Charles de Coster.
The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2
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“I go thither,” said Lamme.
And he set off in his cart.
While Lamme was trundling towards Koolkerke, the wind, which was both high and warm, drove like a flock of sheep in the sky the gray clouds drifting in bands; the trees complained like the waves of a swelling sea. Ulenspiegel and Nele were now a long while in the forest alone together. Ulenspiegel was hungry, and Nele looked for roots that were good to eat, and found nothing but the kisses her friend gave her, and acorns.
Ulenspiegel, having laid down snares, whistled to call the birds down, in order to catch and cook any that might come. A nightingale settled on a leafy branch close to Nele; she did not catch it, for she wished to leave it to sing; a warbler came, and she had pity on it, because it was so pretty and proud in its air; then came a lark, but Nele told it it would do better to fly away into the heights of the sky and sing a hymn to Nature, than to come stupidly to struggle on the murderous point of a spit.
And she said the truth, for in the meantime Ulenspiegel had lighted a clear fire and cut a wooden spit that only awaited its victims.
But no more birds came now, except a few evil ravens that croaked a long way up over their heads.
And so Ulenspiegel did not eat at all.
Now the time had come when Nele must go away and return to Katheline. And she went weeping, and Ulenspiegel from afar off watched her go.
But she came back, and flinging herself on his neck:
“I am going,” she said.
Then she went a few steps, came back again, saying once more:
“I am going.”
And thus twenty times and more over and over.
Then she went indeed, and Ulenspiegel remained alone. He set off then to go and find Lamme.
When he came up with him, he found him sitting at the foot of the tower, with a great pot of bruinbier between his legs and nibbling most melancholy-wise at a hazel wand.
“Ulenspiegel,” said he, “I think you but sent me here that you might be alone with the damsel; I smote as you bade me, seven times with the hazel wand on each wall of the tower, and though the wind is blowing like the devil, the hinges have not made a sound.”
“Without doubt, then, they must have been oiled,” replied Ulenspiegel.
Then they went away in the direction of the Duchy of Brabant.
King Philip, dark and gloomy, dabbled with paper with no respite all day long, and even by night, and scribbled over papers and parchments. To them he confided the thoughts of his hard heart. Loving no man in his life, knowing that no man loved him, fain to bear his immense empire alone, a dolorous Atlas, he bowed beneath the burden. Phlegmatic and melancholy of temperament, his excessive toil devoured his weak body. Detesting every bright or merry face, he had conceived hatred for our country because of its gaiety; for our traders because of their wealth; for our nobles because of their free speech, frank ways and manners, the sanguine mettlesomeness of their gallant joviality.He knew, for he had been told, that long before Cardinal de Cousa had indicted the abuses of the Church and preached the need for reforms, the revolt against the Pope and the Romish Church, having been manifested throughout our country under different kinds of sect, was in every head like boiling water in a tight shut kettle.
Obstinate and mulish, he thought that his will ought to lie heavy on the whole world like the will of God; he desired that our countries, little used to ways of servile obedience, should bow beneath the old yoke without obtaining any reform. He wanted his Holy Mother the Catholic Church, Apostolic and Roman, to be one, entire and universal with neither modification nor change, and with no other grounds for wanting this except that he did want it so. Acting in this like an unreasonable woman, tossing and turning by night on his bed as though a couch of thorns, incessantly tormented by his thoughts.
“Yea, Master Saint Philip, yea, Lord God, were I to be forced to make of the Low Countries a common grave and throw into it all the inhabitants, they shall come back to you, my blessed patron, and to you, Madame Virgin Mary, and to you, all ye Saints of Paradise.”
And he sought to do even as he said, and thus he was more Roman than the Pope and more Catholic than the councils.
And Ulenspiegel and Lamme, and the people of Flanders and the Low Countries, full of anguish, imagined that they could see from far within the gloomy haunt of the Escurial, that crowned spider, with long legs and open claws, spreading out his web to entangle them around and suck the best of their heart’s blood.
Although the Papal Inquisition had, under the reign of Charles, killed at the stake, by burying alive, and by the rope, a hundred thousand Christians; though the goods of the poor condemned folk had found their way into the coffers of the Emperor and the King, as the rain flows into the drain, Philip deemed that it was insufficient; he imposed new bishops upon the country and proposed to introduce into it the Spanish Inquisition.
And the town heralds everywhere read out to the sound of trump and tambourine proclamations decreeing to all heretics, men and women and girls, death by fire to those who did not abjure their error, by the rope to those who should abjure. Women and girls would be buried alive, and the executioner should dance upon their bodies.
And the flame of resistance ran throughout the whole land.
The fifth of April, before Easter Day, the lords Count Louis of Nassau, Culembourg, and Brederode, the Drinking Hercules, entered with three hundred other gentlemen of birth into the Court of Brussels, to the Duchess of Parma, the Lady Governor. Going in ordered ranks of four, they went in this way up the great stair of the palace.
