The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 17

One day Soetkin said to Claes:

“Husband, my heart is sad: it is now three days since Thyl left the house; dost thou not know where he is?”

Claes replied ruefully:

“He is where homeless dogs are, on some highway with a crew of other vagabonds of his own kidney. God was cruel to give us such a son. When he was born, I beheld in him the joy of our age, a tool more in the house; I looked to make a craftsman of him, and wicked fate makes him a thief and a drone.”

“Be not so hard, husband,” said Soetkin, “our son being but nine years old is in the heyday of childish thoughtlessness and folly. Is it not so that like the trees, he must shed the young buds before the coming of the full leaves, which for the human tree are honour and virtue? He is full of tricks, I am not blind to them, but they will turn later to his advantage, if instead of employing them to ill ends, he applies them to some useful trade.

He is prone to flout his neighbours; but later this will help him to hold his own in merry company. He laughs ever and always; but faces sour before they are ripe are an ill omen for the countenance to come. If he runs, ’tis that he must grow; if he does not work, it is for that he is not yet of an age to feel that work is duty, and if now and then he spends day and night away from home for half a week together, ’tis that he knows nothing of what grief he gives us, for he has a good heart, and he loves us.”
Claes wagged his head and made no answer, and while he slept, Soetkin wept alone. And in the morning, thinking that her son was sick in a corner of some highway, she went out on the doorstep to see if he was not coming back; but she saw nothing, and she sate near the window, looking thence into the street. And many a time her heart danced in her bosom at the sound of the light foot of some lad; but when he passed, she saw it was not Ulenspiegel, and then she wept, poor dolorous mother.

In the meanwhile, Ulenspiegel with his vagabond companions was at Bruges, at the Saturday fair.

There might be seen cobblers and shoemakers in booths apart, tailors selling clothes, miesevangers from Antwerp, who catch tits with an owl at night; poultry sellers, dog stealers, vendors of catskins for gloves, waistcoats, and doublets, buyers of every kind and condition, burgesses and their womenfolk, menservants and maidservants, pantlers, butlers, and all together, sellers and buyers, crying up and crying down, vaunting and disparaging the wares.

In one corner of the fair there was a fine canvas tent erected on four poles. At the door of the tent, a churl from the flat country of Alost, with two monks who were there to get something for themselves, was showing the curious devout, for a patard, a piece of the shoulder blade of Saint Mary of Egypt. Hoarsely he bawled out the saint’s merits, and omitted not from his song how, having no silver, she paid a young ferryman in kind, so as not to sin against the Holy Ghost by refusing the labourer his hire.

And the two monks nodded their heads to show that what the churl said was true. By them was a woman fat and ruddy, lascivious as Astarte, violently inflating a wretched bagpipe, while a pretty young girl sang beside her like a nightingale; but no one listened to her. Above the entrance to the tent was hung on two poles, held by cords in the two handles, a bucket full of holy water that had been blessed in Rome, according to the fat woman, while the two monks waggled head to bear witness to her tale. Ulenspiegel, beholding the bucket, became pensive.

To one of the poles supporting the tent was fastened a donkey that was fed more upon hay than on oats: head down it was gazing at the earth, with no hope of seeing thistles spring up from it.

“Comrades,” said Ulenspiegel, pointing with his finger at the fat woman, the two monks, and the ass, “since the masters sing so sweetly, we must make the donkey dance as well.”

So saying, he went off to the next booth, bought six liards’ worth of pepper, pulled up the donkey’s tail and clapped the pepper underneath.

The donkey, feeling the pepper at work, looked round under his tail to see whence proceeded this unwonted heat. Thinking he had a red-hot devil there, he would fain run away to escape him, began to bray and rear, and shook the tent pole with all his might. At the first shock, the tub between the two poles spilled all its holy water on the tent and on those who were within it. And presently collapsing, the tent covered with a moist mantle those who were hearkening to the history of Mary of Egypt. And from under the canvas Ulenspiegel and his companions heard a great noise of moaning and lamenting, for the devout who were there were wild with anger and exchanged furious thwacks and thumps with one another. The canvas rose and fell at the struggles of the combatants. Every time Ulenspiegel saw a roundness shape itself under the cloth, he stuck a needle into it. Then there were louder shrieks beneath the canvas and a more liberal distribution of thwackings.

And he was transported, but more still seeing the donkey fleeing and dragging behind him tent, tub, and poles, while the baes of the tent, his wife and his daughter, hung desperately on to the baggage. The donkey, which could run no longer, lifted his head into the air and ceased not to sing, except in order to look beneath his tail to see if the fire there burning would not soon be extinguished.

All this while the devout were going on with their battle; the monks, without giving them a thought, were picking up the money that had fallen from the collecting dishes, and Ulenspiegel was helping them, most devoutly, not without profiting.