Once upon a time there lived in Brittany a noble lord, who was called the Baron Kerver. His manor house was the most beautiful in the province. It was a great Gothic castle, with a groined roof and walls, covered with carving, that looked at a distance like a vine climbing over an arbor. On the first floor six stained glass balcony windows looked out on each side toward the rising and the setting sun. In the morning when the Baron, mounted on his dun mare, went forth into the forest, followed by his tall greyhounds, he saw at each window one of his daughters, with prayer book in hand, praying for the house of Kerver, and who, with their fair curls, blue eyes, and clasped hands, might have been taken for six madonnas in an azure niche. At evening when the sun declined and the Baron returned homeward, after riding round his domains, he perceived from afar, in the windows looking toward the west, six sons, with dark locks and eagle gaze, the hope and pride of the family, who might have been taken for six sculptured knights at the portal of a church. For ten leagues round all who wished to quote a happy father and a powerful lord named the Baron Kerver.
The castle had but twelve windows, and the Baron had thirteen children. The last, the one that had no place, was a handsome boy of sixteen by the name of Yvon. As usual, he was the best beloved. In the morning at his departure, and at evening on his return, the Baron always found Yvon waiting on the threshold to embrace him. With his fair hair falling to his waist, his graceful figure, his willful air, and his bold bearing, Yvon was beloved of all the Bretons. At twelve years of age he had bravely attacked and killed a wolf with an ax, which had won him the name of Fearless. He deserved the title, for never was there a bolder heart.
One day, when the Baron had stayed at home, and was amusing himself by breaking a lance with his squire, Yvon entered the armory in a traveling dress, and, bending one knee to the ground:
"My lord and father," said he to the Baron, "I come to ask your blessing. The house of Kerver is rich in knights, and has no need of a child; it is time for me to go to seek my fortune. I wish to go to distant countries to try my strength, and to make myself a name."
"You are right, Fearless," replied the Baron, more moved than he wished to appear. "I will not keep you back; I have no right to do so; but you are very young, my child; perhaps it would be better for you to stay another year with us."
"I am sixteen, my father; at that age you had already fought one of the proudest lords of the country. I have not forgotten that our arms are a unicorn ripping up a lion, and our motto, "Onward!" I do not wish the Kervers to blush for their last child."
Yvon received his father's blessing, shook hands with his brothers, embraced his sisters, bade adieu to all the weeping vassals, and set out with a light heart.
Nothing stopped him on his way. A river appeared, he swam it; a mountain, he climbed it; a forest, he made his way through it with the sun for a guide. "On—the Kerver!" he cried, whenever he met with an obstacle, and went straight forward in spite of everything.
For three years he had been roaming over the world in search of adventures, sometimes conquering, sometimes conquered, always bold and gay, when he received an offer to go to fight the heathen of Norway. To kill unbelievers and to conquer a kingdom was a double pleasure. Yvon enlisted twelve brave comrades, freighted a ship, and hoisted from the mainmast a blue standard, with the unicorn and motto of the Kervers.
The sea was calm, the wind fair, and the night serene. Yvon, stretched on the deck, watched the stars, and sought the one which cast its trembling light on his father's castle. All at once the vessel struck upon a rock; a terrible crash was heard; the sails fell like tinder; and an enormous wave burst over the deck, and swept away everything upon it.
"On—the Kerver!" cried Yvon, as soon as his head appeared above the water; and he began to swim as tranquilly as if he had been bathing in the lake of the old castle. Happily the moon was rising. Yvon saw, at a little distance, a black speck among the silvery waves—it was land. He approached it, not without difficulty, and finally succeeded in gaining a foothold. Dripping wet, exhausted with fatigue, and out of breath, he dragged himself on the sand; then, without more anxiety, said his prayers, and went to sleep.
In the morning, on awaking, Yvon tried to discover in what country he had been cast. He saw in the distance a house as large as a church, with windows fifty feet in height. He walked a whole day before reaching it, and at last found himself in front of an immense door, with a knocker so heavy that it was impossible for a man to lift it.
Yvon took a great stone and began to knock. "Come in," cried a voice, that sounded like the roar of a bull. At the same instant the door opened, and the little Breton found himself in the presence of a giant not less than forty feet in height.
"What is your name, and what do you want here?" said the giant, taking up Yvon between his thumb and finger, and lifting him from the ground so as to see him better.
"My name is Fearless, and I am seeking my fortune," answered Yvon, looking at the monster with an air of defiance.
"Well, brave Fearless, your fortune is made," said the giant, in a mocking tone. "I am in need of a servant, and I will give you the place. You can go to work directly. This is the time for leading my sheep to the pasture; you may clean the stable while I am gone. I shall give you nothing else to do," added he, bursting into a laugh. "You see that I am a good master. Do your task, and, above all things, don't prowl about the house, or it will cost you your life."
"Certainly I have a good master; the work is not hard," thought Yvon, when the giant was gone. "I have plenty of time to sweep the stable. What shall I do meanwhile to amuse myself? Shall I look about the house? Since I am forbidden to do so, it must be because there is something to see."
He entered the first room, and saw a large fireplace, in which a great pot was hanging, suspended from a hook. The pot was boiling, but there was no fire on the hearth.
"What does this mean?" thought Yvon; "there is some mystery here." He cut off a lock of his hair, dipped it into the pot, and took it out all coated with copper.
"Oh, oh!" cried he, "this is a new kind of soup; anybody that swallows it must have an iron-clad stomach."
He went into the next room; there also a pot was suspended from a hook, and boiling without fire. Yvon dipped a lock of hair into it, and took it out all coated with silver.
"The broth is not so rich as this in the Kerver kitchen," thought he, "but it may have a better taste."
