The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 38

In these days Katheline by her simples cured an ox, three sheep, and a pig belonging to Speelman but could not cure a cow that belonged to Jan Beloen. The latter accused her of sorcery. He averred that she had cast a spell on the beast, inasmuch as, while giving his simples, she caressed and talked to it, doubtless in a diabolical speech, for an honest Christian should not talk to a beast.

The said Jan Beloen added that he was a neighbour of Speelman’s, whose ox, sheep, and pig she had healed, and if she had killed his cow, it was doubtless at the instigation of Speelman, jealous to see that his, Beloen’s, land was better tilled than his own. Upon the testimony of Peter Meulemeester, a man of good life and conduct, and also of Jan Beloen, certifying that Katheline was reputed a witch in Damme, and had doubtless killed the cow, Katheline was arrested and condemned to be tormented until she should have confessed her crimes and misdeeds.

She was questioned by a sheriff who was always in a rage, for he drank brandy all day long. He had Katheline put upon the first bench of torment in his presence and before the Vierschare.

The executioner stripped her naked, then shaved her hair and all her body, looking everywhere to see if she concealed a charm.

Finding nothing, he fastened her with cords to the bench. Then she spake:

“I am all shamed to be naked thus before these men, Madam Mary, grant that I may die!”

Then the executioner put wet cloths upon her breast, her belly, and her legs, and raising the bench, he poured hot water into her stomach in such quantities that she was all swelled up. Then he lowered the bench again.

The sheriff asked Katheline if she would confess her crime. She made sign that she would not. The executioner poured more hot water into her, but she vomited all of it out again.

Then at the chirurgeon’s bidding she was untied. She did not speak, but struck on her breast to say the hot water had burned her. When the sheriff perceived that she had recovered from this first torment he said to her:

“Confess thou art a witch, and that thou didst cast a spell upon the cow.”

“I will not confess,” said she. “I love all dumb beasts, as much as my poor heart may, and I would harm myself rather than them, who cannot defend themselves. I used the needful simples to cure the cow.”

But the sheriff:

“Thou didst give her poison,” said he, “for the cow is dead.”

“Master sheriff,” answered Katheline, “I am here before you, in your power. I dare say to you, nevertheless, that a beast can die of sickness, like a man, in spite of the assistance of the surgeons and the doctors. And I swear by my Lord Christ who died on the cross for our sins, that I have wished no harm to this cow, but sought to cure her by simple remedies.”

Then said the sheriff, enraged:

“This devil’s hag will not always deny, let her be put on another bench for the torment!”

And therewith he drank a great glass of brandy.

The executioner made Katheline sit on the lid of an oaken coffin placed upon trestles. The said lid, shaped like a roof, was sharp as a blade. A great fire was burning in the fireplace, for it was then November.

Katheline, seated upon the coffin and a spit of sharpened wood, was shod with tight shoes of new leather and set before the fire. When she felt the sharp wooden edge of the coffin and the pointed spit entering her flesh, and when the fire heated and shrank the leather of her shoes, she cried:

“I suffer a thousand pangs! Who will give me black poison?”

“Put her nearer the fire,” said the sheriff. Then questioning Katheline:

“How often,” said he, “didst thou bestride a broom to go to the Sabbath? How often didst thou blast the corn in the ear, the fruit upon the tree, the babe in the mother’s womb? How often didst thou turn two brothers to sworn foes, and two sisters into rivals filled with hatred?”

Katheline would have spoken, but could not, and moved her arms as though to say no. The sheriff then:

“She will only speak when she feels all her witch fat melt in the fire. Put her nearer.”

Katheline cried out. The sheriff said:

“Pray to Satan that he may cool thee.”

She made a movement as though she would take off her shoes that were smoking in the fierceness of the fire.

“Pray to Satan that he pull off thy shoes,” said the sheriff.

The clock was striking ten, the furious creature’s dinner hour; he went away with the executioner and the clerk, leaving Katheline alone before the fire, in the torture chamber.

At eleven they came back and found Katheline seated stiff and motionless. The clerk said:

“She is dead, I think.”

The sheriff ordered the executioner to take Katheline down from the coffin and the shoes from off her feet. Not being able to pull them off, he cut them away, and the feet of Katheline were disclosed red and bleeding.

And the sheriff, thinking of his meal, looked at her without a word; but presently she recovered her senses, and falling on the ground and unable to rise for all her efforts, she said to the sheriff:

“Once on a time wouldst fain have had me to wife, but now thou shalt not have me. Four times three it is the sacred number, and the thirteenth is the husband.”

Then as the sheriff would have spoken, she said to him:

“Stay silent, he has hearing finer than the archangel that in heaven counts the heart beats of the just. Why dost thou come so late? Four times three it is the sacred number, he slayeth those that desire me.”

The sheriff said:

“She receives the devil in her bed.”

“She is out of her wits with the anguish of the torment,” said the clerk.

Katheline was taken back to prison. Three days after, the sheriff’s court being assembled in the Vierschare, Katheline after deliberation was condemned to the fire.

The executioner and his assistants brought her to the marketplace of Damme where there was a scaffold on which she mounted. In the marketplace were the provost, the herald, and the judges.

The trumpets of the town herald sounded three times, and turning to the people he announced:

“The magistrate of Damme, having had compassion on the woman Katheline, has been pleased not to exact punishment according to the extreme rigour of the law of the town, but in order to bear witness that she is a witch, her hair shall be burned, she shall pay twenty gold carolus by way of fine, and shall be banished for three years from the precincts of Damme under pain of losing one limb.”

And the people applauded this harsh lenity.

The executioner thereupon bound Katheline to the stake, set a wig of tow upon her shaven head and set it on fire. And the tow burned long and Katheline cried out and wept.

Then she was unbound and taken without the boundaries of Damme upon a cart, for her feet were burned.