Once upon a time there was a worn-out old man in a poor village. In front of his house with its heavy roof, the wind, the snow, the mountain. Not a grain of corn, not a penny in his pockets, nothing in the pantry except the remains of stale bread, but he didn’t care much about that, he didn’t hope for spring. He was resigned to leaving quietly before the primroses to the kingdom of dreamless nights.
To listen to the Christmas story told by Henri Gougaud by the fireplace, click below.
Now, one day while he was “making wood”, as they say among the old people, in the bare forest that climbed the hill, he met someone.
I don’t believe in God, but he doesn’t blame me, sometimes he still comes to help.
A child. 8, 10 years old perhaps, thin as a forgotten branch of his tree, dressed in holes, wearing nothing, and his eyes suddenly contemplated a miracle when he saw this grandfather with frowning eyebrows leaning over him.
– What are you doing here ? You are lost ? the old man asked him, perplexed.
The child was shivering so much that he could not answer her.
– And where do you come from, poor little one?
The other, with a gesture, pointed beyond the low clouds.
“I see,” muttered the old man. Damn, that’s a long way away. And your parents, tell me, where are your parents?
The child was silent, lowered his forehead. A good-natured anger suddenly heated up the old man. He cursed God who, without pity, abandoned his creatures to famines, to endless wars, to desperate wanderings, then (what else could he do?) he took the little one by the hand, led him to his house , revived, in the fireplace, the three logs which were dozing, covered the survivor’s back with his only blanket and offered him a bowl of anise herbal tea. “And now,” said the old man to himself, “we will have to replenish him. » He observed the skinny guy who was warming his hands with his bowl and blowing on the perfumed water which was misting his face.
It was in Bethlehem, at the dawn of that day that changed the colors of the world.
– You understand French ? asked the old man.
The child replied:
– I’m hungry.
“Me too,” said the old man. I’m going to go and look under the trees in the woods, maybe I’ll find one or two dead birds there. I don’t believe in God, but he doesn’t blame me, sometimes he still comes to help. If he wants, this evening we will have dinner. If he doesn’t want to, well too bad, we’ll snack on stories.
The old man went out and returned at night with a skinny lark.
But the next day, the winter became terrible. The old man looked for something to roast, but soon he only had stories to feed the little one. He could not lose courage. It didn’t matter if he died. “But the kid!” he said to himself. Dying of poverty, at your age, should be forbidden! » So he gathered his strength, he played the old man without worry. He said :
– Sit down. Listen.
What if it was (God save us!) one of those evil fairies who sometimes come to look at miraculous children?
The little one curled up in front of the fire, against the grandfather and looked at the high flames while the words were spoken.
– It was in Bethlehem, at the dawn of that day which changed the colors of the world. Throughout the night, first the Three Wise Men, then the shepherds with their backs bent, their hats against their chests, had filed into the stable to closely contemplate the accomplished miracle, the peaceful child in the straw, the improbable savior more deprived than themselves. Everyone had left around the cradle some welcome gifts, trinkets, almost nothing. They were, my boy, as poor as you. They had all returned to their work, to their paths. “Finally,” said mother Marie to herself in the once again deserted stable, “the little one will be able to sleep. » But as she sighed, content, the gate creaked.
The old woman leaned over the edge of the bed of straw. Jesus was not sleeping and his wide open eyes contemplated the old face.
An old woman appeared in the shadows and came forward. Marie could not see his face, a hood hid it from her. She raised her forehead, suddenly alert. What if it was (God save us!) one of those evil fairies who sometimes come to look at miraculous children? The donkey and the ox, however, watched her come without showing the slightest surprise, as if they had only known her since time immemorial. The old woman leaned over the edge of the bed of straw. Jesus was not sleeping and his wide open eyes contemplated the old face where shone a look similar to that of the new child. Same tranquility, same secret happiness, same simple hope. They looked at each other for a moment, then the old woman plunged her hand into her rags and seemed to be looking for something which it took her a long time to find. Between his gnarled fingers finally appeared a shadowy object. She handed it to the little one. After the treasures of the Three Kings and the modest offerings of the shepherds, what was this new gift? Was it even safe? What if he was poisoned? Marie, from where she was, could not see him, the old woman had her back turned to him. She looked at the donkey and the ox. They seemed rather calm, benevolent, not even surprised.
