The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 36

Finding himself, on the morrow, upon a highway in the midst of a great crowd of folk, Ulenspiegel went with them, and soon knew that it was the day of the pilgrimage of Alsemberg.

He saw poor old women marching backwards, barefooted, for a florin and for the expiation of the sins of certain great ladies. On the edge of the highway, to the sound of rebecks, viols, and bagpipes, more than one pilgrim was holding a frying feast and junketing of bruinbier. And the smoke of delicious stews mounted towards heaven like a suave incense of food.

But there were other pilgrims, low fellows, needy and starveling, who, paid by the Church, were walking backwards for six sols.

A little man, completely bald, with staring eyes and a savage look, was skipping along backwards behind them reciting paternosters.

Ulenspiegel, wishing to know why he was mimicking the crayfishes in this fashion, planting himself before him and smiling, jumped in step with him. The rebecks, fifes, viols, and bagpipes, and the groans of the pilgrims made the music for the dance.

“Jan van den Duivel,” said Ulenspiegel, “is it that you may more certainly fall that you run in this wise?”

The man made no answer and went on mumbling his paternosters.

“Perhaps,” said Ulenspiegel, “you want to know how many trees there are along the road. But are you not counting the leaves also?”

The man, who was reciting a Credo, signed to Ulenspiegel to hold his tongue.

“Perhaps,” said the latter, still skipping before him and imitating him, “it is the result of some sudden madness that you should thus be going the contrary way to everybody else. But he who would have a wise answer from a madman is not wise himself. Is not this true, master of the peeled poll?”

As the man still made no answer, Ulenspiegel went on skipping, but making so much noise with his boot-soles that the road re?choed like a wooden box.

“Maybe,” said Ulenspiegel, “you might be dumb, good sir?”

“Ave Maria,” said the other, “gratia plena et benedictus fructus ventris tui Jesu.”

“Maybe you are deaf as well?” said Ulenspiegel. “We shall see that: they say deaf men hear neither praises nor insults. Let us see if the drums of your ears are skin or brass: thinkest thou, lantern without candle, simulacrum of a foot-goer, that thou dost resemble a man? That will be when men are made of rags. Where has such jaundiced visnomy been ever seen, that peeled head, save on the gallows field? Wast thou not hanged of yore?”

And Ulenspiegel went on dancing, and the man, who was entering on the ways of wrath, was running backwards angrily still mumbling his paternosters.

“Maybe,” said Ulenspiegel, “thou comprehendest but high Flemish, I will speak to thee in the low: if thou art no glutton, thou art a drunkard, if no drunkard, but a water bibber, thou art foully choked elsewhere; if not constipated, thou art jerry-go-nimble; if not a lecher, a capon; if there be temperance, it was not that that filled the tun of thy belly, and if in the thousand million men that people the earth there were but one only cuckold, it would be thou.”

At this word Ulenspiegel sat down upon his seat, legs in air, for the man had fetched him such a blow with his fist under the nose that he saw more than a hundred candles. Then cunningly falling upon him, despite the weight of his belly, he struck him everywhere, and blows rained like hail upon the thin frame of Ulenspiegel, whose cudgel fell to the ground.

“Learn by this lesson,” said the man, “not to pester honest folk going on pilgrimage. For you may know that I go thus to Alsemberg according to custom to implore Madam Holy Mary to cause to miscarry a child my wife conceived when I was on my travels. To win so great a boon, a man must needs walk and dance backward from the twentieth step from his home to the foot of the church steps, without speaking. Alas! now I must begin all over again.”

Ulenspiegel having picked up his cudgel said:

“I shall help you, rascal, you who would have Our Lady serve to kill babes in their mothers’ womb.”

And he fell to beating the wretched cuckold so cruelly that he left him for dead on the road.

All this while there rose to heaven the groans of pilgrims, the sounds of fifes, viols, rebecks, and bagpipes, and, like a pure incense, the savour of frying.