In the middle ages, the holy saint Willebrod spent his life in doing good among the Dutch and Belgian tribes. His relics rest in the church at Echternach, in Luxemburg.
When trouble of any sort came upon the country people, they looked to him for help and advice.
In a certain year, a plague came upon their cattle. The poor dumb creatures acted as if they had brain fever. They were giddy, and staggered about, going round and round, but seemed to be unable to go forward. So the fields could not be ploughed and the cows would not give milk. The babies cried, the land was threatened with barrenness, and the people feared starvation.
In their distress, they came before the tomb of the good bishop, and made a vow that, if the pestilence ceased, they would, every year, make a pilgrimage to the church in which he was buried.
Now the curious thing, about this pilgrimage, was the manner in which it was carried out. To some extent, the people imitated, in their dancing and gestures, the odd behavior of the cattle, during their brain disorder. It became the fashion to leap and stagger, as the smitten beasts had done. In times, however, the celebration took the form of a processional, with bands of music.
So, every year, the long line of thousands of people, old and young, rich and poor, strong and weak, sick and well, led by the musicians, and all singing as they went, started from the river bridge. They walked hand in hand, and four abreast, and this was the method of their march; they would take three steps forward, and two steps backward. In this way, they would advance, very gradually, to the hill where the church stands. Having reached this, they laid their gifts upon the altar and then danced down the church aisle, to the porch, door and outside.
One can see, that, to make an advance of one step, the dancers and singers had to take five distinct steps. In this way, although the route from the river to the church was only one mile, in length, five hours were required to go the whole route. Many joined in the procession who were so old and weak, that they were likely to fall down. Nevertheless many weak folk, tried it, for they hoped to get rid of their pains and aches.
Especially hard was the ascent of the sixty stone steps, on the hillside. To mount to the top, five hundred human steps were necessary.
Thus it happened that not a few fell down along the march. Fainting and weary, they were left by the wayside. On the church steps, strong men stood by, on either side, to watch for any, who, from weakness, should lose their balance and fall down. Those who were likely to do so, or could not keep up, had to be dragged away quickly, lest they should be crushed by the waves of the oncoming dancers. In the frenzy of fervor and excitement, those who were waltzing, with giddy brains, might be so absorbed in their own motions, as not to notice what they were doing.
Now there was a young widow, who, out of grief, and hoping for comfort, had come to join in the procession. Being the bride of a few months, she was hoping for a son, and had vowed to St. Willebrod that, if she became the mother of a boy, she would dance from the river's edge to the saint's tomb. She prayed fervently that her hopes might be fulfilled.
She joined in the procession, and followed faithfully the rules laid down, but, when scarcely half way to the church, she felt her strength giving out. Fearing lest, if she continued, she might be trampled to death, she left the procession. Then, after a brief rest, she walked out from the open road, some distance into the forest.
There, in her loneliness, her child was born, and it was a boy. Though she rejoiced to have her own, and its father's hopes fulfilled, yet she felt that she had so overtaxed her strength, in the dancing procession, that she was likely to die.
So, wrapping her babe in one of her own garments, she laid it down on a little bed of fallen leaves. Then scraping clean a part of the ground, she wrote, with a stick, upon the dirt, the name "Lyderic." Then, her last measure of strength having ebbed away, she died.
A pious hermit, whose dwelling was a hut in the forest, while strolling about, heard the infant's wail. Coming near the place, whence the sound proceeded, he found the dead mother and the living child. Something else also met his sight and a very wonderful picture it was. There on the bed of leaves, which the mother had scraped up, lay the baby boy. Beside him, lying along the floor of the forest was a doe, and this female deer was suckling the infant. This dumb mother of fawns seemed as careful and as anxious, as if the baby had been her own offspring; and indeed, it was not far away in the deep woods, that the doe kept her little family.
The baby boy, not knowing anything about different kinds of mothers, or qualities of food, was as active, as if living in the nursery of a house, and fondled on a human mother's lap.
The fawn's large, deep, lustrous eyes, were appealing to the old hermit's heart. The wild creature did not tremble, or show any fear, for every beast of the forest seemed to know, and love the old man; as if realizing that he was their friend, and not an enemy, as the hunters were. They could see that he had no weapons, and even a bird could understand that.
