Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Artful Beggar

Another of Lilias Erskine's "Breton Stories", the Folk-Tales and Legends of Brittany which she translated in 1932.

This story mentions "The Red Monks". Who were the "Red Monks"? This was the Breton term for the Knights Templars, so called because of the red cross on their garments. In Bradshaw's hand-book to Brittany (1899), we read that:

half an hour from St. Cado there are seven dolmens in ruins scattered about their neighbourhood; also close to the 'shore' (by the road side) is a very remarkable monument on which is incised the cross of the Knights Templars; which is believed to have been one of their landmarks. There is a similarly marked stone on the opposite boundary of the Commune. They formerly had a convent here of red monks. It Is also a memorial of a battle fought in the ninth century between the Bretons and the Normans, the former being commanded by a Norman Princess named Prostlon.

James Miln also has a note of traditions in his archeology paper on "Notice of the discovery of two ancient towns in Brittany, one of the Gallo-roman, and the other probably of an earlier period." Here he notes that:

Tradition.-Traditions are the echoes of forgotten events, and one might expect that some tradition would have remained of the ancient town of the Boceno. The plague, however, which ravaged Europe in the sixth century, and which swept away whole communes in Brittany, must have blotted out many histories. The tradition generally current at Carnac about the Boceno is that the Templars (" the red monks ") had a convent there, that they were massacred, and that their houses were burned on the same night on account of their impiety. The Abbe Collet states that the Templars never had a convent in the Canton of Quiberon. The place bears an evil reputation to this day, and children are warned to return home early or beware of the ghosts of the Boceno.

This is perhaps why the peasants were fearful about buried treasure and what ghostly revenants might be protecting it in this story, in which the artful beggar takes advantage of their superstitious fears.....

The Artful Beggar

In the village of Cloncarnac there are many buried treasures, and the peasants are always expecting to find some new wonder. An Englishman who had been staying there had dug up many wonderful things, and so their interest and belief were not without foundation.

The convent of the Red Monks had been discovered deeply buried in the earth, and with the help of other diggers the Englishman had brought it once more into the light.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the peasants were full of innocent belief, when a beggar arrived at the village and said that he knew of more treasure.

" I must lodge with one of you," he said, " and every night we will go down to the marshes of Bossenno and hunt for treasure." He declared that they must go out with him nightly without speaking-the smallest noise would
frighten the treasure spirits away. The moment a sound was heard, the beggar said that the spell was broken and they must all return home.

One evening an owl perched himself on some stones near the treasure-seekers.

" Run for your lives cried the beggar. " We are discovered..."

He then said that they must not go out again for several evenings, so as to put the owl off their scent. And all the time he was being comfortably housed in one of the peasants' houses,  with free food and drink and a feather bed !

Seeing one day that the villagers were growing restive, he told them that the right evening was come at last.

" Arm yourselves with spades," said he, " and bring some sacks to carry the treasure away in."

That evening they all repaired to the ground where they had sought for treasure before, but as soon as they arrived and laid down their sacks, the owl flew out of a tree and settled on some stones near by.

" Alas ! " cried the beggar sorrowfully, " all hope is over. The owl has shown us that he is the guardian of this treasure, and we may no longer hunt for it."

With that he shouldered his spade and turned back towards the village. The villagers followed him sadly, without saying a word. But the artful beggar did not remain in the village for long ! Fearing the wrath of the peasants when they discovered his trick, he packed up a small bundle and left early the next morning, before the crow of the first cock to awake !

And, for all we know, he is still lodging with other trustful peasants and carrying out Treasure Hunts in their villages !

No comments: