Flemish Legend The Brotherhood of the Cheerful Countenance by Charles de Coster Chapter 8

Of the great wit which every woman has, and of the modest conversation which the maid Wantje held with the worthies at the inn.

On the morrow all these good women met together once again, and drank as before a great quantity of clear water; and afterwards went off, armed with sticks, to the place where they knew their men were to be found.

Before the door of The Horn they stopped, and there a great council took place. The old ones wanted to go in with their sticks.

“No,” said Wantje, with the young and pretty ones, “we would rather be beaten ourselves.”

“Hark to these sillies!” cried the old ones, “these poor silly things. They have not an ounce of pride in their bodies, between the lot of them. Be guided by us, gentle ewekins: we will avenge the dignity of women for you upon these wretched drunkards.”

“That you shall not,” said the young ones, “as long as we are there.”

“That we shall,” howled the old ones.

But here a certain young and merry wife burst out laughing.

“See ye not,” said she, “whence comes to these grannies [16]so great a rage and such a thirst for vengeance? ’Tis simple bragging, to make us believe that their old croakers of husbands still care to sing them songs.”

At these words the old hags were thrown into such a state of fury that one or two died of rage there and then. Others, having quite lost their heads, wanted to kill the maids and young wives who were laughing at them (and ’twas pretty music, all those fresh and merry voices), but the dame Syske stopped them from that, saying that for the present they must take counsel together and not kill one another.

Continuing their discussion, they quarrelled, argued, chattered, jabbered in this and like fashion until curfew-time, when they separated without having made up their minds to anything, by reason of not having had time enough to talk it over.

And there were spoken in this assembly of women more than 877,849,002 words, each one as full of good sense as a cellarful of old wine.

Pieter Gans, who, as they said, had rabbit’s ears, hearing in the street a certain hum of chattering voices, cried out: “Alas, alas! what is this now? Devils for a certainty, dear Jesus!”

“I will go and see, little coward,” answered Blaeskaek. But on opening the door he burst out laughing all at once, saying: “Brothers, ’tis our wives.”

Thereupon all the drinkers rose and went to the door; some with bottles in their hands, others brandishing flagons, others again clinking their mugs together like church bells. Blaeskaek went out of the room, crossed the threshold of the outer door, and stepped into the street.

“Well, wives,” said he, “what brings you here with all this greenwood?”

At these words the young ones let fall their sticks to the ground, for they were ashamed to be caught with such weapons.

But one old woman, brandishing hers in the air, answered for the others: “We come, drunkards, to tell you the tale of the stick, and give you a good thrashing.”

“Woe, woe!” wept Pieter Gans, “that, I know, is my grandmother’s voice.”

“So it is, scoundrel,” said the old woman.

Meanwhile the Brothers of the Cheerful Countenance, hearing all this, shook their sides merrily with laughing, and Blaeskaek said: “Then come in, come in, good wives, and let us see how you do your drubbing. Are those good greenwood staves you have brought?”

“Yes,” said they.

“I am glad of that. For our part we have ready for you some good rods, well pickled in vinegar, which we use for whipping disobedient boys. ’Twill doubtless give you all sweet pleasure to feel their caresses, and so recall the days of your youth. Will you be pleased to try them? We will give you plenty.”

But at these scoffing words the old women took fright and ran off as fast as their legs would carry them, more particularly mother Syske, making such terrible threats and noises as they went that they sounded to those jolly Brothers like a flight of screeching crows passing down the deserted streets.

The young ones stayed before the door of the inn, and ’twas affecting to see them so humbly standing, gentle and submissive, waiting for some kindly word from their husbands or sweethearts.

“Well,” said Blaeskaek, “do you please to come in?”

“Yes,” said they all.

“Keep them out,” said Pieter Gans into Blaeskaek’s ear, “keep them out, or they will go chattering to the priests about the deviling, and we shall be burnt, my good friend.”

“I am deaf,” said Blaeskaek; “come in, my dears.”

Thereupon entered all these good women, and took up their places, some by their husbands, others by their sweethearts, and the maids in a line on a bench modestly.

“Women,” said the drinkers, “you wish to join us?”

“Yes,” said they.

“And to drink also?”

“Yes,” said they.

“And have not come here to tell us temperance stories?”

“Nay,” said they, “we have come without any other wish than to join our good husbands and sweethearts, and laugh with them, if that may be, with God’s good will.”

“Those are certainly fair words,” said one old man, “but I suspect beneath them some woman’s artifice or other.”

But no one paid him any heed, for by this time the women were seated all about the table, and you might hear this: “Drink this, pretty sweet, ’tis a draught from heaven.” “Pour, neighbour, pour, pour out some more of this sweet drink.” “Who is a better man than I? I am the Duke; I have good wine and good wife!” “Ho, there! broach a fresh cask of wine; we must have the best there is to-day to pleasure these good dames.” “Courage! I have drunk too much; I am going to conquer the moon. But wait a little first. For the present I stay by this good wife of mine. Kiss me, sweet.”

“This is not the place, before all these people,” the women would answer. And with many caresses and pretty ways each said to her man: “Come away home.”

They would indeed have been glad enough to go, all those good drinkers, but did not dare do it, being shamefaced in this matter in one another’s presence.

Guessing as much, the women talked of going back.

“There, there!” said the old man, “is not that what I said. They want to have us outside.”

“Nay, my masters,” said Wantje very sweetly, “but I pray you remember that we are not accustomed to such strong drinks, nor even to their smell. Therefore, master, if we feel the need to go out into the fresh air ’tis assuredly without wanting to anger or sadden you in any way whatsoever. May God keep you merry, brothers.”

And thereupon the good women went off, though the men tried to keep them back by force.