In very early times there were no bridges across the Scheldt River where Tournai lies. There were no bell towers to make music in the air around the place either. There were only some buildings rudely put together. They were made of wood, or reeds and rushes, and plastered with mud. The area around the place was flat and sandy, without suitable stones to build houses of. Few craftsmen in Tournai knew how to make houses out of stone. To carry stones from the mountains, bring them hundreds of miles to Tournai, cut them there, and build lofty stone bell towers, no one had in mind.
But then came a sunny Italian named Vrolyke Kwant, known to all the children, and much loved by them. He had come to Belgium when it was a rather wild country. He missed the bells, the towers and air-music of Italy and was often homesick.
But when he heard how kind and well behaved the Belgian fairies were, and that they liked to help good people, he took heart, cheered up, and determined to get to know some them.
So he gave out that he welcomed them to his house. He had been told that the fairies would keep out of sight during the day and were busy after sunset and before dawn, so he made it known that he would leave all the doors of his house open at night. If they would come to see him and talk over what could be done to make bell towers, he would treat them well.
The news spread quickly in fairy land. Vrolyke did not have to wait long. When evening came, he went to the front of his house and opened both leaves of his double door. At this time the piggies had gone to sleep and the birds to roost long before. So he unlatched also the lower half of the door, and slammed it loudly against the wall, as a signal to the fairies outside, for he had already seen tiny lights flitting about, like fireflies.
Soon there were two or three gentle taps on the lintels of the doorway, and then trooped in Kabouters, Wappers, Manneken, and Red Caps. These were followed by a throng of silvery little ladies, with gauzy wings on their shoulders and with stars on their foreheads. All of them were dressed in old garbs, since fairies are not slaves to fashion, but keep the same style of clothes always. Thereby they are free from much care, have no wrinkles on their faces and live their lives.
Vrolyke, smiling his best Italian smile, bowed and offered to set out beer and cakes all he had on his rough table. But the fairies laughed and waved their hands, and replied in chorus:
"Oh, thank you, we do not eat or drink.
While they were in such a good mood, Vrolyke thought it best to say what he was after.
So he said, "In this flat country I miss high towers with bells on top - and the sound can roll far over these plains. Then he sighed and asked, "But where can I get the stone to build and where are the copper and tin for the bells? Do tell."
"Leave that to us," shouted the fairies. Here was their chance to do something big.
Then all those who had no wings, Kabouters, Wappers, Red Caps, and Mannekins, stumbled merrily out of the house. The winged fairies flew out the door as quietly as if on a cloud, or in a dream.
Now the river-beds in Belgium were full of clay and sand. The Kabouters liked to play there, like children who love to play in the soft mud and make pies and patty cakes. The fairies who flew in the air and knew about winds, told that the soft mud, could be used, if mixed with sand. Bricks could be made of the clay that the river had brought with it, bricks as hard as stone. Some of them had travelled far, and knew that houses out of stone that could last a long time; while buildings made of wood could catch fire so easily, soon decay, and fall asunder. Very soon thousands of the little fellows, mostly Kabouters, hauled up tons after tons of river clay. They piled it up, until it made an enormous brick yard. Then they made moulds of wood and iron, of the shape of bricks.
One set of Kabouters were put to the task of mixing the clay. Others stood at the dry dust tubs. From the wet clay, heaped up on a big bench, or table, a big Kabouter threw down a lump into the square wood or iron frame or mould, shaped like a brick. Then he shoved the soft brick over to the Stryker, who struck off, to a level, the extra amount of clay, just as a good cook cuts off the excess of dough, in the pie crust, that hangs over the edge of the dish, before she puts it in the oven to bake. From these benches the thousands of Manneken carried the wood or iron moulds filled with clay, over to the drying ground. They tumbled flat the clay out of the frames and laid the bricks, still soft, out to dry, for several days, in the sun. Every time, as they returned, they threw the empty iron moulds into a tub full of fine dry clay-dust, so the wet clay or bricks would not stick, but fall easily, when tumbled over, flat on the ground to dry.
Another set of Kabouters built a kiln, setting the bricks into piles, with spaces, like aisles and corridors, for the air to circulate in, and the flames to reach everywhere, and to every brick, from bottom to top. Another gang cut down wood and plugging it into these holes set the fires going, to bake the soft sun-dried bricks into "klinkers," or burnt bricks, as hard as stone.
