The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book III Chapter 28

About nightfall, having left their asses at Stockem, they entered into the city of Antwerp.

And Ulenspiegel said to Lamme:

“Lo this great city; here the whole world piles up its riches: gold, silver, spices, gilded leather, Gobelin tapestry cloth, stuffs of velvet, wool, and silk; beans, peas, grain, meat, and flour, salted hides, Louvain wines, wines of Namur, of Luxembourg, Li?ge, Landtwyn from Brussels and from Aerschot, Buley wines whose vineyard is beside the Plante gate at Namur, Rhine wines, wines from Spain and Portugal; grape oil from Aerschot that they call Landolium; wines of Burgundy, Malvoisie and so many more. And the quays are cumbered with merchandise.

“These riches of earth and of human toil bring into this place the most beautiful light ladies that are.”

“You are growing dreamy,” said Lamme.

Ulenspiegel answered:

“I shall find the Seven among them. It was told me:

In ruins, blood and tears, seek!

What then is there that causeth more of ruin than light wenches? Is it not in their company that poor witless men lose their goodly carolus, shining and chinking; their jewels, chains, and rings, and come away without a doublet, ragged and despoiled, even without their linen; while the girls grow fat upon their spoils? Where is the red clear blood that used to course in their veins? ’Tis leek juice now.

Or else, indeed, to enjoy their sweet and lovely bodies do they not fight with knife, with dagger, with sword, without pity? The corpses borne away, pale, and bloody, are corpses of the love-distraught. When the father scolds and remains on his chair with forbidding looks; when his white hairs seem whiter and stiffer; when from his dry eyes, wherein burns the grief at a son’s loss, the tears refuse to flow; when the mother, silent and pale as a dead woman, weeps as if she saw nothing before her now save all the sorrows that this world holdeth, who is it makes those tears to fall? The gay ladies that love but themselves and money, and hold the world, thinking or working or philosophizing, fastened to the end of their golden girdle. Aye, it is there the Seven are, and we shall go, Lamme, among the girls. Perchance thy wife is among them; that will be a double sweep of the net.”
“I am willing,” said Lamme.

It was then in the month of June, towards the end of the summer, when the sun was already reddening the leaves on the chestnuts, when the little birds sing in the trees and there is never a mite so small that he does not chirp for pleasure to be so warm in the grass.

Lamme wandered beside Ulenspiegel through the streets of Antwerp, hanging his head and dragging his body along like a house.

“Lamme,” said Ulenspiegel, “you are plunged in melancholy; do you not know that nothing is worse for the skin; if you persist in your grief, you will lose it in strips. And it will be a fine word to hear when they say of you: ‘Lamme the flayed.’”

“I am hungry,” said Lamme.

“Come and eat,” said Ulenspiegel.

And they went together to the Old Stairs, where they ate choesels and drank dobbel-cuyt as much as they could carry.

And Lamme wept no more.

And Ulenspiegel said:

“Blessed be the good beer that maketh thy soul all sunny! Laughest and shakest thy big paunch. How I love to see thee dance of the merry entrails.”

“My son,” said Lamme, “they would dance far more if I had the good luck to find my wife again.”

“Let us go and seek for her,” said Ulenspiegel.

They came thus to the quarter of the Lower Scheldt.

“Look,” said Ulenspiegel to Lamme, “see that little house all made of wood, with handsome windows, well opened and glazed with little square panes; consider these yellow curtains and that red lamp. There, my son, behind four casks of bruinbier, of uitzet, of dobbel-cuyt, and Amboise wine, sits a beauteous baesine of fifty years or upwards. Every year she lived gave her a fresh layer of bacon. Upon one of the casks shines a candle, and there is a lantern hung to the beams of the roof. It is bright and dark there, dark for love, bright for payment.”

“But,” said Lamme, “this is a convent of the devil’s nuns, and this baesine is its abbess.”

“Aye,” said Ulenspiegel, “’tis she that leadeth in Beelzebub’s name, down the path of sin fifteen lovely girls of amorous life, which find with her shelter and food, but it is forbidden to them to sleep there.”

“Do you know this convent?” said Lamme.

“I am going to look for your wife therein. Come.”

“No,” said Lamme, “I have taken thought and will not go in.”

