Part 1 out of 5
Scanned by Aaron Cannon of Paradise, California
by ANATOLE FRANCE
BOOK I. THE BEGINNINGS
BOOK II. THE ANCIENT TIMES
BOOK III. THE MIDDLE AGES AND THE RENAISSANCE
BOOK IV. MODERN TIMES: TRINCO
BOOK V. MODERN TIMES: CHATILLON
BOOK VI. MODERN TIMES
BOOK VII. MODERN TIMES
BOOK VIII. FUTURE TIMES
BOOK I. THE BEGINNINGS
I. LIFE OF SAINT MAEL
Mael, a scion of a royal family of Cambria, was sent in his ninth year to the
Abbey of Yvern so that he might there study both sacred and profane learning.
At the age of fourteen he renounced his patrimony and took a vow to serve the
Lord. His time was divided, according to the rule, between the singing of
hymns, the study of grammar, and the meditation of eternal truths.
A celestial perfume soon disclosed the virtues of the monk throughout the
cloister, and when the blessed Gal, the Abbot of Yvern, departed from this
world into the next, young Mael succeeded him in the government of the
monastery. He established therein a school, an infirmary, a guest-house, a
forge, work-shops of all kinds, and sheds for building ships, and he compelled
the monks to till the lands in the neighbourhood. With his own hands he
cultivated the garden of the Abbey, he worked in metals, he instructed the
novices, and his life was gently gliding along like a stream that reflects the
heaven and fertilizes the fields.
At the close of the day this servant of God was accustomed to seat himself on
the cliff, in the place that is to-day still called St. Mael's chair. At his
feet the rocks bristling with green seaweed and tawny wrack seemed like black
dragons as they faced the foam of the waves with their monstrous breasts. He
watched the sun descending into the ocean like a red Host whose glorious blood
gave a purple tone to the clouds and to the summits of the waves. And the holy
man saw in this the image of the mystery of the Cross, by which the divine
blood has clothed the earth with a royal purple. In the offing a line of dark
blue marked the shores of the island of Gad, where St. Bridget, who had been
given the veil by St. Malo, ruled over a convent of women.
Now Bridget, knowing the merits of the venerable Mael, begged from him some
work of his hands as a rich present. Mael cast a hand-bell of bronze for her
and, when it was finished, he blessed it and threw it into the sea. And the
bell went ringing towards the coast of Gad, where St. Bridget, warned by the
sound of the bell upon the waves, received it piously, and carried it in
solemn procession with singing of psalms into the chapel of the convent.
Thus the holy Mael advanced from virtue to virtue. He had already passed
through two-thirds of the way of life, and he hoped peacefully to reach his
terrestrial end in the midst of his spiritual brethren, when he knew by a
certain sign that the Divine wisdom had decided otherwise, and that the Lord
was calling him to less peaceful but not less meritorious labours.
II. THE APOSTOLICAL VOCATION OF SAINT MAEL
One day as he walked in meditation to the furthest point of a tranquil beach,
for which rocks jutting out into the sea formed a rugged dam, he saw a trough
of stone which floated like a boat upon the waters.
It was in a vessel similar to this that St. Guirec, the great St. Columba, and
so many holy men from Scotland and from Ireland had gone forth to evangelize
Armorica. More recently still, St. Avoye having come from England, ascended
the river Auray in a mortar made of rose-coloured granite into which children
were afterwards placed in order to make them strong; St. Vouga passed from
Hibernia to Cornwall on a rock whose fragments, preserved at Penmarch, will
cure of fever such pilgrims as place these splinters on their heads. St.
Samson entered the Bay of St. Michael's Mount in a granite vessel which will
one day be called St. Samson's basin. It is because of these facts that when
he saw the stone trough the holy Mael understood that the Lord intended him
for the apostolate of the pagans who still peopled the coast and the Breton
He handed his ashen staff to the holy Budoc, thus investing him with the
government of the monastery. Then, furnished with bread, a barrel of fresh
water, and the book of the Holy Gospels, he entered the stone trough which
carried him gently to the island of Hoedic.
This island is perpetually buffeted by the winds. In it some poor men fished
among the clefts of the rocks and labouriously cultivated vegetables in
gardens full of sand and pebbles that were sheltered from the wind by walls of
barren stone and hedges of tamarisk. A beautiful fig-tree raised itself in a
hollow of the island and thrust forth its branches far and wide. The
inhabitants of the island used to worship it.
And the holy Mael said to them: "You worship this tree because it is
beautiful. Therefore you are capable of feeling beauty. Now I come to reveal
to you the hidden beauty." And he taught them the Gospel. And after having
instructed them, he baptized them with salt and water.
The islands of Morbihan were more numerous in those times than they are
to-day. For since then many have been swallowed up by the sea. St. Mael
evangelized sixty of them. Then in his granite trough he ascended the river
Auray. And after sailing for three hours he landed before a Roman house. A
thin column of smoke went up from the roof. The holy man crossed the threshold
on which there was a mosaic representing a dog with its hind legs outstretched
and its lips drawn back. He was welcomed by an old couple, Marcus Combabus and
Valeria Moerens, who lived there on the products of their lands. There was a
portico round the interior court the columns of which were painted red, half
their height upwards from the base. A fountain made of shells stood against
the wall and under the portico there rose an altar with a niche in which the
master of the house had placed some little idols made of baked earth and
whitened with whitewash. Some represented winged children, others Apollo or
Mercury, and several were in the form of a naked woman twisting her hair. But
the holy Mael, observing those figures, discovered among them the image of a
young mother holding a child upon her knees.
Immediately pointing to that image he said:
"That is the Virgin, the mother of God. The poet Virgil foretold her in
Sibylline verses before she was born and, in angelical tones he sang Jam redit
et virgo. Throughout heathendom prophetic figures of her have been made, like
that which you, O Marcus, have placed upon this altar. And without doubt it is
she who has protected your modest household. Thus it is that those who
faithfully observe the natural law prepare themselves for the knowledge of
Marcus Combabus and Valeria Moerens, having been instructed by this speech,
were converted to the Christian faith. They received baptism together with
their young freedwoman, Caelia Avitella, who was dearer to them than the light
of their eyes. All their tenants renounced paganism and were baptized on the
Marcus Combabus, Valeria Moerens, and Caelia Avitella led thenceforth a life
full of merit. They died in the Lord and were admitted into the canon of the
For thirty-seven years longer the blessed Mael evangelized the pagans of the
inner lands. He built two hundred and eighteen chapels and seventy-four
Now on a certain day in the city of Vannes, when he was preaching the Gospel,
he learned that the monks of Yvern had in his absence declined from the rule
of St. Gal. Immediately, with the zeal of a hen who gathers her brood, he
repaired to his erring children. He was then towards the end of his
ninety-seventh year; his figure was bent, but his arms were still strong, and
his speech was poured forth abundantly like winter snow in the depths of the
Abbot Budoc restored the ashen staff to St. Mael and informed him of the
unhappy state into which the Abbey had fallen. The monks were in disagreement
as to the date an which the festival of Easter ought to be celebrated. Some
held for the Roman calendar, others for the Greek calendar, and the horrors of
a chronological schism distracted the monastery.
There also prevailed another cause of disorder. The nuns of the island of Gad,
sadly fallen from their former virtue, continually came in boats to the coast
of Yvern. The monks received them in the guesthouse and from this there arose
scandals which filled pious souls with desolation.
Having finished his faithful report, Abbot Budoc concluded in these terms:
"Since the coming of these nuns the innocence and peace of the monks are at an
"I readily believe it," answered the blessed Mael. "For woman is a cleverly
constructed snare by which we are taken even before we suspect the trap. Alas!
the delightful attraction of these creatures is exerted with even greater
force from a distance than when they are close at hand. The less they satisfy
desire the more they inspire it. This is the reason why a poet wrote this
verse to one of them:
When present I avoid thee, but when away I find thee.
Thus we see, my son, that the blandishments of carnal love have more power
over hermits and monks than over men who live in the world. All through my
life the demon of lust has tempted me in various ways, but his strongest
temptations did not come to me from meeting a woman, however beautiful and
fragrant she was. They came to me from the image of an absent woman. Even now,
though full of days and approaching my ninety-eighth year, I am often led by
the Enemy to sin against chastity, at least in thought. At night when I am
cold in my bed and my frozen old bones rattle together with a dull sound I
hear voices reciting the second verse of the third Book of the Kings:
'Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the
king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish
him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat,' and
the devil shows me a girl in the bloom of youth who says to me: 'I am thy
Abishag; I am thy Shunamite. Make, O my lord, room for me in thy couch.'
"Believe me," added the old man, "it is only by the special aid of Heaven that
a monk can keep his chastity in act and in intention."
Applying himself immediately to restore innocence and peace to the monastery,
he corrected the calendar according to the calculations of chronology and
astronomy and he compelled all the monks to accept his decision; he sent the
women who had declined from St. Bridget's rule back to their convent; but far
from driving them away brutally, he caused them to be led to their boat with
singing of psalms and litanies.
"Let us respect in them," he said, "the daughters of Bridget and the betrothed
of the Lord. Let us beware lest we imitate the Pharisees who affect to despise
sinners. The sin of these women and not their persons should be abased, and
they should be made ashamed of what they have done and not of what they are,
for they are all creatures of God."
And the holy man exhorted his monks to obey faithfully the rule of their
"When it does not yield to the rudder," said he to them, "the ship yields to
III. THE TEMPTATION OF SAINT MAEL
The blessed Mael had scarcely restored order in the Abbey of Yvern before he
learned that the inhabitants of the island of Hoedic, his first catechumens
and the dearest of all to his heart, had returned to paganism, and that they
were hanging crowns of flowers and fillets of wool to the branches of the
The boatman who brought this sad news expressed a fear that soon those
misguided men might violently destroy the chapel that had been built on the
shore of their island.
The holy man resolved forthwith to visit his faithless children, so that he
might lead them back to the faith and prevent them from yielding to such
sacrilege. As he went down to the bay where his stone trough was moored, he
turned his eyes to the sheds, then filled with the noise of saws and of
hammers, which, thirty years before, he had erected on the fringe of that bay
for the purpose of building ships.
At that moment, the Devil, who never tires, went out from the sheds and, under
the appearance of a monk called Samsok, he approached the holy man and tempted
"Father, the inhabitants of the island of Hoedic commit sins unceasingly.
