The following is my translation of the French legend that explains how the beauceron got his markings. The story was presented by René Sauvignac and can be found on the web site of the French breed club, of which he was president. I have also added a post with that text, in case the link to Club des Amis should cease to function. A German translation of this text can be found on the breeder web site of Les Gardiens de l’Esprit Hardi.
My translation surely contains errors, and I hope that anyone who finds mistakes will share them with me so that I can improve the text.
One evening in 1606, Anthelme Peony made his way homeward. It was September, and the weather neither especially good nor bad. A west wind blew gently in La Traverse[i], blowing large shreds of clouds through the salty, humid air. A huge round moon shone behind the alders on the edge of the pond, giving the clouds a golden tint.
Anthelme was muddy, worn, and bent with fatigue. Beneath his earth-colored cloak, whose ends trailed in the mud, Anthelme was more like a shapeless heap than a man. Yet this did not prevent him from musing on the year that was nearing its end.
One word summed up the previous months: rain. Rain during the plowing, rain during the haying, rain during the harvest. The harvest was completed, but waterlogged grapes give a cheap wine that would not hold up over time.
King Henri had said that his people would have a chicken in the pot every Sunday, but Anthelme wondered how he was going to even feed his son Romain and his infant daughter; his wife Jeanne was expecting a third at the beginning of the year. There was nothing left at home, absolutely nothing. It was physically impossible to wait until the next harvest.
While considering these needs, he came to a fork in the roads – more precisely, a barely passable road leading to Le Mans. When he was younger, he had gone to this great city; it had frightened him, and he had never had any desire to return! The other road was a muddy trail where the ruts turned into small streams of curious brown; it led to St Gatien, his nearby village. Anthelme quickened his pace, jumping a larger puddle that seemed somehow suspicious…
At the space formed by the junction of the two roads was a rounded mound on which, long ago, had been a mission cross. Decades ago, rusting and shaken by the wind, it had collapsed and fallen into the muddy gutter.
The peasant, scanning the shadows, distinguished a vaguely human shape standing on the tiny knoll. The form glowed slightly in the pitch dark! The jet black shape wore a large red coat, and floated gently in the wind. Anthelme saw a pointy tail whipping furiously at the soil around the hoofs of this strange character.
There was no doubt, it was the Devil! Anthelme had seen too many pictures to be wrong. He was not afraid – in those times, God and the devil rubbed shoulders daily. It was more curiosity than terror that held him motionless, staring carefully at this apparition.
A metallic-timbered voice addressed him.
“So, Anthelme, how’s business?”
“It goes very, very poorly. But – how do you know me?”
“You know, Anthelme, I know a few things. These days, everyone is having to work harder. I’m not so bad a guy, and I can offer you a deal!”
“I’d be surprised…”
“But what if! You have a wife and two children; you cannot feed all of them, not to mention your own healthy appetite. Your wife is pregnant with a third, which is not going to make anything easier. I propose to exchange your next child against a full attic, a successful barn, a well-stocked coop and ease until you have raised your last child.”
“One does not trade a child!”
“But one might, to ensure the lives of the others. You have worked hard all your life. You haven’t a penny, and by this time next year you may be starved. But if you accept my proposal, you’ll be alive, healthy and wealthy. Your wife is still young and nothing will prevent her from having other children.”
“Of course, when you put it like that … perhaps I should consider it. I’d like some time to think it over, though. Will you sign some kind of contract?”
“No,” the devil sneered. “I will mark you indelibly in my colors, which will only disappear when you have fulfilled your commitment. I’m a good fellow – I’ll give you three days to decide. Be here at the same time, and remember that I do not like waiting!”
With that, he disappeared …
Anthelme stood dumbfounded. If a certain luminescence had not still hung in the shadows of the night, he would have thought that he was dreaming. He returned at last to his village with his thoughts all muddled!
Arriving home, he kissed his wife who was waiting for him, a bit worried about the delay. He said nothing of his encounter – there was no point in adding to her worries. The children slept, and Anthelme ate the remainder of the beet soup; Jeanne had cooked it with a little bacon. He sat, while his wife ate standing by the fireplace (as it is still done in some regions).
They ate slowly, without speaking, as people who know the value of food will do. This silence rather suited Anthelme, allowing him to order his thoughts. Jeanne would give birth at the end of January; it was certain that adding a child in the dead of winter would be a hardship.
Still, to give a child away – to consign it to hell…! But, if it was a girl, it wouldn’t be so bad. He had one daughter, so there were two women in the house; that was good enough. On the other hand, there were never enough able-bodied men.
One chance in two, he thought.
They went to bed, but Anthelme did not sleep. As often happens late in the autumn, the day arrived quietly. The sun rose above the horizon, bathing the countryside in golden light and highlighting the magnificence of the fine days.
Anthelme arose, breakfasted on yesterday’s leftovers, and went to work with his mind at peace, having decided to keep his appointment with the devil.
