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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Kors Davie

By Georges Eekhoud (1854–1927)

From ‘The Massacre of the Innocents, and Other Tales by Belgian Writers’

IT was fair-time, yet Rika Let, the young dairymaid of baes Verhulst, was sad. She had worked so hard all August that this morning, before mass, the baezine had given her a bright florin and spoken kindly to her:—

“Rika, it is fair-time for every one. Enjoy yourself, my girl. Here is something to buy yourself a neckerchief at the fair, a bright-colored one with fringe to cross over your breast.”…

Rika accepted her mistress’s present. Alone in her garret above the stable, she turned the shining coin over and over, but hesitated to exchange it for some coveted trifle at Suske Derk’s stall, down there by the church. Great tears sprang to her eyes, eyes which were faintly tinged with green. What sorrow filled the heart of this fair young girl of eighteen summers?

“Ah,” she sighed, “if only one of the village lads would take me to the fair and give me a gay kerchief! But who cares for poor Rika? Our lads woo other girls, better born and richer than I am! Baezine Verhulst knew that, or she would not have given me money to buy a thing which the poorest laborer, or even the humblest thresher, gives gladly to his sweetheart to-day…. Who will dance this evening with Rika Let at the Golden Swan?… No one…. No, baezine Verhulst, it is not a fête day for every one!”

Tears rested on her fair lashes as the morning dew clings to the bearded ears of corn. Mechanically she looked at herself in a piece of glass which hung beneath a little Notre-Dame of Montaigu. She was not plainer than many of her companions who were admired by the ardent and happy lovers. Ugly—Rika! No indeed. Fair as the August cornfields of the Verhulsts were her tresses. Her lips were red and full as ripe cherries. If you feel aught of the charm of the young peasant girls of our country, you would admire Rika.

She dressed herself in her simple Sunday clothes; a little collar and flat cap, both of dazzling whiteness; a skirt and bodice, unsoiled by any speck of dust.

The bell sounded for mass.

Go and pray, Rika! Who can say? the good God mayhap will unseal the eyes of the blind gallants of Viersel.

She told her beads so earnestly, that a friend had to remind her when the service was at an end.

Outside the church a crowd of gay youths, with crossed arms and flowers between their lips, watched the blushing procession of girls who were to be their partners in the evening. Sympathetic glances were exchanged, and with a smile or a simple movement of the head a meeting was arranged, a promise confirmed, a consent given. Eager hearts throbbed under the blue smocks, the many-colored kerchiefs; but no glance sought to attract the bright eyes of the orphan girl, not one of those young hearts beat in unison with hers.

To reach the farm, Rika had to pass through the fair. Suske Derk had displayed her wares. Rika did not even deign to look at them. The mercer called to her:—

“Ha! my pretty devotee! Won’t you even wear a scapulary?”

At midday there was a great feast at the Verhulst farm in honor of the fair. Masters, friends, and servants, all with big appetites, seated themselves round a table laden with enormous dishes, brought in by the farmer’s wife and Rika. A savory smell filled the large room; the steam dimmed the copper ornaments on the chimney-piece, the crucifix, the candlesticks, the big plates, which were the pride of the cleanly Rika. At first the guests, speechless, gravely and solemnly satisfied their hunger. Then came the bumpers to wash down the viands, for mealy Polder potatoes make one thirsty. As the tankards were re-filled, tongues were loosed, and jokes piquant as the waters of the Scheldt flew apace.

Rika in her turn sat down to the table, but the sorrow at her heart robbed her of appetite, and she ate little. The lively guests, distressed by her silence, attributed it to arrogance, and turned their attention elsewhere. Later they would rejoin their buxom wenches, and think no more of the poor little soul tormented with the desire for love.

The more the day advanced, the less Rika thought of purchasing a fichu at Suske Derk’s stall; she would rather return the florin to her mistress! Bugles and screeching fiddles could be heard from the Golden Swan.

Houpsa! rich and poor hasten to the dance, some in shoes, others in sabots. Lourelourela! The quadrilles form. The couples hail their vis-à-vis across the room. All is ready. They set off….

Rika alone is absent from the ball. Seated on the threshold of the barn, the sound of the brass and wind instruments, the patter of feet, the laughter and oaths, reach her ear.

