Charles de Coster.
The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2
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Behind them came, with bursts of laughter, twittering like warblers, singing like nightingales, eating, drinking, dancing, standing, lying, or riding, their women; handsome wild girls, in two open carts.
Some were clad like lansquenets, but in fine white linen low-necked, slashed on the arms, the legs, the doublet, showing their sweet flesh; with caps on their heads of fine linen edged with gold, and surmounted by handsome ostrich plumes floating in the wind. At their belts of cloth-of-gold touched off with red satin, hung the cloth-of-gold scabbards of their daggers. And their shoes, stockings, and breeches, their doublets, laces, and metal trappings were all made of gold and white silk.
Others were also clad in the fashion of landsknechts, but in blue, in green, in scarlet, in azure, in crimson, slashed, broidered, blazoned at their own caprice. And all wore upon their arm the armlet of the colour that indicated their profession.
A hoer-wyfel, their sergeant, would fain have made them keep silence; but by their captivating grimaces and speeches they forced him to laugh and never obeyed him at all.
Ulenspiegel, in pilgrim array, walked in company with the two troops, as a small boat might with a great ship. And he kept on murmuring his paternosters.
Suddenly Lamotte said to him:
“Whither art thou going thus, Pilgrim?”
“Master Captain,” replied Ulenspiegel, who was hungry, “long ago I committed a grave sin and was condemned by the chapter of Notre Dame to go a-foot to Rome to ask for pardon from the Holy Father, who accorded it to me. I came back to these countries cleansed of my offence on condition that on the way I should preach the Sacred Mysteries to all and any soldiers I might meet with, who should in return for my sermons give me bread and meat. And thus preaching I sustain my poor life. Will you grant me permission to keep my vow at the next halt?”
“Yea,” said Messire de Lamotte.
Ulenspiegel, mingling and fraternizing with the Walloons and Flemings, felt his letters underneath his doublet.
The girls cried out to him:
“Pilgrim, handsome pilgrim, come hither and show us the power of your scallops.”
Ulenspiegel, drawing near to them, said modestly:
“My sisters in God, mock not ye the poor pilgrim who goeth over mountain and by vale to preach the holy faith unto soldiers.”
And he devoured with his eyes their dainty charms.
But the girls, thrusting their sprightly faces into the openings in the canvas of the carts:
“You are very young,” said they, “to preach to soldiers. Come up into our carts, we will teach you pleasant discourses.”
Ulenspiegel would willingly have obeyed, but could not on account of his letters; already two of the girls, reaching their round white arms out of the cart, were trying to pull him up to them, when the hoer-wyfel, jealous, said to Ulenspiegel: “If you do not take yourself off, I will have your head off.”
And Ulenspiegel went farther off, looking slyly at the fresh girls, all golden in the sun, which shone bright and clear on the road.
They came to Berchem.Philippe de Lannoy, sieur de Beauvoir, the commander of the Flemings, ordered them to halt.
At this place there was an oak of middle height, bereft of all its branches, except one big bough broken off halfway on which the month before there had been an Anabaptist hanged by the neck.
The soldiers stopped; the sutlers came to them, and sold them bread, wine, beer, meats of every kind. As for the girls, they sold them sugar, castrelins, almonds, tartlets, seeing which Ulenspiegel grew still hungrier.
Suddenly climbing up the tree like a monkey, he planted himself astride of the great bough that was some seven feet above the earth; there, lashing himself with a scourge, while the troopers and the girls made circle about him:
“In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” said he. “Amen. It is written: ‘He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord’: soldiers, and ye, beauteous dames, sweet companions in love to these valiant warriors, lend ye to the Lord, which is to say: give me bread, meat, wine, beer, if ye will, tartlets if it please you, and God, who is rich, will repay it you in morsels of ortolans, in rivers of malvoisie, in mountains of sugar candy, in rystpap which ye shall eat in paradise with silver spoons.”
Then bemoaning himself:
“See ye not with what cruel torments of penance I seek to merit forgiveness for my sins? Will ye not ease the sharp anguish of this scourge that woundeth my back and maketh me to bleed?”
“Who is this mad man?” said the troopers.
“Friends,” answered Ulenspiegel, “I am not mad, but repentant and famished; for while my spirit weepeth for its guilty crimes, my belly weepeth its lack of meat. Blessed soldiers, and you, fair damsels, I see there among you fat ham, goose, sausages, wine, beer, tartlets. Will you not give somewhat to the pilgrim?”
