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The Massacre of the Innocents part 8

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Roundthe churchyard a multitude gathered in front of a long low green farmhouse. Theproprietor 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 whosat near the wall in the sunlight, patting a dog. The soldier who was takingoff his child made gestures as if to convey the meaning, “What can I do? I`mnot to blame!”

Onepeasant 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 wasnot frozen. The Spaniards, who dared not follow, walked angrily among the reedsby the shore. They climbed into the willows along the bankside, trying to reachthe boat with their lances. Unable to do so, they continued to threaten thefugitives, who drifted out over the dark water.

Theorchard was still thronged with people: it was there, in the pres-ence of thewhite-bearded commanding officer, that most of the children were beingmurdered. The children who were over two and could just walk, stood togethereating bread and jam, staring in wide-eyed wonder at the massacre of theirhelpless playmates, or gathered round the village fool, who was playing hisflute.

Allat once there was a concerted movement in the village, and the peasants madeoff in the direction of the castle that stood on rising ground at the far endof the street. They had caught sight of their lord on the battlements, watchingthe massacre. Men and women, young and old, extended their hands toward him insupplication as he stood there in his velvet cloak and golden cap like a kingin Heaven.

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

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

Thesetting sun turned the wood into a flaming mass, dyeing the vil-lage a bloodred. Utterly exhausted, the curd threw himself down in the snow before thechurch, his servant standing at his side. They both looked out into the streetand the orchard, which were filled with easants dressed in their Sundayclothes.

Beforethe entrances of many ouses were parents holding the bodies of children ontheir knees, still full of blank amazement, lamenting over their grievoustragedy. Others wept over their little ones where they had perished, by theside of a cask, under a wheelbarrow, or by the pond. Others again carried offtheir dead in silence. Some set to washing benches, chairs, tables, bloodyunderclothes, or picking up the cradles mat had been hurled into the street.

Stopping by Grief- Stricken

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

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

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The Massacre of the Innocents part 7

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Onefamily, who had concealed themselves in the cellar of a large house, stood atthe gratings and wildly lamented, while the father desperately brandished hispitchfork through the grating. Outside, an old bald-headed fellow sat on amanure-heap, sobbing to himself. In the square a woman dressed in yellow hadfainted away, her weeping husband holding her up by the arms against apear-tree.

Anotherwoman, in red, clutched her little girl, whose hands had been cut off, andlifted the child`s arms to see whether she could move. Still another woman wasescaping toward the open country, the soldiers running after her among thehaystacks, which stood out in sharp relief against the snow-covered fields.

Beforethe Four Sons of Aymon confusion reigned. The peasants had made a barricadewhile the soldiers encircled the inn, unable to effect an entrance. They weretrying to climb up to the sign-board by means of the vines, when they caughtsight of a ladder behind the garden gate. Setting this against the wall, theyscaled it, one after another. But the landlord and his family threw down atthem tables and chairs, crockery and cradles from the window, upsetting ladderand soldiers together.

Two soldiers carried off

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

Outin the village she saw traces of blood, swords in the orchard, smashed cradlesin the open streets, women praying and wringing their hands over their deadchildren, and began to scream and strike the soldiers who had to set down thetub in order to defend themselves. The curd hurried over to her, his handsstill folded over his chasuble, and entreated the Spaniards for mercy, in thepresence 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.

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

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The Massacre of the Innocents part 6

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Therehad 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 crouchedtogether behind the table, still laden with jugs and dishes.

Thesoldiers went to the kitchen and after a savage fight in which many werewounded, they seized all the small boys and girls, and a little servant who hadbitten the thumb of one soldier, left the house and closed the door behind themto prevent their being followed.

Thosewho had no children cautiously came forth from their houses and followed thesoldiers at a distance. They could see them throw down their victims on theground before the old man, and cold-bloodedly massacre them with lances orswords.

Meanwhilemen and women crowded the windows of the blue farmhouse and the barn, cursingand raising their arms to heaven as they contemplated the pink, red, and whiteclothes of their motionless children on the ground among the trees. Then thesoldiers hanged the servant from the Half Moon Inn on the other side of thestreet. There was a long silence in the village.

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

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

Market-Gardener`s Wife

Smallgroups in all directions, seeing the fear of the peasants, were entering thefarmhouses, and in every street similar scenes were enacted. Themarket-gardener`s wife, who lived in an old hut with pink tiles near thechurch, pursued with a chair two soldiers who were carrying off her children ina wheelbarrow. She was terribly sick when she saw her children die, and made tosit on a chair against a tree.

Othersoldiers climbed into the lime trees in front of a farmhouse painted the colorof lilacs, and made their way in by taking off the tiles. When they reappearedon the roof, the parents with extended arms followed them until the soldiersforced them back, finding it necessary finally to strike them over the headwith their swords before they could shake themselves free and return again tothe street below.

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The Massacre of the Innocents part 5

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Theparishioners inquired of him in undertones, “What does he say? What is he goingto do?” Others, seeing the curt: in the orchard, emerged cautiously from theirhuts, and women hastily came near and whispered in small groups amongthemselves, while the soldiers who had been besieging the inn, came out againwhen they saw the crowd assembling in the square.

Thenhe who held the innkeeper`s child by one leg, cut off its head with a stroke ofthe 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 herhouse. On the way she stumbled against a tree, fell flat on the snow and lay ina faint, while the father struggled with two soldiers.

