The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 42

Ulenspiegel as he pilgrimaged would gladly have turned highway robber, but he found the stones too heavy to carry.

He was trudging by chance on the road to Audenaerde where there was then a garrison of Flemish reiters charged with the defence of the town against the French bands that ravaged the country like locusts.

The reiters had at their head a certain captain, a Frisian born, by name Kornjuin. They also overran the low country and pillaged the peoples, who were thus, as usual, devoured on both sides.

Everything was good in their eyes: hens, chickens, ducks, pigeons, calves, and pigs. One day, as they were coming back laden with plunder, Kornjuin and his lieutenants saw at the foot of a tree Ulenspiegel lying asleep and dreaming of fricassees.

“What do you do for a living?” asked Kornjuin.

“I’m dying of hunger,” replied Ulenspiegel.

“What is your trade?”

“To go on pilgrimage for my sins, look on at others toiling, dance on the rope, paint pretty faces, carve knife handles, play the rommel-pot, and blow the trumpet.”

Now if Ulenspiegel spoke so bold of trumpets, it was because he had learned that the post of watchman to the Castle of Audenaerde was vacant after the death of an old man who had held it.

Kornjuin said to him:

“You shall be trumpeter to the town.”

Ulenspiegel went with him and was posted on the tallest tower on the ramparts, in a little box of a cell well ventilated by the four winds, all except the south wind that fanned it only with one wing.

He was enjoined to sound the trumpet as soon as he might see an enemy coming and, to that end, to keep his head clear and his eyes keen; and so they did not give him overmuch either to eat or to drink.

The captain and his soldiers stayed in the tower and feasted there all day long at the expense of the low country. There was killed and eaten there more than one capon whose one crime was to be plump. Ulenspiegel, always forgotten and forced to be satisfied with his meagre soup, found no pleasure in the smell of the sauces. The French came and carried off a great deal of cattle; Ulenspiegel did not sound his trumpet.

Kornjuin climbed up to his cell and said to him:

“Why did you not sound the trumpet?”

Ulenspiegel said to him:

“I give you no thanks for your provender.”

The next day, the captain ordered a great feast for himself and his soldiers, but Ulenspiegel was still forgotten. They were on the point of beginning to gorge, when Ulenspiegel blew his trumpet.

Kornjuin and his soldiers, thinking it was the French, left their wines and meats, leapt upon their horses, rode hastily out of the town, but found nothing in the country but an ox chewing the cud in the sun, and brought him back with them.

Meanwhile, Ulenspiegel had filled himself with wines and meats. The captain as he returned saw him standing, smiling, and his legs tottering at the door of the feast hall. He said to him:

“It is traitor’s work to sound the alarm when you do not see the enemy, and not to sound it when you do see them.”

“Master captain,” said Ulenspiegel, “I am in my tower so puffed out and swollen up with the four winds that I could float like a bladder if I had not blown in my trumpet to ease me. Have me hanged now, or another time when you need an ass’s skin for your drums.”

Kornjuin went away without a word.

Meanwhile, news came to Audenaerde that the gracious Emperor Charles was about to come to the town, with a most noble company. On this occasion the sheriffs gave Ulenspiegel a pair of spectacles that he might the better discern His Sacred Majesty’s coming. Ulenspiegel was to blow three blasts on the trumpet as soon as he saw the Emperor marching upon Luppeghem, which is a quarter of a league away from the Borg-poort.

Thus the townsfolk would have time to ring their bells, to make ready fireworks, to put the meats in the oven, and to broach the hogsheads.

One day, towards noon, the wind was blowing from Brabant and the sky was clear: Ulenspiegel saw on the road leading to Luppeghem a great band of horsemen mounted on caracoling steeds, the long feathers in their caps streaming in the wind. Some carried banners. He who rode proudly at their head wore a bonnet of cloth of gold with great plumes. He was arrayed in brown velvet broidered with brocatel.

Ulenspiegel put on his spectacles and saw it was the Emperor Charles the Fifth who was coming to give the folk of Audenaerde permission to serve him their choicest wines and their choicest viands.

His whole band was moving leisurely, snuffing up the fresh air that awakens appetite, but Ulenspiegel thought that they made good cheer by custom and might very well fast for one day without perishing. So he looked on at them as they came and did not blow his trumpet.

They came on laughing and talking freely, whilst His Sacred Majesty looked into his stomach to see if there was enough room for the dinner of the Audenaerde folk. He appeared surprised and displeased that no bell rang to announce his coming.

At this juncture a peasant entered the town running, to announce that he had seen a French band riding in the neighbourhood and marching upon the town to devour and pillage everything.

At this word the porter fastened the gate and sent a servant of the commune to warn the other porters of the town. But the reiters feasted without knowing anything.

His Majesty was still coming on, annoyed not to hear bells and cannon and arquebuses sounding and thundering and volleying. Straining his ears in vain, he heard nothing but the chime marking the half hour. He arrived before the gate, found it shut and beat on it with his fist to have it opened.