Every night, for a month, they worked, until millions of bricks baked in the fire, until they were hard enough to "klink," or resound, when struck together, and were ready for the bricklayers. That's the reason they call a well-turned brick a "klinker," because it sounds.
Vrolyke now took the honourable name of Van Slyk from the river mud now turned into brick, and a friend of his took the name Stryker. Together they summoned masons and bricklayers from Italy. These men piled brick on brick until walls and towers rose up toward the sky, until some people thought of mountains and others were afraid to walk in the streets, very afraid the high walls would fall down on them.
But the builders were not afraid of these piles of brick falling down, for they held the courses together by the "Flemish bond"; that is, wherever two bricks met, end to end, another brick was laid on top between. The middle part of the upper brick lay directly over the joining place of the under ones. Thus the whole structure was held together as tightly, as if the bricks had gone back again, to be part of the mother rock, in the high mountain, from where they came ages before.
In time the first tower was finished, and the clouds came and kissed it. The sunrise made it rosy, and the sunset rays gilded it. Other towers were built too. On the summit of some of the loftiest, men placed golden dragons they had made. On other summits that put weather vanes to tell where the wind was blowing and what weather it made for the next dayw.
Towers and spires had been made, and resounding bells in some of them. For ages clay had lain neglected in river beds and other places in the soil. Somehow the belfry of Bruges, the "lady spire" of Antwerp Cathedral, and the glorious towers of Mechlin, of Ghent, of Mons, of Oudenarde, of Tournai, and hosts of Belgian towers.
Once on a time there was an enormous creature that lived in the Land of Sentiment, called The Lion of the Netherlands. It was as big as the two countries, Holland and Belgium put together. Its lower limbs and haunches extended down, into the southern part of the Seventeen Provinces, and rested upon the high grounds of the Ardennes, upon the crags on which, a burg, or castle, was usually built. So this portion of the earth, which the lion straddled, with his lower limbs, was called Limburg.
When the mighty beast stood up, to make a rampant position, it poked its nose so far north and towards the pole, that it was nearly frozen. So they called that part of the country Friesland; or, as the boys used to spell it Freezeland! Now the Dutch and Flemish for lion, is Leeuw; and there, the chief city was Leeuwarden, or the Lion City of the North.
The middle part of this creature, that is, the Lion of the Map, lay between France and Germany. To find room for its long tail, Leeuw had to whisk his tip-tuft almost up to Scotland, while the root end, and bulging curve of the long tail, nearly touched England. It made faces at Germany, but its back was toward the British Isles. Its eyes were very near, what the Dutch call their eilanden, and its grinning mouth opened near a place called Leer.
When this Lion was angry, and got its back up, like a monstrous cat, its roaring could be heard in Denmark.
In this Country of Seventeen Provinces, comprising Dutch folks, the Flemings, and the Walloons, there were also fifty places named, in one way or another, after the king of beasts. There were lion castles, lion hills, lion mountains, lion dykes, caves, corners, lanes, stones, nooks, valleys and capes. It seemed as if every pretty place, in Belgic, Dutch and Walloon geography had a lion for a namesake.
The Xetherlanders, however, were not satisfied with only a geographical lion. Nor were they happy in having a lion that lies down only in an atlas, or that lives in fairy land, or of which kings and noblemen are so fond, when they make use of him in heraldry; that is, they put the beast on their banners, seals, crests, and coats of arms. Oldest in Europe is this Belgian lion.
Of these heraldic lions, that were never seen either in cages, or at the circus, nor even in Africa, or Asia, there were too many, already. They were crowned, or double-headed, as if a crown could put more brains in one's noddle! or, as if two heads on the same beast were better than one! Some of them even had two tails, though what a lion, any more than a cow, wanted with more than one tail, was not clear.
Moreover, some of these heraldic beasts had tufted, or floriated tails, like gilliflowers. Or, they were curled in the middle, or frizzed all the way down. These lions were made to wear chains, jewelry, or flowers, or to stand on their hind legs, holding a shield, or coat of arms, or a flaming advertisement, of beer, or turnips, or waffles, or cookies. Besides these, some others had to stand up and wiggle their fore paws, like puppies asking for a dog biscuit. Worse than this, a few had to snicker and smirk, and grin, or leer, as if hearing good news, from their dams or cubs in Africa; or, as if they were reading a comic supplement to a Sunday newspaper. In fact, such lions, except in stone, or wood, or paint, or calico, were never heard of, in the jungles of Asia, or the veldts of Africa.
