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The Stones Of Plouhinec

from The Lilac Fairy Book





Perhaps some of you may have read a book called 'Kenneth; or the
Rear-Guard of the Grand Army' of Napoleon. If so, you will
remember how the two Scotch children found in Russia were taken
care of by the French soldiers and prevented as far as possible
from suffering from the horrors of the terrible Retreat. One of
the soldiers, a Breton, often tried to make them forget how cold
and hungry they were by telling them tales of his native country,
Brittany, which is full of wonderful things. The best and warmest
place round the camp fire was always given to the children, but
even so the bitter frost would cause them to shiver. It was then
that the Breton would begin: 'Plouhinec is a small town near
Hennebonne by the sea,' and would continue until Kenneth or Effie
would interrupt him with an eager question. Then he forgot how
his mother had told him the tale, and was obliged to begin all
over again, so the story lasted a long while, and by the time it
was ended the children were ready to be rolled up in what ever
coverings could be found, and go to sleep. It is this story that
I am going to tell to you.

Plouhinec is a small town near Hennebonne by the sea. Around it
stretches a desolate moor, where no corn can be grown, and the
grass is so coarse that no beast grows fat on it. Here and there
are scattered groves of fir trees, and small pebbles are so thick
on the ground that you might almost take it for a beach. On the
further side, the fairies, or korigans, as the people called
them, had set up long long ago two rows of huge stones; indeed,
so tall and heavy were they, that it seemed as if all the fairies
in the world could not have placed them upright.

Not far off them this great stone avenue, and on the banks of the
little river Intel, there lived a man named Marzinne and his
sister Rozennik. They always had enough black bread to eat, and
wooden shoes or sabots to wear, and a pig to fatten, so the
neighbours thought them quite rich; and what was still better,
they thought themselves rich also.

Rozennik was a pretty girl, who knew how to make the best of
everything, and she could, if she wished, have chosen a husband
from the young men of Plouhinec, but she cared for none of them
except Bernez, whom she had played with all her life, and Bernez,
though he worked hard, was so very very poor that Marzinne told
him roughly he must look elsewhere for a wife. But whatever
Marzinne might say Rozennik smiled and nodded to him as before,
and would often turn her head as she passed, and sing snatches of
old songs over her shoulder.

Christmas Eve had come, and all the men who worked under Marzinne
or on the farms round about were gathered in the large kitchen to
eat the soup flavoured with honey followed by rich puddings, to
which they were always invited on this particular night. In the
middle of the table was a large wooden bowl, with wooden spoons
placed in a circle round it, so that each might dip in his turn.
The benches were filled, and Marzinne was about to give the
signal, when the door was suddenly thrown open, and an old man
came in, wishing the guests a good appetite for their supper.
There was a pause, and some of the faces looked a little
frightened; for the new comer was well known to them as a beggar,
who was also said to be a wizard who cast spells over the cattle,
and caused the corn to grow black, and old people to die, of
what, nobody knew. Still, it was Christmas Eve, and besides it
was as well not to offend him, so the farmer invited him in, and
gave him a seat at the table and a wooden spoon like the rest.

There was not much talk after the beggar's entrance, and everyone
was glad when the meal came to an end, and the beggar asked if he

might sleep in the stable, as he should die of cold if he were
left outside. Rather unwillingly Marzinne gave him leave, and
bade Bernez take the key and unlock the door. There was certainly
plenty of room for a dozen beggars, for the only occupants of the
stable were an old donkey and a thin ox; and as the night was
bitter, the wizard lay down between them for warmth, with a sack
of reeds for a pillow.

He had walked far that day, and even wizards get tired sometimes,
so in spite of the hard floor he was just dropping off to sleep,
when midnight struck from the church tower of Plouhinec. At this
sound the donkey raised her head and shook her ears, and turned
towards the ox.

'Well, my dear cousin,' said she, 'and how have you fared since
last Christmas Eve, when we had a conversation together?'

Instead of answering at once, the ox eyed the beggar with a long
look of disgust.

