Charles de Coster.
The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2
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The king and his spouse replied together:
And all the spirits fell to chanting in unison:
“But,” said Ulenspiegel, “Highness, and ye, spirits, I understand not your talk. Ye make a mock of me, sans doubt.”
But without heeding him they said:
And that with so tremendous a chorus and so terrifically loud, strong, and sonorous that the earth trembled and the heavens shivered. And the birds whistling, the owls bubbling, the sparrows twittering in affright, the sea eagles complaining, all flew round aghast. And the beasts of the earth, lions, serpents, bears, stags, bucks, wolves, dogs, and cats roared, hissed, belled, howled, barked, and mewed terribly.
And the spirits chanted:
And the cocks crowed, and all the spirits vanished save one malicious emperor of mines who seizing Ulenspiegel and Nele each by an arm, hurled them brutally out into the void.
They found themselves lying beside each other, as though for sleep, and they shivered in the keen wind of the morning.
And Ulenspiegel saw the delicious body of Nele all gilded in the sun that was then rising.
On that morning, which was in September, Ulenspiegel took his stick, three florins that Katheline gave him, a piece of pig’s liver, and a slice of bread, and set out from Damme, going in the direction of Antwerp, seeking the Seven. Nele was sleeping.
As he journeyed, he was followed by a dog that came sniffing about him because of the liver, and leaped up on his legs. Ulenspiegel would have driven him away, and seeing that the dog was determined to follow him, addressed this discourse to him:
“Doggie, my dear, thou art but ill advised to leave the home where good messes await thee, delicious scraps, and bones full of marrow, to follow upon the road of adventure a vagabond fellow who mayhap will not always have even roots to give thee for thy food. Be guided by me, dog of no prudence, and go back to thine own baes. Avoid the rains, snows, hails, drizzles, mists, hoarfrosts, and other lean fare that fall upon the wanderer’s back.Stay in the corner of the hearth, keeping thyself snug and warm, rolled up into a ball before the gay fire; leave me to walk in the mud, the dust, the cold, and the heat, roasted to-day, to-morrow frozen, feasted on Friday, famished on Sunday. Thou wilt do a sensible thing if thou dost return whence thou comest, dogling of small experience.”
The animal did not appear to hear Ulenspiegel at all. Wagging his tail and leaping all he could, he went barking for appetite’s sake. Ulenspiegel thought it was for friendliness, but he never thought of the liver he carried in his satchel.
He walked on; the dog followed him. Having thus gone more than a league, they saw in the road a cart drawn by an ass hanging its head. Upon a bank on the roadside there sat, between two clumps of thistles, a big man holding in one hand a knuckle bone of mutton, which he was gnawing, and in the other a flask whose juice he was draining. When he was not in the act of eating or of drinking, he whimpered and wept.
Ulenspiegel having stopped, the dog stopped likewise. Smelling the mutton and the liver, he climbed up the bank. There, sitting on his hindquarters beside the man, he pawed his doublet, that he might share the feast, but the man, repulsing him with an elbow and holding the knuckle bone high in air, groaned lamentably. The dog imitated him for greedy longing. The ass, cross to find himself harnessed to the cart, and so unable to reach the thistles, began to bray.
“What wouldst thou have, Jan?” asked the man of his ass.
“Nothing,” answered Ulenspiegel, “except that he would fain breakfast on these thistles that flourish beside you as they grow on the roodscreen of Tessenderloo beside and above Monseigneur Christ. That dog, too, would not be grieved to effect a wedlock of jaws with the bone you have there; in the meanwhile, I am going to give him the liver I have here.”
The liver having been devoured by the dog, the man looked at his bone picked it again to have the meat that still remained on it, then he gave it thus denuded of flesh to the dog, who, setting his forepaws on it, began to crunch it on the grass.
Then the man looked at Ulenspiegel.
The latter knew Lamme Goedzak, of Damme.
“Lamme,” he said, “what dost thou here drinking, eating, and whimpering? What trooper can have rudely dressed down your ears?”
“Alas! my wife!” said Lamme.
He was on the point of emptying his wine flask, when Ulenspiegel put his hand on his arm.
“Do not drink in this fashion,” said he, “for drinking precipitately doth no benefit save to the kidneys. It were better if this belonged to him that hath no bottle.”
“You say well,” said Lamme, “but will you drink any better?” And he proffered him the flask.
Ulenspiegel took it, lifted up his elbow, then, returning the flask:
“Call me Spaniard,” said he, “if there is enough left to moisten a sparrow.”
Lamme looked at the flask, and without ceasing to whine, groped in his satchel, pulled out another flask and a piece of sausage which he began to cut in slices and chew in melancholy fashion.
