Charles de Coster.

The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2

Good-for-naught, said he, what new ill trick are you playing me now?

Is that an ill trick? answered Ulenspiegel. See those sleeves, I have thrown them all night long against the doublet, and they dont stick to it yet.

That is natural, said the tailor. And that is why I am throwing you out into the street: see if you will stick there better than the sleeves did.


Meanwhile Nele, when Katheline was in the house of some kindly neighbour, and well looked after, Nele used to go far far afield, all alone, as far as Antwerp, all along by the Scheldt or elsewhere, ever seeking, both on the river banks and on the dusty highways, if she could not see her friend Ulenspiegel.

One fair-day, being at Hamburg, he saw merchants everywhere, and among them certain old Jews living on usury and old clothes.

Ulenspiegel, desiring to be a merchant, too, saw lying on the ground some lumps of horse dung and brought them to his lodging, which was a bastion of the rampart wall. There he dried them, and then bought red silk and green silk and made little bags with them, and put the horse dung in the bags and tied them with ribbon, as if they had been full of musk.

Then with some pieces of board he made himself a pedlars tray, hung it about his neck by means of old cords and came into the market, carrying in front of him his tray filled with these sachets. In the evening to light them up he had a little candle burning in their midst.

When any came and asked him what he had for sale, he would reply mysteriously:

I will tell you, but let us not speak too loud.

What is it then? the customers would say.

These, Ulenspiegel replied, are prophetical seeds, fetched straight from Araby into Flanders, and prepared with mighty art by the master Abdul-M?dil of the kin of the great Mahomet.

Certain customers would say one to another:

He is a Turk.

But the others:

This is a pilgrim coming out of Flanders, they would say; do you not hear it by his speech?

And the ragged, lousy, wretched poor folk came to Ulenspiegel and said to him:

Give us of these prophetical seeds?

When you have florins to buy them, answered Ulenspiegel. And the poor, ragged, lousy, wretched went away sorrowful, saying:

There is no content in this world but for the rich.

The tale of these seeds for sale was soon spread abroad in the market. The citizens said one to another:

There is a Flanders man there that hath prophetical seeds blessed at Jerusalem upon the tomb of Our Lord Jesus, but they say he has no mind to sell them.

And all the good citizens came to Ulenspiegel and asked him for his seeds.

But Ulenspiegel, who meant to have great profits, answered that they were not as yet ripened sufficiently, and he had an eye upon two rich Jews that went wandering about the market.

I would fain know, said one of the citizens, what will come of my ship that is on the sea.

It will go as far as heaven, if the waves are high enough, said Ulenspiegel.

Another said, showing him his pretty daughter, all full of blushes:

This one will doubtless turn out well?

Everything turns to what nature will have, replied Ulenspiegel, for he had just seen the girl give a key to a young man who, puffed up with content, said to Ulenspiegel:

Master merchant, give me one of your prophesying bags, that I may see whether I shall sleep alone to-night.

It is written, replied Ulenspiegel, that he who soweth the rye of seduction reaps the ergot of cuckoldom.

The young man became wrathful.

What are you talking about? said he.

The seeds say, replied Ulenspiegel, that they wish thee a happy marriage and a wife that will not bring thee Vulcans hat.

Dost thou know that headgear?

Then declaiming like a preacher:

For she, said he, that giveth earnest upon the marriage bargain leaves afterwards the whole merchandise to others for nothing.

Hereupon the girl, wishing to pretend assurance:

Is all that to be seen in the prophesying sachets?

There is a key to be seen there also, said Ulenspiegel low in her ear.

But the young man had gone already with the key.

Suddenly Ulenspiegel perceived a thief sneaking from a pork butchers stall a sausage an ell long and putting it under his cloak. But the merchant saw him not. The thief, full of glee, came to Ulenspiegel and said to him:

What are you selling there, prophet of ill?

Sachets wherein you shall see that you will be hanged for loving sausage overly much, replied Ulenspiegel.

At that word the thief fled swiftly, while the robbed merchant cried out:

Stop thief! stop thief!

But he was too late.

While Ulenspiegel was speaking, the two rich Jews, who had listened with the sharpest attention, came up to him and said:

What sellest thou there, Fleming?

Sachets, replied Ulenspiegel.

What can one see, they asked, by means of thy prophetical seeds?

Future events, when one sucks them, replied Ulenspiegel.

The two Jews consulted one another, and the elder said to the other:

We could see thus when our Messiah will come; that would be a mighty consolement to us. Let us buy one of these sachets. How much is your price? said they.

