There was a Belgian lord, named Aymon, who built a castle in the mountainous part of Belgium. It was on so high a peak that it seemed also as if no one but eagles, or fairies, could live in it.
Besides his brave soldiers with him in the castle, Aymon's four stalwart sons were there to help him. Their names were Rinaldo, Allard, Guichard, and Richard. They were the biggest men known in the country. Rinaldo, the oldest, was as tall as the largest giant, for he stood sixteen feet high. When he rode a horse, he had to twist his legs up around the pommel of his saddle, so that his heels or toes would not dig into the ground, or drag on behind. In fact, no horse wanted to be under him, and there was always misery in stables, whenever it was known that Rinaldo wanted to go out riding, or hunting. But the horse Bayard .always enjoyed careering over the country with his master in the saddle. Happily, this long-legged fellow had a cousin, named Mangis, who pitied him for having such long legs, and being thus obliged to pay a large tailor's bill, every time he wanted a pair of leggings. Moreover, Marquis was sorry for the horses which Rinaldo had to ride, and wanted to find out some way to make it easier, for the dumb creatures in the stables.
Now the castle of Duke Aymon was at Egremont, a few leagues from the famous city of Liege. Its master thought it to be so strong, that no army, however brave, or supplied with good engineers and plenty of catapults, could ever conquer it.
When Charlemagne sent a host of mighty men to Egremont, and the commander ordered his trumpeter to go to the gate of Aymon, and there demand his surrender, the proud Duke behaved both haughtily and naughtily. He put his thumb to his nose and then wiggled his four fingers at the trumpeter, in the most impolite manner. He then bade his master to go and eat turnips, and not bother him any more, with his foolish chatter about surrendering. He had beef, and bread, and sausages, and oats and hay, enough to last five years. Moreover, he did not care a clam shell for Charlemagne and all his host. Let them go and fight the Saracens, if they wanted to. Who cared?
The trumpeter came once more, and repeated his demand that Duke Aymon should come out of his castle, and kneel down before Charlemagne and beg his pardon, kiss his hand, and promise to be loyal and obedient.
But the Duke, instead of listening politely, was even more impudent, than before. This time he not only wiggled the fingers of his right hand at the trumpeter, but he actually wiggledwaggled. That is, as soon as the trumpeter ceased blowing, he put his right thumb to his nose, and then, joining the little finger of the right hand, to the thumb of his left hand, he made a most contemptuous double motion, with all of his ten fingers wiggling at once.
At this the trumpeter, having lost his temper at the Duke, who was high up on the walls, shook his fist at him, and went off in high dudgeon. He reported to Charlemagne that his overproud vassal had actually wiggled-waggled to his face.
Thereupon, Charlemagne ordered his army to bring up the catapults, and they sent a storm of stones into the castle. They hurled blazing bundles of oil soaked in tow, while the archers and crossbowmen swept the turrets and walls with showers, of arrows, and iron-headed bolts. This was to keep off the besiegers from the ramparts, so that they could not interfere with the sappers and miners. These men were far down on the lowest side of the castle, digging below the foundations, so as to undermine the walls and tumble them down. They dug the earth away, with their picks and hammers, and then knocked away several rods of masonry. At first, they supported the walls at intervals with heavy pillars of wood, made of tree trunks, until all was ready. Then, they would set the wooden columns on fire, and the whole side of the castle would fall down.
Then again, Aymon was summoned to surrender, but nothing came of it; for, hardly had the echoes of the trumpet died away, before the duke was seen again at his old game of "sniggle-fritz"; that is, of playing wiggle-waggle, with both hands and his ten fingers. Meanwhile, he said all sorts of saucy things, boasting of how many barrels of salt beef he had in his larder, and bushels of oats in his bins.
Poor old fellow, he did not know that the fires, under the foundations of the walls, were to be kindled that night, which would spill most of his castle and all of his storehouses and stables into the valley, far beneath.
But his oldest son Rinaldo, the long-legged fellow, had also a long neck, like a rope. Stretching it out, with his body leaning far over the wall, he could see what was coming. But his father, the duke, would not yet believe there was any danger.
So Rinaldo got the horse Bayard, with the family saddle cleaned up, and all ready to escape. He vowed to keep up the war, even if his father was taken prisoner.
