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The Church of Haeckendov er Frontispiece

The Little Stone Boy Facing page 6

The Man in White 52

Sir Halewyn in the Wood 64

The Song of the Head 92

Smetse caught by the Two Branches 108

In Smetse' s Garden 126

The Devil-King and the Sack 150



THERE never was a book which needed less of an
introduction than this one, unless it is that it should
have an apology from the translator for his handling
of so beautiful an original. But since so little is generally
known of these Legends and their author a word of informa-
tion may be demanded.

Charles de Coster flourished in the middle part of the
last century. He was brought up in the court of a great
dignitary of the Roman Church, and intended for the aristo-
cratic University of Louvain, but showed early his inde-
pendent and democratic turn of mind by preferring the more
popular University of Brussels, to which he made his own way.
Here he fell in with a group of fellow-students and artistic
enthusiasts which included Felicien Rops, with whom he was
associated in a society called Les Joyeux, and afterwards in a
short-lived Review, to which they gave the name of that
traditional Belgian figure of joyousness and high spirits,
Uylenspiegel. It was in this that these Legends first appeared,
written in the years 1856 and 1857, and soon afterwards
published in book form.

Belgian literature was not at that time in a very flourishing
condition, and little general appreciation was shown of de
Coster's work, but it was hailed with enthusiasm by a few
of the more discerning critics, and won him a place on a
Royal Commission which was investigating mediaeval state
papers. After publishing another book, Contes brabangons,
likewise based on the folk-lore of his country, he seems to have
withdrawn into himself and led the life of a dreamer, wander-
ing about among the peasants and burying himself in the wide
countryside of Flanders, until he had completed his epic of
the Spanish tyranny, Ulenspiegel, which has already been
translated into English. None of these publications brought
him any material recompense for his work, and he remained

b ix

Translator s Note

a poor man to the end of his life, in constant revolt against
what he called the horrible power of money.*

The primitive stuff of these Legends is to be found scattered
up and down, a piece here and a piece there, in the folk-lore
of Brabant and Flanders. De Coster, who had an intense
love of this folk-lore and at the same time, as he said, " that
particular kind of madness which is needed for such writing,"
set himself to give it a literary form. He has chosen to make
that form so elaborate, and has worked his material to so
fine a composition, that he must be considered to have pro-
duced an entirely original book. But he has not been un-
faithful to his masters the people. Sir Halezvyn, for instance,
follows an old song. And the Faust-story of Smetse Smee, the
jovial and ingenious smith, who gets the better of his bargain
with the devil in so wholly satisfactory a fashion, crops up in
one form or another again and again.

The Legends were written in the idiom of the sixteenth
century, the period to which the latest and longest of them
roughly belongs. I believe that no more perfect example
of pastiche exists in the language. But that is not of much
interest to English readers, and I have made no attempt to
reproduce the achievement. De Coster found modern
French, with its rigidity of form, unsuitable to his subject and
inapt to his genius. He seems to have had a mind so perfectly
in tune with the Middle Ages that one may well believe that
he found it actually more natural to write in the still fluid
language of Rabelais than in that of his own day. The prose
of the original is of arresting beauty, especially in Sir Halewyn ;
which, with its peculiarly Flemish tale of faery and enchant-
ment, still beauty and glowing hearths, and the sombreness of
northern forests brooding over them, I feel to be the high-water
mark of his achievement. At times it becomes so rhythmic
that one can hardly decide whether it is prose or poetry.
It is not difficult to believe Potvin's report that de Coster spent

* His biography has been written by Charles Potvin. Charles de Coster ;
Sa Biographic. Weissenbruch ; Brussels.

Translator s Note

an immense amount of pains on his work, sometimes doing a
page twenty times over before he was content to let it go.

De Coster has been spoken of as a mouthpiece of Pro-
testantism. Protestant, of course, is the last word in the
world to describe him. No one can have regretted much
more than he the passing of that warm-hearted time before
the Reformation. One has but to read the story of the
building of the church at Haeckendover in The Three Sisters,
or the prayer of the girl Wantje to the Virgin in the tale of
the hilarious Brotherhood to see how far this is true. It is
only in Smetse Smee, when he comes to the time of the In-
quisition, that he bursts out with that stream of invective
and monstrous mockery which made the Polish refugee
Karski say of him, " Well roared, Fleming ! " And even
then it is Spain rather than Catholicism which is the centre of
his attack, and Philip II who is his aiming-point.

