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

They were then in May, the lime tree of justice was green; green, too, were the turf seats upon which the judges placed themselves; Nele was called as witness. On this day sentence was to be pronounced.
And the people, men, women, townsfolk, and artisans were all round about in the field; and the sun shone bright.
Katheline and Joos Damman were brought before the tribunal; and Damman appeared paler than ever by reason of the torture of the thirst and the nights spent without sleep.
Katheline, who could not maintain herself on her shaking legs, said, pointing to the sun:
“Take away the fire; my head burns!”
And she looked on Joos Damman with tender love.
And he looked at her with hate and contempt.
And the lords and gentlemen his friends, having been summoned to Damme, were all present as witnesses before the tribunal.
Then the bailiff spake and said:
“Nele, the girl who defends her mother Katheline with such great and courageous affection, found in the pocket stitched in her mother’s jacket, a jacket for feast days, a note signed ‘Joos Damman.’ Among the belongings taken from the corpse of Hilbert Ryvish I found in the dead man’s satchel another letter addressed to him by the said Joos Damman, the defendant here present before you. I have kept both these letters in my custody, in order that at the appropriate moment, which is the present, you might judge of this man’s obstinacy and acquit or condemn him in accordance with law and justice. Here is the parchment found in the satchel; I have never touched it, and know not whether it is legible or not.”
The judges were then in great perplexity.
The bailiff endeavoured to undo the parchment ball; but it was in vain, and Joos Damman laughed.
An alderman said:
“Let us put the ball in water, and then before the fire. If there is in it any secret of adhesion, the fire and the water will melt it.”
The water was brought; the executioner lit a great fire of wood in the field; the smoke rose up blue into the clear sky through the verdurous branches of the lime tree of justice.
“Do not put the letter in the basin,” said an alderman “for if it is written with sal ammoniac dissolved in water, you will efface the characters.”
“Nay,” said the surgeon, who was there, “the characters will not be effaced; the water will soften only the point that keeps the magic ball from opening up.”
The parchment was dipped in the water and being softened, was unfolded.
“Now,” said the surgeon, “put it before the fire.”
“Aye, aye,” said Nele, “put the paper before the fire; master surgeon is on the road to the truth, for the murderer grows pale and trembles in his limbs.”
Thereupon, Messire Joos Damman said:
“I neither grew pale nor trembled, thou little common harpy that art fain of the death of a man of rank; thou shalt never succeed; this parchment must needs be rotten, after sixteen years’ sojourning in the earth.”
“The parchment is not decayed,” said the sheriff, “for the satchel was lined with silk; silk is not consumed in the earth, and the worms have not gone through the parchment.”
The parchment was put in front of the fire.
“Monseigneur Bailiff, Monseigneur Bailiff,” said Nele, “there is the ink appearing before the fire; give orders that the writing be read.”
As the surgeon was about to read it, Messire Joos Damman would have stretched out his arms to seize the parchment; but Nele flung herself upon his arm quick as the wind and said:
“Thou shalt not touch it, for thereon is written thy death or the death of Katheline. If now thy heart bleeds, murderer, there are fifteen years through which ours have been bleeding; fifteen years that Katheline suffers; fifteen years she had her brain in her head burned by thee; fifteen years that Soetkin is dead by consequence of the torture; fifteen years that we are needy, ragged, and live in abject want, but proudly. Read the paper, read the paper! The judges are God upon earth, for they are Justice; read the paper!”
“Read the paper!” cried the men and women, weeping. “Nele is a brave lass! read the paper! Katheline is no witch!”
And the clerk read:
“To Hilbert, son of Willem Ryvish, Esquire, Joos Damman, greeting.
“Blessed friend, lose thy money no more in gambling dens, at dice, and other follies. I will tell thee how it can be won for very certain. Let us make us devils, handsome devils, beloved of women and of girls. Let us take the fair and rich, let us leave the ugly and poor; let them pay for their pleasure. I made, at this trade, in six months five thousand rixdaeldars in the country of Germany. Women will give their petticoat and chemise to their man when they love him; flee from the miserly ones with pinched up nose that take time to pay for their pleasures. For thy own affair, and to appear goodly and a true devil, an incubus, if they accept thee for the night, announce thy coming by crying like a night bird. And to make thee a veritable devil’s face, of a terrifying devil, rub thy visage with phosphorus, which is luminous in spots when it is damp. Its odour is disagreeable, but they will believe that it is the odour of hell. Slay what is in thy way, man, woman, or beast.
