The Mid-day Rock by J. Jarry
ONCE upon a time there was a poor man, who
lived somewhere in the middle of the woods near
a place called Gâtines de Treigny. Everybody
called him Father Rameau. Not that he had any children—he
had not even ever been married; nor that he was
very old, for he was barely fifty; but he had always had
such a hard time of it that his hair had grown grey very
early, and his back had been bent and bowed long before
He was generally to be seen toiling along under a
big bundle of brooms, which he made with the greatest
skill from young birch branches, selling them on market
days to the housewives of Saint-Amand or Saint-Sauveur.
Father Rameau was not ambitious, far from it; if he
had been alone in the world, without relations depending
on him, he would have been quite content to live on
black bread every day of the week, with an occasional
glass of wine from the charitable folk of the neighbourhood.
But Father Rameau had a younger sister married to a
vine-dresser of Perreuse, and he was god-father to their daughter; she was just growing up into a woman, and
was so pretty and modest and intelligent, that every
one had a good word for her, and now she was engaged
to be married to a young man called George, a capital
worker, but without a penny in the world. The wedding
was to take place as soon as she was twenty; and they
had given each other engagement rings—common leaden
rings, bought from one of the pedlars who visit the hamlets
of the district.
Humble as he was where he himself only was concerned,
Father Rameau was proud indeed in matters
connected with his niece.
"A leaden ring," he murmured, "when so many other
girls, not half as good as my god-daughter, have a gold
one! How I wish Madeleine could choose the one she
liked best from the jeweller's shop in Saint-Sauveur!
Ah, it's not much use wishing. If I put by every penny
I could spare for years and years I could never afford it.
Madeleine's poor, George is poor, I am poor, and always
shall be. Well, we're honest, that's one comfort, and
we needn't be jealous, at any rate."
As the old broomseller was thinking all this, he met
George, who was driving a pair of oxen, their nostrils
steaming in the first rays of the morning sun. "Good-day,
lad," said he.
"Good-day, Father Rameau."
"Off to work already?"
"Yes, father. I'm just going over the master's fields
for the last time before seed sowing; we shall begin next
week. We're rather behind hand you know."
"So you are; October's nearly over."
"Can you guess what I was thinking of as I came
"What you were thinking of? You mean who," said
Father Rameau, rather crossly.
"Well, yes, you're right. Madeleine is never out of
my mind," answered George thoughtfully. "I was saying
to myself that, if there are plenty of weeds over there"
(and he pointed to the uncultivated moor with his goad),
"there is good soil as well, and that any one who had
time to clear even a corner of it might buy the girl he
was engaged to——"
"A gold ring!"
"How did you guess what I meant? You don't come
from Chęneau, where all the wizards live," laughed George.
"No witchcraft in that, nephew. The other day I saw
how unhappy you were that you could only give Madeleine
a leaden ring, and I was just as sorry myself that I
couldn't buy her a better one ... and ever since I've
been trying to think of a way...."
"And have you found one, father?"
"You've found it for me, lad. I shall make a clearing
of a bit of the moor."
Even at the risk of offending his future uncle, the
young labourer could not help smiling.
"That's a task for stronger arms than yours, father,"
he said. "No one can beat you at cutting birch branches
and making them into brooms. But that doesn't need
so much muscle as digging up soil like this, pulling up
the great roots out of it, or smashing and carrying away
huge boulders of rock. Ah, if only I had not given my
word to stay with my master till I am married!"
"You may laugh at me, lad, but I won't bear malice,"
said the old man. "If the old are not so strong as
the young, they are more persevering. I shall clear a
bit of the moor, and with the money from my first harvest
we will go and buy the ring. Good-bye, lad."
"Good-bye, father; we shall see you doing wonders
before long, I know."
"I shall be working for Madeleine," he said, "and your
patron saint (George means cultivator of the soil) will
At twelve precisely, Father Rameau came back to the
moor with a heavy pick on his shoulder; he meant to set
to work without delay.