Every moment that passes removes them farther from God. They are soon going to
use violence towards the chapel that you have raised with your own venerable
hands on the shore of their island. Time is pressing. Do you not think that
your stone trough would carry you more quickly towards them if it were rigged
like a boat and furnished with a rudder, a mast, and a sail, for then you
would be driven by the wind? Your arms are still strong and able to steer a
small craft. It would be a good thing, too, to put a sharp stem in front of
your apostolic trough. You are much too clear-sighted not to have thought of
"Truly time is pressing," answered the holy man. "But to do as you say,
Samson, my son, would it not be to make myself like those men of little faith
who do not trust the Lord? Would it not be to despise the gifts of Him who has
sent me this stone vessel without rigging or sail?"
This question, the Devil, who is a great theologian, answered by another.
"Father, is it praiseworthy to wait, with our arms folded, until help comes
from on high, and to ask everything from Him who can do all things, instead of
acting by human prudence and helping ourselves?
"It certainly is not," answered the holy Mael, "and to neglect to act by human
prudence is tempting God."
"Well," urged the Devil, "is it not prudence in this case to rig the vessel?"
"It would be prudence if we could not attain our end in any other way."
"Is your vessel then so very speedy?"
"It is as speedy as God pleases."
"What do you know about it? It goes like Abbot Budoc's mule. It is a regular
old tub. Are you forbidden to make it speedier?"
"My son, clearness adorns your words, but they are unduly over-confident.
Remember that this vessel is miraculous."
"It is, father. A granite trough that floats on the water like a cork is a
miraculous trough. There is not the slightest doubt about it. What conclusion
do you draw from that?"
"I am greatly perplexed. Is it right to perfect so miraculous a machine by
human and natural means?"
"Father, if you lost your right foot and God restored it to you, would not
that foot be miraculous?"
"Without doubt, my son."
"Would you put a shoe on it?"
"Well, then, if you believe that one may cover a miraculous foot with a
natural shoe, you should also believe that we can put natural rigging on a
miraculous boat. That is clear. Alas! Why must the holiest persons have their
moments of weakness and despondency? The most illustrious of the apostles of
Brittany could accomplish works worthy of eternal glory . . . But his spirit
is tardy and his hand is slothful. Farewell then, father! Travel by short and
slow stages and when at last you approach the coast of Hoedic you will see the
smoking ruins of the chapel that was built and consecrated by your own hands.
The pagans will have burned it and with it the deacon you left there. He will
be as thoroughly roasted as a black pudding."
"My trouble is extreme," said the servant of God, drying with his sleeve the
sweat that gathered upon his brow. "But tell me, Samson, my son, would not
rigging this stone trough be a difficult piece of work? And if we undertook it
might we not lose time instead of gaining it?"
"Ah! father," exclaimed the Devil, "in one turning of the hour-glass the thing
would be done. We shall find the necessary rigging in this shed that you have
formerly built here on the coast and in those store-houses abundantly stocked
through your care. I will myself regulate all the ship's fittings. Before
being a monk I was a sailor and a carpenter and I have worked at many other
trades as well. Let us to work."
Immediately he drew the holy man into an outhouse filled with all things
needful for fitting out a boat.
"That for you, father!"
And he placed on his shoulders the sail, the mast, the gaff, and the boom.
Then, himself bearing a stem and a rudder with its screw and tiller, and
seizing a carpenter's bag full of tools, he ran to the shore, dragging the
holy man after him by his habit. The latter was bent, sweating, and
breathless, under the burden of canvas and wood.
IV. ST. MAEL'S NAVIGATION ON THE OCEAN OF ICE
The Devil, having tucked his clothes up to his arm-pits, dragged the trough on
the sand, and fitted the rigging in less than an hour.
As soon as the holy Mael had embarked, the vessel, with all its sails set,
cleft through the waters with such speed that the coast was almost immediately
out of sight. The old man steered to the south so as to double the Land's End,
but an irresistible current carried him to the south-west. He went along the
southern coast of Ireland and turned sharply towards the north. In the evening
the wind freshened. In vain did Mael attempt to furl the sail. The vessel flew
distractedly towards the fabulous seas.
By the light of the moon the immodest sirens of the North came around him with
their hempen-coloured hair, raising their white throats and their rose-tinted
limbs out of the sea; and beating the water into foam with their emerald
tails, they sang in cadence:
Whither go'st thou, gentle Mael,
In thy trough distracted?
All distended is thy sail
Like the breast of Juno
When from it gushed the Milky Way.
For a moment their harmonious laughter followed him beneath the stars, but the
vessel fled on, a hundred times more swiftly than the red ship of a Viking.
And the petrels, surprised in their flight, clung with their feet to the hair
of the holy man.
Soon a tempest arose full of darkness and groanings, and the trough, driven by
a furious wind, flew like a sea-mew through the mist and the surge.
After a night of three times twenty-four hours the darkness was suddenly rent
and the holy man discovered on the horizon a shore more dazzling than diamond.
The coast rapidly grew larger, and soon by the glacial light of a torpid and
sunken sun, Mael saw, rising above the waves, the silent streets of a white
city, which, vaster than Thebes with its hundred gates, extended as far as the
eye could see the ruins of its forum built of snow, its palaces of frost, its
crystal arches, and its iridescent obelisks.
The ocean was covered with floating ice-bergs around which swam men of the sea
of a wild yet gentle appearance. And Leviathan passed by hurling a column of
water up to the clouds.
Moreover, on a block of ice which floated at the same rate as the stone trough
there was seated a white bear holding her little one in her arms, and Mael
heard her murmuring in a low voice this verse of Virgil, Incipe parve puer.
And full of sadness and trouble, the old man wept.
The fresh water had frozen and burst the barrel that contained it. And Mael
was sucking pieces of ice to quench his thirst, and his food was bread dipped
in dirty water. His beard and his hair were broken like glass. His habit was
covered with a layer of ice and cut into him at every movement of his limbs.
Huge waves rose up and opened their foaming jaws at the old man. Twenty times
the boat was filled by masses of sea. And the ocean swallowed up the book of
the Holy Gospels which the apostle guarded with extreme care in a purple cover
marked with a golden cross.
Now on the thirtieth day the sea calmed. And lo! with a frightful clamour of
sky and waters a mountain of dazzling whiteness advanced towards the stone
vessel. Mael steered to avoid it, but the tiller broke in his hands. To lessen
the speed of his progress towards the rock he attempted to reef the sails, but
when he tried to knot the reef-points the wind pulled them away from him and
the rope seared his hands. He saw three demons with wings of black skin having
hooks at their ends, who, hanging from the rigging, were puffing with their
breath against the sails.
Understanding from this sight that the Enemy had governed him in all these
things, he guarded himself by making the sign of the Cross. Immediately a
furious gust of wind filled with the noise of sobs and howls struck the stone
trough, carried off the mast with all the sails, and tore away the rudder and
The trough was drifting on the sea, which had now grown calm. The holy man
knelt and gave thanks to the Lord who had delivered him from the snares of the
demon. Then he recognised, sitting on a block of ice, the mother bear who had
spoken during the storm. She pressed her beloved child to her bosom, and in
her hand she held a purple book marked with a golden cross. Hailing the
granite trough, she saluted the holy man with these words:
"Pax tibi Mael"
And she held out the book to him.
The holy man recognised his evangelistary, and, full of astonishment, he sang
in the tepid air a hymn to the Creator and His creation.
V. THE BAPTISM OF THE PENGUINS
After having drifted for an hour the holy man approached a narrow strand, shut
in by steep mountains. He went along the coast for a whole day and a night,
passing around the reef which formed an insuperable barrier. He discovered in
this way that it was a round island in the middle of which rose a mountain
crowned with clouds. He joyfully breathed the fresh breath of the moist air.
Rain fell, and this rain was so pleasant that the holy man said to the Lord:
"Lord, this is the island of tears, the island of contrition."
The strand was deserted. Worn out with fatigue and hunger, he sat down on a
rock in the hollow of which there lay some yellow eggs, marked with black
spots, and about as large as those of a swan. But he did not touch them,
"Birds are the living praises of God. I should not like a single one of these
praises to be lacking through me."
And he munched the lichens which he tore from the crannies of the rocks.
The holy man had gone almost entirely round the island without meeting any
inhabitants, when he came to a vast amphitheatre formed of black and red rocks
whose summits became tinged with blue as they rose towards the clouds, and
they were filled with sonorous cascades.
The reflection from the polar ice had hurt the old man's eyes, but a feeble
gleam of light still shone through his swollen eyelids. He distinguished
animated forms which filled the rocks, in stages, like a crowd of men on the
tiers of an amphitheatre. And at the same time, his ears, deafened by the
continual noises of the sea, heard a feeble sound of voices. Thinking that
what he saw were men living under the natural law, and that the Lord had sent
him to teach them the Divine law, he preached the gospel to them.
Mounted on a lofty stone in the midst of the wild circus:
"Inhabitants of this island," said he, "although you be of small stature, you
look less like a band of fishermen and mariners than like the senate of a
judicious republic. By your gravity, your silence, your tranquil deportment,
you form on this wild rock an assembly comparable to the Conscript Fathers at
Rome deliberating in the temple of Victory, or rather, to the philosophers of
Athens disputing on the benches of the Areopagus. Doubtless you possess
neither their science nor their genius, but perhaps in the sight of God you
are their superiors. I believe that you are simple and good. As I went round
your island I saw no image of murder, no sign of carnage, no enemies' heads or
scalps hung from a lofty pole or nailed to the doors of your villages. You
appear to me to have no arts and not to work in metals. But your hearts are
pure and your hands are innocent, and the truth will easily enter into your
Now what he had taken for men of small stature but of grave bearing were
penguins whom the spring had gathered together, and who were ranged in couples
on the natural steps of the rock, erect in the majesty of their large white
bellies. From moment to moment they moved their winglets like arms, and
uttered peaceful cries. They did not fear men, for they did not know them, and
had never received any harm from them; and there was in the monk a certain
gentleness that reassured the most timid animals and that pleased these
penguins extremely. With a friendly curiosity they turned towards him their
little round eyes lengthened in front by a white oval spot that gave something
odd and human to their appearance.
Touched by their attention, the holy man taught them the Gospel.
"Inhabitants of this island, the earthly day that has just risen over your
rocks is the image of the heavenly day that rises in your souls. For I bring
you the inner light; I bring you the light and heat of the soul. Just as the
sun melts the ice of your mountains so Jesus Christ will melt the ice of your
Thus the old man spoke. As everywhere throughout nature voice calls to voice,
as all which breathes in the light of day loves alternate strains, these
penguins answered the old man by the sounds of their throats. And their voices
were soft, for it was the season of their loves.
The holy man, persuaded that they belonged to some idolatrous people and that
in their own language they gave adherence to the Christian faith, invited them
to receive baptism.
"I think," said he to them, "that you bathe often, for all the hollows of the
rocks are full of pure water, and as I came to your assembly I saw several of
you plunging into these natural baths. Now purity of body is the image of
And he taught them the origin, the nature, and the effects of baptism.
