The grave-mound


La tombe

A rich farmer was one day standing in his yard inspecting his fields and gardens. The corn was growing up vigorously and the fruit-trees were heavily laden with fruit. The grain of the year before still lay in such immense heaps on the floors that the rafters could hardly bear it. Then he went into the stable, where were well-fed oxen, fat cows, and horses bright as looking-glass. At length he went back into his sitting-room, and cast a glance at the iron chest in which his money lay.
Whilst he was thus standing surveying his riches, all at once there was a loud knock close by him. The knock was not at the door of his room, but at the door of his heart. It opened, and he heard a voice which said to him, "Hast thou done good to thy family with it? Hast thou considered the necessities of the poor? Hast thou shared thy bread with the hungry? Hast thou been contented with what thou hast, or didst thou always desire to have more?" The heart was not slow in answering, "I have been hard and pitiless, and have never shown any kindness to my own family. If a beggar came, I turned away my eyes from him. I have not troubled myself about God, but have thought only of increasing my wealth. If everything which the sky covers had been mine own, I should still not have had enough."

When he was aware of this answer he was greatly alarmed, his knees began to tremble, and he was forced to sit down.

Then there was another knock, but the knock was at the door of his room. It was his neighbour, a poor man who had a number of children whom he could no longer satisfy with food. "I know," thought the poor man, "that my neighbour is rich, but he is as hard as he is rich. I don't believe he will help me, but my children are crying for bread, so I will venture it." He said to the rich man, "You do not readily give away anything that is yours, but I stand here like one who feels the water rising above his head. My children are starving, lend me four measures* of corn." The rich man looked at him long, and then the first sunbeam of mercy began to melt away a drop of the ice of greediness. "I will not lend thee four measures," he answered, "but I will make thee a present of eight, but thou must fulfil one condition." - "What am I to do?" said the poor man. "When I am dead, thou shalt watch for three nights by my grave." The peasant was disturbed in his mind at this request, but in the need in which he was, he would have consented to anything; he accepted, therefore, and carried the corn home with him.

It seemed as if the rich man had foreseen what was about to happen, for when three days were gone by, he suddenly dropped down dead. No one knew exactly how it came to pass, but no one grieved for him. When he was buried, the poor man remembered his promise; he would willingly have been released from it, but he thought, "After all, he acted kindly by me. I have fed my hungry children with his corn, and even if that were not the case, where I have once given my promise I must keep it." At nightfall he went into the churchyard, and seated himself on the grave-mound. Everything was quiet, only the moon appeared above the grave, and frequently an owl flew past and uttered her melancholy cry. When the sun rose, the poor man betook himself in safety to his home, and in the same manner the second night passed quietly by. On the evening of the third day he felt a strange uneasiness, it seemed to him that something was about to happen. When he went out he saw, by the churchyard-wall, a man whom he had never seen before. He was no longer young, had scars on his face, and his eyes looked sharply and eagerly around. He was entirely covered with an old cloak, and nothing was visible but his great riding-boots. "What are you looking for here?" the peasant asked. "Are you not afraid of the lonely churchyard?"

"I am looking for nothing," he answered, "and I am afraid of nothing! I am like the youngster who went forth to learn how to shiver, and had his labour for his pains, but got the King's daughter to wife and great wealth with her, only I have remained poor. I am nothing but a paid-off soldier, and I mean to pass the night here, because I have no other shelter." - "If you are without fear," said the peasant, "stay with me, and help me to watch that grave there."

"To keep watch is a soldier's business," he replied, "whatever we fall in with here, whether it be good or bad, we will share it between us." The peasant agreed to this, and they seated themselves on the grave together.

All was quiet until midnight, when suddenly a shrill whistling was heard in the air, and the two watchers perceived the Evil One standing bodily before them. "Be off, you ragamuffins!" cried he to them, "the man who lies in that grave belongs to me; I want to take him, and if you don't go away I will wring your necks!" - "Sir with the red feather,"* said the soldier, "you are not my captain, I have no need to obey you, and I have not yet learned how to fear. Go away, we shall stay sitting here."

The Devil thought to himself, "Money is the best thing with which to get hold of these two vagabonds." So he began to play a softer tune, and asked quite kindly, if they would not accept a bag of money, and go home with it? "That is worth listening to," answered the soldier, "but one bag of gold won't serve us, if you will give as much as will go into one of my boots, we will quit the field for you and go away."

