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

Claes, being in the bailiwick of Meyborg, was going through a little wood: the donkey as he travelled was browsing on the thistles; Ulenspiegel was throwing his bonnet after the butterflies and picking it up without leaving the beast’s back. Claes was eating a hunch of bread, meaning to wash it down at the next tavern. Far off he heard a bell clinking and the noise of a great crowd of men all speaking together.

“’Tis some pilgrimage,” said he, “and the pilgrims will doubtless be numerous. Hold on well, my son, to the donkey, so that they may not knock you over. Come and let us see. Now, then, ass, stick to my heels.”

And the ass began to run.

Leaving the fringe of the wood, he descended towards a wide plateau bordered by a stream at the foot of its western slope. On the eastern slope was a little chapel with a gable surmounted by the image of Our Lady and at her feet two little figures each representing a bull. Upon the chapel steps, grinning with glee, were a hermit shaking his bell, fifty flunkeys holding lighted candles, players, blowers, bangers of drums, clarions, fifes, shawms, and bagpipes, and a knot of jolly companions holding with both hands iron boxes full of old metal, but all silent at the moment.

Five thousand pilgrims and more went along seven by seven in close ranks, casques on their heads, cudgels of green wood in their hands. If there came fresh arrivals helmeted and armed in like fashion, they ranged themselves tumultuously behind the others. Then passing seven by seven before the chapel they had their cudgels blessed, received each man a candle from the hands of the flunkeys, and in exchange paid a demi-florin to the hermit.

And so long was the procession that the candles of the first were burnt down to the end of the wick while those of the latest were all but choking with too much tallow.

Claes, Ulenspiegel, and the donkey, astonished, saw thus passing before them an immense variety of bellies, broad, long, high, pointed, proud, firm, or falling ignobly upon their natural props. And all the pilgrims had casques on their heads.

Some of these casques had come from Troy, and were like Phrygian caps, or surmounted by aigrettes of red horsehair; some of the pilgrims, though they were fat-faced and paunchy, wore helms with outspread wings, but had no notion of flying; then came those who had on their heads salades that snails would have disdained for their lack of greenery.

But the greater part had casques so old and rusty that they seemed to date from the days of Gambrinus, the King of Flanders and of beer, the which monarch lived nine hundred years before Our Lord and wore a quart pot for a hat, so that he need never have to refrain from drinking for lack of a cup.

All at once rang, droned, thundered, thumped, squealed, brayed, clattered bells, bagpipes, shawms, drums, and ironmongery.

At the sound of this din, the signal for the pilgrims, they turned about, placing themselves face to face by bands of seven, and by way of provocation every man thrust his flaming candle into the face of his opposite. Therefrom arose great sternutation. And it began to rain green wood. And they fought with foot, with head, with heel, with everything. Some hurled upon their adversaries like rams, casque foremost, smashing it down on to their shoulders, and ran blinded to fall on a seven-fold rank of furious pilgrims, the which received them ungently.

Others, whimperers and cowards, bemoaned themselves because of the blows, but while they were mumbling their dolorous paternosters, there whirled upon them, swift as a thunderbolt, two sevens of struggling pilgrims, flinging the poor blubberers to earth and trampling them without compassion.

And the hermit laughed.

Other sevens, keeping in clusters like grapes, rolled from the top of the plateau into the very stream where they still exchanged shrewd strokes without quenching their fury.

And the hermit laughed.

Those that remained upon the plateau were blacking each other’s eyes, breaking each other’s teeth, tearing out each other’s hair, rending each other’s doublet and breeches.

And the hermit would laugh and call out:

“Courage, friends, he that smiteth sore but loves the more. To the hardest hitters the love of their fair ones! Our Lady of Rindisbels, ’tis here may be seen the true males!”

And the pilgrims fell to it with joyous heart.

Claes, meanwhile, had drawn near the hermit, while Ulenspiegel, laughing and shouting, applauded the blows.

“Father,” said Claes, “what crime, then, have these poor fellows committed to be forced so cruelly to strike one another?”

But the hermit, not giving ear to him, shouted:

“Lazybones! ye lose courage. If the fists are weary are the feet? God’s life! some of you have legs to run like hares! What makes fire leap from the flint? ’Tis the iron that beateth it. What blows up virility in old folk if not a goodly dish of blows well seasoned with male fury?”

At these words, the pilgrims continued to belabour one another with casque, with hands, with feet. ’Twas a wild m?l?e where not Argus with his hundred eyes had seen aught but the flying dust or the peak of some casque.

Sudden the hermit clanked his bell. Fifes, drums, trumpets, bagpipes, shawms, and old iron ceased their din. And this was the signal for peace.

The pilgrims picked up their wounded. Among them were seen many tongues swollen with anger, protruding from the mouths of the combatants. But they returned of themselves to their accustomed palates. Most difficult of all it was to take off the casques of those who had thrust them down as far as their necks, and now were shaking their heads, but without making them fall, no more than green plums.

None the less the hermit said to them:

“Recite each one an Ave and go back to your good wives. Nine months hence there will be as many children more in the bailiwick as there were valiant champions in the battle to-day.”

And the hermit sang the Ave and all sang it with him. And the bell tinkled above.

Then the hermit blessed them in the name of Our Lady of Rindisbels and said:

“Go in peace!”

They departed shouting, jostling, and singing all the way to Meyborg. All the goodwives, old and young, were waiting for them on the threshold of their houses which they entered like men at arms in a town taken by storm.

The bells of Meyborg were pealing their loudest: the little lads whistled, shouted, played the rommel-pot.

Quart stoups, tankards, goblets, glasses, flagons, and pint-pots rang and jingled marvellously. And the good wine rolled in waves down thirsty throats.

During this ringing, and while the wind brought to the ears of Claes from the town, in gusts, songs of men and women and children, he spake once again to the hermit, asking him what heavenly boon these good folk looked to win by these rough devotions.

The hermit answered, laughing:

“Thou seest upon this chapel two carven images, representing two bulls. They are placed there in memory of the miracle whereby Saint Martin transformed two bullocks into bulls, by making them fight with their horns. Then he rubbed their muzzles with a candle and green wood for an hour and longer.

“Wotting of the miracle, and fortified with a brief from His Holiness, for which I paid roundly, I came hither and established myself.

“Thenceforward all the ancient coughers and big-bellies in Meyborg and the country roundabout, persuaded by my arguments, were certain that having once beaten one another soundly with the candle, the which is unction, and with the cudgel, that is power, they would win favour of Our Lady. The women send their ancient husbands hither. The children born by virtue of this pilgrimage are violent, bold, fierce, nimble, and make perfect soldiers.”

Suddenly the hermit said to Claes:

“Dost thou know me?”

“Yea,” said Claes, “thou art Josse my brother.”

“I am,” replied the hermit; “but what is this little man that makes faces at me?”

“It is thy nephew,” said Claes.

“What difference dost thou make between me and the Emperor Charles?”

“It is great,” replied Claes.

“It is but small,” rejoined Josse, “for we do both alike, we two: he makes men to slay one another, I to beat one another for our gain and pleasure.”

Then he brought them to his hermitage, where they held feast and revel for eleven days without pause or truce.