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The Massacre of the Innocents part 8

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Round
the churchyard a multitude gathered in front of a long low green farmhouse. The
proprietor wept bitterly as he stood in his door-way. He was a fat,
jolly-looking man, and happened to arouse the compassion of a few soldiers who
sat near the wall in the sunlight, patting a dog. The soldier who was taking
off his child made gestures as if to convey the meaning, “What can I do? I’m
not to blame!”

One
peasant who was being pursued leaped into a boat near the stone bridge, and,
with his wife and children, rowed quickly across that part of the pond that was
not frozen. The Spaniards, who dared not follow, walked angrily among the reeds
by the shore. They climbed into the willows along the bankside, trying to reach
the boat with their lances. Unable to do so, they continued to threaten the
fugitives, who drifted out over the dark water.

The
orchard was still thronged with people: it was there, in the pres-ence of the
white-bearded commanding officer, that most of the children were being
murdered. The children who were over two and could just walk, stood together
eating bread and jam, staring in wide-eyed wonder at the massacre of their
helpless playmates, or gathered round the village fool, who was playing his
flute.

All
at once there was a concerted movement in the village, and the peasants made
off in the direction of the castle that stood on rising ground at the far end
of the street. They had caught sight of their lord on the battlements, watching
the massacre. Men and women, young and old, extended their hands toward him in
supplication as he stood there in his velvet cloak and golden cap like a king
in Heaven.

 But he only raised his hands and shrugged his
shoulders to show that he was ownerless, while the people supplicated him in
growing despair, neeling with heads bared in the snow, and crying piteously. He
turned slowly back into his tower. Their last hope had vanished.

When
all the children had been killed, the weary soldiers wiped their swords on the
grass and ate their supper among the pear-trees, then mounting in pairs, they
rode out of Nazareth across the bridge over which they had come.

The
setting sun turned the wood into a flaming mass, dyeing the vil-lage a blood
red. Utterly exhausted, the curd threw himself down in the snow before the
church, his servant standing at his side. They both looked out into the street
and the orchard, which were filled with easants dressed in their Sunday
clothes.

Before
the entrances of many ouses were parents holding the bodies of children on
their knees, still full of blank amazement, lamenting over their grievous
tragedy. Others wept over their little ones where they had perished, by the
side of a cask, under a wheelbarrow, or by the pond. Others again carried off
their dead in silence. Some set to washing benches, chairs, tables, bloody
underclothes, or picking up the cradles mat had been hurled into the street.

Stopping by Grief- Stricken

Many
mothers sat bewailing their children under the trees, having recognized them by
their woolen dresses. Those who had had no children wandered through the
square, stopping by grief- stricken mothers, who sobbed and moaned. The men,
who had stopped crying, doggedly pursued their strayed beasts to the
accompaniment of the barking of dogs; others silently set to work mending their
broken windows and damaged roofs.

As
the moon quietly rose through the tranquil sky, a sleepy silence fell upon the
village, where at last the shadow of no living thing stirred.

The Massacre of the Innocents part 7

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One
family, who had concealed themselves in the cellar of a large house, stood at
the gratings and wildly lamented, while the father desperately brandished his
pitchfork through the grating. Outside, an old bald-headed fellow sat on a
manure-heap, sobbing to himself. In the square a woman dressed in yellow had
fainted away, her weeping husband holding her up by the arms against a
pear-tree.

Another
woman, in red, clutched her little girl, whose hands had been cut off, and
lifted the child’s arms to see whether she could move. Still another woman was
escaping toward the open country, the soldiers running after her among the
haystacks, which stood out in sharp relief against the snow-covered fields.

Before
the Four Sons of Aymon confusion reigned. The peasants had made a barricade
while the soldiers encircled the inn, unable to effect an entrance. They were
trying to climb up to the sign-board by means of the vines, when they caught
sight of a ladder behind the garden gate. Setting this against the wall, they
scaled it, one after another. But the landlord and his family threw down at
them tables and chairs, crockery and cradles from the window, upsetting ladder
and soldiers together.

Two soldiers carried off

In
a wooden cottage at the outskirts of the village another group of soldiers came
upon an old woman washing her children in a tub before the open fire. She was
old and deaf, and did not hear them when they entered. Two soldiers carried off
the tub with the children in it, while the bewildered old woman set off in
pursuit, carrying the clothes which she had been about to put on the infants.

Out
in the village she saw traces of blood, swords in the orchard, smashed cradles
in the open streets, women praying and wringing their hands over their dead
children, and began to scream and strike the soldiers who had to set down the
tub in order to defend themselves. The curd hurried over to her, his hands
still folded over his chasuble, and entreated the Spaniards for mercy, in the
presence of the naked children screaming in the tub. Other soldiers came up,
bound the distracted mother to a tree, and went off with the children.