Upon this, he entered the third room. There also a pot was suspended from a hook, and boiling without fire. Yvon dipped a lock of hair into it, and took it out all coated with gold. It shone so brightly that it might have been mistaken for a sunbeam.
"Good!" cried he. "In our country the old women have a saying, 'Everything gets worse and worse'; here it is just the contrary, everything gets better and better. What shall I find in the fourth room, I wonder—diamond soup?"
He pushed open the door, and saw something rarer than precious stones. This was a young woman of such marvelous beauty that Yvon, dazzled, fell on his knees at the sight.
"Unfortunate youth!" cried she, in a trembling voice, "What are you doing here?"
"I belong to the house," answered Yvon; "the giant took me into his service this morning."
"His service!" repeated the young girl. "May heaven preserve you from it!"
"Why so?" said Yvon. "I have a good master; the work is not hard. The stable once swept, my task is finished."
"Yes, and how will you set to work to sweep it?" asked the lady. "If you sweep it in the usual way, for every forkful of dung that you throw out of the door, ten will come in at the window. But I will tell you what to do. Turn the fork and sweep with the handle, and the dung will instantly fly out of itself."
"I will obey," said Yvon; upon which he sat down by the young girl and began to talk to her. She was the daughter of a fairy, whom the wretched giant had made his slave. Friendship soon springs up between companions in misfortune. Before the end of the day, Finette (for that was the lady's name) and Yvon had already promised to belong to each other, if they could escape from their abominable master. The difficulty was to find the means.
Time passes quickly in this kind of talk. Evening was approaching when Finette sent away her new friend, advising him to sweep the stable before the giant came home.
Yvon took down the fork and attempted to use it as he had seen it done at his father's castle. He soon had enough of it. In less than a second there was so much dung in the stable that the poor boy knew not which way to turn. He did as Finette had bid him; he turned the fork and swept with the handle, when behold! in the twinkling of an eye, the stable was as clean as if no cattle had ever entered it.
The task finished, Yvon seated himself on a bench before the door of the house. As soon as he saw the giant coming, he lolled back in his seat, crossed his legs, and began to sing one of his native airs.
"Have you cleaned the stable?" asked the giant, with a frown.
"Everything is ready, master," answered Yvon, without troubling himself to move.
"I am going to see for myself," howled the giant. He entered the stable grumbling, found everything in order, and came out furious.
"You have seen my Finette," cried he; "this trick did not come from your own head!"
"What is myfinette?" asked Yvon, opening his mouth and shutting his eyes. "Is it one of the animals that you have in this country? Show it to me, master."
"Hold your tongue, fool," replied the giant; "you will see her sooner than you will want to."
The next morning the giant gathered his sheep together to lead them to the pasture; but, before setting out, he ordered Yvon to go in the course of the day in search of his horse, which was turned out to graze on the mountain. "After that," said he, bursting into a laugh, "you can rest all day long. You see that I am a good master. Do your task; and above all things, don't prowl about the house, or I will cut off your head."
Yvon winked his eye as the giant left. "Yes, you are a good master," said he between his teeth. "I understand your tricks; but, in spite of your threats, I shall go into the house, and talk with your Finette. It remains to be seen whether she will not be more mine than yours."
He ran to the young girl's room. "Hurrah!" cried he; "I have nothing to do all day but to go to the mountain after a horse."
"Very well," said Finette; "how will you set to work to ride him?"
"A fine question," returned Yvon. "As if it were a difficult thing to ride a horse! I fancy that I have ridden worse ones than this."
"It is not so easy as you think," replied Finette; "but I will tell you what to do. Take the bit that hangs behind the stable door, and, when the animal rushes toward you breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils, force it straight between his teeth; he will instantly become as gentle as a lamb, and you can do what you please with him." "I will obey," said Yvon; upon which he sat down by the side of Finette, and began to talk with her. They talked of everything; but, however far their fancy strayed, they always came back to the point that they were promised to each other, and that they must escape from the giant. Time passes quickly in this kind of talk. The evening drew nigh. Yvon had forgotten the horse and the mountain, and Finette was obliged to send him away, advising him to bring back the animal before his master's arrival.
Yvon took down the bit that was hidden behind the stable door, and hastened to the mountain, when lo! A horse almost as large as an elephant rushed toward him at full gallop, breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils. Yvon firmly awaited the huge animal, and, the moment he opened his enormous jaws, thrust between them the bit; when lo! the horse instantly became as gentle as a lamb. Yvon made him kneel down, sprang on his back, and tranquilly returned home.
His task finished, Yvon seated himself on the bench before the door of the house. As soon as he saw the giant coming, he lolled back in his seat, crossed his legs, and began to sing one of his native airs.
"Have you brought back the horse?" asked the giant with a frown.
"Yes, master," answered Yvon, without taking the trouble to move. "He is a fine animal, and does you credit. He is gentle, well trained, and as quiet as a lamb. He is feeding yonder in the stable."
"I am going to go see for myself!" howled the giant. He entered the stable grumbling, found everything in order, and came out furious.
"You have seen my Finette," said he; "this trick did not come from your own head."
"Oh, master," returned Yvon, opening his mouth and shutting his eyes, "it is the same story over again. What is this myfinette? Once for all, show me this monster."
"Hold your tongue, fool," returned the giant; "you will see her sooner than you will want to."
The third day at dawn the giant gathered his sheep together to lead them to the pasture; but, before setting out, he said to Yvon:
"To-day you must go to the bottomless pit to collect my rent. After that," continued he, bursting into a laugh, "you may rest all day long. You see that I am a good master."
"A good master, so be it," murmured Yvon, "but the task is none the less hard. I will go and see my Finette, as the giant says; I have great need of her help to get through to-day's business."
When Finette had learned what was the task of the day, "Well," said she, "how will you go to work to do it?"
