Thursday, 25 December 2014

Four Bretons, a Truffle Pig, and a Howling Baby

Once upon a time, four Bretons travelled to Land's End to pay their respects to a new born infant, but when they arrived the mother had just died and the father had flung himself across her lifeless body, racked with grief. His heaving sobs were crushing the baby that the mother still held to her breast so that he was howling in protest. A vet stood to one side with downcast eyes, shaking his head and murmuring his regrets.
This was not the nativity scene they had anticipated after three months of weary travel, but nevertheless they immediately threw themselves into the fray. Philippe pulled the grieving father off the mother's body, while Christophe wrestled the screaming baby from her stiffening arms. Jacques attempted to use his prized truffle pig to round up and pen the mooing cows and squawking chickens, but all this noise proved too much for Louis so he escorted the mumbling vet from the old barn. Outside in more relative calm, he asked Mr McNulty what had happened.
Mr McNulty shuffled his feet and said falteringly, “I'm retained by the farm. I never meant to cause no harm. She just gave up on me...She'd been ill you see...I did what I could...” Louis saw he was in shock and let him be, and walked sorrowfully back to the barn.
By nightfall, all was a little quieter. The vet had reported to the coroner and the farm-hands to the owner; the mother's body had been covered and the weeping father, before being led away to stay in a neighbour's cottage, had asked the Bretons, his distant cousins, who'd he'd never slapped eyes on until that day, to raise his son.
There was nothing more to be done, but to console the howling baby.
Neither one had ever had the sole charge of a baby, but had been told long ago that this boy would come and be their Saviour. He would restore the family's name. Their mother's last hopes had dwindled with Jacques, the youngest of the four, as he too, like his older brothers grew to prefer land to sea. And proud as they were to be Bretons, they had all relocated to Provence or Normandy to make their living in the cornfields. There was nothing they liked better than a hard day's labour ploughing corn or finding a path with their wooden staffs through its pale golden ears on moonlit nights.
These four found treasure on the land as their forefathers did in the ocean, but nevertheless it was a blow to have tradition swept aside. Each had faithfully prayed like they did for rain or sun that a heir would come and after a few hard years their prayers had been rewarded. A series of dreams foretelling his birth had led the brothers on this pilgrimage. And what a merry band they had made traipsing the land with Jacques' truffle pig leading the way; crossing the English Channel by ferry and then on foot from Weymouth. They'd foraged along the coastal paths, slept on beaches or in long grass, and washed themselves in the sea, but were ill-prepared to now take care of a baby.
The baby, baptised Nathaniel with bottled seawater, still refused to rest his lungs. He was a bundle of anger: his face permanently screwed up, his cheeks a flaming red. That night, nothing that either of the Bretons tried stopped his howling cries, so that when dawn broke feeling very stressed and sleep-deprived they decided it would be best to take their leave and head for home, to the home of their forefathers.
The return journey was again a bit of a trek, but when they were close to the roar of the ocean Nathaniel was silenced, and once they landed in Brittany he was a different baby altogether. The four Bretons handed over their charge to their delighted mother, and do you know despite that shaky start, that howling baby did indeed fulfil his prophecy and grow up to be a true son of the sea.

*Picture credit: A Cornfield by Moonlight with the Evening Star by Samuel Palmer.