Bia as a Bride
For weeks the people at homestead the Beekhoeve had been busy preparing Bia's trousseau. The wedding would be held after the harvest. She had been courted for a long time by Arend Hulleman, who, as an only son, had inherited the sole management of Ulenhorst, a large countryseat, after the death of his father, where he now lived with his mother. Arend had said: 'When the rye and the buckwheat have been harvested and the rapeseed has been sown, I'll come for you.' And from that day on, there had been a lot to do at the Beekhoeve.
When evening fell, after the farm work was done, mother and both sisters helped to seam and sew all of Bia's things, and she herself made pretty embroideries on the finished items, the way she'd learned in school, where she had been the best of the entire school. Her sampler was framed and hung over the hearth next to those of her mother and her two sisters.
In the evening Arend often rode to the Beekhoeve, three hours away from Ulenhorst, and then he usually stayed till long after the stars were standing in the sky.
One evening during the milling season Berend, the old servant, who had served the Ulenhorst for nearly fifty years, was sitting behind the house on the lawn. He'd stuck the anvil in the ground in front of him and now he was sharpening the scythes for the next day. Long and monotonous the sharpener beat on the metal of the scythes with regularity. Every now and then the sound would be broken by a short silence, when the old man took a handle from the scythe or fixed one to it. Then a rustling sound would move through the tops of the birch trees overhead.
Arend had left to go to the Beekhoeve earlier that evening.
During his manual labour the elder was pondering about the coming marriage and how things would be after that. He was too old to be fond of change. He was doing well, very well. He'd started work for old Hulleman as a shepherd boy and there he'd stayed. The old house with its mossy thatched roof under the old lime trees was as dear to him as if it was his own and as an old servant he had his own place near the hearth. He'd only met Bia twice; she seemed like a fine lass and a good housewife for Arend. The old missus couldn't get along very well anymore.
'Twas a good thing that Arend was getting married, very good, and so he pondered about how he would deck the front of the house with green garlands, and would crown the whip with flowers en greenery from the courtyard, and how he would see them arrive, with the two beautiful, well cared for horses before the wagon, and how Arend would crack the whip, so that all the neighbours could hear his approach.
They were good people together. For the few more years he had left, they would leave him his corner by the fire, and there would come much merriness to the old homestead, like it was when old Hulleman was alive.
The scythes were finished. Pondering, he laid the sharpener next to him in the grass. Something came riding towards him. At first his old eyes couldn't quite distinguish it, but it came closer and now he could see it. Yes, yes, he could see it, he could see it. That was not a wedding march. No, no, that wasn't a wedding march. Would it then not be a wedding -- but a funeral? It was coming this way and rode into the courtyard, just as he'd seen it before the old master died. What would it be? Would it be the old missus' time...or...? no, no, that would be too terrible, really too terrible. Now the sight was gone and the old one sat staring into oblivion.
He was still sitting there, beneath the rusting birches, when he heard Arend's horse galloping towards him. Hearing the pounding hooves, he hastily jumped up and opened the stable doors. While caring for the horse it didn't leave his thoughts for a minute. No, he couldn't tell them that, surely he couldn't tell them that. But he'd seen it, had seen it very clearly. It was too awful.
That night he hardly slept at all, but kept tossing and turning in his bed-box till the break of day.
The following days were filled with the mowing of the rye. Once a while, when there was no one to notice, he'd look at Arend searchingly, but he was as cheerful and strong as ever. When the others discussed the coming wedding, the old Berend kept his silence, noticeably so. And when the other lads and lasses asked him why he was so silent, and teasingly inquired whether perhaps he had an eye on the fair Bia himself, he could hardly restrain himself from telling what he'd seen; but he couldn't do it, mayn't do it. Then he would take some new chewing tobacco, shut the tobacco box with a bang and go outside.
Love and Disaster
Under the great trees in front of the house where Bia was sitting, it was already dusk. She'd been listening for the beat of the hooves of Arend's horse for quite some time. Now and then, she would halt her work for a moment and peer down the road, which was red from the glow of the late sun. Finally she heard the familiar gallop approach. She put her work down and went across the court to the little gate in the hedge and walked towards him. It was a fair evening and the reddish sun lit up her tanned fair face, giving it a bronze glow.
When he was nearby, she stood still in the middle of the road with her arms held out to stop him. But he rode her out of the way, grabbed her in his strong arms and lifted her onto the horse, and then they went to the Beekhoeve at full gallop. She shouted and laughed and never had she felt so wonderful. ‘That is how you should come to get me,’ she laughed.
