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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 123, 8 July 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE GAR-WOLF. A ROMANCE OF BRITTANY. We all have had our childish shudderings over stories of the “Gar-Gare, or Were-wolf ; ” that grim ghost of bosky fastnesses of Norway, of Hungary, the Black Forest, and even of the plains of France; 'that uncanny “thing”—for neither man nor beast was he—that spent half his time as an honest gentleman should, the other half roaming the high woods, and anon assisting, so the common people believed, in a meeting of chosen demons. During Sir Walter Scott’s time the belief in the existence of the “ Gar-wolf” or “Bisclaveret,” still remained in Brittany; and a contemporary of Sir Walter Scott writes; “The Bretons still suppose that certain men deck themselves in skins of wolves, sometimes even assuming their forms, to frequent nightly gatherings over which Old Nick himself presides.” One can well imagine how numberless were the tales of Bisclaveret in- the days of chivalry, when the red deer wandered free over the breadth of Normandy, the boar made his lair in the woods of Versailles, and the wolves bayed the moon at the gates of the scattered castles of petty kings in ancient Armorica. But it is scarcely so easy to imagine them not a century ago, when the wild woods of France were no more ; when plow-land and vineyard had taken the place of oak and chestnut groves, and when the very occasion of a wolf coming down into the Dordogne would muster out more men from a single village than could a whole kingdom of chivalrc time. At the present time the superstition has died out. Nevertheless, one “ Bisclaveret” story still hovers round the winter fire-side of Brittany—by which vieux bonpapa in his great armchair —the centre of a semicircle of well-filled stools and wooded settlers—doles out, amid the puffs of the brier pipe, the following : You will know, my children, the high road leading from Poitivy to Guingamp ; hew, after leaving the village of Corlay, it winds up the Cotes-du-Nord through wooded glens and steep defiles to the head waters of the River Yilaine. At about two miles from the summit there are the ruins of a little chaumiere, ong since deserted, but in my young days inhabited by one “ Yvon Carcloc,” Very little was known of his history ; he bad nnmfi be said, from Finisterre, and wai a i- t I tl by trade. But e d ready mo j I I rdiuarily dn at f i nobody cared whai no inium, nave oeou before, and every one m.ed nun lor wJuiC he was. At 1 tJ k s Yvon, rint'-leader in the frolic and mu ; and each fort in tiie country-side vied with the other for a loving glance from his brown eyes. And well they might. His tall, athletic frame was set off by dainty clothes, and dark locks rolled over his shoulders, as long and fine as Jeannette’s here. When I was about twelve years old it was rumored round that he was going to be married to one of the prettiest girls of the Hautetagne ; and she looked it, too, shortly after, standing before the Cure of Corlay, in her pointed white linen cap, gay handkerchief, dark blue woollen gown, short enough to show pretty feet and ankles encased in crimson stockings and silver buckled shoes, with bright bows of ribbon on their instep, a silver heart and crucifix (her lover’s present) on her bosom, resting en a snowy frilled bib and apron, and I thought as Yvon took her hand to lead her out of the church, that a better match could not be found in Brittany, Up to the little chaumiere they took their way, followed by a joyous throng. The pigs and chickens had been banished into the woods for the night, the mud floor wet and sprinkled; candles stood round the room in niches or in pine brackets, reflecting brightly off the old carved bedstead ; the big chest hand been shoved into a corner to give free warren for the dancers ; • while overhead dangled the bread-basket, bursting its sides with new barley-cakes, in company with such a goodly array of sausages, onions and hams as made the hungry wish for supper time. The evening passe i off gaily and not a cloud was to he seen in the new married couple’s horizon, till a game of chance was proposed. “ Try your luck in the fountain,” said one ; and in an evil moment Yvon and Annette consented. With solemn air Annette’s bonpapa hands to each a piece of bread and butter ; and amid a laughing crowd they sally out under the moonlight to a spring bubbling and gurgling from a network of oak roots. The pieces are thrown in. There is a moment of breathless excitement. “ They swim !” “ They don’t!” “ They sink !” “No! Yes! No! Annette sinks! and the buttered side downward, by St. Yves !” Why this should have cast a sudden chill over the party I know not. A dozen times before on New Year’s day had each and every one of them tried their luck in the same way ; laughing as they saw the fatal bread and butter foretell their prosperity, sickness and death. But now, somehow it seemed different. The whilom jest had become a solemn reality. Perhaps the tone in which bonpapa had said “ God preserve thee from all ill my Annette !”