"I don't know," said Yvon sadly; "I have never been to the bottomless pit, and, even if I knew the way there, I should not know what to ask for. Tell me what to do."
"Do you see that great rock yonder?" said Finette;
"that is one of the gates of the bottomless pit. Take
this stick, knock three times on the stone, and a
demon will come out all streaming with flames, who
will ask you how much you want. Take care to answer,
'No more than I can
"I will obey," said Yvon; upon which he took a seat by the side of Finette, and began to talk with her. He would have been there till this time if the young girl has not sent him to the great rock, when the evening drew nigh, to execute the giant's commands.
On reaching the spot pointed out to him, Yvon found a great block of granite. He struck it three times with the stick, when lo! the rock opened, and a demon came forth all streaming with flames.
"What do you want?" he cried.
"I have come for the giant's rent," answered Yvon calmly.
"How much do you want?"
"I never want any more than I can carry," replied the Breton.
"It is well for you that you do not," returned the man in flames. "Enter this cavern, and you will find what you want."
Yvon entered, and opened his eyes wide. Everywhere he saw nothing but gold, silver, diamonds, carbuncles, and emeralds. They were as numerous as the sands on the seashore. The young Kerver filled a sack, threw it across his shoulder, and tranquilly returned home.
His task finished, our Breton seated himself on the bench before the door of the house. As soon as he saw the giant coming, he lolled back in his seat, crossed his legs, and began to sing one of his native airs.
"Have you been to the bottomless pit to collect my rent?" asked the giant, with a frown.
"Yes, master," answered Yvon, without taking the trouble to stir. "The sack is there right before your eyes; you can count it."
"I am going to see for myself!" howled the giant. He untied the strings of the sack, which was so full that the gold and silver rolled in all directions.
"You have seen my Finette," he cried; "this trick did not come from your own head."
"Don't you know but one song," said Yvon, opening his mouth and shutting his eyes. "It is the old story, myfinette, myfinette. Once for all, show me this thing."
"Well, well," roared the giant with fury, "wait till tomorrow, and you shall make her acquaintance!"
"Thank you, master," said Yvon. "It is very good of you; but I see from your face that you are laughing at me."
The next morning the giant went out without giving Yvon any orders, which troubled Finette. At noon he returned without his flock, complaining of the heat and fatigue, and said to the young girl:
"You will find a child, my servant, at the door. Cut his throat, put him into the great pot to boil, and call me when the broth is ready." Saying this he stretched himself on the bed to take a nap, and was soon snoring so loud that it seemed like thunder shaking the mountains.
Finette prepared a log of wood, took a large knife, and called Yvon. She pricked his little finger; three drops of blood fell on the log.
"That is enough," said Finette; "now help me to fill the pot."
They threw into it all that they could find—old clothes, old shoes, old carpets, and everything else. Finette then took Yvon by the hand, and led him through the three antechambers, where she ran in a mold three bullets of gold, two bullets of silver, and one bullet of copper, after which they quitted the house and ran toward the sea.
"On—the Kerver!" cried Yvon, as soon as he saw himself in the country. "Explain yourself, dear Finette; what farce are we playing now?"
"Let us run—let us run!" she cried; "if we do not quit this wretched island before night, it is all over with us."
"On—the Kerver!" replied Yvon laughing, "and down with the giant!"
When he had snored a full hour, the giant stretched his limbs, half opened one eye, and cried, "Is it ready?"
"It is just beginning to boil," answered the first drop of blood on the log.
The giant turned over, and snored louder than ever for an hour or two longer. Then he stretched his limbs, half opened one eye, and cried out, "Do you hear me? Is it almost ready?"
"It is half done," answered the second drop of blood on the log.
The giant turned over, and slept an hour longer. Then he yawned, stretched his great limbs, and cried out impatiently, "Isn't it ready yet?"
"It is ready now," answered the third drop of blood on the log.
The giant sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes, and looked around to see who had spoken; but it was in vain to look; he saw nobody.
"Finette!" howled he, "why isn't the table set?"
There was no answer. The giant, furious, sprang out of bed, seized a ladle, which looked like a caldron with a pitchfork for a handle, and plunged it into the pot to taste the soup.
"Finette!" howled he, "you haven't salted it. What sort of a soup is this? I see neither meat nor vegetables."
No; but in return, he saw his carpet, which had not quite all boiled to pieces. At this sight he fell into such a fit of rage, that he could not keep his feet.
"Villains!" said he, "you have played a fine trick on me; but you shall pay for it!"
He rushed out with a stick in his hand, and strode along at such a rate that in a quarter of an hour he discovered the two fugitives still far from the seashore. He uttered such a cry of joy that the earth shook for twelve leagues around.
Finette stopped trembling. Yvon clasped her to his heart.
"On—the Kerver!" said he; "the sea is not far off; we shall be there before our enemy."
"Here he is! here he is!" cried Finette, pointing to the giant not a hundred yards off; "we are lost if this charm does not save us."
She took the copper bullet and threw it on the ground, saying:
"Copper bullet, save us, pray,
Stop the giant on his way."
And behold, the earth cracked apart with a terrific noise, and an enormous fissure, a bottomless pit, stopped the giant just as he was stretching out his hand to seize his prey.
"Let us fly!" cried Finette, grasping the arm of Yvon, who was gazing at the giant with a swaggering air, defying him to come on.
The giant ran backward and forward along the abyss like a bear in his cage, seeking a passage everywhere and finding none; then, with a furious jerk, he tore up an immense oak by the roots, and flung it across the gap. The branches of the oak nearly crushed the children as it fell. The giant seated himself astride the huge tree, which bent under his weight, and crept slowly along, suspended between heaven and earth, entangled as he was among the branches. When he reached the other side, Yvon and Finette were already on the shore, with the sea rolling before them.
