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Cathiau's Churn

In the hills of Riaz, at the forest's edge, with a magnificent Alpine view, stood the dilapidated home of a strange family. Stranger yet, no one knew where these "avinieros" (drunkards) as locals called them, came from.

And how did they get wine, neither buying it nor owning vines? How to explain their abundance of milk and cream, with only a "bagne" (puny cow) and three skinny goats?

Crépin à la Ratta, an itinerant cobbler, came calling one day to repair their shoes. Cathiau, the mother, sat down near the stove, grabbed the churn between her knees and began churning. To him, it seemed there was nothing in the churn. Curious, puzzled and unable to concentrate on his work, he pricked his finger with the awl.

Luckily, a knock came at the door. A neighbor had come to buy eggs. The cobbler wondered how Cathiau could have eggs to sell with no hen or henhouse? As Cathiau fetched the eggs, Crépin decided it was time to satisfy his curiosity. The temptation was just too great. Needing only a glance, he leapt into action. Of course, the churn was empty. Empty save a yellowed parchment he discovered attached underneath the lid.

Suddenly he heard footsteps, leaving him barely the time to hide the note in his shirt. Old Cathiau returned to her churning with renewed vigor. Crépin felt a thick liquid begin to ooze under his shirt, causing him to fidget on his stool. Cathiau kept churning! He threw the cursed note to the floor... and cream spouted from the spot!

Cathiau stopped short, looked in the churn, and scowled. Nothing! No cream! No note! She looked aghast at Crépin, who sat frozen, like a "serac". Poor Crépin! Cathiau unmasked! The only way out was to make a devil's pact.

In fact, the old Gibloux woman's butter was never seen again in the Bulle market. The cobbler was sworn to secrecy under threat of Cathiau's most evil spells. He wisely held his tongue for years, only revealing his tale after her death. Alas! The secret of the mysterious parchment disappeared with Cathiau and her churn.

Thematic route :
A Country of Legends

Text :
Marie-Alexandre Bovet, from "les légendes de la Gruyère", Editions Gruériennes, 2004

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