Being in the chamber where Madame was they presented to her a request in which they asked her to seek to obtain from King Philip the rescinding of the proclamations touching upon religion and also of the Spanish Inquisition, declaring that within our roused and discontented country there could result from it only troubles, ruins, and universal distress.
And this request was termed The Compromise.
Berlaymont, who later was so treacherous and so cruel to the land of his fathers, was standing beside Her Highness, and said to her, mocking at the poverty of certain of the confederated nobles:
“Madame, fear nothing, they are nothing but beggars.”
Meaning thus that these nobles had ruined themselves in the king’s service or else in trying to match the Spanish lords by their sumptuous display.
To turn to scorn the speech of the Sieur de Berlaymont, the lords declared afterwards that they “held it an honour to be esteemed and called beggars for the king’s service and the good of these lands.”
They began to wear a gold medallion about their neck, having the king’s effigy on one side and on the other two hands locked and passing through a beggar’s wallet, with these words: “Faithful to the king even unto the beggar’s wallet.” They wore also in their hats and bonnets little gold jewels in the shape of beggars’ bowls and beggars’ hats.
Meanwhile, Lamme was taking his paunch throughout the whole town, looking for his wife and not finding her.
Ulenspiegel said to him one morning:
“Follow me: we are going to pay our respects to a high, noble, powerful, and redoubted personage.”
“Will he tell me where my wife is?” asked Lamme.
“If he knows,” answered Ulenspiegel.
And they went to call on Brederode, the Drinking Hercules. He was in the courtyard of his house.
“What wouldst thou with me?” he asked of Ulenspiegel.
“To speak with you, Monseigneur,” answered Ulenspiegel.
“Speak,” replied Brederode.
“You,” said Ulenspiegel, “are a goodly, valiant, and mighty lord. You strangled, once long ago, a Frenchman within his cuirass like a mussel in its shell: but if you are mighty and valiant, you are also of good counsel. Why, then, do you wear this medal on which I read ‘Faithful to the king even unto the beggar’s wallet?’”
“Aye,” asked Lamme, “why, Monseigneur?”
But Brederode made no reply whatever and looked hard at Ulenspiegel. The latter continued:
“Why are you, you noble lords, fain to be faithful to the king even to the wallet? Is it for the great good he wills you, for the goodly amity he bears you? Why, instead of being faithful to him unto the wallet, why do ye not make it so that the despoiled tormentor of his countries should be ever faithful to the beggar’s wallet?”
And Lamme nodded his head in sign of assent.
Brederode looked at Ulenspiegel with his keen glance and smiled, seeing his friendly open mien.
“If thou art not,” said he, “a spy of King Philip’s, thou art a good Fleming, and I shall reward thee for either case.”
He brought him along, Lamme following, into his office. There, pulling his ear till the blood came:
“That,” he said, “is for the spy.”
Ulenspiegel uttered no cry.
“Bring,” he said to his cellarer, “bring that kettle of wine with cinnamon.”
The cellarer brought the kettle and a great tankard of mulled wine perfuming the air.
“Drink,” said Brederode to Ulenspiegel; “this is for the good Fleming.”
“Ah!” said Ulenspiegel, “good Flemish, lovely cinnamon speech, the saints speak not its like.”
Then having drunk the half of the wine, he passed the other half to Lamme.
“Who is he?” said Brederode, “this big-bellied papzak who is rewarded without having done anything?”
“This,” answered Ulenspiegel, “is my friend Lamme, who every time he drinks wine mulled imagines he is going to find his wife again.”
“Aye,” said Lamme, draining the wine from the tankard with devout zeal.
“Whither go ye as now?” asked Brederode.
“We are going,” answered Ulenspiegel, “in search of the Seven that shall save the land of Flanders.”
“What Seven?” asked Brederode.
“When I have found them, I shall tell you what they are,” answered Ulenspiegel.
But Lamme, all merry disposed from having drunk:
“Thyl,” said he, “if we were to go to the moon to look for my wife?”
“Order the ladder,” answered Ulenspiegel.
In May, the month of greenery, Ulenspiegel said to Lamme:
“Lo the lovely month of May! Ah! the clear sky of blue, the happy swallows; see the branches on the trees ruddy with sap, the earth is in love. ’Tis the moment to hang and burn for religion. They are there, the dear little inquisitors. What noble countenances! They have all power to correct, to punish, to degrade, to hand over to the secular judges, to have their prisons. Ah, the lovely month of May! – to arrest the person, to conduct law suits without adhering to the customary forms of justice, to burn, hang, behead, and dig for poor women and girls the grave of premature death. The finches sing in the trees. The good inquisitors have their eye on the rich. And the king shall be heir. Go, damsels, dance in the meadows to the sound of pipes and shawms. Oh! the lovely month of May!”
