HomeQuebecLes Lutins (The Goblins) by Louis Frechette (English Translation)

Les Lutins (The Goblins) by Louis Frechette (English Translation)

Les Lutins

or

The Goblins

By Louis-Honore Frechette, in the 1905 issue of Almanach du peuple de la librairie Beauchemin (English translation)

Back to Honore Beaugrand’s Classic French-Canadian Folktales.

LUTINS, CHILDREN? You ask if I know what the lutins are? Do you think that someone like me, who has worked for thirty beautiful years in the woods, on the rafts and in the timber camps, would not know, inside and out, everything there is to know about these types of creatures? Yes, Jos Violon knows a little about them!”

It goes without saying that it was precisely Jos Violon himself, our usual protagonist, who had the floor, and who was preparing to treat us to one of his timber camps stories which he had witnessed, in which he had played a decisive role.

“First of all, what do elves do?” asked someone from the audience. “Are they everywhere? Are they demons?”

“That is more than I could tell you,” replied the veteran of the aforementioned countries. “All I know is that you shouldn’t mess around with them. I wouldn’t say that they are absolutely harmful, but when you annoy them, or provoke them too much, you have to be wary of them. They play tricks on you that are not funny: one time, for example, they made this young bride ride through the woods on horseback all night long on her wedding night, and brought her back all out of breath, and nearly unconscious, at five o’clock in the morning. Is that a nice thing to do?

“First, everyone who knows anything about lutins, myself included, will tell you that if they are not demons, they are certainly not children of the child Jesus. Imagine little men, eighteen inches tall, with nothing but an eye in the middle of their foreheads, with noses like hazelnuts, a bullfrog’s mouth split up to the ears, arms like toads’ feet, with bellies like tomatoes and big pointed hats that make them look like spring mushrooms.

“The eye that they have in the middle of their forehead glows like a burning coal; and that’s what lights them up, because these folks sleep during the day, and come out at night to cause mischief, you know.

“They live in the ground, behind stumps, between the rocks, and especially in the stables, because, if they have a penchant for anything, it’s for horses.

“Ah! When it comes to tending horses, there are no stablemen in Beauce [1] to match them. When they take a liking to a horse, its manger is always full, and you wouldn’t believe how its coat shines! A real mirror, children, up to its belly. And its mane and tail is as dainty as any dolled-up creature; you would have to see it as I have. Listen, I’ll tell you all about it, if you would just give me a moment to light my pipe.”

And, after carefully lighting his pipe with the flame of a candle, he resumed his tale. “Speak, spake, spoke,” the old narrator began, as he always did at the start of his stories:

“So, I was telling you, children, that one time, I went to winter on the Chene River [2], in the service of old Gilmore [3], with a gang of fellows recruited from the heights of Pointe-Levis, and from the coves of Cap-Blanc.

“Although our camp was in the vicinity of Saint-Maurice, old Gilmore did not want to have anything to do with the rustics of Trois-Rivieries. They wanted decent workers, not blasphemers, nor drunkards nor sorcerers. It seems they had had enough of the runners of la chasse-galerie [4], those owls who talk to the devil and sell the Poule Noir [5].

“So, we were all living pretty cleanly, despite the fact that we did not have the opportunity to attend low mass [6] every morning.

“As you ought to know, children, the Chene River is not exactly ‘at the neighbours’ [7], as they say, but it’s not the green devil either. Starting from Trois-Rivieres, we travelled there in two-and-a-half-day journeys; and since there are no obstructions in the road, we had the chance to cart our things by horse.

“The boss had two horses when he left: a large black bronco, and a small ash-coloured filly, fine as silk. Belzemire, she was called. An ‘eel in the necklace’, children, a real ‘dust on the road’. I tell you, she was a cute little beast! Everyone loved her. She was the kind of horse for whom you’d steal a little piece of sugar from the wagon.

          “Did I tell you that the great Zebe Roberge was part of our gang? Well, it was he who was in charge of the stable and the wagon train. Zebe Roberge was a good fellow, as you know. And since he and I both came from the same place, we were a pair of friends, and on Sundays, in good weather, we often went to smoke pipes together at the door of the stable, where we could keep our pipes from guttering out.

“‘Father Jos,’ he asked me one day, ‘do you believe in lutins?’

“‘In lutins?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘Why do you ask me that?’

“‘Do you believe in them?’

“‘Holy Mary, it’s just my opinion. It’s not Gospel; you don’t have to believe it.’

“‘That’s what I always thought,’ said Zebe Roberge. ‘Well, listen! It’s not religion, but God forgive me, I’m starting to believe it anyway!’

“‘In the lutins?’

“‘In the lutins!’

