The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 80

During the next three and twenty days Katheline grew white, and thin, drying up as though she were devoured by a fire within more consuming than the fire of madness.

She said no longer: “The fire! Make a hole: the soul would fain escape,” but ever in ecstasy and delight she would say to Nele: “Spouse am I: spouse thou art to be. Handsome; long hair; hot love; knees cold and cold arms!”

And Soetkin looked on her grieving, for she thought this some new madness.

Katheline continued:

“Thrice three make nine, the sacred number. He that in the night hath eyes shining as a cat’s alone seeth the mystery.”

One night Soetkin, hearing her, made a movement of doubting.

But Katheline:

“Four and three,” said she, “misfortune under Saturn; under Venus, the marriage number. Cold arms! Cold knees! Heart of fire!”

Soetkin made answer:

“It is not well to speak of wicked heathen idols.”

Hearing which Katheline made the sign of the cross and said:

“Blessed be the gray horseman. Nele must have a husband, a handsome husband carrying a sword, a black husband with a shining face.”

“Aye,” said Ulenspiegel, “a fricassee of husbands for which I shall make the sauce with my knife.”

Nele looked at her friend with eyes all moist for the pleasure of seeing him so jealous.

“I want no husband,” said she.

Katheline replied:

“When he that is clad in gray shall come, ever booted and spurred in another fashion.”

Soetkin said:

“Pray to God for the poor madwife.”

“Ulenspiegel,” said Katheline, “go fetch us four quarts of dobbel-cuyt whilst I go to prepare the heete-koeken”; which are pancakes in the land of France.

Soetkin asked why she made feast on Saturday like the Jews.

Katheline answered:

“Because the dough is ready.”

Ulenspiegel was standing holding in his hand the great pewter pot, which held the exact measure.

“Mother, what must I do?”

“Go,” said Katheline.

Soetkin would not answer, not being mistress in the house: she said to Ulenspiegel, “Go, my son.”

Ulenspiegel ran up to the Scaeck, whence he brought back the four quarts of dobbel-cuyt.

Soon the perfume of the heete-koeken spread throughout the kitchen, and all were hungry, even the sorrow-stricken widow.

Ulenspiegel ate heartily. Katheline had given him a great tankard saying that being the only male, and head in the house, he must drink more than the others and sing afterwards.

Saying this, she had a crafty look; but Ulenspiegel drank and did not sing. Nele wept, looking at Soetkin all pale and huddled down; only Katheline was gay.

After the meal Soetkin and Ulenspiegel went up to the garret to go to bed; Katheline and Nele remained in the kitchen where the beds were prepared.

Towards two in the morning, Ulenspiegel had long been asleep by reason of the heavy drink; Soetkin, with eyes open even as she had every night, was praying to Madame the Virgin to send her sleep, but Madame did not give ear.

Suddenly she heard the cry of a sea eagle and from the kitchen a like cry in answer; then from afar in the country, other cries resounded, and always she deemed that there was an answer from the kitchen.

Thinking that these were night birds, she paid no heed to them. She heard the neighing of horses and the clatter of iron-shod hoofs striking on the causeway; she opened the window of the garret and saw indeed two horses, saddled, pawing the ground, and browsing on the grass of the roadside. Then she heard the voice of a woman crying out, a man’s voice threatening, blows struck, fresh cries, the banging of a door, and an agonized foot climbing the steps of the stair.

Ulenspiegel snored and heard nothing at all; the garret door opened; Nele came in all but naked, out of breath, panting, weeping, and sobbing, against the door she thrust a table, chairs, an old stove, all she could find in the shape of furniture. The last stars were nearly extinguished, the cocks were beginning to crow.

Ulenspiegel, at the noise that Nele had made, had turned in his bed, but still continued to sleep.

Nele then, flinging herself on Soetkin’s neck: “Soetkin,” she said, “I am afraid, light the candle.”

Soetkin did so; and Nele still groaned the while.

The candle being lit, Soetkin looked at Nele and saw the girl’s chemise torn at the shoulder and on her forehead, her cheek, and her neck bloody scratches such as might be made by fingernails.

“Nele,” said Soetkin, embracing her, “whence come you wounded in this fashion?”

The girl, still trembling and moaning, said: “Do not have us burned, Soetkin.”

In the meantime, Ulenspiegel awaked and was blinking in the candlelight. Soetkin said: “Who is below there?”

Nele replied:

“Hold thy peace, it is the husband she wants to give me.”

Soetkin and Nele all at once heard Katheline cry out, and their limbs gave way under both of them.

“He is beating her, he is beating her on my account,” said Nele.

