The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book IV Chapter 12

On the ships it is snowing. The air is all white as far as eye can see, and the snow falls without ceasing, falls softly upon the black water where it melts.
On the earth it is snowing: all white are the roadways, all white the black silhouettes of the trees bereft of their leaves. No sound but the distant bells of Haarlem striking the hour, and the gay chime sending its muffled notes through the thick air.
Bells, ring not; bells, play not your sweet and simple airs: Don Frederic draws near, the dukeling of blood. He is marching upon thee, followed by thirty-five companies of Spaniards, thy mortal foes, Haarlem, O thou city of liberty; twenty-two companies of Walloons, eighteen companies of Germans, eight hundred horse, a powerful artillery, all follow in his train. Hearest thou the clang of this murderous iron on the wagons? Falconets, culverins, big-mouthed mortars, all that is for thee, Haarlem. Bells, ring not; chimes, fling not your gladsome notes into the air thickened with snow.
“Bells, we the bells, shall ring; I, the chime, I shall sing, flinging my bold notes into the air thick with snow. Haarlem is the town of hardy hearts, of brave women. Undaunted she sees, from her topmost towers, the black masses of the butchers undulating like troops of ants: Ulenspiegel, Lamme, and a hundred sea Beggars are within her walls. Their fleet is cruising in the lake.”
“Let them come!” say the inhabitants; “we are but citizens, fishermen, sailors, and women.
“The son of the Duke of Alba wanteth, he declares, no other keys to come into our house than his cannon. Let him open, if he can, these weak gates; he will find men behind them. Ring out, bells; chimes, launch your glad notes into the air thick with snow.
“We have but weak walls and old-fashioned ditches. Fourteen guns belch out their balls of forty-six pound on the Cruys-poort. Put men where stones are lacking. Night comes, every man toileth, it is as though the cannon had never been there. On the Cruys-poort they have hurled six hundred and eighty shot; on St. John’s Gate six hundred and seventy-five. These keys do not open, for there, behind, rises a new rampart. Ring out, bells; chimes, hurl into the thick air your merry notes.
“The cannon beat, beat, beat ever on the walls; the stones fly, the walls crumble. Wide enough is the breech to let a company pass in abreast. The assault! ‘Kill! Kill!’ they cry. They mount, they are ten thousand; suffer them to pass the moats with their bridges, with their ladders. Our cannon are ready. Lo, there the flag of those that are to die. Salute them, cannon of liberty! They salute: chain shot, balls of flaming tar flying and hissing, pierce, cut, kindle, blind the assailing masses that fall back and flee in disorder. Fifteen hundred dead lie in the ditch. Ring out, bells; and ye, chimes, fling into the thickened air your merry notes.
“Come back to the assault! They dare not. They fall to shooting and sapping. We, too, we know the arts of the mine. Beneath them, beneath them light the train; run, we shall see a goodly sight. Four hundred Spaniards blown into the air. This is not the road of eternal fires. Oh! the goodly dance to the silver sound of our bells, to the merry music of our chimes!
“They never suspect that the prince is watching over us; that every day there come to us by ways well guarded sledges of corn and gunpowder; the corn for us, the powder for them. Where are their six hundred Germans that we slew and drowned in the Haarlem Wood? Where are the eleven ensigns we have taken from them, the six pieces of artillery, and the fifty oxen? We had one girdle of walls; now we have two. Even the women fight, and Kennan leads their valiant band. Come, butchers, march down our streets; the children will hamstring you with their little knives. Ring out, bells; and ye, chimes, fling into the thickened air your merry notes!
“But fortune is not with us. The Beggars’ fleet is beaten in the lake. They are beaten, the troops Orange had sent to our help. It freezes, it freezes bitterly. No more help now. Then for five months, a thousand against ten thousand, we hold out. Now we must needs come to terms with the butchers. Will he listen to any terms, this bloody dukeling who hath sworn our destruction? Let us send out all our soldiers with their arms: they will pierce the enemy bands. But the women are at the gates, fearing lest they be left to guard the town alone. Bells, ring out no more; chimes, fling no more into the air your merry notes.
“Here is June; the hay is fragrant, the corn grows golden in the sun, the birds are singing: we have been hungry for five months; the town is in mourning; we shall all go forth from Haarlem, the musketeers at the head to open up the way, the women, the children, the magistrates behind, guarded by the infantry that watches at the breech. A letter, a letter from the dukeling of blood! Is it death he announces? Nay, it is life to all that are in the town. O unlooked-for clemency; O lie, mayhap! Wilt thou still sing, O merry chime? They are entering the town.”
Ulenspiegel, Lamme, and Nele had donned the costume of the German soldiers shut up with them, to the number of six hundred, in the cloister of the Augustines.
“We shall die to-day,” said Ulenspiegel in a low tone to Lamme.
And he clasped to his breast the dainty form of Nele all shivering with fear.
“Alas! my wife, I shall never see her more,” said Lamme. “But perhaps our costume as German soldiers will save our lives?”
Ulenspiegel nodded his head to show he believed in no hope of grace.
“I hear no noise of pillage,” said Lamme.
Ulenspiegel replied:
“By the terms, the townsfolk redeemed their lives, and the town from pillage, for the sum of two hundred and forty thousand florins. They must pay one hundred thousand florins down in twelve days, and the rest three months after. The women have been ordered to retire into the churches. They are about to begin the massacre, beyond a doubt. Dost thou hear them nailing up the scaffolds and erecting the gallows?”
“Ah! we are to die!” said Nele; “I am hungry.”
