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Teuz-a-pouliet;1  or, the Dwarf

The vale of Pinard is a pleasant slope which lies behind the city of Morlaix. There are plenty of gardens, houses, shops, and bakers to be found there, besides many farms that boast their ample cowsheds and full barns.

Now, in olden times, when there was neither conscription nor general taxation, there dwelt in the largest of these farms an honest man, called Jalm Riou, who had a comely daughter, Barbaik. Not only was she fair and well-fashioned, but she was the best dancer, and also the best drest, in all those parts. When she set off on Sunday to hear Mass at St. Mathieu's church, she used to wear an embroidered coif, a gay neckerchief, five petticoats one over the other,2  and silver buckles in her shoes; so that the very butchers' wives were jealous, and tossing their heads as she went by, they asked her whether she had been selling the devil her black hen.3  But Barbaik troubled herself not at all for all they said, so long as she continued to be the best-dressed damsel, and the most attractive at the fair of the patron saint.

Barbaik had many suitors, and among them was one who really loved her more than all the rest; and this was the lad who worked upon her father's farm, a good labourer and a worthy Christian, but rough and ungainly in appearance. So Barbaik would have nothing to say to him, in spite of his good qualities, and always declared, when speaking of him, that he was a colt of Pontrieux.4

Jégu, who loved her with all his heart, was deeply wounded, and fretted sorely at being so ill-used by the only creature that could give him either joy or trouble.

One morning, when bringing home the horses from the field, he stopped to let them drink at the pond; and as he stood holding the smallest one, with his head sunk upon his breast, and uttering every now and then the heaviest sighs, for he was thinking of Barbaik, he heard suddenly a voice proceeding from the reeds, which said to him,

“Why are you so miserable, Jégu? things are not yet quite so desperate.”

The farmer's boy raised his head astonished, and asked who was there.

“It is I, the Teuz-à-pouliet,” said the same voice.

“I do not see you,” replied Jégu.

“Look closely, and you will see me in the midst of the reeds, under the form of a beautiful green frog. I take successively whatever form I like, unless I prefer making myself invisible.”

“But can you not show yourself under the usual appearance of your kind?”

“No doubt, if that will please you.”

With these words the frog leaped on one of the horses' backs, and changed himself suddenly into a little dwarf, with bright green dress and smart polished gaiters, like a leather-merchant of Landivisiau.

Jégu, a little scared, drew back a step or two; but the Teuz told him not to be afraid, for that, far from wishing him harm, he was ready to do him good.

“And what makes you take this interest in me?” inquired the peasant, with a suspicious air.

“A service which you rendered to me the last winter,” said the Teuz-à-pouliet. “You doubtless are aware that the Korigans of the White-Wheat country and of Cornouaille declared war against our race, because they say we are too favourably disposed to man.5 We were obliged to flee into the bishopric of Léon, where at first we concealed ourselves under divers animal forms. Since then, from habit or fancy, we have continued to assume them, and I became acquainted with you through one of these transformations.”

“And how was that?”

“Do you remember, three months ago, whilst working in the alder-park, finding a robin caught in a snare?”

“Yes,” interrupted Jégu; “and I remember also that I let it fly, saying, ‘As for thee, thou dost not eat the bread of Christians: take thy flight, thou bird of the good God.'”

“Ah, well, that robin was myself. Ever since then I vowed to be your faithful friend, and I will prove it too by causing you to marry Barbaik, since you love her so well.”

“Ah, Teuz-à-pouliet, could you but succeed in that,” cried Jégu, “there is nothing in this world, except my soul, that I would not bestow upon you.”

“Let me alone,” replied the dwarf; “yet a few months from this time, and I will see you are the master of that farm and of the maiden too.”

“And how can you undertake that?” asked the youth.

“You shall know all in time; all you have to do just now is to smoke your pipe, eat, drink, and take no trouble about any thing.”

Jégu declared that nothing could be easier than that, and he would conform exactly to the Teuz's orders; then, thanking him, and taking off his hat as he would have done to the curé or the magistrate, he went homewards to the farm.

