Once upon a time...
there lived a little boy called Til Ulenspighel. His father was a good blacksmith, his mother a kindly woman but they never imagined that they had brought into the world the naughtiest rascal ever heard of!
Til had such a lively personality, bright and naughty, that people couldn't help smiling when they saw him.
And he got up to such mischief and all sorts of tricks that we can't help smiling to ourselves . . . But as you'll soon see, the ones who didn't see the funny side of things were his fellow citizens. The minute he learned to speak, Til pulled people's legs. If a man, for instance, had flat feet, Til would greet him by saying,
"Good day, Mr. Flatfeet!" And if a lady had a red nose, he would say, "Good evening, Mrs. Rednose!" He enjoyed playing tricks and teasing everyone. Of course, the neighbors complained to his father, saying,
"Mr. Ulenspighel, what a rude son you have!" And so, one day, Til's father said to him,
"Listen, son, why don't people like you? Do you annoy them?"
"Who, me?" said Til with an innocent air. "I never bother anyone. It's other people that shake their fists at me whenever they see me and say nasty things."
"Hmm!" said his father. "I wonder if that's really so. I'm going to market with the donkey. Get up behind!" Till didn't need to be told twice and he clambered behind his father.
But the second he was on the donkey's back, he hung a notice on his shoulders on which he had written: 'Whoever reads this is a donkey.' People did read it and they were offended, so they shook their fists and shouted, "Oh, you horrid boy, Til! What a little horror you are!" On hearing these shouts, Til's father, who knew nothing about the notice, muttered:
"You're right, Til. People are angry with you, though goodness knows why! Don't worry," he added, "come and sit in front and we'll see if they still call you names." Til did as he was told and slung the notice over his chest. Though his father couldn't see it, he could see other people as they shook their fists, scowled, shouted and yelled insults, and he said,
"Folk don't like you, Til. But pay no attention to them and go your own way!" And Til laughed up his sleeve....
Time went by and Til began to weary of long faces every time people saw him. He joked and teased folk now and again, but what harm was there in that? All he wanted to do was amuse himself and others as well. One day, a company of wandering entertainers came to the town: actors, sword swallowers and acrobats. They made a great impression on the lad, who stared at them open- mouthed. While holding a pole in their hands, they kept their balance as they walked the tightrope across the road. How he would love to do the same. The people who now shook their fists at him would clap their hands. No sooner thought than done, the boy picked up a pole, stretched a rope between two trees in the wood and started to practice. Of course, it wasn't easy and he fell more than once. But in the end, he felt pretty secure and decided to hold a show. He went through the streets crying,
"Tomorrow, Til Ulenspighel, the acrobat, will walk the tightrope!"
Filled with curiosity, everyone came to watch.
Til had stretched the rope between his balcony and a tree in the nearby wood: the rope lay above the river and the young lad climbed on. The crowd that, at first had laughed and made a noise, grew quiet after a while, and were impressed:
"He's clever all right," someone said. "He's a real acrobat," said someone else. "We were wrong about him!"
At that moment, Til's mother, who knew nothing about her son's gymnastics, hearing the murmur of the crowd, went onto the balcony . . . and saw her son walking the rope suspended over empty space. Frightened, she shouted,
"Til, come down at once!" And seeing that the boy was not doing as he was told, she picked up the scissors and cut the rope. Til fell with a splash into the river. You can imagine the people! First they started to laugh, snegro and make fun of the poor lad as he struggled soaking from the water.
"Hey, acrobat! If that had been the ground instead of water, you'd have had a cracked head, wouldn't you?" they called, chuckling, and Til said to himself, "Laugh if you want to, he who laughs last laughs longest! . .
Some days later, Til announced he was going to repeat the show, this time not over the river but above the main road. Everyone rushed to watch, hoping to see him fall off and hurt himself. Before he ventured on to the rope, Til called out, "To make it more difficult for me, I'm going to carry a sack on my back. Every spectator will give me his left shoe. I'll put it in the sack and hand it back at the end of the show." Everyone did this. Til walked the tightrope until he reached the middle of the road, and from the heights he said,
"Now I'm going to give you back your shoes. There they are!" and opening the sack, he emptied out the shoes.
You can picture the confusion that reigned then. Not only did the onlookers get hit on the head by shoes, but everyone hunted for his own shoe without managing to find it; he'd pick one up, but it belonged to somebody else, and he'd throw it down again, and start to look for another, argue, exchange insults . . . and Til, from a window on high looked down on the pandemonium and chuckling said,
"Ha! He who laughs last laughs longest!"