The low-roofed houses of the village fade slowly in the twilight. The church steeple rises heavenward as the watchful finger of God; at its base lies the Golden Swan; against the four red-curtained windows the figures of the dancing couples are outlined black as imps.

Rika could not tear herself away from this scene. Her heart, till now pure as the veil of a first communicant, was filled with bitter thoughts.

Marvelous tales were told of Zanne Hokespokes. The little old woman possessed some wonderful secrets; she could give rot to sheep, make cows run dry, and poison nurses’ milk. She could see the fate of those who consulted her in cards and in coffee-grounds. She could recall the fickle lover to the side of the deserted maiden. Perhaps she could find a sweetheart for lonely Rika?

Unholy thoughts rose with the oppressive mists of the evening. They grew in the solitude, in the remoteness from others’ joy. The ungainly couples danced up and down, black as imps, against the four red windows. The music grated and jarred; but for the last hour the village steeple, which rose heavenward as the watchful finger of God, had been lost in the darkness.

Would it be well to take advantage of the absence of her master and mistress and consult the fortune-teller? No one would meet her. All the village was at the Golden Swan.

Holy Virgin! how they are enjoying themselves! Among the whirling couples Rika saw two figures intertwined, their faces so close that their lips must meet!

Yes, she would have recourse to the spells of the old woman Hokespokes, whatever might happen. She had still the bright coin in her pocket. This and the few coppers which she had saved would suffice.

The sorceress lived in a clay hut deep in the dark woods of Zoersel. The peasants avoided these woods and passed through them in broad daylight only, making the sign of the cross. At nightfall weird melancholy sounds, which seemed to come from another world, murmured in the tree-tops. It took an hour to reach the cottage from Viersel. Rika calculated that she could be home before midnight. Her master and mistress would not return earlier than that. She overcame her last fears, and set out bravely towards the lonely heath.

“In this bag, little one, are the ashes of the tooth of a corpse; the tooth was picked up in the cemetery of Safftingen, the village that was submerged by the Scheldt; therein is also a mushroom, called ‘toadstool,’ gathered at the foot of the tree on which Nol Bardaf the cobbler was hanged. Next full moon, on a cloudless night, sprinkle the magic powder at the foot of your bed, and prick the mushroom deeply with a hairpin, uttering these words three times:—‘I command thee, charmed plant, to bring me the man who shall wound me as I wound thee!’ Then go to bed with the mushroom under your pillow, and wait in perfect quiet without speaking. The beloved one will appear. Open your eyes, but above all things neither speak nor move. You must even hold your breath. If he leaves you, do not try to detain him. You will see him again, and will then become his wife.”

Thus spoke Zanne Hokespokes.

Rika followed the instructions of the sorceress. She waited several days for the fine cloudless night, and when the full moon rose she did as the witch had bidden her.

“I command thee, charmed thing, to bring me the man who shall wound me as I wound thee!”


Rika, with wide-open eyes and strained ear, lay in bed eagerly awaiting the promised vision. Shadow became substance in the garret, which was bathed in the silvery-blue beams of the moon. The silence was so overwhelming that Rika thought she heard the sound of the white light as it fell on the bare floor.

Now she regretted her traffic with a servant of the Devil, now she rejoiced at the prospect of seeing him, the man who would love her; but again she feared that he might not come.

The yard door swung on its hinges. A hasty, heavy step crossed the court without disturbing the watch-dog. He opened the kitchen door. Clope! Clope! rapidly he climbed the ladder which led to the attic. Terror seized Rika; she stifled a cry, as the trap-door opened.

There he was in her room; a soldier, a young artilleryman. He passed by her unnoticed in the white light of the moon.

Ah! Rika loves him at first sight; it is he for whom she has waited. He has a round face, curly auburn hair, a well-cut mouth, a slightly aquiline nose, with dilating nostrils, a square chin, and broad shoulders. A fine mustache covers his upper lip. He wears a brigadier’s braids on his sleeve, and spurs on his heels. What mad race has he been running? His broad chest rises and falls, he gasps for breath, and throws himself down on the only stool. Rika longs to rush to him, to wipe the sweat from his brow. As if overpowered, he loosens his tunic, unclasps his belt, and exposes his fine chest. Somewhat rested, oblivious of Rika, he scrutinizes his uniform from head to foot, and notices that one of the buttonholes of his boot-strap is torn. He takes off the strap, and with a knife which he draws from his pocket makes a fresh hole in the leather. Then he readjusts the strap to the trouser.

