Charles de Coster.
The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2
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“Drink,” said she, “and do not speak so loud.”
“They told me, too,” said Ulenspiegel, “that he swore like a trooper: Al dispetto di Dio, potta di Dio; one day when at supper he did not find a cold peacock he had had kept for himself, saying, ‘I, the Vicar of God, may very well swear over a peacock since my master lost his temper for an apple!’ You see, my dear, that I know the Pope and what he is.”
“Alas!” said she, “but don’t speak of it to other people. And in any case you will never see him.”
“I shall speak with him,” said Ulenspiegel.
“If you do, I give you a hundred florins.”
“They are mine already,” said Ulenspiegel.
The next day, although he was leg-weary, he went about the town and discovered where the Pope would say mass that day, at St. John Lateran. Ulenspiegel went thither and stationed himself as near and as plain to the Pope as he could compass, and every time the Pope raised the chalice or the host, Ulenspiegel turned his back upon the altar.
Beside the Pope was a cardinal serving, brown of visage, cunning and portly, who, with an ape on his shoulder, gave the people the sacrament with many wanton gestures. He called the Pope’s attention to Ulenspiegel, and as soon as the mass was completed, His Holiness sent four famous soldiers such as are known in these warlike lands, to seize the pilgrim.
“What is your belief?” the Pope asked him.
“Most Holy Father,” replied Ulenspiegel, “I hold the same belief as my hostess.”
The Pope sent for the goodwife.
“What dost thou believe?” he said to her.
“What your Holiness believes,” she answered.
“And I the same,” said Ulenspiegel.
The Pope then asked him why he had turned his back on the Holy Sacrament.
“I felt myself unworthy to look upon it face to face,” replied Ulenspiegel.
“Thou art a pilgrim,” said the Pope.
“Yea,” said he, “and from Flanders I come to beg the remission of my sins.”
The Pope gave him his blessing, and Ulenspiegel departed with the hostess, who told him out one hundred florins. Thus ballasted he left Rome to return thence to the land of Flanders.
But he must needs pay seven ducats for his pardon inscribed on parchment.
In these days there came two Premonstratensian friars to Damme with indulgences for sale. They were attired, over their monkish array, in a fine shirt trimmed with lace.
Posting themselves at the church door when it was fair weather, and under the porch when it was foul and rainy, they put up their tariff, in which they marked down for six liards, for a patard, a half livre of Paris, for seven, for twelve florins carolus, a hundred, two hundred, four hundred years of indulgence, and according to the price, demiplenary or full plenary, and forgiveness for the most heinous crimes, even that of desiring to violate Madame the Virgin. But that one cost seventeen florins.
They delivered to buyers who paid them certain little bits of parchment on which was written the number of years of indulgence.Above was found this inscription:
And there came buyers from ten leagues roundabout. One of the good friars often preached to the people; he had a face well blossomed and carried his three chins and his paunch with no false modesty.
“Miserable man!” he would say, fixing his eyes on one or another of his hearers; “miserable man! lo, there thou art, in hell! The fire burns thee cruelly: they are boiling thee in the cauldron of oil in which they cook Astarte’s olie koekjes; thou art but a black pudding on Lucifer’s frying pan, a leg of mutton on Guilguiroth’s, the great devil, for thou art first cut into joints. Look now on this great sinner, who contemned indulgences; see that dish of fricadelle; ’tis he, ’tis he, his impious body, his damned body boiled down to this. And what a sauce! sulphur, pitch, and tar! And all these poor sinners are thus eaten only to be reborn continually to anguish. And it is there that there is verily weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Have pity, God of compassion! Aye, there thou art in hell, poor damned one, suffering all these torments. Should one give a denier for thee, thou feelest all at once an easement in thy right hand; should another half denier be given, there are both thy hands out of the flame. But the rest of the body? A florin, and here falls the healing dew of the indulgence. O coolness delicious! And for ten days, a hundred days, a thousand years, according to what is paid: no more roast, no more olie koekje, nor fricassee! And if it be not for thee, sinner, are there not yonder in the hidden deeps of the fire poor souls thy parents, a beloved wife, some dear girl with whom thou once delightedst to sin?”
And so saying, the monk would give a nudge to the friar who stood beside him, with a silver basin. And the friar, lowering his eyes at this signal, would shake his basin impressively to call the money to it.