This was just what happened. Even when the enemy lighted the fires, at sundown, and the smoke rolled up over the ramparts, the old Duke stubbornly pooh-poohed the idea of any real danger.
But about midnight, a terrific noise, like a peal of thunder, was heard. Then one would have thought that the tail board .of a cart, as large as a town hall, had been pulled out, and a million bricks were being dumped out. The walls slid down, the towers crashed over, and barns, storehouses, soldiers, horses, and engines of war were tumbled in one heap of rubbish into the valley.
Then Charlemagne's host rushed in with sword and spear. The Duke Aymon was taken prisoner and sent to Aix-la-Chapelle.
But Rinaldo was ready. Hearing the enemy's trumpet sound for the charge, he went to the stable, situated on the safe side of the castle, and led out the horse Bayard. Then he called his three brothers to his side, and coolly fed the animal a peck of magic oats, which the enchanter, Maugis, had given him. He was in no hurry, for he knew what was coming, while the three brothers watched in wonder. Rinaldo had in mind a secret path through the woods.
At the first mouthful of oats, Bayard began to lengthen out and enlarge, steadily increasing in size; until, having finished its feed, the faithful brute looked up and nodded. Some say he winked his eye, as if 'he enjoyed fooling the enemy.
The four brothers then leaped upon Bayard's back, and away he flew like the wind, never stopping until the heart of the forest of Ardennes was reached.
There, at Montfort, overlooking the Ourthe River, one of the highest rocky places, they reared a still stronger castle, with a triple line of walls and moats. The keep, or donjon, was perched on a pinnacle. There they lived unmolested several years, keeping up a wild life as outlaws; concerning which all Belgian children have heard. They defied Charlemagne to come and take their stronghold.
They built a special stable, long enough to hold the horse Bayard, when he should lengthen himself out; either for his own amusement, or for the family of brothers, to take a ride. They gave him every day a good feed of oats and hay, and the mountain springs furnished the best of water. They made for him a new saddle, which was eight feet long, so that the four brothers could ride more comfortably, if they had to mount him again in a hurry, to escape, or to go for a long joy ride.
But Charlemagne, resolving to get rid of these troublesome fellows, came into the Ardennes, with a bigger army and many war engines. After a long siege, he captured the castle.
Again the wonderful horse, Bayard, was brought out and its lengthened back having been duly strapped with the saddle, which was as big as a sofa, the four brothers jumped nimbly on its back. Bayard was so swift, that they escaped every one of the war bolts and arrows, which whizzed past them, from the sharpshooters, who were posted up in the trees and among the rocks. In fact, in its fleetness, this wonderful horse beat the wind. The four brothers never ceased their gallop, until they had reached Gascony, in France, in the dominions of King Yon. Here they entered his service, to drive out the Saracens.
But although they served loyally in the army of this monarch, who used a good deal of Gasconade, or boasting about his benevolence, he proved a traitor. He basely delivered up the four brothers to Charlemagne; but in due time they all escaped.
Now this story is not so much about the four men, as about Bayard, the most famous of all horses.
It is enough to say, that, after this time, the four brothers separated, three to seek more adventures in war, and the fourth to follow the pursuits of peace. What became of the three, who were the younger, we are not informed.
About the tall brother, Rinaldo, however, many stories are told, and a thousand streets, hotels, or parks, in France and Italy and Belgium, are named after him. Tired of war, he became a monk and entered the cloister in the city that makes sweet smelling eau de Cologne, or cologne water. He had shown much skill in building forts and castles, but now he resolved to rear a grand cathedral, more splendid than any in the Rhine country. He thus became one of the first architects of that noble house of worship, whose two magnificent spires have been completed, only within the memory of men still living.
Rinaldo evidently had a bad temper, and, this time, instead of a quarrel over a chess board, he got into a row with the masons, and these rough fellows threw him into the river Rhine and let him drown. Yet later the pope made him a saint and a fine monument to his memory, and over his relics, was reared in the city of Dortmund, where the Germans brew much beer and whence, from the mines near by, they dig up much coal.
Of the younger brothers, the last one before he died, gave Bayard a good feed of oats, and then slapping him on the flank let him go free. Bayard trotted off and back to Belgic Land and into the forest of Ardennes. There, happy and free with no work to do, or burdens to carry, Bayard enjoyed the freedom of the wild horse.
