Monday, 7 September 2009

Saint George - 11. The Breath of the Beast

Strange as it may sound, between the monster and the crowd a bond evolved as between an actor and his audience. The at first altogether guileless behaviour of the animal developed into a genuine performance. At times, it played straight to the gallery, just showing off, making inane leaps, snapping in the air as if to crunch a bird in flight and playing cat-and-mouse with its prey for a while.
This latter quirk engendered a novelty. It was decided to extend the tether. In that way, the sheep would be given ampler dodging space so that it could put up a more interesting resistance. And this, in its turn, brought about another escalation, a revolution almost, to wit, it appeared that one sheep reacted completely different than the other. One of a flock a sheep may be, in these moments each animal was on its individual mettle.
For the first time now, the victim's behaviour and emotions became involved in the spectacle. It wasn't all about the strange and bewildering beast anymore, the plain little sheep became an object of fascination as well.
And next time, the tether would be eased off some more.

In this way they learned to live with the beast and there was no one to feel unhappy for it. On the contrary. The weekly show - if it be allowed to call it such - introduced to their minds and conversations a liveliness so far unknown and was both surprising and exciting each and every time to such an extent that everyone was longing for it the whole week over.
On going home, often people were heard saying 'Oh, how marvellous he was, never better' and 'But the sheep wasn't so bad either.'
This seemed the more remarkable as through the week daily life continued in the same old rut. Supposedly, the beast needed this whole time span to digest its meal. It was imagined as lying contentedly or sleeping perchance, in its subaqueous hidey-hole.
So, it was with a tinge of amazement indeed, when in the twilight of a late evening a shepherd who had been looking for a stray lamb for quite a while, heading for home along the pond, became aware of the monster's head in the centre of it, or rather only its skull, or rather still, the part of its head where its nostrils were. And what besides he saw was that from these openings jets of dark steam were spurting forth with great force.
The man quickly absconded and once home, didn't fail to realize that at the prevailing wind this steam was bound for the town straightaway and possibly, would be dispersed all over it. Although it upset him in no small way, he durst not mention it to anyone, afraid to make a fool out of himself.
Now, it is written in the chronicles of the monks that the breath of the beast was lethal. This can't be true, for during this entire stretch no one in the town died. Only to us, who know the sequel of the story, the true effect of the breath is apparent, namely, it didn't so much as kill people, it was corrupting their character.
We must assume that time and again, with favourable winds the monster let its breath drift across the town and had taken this up long before the shepherd had witnessed it.
The continuation of this tale unmistakably points in this direction.

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

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