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THE BEGINNING ~RÉNE SAUVIGNAC
It was the year 1606 when Anthelme Pivoine returned home as night fell. It was the month of September; neither good nor bad, sad nor gay, it was according to the chosen mood somewhere between joy and melancholy. "La Traverse", the west wind, was gently blowing salty, humid air. Slowly moving large clouds, illuminated by yellow highlights, gave way to a huge round moon shining behind the alders on the edge of the pond.
As Anthelme Pivoine came home, he was muddy, worn, bent with fatigue. Wrapped in a large cloak dragging to the ground that blended in with the color of the earth, Anthelme looked more like a shapeless heap than a man. Yet this did not prevent him from giving thought to the memories of the year that stretched toward its end. One word summed up the previous month; the word was "rain". Plowing in the rain, haying in the rain, harvesting in the rain. Only the grape harvest had decent conditions, but the waterlogged grapes lent to a cheap wine that would sour at the whim of the weather.
King Henry could go on telling his people to cook a chicken every Sunday, but poor Anthelme was wondering how he was going to feed his only son Romain, his young daughter Jeannette and his wife Jeanne who was awaiting their third child at the beginning of the new year. There was nothing left at home, nothing really. It was physically impossible to wait until the next harvest.
While considering his options, he came to a fork leading to two roads; well, more precisely it was a barely passable road leading to Le Mans. When he was younger, he had entered into this great city that had frightened him, so he had never returned nor did he desire to. The other road was nothing more than a muddy path where the gutters turned into odd little brown streams; it led to St Gatien, his nearby village! He quickened his pace, jumping over a large puddle when he seemed to notice something abnormal... Indeed, at the point formed by the junction of the two roads was a rounded mound upon which long ago, had stood a mission cross. For decades, rusted and shaken by the wind, the cross had collapsed and remained dislodged in the muddy gutter. The peasant, scanning the shadows noted a distinguished shape standing on the former base, a vaguely human shape. It glowed slightly in the dark, an all-black shape, wearing a large red coat that floated gently in the wind. Anthelme saw a big pointy tail furiously whipping the soil around the hoofs of this strange character. The Devil... There was no doubt, it was the Devil! Anthelme had seen too many reproductions to be wrong. He did not look on in fear. At that time, God and the devil rubbed shoulders daily. It was more curiosity than terror that left him motionless, watching this apparition very carefully.
A metallic voice rose: "So Anthelme, how is business?" Things were bad for sure, but that the devil knew seemed incredible!
"They go poorly, very poorly, but how do you know me?"
"You know, Anthelme, I know a little about everyone, some more than others. I'm not so bad a devil and I can offer you a proposal!"
"I'd be surprised..."
"Yes, I can! Currently, you have a wife and two children; you cannot feed all these people, not to mention your own strong appetite. Your wife is pregnant with a third, which is not going to help your situation. I propose to trade your next child for a full silo, a successful barn, a well-stocked coop and well-being until you have raised up your last child.
"One does not trade a child!"
"Sure you can! It would ensure the lives of the others. You have worked hard all your life, you have not a farthing, and by next year you may have all starved. By contrast, if you accept my proposal, you'll all be alive, healthy and wealthy. Your wife is still young and there is nothing to prevent her from having other children."
"Well, when you say it like that... Perhaps I should think about it... I want more time to think about it. Would you sign a pact?"
"No!" replied the devil with a strong sneer, "I will indelibly mark you in my colors and they will only disappear when you have fulfilled your contract. I'm still a good fellow, I will give you three days to think on it. Meet me back at the same place, same time and remember that I do not like waiting!" With that, the Devil disappeared.
Anthelme remained dumbfounded. If a certain luminescence had not still hung in the shadows of the night, he would have thought he had been dreaming. Finally he returned to the village, his head filled with confusion.
Arriving home, he kissed his wife who waiting for him, a bit worried about the delay. He said nothing of this meeting. It was pointless to add to the daily worries. As the children slept, he had what remained of the beet soup cooked with a little bacon. The man sat down at the table while the woman took her share and ate standing by the fireplace, as it is still done in some parts of the countryside.
They ate slowly, without saying anything, as people who knew all too well the value of food. This silence rather suited Anthelme, allowing him to clear his thoughts. Jeanne would give birth in late January, in the middle of winter; and it was certain that adding another child in the current conditions would not help anyone.
Still... to give a child... to deliver it to the Devil.. Still, if it was a girl, it wouldn't be so bad; he had one and with his wife, there would be two women in the house; that was good enough. But if it was a boy... If it were a boy, well men with arms, there are never enough!
One chance in two, he thought.
They went to bed but Anthelme did not sleep! As was common in this season, the day came quietly, the sun rose above the horizon, illuminating the golden countryside to better appreciate the magnificence of these fine days.
Anthelme got up, chewed the few remaining tidbits of the day and went to work with peace of mind. He would go to the appointment with the devil.