The body of the human mother was given Christian burial, though the only conscious mourner was the old man, who hastily made a rustic cross, and set it over the grave; on which, also, he planted some wild flowers.
Now the hermit was not accustomed to take care of babies, but he made a rude cradle; and, every day, the doe mother came, as regularly as to her own little deer, to furnish nourishment to the child. So the infant grew to double his first weight and gave every promise of health and vigor. In a few months, he was crawling on the floor, in the hermit's hut; and, according to his mother's writing on the ground, Lyderic was his name.
To the old man, the days and months seemed to fly very fast, as babyhood was left behind, and a robust boy was growing up.
The old hermit recalled his own boyhood's skill at such things, and made toys for the little fellow, who played happily with them. Anything bright, or shining, was especially attractive to the child.
One day, while the hermit was out among the willow trees, which skirted the stream, to make a whistle, for the baby boy, the fairies came into the hut and visited him at his cradle. They were traveling fairies, for they had come all the way from Wales. One of them, was named Morgana, or, as she was well known, Morgana la Fay. She fell in love with the little fellow, and promised that when he grew up, he was to be her love, while all the fairies agreed to bestow on him the gifts of mind and body, through which he might become a great man and conquer all his enemies.
It would make our story too long, to tell how Lyderic, even while a baby boy, was looked upon as the leader of men, in one of those civil wars, which so long troubled Belgic Land. Once, during battle, his cradle was hung upon a tree branch, and he was called the baby leader, and centuries afterwards, a statue and a fountain were reared at Brussels in his honour.
Lyderic, when fully grown, was known as a man of fine character and tremendous strength. He was unselfish, and always ready to help the weak. In time, he became a crusader, and, going off to fight the Saracens, in Syria, won renown for his bravery. There was no Turk, that could stand against his lance, or sword, or battle axe; and their weapons had no power over him. So he came back, unhurt, to Belgium.
After his return home, he built a castle, but soon tiring of a quiet life, he crossed the sea and traveled in Britain. There he met Gratina, the beautiful daughter of Angart, or Edgar, the King of England. By this alliance, he became very powerful. Then the great monarch, Charlemagne, recognized him as an ally and vassal, and gave him, in fief, the Belgic provinces of Hainault and Brabant.
The flag of Lyderic, as Duke of Brabant, was a tricolor, of black, yellow, and red, in vertical bands. To his mind black stood for the dark forest and the difficulties which are always overcome by the brave. Yellow represented property and gold, the precious metal, which added to human prosperity, and must be guarded; while red was for blood and life, which all brave men willingly gave for their country, when they are called to go to war. Centuries afterward, when all the provinces of Belgic Land were united in one kingdom 5 and the people in one nation, and the country (in the English form of the name) was known as Belgium, this tricolor became the national flag.
Lyderic spent most of his time in Wales, on the lovely aisle of Avalon. Here he was in fairy land, for Morgana, jealous of his marriage to Gratina, had cast a spell upon him. So, while others died and were buried, he lived on. The time passed without his notice, or his asking about age, until two hundred years had slipped away.
Morgana, the fairy, had given Lyderic a fire brand, which, as long as it kept burning, his life would be prolonged; but when it went out, he would die. Lyderic lived with the knights of King Arthur, enjoying, with them, jousts and tournaments, and many wonderful sports and adventures. Yet at last, he tired of the company even of the knights of the Round Table, and longed to cross the sea, and live again in Belgic Land.
One day, when this desire became too strong to resist, he had an iron box made, and carefully keeping the fire alight, he left Avalon, and crossed the sea to his old home. Meeting the handsome widow of King Philip, this royal lady wished to marry him. Lyderic, while yielding to her wishes, and his mind occupied with his love affairs, forgot to attend to the fire, to keep it kindled, and so let the brand go out.
Then Morgana, the fairy, who had been jealous of the Princess Gratina and was now even more jealous of Lyderic's new wife, carried him off to Avalon, and shut him up in the cave, where sit King Arthur and his knights, awaiting the day when they shall come forth, in time of greatest need. There Lyderic sleeps yet.
