The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book III Chapter 43

At this time a girl of fifteen went from Heyst to Knokke, alone, in broad daylight, through the dunes. No one had any fears for her, for it was well known that weer-wolves and evil spirits of the damned bite only by night. She was carrying in a pouch forty-eight sols in silver, of the value of four florins carolus, which her mother Toria Pieterson, who lived at Heyst, owed, out of the proceeds of a sale, to her uncle, Jan Rapen, who lived at Knokke. The girl, by name Betkin, having donned all her best finery, had gone off gaily.

That night her mother was uneasy not to see her come home; still, thinking she had slept at her uncle’s house, she reassured herself.

The next day certain fishermen, coming back from sea with a boat full of fish, hauled their boat up on the beach and unloaded their fish into carts, to sell it by auction, cart by cart, in Heyst.

They climbed up the road, strewn with broken shells, and found among the dunes a young girl stripped quite naked, even of her chemise, and blood around her. Coming near, they saw in her poor broken neck the marks of long, sharp teeth. Lying on her back, her eyes were open, staring at the sky, and her mouth was open, too, as if to cry out on death!
Covering the girl’s body with an opperst-kleed, they brought it to Heyst, to the Townhall. Thither speedily assembled the aldermen and the barber-surgeon, who declared that those long teeth were never wolf’s teeth as they were made by Nature, but belonged to some wicked and evil and infernal weer-wolf, and that it behoved all men to pray to God to deliver the land of Flanders.

And in all the country and especially at Damme, Heyst, and Knokke, were ordained prayers and orisons.

And the people, groaning, remained in the churches.

In the church of Heyst, where the corpse of the young girl was laid out and exposed, men and women wept, seeing her neck all bloody and torn. And the mother said in the very church:

“I will go to the weer-wolf and kill him with my teeth.”

And the women, weeping, egged her on to do this. And some said:

“Thou wilt never come back.”

And she went, with her husband and her two brothers well armed, to hunt for the wolf by beach, dune, and valley, but never found him. And her husband was obliged to take her home, for she had caught fever by reason of the night cold; and they watched beside her, mending their nets for the next fishing day.

The bailiff of Damme, bethinking himself that the weer-wolf is a beast that lives on blood and does not strip the dead, said that this one was doubtless followed by robbers wandering about the dunes seeking their evil gain. Wherefore he summoned by the sound of the church bell all and sundry, directing them to fall well armed and furnished with cudgels upon all beggars and tramping ruffians, to apprehend their persons and search them to see if they might not have in their satchels gold carolus or any portion of the victim’s raiment. And after this the able-bodied beggars and tramps should be taken to the king’s galleys. And the aged and infirm should be allowed to go their ways.

But they found nothing.

Ulenspiegel went to the bailiff’s and said to him:

“I mean to slay the weer-wolf.”

“What gives thee this confidence?” asked the bailiff.

“The ashes beat upon my heart,” answered Ulenspiegel. “Grant me permission to work in the forge of the commune.”

“Thou mayst do so,” said the bailiff.

Ulenspiegel, without saying a word of his project to any man or woman in Damme, went off to the forge and there in secret he fashioned a fine and large-sized engine to trap wild beasts.

The next day, being Saturday, a day beloved of the weer-wolf, Ulenspiegel, carrying a letter from the bailiff for the cur? of Heyst, and the engine under his cloak, armed also with a good crossbow and a well-sharpened cutlass, departed, saying to the folk in Damme:

“I am going to shoot sea-mews and I will make pillows for the bailiff’s wife with their down.”

Going towards Heyst, he came upon the beach, heard the boisterous sea curling and breaking in big waves, roaring like thunder, and the wind came from England whistling in the rigging of shipwrecked boats. A fisherman said to him:

“This is ruin to us, this ill wind. Last night the sea was still, but after sunrise it got up suddenly into fury. We shall not be able to go a-fishing.”

Ulenspiegel was glad, assured thus of having help during the night if there should be need.

At Heyst he went to the cur?, and gave him the letter from the bailiff. The cur? said to him:

“Thou art bold: yet know that no man passes alone at night, by the dunes, on Saturday without being bitten and left dead on the sand. The workmen on the dykes and others go there only in bands. Night is falling. Dost thou hear the weer-wolf howling in his valley? Will he come again as he did this last night, to cry terribly in the graveyard the whole night long? God be with thee, my son, but go not thither.”

And the cur? crossed himself.

“The ashes beat upon my heart,” answered Ulenspiegel.

The cur? said:

“Since thou hast so stout a mind, I will help thee.”

“Master cur?,” said Ulenspiegel, “you would do a great boon to me and to the poor desolated country by going to the house of Toria, the mother of the slain girl, and to her two brothers likewise to tell them that the wolf is close at hand, and that I mean to await and kill him.”