“Wilt thou let thy friend expose himself all alone in the midst of these Astartes?”

“Let him not go there,” said Lamme.

“But if he must go in to find the Seven and your wife?” replied Ulenspiegel.

“I would rather sleep,” said Lamme.

“Come on then,” said Ulenspiegel, opening the door and thrusting Lamme in front of him. “See, the baesine stays behind her casks, between two candles; the chamber is large, with a roof of blackened oak with smoked beams. All around reign benches, lame-legged tables covered with glasses, quart pots, goblets, tankards, jugs, flasks, bottles, and other implements of drinking. In the middle are still more tables and chairs whereon are enthroned odds and ends, the which are women’s capes, gilded belts, velvet shoes, bagpipes, fifes, shawms. In a corner is a ladder leading to the upper story. A little bald hunchback plays on a clavecin mounted on glass feet that make the sound of the instrument grating. Dance, my fat lad. Fifteen lovely ladies are sitting, some on the tables, some on the chairs, a leg here, a leg there, bending, upright, leaning on an elbow, thrown back, lying on their back or on their side, at their pleasure, clad in white, in red, their arms bare like their shoulders, too, and their bosom down to the waist. There are some of every kind; choose! For some the light of the candles, caressing their fair hair, leaves in the shadow their blue eyes, of which nothing can be seen but the gleaming of their liquid fire. Others, looking at the ceiling, sigh to the viol some German ballade. Some round, brown, plump, brazen-faced, are drinking from full tankards Amboise wine, and show their round arms, bare to the shoulder, their half-opened dress, whence come out the apples of their breasts, and shamelessly talk with their mouths full, one after the other or all at once. Listen to them.”

“A straw for money to-day! it is love we must have, love at our own choice,” said the lovely ladies, “child’s love, youth’s love, whoever pleases us, and no paying.” – “Yesterday was the day when one paid, to-day is the day when one loves!” “Who so would fain drink at our lips, they are still moist from the bottle. Wine and kisses, it is a whole feast!” “A straw for widows that lie all alone!” “We are girls! ’Tis the day of charity to-day. To the young, the strong, and the comely, we will open our arms. Something to drink!” “Darling, is it for the battle of love that your heart is beating the tambourine in your breast! What a pendulum! ’Tis the clock of kisses. When will they come, full hearts and empty purses? Do they not scent out dainty adventures? What is the difference between a young Beggar and Monsieur the Markgrave? Monsieur pays in florins and the young Beggar in caresses. Long live the Beggar! Who will go and wake up the graveyards?”

Thus spake the good, the ardent, and the gay among the ladies of amorous life.

But there were others of them with narrow faces, lean shoulders, who made of their bodies a shop for savings, and liard by liard harvested the price of their thin flesh. And these were fuming among themselves: “It is very foolish for us to refuse payment in this fatiguing trade, for these ridiculous whimsies running in the heads of girls that are wild over men. If they have a cantle of the moon in their heads, we have none, and prefer not to have to drag around in our old age like them, in rags in the gutter, but to be paid since we are for sale. A straw for this gratis! Men are ugly, stinking, grumbling, greedy, drunken. It is nothing but them that turns poor women to ill!”

But the young and beautiful ones did not hear these speeches, and all in their pleasure and drinkings said: “Do you hear the passing bells ringing in Notre Dame? We are on fire! Who will go and waken the graveyards?”

Lamme seeing so many women all at once, brunette and fair, fresh and withered, was ashamed; lowering his eyes he cried out: “Ulenspiegel, where are you?”

“He is dead and gone, my friend,” said a great stout girl taking hold of his arm.

“Dead and gone?” said Lamme.

“Aye,” said she, “three hundred years ago, in the company of Jacobus de Coster van Maerlandt.”

“Let me go,” said Lamme, “and do not pinch me. Ulenspiegel, where are you? Come and save your friend! I am going away immediately if you do not let me go.”

“You will not go away,” they said.

“Ulenspiegel,” said Lamme, again, piteously, “where are you, my son? Madame, do not pull my hair in this way; it is not a wig, I assure you. Help! Do you not think my ears red enough, without your bringing the blood to them besides? There is that other one filliping me all the time. You are hurting me! Alas! what are they rubbing my face with now? A looking glass! I am black as the jaws of an oven. I will be angry in a minute if you do not stop; it is ill done of you to torment a poor man like this. Let me go! When you have tugged me by my breeches to right, to left, from all sides, and have made me go like a shuttle, will you be any the fatter for it? Aye, I shall get angry without a doubt.”