Alas! there was neither bark nor ship. The fugitives were lost. Yvon, always brave, picked up stones to attack the giant, and to sell his life dearly. Finette, trembling with fear, threw one of the silver bullets into the sea, saying:
"Silver bullet, bright and pliant,
Save us from this frightful giant."
Scarcely had she spoken the magic words when a beautiful ship rose from the waves like a swan spreading its white wings. Yvon and Finette plunged into the sea; a rope was thrown them by an invisible hand; and when the furious giant reached the shore, the ship was receding rapidly at full sail, leaving behind it a long furrow of shining foam.
Giants do not like the water. This fact is certified to by old Homer, who knew Polyphemus; and the same observation will be found in all natural histories worthy of the name. Finette's master resembled Polyphemus. He roared with rage when he saw his slaves about to escape him. He ran hesitatingly along the shore; he flung huge masses of rock after the vessel, which happily fell by the side of it, and only made great black holes in the water; and finally, mad with anger he plunged head foremost into the sea, and began to swim after the ship with frightful speed. At each stroke he advanced forty feet, blowing like a whale, and like a whale cleaving the waves. By degrees he gained on his enemies; one more effort would bring him within reach of the rudder, and already he was stretching out his arm to seize it, when Finette threw the second silver bullet into the sea, and cried, in tears:
"Silver bullet, bright and pliant,
Save us from this frightful giant."
Suddenly from the midst of the foam darted forth, a gigantic swordfish, with a sword at least twenty feet in length. It rushed straight toward the giant, who scarcely had time to dive, chased him under the water, pursued him on the top of the waves, followed him closely whichever way he turned, and forced him to flee as fast as he could to his island, where he finally landed with the greatest difficulty, and fell upon the shore dripping, worn out, and conquered.
"On—the Kerver!" cried Yvon, "we are saved!"
"Not yet," said Finette, trembling. "The giant has a witch for a godmother, I fear that she will revenge on me the insult offered to her godson. My art tells me, my dear Yvon, that if you quit me a single instant until you give me your name in the chapel of the Kervers, I have everything to dread."
"By the unicorn of my ancestors," cried Yvon, "you have the heart of a hare and not of a hero! Am I not here? Am I going to abandon you? Do you believe that Providence has saved us from the fangs of that monster to wreck us in port?"
He laughed so gayly that Finette laughed in turn at the terror that had seized her.
The rest of the voyage passed off admirably. An invisible hand seemed to impel the ship onward. Twenty days after their departure the boat landed Yvon and Finette near Kerver Castle. Once on shore, Yvon turned to thank the crew. No one was there. Both boat and ship had vanished under the waves, leaving no trace behind but a gull on the wing.
Yvon recognized the spot where he had so often gathered shells and chased the crabs to their holes when a child. Half an hour's walk would bring him in sight of the towers of the old castle. His heart beat; he looked tenderly at Finette, and saw, for the first time, that her dress was fantastic and unworthy of a woman about to enter the noble house of Kerver.
"My dear child," said he, "the Baron, my father, is a noble lord, accustomed to be treated with respect. I cannot introduce you to him in this gypsy dress; neither is it fitting that you should enter our great castle on foot like a peasant. Wait for me a few moments, and I will bring you a horse and one of my sister's dresses. I wish you to be received like a lady of high degree. I wish my father himself to meet you on your arrival, and hold it an honor to give you his hand."
"Yvon, Yvon!" cried Finette, "do not quit me, I beg you. Once returned to your castle, I know that you will forget me."
"Forget you!" exclaimed Yvon. "If anyone else were to offer me such an insult, I would teach him with my sword to suspect a Kerver. Forget you, my Finette! You do not know the fidelity of a Breton."
That the Bretons are faithful, no one doubts; but that they are still more headstrong is a justice that none will deny them. It was useless for poor Finette to plead in her most loving tones; she was forced to yield. She resigned herself with a heavy heart, and said to Yvon:
"Go without me, then, to your castle, but only stay long enough to speak to your friends; then go straight to the stable, and return as soon as possible. You will be surrounded by people; act as if you saw no one, and, above all, do not eat or drink anything whatever. Should you take only a glass of water, evil would come upon us both."
Yvon promised and swore all that Finette asked, but he smiled in his heart at this feminine weakness. He was sure of himself; and he thought with pride how different a Breton was from those fickle Frenchmen, whose words, they say, are borne away by the first breath of the wind.
On entering the old castle he could scarcely recognize its dark walls. All the windows were festooned with leaves and flowers within and without; the courtyard was strewn with fragrant grass; on one side were spread tables groaning under their weight; on the other, musicians, mounted on casks, were playing merry airs. The vassals, dressed in their holiday attire, were singing and dancing, and dancing and singing. It was a day of great rejoicing at the castle. The Baron himself was smiling. It is true that he had just married his fifth daughter to the Knight of Kervalec. This marriage added another quartering to the illustrious escutcheon of the Kervers.
Yvon, recognized and welcomed by all the crowd, was instantly surrounded by his relatives, who embraced him and shook him by the hand. Where had he been? Where did he come from? Had he conquered a kingdom, a duchy, or a barony? Had he brought the bride the jewels of some queen? Had the fairies protected him? How many rivals had he overthrown? All these questions were showered upon him without reply. Yvon, respectfully kissed his father's hand, hastened to his sisters' chamber, took two of their finest dresses, went to the stable, saddled a pony, mounted a beautiful Spanish jennet, and was about to quit the castle, when he found his relatives, friends, squires, and vassals all standing in his way, their glasses in their hands, ready to drink their young lord's health and safe return.
Yvon gracefully thanked them, bowed, and made his way by degrees through the crowd, when, just as he was about to cross the drawbridge, a fair-haired lady, with a haughty and disdainful air, a stranger to him, a sister of the bridegroom, perhaps, approached him, holding a pomegranate in her hand.
