“Triumph of Love II
– by Belcampo
When the wind blew over the village, it also blew across the impenetrable woods, and the castle within, which was where the count lived. Only the sides and tops of the forest would sway back and forth, as well as the white signs around saying
Couples caught caressing
will be shot
even so, they couldn’t help themselves, the courting couples. How dark, how silent, the woods were, and how soft the ground. And then, they would be shot, at least one every spring. The villagers did not try to resist anymore, they had gotten used to it, and moreover, they respected the forest, feared it. Legend had it that once the time keeping cows grazed on grasslands there. Before clocks had been invented, meadows had been laid out in spiral shape. A wide meadow for the hourly cow, and a narrow one for the minute cow. The cows grazed constantly and thus indicated the hour. Once, they tried to introduce a cow for the seconds, but it had gotten dizzy. In the middle, there was a tower, from which one could read the time, and it was this tower that was the origin of the current comital castle. Thus, the villagers told the story; with respect, because in the past, it was something special, yielding the village great renown, or so they told each other.
They had given up on the situation, and nobody knew what happened to the corpses of those courting couples. The couples disappeared with love and all. The only thing they could do, was warn their children against the dense forest, insistently and repeatedly. Until one couple would come and say: “they fear grandchildren out of wedlock, and that’s why they warn us, and have the signs, but we won’t do any of that.” That was the couple that would do it anyway.
Often, when it was windy, the villagers would see a flag fluttering on the highest tower of the castle. That was Warda, the count’s daughter, she looked like this from afar. Up close, one could see she was a girl. One could even see the big ribbons streaming down from her head, fluttering in the wind. Those were Warda’s hairs, dark brown, and so plentiful nobody could understand where they came from. Her eyes were brown and deep, as if a cup of tea had flown into them, and the looks they sent off were grabbed and taken away by the wind immediately. Often, she stood there thinking, thinking softly.
She never understood her father’s hobby well. She knew exactly what he did, for he never sought to hide anything from her. He learned precisely that spot where to shoot someone such that they freeze in their posture. It is a place in the center of the brains. This, he saw and studied during the war on many occasions. Whenever he would find a couple caressing in the woods, he would crouch around them like a tiger until he had her spot and his spot aligned in his rifle sight. Usually, the heads were close together, and it wasn’t hard, but if not, he would wait. Then he would decide “this is must be the climax”, and fire. A tune would hop across the trees, because the rifle that the count used was equipped with a drum, and for each shot, it released a melody. Using a large flat cart, especially made for the purpose, he would carefully take the caressing couple to the castle. There, it was taken to a large room, and slowly descended into a glass tank filled with alcohol. There were at least thirty such tanks, and one could stroll around them, and rest on one of the benches in between, as if it were a museum. Warda was allowed to go there as often as she wanted. She, and nobody else, had the key to the room. Sometimes, she went with her father.
“These are my forefathers. Love gone wrong! Gone wrong!”
“With my great grandfather, our lineage derailed, but now we have to
He spoke this kind of phrases when they were together.
“Look at what I am doing, where I am getting. What will you achieve?”
He never said what he meant, but it was clear as a streetcar: I am a flower, Warda thought, and he is standing next to me with a white-hot iron. If I bud, he will cauterize me. But how can one stop a flower from blooming?
When she realized this, she understood the stories she heard: the Count once visited a friend in the city, who was a dentist. When he came out again, people in the street were aghast and stood still, thinking: imagine what that man had to suffer just now. Warda wasn’t surprised or touched by by any of this. She grew up with it: she hadn’t learned love yet, her father said: it is a train, the faster it goes, the earlier it derails.
Her father was a mystery to her. Recently, he heard, that one of his servants was a vegetarian. He summoned the man and said: “the only beings that should practice vegetarianism, are fleas,” and ordered him to sprinkle breadcrumbs over his shirt. The poor guy was nearly dying of itch all day long.
Just now she read a book, in secret, from her father’s library. It was about a couple in love, but the writer had left the couple itself in blank, just as you can do with a drawing. “Essence” it was called. If such a couple would enter the woods, Warda thought, that would really make father mad, because he couldn’t hit them anywhere.