“Hast thou not,” the monk would continue, “hast thou not in this dreadful fire a son, a daughter, some darling babe? They cry, they weep, they call on thee. Canst thou remain deaf to those lamentable voices? Thou couldst not; thy heart of ice will melt, but that will cost thee a carolus. And see: at the chime of the carolus upon this common metal … (the other monk still shook his basin) a void is made within the fire, and the poor soul mounts up to the lip of some volcano. Lo, there it is in the cool air, in the free air! Where are the torments of the fire? The sea is near at hand, it plunges in, it swims on back, on front, above the waves and beneath the waves. Hearken how it crieth out for joy, look how it wallows in the water! The angels look on it and rejoice. They await it, but still it hath not enough, fain would it become a fish. It knoweth not that there on high are delicious baths full of perfumes in which float great lumps of sugar candy white and cold as ice. A shark cometh: the soul dreads him not. It climbs upon his back, but he feels it not; it would fain go with him into the depths of the sea. There it goeth to salute the angels of the waters, that eat waterzoey in coral kettles and fresh oysters on platters of mother of pearl. And how it is welcomed, feasted, made much of; the angels still call it from on high. At length, nobly refreshed, and happy, dost thou see it, how it flies up singing like a lark up to the highest heaven where God sitteth throned in glory? There it findeth all its earthly relatives and friends, save those that having slandered and missaid the indulgences of our Mother Holy Church, burn in the abyss of hell. And so for ever, ever, ever and always, even from age to age, throughout eternity of agony. But the other soul, that is close to God, refreshing itself in the delicious baths and eating the sugar candy. Buy indulgences, my brothers; they are to be had for crusadoes, for gold florins. Buy, buy, buy! this is the holy shop; there is here for the poor and for the rich, but unhappily there can be no credit, my brothers, for to buy and not pay ready money is a crime in the Lord’s eyes.”
The brother who was not preaching went on shaking his dish. Florins, crusadoes, ducats, patards, sols, and deniers fell into it thick as hail.
Claes, seeing himself a rich man, paid a florin for ten thousand years’ indulgence. The monks gave him a piece of parchment in exchange.
Soon, seeing that there was nobody left in Damme who had not bought indulgence except the very scum of poverty, they went away together to Heyst.
Clad in his pilgrim’s garb and duly and well absolved of his sins, Ulenspiegel left Rome, tramping ever straight on before him, and came to Bamberg, where the best vegetables in the world are.
He went into an inn where there was a jolly hostess, who said to him:
“Young master, would you have victual for your money?”
“Aye,” said Ulenspiegel. “But for what sum does one eat here?”
The hostess answered:
“You eat at the nobles’ table for six florins; at the citizens’ table for four florins, at the house table for two.”
“The most money is the best for me,” replied Ulenspiegel.
So he went and sate down at the nobles’ table. When he was well filled and had washed down his dinner with Rhine wine, he said to his hostess:
“Goodwife, I have eaten well for my money. Give me the six florins.”
The hostess said to him:
“Are you making game of me? Pay your score.”
“Dear baesine,” replied Ulenspiegel, “you have not the countenance of a fraudulent debtor; I see in it, on the contrary, so great a good faith, so much loyalty and love of neighbours that you would liefer pay me eighteen florins than refuse me the six you owe me. Those lovely eyes! ’tis the sun blazing on me, making the madness of love spring up higher than couch grass in a deserted garden.”
The hostess answered:
“I have nothing to do with your madness or your couch grass; pay and be off.”
“To be off,” said Ulenspiegel, “and never you see again! Far rather would I die on the spot. Baesine, gentle baesine, I am little used to eat for six florins, I, a poor young man wandering by hill and dale; I am stuffed and full, and presently my tongue will hang out like a dog’s in the sun: be so good as to pay me, I have well and duly earned the six florins by my hard jaw work; give me them and I will caress you, kiss you, embrace you with so great heat of gratitude that twenty-seven lovers could not all together suffice for such a task.”
“You are talking for money,” said she.
“Would you have me eat you for nothing?” said he.
“No,” said she, defending herself from him.
“Ah!” he sighed, pursuing her, “your skin is like cream, your hair like pheasant roasted golden on the spit, your lips like cherries! Is there any woman more dainty than you?”
“It becomes you well, nasty ruffian,” said she, smiling, “to come still demanding six florins from me. Be happy that I have fed you gratis and asked you for nothing.”
“If you only knew,” said Ulenspiegel, “how much space there is still!”
“Go!” said the hostess, “before my husband comes.”
“I will be a lenient creditor,” replied Ulenspiegel; “give me just one florin for future thirst.”
“Here,” said she, “bad boy.”
And she gave it to him.
“Will you kindly go away?” said she.
“To go kindly would be to go to you, my dear, but it is going unkindly to leave your beauteous eyes. If you would deign to keep me with you I should eat no more than but a florin every day.”
“Must I take a yard stick?” said she.
“Take mine,” replied Ulenspiegel.
She laughed, but he must needs be gone.