'What is the use of talking,' he replied roughly, 'when a good-
for-nothing creature like that can hear all we say?'

'Oh, you mustn't lose time in grumbling,' rejoined the donkey
gaily, 'and don't you see that the wizard is asleep?'

'His wicked pranks do not make him rich, certainly,' said the ox,
'and he isn't even clever enough to have found out what a piece
of luck might befall him a week hence.'

'What piece of luck?' asked the donkey.

'Why, don't you know,' inquired the ox, 'that once very hundred
years the stones on Plouhinec heath go down to drink at the
river, and that while they are away the treasures underneath them
are uncovered?'

'Ah, I remember now,' replied the donkey, 'but the stones return
so quickly to their places, that you certainly would be crushed
to death unless you have in your hands a bunch of crowsfoot and
of five-leaved trefoil.'

'Yes, but that is not enough,' said the ox; 'even supposing you
get safely by, the treasure you have brought with you will
crumble into dust if you do not give in exchange a baptised soul.
It is needful that a Christian should die before you can enjoy
the wealth of Plouhinec.'

The donkey was about to ask some further questions, when she
suddenly found herself unable to speak: the time allowed them for
conversation was over.

'Ah, my dear creatures,' thought the beggar, who had of course
heard everything, 'you are going to make me richer than the
richest men of Vannes or Lorient. But I have no time to lose; to-
morrow I must begin to hunt for the precious plants.'

He did not dare to seek too near Plouhinec, lest somebody who
knew the story might guess what he was doing, so he went away
further towards the south, where the air was softer and the
plants are always green. From the instant it was light, till the
last rays had faded out of the sky, he searched every inch of
ground where the magic plants might grow; he scarcely gave
himself a minute to eat and drink, but at length he found the
crowsfoot in a little hollow! Well, that was certainly a great
deal, but after all, the crowsfoot was of no use without the
trefoil, and there was so little time left.

He had almost give up hope, when on the very last day before it
was necessary that he should start of Plouhinec, he came upon a
little clump of trefoil, half hidden under a rock. Hardly able to
breathe from excitement, he sat down and hunted eagerly through
the plant which he had torn up. Leaf after leaf he threw aside in
disgust, and he had nearly reached the end when he gave a cry of
joy-- the five-leaved trefoil was in his hand.

The beggar scrambled to his feet, and without a pause walked
quickly down the road that led northwards. The moon was bright,
and for some hours he kept steadily on, not knowing how many
miles he had gone, nor even feeling tired. By and bye the sun
rose, and the world began to stir, and stopping at a farmhouse
door, he asked for a cup of milk and slice of bread and
permission to rest for a while in the porch. Then he continued
his journey, and so, towards sunset on New Year's Eve, he came
back to Plouhinec.

As he was passing the long line of stones, he saw Bernez working
with a chisel on the tallest of them all.

'What are you doing there?' called the wizard, 'do you mean to
hollow out for yourself a bed in that huge column?'

'No,' replied Bernez quietly, 'but as I happened to have no work
to do to-day, I thought I would just carve a cross on this stone.
The holy sign can never come amiss.'

'I believe you think it will help you to win Rozennik,' laughed
the old man.

Bernez ceased his task for a moment to look at him.

'Ah, so you know about that,' replied he; 'unluckily Marzinne
wants a brother-in-law who has more pounds than I have pence.'

'And suppose I were to give you more pounds than Marzinne ever
dreamed of?' whispered the sorcerer glancing round to make sure
that no one overheard him.

'You?'

'Yes, I.'

'And what am I to do to gain the money,' inquired Bernez, who
knew quite well that the Breton peasant gives nothing for
nothing.

'What I want of you only needs a little courage,' answered the
old man.

'If that is all, tell me what I have got to do, and I will do
it,' cried Bernez, letting fall his chisel. 'If I have to risk
thirty deaths, I am ready.'