Rika observed all these movements. More and more she admired his military bearing and the ease with which he moved. Animated by his run, the soldier’s face struck her as more expressive than the faces of the other fellows of her acquaintance, even than the faces of the scornful Odo and Freek, the Verhulsts’ two sons, whom she had once admired.

The stranger re-buttoned his coat, fastened his belt, put his cap on his head, and left the room with the same quick firm step. She dared not call to him and hold out her arms. The door closed.

The sound of his footsteps, the clank of his sword, were lost in the distance. To Rika a memory only remained.

Has it not all been a dream, poor impressionable little thing?

No; a moment ago he sat quite near Rika’s bed.

By the wan light of the moon she saw a sparkling object, the knife which he had just used; here was her proof. She could no longer doubt. She picked up the knife, pressed the still-open blade to her lips, and as her breath dulled the steel, she wiped it, kissed it again; twenty times she repeated the same childish trick.

Truly the good Zanne Hokespokes keeps her word. The pretty knife with its tortoise-shell handle will henceforth be a pledge for Rika. Her fingers lovingly caressed the blade, as if they stroked the mustache of the brigadier; she would fain see her reflection in the dark eyes of the beloved one, as she saw it in the shining metal.

Her eyes grew weary with gazing on the bright surface; she was compelled to lie down. She slept and dreamt of her soldier visitor, with the precious knife clasped to her breast.

TARATA! Tarata! Tarata!

“Wake up, Kors Davie!… Perhaps you’re sorry to leave the barracks! Confound it! the fellow snores as if he did not care for his holiday!”

Brigadier Warner Cats, Davie’s fellow-countryman and comrade, tired of speaking, shook Kors roughly, as the bugle sounded the réveille. Kors sat up, stretched himself, appeared astonished, and rubbed his eyes with his fists.

“That’s strange! Pouh! What a vile dream!” he muttered with a yawn. “Comrade, just listen: I was out in the country, very much against my will, I assure you…. A horrible old woman pursued me with repeated blows. We crossed heath and swamp; my shoulder-belt and my sword caught in the thickets; my skin was scratched with thorns…. I flew over ditches three yards wide to escape from my persecutor. But the wicked old woman galloped after me and belabored me incessantly…. I was too much of a coward to turn and face her…. Oh! that race by starlight!… I almost hated our beloved Campine,… for all this happened in La Bruyère…. But I’ll be hanged if I know where!… Oh! my legs, my poor legs…. You’ll not believe, but I’m as exhausted….”

“Pouh! Pouh!” interrupted the faithful Warner Cats…. “Dreams are lies! so my grandmother used to say. You’ll have forgotten all about these phantoms by the time you’re beyond the ramparts, on the way to our beautiful Wildonck, these phantoms will all vanish…. Be done with grumbling…. Hang nightmares, if only the awakening is sweet!”

Kors got up, packed his kit, folded his blankets, and cheered by the thought of his holiday, hummed a soldier’s tune.

As he felt in his pocket he stopped suddenly. “Good heavens! I could have sworn that I put it in my waistcoat pocket.”

“What? What’s up now, you grumbling devil?” asked Warner.

“Dash it! Begga Leuven’s penknife,… my Begga…. The pretty knife which she bought me for my fête day when I was last in Antwerp.”


“I cannot find it!… There’s a fine state of things…. What will Begga say? I wanted to show her the little treasure still bright and new. The dear soul will never forgive my carelessness.”

“Nonsense! she’ll give you another…. Besides, it is not lucky to give knives; they cut the bonds of love!” Warner added gravely; “they bring misfortune.”

“In the mean time, the bother is that I’ve lost the knife. Damn it!”

He turned his pockets inside out in vain.

“Well, I suppose I must make the best of it,” he said at last.

When he was ready, he shook hands with his comrade and took up his bundle.