“Dost thou never stop eating, Lamme?” asked Ulenspiegel.
“Often, my son,” replied Lamme, “but it is to drive away my mournful thoughts. Where art thou, wife?” said he, wiping away a tear.
And he cut off ten slices of sausage.
“Lamme,” said Ulenspiegel, “do not eat so fast and without a thought of compassion for the poor pilgrim.”
Lamme, still weeping, gave him four slices and Ulenspiegel eating them was moved and softened by their delicious flavour.
But Lamme, weeping and eating without ceasing, said:
“My wife, my good, dear wife! How sweet and shapely she was of her body, light as a butterfly, bright and swift as lightning, singing like a lark! Too well, however, loved she to clothe herself with fine adornments. Alas! they became her so well! But the flowers themselves have also a rich array. If you had seen, my son, her little hands so light for caressing, never would you have allowed them to touch pan or pot. The kitchen fire would have blackened their colour that was clear and bright as the day itself. And what eyes! I melted with love merely to look at them. – Take a draught of wine. I shall drink after you. Ah! if only she be not dead! Thyl, I kept all the work of my house for myself, so as to spare her the smallest task; I swept the house, I made the nuptial bed on which she lay down at night weary with idleness and comfort; I washed the dishes and the linen which I ironed myself. – Eat, Thyl, it is from Ghent, this sausage. – Often having gone out a walking she came back late for dinner, but it was so great a joy for me to see her that I never ventured to scold her, happy when, pouting, she did not turn her back to me at night. I have lost all. – Drink of this wine, it is a Brussels vintage, made in the same way as Burgundy.”
“Why did she go away?” asked Ulenspiegel.
“Do I know that, I?” went on Lamme Goedzak. “Where are the days when I used to go to her home, hoping to marry her, and she fled from me for love or fear? If she had her arms bare, lovely round white arms, and saw me looking at them, all at once she would pull down her sleeves over them. At other times she would give herself to my caresses, and I could kiss her lovely eyes, which she shut for me, and the wide firm nape of her neck; then she would shiver, utter little cries, and throwing her head back, hit my nose with it. And she would laugh when I said ‘oh!’ and I would beat her in lover fashion, and there was nothing between us but games and laughter. – Thyl, is there any wine still left in the flask?”
“Aye,” said Ulenspiegel.
Lamme drank and went on with his discourse:
“At other times, more loving, she would fling both arms about my neck and say to me, ‘How handsome you are!’ and she would kiss me gamesomely and a hundred times together, on my cheek or my forehead but never on the mouth, and when I asked her whence came this great reserve in so extended a license, she went running to take from a tankard on a chest a doll clad in silk and pearls, and said, shaking and dandling it: ‘I don’t want this.’ Doubtless her mother, to keep her virtue safe, had told her that babies are made by the mouth. Ah! sweet moments! tender caresses! Thyl, see if you cannot find a little ham in the pouch of this bag.”
“Half of one,” replied Ulenspiegel, giving it to Lamme, who ate it all every bit.
Ulenspiegel watched him doing so, and said:
“This ham doth me great good in my stomach.”
“To me also,” said Lamme, picking his teeth with his nails. “But I shall never again see my darling; she has fled from Damme; would you seek her with me in my cart?”
“I will,” replied Ulenspiegel.
“But,” said Lamme, “is there nothing at all left in the flask?”
“Nothing at all,” answered Ulenspiegel.
And they got up into the cart, drawn by the donkey, who sounded in melancholy wise the bray of departure.
As for the dog, he had gone off, well fed and filled, without saying a word.
While the cart rolled along upon a dyke between the canal and a pond, Ulenspiegel, in deep thought, caressed the ashes of Claes on his breast. He asked himself if the vision was false or true, if those spirits had mocked him or if they had by riddles told him what in good sooth he must find to make the land of his fathers happy.
Vainly groping for the interpretation, he could not discover what the Seven and the Girdle meant.
Thinking upon the dead Emperor, the living King, the Lady Governor, the Pope of Rome, the Grand Inquisitor, the General of the Jesuits, he found in these six great tormentors of the country whom he would gladly have burned alive. But he thought it was not they, for they were too easy to burn, so the Seven must be elsewhere.
And in his own mind he was always repeating:
“Alas!” said he to himself, “in death, blood, and tears, find seven, burn seven, love seven! My poor wit fails, for who then burns what he loves?”
The cart having already swallowed up a long stretch of the road, they heard a noise of feet on the sandy earth, and a voice singing:
Ulenspiegel smote upon Lamme’s paunch and said to him:
“Hold thy breath, big belly.”
“Alas!” answered Lamme, “that is a hard thing for a man of my corpulence!”
