Three Wayfarers

The Three Wayfarers

There dwelt in the diocese of Léon, in ancient times, two young noblemen, rich and comely as heart could desire. Their names were Tonyk and Mylio.

Mylio, the elder, was almost sixteen, and Tonyk just fourteen years of age. They were both under the instruction of the ablest masters, by whose lessons they had so well profited that, but for their age, they might well have received holy orders, had such been their vocation.

But in character the brothers were very unlike. Tonyk was pious, charitable to the poor, and always ready to forgive those who had offended him: he hoarded neither money in his hand nor resentment in his heart. Mylio, on the other hand, while he gave but his due to each, would drive a hard bargain too, and never failed to revenge an injury to the uttermost.

It had pleased God to deprive them of their father whilst yet in their infancy, and they had been brought up by their widowed mother, a woman of singular virtue; but now that they were growing towards manhood, she deemed it time to send them to the care of an uncle, who lived at some distance, and from whom they might receive good counsels for their walk in life, besides the expectation of an ample heritage.

So one day, after bestowing upon each a new cap, a pair of silver-buckled shoes, a violet mantle,1  a well-filled purse, and a horse, she bade them set forth towards the house of their father's brother.

The two boys began their journey in the highest spirits, glad that they were travelling into a new country. Their horses made such good speed, that in the course of a few days they found themselves already in another kingdom, where the trees, and even the corn, were quite different to their own. There one morning, coming to a cross-road, they saw a poor woman seated near a wayside cross, her face buried in her apron.

Tonyk drew up his horse to ask her what she ailed; and the beggar told him, sobbing, that she had just lost her son, her sole support, and that she was now cast upon the charity of Christian strangers.

The youth was touched with compassion; but Mylio, who waited at a little distance, cried out mockingly,

“You are not going to believe the first pitiful story told you by the roadside! It is just this woman's trade to sit here and cheat travellers of their money.”

“Hush, hush, my brother,” answered Tonyk, “in the name of God; you only make her weep the more. Do not you see that she is just the age and figure of our own dear mother, whom may God preserve.” Then stooping towards the beggar-woman, he handed her his purse, saying,

“Here, my good woman, I can help you but a little; but I will pray that God Himself may be your consolation.”

The beggar took the purse, and pressed it to her lips; then said to Tonyk,

“Since my young lord has been so bountiful to a poor woman, let him not refuse to accept from her this walnut. It contains a wasp with a sting of diamond.”

Tonyk took the walnut with thanks, and proceeded on his way with Mylio.

Ere long they came upon the borders of a forest, and saw a little child, half naked, seeking somewhat in the hollows of the trees, whilst he sung a strange and melancholy air, more mournful than the music of a requiem. He often stopped to clap his little frozen hands, saying in his song, “I am cold,—oh, so cold!” and the boys could hear his teeth chatter in his head.

Tonyk was ready to weep at this spectacle, and said to his brother,

“Mylio, only see how this poor child suffers from the piercing wind.”

“Then he must be a chilly subject,” returned Mylio; “the wind does not strike me as so piercing.”

“That may well be, when you have on a plush doublet, a warm cloth coat, and over all your violet mantle, whilst he is wrapped round by little but the air of heaven.”

“Well, and what then?” observed Mylio; “after all, he is but a peasant-boy.”

“Alas,” said Tonyk, “when I think that you, my brother, might have been born to the same hard fate, it goes to my very heart; and I cannot bear to see him suffering. For Jesus' sake let us relieve him.”

So saying he reined in his horse, and calling to him the little boy, asked what he was about.

“I am trying,” said the child, “if I can find any dragon-flies 2  asleep in the hollows of the trees.”

“And what do you want with the dragon-flies?” asked Mylio.

“When I have found a great many, I shall sell them in the town, and buy myself a garment as warm as sunshine.”

“And how many have you found already?” asked the young nobleman.

“One only,” said the child, holding up a little rushen cage enclosing the blue fly.

“Well, well, I will take it,” interposed Tonyk, throwing to the boy his violet mantle. “Wrap yourself up in that nice warm cloak, my poor little fellow; and when you kneel down to your evening prayers, say every night a ‘Hail Mary' for us, and another for our mother.”

The two brothers went forward on their journey; and Tonyk, having parted with his mantle, suffered sorely for a time from the cutting north wind; but the forest came to an end, the air grew milder, the fog dispersed, and a vein of sunshine kindled in the clouds.