“We shall soon go together to the house of Katheline, a fine good-natured wench; her daughter Nele, a child of my own, if Katheline was faithful to me, is comely and pretty; thou wilt take her easily; I give her to thee, for I care but little for these bastards that cannot for certain be recognized as one’s own offspring. Her mother gave me already more than twenty-three carolus, all she possessed. But she hath a treasure hidden, which is, unless I be a fool, the inheritance of Claes, the heretic burned at Damme: seven hundred florins carolus liable to confiscation, but the good King Philip, who had so many of his subjects burned to inherit after them, could never lay his claw on this sweet treasure. It will weigh more in my pouch than in his. Katheline will tell me where it is; we shall divide. Only thou must leave me the greater part for the discovery.
“As for the women, being our gentle handmaids and slaves in love, we shall take them to the land of Germany. There we shall teach them to become female demons and succubae, drawing the love of all the rich burgesses and men of birth; there we shall live, they and we, upon love paid for with good rixdaeldars, velvets, silk, gold, pearls, and jewels; we shall thus be rich without fatigue, and, unknown to the succubae devils, beloved by the most lovely, always exacting payment besides. All women are fools and ninnies for the man that can light the fire of love that God set beneath their girdles. Katheline and Nele will be more so than others, and believing us to be devils, will obey us in all things: thou, do thou keep thy forename, but never give the name of thy father, Ryvish. If the judge seizes the women, we shall depart without their knowing us or being able to denounce us. To the rescue, my trusty comrade. Fortune smiles on the young, as was wont to say his late Sainted Majesty Charles the Fifth, past master in affairs of love and of war.”
And the clerk, making an end of reading, said:
“Such is this letter, and it is signed, ‘Joos Damman, esquire’.”
And the people shouted:
“To the death with the murderer! To the death with the sorcerer! To the fire the turner of women’s wits! To the gallows with the robber!”
The bailiff said then:
“People, keep silence, that in all freedom we may judge this man.”
And speaking to the aldermen:
“I will,” said he, “read to you the second letter, found by Nele in the pocket of Katheline’s festal jacket; it is conceived as follows:
“Darling Witch, here is the recipe of a compound sent me by the very wife of Lucifer: by the help of this compound thou wilt be able to transport thyself to the sun, the moon, and the stars, converse with the elemental spirits that carry the prayers of men unto God, and to traverse all the towns and burgs and rivers and fields of the whole universe. Thou art to bruise together in equal quantities: stramonium, sleep-solanum, henbane, opium, the fresh tips of hemp, belladonna, and datura.
“If thou wilt, we shall go this night to the sabbath of the spirits: but thou must love me better and not be miserly again like the other night, when thou didst refuse me ten florins, saying thou didst not have them. I know that thou dost hide a treasure and wilt not tell me of it. Dost thou love me no longer, my sweetheart?”
“Thy cold devil,“HANSKE.”“To the death with the sorcerer!” cried the people.
The bailiff said:
“We must compare the two writings.”
This being done, they were adjudged to be similar. The bailiff then said to the lords and gentlemen there present:
“Do ye recognize this man for Messire Joos Damman, son of the alderman of La Keure of Ghent?”
“Aye,” said they.
“Did ye know,” said he, “Messire Hilbert, son of Willem Ryvish, Esquire?”
One of the gentlemen, who was called Van der Zickelen, spoke and said:
“I am from Ghent; my house is in St. Michael’s Place; I know Willem Ryvish, Esquire, sheriff of La Keure of Ghent. He lost, fifteen years past, a son of twenty-three years of age, debauched, a gamester, an idler; but everyone forgave it him because of his youth. Since that time no man has had news of him. I ask to see the sword, the poignard, and the satchel of the dead man.”
Having them before him, he said:
“The sword and the poignard carry on the pommel of the hilt the arms of the Ryvishes, which are three silver fish on an azure field. I see the same arms reproduced on a gold shield between the meshes of his pouch. What is that other poignard?”
The bailiff speaking:
“It is that poignard,” said he, “which was found planted in the body of Hilbert Ryvish, the son of Willem.”
“I recognize on it,” said the lord, “the arms of the Dammans; the tower gules on a silver field. So keep me God and all his saints.”
The other gentlemen also said:
“We recognize the aforesaid arms for those of Ryvish and of Damman. So keep us God and all his saints.”
Then the bailiff said:
“From the evidence heard and read by the tribunal of aldermen, Messire Joos Damman is the sorcerer, a murderer, a seducer of women, a robber of the king’s goods, and as such guilty of the crime of treason human and divine.”
