly for help.
"God be with me!" exclaimed Salaun at the first scream heard, "it is Dinorah's voice!"
And, straining his strength to the utmost, he made the little boat bound to the point where we saw the two forms, while we both announced the approach of help, and endeavored to frighten away the assailant by raising our voices to their utmost pitch. But, owing to the murmurs of the waves upon the beach, and to the excitement of the parties concerned, they did not observe us till we were but a few yards from the shore, when we plainly distinguished not only Dinorah, but also the aggressor, who was no other than Bauzec the Black. We further observed that the young girl's strength was nearly exhausted. Dinorah was the first to perceive us. At once she tore herself out of her assailant's grasp, and rushed towards us into the sea.
Her father had hardly time to check the boat's speed, so as to prevent a collision, when, breathless, exhausted, with torn garment and streaming hair, she clasped the boat's prow, and was lifted into it and carried to shore in an unconscious state. Meanwhile Bauzec had vanished; and it would have been in vain to have pursued him, had we not, besides, been fully occupied with the poor girl.
Thanks to her thoroughly healthy nature, she soon came round, and told us—but not without a certain reserve, and an evident endeavor to criminate the ruffian as little as possible—that Bauzec had, about half an hour before, in great haste and excitement, joined her on the shore, whither she had gone to look for us. He had told her, in the strangest and wildest way possible, that he must leave the country forthwith, and that she must accompany him. Upon her refusal, he at first tried every means of persuasion, and showed her his hands full of gold. But when she remained firm, and again hastened out of the cottage, whither he had followed her, and rushed to the shore, he tried to carry her away by force.
"And then I cried once more out of my inmost soul to my heavenly godmother, and you came, father!" said the girl in conclusion. And the joy that beamed over her features at the miraculous help which she fully believed to have been afforded her, banished every trace of her previous terror.
Soon, however, on learning from us what had happened at the Ravens' Cliff, and recognizing, as we did also, in her late experience a confirmation of the blood-guiltiness of her wild lover, she was seized with a profound and peculiar emotion. She became pale as death, trembling in every limb, and threw herself upon her knees, where she long remained in fervent prayer.
Could the miller, Guiller, have had some grounds, then, for rallying her about this wild, repulsive, wicked youth? What relations could there possibly be between him and this pure and maidenly creature? A few words, however, exchanged upon a later occasion with the priest whose acquaintance I had made at Ravens' Cliff, afforded me the only explanation conceivable. Her feeling was a complex one, consisting in part of womanly compassion for one whom all the world, and perhaps with good cause, avoided; in part, of a certain dread of the youth's savage strength, not entirely free, it might be, from a germ of unconscious admiration of it; in part, of blended piety and vanity, such as one often meets with in more refined society. She had believed herself elected, by the assistance and to the glory of her heavenly sponsor, to convert this poor, benighted soul.
And upon Bauzec's part, joined to the impulse of passions early wakened, there was doubtless a better and deeper impression made by the maidenly gentleness and purity of Dinorah. Wild and scornful as he was to all besides, and in outward appearance to her also, it is certain that she had obtained a degree of influence over him, which she, in her half-childish way, took pleasure in displaying.
All this, as I have already said, I only found out later. At the period of which I treat, I contented myself with leaving the father and daughter together, and betaking myself to rest in the fragrant hayloft under the roof, which was the room assigned to me.
When I awoke the following morning, the sun was already high in the heavens; nothing seemed stirring in the house, or round about it. I only heard the monotonous breaking of the waves upon the shore, and the twittering of birds between. I found the little room below in the best order possible, and even my clean and simple breakfast ready provided; but Salaun and his daughter were nowhere to be seen.
I knew too well the rights with which the inhabitants of Brittany invest the strangers—whom they designate as the sent of God—not to avail myself, even in the absence of the host, of the hospitality of which I stood so sorely in need. But before setting out, I laid down a gold-piece upon the table, which I could hardly have got old Salaun to accept had he been at home.
I took the way to Crozon, and had not proceeded far before I heard in the distance a solemn chant, which drew nearer and nearer to where I was. On account of the very high hedges which shut in the road, I was unable as yet to see any of the singers, even though I could distinctly hear the words of their song. A peasant who came from Crozon informed me, however, that it was a procession, undertaken by all the adjacent parishes on account of the long-continued drought, and that it was marching around the fields, chanting, and offering up prayers for rain.
From a little hillock on the roadside which I ascended, I succeeded in seeing the procession, which soon, however, defiled along a crossway, and came into the road. First came the priest, then the men, two and two; afterwards the women, in their picturesque Sunday costume, but with grave bearing, and absorbed in deep devotion.
In the pauses of the chant, which were devoted to prayer, nothing was to be heard but the humming of insects and the chirping of birds.
One of these pauses was suddenly interrupted by a noise which proceeded from the direction in which I had come. It was made by the rolling and rattling of a vehicle of some kind; and soon we could see in the lane behind us a cart, surrounded by armed custom-house officers, as well as by some fishers and peasants. The procession drew to one side to let them pass.
As the cart approached, we observed that three men were sitting upon the same seat, and that the one in the middle was chained, the other two evidently guarding him. Soon the name "Bauzec the Black," which, spoken low, went from one to the other throughout the procession, left no doubt upon my mind that it was the murderer on his way to prison. Indeed he himself took good care to give me every opportunity of recognizing him; for scarcely had the cart come up with the procession, than he raised himself from the stooping attitude he had before maintained, looked around him with the greatest audacity, and called out, to such as he was acquainted with, words of jesting or abuse, so that the good people seemed at first quite petrified by his profligacy. However, when the universal horror and displeasure had found a vent in ejaculations and execrations, he seemed to take even increased delight in his own lawless conduct, and was not to be controlled by his companions.
But in the midst of his most daring defiance, he suddenly uttered a cry of mingled rage and anguish; and after one violent effort to break his chains, suddenly sank down powerless, with his head bowed on his breast and his eyes closed.
The reason of this transformation was soon evident to me. The cart had passed the men, and reached the part of the procession formed by the women. There stood Dinorah, pale as a corpse, her little hands convulsively clasped, her lips quivering, but with a look of the deepest sorrow in her eyes, as she fixed them upon the lost being before her. When this look met his, all his wild audacity was at once at an end.
The procession again put itself, singing, into motion, and was soon lost in a by-way behind the bushes; while the cart with the prisoner went on its way to Crozon, where I arrived soon after it, but was not able to remain. After a while, the newspapers gave me an account of Bauzec's execution.
Many years afterwards, on visiting a friend at Brest who occupied a position in its largest hospital, I recognized in one of the Sœurs grises, to whom the care of its sick was intrusted, the Virgin's god-daughter, Dinorah.
- This is the title given by the peasants of Brittany to the devil—perhaps from a forgotten play upon the name of William the Conqueror.
- It is well known that the distinguished Villemarque has published a collection, in two volumes, of similar national lyrics, under the title, Barzas-Briez, chants populaires de la Brètagne, which have also been translated by Ad. Keller, and others whose names have escaped my memory. But the legend of Genossa is not amongst them.
- Spountus, the Terrible, is one of the names given to the Evil Spirit by the Armorican Celts.