A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter III: Rose Marie and the Poupican." by Lilian Gask (1865-).
Publication: Gask, Lilian (1865-) The Fairies and the Christmas Child. Illustrated by Willy Pogány (1882-1955). London: Harrap & Co., n.d. [First published 1912] pp. 45-66.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Chapter III
Rose Marie and the Poupican.

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It was spring time when we left for Brittany. Father had been there once with Mother, and thought he would like to go again. So I said goodbye to my Flower-Fairy, and promised that if I could I would come back one day to see her.

The sunny air of the south had done Father good, and now he was almost well. While we were in the train he read from the guide book, and told me about curious "dolmens," or mounds of stone, which are supposed to have been built to mark the ancients' burying places. There were hundreds of these in Brittany, he said, and I was glad, for I knew they were haunted by "Gorics" and "Courils"–strange Fairies of olden times.

That very first evening, while Father was writing letters, I slipped away by myself instead of going to bed, for I wanted to see a Poupican. A Poupican, you must know, is the dwarf-child of a Korrigan–a Fairy who looks lovely by night and horrible by day, and cares for nothing so that she gets what she wants. Korrigans are said to have been princesses in days gone by, but they were so cruel and selfish that someone laid them under a spell, which lasts for thousands of years unless a mortal breaks it. On account of the wicked things they said their mouths are always dry, and they are consumed by thirst; so they chose their homes by streams and fountains, of which there are many in Brittany.

Father had been telling me that there was a famous fountain in a wood not far from our hotel, and I thought I might find them here. The fountain was hidden behind a grove of fir-trees, but the moon shone down on its rough grey stones, and turned the square pond of water in front of it into a silver mirror.

At first there seemed to be no one there, but when my eyes had grown used to the gloom I saw a number of Elves about two feet in height, with misty white veils wound round their bodies. A cloth was spread beside the fountain. It was covered with the loveliest things to eat–honey and fruit, and queer-shaped cakes sprinkled with sugar comfits–while in the centre stood a crystal goblet, from which the moon drew flashes of soft fairy light. As I crouched in the ferns, a wee green Wood-Elf stole up behind me; her tiny face was good and kind, and although she was so small that I could almost have held her in my hand, I felt she was there to protect me.

Then I turned my eyes to the crystal goblet and I grew thirsty all at once; and I wondered what the Korrigans would do if I took a sip of the amber wine which filled it to the brim.

"One drop would make you wise for ever," whispered the Wood-Elf, just as if I had spoken, "but you would be silent for ever, also. No mortal can drink that wine and live. The Korrigans pass it round to each other in a golden cup at the end of their feast, which takes place but once in the year. It gives them power to work many charms, and to take the form of animals at will.

The Hunter who shot the white Doe.

"Once, in these very woods, a hunter shot a fair white doe, when to his amazement, she spoke to him in a human voice. He was so touched by her reproaches that he tore his fine linen shirt into strips to bind up her wound, and then hurried off to the spring for water to quench her thirst. It was dusk by the time he could get back to her, for the first spring he reached was dry, and instead of the milk-white doe, he found a beauteous maiden, who threw herself on his bosom and entreated him not to leave her. For a year and a day he was under her spells, but he escaped in the end by making the sign of the cross with his two forefingers. This sign puts a Korrigan to instant flight, for things which are holy fill them with terror.... Ah! they have been at their mischief again. Poor Annette will weep for this."

The Wood-Elf stopped speaking, for running lightly over the grass, holding each other's long white veils so as to form a swinging cradle, came a group of nine smooth-limbed Korrigans, their red-gold hair tossing on the wind behind them. In the midst of the hanging cradle lay a tiny baby, with widely opened eyes and a solemn pink face, sucking a fat round thumb.

"They have stolen him from his mother, while she dreamt of fairy gold," the Wood-Elf sighed. "She should not have left her door on the latch; it was a sad mistake. In her little one's place there is now a Poupican. At first she will not know, but will fondle and kiss the changeling as if he were her own. After a while she will grieve to find that he gives her no love in return for hers, and plays as readily with strangers as with his mother. But her husband, who is a hard man, will rejoice at the wee child's cleverness. For he will have an old head on young shoulders, and be wise beyond his years."

