The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 57

Towards the end of her third year of banishment Katheline came back to her own house at Damme. And she never ceased to say in witless fashion: “Fire on my head, the soul is knocking, make a hole, it would fain come out.” And she still fled away at the sight of oxen and of sheep. And she sat on the bench under the lime trees, behind her cottage, wagging her head and looking, without knowing them, at the folk of Damme, who said as they passed by in front of her, “There is the madwife.”

At this time, strolling by highways and byways, Ulenspiegel saw on the high road an ass harnessed with leather studded with copper nails, and its head adorned with tufts and tassels of red wool.

Certain old women stood about the ass all talking at the same time and saying: “No one can take possession of it, it is the horrible mount of the great wizard the Baron de Raix, who was burned alive for having sacrificed eight children to the devil – ” “Gossips, he ran away so quickly that they could not catch him. Satan is in him to protect him – ” “For while being weary, he stayed on his way, the sergeants of the commune came to take him bodily, but he reared and brayed so terribly that they dared not come near him – ” “And it was not the braying of an ass but the roaring voice of a demon – ” “So they left him to browse on thistles without putting him on his trial or burning him alive as a wizard – ” “These folk have no kind of courage – ”

In spite of all this fine talk, as soon as the donkey pricked up his ears or lashed his ribs with his tail, the women fled shrieking, to come in again chattering and jabbering, and to do the same thing again at the least movement of the donkey.

But Ulenspiegel, contemplating them and laughing:

“Ah,” said he, “endless curiosity and everlasting babble flow like a river from the mouths of gossips and especially the old ones, for in the young, the flood is less common because of their amorous employments.”

Considering next the ass:

“This wizard beast,” said he, “is nimble and without doubt no sloucher; I can either ride or sell him.”

He went off without a word, to fetch a peck of oats, made the ass eat them, leaped lightly on his back, and tightening up the rein, turned to the north, the east, and the west, and from afar blessed the old women. These, swooning for terror, knelt down, and that day at the evening hour in the village it was told how an angel with a pheasant plumed hat on his head had come, had blessed them all and taken away the wizard’s ass, by special favour of God.

And Ulenspiegel went off bestriding his ass among rich fat meadows where the horses leaped in freedom, where cows and heifers grazed, lying idly in the sun. And he called him Jef.

The ass stopped and dined merrily on thistles. Sometimes he shivered with all his skin the while, and lashed his ribs with his tail to drive off the greedy horse flies that would fain dine like himself, but on his flesh.

Ulenspiegel, whose stomach cried hunger, was melancholy.

“You would be full happy,” said he, “master ass, dining like this on fine fat thistles, if no one came to disturb you in your comfort and remind you that you are mortal, that is to say, born to endure every kind of hardship.”

“Even like thee,” he went on, gripping him with his legs, “even like thyself He of the Holy Slipper hath his gadfly, ’tis Master Luther; and his High Majesty King Charles hath his also, that is Messire Fran?ois first of the name, the King with the long nose and the still longer sword. It is then permissible for me, a poor little fellow wandering like a Jew, to have my gadfly, too, master donkey. Alas, all my pockets have holes, and through the holes away go gadding all my lovely ducats, florins, and daelders, like a legion of mice scattering to flight before the jaws of a cat. I know not why money will have naught to do with me, me who so greatly desire money. Fortune is no woman, whatever they say, for she loveth but the scurvy miser loons that coffer her up, pouch her up, lock her up under twenty keys, and never allow her to show as much as the tip of her little golden nose at the window. That is the gadfly that devours me and stings me, and tickles me but not to make me laugh. You are not listening to me, master donkey, and you are thinking of nothing but your grazing. Ah! belly worshipper, filling thy belly, thy long ears are deaf to the cry of an empty stomach. Listen to me, I want you to.”

And he lashed him bitterly. The ass began to bray.

“Let us come away now that you have sung your song,” said Ulenspiegel.

But the donkey would not budge any more than a stone post, and seemed to have resolved to eat to the last one every thistle along the way. And there was no lack of them.

Ulenspiegel, perceiving this, he dismounted, cut a bunch of thistles, got up on his donkey again, held the bunch under his muzzle, and led him by the nose as far as the territories of the Landgrave of Hesse.