The
butcher, having hidden his baby girl, leaned against the front of his shop with
apparent unconcern. A foot-soldier and one of the armed horsemen entered his
home and found the child in a copper pot. The butcher desperately seized a
knife and rushed off in pursuit, but the soldiers disarmed him and suspended
him by the hands from some hooks in the wall, where he kicked and wriggled
among his dead animals until evening.

The Massacre of the Innocents part 6

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There
had been a kermesse in this house: relatives had come to feast on waffles,
hams, and custards. At the sound of the smashing of windows they crouched
together behind the table, still laden with jugs and dishes.

The
soldiers went to the kitchen and after a savage fight in which many were
wounded, they seized all the small boys and girls, and a little servant who had
bitten the thumb of one soldier, left the house and closed the door behind them
to prevent their being followed.

Those
who had no children cautiously came forth from their houses and followed the
soldiers at a distance. They could see them throw down their victims on the
ground before the old man, and cold-bloodedly massacre them with lances or
swords.

Meanwhile
men and women crowded the windows of the blue farmhouse and the barn, cursing
and raising their arms to heaven as they contemplated the pink, red, and white
clothes of their motionless children on the ground among the trees. Then the
soldiers hanged the servant from the Half Moon Inn on the other side of the
street. There was a long silence in the village.

It
had now become a general massacre. Mothers escaped from their houses, trying to
flee through vegetable and flower gardens out into the open country, but
mounted soldiers pursued them and drove them back into the street. Peasants,
with caps held tight between their hands, fell to their knees before the
soldiers who dragged off” their little ones, and dogs barked joyously amid
the disorder.

The
curl, his hands raised heavenward, rushed back and forth from house to house
and out among the trees, praying in desperation like a martyr. The soldiers,
trembling from the cold, whistled in their fingers as they moved about, or
stood idly with their hands in their pockets, their swords under their arms, in
front of houses that were being entered.

Market-Gardener’s Wife

Small
groups in all directions, seeing the fear of the peasants, were entering the
farmhouses, and in every street similar scenes were enacted. The
market-gardener’s wife, who lived in an old hut with pink tiles near the
church, pursued with a chair two soldiers who were carrying off her children in
a wheelbarrow. She was terribly sick when she saw her children die, and made to
sit on a chair against a tree.

Other
soldiers climbed into the lime trees in front of a farmhouse painted the color
of lilacs, and made their way in by taking off the tiles. When they reappeared
on the roof, the parents with extended arms followed them until the soldiers
forced them back, finding it necessary finally to strike them over the head
with their swords before they could shake themselves free and return again to
the street below.

The Massacre of the Innocents part 5

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The
parishioners inquired of him in undertones, “What does he say? What is he going
to do?” Others, seeing the curt: in the orchard, emerged cautiously from their
huts, and women hastily came near and whispered in small groups among
themselves, while the soldiers who had been besieging the inn, came out again
when they saw the crowd assembling in the square.

Then
he who held the innkeeper’s child by one leg, cut off its head with a stroke of
the sword. The peasants saw the head fall, and the body bleeding on the ground.
The mother gathered it to her arms, forgetting the head, and ran toward her
house. On the way she stumbled against a tree, fell flat on the snow and lay in
a faint, while the father struggled with two soldiers.

Horror to the accompaniment

Some
of the younger peasants threw stones and wood at the Spaniards, but the horsemen
rallied and lowered their lances, the women scattered in all directions, while
the curd with his other parishioners, shrieked with horror to the accompaniment
of the noises made by the sheep, geese, and dogs.

As
the soldiers went off once more down the street, they were quiet again, waiting
to see what would happen. A group went into the shop of the sacristan’s
sisters, but came out again without touching the seven women, who were on their
knees praying within.

Then
they entered the inn of the Hunchback of St. Nicholas. There too the door was
instantly opened in the hope of placating them, but when they appeared again in
the midst of a great tumult, they carried three children in their arms, and
were surrounded by the Hunchback, his wife and daughters, who were begging for
mercy with clasped hands.

When
the soldiers came to their leader they laid the children down at the foot of an
elm, all dressed in their Sunday clothes. One of them, who wore a yellow dress,
got up and ran with unsteady feet toward the sheep. A soldier ran after it with
his naked sword. The child died with its face on the earth.

The
others were killed near the tree. The peasants and the innkeeper’s daughters
took flight, screaming, and went back to their houses. Alone in the orchard,
the curd fell to his knees and begged the Spaniards, in a piteous voice, with
arms crossed over his breast, going from one to the other on his knees, while
the father and mother of the murdered children, seated on the snow, wept
bitterly as they bent over the lacerated bodies.

