Charles de Coster.
The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2
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“‘And thou, Claes, speak,’ said Christ.
“But the angel, standing up:
“‘This one hath naught to say. He was good, hard-working like the poor Flanders folk, willing to toil and willing to laugh, keeping the faith he owed his princes and believing that his princes would keep the faith they owed to him. He had money, he was accused, and as he had harboured one of the reformed, he was burned alive.’
“‘Ah,’ said Mary, ‘poor martyr, but there are in heaven cool springs, fountains of milk, and choice wine that will refresh thee, and I will myself lead thee to them, coalman!’
“The trumpet of the angel sounded again, and I saw arising from the depths of the abyss a man naked and beautiful, with a crown of iron. And on the round of the crown were inscribed these words: ‘Dark until the day of doom!’
“He drew near to the throne and said to Christ:
“‘I am thy slave until I am thy master.’
“‘Satan,’ said Mary, ‘a day shall come when there will be no more slaves or masters, and when Christ who is love, Satan who is pride, will signify: Might and Knowledge.’
“‘Woman,’ said Satan, ‘thou art fair and kind.’
“Then speaking to Christ, and pointing to the Emperor:
“‘What is to be done with this one?’ said he.
“‘Thou shalt put the crowned worm in a chamber where thou shalt collect all the implements of torment used during his reign. Each time a wretched, innocent man endureth the torment of the water, which bloweth men up like bladders; of the candles, that burneth the soles of the feet and the armpits; the strappado, which breaketh the limbs; the riving asunder by four galleys; every time a free soul gives up its last breath on the fire, he must undergo all these deaths in turn, all these tortures, that he may learn what evil may be wrought by an unjust man that hath at command millions of his fellow men: let him rot in gaols, die upon scaffolds, groan in exile far from his own country; let him be dishonoured, shamefully entreated, scourged; let him be rich and harried by the treasury; let informers bring accusations against him, and confiscations ruin him. Thou shalt make of him an ass, that he may be meek, ill treated, and ill fed; a poor man, that he may ask for alms and be greeted with insults; a worker that he may toil too much and eat too little; then when he shall have suffered sorely in his man’s body and soul, thou shalt turn him into a dog, that he may be friendly, and be beaten; a slave in the Indies, that he may be sold by auction; a soldier, that he may fight for another man and be slain without knowing wherefore. And when, at the end of three hundred years, he will thus have gone through every form of suffering, every distress, thou shalt make a free man of him, and if in this condition he is good as was Claes, thou shalt give his body eternal repose, in a spot shaded at noon, visited by the sun in the morning, under a goodly tree, and covered by a cool verdant sward.And his friends will come to shed their tears of grief upon his tomb, and sow violets, the blossoms of remembrance.’
“‘Pardon, my son,’ said Mary, ‘he knew not what he did, for power hardeneth the heart.’
“‘There is no pardon,’ said Christ.
“‘Ah!’ said His Sacred Majesty, ‘if only I had a glass of Andalusian wine!’
“‘Come,’ said Satan, ‘past is the time of wine, of meats and fowls.’
“And he bore away to the uttermost deeps of hell the soul of the poor emperor, still munching his fragment of anchovy.
“Satan for pity left it to him. Then I saw Madame the Virgin leading Claes to the highest height of heaven, there where was naught but stars hanging like clusters of grapes to the vaulted roof. And there angels laved him and he became handsome and young. Then they gave him rystpap to eat, in silver spoons. And heaven closed again.”
“He is in glory,” said the widow.
“The ashes beat against my heart,” said Ulenspiegel.
During the next three and twenty days Katheline grew white, and thin, drying up as though she were devoured by a fire within more consuming than the fire of madness.
She said no longer: “The fire! Make a hole: the soul would fain escape,” but ever in ecstasy and delight she would say to Nele: “Spouse am I: spouse thou art to be. Handsome; long hair; hot love; knees cold and cold arms!”
And Soetkin looked on her grieving, for she thought this some new madness.
“Thrice three make nine, the sacred number. He that in the night hath eyes shining as a cat’s alone seeth the mystery.”
One night Soetkin, hearing her, made a movement of doubting.
“Four and three,” said she, “misfortune under Saturn; under Venus, the marriage number. Cold arms! Cold knees! Heart of fire!”
Soetkin made answer:
“It is not well to speak of wicked heathen idols.”
Hearing which Katheline made the sign of the cross and said:
“Blessed be the gray horseman. Nele must have a husband, a handsome husband carrying a sword, a black husband with a shining face.”
“Aye,” said Ulenspiegel, “a fricassee of husbands for which I shall make the sauce with my knife.”
Nele looked at her friend with eyes all moist for the pleasure of seeing him so jealous.
“I want no husband,” said she.
“When he that is clad in gray shall come, ever booted and spurred in another fashion.”
