Flemish Legend The Brotherhood of the Cheerful Countenance by Charles de Coster Chapter 14

In what manner was instituted the Order of the Women-Archers of Uccle and of the fine reward which My Lord gave to the brave maid Wantje

On entering Uccle the good Duke saw coming towards him a large body of people, and in their midst a man crying out in a most piteous voice: “Master! Master Priest! let me not be boiled!” To which the answer was: “We shall see.”

“Whence comes all this noise?” said the Duke.

But as soon as Pieter Gans saw who it was he ran towards him and threw his arms round his horse’s legs. “My Lord,” he cried, “My Lord Duke, let me not be boiled!”

“And why,” said the Duke, “should they boil one of my good men of Uccle?”

But the very reverend Father Claessens, stepping forward, told him the whole story with great indignation, while Pieter Gans continued to blubber alongside in a most melancholy fashion. And thereon followed such confusion, with the one weeping and groaning, the other denouncing and syllogizing, and each so vehemently, that the good Duke could not tell which to listen to.

Suddenly Wantje came forward out of the press, and, like Pieter Gans, cried: “Mercy and pity!”

“My Lord,” said the maid, “this man has sinned greatly against God, but only from simpleness of mind and a natural cowardice. The devil frightened him; he submitted to the devil. Pardon him, My Lord, for our sakes.”

“Maid,” said the Duke, “that was well spoken, and ’tis to thee I will hearken.”

But the very reverend Father: “My Lord,” said he, “forgets to think of God.”

“Father,” said the Duke, “I am not forgetful of that duty. Nevertheless I think he takes little pleasure in watching Christian fat smoke or a good man’s flesh boil, but likes rather to see men gentle and kind, and not giving their fellows penance to do. And on this day when Our Lady the Virgin has deigned to perform a miracle for our sakes I will not sadden her mother’s heart by the death of a Christian. Therefore none of the accused, neither this Pieter Gans nor any other there may be, shall this time go to the stake.”

On hearing this Pieter Gans burst out laughing like a madman, and began to dance and sing, crying out the while: “Praise to My Lord! I am not to be boiled. Brabant to the Good Duke!” And all the townsfolk called out after him: “Praise to My Lord!”

Then the Duke bade them be silent, and smiling:

“Well, dames,” said he, “who have this night done man’s work so valiantly, come hither that I may give you a man’s reward. First of all, to the bravest one among you I give this great chain of gold. Which is she?”

The good women pushed Wantje forward before the Duke.

“Ah,” said he, “’tis thee, sweet pleader. Wilt kiss me, though I be old?”

“Yes, My Lord,” said the maid. And so she did, notwithstanding that she was a little shamefaced over it.

And the good Duke, having hung the chain round her neck, spoke further in this wise:

“As for you all, good dames, who have this night so gallantly carried arms, I institute among you a most honourable Order, under the protection of Madam Mary the Virgin, and I direct that there shall be set up in this place a staff of a good length, and that each Sunday you shall come together here and draw the bow in archery, in memory of the time when with those bows you saved the lives of your husbands and children. And there shall be a fair crown of laurel and a fair purseful of golden peters, bright and new, to be awarded annually to the best archer of the year, and brought to her on a cushion by all the others together. And this purse will dower her if she be a maid, or, if she be a wife, will stand her in good stead against a time of famine.”

In this manner was instituted the Order of Women-Archers of Uccle, who still draw the bow like men every Sunday, under the protection of Our Lady the Virgin.