—perhaps the sombre shadow of the oak, through whose heavy foliage tiny rifts of silver flickered on and around the pool, had something to do with it. Be that as it may, the party returned to the chaumiere in silence, which the scattering “ Puuv, peti, Annettes” from the more superstitious did not help to brighten. Yes, the revel was at an end ; the bread and butter had foretold death for Annette within a year, and bonpapa looked sadly disturbed when lie heard the ominous result. So the sobered revelers made their adieus hastily—starting at the footfall of the roe which crossed their homeward path, and shuddering at the whisper of the aspens in the valley. However, in spite of the bad omen, the honeymoon seemed to pass off' as happily as could be ; and the anniversary of their marriage day had nearly come round ere anyone knew that aught was wrong in the Chaumiere D’Yvon. When they had been married about ten months, bonpapa was one morning sitting at the door cf his ferme, unbending from the rheumatic cramps of winter in the warm May sun ; now watching in the yard around him the grim gambols of a litter of white pigs—gaunt even in their youth ; now giving an approving look at the sturdy colt that hinnied and snickered round its mother in the pasture, and made sudden and futile attacks on two meekeyed cows, blotched black and white, as had been their ancestors. Puffing contentedly at his pipe sat bonpapa, drinking in the sweet scent of the stocks and wallflower on the gable. He was at peace with the world and himself ; his farming had been prosperous these twenty years; the old stocking in the oak chest had been exchanged a few days before for a newer and larger one. Yvon seemed well off; Annette was happy, and what more could an old man want ? But after all, was Annette happy! Of late dark circles had grown under her eyes; at times she seemed distraught ; at times very affectionate ; then again cold and listless. What could it be. Ah! here she comes! Not tripping down the path as was her wont though, but hurrying downward with her head bent, one hand clutching her cloak round
her, the other clinched tight at her side. What could be the matter. 1 “ Bonjour, bonpapa ! Bonjour ma mei! Is any one at home besides you, bonpapa ? ” asked she, looking anxiously round. “Nobody! Jacob and Pierrot are in the fields; Maman has gone to market. What is it child ? ” For a moment or two she hesitated ; then, throwing herself at his knees, she blurted out fiercely, “ He is a Bisclaveret! He told me so himself once, and I did not believe him ; but last night I found it out for certain ! ” “A Bisclaveret! who, child, who?” exclaimed the astonished old man. ‘ ‘ Who ? why, he ! —he of course ! Yvon ! ” Although bonpapa was of a generally placid disposition and somewhat rheumatic, the suddenness of this announcement was too much for him, and he bounced out of his arm-chair like a jackin the box, nearly upsetting himself in breaking loose from Annet’te. Had he been a German, he would probably have sat still, and said, “Zoooooooooo! Zoooooooooo!” and given vent to his phlegmatic feelings after a long brown study over his china pipe. But bonpapa, my children, was a Breton and a Frenchman, and, dashing his favorite brilre pipe on the ground, he danced round the kneeling Annette, alternately swearing and crossing himself. At last broken sentences began to form themselves out of the torrent of expletives. “A Bisclaveret! married to my daughter ! Ah, cochon ! —and no one to know it ! The omen of the marriage day ! Bad luck attend him!” etc. However, this strain could not be kept up long, and, sinking into a chair and picking up his pipe, he puffed furiously at it, seemingly unaware that the bowl had been broken by the fall. As soon as his excitement waned % little, curiosity took its place, and he conjured Annette, by her Patroness St. Anne, to tell him all about it; till the poor girl, creeping closer to him, began in a low, frightened voice : “ You remember, bonpapa, the omen of our marriage day foretold my death ; and I went sadly to bed on my marriage night. The next day, when I went to the spring, the bread was'there still, with little fishes tugging at it. Do what I would, I could not shake off the fear of that omen. “Yvon was kind and good to me, and I loved him ; but yet he seemed in some way connected with my fate. Another thing troubled me he would never tell me anything of his past life, except that he had come from Finisterre. “ One night, about a month after our marriage, I was surprised, on waking up at midnight not to find Yvon at my side. Some nights after that he was gone again; and a few nights after that ; and one morning, on asking him where he went at night, he