It had been a great vintage, reflected Gaston Bouchard as he gazed across the neat rows of seven year old vines that made up his youngest vineyard. It was one of those glorious early December days in Gascony, the vines lay dormant and he knew it was time to begin pruning. "We'll keep yields even lower for the next vintage," thought Gaston, who was fastidious in the vineyard. Looking over to his right he caught sight of the new vineyard worker, Alexis de Vigny, fresh from agricultural college, who was wandering amongst the vines. "Useless, just useless," muttered Gaston to himself. "What is that boy doing now?" His eyes rested on his new employee. About 23, tall, slim and fair skinned with long wavy blond hair, the newcomer was certainly good looking - "I bet he pulls the birds a lot faster than he works in the vineyard," thought Gaston."When he's not at church that is." The boy was deeply religious and often carried a small Bible with him.
Alexis had proved to be a difficult employee. Gaston was prepared to overlook a degree of eccentricity, but the boy had spent most of his time working far too slowly in the vineyards and seemed reluctant to do anything at all in the winery, which wasn't a good sign as regards the next vintage. Now, far away across the vineyard he could see Alexis moving gracefully, almost dancing amongst the vines, brushing gently against them - almost, it seemed to Gaston, dancing with them as he circled around the vineyard. "What's he up to now?" thought Gaston irritably. "And why hasn't he begun the pruning like all my other vineyard workers? Typical," he thought, "I give him my best vineyard to look after and what does he do?" Admittedly the boy had shown great interest in the vineyards up until now, and had tended the vines with great care. Indeed nothing seemed too much trouble for him when it came to looking after the vines. But now it was pruning time and there he was messing about and just not getting down to it.
"Well he'd better get started, and right now," thought Gaston, hauling a bag of pruning shears from the trailer. Shouting to Alexis he called him over, noticing once again how painfully shy the boy was. He approached head down: "Scared to look me in the eye," thought Gaston irritably. "Time to start pruning now," he said pointedly, thrusting a sharp pair of shears towards the boy, who immediately backed away. "Go on boy, take the shears; we need to start right away" he barked. Alexis took two steps towards him and muttered under his breath "No, no, it is not time." The anger rose in Gaston. "Of course its time you fool!" he said, his voice rising in a flash of rage, "Take these and get on with it." The boy stepped towards him and looked up. His face was strangely contorted, twisted even, like the old gnarled vines around them, with a look that Gaston read as anger. This was the last straw. "How dare you question me, boy!" he shouted, "These are my vineyards as they were my father's before me - and by God I know when its time to prune. What do you think the rest of them are doing? Dancing around in their vineyards? Now take these and get started. You know what to do."
The boy reached out slowly - almost reluctantly - and took the shears from his outstretched hand. "We'll start right here." The old man bent down and quickly began to work his way round the gnarled trunk of the vine, removing the excess shoots expertly and efficiently. "There, boy, that's how you do it. I'll bet you've never seen a vine cropped as fast as that before." He looked up at the boy. Alexis was standing stock still, shaking slightly. To Gaston's amazement, he appeared to be crying. "For God's sake boy, what is it now?" he barked, now at the end of his tether. "You're worse than useless." At the sound of the old man's voice a look of sheer panic came across Alexis's features and the pruning shears fell out of his trembling hand. In one movement Gaston swept them up and thrust them back into the boy's hand. "This is your last chance, boy. Now watch me!" Quickly, expertly, he set about pruning the next vine. Working quickly round the trunk the old man worked effortlessly, lost in his work, pleased by his own skill learnt so many years ago from his father when he himself was a young boy. "By God, I'll teach this boy how to prune vines," he thought, and twisted his head round to check that Alexis was watching.
He saw the angle of the pruning shears coming down out of the sky at him far too late. He was dimly aware of them glinting in the morning sunlight as they swept towards him in a fatal arc. In a fraction of a second he saw Alexis's face contorted with rage as the boy swung the shears down on him, then the sky exploded as he heard the awful crack of metal on the side of his skull...
It was dark. The pain in his head was severe and he became aware of dried blood on his neck and shirt. By the beam of light coming through the skylight he could see the stainless steel tanks of his winery glinting softly and his prized large capacity basket press right next to him. The salesman's words drifted back to him: "No better way to crush grapes Monsieur." Trying to move, he became aware that he was tied to a chair securely with rope, his arms in front of him neatly tied to the arms of the chair. "No point in moving Monsieur. You're not going anywhere" - a voice rang out from across the winery and Gaston was aware of Alexis moving towards him. The flick of a switch bathed the winery in neon light. The boy's face loomed towards his own as Gaston became aware of the gag tied round his head. "Wha...what...?" were the only sounds Gaston could utter before Alexis began to speak.
"Now listen. Now listen. Listen to me. Now listen to me." Gaston became very aware of the boy's face just two feet away from his own. He listened in horror as the boy spoke, very slowly and deliberately. "You are a cruel, evil and Godless man Monsieur. I have seen what you have done and I will put an end to your evil. Do you not know who I am? I am Alexis de Vigny and I live by my name's true meaning, for I am the defender of the vines. And I will make sure that you will observe the holy Sabbath, Monsieur, for your vines are now fully seven years of age. You have not read your Bible Monsieur. For it is written in Leviticus: 'For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the Lord.'" Gaston listened, terrified, as Alexis continued to speak.
"Never again will you mistreat God's own sanctified plants on the Sabbath. Never again will you plant the holy vine on soil so poor as to make the plant suffer in its endless struggle to live. Never again will you ignore your vine's pitiful cries for water in the scorching sun as you deliberately withhold the irrigation that they so desperately cry for. Never again will you spray God's own creatures with insecticides and powders so that they are covered in chemical filth made by the hand of man. Does your arrogance know no bounds? Never again will you take from the vines their precious fruit, meant for God's hand alone, and crush such beauty into a useless pulp to line your own pockets. And never again will you maim God's creatures so cruelly, slashing and cutting them with your sharpened tools."
With utter horror, Gaston watched as Alexis slowly picked up a pair of pruning shears and begun to speak again, this time his voice rising in barely controlled anger. "The time has come. The time has come for you to suffer the fate that you so readily inflict upon your own vines Monsieur." The flick of a switch stirred the basket press into life. "What wonderful wine you will make Monsieur. Be sure that I will drink you with the greatest of pleasure. But first, the pruning. And I thank you for teaching me so well, for I have learnt much from you. Please be sure that I will do the job extremely thoroughly and certainly not limit myself to just your little shoots."
The last thing Gaston saw was the glint of neon on metal as the pruning shears bore hungrily down towards his fingers...