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

At this time the Beggars, among whom were Lamme and Ulenspiegel, took Gorcum. And they were commanded by Captain Marin: this Marin, who had been a workman on the dykes, disported himself with great haughtiness and sufficiency, and signed with Gaspard Turc, the defender of Gorcum, a capitulation whereby Turc, the monks, burgesses, and soldiers shut up in the citadel were to come forth freely, bullet in mouth, musket on shoulder, with all that they could carry, save that the goods of the Church should be left to the assailants.
But Captain Marin, upon an order from Messire de Lumey, held the nineteen monks as prisoners, and let the soldiers and the citizens go free.
And Ulenspiegel said:
“The word of a soldier should be a word of gold. Why doth he fail of his?”
An ancient Beggar made answer to Ulenspiegel:
“The monks are sons of Satan, the leprosy of nations, the shame of countries. Since the coming of the Duke of Alba, these fellows lifted up their noses high in Gorcum. There is among them one, the priest Nicolas, prouder than a peacock and fiercer than a tiger. Every time he passed in the street with his pyx in which was his host made with dog’s fat, he would look with eyes full of fury at the houses from which the women did not come and kneel, and would denounce to the judge all that did not bend the knee before his idol of dough and gilded brass. The other monks imitated him. That was the cause of many great oppressions, burnings, and cruel punishments in the town of Gorcum. Captain Marin does well to keep prisoner the monks who would else go off with their likes into villages, burgs, towns, and townlets, to preach against us, stirring up the populace and causing the poor reformers to be burned. Mastiffs are put on the chain until they die: to the chain with the monks; to the chain with the bloed-honden, the duke’s blood-hounds; to the cage with the butchers. Long live the Beggar!”
“But,” said Ulenspiegel, “Monseigneur d’Orange, our prince of liberty, wills that we should respect, among those who surrender, the property of individuals and freedom of conscience.”
The ancient Beggars replied:
“The admiral wills it not for the monks: he is master; he took Briele. To the cage with the monks!”
“Word of a soldier, word of gold! why does he fail of it?” answered Ulenspiegel. “The monks kept in prison suffer a thousand insults.”
“The ashes beat no longer upon thy heart,” said they: “a hundred thousand families, in consequence of the edicts, have taken over yonder, to the north-west, to the land of England, the trades, the industry, the wealth of our country; bemoan then those that wrought our ruin! Under the Emperor Charles the Fifth, Butcher the First, under this one, the king of Blood, Butcher the Second, one hundred and eighteen thousand persons have perished by execution. Who carried the taper of the obsequies in murder and in tears? Monks and soldiers of Spain. Dost thou not hear the souls of the dead lamenting?”
“The ashes beat upon my heart,” said Ulenspiegel. “Word of a soldier, ’tis word of gold.”
“Who then,” said they, “would by excommunication have put the country under the ban of all nations? Who would have armed against us, had it been possible, earth and sky, God and the devil, and their serried ranks of saints, both male and female? Who made the sacred host bleed with the blood of an ox, who made wooden statues weep? Who had the De Profundis sung in the land of our fathers, if not this accursed clergy, these hordes of lazy monks, in order that they might keep their riches, their influence over idol worshippers, and reign over the poor country by ruin, blood, and fire. To the cage with the wolves that rush upon men on earth; to the cage with the hyænas! Long live the Beggar!”
“Word of a soldier, word of gold,” said Ulenspiegel.
The next day a message came from Messire de Lumey, with orders to transfer from Gorcum to Briele, where the admiral was, the nineteen monks that were prisoners.
“They will be hanged,” said Captain Marin to Ulenspiegel.
“Not while I am alive,” replied he.
“My son,” said Lamme, “speak not thus to Messire de Lumey. He is fierce, and will hang thee with them without mercy.”
“I shall speak according to the truth,” replied Ulenspiegel; “word of a soldier, word of gold.”
“If thou canst save them,” said Marin, “take their boat to Briele. Take with thee Rochus the pilot and thy friend Lamme if thou wilt.”
“I do wish it,” answered Ulenspiegel.
