Flemish Legend The Brotherhood of the Cheerful Countenance by Charles de Coster Chapter 1

Of the sorrowful voice which Pieter Gans 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 sorrowful 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 [4]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 morose.

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 certainly 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.