The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 51

Now the bad days were come again; Claes was working alone and sadly on the land, for there was not work enough for two. Soetkin stayed in the cottage alone, dressing in every possible way the beans that were their daily fare, in order to liven her man’s appetite. And she went singing and laughing so that he should not suffer to see her sad. The stork stayed close beside her, mounted on one leg and beak buried in her feathers.

A man on horseback stopped before the cottage; he was all arrayed in black, very lean, and had an air of profound sadness.

“Is there any one within?” he asked.

“God bless Your Melancholy,” answered Soetkin; “but am I, for one, a phantom that seeing me here you should ask if there is any one within?”

“Where is your father?” asked the horseman.

“If my father’s name be Claes, he is out yonder,” answered Soetkin, “and you see him sowing corn.”

The horseman went away, and Soetkin, too, all downcast, for she must go for the sixth time to fetch bread from the baker’s without paying for it. When she came back thence with empty hands, she was astonished to see Claes coming back to their house, triumphant and lordly, upon the horse of the man in black, who was going afoot beside him and holding the rein. Claes was proudly holding in one hand against his thigh a leathern wallet that seemed well stuffed.

Dismounting, he embraced the man, banged him merrily, then shaking the bag, he cried out:

“Long live my brother Josse, the good hermit! God keep him in joy, in fat, in mirth, in health! He is the Josse of benediction, the Josse of plenty, the Josse of rich fat soups! The stork did not play us false!” And he put the bag down upon the table.

Therewith said Soetkin lamentably:

“My man, we shall not eat to-day: the baker has denied me bread.”

“Bread?” said Claes, opening the bag and pouring out a stream of gold on the table, “bread? Lo, here is bread, butter, meat, wine, beer! Here be hams, marrow bones, pies of herons, ortolans, fat hens, as for great lords! Here is beer in hogsheads and wine by the cask! Mad and mad will be the baker that will deny us bread, we shall buy no more in his shop.”

“But, my man…!” said Soetkin all a-daze.

“Now, then, hearken,” said Claes, “and be light of heart. Katheline, instead of wearing out her term of banishment in the marquisate of Antwerp, went on foot, under Nele’s guidance, as far as Meyborg. There Nele told my brother Josse that often we live in black want, in spite of my sore toil. According to what this good fellow messenger has told me but now” – and Claes pointed to the horseman in black – “Josse hath abandoned the Roman religion to adhere to the heresy of Luther.”

The man in black replied:

“Those be the heretics that follow the cult of the Great Harlot. For the Pope hath betrayed his trust and is a seller of holy things.”

“Ah!” said Soetkin, “speak not so loud, good sir, you will cause us to be burned all three.”

“And so,” said Claes, “Josse said to this good fellow messenger that since he was about to fight among the troops of Frederick of Saxony, and was taking him fifty well-found men at arms, he had no need, going into war, of so much money, to bequeath it in some ill hour to some rogue of a landsknecht. ‘So,’ said he, ‘take it to my brother Claes, with my blessing, these seven hundred gold florins carolus: tell him to live in comfort and think upon his soul’s salvation’.”

“Aye,” said the horseman, “it is time for it, for God will render unto man according to his works, and will entreat each one according as he hath deserved in his life.”

“Good sir,” said Claes, “it will not be forbidden me in the meantime to rejoice at this good tidings; deign to stay within here, we shall, to do it honour, eat goodly tripe, carbonadoes without stint, a neat ham which lately I beheld so plump and appetizing in the pork butcher’s, that it made my teeth come out a foot long out of my jaws.”

“Alas!” said the other, “madmen thus take their joy the while the eyes of God are upon their ways.”

“Come now, messenger,” said Claes, “Will you or will you not eat and drink with us?”

The man replied:

“It will be time for the faithful to give their souls up to earthly joys when great Babylon is fallen!”

Soetkin and Claes making the sign of the cross, he would have gone away:

Claes said to him:

“Since it is your pleasure thus to go away without being made much of, give my brother Josse the kiss of peace and watch over him in the battle.”

“I will do so,” said the man.

And he went away, while Soetkin went to bring wherewithal to feast propitious fortune. The stork that day had for supper two gudgeons and a cod’s head.

The news spread swiftly through Damme that Claes the poor had become Claes the rich through the act of his brother Josse, and the dean said that Katheline had doubtless cast a spell on Josse, since Claes had received from him a sum of money, a very great sum, beyond a doubt, and had not given the poorest robe to Our Lady.

Claes and Soetkin were happy, Claes working in the fields or selling his coal, and Soetkin showing herself a brave housekeeper at home.

But Soetkin, always sad, sought unceasingly with her eyes for Ulenspiegel along the highway.