The boat was moored at the Green quay; the nineteen monks entered into it; Rochus the timid was set at the helm; Ulenspiegel and Lamme, well armed, took their place at the prow of the ship. Certain rascal troopers that had come among the Beggars for pillage were beside the monks, who were hungry. Ulenspiegel gave them drink and food. “That one is going to turn traitor!” said the rascal troopers. The nineteen monks, seated amidships, were all gaping and shivering, though it was July, and the sun was bright and hot, and a gentle breeze filled out the sails of the ship as she glided massive and bulging over the green waves.
Father Nicolas then spake and said to the pilot:
“Rochus, are we being brought to the Gallows Field?”
Then turning towards Gorcum: “O town of Gorcum!” said he, standing and stretching out his hand, “town of Gorcum! how many woes hast thou to suffer: thou shalt be accursed among cities, for thou hast grown within thy walls the grain of heresy! O town of Gorcum! And the angel of the Lord shall watch no longer at thy gates. He will have no more care of thy virgins’ modesty, the courage of thy men, the fortune of thy merchants! O town of Gorcum! thou art accursed, unfortunate!”
“Accursed, accursed,” answered Ulenspiegel, “accursed as the comb that hath passed through and taken away the Spanish lice, accursed as the dog breaking his chain, as the proud horse shaking a cruel rider from off his back! Accursed thyself, booby preacher, who findest ill that the rod should be broken, were it an iron rod upon the tyrants’ back!”
The monk held his tongue, and lowering his eyes, appeared steeped in holy hate.
The rascal soldiers that had come among the Beggars for the sake of pillage were close by the monks, who soon were hungry. Ulenspiegel asked biscuit and herrings for them; the ship master answered:
“Let them be thrown into the Meuse, they can have fresh herring to eat then.”
Ulenspiegel then gave the monks all the bread and sausage he had for himself and for Lamme. The ship-master and the rascal Beggars said one to another:
“This one is a traitor, he is feeding the monks; we must denounce him.”
At Dordrecht the ship stopped in the Harbour at the Bloemen-Key, the Flower quay; men, women, lads, and lasses ran up in crowds to see the monks, and said to one another pointing at them with a finger or threatening them with their fist:
“Look at those clowns, manufacturers of Bons Dieux that bring men’s bodies to the stake and their souls to the fire everlasting; look at the fat tigers and big-bellied jackals.”
The monks hung their heads and dared not speak. Ulenspiegel saw them trembling once more.
“We are hungry again,” said they, “compassionate soldier.”
But the ship master:
“What is always drinking? Dry sand. Who eats without ceasing? The monk.”
Ulenspiegel went up the town to find bread for them, ham, and a great jug of beer.
“Eat and drink,” said he; “ye are our prisoners, but I shall save you if I can. Word of a soldier, word of gold.”
“Why dost thou give them that? They will never pay you,” said the rascal Beggars; and talking among themselves they whispered these words in each other’s ears: “He has promised to save them; let us keep good watch upon him.”
At dawn they came to Briele. The gates having been opened to them, a voet-looper, a courier, went to inform Messire de Lumey of their coming.
As soon as he had the news, he came on horseback, having just put on his clothes, and accompanied by some horsemen and foot-soldiers, with their weapons.
And Ulenspiegel could see once more the fierce admiral clad like a proud lord living in opulence.
“Hail and greeting,” said he, “Messires the monks. Lift up your hands. Where is the blood of Messieurs d’Egmont and de Hoorn? Ye show me clean white paws; ’tis well for you.”
A monk called Leonard answered:
“Do with us as thou wilt. We are monks; no one will claim us.”
“He hath well said,” said Ulenspiegel; “for the monk having broken with the world, which is father and mother, brother and sister, spouse and lover, finds at the hour of God no soul that claims him. And yet, Your Excellency, I will do so. Captain Marin, when he signed the capitulation of Gorcum, agreed that these monks should be free as all those that were taken in the citadel, and who came out from it. And yet they were held prisoner without cause; I hear it said they shall be hanged. Monseigneur, I address myself humbly to you, speaking to you on their behalf, for I know that the word of a soldier is word of gold.”
“Who art thou?” asked Messire de Lumey.
“Monseigneur,” answered Ulenspiegel, “Fleming am I from the goodly land of Flanders, clown, nobleman, all at once, and through the world in this wise I go wandering, praising things good and lovely, and mocking folly without stint. And I will praise you if you keep to the promise made by the captain: word of a soldier, word of gold.”