"Baptism," said he to them, "is Adoption, New Birth, Regeneration,
And he explained each of these points to them in succession.
Then, having previously blessed the water that fell from the cascades and
recited the exorcisms, he baptized those whom he had just taught, pouring on
each of their heads a drop of pure water and pronouncing the sacred words.
And thus for three days and three nights he baptized the birds.
VI. AN ASSEMBLY IN PARADISE
When the baptism of the penguins was known in Paradise, it caused neither joy
nor sorrow, but an extreme surprise. The Lord himself was embarrassed. He
gathered an assembly of clerics and doctors, and asked them whether they
regarded the baptism as valid.
"It is void," said St. Patrick.
"Why is it void?" asked St. Gal, who had evangelized the people of Cornwall
and had trained the holy Mael for his apostolical labours.
"The sacrament of baptism," answered St. Patrick, "is void when it is given to
birds, just as the sacrament of marriage is void when it is given to a
But St. Gal replied:
"What relation do you claim to establish between the baptism of a bird and the
marriage of a eunuch? There is none at all. Marriage is, if I may say so, a
conditional, a contingent sacrament. The priest blesses an event beforehand;
it is evident that if the act is not consummated the benediction remains
without effect. That is obvious. I have known on earth, in the town of Antrim,
a rich man named Sadoc, who, living in concubinage with a woman, caused her to
be the mother of nine children. In his old age, yielding to my reproofs, he
consented to marry her, and I blessed their union. Unfortunately Sadoc's great
age prevented him from consummating the marriage. A short time afterwards he
lost all his property, and Germaine (that was the name of the woman), not
feeling herself able to endure poverty, asked for the annulment of a marriage
which was no reality. The Pope granted her request, for it was just. So much
for marriage. But baptism is conferred without restrictions or reserves of any
kind. There is no doubt about it, what the penguins have received is a
Called to give his opinion, Pope St. Damascus expressed himself in these
"In order to know if a baptism is valid and will produce its result, that is
to say, sanctification, it is necessary to consider who gives it and not who
receives it. In truth, the sanctifying virtue of this sacrament results from
the exterior act by which it is conferred, without the baptized person
cooperating in his own sanctification by any personal act; if it were
otherwise it would not be administered to the newly born. And there is no
need, in order to baptize, to fulfil any special condition; it is not
necessary to be in a state of grace; it is sufficient to have the intention of
doing what the Church does, to pronounce the consecrated words and to observe
the prescribed forms. Now we cannot doubt that the venerable Mael has observed
these conditions. Therefore the penguins are baptized."
"Do you think so?" asked St. Guenole. "And what then do you believe that
baptism really is? Baptism is the process of regeneration by which man is born
of water and of the spirit, for having entered the water covered with crimes,
he goes out of it a neophyte, a new creature, abounding in the fruits of
righteousness; baptism is the seed of immortality; baptism is the pledge of
the resurrection; baptism is the burying with Christ in His death and
participation in His departure from the sepulchre. That is not a gift to
bestow upon birds. Reverend Fathers, let us consider. Baptism washes away
original sin; now the penguins were not conceived in sin. It removes the
penalty of sin; now the penguins have not sinned. It produces grace and the
gift of virtues, uniting Christians to Jesus Christ, as the members to the
body, and it is obvious to the senses that penguins cannot acquire the virtues
of confessors, of virgins, and of widows, or receive grace and be united to--"
St. Damascus did not allow him to finish.
"That proves," said he warmly, "that the baptism was useless; it does not
prove that it was not effective."
"But by this reasoning," said St. Guenole, "one might baptize in the name of
the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by aspersion or immersion, not
only a bird or a quadruped, but also an inanimate object, a statue, a table, a
chair, etc. That animal would be Christian, that idol, that table would be
Christian! It is absurd!"
St. Augustine began to speak. There was a great silence.
"I am going," said the ardent bishop of Hippo, "to show you, by an example,
the power of formulas. It deals, it is true, with a diabolical operation. But
if it be established that formulas taught by the Devil have effect upon
unintelligent animals or even on inanimate objects, how can we longer doubt
that the effect of the sacramental formulas extends to the minds of beasts and
even to inert matter?
"This is the example. There was during my lifetime in the town of Madaura, the
birthplace of the philosopher Apuleius, a witch who was able to attract men to
her chamber by burning a few of their hairs along with certain herbs upon her
tripod, pronouncing at the same time certain words. Now one day when she
wished by this means to gain the, love of a young man, she was deceived by her
maid, and instead of the young man's hairs, she burned some hairs pulled from
a leather bottle, made out of a goatskin that hung in a tavern. During the
night the leather bottle, full of wine, capered through the town up to the
witch's door. This fact is undoubted. And in sacraments as in enchantments it
is the form which operates. The effect of a divine formula cannot be less in
power and extent than the effect of an infernal formula."
Having spoken in this fashion the great St. Augustine sat down amidst
One of the blessed, of an advanced age and having a melancholy appearance,
asked permission to speak. No one knew him. His name was Probus, and he was
not enrolled in the canon of the saints.
"I beg the company's pardon," said he, "I have no halo, and I gained eternal
blessedness without any eminent distinction. But after what the great St.
Augustine has just told you I believe it right to impart a cruel experience,
which I had, relative to the conditions necessary for the validity of a
sacrament. The bishop of Hippo is indeed right in what he said. A sacrament
depends on the form; its virtue is in its form; its vice is in its form.
Listen, confessors and pontiffs, to my woeful story. I was a priest in Rome
under the rule of the Emperor Gordianus. Without desiring to recommend myself
to you for any special merit, I may say that I exercised my priesthood with
piety and zeal. For forty years I served the church of St.
Modestus-beyond-the-Walls. My habits were regular. Every Saturday I went to a
tavern-keeper called Barjas, who dwelt with his wine-jars under the Porta
Capena, and from him I bought the wine that I consecrated daily throughout the
week. During that.long space of time I never failed for a single morning to
consecrate the holy sacrifice of the mass. However, I had no joy, and it was
with a heart oppressed by sorrow that, on the steps of the altar I used to
ask, 'Why art thou so heavy, O my soul, and why art thou so disquieted within
me?' The faithful whom I invited to the holy table gave me cause for
affliction, for having, so to speak, the Host that I administered still upon
their tongues, they fell again into sin just as if the sacrament had been
without power or efficacy. At last I reached the end of my earthly trials, and
failing asleep in the Lord, I awoke in this abode of the elect. I learned then
from the mouth of the angel who brought me here, that Barjas, the
tavern-keeper of the Porta Capena, had sold for wine a decoction of roots and
barks in which there was not a single drop of the juice of the grape. I had
been unable to transmute this vile brew into blood, for it was not wine, and
wine alone is changed into the blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore all my
consecrations were invalid, and unknown to us, my faithful and myself had for
forty years been deprived of the sacrament and were in fact in a state of
excommunication. This revelation threw me into a stupor which overwhelms me
even to-day in this abode of bliss. I go all through Paradise without ever
meeting a single one of those Christians whom formerly I admitted to the holy
table in the basilica of the blessed Modestus. Deprived of the bread of
angels, they easily gave way to the most abominable vices, and they have all
gone to hell. It gives me some satisfaction to think that Barjas, the
tavern-keeper, is damned. There is in these things a logic worthy of the
author of all logic. Nevertheless my unhappy example proves that it is
sometimes inconvenient that form should prevail over essence in the
sacraments, and I humbly ask, Could not, eternal wisdom remedy this?"
"No," answered the Lord. "The remedy would be worse than the disease. It would
be the ruin of the priesthood if essence prevailed over form in the laws of
"Alas! Lord," sighed the humble Probus. "Be persuaded by my humble experience;
as long as you reduce your sacraments to formulas your justice will meet with
"I know that better than you do," replied the Lord. "I see in a single glance
both the actual problems which are difficult, and the future problems which
will not be less difficult. Thus I can foretell that when the sun will have
turned round the earth two hundred and forty times more.
"Sublime language," exclaimed the angels.
"And worthy of the creator of the world," answered the pontiffs.
"It is," resumed the Lord, "a manner of speaking in accordance with my old
cosmogony and one which I cannot give up without losing my immutability. . . .
"After the sun, then, will have turned another two hundred and forty times
round the earth, there will not be a single cleric left in Rome who knows
Latin. When they sing their litanies in the churches people will invoke
Orichel, Roguel, and Totichel, and, as you know, these are devils and not
angels. Many robbers desiring to make their communions, but fearing that
before obtaining pardon they would be forced to give up the things they had
robbed to the Church, will make their confessions to travelling priests,who,
ignorant of both Italian and Latin, and only speaking the patois of their
village, will go through cities and towns selling the remission of sins for a
base price, often for a bottle of wine. Probably we shall not be
inconvenienced by those absolutions as they will want contrition to make them
valid, but it may be that their baptisms will cause us some embarrassment. The
priests will become so ignorant that they will baptize children in nomine
patria et filia et spirita sancta, as Louis de Potter will take a pleasure in
relating in the third volume of his 'Philosophical, Political, and Critical
History of Christianity.' It will be an arduous question to decide on the
validity of such baptisms; for even if in my sacred writings I tolerate a
Greek less elegant than Plato's and a scarcely Ciceronian Latin, I cannot
possibly admit a piece of pure patois as a liturgical formula. And one
shudders when one thinks that millions of new-born babes will be baptized by
this method. But let us return to our penguins."
"Your divine words, Lord, have already led us back to them," said St. Gal. "In
the signs of religion and the laws of salvation form necessarily prevails over
essence, and the validity of a sacrament solely depends upon its form. The
whole question is whether the penguins have been baptized with the proper
forms. Now there is no doubt about the answer."
The fathers and the doctors agreed, and their perplexity became only the more
"The Christian state," said St. Cornelius, "is not without serious
inconveniences for a penguin. In it the birds are obliged to work out their
own salvation. How can they succeed? The habits of birds are, in many points,
contrary to the commandments of the Church, and the penguins have no reason
for changing theirs. I mean that they are not intelligent enough to give up
their present habits and assume better."
"They cannot," said the Lord; "my decrees prevent them."
"Nevertheless," resumed St. Cornelius, "in virtue of their baptism their
actions no longer remain indifferent. Henceforth they will be good or bad,
susceptible of merit or of demerit."
"That is precisely the question we have to deal with," said the Lord.
"I see only one solution," said St. Augustine. "The penguins will go to hell."
"But they have no soul," observed St. Irenaeus.
"It is a pity"" sighed Tertullian.
"It is indeed," resumed St. Gal. "And I admit that my disciple, the holy Mael,
has, in his blind zeal, created great theological difficulties for the Holy
Spirit and introduced disorder into the economy of mysteries."