Just yesterday we found birds dead from the cold in the brambles in the woods. Today the snow is eating them as soon as they fall from their nest.
When she finally got up, she no longer had the slow movements of old people weighed down by age. Her spine was no longer curved, her head no longer weighed on her, it was tall, she smiled like a fine-aged woman whose husband is waiting outside. She went out into the dawning daylight. Then Mary could see the thing in the hands of the brand new child, and her eyes were filled with tears, not of sorrow, but of joy. It was a fruit that he was holding there, not an apple, but THE apple, the apple of the first sin that Eve had just given him so that it could be forgiven. And Jesus held it out to the returning sun as one offers the world to the children of the future. – The story is over, said the old man. The story I just told, and perhaps ours too. Just yesterday we found birds dead from the cold in the brambles in the woods. Today the snow is eating them as soon as they fall from their nest. She’s starving too!
He pushed a log onto the fire. He said again: – Sacrénom, I still can’t send you to Gripet the devil!
Monsieur Gripet was the rich man of the village. He had started out as a miller, then grinding other people’s grain. As he was the only one to flour wheat in this poor country, in a few prosperous years, he had made his fortune. He then placed himself in the service of the devil. At least that was what they said. In fact, he agreed to lend his gold to anyone who came to his mill door in exchange for a signature and three drops of blood at the bottom of a parchment. No need to say more. To live fairly decently when you had nothing left in your pocket, you had to pledge your soul to Mr. Gripet’s boss. The grandfather knew this. This is why, all things considered, he preferred to die than to go begging with the infernal man. But if we die a little every day that God makes, we end up with white eyes and tongues hanging out. Christmas Eve came. The old man said to the child:
Here comes the night when Jesus Christ was born. Trust in him, my son. Maybe it will help us get through the bad days.
– I love you, my little one, and I want you to live. It’s decided. Go to Gripet. Here comes the night when Jesus Christ was born. Trust in him, my son. Maybe it will help us get through the bad days. I would gladly go in your place if my paws wanted to walk, but they are no longer good for anything.
It was true, he couldn’t take it anymore. The slightest gust of wind would have thrown him to the ground.
So the child went to the mill. Against the icy squall, with his forehead low, his fists at his collar, he reached the village with its deserted streets. Shutters closed, outside, no one, not even a dog, not even a rat. After the last houses, the river and the beautiful mill. Gripet, from his skylight, watched him come, from a distance, on the path. He rubbed his hands, chuckled, his eyes glistening, went down to the door and opened it.
– What do you want from me, kid?
The child replied:
– My grandfather is dying. He is hungry. Me too.
– What do you want me to do? the rascal squeaked. I don’t give, I sell. Give and take. Go back where you came from. Seeing you so pale, you’re not even from us.
I’ll trade your soul (it’s worthless but meh) for a bushel of wheat.
He pretended to think, he gave a crooked smile. He says again:
– Finally, my good heart will ruin me. I’ll trade your soul (it’s worthless but meh) for a bushel of wheat.
A sheet of parchment suddenly appeared out of nowhere and unfolded in front of his nose.
– Sign there. Perfect, my boy. Now three drops of blood.
Near the threshold a bush of thorns clung to the stones of the wall. The child pricked his thumb. Gripet counted:
– One two Three.
The miller could say no more.
Bad luck for you, Gripet, I was just born. Go tell your boss the devil that I’m everywhere now.
Behind the little one found, a woman had just appeared. She was holding a newborn boy in her arms. This child stood up, both feet firmly planted in his mother’s hands and said in a powerful voice:
– Bad luck for you, Gripet, I was just born. Go tell your boss the devil that I’m everywhere now. He will understand. And now, return the paper that the little one just signed.
The other felt goosebumps raise his large frame. He turned on his heel, squealing in terror, fled, fell into the river, tried to cling to the mill wheel which woke up, whining. She began to turn, she took him by the shoulder, threw him over the trees, arms and legs entangled with wet roots.
The bundled-up people who passed by on their way to the church where the call for midnight mass was ringing dropped their lanterns in the snow. They saw him like this, Gripet the evildoer, fluttering over the roofs, surrounded by flutes and squeaky violins which played alone in the air. Some even saw it carried into the Moon by cats, crows and winged serpents. What happened to the old man and the child? You just have to whisper it, like my grandmother did: “If history has opened the door to your heart, they live with you from now on. » Now good evening, I will be silent.