Three days and three nights passed slowly. As the infernal date approached, Anthelme stooped a little under the weight of grief.
This was the day; the morning the sky unleashed the rains again. The clouds bumped into one another, stretching across the sky and pouring a constant cascade of water over the countryside. Gone was the sweet life with skies the color of molten gold! It was the day of the Appointment! One can imagine Anthelme’s silhouette standing by the big rock, dripping water while he awaited the appearance of his diabolic associate.
The mound exhibited the same glow that had drawn Anthelme’s attention on the previous occasion; in its center, Satan’s form materialized.
“Anthelme! So, I see that my proposal has not left you indifferent.”
“Yes. I thought about it and, despite the pain it causes me, I must submit to your terms – though I haven’t discussed it with my wife. I will bring you the child myself, the day that it is born. She does not need to know of this sad arrangement.”
“I will, as I have said, mark you with my colors until the payment of your debt.” The Devil raised his left arm, sending a blinding light across the night to envelope Anthelme Peony. “Come here, at the same time of night, on the day the child is born.” The devil disappeared, just as he had the first time.
Anthelme reached his cottage; it seemed more beautiful to him. As he stood admiring it, he thought he heard the lowing of cows in the barn. When he pushed open the door, three beautiful cows with large horns turned their shiny brown muzzles to examine the newcomer. Anthelme saw that the mangers were full of long, fragrant hay.
Despite the incessant rain, the inside of his house was dry and cozy. Two chickens turned on the pin of the roasting pan, giving off smells that Anthelme had not enjoyed in a long time. The devil had not lied: joy was everywhere!
Anthelme’s gaze landed on Jeanne’s little round belly. He muttered to himself, frowning, but drove his dark thoughts away with a wave of his hand.
Winter came faster than it had in other years; by early November snow covered the land, the houses, the trees. Cold winds carried huge white swirls that crashed into the solid walls of Anthelme’s house. Jeanne’s belly grew rounder.
Christmas in the house of Peony was a party like there never had been before.
Jeanne’s belly grew increasingly round, and their life was comfortable. Nothing was missing from their warm and happy home.
Early on the morning of Candlemas,[ii] Jeanne’s labor began. She sat in a chair, as was done at the time, and the brave woman began to push steadily, at the right times. After about four hours (there was no clock or sun), a beautiful boy was born. The father, using basins of boiling water, dutifully cleaned the newborn, made him cry, and looked on proudly as his mother held him.
They decided to call the boy Noël, and they celebrated the happy event with their neighbors.
The next night, wrapped in his cloak, the new father returned to the crossroads. It was almost dark when he sat himself down at the foot of the rock and, with great show (as usual), the devil appeared in his aura of light.
“I’m glad, Anthelme, to see you so punctual. Where is the child you owe me?”
“The child is warm in his crib and I owe you nothing!”
“How, nothing?!” roared the devil. “I have indelibly marked you with the evidence of your promise.”
Anthelme sat up, slipping off his cloak so that the devil could admire the tone of his skin, his black mustache and the smile that showed beautiful, strong and well-set teeth.
“You probably want to discuss our last interview. Sir, you made a slight mistake; the being that sat before the rock covered by my cloak was just my dog. I was standing behind the rock.”
Anthelme turned and whistled to a large black and rust-colored dog, the very color of the devil. The dog came to sit by his master and seemed to smile as Anthelme resumed speaking.
“It is to him that you infused your colors forever. He was an ugly gray dog, but now he is beautiful. As for his soul, you will never have it because it belongs only to me, his master – Anthelme Peony.”
The devil was furious at having been cheated. His voice thundered.
“You have won, but I will punish your deception by marking you with all my attributes!”
Lightning burst forth from his left arm with terrifying sizzles, but Anthelme and his dog were already zigzagging among the rocks. Bolts of blue lightning ricocheted off the granite blocks and into the sky.
On long winter evenings, people told this wondrous story by the fire. “The dog that had fooled the devil” gained fame and respect; he reveled in his superb new livery. Throughout the region, they brought females to him (he who previously had to run all day through the woods to find a mate), each more tempting than the last; everyone wanted to have a dog from the famous stud with the fiery paws and the very appearance of the devil.
As the region where this story happens is the Beauce, they are naturally called the Beauce.
Oh? … You do not believe me? Well, look a little closer, please, at the hind leg of a Beauceron! A little above the foot! No, not outside, inside… Here, there you are – what do you see? A kind of double foot; in fact, a little cloven hoof. What does that remind you of? To put it simply: the devil was not so clumsy; as Anthelme and his dog fled, either a direct hit or a ricochet from a rock did, indeed, strike the dog. It is most likely that the shot caught him in a turn, because of course a direct hit would have turned the dog’s foot fully into a cloven hoof. Obviously, it hit at an angle, creating that unique feature which is so…diabolical.
[i] La Traverse is south of Limoges, in the Rhone Alps
[ii] February 2