The cur? said:

“If thou dost not yet know on what path thou shouldst take up thy stand, stay in that one that leads to the graveyard. It is between two hedges of broom. Two men could not walk in it side by side.”

“I will take my stand there,” said Ulenspiegel. “And do you, valiant master cur?, co-worker of deliverance, order and enjoin the girl’s mother, with her husband and her brothers, to be in the church, all armed, before the curfew. If they hear me whistling like the sea-mew, it will mean that I have seen the weer-wolf. They must then sound wacharm on the bell and come to my rescue. And if there are any other brave men?..”

“There are none, my son,” replied the cur?. “The fishermen fear the weer-wolf more than the plague and death. But go not thither.”

Ulenspiegel replied:

“The ashes beat upon my heart.”

The cur? said then:

“I shall do as thou wishest; be thou blessed. Art thou hungry or thirsty?”

“Both,” replied Ulenspiegel.

The cur? gave him beer, bread, and cheese.

Ulenspiegel drank, ate, and went away.

Going along and raising his eyes, he saw his father Claes in glory, by the side of God, in the sky where the clear moon was shining, and looked at the sea and the clouds and he heard the tempestuous wind blowing out of England.

“Alas!” said he, “black clouds that pass so swift, be ye like Vengeance upon the heels of Murder. Roaring sea, sky that dost make thee black as the mouth of hell, waves with the fire foam running along the sombre water, shaking impatient, wrathful, ye animals innumerable of fire, oxen, sheep, horses, serpents that wallow upon the sea or rise up into the air, belching out a flaming rain, O sea all black, sky black with mourning, come with me to fight against the weer-wolf, the foul murderer of little girls. And thou, wind that wailest plaintively in the bents on the dunes and in the cordage of the ships, thou art the voice of the victims crying out for vengeance to God; may He be my helper in this enterprise.”

And he went down into the valley, tottering on his two natural posts as if he had had the drunkard’s wine-lees in his head and a cabbage-indigestion on his stomach.

And he sang hiccuping, zigzagging, yawning, spitting, and stopping, playing at a pretence of vomiting, but in reality opening his eyes wide to study closely everything about him, when suddenly he heard a shrill howling; he stopped short, vomiting like a dog, and saw in the light of the strong shining moon the long shape of a wolf walking towards the cemetery.

Tottering again he entered on the path marked out among the broom. There, feigning to fall, he set the engine on the side whence the wolf was coming, made ready his crossbow, and moved away ten paces, standing in a drunken attitude, continually pretending to stagger about, to hiccup and vomit, but in verity stringing up his wits like a bow and keeping eyes and ears wide open.

And he saw nothing, nothing but the black clouds running like mad things over the sky and a large thick and short shape coming towards him; and he heard nothing but the wind wailing plaintively, the sea roaring like thunder, and the shell-strewn road crackling under a heavy, stumbling tread.

Feigning to want to sit down, he fell on the road like a drunkard, heavily. And he spat.

Then he heard as it were iron clicking two paces from his ear, then the noise of his engine shutting up and a man’s cry.

“The weer-wolf,” he said, “has his front paws taken in the trap. He gets up howling, shaking the engine, trying to run. But he will never escape.”

And he sped a crossbow dart into his legs.

“And now he falls, wounded,” said he.

And he whistled like a sea-mew.

Suddenly the church bell rang out the wacharm, a shrill lad’s voice cried through the village:

“Awake, ye sleeping folk, the weer-wolf is caught.”

“Praise be to God!” said Ulenspiegel.

Toria, Betkin’s mother, Lansaem her husband, Josse and Michiel her brothers, came the first with their lanterns.

“He is taken?” said they.

“See him on the roadway,” replied Ulenspiegel.

“Praise be to God!” said they.

And they made the sign of the cross.

“Who is that ringing?” asked Ulenspiegel.

Lansaem replied:

“My eldest boy; the youngest is running through the village knocking at the doors and crying that the wolf is taken. Praise be to thee!”

“The ashes beat upon my heart,” replied Ulenspiegel.

Suddenly the weer-wolf spake and said:

“Have pity upon me, pity, Ulenspiegel.”

“The wolf talks,” said they, crossing themselves. “He is a devil and he knows Ulenspiegel’s name already.”

“Have pity, pity,” said the voice, “bid the bell be quiet; it is ringing for the dead; pity, I am no wolf. My wrists are pierced by the engine; I am old and I bleed; pity! What is this shrill boy’s voice awaking the village? Pity!”

“I heard thy voice of old,” said Ulenspiegel, vehemently. “Thou art the fishmonger, the murderer of Claes, the vampire of the poor little young girls. Men and women, have no fear. ’Tis the demon, he through whom Soetkin died for grief and pain.”

And holding him by the neck beneath the chin with one hand, with the other he drew his cutlass.

