Korils of Plauden

The Korils of Plauden

There dwelt formerly in the land of White-Wheat, as well as in Cornouaille, a race of dwarfs, or Korigans, who, being divided into four nations or tribes, inhabited the woods, the commons, the valleys, and the farms. Those dwelling in the woods were called Kornikaneds, because they played on little horns, which hung suspended from their girdles; the inhabitants of the commons were called Korils, from their spending all their nights in dancing by moonlight; the dwellers in the valleys were Poulpikans, from their homes lying so low; and the Teuz  were wild black men, living near the meadows and the wheat-fields; but as the other Korigans accused them of being too friendly with Christians, they were forced to take flight into Léon, where probably there may still be some of them remaining.

At the time of which I speak, there were only then hereabouts the Kornikaneds, the Poulpikans, and the Korils; but they abounded in such numbers, that after dark few people cared to venture near their stony palaces.

Above all, there lay in Plauden, near the little market-town of Loqueltas, a common known as Motenn-Dervenn, or place of oaks, whereon there stood an extensive Koril village, that may be seen there to this very day. The mischievous dwarfs came out to dance there every night; and any one adventurous enough to cross the common at that time was sure to be entrapped into their mazy chain, and forced to wheel about with them till earliest cockcrow; so that the place was universally avoided after nightfall.

One evening, however, Benead Guilcher, returning with his wife from a field, where he had been doing a day's work in ploughing for a farmer of Cadougal, took his way across the haunted heath because it was so much the shortest road. It was still early, and he hoped that the Korigans might not have yet begun their dance; but when he came half-way over the Motenn-Dervenn, he perceived them scattered round about the blocks of stone, like birds on a field of corn. He would fain have turned him back; but the horns of the wood-dwarfs, and the call-cries of the valley-imps, already rose behind him. Benead felt his legs tremble, and said to his wife,

“Saint Anne, we are done for! Here come the Kornikaneds and the Poulpikans to join the Korils for their midnight ball. They will make us dance with them till daybreak; and it is more than my poor heart can endure.”

And, in fact, the troops of Korigans assembling from all parts, came round about poor Guilcher and his wife like flies in August to a drop of honey, but started back on seeing in his hand the little fork Benead had been using to clear the ploughshare, and began to sing with one accord,

“Let him be, let her be,

The plough-fork has he!

Let them go on their way,

The fork carry they!”

Guilcher instantly perceived that the instrument he held in his hand acted as a charm against the power of the Korigans; and he and his wife passed unmolested through the very midst of them.

This was a hint to every body. From that day forward it became a universal custom to take out the little fork of an evening; and thus armed, any one might cross the heaths and valleys without fear of hindrance.

But Benead was not satisfied with having rendered this service to the Bretons; he was an inquisitive as well as an intelligent man, and as merry a hunchback as any in the four Breton bishoprics. For I have omitted to tell you that Benead carried from his birth a hump betwixt his shoulders, with which he would thankfully have parted at cost-price. He was looked on also as an honest workman, who laboured conscientiously for daily bread, and moreover well deserved the character of a good Christian.

One evening, unable to resist the wish, he took his little fork, commended himself devoutly to St. Anne, and set off towards the Motenn-Dervenn.

The Korils saw him from a distance, and ran to him, crying,

“It is Benead Guilcher!”

“Yes, it is I, my little men,” replied the jovial hunchback; “I have come to pay you a friendly visit.”

“You are welcome,” replied the Korils. “Will you have a dance with us?”

“Excuse me, my good folks,” replied Guilcher, “but your breath is too long for a poor invalid.”

“We will stop whenever you like,” cried the Korils.

“Will you promise that?” said Benead, who was not unwilling to try a round with them, as much for the novelty of the thing as that he might have it to talk about.

“We will promise thee,” said the dwarfs.

“By the Saviour's cross?”

“By the Saviour's cross.”

The hunchback, satisfied that such an oath secured him from all dangers, took his place in their chain; and the Korils began their round, singing their accustomed song:

“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday;

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”1

In a few minutes Guilcher stopped.

“With all due deference to you, good gentlefolks,” said he to the dwarfs, “your song and dance seem to me very monotonous. You stop too early in the week; and without having much claim to be a skilful stringer of rhymes, I fancy I can lengthen the chorus.”

“Let us see, let us see!” cried the dwarfs.

Then the hunchback replied,

“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”

A great tumult arose amongst the Korils.

“Stard! stard!”2  cried they, surrounding Guilcher; “you are a bold singer and a fine dancer. Repeat it once more.”

The hunchback repeated,

“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, Saturday,”

whilst the Korils wheeled about in mad delight. At last they stopped, and pressing round about Guilcher, they cried with one voice,

“What will you have? what do you want? riches or beauty? Speak a wish, and we will fulfil it for you.”

“Are you in earnest?” asked the labourer.

“May we be doomed to pick up grain by grain all the millet in the diocese, if we deceive thee,” they replied.

