The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book V Chapter 9

They were then in the month of the ripened grain; the air was heavy, the wind was warm: the reapers, both men and women, could gather in at their ease in the fields, under the free sky, upon a free soil, the corn they had sown.
Frisia, Drenthe, Overyssel, Guelderland, North Brabant, North and South Holland, Walcheren, North and South Beveland; Duiveland and Schouwen that make up Zealand; all the shores of the North Sea from Knokke to Helder; the islands of Texel, Vieland, Ameland, Schiermonk-Oog, were, from the western Scheldt to the eastern Ems, about to be freed from the Spanish yoke; Maurice, the son of the Silent, was continuing the war.
Ulenspiegel and Nele, having their youth, their strength, and their beauty, for the love and the spirit of Flanders grow never old, were living snugly in the tower of Neere, waiting till, after many hard trials, they could come and breathe the air of freedom upon Belgium the fatherland.
Ulenspiegel had asked to be appointed commandant and warden of the tower, saying that having an eagle’s eyes and a hare’s ears, he could see if the Spaniard would not attempt to show himself once more in the delivered countries, and that in that case he would sound wacharm, which is the alarm in the speech of Flanders.
The magistrate did as Ulenspiegel wished: because of his good service he was given a florin a day, two quarts of beer, beans, cheese, biscuit, and three pounds of beef every week.
Thus Ulenspiegel and Nele lived very well by themselves two: seeing from afar, with rejoicing, the free isles of Zealand: near at hand, woods, castles, fortresses, and the armed ships of the Beggars guarding the coasts.
At night they often climbed up on the tower, and there, sitting on the platform, they talked of hard battles and goodly loves past and to come. Thence they beheld the sea, which in this time of heat surged and broke upon the shore in luminous waves, casting them upon the islands like phantoms of fire. And Nele was affrighted to see the jack o’lanterns in the polders, for, said she, they are the souls of the poor dead. And all these places had been battle-fields. The will o’ the wisps swept out from the polders, ran along the dykes, then came back into the polders as though they had no mind to abandon the bodies whence they had issued.
One night Nele said to Ulenspiegel:
“See how thick they are in Duiveland and how high they fly: ’tis by the isle of birds I see the most. Wilt thou come thither, Thyl? We shall take the balsam that discloseth things hid from the eyes of mortals.”
Ulenspiegel answered her:
“If it is the same balsam that wafted me to that great sabbath, I trow in it no more than a hollow dream.”
“Thou must not,” said Nele, “deny the potency of charms. Come, Ulenspiegel.”
“I shall come.”
The next day he asked the magistrate that a clear-sighted and trusty soldier should take his place, to guard the tower and keep watch over the country.
And with Nele he went his way to the isle of birds.
Going across fields and dykes, they beheld little green lush islets, between which ran the sea water; and upon the slopes of green sward that came down to the very dunes an immense concourse of plovers, of sea mews and sea swallows, that stayed motionless and made the islets all white with their bodies; overhead circled and flew thousands of the same. The ground was full of nests: Ulenspiegel, stooping to pick up an egg upon the way, saw a sea mew come flitting to him, uttering a cry. At his appeal there came more than a hundred others, crying with grief and fear, hovering above Ulenspiegel and over the neighbour nests, but they did not venture to come close to him.
“Ulenspiegel,” said Nele, “these birds beg grace for their eggs.”
Then falling a-tremble, she said:
“I am afeared; there is the sun setting; the sky is white, the stars awaken; ’tis the spirits’ hour. See these red exhalations, gliding along the earth; Thyl, my beloved, what monster of hell is thus opening his fiery mouth in the mist? See from the side of Philip’s land, where the butcher king twice for his cruel ambition slaughtered so many poor men, see the dancing will-o’-the-wisps: ’tis the night when the souls of poor folk slain in battle quit the cold limbo of purgatory to come and be warmed again in the soft air of the earth: ’tis the hour when thou mayst ask aught of Christ, who is the God of good magicians.”