But at last, Charlemagne's men captured the splendid animal, and brought him before the mighty ruler, who thus addressed Bayard:
"You have often in the past brought my plans to naught, but now you do so no more."
Thereupon Charlemagne gave orders that a great heavy stone, as big as a load of hay, should be tied around his neck. Then Bayard was to be driven off the high rock at Dinant, into the Maas, or Meuse, River; and, as every one might expect, to be drowned.
Now the lofty pinnacle rock at Dinant, called the Roche a Bayard, stands up by the river side. In shape, it is like an old fashioned sugar loaf, or a colossal Lombardy poplar, or a pointed fir tree, turned into stone. Close to it, is the solid bed rock of the hill. Between both, a famous high road runs, so that the two masses form a natural stone portal, or gateway, into the suburbs of the famous and beautiful city of Dinant.
Thousands of people assembled to see the wonderful sight, expecting the funeral and a watery grave of a noble animal that must surely be drowned. Some wept copiously, at the loss of so splendid a creature. Bayard had certainly been loyal to its masters and deserved a better fate.
But, instead of grief and sadness, there was merriment. In place of drowning, a resurrection and a triumph surprised the multitude of gazers. For one moment, the gallant animal was seen, leaping into the air. Then, with a tremendous splash, the horse fell into the Maas River.
In the next moment, however, he had shaken off the load, and leaving the big stone behind him, swam across the river. Emerging from the stream, Bayard shook off the water from his flank. Then, rearing up on his hind legs, he neighed three times, as much as to say "catch me, if you can"; and trotted off into the woods.
No wonder the Belgian children believe that such a horse is immortal, and still lives. He courses, even yet, through the Ardennes forest. He neighs occasionally, but never allows himself to be seen of men, for he does not trust them.
What King Arthur is to the Welsh little folks, the horse Bayard, is to the children in Belgium, for the fairy horse Bayard, never dies.
LONG before there was a church spire in Belgic Land, or a cross had gleamed in the sunset air, there was a lovely fairy, named Eastre. She was so bright and beautiful, that men thought of her as the lady of the upspringing light, at dawn, where her palace was built in the air. So they called her Eastre, or the East, or the Orient, after that part of the sky and the world, from which the sunshine first comes daily, and also, whence, for thousands of years, so many things have come from the dear old mother continent of Asia!
Now, on one of her first daily journeys, in traveling from the Orient, Queen Eastre, who was very fond of the Belgian people, brought with her a special gift for them. It was not gold, or pearls, or flowers, but four members of the rodent, or gnawing family; that is, a pair of rabbits, and a couple of hares. These long eared creatures look very much like each other, but belong to different species. She set them loose
in the country and let them run free. They soon multiplied, so that, in a century or so, there were millions of them, in both families.
Wherever one went, he would see Mr. and Mrs. Bunny and their children. Whether it was up in the hills, or the high part of the Walloon country, where the birch and the pine trees grow, and the houses are of stone, or, down in the Flemish low lands, where are the lime and willow trees, and many houses of wood or birch, there were the Bunny families and plenty of them.
Most of these fuzzy creatures were well behaved, and quite mild in their manners. The children liked them and had rabbit warrens, or burrows in the ground, where the tuft- tails lived; or, they kept them in coops, or open boxes, as pets. The little folks were delighted to find them so soft and fluffy. Their long ears served for handles, by which they could be lifted up easily, and carried about. The bunnies did not squeal, or bite, or kick, though they sometimes squirmed and wriggled tremendously. The boys and girls gave their pets queer names, such as Molly Cotton-tail, Mr. Buzz-Fuzz, Monsieur Snowball, or Mynheer Powder Puff, in winter; and, in summer, Bark Nibbler, or Hop Skipper, or Three Lips. This was on the idea, that the upper covering of the mouth consisted of two parts, instead of one.
Nobody ever knew, or could tell, why Mr. Bunny or Mrs. Bunny had a split upper lip; but all noticed that both the little and big bunnies had the same sort of a mouth-covering. This was very plain to be seen; for, except when they were asleep, the pretty creatures were either eating, or chewing something; and so they appeared to be nibbling or gnawing most of the time. Yet this was long before the days of chewing gum, when even human beings and some polite people let their mouths act like those of fourfooted folk. In fact, these Belgian bunnies seemed to be just like some of our girls, that buy gum in the shops and then work their jaws, until they are tired and gradually grow very large, like a camel's or a donkey's.