Now the Belgians wanted a lion, that was not on the map, nor in heraldry, or on a duke's crest, or cut in stone or wood, or in a picture, but a live one, that could snarl, and bite, and roar, and go on a rampage. Yet, how should they capture a genuine male lion, a real beast, with a big beard and mane? Only one that could growl, and roar, and stand, and leap, or jump ten feet, and be able to eat up a calf, and pick its bones, or swallow ten pounds of mutton, or beef, at a meal, would fill the bill. Besides making faces, and swishing its tail around, and rearing up on its hind legs, and scratching with its four paws, it must have a tufted tail, at least a yard long. Nothing else would suit the Belgians, who are very proud of their country. They wanted a lion that would beat all creation.
Now there were two hunters, who were reckoned the bravest in all the Belgic realm. One was a Fleming and spoke Dutch. The other was a Walloon, and his speech was French; but the talk of both was about wild game, and how to get it. Happily, both understood each other's language, when, in conversation about lions, or any other subject that related to the chase.
In these old days, before guns or powder, or bullets or cannon, they hunted wild animals with spears; and, with their arrows, they could bring down any bears, boars, or aurochs in the land. They had trapped all sorts of smaller animals, such as deer, foxes, rabbits, hares, and weasels, beside every variety of wild ducks, geese, and other birds, that were good to eat.
But a lion! Even if they went to Africa, how could they lure one out of the bush into the veldt, or get at him, when near a water hole? Their idea was to bring one alive to Belgium, in order to exhibit him. Then, the people would know what the real king of beasts was. Then, the artists and sculptors, also, could make pictures or statues. They might thus be able to learn, and to show, the difference between an imaginary or a paper lion, and the genuine monarch of the jungle.
These two hunters met at a place called Kabouterberg, or the Hill of the Elves, or fairies, called Kabouters; though the Belgian fairies that live in caves, are called Klabbers, or Red Caps. In this hill, which is near Gelrode village, one may see a number of little caves, where they used to live long ago. The two hunters and the elves were great friends. It is even commonly reported among the peasants, that these brave fellows could often see the Klabbers, when no one else could lay eyes on them; for they had unusually sharp eyesight. Though these hunters killed birds and animals for food, or fur, or to sell them, for a living, they were never once cruel. So the little Klabbers, liked the hunters, and never played any quellen, or bad tricks, on them, or their traps; though the imps often vexed mean and naughty people. Then these angry folks would call these Red Caps "quel-duivels," or plaguey rascals, but for this, the Klabbers did not care a copper.
These two hunters having finished their long tramp, the one from the Ardennes and the other from the Campine, met late in the afternoon, at Gelrode. Being hungry, each pulled out of his bag, some sausages and bread; and there they sat eating until twilight.
"I hope we shall see the Klabbers, tonight," said one fellow to the other. "I wonder if they are likely to come out."
"I think it probable," said the other. "The little Red Caps play around here very often. I've seen them before. They are always up to some tricks, or play, and I like to see them at it."
The hunters had not long to wait, for no sooner had the shades of evening fallen, than out of the small caves in the hill, issued the funniest sort of a procession of little people, of all colors. Some had green faces and hands and others had blue. Each bore a tiny lantern, hardly as big as a glow worm; so that they looked like a line of fireflies. They made a sort of parade, several hundreds of feet long. Each one had, stuck in his belt, a little roll of something.
A Klabber is about half as high as a yard stick. As to their bodies, some were all red, from top to bottom, some yellow, some pink, and some blue.
There were a few white and black ones, but all had either green or blue hands and faces, with red caps on their heads.
Having come out for a frolic, they soon ranged themselves, in two long opposite rows, one against the other.
Then they began to dance, and caper, and tumble head over heels, and pull each other's noses, which made the two hunters laugh heartily.