colored up so, aud made such a clumsy excuse, and I decided to lie awake and find out how long and how often he was absent. “ At last I found‘‘out’ thatjevery other night he went about ten o’clock, and returned just before day. “Upon questioning him about his strange conduct, and intimating that he was losing his old affection for me, he laughed and said that I was the first love he had ever had, and that I would be the only one. ‘ But,’ added he, ‘ if you really want to know my secret, I am a Bisclaveret, and every other night I am condemned to spend in the woods. ’ “ Of course, I then thought this nothing but an excuse, and things went on as usual, except that once a fortnight he would take the donkey and be gone two days, always coming back with plenty of money—so much that I think we must have saved up a hundred louis. i “ You well know, bonpapa, that at this time of year, when they have cubs, the wolves howl more than at any other time. Well, about a fortnight ago there was a regular chorus of them to the northward of the chaumiere, and Yvon two or three times in the evening got up after listening anxiously, went to the door, and came back with a disturbed look on his face. “ It seemed to me so odd that Yvon, a mountaineer, who had been out at night three times a week for the last year, should be afraid of a wolf howl, that I determined to find out the reason. “About half an hour after we had gone to bed he leaned over me to see if I was asleep, - and when, as he thought, put on his clothes, and slipped out. The moon was young, but when I got to the door I could see him strike into the woods opposite, heading directly for the wolf howls. “ This brought to my mind his saying that he was a Bisclaveret, and when the same thing occurred the second night, and on the second from that again, I determined to follow him and find out th worst. ‘ ‘ I did so last Monday up into the pine woods, along a beaten trail starting from close the corner of the pasture, but which I had never noticed before. Just as we had got close to the wolf howls, by a great pine-tree and a ledge of rocks, I lost all trace of him, and, fearing the wolves, I hurried back again. Wednesday night I followed him only to lose him at the same spot ; but last night, by keeping closer to him, I know to my horror that he had spoken the truth, for on arriving at the ledge of rocks he stopped, lifted a large flat stone, and took something from under it, which, par Notre Dame d'Auray, were wolf-skin clothes. He put his own clothes in their place, and arrayed in the skins, started toward the wolves, to a broken part of the ledge of rocks overgrown with bushes. “Assoon as I could muster up courage, I hurried after him. “When I got through the thicket he had disappeared, and the wolves seemed to be galloping away through the forest; but as I scrambled up over the ledge, I was confronted by a wolf so enormous that I can only believe it to have been Yvon metamorphosed. “ I had just presence of mind to strike him on the head with a short ox-goad I brought with me, and then run down the rocks again, falling near the bottom and nearly stunning myself. But I sprang up and fled home, fearing every moment he would follow and pull me down. “ I meant to come on here, but I was in such terror of his catching me as I ran that, as the chaumiere seemed to afford me some protection, I rushed in, barred the door, and waited my fate. “About his usual time he came to the door and tried it—l was in a cold perspiration. At last he knocked. I could not answer, I was tongue-tied with fear. He began to swear at me, saying he knew I iv as in there, and that I had shut the door to spite him ; and after a long time, after making him swear by the Virgin he would not harm me, I let him in. “ I was nearly frightened to death when he came in, for no sooner was lie inside than, taking me by the shoulders and gnashing Ms-teeth at me like a wolf that he is, he told me that if ever I played him such a trick again he would kill me. “ This morning, as soon as I could, I ran down here. But, ah, my God, bonpapa, do not let me go back to the wolf ! He will kill me some day, I know he will; and the prophecy of the fountain will come true !” “So little was known of Yvon’s antecedents, he had always been so mysterious about them, that, putting this and sundry other little things together, coupled with Annette’s story, bonpapa could only arrive at the unpleasant conclusion that he had married his grand-daughter to a Bisclaveret, and that it might be as well for all concerned to put such a grandsan out of the way quietly, before some horrible catastrophe happened. Many were the plans which he formed for doing so ; but