But Ulenspiegel, paying him no heed, hid behind the tilt of the cart, and imitating the voice of a wheezy fellow lilting after drinking, he sang:
“Thyl,” said Lamme, “thou hast an ill tongue this morning.”
Ulenspiegel, without listening to him, thrust his head out through the opening of the tilt and said:
“Nele, do you not know me?”
She, seized with fear, weeping and laughing at the same time, for her cheeks were all wet, said to him:
“I see you, nasty traitor!”
“Nele,” said Ulenspiegel, “if you want to beat me I have a yard stick in here. It is heavy to make the strokes sink well in and knotty to make them leave their mark.”
“Thyl,” said Nele, “art thou going towards the Seven?”
“Aye,” answered Ulenspiegel.
Nele was carrying a satchel that looked ready to burst; it was so full.
“Thyl,” she said, holding it up to him, “I thought it was unwholesome for a man to travel without taking with him a good fat goose, a ham, and Ghent sausages. And you must eat this in remembrance of me.”
As Ulenspiegel was looking at Nele and not at all thinking of taking the satchel, Lamme thrust out his head through another hole in the canvas and said:
“Forethinking damsel, if he does not accept, it is but in forgetfulness; but give me that ham, give me that goose, tender me those sausages; I shall keep them for him.”
“What,” said Nele, “is this good moonface?”
“That,” said Ulenspiegel, “is a victim of marriage, who, devoured by sorrow, would wither away like an apple in the oven, if he did not recuperate his strength with constant nourishment.”
“Thou hast said the truth, son,” sighed Lamme.
The sun, which was shining strong, burned and scorched Nele’s head. She covered herself up with her apron. Wishing to be alone with her, Ulenspiegel said to Lamme:
“Seest thou that woman wandering yonder in the meadow?”
“I see her,” said Lamme.
“Dost thou recognize her?”
“Ah, me!” said Lamme, “could it be my wife? She is not clad like a townswoman.”
“Thou doubtest still, blind mole,” said Ulenspiegel.
“If it were not she?” said Lamme.
“Thou wouldst lose nothing by going; on the left there, towards the north, there is a kaberdoesje where thou wilt find good bruinbier. We shall go thither to join thee. And here is ham to salt thy natural thirst withal.”
Lamme, getting out of the cart, ran quickly towards the woman that was in the meadow.
Ulenspiegel said to Nele:
“Why do you not come beside me?”
Then, helping her to get up into the cart, he made her sit beside him, took the apron from about her head and the cloak from her shoulders: then giving her a hundred kisses, he said:
“Whither wert thou going, my beloved?”
She answered no word, but she seemed all entranced in ecstasy. And Ulenspiegel, transported even as she, said to her:
“So thou art here, indeed! The sweetbriar roses in the hedges have not the lovely redness of your fresh skin. You are no queen, but let me make you a crown of kisses. Darling arms, all soft, all rosy, that Love himself made all on purpose for kissing! Ah, beloved maid, will not my rugged man’s hands wither that shoulder? The light butterfly settles on the crimson carnation, but can I rest on your dazzling whiteness without withering it, clumsy lout that I am? God is in his heaven, the king upon his throne, and the sun is aloft, triumphing; but am I God, the king, or sunlight, to be so near you? Oh, hair softer than flossy silk! Nele, I strike, I rend, I tear to pieces! But do not be afraid, my love. Thy darling little foot! How comes it to be so white! Has it been bathed in milk?”
She would fain have risen.
“What fearest thou?” said Ulenspiegel. “’Tis not the sun that shineth on us and paints thee all in gold. Lower not thine eyes. See in mine what a lovely fire he lighteth there. Listen, beloved; hear, my darling; it is the silent hour of noon; the peasant is in his home feeding on his soup, shall not we feed upon love? Why have not I a thousand years to pluck one by one on thy knees like a string of pearls from the Indies!”
“Golden tongue!” said she.
And Master Sun blazed through the white canvas of the cart, and a lark sang above the clover, and Nele drooped her head upon Ulenspiegel’s shoulder.
Meanwhile Lamme came back sweating big drops of perspiration, and puffing and blowing like a dolphin.
“Alas!” he said, “I was born under an ill star. After I had to run hard to come up with that woman, who was not my wife and who was old, I saw by her face that she was full forty-five years of age, and by her headdress that she had never been married. She asked me tartly what I was coming to do among the clover with my paunch.
“‘I am looking for my wife, who has left me,’ I replied with all gentleness, ‘and taking you for her, I came hastening towards you.’
“At that word the old maid told me I had nothing to do but to go back whence I had come, and that if my wife had left me, she had done right, seeing that all men were scoundrels, heretics, disloyal, poisoners, deceiving poor maids despite even their ripe years, and that anyhow she would make her dog eat me if I did not make myself scarce as quickly as possible.