Warda could think like that for hours on end, while the wind blew her dress taut against her body.
The wind brought along a young man. He rode a bicycle, and didn’t have to pedal. Over and over, giants of air grabbed his back, and cast him forth. “Torture me! Torture me!” he cheered on the wind “I soiled your name, I raped your wife, and pillaged your house, wind, hahaha, wind”, and he imagined that with each taunt the gusts would bash him more violently. “Hey you stupid howler, I’m insulting you, I’ll trample on you, you despicable wind” “We don’t have time, we don’t have time” the gusts said in passing “or we’d beat you up! Our presence is urgently required in areas of low air pressure”, and they were out of hearing distance.
This man was a wanderer, he could only sit still if seated on something that moved. To him, seeing new places was like breathing. The whole earth was his lair, and its inhabitants amused him, especially the female ones. He touched on the women like a gipsy cart passing through a village, unabashedly and beautifully. Sometimes, he would pass through a village in tatters; city council gone crazy, and policemen in the pubs; then, he would take the reins and restore order and peace. Such women scared him, but he had no regrets after tearing himself loose. Regret never knocked on his door, but joy over its absence did, even after doing something people considered truly vile. He considered fleeing a delight, and his favorite pastime was behaving irresponsibly. He always needed to roar something, mostly songs he invented himself: “life is an agreeable pastime”, or “I am so happy that I exist”, “how jolly it is, how jolly it was, and how jolly it ever will be”. Not only people, but also objects were friendly to him, everywhere he came, and then you have gone far in this world.
Once he wrote a booklet with sentences for use in primary school, where it was never used. However, writers and poets quietly lifted their inspiration from the booklet.
On seeing the sign in the impenetrable woods, he slowed down to read it; everything on the road took his interest. “Ridiculous!” he said, and pedaled on. He found a melody to go with the text, and he bellowed it the entire way until reaching the village.
There, in a little pub, he asked what it meant. He got evasive answers. The villagers were embarrassed in front of a stranger, that their village was in such disarray. The young lad became suspicious. What if were true? he was thinking, it’s such a strange dark forest. He continued his questioning, but became none the wiser, and getting more and more restless, his doubts became more insistent: is it true? Is it true?” And the people did not answer him at all, because they thought: he is crazy. A while outside the village, there was a sheep shepherd, with two years left to live. “Shepherd, shepherd”, children often shouted to him. He had lost two daughters in the forest, and for that reason delighted in telling everything. The young became so enraged that he nearly had to vomit.
A few weeks later, one could spot a caressing couple disappear into the forest step by step. They were holding each other tightly and did not utter a word. It softly kicked about dry leaves, for fall had come. It carefully sat down in a mossy clearing, steadfastly holding on to its embrace. It was not a caressing couple; it was the young man, who dressed up as a caressing couple. He sat under the wide skirts of the girl with a dagger in his hand. The skirts had holes through which he looked around.
He waited without moving a limb, ready to throw off the couple at any moment. It was so silent, that he chattered his teeth just to check that he hadn’t suddenly gone deaf. He played around with the twigs in the moss near his feet, and for a long time, he stayed like that. All of a sudden, it was as if somebody poked the caressing couple on top with a finger, and right afterwards, a melody sounded through the woods. It was almost impossible, but he remained seated. It was nothing, we were hit by a twig falling down, he concluded, but if a human touches us, I’ll stab him to death immediately.
Through the darkness that fell, a cart came to him, and halted closeby. He was touched by the light of a lantern, and slats were slowly and carefully placed under his feet, until he was on a patch of wooden floor together with his couple. Then they were slid onto something, and taken away. It all went softly, and up above, a wind had started, it seemed that the trees were shivering. They crossed a gate, or something alike, and entered somewhere. The silence became long and boring, and the petticoats were warm around him, so he soon fell asleep.
The next morning, the count noticed that he had run out of alcohol, and immediately took to town to get new supplies.
