Stones of Plouhinec

The Stones of Plouhinec

Plouhinec is a poor little market-town beyond Hennebon, towards the sea. Bare commons or little fir-woods stretch all round it, and enough grass to fit an ox for the butcher's knife, or so much bran as would fatten one descendant of the Rohans,1  has never yet been yielded by the entire parish.

But if the people of those parts have reason to complain for want of corn and cattle, they abound in flints to that degree that they could furnish materials for the rebuilding of Lorient; and out beyond the town there lies a great wide common, whereon are set by Korigans two rows of tall stones that might be taken for an avenue, did they but lead to any thing.

Near this place, hard by the banks of the River Intel, there lived in former days a man named Marzinne. He was wealthy for those parts, that is to say, he could salt down a little pig once a year, eat as much black bread as he cared for, and buy himself a pair of wooden shoes when Laurel Sunday came round.2

And he was looked upon as proud by his neighbours, and had taken upon him to refuse the hand of his sister Rozenn to many a young fellow who laboured for his daily bread.

Amongst others to Bernèz, a diligent labourer and a worthy Christian; but one whose only treasure, coming into life, had been that of a good will. Bernèz had known Rozenn as a little girl, when he first came to work in the parish from Ponscorff-Bidré; and by degrees, as Rozenn grew up, the attachment of Bernèz had grown stronger and stronger.

It may be easily believed that Marzinne's refusal was a terrible heartsore for him; nevertheless he kept up his courage, for Rozenn always received him kindly.

Well, Christmas-eve came round; and as a raging storm kept every one at the farm from going to the midnight Mass, they all sat round the fire together, with many young men from the neighbourhood, and amongst them Bernèz. The master of the house, willing to show off, had caused a supper of black-puddings, and hasty puddings made with wheat flour and honey, to be prepared; so that they all sat gazing towards the hearth, except Bernèz, whose eyes were fixed upon Rozenn.

But just as all the benches were drawn round the table, and every wooden saucer ready to be dipped into the steaming bowl, an old man suddenly pushed open the door, and wished the assembled company a good appetite. He was a beggar from Pluvigner, one who never set his foot on the church-floor, and of whom all good folks stood in dread. It was said that he bewitched cattle, turned standing corn black, and sold to wrestlers magic herbs. He was even suspected of becoming a goblin 3  at his pleasure.

However, wearing as he did the garb of a mendicant, he was welcomed by the farmer to the fireside; a three-legged stood was placed at his disposal, and he received a portion with the guests.

When the beggar had done eating and drinking, he asked for a night's lodging, and Bernèz showed him his way into the stable, where a bald old ass and sorry ox were already established. The beggar stretched himself down between the two to share their warmth, and rested his head upon a pillow of turf.

But just as he was dropping off to sleep the clock struck twelve. Then the old ass shook his long ears, and turned towards the ox.

“Well, my cousin,” said he, in friendly tones, “and how has it gone with you since last Christmas, when we talked together?”

Instead of answering, the horned beast looked sideways at the beggar, and muttered,

“It was hardly worth while for the Almighty to vouchsafe us speech together on a Christmas-eve, and thus to acknowledge the assistance rendered by the presence of our ancestors at the birth of the Saviour, if we are compelled to put up with this fellow as our auditor.”

“You are very proud, my friend,” answered the ass gaily. “It is I rather who have reason to complain, I, whose noble ancestor once carried the Saviour to Jerusalem, proved by the cross imprinted ever since upon the shoulders of our family. But I can be well satisfied with whatever Providence has seen fit to grant me. Besides which, you see well enough that the sorcerer is asleep.”

“All his witchcrafts have been powerless to enrich him,” said the ox; “and he has thrown his soul away for little enough. The devil has not even hinted to him of the lucky chance he might have hereabouts in the course of a few days.”

“What lucky chance?” asked the ass.

“How!” cried the ox; “don't you know, then, that each hundred years the stones on Plouhinec Common go down to drink at the river Intel, and that whilst away the treasures they conceal are left exposed?”

“Ah, I remember now,” interrupted the ass , “but then the stones return so quickly to their places, that it is impossible to avoid being crushed to pieces by them if you have not as your safeguard a twig of cross-wort surrounded by the five-leaved clover.”

“And besides,” continued the ox, “the treasures you may carry off all fade to dust unless you offer in return a baptised soul. A Christian must suffer death before the devil will permit you to enjoy in peace the wealth of Plouhinec.”

The beggar was not asleep, but had listened breathless to this conversation.

“Ah, my good friends,” thought he to himself , “you have made me richer than the wealthiest in all Vannes or Lorient. Be easy; the sorcerer of Pluvigner shall not lose Paradise for nothing.”

He slept at last; and rising at the break of day, he wandered through the country seeking for the cross-wort and the five-leafed clover.

He was forced to look long and wander far, where skies are milder and plants always green, before he was successful. But on the eve of New-Year's Day he came again to Plouhinec, with the countenance of a weasel that has just found out the entrance to a dovecote.

In crossing the common, he came upon Bernèz busy striking with a pointed hammer on the tallest of the stones.

“Heaven preserve me!” cried the sorcerer, laughing, “are you anxious to dig yourself a dwelling in this rocky mass?”

