Tuesday, 28 December 2010


Christmas is traditionally a time for ghost stories. Here from Brittany, translated in her "Breton Stories" (1932 and alas, long out of print) by Lillias Eskine is a ghost story with a comic twist, in which two different stories come together, the peasant and the ghost. Have you ever seen a grey ghost when out walking like the shadowy figure of Piniec?

Piniec: A Tale of Brittany

One evening a young peasant was working in his field by moonlight. He was a very thrifty young man and most eager to make his farm a great success. Having been unable to finish his work by daylight, he was continuing by the light of the moon. The wind whispered and murmured in the pine trees near by, owls hooted and the young man put his plants into the ground with as much speed as he could...

Suddenly from among the pine trees a figure appeared : a tall grey figure with long clinging draperies. The peasant felt his hair rising on end and his blood froze but he endeavoured to be brave and faced the grey figure, waiting for it to speak. As it did not move, the peasant tried to imagine that he had seen nothing and went on with his planting. But at that the figure moved and advanced towards him. Throwing down his tools, he turned and ran. A thousand hobgoblins might have been chasing him, so fast did he run, and never drew breath till he reached his own house. He looked then towards the woods ; the figure was still visible, but had turned round and was walking away amongst the pine trees.

His family were celebrating a fete that evening and long tables had been laid in the stables. Soup and chickens and honey cakes, with jugs of cider, were spread out and all the neighbours had assembled to make merry. . The young man ran into their midst crying out that he had seen the grey man of the woods. .

Everyone circled round him and he was asked to tell his story so many times over, that by the end of the evening he felt a real hero ! The next day the news had spread all over the village. Even the Cure and the Holy Sisters came to see him.

"Tell us the colour of his clothes," they asked.

" Grey ! " said he.

" Ah ! " they all exclaimed. " That is surely Piniec whom we have always heard of in those woods."

Two years later the young peasant went into the neighbouring town, and feeling thirsty, he went to an inn and ordered some cider. . A tall man approached him, and laying a hand on his shoulder said : "How long is it-my friend-since you saw Piniec ? "

" What ! the grey ghost ? " asked the peasant.

" It is two years now since I saw him."

" Well ! for a glass of wine, I will tell you some more about him," said the tall man.

" Gladly will I give you the wine," answered the peasant, and they sat down together at a small table.

" Two years ago," began the man, " I was in need of a Christmas tree for my children. But I could not afford to buy one. In the wood near your land there were many fir trees and I had settled to go by night and dig up one of these. Alas ! when I arrived with my spade, I found you working in your field. . What could I do to frighten you away ? Wrapping my grey cloak over my head, I advanced towards you, and to my great surprise you were immediately scared away ! I dug up my tree and returned home unmolested while you flew homewards and became the hero of the village ! "

Both men laughed heartily over the success of the joke but they both kept the secret very close, and for all I know the peasants still think that Piniec had been seen in their woods.

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