Lying in bed, Warda had heard the familiar sounds again and curiosity drove her to the museum early in the morning. She stopped at the new catch, it was the first time she saw a couple in air.
The young man saw her, he had been looking around and surveying the surroundings, he had already passed the first bewilderment. It was a lunatic, he thought, and not a miser, that is not quite as bad, and he became more cheerful. He is quite clever, he is gathering a collection of pinnacles of human happiness, I do that too, but the male part is always the same, so my museum is more monotonous.
“Father hit them well,” Warda spoke softly in herself, “he always shoots without spilling, but this time it is extraordinary. But they are so wooden, it’s as if they’re not real.” She kicked the couple with her foot so it rustled loudly.
“Oh, what a prank! what a prank!”, Warda cheered, “and Father went to town especially to get alcohol just for that, o he will be furious!” This was the moment for the young man to jump out. In a big slash of the dagger he opened the skirts down to the fringe, he had done this before, but from the outside in. That memory made him light, and he stood before Warda as if he really pulled a prank, only the dagger was serious. A piece of putty that is thrown against the wall couldn’t change from moving to still than Warda did.
“I’ll call my father”, she managed.
“Your father went to town to get alcohol,” the young man said calmly, and almost smiling.
“I’ll call the servants”
“Servants are not allowed here, you are the only whom your father dares showing this,” he said, pushing his luck.
“Why, how do you know?”, and wonderment already crept into Warda’s voice.
“I’ll tell you everything if you stop being afraid of me. There is nobody to help you, so it’s ok, and moreover, I won’t hurt you, not at all. It’s best if we stroll around to get used to me. I’m a young guy, just like all those in the aquariums, look, that one is almost my size. Come with me now, what’s your name again? Warda? Warda, won’t you hold my hand? Otherwise, we’ll look out of place with the others; We have to stay in style, don’t you think? How often did you come here, do you still not know how things work?”
“I do know, said Warda, I really do know, but everything is so strange. You are so strange.”
“And that one over there, number 15 and here number 23, do you think they know each other, you can clearly see!”
“How can you tell?”
“Oh silly Warda, you really don’t understand, but that’s logical, because you only know what your father preserved, but nothing from what the same shot destroyed, what they all said, and what they felt. The essence, you know? Great, I’m going to tell you all. I am the caretaker, and I’m giving you a tour. Your father isn’t coming back, is he?”
“Oh, that will take a long while”, Warda said, enthralled by his enthusiasm.
“Look, let’s start here directly, number 15; This is nothing special, they only love each other with their epidermis, you can clearly see. Their faces don’t say anything, they’re talking about rubbish, but pay attention to those lurking fingertips. He had been walking around with smoldering eyes before saying something, no this won’t do.
Here 17, that’s the real stuff. She tells him why she fell in love with him: “do you remember, she says, that opposite our house, across the street there was this blind beggar, and you passed a couple of times per week? I saw that you always gave something and it was always paper money, I was paying attention. At first I thought you were very rich, but you didn’t look like it. I wanted to know why you did this, and one day, I passed by and threw a coin in his hat. Thank you very much, I can still hear his monotonous, subservient voice. A while later, I passed again and gave a banknote. He didn’t say anything, because he hadn’t realized anything fell into his hat. Then I understood you couldn’t stand that man thanking you. When I understood that, my heart was like a pair of dogs that I held on a leash, but who dragged me along because they were so much stronger than I was, to you. That she all tells him. See at him staring at the ground, he almost has to cry out of emotion.
And this one, a nice set, they tell each other the biggest nonsense, see how she is having fun. Yes, he says, I recently visited a chicken den, and there was a loud racket. What happened? One of the hens had lain an egg, and half of the coop thought the egg was a spitting image of its father, and the other half thought it looked exactly like the mother, and over that they had the biggest row. And the serious face he puts on. She wants to laugh out loud, but she doesn’t, because their heads would go apart too far. All nonsense they have, they confide in each other, and that is glorious.