"My handsome knight," said she, with a singular smile, "you surely will not refuse a lady's first request. Taste this pomegranate, I entreat you. If you are neither hungry nor thirsty after so long a journey, I suppose at least that you have not forgotten the laws of politeness."
Yvon dared not refuse this appeal. He was very wrong. Scarcely had he tasted the pomegranate when he looked round him like a man waking from a dream.
"What am I doing on this horse?" thought he. "What means this pony that I am leading? Is not my place in my father's house at my sister's wedding? Why should I quit the castle?"
He threw the bridle to one of the grooms, leaped lightly to the ground, and offered his hand to the fair-haired lady, who accepted him as her attendant on the spot, and gave him her bouquet to hold as a special mark of favor.
Before the evening was over there was another betrothed couple in the castle. Yvon had pledged his faith to the unknown lady, and Finette was forgotten.
Poor Finette, seated on the seashore, waited all day long for Yvon, but Yvon did not come. The sun was setting in the fiery waves, when Finette rose, sighing, and took the way to the castle in her turn. She had not walked long in a steep road, bordered with thorn trees in blossom, when she found herself in front of a wretched hut, at the door of which stood an old woman about to milk her cow. Finette approached her, and, making a low courtesy, begged a shelter for the night.
The old woman looked at the stranger from head to foot. With her buskins trimmed with fur, her full red petticoat, her blue jacket edged with jet, and her diadem, Finette looked more like an Egyptian princess than a Christian. The old woman frowned, and, shaking her fist in the face of the poor forsaken girl, "Begone, witch!" she cried; "there is no room for you in this honest house."
"My good mother," said Finette, "give me only a corner of the stable."
"Oh," said the old woman, laughing, and showing the only tooth she had left, which projected from her mouth like a bear's tusk, "so you want a corner of the stable, do you! Well, you shall have it, if you will fill my milk pail with gold."
"It is a bargain, said Finette quietly. She opened a leather purse, which she wore at her belt, took from it a golden bullet, and threw it into the milk pail, saying:
"Golden bullet, precious treasure,
Save me, if it be thy pleasure."
And behold! the pieces of gold began to dance about in the pail; they rose higher and higher, flapping about like fish in a net, while the old woman on her knees gazed with wonder at the sight.
When the pail was full the old woman rose, put her arm through the handle, and said to Finette, "Madam, all is yours, the house, the cow, and everything else. Hurrah! I am going to the town to live like a lady with nothing to do. Oh, dear, how I wish I were only sixty!" And, shaking her crutch, without looking backward, she set out on a run toward Kerver Castle.
Finette entered the house. It was a wretched hovel, dark, low, damp, bad-smelling, and full of dust and spiders' webs—a horrible refuge for a woman accustomed to living in the giant's grand castle. Without seeming troubled, Finette went to the hearth, on which a few green boughs were smoking, took another golden bullet from her purse, and threw it into the fire, saying:
"Golden bullet, precious treasure,
Save me, if it be thy pleasure."
The gold melted, bubbled up, and spread all over the house like running water, and behold! the whole cottage, the walls, the thatch, the wooden rocking chair, the stool, the chest, the bed, the cow's horns, everything, even to the spiders in their webs, was turned to gold. The house gleamed in the moonlight, among the trees, like a star in the night.
When Finette had milked the cow and drunk a little new milk, she threw herself on the bed without undressing, and, worn out by the fatigue of the day, fell asleep in the midst of her tears.
Old women do not know how to hold their tongues, at least in Brittany. Finette's hostess had scarcely reached the village when she hastened to the house of the steward. He was an important personage, who had more than once made her tremble when she had driven her cow into her neighbor's pasture by mistake. The steward listened to the old woman's story, shook his head, and said that it looked like witchcraft; then he mysteriously brought a pair of scales, weighed the guineas, which he found to be genuine and of full weight, kept as many of them as he could, and advised the owner to tell no one of this strange adventure. "If it should come to the ears of the bailiff or the seneschal," said he, "the least that would happen to you, mother, would be to lose every one of these beautiful bright guineas. Justice is impartial; it knows neither favor nor repugnance; it takes the whole."
The old woman thanked the steward for his advice, and promised to follow it. She kept her word so well that she only told her story that evening to two neighbors, her dearest friends, both of whom swore on the heads of their little children to keep it a secret. The oath was a solemn one, and so well kept that at noon the next day there was not a boy of six in the village that did not point his finger at the old woman, while the very dogs seemed to bark in their language, "Here is the old woman with her guineas!"
A girl who amuses herself by filling milk-pails with gold is not to be found every day. Even though she should be something of a witch, such a girl would none the less be a treasure in a family. The steward, who was a bachelor, made this wise reflection that night on going to bed. Before dawn he rose to make his rounds in the direction of the stranger's cottage. By the first gleam of day he spied something shining in the distance like a light among the woods. On reaching the place he was greatly surprised to find a golden cottage instead of the wretched hut that had stood there the day before. But, on entering the house, he was much more surprised and delighted to find a beautiful young girl, with raven hair, sitting by the window, and spinning on her distaff with the air of an empress.
Like all men the steward did himself justice, and knew, at the bottom of his heart, that there was not a woman in the world that would not be too happy to give him her hand. Without hesitating therefore he declared to Finette that he had come to marry her. The young girl burst out laughing, upon which the steward flew into a passion.
"Take care!" said he, in a terrible voice; "I am the master here. No one knows who you are or whence you came. The gold that you gave the old woman has raised suspicions. There is magic in this house. If you do not accept me for a husband this very instant I will arrest you, and before the night perhaps a witch will be burned before Kerver Castle."