"He is an old blunderer," cried St. Adjutor of Alsace, shrugging his
But the Lord cast a reproachful look on Adjutor.
"Allow me to speak," said he; "the holy Mael has not intuitive knowledge like
you, my blessed ones. He does not see me. He is an old man burdened by
infirmities; he is half deaf and three parts blind. You are too severe on him.
However, I recognise that the situation is an embarrassing one."
"Luckily it is but a passing disorder," said St. Irenaeus. "The penguins are
baptized, but their eggs are not, and the evil will stop with the present
"Do not speak thus, Irenaeus my son," said the Lord. "There are exceptions to
the laws that men of science lay down on the earth because they are imperfect
and have not an exact application to nature. But the laws that I establish are
perfect and suffer no exception. We must decide the fate of the baptized
penguins without violating any divine law, and in a manner conformable to the
decalogue as well as to the commandments of my Church."
"Lord," said St. Gregory Nazianzen, "give them an immortal soul."
"Alas! Lord, what would they do with it," sighed Lactantius. "They have not
tuneful voices to sing your praises. They would not be able to celebrate your
"Without doubt," said St. Augustine, "they would not observe the divine law."
"They could not," said the Lord.
"They could not," continued St. Augustine. "And if, Lord, in your wisdom, you
pour an immortal soul into them, they will burn eternally in hell in virtue of
your adorable decrees. Thus will the transcendent order, that this old
Welshman has disturbed, be re-established."
"You propose a correct solution to me, son of Monica," said the Lord, "and one
that accords with my wisdom. But it does not satisfy my mercy. And, although
in my essence I am immutable, the longer I endure, the more I incline to
mildness. This change of character is evident to anyone who reads my two
As the discussion continued without much light being thrown upon the matter
and as the blessed showed a disposition to keep repeating the same thing, it
was decided to consult St. Catherine of Alexandria. This is what was usually
done in such cases. St. Catherine while on earth had confounded fifty very
learned doctors. She knew Plato's philosophy in addition to the Holy
Scriptures, and she also possessed a knowledge of rhetoric.
VII. AN ASSEMBLY IN PARADISE (Continuation and End)
St. Catherine entered the assembly, her head encircled by a crown of emeralds,
sapphires, and pearls, and she was clad in a robe of cloth of gold. She
carried at her side a blazing wheel, the image of the one whose fragments had
struck her persecutors.
The Lord having invited her to speak, she expressed herself in these terms:
"Lord, in order to solve the problem you deign to submit to me I shall not
study the habits of animals in general nor those of birds in particular. I
shall only remark to the doctors, confessors, and pontiffs gathered in this
assembly that the separation between man and animal is not complete since
there are monsters who proceed from both. Such are chimeras--half nymphs and
half serpents; such are the three Gorgons and the Capripeds; such are the
Scyllas and the Sirens who sing in the sea. These have a woman's breast and a
fish's tail. Such also are the Centaurs, men down to the waist and the
remainder horses. They are a noble race of monsters. One of them, as you know,
was able, guided by the light of reason alone, to direct his steps towards
eternal blessedness, and you sometimes see his heroic bosom prancing on the
clouds. Chiron, the Centaur, deserved for his works on the earth to share the
abode of the blessed; he it was who gave Achilles his education; and that
young hero, when he left the Centaur's hands, lived for two years, dressed as
a young girl, among the daughters of King Lycomedes. He shared their games and
their bed without allowing any suspicion to arise that he was not a young
virgin like them. Chiron, who taught him such good morals, is, with the
Emperor Trajan, the only righteous man who obtained celestial glory by
following the law of nature. And yet he was but half human.
"I think I have proved by this example that, to reach eternal blessedness, it
is enough to possess some parts of humanity, always on the condition that they
are noble. And what Chiron, the Centaur, could obtain without having been
regenerated by baptism, would not the penguins deserve too, if they became
half penguins and half men? That is why, Lord, I entreat you to give old
Mael's penguins a human head and breast so that they can praise you worthily.
And grant them also an immortal soul--but one of small size."
Thus Catherine spoke, and the fathers, doctors, confessors, and pontiffs heard
her with a murmur of approbation.
But St. Anthony, the Hermit, arose and stretching two red and knotty arms
towards the Most High:
"Do not so, O Lord God," he cried, "in the name of your holy Paraclete, do not
He spoke with such vehemence that his long white beard shook on his chin like
the empty nose-bag of a hungry horse.
"Lord, do not so. Birds with human heads exist already. St. Catherine has told
us nothing new."
"The imagination groups and compares; it never creates," replied St. Catherine
"They exist already," continued St. Antony, who would listen to nothing. "They
are called harpies, and they are the most obscene animals in creation. One day
as I was having supper in the desert with the Abbot St. Paul, I placed the
table outside my cabin under an old sycamore tree. The harpies came and sat in
its branches; they deafened us with their shrill cries and cast their
excrement over all our food. The clamour of the monsters prevented me from
listening to the teaching of the Abbot St. Paul, and we ate birds' dung with
our bread and lettuces. Lord, it is impossible to believe that harpies could
give thee worthy praise.
"Truly in my temptations I have seen many hybrid beings, not only
women-serpents and women-fishes, but beings still more confusedly formed such
as men whose bodies were made out of a pot, a bell, a clock, a cupboard full
of food and crockery, or even out of a house with doors and windows through
which people engaged in their domestic tasks could be seen. Eternity would not
suffice were I to describe all the monsters that assailed me in my solitude,
from whales rigged like ships to a shower of red insects which changed the
water of my fountain into blood. But none were as disgusting as the harpies
whose offal polluted the leaves of my sycamore."
"Harpies," observed Lactantius, "are female Monsters with birds' bodies. They
have a woman's head and breast. Their forwardness, their shamelessness, and
their obscenity proceed from their female nature as the poet Virgil
demonstrated in his 'Aeneid.' They share the curse of Eve."
"Let us not speak of the curse of Eve," said the Lord. "The second Eve has
redeemed the first."
Paul Orosius, the author of a universal history that Bossuet was to imitate in
later years, arose and prayed to the Lord:
"Lord, hear my prayer and Anthony's. Do not make any more monsters like the
Centaurs, Sirens, and Fauns, whom the Greeks, those collectors of fables,
loved. You will derive no satisfaction from them. Those species of monsters
have pagan inclinations and their double nature does not dispose them to
purity of morals."
The bland Lactantius replied in these terms:
"He who has just spoken is assuredly the best historian in Paradise, for
Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Livy, Velleius Paterculus, Cornelius Nepos,
Suetonius, Manetho, Diodorus Siculus, Dion Cassius, and Lampridius are
deprived of the sight of God, and Tacitus suffers in hell the torments that
are reserved for blasphemers. But Paul Orosius does not know heaven as well as
he knows the earth, for he does not seem to bear in mind that the angels, who
proceed from man and bird, are purity itself."
"We are wandering," said the Eternal. "What have we to do with all those
centaurs, harpies, and angels? We have to deal with penguins."
"You have spoken to the point, Lord," said the chief of the fifty doctors,
who, during their mortal life had been confounded by the Virgin of Alexandria,
"and I dare express the opinion that, in order to put an end to the scandal by
which heaven is now stirred, old Mael's penguins should, as St. Catherine who
confounded us has proposed, be given half of a human body with an eternal soul
proportioned to that half."
At this speech there arose in the assembly a great noise of private
conversations and disputes of the doctors. The Greek fathers argued with the
Latins concerning the substance, nature, and dimensions of the soul that
should be given to the penguins.
"Confessors and pontiffs," exclaimed the Lord, "do not imitate the conclaves
and synods of the earth. And do not bring into the Church Triumphant those
violences that trouble the Church Militant. For it is but too true that in all
the councils held under the inspiration of my spirit, in Europe, in Asia, and
in Africa, fathers have torn the beards and scratched the eyes of other
fathers. Nevertheless they were infallible, for I was with them."
Order being restored, old Hermas arose and slowly uttered these words:
"I will praise you, Lord, for that you caused my mother, Saphira, to be born
amidst your people, in the days when the dew of heaven refreshed the earth
which was in travail with its Saviour. And will praise you, Lord, for having
granted to me to see with my mortal eyes the Apostles of your divine Son. And
I will speak in this illustrious assembly because you have willed that truth
should proceed out of the mouths of the humble, and I will say: 'Change these
penguins to men. It is the only determination conformable to your justice and
Several doctors asked permission to speak, others began to do so. No one
listened, and all the confessors were tumultuously shaking their palms and
The Lord, by a gesture of his right hand, appeased the quarrels of his elect.
"Let us not deliberate any longer," said he. "The opinion broached by gentle
old Hermas is the only one conformable to my eternal designs. These birds will
be changed into men. I foresee in this several disadvantages. Many of those
men will commit sins they would not have committed as penguins. Truly their
fate through this change will be far less enviable than if they had been
without this baptism and this incorporation into the family of Abraham. But my
foreknowledge must not encroach upon their free will.
"In order not to impair human liberty, I will be ignorant of what I know, I
will thicken upon my eyes the veils I have pierced, and in my blind
clearsightedness I will let myself be surprised by what I have foreseen."
And immediately calling the archangel Raphael:
"Go and find the holy Mael," said he to him; "inform him of his mistake and
tell him, armed with my Name, to change these penguins into men."
VII. METAMORPHOSIS OF THE PENGUINS
The archangel, having gone down into the Island of the Penguins, found the
holy man asleep in the hollow of a rock surrounded by his new disciples. He
laid his hand on his shoulder and, having waked him, said in a gentle voice:
"Mael, fear not!"
The holy man, dazzled by a vivid light, inebriated by a delicious odour,
recognised the angel of the Lord, and prostrated himself with his forehead on
The angel continued:
"Mael, know thy error, believing that thou wert baptizing children of Adam
thou hast baptized birds; and it is, through thee that penguins have entered
into the Church of God."
At these words the old man remained stupefied.
And the angel resumed:
"Arise, Mael, arm thyself with the mighty Name of the Lord, and say to these
birds, 'Be ye men!'"
And the holy Mael, having wept and prayed, armed himself with the mighty Name
of the Lord and said to the birds:
"Be ye men!"
Immediately the penguins were transformed. Their foreheads enlarged and their
heads grew round like the dome of St. Maria Rotunda in Rome. Their oval eyes
opened more widely on the universe; a fleshy nose clothed the two clefts of
their nostrils; their beaks were changed into mouths, and from their mouths
went forth speech; their necks grew short and thick; their wings became arms
and their claws legs; a restless soul dwelt within the breast of each of them.
