Charles de Coster.
The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2
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When May was unfolding the whitethorn blossom Ulenspiegel, son of Claes, was born at Damme in Flanders.
A gossip midwife, by name Katheline, wrapt him in warm swaddling clothes, and, looking at his head, pointed out a caul on it.
“A caul! he is born under a lucky star!” exclaimed she, rejoicing.
But in a moment, lamenting and displaying a little black spot on the babe’s shoulder:
“Alas,” she wept, “’tis the black print of the devil’s finger.”
“Master Satan has been getting up very early, then,” rejoined Claes, “if he has had time already to put his mark on my son.”
“It was not yet his bedtime,” said Katheline, “for there is Chantecleer only now waking up the hens.”
And she went away, putting the child in the arms of Claes.
Then the dawn burst through the night clouds, the swallows skimmed the meadows with shrill cries, and the sun showed his dazzling countenance, bright and red upon the horizon. Claes threw the window wide and spake to Ulenspiegel.
“Son with the caul,” said he, “lucky son, here is our lord Sun coming to salute the soil of Flanders. Look always on him when thou canst, and whenever thou art in a maze, knowing not what to do so as to do right, ask counsel of him: he is bright and warm; be thou honest as he is bright, and kind even as he is warm.”
“Husband Claes,” said Soetkin, “you are preaching to deaf ears; come, drink, my son.”
And the mother offered the newly born nature’s goodly flagons.
While Ulenspiegel drank of them, and called for no cup, all the birds in the countryside awoke.
Claes, who was binding faggots, looked upon his wife as she gave the breast to Ulenspiegel.
“Wife,” said he, “have you laid up store of this good milk?”
“The jars are full,” said she, “but that is not enough for my content.”
“You speak piteously of so great a joy.”
“’Tis in my mind,” said she, “that in the wallet you see hanging by the wall there is not one poor patard.”
Claes took the wallet in his hand; but in vain did he shake it, no morning song of coin answered him from within. Thereat he was chapfallen, but wishing nevertheless to hearten his good wife.
“Why do you vex yourself?” said he. “Have we not in the hutch the cake Katheline gave us yesterday? Do not I behold a noble piece of beef that for three days at least will make good milk for the babe? That sack of beans squatting so snugly in the corner, does it prophesy famine? Yon firkin of butter, is it a ghost? Be they but phantoms, those bright platoons and companies of apples ranged warrior-like in ranks of eleven in the loft? Doth not that full-girthed cask of Bruges cuyte, that in its belly keeps the wherewithal for our refreshing, doth it not proclaim good drinking?”
“Needs must,” said Soetkin, “when the babe is borne to baptism, that we give two patards to the priest and a florin for the feasting.”
Therewith entered Katheline, holding a great sheaf of plants in her hand, saying:
“I bring the lucky babe angelica, that keepeth man from lewdness; fennel that putteth Satan to flight…”
“Have you not,” said Claes, “gotten the herb that conjureth florins?”
“Nay,” quoth she.
“Then,” said he, “I will even go see if there be none in the canal.”
Forth he went carrying line and net, being well assured of meeting nobody, for it still lacked an hour of the oosterzon, which is, in Flanders, the morning sun of six of the clock.
Claes came to the canal of Bruges, not far from the sea.There, baiting his line, he cast it in the water, and let down his net. A little lad, well attired, lay upon the other bank, sleeping like a log upon a clump of mussels.
The noise Claes made awoke him, and he would have fled away, fearing it might be some sergeant of the commune coming to turn him off his couch and hale him to the Steen for unlicensed vagrancy.
But his fears ceased when he knew Claes and when he heard him call:
“Would you like to earn six liards? Drive the fish this way.”
The lad on the word went down into the water, with his little belly already showing round and puffed up, and, arming himself with a tuft of long reeds, drove the fish toward Claes.
His fishing over, Claes drew in his net and line, and walking across the lock, came to the lad.
“You are he,” said Claes, “whom they call Lamme by baptism and Goedzak for your gentle nature, and you live in the street of the Heron, behind Notre Dame. How comes it, young and well clothed as you are, that you must needs sleep on a public bed?”
“Alas, master coalman,” replied the lad, “at home I have a sister a year younger than I, who beats me with heavy blows for the smallest wrangle. But I dare not take my revenge on her back, for I should do her a hurt. Last night, at supper, I was an-hungered and cleaned with my fingers a dish of beef and beans in which she meant to have a share. There was not enough of it for me, master. When she saw me licking my lips for the goodness of the sauce, she became as one out of her wits, and beat me so fast and furiously that I fled all bruised from out of the house.”