"You are very amiable," said Finette, with a charming grimace; "you have a peculiar way of paying court to ladies. Even when they have decided not to refuse, a gallant man spares their blushes."
"We Bretons are plain-spoken people," replied the steward; "we go straight to the point. Marriage or prison, which do you choose?"
"Oh!" cried Finette, laying down the distaff, "there are the firebrands falling all over the room."
"Don't trouble yourself," said the steward, "I will pick them up."
"Lay them carefully on the top of the ashes," returned Finette. "Have you the tongs?"
"Yes," said the steward, picking up the crackling coals.
"Abracadabra!" cried Finette, rising. "Villain, may the tongs hold you, and may you hold the tongs till sunset!"
No sooner said than done. The wicked steward stood there all day long with the tongs in his hand, picking up and throwing back the burning coals that snapped in his face, and the hot ashes that flew into his eyes. It was useless for him to shout, pray, weep, and blaspheme; no one heard him. If Finette had stayed at home she would doubtless have taken pity on him; but after putting the spell upon him she hastened to the seashore, where, forgetting everything else, she watched for Yvon in vain.
The moment that the sun set the tongs fell from the steward's hands. He did not stop to finish his errand, but ran as if the devil or justice were at his heels. He made such leaps, he uttered such groans, he was so blackened, scorched, and benumbed, that everyone in the village was afraid of him, thinking that he was mad. The boldest tried to speak to him, but he fled without answering, and hid himself in his house, more ashamed than a wolf that has left his paw in the trap.
At evening, when Finette returned home in despair, instead of the steward she found another visitor little less formidable. The bailiff had heard the story of the guineas, and had also made up his mind to marry the stranger. He was not rough like the steward, but a fat, good-natured man who could not speak without bursting into a laugh, showing his great yellow teeth, and puffing and blowing like an ox, though at heart he was not less obstinate or less threatening than his predecessor. Finette entreated the bailiff to leave her alone. He laughed and hinted to her in a good-natured way that, by right of his office, he had the power to imprison and hang people without process of law. She clasped her hands, and begged him with tears to go. For his only answer he took a roll of parchment from his pocket, wrote on it a contract of marriage, and declared to Finette that should he stay all night he would not leave the house till she had signed the promise.
"Nevertheless," said he, "if you do not like my person I have another parchment here on which I will write an agreement to live apart; and if my sight annoys you, you have only to shut your eyes."
"Why," said Finette, "I might decide to do as you wish if I were sure of finding a good husband in you; but I am afraid."
"Of what, my dear child?" asked the bailiff, smiling, and already as proud as a peacock.
"Do you think," said she, with a pettish air, "that a good husband would leave that door wide open, and not know that his wife was freezing with cold?"
"You are right, my dear," said the bailiff; "it was very stupid in me. I will go and shut it."
"Have you hold of the knob?" asked Finette.
"Yes, my charmer," answered the happy bailiff; "I am just shutting the door."
"Abracadabra!" cried Finette. "May you hold the door, villain, and may the door hold you till daybreak."
And behold, the door opened and shut, and slammed against the walls like an eagle flapping its wings. You may judge what a dance the poor captive kept up all night. Never had he tried such a waltz, and I imagine that he never wished to dance a second one of the same sort. Sometimes the door swung open with him in the street; sometimes it flew back and crushed him against the wall. He swung backward and forward, screaming, swearing, weeping, and praying, but all in vain; the door was deaf, and Finette asleep.
At daybreak, his hands unclasped, and he fell in the road head foremost. Without waiting to finish his errand he ran as if the Moors were after him. He did not even turn around for fear that the door might be at his heels. Fortunately for him all were still asleep when he reached the village, and he could hide himself in bed without anyone seeing his deplorable plight. This was a great piece of good fortune for him for he was covered with whitewash from head to foot, and so pale, haggard, and trembling that he might have been taken for the ghost of a miller escaped from the infernal regions.
When Finette opened her eyes she saw by her bedside a tall man dressed in black, with a velvet cap and a sword. It was the seneschal of the barony of Kerver. He stood with his arms folded, gazing at Finette in a way that chilled the very marrow of her bones.
"What is your name, vassal?" said he in a voice of thunder.
"Finette, at your service, my lord," replied she, trembling.
"Is this house and furniture yours?"
"Yes, my lord, everything, at your service."
"I mean that it shall be at my service," returned the seneschal sternly. "Rise, vassal! I do you the honor to marry you, and to take yourself, your person, and your property under my guardianship."
"My lord," returned Finette, "this is much too great an honor for a poor girl like me, a stranger, without friends or kindred."
"Be silent, vassal!" replied the seneschal. "I am your lord and master; I have nothing to do with your advice. Sign this paper."
"My lord," said Finette, "I don't know how to write."
"Do you think that I do either?" returned the seneschal, in a voice that shook the house. "Do you take me for a clerk? A cross—that is the signature of gentlemen."
He made a large cross on the paper, and handed the pen to Finette.
"Sign," said he. "If you are afraid to make a cross, infidel, you pass your own death sentence, and I shall take on myself to execute it." He drew his heavy sword from the scabbard as he spoke, and threw it on the table.
For her only answer, Finette leaped out of the window and ran to the stable. The seneschal pursued her thither; but on attempting to enter an unexpected obstacle stopped him. The frightened cow had backed at the sight of the young girl, and stood in the doorway with Finette clinging to her horns, and making of her a sort of buckler.
"You shall not escape me, sorceress!" cried the seneschal, and, with a grasp like that of Hercules, he seized the cow by the tail and dragged her out of the stable.
"Abracadabra!" cried Finette. "May the cow's tail hold you, villain, and may you hold the cow's tail till you have both been around the world together."