“Pray to God for the poor madwife.”
“Ulenspiegel,” said Katheline, “go fetch us four quarts of dobbel-cuyt whilst I go to prepare the heete-koeken”; which are pancakes in the land of France.
Soetkin asked why she made feast on Saturday like the Jews.
“Because the dough is ready.”
Ulenspiegel was standing holding in his hand the great pewter pot, which held the exact measure.
“Mother, what must I do?”
“Go,” said Katheline.
Soetkin would not answer, not being mistress in the house: she said to Ulenspiegel, “Go, my son.”
Ulenspiegel ran up to the Scaeck, whence he brought back the four quarts of dobbel-cuyt.
Soon the perfume of the heete-koeken spread throughout the kitchen, and all were hungry, even the sorrow-stricken widow.
Ulenspiegel ate heartily. Katheline had given him a great tankard saying that being the only male, and head in the house, he must drink more than the others and sing afterwards.
Saying this, she had a crafty look; but Ulenspiegel drank and did not sing. Nele wept, looking at Soetkin all pale and huddled down; only Katheline was gay.
After the meal Soetkin and Ulenspiegel went up to the garret to go to bed; Katheline and Nele remained in the kitchen where the beds were prepared.
Towards two in the morning, Ulenspiegel had long been asleep by reason of the heavy drink; Soetkin, with eyes open even as she had every night, was praying to Madame the Virgin to send her sleep, but Madame did not give ear.
Suddenly she heard the cry of a sea eagle and from the kitchen a like cry in answer; then from afar in the country, other cries resounded, and always she deemed that there was an answer from the kitchen.
Thinking that these were night birds, she paid no heed to them. She heard the neighing of horses and the clatter of iron-shod hoofs striking on the causeway; she opened the window of the garret and saw indeed two horses, saddled, pawing the ground, and browsing on the grass of the roadside. Then she heard the voice of a woman crying out, a man’s voice threatening, blows struck, fresh cries, the banging of a door, and an agonized foot climbing the steps of the stair.
Ulenspiegel snored and heard nothing at all; the garret door opened; Nele came in all but naked, out of breath, panting, weeping, and sobbing, against the door she thrust a table, chairs, an old stove, all she could find in the shape of furniture. The last stars were nearly extinguished, the cocks were beginning to crow.
Ulenspiegel, at the noise that Nele had made, had turned in his bed, but still continued to sleep.
Nele then, flinging herself on Soetkin’s neck: “Soetkin,” she said, “I am afraid, light the candle.”
Soetkin did so; and Nele still groaned the while.
The candle being lit, Soetkin looked at Nele and saw the girl’s chemise torn at the shoulder and on her forehead, her cheek, and her neck bloody scratches such as might be made by fingernails.
“Nele,” said Soetkin, embracing her, “whence come you wounded in this fashion?”
The girl, still trembling and moaning, said: “Do not have us burned, Soetkin.”
In the meantime, Ulenspiegel awaked and was blinking in the candlelight. Soetkin said: “Who is below there?”
“Hold thy peace, it is the husband she wants to give me.”
Soetkin and Nele all at once heard Katheline cry out, and their limbs gave way under both of them.
“He is beating her, he is beating her on my account,” said Nele.
“Who is in the house?” cried Ulenspiegel, leaping out of his bed. Then rubbing his eyes, he went searching about the chamber until he had got his hands on a weighty poker lying in a corner.
“No one,” said Nele, “nobody at all; do not go down, Ulenspiegel!”
But he, paying no heed to anything, ran to the door, flinging aside chairs, tables, and stove. Katheline ceased not to cry out below; Nele and Soetkin clung to Ulenspiegel on the landing, one with her arms about his body, the other holding by his legs, saying: “Do not go down, Ulenspiegel, they are devils.”
“Aye,” he replied, “devil-husband of Nele, I will join him in wedlock with my poker. Betrothal of iron and flesh! Let me go down.”
But still they would not let go, for they were strong by reason of their holding on the balusters. He dragged them down the steps of the staircase, and they were afraid at thus drawing nearer to the devils. But they could do nothing against him. Descending by leaps and bounds like a great snowball from the top of a mountain, he went into the kitchen, saw Katheline worn out and wan in the light of the dawn, and heard her saying: “Hanske, why dost thou leave me alone? It is not my fault if Nele is bad.”
Ulenspiegel, without staying to listen to her, opened the stable door. Finding no one within, he dashed out into the garden and from thence into the highway; far off he saw two horses galloping and losing themselves in the mist. He ran to catch them up, but could not, for they went like the storm winds sweeping up the withered leaves.
Vexed and wild with anger and despair, he came back again, saying between his teeth: “They have violated her! they have violated her!” And with an ill flame burning in his eyes he looked on Nele, who, all shuddering, standing before the widow and Katheline, said: “No Thyl, no, my beloved, no!”
