Copyright
Charles de Coster.

Flemish legends online

. (page 4 of 13)
Online LibraryCharles de CosterFlemish legends → online text (page 4 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


after me to consecrate it anew."

X. Of the two bishops, and the withered hands.

By and by two venerable bishops passed through Haecken-
dover, and seeing the new church were minded to give it
their blessing.

They knew nothing of the words of Jesus to the three
ladies, or they would not have thought of such temerity.

But they were punished terribly none the less.

For as one of them was about to bless the water for this
purpose he became suddenly blind.

And the other, who was holding the holy water brush,
when he lifted his arms for the blessing, found them sud-
denly withered and stiffened, so that he could no longer
move them.

And perceiving that they had sinned in some way the
two bishops were filled with repentance and prayed to the
Lord Jesus to pardon them.

And they were straightway pardoned, seeing that they
had sinned in ignorance.

And thereafter they came oftentimes most devoutly to
Haeckendover.



SIR HALEWYN



SIR HALEWYN

/. Of the two castles.

SIR HALEWYN lifted up his voice in a song.

And whatever maid heard that song must needs go to
him straight away.

And now to all good Flemings will I tell the tale of this
Halewyn and his song, and of the brave maid Magtelt.

There were two proud castles in the province of Flanders.
In one dwelt Sir Roel de Heurne, with the lady Gonde, his
good wife ; Toon the Silent, his son ; Magtelt, his fair
daughter, and a host of pages, grooms, varlets, men-at-
arms, and all the other members of the household, among
whom an especial favourite was Anne-Mie, a girl of gentle
blood, maid to the lady Magtelt.

Of everything that was made by his peasants, Sir Roel
took naught but what was the best.

And the peasants said of him that it was a good master
who took only as much as he needed, when he might have
left them with nothing.

In the other castle lived Sir Halewyn the Miserable, with
his father, brother, mother, and sister, and a large following
of rascals and brigands.

And these were an ill-favoured crew. I can tell you, past
masters of robbery, pillage, and murder, such as it is not
good to meet at too close quarters.

//. Of Dirk, called the Crow.

This family were issue by direct line of Dirk, the first
of the Halewyns, to whom was given the name of the Crow,
because he was as greedy of booty as a crow is of carrion.

And also because he was clad all in black, and his men
with him.

This Dirk, who lived in the time of the great wars, was
like a thunderbolt in battle, where, with his only weapon,

45



Flemish Legends

a heavy club, furnished with a beak at one side, he broke
javelins, splintered lances, and tore away mail as if it had
been cloth ; and no one could well resist his onslaught. And
in this manner he so frightened his enemies that when they
saw Dirk and his black soldiers bearing down upon them,
shouting, yelling, without fear of any one, and in great
number, they gave themselves up for dead before ever battle
was joined.

When victory was won and the more important booty
divided (whereof Dirk always secured the lion's share and
never came off badly), the other barons and their knights
would leave the rest of the field to him and his followers,
and would go off, saying : " The pieces are for the crow."

No other man-at-arms would dare to stay behind then,
or he would have been quickly taken and slain without wait-
ing. And thereafter Dirk's men would begin to play the
crow in earnest ; cutting off fingers to get the rings on them,
even of those not yet dead, who cried out to them for succour ;
chopping off heads and arms so that they might pull away
clothes the more easily. And they even fought amongst
themselves, and sometimes killed one another, over the bodies
of the dead, for the sake of neck-pieces, straps of hide, or
more paltry stuff still.

And stayed sometimes on the battlefield over this business
three days and three nights.

When all the dead were stark naked they piled up their
gains into carts which they brought for this purpose.

And with these they returned to Dirk's castle, there to
hold high revel and have good cheer. On the way they
fought the peasants, taking whatever women and girls were
at all comely, and did with them what they pleased. In
this way they passed their lives fighting, pillaging, robbing
the helpless, and caring nothing at all for either God or
devil.

Dirk the Crow became exceedingly powerful and got very
much worship, both by reason of his prowess in battle and
46



Sir Halewyn

from the fact that My Lord the Count gave him after his
victories the demesne of Halewyn, with powers of seigneury,
both of the higher and the lower order.

And he had a fine escutcheon made for himself, wherein
was a crow sable on a field or, with this device : The pieces
are for the Crow.

III. Of Sir Halewyn and how he carried himself in his youth.

But to this strong Crow were born children of a quite
other kind.

