Charles de Coster.

The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2





I abstain therefrom, said he.

Come eat, said they.

He followed them into the court of the inn, happy to see these fresh faces about him. Suddenly he beheld entering the court with high ceremony, with banner and trumpet and flute and tambourine, the Brothers of the Good Red Nose, wearing in fatness the jolly name of their fellowship. As they looked curiously upon him, the women told them it was a pilgrim they had picked up by the way and that finding him a true Red Nose, and matching their husbands and betrotheds, they had been minded to make him share their feast.

The men approved their tale, and one said:

Pilgrim on pilgrimage, wouldst thou pilgrimage through sauces and fricassees?

I shall have seven-leagued boots for that, said Ulenspiegel.

As he was on the point of entering the hall of the feasting with them, he descried on the road to Paris twelve blind men trudging along. When they passed before him, complaining of hunger and of thirst, Ulenspiegel said to himself that they would sup that night like kings, at the charge of the dean of Uccle, in memory of the masses for the dead. He went to them and said:

Here be nine florins, come and eat. Do ye smell the good fragrance of the fricassees?

Alas! said they, for the last half of a league, and no hope.

You shall eat, said Ulenspiegel, now you have nine florins. But he did not give them.

A blessing on thee, said they.

And guided by Ulenspiegel, they sat down around a small table, while the Brothers of the Good Red Nose sate at a great one with their goodwives and sweethearts.

Speaking with full assurance of nine florins:

Host, said the blind men, proudly, give us to eat and drink of your best.

The host, who had heard a mention of the nine florins, believed them to be in their pouches, and asked what they wished to have.

Then all of them, speaking at once, cried out:

Peas with bacon, a hotchpotch of beef, veal, mutton, and fowl. Are sausages meant for dogs? Who ever smelled the passing of black puddings and white, without seizing them by the collar? I used to see them, alas! when my poor eyes were candles to me. Where are the koekebakken au beurre of Anderlecht? They sing in the pan, succulent and crisp, mother of quart draughts. Who will bring under my nose ham and eggs or eggs and ham, those tender brothers and close friends in the mouth? Where are ye, divine choesels, swimming, proud viands that you are, in the midst of kidneys, of cockscombs, of riz de veau, of oxtails, sheeps trotters, and abundant onions, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, all in the stew and three quarts of white wine for sauce? Who will bring you to me, divine andouilles, so good that ye say no word when ye are swallowed? Ye came ever straight from Luy-leckerland, the rich country of the happy do-naughts, the lickers up of never-ending sauces.

But where are ye, withered leaves of bygone autumns! I want a leg of mutton with beans. I want pigs plumes, their ears. For me a rosary of ortolans, with woodcocks for the Paters on it and a fat capon for the Credo.

The host answered sedately:

You shall have an omelette of sixty eggs, and for guiding posts for you spoons, fifty black puddings, planted smoking hot on this mountain of nourishment, and dobbel peterman to wash all down with: that will be the river.

The water came into the mouths of the poor blind men and they said:

Serve us the mountain, the guideposts, and the river.

And the Brothers of the Good Red Nose and their goodwives already at table with Ulenspiegel said that this day was for the blind the day of invisible junketing, and that the poor men thus lost the half of their pleasure.

When the omelette arrived, all decked with parsley and nasturtium, and borne by the host and four cooks, the blind men would fain have thrown themselves upon it and already were haggling in it, but the host served them separately, not without difficulty, to each his share in his own dish.

The archer women were touched to see them eating and heaving sighs of content, for they were mightily hungered and swallowed down the black puddings like oysters. The dobbel peterman flowed down into their bellies like cascades falling from mountain tops.

When they had cleaned their dishes, they asked again for koekebakken, for ortolans and fresh fricassees. The host only served them a great dish of bones of beef and veal and mutton swimming in a good sauce. He did not give each his portion.

When they had dipped their bread and their hands up to the elbows in the sauce, and only brought up bones of every kind, even some ox jaw bones, everyone thought his neighbour had all the meat, and they beat each others faces furiously with the bones.

The Brothers of the Good Red Nose, having laughed their fill, charitably conveyed part of their own feast into the poor fellows dish, and he who groped in the plate for a bone for a weapon would set his hand on a thrush, a chicken, a lark or two, while the goodwives, pulling their heads back, would pour Brussels wine down their throats in a flood, and when they groped about blindly to feel whence these streams of ambrosia were coming to them, they caught nothing but a petticoat, and would fain have held it, but it would whisk away from them suddenly.