While the Wood-Elf was speaking, poor Annette's baby lay contentedly beside the crystal goblet, sucking his thumb and looking up at the stars. The Korrigans had left off singing now, and they were passing round the golden cup when there came on the wind the sound of a church bell. Flinging the cup and the goblet into the pond, and staying only to wind the baby in their clinging veils, the Korrigans fled into the darkness with cries of anguish. Some spell seemed to hold me, or I should have tried to rescue the little thing; for it was dreadful to think what might happen to him with the Korrigans.

But the Wood-Elf was quite comforting. "He will be well taken care of," she said, "and someday Annette may break the spell, with the help of the Curé. Rose-Marie got back her child by her own wit, but then she has the name of the blessed Mother. 'You would like to know how?' Then I must speak softly, lest a Korrigan should hear."

Rose-Marie and the Poupican.

"Rose-Marie was very young when she married Pierre," began the Elf, "and nothing his mother or hers could say would induce her to beware of Korrigans when her baby came.

'They would not hurt him even if they could,' she cried. 'Who could harm anything so small and sweet?' And she actually set his cradle under the cherry trees, so that his round pink face was covered with fallen petals. Then she went to fetch Pierre from his sowing that he might see how his little son was hidden under the spring snow, and lingered on her way to gather a cluster of purple violets.

When she had disappeared, the Korrigans stole her baby, leaving a Poupican in the fragrant nest. The sun had gone in when she came back, and the little creature was wailing fretfully, Rose-Marie snatched him to her bosom and tried to soothe him, but from that day forward she had no rest. Her milk was sweet and plentiful, and the cradle was soft and warm, but he gave neither her nor her good man Pierre a moment's peace. All through the hours of the night he wailed, and tore at her hair when she held him close to her, scratching her face like an angry kitten.

Rose-Marie and the Poupican
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When he grew older, he was just as bad, for there was no end to his mischief. He shut the cat in a bin of flour, and opened the oven door when Rose-Marie was baking, so that the bread was spoilt. He drove the hens into the brook, and cut the cord which tethered Pierre's white cow, so that she roamed for miles. And with all he did, he never uttered a word. It was this which first roused Rose-Marie's suspicions, and after that she watched him carefully.

One morning she made up her mind to surprise him into speaking, and as he sat beside the hearth, peering at her through his half-closed eyes, she set an egg shell on the fire, and placing in this a spoonful of broth, stirred it carefully with a silver pin. The Poupican was amazed, for it was nearing the dinner hour, and there would be ten to feed. At last he could contain himself no longer.

'What are you doing, Mother?' he asked in a strange cracked voice.

'I am preparing a meal for ten,' returned Rose-Marie, without looking round.

'For ten–in an eggshell?' he cried. 'I have seen an egg before a hen; I have seen the acorn before the oak; but never yet saw I folly such as this!' And he fell to cackling like a full farmyard, rocking himself from side to side, and repeating, 'Such folly I never saw!' until even gentle Rose-Marie was moved to anger.

'Yon have seen too much, my son,' she said, and lifting him up by the scruff of his neck in spite of his struggles, she carried him out of the house. Then, sitting down on a heap of stones beside the brook, she proceeded to whip him soundly. At his first cry of pain a Korrigan appeared, in the shape of an ugly old woman with bleared red eyes and straggling tresses. She was leading a curly-haired boy by the hand, the living image of Pierre. As she released him he flew across the grass to Rose-Marie and hid his face in her skirts.

'Here is thy son!' croaked the Korrigan. 'I have fed him on meal and honey, and he has learnt no evil. Give me my Poupican, and I will go.'

So Rose-Marie gave up the Poupican, and with a thankful heart took her own son home."

"Do you know any more stories?" I asked when the Elf stopped for breath. I didn't want to go back just yet, for it was jolly in the wood, and I could smell violets close by.

"More than I can tell," replied the Elf, "but you shall hear what happened to Peric and Jean."

The Story of Peric and Jean.

"In a beautiful valley not far from here a number of Korrigans were accustomed to gather on summer nights, for the grass was soft as velvet, and the mountains sheltered it from the breeze. None of the peasants dare cross the valley after dark, lest they might be forced to join their revels; for it was known by all that the Korrigans must dance whether they would or not, until some mortal should break the charm that had been laid upon them.