For they were all, strangely enough, men of the quill and
writing-desk, caring nothing for the fine arts of war, and
despising all arms.

These great clerks lost a good half of their heritage. For
each year some stronger neighbour would rob them of a
piece of it.

And they begot puny and miserable children, with pale
faces, who passed their time, as clerks are wont, lurking in
corners, sitting huddled on stools, and whining chants and
litanies in a melancholy fashion.

Thus came to an end the good men of the line.

Siewert Halewyn, who was the wretch of whom I am to
tell you this tale, was as ugly, puny, woebegone, and sour-
faced as the others, or even worse than they.

And like them he was always lurking and hiding in
corners, and shirking company, hated the sound of laughter,
sweated ill-humour, and, moreover, was never seen to lift
his head skywards like an honest man, but was all the while
looking down at his boots, wept without reason, grumbled
without cause, and never had any satisfaction in anything.
For the rest he was a coward and cruel, delighting during
his childhood in teasing, frightening and hurting puppies
and kittens, sparrows, thrushes, finches, nightingales, and
all small beasts.

And even when he was older, he hardly dared to attack
so large a thing as a wolf, though he were armed with his

47



Flemish Legends

great sword. But as soon as the beast was brought down
he would rain blows on it with high valour.

So he went on until he was old enough to marry.

IV . How Sir Halewyn wished to take himself a wife, and what
the ladies and gentlewomen said to it.

Then, since he was the oldest of the family, he was sent
off to the court of the Count, there to find himself a wife.
But every one laughed at him, on account of his marvellous
ugliness, more particularly the ladies and gentlewomen, who
made fun of him among themselves, saying :

" Look at this fine knight ! What is he doing here ? He
has come to marry us, I suppose. Who would have him,
for four castles, as many manors, ten thousand peasants
and half the gold in the province ? None. And that is a
pity, for between them they would get fine children, if they
were to be like their father ! Ho, what fine hair he has, the
devil must have limned it with an old nail ; what a fine
nose, 'tis like a withered plum, and what fair blue eyes, so
marvellously ringed round with red. See, he is going to
cry ! That will be pretty music."

And Sir Halewyn, hearing the ladies talk after this
fashion, could not find a word to answer them with, for
between anger, shame, and sorrow his tongue was fast stuck
to the roof of his mouth.

Nevertheless he would take a lance at every tournament,
and every time would be shamefully overcome, and the
ladies, seeing him fall, would applaud loudly, crying out :
" Worship to the ill-favoured one ! The old crow has lost
his beak." Thus they compared him, for his shame, with
Dirk, the old stock of the Halewyns, who had been so mighty
in his day. And, acclaimed in this fashion every time he
jousted, Sir Halewyn would go back from the field in sorrow
to his'pavilion.



Sir Halewyn

V . How it came about that Sir Halewyn, after a certain
tournament, called upon the devil for aid.

At the third tournament wherein he was beaten there
were on the field his father, mother, brother, and sister.

And his father said :

" Well, look at my fine son, Siewert the soft, Siewert the
overthrown, Siewert the faint-heart, coming back from joust-
ing with his tail between his legs, like a dog thrashed with
a great stick."

And his mother said :

" I suppose for certain that My Lord the Count has put
a gold chain round thy neck, and acclaimed thee publicly,
for having so valiantly in this jousting jousted on thy back,
as in the old days my lord of Beaufort was wont to make
thee do. Holy God ! that was a fine tumble."

And his sister said :

" Welcome, my fair brother, what news do you bring ?
Thou wert the victor for certain, as I see from thy triumphant
mien. But where is the wreath of the ladies ? "

And his brother said :

" Where is your lordly bearing, My Lord Siewert Halewyn
the elder, descendant of the Crow with the great beak ? For
such a Crow vanquishes without much trouble eagles, gos-
hawks, shrikes, gerfalcons, sparrow-hawks. Are you not
thirsty, my brother, with the thirst of a baron, of a victor,
I will not say of a villein ? We have here some fine frog's
wine, which will cool the fires of victory in your belly."

" Ha," answered the Sire, grinding his teeth, " if God
gave me strength, I would make thee sing a different song
Sir Brother."

And saying this, he pulled out his sword to do so, but
the younger, parrying his thrust, cried out :

" Bravo, uncrowlike Crow ! Bravo, capon ! Raise up
our house, I beg of thee, Siewert the victorious ! "

" Ha," said the Sire, " and why does this chatterer not
go and joust as well as I ? But he would not dare, being

D 49



Flemish Legends

that kind of coward who looks on at others, folding his
arms and making fun of those who strive."