And behold! the cow darted off like lightning, dragging the unhappy seneschal after her. Nothing stopped the two inseparable comrades; they rushed over mountains and valleys, crossed marshes, rivers, quagmires, and brakes, glided over the seas without sinking, were frozen in Siberia and scorched in Africa, climbed the Himalayas, descended Mont Blanc, and at length after thirty-six hours of a journey, the like of which had never been seen, both stopped out of breath in the public square of the village.
A seneschal harnessed to a cow's tail is a sight not to be seen every day, and all the peasants in the neighborhood crowded together to wonder at the spectacle. But, torn as he was by the cactuses of Barbary and the thickets of Tartary, the seneschal had lost nothing of his haughty air. With a threatening gesture he dispersed the rabble, and limped to his house to taste the repose of which he began to feel the need.
While the steward, the bailiff, and the seneschal were experiencing these little unpleasantnesses, of which they did not think it proper to boast, preparations were being made for a great event at Kerver Castle, namely, the marriage of Yvon and the fair-haired lady. Two days had passed in these preparations, and all the friends of the family had gathered together for twenty leagues round, when one fine morning Yvon and his bride, with the Baron and Baroness Kerver, took their seats in a great carriage adorned with flowers, and set out for the celebrated church of St. Maclou.
A hundred knights, in full armor, mounted on horses decked with ribbons, rode on each side of the betrothed couple, each with his visor raised and his lance at rest in token of honor. By the side of each baron, a squire, also on horseback, carried the seigniorial banner. At the head of the procession rode the seneschal with a gilded staff in his hand. Behind the carriage gravely walked the bailiff, followed by the vassals, while the steward railed at the serfs, a noisy and curious rabble.
As they were crossing a brook a league from the castle, one of the traces of the carriage broke, and they were forced to stop. The accident repaired, the coachman cracked his whip, and the horses started with such force that the new trace broke in three pieces. Six times this provoking piece of wood was replaced, and six times it broke anew without drawing the carriage from the hole where it was wedged.
Everyone had a word of advice to offer, even the peasants, as wheelwrights and carpenters, were not the last to make a show of their knowledge. This gave the steward courage; he approached the Baron, took off his cap, and scratching his head:
"My lord," said he, "in the house that you see shining yonder among the trees there lives a woman who does things such as nobody else can do. Only persuade her to lend you her tongs, and in my humble opinion, they will hold till morning."
The Baron made a sign, and ten peasants ran to the cottage of Finette, who very obligingly lent them her gold tongs. They were put in the place of the trace; the coachman cracked his whip, and off went the carriage like a feather.
Everyone rejoiced, but the joy did not last long. A hundred steps farther, lo! the bottom of the carriage gave way; little more and the noble Kerver family would have sunk quite out of sight. The wheelwrights, and the carpenters set to work at once; they sawed planks, nailed them down fast, and in the twinkling of an eye repaired the accident. The coachman cracked his whip, and the horses started, when behold! half of the carriage was left behind; the Baroness Kerver sat motionless by the side of the bride, while Yvon and the Baron were carried off at full gallop. Here was a new difficulty. Three times was the carriage mended; three times it broke anew. There was every reason to believe it was enchanted.
Everyone had a word of advice to offer. This gave the bailiff courage. He approached the Baron, and said in a low tone:
"My lord, in the house that you see shining yonder among the trees, there lives a woman who does things such as nobody else can do. Only persuade her to lend you her door for the bottom of the carriage, and, in my opinion, it will hold till morning."
The Baron made a sign, and twenty peasants ran to the cottage of Finette, who very obligingly lent them her gold door. They put it in the bottom of the carriage where it fitted as if it had been made expressly for it. The party took their seats in the carriage, the coachman cracked his whip, the church was in sight, and all the troubles of the journey seemed ended.
Not at all! Suddenly the horses stopped, and refused to draw. There were four of them. Six, eight, ten, twenty-four more were put to the carriage, but all in vain; it was impossible to stir them. The more they were whipped the deeper the wheels sunk into the ground like the colter of a plow.
What were they to do? To go on foot would have been a disgrace. To mount a horse and ride to the church like simple peasants, was not the custom of the Kervers. They tried to lift the carriage, they pushed the wheels, they shook it, they pulled it, but all in vain. Meanwhile the day was declining, and the hour of the marriage had passed.
Everyone had a word of advice to offer. This gave the seneschal courage. He approached the Baron, alighted from his horse, raised his velvet cap, and said:
"My lord, in the house that you see shining yonder among the trees, there lives a woman who does things such as nobody else can do. Only persuade her to lend you her cow to draw the carriage, and, in my opinion, she will draw it till morning."
The Baron made a sign, and thirty peasants ran to the cottage of Finette, who very obligingly lent them her golden-horned cow.
To go to church drawn by a cow was not, perhaps, what the ambitious bride had dreamed of, but it was better than to remain unmarried in the road. The heifer was harnessed therefore before the horses, and everybody looked on anxiously to see what this boasted animal was capable of doing.
But before the coachman had time to crack his whip, lo! the cow started off as if she were about to go around the world anew. Horses, carriage, Baron, betrothed, coachman, all were hurried away by the furious animal. In vain the knights spurred their horses to follow the pair; in vain the peasants ran at full speed, taking the crossroad and cutting across the meadows. The carriage flew as if it had wings; a pigeon could not have followed it.
On reaching the door of the church the party, a little disturbed by this rapid journey, would not have been sorry to alight. Everything was ready for the ceremony, and the bridal pair had long been expected; but, instead of stopping, the cow redoubled her speed. Thirteen times she ran round the church like lightning, then suddenly made her way in a straight line across the fields to the castle with such force that the whole party were almost shaken to pieces before their arrival.
No marriage was to be thought of for that day; but the tables were set and the dinner served, and the Baron Kerver was too noble a knight to take leave of his brave Bretons until they had eaten and drunk according to custom—that is, from sunset till sunrise, and even a little later.