Fifty florins, replied Ulenspiegel. If ye are not willing to pay this for it, ye may as well be off. He that will not buy the field must leave the dung where it is.

Seeing Ulenspiegel so determined, they counted out his money, took away one of the sachets and hied them to their place of assembly, whither came all the Jews hastily flocking, having learned that one of the two old men had bought a secret device by which he could discover and announce the coming of the Messiah.

Apprised of the matter, they would all fain have sucked at the prophesying sachet without paying; but the elder of the two Jews, who had bought it and whose name was Jehu, claimed to do this himself.

Son of Israel, said he, holding the sachet in his hand, the Christians mock at us, we are driven out from among our fellowmen, and folk cry out after us as they cry out after thieves. The Philistines would fain abase us lower than the earth; they spit in our faces, for God hath cut our bowstrings and shaken the bridle before us. Must it still be long, Lord, God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, that evil cometh to us when we look for good, and the shadows fall when we hope for the light? Wilt thou soon appear upon the earth, divine Messiah? When shall the Christians hide themselves in the caves and the holes of the earth because of the terror they will have of thee and of thy glory magnifical when thou dost rise up to chastise them?

And the Jews began to clamour.

Come, Messias! Suck, Jehu!

Jehu sucked, and spewing out, cried lamentably:

I tell you verily this is nothing else but dung, and that pilgrim out of Flanders is a robber.

Then all the Jews, rushing up, tore open the sachet and saw what it contained, and went off in high fury to the fair to find Ulenspiegel there, who forsooth had not awaited their coming.


A man of Damme, not being able to pay Claes for his coal, gave him his most valuable possession, which was an arbalest with twelve quarrels well pointed to serve as missiles.

In hours when work was slack Claes went shooting with the cross bow; more than one hare was killed by his prowess and turned into a fricassee all through harbouring an inordinate love of cabbages.

Then would Claes eat greedily, and Soetkin would say, looking out upon the empty high road:

Thyl, my son, dost thou not smell the fragrance of the sauces? He is an-hungered without doubt at this hour. And all pensive, she would fain have kept him his share of the feast.

If he is hungry, said Claes, it is his own fault; let him come back, he shall fare as we do.

Claes kept pigeons; he liked, besides, to hear singing and chirruping about him, warblers, goldfinches, sparrows, and other birds that sing and chatter. And so he was swift and ready to shoot the buzzards and the royal sparhawks that were devourers of this poor folk.

Now once when he was measuring coal in the yard, Soetkin pointed out to him a great bird hovering high in air above the dove cote.

Claes seized his cross bow and said:

May the Devil save his Hawkship!

Having made ready his cross bow, he took his stand in the yard, following every movement of the bird, so as not to miss it. The light in the sky was between day and night, Claes could only discern a black speck. He loosed the quarrel and saw a stork come tumbling down into the yard.

Claes was sorely grieved thereat; but Soetkin was grieved worse, and cried out:

Cruel, thou hast slain Gods own bird!

Then she took up the stork, and saw that she was but wounded in a wing, went to fetch a balsam, and said while she was dressing the wound:

Stork, my dear, tis not clever of you that we all love, to hover in the sky like the sparhawk we all hate. And so poor folks arrows fly to the wrong address. Art thou hurt in thy poor wing, stork, that dost submit so patiently, knowing that our hands are the loving hands of friends?

When the stork was healed, she had everything to eat that she wanted; but she liked best the fish Claes went and caught in the canal for her. And every time the bird of God saw him coming, she opened her huge beak.

She followed Claes about like a dog, but stayed in the kitchen for preference, warming her belly by the fire, and knocking with her beak on Soetkins front as she got the dinner ready, as much as to ask her:

Is there nothing for me?

And it was merry to behold this solemn messenger of good luck wandering about the cottage on her long stilts.


Now the bad days were come again; Claes was working alone and sadly on the land, for there was not work enough for two. Soetkin stayed in the cottage alone, dressing in every possible way the beans that were their daily fare, in order to liven her mans appetite. And she went singing and laughing so that he should not suffer to see her sad. The stork stayed close beside her, mounted on one leg and beak buried in her feathers.

A man on horseback stopped before the cottage; he was all arrayed in black, very lean, and had an air of profound sadness.

Is there any one within? he asked.

God bless Your Melancholy, answered Soetkin; but am I, for one, a phantom that seeing me here you should ask if there is any one within?

Where is your father? asked the horseman.

If my fathers name be Claes, he is out yonder, answered Soetkin, and you see him sowing corn.