But after the Belgians had built churches, and took the fairy queen's name for a great festival, which occurred, when the flowers were out, and eggs were plenty, it was told why it was; and this was the story:
Ages ago, when the moon was young, there lived a pretty fairy in the Sky Country of Silver Light, with whom Bunny they called him Prince Bunny then, for he was very handsome fell in love. He often looked up at the moon, which hung in the sky, like a round mirror. There he imagined he saw his own face. So he came to believe himself as handsome as she was.
He wanted so much to get married, that he became crazy over her. Especially, in the month of March, did he get wildly excited, for in those far off early days, the old year ended, and the new one began, in that month. At nearly the same time, the earth began to think of putting on her beautiful new dress of flowers. It was not until long afterward, in western countries, that the almanac was changed, so that New Year's day came as it does now, in January, and thus the flower time was pushed forward, almost into summer.
Prince Bunny kept on making love to the fairy in the moon, and at last she had to get rid of his importunity, that is, his teasing her, for an answer, by letting him come up into her shining palace.
But no sooner was he there, than she cast a spell upon him, and made him work hard as a servant. She gave him some rushes, that had much grit in them, and acted like a scouring cloth. Then she set him to polishing the moon's bright face; so, that when she turned it full and round upon the earth, she could flood the whole sky with her radiance. By her light on the earth, men could see to read, even at midnight, and old ladies in Scotland could thread needles at nine o'clock.
After thus brightening up her face, and helping to increase her beauty, Bunny, the prince, thought his mistress would change him back into a human being, and let him marry her.
But lo! Whatever her intention might have been, she fell sick and called one of the famous genii, who was the doctor of the sky world. He felt her pulse, put his hand upon her forehead and made her open her pretty mouth, to show her tongue. Then he decided that nothing could cure her dreadful disorder and make her well again, but the elixir of life. This is compounded chiefly from the bruised leaf of the cassia tree, and the medicine must be given often. In fact, nothing else would do, but that Prince Bunny must go to the planet Venus, and get a young cassia tree, that grew there and transplant it to Moon Land. Then, for a thousand years, as men on earth measure time, the cassia leaves must be pounded in a mortar, with a pestle, and out of the juice the elixir of life must be made.
And, of course, nobody could go and get this wonderful tree, but Prince Bunny. He also must plant it, pick the leaves, and pound away, until the magic liquid flowed. Of course, the Moon Lady said to Bunny, calling him Prince, and putting on her sweetest smile, "You will be glad to do this service, because of your great affection for me. So run along, and be quick."
Prince Bunny made the journey, and pulled up the tree by the roots. When he returned to the Moon Land, he planted it, plucked the leaves, and began to pound away to make the medicine. From time to time, the elixir was made and the Moon Queen drank it and got well, but Bunny had to keep on. Many millions of mortals on the earth, when they saw how busy and faithful he was at his task, admired his devotion. They noticed, also, that he had changed from being a courting lad to a druggist. Then they said:
"How he must love her!" and many a faithful maiden sighed, hoping she might have so fervent a lover and so faithful a spouse.
But during all this while, to the Fairy Queen, there was no such thing as time; for the moon is never in shadow like the earth, and there is no night in Moon Land. So she hardly noticed his absences, either when on his journey, or at his work, which made him so terribly tired. The fairy's spell was on him, and he had to keep at his toil, according to the calendar, which men used on the earth.
After a thousand years of pounding in the mortar, and handing over the cassia leaves, to be made into the elixir of life, Prince Bunny felt quite sure that the Moon Queen would now take him for her husband. But she, being now well and hearty, called him to her and said:
"Now that the Belgians have churches, I want you to go down into their country and bear from me a message. You are to present it through the Queen of the East, the fairy, Eastre.
And this was the word, which the Moon Queen gave to be delivered:
"For days together, you mortals see me die in the sky; but I come again into fullness of life. So shall you die, but live again. This is my message to you. May you be happy as you think of it."
But Prince Bunny flew into a rage. He was smarting under three grievances. The Moon Queen had kept him so long, working for her; she would not now release him into his former human form; and, she would not marry him, and be his wife. So, in bad temper, this is the way he gave his message to the Belgic folk.
"As I die and live no more, so shall it be with you poor mortals."
Alas that the people all believed what Bunny said, and they grieved for a long time, but Prince Bunny only laughed and chuckled over the mischief he had made.
When he returned to Moon Land, the Queen asked him what he had said or done, for she heard the people crying. Then he answered, with impudence, and boasted that he had outwitted human beings, who often treated bunnies badly. He rather thought the Queen might be impressed with his smartness and that now she would marry him.
But the Lady of the Moon was very angry at him, and lost her self-control. Seeing a hatchet lying near, which Prince Bunny had used to chop off twigs of the cassia tree, she lifted it up and threw it at him. The blade struck Bunny on the upper lip, and divided it forever. Prince Bunny went first to all the doctors, that live in Moon Land, and among the stars, and, finally, to all that then dwelt on the earth. Not one could help him, or close the cleft in his upper lip. And all bunnies became like him.
As for the people in Belgic Land, they soon learned how the bad prince had deceived them. They recovered their faith, and named the day of the glorious Feast of the Resurrection, after the fairy of the radiant dawn and upspringing light, whom their ancestors loved so dearly. Thus they called the festival, that comes at the opening of the flowers. To our time, this, the happiest day of the year, is, in English, "Easter."
But because Prince Bunny had been so wicked, that was no reason why all hares and rabbits should be punished f-or his naughtiness.
So the real Bunny, that frisks on four legs, was adopted as the symbol of Easter, along with the eggs, and the hot cakes, which, baked the day before and stamped with the mark of the cross, were served at the Easter breakfast. Of these every child had one, but it was called not bunny, but for short, bun; or "hot cross bun."
Even this was not all. Not every family could afford hot cross buns, or even Easter eggs. There was one poor peasant, who had been sick many months. Not being able to earn any money, he was very sad, as Easter day came near, for he could buy neither buns nor eggs, for the thre*e little girls, who were his children.
However, being a man of faith, and loving his little folks very dearly, he told them to make a nest, and to pray to the good Father in Heaven, who made both the sun, and the moon, and the earth, and the flowers. So the little maids went to bed early, that night. They were so eager to get up betimes, in the morning, that they did not undress, but got under the covers, with their clothes on. In this way, their mother found them at early dawn and first light, fast asleep, and drenched with perspiration, because the night was unusually warm.
She woke them up, washed their faces, and let them go out to the barn, to see if anything was in the nest, which they had made. Hand in hand, they first skipped, and then they ran, all reaching the door of the barn together. This they pulled open, in a jiffy.
What a sight! There sat a big rabbit on his haunches, wiggling his front paws up and down, as if he was trying to laugh, in order to welcome them and share their joy. Apparently, this bunny was as happy as a rabbit, or hare, could be. There, in the nest, lay three lovely eggs.
Now, many people in Belgium delight to think this fuzzy fellow, in the barn, was no other than Prince Bunny, who had repented of his naughtiness, and asked permission to come down on the earth, for one night; at the time for the first full moon after the spring equinox, on the 21st of March.
But just how he was able to furnish an Easter breakfast is a question no mere man has been able to answer, even to this day.
Once upon a time there lived at Quesnoy, in Flanders, a great lord whose name was Burchard, but whom the country people called Burchard the Wolf. Now Burchard had such a wicked, cruel heart, that it was whispered how he used to harness his peasants to the plough, and force them by blows from his whip to till his land with naked feet.
His wife, on the other hand, was always tender and pitiful to the poor and miserable.
Every time that she heard of another misdeed of her husband's she secretly went to repair the evil, which caused her name to be blessed throughout the whole country-side. This Countess was adored as much as the Count was hated.
One day when he was out hunting the Count passed through a forest, and at the door of a lonely cottage he saw a beautiful girl spinning hemp.
"What is your name?" he asked her.
"Renelde, my lord."
"You must get tired of staying in such a lonely place?"
"I am accustomed to it, my lord, and I never get tired of it."
"That may be so; but come to the castle, and I will make you lady's maid to the countess."
