The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 32

On the day of the Feast of the Dead, Ulenspiegel came away from Notre Dame with some vagabonds of his own age. Lamme Goedzak was lost among them, like a sheep in the midst of wolves.

Lamme freely paid for drink for everyone, for his mother gave him three patards every Sunday and feast day.

He went then with his comrades In den rooden schildt, to the Red Shield, whose landlord Jan Van Liebeke served them with the dobbele knollaert of Courtrai.

The drink heated their wits, and talking of prayers Ulenspiegel declared plumply that masses for the dead are good only for the priests.

But there was a Judas in the band: he denounced Ulenspiegel as a heretic. In spite of Soetkin’s tears and Claes’s entreaties, Ulenspiegel was taken and cast into prison. There he remained in a cellar behind bars for a month and three days without seeing any one. The gaoler ate three quarters of his pittance. In the meanwhile, inquiries were made into his good and bad reputation. It was found merely that he was a sharp jester, flouting his neighbours continually, but never having missaid Monseigneur God, or Madame Virgin or messieurs the saints. And so the sentence was a light one, for he might have been branded in the face with a red-hot iron, and whipped till the blood came.

In consideration of his youth, the judges condemned him merely to walk in his shirt behind the priests, bareheaded and barefooted, and a candle in his hand, in the first procession that should go out from the church.

That was on Ascension Day.

When the procession was returning, he must stand still under the porch of Notre Dame and there cry aloud:

“Thanks to my Lord Jesu! Thanks to messieurs the priests! Their prayers are sweet to souls in purgatory, yea, refreshing; for every Ave is a bucket of water falling on their back, every Pater a cistern.”

And the people hearkened most devoutly, not without laughing.

At the Feast of Pentecost, he must again follow the procession; he was in his shirt, barefoot and bareheaded, candle in hand. Coming back, standing beneath the porch, and holding his candle very reverently, not without pulling a waggish face or two, he called in a loud clear voice:

“If the prayers of Christian men are a great ease and solace to souls in purgatory, those of the dean of Notre Dame, that holy man perfect in the practice of all the virtues, assuage so well the torments of the fire that it is transformed to ices all at once. But the devil-tormentors have not so much as one crumb.”

And the people once more hearkened devoutly, not without laughter, and the dean, well pleased, smiled ecclesiastically.

Then Ulenspiegel was banished from the land of Flanders for three years, under condition of making pilgrimage to Rome and returning thence with absolution from the Pope.

Claes must pay three florins for this sentence; but he gave still another to his son and furnished him with the habiliments of a pilgrim.

Ulenspiegel was brokenhearted on the day of departing, when he embraced Claes and Soetkin, who was all in tears, the unhappy mother. They convoyed him a long long way on his road, in company of several townsfolk, both men and women.

Claes, when they came back to their cottage, said to his wife:

“Goodwife, it is exceeding harsh, for a few mad words, to condemn so young a lad to so heavy a penalty in this fashion.”

“Thou art weeping, my husband,” said Soetkin. “Thou dost love him more than thou showest, for thou art breaking into man’s sobs, which be lion’s tears.”

But he made no answer.

Nele had gone to hide in the barn that none might see that she also wept for Ulenspiegel. A long way off she followed Soetkin and Claes and the townsfolk; when she saw her friend disappearing alone, she ran to him and leaping on his neck:

“You will be finding many beautiful dames over there,” said she.

“Beautiful,” replied Ulenspiegel, “I cannot tell; but fresh as you, no, for the sun has roasted them all.”

Long they went their way together: Ulenspiegel was pensive and now and then would say:

“I’ll make them pay their masses for the dead.”

“What masses, and who will pay?” asked Nele.

Ulenspiegel replied:

“All the deans, curates, clerks, beadles, and other bigwigs high or low that feed us on windy trash. If I were a stout workman, they would have robbed me of the fruit of three years’ toil by making me go pilgrimaging. But it is poor Claes who pays. They shall repay me my three years an hundredfold, and I will chant them as well the mass for their dead money.”

“Alas, Thyl, be prudent: they will burn you alive,” replied Nele.

“I am pure asbestos,” answered Ulenspiegel.

And they parted, she all in tears, he brokenhearted, and in anger.