But Toria, Betkin’s mother, stayed him in this movement.

“Take him alive,” she cried.

And she plucked out his white hairs by handfuls, and tore his face with her nails.

And she howled with grief and fury.

The weer-wolf, his hands fast in the engine and stumbling about the roadway, through his keen sufferings:

“Pity,” said he, “pity! take this woman away. I will give two carolus. Break those bells! Where are those children that are calling?”

“Keep him alive!” cried Toria, “keep him alive, let him pay! The bells for the dead, the death bells for thee, murderer. By slow fire, by red-hot pincers. Keep him alive! let him pay!”

Meanwhile, Toria had picked up on the road a waffle iron with long arms. Looking closely at it in the light of the torches, she saw it deeply engraved between the two iron plates with lozenges in the Brabant fashion, but armed besides, like an iron mouth, with long sharp teeth. And when she opened it, it was like the mouth of a greyhound.

Then Toria, holding the waffle iron, opening it and shutting it and making the iron ring, seemed as though she had lost her wits for male fury, and gnashing her teeth and with hoarse rattle breath like a woman dying, bit the prisoner with this engine in the arms, the legs, everywhere, seeking most of all his neck, and with every bite saying:

“Thus he did to Betkin with the iron teeth. He pays. Dost thou bleed, murderer? God is just. The bells for the dead! Betkin is calling me to revenge. Dost thou feel the teeth? ’Tis the mouth of God.”

And she bit him without ceasing and without pity, striking him with the waffle iron when she could not bite him with it. And because of her great thirst for revenge she did not kill him.

“Show compassion,” cried the prisoner. “Ulenspiegel, strike me with thy knife, I shall die quicker. Take this woman away. Break the bells for the dead; kill those calling children.”

And Toria still kept biting him, until an old man, in pity, took the waffle iron out of her hands.

But Toria then spat on the weer-wolf’s face and tore out his hairs, crying:

“Thou shalt pay, by slow fire, by burning pincers, thy eyes to my nails!”

In the meantime were come all the fishermen, rustics, and women of Heyst, at the report that the weer-wolf was a man and not a devil. Some carried lanterns and flaming torches. And all were crying out:

“Robber and murderer, where dost thou hide the gold stolen from the poor victims? Let him give all back.”

“I have none: have pity,” said the fishmonger.

And the women threw stones and sand upon him.

“He pays, he pays!” cried Toria.

“Pity,” he groaned, “I am all wet with my own blood running. Pity!”

“Thy blood?” said Toria. “There will be enough left for thee to pay with. Cover his wounds with ointment. He will pay by the slow fire, his hand cut off, with red-hot pincers. He shall pay, he shall pay!”

And she would have struck him; then out of her senses she fell upon the sand as though dead, and she was left there till she came back to herself.

Meanwhile, Ulenspiegel, taking the prisoner’s hands out of the engine, saw that there were three fingers lacking on the right hand.

And he gave orders to bind him straitly and to put him in a fisherman’s hamper. Men, women, and children then departed, taking turns to carry the hamper, wending their way towards Damme to seek justice there. And they carried torches and lanterns.

And the fishmonger kept repeating without ceasing:

“Break the bells; kill the children that are calling.”

And Toria said:

“Let him pay, by slow fire, by red-hot pincers, let him pay!”

Then both held their peace. And Ulenspiegel heard no more, save the laboured breathing of Toria, the heavy steps of the men on the sand, and the sea roaring like thunder.

And sad in his heart, he looked at the clouds running like mad things in the sky, the sea where the sheep of fire were to be seen, and in the light of the torches and the lanterns the livid face of the fishmonger staring on him with cruel eyes.

And the ashes beat upon his heart.

And they marched for four hours till they came to where was the populace assembled in one mass, knowing the news already. All wishing to see the fishmonger, they followed the band of fishermen shouting, singing, dancing, and saying:

“The weer-wolf is taken! he is taken, the murderer! Blessed be Ulenspiegel! Long life to our brother Ulenspiegel! Lange leven onsen broeder Ulenspiegel.”

And it was like a revolt of the people.

When they passed before the bailiff’s house, he came out at the noise and said to Ulenspiegel:

“Thou art the victor; praise be to thee!”

“The ashes of Claes were beating upon my heart,” replied Ulenspiegel.

The bailiff then said:

“Thou shalt have the half of the murderer’s estate.”

“Give it to the victims,” replied Ulenspiegel.

Lamme and Nele came; Nele, laughing and weeping for gladness, kissed her friend Ulenspiegel; Lamme, jumping heavily, smote him on the stomach, saying:

“This is a brave, a trusty, a faithful one; ’tis my beloved companion; ye have none such, ye others, ye folk of the flat country.”

But the fishermen laughed, mocking at him.