Three days and three nights passed slowly. As he headed to the infernal date, Anthelme stooped a little under the weight of grief. This was the day; that morning the sky was unleashed again, the clouds were bumping, stretching and constantly swept their waterspout over the countryside. Gone was the sweet life with the colors of molten gold! It was now time for his meeting! Before the big rock, stood the silhouette of Anthelme, dripping water, while awaiting the appearance of the satanic partner. On the mound, appeared the same glow that had caught his attention during his earlier passing; and in the center, materialized the form of Satan.
"So Anthelme, I see that my proposal has not left you indifferent!"
"Yes, I thought about it and despite the pain it costs me, I have no choice but to accept your offer, although I have not spoken to my wife. I will personally bring you the child the day after his birth so that she knows nothing of this sad spell."
"I will, as I have said, mark you with my colors until the payment of your debt." He raised his left arm, a blinding light across the night enveloping Anthelme Pivoine. "Come here, at the same time, the day after she delivers" screamed the devil, disappearing like the first time, leaving only a thin glow in the light rain in the mist.
Anthelme reached his cottage which seemed more beautiful to him, the ridge that had caved was perfectly horizontal and he thought he heard the mooing of cows in the barn. He pushed open the door and there stood three beautiful cows with large horns and pippin apple color. They looked to the newcomer, their muzzles brown and shiny, the grinding movement of their jaws letting long strings of drool escape from their lips; a last look and the farmer saw that the feeders were full of long, fragrant hay.
Back home, despite the incessant rain, the inside was dry and cozy. Threaded on the rotisserie spit of the roasting pan, two chickens rotated and gave off odors that Anthelme had not enjoyed in a long time. There was joy everywhere; the devil had not lied! Anthelme looked upon the growing belly of Jeanne. Frowning, he muttered something, but with a wave of the hand, he quickly drove his dark thoughts away.
Winter came faster than the other years; snow in early November, covered the land, houses and trees. Cold winds lifted huge white swirls that went crashing into the solid walls of Anthelme’s house. Jeanne's belly was rounded... For Christmas, in the house of the Pivoine’s, there was a celebration like there had never been before. Jeanne's belly had become very round. January passed in the warmth of the house where nothing was missing; life was good.
In the morning of February 2, labor began. Jeanne sat in a chair as was done at the time, and the courageous mother began to push steadily at the right times. In about 4 hours (there was no clock or sun), a beautiful boy was born. The father, boiling water in basins, dutifully cleaned the newborn, made him cry, then looked on and felt proud of Jeanne. They decided to name him Noel and then celebrated the happy event with neighbors.
The next night, wrapped in his cloak, the father returned at the crossroads of two paths. It was almost dark when he sat at the foot of the rock and, as usual, with emphasis, the devil appeared in his aura of light.
"I'm glad, Anthelme, to see you so punctual. Where is the child you owe me?"
"Sir Satan, the child is warm in his crib and I do not owe you anything!"
“What do you mean, nothing!" roared the devil, "I have marked you indelibly should you not respect your promise."
Anthelme sat up, slipping off his cloak, revealing the farmer's good country complexion; his black mustache and his big smile that revealed his beautiful strong and well-set teeth.
"You probably wish to speak about our last meeting. Sir, you made a slight mistake; the being that my cloak covered before the rock was just my dog. I was standing behind the rock."
Anthelme turned and whistled to a large dog, black and red, the colors of the devil. He came to sit by his master and seemed to smile too. Anthelme resumed...
"It is to him that you impregnated your colors forever. It was an ugly gray dog, it became beautiful. As for his soul, you will never have it because it only belongs to his master, me, Anthelme Pivoine."
The devil, amazed to have been fooled, was furious, his voice thundered...
"Since you have won, I will punish you by marking you with all my attributes!"
Lifting his left arm, lightning burst forth with terrifying hisses, but Anthelme and his dog were already running, zigzagging through the rocks; long lightning strikes behind them were ricocheting off the granite rocks into the sky.
The people have spent long evenings by the fire speaking of this fabulous story. The dog that had fooled the devil gained everyone’s esteem. He lived a superb life in his new livery. Throughout the region, they brought him (he who had run all the woods to find a mate for a day) females, each more tempting than the other. Everyone wanted to have a pup from one so famous.
Something more devilish, if you will, is that all his pups kept the same colors and in the same places, point for point. And as the region where this story happened is Beauce, they are naturally called the Beauceron! What? You don't believe me? Well then look a little closer, please, at the hind foot of a Beauceron! A little above the foot! No, not on the outside, but on the inside. There you are; what do you see? A kind of double hoof; in fact, a little cloven foot. What comes to mind? Simply put, the devil was not so clumsy during the flight of Anthelme and his dog. Whether a direct hit or by ricochet on a rock, he indeed struck the dog. The most likely version is definitely an indirect hit, because if we think logically, if a direct hit had reached the dog's foot it would have turned the whole foot into a fully cloven foot. So it must have been a weakened strike, creating the particular trait that still qualifies them to this date... diabolical.
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