The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book II Chapter 20

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?