“Au revoir!” said Warner. “Remember me to all friends, and drink a pint to my health next Sunday at Maus Walkiers. Don’t forget to go and see my old parents, and tell them that my purse is as flat as a pancake. Remember me also to Stans the wheelwright.”

“Good. Are these all my orders?”

Davie hastened into the street.

Having left the town by the Vieux-Dieu fort, he followed the treeless military road on a hot July morning. When he came within sight of the spire of Wommelghem, he turned off by the short cut which led to Ranst and Broechem. Here the copses and brushwood protected him from the intense heat of the sun. He walked sharply, cap in hand, the sweat standing on his brow. Over his shoulder he carried his bundle, tied in a red handkerchief and fastened to a stick which he had cut on the way. He stopped for a drink of beer at the toll-houses and cross-roads, chatted with the barmaids if they took his fancy, then went happily on. Towards midday he had passed through or skirted four villages, and was a mile only from the home where his father and Begga awaited him. As he recalled the bright healthy face of his young sweetheart, the remembrance of his bad dream and of the loss of the knife came back to him. Confounded knife! Kors could not separate the thought of Begga from the lost treasure, and by a strange contradiction of human nature he was almost angry with the poor girl, because she had bought him this pocket-knife which had now come between them. This ungenerous conclusion more and more took possession of him. So preoccupied was he that he forgot to look where he was going. Suddenly he noticed that he had gone astray.

He was about to cross a bridge over the Campine canal, though this bridge did not really lie in his route. Beyond it, trees lined the road on either side for a great distance. Between the trunks could be seen vast meadows, which stretched towards an immense purple heath, bathed in soft mist. Four fine cows stood knee-deep in the meadow-grass which fringed the banks of the canal; not far from the cows a young girl with a branch in her hand sat on the slope guarding them.

He called to her:—

“Hi, Mietje, come here!”

She sprang up, and jumped lightly over the fence, but when she came within a few yards of the stranger she stopped, looked at him for a moment, covered her face with her hands, and turned to go away. In a few rapid strides the soldier overtook her, and caught her gently by the arm. He was secretly flattered by the embarrassment of the young peasant girl. Silent, but blushing red as a poppy, she looked down, and the blue-green of her eyes could be seen beneath the fair lashes. She tried to turn away and escape the scrutiny of the gallant.

“Bless me, what a pretty little puss!” he exclaimed. “Tell me, my beautiful one, where do such dainty maidens come from?”

“I come from Viersel,” she replied, in a very timid voice.

“Then we are neighbors, and almost fellow-villagers, for I live at Wildonck, and was on my way thither.”

“You will never reach it, if you follow this road.”

“Egad! I don’t deny it, my pretty one! A moment ago I thought myself a fool for losing my way. Now I bless my stupidity.”

She did not reply to this compliment, but flushed crimson.

He would not set her free. The vision of Begga, sullen and displeased at the loss of the knife, grew fainter and fainter. In this frame of mind he welcomed the stranger gladly, as a pleasant diversion from the thoughts which had tormented him just before.

“What is your name, my flower of Viersel?”

“Hendrika Let—Rika.”

“That has always been one of my favorite names. It was my mother’s. Do your parents live far from here?”

“My parents! I never knew them. I am a servant at boer Verhulst’s, whose farm you see down there, a short distance away behind the alder-trees.”

“You do not ask my name, Rika?”

She was burning to know the name of the beloved one, for he was indeed the brilliant visitor of the enchanted night. She stilled the throbbing of her beating heart, and pretended to show only the polite indifference which an honest girl would feel to an agreeable passer-by who accosted her on the road.

“You shrug your shoulders and pout, Rika! Of what interest is a soldier’s name to you? Probably he is a bad fellow, as the curé preaches,—a spendthrift, a deceiver of women. Well, I will tell you all the same. I am Cornelis Davie, otherwise Kors, Kors the Black, now brigadier in the first battery of the fifth regiment of artillery, stationed at Fort IV., at Vieux-Dieu, near Antwerp. In two months I shall return to Wildonck for good, and take up the management of the Stork Farm, for old Davie has worked long enough. Then, Rika, Kors Davie will marry. Can you not suggest some girl for him, my sweet Rika? Do you think he will find some fair ones to choose from at Viersel?”