One evening, when the west was aglow with fire, a farmer was sent for to attend the sick bed of his mother, who lived on the other side of the valley. His wife and he had been at work all day in the fields, since labour was scarce and they were poor, and as both loved the old woman dearly, they hurried off without stopping to lay aside their fourches–little sticks which are still used in some parts of Brittany as 'plough paddles.' By the time they were half-way across the valley, the dusk had fallen, and they found themselves encircled by angry Korrigans, who shrieked with rage and made as if they would tear them to pieces. Before they had touched them, however, they all fell back, and a moment later broke into singing. This was their song:

'Les y, Lez hon,
   (Let him go, let him go,)
Bas an arer zo gant hook;
   (For he has the wand of the plough;)
Lez on, Lez y,
   (Let her go, let her go,)
Bas an arer zo gant y!'
   (For she has the wand of the plough!)

Then the dancers made way for the farmer and his wife, who reached the old mother safely, and comforted her last hours.

When they returned to their own homes they told what they had seen and heard. Some of the villagers were still too much afraid of the Korrigans to venture, but others armed themselves with fourches, and hastened to the valley when night had fallen. All of these witnessed the famous dance, but none felt inclined to join it.

In a neighbouring village two tailors dwelt, and they were as anxious as the rest to see the Korrigans. The elder was a tall and handsome fellow named Jean, but in spite of his inches he had no pluck, and was idle as well as vain. The other was Peric, a red-haired hunchback, so kind and lovable in spite of his looks that if ever a neighbour were in trouble, it was to Peric he went first. Though the hunchback and Jean shared the same business, the latter was always gibing at Peric, and left him to do most of the work.

'Since you're so courageous,' he sneered, one fine warm night when he and Peric had stayed behind in the valley to watch the Korrigans, 'suppose you ask them to let you join their dance. Your hump should make you safe with them, for they are not likely to fall in love with you.'

'All right,' said Peric cheerfully, though at this unkind reference to his deformity his face had flushed. And taking off his cap he approached the whirling Elves.

'May I dance with you?' he asked politely, dropping his fourche to show he trusted them.

'You're more brave than good looking,' they replied, their feet still moving to the same quick measure. 'Are you not afraid that we shall work you ill? '

'Not a bit!' answered Peric, joining hands with them; and he started to sing as lustily as they:

'Dilun, Dimeurs, Dimerc'her,'
which means 'Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.' After a while he grew tired of singing these three words so often, and went on of his own accord:
'Ha Diriaou, ha Digwener,'
   (And Thursday and Friday!)

'Mat! Mat!' (Good! Good!) cried the Korrigans in chorus, and though he could not tell why they were so delighted, he was glad to have given them pleasure. When they offered him the choice of wealth or power in return for some mysterious service which he seemed to have rendered them, he only laughed, for he thought that they were poking fun at him.

'Take away my hump, then,' he cried at last, 'and make me as handsome as my friend Jean. A little maid whom I love dearly will not look at me when he is near, though she likes well enough to talk to me by the fountain if he is out of the way.'

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'Is that all?' exclaimed the Korrigans. 'That will not give us the slightest trouble!' and catching him in their veils, they tossed him three times in the air. The third time he alighted on his feet. He was now as tall and straight as he could wish to be, with fine soft hair as black as the raven's wing.

Instead of rejoicing at his friend's good fortune, .Jean was full of envy. Forgetting his fears in his greed for gain, he pushed himself into the midst of the Korrigans, who had once more begun to dance, and joined them in their singing. His voice was less melodious than Peric's, and he did not keep time so well, but they suffered him amongst them out of curiosity.

Presently he, like Peric, grew tired of the monotonous chant, and shouted:

'Ha Disadarn, ha Disul'
(And Saturday and Sunday)

'What else? what else?' cried the Korrigans in great excitement, but he only looked as stupid as an owl, and repeated these words over and over. Catching him in their veils, they tossed him up as they had done Peric, and when he came down again he found he had red hair and a hump. They were angry you see, that he had come so near to breaking the spell and had then disappointed them, for if he had only had the sense to add:

'Ha cetu chu er sizun,'
(And now the week is ended)
he would have broken the spell and set them free, since Peric had already sung 'And Saturday and Sunday.'"


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom