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Flanders

Flanders (Dutch: Vlaanderen, French: Flandre) is the Dutch-speaking and quite independent northern part of Belgium. During the late Middle Ages Flanders' trading towns (notably Ghent, Bruges and Ypres) made it one of the richest and most urbanised parts of Europe. A refined culture developed, with impressive attainments in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of northern Italy (Wikipedia).

Flemish folklore includes epics, legends, fairy tales and oral traditions, traditionally written or spoken in Dutch. The folk tales have peculiar Flemish traits and shown the creative imagination of the Flanders folk. Flemish folk tales have been collected in various way and in various parts of Flanders.

These tales: The Belgian writer and painter Jean de Bosschère; (1878-1953) translated tales from Flemish collections, and got them published in England and the USA as Beasts and Men (1918).

Ups and Downs

The summer had been very hot. Not a drop of rain had fallen for many weeks, and there was drought in the valley where the animals lived. The streams had dried up and the springs had ceased to flow. The fox took up his pipe and went out to take a walk under the lime-trees to think things over. There he met the she-goat.

"Good morning," he said.

She answered: "Alas! I don't know what we are to do to get water. We have finished all the water we had in the barrel, and unless we can find some more very quickly I and my children will die of thirst."

The fox said: "And I am so dry that my tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth. I cannot even smoke my pipe with pleasure. What do you say to searching for water together? Four eyes are better than two, any day in the week."

"Agreed," said the goat, and away they started together. For a long time they looked everywhere, but not a trace of water could they find. Then all of a sudden the goat gave a cry of joy. Running up to her, the fox saw that she had found a well and was standing on the brink of it, gazing at the cool water far below.

"Hurrah!" cried the fox.

The goat answered: "The water is far down. How are we to get at it!"

"Leave that to me," said the fox. "I know a thing about wells. What you have to do is to get into the bucket which is hanging by the rope and glide down as smoothly and as safely as you please. I'll go first, just to show you the way."

So the fox got into the bucket, and the weight of him made it go downward while the empty bucket at the other end of the rope rose to the top of the well. A minute afterwards he was at the bottom, leaning over the side of the pail and greedily lapping up the water. Nothing had ever tasted so delicious. He drank and drank until he could hold no more.

"Is it good?" cried the goat from above, dancing with impatience.

"It is like the purest nectar!" answered the fox. "Get into the bucket quickly and come down and join me."

So the goat stepped into the bucket, which at once began to go downward with her weight, while at the same time the bucket with the fox in it began to rise to the surface. The two met half-way.

"How is this?" asked the she-goat in surprise. "I thought you were going to wait for me!"

"Ah," answered the fox with a grin, "what do I care! Some go up and some go down. I hope you will enjoy your drink, Good-bye!"

And as soon as he got to the top he jumped out of the bucket and ran off.

The poor she-goat had to stay there at the bottom of the well until the farmer came and found her, half dead with cold. And when at last she was rescued she found that the farmer put her into the fold with his own sheep and goats. She was not free to go home to her kids.

The Three Monkeys

There were once three monkeys who were going for a voyage in a balloon in Monkeyland, far, far away and ever so long ago. The three were so much alike that it was impossible to tell one from the other, and each of them answered to the name of James. The old monkey who was in command in the balloon, decided that each should have a different name. The first was to be called James, the second Jemmy, and the third Little James.

So far so good. The three monkeys climbed into the balloon, the ground ropes were untied, and the voyage was begun. When they had reached a height of some hundreds of feet, the captain wished to give an order, so he called to the first monkey: "James!"

"Aye aye, sir," said all the three, running up to him.

"I called James," said the captain, looking from one to the other.

"Well, I am James," answered the first monkey.

"No, no. James is my name," said the second.

"And mine too," said the third.

"How can you be James if I am he?" cried the first angrily.

"I tell you James is my name!" cried the second.

"No, mine!"

And so the three monkeys began to quarrel and dispute. Words led to blows, and soon they were tumbling about all over the car of the balloon, biting, scratching, and pummelling while the captain sat in his chair and bawled to them to stop. Every minute it seemed as though the ballon car would overturn. The end of it was that Little James got pushed over the side. He turned a beautiful somersault, and fell down, down, down through the air, landing in a soft bed of mud. He sank into to so that only his face and the top of his head were visible.

"Help! help!" bawled Little James at the top of his voice.

Up ran a pair of monkeys from the neighbourhood and stood looking at him.

"He's in the mud, brother," said one.

"Up to his neck," said the other. And they both began to grin.

"Help!" cried Little James again, more faintly, for he was sinking deeper, and the mud was nearly at the level of his mouth. "Pull me out! Pull me out!"

"Ah, but how?" asked the first monkey, looking at him gravely.

"Wait a minute," cried the second, "I have an idea!" And he pulled out of his pocket a cord, made a loop in it and threw the loop toward Little James's head. After some tries he could tug on the cord .

"Hey!" cried the other monkey, running to help. "Pull, brother, pull, and we'll soon have him out!"

But the cord snapped suddenly, and the two monkeys tumbled head over heels. Never mind; they got another cord to repair the damage, and this time they succeeded in pulling Little James clear of the mud, but his trousers and boots were left in the mud. "Dear me!" said the first monkey, scratching his head. "This is very sad. The poor fellow has lost his shoes. What shall we do?"

"Let us make him some wooden clogs!" said the other.

So said, so done. They made him a beautiful pair of wooden clogs, and Little James hobbled home in them, but he was not used to wooden clogs at all. By the time he reached his house his feet felt so sore that he went straight to bed. But after a while in bed he sat up, thinking: "I would like to write down what happened."

So he sent for pen and paper and began to write. Before very long, however, he stopped and began to scratch his head, all perplexed. "Above all one must write the truth - if one can write, I mean!"

So he pondered and pondered and knit his little brows, but then he happened to look in the mirror by the bedsid, and saw a furrow on his forehead.

"This is not me!" he cried. "I don't have a wrinkle in my forehead. The other Jameses have tricked me!" Happy at having found out of things, he turned over on his side and slept until next morning and a new day. This all took place in Monkeyland, ever so long ago.

[Retold]

How the Goldfinch Got His Colours

A shining angel once got the job of colouring the birds. When he finished his work, he began to scrape his palette and make ready to depart The feathers of the birds around glowed with many splendid colours, and some grey and black ones for contrast too. The crow's dark grey coat was not too bad to behold either. All the birds were proud of how well they looked, and strutted about here and there, gazing at their reflections in the water and calling on their neighbours to come and admire their feathers.

The little goldfinch was the only one who did not take part in the rejoicing. Somehow or other the angel had overlooked him. Now he remained uncoloured, a drab little creature in a grey dress among the gaily clothed throng. On seeing the angel was cleaning his palette to depart, the little bird stepped forward and said:

"Sir, won't you paint my feathers too, now that you have painted all the other feathers around? If you would, I may walk about unashamed. Otherwise, I have no beautiful song like the nightingale or the throstle, no grace of form such as the swallows either. It seems I can do nothing better than to be overlooked or hide among the leaves."

The angel saw he had overlooked the bird, and would gladly have painted him with glowing colours, but he had scraped his palette clean. Therefore he took up a brush and went from bird to bird and took from each a spot of colour and laid them the goldfinch with great skill. When he had finished, the tiny bird had brilliant colours he too, and took a place among the most beautiful of them all. You may see him any day you like, sitting on a thistle and chirping his hoorays.

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Goldfinch on a thistle

The Cock and the Fox

A long time ago there lived in a farmyard a cock that was very proud of himself, for he was a plump and handsome bird. He often strutted through the yard, lifting his feet high as he walked, and nodding his head at each step. He had a great comb of coral-red, and blue-black feathers streaked with gold. They shone brightly when the sun flashed on him, It was a joy to see him. His twenty wives gazed at him yieldingly wherever he went and were quite content to let him hustle them about and gobble up all the fattest worms and the finest grains of corn.

The cock was proud of how he looked, but even prouder of his voice. He could crow a lot, and did so every morning when the first streak of dawn appeared in the sky. Then he would get down off his perch, raise himself on his toes, stretch out his neck, close his eyes and crow so loudly that he roused people in the farm and some neighbours too. He loved to do it, for it was his nature.

In the forest close to the farmyard there lived a fox who had often looked hungrily on the plump and large bird. His mouth watered when he thought of him. One day he hid himself among the bushes in the garden by the farmyard and waited patiently till the cock happened to stray that way, pecking here and pecking there, wandering through the gate into the garden, and coming to the bush that the fox lay behind. Then the bird caught sight of a black snout and cunning, watchful eyes, and with a squeak of alarm he jumped aside, just in time, and hopped onto the wall.

The fox rose to his feet. "Don't go away," he said in honeyed tones. "I simply had to hear you sing, and I know I am not liked around here. But there is no cock around your farm with such a good voice as you, and I don't believe the stories they tell about you."

"Just what stories?" said the cock at a safe distance and looked at the fox with his head on one side. "What do they say?"

"They tell me that you can only crow with your eyes open, "said the fox, "and that all you can muster with your eyes closed, is some feeble piping. But I don't believe them. They are merely jealous."

"I should think so," cried the cock, bristling with anger. "Just look here, I'll prove it to you! And he raised himself on his toes, stretched out his neck, closed his eyes, and was just about to crow when the fox sprang on him and caught him in his teeth.

The cock flapped his wings and struggled as the fox ran off with him. The hens ran about the yard clucking and squawking. The noise they made alarmed the farmer's wife, who was cooking in the kitchen. Out she came running, with the rolling-pin in her hand. When she saw the fox with the cock in his mouth, she gave chase, shrieking as she ran. The farm-hands tumbled out of barn and byre armed with pitch-forks, spades, and sticks. All the animals began to raise a clatter. The shouting of the men, the squealing of the pigs, the neighing of the horses, and the lowing of the cows added to the clucking of the hens and the old woman's screaming. It was quite a choir.

The cock said to the fox: "They will catch us in a minute, and we could both be killed by a single blow. Why don't you call out and tell them I came with you of my own accord?"

"A good idea," thought the fox. He opened his mouth to call out to his pursuers. By that he loosened his grip on the cock's neck. Then, with a squirm and a twist and a flutter of his wings, the bird wrenched himself free and flew up to the branches of a tree nearby. The fox could not reach him there.

The fox glanced over his shoulder at the farm people, who were getting dangerously near. "I would have done better to hold my tongue," he snarled.

"True," said the cock as he smoothed his ruffled feathers. "And I should have kept my eyes open."

More than a Match

One day the fox and the bear began to argue about which was the most cunning beast. The bear said that he thought foxes and bears took first place.

The fox said: "We are clever, you and I, but man is above us, he is more than a match for us. He walks on two legs instead of four; he can swim in the water without getting soaking wet; when he is cold he makes yellow flowers grow out of sticks to warm himself; and he can strike at an enemy a hundred yards away!"

"I don't believe it," answered the bear. "If such a creature exists, it is very strange that I have never seen him!"

"Maybe strange," grinned the fox, "but soon remedied. Would you like to see a man? Then come along with me."

He led the bear through the forest until they came to a road leading to a village. "Now, then," said he, "let us lie down in the ditch and watch the road, and we shall see what we shall see."

Soon a child from the village came along.

"Look! Look! whispered the bear. "An animal walking on two legs! Is this the creature we seek?"

"No," answered the fox, "but one of these days the child will become a man"

Shortly afterwards there came along an old woman, all bent and wrinkled.

"Is that one?" asked the bear.

"No," said the fox again, "but once on a time that was the mother of one!"

At last there came the sound of brisk footsteps on the road, and peeping out between the bushes the bear saw a tall soldier in a red coat marching towards them. He had a sword by his side and a musket over his shoulder.

"This must be the man," said the bear. "Ugh! What a strange creature! I don't believe he is cunning in the least!" But the fox did not answer, for at the first sight of the soldier he had fled into the forest.

"Well, well," muttered the bear, "I don't see anything to be afraid of here. Let us have a talk with this wonder!" And hoisting himself clumsily out of the ditch he lumbered along the road to meet the soldier.

"Now then, my fine fellow," he growled, "I have heard some wonderful stories about you. Tell me . . ."

But before he could get another word out of his mouth the soldier drew his sword and struck him such a shrewd blow that he cut off his ear.

"Wow!" cried the bear, "what's that for?" Tell me . . ." But then, seeing the gleaming steel flash once again, he turned tail and ran off as fast as he could go. Just as he reached the edge of the wood, he looked backward and saw the soldier raise his gun to his shoulder. There was a flash, a loud bang, and the bear felt a terrific blow against his side. He fell down, but fortunately for him the bullet had merely glanced off his hide, and he was not seriously hurt. Picking himself up, he lost no time in gaining shelter from the large trees. After some time he came limping painfully to the place where the fox was waiting for him.

"Well," said Reynard, "now you have seen a man. What do you think of him?"

Bruin answered sadly. "When I went up to speak to him, he tore a rib from his side and cut off my ear. Then I ran away, but before I could reach the trees he picked up a stick and pointed it at me. Then there came thunder and lightning, something that knocked me spinning! I don't want to see him again, for I am going to carry the marks of our first meeting to my dying day."

The fox grinned and said: "I told you he is more than a match for us!"

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