“Master donkey,” said he, as they went on their way, “you run nimbly behind my bunch of thistles, a thin diet and poor, and leave behind you the fine highway all thick beset with these dainty plants. Even so do men, smelling some after the bouquet of glory that Fortune holds under their noses, others after the nosegay of gain, others the nosegay of love. At the end of the road they perceive like you that they have pursued that which is but little, and have left behind them that which is somewhat, that is to say, health, work, rest, and comfort in their homes.”

So conversing with his ass, Ulenspiegel came before the landgrave’s palace.

Two captains of musketeers were playing dice on the stair.

One of them, red headed and of giant size, caught sight of Ulenspiegel modestly sitting upon Jef and watching their play.

“What do you want with us,” said he, “hungry pilgrim-face?”

“I am exceedingly hungry, in very deed,” said Ulenspiegel, “and am pilgrimaging against my will.”

“If you are hungry,” rejoined the captain, “eat with your neck the rope that swings from the nearest gallows destined for vagabonds.”

“Messire captain,” replied Ulenspiegel, “if you were to give me that fine gold cord you wear on your hat, I should go and hang myself with my teeth to that fat ham that swings yonder at the cook shop.”

“Where do you come from?” asked the captain.

“From Flanders,” replied Ulenspiegel.

“What would you?”

“Show His Highness the Landgrave a painting after my fashion.”

“If you are a painter and out of Flanders,” said the captain, “come within, and I will bring you to my master.”

Being come before the landgrave, Ulenspiegel saluted him three times and more.

“May Your Highness,” said he, “deign to excuse my impertinence in daring to come to lay at your noble feet a painting I made for you, wherein I had the honour to pourtray Madame the Virgin in imperial array.”

“This painting,” he went on, “may perhaps be to your liking, and in that case I vaunt myself sufficiently of my skill to hope to raise myself to that fine chair of crimson velvet wherein, during his life, the ever to be lamented painter of Your Magnanimity had place.”

The landgrave having contemplated the picture, which was a beautiful one:

“Thou shalt be our painter,” said he, “take thy seat in the chair.”

And gaily he kissed him on both cheeks. Ulenspiegel sat down.

“Thou art full ragged,” said the landgrave, scrutinizing him.

Ulenspiegel replied:

“In very truth, Monseigneur, Jef, the which is my ass, dined upon thistles, but I, for three days, I have lived only on want and fed only upon the savour of hope.”

“Thou shalt sup presently on better meat,” replied the landgrave, “but where is thy ass?”

Ulenspiegel answered:

“I left him on the Great Marketplace, over against the palace of Your Goodness; I should be glad indeed if Jef had shelter and litter and fodder for the night.”

The landgrave gave instant command to one of his pages to treat Ulenspiegel’s ass like one of his own.

Soon came the hour of the supper, that was as a revel and a feast. And the meats gave up a noble savour and the wines rained down their throats.

Ulenspiegel and the landgrave being both fire red like live coals, Ulenspiegel became gay, but the landgrave remained pensive.

“Our painter,” said he, suddenly, “thou must paint my portrait, for it is a great satisfaction to a mortal prince to bequeath to his descendants the memory of his countenance.”

“Sire Landgrave,” said Ulenspiegel, “your pleasure is my will, but it seems to my poor self that pourtrayed alone by yourself Your Lordship will have no great joy in ages to come. You must be accompanied by your noble wife, Madame the Landgravine, and your ladies and lords, your most warlike captains and officers, in the midst of whom Monseigneur and Madame will shine like two suns surrounded by lanterns.”
“True indeed, our painter,” replied the landgrave, “and what should I have to pay thee for this great work?”

“One hundred florins, in advance or otherwise,” answered Ulenspiegel.

“Here they are in advance,” said the landgrave.

“Kind and good lord,” replied Ulenspiegel, “you put oil in my lamp, it shall burn in your honour.”

The next day he asked the landgrave to cause to pass before him all those for whom he reserved the honour of figuring in the portraiture.

Came then the Duke of Lunebourg, the commander of the lansquenets in the landgrave’s service. This was a big heavy man, carrying with difficulty his paunch swollen with victuals. He drew near Ulenspiegel and whispered a word in his ear:

“If you do not, in making my portrait, take away half my fat, I shall have you hanged by my troopers.”

The duke passed on.

And then a noble lady, the which had a hump on her back and a bosom as flat as the blade of an executioner’s glaive:

“Messire painter,” said she, “if you do not give me two humps for the one that you shall take away, and do not put them in front, I shall have you quartered as a poisoner.”