The horseman went away, and Soetkin, too, all downcast, for she must go for the sixth time to fetch bread from the bakers without paying for it. When she came back thence with empty hands, she was astonished to see Claes coming back to their house, triumphant and lordly, upon the horse of the man in black, who was going afoot beside him and holding the rein. Claes was proudly holding in one hand against his thigh a leathern wallet that seemed well stuffed.

Dismounting, he embraced the man, banged him merrily, then shaking the bag, he cried out:

Long live my brother Josse, the good hermit! God keep him in joy, in fat, in mirth, in health! He is the Josse of benediction, the Josse of plenty, the Josse of rich fat soups! The stork did not play us false! And he put the bag down upon the table.

Therewith said Soetkin lamentably:

My man, we shall not eat to-day: the baker has denied me bread.

Bread? said Claes, opening the bag and pouring out a stream of gold on the table, bread? Lo, here is bread, butter, meat, wine, beer! Here be hams, marrow bones, pies of herons, ortolans, fat hens, as for great lords! Here is beer in hogsheads and wine by the cask! Mad and mad will be the baker that will deny us bread, we shall buy no more in his shop.

But, my man! said Soetkin all a-daze.

Now, then, hearken, said Claes, and be light of heart. Katheline, instead of wearing out her term of banishment in the marquisate of Antwerp, went on foot, under Neles guidance, as far as Meyborg. There Nele told my brother Josse that often we live in black want, in spite of my sore toil. According to what this good fellow messenger has told me but now and Claes pointed to the horseman in black Josse hath abandoned the Roman religion to adhere to the heresy of Luther.

The man in black replied:

Those be the heretics that follow the cult of the Great Harlot. For the Pope hath betrayed his trust and is a seller of holy things.

Ah! said Soetkin, speak not so loud, good sir, you will cause us to be burned all three.

And so, said Claes, Josse said to this good fellow messenger that since he was about to fight among the troops of Frederick of Saxony, and was taking him fifty well-found men at arms, he had no need, going into war, of so much money, to bequeath it in some ill hour to some rogue of a landsknecht. So, said he, take it to my brother Claes, with my blessing, these seven hundred gold florins carolus: tell him to live in comfort and think upon his souls salvation.

Aye, said the horseman, it is time for it, for God will render unto man according to his works, and will entreat each one according as he hath deserved in his life.

Good sir, said Claes, it will not be forbidden me in the meantime to rejoice at this good tidings; deign to stay within here, we shall, to do it honour, eat goodly tripe, carbonadoes without stint, a neat ham which lately I beheld so plump and appetizing in the pork butchers, that it made my teeth come out a foot long out of my jaws.

Alas! said the other, madmen thus take their joy the while the eyes of God are upon their ways.

Come now, messenger, said Claes, Will you or will you not eat and drink with us?

The man replied:

It will be time for the faithful to give their souls up to earthly joys when great Babylon is fallen!

Soetkin and Claes making the sign of the cross, he would have gone away:

Claes said to him:

Since it is your pleasure thus to go away without being made much of, give my brother Josse the kiss of peace and watch over him in the battle.

I will do so, said the man.

And he went away, while Soetkin went to bring wherewithal to feast propitious fortune. The stork that day had for supper two gudgeons and a cods head.

The news spread swiftly through Damme that Claes the poor had become Claes the rich through the act of his brother Josse, and the dean said that Katheline had doubtless cast a spell on Josse, since Claes had received from him a sum of money, a very great sum, beyond a doubt, and had not given the poorest robe to Our Lady.

Claes and Soetkin were happy, Claes working in the fields or selling his coal, and Soetkin showing herself a brave housekeeper at home.

But Soetkin, always sad, sought unceasingly with her eyes for Ulenspiegel along the highway.


That day the Emperor Charles received from England a letter in which his son said to him:

Sir and Father:

It displeases me to have to live in this land where the accursed heretics breed like fleas and caterpillars and locusts. Fire and sword would not be amiss to lop them from off the trunk of the life-giving tree our mother Holy Church. As if this grief were not enough for me, still it must needs be that they will not look on me as their king, but as their queens husband, and having no authority apart from her. They make game of me, saying in malicious pamphlets, whose authors and printers none can discover, that the Pope pays me to trouble and harm the realm with impious hangings and burnings, and when I would raise some urgent levy from them, for oftentimes they leave me without money, out of mere malice, they reply in evil lampoons that I have but to ask money from Satan whose work I do. The men of the Parliament make excuses and hunch up their backs in fear lest I should bite, but they grant nothing.

All the while the walls of London are covered with lampoons representing me as a parricide ready to strike down Your Majesty to have your inheritance.

But you know, my lord and father, that in spite of all my legitimate ambition and pride, I wish Your Majesty a long and glorious reign.