But pretty soon, with the many colors of their bodies and bright caps, and green hands and red faces, they made such a medley of tints and hues, that the hunters laughed still more uproariously at the jolly sight. They could not tell which was which. From being puzzled, the two men got so confused, that they suffered from a real brain storm. It was as though a hundred rainbows had been all smashed together, or were wobbling about. By and bye, there seemed no color at all, and the men actually became dizzy.
The next bit of fun, on the Red Caps' program, was to tear up the bits of paper, which they carried in their belts, and roll them round. Or they made their little torches, out of dead twigs and leaves. Then, when all was ready,
they ranged themselves into two lines again, as if two parties were trying to see which could beat the other in a game of smoke.
Each Red Cap pulled out his lantern and lighted the little roll of paper and leaves. Then he tried to blow the smoke into the face of a rival, on the opposite side. All the time, they kept up their laughing and chattering, like a lot of monkeys.
These Klabbers, were playing the game called camouflet, or smoke-blow. By the time the game was half over, the eyes of most of them were full of smoke, so that hardly any could see where they were going. In their glee, they tumbled over each other, making such a mess of colors, that the hunters were themselves so stupefied, that they began to wonder whether they had any brains left; for they could neither distinguish one color, or one Klabber, from another. When the men thought of rainbows, they wondered if rainbows ever got drunk.
At last, when all were tired out, and the fun lagged, the general of the Klabbers called off the game, and announced which side had gained the victory. The Green Faces had won over the Blues.
Then all the Klabbers picked up their lanterns, and, marching back up the hill, disappeared, in the little holes, or caves.
"Saint Christopher, help me! I have it," said the Flemish hunter. "We'll go to Africa and play the camouflet game on the lions. We'll give them a brain storm of color, and then we'll catch them, when their heads are upset.
"By Saint Hubert, yes," said the Walloon. "Come on! Let us make a big thing of it and call it camouflage. We'll capture our lion with paintpots and brushes. The bigger the lion, the easier he will be fooled."
When the hunters lay down to sleep, they dreamed of camouflaged houses, ships, lions and men and of their voyage to Africa.
The two hunters went to Antwerp and embarked on one of the large ships, such as the crusaders made use of, to get to Jerusalem.
Reaching the mouth of the Nile, they tarried awhile in Cairo and in Khartoum, and then pushed into the interior. They engaged a company of native blacks, to carry their baggage, beat the bush, drive out the lions, and carry the beast, when caught, in a cage; to the return ships.
The whole party, strung out in a line, marched into a famous wide valley, where were also veldts, or open spaces. They camped to the windward of a big water hole, to which the lions resorted, for drink and their prey. There, they made a strong "hide-up," or enclosure, of tall reeds, bushes, and boughs of trees, all interlaced together. This was for them to hide behind. Here they opened the lids of their paintpots, and got ready their brushes to daub themselves all over, with seventeen different tints and hues, in streaks, spots, dabs, lines and figures.
The next day, the negroes brought in a report that, besides several small lions, that were in the bush, there was one big fellow, the king of them all. He was a famous man-eater, and had tasted many a black daddy and mammy, besides not a few pickaninnies. So it is no wonder that the African people, in telling the hunters about this beast, made him out to be so enormous, that it was thought a whole ox could hardly furnish him with one dinner; but this was just the sort about which they wanted to hear, for they were not afraid. They had been practicing camouflage, while on the ship and were now experts. The w r ay they could sling paint on a man's body, and dress him up in damaged rainbows, made them feel sure they could upset all the lion's calculations. In fact, they believed they could raise a brain storm, in any beast that tried to look at them, no matter how large, or cunning he might be.
First they had the negroes dig a deep pit, and cover it over with poles, branches, leaves and earth. They caught a fat pig, and in spite of its squeals, they tied it to a stake, in front of the pit, out on the flat ground.
Then, stripping off their clothes, the two men went to the paint pots. They striped each other in wide bands, of several colors, painted round blotches, and curves, back and front, and so daubed, and streaked, and spotted their faces, arms, legs, back and front, that one look might make a man or beast, first cross-eyed, and then blind, and finally stupefied. Even the scabbards of their long knives, their only arms for they would take no risks when painted in streaks, looked like a lot of crooked rainbows.
When the signal was given to the black men, to go around and shout, and beat the bush, Piggy began to squeal and ramp around, as if he knew he would soon be inside the lion. At once the big brute seeing the pig, and hoping to ge- a good meal, advanced toward what he supposed was to be his dinner.