“I did so, though not without apprehension; for I could see a huge mastiff lying growling at her feet. When I had cleared the boundary of her field, I sat down and to restore myself I bit into your piece of ham you gave me. I was at that moment between two patches of clover; suddenly I heard a noise behind me, and turning round, I saw the old girl’s big mastiff, not threatening now, but wagging his tail to and fro with amiability and appetite. It was my ham he was sharp set against. So I gave him a few little pieces, when his mistress came up, and she cried out:
“‘Seize the fellow! seize him, put your teeth in him, my son!’
“And I started to run, and the big mastiff at my stockings, and he took a piece of them and the flesh with it. But being angered with the pain of this, turning round on him I fetched him such a sour blow of my stick on his front paws that I broke at least one of them for him. He fell, crying out in his dog’s speech ‘mercy,’ which I accorded him. Meanwhile, his mistress was throwing clods of earth at me for want of stones. And I ran.
“Alas! is it not cruel and unjust that because a girl had not enough beauty to find a man to marry her, she should take revenge on poor innocent folk like myself?
“I went away all melancholy to the kaberdoesje that you had pointed out to me, hoping to find there the bruinbier of consolation, were it but one quart or half a dozen. But I was deceived, for when I went within I saw a man and a woman and they fighting. I asked them to be so good as to interrupt their battle to give me a pot of bruinbier, were it one quart or half a dozen; but the woman, a regular stokfisch, in a fury, answered that if I did not be off from there as quickly as possible she would make me swallow the sabot with which she was beating her husband over the head. And so, my friend, here I am, sweating sore and sore wearied. Have you not anything to eat?”
“Aye,” said Ulenspiegel.
“At last!” said Lamme.
Thus re-united, they went on their way together. The donkey, laying back his ears, pulled the cart along.
“Lamme,” said Ulenspiegel, “here be we four food comrades: the ass, the beast of the good God, feeding on chance-found thistles along the meadows; thou, good belly, seeking her that fled from thee; she, sweet girl beloved, tender hearted, finding one that is not worthy of her, I mean myself the fourth.
“Now, then, my children, courage! the leaves are yellowing and the skies will be more gorgeous, for soon will Master Sun go to rest amid the autumnal mists, winter will come, the image and likeness of death, covering with snowy shrouds those that sleep beneath our feet, and I shall be trudging it for the happiness of the land of our fathers. Poor dead ones; Soetkin who didst die of grief; Claes that diedst in the fire; oak of goodness and ivy of love, I, your seedling, I suffer greatly and I shall avenge you, beloved ashes that beat upon my breast.”
“We must not weep those that die for justice’s sake.”
But Ulenspiegel remained rapt in thought; all at once he said:
“This, Nele, is the hour of farewell, for a long long time, and never again, it may be, shall I look on thy sweet face.”
Nele, looking at him with her eyes gleaming like stars:
“Why,” said she, “why do you not leave this cart to come with me into the forest where you would find good and dainty things to eat; for I know the plants and how to call the birds to me?”
“Damsel,” said Lamme, “’tis ill done of thee to seek to stop Ulenspiegel in the way, for he must look for the Seven and help me to find my wife again.”
“Not yet,” said Nele; and she wept, laughing tenderly through her tears upon her friend Ulenspiegel.
He, seeing this, answered him:
“Your wife, you will always find her soon enough, when you want to seek a new sorrow.”
“Thyl,” said Lamme, “wilt thou leave me thus alone in my cart for this damsel? Thou dost not answer and art thinking of the forest, where the Seven are not, nor my wife, either. Let us rather seek her along this stone paven road on which carts go so well and handily.”
“Lamme,” said Ulenspiegel, “you have a full satchel in the cart, you will not therefore die of hunger if you go without me from here to Koolkerke, where I shall join you again. You must be alone there, for there you will know towards which point of the compass you must direct yourself in order to find your wife again. Listen and hearken. You will go at once with your cart to Koolkerke, three leagues away, the cool church, so named because like many others it is beaten upon by the four winds all at once. Upon the spire there is a vane shapen like a cock and swinging to all the winds on its rusty hinges. It is the screeching of these hinges that indicates to poor men that have lost their lovers the way they must follow to find them again. But first they must strike each wall seven times with a hazel wand. If the hinges cry out when the wind blows from the north, that is the direction in which you must go, but prudently, for the northern wind is a wind of war; if from the south, go lightly thither, it is a love wind; if from the east, run along full speed, it is gaiety and light; if from the west, go softly, it is the wind of rain and tears. Go, Lamme, go to Koolkerke, and wait for me there.”
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