“I think you are getting further and further away from Wildonck!” said the coquette.

It was true; they had walked along together, and the canal was now far behind them.

“You rogue!” said Kors, a little annoyed. “Why need you remind me of the moment of parting?”

“If you follow this road, you may perhaps arrive to-morrow. Farewell, my soldier. My cows may go astray as you have.”

The happy girl pretended to move away. This time he seized her round the waist, and holding her in his arms, repeated again and again, “You are beautiful, Rika!”

“If our Viersel lads saw you so foolish, they would laugh at you. Are there no girls at Wildonck, or in the town?”

“The devil take the lads of Viersel, the girls of Wildonck, and the women of Antwerp! I will win you from all the men in your village, sweet one! you are more beautiful to me than all the girls of my native place! Rika, if you will consent, our marriage shall be fixed.”

“This love will not last.”

He pressed her more closely to him.

“Let me go, let me go, brigadier, or I shall scream. You have surely been drinking. There are several inns between here and your fort, are there not? What would people say if they met me with you? Ah! to the right there is a road which branches off and will take you home. Be off! Good-night!”

The susceptible Davie had now forgotten the very existence of the fair and prudent Begga Leuven.

“Well, if it must be, I will go!” he said, in a firm yet tender voice. “But one word more, Rika. If I return in three days’ time; if I repeat then that I love you madly; if I ask you to be my wife, will you refuse me?”

“Cornelis Davie is making fun of Rika Let; land-owners do not marry their farm servants.”

“I swear that I am in earnest! I have one desire, one wish only. Rika, when I return in three days’ time, on Monday, will you meet me here?”

A feeble consent was wrung from her.

When Kors tried to kiss her lips, she had not the strength to resist; she returned his kiss passionately.

Then, not without a pang, he walked rapidly in the direction of the foot-path, not daring to look back.

Breathless with excitement and triumph, Rika followed him with her eyes, until he was lost behind a leafy clump of oaks.

It was fair-time again, but now Rika Let was happy; she dined at Viersel with her former employers the Verhulsts, accompanied by her husband, the fine Kors Davie of Wildonck, Kors the Black, the owner of the Stork Farm.

Poor old Davie had fretted and died! Ah! the sorcery of old Zanne Hokespokes was indeed potent; she had changed the loyal Kors into an undutiful son and a faithless lover. Poor Begga was helpless against the spells of the Devil. Nothing could do away with the power of the incantation. “Do not be unhappy, sweet Begga! Marry tall Milè, the lock-keeper; he has neither the money nor the manly bearing of the ex-brigadier, but he will love you better.”

It was just a year ago, to the day, since Rika Let consulted the witch. The poor dairymaid had reaped ample revenge for the slights cast upon her. She wished to pay a visit to the Verhulsts and introduce her rich husband to them, for the Verhulsts’ wealth was nothing compared to that of the Davies.

Rika was gorgeously dressed. Think, baezine Verhulst, of offering her a woolen kerchief from Suske Derk’s stall! Feel the silk of her dress; it cost ten francs a yard, neither more nor less. The lace on her large fête-cap is worth the price of at least three fat pigs, and the diamond heart, a jewel which belonged to the late baezine Davie, the mother of Kors, hanging round her throat on a massive gold chain, is more valuable than all your trinkets!

At midday there was feasting at the Verhulsts’ farm in honor of the fair, and more especially to welcome the Davies. Masters, friends, plowmen and haymakers, all with good appetite, seated themselves round a table laden with enormous dishes brought in by the farmer’s wife and Rika’s successor.

The obsequious Madame Verhulst overpowered her former servant with attention.

“Baezine Davie, take one of these carbonades? They are soft as butter…. A slice of ham? It’s fit for a king. Or perhaps you will have some more of this chine, which has been specially kept for your visit? Or a spoonful of saffron rice? It melts in the mouth.”

“You are very kind, Madame Verhulst, but we breakfasted late just before starting…. Kors, have our horses been fed?”

“Do not be afraid, baezine Davie; Verhulst will see to that himself.”