"I cannot do that, my lord. I have to look after my grandmother, who is very helpless."
"Come to the castle, I tell you. I shall expect you this evening," and he went on his way.
But Renelde, who was betrothed to a young wood-cutter called Guilbert, had no intention of obeying the count, and she had, besides, to take care of her grandmother.
Three days later the count again passed by.
"Why didn't you come?" he asked the pretty spinner.
"I told you, my lord, that I have to look after my grandmother."
"Come tomorrow, and I will make you lady-in-waiting to the countess," and he went on his way.
This offer had no more effect than the other, and Renelde did not go to the castle.
"If you will only come," said the count to her when next he rode by, "I will send away the countess, and will marry you."
But two years before, when Renelde's mother was dying of a long illness, the countess had not forgotten them, but had given help when they sorely needed it. So even if the count had really wished to marry Renelde, she would always have refused.
Some weeks passed before Burchard appeared again.
Renelde hoped she had got rid of him, when one day he stopped at the door, his duck-gun under his arm and his game-bag on his shoulder. This time Renelde was spinning not hemp, but flax.
"What are you spinning?" he asked in a rough voice.
"My wedding shift, my lord."
"You are going to be married, then?"
"Yes, my lord, by your leave."
For at that time no peasant could marry without the leave of his master.
"I will give you leave on one condition. Do you see those tall nettles that grow on the tombs in the churchyard? Go and gather them, and spin them into two fine shifts. One shall be your bridal shift, and the other shall be my shroud. For you shall be married the day that I am laid in my grave." And the Count turned away with a mocking laugh.
Renelde trembled. Never in all Locquignol had such a thing been heard of as the spinning of nettles.
And besides, the count seemed made of iron and was very proud of his strength, often boasting that he should live to be a hundred.
Every evening, when his work was done, Guilbert came to visit his future bride. This evening he came as usual, and Renelde told him what Burchard had said.
"Would you like me to watch for the Wolf, and split his skull with a blow from my axe?"
"No," replied Renelde, "there must be no blood on my bridal bouquet. And then we must not hurt the count. Remember how good the countess was to my mother."
A tough, old woman now spoke: she was the mother of Renelde's grandmother, and was more than ninety years old. All day long she sat in her chair nodding her head, looking wise, and never saying a word.
"My children," she said, "all the years that I have lived in the world, I have never heard of a shift spun from nettles. But there is much a human can do with the help of God. I think Renelde should try this."
Renelde did try, and to her great surprise the nettles when crushed and prepared gave a good thread, soft and light and firm. Very soon she had spun the first shift, which was for her own wedding. She wove and cut it out at once, hoping that the count would not force her to begin the other. Just as she had finished sewing it, Burchard the Wolf passed by.
"Well," said he, "how are the shifts getting on?"
"Here, my lord, is my wedding garment," answered Renelde, showing him the shift, which was the finest and whitest ever seen.
The count grew pale, but he replied roughly, "Very good. Now begin the other."
The spinner set to work. As the count returned to the castle, a cold shiver passed over him, and he felt, as the saying is, that "someone was walking over his grave". He tried to eat his supper, but could not; he went to bed shaking with fever. But he did not sleep, and in the morning could not manage to rise.
This sudden illness, which every instant became worse, made him very uneasy. No doubt Renelde's spinning-wheel knew all about it. Was it not necessary that his body, as well as his shroud, should be ready for the burial?
The first thing Burchard did was to send to Renelde and to stop her wheel.
Renelde obeyed, and that evening Guilbert asked her:
"Has the count given his consent to our marriage?"
"No," said Renelde.
"Continue your work, sweetheart. It is the only way of gaining it. You know he told you so himself."
The following morning, as soon as she had put the house in order, the girl sat down to spin. Two hours after there arrived two soldiers, and when they saw her spinning they seized her, tied her arms and legs, and carried her to the bank of the river, which was swollen by the late rains.
When they reached the bank they flung her in, and watched her sink, after which they left her. But Renelde rose to the surface, and though she could not swim she struggled to land.
Directly she got home she sat down and began to spin.
Again came the two soldiers to the cottage and seized the girl, carried her to the river bank, tied a stone to her neck and flung her into the water.
The moment their backs were turned the stone untied itself. Renelde waded the ford, returned to the hut, and sat down to spin.