Above all and before all de Coster loved the simple peasant-
people of his own land, with their frank interest in good
things to eat and good beer to drink, their aptitude for
quarrelling and their great hearts. All his chief portraits
are painted from them. The old homely nobility of Flanders,
such as were the people of Heurne in the tale of Halewyn, he
liked well enough, but he could not bear a rich man or a
distant-mannered master of the Spanish type. A tale is
told of him and his painter friend Dillens which may well
stand as the key to his work. One day at Carnival-time they
were in Ghent, and when the evening came Dillens asked
what they should do. " Voir le peuple ! " cried de Coster,
" le peuple surtout ! La bourgeoisie est la mSme partout ! Va
voir le peuple ! "

H. T.



/. Of the sorrowful voice which Pieter Cans heard in his garden,
and of the flame running over the grass.

IN the days when the Good Duke ruled over Brabant,
there was to be found at Uccle, with its headquarters
in the tavern of The Horn, a certain Brotherhood of the
Cheerful Countenance^ aptly enough so named, for every one
of the Brothers had a wonderfully jolly face, finished off, as a
sign of good living, with two chins at the least. That was
the young ones ; but the older ones had more.

You shall hear, first of all, how this Brotherhood was
founded :

Pieter Gans, host of this same Horn, putting off his
clothes one night to get into bed, heard in his garden a sorrow-
ful voice, wailing : " My tongue is scorching me. Drink !
Drink ! I shall die of thirst."

Thinking at first that it was some drunkard below, he
continued to get into bed quietly, notwithstanding the voice,
which kept crying out in the garden : " Drink ! Drink !
I shall die of thirst." But this persisted so long and in so
melancholy a manner that at last Pieter Gans must needs get
up and go to the window to see who it might be making so
much noise. Thence he saw a long flame, of great brightness
and strange upstanding shape, running over the grass ; and,
thinking that it must be some poor soul from purgatory in
need of prayers, he set about repeating litanies, and went
through above a hundred, but all in vain, for the voice
never ceased crying out as before : " Drink ! Drink ! I
shall die of thirst."

After cock-crow he heard no more, and looking out again
he saw with great satisfaction that the flame had disappeared.

When morning came he went straightway to the church.
There he told the story of these strange happenings to the


Flemish Legends

priest, and caused a fair mass to be said for the repose of
the poor soul ; gave a golden 'peter to the clerk so that others
might be said later, and returned home reassured.

But on the following night the voice began its wailing
anew, as lamentably as if it were that of a dying man hindered
from dying. And so it went on night after night.

Whence it came about that Pieter Gans grew moody and

Those who had known him in former days, rubicund,
carrying a good paunch and a joyous face, wont to tell his
matins with bottles and his vespers with flagons, would cer-
tainly never have recognized him.

For he grew so wizened, dried up, thin, and of such
piteous appearance that dogs used to start barking at the
sight of him, as they do at beggars with their bundles.

//. How Jan Blaeskaek gave good counsel to Pieter Gans, and
wherein covetousness is sadly punished.

It so happened that while he was moping after this
fashion, passing his days in misery and without any joy of
them, alone in a corner like a leper, there came to the inn a
certain Master Jan Blaeskaek, brewer of good beer, a hearty
fellow, and of a jovial turn of mind.

This visitor, seeing Pieter Gans looking at him nervously
and shamefacedly, wagging his head like an old man, went
up to him and shook him : " Come," said he, " wake up,
my friend, it gives me no pleasure to see thee sitting there
like a corpse ! "

" Alas," answered Pieter Gans, " I am not worth much
more now, my master."

" And whence," said Blaeskaek, " hast thou gotten all
this black melancholy ? "

To which Pieter Gans made answer : " Come away to
some place where none will hear us. There I will tell thee
the whole tale."

This he did. When Blaeskaek had heard to the end he


The Brotherhood of the Cheerful Countenance

said : " 'Tis no Christian soul that cries in this manner, but
the voice of a devil. It must be appeased. Therefore go
thou and fetch from thy cellar a good cask of ale, and roll
it out into the garden, to the place where thou didst see the
flame shining."