“Aye, aye,” said the Flemish troopers, “he has a good old phiz, the preacher.”
And all began to throw pieces of food to him like balls. Ulenspiegel ceased not to talk, and went on eating, sitting astride the bough.
“Hunger,” said he, “maketh man hard-hearted and unfit for prayer, but ham taketh away this evil humour all of a sudden.”
“Look out, crackpot!” said a troop sergeant, throwing him a bottle half full.
Ulenspiegel caught the bottle in the air, and drinking by little sips, said:
“If a sharp and raging hunger is a thing harmful to the poor body of a man, there is another thing as hurtful, and that is the anguish of a poor pilgrim to whom generous soldiers have given, one a slice of ham, the others a bottle of beer. For the pilgrim is sober by his custom, and if he drank and had in his inside such scanty and trifling nourishment, he would be drunk immediately.”
As he spoke, he caught once again a goose’s thigh in the air.
“This,” said he, “is a thing miraculous, to fish meadow fish out of the air. But it has disappeared, bone and all. What is greedier than dry sand? A barren woman and a famished stomach.”
Suddenly he felt a halberd point prick him in the seat. And he heard an ensign say:
“Do pilgrims disdain a leg of mutton for the nonce?”
Ulenspiegel saw, spitted on the blade of the halberd, a big knuckle bone. Taking it he said:
“I will make a marrow flute of it to sing thy praises, compassionate halberdier. And yet,” said he, eating at the knuckle bone, “what is a meal without dessert, what is a knuckle bone, however succulent, if after it the pilgrim doth not behold a tartlet displaying its blessed face?”
Saying this he put up his hand to his face, for two tartlets coming from the group of girls had flattened themselves out, one on his eye, the other on his cheek. And the girls laughed and Ulenspiegel answered:
“All thanks, sweet damsels, who give me accolades of sweetmeats.”
But the tartlets had fallen to the ground.
Suddenly the drums beat, the fifes squealed, and the soldiers resumed their march.
Messire de Beauvoir bade Ulenspiegel come down from his tree and march beside the troop from which he would fain have been a hundred leagues, for from the talk of some sour-faced troopers he scented that they were suspicious of him, that they would before long seize him for a spy, would search him and hang him if they found his letters.
And so, letting himself tumble into a ditch, he cried:
“Pity, soldiers; my leg is broken, I cannot walk farther, let me get up into the women’s cart.”
But he knew that the jealous hoer-wyfel would never allow it.
The girls called to him from their cart:
“Now, come up, dear pilgrim, come. We will love you, caress you, feast you, heal you all in one day.”
“I know,” said he, “a woman’s hand is a heavenly balm for every wound.”
But the jealous hoer-wyfel, speaking to Messire de Lamotte:
“Messire,” said he, “I believe that this pilgrim is fooling us with his broken leg, to get into the cart of the women. Give orders to leave him in the road.”
“That is my will,” said Messire de Lamotte.
And Ulenspiegel was left in the ditch.
Certain troopers, believing that he had really broken his leg, were sorry for it because of his jollity. They left him meat and wine enough for two days. The girls would fain have gone to help him, but not being able to, they threw him all the castrelins they had left.
The band was far away; Ulenspiegel made across the fields in his pilgrim’s robes, bought a horse, and by highways and byways he came like the wind to Bois-le-Duc.
At the news of the coming of Messires de Beauvoir and de Lamotte, the townspeople took arms to the number of eight hundred, chose captains for them, and despatched Ulenspiegel to Antwerp disguised as a coalman to ask help from the Drinking Hercules, Brederode.
And the troopers of Messires de Lamotte and de Beauvoir could not come into Bois-le-Duc, a city armed and watchful, and ready for a stout defence.
The following month, a certain doctor, Agileus, gave Ulenspiegel two florins and letters with which he was to betake himself to Simon Praet, who would tell him what he had to do.
At Praet’s, Ulenspiegel found food and shelter. He slept well, and well liking was his face in the flower of youth; Praet, on the contrary, with a wretched and pitiful mien, seemed for ever locked in with melancholy thoughts. And Ulenspiegel was astonished to hear by night, if by any chance he awoke, the noise of hammering.
However early he might rise, Simon Praet was up before him, and more pitiful his look, sadder still his eyes, gleaming like a man’s making ready for death or for battle.
Often Praet sighed, clasping his hands for prayer, and ever seemed filled with indignation. His fingers were black and greasy, and so, too, were his arms and his shirt.