"I have not so much as that about me," said the Devil, "but I will fetch it. In the neighbouring town lives a money-changer who is a good friend of mine, and will readily advance it to me." When the Devil had vanished the soldier took his left boot off, and said, "We will soon pull the charcoal-burner's nose for him, just give me your knife, comrade." He cut the sole off the boot, and put it in the high grass near the grave on the edge of a hole that was half over-grown. "That will do," said he; "now the chimney-sweep may come.

They both sat down and waited, and it was not long before the Devil returned with a small bag of gold in his hand. "Just pour it in," said the soldier, raising up the boot a little, "but that won't be enough."

The Black One shook out all that was in the bag; the gold fell through, and the boot remained empty. "Stupid Devil," cried the soldier, "it won't do! Didn't I say so at once? Go back again, and bring more." The Devil shook his head, went, and in an hour's time came with a much larger bag under his arm. "Now pour it in," cried the soldier, "but I doubt the boot won't be full." The gold clinked as it fell, but the boot remained empty. The Devil looked in himself with his burning eyes, and convinced himself of the truth. "You have shamefully big calves to your legs!" cried he, and made a wry face. "Did you think," replied the soldier, "that I had a cloven foot like you? Since when have you been so stingy? See that you get more gold together, or our bargain will come to nothing!" The Wicked One went off again. This time he stayed away longer, and when at length he appeared he was panting under the weight of a sack which lay on his shoulders. He emptied it into the boot, which was just as far from being filled as before. He became furious, and was just going to tear the boot out of the soldier's hands, but at that moment the first ray of the rising sun broke forth from the sky, and the Evil Spirit fled away with loud shrieks. The poor soul was saved.

