Camille Lemonnier (1844-1913)
has, from the very beginning of his career in 1863, re-mained an interpreter of
Belgian life, and particularly of the life of the peasants. His novels are
powerful exhibitions of the brutality of humankind, yet penetrated with a
moving beauty of form and style. Lemonnier wrote several volumes of short
stories, of which many reveal the melancholy aspect of old Flemish towns.
Soul of Veere is highly characteristic of this latter type of story.
originally appeared in a volume entitled It Was in Summer, first published in
1900. The translation by Barrett H. Clark, here printed for the first time, is
included by permission of Albin Michel, publisher, Paris.
The Soul of Veere
Pietje, who belonged to the inn on the public square, asked J me whether I had
ever seen the boy who was always “playing his little tunes?” Now, what did she
mean by that? I had been in Veere : three days and had seen no one answering to
her description. Good heavens, I thought to myself, can there be anyone in
Veere foolish enough to do that?
would be quite useless to play music there, as the houses are invariably
closed, while only on the rarest occasions do you see at a window the face of
an old man, an old woman, or a pretty girl in one of those flat caps with metal
plaques over the temples. Why, there would be no one to listen to him! In the
strange little village of Veere, they all look like mummies on exhibition
behind their little squares of green or blue glass.
is my impression of the place. If by chance I had happened to hear that boy
playing his little tunes through the streets, I would have put my finger to my
lips as a warning not to disturb the silence that reigned in the depths of
sun itself, in scattered flecks of gold, sleeps in the middle of the street. It
is long since it fell sick trying to reawaken the town that was once alive and
is now fallen into a deep slumber. Its light dies on the threshold of houses,
like the footstep of a beggar who returns morning after morning to a door which
no one ever opens. The shades within have bolted their doors.
I live to be a hundred I shall never forget that street in Veere, nor the
little houses jutting out over sidewalks that look as though they were clasping
hands in prayer. It is all so far away from life that one has doubts of one’s
own existence: only a faint shadow precedes you, and you are not quite sure at
first whither it leads. But it leads in the direction of the churchyard, where
all else has gone.