The visit of the ladies of Charity
It was a Monday morning. The early sun of spring began to make people feel its warmth and, here and there, it sent
a nice little ray in the narrow, damp alley joining Market Square.
Master Baltus, an old pensioner who as a young man had been working in Dutch East India, came trudging through
the dark passage to the street door, while shaking on his crutches, to have his poor lame body warmed and to get a breath
He leant with his crutches against the door post, looked quietly to and fro, or pinched his eyes a bit to leisurely let
the sun shine on his face.
In order to prevent carts from entering the street, there was standing at the entrance of the alley a pole, and now
Jeannet “the cat” was leaning against it. Wearing a broad bandage around her broken arm, she was also basking a bit in the
sun, and kept a watchful eye, because the ladies of Charity were to come, so she had to take care she was at home to receive
them. Her children were already walking barefooted about the house, for she had betimes let them put off their stockings
and shoes in view of the visit, and now they were sauntering about on the footway and feeling bored.
Neleke, the eldest, stood sucking her thumb. She scratched her thin flaxen hair that was hanging in little
tails about her head, as usual, and looked around for diversion.
There she noticed master Baltus. She saw how he was standing with his eyes closed, and went and stood right before him to
measure him with her eyes.
He just opened his eyes when Neleke thought she had looked at him long enough.
All at once, she put out her tongue and said:
- “Dirty fellow!”.
Master Baltus did as if he didn’t hear it and looked far away across her, but this didn’t please Neleke.
- “Dirty fellow!”, she said again.
- “Hold your tongue, you snot!” grumbled master Baltus, in anger, and this did please Neleke: now she could set it going.
- “Old dirty fellow!” she repeated a couple of times.
All at once, master Baltus lost his patience. He lifted up a crutch to strike Neleke a blow, but, unfortunately, he let it
drop out of his hands and it rattled on the paving stones.
Immediately, Neleke had picked it up. As if she was suddenly possessed by the devil, she began to dance around like a puppet,
holding the crutch high above her, and she sang again and again:
- “Old dirty fellow, old dirty fellow!”
Now Baltus’ daughter-in-law came running through the passage into the alley. She grabbed the crutch out of Neleke’s
hands, and gave her a sound box on the ears. Unfortunately, Jeannet saw this from a distance.
- “Ho, there!” she cried, “Stay away with your paws from my child, and beat your own kids!”
- “Why, then, is she bullying that old man?”, answered the daughter-in-law.
- “What’s up, Jeannet?” asked Janneske ‘the hump’, her husband, who just came home.
His work was: driving cattle and other beasts that were coming from the railway station, from the Market Square to the
- “Well”, said Jeannet, “why is this queer bag of bones touching my child?”. And she swept with one hand the tears off Neleke’s
little freckled face.
Janneske twisted his large face into angry wrinkles and grumbled something like: “Those damned women are always bothering,
and … take care this doesn’t happen again, or else I’ll interfere”.
Then he went through his own little front door, which was situated just opposite the door of the East-Indiaman.
The daughter-in-law gave the crutch back and Jeannet returned to her former place, with Neleke at her skirt,
for she didn’t want to quarrel while the ladies were coming.
And, yes indeed, there they came. Smartly dressed, each with a little notebook in their muffle and fully alive to the
distinguished dignity with which they did their charitable works.
One of them, a tall and meagre spinster, had a robust nose, which was striking indeed, and the other, a short and thick
one, always showed her front teeth, because she curled her upper lip a bit.
They went to nearly every house, and inquired after the things that were needed.
Master Baltus saw them coming, and jumped backward into the passage with his crutches, to warn his daughter-in-law at the
back. Jeannet walked with a drag after the ladies, to receive them at her door.
She curiously kept looking before every house where the ladies went inside.
Now it came to the turn of the Baltus family, and thereafter they would probably come to her own house.
The two ladies stayed inside a while, but when they came outside again, they went with haughty faces past Jeannet’s house
and into the next. What was happening to her now?
She waited until the ladies came outside again, and then she blocked their way.
- “Just a moment, please”, she began, “What do you think, will you not come to me?”
- “No, my good woman”, answered the tall lady, “not today”.
- “And why not?”
- “That’s not your business”, declared the thick lady, and she thought she could get off without further explications.
But that was quite a mistake!
- “Shall I get nothing? Well, I understand! I think this scandal monger across the street said to you
that I have been drunk when I broke my arm. That woman is such a treacherous dog!"
Then she suddenly cried in a loud, high-pitched voice to master Baltus, who had shown the ladies out and returned to his
former spot in the sun:
- "I’m sure this sweet child, your daughter-in-law, played this trick against me, you ugly lame dried-up East-Indiaman!”
Baltus didn’t answer and he tipped a wink toward the ladies, as if he wished to say: “We know who is here before us”,
and the ladies took advantage of the occasion to
shuffle past Jeannet and go into a next door as soon as possible, thinking they were now free from her.
