The Wild Farm: a Tale of Glowing Gerrit

Updated on February 4, 2017
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Eva Weggelaar is a writer and translator, especially interested in poetry and folklore. She also runs her own blog: Paradise is this Way.

Gust. van de Wall Perné
Gust. van de Wall Perné

The Staging-Post

If, in the old days, when there were no trains yet, people wanted to travel from Apeldoorn to Arnhem with the stage-coach, it could happen that the wagon had to stand still for quite some time in the middle of the road in the grey light of a short winter's day, while the postilion and the coachman had to clear the snow, which had fallen and piled up between the road verges during the long nights, from the road with the spades they had brought with them.
There was a snowplough which went out early in the morning, but that usually turned back when it became all too bad. Those who wanted to travel farther had to help themselves.
Then the stage-coach would stand there patiently waiting amidst the abandoned wastes of the barren Pale Elder. The two horses, covered by blankets and frozen with cold, huddled together. The biting and howling icy winter wind chased the fine snow around the wagon and between the stiffening legs of the horses. The badly closing windows shook with each gust of wind and the travellers looked gloomily across the endless vastness of snow-covered wolds at the grimly chasing cloud-wolves, which in the lightless days sped over the heath and whirled across the rising woods. Sometimes they had to hang cloths and clothing in front of the door while the chasing snow would enter through every crack.

During those journeys, people were glad to be able to warm up around the hearth at the Wild Farm, the staging-post, which lies halfway between Apeldoorn and Arnhem. In the middle of that endless inhospitableness stood the old homestead with its mighty sheltering roof.
When the wagon and horses were sheltered in the drive and the travellers and the postilion were all seated around the large stub fire warming their freezing limbs, then mother Eva took the gigantic black kettle from the chain and poured the steaming coffee into round mugs, for which she never charged more than a stuyver, regardless of whether people drank one or six mugs.
The great old-fashioned room with its blackened attic-beams would be cosily filled by the sharp smell of fresh coffee. The fire would cast a red glow through the gloom on the steam rising from the hot mugs. Outside, the snowstorm furiously rushed around the house, chasing snow up against the small windows, while in the chimney, where the hams and bacon hung, the wind would at times thunder so heavily, that people found it hard to understand each other.
When the coachman, who had been taking care of the horses, entered, it caused such a draft that people feared being sucked into the chimney. Around the round table they would eat large slices of currant loaf or bacon pancakes, and for a while the voices would merrily resound beneath the heavy oaken beams of the high attic.
After the stage-coach had driven away, the farm would be left behind alone. The fire dwindled in the hearth, pale twilight seeped inside and from the beams silence settled down upon the floor's sand-strewn red flagstones.

Jan and Gerrit

Then the wind would howl over the lonely farm with renewed anger.
Mother Eva inhabited the large house with her two sons and the maid. Jan, her eldest son, was a stout clever man, her second son Gerrit was a bit stupid and slow of understanding.
They were both, without knowing it of the other, in love with the maid, a young cheerful lass of just twenty years old. The younger of the two brothers had, when they were both standing in the stable one night, confessed his love to the pretty girl. He had done this so awkwardly that she had laughed at him and playfully pushed him into the hay. Soon after that, he had to witness his older brother being luckier in love than he.
He became even more shy and silent than he already was and a malignant envy towards the girl and his brother, who was so much more privileged than he, began to gnaw at him.

Mother Eva died after a short but serious illness, and a year later Jan, her eldest son, was about to marry the maid.
Aunt Tonia had come to the farm days early to help the bride with all her preparations. Breads and biscuits and currant loafs had to be baked for the guests and no one could do that better than Aunt Tonia. The wedding-meal gave her a lot of work, because she took pride in doing it well.
On the morning of the feast day she said to her youngest nephew: ‘Gerrit, you should go and get some pine branches and ivy to decorate the chairs of the bride and groom. And then you'll strew some white sand on the floor: "Long live the Bride and Groom".'
But Gerrit had only mumbled and gone outside without returning.
Then aunt Tonia had taken a knife herself, walked outside on her old legs and fetched pine branches and ivy and holly, which was full of red berries. She'd already decorated the two chairs when Dirk and Marie arrived from Loenen to help do the place up. They hung garlands around the doorposts and raised the flag, and Marie took some scouring sand from the tub with her quick hands and poured it on the flagstones in a thin stream, writing in large, elegant cursives: 'Long live the Bride and Groom.'