They presently entered a green meadow, where a fountain sprung; and there beside it sat an aged man, his clothes in tatters, and on his back the wallet which marked him as a beggar.

As soon as he perceived the young riders, he called to them in beseeching tones.

Tonyk approached him.

“What is it, father?” said he, lifting his hand to his hat in respectful consideration of the beggar's age.

“Alas, my dear young gentlemen,” replied the old man, “you see how white my hair is, and how wrinkled my cheeks. By reason of my age, I have grown very feeble, and my feet can carry me no further. Therefore I must certainly sit here and die, unless one of you is willing to sell me his horse.”

“Sell thee one of our horses, beggar!” exclaimed Mylio, with contemptuous voice; “and wherewithal have you to pay for it?”

“You see this hollow acorn,” answered the mendicant: “it contains a spider capable of spinning a web stronger than steel. Let me have one of your horses, and I will give you in exchange the acorn with the spider.”

The elder of the two boys burst into a loud laugh.

“Do you only hear that, Tonyk?” said he, turning to his brother. “By my baptism, there must be two calf's feet in that fellow's shoes.”3

But the younger answered gently,

“The poor can only offer what he has.”

Then dismounting, he went up to the old man, and added,

“I give you my horse, my honest friend, not in consideration of the price you offer for him, but in remembrance of Christ, who has declared the poor to be His chosen portion. Take and keep him as your own, and thank God, in whose name I bestow him.”

The old man murmured a thousand benedictions, and mounting with Tonyk's aid, went on his way, and was soon lost in the distance.

But at this last alms-deed Mylio could no longer contain himself, and broke out into a storm of reproaches.

“Fool!” cried he angrily to Tonyk, “are you not ashamed of the state to which you have reduced yourself by your folly? You thought no doubt that when you had stripped yourself of every thing, I would go shares with you in horse and cloak and purse. But no such thing. I hope this lesson at least will do you good, and that, by feeling the inconveniences of prodigality, you may learn to be more prudent for the future.”

“It is indeed a good lesson, my brother,” replied Tonyk mildly; “and I willingly receive it. I never so much as thought of sharing your money, horse, or cloak; go, therefore, on yourway without troubling yourself about me, and may the Queen of angels guide you.”

Mylio answered not a word, but trotted quickly off; whilst his young brother followed upon foot, keeping him in sight as long as he was able, without a thought of bitterness arising in his heart.

And thus they went on towards the entrance of a narrow defile between two mountains, so lofty that their tops were hidden in the clouds. It was called the Accursed Strait; for a dreadful being dwelt among those heights, and there laid wait for travellers, like a huntsman watching for his game. He was a giant, blind, and without feet; but had so fine an ear for sound, that he could hear the worm working her dark way within the earth. His servants were two eagles, which he had tamed (for he was a great magician), and he sent them forth to catch his prey so soon as he could hear it coming. So the country people of the neighbourhood, when they had to thread the dreaded pass, were accustomed to carry their shoes in their hands, like the girls of Roscoff going to market at Morlaix, and held their breath lest the giant should detect their passage. But Mylio, who knew nothing of all this, went on at full trot, until the giant was awakened by the sound of horse's hoofs upon the stony way.

“Ho, ho, my harriers, where are you?” cried he.

The white and the red eagle hastened to him.

“Go and fetch me for my supper what is passing by,” exclaimed the giant.

Like balls from cannon-mouth they shot down the depths of the ravine, and seizing Mylio by his violet mantle, bore him upwards to the giant's den.

At that moment Tonyk came up to the entrance of the defile. He saw his brother in the act of being carried off by the two birds, and rushing towards him, uttered a loud cry; but the eagles almost instantly vanished with Mylio in the clouds that hung over the loftiest mountain. For a few seconds the boy stood rooted to the spot with horror, gazing on the sky and the straight rocks that rose above him like a wall; then sinking on his knees, with folded hands, he cried,

“O God, the Almighty Maker of the world, save my brother Mylio!”

“Trouble not God the Father for so small a matter,” cried three little voices close beside him.

Tonyk turned in amazement.

“Who speaks? where are you?” he exclaimed.

“In the pocket of thy doublet,” replied the three voices.

