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Tales From Gallia

Western Europe



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The White Inn








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This volume, Tales From Gallia covers stories originating in France. French, or Gallic, folklore encompasses the fables, folklore, fairy tales and legends of the French speaking people and their ancestors.

Traditions of storytelling have a long and distinguished history, and in the Gallic tradition we can date back at least as far as Occitan literature in the Middle Ages. Occitan examples often include songs, poetry and literature from the South of France from the 11th and 12th centuries, much of which inspired vernacular literature throughout medieval Europe.

These early recorded songs and poetry reached their highest development in the 12th century and included the well-known Songs of the Troubadours. The songs, poetry and narratives of the troubadours, who were composers and performers travelling across the European continent during the High Middle Ages, flourished from the 11th century and spread throughout Europe from Southern France. Their songs dealt mainly with themes of chivalry and courtly love.

Songs of the Trouvère are songs and poetry that stemmed from poet-composers who were roughly contemporary with and influenced by the troubadours but who composed their works in the northern dialects of France.

A second form of legend in France during the Middle Ages was epic poetry, partly historical and partly legend with themes covering the formation of France, war, kingship, and important battles. This genre was known as chansons de geste which is Old French for "songs of heroic deeds." Pieces in this oeuvre are also often referred to as the epics of the Matter of France. Chanson de geste or Matter of France works were part history and part legendary heroic epic tales of Charlemagne and the history and founding of France by the Franks.

Another folkloric medium in the Middle Ages were fables, mock epics and animal folk tales, notably tales such as Reynard Le Roman de Renart by Perrout de Saint Cloude from the late eighteenth century.

French fairy tales are particularly known by their literary rather than their folk, oral variants. Charles Perrault derived almost all his tales from folk sources, but rewrote them for an upper-class audience, removing some of the more rustic elements.

In this collection we have tales collected by Andrew Lang, Charles Perrault, Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, Comtesse de Sophie Ségur, Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d'Aulnoy, Katharine Pyle and Edmund Dulac, some of the finest collectors working from the seventeenth century onwards.


The White Inn

Once upon a time there was an inn at Ponyou, known, from its appearance, as the White Inn. The people who kept it were both good and honest. They were known to be punctual at their Easter duties, and no one ever thought of counting money after them.

It was at the White Inn that travellers would stop to sleep, and horses knew the place so well, that they would draw up of their own accord before the stable-door.

The headsman of the harvest had brought in short gloomy days, and one evening, as Floc'h the landlord was standing at the White-Inn door, a traveller, evidently of importance, and mounted on a splendid foreign steed, reined up his horse, and lifting his hand to his hat, said courteously, "I want a supper and a bed-chamber."

Floc'h drew first his pipe from his mouth, and then his hat from his head, and answered, "God bless you, sir. A supper you shall have, but as to a room, we cannot give it you, for we have now above, six muleteers on their way home to Redon, who have taken all the beds of the White Inn."

The traveller then said, "For God's sake, my good man, contrive for me to sleep somewhere. The very dogs have a kennel, and it is not fitting that Christians be without a bed in such weather as this."

"Sir stranger," said the host remorsefully, "I can only tell you that the inn is full, and we have no place for you but the red room."

"Well, give me that," replied the stranger.

But the landlord rubbed his forehead and looked grieved, for he could not let the traveller sleep in the red chamber.

"Since I have been at the White Inn," said he at last, "only two men have ever occupied that room, and on the morrow, black as had been their hair the night before, they rose with it snow-white."

The traveller looked full at the landlord.

"Then your house is haunted by the spirits from another world?" asked he.

"It is," faltered the landlord.

"Then God and the Blessed Virgin be merciful to me. I will sleep there, but make me a fire, and warm my bed, for I am cold."

The landlord did as he was ordered.

When the traveller had finished supper, he bade good night to all at table, and went up to the red chamber. The landlord and his wife trembled, and began to pray.

The stranger having reached his room began to look about him. It was a large flame-coloured chamber, with great shining stains upon the walls, that might well have been taken for the marks of fresh-spilt blood. At the further end there stood a four-post bed, surrounded by heavy curtains. The rest of the room was empty, and the mournful whistling of the wind came down the chimney and the corridors, and sounded like the cries of souls beseeching prayers.

The traveller, kneeling down, prayed silently to God, then fearlessly got into bed, and soon slept soundly.

But at the very moment when the hour of midnight sounded from a distant church-tower, he suddenly awoke, heard the curtain-rings sliding on their iron poles, and beheld them open at his right hand.

He was going to get out of bed, but his feet striking against something cold, he recoiled in terror.

There stood before him a coffin, with four lighted candles at the corners, and covered with a great black pall that glittered as with tears.

The stranger turned to try the other side of his bed, but the coffin instantly changed places, and barred his way out as before.

Five times he made an effort to escape, and every time the bier was there beneath his feet, with the candles and the funeral pall.

The traveller then knew it was a ghost, who had some boon to ask, and kneeling up in bed, he made the holy sign, and spoke, "Who are you, departed one? Speak. A Christian listens to you."

A voice answered from the coffin, "I am a traveller murdered here by those who kept this inn before its present owner. I died unprepared, and now I suffer in Purgatory."

"What needs there, suffering soul, to give you rest?"

"I want six Masses said at the church of our Lady of Folgoat, and also a pilgrimage made for my intention by some Christian to our Lady of Rumengol."

No sooner had these words been uttered than the lights went out, the curtains closed, and all was silence.

The stranger spent the night in prayer.

The next morning he told the landlord everything, and said, "My good friend, I am Monsieur de Rohan, of family as noble as the noblest now in Brittany. I will go and make the pilgrimage to Rumengol, and I will see that the six Masses shall be said. Trouble yourself no more, for this suffering soul shall rest in peace."

Within the short space of one month the red room had lost its crimson hue, and become white and cheerful as the others. No sound was heard there but the swallows twittering in the chimney, and nothing could be seen but a fair white bed, a crucifix, and a vessel of holy water.

The traveller had kept his word.

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