The lady passed on.

Then came a young maid of honour, fair, fresh, and pretty, but who lacked three teeth under her upper lip.

“Messire painter,” she said, “if you do not make me laugh and show thirty-two teeth, I shall have you cut to pieces by my lover, who is over there.”

And pointing out the captain of musketeers who had before been playing dice on the palace stairway, she passed on.

The procession continued; Ulenspiegel remained alone with the landgrave.

“If thou hast the ill-luck,” said the landgrave, “to err in one feature the pourtraying all these countenances, I shall have thy head cut off like a chicken’s.”

“Bereft of my head,” thought Ulenspiegel, “quartered, chopped in pieces, or hanged at least, it will be much more comfortable to pourtray nothing at all. I will bethink me for it.”

“Where,” he asked the landgrave, “is the hall that I am to decorate with all these paintings?”

“Follow me,” said the landgrave.

And showing him a great room with spacious walls all bare and empty:

“This,” he said, “is the hall.”

“I should greatly like,” said Ulenspiegel, “that they should set great curtains on these walls, so as to assure my paintings against the insults of flies and against dust.”

“That shall be done,” said the landgrave.

The curtains being put in place, Ulenspiegel asked for three apprentices, as he said, to make them prepare his colours.

For thirty days, Ulenspiegel and the apprentices did nothing but hold feast and revel, sparing neither the choice viands nor the old wines. The landgrave watched over all.

However, on the thirty-first day he came and put in his nose at the door of the room which Ulenspiegel had enjoined on him not to enter.

“Well, Thyl, where are thy portraits?”

“Far away,” replied Ulenspiegel.

“Could not one see them?”

“Not yet.”

The thirty-sixth day, he put his nose in at the door again.

“Well, Thyl?” he asked.

“Ah! sire Landgrave, they are travelling towards the end.”

The sixtieth day, the landgrave became angry, and entering the room:

“Thou art immediately to show me the pictures,” said he.

“Yea, great lord,” replied Ulenspiegel, “but deign not to draw aside this curtain until you have summoned hither the lords and captains and ladies of your court.”

“I consent to this,” said the landgrave.

They all came at his command.

Ulenspiegel stood before the curtain closely drawn.

“Monseigneur Landgrave,” said he, “Madame Landgravine, and you, Monseigneur de Lunebourg, and you other beauteous dames and valiant captains, I have pourtrayed as best I could your pretty or warlike faces behind this curtain.

It will be easy to recognize each one of you there. You are curious to see yourselves, it is natural, but pray have patience and permit me to say a word or two to you. Beauteous ladies and valiant captains, who are all of noble blood, you can see and admire my painting; but if among you there is one of low origin, he will see nothing save the blank wall. And now deign to open your noble eyes.”
Ulenspiegel pulled the curtain back.

“Noble men alone see aught, alone they see aught there, the noble ladies, so shall men say ere long: ‘blind in painting as a base fellow, clear seeing as a noble gentleman’!”

All opened their eyes to the widest, pretending to see, mutually pointing themselves out to one another, showing and recognizing each other, but seeing nothing in reality but the white wall, which made them grieved.

All at once the fool who was there bounded three feet into the air and shaking his bells:

“Let me be looked on as base,” said he, “a base fellow full of basest baseness, but I will say and cry and proclaim with trumpets and flourish of trumpets that I see there a bare wall, a blank wall, a naked wall. So help me God and all His saints!”

Ulenspiegel replied:

“When fools begin to talk it is time for wise men to be off.”

He was making to leave the palace when the landgrave staying him:

“Fool full of folly,” said he, “that goest about the world praising things fine and good and mocking at things stupid with wide mouth, thou that hast dared before so many noble dames and most high and mighty lords to make a vulgar mock of pride of blasonry and lordship, thou wilt be hanged one day for thy over-free speech.”

“If the rope be a golden rope,” replied Ulenspiegel, “it will break with terror to see me coming.”

“There,” said the landgrave, giving him fifteen florins, “there is the first piece of it.”

“All thanks, Monseigneur,” answered Ulenspiegel, “every inn by the way shall have a strand of it, a strand all of gold that maketh Cr?suses of all these thieving innkeepers.”

And away he went on his ass, his bonnet high, his plume streaming in the wind, merry and jolly.