The peasant wished to divide the gold, but the soldier said, "Give what falls to my lot to the poor, I will come with thee to thy cottage, and together we will live in rest and peace on what remains, as long as God is pleased to permit."
Un riche fermier était un jour devant sa porte, considérant ses champs et ses jardins; la plaine était couverte de ses moissons et ses arbres étaient chargés de fruits. Le blé des années précédentes encombrait tellement ses greniers que les poutres des planchers cédaient sous le poids. Ses étables étaient pleines de boeufs à l'engrais, de vaches grasses et de chevaux reluisants de santé. Il entra dans sa chambre et jeta les yeux sur le coffre-fort dans lequel il enfermait son argent. Mais, comme il était absorbé dans la contemplation de ses richesses, il crut entendre une voix qui lui disait: « Avec tout cet or, as-tu rendu heureux ceux qui t'entouraient! as-tu songé à la misère des pauvres! as-tu partagé ton pain avec ceux qui avaient faim? T'es-tu contenté de ce que tu possédais, et n'en as-tu jamais envié davantage? »
Son cœur n'hésita pas à répondre: « j'ai toujours été dur et inexorable; je n'ai jamais rien fait pour mes parents ni pour mes amis. Je n'ai jamais songé à Dieu, mais uniquement à augmenter mes richesses. J'aurais possédé le monde entier, que je n'en aurais pas encore eu assez.
Cette pensée l'effraya, et les genoux lui tremblaient si fort qu'il fui contraint de s'asseoir. En même temps on frappa à la porte. C'était un de ses voisins, un pauvre homme, chargé d'enfants qu'il ne pouvait plus nourrir. « Je sais bien, pensait-il, que mon voisin est encore plus dur qu'il n'est riche; sans doute il me repoussera, mais mes enfants me demandent du pain, je vais essayer. »
Il dit au riche: « Vous n'aimez pas à donner, je ne l'ignore pas; mais je m'adresse à vous en désespoir de cause, comme un homme qui va se noyer saisit toutes les branches: mes enfants ont faim, prêtez-moi quatre boisseaux de blé. »
Un rayon de pitié fondit pour la première fois les glaces de ce cœur avare: « Je ne t'en prêterai pas quatre boisseaux, répondit-il, je t'en donnerai huit, mais à une condition....
- Laquelle! demanda le pauvre.
- C'est que tu passeras les trois premières nuits après ma mort à veiller sur ma tombe. »
La commission ne souriait guère au pauvre homme; mais, dans le besoin où il était, il aurait consenti à tout. Il promit donc, et emporta le blé chez lui.
Il semblait que le fermier eût prévu l'avenir; car trois jours après, il mourut subitement, et personne ne le regretta. Quand il fut enterré, le pauvre homme se souvint de sa promesse; il aurait bien voulu s'en dispenser, mais il se dit: « Cet homme a été généreux envers moi, il a nourri mes enfants de son pain; d'ailleurs j'ai donné ma parole et je dois la tenir. » A la chute du jour, il alla dans le cimetière et s'établit sur la tombe. Tout était tranquille, la lune éclairait les tombeaux, et de temps à. autre un hibou s'envolait en poussant des cris funèbres. Au lever du soleil, il rentra chez lui sans avoir couru aucun danger, et la seconde nuit se passa de même.
Le soir du troisième jour, il sentit une secrète appréhension, comme s'il allait se passer quelque chose de plus. En entrant dans le cimetière, il aperçut, le long du mur, un homme d'une quarantaine d'années, au visage balafré et aux yeux vifs et perçants, enveloppé dans un vieux manteau sous lequel on voyait passer seulement de grandes bottes de cavalier. « Que cherchez-vous ici? lui cria le paysan; n'avez-vous pas peur dans ce cimetière?
- Je ne cherche rien, répondit l'autre; mais de quoi aurais-je peur? Je suis un pauvre soldat congédié, et je vais passer la nuit ici, parce que je n'ai pas d'autre gîte.
- Eh bien! dit le paysan, puisque vous n'avez pas peur, venez m'aider à garder cette tombe.
- Volontiers, répondit le soldat; monter la garde, c'est mon métier. Restons ensemble, nous partagerons le bien comme le mal qui se présentera. »
Ils s'assirent tous deux sur le tombeau.
Tout resta tranquille jusqu'à minuit. A ce moment, on entendit dans l'air un coup de sifflet aigu, et les deux gardiens virent devant eux le diable en personne. « Hors d'ici, canailles, leur cria-t-il; ce mort m'appartient, je vais le prendre, et, si vous ne décampez au plus vite, je vous tords le cou.
- Seigneur à la plume rouge, lui répondit le soldat, vous n'êtes pas mon capitaine; je n'ai pas d'ordres à recevoir de vous, et vous ne me ferez pas peur. Passez votre chemin, nous restons ici. »
Le diable pensa qu'avec de l'argent il viendrait à bout de ces deux misérables, et prenant un ton plus doux, il leur demanda tout familièrement si, moyennant une bourse pleine d'or, ils ne consentiraient pas à s'éloigner. « A la bonne heure, reprit le soldat, voilà qui est parler, mais une bourse d'or ne nous suffit pas; nous ne quitterons la place que si vous nous en donnez de quoi remplir une de mes bottes. - Je n'ai pas sur moi ce qu'il faut, dit le diable; mais je vais en aller chercher. Dans la ville ici près demeure un usurier de mes amis qui m'avancera volontiers la somme. »
Quand le diable fut parti, le soldat tira sa botte gauche en disant: « Nous allons lui jouer un tour de vieille guerre. Compère, donnez-moi votre couteau. » Il coupa la semelle de ta botte et posa la tige toute dressée dans les hautes herbes, contre une tombe voisine. « Tout va bien, dit-il; maintenant le noir ramoneur peut revenir. »
Ils n'attendirent pas longtemps: le diable arriva avec un petit sac d'or à la main. Versez, dit le soldat en haussant un peu la botte; mais ce ne sera pas assez. »
Le malin vida le sac; mais l'or tomba par terre et la botte resta vide. « Imbécile, lui cria le soldat, cela ne suffit pas. je te l'avais bien dit. Retourne en chercher et rapportes-en davantage. »
Le diable partit en secouant la tête, et revint au bout d'une heure avec un bien plus gros sac sous le bras. « Voilà qui vaut mieux, dit le soldat; mais je doute que cela remplisse encore la botte.»
L'or tomba en résonnant, mais la botte resta vide. Le diable s'en assura lui-même en y regardant avec des yeux ardents. « Quels effrontés mollets as-tu donc? s'écria-t-il en faisant la grimace.
- Voudrais-tu, répliqua le soldat, me voir un pied de bouc comme le tien? Depuis quand es-tu devenu avare? Allons, va chercher d'autres sacs, ou sinon pas d'affaire entre nous. »
Le maudit s'éloigna encore. Cette fois il resta plus longtemps absent, et quand il revint à la fin, il pliait sous le poids d'un sac énorme qu'il portait sur son épaule. Il eut beau le vider dans la botte, elle se remplit moins que jamais. La colère le prit, et il allait arracher la botte des mains du soldat, quand le premier rayon du soleil levant vint éclairer le ciel. A l'instant même il disparut en poussant un grand cri. La pauvre âme était sauvée.
Le paysan voulait partager l'argent; mais le soldat lui dit: « Donne ma part aux pauvres. Je vais aller chez toi, et avec le reste nous vivrons paisiblement ensemble, tant qu'il plaira à Dieu. »

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