“‘Pantoute! [8] Here, put yourself in my place, Father Jos. Every Monday morning when I wake up, guess what I find in the stable?’

“‘Holy Mary…’

“‘You’re right, I don’t understand it. Belzemire is already well-groomed, his crib full of hay, his feeder full of oats, his hair like satin, but he’s all out of breath as if he’d just been fifteen leagues d’une bauche.’ [9]

“‘That’s impossible!’

“That’s what I thought! I was puzzled at first, but I didn’t think too much of it, since I didn’t notice the main thing; of course, you don’t see everything by the lantern light. Something caught my ear last Monday, when France Lapointe said to Pierre Fecteau: ‘Look how the greate Zebe takes care of his Belzemire! It sure looks like he’s spending all Sunday there, dolling her up and grooming her!’ In fact, Father Jos, the naughty mare had her hair combed into wavy, frizzy braids. I’m not kidding you, it was criminal. I said to myself, ‘Something strange is going on. I’ll have to keep my eye on this.’’

“‘Have you been watching?’

“‘All the following week, Father Jos.’

“‘And?’

“‘Nothing!’

“‘What about Monday morning?’

“‘Always the same story; the mare’s sides are beaten like a drum; and the horsehair… Come and see, Father Jos, it’s not yet untangled.’

“Believe me, children, when I saw it, I nearly passed out like a drunk on my back. I’d say it was more than curly: one would have sworn that the damned filly was going to a ball. All that was missing were earrings and a brooch. We were wondering, Zebe and I, what it all meant, when we heard, from the side of the door, a voice calling us fools. We turned around, and saw that it was ‘Gingerbread’ who had entered.

“Gingerbread, children (I don’t know if I told you about him) was a fellow who always had a pipe in his mouth, a man from the coves whose name was Baptiste Lanouette, but whom the boys nicknamed ‘Gingerbread’. We don’t really know why. He was a good sort, I think, but also a bit of a sneaker. He approached us on tiptoe and whispered in our ears:

“‘Don’t you see? It’s the lutins!’

“‘Huh?’

“Can’t you see that she is being groomed by the lutins? It’s obvious enough.’

“Zebe Roberge rearranged the tobacco in his mouth with a dazed look.

“‘I was just talking about this with Father Jos, and he said the same thing.’

“‘Tut, tut! ‘Gingerbread’, don’t beat about the bush. There is no doubt that some sort of magic is involved here, but I don’t think there’s cause for concern. The lutins have not harmed you since the beginning of winter. Well, let it go. They are not harmful, nor mischevious. Just don’t talk about them. If we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us. For myself, personally, the lutins conjured up a vision of my dear late father, who was a carpenter.’

“I tell you, children, that story- it bothered me a little.

“‘All this is fine,’ I told Zebe Roberge the next evening. ‘But I wouldn’t mind seeing the lutins myself. There is no harm; they are not dangerous; and I heard that if you manage to capture one, you’ll be rich! Most of them are female, and if you manage to catch one- as a wealthy merchant did in the Ouelle River- you can exchange its freedom for a barrel full of gold. Say, Zebe, if we’re smart enough, you understand…’

“At first, Zebe had made a face; but when he heard about the barrel full of gold, I saw that it piqued his interest. Finally, so that we might make the abduction as quickly as possible, we both decided to hide in the barn on Sunday evening, and to catch the little imps when they came to do their shenanigans with Belzemire.

“Sunday evening arrived as usual, and at half past seven, the two of us, Zebe Roberge and I, crouched in a corner of a stable behind two-foot-deep bales of hay. We seemed to have forgotten our lantern (which did not shine too brightly) on the shelf behind the filly.

“We weren’t on the lookout for long. It wasn’t quite eight o’clock when the air began to stir all around us. It left us trembling like leaves; we are brave, eh?

“Jos Violon was a poule mouillee [10] then, and that made two of us, you know; well, I don’t know what kept me from making a break for the door to save myself. It must have been Zebe who held me back, because I realized his hand was frozen like an ice cream. I knew something strange was going on. And my suspicions were realized when, a stone’s throw from our hiding place, guess what happened, children? One of the planks from the floor rose gently as if it had been pushed from below. It couldn’t be a rat: we jumped, of course. Crack! The plank went back into place, just like before. I thought I had imagined it.

“‘Did you see that?’ I whispered to Zebe.

“He barely had the strength to answer me:

“‘Yes, Father Jos: this is the end of me, I’m sure!’

“‘Don’t move!’ I said, and Zebe, who was a good Christian, made the sign of the cross with both hands.