Kors, who was more and more in love with his wife, presided at the men’s end of the table; near him sat Odo and Freek Verhulst, who had formerly treated Rika so disdainfully. Kors, well shaven, rubicund, merry, and wearing a dark-blue smock-frock, looked lovingly and longingly in the direction of his wife.

A savory smell filled the large room, the steam dimmed the copper ornaments on the chimney-piece, the crucifix, the candlesticks, the plates, which were formerly the pride of the cleanly Rika.

At first the guests gravely and solemnly satisfied their hunger, without saying a word. Then came the bumpers to wash down the viands, for mealy Polder potatoes make one thirsty! As the tankards were re-filled, tongues were loosed, and jokes piquant as the waters of the Scheldt flew apace.

Later, coffee, together with white bread and butter, sprinkled with currants, was served for the ladies. The men bestirred themselves unwillingly. Silently and solemnly they filled their pipes and smoked, while the old gossips and white-capped young girls chattered like magpies. The low-roofed houses of the village, which stand at the foot of the steeple pointing upward as the watchful finger of God, fade in the gathering twilight.

Before the bugles and violins struck up in the Golden Swan, whither baezine Davie was longing to go with her husband, the proud Rika took him by the arm and showed him round the Verhulsts’ farm. After visiting the cowsheds, the stables, the pig-sties, and the dairy, they climbed to the garret where Rika used to sleep. The same little camp bed stood there, the same broken mirror, the solitary rickety stool. A feeling of emotion, mingled perhaps with remorse, overcame the pretty farmer’s wife at sight of the familiar objects, and she threw herself into her husband’s arms. The young farmer kissed her passionately over and over again. Rika sat on his knee with his arms around her, and they were oblivious to all save their love….

Below in the court-yard shrill voices called to them; it was time for the dances.

“There is no need to hasten, is there, my Rika?”

“Kors, my well-beloved,” Rika said at last with a sigh, after a long and delicious silence, “do you not remember this room?”

“What a strange question, little woman! you know this is the first time I have crossed the threshold!”

“Are you certain?”

She laughed, amused at his puzzled, half-angry, half good-natured look.

“Have you ever lost anything, Kors?” she persisted.

“Be done with riddles! Rather let us go and dance,” replied Kors, relieved for the moment by the strident tones of the music, and the sound of dancing.

Houps! Lourelourela! Rich and poor joined in the dance, their figures outlined like black imps against the red windows of the Golden Swan.

“One word more,” said Rika, catching hold of Kors’s blouse; “have you no recollection of a little thing which you lost one night on a journey?”

“No more enigmas for me, sweet one; let us be off. My feet itch for the dance.”

“Must I remind you?—look!”

She drew Begga Leuven’s knife from her pocket.

He turned and held out his hand. At touch of the knife, the remembrance of that strange night came back to him. Again he saw the hideous old woman who pursued him with blows; he crossed heath and swamp, his sword caught in the brushwood; he ran until he was breathless…. But now he understood more than he did on that morning when he told his nightmare to his loyal friend Warner Cats, the intimate friend whom he had lost in consequence of his willful marriage…. He recognized this accursed garret, where he had lost the pretty knife, a present from his first lover. Reason returned, and with it all his pure and holy passion for Begga. She who was called baezine Davie had won him by sorcery. To kiss her lips he forsook Begga, his gentle comrade; later, he was deaf to the curses of his grandfather, he was indifferent when Begga married tall Milè, and he shed no tears at the grave of the father whose death was brought about by his disgraceful marriage.

And she, the abominable accomplice of the sorceress, still clung to him,—the vampire!

The pale moon had risen, and now bathed the attic in silver rays tinged with blue.

Rika sank to the ground beneath the unrecognizing glance of Kors; she stretched out her hands to ward off what she felt must come.

In Black Kors’s contracted, bloodless hand, the open knife shone as on the night of the charm.

Between two harsh and vibrating strains of music which came from the Golden Swan, a discordant burst of laughter echoed across the silent tragic plain surrounding Verhulst Farm.

At that moment, Kors in a fit of delirium plunged the knife into Rika’s breast…. She fell without uttering a cry.

Did not the incantation run:—“I command thee, charmed plant, to bring me the man who will wound me as I wound thee”?