Monday, 3 August 2009

Saint George - 2. The Pond

It began when the catch of fish from the big pond started to decline, on the cause of which nobody was any the wiser. Mortality it couldn't be, for dead fish were nowhere afloat. Climate and water level had remained the very same and to the appearance or taste of the fish caught there wasn't anything of note either.
People were left completely in the dark and the worse part of it was, the decline didn't halt. After some time the catch had dropped to half its former size and later on to only a quarter.
Now, there were fishermen who thought they noticed, at times, strange whirlings in the water, stirring the surface from below. Musing on its unfathomable depth, some fancied their pond might have become connected to wide, underground water areas; that the mighty currents in them could sometimes be seen at the upper side, and that by these same currents the greater part of their fish had been sucked into the subterranean.
Until one day, at just such a whirling, a couple of fishermen saw a crest of giant fins rising from the water. This, at once, explained the enigma. There lived in the pond a formidable fish that was devouring all the other fish, fattening itself more and more by this action.
All efforts to catch the 'Convivant', as before long it was commonly called, proved useless.
It must have been lying low or hiding in a cave and it appeared to be very watchful, for every time the men went after it, the pond was still as death. Eventually, their catch of normal fish ran down to such a trifle, that the fishermen might as well stay home to attend to different chores, to mind the sheep, for instance. Having fish for dinner grew into a memory, even in the royal family.
This plight, to which they had somewhat resigned themselves, suddenly changed as another sensational event befell them.
One day a few shepherds, setting out for their flocks early in the morning, happened on the remnants of a freshly devoured sheep. Slivers of bone, bloody tufts of wool, and the extremities: ears, tail, and hooflets were found scattered on the turf, testifying both silently and eloquently of the accomplished fact. From that frightful spot led a peculiar track, a furrow in the turf, as if a heavy sack had been dragged along the ground, and on either side of it the regular imprint of a huge, crooked claw.
After swift deliberation the shepherds decided to follow the trail and how amazed they were and how alarmed when they saw it headed straight for the pond and disappeared into it.
In hot haste they returned to the town, reported their findings, and great was the consternation they engendered by their tale.
The voracious dweller of the pond had never been a mere fish, but rather a beast that could move on land as well and by all means nimbly enough to grab a sheep. Now that, apparently, no more fish was left to satisfy it, they should live in dread for their sheep. A vital common interest was at stake.
New efforts to catch the monster, executed with ampler means and manpower, again proved futile. The pond stayed stock-still. In its unreachable refuge the creature, obviously, lay digesting its prize.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

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