The following day happened to be Sunday. Barbaik rose earlier than usual, and went to the stables, which were under her sole charge; but to her great surprise she found them already freshly littered, the racks garnished, the cows milked, and the cream churned. Now, as she recollected having said before Jégu, on the preceding night, that she wanted to be ready in good time to go to the feast of St. Nicholas, she very naturally concluded that it was he who had done all this for her, and she told him she was much obliged. Jégu, however, replied in a peevish tone, that he did not know what she meant; but this only confirmed Barbaik in her belief.

The same good service was rendered to her now every day. Never had the stable been so cleanly, nor the cows so fat. Barbaik found her earthen pans full of milk at morning and at evening, and a pound of fresh-churned butter decked with blackberry-leaves. So in a few weeks' time she got into the habit of never rising till broad daylight, to prepare breakfast and set about her household duties.

But even this labour was soon spared her; for one morning, on getting out of bed, she found the house already swept, the furniture polished, the soup on the fire, and the bread cut into the bowls; so that she had nothing to do but go to the courtyard, and call the labourers from the fields. She still thought it was an attention shown to her by Jégu, and she could not help considering what a very convenient husband he would be for a woman who liked to have her time to herself.

And it was a fact that Barbaik never uttered a wish before him that was not immediately fulfilled. If the wind was cold, or if the sun shone hot, and she was afraid of injuring her complexion by going to the spring, she had only to say low, “I should like to see my buckets filled, and my tub full of washed linen.” Then she would go and gossip with a neighbour, and on her return she would find tub and buckets just as she had desired them to be, standing on the stone. If she found the rye-dough too hard to bake, or the oven too long in heating, she had only to say, “I should like to see my six fifteen-pound loaves all ranged upon the board above the kneading-trough,” and two hours later the six loaves were there. If she found the market too far off, and the road too bad, she had only to say over-night, “Why am I not already come back from Morlaix, with my milk-can empty, my tub of butter sold out, a pound of black cherries in my wooden platter, and six reals 6  at the bottom of my apron-pocket?” and the next morning, when she rose, she would discover at the foot of her bed the empty milk-can and butter-tub, the pound of cherries in her wooden plate, and six reals in her apron-pocket.

But the good offices that were rendered to her did not stop here. Did she wish to make an appointment with another damsel at some fair, to buy a ribbon in the town, or to find out the hour at which the procession at the church was to begin, Jégu was always at hand; all she had to do was to mention her wish before him, and the thing was done.

When things were thus advanced, the Teuz advised the youth to ask Barbaik now in marriage; and this time she listened to all he had to say. She thought Jégu very plain and unmannerly; but yet, as a husband, he was just what she wanted. Jégu would wake for her, work for her, save for her. Jégu would be the shaft-horse, forced to draw the whole weight of the wagon; and she, the farmer's wife, seated on a heap of clover, and driving him with the whip.

After having well considered all this, she answered the young man, as a well-conducted damsel should, that she would refer the matter to her father.

But she knew beforehand that Jalm Riou would consent; for he had often said that only Jégu would be fit to manage the farm when he should be no more.

So the marriage took place the very next month; and it seemed as if the aged father had but waited until then to go and take his rest in Paradise; for a very few days after the marriage he died, leaving the house and land to the young folks.

It was a great responsibility for Jégu; but the Teuz came to his assistance. He became the ploughboy at the farm, and did more work alone than four hired labourers. He it was who kept the tools and harness in good order, who repaired omissions, who pointed out the proper time for sowing or for mowing. If by chance Jégu had occasion to expedite some work, the Teuz would go and tell his friends, and all the dwarfs would come with hoe, fork, or reaping-hook upon their shoulders; if teams were wanted, he would send the farmer to a town inhabited by some of his tribe, who would be out upon the common; and Jégu had only to say, “Little men, my good friends, lend me a pair of oxen, or a couple of horses, with all that is needed for their work,” and the team would appear that very instant.