The fame of Lyderic lives in the myths of the fairy world, in many lands, from Denmark to Wales, and from Belgium to Italy. All the boys and girls of Europe have heard his story, in one form or another. As for Morgana, she is known all over the world, and in all time, as the conjurer. There are those who can discern her dwelling place on the clouds and vapors, especially off the coast of Calabria in Italy. At certain seasons of tide and weather, one may see, in the sky, and far above earth, or sea, a colossal picture of the trees and hills, of the houses and palaces of the wonderful city of Reggio, magnified many times, as it is reflected on the sky. One thus gets an idea of how the land looks where fairies live.
There was trouble in the ice-palace of Freya, the Fairy Queen. In spite of her thousand fairy servant-maids, and all her untold riches, she was unhappy.
Why was this?
It was just when the pigeons came into this fairy land of the North, that Queen Freya's troubles came. She was trying to please every one. She wanted each big girl, and every boy, who thought he was a man, to get the right valentine, which he or she expected. But this could not be, because Queen Freya was not able to get them sent out fast enough.
The chief reason was because the reindeer, that had drawn the sleigh of Santa Claas all through the country, and over the chimneys, refused to be harnessed. They announced that they were too tired to serve, because Santa Claas had driven them so hard, and overworked them, and now they wanted a long holiday. Some of the stags excused themselves politely, but the real reason was that they were lazy. Others declared they had caught colds, from waiting too long during the freezing night, on the house roofs.. Several of them had got nearly choked from the smoke, that came up from the fireplaces. Not a few of the big horned fellows, announced that they had had enough to do, in attending to carrying around the toys and goodies to fill the children's stockings. Besides, they didn't believe in sending valentines, anyhow! In fact, they were a cross lot of lazy beasts.
So the Fairy Queen, Freya, was at her wit's end, to know what to do. She had a warehouse full of valentines, all ready and properly directed, to waiting youth and maids. Yet how should she get them delivered? Who should be her postmen?
It was about the first of February, when she was in such trouble, and Valentine Day would soon be coming around. However, when she heard that a pair of doves were on their way to visit her, she put aside her cares, to meet them, and make their visit a very merry and happy one.
When the two snow-white birds arrived at Freya's court, they were welcomed by a company of fairies, that entertained them pleasantly. They sang songs and, in their dances, imitated the northern lights. These are just like what children, who go to school, call the "aurora borealis," and the doves were delighted.
Queen Freya asked her white-winged friends, the doves, if they would stay at her court, and live with her always. And would they be willing to be harnessed to her shining chariot, and draw it, for her, while she rode around the country, to deliver the valentines to fair maidens and fine young men?
For Freya had heard that these doves were carrier pigeons, also, and could fly with messages, hundreds of miles. Besides this, she was jealous of Santa Claas, and wanted to have a much handsomer vehicle to ride on, than even a sleigh, drawn by reindeers. They could gallop, but birds could fly and go faster. Moreover the doves were more beautiful to look at, and more gentle in behavior, as they ought to be, for a lady driver. They never got into bad temper like the reindeer, that were sometimes very surly.
Now the doves had been warned, by their wise, old, great-great grandmother, that the Fairy Queen Freya would ask them these very questions; and she advised them to say "yes" and stay in Fairyland. Moreover, the two white birds w y ere themselves lovers, and they thought they should like the task of helping young people who were in love.
So, putting their bills together, to show that they were one in mind, the two doves began to coo, which meant the answer "yes" to Queen Freya's question.
Then, on their pink toes, they strutted up and down, and around, as if in compliment to Her Majesty, and to show their happiness.
The Fairy Queen, Freya, had a dainty little chariot of silver, made by the elves, who lived down in the earth, where they always have plenty of precious ore, with their furnace fires, and tongs and hammers, ready at hand.
Always after that, with her two doves harnessed to the silver car, well loaded with valentines, and with pink straps for harness, and blue ribbons for bridles, the Fairy Queen, Freya, was drawn wherever she wanted to go. Many a valentine was dropped under the door-sill, for happy maidens, and for brave boys, that were worthy of a good girl, and for every fine fellow that deserved a sweet bride. But when she came to the houses where bad boys lived, or who had rude manners, or who were known to be too rough, or there were girls who had bad tempers, or told fibs, there Freya had her fun. She handed them ugly pictures, that made them howl with rage.