“You say so, Messire Bailiff,” rejoined Joos, “but you will not condemn me, lacking sufficient proofs: I am not nor ever was a sorcerer; I did but play at the game of being a devil. As for my shining face, you have the recipe for it and that for the unguent, the which, while containing henbane, is merely soporific. When this woman, a real witch, used it, she fell in a trance, and thought she went to the sabbath and there danced in the ring with her face to the outside of the circle, and adored a devil with the shape of a goat, set upon an altar.
“The dance being over, she thought she went and kissed him under the tail, as sorcerers do, to give herself up thereafter with me, her friend, to strange copulations pleasing to her perverted mind. If I had, as she says, cold arms and cool body, it was a mark of youth, not of sorcery. In the works of love coolness doth not endure. But Katheline would fain believe what she desired, and take me for a devil notwithstanding that I am a man of flesh and bone, in everything as yourselves that look at me. She alone is guilty: taking me for a demon and receiving me in her bed, she sinned both in intention and deed against God and the Holy Spirit. It is therefore she, and not I, that committed the crime of sorcery; it is she that is to be made to pass through the fire, as a furious and malignant witch that seeks to make herself pass for a madwoman, in order to hide her cunning.”
But Nele:
“Do ye hear him,” said she, “the murderer? He hath, like a girl for sale, with the armlet on her arm, made a trade and merchandise of love. Do ye hear him? He means, to save himself, to have her burned that gave him all.”
“Nele is bad,” said Katheline, “do not listen to her, Hans, my beloved.”
“Nay,” said Nele, “nay, thou art no man: thou art a cowardly cruel devil.” And taking Katheline in her arms: “Messieurs Judges,” exclaimed she, “listen not to this pale evil one: he hath but one wish, to see my mother burn, she that did no other crime but to be smitten by God with madness, and to believe the phantoms of her dreams real. She hath already suffered much in her body and in her mind. Do not put her to death, Messieurs the Judges. Leave the innocent to live out her sad life in peace.”
And Katheline said: “Nele is bad; thou must not believe her, Hans my lord.”
And among the common folk the women were weeping and the men said: “Pardon for Katheline.”
The bailiff and the aldermen gave their sentence on Joos Damman, upon a confession which he made after being tortured afresh: he was condemned to be degraded from his noble estate and burned alive in a slow fire until death ensued, and suffered the penalty the next day before the doors of the Townhall, still saying: “Put the witch to death; she alone is guilty! Cursed be God! my father will slay the judges.”
And he rendered up the ghost.
And the people said: “See him cursing and a blasphemer: he dies like a dog.”
Next day the bailiff and the aldermen gave their sentence upon Katheline, who was condemned to undergo the trial by water in the Bruges Canal. Floating, she should be burned as a witch; going to the bottom and dying, she should be regarded as dying like a Christian, and as such should be interred in the garden of the church, which is the graveyard.
The day after, Katheline, holding a wax taper in her hand, barefooted and clad in a chemise of black linen, was brought to the bank of the canal, all along by the trees, in grand procession. Before her marched, singing the prayers for the dead, the dean of Notre Dame, his vicars, the beadle carrying the cross; and behind, the bailiffs of Damme, the aldermen, the clerks and recorders, the constables of the commune, the provost, the executioner and his two assistants. Upon the banks there was a great crowd of women weeping and men growling, in pity for Katheline, who walked as a lamb suffering herself to be led she knew not whither, and always saying: “Take away the fire, my head burns! Hans, where art thou?”
In the midst of the women Nele cried: “I want to be thrown in with her.” But the women did not suffer her to come near to Katheline.
A sharp wind blew from the sea; from the gray sky a fine hail was falling into the water of the canal; a bark was there, which the executioner and his men seized in the name of His Majesty the king. At their command, Katheline went into it; the executioner was seen, standing in it, and at the signal of the provost lifting his wand of justice, he cast Katheline into the canal: she struggled, but not for long, and went to the bottom, having cried out: “Hans! Hans! help!”
And the people said: “This woman is no witch.”
Men plunged into the canal and pulled Katheline out from it, unconscious and rigid as a corpse. Then she was brought into a tavern and placed before a great fire; Nele took off her clothes and her wet linen, to give her others; when she came back to herself, she said, trembling and chattering her teeth:
“Hans, give me a woollen cloak.”
And Katheline could not get back her warmth. And she died on the third day. And she was interred in the garden of the church.
And Nele, orphaned, departed to the land of Holland, to Rosa van Auweghen.