Then he dismounted from his horse, went off and hid
himself in his chamber, cried out to the four walls in a rage,
prayed to the devil to give him strength and beauty, and
promised him, on the oath of a knight, that he would give
him his soul in exchange.

So he called on him all through the night, crying out,
weeping, bewailing his lot, minded at times even to kill
himself. But the devil did not come, being busy elsewhere.

VI. Of the ravings and wanderings of Sir Halewyn.

Every day after this, whether it were fair or foul, light
sky or dark, storm or gentle breeze, rain, snow, or hail, Sir
Halewyn wandered alone through the fields and woods.

And children, seeing him, ran away in fear.

" Ah," said he, " I must be very ugly ! " And he went
on with his wandering.

But if on his way he met some common man who had
strength and beauty, he would bear down on him and often-
times kill him with his sword.

And every one grew to shun him, and to pray to God
that he would soon remove their Lord from this world.

And every night, Sir Halewyn called on the devil.

But the devil would not come.

" Ah," said the Sire sorrowfully, " if thou wilt only give
me strength and beauty in this life, I will give thee my soul
in the other. 'Tis a good bargain."

But the devilnever came.

And he, restless, always in anguish and melancholy, was
soon like an old man to look at, and was given the name
throughout the country of the Ill-favoured Lord.

And his heart was swollen with hatred and anger. And
he cursed God.



Sir Halewyn

VII. Of the Prince of the Stones and of the song.

One day in the season of plum-picking, having roved over
the whole countryside, and even as far as Lille, on the way
back to his castle he passed through a wood. Ambling along
he saw among the undergrowth, alongside an oak, a stone
which was of great length and broad in proportion.

And he said : " That will make me a good seat, comfort-
able enough to rest on for a little while." And sitting down
on the stone he once again prayed to the devil to let him
have health and beauty.

By and by, although it was still daylight, and the small
birds, warblers and finches, sang in the woods joyously, and
there was a bright sun and a soft wind, Sir Halewyn went
off to sleep, for he was very tired.

Having slept until it was night, he was suddenly awakened
by a strange sound. And he saw, by the light of the high
moon and the clear stars, as it were a little animal, with a
coat like a mossy stone, who was scratching up the earth
beneath the rock, now and again thrusting his head into the
hole he had made, as a dog does hunting moles.

Sir Halewyn, thinking it was some wild thing, hit at it
with his sword.

But the sword was broken at its touch, and a little manni-
kin of stone leapt up on to his shoulders, and smote his
cheeks sharply with his hard hands, and said, wheezing and
laughing :

" Seek, Siewert Halewyn ; seek song and sickle, sickle
and song ; seek, seek, ill-favoured one ! "

And so saying he hopped about like a flea on the back
of the Miserable, who bent forward as he was bid, and with
a piece of his sword dug in the hole. And the stony cheek
of the little mannikin was alongside his own, and his two
eyes lit up the hole better than lanterns would have done.

And biting Halewyn's flesh with his sharp teeth, striking
him with his little fists, and with his nails pinching and pull-
ing him, and laughing harshly, the little mannikin said :

51



Flemish Legends

" I am the Prince of the Stones, I have fine treasures ; seek,
seek, Miserable ! "

And saying this, he pommelled him beyond endurance.
" He wants," he screamed, mocking him, " Siewert Halewyn
wants strength and beauty, beauty and strength ; seek then,
Miserable."

And he pulled out his hair in handfuls, and tore his dress
with his nails until he was all in rags, and kept saying, with
great bursts of laughter : " Strength and beauty, beauty and
strength ; seek, seek, Miserable ! " And he hung from his
ears with his two hands, and kicked his stone feet in his
face, notwithstanding that the Sire cried out with pain.

And the little mannikin said : " To get strength and
beauty, seek, Halewyn, a song and a sickle, seek, Sir Miser-
able ! " And the Miserable went on scratching out the earth
with his piece of sword.

Suddenly the earth fell away under the stone, leaving a
great hole open, and Halewyn, by the light of the mannikin's
eyes, saw a sepulchre, and within the sepulchre a man lying,
who was of marvellous beauty and had none of the appear-
ance of death.

This man was clad all in white, and in his hands held a
sickle, whereof both handle and blade were of gold.

" Take the sickle," quoth the little mannikin, thumping
his head with his fists.