Hundreds of years passed by, for in fairy land, there are no clocks. Still the pair of pigeons did their work faithfully, for they loved it. By her spell, Queen Freya kept these carrier pigeons ever young and strong, for she had a secret power, by which they became like herself, and never grew old.
But by and bye, it came to pass that Queen Freya took off the spell, and let the two white doves become carrier pigeons, and unharnessed again. Then, like other birds, they cooed and billed, and laid eggs, and reared their young, and yet were good carriers, stronger and better than ever.
It came to pass, in the kindness of her heart, that Freya sent these birds as a gift into Belgium.
Why and how did it happen?
Well, it was long ago, and nothing alive now T , unless he were an old whale, or an elephant, or a Florida alligator, or an oak tree, that has no voice, but can only, with its leaves, breathe softly, when the wind blows, could tell the whole story. Yet as the fairies whispered it to the story-teller, this is the way it came about.
The Fairy Queen heard that the vikings, or Norsemen, who lived on the sea coast of Norway, had been very cruel to the Belgians. These big fellows rowed out, in their dragon boats, over the stormy waves of the Atlantic Ocean, to the South. Then, landing on the Belgian shores, where now stand the cities of Ostend, Zeebrugge, Ghent, Bruges, and even in the inland places, where Brussels and Mons are, they behaved very roughly; even killing the people and burning their houses. They made slaves of the men, and carried away the beautiful maidens, to the cold north country. Many little babies and children starved to death, because they had no fathers or mothers any more.
A Belgian girl, named Yvonne, told her story to one of the ravens, that, during the day, fly all over the world, and come back at night, to sit on the shoulders of Woden. But the king was then off on a hunting party, and the raven could not wait till he came back, and so told his wife, the Fairy Queen Freya. She at once called the Belgian maid to court, to have her tell all about what the cruel Norsemen had done in her beautiful country.
When the captive maid from the south land came and saw the silver chariot, drawn by snow white doves, she made up her mind what to ask for, in behalf of her country and people. If the Queen showed herself sorry for what the vikings had done in her native land, Yvonne would solicit a favor from her.
Queen Freya was very patient, in listening to the story of the Norsemen's cruelty. After Yvonne had told it all, Freya said:
"I have long heard what your people have suffered, at the hands of the cruel Norsemen, and now, I intend to give you something that will repay, in part, your country's losses. I am sure that fairies would not behave so badly; but then, we fairy folk can never tell what human beings, and especially rough men, will do. Speak now the word, and you shall have, not only your own freedom, but anything I possess."
Yvonne clapped her hands in delight, and cried out:
"The carrier doves and the silver chariot, with a precious cargo of valentines."
At this, all the fairies, that stood around looked at each other, in surprise. Some were as mad as fire.
"The greedy girl," said one. "She asks too much."
"Her eyes are bigger than her waist! I expect she will cook and eat them," said another, snappishly.
"Oh, if she had only asked for something else! What shall we do, to get our valentines around to the right people?" asked a slim fairy, that looked old.
One of the fairies seemed much frightened, as she said, "Surely the men will be very mad, and hurl ice chunks at us."
And another almost scowled, as she answered, "And the girls will make faces and throw snowballs at us."
These two spoke almost together, for both were very timid.
Other fairies, big and little, were getting ready to speak out their anger; for fairies never like the idea of human creatures ever being smarter than they are, or, in a way outwitting them.
The Fairy Queen waved her hand, and cried out: ''Silence all! I shall get another pair of doves for my chariot; but these two, and the Belgian maid, shall be sent at once to her home. Obey me all!"
Now let us look at Belgic Land. For the first time, in all the history of the country, the sentinel upon the castles walls, at Ostend, saw coming a ship, on whose flag was the figure, not of a black raven, but of a white dove. And lo! when the ship drew near, they saw no shields of fighters hung on the side, nor the glint of any swords, or spears, and no armor, or anything that told of war. Instead of these, a lovely girl stood on the prow of the ship. She held up a cage, in which were two snow white doves.