However, there remained with them some traces of their first nature. They were
inclined to look sideways; they balanced themselves on their short thighs;
their bodies were covered with fine down.
And Mael gave thanks to the Lord, because he had incorporated these penguins
into the family of Abraham.
But he grieved at the thought that he would soon leave the island to come back
no more, and that perhaps when he was far away the faith of the penguins would
perish for want of care like a young and tender plant.
And he formed the idea of transporting their island to the coasts of Armorica.
"I know not the designs of eternal Wisdom," said he to himself. "But if God
wills that this island be transported, who could prevent it?"
And the holy man made a very fine cord about forty feet long out of the flax
of his stole. He fastened one end of the cord round a point of rock that
jutted up through the sand of the shore and, holding the other end of the cord
in his hand, he entered the stone trough.
The trough glided over the sea and towed Penguin Island behind it; after nine
days' sailing it approached the Breton coast, bringing the island with it.
BOOK II. THE ANCIENT TIMES
I. THE FIRST CLOTHES
One day St. Mael was sitting by the seashore on a warm stone that he found. He
thought it had been warmed by the sun and he gave thanks to God for it, not
knowing that the Devil had been resting on it. The apostle was waiting for the
monks of Yvern who had been commissioned to bring a freight of skins and
fabrics to clothe the inhabitants of the island of Alca.
Soon he saw a monk called Magis coming ashore and carrying a chest upon his
back. This monk enjoyed a great reputation for holiness.
When he had drawn near to the old man he laid the chest on the ground and
wiping his forehead with the back of his sleeve, he said:
"Well, father, you wish then to clothe these penguins?"
"Nothing is more needful, my son," said the old man. "Since they have been
incorporated into the family of Abraham these penguins share the curse of Eve,
and they know that they are naked, a thing of which they were ignorant before.
And it is high time to clothe them, for they are losing the down that remained
on them after their metamorphosis."
"It is true," said Magis as he cast his eyes over the coast where the penguins
were to be seen looking for shrimps, gathering mussels, singing, or sleeping,
"they are naked. But do you not think, father, that it would be better to
leave them naked? Why clothe them? When they wear clothes and are under the
moral law they will assume an immense pride, a vile hypocrisy, and an
"Is it possible, my son," sighed the old man, "that you understand so badly
the effects of the moral law to which even the heathen submit?"
"The moral law," answered Magis, "forces men who are beasts to live otherwise
than beasts, a thine that doubtless puts a constraint upon them, but that also
flatters and reassures them; and as they are proud, cowardly, and covetous of
pleasure, they willingly submit to restraints that tickle their vanity and on
which they found both their present security and the hope of their future
happiness. That is the principle of all morality. . . . But let us not mislead
ourselves. My companions are unloading their cargo of stuffs and skins on the
island. Think, father, while there is still time I To clothe the penguins is a
very serious business. At present when a penguin desires a penguin he knows
precisely what he desires and his lust is limited by an exact knowledge of its
object. At this moment two or three couples of penguins are making love on the
beach. See with what simplicity! No one pays any attention and the actors
themselves do not seem to be greatly preoccupied. But when the female penguins
are clothed, the male penguin will not form so exact a notion of what it is
that attracts him to them. His indeterminate desires will fly out into all
sorts of dreams and illusions; in short, father, he will know love and its mad
torments. And all the time the female penguins will cast down their eyes and
bite their lips, and take on airs as if they kept a treasure under their
clothes! . . . what a pity!
"The evil will be endurable as long as these people remain rude and poor; but
only wait for a thousand years and you will see, father, with what powerful
weapons you have endowed the daughters of Alca. If you will allow me, I can
give you some idea of it beforehand. I have some old clothes in this chest.
Let us take at hazard one of these female penguins to whom the male penguins
give such little thought, and let us dress her as well as we can.
"Here is one coming towards us. She is neither more beautiful nor uglier than
the others; she is young. No one looks at her. She strolls indolently along
the shore, scratching her back and with her finger at her nose as she walks.
You cannot help seeing, father, that she has narrow shoulders, clumsy breasts,
a stout figure, and short legs. Her reddish knees pucker at every step she
takes, and there is, at each of her joints, what looks like a little monkey's
head. Her broad and sinewy feet cling to the rock with their four crooked
toes, while the great toes stick up like the heads of two cunning serpents.
She begins to walk, all her muscles are engaged in the task, and, when we see
them working, we think of her as a machine intended for walking rather than as
a machine intended for making love, although visibly she is both, and contains
within herself several other pieces of machinery, besides. Well, venerable
apostle, you will see what I am going to make of her."
With these words the monk, Magis, reached the female penguin in three bounds,
lifted her up, carried her in his arms with her hair trailing behind her, and
threw her, overcome with fright, at the feet of the holy Mael.
And whilst she wept and begged him to do her no harm, he took a pair of
sandals out of his chest and commanded her to put them on.
"Her feet," observed the old man, "will appear smaller when squeezed in by the
woollen cords. The soles, being two fingers high, will give an elegant length
to her legs and the weight they bear will seem magnified."
As the penguin tied on her sandals she threw a curious look towards the open
coffer, and seeing that it was full of jewels and finery, she smiled through
The monk twisted her hair on the back of her head and covered it with a
chaplet of flowers. He encircled her wrist with golden bracelets and making
her stand upright, he passed a large linen band beneath her breasts, alleging
that her bosom would thereby derive a new dignity and that her sides would be
compressed to the greater glory of her hips.
He fixed this band with pins, taking them one by one out of his mouth.
"You can tighten it still more," said the penguin.
When he had, with much care and study, enclosed the soft parts of her bust in
this way, he covered her whole body with a rose-coloured tunic which gently
followed the lines of her figure.
"Does it hang well?" asked the penguin.
And bending forward with her head on one side and her chin on her shoulder,
she kept looking attentively at the appearance of her toilet.
Magis asked her if she did not think the dress a little long, but she answered
with assurance that it was not--she would hold it up.
Immediately, taking the back of her skirt in her left hand, she drew it
obliquely across her hips, taking care to disclose a glimpse of her heels.
Then she went away, walking with short steps and swinging her hips.
She did not turn her head, but as she passed near a stream she glanced out of
the corner of her eye at her own reflection.
A male penguin, who met her by chance, stopped in surprise, and retracing his
steps began to follow her. As she went along the shore, others coming back
from fishing, went up to her, and after looking at her, walked behind her.
Those who were lying on the sand got up and joined the rest.
Unceasingly, as she advanced, fresh penguins, descending from the paths of the
mountain, coming out of clefts of the rocks, and emerging from the water,
added to the size of her retinue.
And all of them, men of ripe age with vigorous shoulders and hairy breasts,
agile youths, old men shaking the multitudinous wrinkles of their rosy, and
white-haired skins, or dragging their legs thinner and drier than the juniper
staff that served them as a third leg, hurried on, panting and emitting an
acrid odour and hoarse gasps. Yet she went on peacefully and seemed to see
"Father," cried Magis, "notice how each one advances with his nose pointed
towards the centre of gravity of that young damsel now that the centre is
covered by a garment. The sphere inspires the meditations of geometers by the
number of its properties. When it proceeds from a physical and living nature
it acquires new qualities, and in order that the interest of that figure might
be fully revealed to the penguins it was necessary that, ceasing to see it
distinctly with their eyes, they should be led to represent it to themselves
in their minds. I myself feel at this moment irresistibly attracted towards
that penguin. Whether it be because her skirt gives more importance to her
hips, and that in its simple magnificence it invests them with a synthetic and
general character and allows only the pure idea, the divine principle, of them
to be seen, whether this be the cause I cannot say, but I feel that if I
embraced her I would hold in my hands the heaven of human pleasure. It is
certain that modesty communicates an invincible attraction to women. My
uneasiness is so great that it would be vain for me to try to conceal it."
He spoke, and, gathering up his habit, he rushed among the crowd of penguins,
pushing, jostling, trampling, and crushing, until he reached the daughter of
Alca, whom he seized and suddenly carried in his arms into a cave that had
been hollowed out by the sea.
Then the penguins felt as if the sun had gone out. And the holy Mael knew that
the Devil had taken the features of the monk, Magis, in order that he might
give clothes to the daughter of Alca. He was troubled in spirit, and his soul
was sad. As with slow steps he went towards his hermitage he saw the little
penguins of six and seven years of age tightening their waists with belts made
of sea-weed and walking along the shore to see if anybody would follow them.
II. THE FIRST CLOTHES (Continuation and End)
The holy Mael felt a profound sadness that the first clothes put upon a
daughter of Alca should have betrayed the penguin modesty instead of helping
it. He persisted, none the less, in his design of giving clothes to the
inhabitants of the miraculous island. Assembling them on the shore, he
distributed to them the garments that the monks of Yvern had brought. The male
penguins received short tunics and breeches, the female penguins long robes.
But these robes were far from creating the effect that the former one had
produced. They were not so beautiful, their shape was uncouth and without art,
and no attention was paid to them since every woman bad one. As they prepared
the meals and worked in the fields they soon had nothing but slovenly bodices
and soiled petticoats.
The male penguins loaded their unfortunate consorts with work until they
looked like beasts of burden. They knew nothing of the troubles of the heart
and the disorders of passion. Their habits were innocent. Incest, though
frequent, was a sign of rustic simplicity and if drunkenness led a youth to
commit some such crime he thought nothing more about it the day afterwards.
III. SETTING BOUNDS TO THE FIELDS AND THE ORIGIN OF PROPERTY
The island did not preserve the rugged appearance that it had formerly, when,
in the midst of floating icebergs it sheltered a population of birds within
its rocky amphitheatre. Its snow-clad peak had sunk down into a hill from the
summit of which one could see the coasts of Armorica eternally covered with
mist, and the ocean strewn with sullen reefs like monsters half raised out of
Its coasts were now very extensive and clearly defined and its shape reminded
one of a mulberry leaf. It was suddenly covered with coarse grass, pleasing to
the flocks, and with willows, ancient figtrees, and mighty oaks. This fact is
attested by the Venerable Bede and several other authors worthy of credence.
To the north the shore formed a deep bay that in after years became one of the
most famous ports in the universe. To the east, along a rocky coast beaten by
a foaming sea, there stretched a deserted and fragrant heath. It was the Beach
of Shadows, and the inhabitants of the island never ventured on it for fear of
the serpents that lodged in the hollows of the rocks and lest they might
encounter the souls of the dead who resembled livid flames. To the south,
orchards and woods bounded the languid Bay of Divers. On this fortunate shore
old Mael built a wooden church and a monastery. To the west, two streams, the
Clange and the Surelle, watered the fertile valleys of Dalles and Dombes.