Lamme Goedzak, in these days, came once more to live in Damme, the country of Li?ge being far from tranquil on account of heresy. His wife followed him with a good will, because the Li?ge people, good mockers by nature, made game of her husband’s easy meekness.
Lamme often visited Claes, who since he had his inheritance, haunted the tavern of the Blauwe Torre and had chosen out a table there for himself and his boon companions. At the next table there sat, meanly drinking his pint pot, Josse Grypstuiver, the miserly dean of the fishmongers, a scurvy fellow, niggard, living on red herrings, loving money more than his soul’s salvation. Claes had put in his pouch the piece of parchment on which were marked his ten thousand years of indulgence.
One night when he was at the Blauwe Torre in the company of Lamme Goedzak, Jan van Roosebekke, and Mathys van Assche, Josse Grypstuiver being present, Claes made good play with the pot, and Jan Roosebekke said to him:
“’Tis a sin to drink so much!”
“You only burn half a day for a quart too much. And I have ten thousand years of indulgence in my pouch. Who would like a hundred so as to be able to drown his belly without fear or favour?”
All cried out:
“What is your price for them?”
“A quart,” replied Claes, “but I will give a hundred and fifty for a muske conyn.”
Certain drinkers paid Claes, one a stoup, one a piece of ham, and he cut off a little strip of parchment for each of them. It was not Claes who ate and drank the price of the indulgence, but Lamme Goedzak, who ate until he was visibly a-swelling while Claes came and went through the tavern retailing his wares.
Grypstuiver, turning his sour face towards him:
“Have you a piece for ten days?” said he.
“No,” said Claes, “it’s too hard to cut.”
And everyone laughed, and Grypstuiver swallowed his rage. Then Claes went off to his cottage, followed by Lamme, walking as if his legs were made of wool.
Towards the end of her third year of banishment Katheline came back to her own house at Damme. And she never ceased to say in witless fashion: “Fire on my head, the soul is knocking, make a hole, it would fain come out.” And she still fled away at the sight of oxen and of sheep. And she sat on the bench under the lime trees, behind her cottage, wagging her head and looking, without knowing them, at the folk of Damme, who said as they passed by in front of her, “There is the madwife.”
At this time, strolling by highways and byways, Ulenspiegel saw on the high road an ass harnessed with leather studded with copper nails, and its head adorned with tufts and tassels of red wool.
Certain old women stood about the ass all talking at the same time and saying: “No one can take possession of it, it is the horrible mount of the great wizard the Baron de Raix, who was burned alive for having sacrificed eight children to the devil – ” “Gossips, he ran away so quickly that they could not catch him. Satan is in him to protect him – ” “For while being weary, he stayed on his way, the sergeants of the commune came to take him bodily, but he reared and brayed so terribly that they dared not come near him – ” “And it was not the braying of an ass but the roaring voice of a demon – ” “So they left him to browse on thistles without putting him on his trial or burning him alive as a wizard – ” “These folk have no kind of courage – ”
In spite of all this fine talk, as soon as the donkey pricked up his ears or lashed his ribs with his tail, the women fled shrieking, to come in again chattering and jabbering, and to do the same thing again at the least movement of the donkey.
But Ulenspiegel, contemplating them and laughing:
“Ah,” said he, “endless curiosity and everlasting babble flow like a river from the mouths of gossips and especially the old ones, for in the young, the flood is less common because of their amorous employments.”
Considering next the ass:
“This wizard beast,” said he, “is nimble and without doubt no sloucher; I can either ride or sell him.”
He went off without a word, to fetch a peck of oats, made the ass eat them, leaped lightly on his back, and tightening up the rein, turned to the north, the east, and the west, and from afar blessed the old women. These, swooning for terror, knelt down, and that day at the evening hour in the village it was told how an angel with a pheasant plumed hat on his head had come, had blessed them all and taken away the wizard’s ass, by special favour of God.
And Ulenspiegel went off bestriding his ass among rich fat meadows where the horses leaped in freedom, where cows and heifers grazed, lying idly in the sun. And he called him Jef.
The ass stopped and dined merrily on thistles. Sometimes he shivered with all his skin the while, and lashed his ribs with his tail to drive off the greedy horse flies that would fain dine like himself, but on his flesh.
Ulenspiegel, whose stomach cried hunger, was melancholy.
“You would be full happy,” said he, “master ass, dining like this on fine fat thistles, if no one came to disturb you in your comfort and remind you that you are mortal, that is to say, born to endure every kind of hardship.”