“Well,” said Guilcher, “if you want to make me a present, and leave me to choose what it shall be, I have one thing only to desire from you, and that is, that you take away what I have got here set betwixt my shoulders, and make me as straight as the flagstaff of Loqueltas.”

“Good, good!” replied the Korils. “Be easy, come here.” And seizing Guilcher, they threw him in the air, tossing him from one to another like a worsted ball, until he had made the round of the entire circle. Then he fell upon his feet, giddy, breathless, but—without his hump! Benead had grown younger, fatter, beautiful! Except his mother, no one could have recognised him.

You may guess the surprise his appearance created on his return to Loqueltas. No one could believe it was Guilcher; his wife herself was doubtful about receiving him. Before she could recognise in him her old humpback, he was compelled to tell her exactly how many headdresses she had in her press, and what was the colour of her stockings. At last, when every body knew for certain that it was he, they became wonderfully anxious to find out what had effected so strange a transformation; but Benead thought that if he told the truth, he should be looked on as an accomplice of the Korigans; and that every time an ox strayed, or a goat was lost, he should be applied to for its restoration. So he told all those who asked him questions, that it happened unknown to him whilst sleeping on the heath. Thenceforth went all the crooked folk who were silly enough to believe him, and spent their nights upon the open heath, hoping to rise like arrows in the morning; but many people suspected that there was a secret in the matter, which Guilcher was unwilling to disclose.

Amongst these latter was a tailor with red hair and squinting eyes, called, from his stammering speech, Perr Balibouzik. He was not, as is usual with his craft, a rhymester, lively on his board as a robin on its twig, and one who scented pancakes from afar as dogs do game; Balibouzik never laughed, never sung, and fed upon such coarse black barley bread that one could count the straws in it. He was a miser, and, worse than that, a bad Christian; lending out his money at such heavy interest, that he ruined all the poor day-labourers of the country. Guilcher had long owed him five crowns, and had no means of paying them. Perr went in quest of him, and demanded them once more.

The ci-devant  hunchback excused himself, promising to pay after fair-time; but Balibouzik declared that the only condition upon which he would agree to any further delay was that of being at once put in possession of the secret how to grow young and handsome. Thus driven to extremities, Guilcher related his visit to the Korils, what words he had added to their song, and how the choice had been given him between two wishes.

Perr made him repeat every detail many times over, and then went away, warning his debtor that he would give him eight days longer to lay hands on the five crowns.

But what he had heard awakened within him all the rage of avarice. He resolved that very night to visit the Motenn-Dervenn, to mix in the dance of Korigans, and to gain the choice between two wishes, as proposed to Guilcher,—namely, riches and beauty.

So soon, therefore, as the moon arose, behold Balibouzik the Squinter on his way towards the common, carrying a little fork in his hand. The Korils saw him, ran to meet him, and demanded whether he would dance. Perr consented, after making the same conditions as Benead, and joined the dancing company of little black men, who were all engaged in chanting the refrain which Guilcher had increased:

“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”

“Wait!” cried the tailor, seized with sudden inspiration; “I also will add something to your song.”

“Add, add!” replied the Korils.

And all once more exclaimed,

“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”

They stopped, and Balibouzik stammered out alone,

“And the Sun—Sun—Sunday too.”

The dwarfs uttered a prolonged murmur.

“Well?” they cried all at once.

“Sun—Sunday too,”

repeated the tailor.

“But go on, go on.”


“Well, well, well?”

“Sun—Sunday too!”

The Koril chain was broken up; they ran about as if furious at not being understood.

The poor stammerer, terrified, stood speechless, with his mouth wide open. At length the waves of little black heads grew calmer; they surrounded Balibouzik, and a thousand voices cried at once,

“Wish a wish! wish a wish!”

Perr took heart.

“A wi-wi-sh,” said he. “Guilcher cho-o-ose between riches and beauty.”

“Yes, Guilcher chose beauty, and left riches.

“Well, for my part, I choose what Guilcher left.”

“Well done!” cried the Korils. “Come here, tailor.”

Perr drew near in transport. They took him up as they had done Benead; threw him from hand to hand all round their circle; and when he fell upon his feet, he had between his shoulders what Guilcher had left—that is to say, a hump.

The tailor was no more Balibouzik simply, he was now Tortik-Balibouzik.

The poor deformed creature came back to Loqueltas shamefaced as a dog who has had his tail cut off. As soon as what had happened to him was known, there was not a creature but longed to get sight of him. And every one beholding his back, grown round as that of a well-digger, uttered an exclamation of astonishment. Perr raged beneath his hump, and swore to himself that he would be revenged upon Guilcher; for that he alone was the cause of this misfortune, being a favourite of the Korigans, and having doubtless begged them thus to insult his creditor.

So the eight days once expired, Tortik-Balibouzik said to Benead, that if he could not pay him his five crowns, he would go and send the officers of justice to sell all he had. Benead entreated in vain; the new hunchback would listen to nothing, and announced that the very next day he should send to the fair 3  all his furniture, his tools, and his pig.