And so they laughed, drank, ate, and sang. Some scenting out the pretty goodwives, ran all about the hall beside themselves, bewitched by love, but teasing girls would mislead them, and hiding behind a Good Red Nose would say kiss me. And they would, but instead of a woman, they kissed the bearded face of a man, and not without rebuffs.

The Good Red Noses sang, the blind men, too. And the jolly goodwives smiled kindly seeing their glee.

When these rich and sappy hours were over, the baes said to them:

You have eaten well and drunk well, I want seven florins.

Each one swore he had no purse, and accused his neighbour. Hence arose yet another fray in which they sought to strike one another with foot and fist and head, but they could not, and struck out wildly, for the Good Red Noses, seeing the play, kept man away from man. And blows hailed upon the empty air, save one that by ill chance fell upon the face of the baes, who, in a rage, searched them all and found on them nothing but an old scapular, seven liards, three breeches buttons, and their paternosters.

He wanted to fling them into the swinehouse and leave them there on bread and water until someone should pay what they owed for them.

Do you, said Ulenspiegel, want me to go surety for them?

Ay, replied the baes, if someone will be surety for you.

The Good Red Noses were about to do it, but Ulenspiegel stopped them, saying:

The dean will be surety, I am going to find him.

Thinking of the masses for the dead, he went to the deanery and told him how that the baes of the Trumpet, being possessed of the devil, spoke of nothing but pigs and blind men, the pigs devouring the blind and the blind eating the pigs under divers unholy guises of roasts and fricassees. During these fits, said he, the baes broke everything in the house, and he begged the dean to come and deliver the poor man from this wicked fiend.

The dean promised, but said he could not go immediately, for at that moment he was casting up the accounts of the chapter, and endeavouring to derive some profit out of them.

Seeing him impatient, Ulenspiegel said he would come back with the wife of the baes and that the dean could speak to her himself.

Come both of you, said the dean.

Ulenspiegel came back to the baes, and said to him:

I have just seen the dean, he will stand surety for the blind men. While you keep guard over them, let the hostess come with me to the dean, he will repeat to her what I have just told you.

Go, goodwife, said the baes.

She went off with Ulenspiegel to the dean, who was still figuring to find his profit. When she came in with Ulenspiegel, he impatiently waved her away, saying:

Be easy, I shall come to your husbands help in a day or two.

And Ulenspiegel, returning to the Trumpet, said to himself, He will pay seven florins, and that will be my first mass for the dead.

And he went on his way, and the blind men likewise.

XXXVI

Finding himself, on the morrow, upon a highway in the midst of a great crowd of folk, Ulenspiegel went with them, and soon knew that it was the day of the pilgrimage of Alsemberg.

He saw poor old women marching backwards, barefooted, for a florin and for the expiation of the sins of certain great ladies. On the edge of the highway, to the sound of rebecks, viols, and bagpipes, more than one pilgrim was holding a frying feast and junketing of bruinbier. And the smoke of delicious stews mounted towards heaven like a suave incense of food.

But there were other pilgrims, low fellows, needy and starveling, who, paid by the Church, were walking backwards for six sols.

A little man, completely bald, with staring eyes and a savage look, was skipping along backwards behind them reciting paternosters.

Ulenspiegel, wishing to know why he was mimicking the crayfishes in this fashion, planting himself before him and smiling, jumped in step with him. The rebecks, fifes, viols, and bagpipes, and the groans of the pilgrims made the music for the dance.

Jan van den Duivel, said Ulenspiegel, is it that you may more certainly fall that you run in this wise?

The man made no answer and went on mumbling his paternosters.

Perhaps, said Ulenspiegel, you want to know how many trees there are along the road. But are you not counting the leaves also?

The man, who was reciting a Credo, signed to Ulenspiegel to hold his tongue.

Perhaps, said the latter, still skipping before him and imitating him, it is the result of some sudden madness that you should thus be going the contrary way to everybody else. But he who would have a wise answer from a madman is not wise himself. Is not this true, master of the peeled poll?

As the man still made no answer, Ulenspiegel went on skipping, but making so much noise with his boot-soles that the road re?choed like a wooden box.

Maybe, said Ulenspiegel, you might be dumb, good sir?

