The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book III Chapter 6

Ulenspiegel, being at Ypres, was recruiting soldiers for the Prince: pursued by the Duke’s catchpolls, he offered himself as beadle to the provost of Saint Martin. There he had for his companion a bellringer called Pompilius Numan, a coward of the deepest dye, who at night took his own shadow for the devil and his shirt for a ghost.

The provost was fat and plump as a hen fattened just ripe for the spit. Ulenspiegel soon saw on what grass he grazed to make himself so much pork. According to what he heard from the bellringer and saw with his own eyes, the provost dined at nine and supped at four by the clock. He stayed in bed until half-past eight; then before dinner he went walking in his church to see if the poor-boxes were well filled. And the half he put into his own pouch. At nine o’clock he dined on a bowl of milk, half a leg of mutton, a little heron pie, and emptied five tankards of Brussels wine. At ten, sucking a few prunes and washing them down with Orleans wine, he prayed God never to bring him in the way of gluttony. At noon, he ate, to pass the time, a wing and rump of a chicken. At one o’clock, thinking of his supper, he drained a big draught of Spanish wine; then stretching himself out on his bed, refreshed himself with a little nap.

Awaking, he would eat a little salted salmon to whet his appetite, and drink a great tankard of dobbel-knol of Antwerp. Then he would go down into the kitchen, sit down before the chimney place and the noble wood fire that flamed in it. There he watched roasting and browning for the abbey monks a big piece of veal or a well-scalded little pigling, that he would have eaten more gladly than a piece of bread. But his appetite was a little wanting. And he would study the spit, which turned by itself like a miracle. It was the work of Peter van Steenkiste the smith, who lived in the castellany of Courtrai. The provost paid him fifteen Paris livres for one of these spits.

Then he would go up again to his bed, and dozing upon it through fatigue, he would wake up about three o’clock to gulp in a little pig jelly washed down with wine of Romagna at two hundred and forty florins the hogshead. At three he would eat a fledgling chick with Madeira sugar and empty two glasses of malvoisie at seventeen florins the keg. At half-past three, he took half a pot of preserves and washed it down with hydromel. Being now well awaked, he would take one foot in his hand and rest in meditation.

The moment of supper being come, the cur? of Saint Jean would often arrive to visit him at this succulent hour. They sometimes disputed which could eat most fish, poultry, game, and meat. The one that was quickest filled must pay a dish of carbonadoes for the other, with three hot wines, four spices, and seven vegetables.

Thus drinking and eating, they talked together of heretics, being of opinion anyhow that it was impossible to do away with too many of them. And then they never fell into any quarrel, except only when they were discussing the thirty-nine ways of making good soups with beer.

Then drooping their venerable heads upon their priestly paunches, they would snore. Sometimes half waking, one of them would say that life in this world is very sweet and that poor folk are very wrong to complain.

This was the saintly man whose beadle Ulenspiegel became. He served him well during mass, not without filling the flagons three times, twice for himself and once for the provost. The ringer Pompilius Numan helped him at it on occasion.

Ulenspiegel, who saw Pompilius so flourishing, paunchy, and full cheeked, asked him if it was in the provost’s service he had laid up for himself this treasure of enviable health.

“Aye, my son,” replied Pompilius, “but shut the door tight for fear that one might listen to us.”

Then speaking in a whisper:

“You know,” said he, “that our master the provost loveth all wines and beers, all meats and fowl, with a surpassing love. And so he locks his meats in a cupboard and his wines in a cellar, the keys of which are ever in his pouch. And he sleeps with his hand on them… By night when he sleeps I go and take his keys from his pouch and put them back again, not without trembling, my son, for if he knew my crime he would have me boiled alive.”

“Pompilius,” said Ulenspiegel, “it needs not to take all that trouble, but the keys one time only; I shall make keys on this pattern and we shall leave the others on the paunch of the good provost.”

“Make them, my son,” said Pompilius.

Ulenspiegel made the keys; as soon as he and Pompilius judged about eight of the clock in the evening that the good provost was asleep they would go down and take what they chose of meats and bottles. Ulenspiegel would carry two bottles and Pompilius the meats, because Pompilius always was trembling like a leaf, and hams and legs of mutton do not break in falling. They took possession of fowl more than once before they were cooked, which brought about the accusation of several cats belonging to the neighbourhood, which were done to death for the crime.

They went thereafter into the Ketel-straat, which is the street of the bona robas. There they spared nothing, giving liberally to their dears smoked beef and ham, saveloys and poultry, and gave them wine of Orleans and Romagna to drink, and Ingelsche bier, which they called ale on the other side of the sea, and which they poured in floods down the fresh throats of the pretty ladies. And they were paid in caresses.

However, one morning after dinner the provost sent for both of them. He had a formidable look, sucking a marrow bone in soup, not without anger.

Pompilius was trembling in his shoes, and his belly was shaken with fear. Ulenspiegel, keeping quiet, felt at the cellar keys in his pocket with pleased satisfaction.

The provost, addressing him, said:

“Someone is drinking my wine and eating my fowl, is it thou, my son?”

“No,” replied Ulenspiegel.

“And this ringer,” said the provost, pointing to Pompilius, “hath not he dipped his hands in this crime, for he is pallid as a dying man, assuredly because the stolen wine is poison to him.”