When the beggar knew that Bernez would give him no trouble, he
told him how, during that very night, the treasures under the
stones would be uncovered, and how in a very few minutes they
could take enough to make them both rich for life. But he kept
silence as to the fate that awaited the man who was without the
crowsfoot and the trefoil, and Bernez thought that nothing but
boldness and quickness were necessary. So he said:

'Old man, I am grateful, indeed, for the chance you have given
me, and there will always be a pint of my blood at your service.
Just let me finish carving this cross. It is nearly done, and I
will join you in the fir wood at whatever hour you please.'

'You must be there without fail an hour before midnight,'
answered the wizard, and went on his way.

As the hour struck from the great church at Plouhinec, Bernez
entered the wood. He found the beggar already there with a bag in
each hand, and a third slung round his neck.

'You are punctual,' said the old man, 'but we need not start just
yet. You had better sit down and think what you will do when your
pockets are filled with gold and silver and jewels.'

'Oh, it won't take me long to plan out that,' returned Bernez
with a laugh. 'I shall give Rozennik everything she can desire,
dresses of all sorts, from cotton to silk, and good things of all
kinds to eat, from white bread to oranges.'

'The silver you find will pay for all that, and what about the
gold?'

'With the gold I shall make rich Rozennik's relations and every
friend of hers in the parish,' replied he.

'So much for the gold; and the jewels?'

'Then,' cried Bernez, 'I will divide the jewels amongst everybody
in the world, so that they may be wealthy and happy; and I will
tell them that it is Rozennik who would have it so.'

'Hush! it is close on midnight--we must go,' whispered the
wizard, and together they crept to the edge of the wood.

With the first stroke of twelve a great noise arose over the
silent heath, and the earth seemed to rock under the feet of the
two watchers. The next moment by the light of the moon they
beheld the huge stones near them leave their places and go down
the slope leading to the river, knocking against each other in
their haste. Passing the spot where stood Bernez and the beggar,
they were lost in the darkness. It seemed as if a procession of
giants had gone by.

'Quick,' said the wizard, in a low voice, and he rushed towards
the empty holes, which even in the night shone brightly from the
treasures within them. Flinging himself on his knees, the old man
began filling the wallets he had brought, listening intently all
the time for the return of the stones up the hill, while Bernez
more slowly put handfuls of all he could see into his pockets.

The sorcerer had just closed his third wallet, and was beginning
to wonder if he could carry away any more treasures when a low
murmur as of a distant storm broke upon his ears.

The stones had finished drinking, and were hastening back to
their places.

On they came, bent a little forward, the tallest of them all at
their head, breaking everything that stood in their way. At the
sight Bernez stood transfixed with horror, and said,

'We are lost! They will crush us to death.'

'Not me!' answered the sorcerer, holding up the crowsfoot and the
five-leaved trefoil, 'for these will preserve me. But in order to
keep my riches, I was obliged to sacrifice a Christian to the
stones, and an evil fate threw you in my way.' And as he spoke he
stretched out the magic herbs to the stones, which were advancing
rapidly. As if acknowledging a power greater than theirs, the
monstrous things instantly parted to the right and left of the
wizard, but closed their ranks again as they approached Bernez.

The young man did not try to escape, he knew it was useless, and
sank on his knees and closed his eyes. But suddenly the tall
stone that was leading stopped straight in front of Bernez, so
that no other could get past.

It was the stone on which Bernez had carved the cross, and it was
now a baptized stone, and had power to save him.

So the stone remained before the young man till the rest had
taken their places, and then, darting like a bird to its own
hole, came upon the beggar, who, thinking himself quite safe, was
staggering along under the weight of his treasures.

Seeing the stone approaching, he held out the magic herbs which
he carried, but the baptized stone was no longer subject to the
spells that bound the rest, and passed straight on its way,
leaving the wizard crushed into powder in the heather.

Then Bernez went home, and showed his wealth to Marzinne, who
this time did not refuse him as a brother-in-law, and he and
Rozennik were married, and lived happy for ever after.

From 'Le Royer Breton,' par Emile Souvestre.





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Previous: The Raspberry Worm



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