And the lords in his retinue, angry like him, muttered sour speeches. The porter who was on the summit of the ramparts cried out to them that if they did not put an end to this hubbub he would spray them with grapeshot to cool their impatience.

But His Majesty in a fury:

“Blind hog,” said he, “dost thou not know thy Emperor?”

The porter answered:

That the least hoggish are not always the most gilded; that he knew, besides, that the French were good mockers by their nature, since the Emperor Charles, at this moment waging war in Italy, could not be at the gates of Audenaerde.

Thereupon Charles and the lords cried out the more, saying:

“If thou dost not open, we shall roast thee on the point of a spear. And thou shalt eat thy keys first and foremost.”

At the noise they were making, an old man-at-arms came out from the artillery room and showing his nose above the wall:

“Porter,” said he, “you are all wrong, it is our Emperor yonder; I know him well, though he has aged since he took Maria van der Gheynst from here to the Castle of Lallaing.”

The porter fell down stiff as death with terror, and the man-at-arms seized his keys and went to open the gate.
The Emperor asked why he had been forced to wait so long: the man-at-arms having told him, His Majesty ordered him to shut the gate again, and to fetch him the reiters of Kornjuin, whom he commanded to march before him beating their tambourines and playing their fifes.

Soon one by one the bells awoke to sound full peal. Thus preceded, His Majesty came with an imperial din to the Great Marketplace. The burgomasters and sheriffs were all assembled there; the sheriff Ian Guigelaar came out at the noise. He went back into the council chamber saying:

“Keyser Karel is alhier! The Emperor Charles is here!”

Sorely affrighted to hear these tidings, the burgomasters, sheriffs, and councillors came out from the Townhall to go in a body to greet the Emperor, while their men ran throughout the whole town to have the fireworks got ready, to put the chickens to the fire, and to broach the casks.

Men, women, and children ran everywhere crying:

“Keyser Karel is op’t groot marckt! The Emperor is in the Great Market!”

Ere long great was the crowd in the square.

The Emperor, in deep anger, asked the two burgomasters if they did not deserve to be hanged for thus failing in respect to their sovereign.

The burgomasters replied that they deserved hanging indeed, but that Ulenspiegel, the trumpeter of the tower, deserved it much more, seeing that upon the rumour of His Majesty’s coming he had been stationed there, equipped with a good pair of barnacles, with express instructions that he should sound his trumpet three times as soon as he should see the imperial convoy approaching. But he had done nothing of this.

The Emperor, still angry, asked them to send for Ulenspiegel.

“Why,” said he, “having such clear spectacles, didst thou not blow a point on the trumpet at my coming?”

So saying, he passed his hand over his eyes, because of the brightness of the sun, and looked at Ulenspiegel.

Ulenspiegel also passed his hand over his eyes, and replied that since he had seen His Sacred Majesty looking between his fingers, he had no longer desired to make use of the spectacles.

The Emperor told him he was to be hanged, the town porter said it was well done, and the burgomasters were so terrified at this sentence that they made no word of answer, neither to approve it nor to oppose it.

The executioner and his assistants were sent for. They came carrying a ladder and a new rope, seized Ulenspiegel by the collar, as he walked in front of Kornjuin’s hundred reiters, keeping very quiet and saying his prayers. But they mocked him bitterly.

The people who were following said:

“It is a great cruelty to put to death a poor young man in this way for so small a fault.”

And the weavers were there in great numbers and under arms, and they said:

“We shall not leave Ulenspiegel to be hanged: it is contrary to the law of Audenaerde.”

By now they were come to the gallows field, Ulenspiegel was hoisted up on the ladder, and the executioner put the rope on him.

The weavers flocked up around the gallows. The provost was there on horseback, resting the rod of justice on his horse’s shoulder, the wand wherewith at the Emperor’s word he should give the signal for the execution.
All the assembled people cried out:

“Mercy! mercy for Ulenspiegel!”

Ulenspiegel upon his ladder said:

“Pity! gracious Emperor!”

The Emperor lifted his hand and said:

“If this rascal asks me for something I cannot do, he shall have his life!”

“Speak, Ulenspiegel,” cried the people.

The women wept and said:

“He can ask for nothing, poor fellow, for the Emperor can do all things.”

And all said:

“Speak, Ulenspiegel!”

“Sacred Majesty,” said Ulenspiegel, “I shall ask thee neither for money, nor for lands, nor for life, but only one thing, for which thou must not, if I dare to say it, have me whipped nor laid on the rack, before I depart to the land of spirits.”

“I promise thee this,” said the Emperor.

“Majesty,” said Ulenspiegel, “I ask that before I be hanged, you shall come and kiss the mouth with which I speak no Flemish.”

The Emperor, laughing like all the people, replied:

“I cannot do what thou dost ask, and thou shalt not hang, Ulenspiegel.”

But he condemned the burgomasters and sheriffs to wear spectacles on the back of their heads for six months, in order, said he, that if the Audenaerde folk do not see in front, they may at least see behind.

And by imperial decree, these spectacles are still seen in the arms of the town.

And Ulenspiegel went away modestly, with a little bag of money the women had given him.