“Aye,” said Lamme low to Ulenspiegel, “the dukeling of blood has said that being famished we shall be more docile when we are brought out to die.”
“I am so hungry!” said Nele.
That night soldiers came and distributed bread enough for six men.
“Three hundred Walloon soldiers have been hanged in the marketplace,” said they. “It will soon be your turn. There was always a matrimony between the Beggars and the Gallows.”
The next night they came again with their bread for six men.
“Four high burgesses,” said they, “have been beheaded. Two hundred and forty-nine soldiers have been bound together two by two and cast into the sea. The crabs will be fat this year. You do not look well, you folk, since the seventh of July that saw you come here. They are gluttons and drunkards, these dwellers in the Low Countries; we Spaniards, we have enough with two figs for our supper.”
“That is why, then,” replied Ulenspiegel, “you must needs, everywhere in the townsfolks’ houses, have four meals of meats, poultry, creams, wines, and preserves; that ye must have milk to wash the bodies of your mustachos and wine to bathe your horses’ feet?”
On the eighteenth of July, Nele said:
“My feet are wet; what is this?”
“Blood,” said Ulenspiegel.
At night the soldiers came again with their bread for six.
“Where the rope is no longer enough,” said they, “the sword does the work. Three hundred soldiers and twenty-seven burghers who tried to flee out of the town are now walking about the streets of hell with their heads in their hands.”
The next day the blood came again into the cloister; the soldiers came not to bring the bread, but merely to contemplate the prisoners, saying:
“The five hundred Walloons, Englishmen, and Scotsmen that were beheaded yesterday looked better. These are hungry, no doubt, but who then should die of hunger if not the Beggar!”
And indeed, they were like phantoms, all pale, haggard, broken, trembling with cold ague.
On the sixteenth of August, at five in the evening, the soldiers came in laughing and gave them bread, cheese, and beer. Lamme said:
“It is the feast of death.”
At ten o’clock four companies came; the captains had the doors of the cloister opened, ordering the prisoners to march four abreast behind fifes and drums, to the place where they would be told to halt. Certain streets were red, and they marched towards the Gallows Field.
Here and there shallow pools of blood defiled the meadows; there was blood all about the walls. The ravens came in clouds on every hand; the sun hid in a bed of mists; the sky was still clear, and in its depths awoke the shy stars. Suddenly they heard lamentable howlings.
The soldiers said:
“They that are crying there are the Beggars of the Fuycke Fort, without the town; they are being left to die of hunger.”
“We, too,” said Nele, “we are going to die.” And she wept.
“The ashes beat upon my heart,” said Ulenspiegel.
“Ah!” said Lamme in Flemish – for the soldiers of the escort understood not that proud speech – “Ah!” said Lamme, “if I could catch that duke of blood and make him eat, until his skin burst, each and all ropes, gallows, torture benches, wooden horses, weights, and boots; if I could make him drink the blood he has shed, if there came out of his torn skin and opened bowels splinters of wood and pieces of iron, and still he did not give up the ghost, I would tear out his heart from his breast and make him eat it raw and poisoned. Then for certain would he fall from life to death into the sulphur pit, where may the devil make him eat it and eat it again without ceasing. And thus through all long eternity.”
“Amen,” said Ulenspiegel and Nele.
“But dost thou see naught?” said she.
“Nay,” said he.
“I see in the west,” she said, “five men and two women seated in a circle. One is clad in purple and wears a crown of gold. He seems the chief over the rest, all ragged and tattered. I see from the east another band of seven coming: one commands them also who is clad in purple, without a crown. And they come against those of the west. And they fight against them in the clouds, but I see nothing more now.”
“The Seven,” said Ulenspiegel.
“I hear,” said Nele, “near by us in the foliage, a voice like a breath of wind saying:
“By war and fireBy pikes and swordsSeek;In death and bloodRuins and tears.Find.”“Others than we shall deliver the land of Flanders,” replied Ulenspiegel. “Night grows black, the soldiers are lighting torches. We are near the Gallows Field. O sweet beloved, why didst thou follow me? Dost thou hear nothing more, Nele?”
“Aye,” said she, “a noise of arms among the corn. And there, above that ridge, surmounting the way in which we are entering, seest thou the red light of the torches gleam upon steel? I see sparks of fire gleaming upon the matches of arquebuses. Are our guardians asleep, or are they blind? Dost thou hear that clap of thunder? Seest thou the Spaniards fall pierced with bullets? Hearest thou ‘Long live the Beggar!’? They climb the path running, musket in hand; they come down with axes all along the slope. Long live the Beggar!”
“Long live the Beggar!” cry Lamme and Ulenspiegel.
“Lo,” said Nele, “here are soldiers that give us arms. Take, Lamme, take, my beloved. Long live the Beggar!”
“Long live the Beggar!” cry the whole troop of prisoners.
“The arquebuses cease not from firing,” said Nele, “they fall like flies, lit up as they are by the light of the torches. Long live the Beggars!”
“Long live the Beggar!” cry the band of rescuers.
“Long live the Beggar!” cry Ulenspiegel and the prisoners. “The Spaniards are in a ring of fire. Kill! kill! There is not one left on his feet. Kill! no pity, war without mercy. And now let us be off and run to Enckhuyse. Who hath the butchers’ clothes of cloth and silk? Who hath their weapons?”
“All! all!” they cry. “Long live the Beggar!”
And indeed, they went off for Enckhuyse by boat, and there the Germans delivered with them remained to guard the town.
And Lamme, Nele, and Ulenspiegel found their ships again. And lo once more they are singing upon the free sea: “Long live the Beggar!”
And they cruise in the roadstead of Flessingue.