“No,” answered Bernèz quietly; “but as I am just now out of work, I thought that perhaps if I carved a cross upon one of these accursed stones, I should perform an act agreeable in the sight of God, and one that may stand me in good stead some other day.”

“Then you have something to ask of Him?” said the old man.

“All Christians need to beg from Him salvation for their souls,” replied the youth.

“And have you nothing too to say to Him about Rozenn?” pursued the beggar, in a lower voice.

Bernèz looked full at him.

“Ah, you know that?” said he. “Well, after all, there is no shame or sin in it. If I seek for the maiden, it is that I may lead her to the presence of the priest. Unhappily Marzinne is waiting for a brother-in-law who can count more reals  than I have silver coins.”

“And if I could put you in the way of having more louis-d'or than Marzinne has reals ?” said the sorcerer in an under-tone.

“You!” cried Bernèz.

“I!”

“And how much do you ask for this?”

“Only to be remembered in your prayers.”

“Then there will be nothing that can compromise my soul?”

“Only courage is required.”

“Tell me, then, what must be done,” cried Bernèz, letting fall his hammer. “If needs be, I am ready to encounter any difficulty.”

The beggar, seeing him thus disposed, related how that on that very night the treasures of the common would be all exposed; but he said nothing at the same time of the way by which the stones were to be avoided as they came trooping back. The young fellow thought nothing was wanting but boldness and a swift step; so he said,

“As sure as I am a living man I will profit by this opportunity, old man; and I shall always be at your service for the notice you have given me of this great chance. Only let me finish the cross I have begun engraving on this stone; when the time comes, I will join you near the little pine-wood.”

Bernèz kept his word, and arrived at the appointed place an hour before midnight. He found the beggar carrying a wallet in each hand, and one suspended round his neck.

“Come,” said he to the young man, “sit down there, and think of all that you will do when you have silver, gold, and jewels to your heart's content.”

The young man sat down on the ground and answered, “If I have silver to my heart's content, I will give my gentle Rozennik 4  all that she wishes for, and all that she can wish for, from linen to silk, from bread to oranges.”

“And if you have gold?” added the sorcerer.

“If I have gold at will,” replied the youth, “I will make wealthy all my Rozennik's relations, and all the friends of her relations, to the utmost limits of the parish.”

“And if at last you should have jewels in plenty?” continued the old man.

“Then,” cried out Bernèz, “I would make all the people in the world happy, and I would tell them it was my Rozennik's desire.”

Whilst talking thus, the hour slipped away, and midnight came.

At the same instant a great sound arose upon the heath, and by the light of the stars all the huge stones might be seen leaving their places, and hurrying towards the river Intel. They rushed down the slope, grazing the earth as they went, and jostling each other like a troop of drunken giants. So they swept pell-mell past the two men, and were lost in darkness.

Then the beggar flew towards the common, followed by Bernèz; and there, in the very spots where just before huge stones had reared themselves, they now saw large holes piled to the brim with gold, with silver, and with precious stones.

Bernèz uttered a cry of admiration, and made the sign of the cross; but the sorcerer made haste to cram all his wallets, turning meanwhile an attentive ear towards the river's bank.

He had just finished lading the third bag, whilst the young man stuffed the pockets of his linen vest, when a dull sound like that of an approaching storm was audible in the distance.

The stones had finished drinking, and were coming back once more.

They rushed, stooping forwards like runners in a race, and bore down all before them.

When the youth perceived them, he started upright, and exclaimed,

“Ah, Blessed Virgin, we are lost!”

“I am not,” said the sorcerer, taking in his hand the cross-wort and the five-leaved clover, “for I have that here which will secure my safety; but a Christian must be sacrificed to make good all these treasures, and the bad angel put thee in my way. So give up Rozenn, and prepare to die.”

While yet he spoke the stony army was at hand; but holding forth his magic nosegay, they turned aside to right and left to fall upon Bernèz. He, feeling sure that all was over for him, sank down upon his knees and closed his eyes; when the great stone that led the troop stopped all at once, and barring the way, set itself before him as a protecting rampart.

Bernèz, astonished, raised his head, and recognised the stone on which his hand had traced a cross. Being thenceforward a baptised stone, it could have no power to harm a Christian.

Remaining motionless before the young man until all its fellows had regained their places, it then rushed forwards like a sea-bird to retake its own, and met upon its way the beggar hampered with his three ponderous bags of gold.

Seeing it advance, he would have defied it with his magic plants; but the stone, become Christian , was no longer subject to the witchery of the demon, and hurrying onwards, crushed the sorcerer like an insect.

Bernèz had not only all his own collection, but the three full wallets of the mendicant, and became thus rich enough to wed his Rozenn, to bring up a numerous family, and to succour his relations, as well as the poor of the whole country around, to the end of his long life.


1 The pigs in Brittany are called, no one knows why, mab-rohan, sons of Rohan.

2 Easter Sunday. So called because blessed laurel is distributed at church upon this day.

3 Gobelinn. None other than the loup-garou, or were-wolf.

4 ‘Rozennik' is the diminutive of Rosenn; so ‘Guilcherik,' “Korils of Plauden,” p. 43.