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.
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
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.
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.
was nothing more to be done, but to console the howling baby.
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.
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.
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
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.