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The Piper

Source: Breton Legends

The sea-breeze blew from the shore of the Black Water, and the stars
were rising. The young maidens had gone homewards to the little farms,
carrying on their fingers the metal rings their friends had bought
them at the fair. The youths went across the common, singing their
songs. At last their sonorous voices could no more be heard; the
light dresses of the damsels were no longer to be seen; it was night.

Nevertheless, here was Lao, with a merry company, at the entrance of
the lonely heath,--Lao, the celebrated piper, come expressly from the
mountains to lead the dance at the fair of Armor. His face was as red
as a March moon, his black locks floated as they would upon the wind,
and he held under his arm the pipe whose magic sounds had even set
in motion a number of old women in their sabots. When they came to
the cross-road of the Warning, where there rises the granite cross
all overgrown with moss, the women stopped, and said,

"Let us take the pathway leading towards the sea."

Master Lao pointed out the belfry-tower of Plougean over the hill,
and said,

"That is the point we are making for; why not go across the heath?"

The women answered,

"Because there rises a city of Korigans, Lao, in the middle of that
heath; and one must be pure from sin to pass it without danger."

But Lao laughed aloud.

"By heaven!" said he, "I have travelled by night-time all these roads,
yet I have never seen your little black men counting their money by
moonlight, as they tell us at the chimney-corner. Show me the road
leading to the Korigan city, and I will go and sing to them the days
of the week."

But the women all exclaimed,

"Don't tempt God, Lao. God has put some things in this world of which
it is better to be ignorant, and others which we ought to fear. Leave
the Korigans alone to dance about their granite dwellings."

"To dance!" cried Lao. "Then the Korigans have pipers too?"

"They have the whistling of the wind across the heath, and the singing
of the night-bird."

"Well, then," said the mountaineer, "I am determined that to-day at
least they shall have Christian music. I will go across the common
playing some of my best Cornouaille airs."

So saying, he put his pipe to his lips, and striking up a cheerful
strain, he set off boldly on the little footway that stretched like
a white line across the gloomy heath.

The women, terrified, made the sign of the cross, and hurried down
the hill.

But Lao walked straight on without fear, and played meanwhile upon
his pipes. As he advanced, his heart grew bolder, his breath more
powerful, and the music louder. Already had he crossed just half the
common, when he saw the Menhir rising like a phantom in the night,
and further on, the dwellings of the Korigans.

Then he seemed to hear an ever-rising murmur. At first it was like
the trickling of a rill, then like the rushing of a river, and then
the roaring of the sea; and different sounds were mingled in this
roar,--sometimes like stifled laughs, then furious hissing, the
mutterings of low voices, and the rush of steps upon the withered

Lao began to breathe less freely, and his restless eyes glanced right
and left over the common. It was as if the tufts of heath were moving,
all seemed alive and whirling in the gloom, all took the form of
hideous dwarfs, and voices were distinctly heard. Suddenly the moon
rose, and Lao cried aloud.

To left, to right, behind, before, every where, far as the eye could
reach, the common was alive with running Korigans. Lao, bewildered,
drew back to the Menhir, against which he leant; but the Korigans
saw him, and came round with cries like those of grasshoppers.

"It is the famous piper of Cornouaille come hither to play for the

Lao made the sign of the cross; but all the little men surrounded him,
and shrieked,

"Thou belongest to us, Lao. Pipe then, thou famous piper, and lead
the dance of the Korigans."

Lao in vain resisted, some magic power mastered him; he felt the pipe
approach his lips; he played, he danced, in spite of himself. The
Korigans surrounded him with circling bands, and every time he would
have paused they cried in chorus,

"Pipe, famous piper, pipe, and lead the dance of the Korigans."

Lao went on thus the whole night; but as the stars grew paler in
the sky, the music of his pipes waxed fainter, his feet had greater
difficulty in moving from the ground. At last the dawn of day spread
palely in the east, the cocks were heard crowing in the distant farms,
and the Korigans disappeared.

Then the mountain piper sunk down breathless at the foot of the
Menhir. The mouth-piece of his pipes fell from his shrivelled lips,
his arms dropped upon his knees, his head upon his breast, to rise
no more; and voices murmured in the air,

"Sleep, famous piper! thou hast led the dance of the Korigans; thou
shalt never lead the dance for Christians more."

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