Ave Maria, said the other, gratia plena et benedictus fructus ventris tui Jesu.

Maybe you are deaf as well? said Ulenspiegel. We shall see that: they say deaf men hear neither praises nor insults. Let us see if the drums of your ears are skin or brass: thinkest thou, lantern without candle, simulacrum of a foot-goer, that thou dost resemble a man? That will be when men are made of rags. Where has such jaundiced visnomy been ever seen, that peeled head, save on the gallows field? Wast thou not hanged of yore?

And Ulenspiegel went on dancing, and the man, who was entering on the ways of wrath, was running backwards angrily still mumbling his paternosters.

Maybe, said Ulenspiegel, thou comprehendest but high Flemish, I will speak to thee in the low: if thou art no glutton, thou art a drunkard, if no drunkard, but a water bibber, thou art foully choked elsewhere; if not constipated, thou art jerry-go-nimble; if not a lecher, a capon; if there be temperance, it was not that that filled the tun of thy belly, and if in the thousand million men that people the earth there were but one only cuckold, it would be thou.

At this word Ulenspiegel sat down upon his seat, legs in air, for the man had fetched him such a blow with his fist under the nose that he saw more than a hundred candles. Then cunningly falling upon him, despite the weight of his belly, he struck him everywhere, and blows rained like hail upon the thin frame of Ulenspiegel, whose cudgel fell to the ground.

Learn by this lesson, said the man, not to pester honest folk going on pilgrimage. For you may know that I go thus to Alsemberg according to custom to implore Madam Holy Mary to cause to miscarry a child my wife conceived when I was on my travels. To win so great a boon, a man must needs walk and dance backward from the twentieth step from his home to the foot of the church steps, without speaking. Alas! now I must begin all over again.

Ulenspiegel having picked up his cudgel said:

I shall help you, rascal, you who would have Our Lady serve to kill babes in their mothers womb.

And he fell to beating the wretched cuckold so cruelly that he left him for dead on the road.

All this while there rose to heaven the groans of pilgrims, the sounds of fifes, viols, rebecks, and bagpipes, and, like a pure incense, the savour of frying.

XXXVII

Claes, Soetkin, and Nele were gossiping together about the ingle, and talked of the pilgrim on his pilgrimage.

Daughter, said Soetkin, why cannot you, by the might of the spell of youth, keep him always with us?

Alas! said Nele, I cannot.

Tis because, said Claes, he hath a counter charm that drives him to run without ever resting save for the work of his teeth.

The cruel, ugly fellow! sighed Nele.

Cruel, said Soetkin, I admit, but ugly, no. If my son Ulenspiegel has not a Greek or a Roman countenance, he is all the better for that; for they are of Flanders his agile feet, of the Frank of Bruges his keen brown eye, and his nose and his mouth made by two past masters in the science of humour and sculpture.

Who, then, asked Claes, made him his lazy arms and his legs too prone to run to pleasure?

His heart that is over young, replied Soetkin.

XXXVIII

In these days Katheline by her simples cured an ox, three sheep, and a pig belonging to Speelman but could not cure a cow that belonged to Jan Beloen. The latter accused her of sorcery. He averred that she had cast a spell on the beast, inasmuch as, while giving his simples, she caressed and talked to it, doubtless in a diabolical speech, for an honest Christian should not talk to a beast.

The said Jan Beloen added that he was a neighbour of Speelmans, whose ox, sheep, and pig she had healed, and if she had killed his cow, it was doubtless at the instigation of Speelman, jealous to see that his, Beloens, land was better tilled than his own. Upon the testimony of Peter Meulemeester, a man of good life and conduct, and also of Jan Beloen, certifying that Katheline was reputed a witch in Damme, and had doubtless killed the cow, Katheline was arrested and condemned to be tormented until she should have confessed her crimes and misdeeds.

She was questioned by a sheriff who was always in a rage, for he drank brandy all day long. He had Katheline put upon the first bench of torment in his presence and before the Vierschare.

The executioner stripped her naked, then shaved her hair and all her body, looking everywhere to see if she concealed a charm.

Finding nothing, he fastened her with cords to the bench. Then she spake:

I am all shamed to be naked thus before these men, Madam Mary, grant that I may die!

Then the executioner put wet cloths upon her breast, her belly, and her legs, and raising the bench, he poured hot water into her stomach in such quantities that she was all swelled up. Then he lowered the bench again.