Jeannet, however, posted herself before the door and watched the ladies to see what they did inside.
- “Keep the lid on the kettle, Triene, or else that tall kettle watcher will put her nose in it to see what you have been
cooking”, she cried to them inside, and the tall lady came very indignant to the front for a moment and informed Jeannet
she was going to tell the other ladies how impudent she was, and she certainly wouldn’t get anything ever after.
Now Jeannet’s blood was up.
- “Triene!” she cried to her neighbour, “look at the nose of this woman, what a parrot! If I would suddenly
discover I had such a nose, I would
jump into the canal within one hour!”
The ladies thought fit to cut their sticks as soon as possible, and they left the dwelling of Triene with a bright red face.
But they were entirely delivered up to the heathen, especially because the short thick one said in passing in her
- “For shame, my good woman, this is inadmissible. We’ll report it.”
- “Hear! This woman with her strange teeth wants to take a high line. I don’t care if you disappear with your undershirts
and clogs, do you know that? I don’t want anything from you, with your ugly set of
wolf’s teeth, neither from you, queen of noses, with your velours coat. What a nose model is walking there, just like a
roof gutter that’s stopped up and leaking.”
Now the daughter-in-law interfered . She had already pushed aside master Baltus, when
Jeannet got reinforcements, too: from Janneske, her husband, who appeared in his little doorway, and Neleke, her little
daughter, who began to
hang against her apron.
- “Just let her call names, my dear miss”, said the daughter-in-law. “We’re used to that, with this scum. She always
turns the whole alley upside down.”
- “It is Monday again, and then this vixen has always the devil in her body”, added master Baltus, who had just been
allowed for a straw mattress.
Scarcely, however, had he opened his mouth, when Janneske stood before him with his large face.
- “Go inside, master Baltus, don’t interfere with this”, he passionately cried, and master Baltus, in a fright, made two
jumps backward into the passage.
- “She wants to criticize the noses of other people”, the daughter-in-law continued, “but that red spout she has before her
own head isn’t nothing, either. Is that nose red because of her many small drinks of gin?
- “And she only doesn’t like any gin when she doesn’t get any”, scoffed Jeannet, referring to the daughter-in-law. “But
she, too, prefers a small drink of gin to a plate of Momus soup!”
Hearing the word “soup”, master Baltus jumped forward again:
- “Calm down, Jeannet”, he said, “now leave the ladies in peace. We have to eat in winter what we get from them”.
- “Master Baltus, now for the last time, go inside and don’t interfere”,
warned Janneske, who stood in a flash with his big face before the old man again, and this old man made again in a fright
two jumps backward into the passage.
- “Let them feed on their own hotchpotch”, cried Jeannet, who realised that henceforth her chance of bread and soup tickets
was gone forever. “Let she feed on it until she’s stiff of that washing-up water. Anyway, she doesn’t need it. Every Monday,
she’s walking with a basket from door to door, and every Sunday they have minced-meat balls in the soup!”
- “Ah, miss, don’t believe such things”, testified the daughter-in-law, and she laid a hand upon her heart, and looked
upward, as if she was taking heaven to witness.
- “Yes, minced-meat, … in the soup … minced-meat”, continued Jeannet, happy to have hit the other. “Such an ugly … ugly …”, she couldn’t find a word which was ugly enough.
- “Mum, say slut, else she will say it herself”, incited Neleke.
- …“Such an ugly slut”! concluded Jeannet.
But master Baltus found that her neighbour made a precarious attack at the out-relief rates of his family. With a long jump,
he was at the door again.
- “She’s lying, ladies, she’s lying”, he protested, “we haven’t seen a crumb of minced-meat since a year. Jeannet, you are
a bitch …”
This word was scarcely out of his mouth, when Janneske gave him a box on his chin with his fist, so that Baltus fell
upside down with his crutches, as if somebody was throwing down a set of kittles in the passage.
Now the blood was up with the daughter-in-law too, and with a long grasp she clung to Jeannet’s bonnet and pulled it off
her head, together with a whole tuft of hair.
Jeannet with her broken arm couldn’t defend herself, but she began crying:
And when she couldn’t bring the words out quick enough, she knocked, while shouting, with her free hand on her mouth:
“… Yes … every Sunday … in the soup … minced meat!”
The pitiable ladies were standing in a large circle of curious people, who turned up from all sides. “Now or never”, the
little thick one seemed to think, and at a speed for which everybody had to go aside, she pushed her way through the circle,
and the tall one followed her.
With red heads like the trumpet players in a wind band, they got out of the alley, and they felt greatly relieved when they saw
a policeman on the Market Square. He came walking on to see why people were assembling.
Far away they still heard Jeannet, shouting above everything:
- “Minced meat; minced m-e-e-eat!”