Bang went the first stroke of the pick, accompanied
with the significant grunt diggers, woodmen, and such folk
give over their work. But just as he was raising his arm
for another try, he stood suddenly stock-still, with eyes
staring wide in a white, terrified face.
From the midst of the boulders scattered about, which
were trembling like Celtic monuments, had arisen an
apparition, which the old man knew was supernatural
and divine, though its form was human.
Imagine a tiny little lady, ethereal rather than thin,
youthfully lovely and dainty, a kind of dream beauty,
attired in a silvery tunic embroidered with gorse blossoms.
On her head a wreath of heather; in her hand a wand
of the broom plant in blossom; all around the holly, ferns,
and junipers, all the wild plants and shrubs, were bowing
down as if in homage to a Sovereign. A ray of sunlight
was playing round her head like an aureole. She was
the Fairy of the Moor.
"You are a bold man," she said to the old workman,
"to dare thus to encroach on my domains." There was
a thrill of anger in her clear voice, and her blue eyes
"Lady Fairy," stammered the old man, "be merciful
to a wretched labourer who never meant to wrong you.
Your domains are so vast, I hoped there would be no
harm if I took the liberty of borrowing just a little corner
"What do you want it for?"
"To cultivate it," answered old Rameau, who was
beginning to feel less frightened.
"To cultivate it!" cried the fairy. "You mean to dig
it up, turn it over, and upset it all round! Do you
not see how lovely it is now, and are you so presumptuous
as to think you can do better for it than Nature has
done already?" Her voice grew softer as she went on:
"What could you find anywhere that is as beautiful
as this spot in spring-time, when, under a sky of the
tenderest blue, the little leaves are beginning to bud on
the branches, the tufts of narcissus are opening among
the marshes, and everywhere in the woods around the
blackbirds are beginning to whistle their first notes, the
doves keep up a gentle cooing, and the jays are chattering
"A couple of partridges calling to each other," answered
the old man, "a quail uttering its three sonorous
cries, or a lark soaring into the sky with its breathless
melody, make a pleasanter sound, to my way of
thinking. But these are birds that like to build their
nests among the corn. They are not found near your
"In summer," went on the fairy, "when the moors
are flooded with sunshine, and the heat brings out a
delicious odour of resin from my favourite shrubs, I love
to look on the purple of the heather, and the gold of gorse
"I prefer the pink clover with the drowsy bees humming
over it," answered the old man, "and the ripening harvest,
yellow like your beautiful hair, Lady Fairy."
Fairy as she was, the queen of the moors was not
displeased at the compliment. Father Rameau saw this
from her face, and said to himself his cause was half
"In autumn," she retorted, though, "even here, there
comes to me, out of the depths of the thickets near,
the baying of the pack when the hunt is out, and often
they traverse my domains to get from one part of the
forest to another. The poor, hunted stag, whose tongue
is hanging out of his mouth with weariness, makes for
this very heap of rocks sometimes; then I help him to
elude his cruel foes and to get away safely."
"Yes," said the old man, as if he liked this idea, "the
dogs get their noses pricked on the thorn-bushes and
lose trace of their prey. That is indeed a kind action.
I, too, like to put the pack on a wrong scent. The stags
are such dear things, with their soft brown eyes. Those
in this neighbourhood know me, and when I sit down
to make my brooms right in the middle of a copse,
as I do sometimes, they come quite close up to me. If
only there were wheat growing on your moor, you would
be able to protect the hares, too, for they would then take
refuge in the shelter of your park."
"But when you have pulled up my holly and junipers
and broom-bushes, how shall I be able to make fires for
the long winter evenings? I shall die, pierced by the cruel
breath of the keen north wind, and be buried under a
shroud of white snow."
"Oh, gracious fay, if you fear the cold, will there not
always be the place of honour kept for you by our
chimney-corner, in the little home I mean to build on
the moor? You will come and get warm whenever you
like by our fireside. My god-daughter, Madeleine, will
keep you company, and some day, perhaps, I shall entreat
you to be god-mother to her first baby."