“He will get angry,” said they, mocking; “he will get angry, the good man. Laugh rather, and sing us a love lay.”

“I will sing one of blows, if you wish, but let me alone.”

“Whom do you love here?”

“Nobody, neither you nor the others. I will complain to the magistrates and he will have you whipped.”

“Oh, indeed!” they said. “Whipped! And suppose we were to kiss you by main force before this whipping?”

“Me?” said Lamme.

“You,” said they all.

And thereupon the lovely and the ugly, the fresh and the faded, the brown and the fair all rushed upon Lamme, flung his bonnet into the air, and his cloak, too, and fell to caressing him, kissing him on the cheek, the nose, the back, with all their might.

The baesine laughed between her candles.

“Help!” cried Lamme; “help, Ulenspiegel; sweep away all this rubbish. Let me go. I want none of your kisses; I am married, God’s blood! and keep all for my wife.”

“Married,” said they; “but your wife has over much: a man of your corpulence. Give us a little. Faithful woman, ’tis well and good; a faithful man, he is a capon. God keep you! you must choose, or we shall whip you in our turn.”

“I will do no such thing,” said Lamme.

“Choose,” said they.

“No,” said he.

“Will you have me?” said a pretty, fair girl: “See, I am gentle, and I love whoever loves me.”

“Let me alone,” said Lamme.

“Will you have me?” said a delicious girl, who had black hair, eyes and complexion all brown, and in everything else made to perfection by the angels.

“I don’t like gingerbread,” said Lamme.

“And what of me, would you not take me?” said a tall girl, who had a brow almost covered by her hair, heavy eyebrows joined together, big drowned eyes, lips thick as eels and all red, and red, too, of face, neck, and shoulders.

“I don’t like,” said Lamme, “burnt bricks.”

“Take me,” said a girl of sixteen with a little squirrel face.

“I don’t like nut crunchers,” said Lamme.

“We must whip him,” said they, “with what? Fine whips with a lash of dried hide. A sound lashing. The toughest skin cannot resist it. Take ten of them. Carters’ and donkey drivers’ whips.”

“Help! Ulenspiegel!” cried Lamme.

But Ulenspiegel made no answer.

“Ye have a bad heart,” said Lamme, seeking his friend on every side.

The whips were brought; two of the girls set to work to strip Lamme of his doublet.

“Alas!” said he; “my poor fat, that I had so much trouble to make, they will doubtless lift it off with their keen whips. But, pitiless females, my fat will be no use to you, not even to make sauces.”

They replied:

“We shall make candles with it. Is it nothing to see clear without paying for it! She that will henceforth say that out of the whip comes forth candle will seem mad to everybody. We will uphold it to the death, and win more than one wager. Steep the rods in vinegar. There, your doublet is off. The hour is striking at Saint Jacques! Nine o’clock. At the last stroke of the clock, if you have not made your choice, we shall strike.”

Lamme, paralyzed, said:

“Have pity and compassion upon me; I have sworn faithfulness to my poor wife and will keep it, although she left me in evil fashion. Ulenspiegel, dear friend, help!”

But Ulenspiegel did not show himself.

“See me,” said Lamme to the light ladies, “see me at your knees. Is there a humbler posture? Is it not enough to say that I honour your great beauties like the very saints? Happy is he that, not being married, can enjoy your charms! ’Tis paradise, without doubt; but do not beat me, if you please.”

Suddenly the baesine, who remained between her two candles, spoke in a strong and threatening voice:

“Good women and girls,” said she, “I take my oath on my great devil that if, in a moment, you have not, by laughter and gentle ways, brought this man to a good mind, that is to say into your bed, I will go fetch the night watch and have you all whipped instead of him. Ye do not deserve to be called girls of amorous life if in vain you have free mouth, wanton hand, and flaming eyes to excite the males, as do the females of the glow-worms that have their lanterns but to this end. And you shall be whipped without mercy for your simpleness.”

At that word the girls trembled and Lamme became joyful.