Sir Halewyn did as he was bid, and straightway the man
in the tomb became dust, and from the dust came a white
flame, tall and spreading, and from the white flame a wonder-
fully sweet song.

And suddenly all about the wood was spread a perfume
of cinnamon, frankincense, and sweet marjoram.

" Sing," said the mannikin, and the Miserable repeated
the song. While he was singing his harsh voice was changed
to a voice sweeter than an angel's, and he saw coming out
of the depths of the wood a virgin of heavenly beauty and
wholly naked ; and she came and stood before him.
52




THE MAN IN WHITE



Sir Halewyn

" Ah," she said, weeping, " master of the golden sickle.
I come, for I must obey ; do not make me suffer too much
in the taking of my heart, master of the golden sickle."

Then the virgin went away into the depths of the wood ;
and the mannikin, bursting out into laughter, threw Sir
Halewyn down on to the ground, and said :

" Hast song and sickle ; so shalt thou have strength and
beauty ; I am the Prince of the Stones ; farewell, cousin."

And Halewyn, picking himself up, saw no more of either
the mannikin or the naked maid ; and studying well the
golden sickle, and pondering in his mind what could be the
meaning of the man in the tomb and the naked virgin, and
inquiring within himself in perplexity what use he could
make of the sickle and the sweet song, he saw suddenly on
the blade a fair inscription, written in letters of fire.

But he could not read the writing, for he was ignorant
of all the arts ; and, weeping with rage, he threw himself
into the bushes, crying out : " Help me, Prince of the Stones.
Leave me not to die of despair."

Thereupon the mannikin reappeared, leapt upon his
shoulder, and, giving him a stout rap on the nose, read on one
side of the blade of the sickle this inscription which follows :

Song calls,

Sickle reaps.

In the heart of a maid shalt thou find :

Strength, beauty., honour, riches,

From the hands of a dead virgin.

And upon the other side of the blade the mannikin read
further :

Whoso thou art shalt do this thing,

Writing read and song sing :

Seek well, hark and go ;

No man shall lay thee low.

Song calls,

Sickle reaps.

53



Flemish Legends

And having read this the mannikin went away once more.

Suddenly the Miserable heard a sad voice saying :

" Wilt thou seek strength and beauty in death, blood,
and tears ? "

" Yes," said he.

"Ambitious heart/heart of stone," answered the voice.
Then he heard nothing more.

And he gazed at the sickle with its flaming letters until
such time as My Lord Chanticleer called his hens awake.

VIII. What Halewyn did to the little girl cutting faggots.

The Miserable was overjoyed at what had come about,
and inquired within himself whether it would be in the heart
of a virgin child or of a marriageable virgin that he would
find what was promised him, and so satisfy his great desire
for worship and power.

Pondering this he went a little way through the wood and
stationed himself near to some cottages where he knew there
were maids of divers ages, and there waited until morning.

Soon after the sun was up, a little girl came out, nine
years old, or rather less, and began collecting and cutting
up faggots.

Going up to her, he sang the song and showed her the
sickle.

Whereupon she cried out in fear, and ran away as fast
as she could.

But Halewyn, having quickly overtaken her, dragged her
off by force to his castle.

Going in, he met on the bridge his lady mother, who said
to him : " Where goest thou, Miserable, with this child ? "

He answered :

" To bring honour to our house."

And his lady mother let him pass, thinking him mad.

He went into his room, opened the side of the girl beneath
a breast just budding, cut out the heart with the sickle, and
drank the blood.

54



Sir Halewyn

But he got no more strength from it than he had before.

And weeping bitter tears, he cried : " The sickle has
played me false." And he threw down into the moat both
the heart and the body.

And the lady Halewyn seeing this poor heart and body
dropping into the water, ordered that they should be taken
out and brought to her.

Seeing the body rent open under the breast, and the heart
taken out, she became afraid lest Siewert her first-born was
following dark practices.

And she put the girl's heart back in her breast, and gave
her a very fine and Christian burial, and had a fair great
cross made on her winding-sheet, and afterwards she was put
in the ground and a fair mass said for the quiet of her soul.

IX. Of the heart of a maid, and of the great strength which came
to Sir Halewyn.

Sorely troubled, and falling on his knees, Halewyn said :
" Alas, is the spell then impotent ? I sang, and she would
not come to my singing ! What would you have me do
now, Lord Prince of the Stones ? If it is that I must wait
until nightfall, that I will do. Then, without doubt, having
no sun to hinder your powers, you will give me strength and
beauty, and all prowess, and you will send me the virgin I
need."

