Flemish Legend The Brotherhood of the Cheerful Countenance by Charles de Coster Chapter 4

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, 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 cured.

“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 gracious 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 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 sunlight. 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 idolatry.”

“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, [10]and, entitling him, as in jest, Master Merry-face, use this name for him always, and institute in his honour a jolly brotherhood.”

“So we will,” answered Pieter Gans and Blaeskaek together, 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.