" That I will," said Pieter Gans. But at vespers, thinking
to himself that ale' was precious stuff to set before devils, he
put instead in that place a great bowl of clear water.

Towards midnight he heard a voice more sorrowful than
ever, calling out : " Drink ! Drink ! I shall die of thirst."

And he saw the bright flame dancing furiously over the
bowl, which was suddenly broken with a loud report, and
this in so violent a manner that the pieces flew up against
the windows of the house.

Then he began to sweat with terror and weep aloud, say-
ing : " Now 'tis all over, dear God, all over with me. Oh,
that I had followed the advice of the wise Blaeskaek, for he
is a man of good counsel, of excellent counsel ! Master
Devil, who are so thirsty, do not kill me to-night ; to-morrow
you shall drink good ale, Master Devil. Ah, 'tis ale of fair
repute throughout the land, this ale, fit for kings or for good
devils like yourself ! "

Nevertheless the voice continued to wail : " Drink !
Drink ! "

" There, there ! Have a little patience, Master Devil ;
to-morrow you shall drink my best ale. It cost me many
a golden peter, my master, and I will give you a whole barrel-
ful. Do you not see that you must not strangle me to-night,
but rather to-morrow if I do not keep my word."

And after this fashion he wept and cried out until cock-
crow. Then, finding that he was not dead, he said his matins
with a better heart.

At sun-up he went down himself to fetch the cask of ale
from his cellar, and placed it in the middle of the grass,
saying : " Here is the freshest and the best drink I have ;
I am no niggard. So have pity on me, Master Devil."


Flemish Legends

111. Of the songs, voices, mezulings, and sounds of kisses -which
Pieter Cans and Blaeskaek heard in the garden, and of the
brave mien wherewith Master Merry-face sat on the cask of

At the third hour Blaeskaek came down and asked for
news. Pieter Gans told his tale, and as he was about to go
away again drew him aside and said : " I have kept this
secret from my servants, lest they should go and blab about
it to the priests, and so I am as good as alone in the house.
Do not therefore leave me, for it may happen that some
evil will come of the business, and 'twould be well to have
a good stomach in case of such event. Alone I should cer-
tainly have none, but together we shall have enough for
both. It would be as well, then, to fortify ourselves against
this assault on our courage. Instead of sleeping we will eat
and drink heartily."

" For that," said Blaeskaek, " I am as ready as thou."

Towards midnight the two comrades, tippling in a low
room, fortified with good eating, but not without some
apprehension nevertheless, heard the same voice outside, no
longer sorrowful, but joyous, singing songs in a strange
tongue ; and there followed divers sweet chants, such as
angels might sing (speaking with proper respect to them all),
who in Paradise had drunken too much ambrosia, voices of
women celestially soft, mewlings of tigers, sighs, noise of
embraces and lovers' kisses.

" Ho, ho ! " cried Pieter Gans, " what is this, dear Jesus ?
They are devils for a certainty. They will empty my cask
altogether. And when they find my ale so good they will
want more of it, and come crying every night and shouting
louder than ever : ' Drink ! Drink ! ' And I shall be
ruined, alas, alas ! Come, friend Blaeskaek " and so say-
ing he pulled out his kuyf, which is, as you may know, a
strong knife well sharpened " Come, we must drive them
off by force ! But alone I have not the courage."

" I will come with you," said Blaeskaek, " but not until


The Brotherhood of the Cheerful Countenance

a little later, at cock-crow. They say that after that hour
devils cannot bite."

Before the sun rose the cock crew.

And he had, that morning, so martial a tone that you
would have thought it a trumpet sounding.

And hearing this trumpet all the devils suddenly put a
stop to their drinking and singing.

Pieter Gans and Blaeskaek were overjoyed at that, and
ran out into the garden in haste.

Pieter Gans, hurrying to look for his cask of ale, found
it changed into stone, and on top of it, sitting horseback
fashion, what seemed to be a young boy, quite naked, a fair,
sweet little boy, gaily crowned with vine-leaves, with a bunch
of grapes hanging over one ear, and in his right hand a staff
with a fir-cone at the tip, and grapes and vine-branches
twined round it.