“Alas! Messire,” answered Ulenspiegel, “you wrongly accuse your ringer, for if he is pale, it is not from having drunk wine, but for want of drinking enough, from which cause he is so loosened that if he is not stopped his very soul will escape by streams into his shoes.”

“The poor we have always with us,” said the provost, taking a deep draught of wine from his tankard. “But tell me, my son, if thou, who hast the eyes of a lynx, hast not seen the robbers?”

“I will keep good watch for them, Messire Provost,” replied Ulenspiegel.

“May God have you both in his joy, my children,” said the provost, “and live soberly. For it is from intemperance that many evils come upon us in this vale of tears. Go in peace.”

And he blessed them.

And he sucked another marrow bone in soup, and drank another great draught of wine.

Ulenspiegel and Pompilius went out from him.

“This scurvy fellow,” said Ulenspiegel, “would not have given you a single drop of his wine to drink. It will be blessed bread to steal more from him still. But what ails you that you are shivering?”

“My shoes are full of water,” said Pompilius.

“Water dries quickly, my son,” said Ulenspiegel. “But be merry, to-night there will be flagon music in the Ketel-straat. And we will fill up the three night watchmen, who will watch the town with snores.”

Which was done.

However, they were close to Saint Martin’s day: the church was adorned for the feast. Ulenspiegel and Pompilius went in by night, shut the doors close, lit all the wax candles, took a viol and bagpipe, and began to play on these instruments all they might. And the candles flared like suns. But that was not all. Their task being done, they went to the provost, whom they found afoot, in spite of the late hour, munching a thrush, drinking Rhenish wine and opening both eyes to see the church windows lit up.

“Messire Provost,” said Ulenspiegel to him, “would you know who eats your meats and drinks your wines?”

“And this illumination,” said the provost, pointing to the windows of the church. “Ah! Lord God, dost thou allow Master Saint Martin thus to burn, by night and without paying, poor monks’ wax candles?”

“He is doing something besides, Messire Provost,” said Ulenspiegel, “but come.”

The provost took his crozier and followed with them; they went into the church.

There, he saw, in the middle of the great nave, all the saints come down from their niches, ranged round and as it seemed commanded by Saint Martin, who out-topped them all by a head, and from the forefinger of his hand, outstretched to bless, held up a roast turkey. The others had in their hands or were lifting to their mouths pieces of chicken or goose, sausages, hams, fish raw and cooked, and among other things a pike weighing full fourteen pounds. And every one had at his feet a flask of wine.

At this sight the provost, losing himself wholly in anger, became so red and his face was so congested, that Pompilius and Ulenspiegel thought he would burst, but the provost, without paying any heed to them, went straight up to Saint Martin, threatening him as if he would have laid the crime of the others to his charge, tore the turkey away from his finger and struck him such heavy blows that he broke his arm, his nose, his crozier, and his mitre.

As for the others, he did not spare them bangs and thumps, and more than one under his blows laid aside arms, hands, mitre, crozier, scythe, axes, gridirons, saw, and other emblems of dignity and of martyrdom. Then the provost, his belly shaking in front of him, went himself to put out all the candles with rage and speed.

He carried away all he could of hams, fowl, and sausages, and bending beneath the load he came back to his bedchamber so doleful and angry that he drank, draught upon draught, three great flasks of wine.

Ulenspiegel, being well assured that he was sleeping, took away to the Ketel-straat all the provost thought he had rescued, and also all that remained in the church, not without first supping on the best pieces. And they laid the remains and fragments at the feet of the saints.

Next day Pompilius was ringing the bell for matins; Ulenspiegel went up into the provost’s sleeping chamber and asked him to come down once more into the church.
There, showing him the broken pieces of saints and fowls, he said to him:

“Messire Provost, you did all in vain, they have eaten all the same.”

“Aye,” replied the provost, “they have come up to my sleeping chamber, like robbers, and taken what I had saved. Ah, master saints, I will complain to the Pope about this.”

“Aye,” replied Ulenspiegel, “but the procession is the day after to-morrow, the workmen will presently be coming into the church: if they see there all these poor mutilated saints, are you not afraid of being accused of iconoclasm?”

“Ah! Master Saint Martin,” said the provost, “spare me the fire, I knew not what I did!”

Then turning to Ulenspiegel, while the timid bellringer was swinging to his bells:

“They could never,” said he, “between now and Sunday, mend Saint Martin. What am I to do, and what will the people say?”

“Messire,” answered Ulenspiegel, “we must employ an innocent subterfuge. We shall glue on a beard on the face of Pompilius; it is always respectable, being always melancholic; we shall dight him up with the Saint’s mitre, alb, amice, and great cloak; we shall enjoin upon him to stand well and fast on his pedestal, and the people will take him for the wooden Saint Martin.”

The provost went to Pompilius who was swaying on the ropes.

“Cease to ring,” said he, “and listen to me: would you earn fifteen ducats? On Sunday, the day of the procession, you shall be Saint Martin. Ulenspiegel will get you up properly, and if when you are borne by your four men you make one movement or utter one word, I will have you boiled alive in oil in the great caldron the executioner has just had built on the market square.”

“Monseigneur, I give you thanks,” said Pompilius; “but you know that I find it hard to contain my water.”

“You must obey,” replied the provost.

“I shall obey, Monseigneur,” said Pompilius, very pitifully.