|After Grandpa Van Hout told
us this old Flemish folk tale we just had to go to Flanders in 1996 and
have a look at it in the quiet farmlands north of Brussels, within sight of the Atomium.
The townsfolk say this is the actual Devil's Barn from the tale. Sure enough, it wasn't finished.
Jan-Luc turned the story into a short film at WNYF-TV in Fredonia.
The Devil's Barn of Amelgem:
How to bedevil the devil!
By Dr. Jan Verbesselt, translated by Louis Van Hout
As truly as I sit here, this happened:
With the days of summer waning, the farmer of the great farm of Amalgem had a problem that irked him no end. How was he to get his crop in the barn, the barn too small, the harvest a bumper crop? It had to be harvested now before a storm would ruin it.
Standing out in his field, racking his brain about what to do, he noticed a well-dressed man coming in a high hat and a formal with cutaway tails. He addressed the farmer thus, "What is the matter friend, you have a pain in the neck (toe) or do you have a problem?" "No, I have no pain in the neck (toe), but I do have a problem. My crops are ready for harvesting but my barn is way too small. And there is time nor money to build one on time and . . . . ."
"That's no problem, friend. Please I'll build you a barn before morning, before the rooster will crow, big enough to have the whole town dance in it. You have a head on your shoulders, figure it out."
"Hey, where do you come from, sir?"
"From Perbos, an hour from hell."
"Sir, let's be serious, no joking."
"Well, friends, to show my good will (and here he stuck his hand in an inner pocket and drew out ten 1000 franc notes in new bills), these are yours if believe what I told you. Before the cock crows in the morning, you'll have your barn."
The farmer was dumbstruck as nailed to the ground. He never saw 1000 franc bills like that before. "That's impossible. What do you want me to do?" "Nothing in return, just a small favor, nothing more. Sell me your soul and all is yours to keep."
"But sell you my soul? That I can't do - that is in me and not ready to come out."
"That is a simple thing. Leave it where it is, but sign this letter here. 'I sell my soul to Beelzebub for a barn to be built before a cock crows in the morning.' Nothing more. You see, it didn't hurt a bit."
The farmer, while signing the letter was thinking of his wife and a few saints and Our Lady of Amalgem, please help me. All at once all got dark, and there was a big clap of thunder. When he looked up, the devil was gone and he stood there with ten 1000 franc bills in his hand.
On trembling legs he made his way home. He wanted to hide from his wife, she said. "Wannes (his name), you look like you were struck by lightning." "Nothing like that...did you hear it?" His wife knew there was something not told, so she left him alone but kept watching out of the side of her eyes.
Wannes left his supper untouched, went to bed way before bedtime, he turned and tossed and slept fitfully. At one he blurted out, "I can't stand it anymore. That black Beelzebub sits there in the barn roof giving orders to all those black devils. Chase them away!"
Mieke (wife's name) jumped out of bed and saw all those devils in the yard. She grabbed Wannes by the throat saying "Man, if you don't confess what you have been up to, I'll squeeze it shut."
With his tongue hanging out and his eyes full of tears, he confessed. So Mieke told him, "Now I'll bedevil the devil."
She donned a skirt, socks, jacket and a shawl in a hurry. She grabbed a blessed candle and matches and stole to the henhouse, by the back door, her shoes he held in her hands. When she got in the henhouse, she lit the candle. Then she clapped her shoes together and woke up the whole henhouse. The rooster, seeing the light, thought he had overslept and began to crow. All at once all the devils jumped, cursing and hollering, off the roof and the scaffolds.
All was still in the barnyard but in the morning light there stood a brand new barn. By closer observation the top of the gable had a hole yet to be finished. So Wannes was freed of the devil's contract.
Later efforts were made to close that hole, but at night the
break the bricks out and throw them in the barnyard. It would never be
so the story goes. Mieke and Wannes lived long and happy, and told
children and their children, and so on.