Ulenspiegel determined to discover whence came the hammering, and the black arms and the melancholy of Praet. One night, having been at the Blauwe Gans, the tavern of the Blue Goose, in company with Simon who was there against his will, he feigned to be so drunk and to have so much in his head that he must needs take it incontinently to his pillow.
And Praet brought him home mournfully.
Ulenspiegel slept in the garret, under the cats; Simon’s bed was below, near the cellar.
Ulenspiegel, continuing his drunken feigning, went climbing staggering up the stairs, pretending to be about to fall and holding on by the rope. Simon helped him with tender care, like a brother. Having put him to bed, condoling with him for his drunkenness, and praying God to be good enough to forgive him, he came down, and soon Ulenspiegel heard the same noise of hammering that had awakened him many times.
Getting up noiselessly, he went barefoot down the narrow stairs, so that after two and seventy steps he found himself in front of a low little door, through the chinks of which filtered a thread of light.
Simon was printing broadsides on the old types of the time of Laurens Coster, the great fosterer of the noble art of printing.
“What dost thou there?” asked Ulenspiegel.
Simon answered in affright:
“If thou art on the devil’s side, denounce me, that I may die; but if thou art on God’s side let thy mouth be prison to thy tongue.”
“I am on God’s side,” replied Ulenspiegel, “and wish thee no evil. What dost thou?”
“I am printing Bibles,” answered Simon. “For if by day to keep my wife and my children I publish the cruel and wicked edicts of His Majesty, by night I sow the true word of God and thus repair the ill I did during the day.”
“Thou art brave,” said Ulenspiegel.
“I have the faith,” replied Simon.
In very deed, it was from this holy printing shop that there issued the Bibles in Flemish that were distributed through the countries of Brabant, of Flanders, Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, Noord-Brabant, Over-Yssel, Gelderland, until the day when Simon was condemned to have his head cut off, thus finishing his life for Christ.
Simon said one day to Ulenspiegel:
“Listen, brother, hast thou courage?”
“I have enough,” replied Ulenspiegel, “to serve to flog a Spaniard to the death, to kill an assassin, to destroy a murderer.”
“Could you,” asked the printer, “stay patiently in a chimney place to hear what is said in a room?”
Ulenspiegel made answer: – “Having by the grace of God, strong loins and supple knees, I can stay a long while as I please, like a cat.”
“Hast thou patience and a good memory?” asked Simon.
“The ashes of Claes beat upon my breast,” answered Ulenspiegel.
“Hearken, then,” said the printer; “you shall take this playing card folded in this wise, and you shall go to Dendermonde and knock twice loudly and once softly at the door of the house whose outward appearance is here limned. One will open to you and ask if you are the chimney sweeper; you shall answer that you are thin and that you have not lost the card. You shall then show him the card. And then, Thyl, you shall do your duty. Great woes hover above the land of Flanders. A chimney will be shown to you, prepared and swept in advance; you will find in it good climbing irons for your feet, and for your seat a little wooden board firmly stayed. When the one that opened the door to you bids you climb into the chimney, you shall do so, and there you shall remain quiet and still. Illustrious lords will meet within the chamber, before the chimney in which you will be. They are William the Silent, Prince of Orange, the Counts of Egmont, Hoorn, Hoogstraeten, and Ludwig of Nassau, the valiant brother of the Silent One. We of the reformed faith would know what these lords will and can undertake in order to save the country.”
Now on the first of April Ulenspiegel did as he had been bidden, and posted himself in the chimney. He was satisfied to see that no fire burned in it, and thought that, having no smoke, he would thus have better hearing.
Presently, the door of the chamber opened, and he was pierced through and through by a gust of wind. But he took this wind patiently, saying that it would freshen his attentiveness.
Then he heard the lords of Orange, Egmont, and the others come into the chamber. They began to speak of their fears, of the king’s anger and the bad administration of the public moneys and finances. One of them spoke in sharp, haughty clear tones; that was Egmont. Ulenspiegel recognized Hoogstraeten by his hoarse voice; De Hoorn by his big voice; Count Louis of Nassau by his firm and warrior-like speaking; and the Silent One, by his pronouncing all his words slowly as if he had first weighed every one in a balance.
The Count of Egmont asked why they were brought together a second time, while at Hellegat they had had leisure to determine on what they meant to do.
De Hoorn replied:
“The hours go by swiftly, the king grows angry; let us take care not to waste time.”
The Silent One said then:
“The countries are in danger; we must defend them against the attack of an army of foreigners.”
Egmont replied, growing angry, that he found it astonishing that the king his master should think it necessary to send an army there, at a time when all was pacified by the care of the lords and especially by himself.
