The Massacre of the Innocents – Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949)
Maurice Maeterlinck was born at Ghent in 1862. He studied for the law, but left for Paris after a short career as a lawyer. In Paris he became acquainted with several writers who exercised considerable influence over him. Maeterlinck’s chief contributions to contemporary literature are his plays and his essays.
The Massacre of the Innocents was the earliest published work of this writer. It appeared in 1886 in a small magazine. It is a skilfully constructed tale, in which the background and details are strikingly similar to the early paintings of the Flemish school.
The translation, by Barrett H. Clark, was made especially for this collection. Originally reprinted by permission of the author.
The Massacre of the Innocents
On Friday the 26th of December about supper time, a little shepherd came into Nazareth crying terribly.
Some peasants who were drinking ale at the Blue Lion threw open the shutters to look into the village orchard, and saw the lad running across the snow. They recognized him as Korneliz’ son, and shouted at him from the window: “What’s the matter? Go to bed, you!”
But the boy answered in a voice of terror, telling them that the Spaniards had come, having already set fire to the farm, hanged his mother from a chestnut bough, and bound his nine little sisters to the trunk of a large tree.
The peasants quickly came forth from the inn, surrounded the boy and plied him with questions. He went on to tell them that the soldiers were clad in steel armor and mounted on horse-back, that they had seized the cattle of his uncle, Petrus Krayer, and would soon enter the wood with the sheep and cattle.
They all ran to the Golden Sun, where Korneliz and his brother- in-law were drinking ale, while the innkeeper hastened out into the village to spread the news of the approach of the Spaniards.
There was great excitement in Nazareth. Women threw open windows and peasants ran forth from their houses carrying lights which they extinguished as soon as they came to the orchard, where it was bright as midday, because of the snow and the full moon. They gathered round Korneliz and Krayer in the public square before the inn. Many had brought pitchforks and rakes. They took counsel, speaking in tones of terror, out under the trees.