Claes asked him what his father and mother did during all this cuffing.
Lamme Goedzak replied:
“My father beat me on one shoulder and my mother on the other saying, ‘Avenge thyself, coward!’ But I, not willing to strike a girl, fled away.”
Suddenly Lamme grew pale and trembled all over.
And Claes saw a tall woman approaching, and by her side a little girl lean and of a fierce aspect.
“Ah!” said Lamme, taking hold of Claes by his breeches, “here be my mother and my sister coming to find me. Protect me, master coalman.”
“Here,” said Claes, “first take these seven liards for wages and let us go stoutly to meet them.”
When the two women saw Lamme, they ran to him and both were fain to beat him, the mother because she had been anxious and the sister because it was her habit.
Lamme hid behind Claes and cried:
“I have earned seven liards, I have earned seven liards, do not beat me!”
But already the mother was hugging him, while the little girl tried with might and main to open Lamme’s hands to have his money. But Lamme cried:
“It’s mine. You shall not have it.”
And he clenched his fists tight.
Claes shook the girl smartly by the ears and said to her:
“If you happen ever again to raise a brawl with your brother, who is as good and gentle as a lamb, I shall put you in a black coal-hole and there it will not be I that pull your ears, but the red devil out of hell, who will rend you in pieces with his long claws and his big forked teeth.”
At this threat the little girl, not daring now to look at Claes or to go near Lamme, took shelter behind her mother’s skirts. But as she went into the town she cried out everywhere:
“The coalman beat me: he has the devil in his cellar.”
However, she never struck Lamme again; but being tall, she made him work instead of her. And the kindly simpleton did it with a good will.
On his way back Claes had sold his catch to a farmer who usually bought it from him. And reaching home he said to Soetkin:
“Here is what I found in the belly of four pike, nine carp, and a basketful of eels.” And he threw two florins and a patard on the table.
“Why do you not go a-fishing every day, husband?” asked Soetkin.
“Not to be fish myself in the nets of the constables.”
At Damme they called Ulenspiegel’s father Claes the Kooldraeger or coalman: Claes had a black fell, eyes shining bright, a skin the same colour as his wares, except on Sundays and feast days, when there was great plenty of soap in the cottage. He was short, square, and strong, and of a gay countenance.
When the day was ended and the evening shadows were falling, if he went to some tavern on the Bruges road, to wash out his coal-blackened gullet with cuyte, all the women taking the cool air on their doorsteps would call out a friendly greeting:
“Good even and clear beer, coalman!”
“Good even and a wakeful husband,” Claes would reply.
The lasses coming back from the fields in troops used to plant themselves all in front of him so as to prevent him from going on, and would say:
“What will you give for your right of way: scarlet ribbon, gilt buckle, velvet shoon, or florin in the pouch?”
But Claes would take one round the waist and kiss her cheeks or her neck, according to which fresh skin was nearest his mouth, then he would say:
“Ask your lovers, darlings, ask your lovers for the rest.”
Then they would go off in bursts of laughter.
The boys knew Claes by his big voice and the clatter of his shoes. Running to him they would say:
“Good evening, coalman.”
“God give you the like, my cherublings,” Claes would answer, “but don’t come too close, or I shall turn you into blackamoors.”
The little fellows, being bold, would come close all the same; and then he would seize one by the tunic, and rubbing his soft little muzzle with his smutty hands, would send him back like that, laughing in spite of it, to the great delight of all the others.
Soetkin, Claes’s wife, was a good helpmeet, early as the dawn and diligent as the ant.
She and Claes tilled their field together, yoking themselves like oxen to the plough. Hard and toilsome was the dragging, but harder still the harrowing when that rustic engine must tear the stiff earth with its wooden teeth. Yet always they worked light-hearted, singing some ballad song.
And in vain was the earth stony hard; in vain did the sun dart his hottest beams upon them: dragging the harrow, bending at the knees, it was as naught that they must strain their loins cruelly; when they would pause, and Soetkin turn toward Claes her gentle face, and Claes kiss that mirror of a tender heart, then, ah, then, they would forget their utter weariness.
Last night it had been cried at the doorway of the Townhall that Madam, the wife of the Emperor Charles, being great with child, all men must pray for her speedy delivery.
Katheline came to Claes’s house all trembling.
“What aileth thee, gossip?” asked the goodman.
“Alas me!” she replied, and spoke brokenly. “Last night, spectres cutting down men as reapers mow the grass. Girl children buried quick! The hangman danced on the corpse – Stone sweating blood nine months, broken this night.”