And he went at night to wander in the woods round about
the cottages, and there, singing his song, and looking out to
see if any were coming,

He saw by the light of the bright moon the daughter of
Claes, a poor mad man, nicknamed the Dog-beater, because
he used to thump and pommel grievously whomever he met,
saying that these accursed dogs had robbed him of his coat,
and must give it him back again.

This girl took care of Claes very well, and would not
marry, though she was a beautiful maid, saying : " Since he
is simple, I cannot leave him to look to himself."

55



Flemish Legends

And every one, seeing her so stout-hearted, gave her,
one some of his cheese, another some beans, another some
flour, and so they lived together without wanting for
food.

The Miserable stood still at the edge of the wood and
sang. And the maid walked straight towards the singing
and fell on her knees before him.

He went home to his castle, and she followed him, and
entered in with him, saying no word.

On the stair he met his brother, just returned from boar-
hunting, who said, in mocking wise :

" Ah, is the Miserable about to get us a bastard ? " And
to the girl : " Well, mistress, thy heart must be fast set on
my ugly brother that thou must needs follow him in this
wise, without a word spoken."

But Halewyn, in a rage, hit out at his brother's face with
his sword.

Then, passing him by, went up into his own room.

And there, having shut fast the door, from fear of his
brother, he stripped the girl quite naked, as he had seen the
virgin in his vision. And the girl said that she was cold.

Quickly he opened her breast with the golden blade, under
the left pap.

And as the maid gave the death-cry, the heart came out
of itself on the blade.

And the Miserable saw before his eyes the little mannikin
coming out of the stones of the wall, who said to him, grin-
ning :

" Heart on heart gives strength and beauty. Halewyn
shall hang the maid in the Gallows-field. And the body
shall hang until the hour of God." Then he went back into
the wall.

Halewyn put the heart on his breast, and felt it beating
firmly and taking root in his skin. And suddenly his bent
back was straightened ; and his arm found such strength
that he broke easily in two a heavy oaken bench ; and look-
56



Sir Halewyn

ing at himself in a mirror-glass he saw an image so beautiful
that he could scarce tell it for his own.

And he felt in his veins the fire of youth burning.

Going down into the great hall he found there at supper
his father, mother, brother, and sister.

None of them would have known him but for his voice,
which was unchanged.

And his mother rose and peered into his face to see him
better.

And he said to her : " Woman, I am thine own son,
Siewert Halewyn, the Invincible."

But his brother, whom he had but lately smitten in the
face, ran towards him hotly, saying : " Cursed be the In-
vincible ! " and struck him with his knife. But the blade
snapped off like glass against the body of the Miserable ;
whereupon the younger brother seized him in his arms, but
the Miserable tore him off and threw him to one side as if
he had been a caterpillar.

Then he rushed at him with his head down, like a
battering-ram, but as soon as his head touched the
Miserable it was cut open, and the blood ran down over
his face.

And his father and mother, his sister and the wounded
brother, threw themselves on their knees and asked his for-
giveness, begging him, since he had become so powerful, to
bring them riches and honour.

" That I will," said he.

X . How the Miserable robbed a Lombard, goldsmith, and of the
pleasant speech of the ladies and gentlewomen.

On the morrow, armed only with the sickle, for he despised
other arms on account of the strength which the spell gave
him, Halewyn took the body of the maid to the Gallows-
field and there hanged it on the tree.

Then he rode off to the city of Ghent.

And the ladies, gentlewomen and maidens of the town,

57



Flemish Legends

seeing him pass by on his black horse, said among themselves :
" Who is this fair horseman ? "

" 'Tis," he cried right proudly, " Siewert Halewyn, who
was called the Ill-favoured one."

" Nay, nay," said the bolder among them, " you are
making fun of us, My Lord, or else you have been changed
by a fairy."

" Yes," said he, " and, moreover, I had fleshly knowledge
of her ; and so shall have of you, if I please."

At these words the ladies and gentlewomen were not at
all put out.

And he went to the shop of a Lombard goldsmith in that
town, who had at one time and another lent him six-and-
twenty florins. But the goldsmith did not know him for
himself.

He told him that he was Sir Halewyn.

" Ah," said the goldsmith, " then I pray, My Lord, that


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryCharles de CosterFlemish legends → online text (page 4 of 13)