“Suddenly, the board began to stir again; and we watched. This time, the hole beneath was very clear in the light of our lantern. The first thing we saw was the end of a pointed hat, then a large half-closed lid above something glowing like an ember, which seemed to us like a lit pipe, but which I later understood to be that blazing eye those folks have in the middle of their foreheads. Without that, God as my witness, I almost thought I recognized ‘Gingerbread’ with his brule-gueule [11]. But that was just my imagination! I even thought I heard him mumble:

“‘Hey, Zebe forgot to put out his lantern!’

“Immediately, I put my hand in my pocket to get my rosary. Bang! Out came my knife, which slammed into the ground. Zebe shouted, the pointed hat disappeared, and my partner and I raced for the door, thoughts of silver bars and barrels of gold being far from our minds, I assure you.

“As you can imagine, children, we were in no hurry to talk about our adventure. We were safely out of reach of the paws of that infernal society into which we just had a glimpse. We learned what we wanted to know, didn’t we; it wasn’t worth inviting the ridicule of our fellows. We let business continue as usual.

“Every Monday morning, Zebe found Belzemire well looked-after, and her grooming completed. It was a lot worse on New Years’ Day; Belzemire was gone! She reappeared in her stall the next morning, fresh as a rose. What had become of her during that time? ‘Gingerbread’, who had spent the day hunting, swore to use that he had seen her running far above the trees as if the devil had taken her away.

I inquired from time to time about what was going on; but whenever I opened my mouth:

“‘Please, Father Jos, big Zebe would say to me, ‘let’s not talk about it. It’s better that way. Whenever I set foot in the stable, I’m always afraid that ragamuffin will show up with his damned pointed hat. I won’t stay here for long; all of Saint-Maurice is bewitched, it seems!’

“Jos Violon wouldn’t deny it, children, because, as truly as you are sitting there – and I don’t know if it’s because of the neighbourhood of Trois-Rivieres- but I never spent another winter in the vicinity of Saint-Maurice without experiencing similar mischief.

“Anyways, as the priest says, spring is coming, and they didn’t have to ask us twice to head down to the riverbank. The rafts were ready and loaded up with everyone’s helmets, snowshoes, tools, rifles, traps, Fifi Labranche’s violin, Bram Couture’s checkerboard, etc.

“The boss asked Zebe Roberge and I to bring back the two horses. We both left in a train with Belzemire in the lead, and the big black fellow taking up the rear. We were well on our way when, at a place called the Fork, the mare made to go left instead of heading right along the river. Zebe spurred, clubbed, and whipped, but to no effect. Belzemire had made up her mind. What did it mean?

“Finally, I said ‘Let it go, we will reach the river later.’

“We made a good fifty leagues down this branch, and had reached the open road, when we saw a house.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘we’ll be able to get a little respite from the elements!’

I had no sooner opened my mouth than Belzemire stopped right outside the door.

“‘Hey!’ said Zebe Roberge, ‘it looks like the horse knows the way, yet she has never ridden by here.’

“As soon as he said that, the door opened, and we heard a clear little voice say:

“Hey! She’s Monsieur Baptiste’s mare! See if she is alright, see if she remembers. She never came during the day…”

“‘Shut up and shut the door!’ cried a big, gruff voice from the back of the house.

“It smelled like lutins, that’s for sure.

 

“The next year, who do you think I met at the end of the Cul-de-sac [12] in Quebec? Baptiste ‘Gingerbread’ Lanouette, with his pipe in his mouth, of course, dressed in a large pointed hat which immediately made me think of the one I had seen on the head of the lutin, at the Chene River. He told me that he had nearly caught one in the same stable where Zebe and I saw ours, and had come so close that he snatched its hat off.

“I recognized it right away!

“‘Gingerbread, you rascal, you’re kidding me! If you had grabbed a little more, you would be very rich right now.’

 

“If you ever pass through the coves of Cap-Blanc, children, ask Bapstiste Lanouette about it: you will see if Jos Violon is a liar!”

 

Footnotes

[1] A historic region south of Quebec City.

[2] Known today as the Rouge River, a tributary of the Ottawa.

[3] The Gilmore Lumber Company, a great Canadian logging syndicate.

[4] Fly over the forest in canoes with the help of the Devil; see ‘La Chasse-Galerie’.

[5] Literally the “Black Hen”; a 19th Century French grimoire, or book of spells.

[6] The simpler of the two Tridentine Catholic Masses (the other being the High Mass), celebrated without singing or incense.

[7] A friendly and wholesome place.

[8] Literally “Not at all!”; an Quebec expression used to emphasize a negative statement.

[9] Literally “from the beam”; a French-Canadian idiom meaning “led astray” or “enticed from duty”.

[10] Literally “wet hen”; a wimp or sissy.

[11] Short pipe.

[12] The Rue du Cul-de-sac, a historic road in Quebec City.

Written by

I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

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