And although this little boy was made of stone, he had
all the appearance of being alive, so merry a countenance
had he.

Greatly alarmed were Gans and Blaeskaek at the sight
of this personage.

And fearing both the wrath of the devil and the punish-
ment of the Church, and swearing together to say no word
about it to any one, they put the figure (which was but a
few thumbs high) in a dark cellar where there was no drink

IF. Wherein the two worthy men set out for Brussels, capital
city of Brabant, and of the manners and condition of Josse
Cartuyvels the Apothecary.

Having done so much they set out together for Brussels,
there to consult an old man, apothecary by trade, something
of a glutton, but liked well enough by the common folk on
account of a certain hotch-potch he made, well seasoned with
rare herbs, for which he asked a not unreasonable price. He
was reputed by the devout to have commerce with the devil,


Flemish Legends

on account of the miraculous cures which he effected in both
man and beast by means of his herbs. Furthermore, he sold
beer, which he bought from Blaeskaek. And he was hideous
to look at, gouty, wizened, yellow as a guinea, wrinkled as
an old apple, and with carbuncles on his neck.

He lived in a house of mean appearance, in that part
where you may now see the brewery of Claes van Volxem.
Gans and Blaeskaek, coming thither, found him in his kitchen,
making up his stews.

The apothecary, seeing Gans in such a piteous melancholy
state, asked him if he had some ill whereof he wished to be

" He has nothing to be cured of," said Blaeskaek, " save
an evil fear which has been tormenting him for a week past."

Thereupon they told him the whole story of the chubby-
faced image.

" Dear God ! " said Josse Cartuyvels, for such was the
name of this doctor of stews, " I know this devil well enough,
and will show you his likeness." And taking them up to
the top of his house, into a small room which he had there,
he showed them a gallant image of that same devil, making
merry with pretty maids and gay goat-foot companions.

" And what is the name," said Blaeskaek, " of this merry
boy ? "

" I have no doubt it is Bacchus," said Josse Cartuyvels.
" In olden times he was a god, but at the giacious coming
of Our Lord Jesus Christ " here all three crossed themselves
" he lost at once his power and his divinity. He was, in
his time, good company, and more particularly notable as
the inventor of wine, beer, and ale. It may be, on that
account, that instead of hell he is only in purgatory, where
no doubt he has become thirsty, and by God's permission
was allowed to return to earth, once only, no more, and
there sing this lamentable song which you heard in your
garden. But I suppose that he was not allowed to cry his
thirst in countries where wine is chiefly drunk, and that he

The Brotherhood of the Cheerful Countenance

came accordingly to Master Gans, knowing well enough that
with him he would find the best ale in all Brabant."

" True," said Gans, " true, friend Cartuyvels, the best in
the duchy ; and he drank up, if you please, a whole barrelful,
without paying me so much as the smallest gold piece, nor
silver, nor even copper. That is not the conduct of an
honest devil."

" Ah ! " said Cartuyvels, " there you are in error, and
do not perceive what is for your good and what for evil.
But if you will take the advice I am about to give you, you
may find a way whereby you can make clear profit from this
Bacchus, for he is, you must know, the god of jolly drinkers
and good innkeepers, and I am disposed to think that he
will do you a good turn."

" Well, then," asked Blaeskaek, " what must we do
now ? "

" I have heard that this devil loves warmth and sun-
light. So take him out, first of all, from this dark cellar.
Then put him in some place whither the sun reaches, such
as on top of the tall press which stands in the room where
your customers sit and drink."

" Sweet Jesus ! " exclaimed Pieter Gans, " this is idola-

" In no wise," said the apothecary. " I mean only this ;
that, put up where I tell you, sniffing the good smell of
stoups and flagons, and hearing jolly talk, he will grow
altogether frolicsome and happy. So may you bring Christian
comfort to poor dead souls."

" But if," said Pieter Gans, " the priests should get wind
of this statue, so shamelessly set up for all to see ? "

" They cannot find you guilty of sin, for innocence keeps
nothing secret. You will show this Bacchus openly to all
your friends and relatives, and say that you found him buried
under the earth in a corner of your garden. Thus you will
make him seem an ancient relic, as indeed he is. Only take
care to forget his name when you speak of him to any one,


Flemish Legends

and, entitling him, as in jest, Master Merry-face, use this
name for him always, and institute in his honour a jolly

" So we will," answered Pieter Gans and Blaeskaek to-
gether, and they then departed, not without having given
the apothecary two large coins for his trouble.