Just then, the wife of the watcher on the castle walls cried out:
"Why! it is either our Yvonne, or an angel. No! It is our daughter!"
At this moment, the maiden Yvonne drew aside the little door of the cage, and out flew the two birds. Joyfully rising up in the air, and whirring about for a few minutes, the pair finally settled on the ridge pole of Yvonne's house. Her father had rebuilt his home, while she was away in the north land.
The maid and the doves were now happy indeed. Yvonne soon had a lover, who married her, and they had a new house and a garden, with a dove cote in the middle.
When the cradle rocked, with a sweet little baby daughter in it, that looked most like its father, the dove cote had also a nest, with four blue eggs. And this happened, nearly every spring time.
In a few years the pigeons multiplied, and found homes all over the country, from the birch and pine trees of the Ardennes hills, to the willow and lime trees along the canals of the lowlands, in Flanders.
Within a few years, the Belgian folks discovered the merits and powers of these sociable birds, that were so ready to be good servants of men. Many boys and girls had their fathers put up dove cotes in the gardens, and there the families of the carrier pigeons were reared.
It became the custom for Belgian folks, in different cities, to send messages of love and friendship to each other, or to tie tiny valentines to the pigeon's legs. So in peace and war, the carrier pigeon became one of the most famous features in Belgian life, and the best beloved of all living things in the land.
Ever so many ages ago, there were a couple of fairies, who had a very interesting family of fairy children, that lived entirely in the air. The father was named Heet and the mother named Koud.
If we were to translate these names out of Flemish, I suppose we might call them Heat and Cold. Curious names, were they not?
But then, if we knew all the names of the fairies, we should laugh at many of them, as heing very funny.
This fairy father and mother had many children, which, altogether, they called Wenda; that is, if we use the oldest form of the speech which the Flemings used. On our tongues, this becomes Winds. In different parts of the world, these wind-fairies were spoken of, according as their dispositions were rough or gentle, in their behavior; or, noisy or sweet in sound; or, as they were scorching or freezing; but all winds are born of Heat and Cold, but only four were very well known by their names.
But now it is time to tell about the enchanted windmill, that first began its career along with winds, among which Zephyrus was the best liked and most attractive. The other wind fairies, children of Heet and Koud, were not exactly envious of their handsome and popular brother, Zephyrus, or of Flora his wife; but they wanted to show that they also could do something for human beings, even if not able to give them such lovely things as flowers or fruit. So the three met together to see what could be done.
Now one of the wise men, among mortals, had said that three good things a man could do, and at least one of these he ought to do to have and name a child, or a flower, or a book.
When this was told to the other three wind fairies, Eurus, Boreas, and Auster, they were at first downcast. They had no children, and as for flowers, they were out of the question; for Zephyrus and Flora had all to do with these. As for writing books, that was not the business of fairies, but of men and women.
However, after long thought, they hit upon a plan, by which, working altogether, they might help human beings. If they could not have handsome children, they could at least save toil and trouble to others when grown up. With the help of the fairies, they could more quickly redeem swamps and morasses, changing them into lovely gardens and good grain fields, where flowers could grow and food be raised. They saw how hard men had to labor, in order to lift, pump, saw, hoist, grind, and polish. In draining the land, in cutting down trees, to make houses, and in grinding the grain, to make bread, men certainly needed help. They made up their minds that, while flowers were good, there were times, when bread and cake, cookies and crullers, puddings, and waffles, pot pie and potatoes might be better.
They summoned the elves of the mine and the forest to help them, and all together, they built a mill. It had long arms and sails outside, while within, were axles, wheels, windlass, ropes, pulleys, and grinding stones.
Set to other machinery, the mill could turn grain into flour for bread, and pump water out of a ditch, to make rich farm land, besides doing many other things.
The wind fairies were delighted with their success, and first, they made a present of the windmill to the Saracens, who employed it for hundreds of years.
But this is the way the first windmill was used. It was put on a raft, and floated on the water; so that men could pull it round to face the winds, as they blew. No one had then ever thought of putting it on land, or making a house of it.
