The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 18

Whilst the vagabond son of the coalman was growing up gay and frolicsome, in lean melancholy vegetated the dolorous scion of the sublime Emperor. Lords and ladies saw the pitiful little weakling dragging through the rooms and corridors of Valladolid his frail body and his tottering limbs that could scarce sustain the weight of his big head, covered with fair stiff hair.

Ever seeking out the darkest corridors, there he would sit for hours thrusting out his legs in front of him. If a servant trod on him by accident, he had the man flogged, and took pleasure in hearing him cry out under the lashes, but he never laughed.

The next day, going elsewhere to set the same trap, he would sit again in some corridor with his legs thrust out. The ladies, lords, and pages who might pass there going fast or slow would trip over him, fall down and hurt themselves. He took pleasure in this, also, but he never laughed.

When one of them, having run into him, failed to fall, he would cry out as if he had been struck, and he was delighted to see their fear, but he never laughed.

His Sacred Majesty was informed of his behaviour and gave orders to take no notice of the boy, saying that if he did not wish to have his legs trodden on, he ought not to put them in the way of people’s feet.

This angered Philip, but he said nothing, and no one saw him after, except when on bright summer days he went to warm his shivering body in the sunshine in the courtyard.

One day, coming back from the wars, Charles saw him steeped in melancholy in this fashion.

“Son,” said he, “how different art thou from me! At thy age, I loved to climb among trees to hunt the squirrels; I had myself lowered by a rope down some steep cliff to take eaglets from the nest. At this play I might have left my bones behind me; they but became the harder for it. In the chase the wild things fled to their dens when they saw me coming with my good arquebus.”

“Ah,” sighed the boy, “I have a pain in the belly, monseigneur my father.”

“The wine of Paxaretos,” said Charles, “is a sovereign cure.”

“I do not like wine; my head aches, monseigneur my father.”

“Son,” said Charles, “thou must run and leap and romp as do other boys of thine own years.”

“My legs are stiff, monseigneur my father.”

“How,” said Charles, “how can they be otherwise if thou usest them no more than if they were legs of wood? I will have thee fastened on some nimble steed.”

The boy wept.

“Do not so,” said he, “I have a pain in my loins, monseigneur my father.”

“But,” said Charles, “you have a pain everywhere then?”

“I would not be ill at all if I were left in peace,” replied the child.

“Dost thou think,” rejoined the Emperor, impatiently, “to pass thy royal life in brooding as do clerks? For them, if it must be, in order that they may soil their parchments with ink, from the silence, solitude, and retirement; for thee, son of the sword, there needs hot blood, the eye of a lynx, the cunning of the fox, the strength of Hercules. Why dost thou make the holy sign? God’s blood! ’tis not for the lion’s cub to ape paternoster-mongering females.”

“Hark, the Angelus, monseigneur my father,” replied the child.