“The ashes beat upon my heart,” said Ulenspiegel. “If Christ could show me these Seven whose ashes cast to the wind were to make Flanders and the whole world happy!”
“Man of little faith,” said Nele, “thou wilt see them by virtue of the balsam.”
“Perchance,” said Ulenspiegel, pointing to Sirius with a finger, “if some spirit descends from the cold star.”
At his movement a will-o’-the-wisp flitting about him perched on his finger, and the more he sought to be rid of it, the tighter it clung.
Nele trying to set Ulenspiegel free, she, too, had her will-o’-the-wisp on the tip of her hand.
Ulenspiegel, striking at his, said:
“Answer! art thou the spirit of a Beggar or of a Spaniard? If thou be the soul of a Beggar, depart into paradise; if the soul of a Spaniard, return into hell whence thou comest.”
Nele said to him:
“Do not insult souls, were they even the souls of butchers.”
And making the will-o’-the-wisp dance on her finger tip:
“Wisp,” said she, “dear wisp, what tidings dost thou bring us from the country of souls? What are they employed in over there? Do they eat and drink, since they have no mouths? for thou hast none, darling wisp! or do they indeed take human shape only in the blessed paradise?”
“Canst thou,” said Ulenspiegel, “waste time in this fashion conversing with this wretched flame that hath neither ears to hear thee with nor mouth to answer thee withal?”
But without heeding him:
“Wisp,” said Nele, “reply by dancing, for I will ask thee three times: once in the name of God, once in the name of Madame the Virgin, and once in the name of the elemental spirits that are messengers ’twixt God and man.”
And she did so, and the wisp danced three times.
Then Nele said to Ulenspiegel:
“Take off thy clothes; I shall do the same: here is the silver box in which is the balsam of vision.”
“’Tis all one to me,” said Ulenspiegel.
Then being unclad and anointed with the balsam of vision, they lay down beside each other naked on the grass.
The sea mews were plaining; the thunder was growling dull in the cloud where the lightning gleamed; the moon scarce displayed between two clouds the golden horns of her crescent; the will-o’-the-wisps on Ulenspiegel and Nele betook themselves off to dance with the others in the meadow.
Suddenly Ulenspiegel and Nele were caught up in the mighty hand of a giant who threw them into the air like children’s balloons, caught them again, rolled them one upon the other and kneaded them between his hands, threw them into the water pools between the hills and pulled them out again full of seaweed. Then carrying them thus through space, he sang with a voice that woke all the sea mews underneath with affright:
“That vermin, crawling, biting,With squinting glances triesTo read the sacred writingWe hide from all men’s eyes.“Read, flea, the secret rare;Read, louse, the sacred termThat heaven, earth and airWith seven nails hold firm.”And in very deed, Ulenspiegel and Nele saw upon the sward, in the air and in the sky, seven tablets of shining brass fastened thereto by seven flaming nails.
Upon the tablets there was written:
Amid the dung May saps arise;If Seven’s ill, yet Seven’s well;The diamond came from coal, they tell;From foolish teachers, pupils wise —If Seven’s ill, yet Seven’s well.And the giant walked on followed by all the will-o’-the-wisps, which said, chirping and singing like grasshoppers:
“Look well at him, ’tis their Grand Master.The Pope of popes and Lord of lords,Can change great Cæsar to a pastor:Look well at him, he’s made of boards.”Suddenly his features changed; he seemed thinner, sadder, taller. In one hand he held a sceptre and a sword in the other. And his name was Pride.
And casting Nele and Ulenspiegel down upon the ground he said:
“I am God.”