Now this king of the lions had often seen human beings, but these were always of a dark color, with tints, ranging from chocolate brown to ebony black. He had eaten men and children for breakfast, dinner and supper, with an occasional extra lunch in the form of a baby. The lion's idea was, that all human beings were black, for he had never traveled to Europe, with a circus company, or to Rome to fight and claw gladiators. So, when driven out by the shouting of the bush-beaters, the big beast plunged out into the veldt, and charged toward the pork. He was the father of lions, in size, with a face as big as a wash tub, and on which there was enough long hair to stuff a mattress with.
Yet in the way things turned out, there was no need, either of pig, or pit; for the paint pots did the business. The two brave hunters were not afraid of the monstrous beast. They rushed out of their hide-up, and stood in his path, moving about zig-zag and crosswise, from right to left. This bothered the lion most awfully. He could not tell who was who, or which was which, or what was what. Relatively speaking, he forgot whether he was himself, or his wife, or his cubs, or something else.
Now the lion is an intellectual beast, at least he has that reputation; but what creature lives, that can take in, and hold, two ideas at one time? But, to have seventeen colors, hues, tints, and shades, moving before him, fairly scrambled the contents of the lion's brain pan.
As the two hunters leaped, danced, capered, gyrated and turned somersaults before him, the beast lost all power to think or move. His brain became as an omelet. He fell down helpless, whining piteously.
The two camouflaged hunters then went up to his very nose and tweaked it. They pulled his ears, they jerked his tail, and they dragged his carcass around; yet he cared nothing about all this, for he was wondering whether he was a lion; or if not, what?
Before he could unscramble his senses and recover his eyesight, the hunters, with help of a score or more of the sturdy negroes, had boxed him up. The cage was slung on the shoulders of a dozen bearers, and borne in triumph to the ship.
On the voyage back to Belgium if, at any time, the king of beasts was surly, or misbehaved himself, or wanted fresh meat in the form of a sailor, instead of salt pork, all that was necessary to make him a good lion again, was for one of the hunters to camouflage himself, in all colors, and then make believe to enter his den to chastise him. But no spear, or red hot iron, or bottle of hartshorne was necessary.
The lion, on seeing the frightful figure, stopp-ed his roaring at once, got down off his hind legs, ceased his rampage, and settled down as quiet as a guinea pig. Sometimes he would even lie down and roll over on his back and flop his paws up and down, as if to say, "Please don't! I'll be a good lion, if you won't tire my poor brain, and give me a headache, with your old camouflage." But occasionally, he gave a low growl as if swearing at such an impish invention; for, the story-teller is grieved to say that the lion learned some bad language while aboard the ship.
Nevertheless, it was not the beast but the men, that broke the peace; for one was a Fleming and the other a Walloon, and they quarrelled as to which part of Belgium was the oldest and most honourable from the time of Caesar. Each stood up stoutly for his language, and his district, claiming that it was his ancestors that had made Belgium great.
For this time of their quarrel was long before the Belgian people were a true nation, with one flag, one king and a glorious national unity.
One day, the two men got into a dispute as to which of the two, the Walloon, or the Fleming, deserved the greater credit, for confusing and capturing the lion. The contention waxed so hot, that they almost came to blows. Then each one camouflaged himself and tried to get possession of the lion, both entering the cage, but from opposite sides.
But at such a sight, the king of beasts again lost his wits, and had two brain storms at one time, from opposite lobes of the brain. He retreated into a corner, stuck his nose through the bars, and curled up his legs and toes, so that neither of the hunters could get hold of anything but his tail, and hardly more than the tuft of that. Each man grabbed hold of his caudal hair and pulled so hard, that, in spite of the roars of pain, from the poor beast, they split the creature's tail, half way up, and it never healed, or came together again.
So with a split tail, double for half its length, but, fortunately with a bit of tuft on each tip, the Belgian lion flourishes today. One half of its divided tail is Walloon and the other half Flemish; yet now, with pure patriotism, and loyal to a hero king and a noble queen, and with all the people united in devotion to their homeland, only the Belgian lion's tail recalls the history of the past; while its body and limbs represent the majesty, the courage, and the devotion of the brave Belgian people.