“Now, then, good women, what news bring you from the land of sharp thongs? I will myself go and fetch the watch. They will do their duty, and I shall help them with it. It will give me great pleasure.”

But then a pretty little girl of fifteen threw herself at Lamme’s knees:

“Messire,” said she, “you see me here before you, humbly resigned; if you do not deign to choose me from among us, I must needs be beaten for you, monsieur. And the baesine there will put me into a foul cellar, under the Scheldt, where the water oozes from the wall, and where I shall have but black bread to eat.”

“Will she verily be beaten for me, Madame baesine,” said Lamme.

“Till the blood runs,” replied she.

Lamme then, considering the girl, said: “I see thee fresh, perfumed, thy shoulder coming out from thy robe like a great petal of a white rose; I would not have this lovely skin under which the blood flows so young, suffer under the whip, nor that those eyes bright with the fire of youth should weep for the anguish of the strokes, nor that the cold of the prison should make thy body shiver, thy body like a love fay. And so I had rather choose thee than know that thou wert beaten.”

The girl took him away. So sinned he, as he did all things in his life, through kindness of heart.

Meanwhile, Ulenspiegel and a tall handsome brown girl with curling waving hair were standing before one another. The girl, without saying a word, was looking at Ulenspiegel coquettishly and seemed not to wish to have anything to do with him.

“Love me,” said he.

“Love thee,” said she, “wild lover who lovest only at thine own hour?”

Ulenspiegel answered: “The bird that passes above thy head sings his song and flies away. And so with me, sweetheart: wilt thou that we sing together?”

“Aye,” said she, “a song of laughter and of tears.”

And the girl flung herself on Ulenspiegel’s neck.

Suddenly, as both were happy in the arms of their darlings, lo! there came into the house, to the sound of fife and drum, and jostling, pushing, singing, whistling, crying, shouting, bawling, a gay company of meesevangers, who at Antwerp are titmouse catchers. They were carrying bags and cages full of these little birds, and the owls that had helped them in the sport were opening wide their eyes, gilded in the light.

The meesevangers were full ten in number, all red, bloated with wine and cervoise ale, with waggling heads, dragging their tottering legs and crying out in a voice so hoarse and so broken that it seemed to the timid girls that they were rather listening to wild beasts in a wood than men in a house.

However, as they never stopped saying, speaking singly or all at once: “I would have the one I love.” “We are his that pleaseth us. To-morrow to the rich in florins! To-day to the rich in love!” the meesevangers replied: “Florins we have and love as well; to us then the light ladies. He that draws back is a capon. These are tits, and we are sportsmen. Rescue! Brabant for the good duke!”

But the women said, laughing loudly: “Fie! the ugly muzzles that think to eat us! ’Tis not to swine that men give sherbets. We take whom we please and do not want you. Barrels of oil, bags of lard, thin nails, rusty blades, you stink of sweat and mud. Get out of here; you will be well and duly damned without our help.”

But the men: “The Frenchies are dainty to-day. Disgusted ladies, you can well give us what you sell to everybody.”

But the women: “To-morrow,” they said, “we will be slaves and dogs, and will accept you; to-day we are free women and we cast you out.”

The men: “Enough words,” they cried. “Who is thirsty? Let us pluck the apples!”

And so saying they threw themselves upon them, without distinction of age or beauty. The girls, resolute in their minds, threw at their heads chairs, quart pots, jugs, goblets, tankards, flasks, bottles, raining thick as hail, wounding them, bruising them, knocking out their eyes.

Ulenspiegel and Lamme came down at the tumult, leaving their trembling lovers above at the top of the ladder. When Ulenspiegel saw these men striking at the women, he took up a broom in the courtyard, tore away the twigs from the head, gave another to Lamme, and with them they beat the meesevangers without pity.

The game seemed hard to the drunkards; thus belaboured, they stopped for an instant, by which profited the thin girls who desired to sell themselves and not to give, even in this great day of love voluntary as Nature wills it. Like snakes they glided among the injured, caressed them, tended their wounds, drank wine of Amboise for them, and emptied so well their pouches of florins and other moneys, that they had left not a single liard. Then, as the curfew was ringing, they put them to the door through which Ulenspiegel and Lamme had already taken their way.