That evening was lovelier than any they'd ever known. They’d gone into the woods behind the house. The trees were taller and more silent than ever before, but in the brook there was an unknown popply choppiness and now and then a strange singing sounded from the water, which secretly frightened Bia. It was something great and threatening and yet of a wondrous blessedness and she could have laughed and cried at the same time.
When the moon rose they were still sitting there hand in hand, but when they slowly made their way home they didn't say to each other what both vaguely realised: that such a fair night would never come again.
The following evening Arend wouldn't be coming, he couldn't, but he had to promise her that he would ride over to the Beekhoeve for a little while in the afternoon. He said it would be difficult to get away from home during the milling time, but she wouldn't stop, and laughingly he promised he'd come, before he rode off into the silent night.
At dawn the men were mowing and the women were binding. Arend powerfully beat the scythe through the stalks. It was a hot day and in the afternoon everyone was dying for a calm hour in the cool shade.
Tired and hot Arend mounted his horse and went on his way to the Beekhoeve. The road was made of glowing dust. There wasn't the slightest breeze and between the coppices hung an unbearable heat. Over the heath the witches’ toms1 danced in a wild whirl. The heather bushes were burned red and the leaves of the oaks were dusty and full of mildew.
When he dismounted his horse at the Beekhoeve, the world turned purple and yellow before his eyes, he could see nothing but black spots in a glimmer of yellow and he thought he'd fall down; but he soon recovered. Bia brought him a bowl of cold water, which he emptied at once.
He stayed with them for the communal afternoon meal, but he ate remarkably little. When, after the meal, it was time for him to leave, he would much rather have lied down in the grass for an hour. He didn't want to worry Bia, who'd already asked whether he was feeling alright, so he cheerfully mounted his horse and rode through the raging heat of the summer afternoon. The pines breathed out resinous scents. The sky above him was a glowing metal dome, purple heat flames colouring it darker near the bottom.
On the heath the witches’ toms danced and they seemed to dance around him. Now it was clear that they came closer and closer to him with their white and yellow and red quivers. The road began to heave and he couldn't feel the horse under him. A flaming whirlpool seemed to envelop him, in which strange black shapes travelled up and down. He felt a dull pain in the back of his head. Now he could see nothing at all. The whirlpool of fire grabbed him and he tumbled into the depths.
When he came to, he was lying at home in the bed-box and felt pain everywhere. The old Berend stood caringly by his side and placed cold wet cloths on his head, while his mother sat on the chair by the table, weeping.
In the evening Bia, whom they'd fetched with the wagon, arrived. Softly she moaned that it was all her fault. Arend shook his head, took her hand in his, he couldn't speak. So he remained silently lying there and by the time the doctor came all he could say was that it was over.
Dark Days and A Reunion
From that day on, the cheerful healthy Bia wasn't the same anymore. She went through the house like a ghost. Mechanically she performed her daily tasks. She didn't cry and didn't speak. In the evening she sat for hours against the bank by the side of the river until father or mother worriedly came to take her home. She became thinner by the day.
The rye and the buckwheat had long since been harvested and the green of the rapes was already standing in the fields. The good scents of the ending summer were already coming from the fields and the woods, and long rags of finely spun threads floated shimmering in the thin air of the sun-gold autumn tide. They floated over the woods and the heath and over the farming villages where the dreamy sound of the flails now sounded bright and then dull and muffled. The migratory birds were congregating for the far journey and the morning dew stayed on the land till late in softly spun silver webs.
It was during that time that the people at the Beekhoeve began to be deeply concerned about Bia. The doctor had already visited her several times, but it seemed as if he didn't know what to do.
One night the old farmer was lying awake pondering, when he heard the sound of a horse’s hooves from far away. Who would be out on the road at such a late hour, he thought. The trot of the horse stayed regular and went on for a very long time, when his wife asked: 'Are you awake, Dirk? Can't you hear the trot of a horse?'
'Yes,' said the old farmer, 'I've been hearing it for a very long time. It appears to be coming here. Who could be going along the road so late?'
There are nights when strange things happen, when everyone appears to be asleep, when they're really awake. The next morning everyone had heard the approaching trot of the horse, for an hour long. They had heard it come to the homestead, followed by footsteps in the courtyard. No one said what they were thinking, but they all knew. And when the mother at last carefully opened the door to Bia's room, all stood behind her, looking inside in breathless silence. The girl was lying there, pale and silent and still, and she wore the happiest smile on her face they'd ever seen.
This story and the footnotes were translated, and at times elaborated, by Eva Weggelaar from the Sagas of the Veluwe/Veluwsche Sagen, written by Gust. van de Wall Perné and published in 1910-1911 by Scheltens & Giltay.
1. Witches’ toms or tomcats, the Gelder name for the quivering hot air over the heath during warm summer days.
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