The sheriff asked Katheline if she would confess her crime. She made sign that she would not. The executioner poured more hot water into her, but she vomited all of it out again.

Then at the chirurgeons bidding she was untied. She did not speak, but struck on her breast to say the hot water had burned her. When the sheriff perceived that she had recovered from this first torment he said to her:

Confess thou art a witch, and that thou didst cast a spell upon the cow.

I will not confess, said she. I love all dumb beasts, as much as my poor heart may, and I would harm myself rather than them, who cannot defend themselves. I used the needful simples to cure the cow.

But the sheriff:

Thou didst give her poison, said he, for the cow is dead.

Master sheriff, answered Katheline, I am here before you, in your power. I dare say to you, nevertheless, that a beast can die of sickness, like a man, in spite of the assistance of the surgeons and the doctors. And I swear by my Lord Christ who died on the cross for our sins, that I have wished no harm to this cow, but sought to cure her by simple remedies.

Then said the sheriff, enraged:

This devils hag will not always deny, let her be put on another bench for the torment!

And therewith he drank a great glass of brandy.

The executioner made Katheline sit on the lid of an oaken coffin placed upon trestles. The said lid, shaped like a roof, was sharp as a blade. A great fire was burning in the fireplace, for it was then November.

Katheline, seated upon the coffin and a spit of sharpened wood, was shod with tight shoes of new leather and set before the fire. When she felt the sharp wooden edge of the coffin and the pointed spit entering her flesh, and when the fire heated and shrank the leather of her shoes, she cried:

I suffer a thousand pangs! Who will give me black poison?

Put her nearer the fire, said the sheriff. Then questioning Katheline:

How often, said he, didst thou bestride a broom to go to the Sabbath? How often didst thou blast the corn in the ear, the fruit upon the tree, the babe in the mothers womb? How often didst thou turn two brothers to sworn foes, and two sisters into rivals filled with hatred?

Katheline would have spoken, but could not, and moved her arms as though to say no. The sheriff then:

She will only speak when she feels all her witch fat melt in the fire. Put her nearer.

Katheline cried out. The sheriff said:

Pray to Satan that he may cool thee.

She made a movement as though she would take off her shoes that were smoking in the fierceness of the fire.

Pray to Satan that he pull off thy shoes, said the sheriff.

The clock was striking ten, the furious creatures dinner hour; he went away with the executioner and the clerk, leaving Katheline alone before the fire, in the torture chamber.

At eleven they came back and found Katheline seated stiff and motionless. The clerk said:

She is dead, I think.

The sheriff ordered the executioner to take Katheline down from the coffin and the shoes from off her feet. Not being able to pull them off, he cut them away, and the feet of Katheline were disclosed red and bleeding.

And the sheriff, thinking of his meal, looked at her without a word; but presently she recovered her senses, and falling on the ground and unable to rise for all her efforts, she said to the sheriff:

Once on a time wouldst fain have had me to wife, but now thou shalt not have me. Four times three it is the sacred number, and the thirteenth is the husband.

Then as the sheriff would have spoken, she said to him:

Stay silent, he has hearing finer than the archangel that in heaven counts the heart beats of the just. Why dost thou come so late? Four times three it is the sacred number, he slayeth those that desire me.

The sheriff said:

She receives the devil in her bed.

She is out of her wits with the anguish of the torment, said the clerk.

Katheline was taken back to prison. Three days after, the sheriffs court being assembled in the Vierschare, Katheline after deliberation was condemned to the fire.

The executioner and his assistants brought her to the marketplace of Damme where there was a scaffold on which she mounted. In the marketplace were the provost, the herald, and the judges.

The trumpets of the town herald sounded three times, and turning to the people he announced:

The magistrate of Damme, having had compassion on the woman Katheline, has been pleased not to exact punishment according to the extreme rigour of the law of the town, but in order to bear witness that she is a witch, her hair shall be burned, she shall pay twenty gold carolus by way of fine, and shall be banished for three years from the precincts of Damme under pain of losing one limb.

And the people applauded this harsh lenity.

The executioner thereupon bound Katheline to the stake, set a wig of tow upon her shaven head and set it on fire. And the tow burned long and Katheline cried out and wept.

Then she was unbound and taken without the boundaries of Damme upon a cart, for her feet were burned.





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