The Witch Dancer's Doom, A Breton Legend
LONG, long ago, in the days of good King Arthur,
Count Morriss dwelt in the old ch‚teau of La
Roche Morice, near Landerneau, in Brittany.
With him lived his beautiful niece, Katel. Although
charming in face and figure, this maiden had a somewhat
uncanny reputation. For it was said—and with
reason—that she was a witch.
The Count had often urged Katel to marry, but in
vain. The lady had no mind to lose her freedom.
Dancing was the one passion of her life. "When," said
she, "I can find a knight who shall be able to dance
continuously with me for twelve hours, with no break,
to him I promise to give my hand!"
This scornful challenge was proclaimed by heralds in
every neighbouring town and hamlet. In response came
many wooers to attempt the impossible task. Those
whom Katel favoured she made her partners at the
rustic fÍtes and open-air dances which were then in
vogue. In the soft-swarded meadows, by sunlight or
starlight, the dancers would meet, and, to the dreamy
music of the pipes, eager couples would whirl until the
hills around began to blush in the light of the early
dawn. The wildest, giddiest, yet most graceful of the
throng was Katel, who danced madly on until one by
one her partners sank fainting upon the ground, and
death released them from the heartless sorceress who had
lured them into her toils.
Thus perished many suitors, until the cruel maiden
became an object of general hatred and horror. When
her doings came to the ears of the Count, he sternly
forbade her to attend any more of the dances. In
order to enforce her obedience, he shut her up in a
tower, where, said he, she was to remain until she should
choose a husband from among such suitors as still persisted
in offering her marriage.
Now, Katel had a wizened little page, no bigger than
a leveret, and as black as a raven's wing. This creature
she summoned to her one morning before dawn, and,
with her finger at her lips, she said to him: "Be swift
and silent! My uncle still slumbers. Get thee gone by
the ladder, and his thee to the castle of SalaŁn, who is
waiting for a message from her he loves. The guards
will allow thee to pass; take horse, ride like the wind,
and tell SalaŁn that Katel calls him to deliver her
from this tower before the day dawns."
The infatuated young knight obeyed the summons
immediately. In an hour's time he was assisting the
lady to mount his horse, after having got her in safety
down the rope-ladder. As, from the window of the
donjon, the dwarf watched them ride away, he chuckled
"Ha! ha! And so they are off to the great ball
held to-day in the Martyrs' Meadow! Ah, my dear
SalaŁn! before another sun shall rise your death-knell
will be tolled!"
When Katel and her gallant cavalier arrived at the
Martyrs' Meadow, they excited general surprise and
admiration. Some, however, shook their heads forebodingly,
as they heard that SalaŁn, now Katel's
affianced lover, was to be her partner, for they knew
that the brave young knight must needs fall a victim
to her spell.
The ball began. Some of the most skilful pipers in
the land had been engaged for the occasion, and they
played gavottes, rondes, courantes, and many other
dances, without intermission. But Katel waited until
night came and the torches were lit. Then she took
SalaŁn's hand and they began to dance together.
"Round again! Once more! Ha! ha!" laughed the
witch-maiden, as they spun along. "What! are you
tired already? Do you give in so soon as this?"
"Never—while I am with you!" was the fervent
reply. The fatal spell had begun to work.
Thus on they whirled, yet more swiftly than before,
so that the other dancers stood aside to watch them.
After a time, however, Katel observed that her partner
was gradually becoming weaker, and that he would soon
be unable to keep pace with her.
"Courage!" exclaimed she, in a bantering tone.
"We cannot stop yet; it wants but a very short time
to midnight, and then I shall be yours!"
SalaŁn, although almost exhausted, strained every
nerve and muscle in a frantic, final effort to continue the
dance. Round the field they flew, at lightning speed;
but it was for the last time. The knight's knees shook—his
breath came more quickly—then with difficulty
he gasped out the words:
"Oh, Katel! have mercy! I can do no more! Katel,
my love, have I not won you yet?"
But as he sank lifeless upon the grass Katel turned
coldly away. His fate was nothing to her. At that
moment the clock in a neighbouring tower struck
twelve. All the lights flickered and expired; darkness
reigned supreme. And through the darkness, shrilling
high above every other sound, rang the mocking laugh
of the impish dwarf.
"What!" exclaimed Katel derisively, glancing angrily
at the worn-out pipers, who had at last paused in their
wild music, "exhausted already by such slight exertions?
I wish the Evil One would send me some musicians
and dancers worthy of me! Of what use are these
miserable, puny creatures?"
As she uttered the words, stamping her foot in her
fury, a weird, red light gleamed in the sky; there was
a terrible peal of thunder, and a strange stir in the trees.
Then suddenly, in the centre of the field, appeared two
phantom forms, at the sight of whom the panic-stricken
by-standers would fain have fled. To their horror,
however, they found flight impossible; they were rooted
to the spot!
One of the phantoms was attired in a red garment,
covered with a black cloak. Beneath his arm he held
a large double pipe, coiled around which were five
hissing, writhing serpents. The other stranger, who was
exceedingly tall, was dressed in a tightly fitting black
suit, and heavy, red mantle, while upon his head waved
an imposing tuft of vultures' plumes.
The ghostly piper began at once to play an unearthly
dance-tune, so wild and maddening that it made all the
hearers tremble. His tall, grim companion seized Katel
by the waist, and the couple whirled round to the mad
measure, which grew ever faster and more furious. In
an instant the torches were relit. A few others joined
in the dance; not for long, however. Katel and her
phantom were soon the only dancers. Shriller still
shrieked the pipes, faster yet grew the music, more and
more swiftly spun the feet. Ere long the witch-maiden
felt that her strength was deserting her; the torches
swam before her eyes, and, in the last extremity of
terror, she struggled to release herself from the iron grip
which held her so relentlessly.
"What! so soon tired?" cried the spectre, jeering at
her. "Do you give in so soon as this? Come! round
once more! Ha! ha!"
Thus was Katel treated as she had treated others.
She had no breath left wherewith to answer; her last
hour had come. She made one more wild, despairing
bound, then fell to the ground in the throes of death.
At the same moment, the phantoms vanished. There
was a vivid lightning-blaze, a terrific crash of thunder;
then fell black darkness hiding everything. A tempestuous
wind arose, and rain fell in torrents.
When the storm had cleared, and the morning sun
shone out, those who found courage to visit the spot
beheld the forms of Katel and her lover SalaŁn lying
dead upon the shrivelled turf.
Ever since that time, the spot has been shunned by
all, and still, by their firesides on the winter nights, the
peasants tell the tale of Katel, the witch-dancer, and her