Now one autumn morning, as the blessed Mael was walking in the valley of
Clange in company with a monk of Yvern called Bulloch, he saw bands of
fierce-looking men loaded with stones passing along the roads. At the same
time he heard in all directions cries and complaints mounting up from the
valley towards the tranquil sky.
And he said to Bulloch:
"I notice with sadness, my son, that since they became men the inhabitants of
this island act with less wisdom than formerly. When they were birds they only
quarrelled during the season of their love affairs. But now they dispute all
the time; they pick quarrels with each other in summer as well as in winter.
How greatly have they fallen from that peaceful majesty which made the
assembly of the penguins look like the Senate of a wise republic!
"Look towards Surelle, Bulloch, my son. In yonder pleasant valley a dozen men
penguins are busy knocking each other down with the spades and picks that they
might employ better in tilling the ground. The women, still more cruel than
the men, are tearing their opponents' faces with their nails. Alas! Bulloch,
my son, why are they murdering each other in this way?"
"From a spirit of fellowship, father, and through forethought for the future,"
answered Bulloch. "For man is essentially provident and sociable. Such is his
character and it is impossible to imagine it apart from a certain
appropriation of things. Those penguins whom you see are dividing the ground
"Could they not divide it with less violence?" asked the aged man. "As they
fight they exchange invectives and threats. I do not distinguish their words,
but they are angry ones, judging from the tone."
"They are accusing one another of theft and encroachment," answered Bulloch.
"That is the general sense of their speech."
At that moment the holy Mael clasped his hands and sighed deeply.
"Do you see, my son," he exclaimed, "that madman who with his teeth is biting
the nose of the adversary he has overthrown and that other one who is pounding
a woman's head with a huge stone?"
"I see them," said Bulloch. "They are creating law; they are founding
property; they are establishing the principles of civilization, the basis of
society, and the foundations of the State."
"How is that?" asked old Mael.
"By setting bounds to their fields. That is the origin of all government. Your
penguins, O Master, are performing the most august of functions. Throughout
the ages their work will be consecrated by lawyers, and magistrates will
Whilst the monk, Bulloch, was pronouncing these words a big penguin with a
fair skin and red hair went down into the valley carrying a trunk of a tree
upon his shoulder. He went up to a little penguin who was watering his
vegetables in the heat of the sun, and shouted to him:
"Your field is mine!"
And having delivered himself of this stout utterance he brought down his club
on the head of the little penguin, who fell dead upon the field that his own
hands had tilled.
At this sight the holy Mael shuddered through his whole body and poured forth
a flood of tears.
And in a voice stifled by horror and fear he addressed this prayer to heaven:
"O Lord, my God, O thou who didst receive young Abel's sacrifices, thou who
didst curse Cain, avenge, O Lord, this innocent penguin sacrificed upon his
own field and make the murderer feel the weight of thy arm. Is there a more
odious crime, is there a graver offence against thy justice, O Lord, than this
murder and this robbery?"
"Take care, father," said Bulloch gently, "that what you call murder and
robbery may not really be war and conquest, those sacred foundations of
empires, those sources of all human virtues and all human greatness. Reflect,
above all, that in blaming the big penguin you are attacking property in its
origin and in its source. I shall have no trouble in showing you how. To till
the land is one thing, to possess it is another, and these two things must not
be confused; as regards ownership the right of the first occupier is uncertain
and badly founded. The right of conquest, on the other hand, rests on more
solid foundations. It is the only right that receives respect since it is the
only one that makes itself respected. The sole and proud origin of property is
force. It is born and preserved by force. In that it is august and yields only
to a greater force. This is why it is correct to say that he who possesses is
noble. And that big red man, when he knocked down a labourer to get possession
of his field, founded at that moment a very noble house upon this earth. I
congratulate him upon it."
Having thus spoken, Bulloch approached the big penguin, who was leaning upon
his club as he stood in the blood-stained furrow:
"Lord Greatauk, dreaded Prince," said he, bowing to the ground, "I come to pay
you the homage due to the founder of legitimate power and hereditary wealth.
The skull of the vile Penguin you have overthrown will, buried in your field,
attest for ever the sacred rights of your posterity over this soil that you
have ennobled. Blessed be your suns and your sons' sons! They shall be
Greatauks, Dukes of Skull, and they shall rule over this island of Alca."
Then raising his voice and turning towards the holy Mael:
"Bless Greatauk, father, for all power comes from God."
Mael remained silent and motionless, with his eyes raised towards heaven; he
felt a painful uncertainty in judging the monk Bulloch's doctrine. It was,
however, the doctrine destined to prevail in epochs of advanced civilization.
Bulloch can be considered as the creator of civil law in Penguinia.
IV. THE FIRST ASSEMBLY OF THE ESTATES OF PENGUINIA
"Bulloch, my son," said old Mael, "we ought to make a census of the Penguins
and inscribe each of their names in a book."
"It is a most urgent matter," answered Bulloch, "there can be no good
government without it."
Forthwith, the apostle, with the help of twelve monks, proceeded to make a
census of the people.
And old Mael then said:
"Now that we keep a register of all the inhabitants, we ought, Bulloch, my
son, to levy a just tax so as to provide for public expenses and the
maintenance of the Abbey. Each ought to contribute according to his means. For
this reason, my son, call together the Elders of Alca, and in agreement with
them we shall establish the tax."
The Elders, being called together, assembled to the number of thirty under the
great sycamore in the courtyard of the wooden monastery. They were the first
Estates of Penguinia. Three-fourths of them were substantial peasants of
Surelle and Clange. Greatauk, as the noblest of the Penguins, sat upon the
The venerable Mael took his place in the midst of his monks and uttered these
"Children, the Lord when he pleases grants riches to men and he takes them
away from them. Now I have called you together to levy contributions from the
people so as to provide for public expenses and the maintenance of the monks.
I consider that these contributions ought to be in proportion to the wealth of
each. Therefore he who has a hundred oxen will give ten; he who has ten will
When the holy man had spoken, Morio, a, labourer at Anis-on-the-Clange, one of
the richest of the Penguins, rose up and said:
"O Father Mael, I think it right that each should contribute to the public
expenses and to the support of the Church. or my part I am ready to give up
all that I possess in the interest of my brother Penguins, and if it were
necessary I would even cheerfully part with my shirt. All the elders of the
people are ready, like me, to sacrifice their goods, and no one can doubt
their absolute devotion to their country and their creed. We have, then, only
to consider the public interest and to do what it requires. Now, Father, what
it requires, what it demands, is not to ask much from those who possess much,
for then the rich would be less rich and the poor still poorer. The poor live
on the wealth of the rich and that is the reason why that wealth is sacred. Do
not touch it, to do so would be an uncalled for evil. You will get no great
profit by taking from the rich, for they are very few in number; on the
contrary you will strip yourself of all your resources and plunge the country
into misery. Whereas if you ask a little from each inhabitant without regard
to his wealth, you will collect enough for the public necessities and you will
have no need to enquire into each citizen's resources, a thing that would be
regarded by all as a most vexatious measure. By taxing all equally and easily
you will spare the poor, for you Will leave them the wealth of the rich. And
how could you possibly proportion taxes to wealth? Yesterday I had two hundred
oxen, to-day I have sixty, to-morrow I shall have a hundred. Clunic has three
cows, but they are thin; Nicclu has only two, but they are fat. Which is the
richer, Clunic or Nicclu? The signs of opulence are deceitful. What is certain
is that everyone eats and drinks. Tax people according to what they consume.
That would be wisdom and it would be justice."
Thus spoke Morio amid the applause of the Elders.
"I ask that this speech be graven on bronze," cried the monk, Bulloch. "It is
spoken for the future; in fifteen hundred years the best of the Penguins will
not speak otherwise."
The Elders were still applauding when Greatauk, his hand on the pommel of his
sword, made this brief declaration:
"Being noble, I shall not contribute; for to contribute is ignoble. It is for
the rabble to pay."
After this warning the Elders separated in silence.
As in Rome, a new census was taken every five years; and by this means it was
observed that the population increased rapidly. Although children died in
marvellous abundance and plagues and famines came with perfect regularity to
devastate entire villages, new Penguins, in continually greater numbers,
contributed by their private misery to the public prosperity.
V. THE MARRIAGE OF KRAKEN AND ORBEROSIA
During these times there lived in the island of Alca a Penguin whose arm was
strong and whose mind was subtle. He was called Kraken, and had his dwelling
on the Beach of Shadows whither the inhabitants never ventured for fear of
serpents that lodged in the hollows of the rocks and lest they might encounter
the souls of Penguins that had died without baptism. These, in appearance like
livid flames, and uttering doleful groans, wandered night and day along the
deserted beach. For it was generally believed, though without proof, that
among the Penguins that had been changed into men at the blessed Mael's
prayer, several had not received baptism and returned after their death to
lament amid the tempests. Kraken dwelt on this savage coast in an inaccessible
cavern. The only way to it was through a natural tunnel a hundred feet long,
the entrance of which was concealed by a thick wood. One evening as Kraken was
walking through this deserted plain he happened to meet a young and charming
woman Penguin. She was the one that the monk Magis had clothed with his own
hands and thus was the first to have worn the garments of chastity. In
remembrance of the day when the astonished crowd of Penguins had seen her
moving gloriously in her robe tinted like the dawn, this maiden had received
the name of Orberosia.*
* "Orb, poetically, a globe when speaking of the heavenly bodies. By extension
any species of globular body."--Littre
At the sight of Kraken she uttered a cry of alarm and darted forward to escape
from him. But the hero seized her by the garments that floated behind, her,
and addressed her in these words:
"Damsel, tell me thy name, thy family and thy country."
But Orberosia kept looking at Kraken with alarm.
"Is it you, I see, sir," she asked him, trembling, "or is it not rather your
She spoke in this way because the inhabitants of Alca, having no news of
Kraken since he went to live on the Beach of Shadows, believed that he had
died and descended among the demons of night.
"Cease to fear, daughter of Alca," answered Kraken. "He who speaks to thee is
not a wandering spirit, but a man full of strength and might. I shall soon
possess great riches."
And young Orberosia asked:
"How dost thou think of acquiring great riches, O Kraken, since thou art a
child of Penguins?"
"By my intelligence," answered Kraken.
"I know," said Orberosia, "that in the time that thou dwelt among us thou wert
renowned for thy skill in hunting and fishing. No one equalled thee in taking
fishes in a net or in piercing with thy arrows the swift-flying birds."
"It was but a vulgar and laborious industry, O maiden. I have found a means of
gaining much wealth for myself without fatigue. But tell me who thou art?"
"I am called Orberosia," answered the young girl.
"Why art thou so far away from thy dwelling and in the night?"
"Kraken, it was not without the will of Heaven."