Saying so, she looked into his eyes so seriously and so candidly that Ulenspiegel well perceived that she spoke the truth. Then questioning her:
“Whence came these cries?” said he; “where were those men going? Why is thy chemise torn at the shoulder and the back? Why hast thou on thy cheek and forehead the marks of fingernails?”
“Listen,” said she, “but do not have us burned, Ulenspiegel. Katheline, may God preserve her from hell! has now for three and twenty days a devil for lover, clad in black, booted and spurred. His face shines with the fire seen in summertime upon the waves of the sea when it is hot.”
“Why art thou gone, Hanske, my darling?” said Katheline. “Nele is bad.”
But Nele, going on with her tale, said: “He cries like a sea eagle to announce his presence. My mother sees him in the kitchen every Saturday. She says that his kisses are cold and his body like snow. He beats her when she does not do all that he would have her do. He once brought her some florins, but he took all the others from her.”
During this tale, Soetkin, clasping her hands, prayed for Katheline. Katheline said, rejoicing:
“Mine is my body no longer, mine no longer is my spirit, but his. Hanske, my darling, bring me to the sabbath again. There is only Nele that never hath mind to come; Nele is bad.”
“At daybreak he was wont to depart,” continued the girl; “and on the morrow my mother would tell me a hundred marvels… But there is no need to look on me with such cruel eyes, Ulenspiegel. Yesterday she told me that a fine seigneur, clothed in gray and called Hilbert, desired to have me in marriage and would come here to show himself to me. I answered that I had no mind for any husband, neither ugly nor handsome. By her maternal authority she forced me to remain up to wait their coming; for she loses none of her wits when it is a matter of her amours. We were half undressed, ready to go to bed; I was sleeping upon yonder chair. When they came within I did not wake. Suddenly I felt someone embracing me and kissing me on the neck. And by the light of the shining moon I beheld a face as bright as the crests of the waves of the sea in July, when it is like to thunder, and I heard one saying to me in a whispering voice: ‘I am Hilbert, thy husband; be mine and I shall make thee rich.’ The face of him that spake had a smell as of fish. I repulsed him; he would have taken me by force, but I had the strength of ten men like him. Even so he tore my chemise, wounded my face, and went on saying, ‘Be mine, I shall make thee rich.’ ‘Aye,’ I said, ‘like my mother, from whom thou wilt take her last liard.’ Then he redoubled his violence, but could avail naught against me. Then as he was uglier than a corpse, I gave him my nails in his eyes so hard that he screamed for the pain and I could break loose and come hither to Soetkin.”
Katheline kept repeating:
“Nele is bad. Why hast thou gone so quickly, Hanske, my darling?”
“Where wast thou, ill mother,” said Soetkin, “while they would have taken away thy child’s honour?”
“Nele is bad,” said Katheline. “I was with my black lord, when the gray devil came to us, his face all bloody, and said: ‘Come away, lad: the house is a bad house; the men in it would beat us to the death, and the women have knives at their fingertips.’ Then they ran to their horses and disappeared in the mist. Nele is bad!”
On the morrow, while they were drinking hot milk, Soetkin said to Katheline:
“Thou seest that sorrow is driving me already out of this world, wouldst thou drive me to flee from it through thy damned witchcrafts?”
But Katheline kept saying:
“Nele is bad. Come back, Hanske, my darling.”
On the next Wednesday the devils came back together. Since the Saturday Nele slept at the house of the widow Van den Houte, saying that she could not stay at Katheline’s by reason of the presence of Ulenspiegel, a young bachelor.
Katheline received her black lord and his friend in the keet, which is the wash house and the bakery appurtenant to the main dwelling. And then they held feast and revel with old wines and smoked ox tongues, that were always there awaiting them. The black devil said to Katheline:
“We have need,” said he, “for an important task that is to be done, of a heavy sum of money; give us what thou canst.”
Katheline, being unwilling to give more than a florin, they threatened to kill her. But they let her off with two gold carolus and seven deniers.
“Come no more on the Saturday,” she told them. “Ulenspiegel knows that day and will await you with weapons to kill you, and I should die after you.”
“We shall come next Tuesday,” said they.
On that day Ulenspiegel and Nele slept without fear of the devils, for they believed that they came only on Saturday.
Katheline rose and went into the keet, to see if her friends had come.
She was sorely impatient, because since she had seen Hanske again, her madness had greatly lessened, for folk said it was love-madness.
Not seeing them, she was brokenhearted; when she heard the sea eagle cry from the direction of Sluys, in the country, she went towards the cry. Going in the meadow at the foot of a dyke of faggots and green sod, she heard from the other side of the dyke the two devils talking together. One said:
“I shall have the half of it.”
The other replied:
“Thou shalt have none of it; what is Katheline’s is mine.”