Then close by him, riding on a goat, there appeared a ruddy girl, with bared bosom, her robe open, and a lively sparkling eye: her name was Lust; came then an old Jewess picking up the shells of sea mews’ eggs: she had Avarice to name; and a greedy, gluttonous monk, devouring chitterlings, stuffing sausages, and champing his jaws continually like the sow upon which he was mounted: this was Gluttony; next came Idleness dragging her legs, pallid and puffy, with dulled eyes, and Anger driving her before her with strokes of a goad. Idleness, woebegone, was bemoaning herself, and all in tears fell down upon her knees; then came lean Envy, with a viper’s head and pike’s teeth, biting Idleness because she was too much at her ease, Anger because she was too vivacious, Gluttony because he was too well stuffed, Lust because she was too red, Avarice for the eggshells, Pride because he had a purple robe and a crown. And all around danced the will-o’-the-wisps.
And speaking with the voices of men, of women, of girls and plaintive children, they said, moaning and groaning:
“Pride, father of ambition, Anger, spring of cruelty, ye slew us on the battle-field, in prisons and with torments, to keep your sceptres and your crowns! Envy, thou didst destroy in the bud many high and useful ideas; we are the souls of persecuted inventors: Avarice, thou didst coin into gold the blood of the poor common folk; we are the souls of thy victims; Lust, thou mate and sister of murder, that didst give birth to Nero, to Messalina, to Philip King of Spain, thou dost buy virtue and pay for corruption; we are the souls of the dead: Idleness and Gluttony, ye befoul the world, ye must be swept from out of it; we are the souls of the dead.”
And a voice was heard saying:
“Amid the dung May saps arise;If Seven’s ill, yet Seven’s well;For foolish teachers, pupils wise;To win the coal and ashes, too,What is the wandering louse to do?”And the will-o’-the-wisps said:
“The fire, ’tis we, vengeance for the bygone tears, the woes of the people; vengeance for the lords that hunted human game upon their lands; vengeance for the fruitless battles, the blood spilt in prisons, men burned and women and girls buried alive; vengeance for the fettered and bleeding past. The fire, ’tis we: we are the souls of the dead.”
At these words the Seven were changed to wooden statues, while keeping every point of their former shape.
And a voice said:
“Ulenspiegel, burn the wood.”
And Ulenspiegel turning towards the will-o’-the-wisps:
“Ye that are fire,” said he, “perform your office.”
And the will-o’-the-wisps in a crowd surrounded the Seven, which burned and were reduced to ashes.
And a river of blood ran down.
And from out the ashes rose up seven other shapes; the first said:
“Pride was I named; I am called Noble Spirit.” The others spake in the same fashion, and Ulenspiegel and Nele saw from Avarice come forth Economy; from Anger, Vivacity; from Gluttony, Appetite; from Envy, Emulation; and from Idleness, the Reverie of poets and sages. And Lust upon her goat was transformed to a beautiful woman whose name was Love.
And the will-o’-the-wisps danced about them in a happy round.
Then Ulenspiegel and Nele heard a thousand voices of concealed men and women, sonorous and laughing voices that sang with a sound as of castanets:
“When over land and sea shall reignIn form transfigured all these seven,Men, boldly raise your heads to heaven;The Golden Age has come again.”And Ulenspiegel said: “The spirits mock us.”
And a mighty hand seized Nele by the arm and hurled her into space.
And the spirits chanted:
“When the northShall kiss the west,Ruin shall end:The girdle seek.”“Alas!” said Ulenspiegel: “north, west, and girdle. Ye speak obscurely, ye Spirits.”
And they sang, laughing:
“North, ’tis the Netherland:Belgium is the west;Girdle is allianceGirdle is friendship.”“Ye are nowise fools, Messieurs the Spirits,” said Ulenspiegel.
And they sang once more, grinning:
“The girdle, poor manBetween Netherlands and BelgiumWill be good friendshipAnd fair alliance.“Met raedtEn daedt;Met doodtEn bloodt.“Alliance of counselAnd of deeds,Of deathAnd blood“If need were,Were there no Scheldt,Poor man, no Scheldt.”“Alas!” said Ulenspiegel, “such then is our life of anguish: men’s tears and the laughter of destiny.”
“Alliance of counselAnd of death,Were there no Scheldt.”replied the spirits, grinning.
And a mighty hand seized Ulenspiegel and hurled him into space.