They scatter also throughout the town a drawing all too cleverly engraved on copper, in which I am seen making cats play upon a harpsichord with their paws, shut up inside the instruments, with their tails protruding through round holes into which they are fastened with iron pins. A man, who is myself, is burning their tails with a red-hot iron, and so making them strike on the keys with their paws and yowl desperately. I am depicted as so ugly that I cannot even bear to look at myself in it. And they show me laughing. Now you must know, dear sir and father, if I happened to take this profane pleasure at any time, I doubtless endeavoured to amuse myself by making these cats mew, but I never laughed. They make it a crime in me, in their rebels talk, what they call the newfangledness and cruelty of this harpsichord, although the beasts have no souls, and though men and especially all royal personages may use them even unto death for their diversion. But in this land of England they are so well mated with beasts that they treat them better than their servants; stables and kennels here are palaces, and there are lords even that sleep with their horses on the same litter.

Furthermore, my noble wife and queen is barren; they declare by way of brutal insult that I am the reason, and not she who is also jealous, sullen, and gluttonous of love beyond degree. Dear sir and father, every day I implore our Lord God to have me in his grace, hoping for another throne, were it among the Turks, while awaiting that to which I am called by the honour of being the son of your most glorious and greatly victorious Majesty.

(Signed) Philip.

To this letter the Emperor made answer:

Sir and Son:

Your enemies are strong, I do not contest the fact, but endeavour to endure with patience the waiting for a more illustrious crown. I have already announced to divers the intention I have conceived of withdrawing from the Low Countries and my other dominions, for I am well aware that old and gouty as I now become, I cannot well make head against Henry of France, second of the name, for Fortune loveth the young. Think also that as the master of England you wound by your power our enemy France.

I was foully beaten before Metz, and lost forty thousand men there. I was forced to flee before him of Saxony. If God doth not restore me by a touch of his good and divine will unto my full strength and vigour, I am minded, dear sir and son, to quit my realms and leave them to you.

Have therefore patience and meanwhile do your duty fully against the heretics, sparing none of them, men, women, girls, nor babes, for word has come to me, to my great grief, that madame the queen would fain ofttimes have shown them grace.

Your affectionate father,

(Signed) Charles.


Having tramped a long time, Ulenspiegels feet were bleeding, and in the bishopric of Mayence he met with a pilgrims cart that brought him to Rome.

When he came into the city and got down from his cart, he descried upon the threshold of an inn a pretty goodwife who smiled, seeing him look at her.

Auguring well from this good humour:

Hostess, said he, will you give a sanctuary to a pilgrim on pilgrimage, for I have come to my time and must be brought to bed with the remission of my sins.

We grant sanctuary to all that pay us.

I have a hundred ducats in my wallet, said Ulenspiegel, who had but one, and I would be pleased to spend the first one with you in drinking a bottle of old wine of Rome.

Wine is not dear in these holy places, answered she. Come in and drink for a soldo.

They drank together so long and emptied so many flagons with small talk that the hostess was forced to bid her servant give the customers their drink, while she and Ulenspiegel withdrew into a back parlour all of marble and as cold as winter.

Leaning her head on his shoulder she asked him who he was. Ulenspiegel replied:

I am Sire of Geeland, Count of Gavergeeten, Baron of Tuchtendell, and at Damme, which is my birthplace, I have five and twenty bonniers of moonshine.

What land is that? asked the hostess, drinking out of Ulenspiegels tankard.

It is, said he, a soil wherein are sown the seeds of illusion, of wild hopes and airy promises. But thou wast not born in the moonlight land, sweet hostess of the amber skin, and eyes shining like pearls. Tis the suns colour the embrowned gold of thy hair; it was Venus that without jealousy bestowed on thee thy plump shoulders, thy full breasts, thy round arms, thy dainty hands. Shall we sup together to-night?

Handsome pilgrim of Flanders, said she, why do you come hither?

To talk with the Pope, said Ulenspiegel.

Alas! said she, joining her hands, talk with the Pope! I that am of this land, I have never been able to do that.

I shall do it, said Ulenspiegel.

But, said she, know you where he goes, what manner of man he is, what are his habits and his ways of living?

They told me on my way, said Ulenspiegel, that he has to name Julius the Third, that he is wanton, gay, and dissolute, a good talker and quick in repartee. They told me, too, that he had conceived an extraordinary friendship for a little beggar fellow, black, dirty, and forbidding, who begged for alms with a monkey, and that on his arriving at the pontifical throne, he made him cardinal of the Mount, and that he is ill whenever a day goes by without seeing him.

: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22