Now all the Teuz-à-pouliet asked in payment of these services was a child's portion of broth, served up in a milk-measure, every day. So Jégu loved him like his own son. Barbaik, on the contrary, hated him, and not without reason; for the very next day after marriage she saw with astonishment she was no longer assisted as before; and as she was making her complaint to Jégu, who seemed as if he did not understand her, the dwarf, bursting out in laughter, confessed that he had been the author of all these good offices, in order that the damsel might consent to marry Jégu; but that now he had other things to do, and she must once more undertake the household management.

Deceived thus in her expectations, the daughter of Jalm Riou treasured in her heart a furious rage against the dwarf. Every morning, when she had to rise before the break of day and milk the cows or go to market, and every evening, when she had to sit up till near midnight churning cream, she cursed the Teuz who had encouraged her to look forward to a life of ease and pleasure.

However, one day, being invited to a wedding at Plouezorc'h, and not being able to take the farm-mare, as it was near foaling, she asked the Teuz-à-pouliet for a steed; and he sent her to the dwarf village, telling her to explain exactly what she wanted.

So Barbaik went; and thinking she was doing for the best, she said,

“Teuz, my friends, lend me a black horse, with eyes, mouth, ears, saddle, and bridle.”

The horse that she had asked for instantly appeared, and she set out on him towards Plouezorc'h.

But soon she saw that every one was laughing as she went along.

“See, see!” they cried, “the farmer's wife has sold her horse's tail.”

Barbaik turned quickly round, and saw indeed that her horse had no tail. She had forgotten to ask for one; and the malicious dwarf had served her to the letter.

Disconcerted, she would have hastened on, but the horse refused to mend his pace; and so she was compelled to endure the jests of passers-by.

The young wife came home at night more furious than ever against the Teuz-à-pouliet, accusing him of having played her this ill turn on purpose, and fully resolved to be revenged upon him at the earliest opportunity.

Well, spring drew near, and as this was the time the dwarfs held festival, the Teuz asked leave of Jégu to extend an invitation to all his friends to come and spend the night on the barn-floor, where he might give them a supper and a dance. Jégu was far too much indebted to the dwarf to think of saying no; and ordered Barbaik to spread over the barn-floor her finest fringed table-cloths, and to serve up a batch of little butter-cakes, all the morning and the evening milk, and as many wheaten pancakes as could be turned out in a good day's work.

Barbaik made no reply, to her husband's great surprise.

She made the pancakes, prepared the milk, cooked the buttered cakes, and at evening-tide she took them all out to the barn; but at the same time she spread down, all round about the extended table-cloths, just where the dwarfs were going to place themselves, the ashes she had drawn smoking from the oven; so that when the Teuz-à-pouliet and his guests came in to seat themselves, they were every one severely burned, and fled away, uttering loud cries. They soon came back, however, carrying jugs of water, and so put out the fire; and then danced round the farm, all singing in an angry tone,

“Barbe Riou, with dire deceit,

Has roasted our poor little feet:

Adieu! far hence away we go;

On this house be grief and woe!”

And, in fact, they left the country that very morning. Jégu, having lost their help, soon fell into distress and died; whilst the beautiful Barbaik became a basket-woman at Morlaix market.

Since then the Teuz have never been seen in these parts. However, there are some who say that all good work-people have to this very day ten dwarfs who toil for them, and not invisibly; and these are—their ten fingers.

1 Literally ‘will-o'-the-wisp.'

2 A number of petticoats is considered a mark of great elegance amongst the Breton peasant-girls around Morlaix.

3 A proverbial expression, denoting some suspicion that people have been acquiring wealth somewhat unfairly. There is an old tradition among the country people, that if you take a black hen to some cross-road, and there use certain incantations, you can summon the devil, who will pay you handsomely for your hen.

4 Heubeul-Pontréau, a Breton form of reproach to young rustics of ill address.

5 All European nations have admitted two races of dwarfs, the one mischievous and impious, the other benevolent to man. The first is represented in Brittany by the Korigans, the second by the Teuz. The Teuz is just the same as the elf or fairy of the Scotch and Irish, aiding the labourers in their toil, and resembles the mountain spirit of Germany.

6 In Brittany they reckon by reals; the Breton real is not worth one franc eight centimes, as in Spain, but only twenty-five centimes.