Then they cursed and blasphemed like madmen, disputing between them who should have to himself alone the money and the loves of Katheline and Nele together. Transfixed with fear, daring neither to speak nor budge, Katheline presently heard them fighting, then one of them saying:
“This steel is cold.” Then a rattling breath and the fall of a heavy body.
Affrighted, she walked back to her cottage. At two o’clock in the night she heard again, but now in her garden, the cry of the sea eagle. She went to open and saw before the door her lover devil alone. She asked him:
“What hast thou done with the other?”
“He will not come again,” he answered.
Then embracing her he caressed her. And he seemed to her colder than usual. And Katheline’s spirit was well awaked. When he went away, he asked her for twenty florins, all she had: she gave him seventeen.
On the morrow, being curious, she went along by the dyke; but she saw nothing, save at a spot as big as a man’s coffin blood upon the turf that was less solid under foot. But that night rain washed away the blood.
The next Wednesday she heard the cry of the sea eagle once more in her garden.
Each time he needed money to pay their share of expenses at Katheline’s Ulenspiegel went by night to lift the stone from the hole dug beside the well, and took out a carolus.
One night the three women were spinning; Ulenspiegel was carving with his knife a box that the bailiff had entrusted to him, and on which he was skilfully graving a goodly chase, with a pack of Hainaut dogs, mastiffs from Crete, the which are most savage beasts; Brabant dogs going in pairs and called ear biters, and other dogs, straight-legged, crook-legged, short-legged, and greyhounds.
Katheline being present, Nele asked Soetkin if she had hidden her treasure well. The widow answered without any misgivings that it could not be better than in the side of the well wall.
Towards the midnight, being Thursday, Soetkin was awakened by Bibulus Schnouffius, barking very sharply, but not for long. Deeming that it was some false alarm, she went to sleep again.
Friday morning, early, Soetkin and Ulenspiegel, having risen, did not see Katheline as usual in the kitchen, nor the fire lit, nor the milk boiling on the fire. They were dumbfounded and looked to see if she was not perchance in the garden. They saw her there, though it was misty rain, dishevelled, in her body linen all soaked and chilled, but not daring to enter.
Ulenspiegel, going to her, said:
“What dost thou there, half naked, when it rains?”
“Ah,” she said, “aye, aye, a great portent!”
And she showed the dog with his throat cut and lying stiff.
Ulenspiegel thought at once of the treasure; he ran to it. The hole was empty and the earth strewed far about.
Leaping on Katheline and beating her:
“Where are the carolus?” he said.
“Aye, aye, a great portent!” replied Katheline.
Nele, defending her mother, cried out:
“Mercy and pity, Ulenspiegel!”
He ceased to strike. Soetkin then showed herself and asked what was the matter.
Ulenspiegel showed her the dog killed and the hole empty. Soetkin went white and said:
“Thou dost smite me cruelly, Lord God. My poor feet!”
And she said that because of the agony she had in them and the torment borne in vain for the gold carolus. Nele, seeing Soetkin so gentle, fell in despair and wept; Katheline, waving a piece of parchment, said:
“Aye, a great portent. Last night he came, kindly and goodly. No longer was there on his face that livid glow that gave me so much affright. He spoke to me with a great tenderness. I was ravished with joy, my heart melted within me. He said to me, ‘Now I am rich, and will before long bring thee a thousand florins.’ ‘Aye,’ said I, ‘I am more glad for thy sake than for mine, Hanske, my darling.’ ‘But hast thou not here,’ he asked, ‘some other person thou lovest and whom I might make rich?’ ‘Nay,’ I replied, ‘those that be here have no need of thee.’ ‘Thou art proud,’ said he, ‘are then Soetkin and Ulenspiegel rich?’ ‘They live with no help from their neighbours,’ I replied. ‘In spite of the confiscation?’ said he. To which I answered that you had endured the torture rather than allow your money to be taken. ‘I was not without knowledge of that,’ said he. And he began, laughing quiet and low, to jeer at the bailiff and the sheriffs, for that they had not been able to make you confess. Then I laughed equally. ‘They had not been so silly,’ said he, ‘as to hide their treasure in their house.’ I laughed. ‘Nor in the cellar, here.’ ‘No, no,’ said I. ‘Nor in the garden?’ I made no reply. ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘it would be too much of an imprudence.’ ‘Not much,’ said I, ‘for neither the water nor the wall will speak.’ And he continued to laugh.
“Last night he went away sooner than usual, after giving me a powder with which, said he, I could go to the finest of sabbaths. I brought him, in my linen, to the garden gate, and I was all overcome with sleep. I went, as he had said, to the sabbath, and came back only at daybreak, when I found myself here, and saw the dog dead and the hole empty. That is a very heavy blow for me, who loved him so tenderly and gave him my soul. But you shall have all I have, and I shall work with my feet and my hands to maintain you.”
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