"What meanest thou, Orberosia?"
"That Heaven, O Kraken, placed me in thy path, for what reason I know not."
Kraken beheld her for a long time in silence.
Then he said with gentleness:
"Orberosia, come into my house; it is that of the bravest and most ingenious
of the sons of the Penguins. If thou art willing to follow me, I will make
thee my companion."
Then casting down her eyes, she murmured:
"I will follow thee, master."
It is thus that the fair Orberosia became the consort of the hero Kraken. This
marriage was not celebrated with songs and torches because Kraken did not
consent to show himself to the people of the Penguins; but hidden in his cave
he planned great designs.
VI. THE DRAGON OF ALCA
"We afterwards went to visit the cabinet of natural history. . . . The
care-taker showed us a sort of packet bound in straw that he told us contained
the skeleton of a dragon; a proof, added he, that the dragon is not a fabulous
animal."--Memoirs of Jacques Casanova, Paris, 1843. Vol. IV., pp. 404, 405
In the meantime the inhabitants of Alca practised the labours of peace. Those
of the northern coast went in boats to fish or to search for shell-fish. The
labourers of Dombes cultivated oats, rye, and wheat. The rich Penguins of the
valley of Dalles reared domestic animals, while those of the Bay of Divers
cultivated their orchards. Merchants of Port-Alca carried on a trade in salt
fish with Armorica and the gold of the two Britains, which began to be
introduced into the island, facilitated exchange. The Penguin people were
enjoying the fruit of their labours in perfect tranquillity when suddenly a
sinister rumour ran from village to village. It was said everywhere that
frightful dragon had ravaged two farms in the Bay of Divers.
A few days before, the maiden Orberosia had disappeared. Her absence had at
first caused no uneasiness because on several occasions she had been carried
off by violent men who were consumed with love. And thoughtful people were not
astonished at this, reflecting that the maiden was the most beautiful of the
Penguins. It was even remarked that she sometimes went to meet her ravishers,
for none of us can escape his destiny. But this time, as she did not return,
it was feared that the dragon had devoured her. The more so as the inhabitants
of the valley of Dalles soon knew that the dragon was not a fable told by the
women around the fountains. For one night the monster devoured out of the
village of Anis six hens, a sheep, and a young orphan child called little Elo.
The next morning nothing was to be found either of the animals or of the
Immediately the Elders of the village assembled in the public place and seated
themselves on the stone bench to take counsel concerning what it was expedient
to do in these terrible circumstances.
Having called all those Penguins who had seen the dragon during the disastrous
night, they asked them:
"Have you not noticed his form and his behaviour?"
And each answered in his turn:
"He has the claws of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the tail of a
"His back bristles with thorny crests."
"His whole body is covered with yellow scales."
"His look fascinates and confounds. He vomits flames."
"He poisons the air with his breath."
"He has the head of a dragon, the claws of a lion, and the tail of a fish."
And a woman of Anis, who was regarded as intelligent and of sound judgment and
from whom the dragon had taken three hens, deposed as follows:
"He is formed like a man. The proof is that I thought he was my husband, and I
said to him, 'Come to bed, you old fool.'"
"He is formed like a cloud."
"He looks like a mountain."
And a little child came and said:
"I saw the dragon taking off his head in the barn so that he might give a kiss
to my sister Minnie."
And the Elders also asked the inhabitants:
"How big is the dragon?"
And it was answered:
"As big as an ox."
"Like the big merchant ships of the Bretons."
"He is the height of a man."
"He is higher than the fig-tree under which you are sitting."
"He is as large as a dog."
Questioned finally on his colour, the inhabitants said:
"His head is bright green, his wings are brilliant orange tinged with pink,
his limbs are silver grey, his hind-quarters and his tail are striped with
brown and pink bands, his belly bright yellow spotted with black."
"His colour? He has no colour."
"He is the colour of a dragon."
After hearing this evidence the Elders remained uncertain as to what should be
done. Some advised to watch for him, to surprise him and overthrow him by a
multitude of arrows. Others, thinking it vain to oppose so powerful a monster
by force, counselled that he should be appeased by offerings.
"Pay him tribute," said one of them who passed for a wise man. "We can render
him propitious to us by giving him agreeable presents, fruits, wine, lambs, a
Others held for poisoning the fountains where he was accustomed to drink or
for smoking him out of his cavern.
But none of these counsels prevailed. The dispute was lengthy and the Elders
dispersed without coming to any resolution.
VII. THE DRAGON OF ALCA (Continuation)
During all the month dedicated by the Romans to their false god Mars or
Mavors, the dragon ravaged the farms of Dalles and Dombes. He carried off
fifty sheep, twelve pigs, and three young boys. Every family was in mourning
and the island was full of lamentations. In order to remove the scourge, the
Elders of the unfortunate villages watered by the Clange and the Surelle
resolved to assemble and together go and ask the help of the blessed Mael.
On the fifth day of the month whose name among the Latins signifies opening,
because it opens the year, they went in procession to the wooden monastery
that had been built on the southern coast of the island. When they were
introduced into the cloister they filled it with their sobs and groans. Moved
by their lamentations, old Mael left the room in which he devoted himself to
the study of astronomy and the meditation of the Scriptures, and went down to
them, leaning on his pastoral staff. At his approach, the Elders, prostrating
themselves, held out to him green branches of trees and some of them burnt
And the holy man, seating himself beside the cloistral fountain under an
ancient fig-tree, uttered these words:
"O my sons, offspring of the Penguins, why do you weep and groan? Why do you
hold out those suppliant boughs towards me? Why do you raise towards heaven
the smoke of those herbs? What calamity do you expect that I can avert from
your heads? Why do you beseech me? I am ready to give my life for you. Only
tell your father what it is you hope from him."
To these questions the chief of the Elders answered:
"O Mael, father of the sons of Alca, I will speak for all. A horrible dragon
is laying waste our lands, depopulating our cattle-sheds, and carrying off the
flower of our youth. He has devoured the child Elo and seven young boys; he
has mangled the maiden Orberosia, the fairest of the Penguins with his teeth.
There is not a village in which he does not emit his poisoned breath and which
he has not filled with desolation. A prey to this terrible scourge, we come, O
Mael, to pray thee, as the wisest, to advise us concerning the safety of the
inhabitants of this island lest the ancient race of Penguins be extinguished."
"O chief of the Elders of Alca," replied Mael, "thy words fill me with
profound grief, and I groan at the thought that this island is the prey of a
terrible dragon. But such an occurrence is not unique, for we find in books
several tales of very fierce dragons. The monsters are oftenest found in
caverns, by the brinks of waters, and, in preference, among pagan peoples.
Perhaps there are some among you who, although they have received holy baptism
and been incorporated into the family of Abraham, have yet worshipped idols,
like the ancient Romans, or hung up images, votive tablets, fillets of wool,
and garlands of flowers on the branches of some sacred tree. Or perhaps some
of the women Penguins have danced round a magic stone and drunk water from the
fountains where the nymphs dwell. If it be so, believe, O Penguins, that the
Lord has sent this dragon to punish all for the crimes of some, and to lead
you, O children of the Penguins, to exterminate blasphemy, superstition, and
impiety from amongst you. For this reason I advise, as a remedy against the
great evil from which you suffer, that you carefully search your dwellings for
idolatry, and extirpate it from them. I think it would be also efficacious to
pray and do penance."
Thus spoke the holy Mael. And the Elders of the Penguin people kissed his feet
and returned to their villages with renewed hope.
VIII. THE DRAGON OF ALCA (Continuation)
Following the counsel of the holy Mael the inhabitants of Alca endeavoured to
uproot the superstitions that had sprung up amongst them. They took care to
prevent the girls from dancing with incantations round the fairy tree. Young
mothers were sternly forbidden to rub their children against the stones that
stood upright in the fields so as to make them strong. An old man of Dombes
who foretold the future by shaking grains of barley on a sieve, was thrown
into a well.
However, each night the monster still raided the poultry-yards and the
cattle-sheds. The frightened peasants barricaded themselves in their houses. A
woman with child who saw the shadow of a dragon on the road through a window
in the moonlight, was so terrified that she was brought to bed before her
In those days of trial, the holy Mael meditated unceasingly on the nature of
dragons and the means of combating them. After six months of study and prayer
he thought he had found what he sought. One evening as he was walking by the
sea with a young monk called Samuel, he to him in these terms:
"I have studied at length the history and habits of dragons, not to satisfy a
vain curiosity, but to discover examples to follow in the present
circumstances. For such, Samuel, my son, is the use of history.
"It is an invariable fact that dragons are extremely vigilant. They never
sleep, and for this reason we often find them employed in guarding treasures.
A dragon guarded at Colchis the golden fleece that Jason conquered from him. A
dragon watched over the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides. He was
killed by Hercules and transformed into a star by Juno. This fact is related
in some books, and if it be true, it was done by magic, for the gods of the
pagans are in reality demons. A dragon prevented barbarous and ignorant men
from drinking at the fountain of Castalia. We must also remember the dragon of
Andromeda, which was slain by Perseus. But let us turn from these pagan
fables, in which error is always mixed with truth. We meet dragons in the
histories of the glorious archangel Michael, of St. George, St. Philip, St.
James the Great, St. Patrick, St. Martha, and St. Margaret. And it is in such
writings, since they are worthy of full credence, that we ought to look for
comfort and counsel.
"The story of the dragon of Silena affords us particularly precious examples.
You must know, my son, that on the banks of a vast pool close to that town
there dwelt a dragon who sometimes approached the walls and poisoned with his
breath all who dwelt in the suburbs. And that they might not be devoured by
the monster, the inhabitants of Silena delivered up to him one of their number
expressed his thought every morning. The victim was chosen by lot, and after a
hundred others, the lot fell upon the king's daughter.
"Now St. George, who was a military tribune, as he passed through the town of
Silena, learned that the king's daughter had just been given to the fierce
beast. He immediately mounted his horse, and, armed with his lance, rushed to
encounter the dragon, whom he reached just as the monster was about to devour
the royal virgin. And when St. George had overthrown the dragon, the king's
daughter fastened her girdle round the beast's neck and he followed her like a
dog led on a leash.
"That is an example for us of the power of virgins over dragons. The history
of St. Martha furnishes us with a still more certain proof. Do you know the
story, Samuel, my son?"
"Yes, father," answered Samuel.
And the blessed Mael went on:
"There was in a forest on the banks of the Rhone, between Arles and Avignon, a
dragon half quadruped and half fish, larger than an ox, with sharp teeth like
horns and huge-wings at his shoulders. He sank the boats and devoured their
passengers. Now St. Martha, at the entreaty of the people, approached this
dragon, whom she found devouring a man. She put her girdle round his neck and
led him easily into the town.