As
the foot-soldiers went along the street they noticed a large blue farmhouse.
They tried to break in the door, but this was of oak and studded with huge
nails. They therefore took tubs which were frozen in a pond near the entrance,
and used them to enter the house from the second story windows.

The Massacre of the Innocents part 4

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They
made their way toward the Golden Sun and knocked at the door. It was opened
with some hesitancy, and the Spaniards entered, warmed themselves before the
fire, and demanded ale. They then left the inn, taking with them pots,
pitchers, and bread for their companions, and the old man with the white beard
who stood waiting among his soldiers.

 As the street was still deserted, the
commanding officer sent off some horsemen behind the houses to guard the
village on the side facing the open country, and ordered the footmen to bring
to him all children two years old or under, as he intended to massacre them, in
accordance with what is written in the Gospel of St. Matthew.

The
men went first to the small inn of the Green Cabbage and the barber’s hut,
which stood close to each other in the central part of the street. One of them
opened the pigsty and a whole litter of pigs escaped and roamed about through
the village. The innkeeper and the barber came out of their houses and humbly
inquired of the soldiers what was wanted, but the Spaniards understood no
Flemish, and entered the houses in search of the children.

The
innkeeper had one who, dressed in its little shirt, was sitting on the dinner
table, crying. One of the soldiers took it in his arms and carried it off out
under the apple trees, while its parents followed weeping.

Stables of the barrel-maker

The
foot-soldiers next threw open the stables of the barrel-maker, the blacksmith,
and the cobbler, and cows, calves, asses, pigs, goats and sheep wandered here
and there over the square. When they broke the windows of the carpenter’s
house, a number of the wealthiest and oldest peasants of the parish gathered in
the street and advanced toward the Spaniards.

They
respectfully took off their caps and hats to the velvet-clad chief, asking him
what he intended to do, but he too did not understand their language, and one
of them ran off to get the cur6. He was about to go to Benediction, and was
putting on his golden chasuble in the sacristy.

The peasants cried, “The Spaniards are in the orchard!” Terror stricken, he ran to the church door, followed by the choir-boys carrying their censers and candles. From the door he could see the cattle and other animals set loose from their stables wandering over the grass and snow, the Spanish horsemen, the foot-soldiers before the doors of the houses, horses tied to trees all along the street, and men and women supplicating the soldier who carried the child still clad in its shirt.

He hastened into the churchyard, the peasants turning anxiously toward him, their priest, who arrived like a god covered with gold, out there among the pear-trees. They pressed close about him as he stood facing the white-bearded man. He spoke both in Flemish and Latin, but the officer slowly shrugged his shoulders to show that he failed to understand.

The Massacre of the Innocents part 3

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The
sisters of the dead woman and various other relatives got into the cart, and
the curt: as well, for he was old and very fat and could walk only with the
greatest difficulty. They drove off into the wood, and in silence reached the
wide open fields, where they saw the dead soldiers, stripped naked, and the
horses lying on their backs on the shining ice among the trees.

They
went on toward the farm, which was still burning in the midst of the open
fields.

When
they reached the orchard of the burning house, they stopped short before the
garden gate and looked upon the terrible tragedy. Korneliz’ wife hung, naked,
from the branches of a huge chestnut. He himself climbed up a ladder into the
branches of the tree, below which his nine little girls awaited their mother on
the lawn. Korneliz made his way through the arching boughs overhead when all at
once, outlined against the bright snow, he caught sight of the crowd beneath,
looking up at him.

Golden Sun

Weeping,
he signed to them to come to his help, and they came into the garden, and the
sacristan, the Red Dwarf, the innkeepers of the Blue Lion and the Golden Sun,
the curd carrying a lantern, and several other peasants, climbed into the
snow-covered chestnut to cut down the body of the hanged woman. The women took
the body into their arms at the foot of the tree, as those other women once
received Our Lord Jesus Christ.

She
was buried on the following day, and for the next week nothing unusual occurred
in Nazareth, but the next Sunday famished wolves ran through the village after
High Mass, and the snow fell until noon. Then the sun came out and shone bright
in the sky, and the peasants went home to dinner as usual, and dressed for
Benediction.

At
this time there was no one out on the square, for it was bitter cold. Only dogs
and chickens wandered here and there among the trees, and sheep nibbled at the
triangular spot of grass, and the curd’s maid swept the snow in the garden.

Then
a troop of armed men crossed the stone bridge at the far end of the village,
and pulled up at the orchard. A few peasants came out of their houses, but
hurried back terror-stricken when they saw that the horsemen were Spaniards,
and went to their windows to watch what was going to happen.