Tonyk searched his pocket, and drew forth the walnut, the acorn, and the rushen cage, containing the three different insects.

“Is it you who will save Mylio?” said he.

“We, we, we,” they answered in their various tones.

“And what can you do, you poor little nobodies?” continued Tonyk.

“Let us out, and thou shalt see.”

The boy did as they desired; and immediately the spider crept to a tree, from which she began a web as strong and as shining as steel. Then mounting on the dragon-fly, which raised her gradually in the air, she still wove on her silvery network; the several threads of which assumed the form of a ladder constantly stretching upwards.

Tonyk mounted step by step on this miraculous ladder, until it brought him to the summit of the mountain. Then the wasp flew before him, and led him to the giant's den.

It was a grotto hollowed in the cliff, and lofty as a cathedral-nave. The blind and footless ogre, seated in the middle, swayed his vast body to and fro like a poplar rocked by winds, singing snatches of a strange song; while Mylio lay on the ground, his legs and arms tucked behind him, like a fowl trussed for the spit. The two eagles were at a little distance, by the fireplace, one ready to act as turnspit, whilst the other made up the fire.

The noise which the giant made in singing, and the attention he paid to the preparations for his feast, prevented his hearing the approach of Tonyk and his three tiny attendants; but the red eagle perceived the youth, and, darting forward, would have seized him in its claws, had not the wasp at that very moment pierced its eyes with her diamond sting. The white eagle, hurrying to its fellow's aid, shared the same fate. Then the wasp flew upon the ogre, who had roused himself on hearing the cries of his two servants, and set herself to sting him without mercy. The giant roared aloud, like a bull in August. But in vain he whirled around him his huge arms, like windmill-sails; having no eyes, he could not succeed in catching the creature, and for want of feet it was equally impossible for him to escape from it.

At length he flung himself, face downwards, on the earth, to find some respite from its fiery dart; but the spider then came up, and spun over him a net that held him fast imprisoned. In vain he called upon the eagles for assistance: savage with pain, and no longer fearing now they saw him vanquished, their only impulse was to revenge upon him all the bitterness of their past long slavery. Fiercely flapping their wings, they flew upon their former master, and tore him in their fury, as he lay cowering beneath the web of steel. With every stroke of their beaks they carried off a strip of flesh; nor did they stay their vengeance until they had laid bare his bones. Then they crouched down upon the mangled carcass; and as the flesh of a magician, to say nothing of an ogre, is a meat impossible of digestion, they never rose again.

Meanwhile Tonyk had unbound his brother; and, after embracing him with tears of joy, led him from the cavern to the edge of the precipice. The dragon-fly and the wasp soon appeared there, harnessed to the little cage of rushes, now transformed into a coach. They invited the two brothers to seat themselves within it, whilst the spider placed herself behind like a magnificent lackey, and the equipage rolled onwards with the swiftness of the wind. In this way Tonyk and Mylio travelled untired over meadows, woods, mountains, and villages (for in the air the roads are always in good order), until they came before their uncle's castle.

There the carriage came to ground, and rolled onwards towards the drawbridge, where the brothers saw both their horses in waiting for them. At the saddle-bow of Tonyk hung his purse and mantle; but the purse had grown much larger and heavier, and the mantle was now all powdered with diamonds.

Astonished, the youth turned him towards the coach to ask what this might mean; but, behold, the coach had disappeared; and instead of the wasp, the spider, and the dragon-fly, there stood three angels all glorious with light. Awe-struck and bewildered, the brothers sank upon their knees.

Then one of the angels, more beautiful and radiant than his fellows, drew near to Tonyk, and thus spoke:

“Fear not, thou righteous one; for the woman, the child, and the old man, whom thou hast succoured were none others than our blessed Lady, her divine Son, and the holy saint Joseph. They sent us to guard thee on thy way from harm; and, now that our mission is accomplished, we return to Paradise. Only remember all that has befallen thee, and let it serve as an example for ever.”

At these words the angels spread their wings, and soared away like three white doves, chanting the Hosanna  as it is sung in churches at the Holy Mass.

1 Limestra, mantle of some special material, which is highly valued by the Bretons.

2 Aiguilles ailées. The fly commonly called demoiselle  in French, in Brittany is nadoz-aër ; literally, “needle of the air.”

3 A proverbial expression in Brittany to designate folly and impertinence.