But the Silent:
“Philip hath in the Low Countries fourteen bands of regulars, of whom all the soldiers are devoted to him who commanded at Gravelines and at Saint Quentin.”
“I do not understand,” said Egmont.
The prince went on:
“I do not wish to say more, but there will be read to you and the assembled lords certain letters, those from the poor prisoner Montigny to begin with.
“In these letters, Messire de Montigny wrote:
“‘The king is exceeding wroth at what has come to pass in the Low Countries, and he will punish the abettors of trouble at a given hour.’”
Herewith the Count of Egmont said that he was cold and that it would be well to light a great fire of wood. That was done while the two lords discussed the letters.
The fire did not catch because of the over-great stopper that was in the chimney, and the chamber was filled with smoke.
The Count of Hoogstraeten then read, coughing, the intercepted letters of Alava, the Spanish Ambassador, addressed to the Lady Governor.
“The Ambassador,” said he, “writes that all the ill that has befallen the Low Countries has come from the doings of three men: to wit, Orange, Egmont, and Hoorn. We must, says the Ambassador, show a fair face to these three lords and tell them that the king recognizes that he holds these countries in his obedience through their services. As for the two single ones, Montigny and De Berghes, they are in the place where they ought to be.”
“Ah,” said Ulenspiegel, “I like better a smoky chimney in Flanders than a cool, airy prison in Spain: for garrottes spring up out of the damp walls.”
“The said Ambassador adds that the king said in the city of Madrid:
“‘By all that hath come to pass in the Low Countries our royal reputation is diminished, the service of God is disparaged, and we shall rather expose all our other lands than leave such a rebellion unpunished. We are determined to go in person to the Low Countries and to request the help of the Pope and of the Emperor. Under the present evil lies the future good. We will reduce the Low Countries under our absolute sway, and will change and modify to our mind state, religion, and government.’”
“Ah! Philip King,” said Ulenspiegel to himself, “if I could in my mode modify thee, thou shouldst undergo a great modification of thy thighs, arms, and legs under my Flemish cudgel; I should fasten thy head in the middle of thy back with two nails to see whether in that state, looking at the graveyard thou leavest behind thee, thou wouldst sing in thine own fashion thy song of tyrannical modifying.”
Wine was brought in. D’Hoogstraeten rose and said: “I drink to the countries!” All followed his example, and putting his tankard down empty on the table, he added: “The evil hour strikes for the Belgian nobles. We must take thought for means of defending ourselves.”
Waiting for an answer, he looked at Egmont, who uttered not a word.
But the Silent One spoke: “We will resist,” said he, “if Egmont who twice, at Saint Quentin and at Gravelines, made France tremble, who has all authority over the Flemish soldiers, will come to our rescue and prevent the Spaniard from coming into our countries.”
Messire d’Egmont replied: “I think of the king with too much respect to believe that we must arm ourselves like rebels against him. Let those who fear his anger draw back. I will remain, having no way of living save by his help.”
“Philip may take cruel vengeance,” said the Silent.
“I have complete trust!” answered Egmont.
“Your head included?” asked Ludwig of Nassau.
“Included,” replied Egmont, “head, body, and loyal devotion, which are his.”
“Trusty and well-beloved, I will do even as thou,” said De Hoorn. Said the Silent:
“We must foresee and not wait.”
Then Messire d’Egmont, speaking vehemently, “I have,” said he, “had two and twenty reformed hanged at Grammont. If the preachings come to an end, if the image breakers are punished, the king’s anger will be appeased.”
The Silent replied:
“There are hopes that are uncertain.”
“Let us put on the armour of trust,” said Egmont.
“Let us put on the armour of trust,” said De Hoorn.
“It is iron we should arm with, not trust,” replied D’Hoogstraeten.
Hereupon the Silent made a sign that he wished to go.
“Adieu, Prince without land!” said Egmont.
“Adieu, Count without a head!” replied the Silent. Ludwig of Nassau said then: “For the sheep the butcher, and glory for the soldier that is the saviour of the land of our fathers!”
“I cannot, and will not,” said Egmont.
“Blood of the victims,” said Ulenspiegel, “fall upon the head of the courtier!”
The lords withdrew.
Then Ulenspiegel came down out of his chimney and went immediately to bring the news to Praet. The latter said: “Egmont is a traitor, God is with the Prince.”
The Duke! the Duke in Brussels! Where are the strong boxes that have wings?
End of Vol. I
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