The ashes of Claes beat upon the breast of Ulenspiegel.
“Let us on,” he said to Lamme. “Happy they that will keep an upright heart, and the sword aloft in the black days that are to come!”
Ulenspiegel passed, one day in the month of August, in the rue de Flandre at Brussels, before the house of Jean Sapermillemente, so called because his paternal grandsire when angry used to swear in this fashion as so to avoid blaspheming the most holy name of God. The said Sapermillemente was a master broiderer by trade; but having grown deaf and blind by dint of drinking, his wife, an old gossip with a sour face, broidered in his stead the coats, doublets, cloaks, and shoes of the lords. Her pretty young daughter helped her in this well-paid work.
Passing before the aforesaid house in the last hours of daylight, Ulenspiegel saw the girl at the window and heard her crying aloud:
“I will,” said Ulenspiegel, “if you like.”
“Thou?” said she. “Come nearer that I may see thee.” But he:
“Whence comes it that you are calling in August what the Brabant girls call on the Eve of March?”
“Those girls,” she said, “have only one month to give them a husband; I have twelve, and on the eve of each, not at midnight but for six hours up to midnight, I jump out of my bed, I take three steps backwards towards the window, I cry what you have heard; then returning, I take three steps backwards towards the bed, and at midnight, going to bed, I fall asleep, dreaming of the husband I shall have. But the months, the sweet months, being mockers by nature, ’tis not of one husband I dream now, but of twelve together; you shall be the thirteenth if you will.”
“The others would be jealous,” answered Ulenspiegel. “You cry also ‘Deliverance’.”
The girl answered, blushing:
“I cry ‘Deliverance’ and know what I ask for.”
“I know, too, and I am bringing it to you,” answered Ulenspiegel.
“You must wait,” said she, smiling and showing her white teeth.
“Wait,” said Ulenspiegel, “nay. A house may fall on my head, a gust of wind might blow me into a ditch, a mad pug might bite me in the leg; nay, I shall not wait.”
“I am too young,” said she, “and only cry this for custom’s sake.”
Ulenspiegel became suspicious, thinking that it is on the Eve of March and not of the corn month that the Brabant girls cry to have a husband.
She said, smiling:
“I am too young and only cry this for the sake of the old custom.”
“Will you wait till you are too old?” answered Ulenspiegel. “That is bad arithmetic. Never have I seen a neck so round, or whiter breasts, Flemish breasts full of that good milk that makes men.”
“Full?” said she, “not yet, Traveller in a hurry.”
“Wait,” repeated Ulenspiegel. “Must I have no teeth left to eat you raw with, darling? You do not answer, you smile with your eyes clear brown and your lips red as cherries.”
The girl, looking craftily at him, replied:
“Why dost thou love me so quickly? What is thy trade? Art thou beggar, art thou rich?”
“A beggar,” said he, “am I, and rich at the same time, if you give me your darling self.”
“That is not what I want to know. Dost thou go to mass? Art thou a good Christian? Where dost thou dwell? Wouldst thou dare to say that thou art a Beggar, a true blue Beggar resisting the proclamations and the Inquisition?”
The ashes of Claes beat upon Ulenspiegel’s breast.
“I am a Beggar,” said he, “I would fain see dead and eaten by worms the oppressors of the Low Countries. Thou lookest on me confounded and astonied. This fire of love that burns for thee, darling, is the fire of youth. God lighted it; it flames as the sun shines, until it dieth down. But the fire of vengeance that broodeth in my heart, God lit that as well. It will be the sword, the fire, the rope, conflagration, devastation, war, and ruin to the murderers.”
“Thou art goodly,” said she, sadly, kissing him on both cheeks, “but hold thy peace.”
“Why dost thou weep?” answered he.
“You must always,” she said, “watch here and elsewhere wherever you are.”
“Have these walls ears?” asked Ulenspiegel.
“No ears but mine,” said she.
“Carven by love, I will stop them with a kiss.”
“Mad lover, listen to me when I speak to you.”
“Why? what have you to say to me?”
“Listen to me,” she said, impatient. “Here comes my mother… Hold your tongue, hold your peace above all things before her…”
The old Sapermillemente woman came in. Ulenspiegel studied her.
“Muzzle full of holes like a skimming ladle,” said he to himself, “eyes with a hard false look, mouth that would laugh and grimace, you make me curious.”
“God be with you, Messire,” said the old woman, “be with you without ceasing. I have received moneys, Daughter, good moneys from Messire d’Egmont when I took him his cloak on which I had embroidered the fool’s bauble. Yes, Messire, the fool’s bauble against the Red Dog.”
“The Cardinal de Granvelle?” asked Ulenspiegel.
