The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 19

This year May and June were verily the months of flowers. Never did any see in Flanders hawthorn so fragrant, never in the gardens so many roses, such heaps of jasmine and honeysuckle. When the wind that blew up out of England drove the incense of this flowery land towards the east, every man, and specially in Antwerp, nose in air with delight, would say:

“Do you smell the sweet wind that comes from Flanders?”

In like wise the busy bees sucked the flowers’ honey, made wax, laid their eggs in hives too small to harbour their swarms. What music of labour under the blue sky that covered the rich earth with its dazzling tent!

Men made hives out of rushes, of straw, of osiers, of plaited hay. Basketmakers, tubmakers, coopers were wearing out their tools over the work. As for the wood carvers, for a long time they had been unequal to the task.

The swarms were of full thirty thousand bees and two thousand seven hundred drones. The honeycombs were so delicious that because of their rare quality, the dean of Damme sent eleven to the Emperor Charles, by way of thanks for having through his edicts restored the Holy Inquisition to all its full vigour. It was Philip that ate them, but they did him no good.

Tramps, beggars, vagabonds, and all that ragtag and bobtail of idle rogues that parade their laziness about the roads, preferring to be hanged rather than to work, enticed by the taste of the honey, came to get their share of it. And they prowled about by night, in crowds.

Claes had made hives to attract the swarming bees to them; some were full and others empty, awaiting the bees. Claes used to watch all night to guard this sugared wealth. When he was tired, he used to bid Ulenspiegel take his place. And the boy did so with a good will.

Now one night Ulenspiegel, to avoid the cold air, had taken shelter in a hive, and, all huddled up, was looking through the openings, of which there were two, in the top of the hive.

As he was on the point of falling asleep, he heard the little trees and bushes of the hedge crackling and heard the voices of two men whom he took to be robbers. He looked out through one of the openings in the hive, and saw that they both had long hair and a long beard, though the beard was the mark and sign of noble rank.

They went from hive to hive, and came to his own, and picking it up, they said:

“Let us take this one: it is the heaviest.”

Then they carried it off, using their sticks to do it. Ulenspiegel took no pleasure in being thus carted in a hive. The night was clear and bright, and the thieves walked along without uttering a word. Every fifty paces they stopped, clean out of breath, to go on their way again presently. The one in front grumbled furiously at having so heavy a weight to bear, and the one behind whimpered melancholy-wise. For in this world there are two kinds of idle cowards, those who grow angry with work, and those that whine when there is work to be done.

Ulenspiegel, having nothing else to do, pulled the hair of the robber who went in front, and the beard of the one behind, so that growing tired of this game, the angry one said to the snivelling one:

“Stop pulling my hair, or I will give you such a wallop on the head with my fist that it will sink down into your chest and you will look through your ribs like a thief through the bars of his prison.”

“I wouldn’t dare, my friend,” said the sniveller, “but it is you that are pulling me by the beard.”

The angry one answered:

“I don’t go hunting vermin in beggar fellows’ fur.”

“Sir,” replied the sniveller, “do not make the hive jump about so much; my poor arms are nearly breaking in two.”

“I’ll have them off altogether,” answered the angry fellow.

Then, putting off his leathern gear he set the hive down on the ground, and leaped upon his comrade. And they fought with each other, the one cursing and swearing, the other crying for mercy.

Ulenspiegel, hearing the blows pattering down, came out of the hive, dragged it with him as far as the nearest wood so as to find it there again, and went back to Claes’s house.

And thus it is that in quarrellings sly folk find their advantage.