"These two examples lead me to think that we should have recourse to the power
of some virgin so as to conquer the dragon who scatters terror and death
through the island of Alca.
"For this reason, Samuel thy son, gird up thy loins and go, I pray thee, with
two of thy companions, into all the villages of this island, and proclaim
everywhere that a virgin alone shall be able to deliver the island from the
monster that devastates it.
"Thou shalt sing psalms and canticles and thou shalt say:
"'O sons of the Penguins, if there be among you a pure virgin, let her arise
and go, armed with the sign of the cross, to combat the dragon!'"
Thus the old man spake, and Samuel promised to obey him. The next day he
girded up his loins and set out with two of his companions to proclaim to the
inhabitants of Alca that a virgin alone would be able to deliver the Penguins
from the rage of the dragon.
X. THE DRAGON OF ALCA (Continuation)
Orberosia loved her husband, but she did not love him alone. At the hour when
Venus lightens in the pale sky, whilst Kraken scattered terror through the
villages, she used to visit in his moving hut, a young shepherd of Dalles
called Marcel, whose pleasing form was invested with inexhaustible vigour. The
fair Orberosia shared the shepherd's aromatic couch with delight, but far from
making herself known to him, she took the name of Bridget, and said that she
was the daughter of a gardener in the Bay of Divers. When regretfully she left
his arms she walked across the smoking fields towards the Coast of Shadows,
and if she happened to meet some belated peasant she immediately spread out
her garments like great wings and cried:
"Passer by, lower your eyes, that you may not have to say, 'Alas! alas! woe is
me, for I have seen the angel of the Lord.'"
The villagers tremblingly knelt with their faces to the round. And several of
them used to say that angels, whom it would be death to see, passed along the
roads of the island in the night time.
Kraken did not know of the loves of Orberosia and Marcel, for he was a hero,
and heroes never discover the secrets of their wives. But though he did not
know of these loves, he reaped the benefit of them. Every night he found his
companion more good-humoured and more beautiful, exhaling pleasure and
perfuming the nuptial bed with a delicious odour of fennel and vervain. She
loved Kraken with a love that never became importunate or anxious, because she
did not rest its whole weight on him alone.
This lucky infidelity of Orberosia was destined soon to save the hero from a
great peril and to assure his fortune and his glory for ever. For it happened
that she saw passing in the twilight a neatherd from Belmont, who was goading
on his oxen, and she fell more deeply in love with him than she had ever been
with the shepherd Marcel. He was hunch-backed; his shoulders were higher than
his ears; his body was supported by legs of different lengths; his rolling
eyes flashed, from beneath his matted hair. From his throat issued a hoarse
voice and strident laughter; he smelt of the cow-shed. However, to her he was
beautiful. "A plant," as Gnatho says, "has been loved by one, a stream by
another, a beast by a third."
Now, one day, as she was sighing within the neatherd's arms in a village barn,
suddenly the blasts of a trumpet, with sounds and footsteps, fell upon her
ears; she looked through the window and saw the inhabitants collected in the
marketplace round a young monk, who, standing upon a rock, uttered these words
in a distinct voice:
"Inhabitants of Belmont, Abbot Mael, our venerable father, informs you through
my mouth that neither by strength nor skill in arms shall you prevail against
the dragon; but the beast shall be overcome by a virgin. If, then, there be
among you a perfectly pure virgin, let her arise and go towards the monster;
and when she meets him let her tie her girdle round his neck and she shall
lead him as easily as if he were a little dog."
And the young monk, replacing his hood upon his head, departed to carry the
proclamation of the blessed Mael to other villages.
Orberosia sat in the amorous straw, resting her head in her hand and
supporting her elbow upon her knee, meditating on what she had just heard.
Although, so far as Kraken was concerned, she feared the power of a virgin
much less than the strength of armed men, she did not feel reassured by the
proclamation of the blessed Mael. A vague but sure instinct ruled her mind and
warned her that Kraken could not henceforth be a dragon with safety.
She said to the neatherd:
"My own heart, what do you think about the dragon?"
The rustic shook his head.
"It is certain that dragons laid waste the earth in ancient times and some
have been seen as large as mountains. But they come no longer, and I believe
that what has been taken for a dragon is not one at all, but pirates or
merchants who have carried off the fair Orberosia and the best of the children
of Alca in their ships. But if one of those brigands attempts to rob me of my
oxen, I will either by force or craft find a way to prevent him from doing me
This remark of the neatherd increased Orberosia's apprehensions and added to
her solicitude for the husband whom she loved.
X. THE DRAGON OF ALCA (Continuation)
The days passed by and no maiden arose in the island to combat the monster.
And in the wooden monastery old Mael, seated on a bench in the shade of an old
fig-tree, accompanied by a pious monk called Regimental, kept asking himself
anxiously and sadly how it was that there was not in Alca a single virgin fit
to overthrow the monster.
He sighed and brother Regimental sighed too. At that moment old Mael called
young Samuel, who happened to pass through the garden, and said to him:
"I have meditated anew, my son, on the means of destroying the dragon who
devours the flower of our youth, our flocks, and our harvests. In this respect
the story of the dragons of St. Riok and of St. Pol de Leon seems to me
particularly instructive. The dragon of St. Riok was six fathoms long; his
head was derived from the cock and the basilisk, his body from the ox and the
serpent; he ravaged the banks of the Elorn in the time of King Bristocus. St.
Riok, then aged two years, led him by a leash to the sea, in which the monster
drowned himself of his own accord. St. Pol's dragon was sixty feet long and
not less terrible. The blessed apostle of Leon bound him with his stole and
allowed a young noble of great purity of life to lead him. These examples
prove that in the eyes of God a chaste young man is as agreeable as a chaste
girl. Heaven makes no distinction between them. For this reason, my son, if
you believe what I say, we will both go to the Coast of Shadows; when we reach
the dragon's cavern we will call the monster in a loud voice, and when he
comes forth I will tie my stole round his neck and you will lead him to the
sea, where he will not fail to drown himself."
At the old man's words Samuel cast down his head and did not answer.
"You seem to hesitate, my son," said Mael.
Brother Regimental, contrary to his custom, spoke without being addressed.
"There is at least cause for some hesitation," said he. "St. Riok was only two
years old when he overcame the dragon. Who says that nine or ten years later
he could have done as much? Remember, father, that the dragon who is
devastating our island has devoured little Elo and four or five other young
boys. Brother Samuel is not go presumptuous as to believe that at nineteen
years of age he is more innocent than they were at twelve and fourteen.
"Alas!" added the monk, with a groan, "who can boast of being chaste in this
world, where everything gives the example and model of love, where all things
in nature, animals, and plants, show us the caresses of love and advise us to
share them? Animals are eager to unite in their own fashion, but the various
marriages of quadrupeds, birds, fishes, and reptiles are far from equalling in
lust the nuptials of the trees. The greatest extremes of lewdness that the
pagans have imagined in their fables are outstripped by the simple flowers of
the field, and, if you knew the irregularities of lilies and roses you would
take those chalices of impurity, those vases of scandal, away from your
"Do not speak in this way, Brother Regimental," answered old Mael. "Since they
are subject to the law of nature, animals and plants are always innocent. They
have no souls to save, whilst man--"
"You are right," replied Brother Regimental, "it is quite a different thing.
But do not send young Samuel to the dragon--the dragon might devour him. For
the last five years Samuel is not in a state to show his innocence to
monsters. In the year of the comet, the Devil in order to seduce him, put in
his path a milkmaid, who was lifting up her petticoat to cross a ford. Samuel
was tempted, but he overcame the temptation. The Devil, who never tires, sent
him the image of that young girl in a dream. The shade did what the reality
was unable to accomplish, and Samuel yielded. When he awoke be moistened his
couch with his tears, but alas! repentance did not give him back his
As he listened to this story Samuel asked himself how his secret could be
known, for he was ignorant that the Devil had borrowed the appearance of
Brother Regimental, so as to trouble the hearts of the monks of Alca.
And old Mael remained deep in thought and kept asking himself in grief:
"Who will deliver us from the dragon's tooth? Who will preserve us from his
breath? Who will save us from his look?"
However, the inhabitants of Alca began to take courage. The labourers of
Dombes and the neatherds of Belmont swore that they themselves would be of
more avail than a girl against the ferocious beast, and they exclaimed as they
stroked the muscles on their arms, "Let the dragon come!" Many men and women
had seen him. They did not agree about his form and his figure, but all now
united in saying that he was not as big as they had thought, and that his
height was not much greater than a man's. The defence was organised; towards
nightfall watches were stationed at the entrances of the villages ready to
give the alarm; and during the night companies armed with pitchforks and
scythes protected the paddocks in which the animals were shut up. Indeed, once
in the village of Anis some plucky labourers surprised him as he was scaling
Morio's wall, and, as they had flails, scythes, and pitchforks, they fell upon
him and pressed him hard. One of them, a very quick and courageous man,
thought to have run him through with his pitchfork; but he slipped in a pool
and so let him escape. The others would certainly have caught him had they not
waited to pick up the rabbits and fowls that he dropped in his flight.
Those labourers declared to the Elders of the village that the monster's form
and proportions appeased to them human enough except for his head and his
tail, which were, in truth, terrifying.
XI. THE DRAGON OF ALCA (Continuation)
On that day Kraken came back to his cavern sooner than usual. He took from his
head his sealskin helmet with its two bull's horns and its visor trimmed with
terrible hooks. He threw on the table his gloves that ended in horrible
claws--they were the beaks of sea-birds. He unhooked his belt from which hung
a long green tail twisted into many folds. Then he ordered his page, Elo, to
help him off with his boots and, as the child did not succeed in doing this
very quickly, he gave him a kick that sent him to the other end of the grotto.
Without looking at the fair Orberosia, who was spinning, he seated himself in
front of the fireplace, on which a sheep was roasting, and he muttered:
"Ignoble Penguins. . . . There is no worse trade than a dragon's."
"What does my master say?" asked the fair Orberosia.
"They fear me no longer," continued Kraken. "Formerly everyone fled at my
approach. I carried away hens and rabbits in my bag; I drove sheep and pigs,
cows, and oxen before me. To-day these clod-hoppers keep a good guard; they
sit up at night. Just now I was pursued in the village of Anis by doughty
labourers armed with flails and scythes and pitchforks. I had to drop the hens
and rabbits, put my tail under my arm, and run as fast as I could. Now I ask
you, is it seemly for a dragon of Cappadocia to run away like a robber with
his tail under his arm? Further, incommoded as I was by crests, horns, hooks,
claws, and scales, I barely escaped a brute who ran half an inch of his
pitchfork into my left thigh."
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