Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Basque  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at


LIKE many others in the world, there was a man and woman, labourers, who lived by their toil. They were at case. They had a mule, and the man lived by his mule carrying wine. Sometimes he was a week away from home. He always went to the same inn, where there was a woman and her daughter. One day the labourer sets off with his loaded mule, and his wife was very near her confinement. She was expecting it hourly; but, as he had orders upon orders, he was obliged to set off. He goes then, and comes to this inn. It was a market-day, and they had not kept a bedroom for him as usual, because there were so many people there, and he is put into a dark room without windows near the kitchen. He had not yet gone to sleep, when he hears the woman say to her daughter,

"You are not aware that the wife of the man who is there is confined? Go and see if he is asleep."

When the man heard that, he began to snore; and when the young girl heard through a slit in the door that he was snoring, she said to her mother,

"Yes, yes, he is asleep."

The mother said to her then (you may guess whether he was listening)--

"I must go and charm this newly-born infant."

p. 70

She takes up a stone under the hearth, and takes from under it a saucepan, in which there was an ointment. She takes a brush, and well rubs herself over her whole body, saying, 1

"Under all the clouds and over all the hedges, half an hour on the road, another half-hour there, and another to return."

As soon as she had said that, off she went. When the man saw that she was gone, he comes out of his room. He had seen what she did. He anoints himself like her, and says,

"Over the clouds, and under the hedges"--(he made a blunder there 2)--"a quarter of an hour to go there, half an hour to stop, and a quarter of an hour for the return."

He arrives at his house, but torn to pieces by the thorns, and his clothes in strips, but that was all the same to him; he places himself behind the door of his wife's bedroom with a big stick. There comes a great white cat, "Miau, miau!" 3 When the man heard that, he goes out of the place where he was hiding, and with his stick he almost killed this cat, and set out directly afterwards for the inn, but not easily, under all the hedges. In, spite of that, he arrives at the woman's house. He goes to bed quickly. The next day, when he gets up, he sees only the daughter. He asks her where her mother is. "She is ill, and you must pay me."

"No! I prefer to see your mother."

He goes to the mother, and finds her very ill. From this

p. 71

day he goes no more to that inn. When he gets home, he tells his wife what had happened, and how he had saved the child. But all was not ended there. They had misfortune upon misfortune. All their cows died, and all their other animals too. They were sinking into the deepest misery. 1 They did not know what would become of them. This man was brooding sadly in thought, when he met an old woman, who asked him what was the matter with him., He told her all his troubles, how many misfortunes they had had all his cows lost. He had bought others, and they too had died directly. He is charmed by witches. I

"If you are like that you have only to put a consecrated taper under the peck measure, in the stable, and you will catch her."

He does as the old woman told him, and hides himself in the manger. At midnight she comes under the form of a cat, and gets astride the ox, saying:

"The others before were fine, but this is very much finer."

When our man heard that he comes out from where he was hiding, and with his stick he leaves her quite dead; although when he had done that our man was without any resources; (he had) neither bread, nor maize, nor cows, nor pigs, and his wife and children were starving.

He goes off to see if he can do anything. There meets him a gentleman, who says to him:

"What is the matter, man, that you are so sad?"

"It is this misery that I am in that torments me so."

"If you have only that, we will arrange all that if you like. I will give you as much money as you wish, if at the end of the year you can guess, and if you tell me with what the devil makes his chalice; and if you do not guess it then your soul shall be for us."

When our man has got his money, he goes off home without thinking at all of the future. He lived happily for

p. 72

some time with his wife and child; but as the time approached he grew sad, and said nothing to his wife. One day he had gone a long way, wishing and trying to find out his secret, and the night overtakes him. He stops at a cross-roads, and hides himself. (You know that the witches come to the cross-roads 1 to meet together.) They come then, "hushta" from one side, "fushta" from the other, dancing. When they had well amused themselves like that, they begin to tell each other the news. One says:

"You do not know, then, such a man has sold his head to the devil; certainly he will not guess with what the devil makes his chalice. I do not know myself; tell it me."

"With the parings of the finger-nails which Christians cut on the Sunday."

Our man with difficulty, with great difficulty, kept from showing himself, through his joy and delight. As soon as the day appeared all the witches went off to their homes, and our man too went off to his. He was no more sad. He waited till the day arrived, and went to the cross-roads. This gentleman was already there, come with a lot of devils, thinking that he would be for hell. He asks him:

"You know what the devil makes his chalice of?"

"I do not know, but I will try. With the parings of the finger-nails which Christians cut on Sundays?"

As soon as he heard that, the devil goes off with all the others in fire and flame to the bottom of hell. Our man went off home, and lived a long time with his wife and daughter. If they had lived well, they would have died well too.


70:1 Compare this with the scene in Apuleius, "De Asino Aureo;" and, for a somewhat similar "fairy ointment," see Hunt's "Popular Romances of the West of England," pp. 110-113.

70:2 The blunder is confounding "dessus," over, and "dessous," under. This shows that the tale is originally French, or, at least, the witch's part of it; for this punning mistake could not be made in Basque. The two words are not in the least similar in sound. "Gaiñetik" and "azpetik" are the words here used.

70:3 Witches still appear in the shape of cats, but generally black ones. About two years ago we were told of a man who, at midnight, chopped off the ear of a black cat, who was thus bewitching his cattle, and lo! in the morning it was a woman's ear, with an earring still in it. He deposited it in the Mairie, and we might see it there; but we did not go to look, as it was some distance off.

71:1 Literally, "red misery." In Basque the most intense wretchedness of any kind is always called "red."

72:1 here are several superstitions connected with cross-roads in the Pays Basque. When a person dies, the bedding or mattress is sometimes burnt at the nearest cross-roads, and every passer-by says a "Paternoster" for the benefit of the deceased. This custom is becoming extinct, but is still observed in old families.

Next: The Changeling