There
were thirty horsemen, in armor. They gathered round an old man with a white
beard. Each horseman carried with him a foot-soldier dressed in yellow or red.
These dismounted and ran about over the snow to warm themselves, while a number
of armored soldiers also dismounted.

The Massacre of the Innocents part 2

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After
deliberating a long while in the churchyard, they decided to hide in the wood
which the Spaniards were to come through, attack them if they were not too
numerous, and recover Petrus Krayer’s cattle and any booty they might have
taken at the farm.

The
men armed themselves with forks and spades while the women remained with the
cur£ by the church. Looking for a favorable place for an ambuscade, the men
reached a hilly spot near a mill at the edge of the wood, where they could see
the fire glowing against the stars of night. They took up their position under
some enormous oaks by the side of an ice-covered pond.

A
shepherd, who was called the Red Dwarf, mounted to the top of the hill in order
to warn the miller, who had already stopped his mill when he saw flames on the
horizon. But he allowed the peasant to enter, and the two went to a window to
look out over the countryside.

Dwarf went down

The
moon shone down brightly upon the conflagration, and the men could see a long
procession of people wending their way across the snow. After they had done
watching, the Dwarf went down again to the others waiting in the wood.

They
could soon distinguish in the distance four riders behind a herd of cattle
browsing over the fields. As they stood, clad in their blue breeches and red
mantles, looking about by the pond’s edge under trees made luminous by the
heavy snowfall, the sacristan showed them a box-hedge, and behind this they
crouched.

The
Spaniards, driving before them flocks and cattle, made their way over the ice,
and when the sheep came to the hedge and began nibbling at the greenery,
Korneliz broke through, the others following him into the moonlight, armed with
their forks. There was then a great massacre in the presence of the huddled
sheep and cows, that looked on frightened at the terrible slaughter under the
light of the moon.

When
they had killed the men and their horses, Korneliz went out into the fields
toward the blazing farm, while the others stripped the dead. Then they all
returned to the village with the flocks and cattle. The women, who were looking
out toward the dense wood from behind the churchyard walls, saw them coming out
from among the trees and in company with the cur£ ran to meet them. They all
returned dancing amid laughing children and barking dogs.

As
they made merry under the pear-trees, where the Dwarf had hung lanterns as for
a kermesse, they asked the cur£ what ought to be done next. They decided to
send a cart for the body of the woman who had been hanged and her nine little
girls, and bring them all back to the village.

The Massacre of the Innocents part 1

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Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949)

Maurice
Maeterlinck was born at Ghent in 1862. He studied for the law, but left for
Paris after a short career as a lawyer. In Paris he became acquainted with
several writers who exercised considerable influence over him. Maeterlinck’s
chief contributions to contemporary literature are his plays and his essays.

The
Massacre of the Innocents was the earliest published work of this writer. It
appeared in 1886 in a small magazine. It is a skilfully constructed tale, in
which the background and details are strikingly similar to the early paintings
of the Flemish school.

The
translation, by Barrett H. Clark, was made especially for this collection.
Originally reprinted by permission of the author.

The Massacre of the Innocents

On
Friday the 26th of December about supper time, a little shepherd came into
Nazareth crying terribly.

Some
peasants who were drinking ale at the Blue Lion threw open the shutters to look
into the village orchard, and saw the lad running across the snow. They
recognized him as Korneliz’ son, and shouted at him from the window: “What’s
the matter? Go to bed, you!”

But
the boy answered in a voice of terror, telling them that the Spaniards had
come, having already set fire to the farm, hanged his mother from a chestnut
bough, and bound his nine little sisters to the trunk of a large tree.

The
peasants quickly came forth from the inn, surrounded the boy and plied him with
questions. He went on to tell them that the soldiers were clad in steel armor
and mounted on horse-back, that they had seized the cattle of his uncle, Petrus
Krayer, and would soon enter the wood with the sheep and cattle.

They
all ran to the Golden Sun, where Korneliz and his brother- in-law were drinking
ale, while the innkeeper hastened out into the village to spread the news of
the approach of the Spaniards.

There was great excitement in Nazareth. Women threw open windows and peasants ran forth from their houses carrying lights which they extinguished as soon as they came to the orchard, where it was bright as midday, because of the snow and the full moon. They gathered round Korneliz and Krayer in the public square before the inn. Many had brought pitchforks and rakes. They took counsel, speaking in tones of terror, out under the trees.

As they were uncertain what to do, one of them ran to fetch the curd, who owned the farm that was worked by Korneliz. He came forth from his house with the keys of the church, in company with the sacristan, while all the others followed him to the churchyard, where he proclaimed from the top of the tower that he could see nothing, either across the fields or in the wood, but that there were red clouds in the direction of his farm. Over all the rest of the horizon the sky was blue and filled with stars.