Horror to the accompaniment

Someof the younger peasants threw stones and wood at the Spaniards, but the horsemenrallied and lowered their lances, the women scattered in all directions, whilethe curd with his other parishioners, shrieked with horror to the accompanimentof the noises made by the sheep, geese, and dogs.

Asthe soldiers went off once more down the street, they were quiet again, waitingto see what would happen. A group went into the shop of the sacristan`ssisters, but came out again without touching the seven women, who were on theirknees praying within.

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

Whenthe soldiers came to their leader they laid the children down at the foot of anelm, 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 withhis naked sword. The child died with its face on the earth.

Theothers were killed near the tree. The peasants and the innkeeper`s daughterstook 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, witharms crossed over his breast, going from one to the other on his knees, whilethe father and mother of the murdered children, seated on the snow, weptbitterly as they bent over the lacerated bodies.

Asthe 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 hugenails. 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.

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The Massacre of the Innocents part 4

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Theymade their way toward the Golden Sun and knocked at the door. It was openedwith some hesitancy, and the Spaniards entered, warmed themselves before thefire, 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 beardwho stood waiting among his soldiers.

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

Themen 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 themopened the pigsty and a whole litter of pigs escaped and roamed about throughthe village. The innkeeper and the barber came out of their houses and humblyinquired of the soldiers what was wanted, but the Spaniards understood noFlemish, and entered the houses in search of the children.

Theinnkeeper had one who, dressed in its little shirt, was sitting on the dinnertable, crying. One of the soldiers took it in his arms and carried it off outunder the apple trees, while its parents followed weeping.

Stables of the barrel-maker

Thefoot-soldiers next threw open the stables of the barrel-maker, the blacksmith,and the cobbler, and cows, calves, asses, pigs, goats and sheep wandered hereand there over the square. When they broke the windows of the carpenter`shouse, a number of the wealthiest and oldest peasants of the parish gathered inthe street and advanced toward the Spaniards.

Theyrespectfully took off their caps and hats to the velvet-clad chief, asking himwhat he intended to do, but he too did not understand their language, and oneof them ran off to get the cur6. He was about to go to Benediction, and wasputting 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.

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The Massacre of the Innocents part 3

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

Theywent on toward the farm, which was still burning in the midst of the openfields.

Whenthey reached the orchard of the burning house, they stopped short before thegarden 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 thebranches of the tree, below which his nine little girls awaited their mother onthe lawn. Korneliz made his way through the arching boughs overhead when all atonce, 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 thesacristan, the Red Dwarf, the innkeepers of the Blue Lion and the Golden Sun,the curd carrying a lantern, and several other peasants, climbed into thesnow-covered chestnut to cut down the body of the hanged woman. The women tookthe body into their arms at the foot of the tree, as those other women oncereceived Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Shewas buried on the following day, and for the next week nothing unusual occurredin Nazareth, but the next Sunday famished wolves ran through the village afterHigh Mass, and the snow fell until noon. Then the sun came out and shone brightin the sky, and the peasants went home to dinner as usual, and dressed forBenediction.

Atthis time there was no one out on the square, for it was bitter cold. Only dogsand chickens wandered here and there among the trees, and sheep nibbled at thetriangular spot of grass, and the curd`s maid swept the snow in the garden.

Thena 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, buthurried back terror-stricken when they saw that the horsemen were Spaniards,and went to their windows to watch what was going to happen.

Therewere thirty horsemen, in armor. They gathered round an old man with a whitebeard. 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 numberof armored soldiers also dismounted.

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The Massacre of the Innocents part 2

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Afterdeliberating a long while in the churchyard, they decided to hide in the woodwhich the Spaniards were to come through, attack them if they were not toonumerous, and recover Petrus Krayer`s cattle and any booty they might havetaken at the farm.

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

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

Dwarf went down

Themoon shone down brightly upon the conflagration, and the men could see a longprocession of people wending their way across the snow. After they had donewatching, the Dwarf went down again to the others waiting in the wood.

Theycould soon distinguish in the distance four riders behind a herd of cattlebrowsing over the fields. As they stood, clad in their blue breeches and redmantles, looking about by the pond`s edge under trees made luminous by theheavy snowfall, the sacristan showed them a box-hedge, and behind this theycrouched.

TheSpaniards, 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 withtheir forks. There was then a great massacre in the presence of the huddledsheep and cows, that looked on frightened at the terrible slaughter under thelight of the moon.

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

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

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The Massacre of the Innocents part 1

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Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949)

MauriceMaeterlinck was born at Ghent in 1862. He studied for the law, but left forParis after a short career as a lawyer. In Paris he became acquainted withseveral writers who exercised considerable influence over him. Maeterlinck`schief contributions to contemporary literature are his plays and his essays.

TheMassacre of the Innocents was the earliest published work of this writer. Itappeared in 1886 in a small magazine. It is a skilfully constructed tale, inwhich the background and details are strikingly similar to the early paintingsof the Flemish school.

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

The Massacre of the Innocents

OnFriday the 26th of December about supper time, a little shepherd came intoNazareth crying terribly.

Somepeasants who were drinking ale at the Blue Lion threw open the shutters to lookinto the village orchard, and saw the lad running across the snow. Theyrecognized him as Korneliz` son, and shouted at him from the window: “What`sthe matter? Go to bed, you!”

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

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

Theyall ran to the Golden Sun, where Korneliz and his brother- in-law were drinkingale, while the innkeeper hastened out into the village to spread the news ofthe 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.

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