Look there, that beautiful dark woman, when he wants to reach her face, he has to cross a gate of hair. She just told him, that she is afraid of him, because he had so many girls before her. What is he saying? When you walk in the street, sometimes a swarm of flies flies up with terrible noise right near you, did that ever happen to you? It was like that when you passed by me. The flies were all the girls that liked me and were wriggling about on me. You chased them all away. He is a quaint man, he loves her, but his love is like an altar, it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is, there is always a corridor around the back. For most people, even if they love their bike, there won’t be a corridor around the back.
Well, number 22 over here. That is something completely different. Oh, I can see, the girl is dumb and believes whatever he says. When we went to school, we had this rubber eraser. It would bend over tremendously before it broke, and we always tried to bend it without breaking, until it broke. Just like that, he is bending the girl’s belief. He is seeing how outrageous a story he can invent before she won’t believe him anymore. You know what he is telling her now? I had a friend, a pickpocket. I traveled with him a lot, and his hands were so quick, he would steal the watches from people in opposing trains, when they crossed, express trains too. Once, I made a bet the wouldn’t manage if the window were closed beforehand. He won, but he did sprain his wrist.
This here is a beautiful example of the opposite. Everything is inverted. He is a big honest guy, he tells her everything about his past life. She listens attentively, but he doesn’t see the danger. In a while he’ll run out of stories, and she will leave him, just like a music box that played all of its repertoire. She will go to the next one to tap everything interesting, each man is a picture book to her.
Number 12, a classic. He is her perfect man, and he tries to live up to it. In everything he does, she discovers a new virtue, and every virtue is stacked on top of his head, in the end he is walking like one of those artists with saucers, balancing a pile of virtues on his head, and the pile will grow higher until the whole thing comes crashing down. That’s what you get for not carefully putting the saucers aside.
Number 18. Do you know what he is telling her? Some women I love en face, some en profil. You, I love en face. Look, it’s as if a waterfall of happiness flows across her face. That’s a couple of the type, that I wish people would retreat for as if they were pestilent.”
“Come”, Warda suddenly said, “I’m fed up, all this watching is giving me a headache,” and she pulled her guide to a bench, as far from the glass tanks as possible. She’s jealous of the women, he thought, all of them, each and everyone, but he sat down quietly as if he would continue the inspection shortly. After a while, Warda burst out. It’s not true what you told me, they never said that; you all made that up yourself, it was you all along. And you said everything to me, just to me. These dead mannequins have nothing to do with it. Please, say so, it was just between us!”
In a split second, Warda and the young man put the caressing couples to shame, for hours on end.
Until Warda suddenly cried: “what if father would catch us!”
They completely forgot about him.
The thought paled them, and they racked their brains for some time. “Ah!,” the young man cheered, “I know, I know, we’ll drop our ballast!” and he ran to the caressing couple that disguised him and tore out the stuffing.
Warda got rid of the mess, and when that was one, she said: now we don’t have to be embarrassed anymore, the more I love you, the better my father will think of it. Oh, what a joy, that hour before the count returned, what a sudden freeze when they heard the key turn in the lock. Unsuspecting, the count inspected the couple. He didn’t notice it was Warda, few things are remarkable as the change in woman’s face when she gazes in love at someone. He was very happy with his new catch, and immediately took to work. He rolled in new vats of alcohol, filled an empty tank with their contents. What a lovely couple, he kept repeating. The young man gripped his dagger more tightly; it was hidden beneath Warda’s dress.
When the tank was full, the count saw pieces of wood and dirt floating in the alcohol. That can’t be, he said, these shall go in a clean bath. He scaled a little ladder, and carefully started skimming the surface. Doing so, he lost his balance and fell right through it. Immediately, the young man pounced and a threw a heavy lid on the tank. The count writhed for a while, and then slowly sunk to the bottom, with his face against the glass, as children often do.
For one month, the young man lived with Warda in the castle before moving on. They had deep pits dug in the forest, into which the glass tanks were lowered. The signs were removed, and now the forest was open to all caressing couples again.”
(Original title: “Liefdes Zegepraal II”, first published in “De Verhalen”, 1934. Translation by Han-Wen Nienhuys)