Jakez Riou

Gregor Kogan's Mortal Sin
This story is taken from the collection Geotenn ar Werc'hez by Jakez Riou (1957). English translation by Christian le Bras and Diarmuid Johnson.
The weather had been so bad that summer that people in the country had been given permission to reap, harvest and thresh on Sundays and on holy days. Rain and wind had flattened the crops and beaten them to the ground, and in many places, the grain having failed to ripen, some fields had not yet been mown. Next to the threshing yards, the corn, harvested and collected while still green, lay mouldering and rotting in stacks, stalk and grain alike. The farmers waited in vain for a sunny spell to make a start with the threshing.

One evening, at last, the sky cleared in the west, auguring well for the following day. But as the sun set, the thread of red sky over Menez Hom was a portent not of hot, fine weather, but rather of wind.

The farmers sent to the neighbouring farmsteads to muster help for the next day's threshing. But people were busy, and the available men were few, as they had already been asked to help with the reaping, carting and threshing. Work would be hard next day in the fields and around the threshing yards. Both man and horse would toil.

The next day was the feast of the Assumption. By early morning the harvesters were hurrying over and back across the fields, while the threshing machines, having lain idle for weeks, were roaring in the yards.

Gregor Kogan had done his usual Sunday morning chores: the horses were groomed, their racks filled with hay, the bedding swept from the stable flagstones. He looked in astonishment at his master, Saik Mokaer, when he was told to harness the horses he had just watered. Gregor Kogan refused to help with the threshing on the feast of the Assumption.

Farmhands from Kerunkun, Torr-ar-Menez and Lannurgad had arrived early with their horses and carts at the Pennavern farmyard. The men watered their horses at the stone trough.
Then Gregor Kogan drained the trough and, with the palm of his hand, cleaned the froth which the animals' mouths had left on the stone. He drew a bucket of cool water from the well and washed his naked upper body.

- Gregor !
From the threshing yard, his friend Herve, mevel bras, head farmhand of Lannurgad, called to him and asked him why he was washing himself so thoroughly before going to feed the thresher in a cloud of dust and chaff. Gregor remained silent.

Mokaer, landlord of Pennavern, heavy and red-faced, too fat to help with hard work, was pacing up and down the yard, brimming with anger. The farmhand of Lannurgad shouted:
- Let's get the thresher going. Who's feeding ?
- You, said Mokaer.
- It's not for me to feed the thresher; Gregor Kogan is mevel bras* here in Pennavern.
- No, you feed, said Mokaer.
He stood where he was in front of him. Then, with a wink, he added:
- Are you happy with your yearly wages in Lannurgad?
- They could be better indeed, replied Herve. Why do you ask?
Mokaer smiled and slapped him on the shoulder.
- Today, he said, you will feed the thresher. Today you will be mevel bras on the Pennavern yard.
But the other men were saying to each other: 'Gregor Kogan refused to work on the feast of the Assumption !'. Then Herve understood. He said to Mokaer:
- My wages in Lannurgad aren't great. But I've signed for another year all the same, starting at Michaelmas.
Mokaer turned his back and shouted to the man leading the horses:
- Show them the whip, make that thresher roar!

The bells of Landremel sang out over the fields and the threshing yards, calling the people to mass. But on the roads the worshippers were few. One man only made his way towards Landremel along the main road: Gregor Kogan, mevel bras of Pennavern.

*head farmhand.

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