But the rascally Beggars that were upon the ship:
“Monseigneur,” said they, “that fellow is a traitor: he hath promised to save them; he hath given them bread, ham, sausages, and beer, and to us nothing.”
Messire de Lumey said then to Ulenspiegel:
“Fleming gadabout and monk feeder, thou shalt be hanged with them.”
“I have no fear,” answered Ulenspiegel, “word of a soldier, word of gold.”
“Thou carriest thy comb high,” said de Lumey.
“The ashes beat upon my heart,” said Ulenspiegel.
The monks were brought into a barn, and Ulenspiegel with them: there they would fain have converted him by theological disputations; but he fell asleep listening to them.
Messire de Lumey being at table, full of wine and meat, a messenger arrived from Gorcum, from Captain Marin, with a copy of letters from the Silent, Prince of Orange, “commanding all governors of cities and other places to hold the ecclesiastics in like safeguard, safety, and privilege as the rest of the people.”
The messenger asked to be brought before de Lumey to give the copy of the letters into his own hands.
“Where is the original?” de Lumey asked him.
“With my master,” said the messenger.
“And the clown sends me the copy!” said de Lumey. “Where is thy passport?”
“Here it is, Monseigneur,” said the messenger.
Messire de Lumey read it in a loud voice:
“Monseigneur and master Marin Brandt enjoins upon the ministers, governors, and officers of the republic that they suffer to pass safely,” etc.
De Lumey, striking his fist on the table and tearing up the passport:
“God’s blood!” said he, “what is he meddling with, this Marin, this trash, who had not, before the taking of Briele, the backbone of a red herring to put between his teeth? He dubs himself monseigneur and master, and sends me his order. He enjoins and ordains! Tell thy master that since he is so much captain and monseigneur, and so much bidding and forbidding, the monks shall be hanged high and short at once, and thou with them if thou dost not take thyself off.”
And fetching him a kick, he sent him out of the chamber.
“Give me to drink,” he cried. “Have you seen the insolence of this Marin? I could spit out my breakfast with rage. Let them hang the monks immediately in their barn, and bring me their Flemish conductor, after he has seen their execution. We shall see if he will dare to tell me I have done wrong. God’s blood! what are these jugs and glasses wanted here for still?”
And he broke with a great crashing the cups and dishes, and no man dared speak to him. The servants would have picked up the pieces; he did not allow them, and drinking out of the flasks immoderately, he became more and more angry, striding about and crushing the bits and trampling on them furiously.
Ulenspiegel was brought before him.
“Well!” said he, “dost thou bring tidings of thy friends the monks?”
“They are hanged,” said Ulenspiegel; “and a cowardly executioner, killing them for hire, opened the belly and sides of one of them after death, like a disembowelled pig, to sell the fat to an apothecary. Word of a soldier is no longer word of gold.”
De Lumey, trampling among the broken crockery:
“Thou bravest me,” said he, “four-foot rascal, but thou, too, shalt be hanged, not in a barn, but ignominiously on the open square, in the eyes of everybody.”
“Shame upon you,” said Ulenspiegel, “shame upon us: word of a soldier no longer word of gold.”
“Wilt thou hold thy tongue, mule!” said Messire de Lumey.
“Shame upon thee,” said Ulenspiegel; “word of a soldier is no more word of gold. Punish rather the rascally vendors of human fat.”
Then Messire de Lumey, rushing on him, raised his hand to strike him.
“Strike,” said Ulenspiegel; “I am thy prisoner, but I have no fear of thee; word of a soldier is no more word of gold.”
Messire de Lumey then drew his sword and would certainly have slain Ulenspiegel if Messire de Tres-Long, holding back his arm, had not said:
“Have pity! he is brave and valiant; he hath committed no crime!”
De Lumey, then controlling himself:
“Let him ask pardon,” said he.
But Ulenspiegel, remaining upright:
“I will not,” said he.
“Let him say at least that I was not wrong,” cried de Lumey, becoming furious.
Ulenspiegel made answer:
“I do not lick the boots of lords: word of a soldier is no more word of gold.”
“Let them erect the gallows,” said de Lumey, “and let them bring him to it; that will be a hempen word for him.”