By and bye, the crusaders from the Netherlands visited the Orient, and became acquainted with new seeds, flowers, fruits, and things they had never seen before, or at home. They watched with wonder the windmills, whirling their huge arms around and doing the work of thousands of men and horses.
Now there was a smart Fleming, Mynheer Molenaar, and crusader under Godfrey de Bouillon. When at home, he had been a miller on his lord's manor. After studying the workings of the windmill, he put its parts on a ship and brought it home.
Then he built a raft, and, putting his windmill together, followed the custom, of hauling it around, according as the wind might blow. He anchored it by the Scheldt river side. As everyone wanted to get his grain ground more cheaply, by wind, than by horse power, the Belgian miller soon had plenty of customers and quickly made money.
But one day, the river rose to a flood and swept the windmill down and out to the sea. Distracted by his loss, and with poverty staring him in the face, he tore his hair with rage, and mourned all day and late into the night. Toward morning, he fell into a heavy slumber.
In his dreams, a Belgian wind fairy, accompanied by a Kabouter, appeared to him. Surprised at seeing a radiant and silvery creature, as bright as a star, alongside of a short, stumpy fellow, who was holding a box full of hammers and chisels, he forgot his troubles, and laughed heartily, smiling a welcome to both.
"We are glad you seem happier," said the shining one, for we have long wanted to help you and are ready to serve; for we fairies of the Netherlands, aided by our good friends, the Kabouters, have an idea for an improved windmill, that can beat either the Saracens, or the Greeks; for we can do what they could not." Then they told how to make a mill that could turn its face to any wind that blew.
The Kabouter nodded, as if to say "yes," and made what was rather a funny sort of a grin.
But Molenaar smiled again at this project, which seemed so nearly the impossible, as to be absurd, or an enchantment.
Altogether, with the contrast of a starry maiden and a blacksmith dwarf, the miller laughed again and this time, so loud, that he awoke.
But, pondering what the bright fairy had said to him, he resolved to act. That very day, with his head swelling with a new idea, he called together blacksmiths, masons, bricklayers, carpenters, and machinists. He paid them high wages, and urged on the building of a windmill on the land; yes, like a house, and a windmill that was to serve many purposes.
"He's a fool, that fellow Molenaar, he is! The idea of making a dwelling and mill in one, and building it on land!" said one man who thought he knew all about windmills.
"Have the fairies cast a spell, on him?" asked another.
"The Wappers have certainly turned his brain," said a third.
"He's riding a Kludde horse, that's what he's doing," jeered a fourth.
Then, all together, they tapped their foreheads with their forefingers, and uttered what became a proverb:
"He has a mill in his head."
But Molenaar persevered. In less than a month, he had a comfortable brick house, three stories high, with a space like a cylinder, running down through the centre, and with stairways up to the floors above. On the first, or ground floor, was his flour mill, with grinding stones and bins. On the second, were four rooms for his family. On the third, were his parlor and linen closet; besides a playroom for the children. On the top were the wheels, axles, and sails; with a wide veranda, all the way around, by which the sails could be trimmed, reefed, or furled.
It was as good as a ship, and the children could take a walk all the way around the millhouse.
For three days, the breezes blew steadily from the west. For eight hours a day, the stones revolved merrily, and the bins were filed with meal.
Then the wind changed and swung around to the north.
"Now we'll see what the old fellow will do with his mill-house," said envious scoffers, as they passed by.
They had not noticed the contrivance, about which the fairies had told Molenaar. Around on the other side of the house, there was a windlass, with three long timbers reaching to the top. This, they had not seen before. It was a cap, or movable top.
A few turns of the windlass and the whole machinery, sails and all, faced the north wind. Soon the long arms, set with canvas, were whirling around at full speed, and most merrily the grit stones were turning, and the meal filling the bin.
It would be too long a story to tell, how this new sort of a Netherlands windmill could saw wood, pump the water out of ponds, and swamps, hoist barrels, and load wagons, besides grinding grain. In a few generations, both sandy Flanders and swampy Holland were changed from heaths and mudholes to a vast area of lovely flowers, beautiful gardens, and fruitful farms. The wind fairies had been only waiting, for ages, to become the servants of man.