“Have pity upon us,” groaned Soetkin, “Lord God, have pity: ’tis a black foreboding for the land of Flanders.”
“Sawest thou that with thine eyes or in a dream?” asked Claes.
“With mine own eyes,” said Katheline.
All pale and weeping Katheline spake again:
“Two boy babes are born, one in Spain, the Infante Philip, the other in the country of Flanders, the son of Claes who will in after days be surnamed Ulenspiegel. Philip will become a butcher, being engendered by Charles the Fifth, the murderer of our country. Ulenspiegel will be greatly learned in jests and pranks of youth, but he will be kind of heart, having had to father Claes, the stout worker that knew how to earn his bread in courage, honour, and simplicity. Charles the Emperor and Philip the King will ride roughshod through life, working ill by battles, exactions, and other crimes. Claes toiling all week long, living by righteousness and law, and laughing instead of weeping in his heavy labours, will be the ensample of all the good workers of Flanders. Ulenspiegel ever young, and never to die, will run throughout the world without ever tying himself to any place. And he will be churl, noble, painter, sculptor, all together and at once. And through the world will journey in this wise, praising all things good and lovely, and flouting without stint all manner of folly. Claes is thy courage, noble Flanders folk, Soetkin thy valiant mother, Ulenspiegel is thy spirit; a darling sweet girl, Ulenspiegel’s mate and like him immortal, will be thy heart, and a fat paunch, Lamme Goedzak, will be thy stomach. And up aloft shall be the devourers of the folk; below, the victims; aloft the thieving hornets, below, the toiling bees, and in the skies shall bleed the wounds of Christ.”
This much having said, Katheline the good spaewife fell on sleep.
They bore Ulenspiegel to baptism: on a sudden fell a spouting shower that soaked him through. Thus was he baptized for the first time.
When he came within the church, word was given to godfather and godmother, father and mother, by the schoolmaster beadle, that they were to range themselves about the baptismal font, the which they did.
But there was in the roof above the font a hole made by a mason wherefrom to hang a lamp from a star of gilded wood. The mason, spying from on high the godfather and godmother stiffly standing around the font covered with its lid, poured through the hole in the roof a treacherous bucket of water, which falling between them upon the lid of the font made a mighty splashing. But Ulenspiegel had the biggest share. And thus was he baptized for the second time.
The dean arrived: they complained to him; but he told them to make haste, and that it was an accident. Ulenspiegel was twisting about and kicking because of the water that had fallen on him. The dean gave him salt and water, and named him Thylbert, which signifies “rich in movements.” Thus he was baptized for the third time.
Leaving Notre Dame, they went opposite the church in the rue Longue to the Rosary of Bottles whose credo was a jar. There they drank seventeen quarts of dobbel-cuyt, and more. For this is the true Flanders way of drying drenched folk, to light a fire of beer in the belly. Ulenspiegel was thus baptized for the fourth time.
Going home and zigzagging along the road, their heads weighing more than their bodies, they came to a foot plank thrown across a little pool; Katheline, the godmother, was carrying the child, she missed her footing and fell in the mud with Ulenspiegel, who was thus baptized for the fifth time.
But he was pulled out of the pond and washed with warm water in the house of Claes, and that was his sixth baptism.
On that same day, His Sacred Majesty Charles resolved to hold high festival to celebrate the birth of his son befittingly. Like Claes he determined to go a-fishing, not in a canal, but in the pouches and pockets of his people. Thence is it that sovereign houses draw crusadoes, silver daelders, gold lions, and all those miraculous fishes that change, at the fisher’s will, into velvet robes, priceless jewels, exquisite wines, and dainty meats. For the rivers best stocked with fish are not those that hold most water.
Having brought together his councillors, His Sacred Majesty resolved that the fishing should be done in the following manner.
His lordship the Infante should be borne to baptism toward nine or ten of the clock; the inhabitants of Valladolid, to testify their joy, should hold revelry and feast all night long, at their own charges, and should scatter their silver upon the great square for the poor.
In five carfaxes there should be a great fountain spouting until daybreak with strong wine paid for by the city. In five other carfaxes there should be displayed, upon wooden stages, sausages, saveloys, botargoes, chitterlings, ox tongues, and all kinds of meats, also at the city’s charges.
The folk of Valladolid should erect at their own expense, along the route of the procession, a great number of triumphal arches representing Peace, Felicity, Abundance, Propitious Fortune, and emblems of all and sundry gifts from the skies with which they were loaded under the reign of His Sacred Majesty.