Orders were given for the guests to take their seats. Ninety-six tables were ranged in eight rows. In front of them, on a large platform covered with velvet, with a canopy in the middle, was a table larger than the rest, and loaded with fruits and flowers, to say nothing of the roast hares and the peacocks smoking beneath their plumage. At this table the bridal pair were to have been seated in full sight in order that nothing might be lacking to the pleasures of the feast, and that the meanest peasant might have the honor of saluting them by emptying his cup of hydromel to the honor and prosperity of the high and mighty house of Kerver.
The Baron seated the hundred knights at his table, and placed their squires behind their chairs to serve them. At his right he put the bride and Yvon, but he left the seat at his left vacant, and, calling a page, "Child," said he, "run to the house of the stranger lady who obliged us only too much this morning. It was not her fault if her success exceeded her good will. Tell her that the Baron Kerver thanks her for her help, and invites her to the wedding feast of his son Lord Yvon."
On reaching the golden house, where Finette in tears was mourning for her beloved, the page bent one knee to the ground, and, in the Baron's name, invited the stranger lady to the castle to do honor to the wedding of Lord Yvon.
"Thank your master for me," answered the young girl proudly, "and tell him that if he is too noble to come to my house I am too noble to go to his."
When the page repeated this answer to his master the Baron Kerver struck the table such a blow that three plates flew into the air.
"By my honor," said he, "this is spoken like a lady, and, for the first time, I own myself beaten. Quick, saddle my dun mare, and let my knights and squires prepare to attend me."
It was with this brilliant train that the Baron alighted at the door of the golden cottage. He begged Finette's pardon, held the stirrup for her, and seated her behind him on his own horse, neither more nor less than a duchess in person. Through respect he did not speak a single word to her on the way. On reaching the castle, he uncovered his head and led her to the seat of honor that he had chosen for her.
The Barons' departure had made a great excitement, and his return caused still greater surprise. Everyone asked who the lady could be that the Baron treated with such respect. Judging from her costume she was a foreigner; could she be the Duchess of Normandy or the Queen of France? The steward, the bailiff, and the seneschal were appealed to. The steward trembled, the bailiff turned pale, and the seneschal blushed, but all three were as mute as fishes. The silence of these important personages added to the general wonder.
All eyes were fixed on Finette, who felt a deadly chill at her heart, for Yvon saw but did not know her. He cast an indifferent glance at her, then began to talk in a tender tone to the fair-haired lady, who smiled disdainfully.
Finette, in despair, took from the purse the golden bullet, her last hope. While talking with the Baron, who was charmed with her wit, she shook the little ball in her hand, and repeated in a whisper:
"Golden bullet, precious treasure,
Save me, if it be thy pleasure."
And behold, the bullet grew larger and larger until it became a goblet of chased gold, the most beautiful cup that ever graced the table of baron or king.
Finette filled the cup herself with spiced wine, and calling the seneschal, who was cowering behind her, she said in her gentlest tones, "My good seneschal, I entreat you to offer this goblet to Lord Yvon. I wish to drink his health, and I am sure that he will not refuse me this pleasure."
Yvon took the goblet, which the seneschal presented to him on a salver of enamel and gold, with a careless hand, bowed to the stranger, drank the wine, and, setting the cup on the table before him, turned to the fair-haired lady who occupied all his thoughts. The lady seemed anxious and vexed. He whispered a few words in her ear that seemed to please her, for her eyes sparkled, and she placed her hand again in his.
Finette cast down her head and began to weep. All was over.
"Children," cried the Baron, in a voice of thunder,
"fill your glasses. Let us all drink to the noble
stranger who honors us with her presence. 'To the
lovely lady of the golden
All began to huzzah and drink. Yvon contented himself with raising his goblet to a level with his eyes. Suddenly he started and stood mute, his mouth open and his eyes fixed, like a man who has a vision.
It was a vision. In the gold of the goblet Yvon saw his past life as in a mirror: the giant pursuing him; Finette dragging him along; both embarking in the ship that saved them; both landing on the shore of Brittany; he quitting her for an instant; she weeping at his departure. Where was she? By his side, of course. What other woman than Finette could be by the side of Yvon?
He turned toward the fair-haired lady, and cried out like a man treading on a serpent. Then, staggering as if he were drunk, he rose and looked around him with haggard eyes. At the sight of Finette he clasped his trembling hands, and, dragging himself toward her, fell on his knees and exclaimed, "Finette, forgive me!"
To forgive is the height of happiness. Before evening Finette was seated by the side of Yvon, both weeping and smiling.
And what became of the fair-haired lady? No one knows. At the cry of Yvon she disappeared; but it was said that a wretched old hag was seen flying on a broomstick over the castle walls, chased by the dogs; and it was the common opinion among the Kervers that the fair-haired lady was none other than the witch, the godmother of the giant. I am not sure enough of the fact, however, to dare warrant it. It is always prudent to believe, without proof, that a woman may be a witch, but it is never wise to say so.
What I can say on the word of an historian is that the feast, interrupted for a moment, went on gayer than ever. Early the next morning they went to the church, where, to the joy of his heart, Yvon married Finette, who was no longer afraid of evil spirits; after which they ate, drank, and danced for thirty-six hours, without anyone thinking of resting. The steward's arms were a little heavy, the bailiff rubbed his back at times, and the seneschal felt a sort of weariness in his limbs, but all three had a weight on their consciences which they could not shake off, and which made them tremble and flutter, till finally they fell on the ground and were carried off. Finette took no other vengeance on them; her only desire was to render all happy around her, far and near, who belonged to the noble house of Kerver. Her memory still lives in Brittany; and, among the ruins of the old castle, anyone will show you the statue of the good lady, with five bullets in her hand.