He did his best, however, to keep them back, so that
they might partake of some of his heavenly hotch-potch,
but Pieter Gans turned him a deaf ear, saying to himself
that it was devil's cooking, unwholesome for a good Christian
stomach. So they left him and set out again for Uccle.

V . Of the long conversation and great perplexity of Pieter Gans
and Blaeskaek in the matter of the deviling; and how they
returned to Uccle with a resolution taken.

While they were on their way : " Well, comrade," said
Gans to Blaeskaek, " what is thy opinion of this apothe-
cary ? "

" A dog of a heretic ! " said Blaeskaek, " a heathen, a
despiser of all good and all virtue. For 'twas treasonable
and wicked counsel he gave us."

" True, my good friend, true. And is it not besides a
great heresy to dare tell us that this deviling on his cask is
he who invented beer, wine, and ale, when we have heard
it preached every Sunday in our church that St. Noah, under
the instruction of Our Lord Jesus Christ " here both crossed
themselves " invented these things."

" For my part," said Blaeskaek, " I know I have heard
that preached above a hundred times."

Here, seating themselves on the grass, they began to
refresh themselves with a fine Ghent sausage, brought by
Pieter Gans against such time as they should feel hungry.

" There, there," said he, " let us not forget the Benedicite,
my friend. So, perhaps, we may escape burning. For 'tis
to God we owe this meat : may he deign to keep us always
in his holy faith."

The Brotherhood of the Cheerful Countenance

" Amen" said Blaeskaek ; " but, my master, between
us we must certainly break up this wicked statue."

" He who has no sheep fears no wolves. 'Tis easy enough
for thee to talk comfortably of breaking up this deviling."

" 'Twould be a deed much to our credit."

" But if he come back again to wail each night so
piteously : ' Drink ! Drink ! ' And if he turn angry with
me and cast spells on my beer and my wine, and make me
as poor as Job ! Nay, better follow the advice of the

" Aye, and if the priests learn of the statue, and call us
both before the tribunal, and have us burnt as heretics and
idolaters, what then ? "

" Ah," said Gans, " here are the good God on the one
hand and the wicked devil on the other, fighting over our
poor bodies, and we shall be pounded to nothing between
them, alas, alas ! "

" Well," said Blaeskaek, " let us go to the good fathers
openly, and tell them the whole affair."

" Alas, alas ! We shall be burnt, my good master, burnt
without mercy."

" 1 believe there must be some way whereby to escape
this danger."

" There is none, my friend, there is none, and we shall
be burnt. I feel myself already half roast."

" I have thought of a way," said Blaeskaek.

" There is none, my friend, there is no way whatever,
unless it be the clemency of the worthy fathers. Canst see
no pilgrim or wandering friar on the road ? "

" None."

" If we see such a one we must give him all our sausage
have we said our grace for it ? and all the bread in our
wallet, and humbly invite him into our house, to eat a quarter
of roast lamb, well washed down with old wine. I have not
much of that kind, but I will gladly give him all there is of
it. Canst not see such a one coming ? "


Flemish Legends

" No one," said Blaeskaek. " But open those rabbit's
ears of thine and hark to me : Ipwill give thee good counsel,
for I wish thee well, blubberer. We must follow the apothe-
cary's advice in half-and-half fashion, so much only, you
understand. 'Twould be idolatry of the most shameless
kind to put up this statue in the public hall."

" Alas, alas, by all the devils ! yes, you are right."

" Very well, then we will put him in a cupboard, which
shall be well fastened, but with an opening on the top to
let in the air. Therein we will also put a small keg of good
beer, and ask him not to use it up too fast. In this way
he will be, in fact, within the hall of the inn, and he will
keep himself well hid for certain, for in his cupboard he will
be able to take what pleasure he may from the songs of the
drinkers, rattling of mugs, and clinking of bottles."

" No," said Gans to that, " no, we must follow wholly
the apothecary's advice, for he knows more about devils

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