Early in the morning the relatives and friends began to arrive at the Wild Farm from Loenen and Beekbergen, Eerbeek and Hoenderlo to join in the celebrations. The courtyard became more and more crowded by wagons, which rolled over the hard frozen ground, and horses, which stamped and snorted. Merry voices sounded in the bright winter morning.
When the bridal couple entered the best room the table was already loaded with gifts. In the large old room the fire crackled and people laughed and played around the heavy table.
New wedding guests kept arriving. The courtyard was full of Tilbury’s and gigs and the stable was almost too small to shelter all the horses.

A Guest's Premonition

On that bright winter morning a robust old man was walking from Beekbergen to the Wild Farm. In his nearly toothless mouth dangled a crooked little pipe.
His old eyes gazed at a large grey cloud, which hung right in front of him in the thin blue sky. The snow, which had fallen that night, crackled under his clogs.
It was the old Vemmen, who used to be a friend of Jan's father, on his way to the wedding. People said of him, that he had been born with a caul.
The nearer he got to the Wild Farm, the more his steps faltered. The large grey cloud ahead of him seemed to demand all of his attention, and by the time the farm came into view he saw that the cloud was hanging over it and cast a great dark shadow on the house. He stood still to see whether the shadow would pass, but it only seemed to become bigger and darker, and then he saw smoke coming from the chimney and later, rising from the roof as well, more and more. The cloud over the house and the smoke mingled into one grey mass and he saw flames rise up through it, high red flames, set to blaze by the wind. He stood stock-still in the clear winter morning, shook his old grey head, turned around and walked back to Beekbergen.

Glowing Gerrit

Over at the Wild Farm people were ready to drive off. All the guests were present. They were only waiting for old Vemmen. The place was crowded and noisy. Repeatedly they had looked towards Beekbergen, but he wasn't coming. Then a silence crept upon those present and finally they drove away, as they would otherwise be too late.

Towards the evening the wind began to rise and the sky became overcast. Thick snow clouds were piling up. When the last guests were leaving, the snow came down like small sharp needles and half an hour later the long-stretched cries of the snow storm screeched around the old lonely house.
Soon the entire Farm lay in darkness and its inhabitants had gone to bed. The fine driven snow came in under the door and through the window cracks.
Gerrit, the youngest brother, had gone to bed still dressed, but not long after he quietly got up and crept towards the fireplace, raked the fire from under the ashes, put it in a fire-pan and took it to the stable. There he threw the fire-pan and what it contained into the hay, carefully and quietly took the bolt from the small door and disappeared into the chasing snowstorm of the cold winter's night.
The hay easily caught fire and the fire soon reached the thatched roof. Through the stable-door, which still stood open, a cold draft came in, which soon set the entire Farm aflame. The flames made red holes in the thatched roof and curled upwards in the black sky, where they were taken up by the storm. The thick beams creaked and snapped like slivers in the hearth. Red clouds of smoke bellowed up against the reddish sky, wildly leaping flames in the thundering stormy night, and a whirling cloud of sparks blew far across the snow-covered heath like a whirlwind. 
The flames whistled and crackled and took everything up in their crooked claws. The Wild Farm was lost.

When, the following morning, the steaming horses of the stage-coach halted at the burned-down farmstead, people carried the two charred bodies of the bridal couple outside, away from the smouldering and smoking debris.
Gerrit had fled to the unwholesome woods, where he stayed for some time, but eventually his needs made him give himself up to justice and he died in prison.
Since that time, people have occasionally seen a flaming fire as big as a burning bunch of straw roam across the heath near the Wild Farm, and some had clearly distinguished the shape of a glowing man with a fire-pan in his hand.
They called the appearance Glowing Gerrit.

From Legends of the Veluwe/Veluwsche Sagen by Gust van de Wall Perné, published in 1910-1912 by Scheltens & Giltay and translated by Eva Weggelaar

Gust. van de Wall Perné
Gust. van de Wall Perné

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