“Aye,” said Ulenspiegel, “and I shall cry out in the presence of all the people: ‘Word of a soldier is no more word of gold!’”
The gallows was set up on the great marketplace. The news ran swiftly about the town that they were about to hang Ulenspiegel, the valiant Beggar. And the people were moved with pity and compassion. And they ran together in a crowd to the great market; Messire de Lumey came thither also on horseback, wishing himself to give the signal for the execution.
He looked with no mildness upon Ulenspiegel on the ladder, arrayed for death, in his shirt, his arms tied to his body, his hands folded, the rope about his neck, and the executioner ready to do his work.
Tres-Long said to him:
“Monseigneur, pardon him; he is no traitor, and no one ever saw a man hanged because he was sincere and merciful.”
And the men and women of the people, hearing Tres-Long speak, cried: “Pity, Monseigneur, grace and pity for Ulenspiegel.”
“That mule-headed fellow braved me,” said de Lumey: “let him repent and say I did right.”
“Wilt thou repent and say that he did right?” said Tres-Long to Ulenspiegel.
“Word of a soldier is no more word of gold,” replied Ulenspiegel.
“Put on the rope,” said de Lumey.
The executioner was about to obey; a young girl, all clad in white and garlanded with flowers, ran up the stairs of the scaffold, leaped on Ulenspiegel’s neck, and said:
“This man is mine; I take him for my husband.”
And the people applauded and the women cried out:
“Long live, long live the girl who is Ulenspiegel’s saviour!”
“What is this?” asked Messire de Lumey.
Tres-Long answered:
“After the use and custom of the town, it is by right and law that a young maiden and unmarried woman can save a man from the rope by taking him for husband at the foot of the gallows.”
“God is with him,” said de Lumey; “untie him.”
Then riding up to the scaffold, he saw the girl prevented from cutting Ulenspiegel’s ropes and the executioner seeking to oppose her efforts and saying:
“If you cut them, who will pay for them?”
But the girl paid no heed to him.
Seeing her so light, so loving, and so subtle, he was touched.
“Who art thou?” said he.
“I am Nele, his betrothed,” said she, “and I come from Flanders to seek him.”
“Thou didst well,” said de Lumey in a naughty voice.
And he went away.
Tres-Long then coming up:
“Little Fleming,” said he, “once thou art married wilt thou be a soldier still in our ships?”
“Aye, Messire,” answered Ulenspiegel.
“And thou, girl, what wilt thou do without thy man?” Nele answered:
“If you are willing, Messire, I will be fifer in his ship.”
“I am willing,” said Tres-Long.
And he gave her two florins for the wedding feast.
And Lamme, weeping and laughing with pleasure, said:
“Here are three florins more: we shall eat it all; I am paying. Let us go to the Golden Comb. He is not dead, my friend. Long live the Beggar!”
And the people applauded, and they went off to the Golden Comb, where a great feast was ordered: and Lamme threw deniers to the people out of the windows.
And Ulenspiegel said to Nele:
“Darling beloved, there thou art then beside me! Hurrah! She is here, flesh, heart, and soul, my sweet friend. Oh! the sweet eyes and lovely red lips whence there came never aught but kind words! She saved my life, the dear beloved! Thou shalt play the fife of deliverance on our ships. Dost thou remember … but no… Ours is the present hour full of gladness, and mine thy face sweet as June flowers. I am in paradise. But,” said he, “thou art weeping…”
“They have killed her,” said she.
And she told him the tale of mourning.
And, looking on one another, they wept with love and grief.
And at the feast they drank and ate, and Lamme looked on them woefully, saying:
“Alas! my wife, where art thou?”
And the priest came and married Nele and Ulenspiegel.
And the morning sun found them one beside the other in their bridal bed.
And Nele lay with her head on Ulenspiegel’s shoulder. And when she awoke in the sunshine, he said:
“Fresh face and sweet heart, we shall be the avengers of Flanders.”
She, kissing him on the mouth:
“Wild head and stout arms,” said she, “God will bless the fife and the sword.”
“I will make thee a soldier’s garb.”
“At once?” said she.
“At once,” replied Ulenspiegel; “but who said that strawberries are good in the morning? Thy mouth is far better.”