Guilcher's wife uttered loud cries, reiterating that they were disgraced before the parish, that nothing now was left for them but to take up the wallet and white staff of mendicants, and go begging from door to door; that it was well worth Benead's while to have become straight and noble in appearance only to take up the straw girdle;4  and thousands of other unreasonable sayings, after the fashion of women when they are in tribulation,—and when they are not.

To all these complaints Guilcher replied nothing, unless it were that submission to the will of God and His Blessed Mother was above all things necessary; but his heart was humbled to the core. He reproached himself now with not preferring wealth to beauty, when he had the choice; and he would only too willingly have taken back his hump, well garnished with gold, or even silver, crowns. After seeking in vain for a way out of his trouble, he made up his mind to revisit Motenn-Dervenn.

The Korils welcomed him with shouts of joy, as before, and made him join them in their dance. Benead had no heart for merriment; but he would not damp their mirth, and began to jump with all his might. The delighted dwarfs skipped about like dead leaves driven by the winter's wind.

As they ran they repeated the first line of their song, their companion took up the second; they went on to the third, and, that being the last, Guilcher was compelled to finish the tune without words, which in a short time grew tiresome to him.

“If I might venture to give you my opinion, my little lords,” said he, “your song has the same effect upon me as the butcher's dog, it goes upon three legs.”

“Right, right!” cried all the voices.

“I think,” said Benead, “it would be much the best way to add another foot.”

“Add, add!” replied the dwarfs.

And all sung out with one accord, and in a piercing utterance,

“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, Saturday,

And the Sunday too!”

There was a short silence; the dwarfs waited to see what Guilcher would say.

“All the week have you!”

finished he gaily.

Thousands of cries which made but one cry rose up from all corners of the common. The whole heath was instantly covered with jumping Korigans. They sprung out from tufts of grass, from bushes of broom, from rocky clefts,—one would have said it was a very hive of little black men; whilst all gambolling amongst the heather, they exclaimed,

“Guilcherik, our saviour! he

Has fulfill'd the Lord's decree!”

“By my soul! what does all this mean?” cried Benead in astonishment.

“It means,” replied the Korigans, “that God had sentenced us to dwell here amongst men, and every night to dance upon the common, until some good Christian should finish our refrain. You first lengthened it, and we hoped that the tailor you sent would have completed it; but he stopped short on the very point of doing so, and for that we punished him. You fortunately have done what he could not; our time of trial now is over, and we shall go back to our kingdom, which spreads under ground, beneath the very sea and rivers,”

“If this is so,” said Guilcher, “and you really are so far indebted to me, do not go away and leave a friend in trouble.”

“What do you want?”

“The means of paying Balibouzik to-day, and the baker for ever.”

“Take our bags, take our bags!” exclaimed the Korigans.

And they threw at Benead's feet the little bags of rusty cloth which they wore strapped on their shoulders.

He gathered up as many as he possibly could carry, and ran all joyous home.

“Light the resin,” cried he to his wife, on entering, “and close the screen, that nobody may see us; for I bring home wealth enough to buy up three whole parishes, their judges, rectors, and all.”

At the same time he spread out upon the table the multitude of little bags, and set himself to open them. But, alas, he had been reckoning the price of his butter before he had bought the cow.5  The bags enclosed nothing more than sand, dead leaves, horsehair, and a pair of scissors.

On seeing this he uttered such a dreadful cry that his wife, who had gone to shut the door, came back to ask him what could be the matter. Then Benead told her of his visit to the Motenn-Dervenn, and all that had occurred there.

“St. Anne have pity on us!” cried the frightened woman; “the Korigans have been making sport of you.”

“Alas, I see it but too well,” replied Guilcher.

“And you have dared, unhappy man, to touch these bags, the property of the accursed.”

“I thought I should find something better in them,” exclaimed Benead piteously.

“Nothing good can come from good-for-nothings,” replied the old woman. “What you have got there will bring an evil spell upon our house. Heavens! if only I have a drop of holy water left.”

She ran to her bed, and taking from the wall a little earthen holy water-stoup, she steeped in it a branch of box; but scarcely had the dew of God been sprinkled on the bags, when the horsehair changed at once to necklaces of pearls, the dead leaves into gold, and the sand to diamonds. The enchantment was destroyed, and the wealth that the Korigans would fain have hidden from a Christian eye was forced to reassume its proper form.

Guilcher repaid Balibouzik his five crowns. He gave to every poor person in the parish a bushel of wheat, with six ells of cloth; and he paid the rector handsomely for fifty Masses; then he set out with his wife for Josselin, where they bought a mansion, and where they reared a family who now are gentlefolks.

1 The song of the Korigans runs thus: Di-lundi-meursdi-merc'her. The conclusion of this tale will explain the reason of their keeping only to these first three days.

2 Cry of encouragement amongst the Bretons. In the same sense they use also the word hardi ! but the Celtic origin of this last word seems rather doubtful.

3 Mettre en foire. Breton expression, signifying a sale at the house of a debtor.

4 Breton expression, derived from an old custom of parading all insolvents about the parish with a girdle of straw.

5 Equivalent to the French proverb, “One must not sell the bear-skin till the bear is killed.”