This time the count resolved to go to Locquignol himself. But, as he was very weak and unable to walk, he had himself borne in a litter. And still the spinner spun.
When he saw her he fired a shot at her, as he would have fired at a wild beast. The bullet rebounded without harming the spinner, who still spun on.
Burchard fell into such a violent rage that it nearly killed him. He broke the wheel into a thousand pieces, and then fell fainting on the ground. He was carried back to the castle, unconscious.
The next day the wheel was mended, and the spinner sat down to spin. Feeling that while she was spinning he was dying, the count ordered that her hands should be tied, and that they should not lose sight of her for one instant.
But the guards fell asleep, the bonds loosed themselves, and the spinner spun on.
Burchard had every nettle rooted up for three leagues round. Scarcely had they been torn from the soil when they sowed themselves afresh, and grew as you were looking at them.
They sprung up even in the well-trodden floor of the cottage, and as fast as they were uprooted the distaff gathered to itself a supply of nettles, crushed, prepared, and ready for spinning.
And every day Burchard grew worse, and watched his end approaching.
Moved by pity for her husband, the countess at last found out the cause of his illness, and entreated him to allow himself to be cured. But the count in his pride refused more than ever to give his consent to the marriage.
So the lady resolved to go without his knowledge to pray for mercy from the spinner, and in the name of Renelde's dead mother she besought her to spin no more. Renelde gave her promise, but in the evening Guilbert arrived at the cottage. Seeing that the cloth was no farther advanced than it was the evening before, he inquired the reason. Renelde confessed that the countess had prayed her not to let her husband die.
"Will he consent to our marriage?"
"Let him die then."
"But what will the countess say?"
"The countess will understand that it is not your fault; the count alone is guilty of his own death."
"Let us wait a little. Perhaps his heart may be softened."
So they waited for one month, for two, for six, for a year. The spinner spun no more. The count had ceased to persecute her, but he still refused his consent to the marriage. Guilbert became impatient.
The poor girl loved him with her whole soul, and she was more unhappy than she had been before, when Burchard was only tormenting her body.
"Let us have done with it," said Guilbert.
"Wait a little still," pleaded Renelde.
But the young man grew weary. He came more rarely to Locquignol, and very soon he did not come at all. Renelde felt as if her heart would break, but she held firm.
One day she met the count. She clasped her hands as if in prayer, and cried:
"My lord, have mercy!"
Burchard the Wolf turned away his head and passed on.
She might have humbled his pride had she gone to her spinning- wheel again, but she did nothing of the sort.
Not long after she learnt that Guilbert had left the country. He did not even come to say good-bye to her, but, all the same, she knew the day and hour of his departure, and hid herself on the road to see him once more.
When she came in, she put her silent wheel into a corner, and cried for three days and three nights.
So another year went by. Then the count fell ill, and thecountess supposed that Renelde, weary of waiting, had begun her spinning anew; but when she came to the cottage to see, she found the wheel silent.
However, the count grew worse and worse till he was given up by the doctors. The passing bell was rung, and he lay expecting death to come for him. But death was not so near as the doctors thought, and still he lingered.
The count seemed in a desperate condition, but he got neither better nor worse. He could neither live nor die; he suffered horribly, and called loudly on death to put an end to his pains.
In this extremity he remembered what he had told the little spinner long ago. If death was so slow in coming, it was because he was not ready to follow him, having no shroud for his burial.
He sent to fetch Renelde, placed her by his bedside, and ordered her at once to go on spinning his shroud.
Hardly had the spinner begun to work when the count began to feel his pains grow less.
Then at last his heart melted; he was sorry for all the evil he had done out of pride, and implored Renelde to forgive him. So Renelde forgave him, and went on spinning night and day.
When the thread of the nettles was spun she wove it with her shuttle, and then cut the shroud and began to sew it.
And as before, when she sewed the count felt his pains grow less, and the life sinking within him, and when the needle made the last stitch he gave his last sigh.
At the same hour Guilbert returned to the country, and, as he had never ceased to love Renelde, he married her eight days later.
He had lost two years of happiness, but comforted himself with thinking that his wife was a clever spinner, and, what was much more rare, a brave and good woman.
[A Flemish and French fairy tale, collected by Charles Deulin]