“Aye,” said she, “against the Red Dog. It is said that he denounces their doings to the King; they would fain bring him to death. They are right, are they not?”
Ulenspiegel answered not a word.
“You have not seen them in the streets clad in a gray doublet and opperst-kleed, gray as the common folk wear them, and the long hanging sleeves and their monks’ hoods and on all the opperst-kleederen the fool’s bauble embroidered. I made at least twenty-seven and my daughter fifteen. That incensed the Red Dog to see these baubles.”
Then speaking in Ulenspiegel’s ear:
“I know that the lords have decided to replace the bauble by a sheaf of corn in sign of unity. Aye, aye, they mean to struggle against the king and the Inquisition. It is well done of them, is it not, Messire?”
Ulenspiegel made no answer.
“The stranger lord is melancholy,” said the old woman; “he has his mouth tight shut all of a sudden.”
Ulenspiegel said not a word and went out.
Presently he went into a gaffhouse so as not to forget to drink. The gaff was full of drinkers speaking imprudently of the king, of the detested proclamations, of the Inquisition and of the Red Dog who must be forced to leave the country. He saw the old woman, all in rags, and seeming to doze beside a pint of brandy. She remained like that for a long time; then he saw her taking a little platter out of her pocket, asking money, especially from those who spoke the most incautiously.
And the men gave her florins, deniers, and patards, and without stinginess.
Ulenspiegel, hoping to learn from the girl what the old Sapermillemente woman did not say to him, passed before the house again; he saw the girl who was not crying out her rhyme any more, but smiled at him and winked her eye, a sweet promise.
All on a sudden the old woman came back after him.
Ulenspiegel, angry to see her, ran like a stag into the street crying out: “’T brandt! ’t brandt! Fire! Fire!” till he came before the house of the baker Jacob Pietersen. The front, glazed in the German fashion, was flaming red to the sunset. A thick smoke, the smoke of faggots turning to red coals in the furnace, was pouring out of the bakehouse chimney. Ulenspiegel never ceased to cry as he ran: “’T brandt, ’t brandt,” and pointed out Jacob Pietersen’s house. The crowd, gathering in front of it, saw the red windows, the thick smoke, and cried like Ulenspiegel: “’T brandt, ’t brandt, it burns! it burns!” The watchman on Notre Dame de la Chapelle blew his trumpet while the beadle rang the bell called Wacharm in full peal. And lads and lasses ran up in swarms, singing and whistling.
The bell and the trumpet still sounding, the old Sapermillemente woman picked up her heels and went off.
Ulenspiegel was watching her. When she was far away, he came into the house.
“You here!” said the girl; “is there not a fire then over yonder?”
“Yonder? No,” replied Ulenspiegel.
“But that bell that is ringing so lamentably?”
“It knows not what it doth,” answered Ulenspiegel.
“And that dolorous trumpet and all these folk running?”
“Infinite is the tale of fools.”
“What is burning then?” said she.
“Thy eyes and my flaming heart,” answered Ulenspiegel.
And he leaped to her mouth.
“You eat me,” she said.
“I like cherries,” said he.
She looked at him, smiling and distressed. Suddenly bursting into tears:
“Come back here no more,” she said. “You are a Beggar, a foe to the Pope, do not come back…”
“Thy mother!” said he.
“Aye,” she said, blushing. “Dost thou know where she is at this moment? She is listening where the fire is. Dost thou know where she will go presently? To the Red Dog, to report all she knows and make ready the work for the duke that is to come. Flee, Ulenspiegel; I save thee, but flee. Another kiss, but come back no more; still another, thou art goodly, I weep, but begone.”
“Brave girl,” said Ulenspiegel, holding her embraced.
“I was not always,” she said. “I, too, like her…”
“These songs,” said he, “these mute appealings of beauty to men prone to love…?”
“Aye,” said she. “My mother would have it so. Thou, I save thee, loving thee for love’s sake. The others, I shall save them in remembrance of thee, my beloved. When thou art far away, will thy heart pull a little towards the girl that repented? Kiss me, darling. She will never again for money give victims to the stake. Go, go; nay, stay a little still. How soft and smooth thy hand is! There, I kiss thy hand, it is the sign of slavery; thou art my master. Listen, come nearer, hush. Men, ragged scoundrels and robbers and an Italian among them, came here last night, one after the other. My mother brought them into the chamber where thou art, and bade me go out from it, and she shut the door. I heard these words: ‘Stone crucifix… Borgerhoet gate … procession … Antwerp… Notre Dame,’ suppressed laughter and florins counted out on the table… Flee, here they are; flee away, my beloved. Keep a kind memory for me; flee…”
Ulenspiegel ran as she bade him as far as the Old Cock, In den ouden Haen, and found there Lamme plunged in melancholy, eating a sausage and draining his seventh quart of Louvain peterman.
And he forced him to run like himself, in spite of his belly.
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