(Originally posted December 2014)
Translated from “Maudit Pont des Fées enjambant la Vologne (Vosges),” an article that was originally published in Le Pays lorrain in 1908, then reprinted online in La France pittoresque in October 2013.
A Vosgian1 legend states that a well-formed hunter from Gérardmer, who had been promised a glorious destiny so long as he never allowed himself to be seduced by any woman, permitted himself one day on the banks of the Vologne to be lulled by the kiss of an ondine with river green eyes, coral lips, and an enchantress’ voice….
(La Vologne. Image copyrighted 2009 by Flauder. Used with photographer’s permission)
Once upon a time, at Gérardmer, in the picturesque region of the Vosges mountains, there lived a hunter so handsome, so captivating, and so well-formed that no woman nor girl could resist his charms. He hunted the wildest animals, despising the dangers, happy if some stag or boar fell to his shots. As soon as it was morning, once the chilly dawn appeared, he would set out, traversing brambles and brush wet with dew, always on his guard, never missing his beast.
And so on each day. He would return home to his thatch-roofed cottage (for he lived in a cottage and not a palace, being as poor as he was handsome) in the evening, hours after night had fallen, and his courage and his prowess were spoken of for roughly twenty-five leagues around. People would buy his game, which reaped a fat profit for him, but he had eight little brothers and eight little sisters for whom he spent all that he gained, wanting them to lack for nothing. Sometimes he even went without food, happy if those whom he loved had what they needed. He had promised his parents at the moment of their death to take care of the sixteen little monsters.
Killing a lot of fat game, he clothed himself with pelts, which only served to intensify his male beauty. As well, many girls would have been happy to have him for a husband, since, as we have mentioned previously, they were foolishly in love with him. But he did not even notice them, having neither the time nor the inclination, finding them all repulsive.
But there was another reason besides…. An old woman, who everyone said was a faerie, who attended his birth and was his godmother, had proclaimed that he would be handsome and brave and would attain the highest honors so long as he never let himself be seduced by any woman. He knew her words and kept himself on his guard.
(Le pont des fées. Image copyrighted 2009 by Flauder. Used with photographer’s permission)
One day, when he had been pursuing a doe since dawn and had yet to obtain her by noon, he felt so overcome with fatigue that he fell asleep amid the ferns in the great trees’ shade on the bank of a mountain stream whose white and frothy water fell from cascade to cascade. There, in the dense forest, the air was sweet and refreshing. An old bridge, constructed entirely from stones centuries and centuries ago, it is said, by faeries’ deft hands, conjoined the neighboring mountains’ slopes. Eyes closed, the hunter appeared haunted by delicious dreams, and his beauty was resplendently striking.
He was sleeping, lulled by birds’ song and the patter of waves, when he felt, suddenly, a kiss pressed to his cheek. Before him appears2 the most astonishing vision he has ever seen: a woman, more beautiful than daylight, there and regarding him. Her eyes are river green, her cheeks incarnadine, and her lips coral. Her blonde hair falls to her feet, half-hiding an exquisite body where drops of iridescent water gleam. She smiles sweetly at the hunter.
Overwhelmed by so many charms, he believes he is still dreaming. Words stick in his throat, so preoccupied is he with admiring her!
But she approaches, encircles the young man’s neck in her alabaster arms, and, with a voice like heavenly music, says, “Oh, my handsome hunter, why do you not respond to my kiss? …Do I frighten you? I am she who protects you, and who, by her arts, watches over you from afar, at night while you rest, in daylight when you run through the woods. I am she whose spirit follows you wherever you might go, and who, without fail, protects you from all harm! Come….Come to me, oh my handsome hunter!”3
Aroused by her words, he feels the flames of his desire so keenly that he drops to his knees before her and cries, “Oh, no! You are so beautiful and so sweet. I am not afraid of you, you who unfailingly protects me, as you say, oh no, I am not afraid of you…!”
And he proclaims that he loves her more than himself, pulls her ardently against him, and covers her hands with kisses. Smiling, she looks up at him and replies, “Oh my handsome hunter, come with me! …Come to my crystal palace, where years pass more swiftly than days, where one lives happily in pleasures without number and joys without end, where the weather is always fair and one never has to work! Come to my crystal palace, oh my handsome hunter…!”
She kisses him, caresses him, holds him more tightly in her arms. Seduced, he does not resist her but little by little abandons himself. Together they roll, intertwined, on the moss, then on the path. She guides him to the stream’s edge…. Already they touch the green algae. She kisses him, and kisses him again, then, suddenly, feeling him under her power, her laughter rings out, and she casts him, tumbling down with her, into the deep4 water…!
The hunter had cried out5, but the stream had only let a strangled moan escape, which reverberated far across the mountain. Then everything became calm once more: the white water continued to fall from cascade to cascade, the birds to sing, and the pine trees to sway gently in the wind….
Never again did the hunter return to his cottage, where his eight little brothers and eight little sisters perished from hunger. But he is still spoken of in the surrounding countryside. A superstitious fear6 lingers in the place where he disappeared. Ever since, no one can pass it by without trembling, and in the long evenings of winter, in the cottages of the poor, when they gather to tell hearth tales by the light of the flickering fire, old women tell the story of the young hunter to shocked, little children.
And they are gripped by fear at this tale, because they are told that sometimes, at midnight, the ancient winds of the Vosges mountains echo with the frightening cries of the drowning hunter, or that still one can hear the divine melody of love songs issuing from beneath the waves, two voices mingled in golden harmony, one voice strong and male from he who is no more and the tender, enchantress’ voice from the ondine with river green eyes and coral lips….
For the edification of our soul
Each tale’s end requires a moral,
Just as in Donkeyskin or Puss-in-Boots Perrault
Himself has given us an example.
Thus, may it please you, Gentle Reader,
To derive this lesson from the tale:
That you must always obey your godmother
So over misfortune you may prevail.
Next, do not allow yourself to fall
For one who, with enchantment in her eyes,
Seeks with her charm to seduce and lull.
Ere long, you will wish you had been wise.
For if, in the rush of those first instants,
Your heart might sing sweet songs of delight,
You will soon, alas! count far more moments
Where it cries out with your agony and fright.7
1. The Vologne river extends west of the Vosges Mountains, located in the Alsace-Lorraine region near the border of France and Germany.↩
2. Abruptly changes to French storytelling-present tense, to make everything more immediate. Up to this point it has been imperfect (these are the things he’s been accustomed to doing, setting the scene) and simple past, which is a past tense the French use just for telling stories.↩
3. If, as fae-kind, the ondine cannot lie but can only misuse the truth, then I can’t help but love the imagery of the ondine being his godmother’s foil and opposing force, watching over him and lying in wait until she had this chance to take him. Or…perhaps…what if the ondine has been his “godmother” all along, and only gave him the prophecy in order to keep him for herself? Either way, I like the contrast between the hunter’s two “guardian” faeries.↩
4. Deep? And yet by the images we see the water is shallow. I like to think there is something supernatural going on, where a woman can rise from shallow water and pull him down into mysterious depths.↩
5. Back to past tense.↩
6. I like the phrase “superstitious fear” rather than “superstitious belief” that is more commonly said in English.↩
7. Let’s just say that the original poem was not written by one of France’s top poets, so I do not feel entirely bad that not everything rhymes exactly, &c. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this month’s folktale!↩