“Even like thee,” he went on, gripping him with his legs, “even like thyself He of the Holy Slipper hath his gadfly, ’tis Master Luther; and his High Majesty King Charles hath his also, that is Messire Fran?ois first of the name, the King with the long nose and the still longer sword. It is then permissible for me, a poor little fellow wandering like a Jew, to have my gadfly, too, master donkey. Alas, all my pockets have holes, and through the holes away go gadding all my lovely ducats, florins, and daelders, like a legion of mice scattering to flight before the jaws of a cat. I know not why money will have naught to do with me, me who so greatly desire money. Fortune is no woman, whatever they say, for she loveth but the scurvy miser loons that coffer her up, pouch her up, lock her up under twenty keys, and never allow her to show as much as the tip of her little golden nose at the window. That is the gadfly that devours me and stings me, and tickles me but not to make me laugh. You are not listening to me, master donkey, and you are thinking of nothing but your grazing. Ah! belly worshipper, filling thy belly, thy long ears are deaf to the cry of an empty stomach. Listen to me, I want you to.”
And he lashed him bitterly. The ass began to bray.
“Let us come away now that you have sung your song,” said Ulenspiegel.
But the donkey would not budge any more than a stone post, and seemed to have resolved to eat to the last one every thistle along the way. And there was no lack of them.
Ulenspiegel, perceiving this, he dismounted, cut a bunch of thistles, got up on his donkey again, held the bunch under his muzzle, and led him by the nose as far as the territories of the Landgrave of Hesse.
“Master donkey,” said he, as they went on their way, “you run nimbly behind my bunch of thistles, a thin diet and poor, and leave behind you the fine highway all thick beset with these dainty plants. Even so do men, smelling some after the bouquet of glory that Fortune holds under their noses, others after the nosegay of gain, others the nosegay of love. At the end of the road they perceive like you that they have pursued that which is but little, and have left behind them that which is somewhat, that is to say, health, work, rest, and comfort in their homes.”
So conversing with his ass, Ulenspiegel came before the landgrave’s palace.
Two captains of musketeers were playing dice on the stair.
One of them, red headed and of giant size, caught sight of Ulenspiegel modestly sitting upon Jef and watching their play.
“What do you want with us,” said he, “hungry pilgrim-face?”
“I am exceedingly hungry, in very deed,” said Ulenspiegel, “and am pilgrimaging against my will.”
“If you are hungry,” rejoined the captain, “eat with your neck the rope that swings from the nearest gallows destined for vagabonds.”
“Messire captain,” replied Ulenspiegel, “if you were to give me that fine gold cord you wear on your hat, I should go and hang myself with my teeth to that fat ham that swings yonder at the cook shop.”
“Where do you come from?” asked the captain.
“From Flanders,” replied Ulenspiegel.
“What would you?”
“Show His Highness the Landgrave a painting after my fashion.”
“If you are a painter and out of Flanders,” said the captain, “come within, and I will bring you to my master.”
Being come before the landgrave, Ulenspiegel saluted him three times and more.
“May Your Highness,” said he, “deign to excuse my impertinence in daring to come to lay at your noble feet a painting I made for you, wherein I had the honour to pourtray Madame the Virgin in imperial array.”
“This painting,” he went on, “may perhaps be to your liking, and in that case I vaunt myself sufficiently of my skill to hope to raise myself to that fine chair of crimson velvet wherein, during his life, the ever to be lamented painter of Your Magnanimity had place.”
The landgrave having contemplated the picture, which was a beautiful one:
“Thou shalt be our painter,” said he, “take thy seat in the chair.”
And gaily he kissed him on both cheeks. Ulenspiegel sat down.
“Thou art full ragged,” said the landgrave, scrutinizing him.
“In very truth, Monseigneur, Jef, the which is my ass, dined upon thistles, but I, for three days, I have lived only on want and fed only upon the savour of hope.”
“Thou shalt sup presently on better meat,” replied the landgrave, “but where is thy ass?”
“I left him on the Great Marketplace, over against the palace of Your Goodness; I should be glad indeed if Jef had shelter and litter and fodder for the night.”
The landgrave gave instant command to one of his pages to treat Ulenspiegel’s ass like one of his own.
Soon came the hour of the supper, that was as a revel and a feast. And the meats gave up a noble savour and the wines rained down their throats.
Ulenspiegel and the landgrave being both fire red like live coals, Ulenspiegel became gay, but the landgrave remained pensive.
“Our painter,” said he, suddenly, “thou must paint my portrait, for it is a great satisfaction to a mortal prince to bequeath to his descendants the memory of his countenance.”
“Sire Landgrave,” said Ulenspiegel, “your pleasure is my will, but it seems to my poor self that pourtrayed alone by yourself Your Lordship will have no great joy in ages to come. You must be accompanied by your noble wife, Madame the Landgravine, and your ladies and lords, your most warlike captains and officers, in the midst of whom Monseigneur and Madame will shine like two suns surrounded by lanterns.”
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