“Who is in the house?” cried Ulenspiegel, leaping out of his bed. Then rubbing his eyes, he went searching about the chamber until he had got his hands on a weighty poker lying in a corner.

“No one,” said Nele, “nobody at all; do not go down, Ulenspiegel!”

But he, paying no heed to anything, ran to the door, flinging aside chairs, tables, and stove. Katheline ceased not to cry out below; Nele and Soetkin clung to Ulenspiegel on the landing, one with her arms about his body, the other holding by his legs, saying: “Do not go down, Ulenspiegel, they are devils.”

“Aye,” he replied, “devil-husband of Nele, I will join him in wedlock with my poker. Betrothal of iron and flesh! Let me go down.”

But still they would not let go, for they were strong by reason of their holding on the balusters. He dragged them down the steps of the staircase, and they were afraid at thus drawing nearer to the devils. But they could do nothing against him. Descending by leaps and bounds like a great snowball from the top of a mountain, he went into the kitchen, saw Katheline worn out and wan in the light of the dawn, and heard her saying: “Hanske, why dost thou leave me alone? It is not my fault if Nele is bad.”

Ulenspiegel, without staying to listen to her, opened the stable door. Finding no one within, he dashed out into the garden and from thence into the highway; far off he saw two horses galloping and losing themselves in the mist. He ran to catch them up, but could not, for they went like the storm winds sweeping up the withered leaves.

Vexed and wild with anger and despair, he came back again, saying between his teeth: “They have violated her! they have violated her!” And with an ill flame burning in his eyes he looked on Nele, who, all shuddering, standing before the widow and Katheline, said: “No Thyl, no, my beloved, no!”

Saying so, she looked into his eyes so seriously and so candidly that Ulenspiegel well perceived that she spoke the truth. Then questioning her:

“Whence came these cries?” said he; “where were those men going? Why is thy chemise torn at the shoulder and the back? Why hast thou on thy cheek and forehead the marks of fingernails?”

“Listen,” said she, “but do not have us burned, Ulenspiegel. Katheline, may God preserve her from hell! has now for three and twenty days a devil for lover, clad in black, booted and spurred. His face shines with the fire seen in summertime upon the waves of the sea when it is hot.”

“Why art thou gone, Hanske, my darling?” said Katheline. “Nele is bad.”

But Nele, going on with her tale, said: “He cries like a sea eagle to announce his presence. My mother sees him in the kitchen every Saturday. She says that his kisses are cold and his body like snow. He beats her when she does not do all that he would have her do. He once brought her some florins, but he took all the others from her.”

During this tale, Soetkin, clasping her hands, prayed for Katheline. Katheline said, rejoicing:

“Mine is my body no longer, mine no longer is my spirit, but his. Hanske, my darling, bring me to the sabbath again. There is only Nele that never hath mind to come; Nele is bad.”

“At daybreak he was wont to depart,” continued the girl; “and on the morrow my mother would tell me a hundred marvels… But there is no need to look on me with such cruel eyes, Ulenspiegel. Yesterday she told me that a fine seigneur, clothed in gray and called Hilbert, desired to have me in marriage and would come here to show himself to me. I answered that I had no mind for any husband, neither ugly nor handsome. By her maternal authority she forced me to remain up to wait their coming; for she loses none of her wits when it is a matter of her amours. We were half undressed, ready to go to bed; I was sleeping upon yonder chair. When they came within I did not wake. Suddenly I felt someone embracing me and kissing me on the neck. And by the light of the shining moon I beheld a face as bright as the crests of the waves of the sea in July, when it is like to thunder, and I heard one saying to me in a whispering voice: ‘I am Hilbert, thy husband; be mine and I shall make thee rich.’ The face of him that spake had a smell as of fish. I repulsed him; he would have taken me by force, but I had the strength of ten men like him. Even so he tore my chemise, wounded my face, and went on saying, ‘Be mine, I shall make thee rich.’ ‘Aye,’ I said, ‘like my mother, from whom thou wilt take her last liard.’ Then he redoubled his violence, but could avail naught against me. Then as he was uglier than a corpse, I gave him my nails in his eyes so hard that he screamed for the pain and I could break loose and come hither to Soetkin.”

Katheline kept repeating:

“Nele is bad. Why hast thou gone so quickly, Hanske, my darling?”

“Where wast thou, ill mother,” said Soetkin, “while they would have taken away thy child’s honour?”

“Nele is bad,” said Katheline. “I was with my black lord, when the gray devil came to us, his face all bloody, and said: ‘Come away, lad: the house is a bad house; the men in it would beat us to the death, and the women have knives at their fingertips.’ Then they ran to their horses and disappeared in the mist. Nele is bad!”