Finally, besides these pacific arches, there should be set up certain others on which should be displayed in bright colours less benignant emblems, as lions, eagles, lances, halberds, pikes with wavy bladed heads, hackbuts, cannons, falconets, mortars with their huge jowls, and other engines showing in image the might and power in war of His Sacred Majesty.
As for the lighting of the church, it should be graciously permitted to the Guild of Candlemakers to make free gratis and for nothing more than twenty thousand wax tapers, the unburned ends of which should revert to the chapter.
As for any other expenses, the Emperor would gladly bear them, thus showing his kindly determination not to burden his people overmuch.
As the commune was about to carry out these orders, lamentable tidings came from Rome. Orange, Alen?on and Frundsberg, captains of the Emperor, had entered into the holy city and there sacked and spoiled churches, chapels, and houses, sparing no living soul, priests, nuns, women, children. The Holy Father had been made prisoner. For a whole week pillage had never ceased, and Reiters and Landsknechts were wandering through Rome, stuffed with food, drunken with wine, brandishing their weapons, hunting for cardinals, declaring they would cut enough out of their hides to save them from ever becoming popes. Others, having already carried out this threat, strutted proudly through the city, wearing on their breast rosaries of twenty-eight or more beads, big as walnuts, and all bloody. Certain streets were red streams in which lay heaped the rifled bodies of the dead.
Some said that the Emperor, needing money, had determined to fish for it in the blood of the Church, and that having taken cognizance of the treaty imposed by his commanders upon the captive pontiff, he forced him to cede all the strongholds in his states, to pay four hundred thousand ducats and to be prisoner until all was duly carried out.
None the less, great was His Majesty’s grief; he countermanded all the joyous preparations, all feasts and rejoicings, and ordered the lords and ladies of his palace to don mourning.
And the Infante was baptized in white robes, the hue of royal mourning.
And lords and ladies interpreted this as a sinister omen.
For all this, my lady the nurse presented the Infante to the lords and ladies of the palace, that these might, as is the custom, offer good wishes and gifts.
Madame de la Coena hanged upon his neck a black stone potent against poison, the size and shape of a hazelnut, with a gold shell; Madame de Chauffade fastened upon him, by a silken cord, hanging down upon his stomach, a filbert, the which bringeth good digestion of all nourishment; Messire van der Steen of Flanders gave a Ghent sausage five ells long and half an ell in thickness, wishing that at its mere fragrance His Highness might be thirsty for clauwaert in the manner of the people of Ghent, saying that whoso loveth the beer of a town will never hate the brewers; Messire Squire Jacque-Christophe of Castile prayed my Lord the Infante to wear green jasper on his tiny feet, to make him run well. Jan de Paepe the fool, who was there present, exclaimed:
“Messire, give him rather the trumpet of Joshua, at the sound whereof all towns ran full trot before him, hastening to plant themselves elsewhere with all their inhabitants, men and women and babes. For monseigneur must not learn to run, but to make others run.”
The tearful widow of Floris van Borsele, who was lord of Veere in Zealand, gave Monseigneur Philip a stone, which, said she, made men loving and women inconsolable.
But the Infante whimpered like a young calf.
At the same time Claes was putting in his son’s hands a rattle made of osier, with little bells, and said, dancing Ulenspiegel on his hand: “Bells, bells, tinkling bells may you have ever on your cap, manikin; for ’tis to the fools belongeth the realm of good days.”
And Ulenspiegel laughed.
Claes having caught a big salmon, that salmon was eaten one Sunday by himself and by Soetkin, Katheline, and little Ulenspiegel, but Katheline ate no more than a bird.
“Gossip,” said Claes to her, “is Flanders air so solid to-day that it is enough for you to breathe it to be fed as with a dish of meat? When shall we live in this wise? Rain would be good soup, it would hail beans, and the snows, transformed to celestial fricassees, would restore and refresh poor travelling folk.”
Katheline, nodding her head, uttered not a word.
“Lo now,” said Claes, “our dolorous gossip. What is it grieves her then?”
But Katheline, in a voice that seemed but a low breathing:
“The wicked one,” said she, “night is falling black – I hear him announcing his coming – screaming like a sea hawk – shuddering, I beseech the Virgin – in vain. For him, neither walls nor hedges nor doors nor windows. Entereth anywhere like a spirit – Ladder creaking – He beside me in the garret where I sleep. Seizes me in his cold arms, hard like marble. Face frozen cold, kisses like damp snow – The cottage tossed upon the earth, moving like a bark on the stormy sea…”
“You must go,” said Claes, “every morning to mass, that our Lord Jesu may give you strength to drive away this phantom come from hell.”
“He is so handsome!” said she.
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