The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book II Chapter 8

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:

“August, August
Tell me, sweet month,
ho will take me to wife,
Tell me, sweet month?”

“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.”

She replied:

“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.