they were all marred by Annette, who would neither consent to be the moans of Yvon’s death, or go back to the chaumiere: and the morning had nearly s’ippcd away ere bonpapa had half-coaxed, half-bullied her into helping him to follow out the one least objectionable to her. It was more than probable that Yvon, being out of temper with his wife, would go out again that very night, and, as it would be easy to follow him in the moonlight, the old man proposed to dog him to his wolf conference himself, and if he found it to be a fact, to take steps with the Curd of Corley for his regeneration or extirpation. To this Annette at first would not agree, as she would not consent to bonpapa’s risking his life alone with the Bisclaveret. Bonpapa to this urged strongly that he must go alone to save the scandal to the family, and would not take her for fear something might happen to her. But at last it was decided that both should go ; so towards evening Annette went back to the chaumiere as if nothing had happened ; and by dark bonpapa was ensconced in the edge of the woods, with the proverbial silver bullet in bis gun in case the Bisclaveret should discover him and show his wolf nature. Yvon's morning fit of anger had passed off, and though moody at times, he was kind and loving; so much that Annette began to repent of the night’s adventure before her. She could not help loving him in spite of all; but as evening grew on, fear came over her that he might any night return in his wolf’s form, that his savage nature might be aroused, and that the prophecy of the fountain might come true ; besides the scandal to the family if it were known that she had been married to neither man, beast, nor demon ! Pah ! she crossed herself at the fearful thought! The Cur£ would find come way of regenerating him, and he would not have *o be killed ; so that by the time Yvon slipped from the house, she was again nerved to follow out her quest, and, giving him a few minute’s law, she hurried out across the pasture, mottled with wide-eyed buttercups, and over the low rail and bank beyond, under whose shadow bonpapa awaited her, gun in hand. Bursting through a grove of birch and willow, they find the trail, and in a moment more Annette’s keen eye recognises Yvon’s figure ahead of them, now half lost in a dense thicket, now standing out grey in a moonlit glade against a bank of wood. Now they scramble down over mossclad rocks into a dark glen, where hazel branches arch over their heads, the brook tinkling . and simpering down through damp shaughs and coppices of alder, fringed and tufted round the roots with rank burcli grass. Up into the moonlight again, along a hill-side, in an air heavy with the smell of primroses and hyacinths. On either side the oak stems loom up gaunt and white, save where knotted veins of ivy creep up and round them, sucking their life blood. Anon they drop into a low vale where the spongy moss squeezes out its water from under their tread, and sighs as it takes its shape; once more, at the delicate asphodel, too crushed and bruised to rise again. A rabbit scuttles across their path, one ear slouched towards them, the other cocked at the great horned owl sweeping through the treetops. Cowering in the grass and ferns they watch Yvon’s tall figure top the earth bank, where he stands for a moment looking back over the trail, and, as Annette avers to honjMpa, straight into their hiding place. But a moment, and they hurry on again, as the chase is lost in the labyrinth of seedling pines, which usher in the forest, and whose sturdy branches swish their faces and limbs as they wind through them. But taller and taller grow the pines, freer and freer of lower branches, and at last, after a plunge into a dell of bracken higher than their heads, they emerge into the wildwoods, and a short yap, yap, with an answering howl, sails down tne wind, sighing through the pine branches overhead, to greet them on their way. Ghost-like glide the three figures through the dark stems among which gray boulders crop out mushroom-like through the warm carpet of fir-needles. Wearily tread the hunters in the scanty cover, twice nearly discovered by Yvon who had stopped to breathe a moment in the ascent, for excitement had so kept up Annette and the old man that neither felt fatigue ; and as the hunted presses on again, they slip from behind their sheltering trees, and creep after him like a pair of panthers, while louder and clearer down the breeze sweep the wolf howls. On the crest of a long chine, overlooking a gully, Annette clutches the old man’s arm, and drags him behind a tree. “ There ! there it is ! across in the moonlight. There is the stone ! Let us wait here.” Slowly Yvon climbs the further slope, and appears in a little cove bathed in moonlight against a ledge of rocks, there rising abruptly some thirty feet, but which a few yards on was a broken slope overgrown with shrubs and bushes. Breathless they watch him don the fatal skins and glide into the thicket toward the wolves, now quite close. (to be continued.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 123, 8 July 1880
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