Thus Father Rameau had his answer ready for all her
objections. These last words of his touched the fairy,
and the expression of her face became very soft and kind.
"I know Madeleine well," she said; "I know how fair
she is to see, in her snowy white caps. I know how her
goodness is spoken of far and wide; and I have even
heard that she is to marry that hard-working lad I saw
talking with you this morning. They will be a charming
pair, and their home will be a delightful place. And you,
dear old man, who have no ambition for yourself, but
only care for your dear ones, you will have your reward
for your cheerful faith in the future. Take up your pick
and have courage over your digging. I grant you this
corner of my domain. The rest I am sure you will
respect, for you are not greedy; will the others who come
after you spare it, too? Alas, when once the moor has
been cleared all over and cultivated, I shall have to
die! But we will only think of the happiness of your
young folk; and, silence! not a word of all this to
And with a finger on her lips, she vanished.
By the end of October Father Rameau had dug over,
cleared, and prepared two acres of ground. All by himself?
With his pickaxe and spade? Yes, quite by
himself, and with his pickaxe and spade. He had worked
as if by magic, for the fairy, always present and always
invisible, had endowed him with some of her magic power.
She helped him to split the hardest boulders, to haul
up the most tenacious roots, to collect in bundles the old
tree-stumps and weeds, and every kind of rubbish, and
set fire to it, and so make the very first dressing the
soil had ever had on it. Will you believe it? By seed-sowing
time the ground was ready, and was sown with
oats, which began to grow in no time, came well through
all the frosts, and by the following April was waving
abroad in a luxuriant mass of green. A lark built its
nest in it, and every morning nodded its little tufted head
at Father Rameau, who was watching over its nest, as
if out of gratitude for what he had done.
The harvest was splendid, and fetched a high price.
George could no longer smile at Father Rameau's old
arms, and had to confess he had found his master: Father
Rameau smiled slily when he said, "After all, nephew,
we shall have a gold ring for Madeleine." But when the
time came for getting it, Madeleine would not allow it.
"No, father," she said, "you have toiled and moiled this
year at your digging; buy a plough: any one will lend
you a plough-horse for a few days, and it won't be nearly
such hard work for you."
So when autumn came again, the old man cleared
another two acres, and next summer his harvest was
twice as big—and so were his profits.
Madeleine still refused the precious ring. "Buy a pair
of oxen," she said; "you will be independent then of
Next year the old man's field was bigger than ever;
and Madeleine advised him to use the profit of his harvest
for building a little house. Her modest, sensible advice
was acted upon every time, and, in fact, when the wedding-day
arrived, the gold ring had still not been bought
and at the marriage ceremony, in the church at Treigny,
it was over the old leaden rings of their betrothal that
the curé pronounced his blessing. "We have given our
hearts to each other," said the young wife; "what do
we want with gold rings after that? What do you think,
"I mean to spend the money on a christening robe,
then," said Father Rameau gaily. "Bless me, things'll
have to be just so then, if ever they are! If you only
knew what kind of a god-mother——"
But he stopped short just in time, remembering the
fairy's injunction about silence; and Madeleine, whom he
had made very inquisitive, could not get another word
out of him. She never found out what he meant till
her first baby was born, when on the day of the christening
there stepped into the cottage, surrounded by a circle
of bright light, the marvellous god-mother, the Fairy of
Many tried to follow Father Rameau's example and
cultivate a portion of the moor; but very few succeeded,
because the fairy could see into the very bottom of
their hearts, and would only help the true-hearted—rare
folk, alas! in this world. There is much left still to be
cleared. And she yet lives on, the little fairy of the
silvery tunic embroidered with gorse blossoms, with her
crown of heather bells, and her wand a verdant broom
branch. But if ever you want to see her, as old Father
Rameau did, you must arrive at the Mid-day Rock on
the first stroke of twelve, and have a conscience perfectly
clear; two conditions which seem easy enough, and which
are really very difficult of fulfilment.