The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 40

While he displayed himself on the gutter all clad in crimson silk, Ulenspiegel had not seen Nele who from the crowd was looking on him smiling. She was living at this time at Borgerhout near Antwerp, and thought that if some fool was to fly before King Philip, it could only be her friend Ulenspiegel.

As he marched along the way, plunged in reverie, he did not hear a sound of hastening steps behind him, but felt two hands that were laid flat upon his eyes. Guessing Nele instinctively:

“Are you there?” said he.

“Aye,” she said, “I have been running behind you ever since you came out of the city. Come with me.”

“But where,” said he, “where is Katheline?”

“Thou dost not know it,” said she, “that she was tortured unjustly for a witch, then banished out of Damme for three years, and that they burned her feet and burned tow upon her head. I tell thee this that thou mayest have no fear of her, for she is out of her wits because of the cruel torment. Often she spends whole hours looking at her feet and saying: ‘Hanske, my sweet devil, see what they did to thy dear. And her poor feet are like two wounds.’ Then she weeps, saying: ‘Other women have a husband or a lover, but I live at this moment as a widow.’ I tell her then that Hanske will hate her if she speaks of him before other folk than me. And she obeys me like a child save when she sees a cow or an ox, the cause of her torture; then she flees running without stay, and nothing can stop her, fences, streams, or ditches, till she falls for weariness in some corner of the wayside or against the wall of a farm, whither I go and take her up and dress her poor feet that are by then all bleeding. And I deem that in burning the hank of tow they burned also her brain in her head.”

And both were grieved thinking upon Katheline.

They came to her and saw her sitting upon a bench in the sun against the wall of a house. Ulenspiegel said to her:

“Do you know me?”

“Four times three,” quoth she, “it is the sacred number, and the thirteenth is Thereb. Who art thou, child of this wicked world?”

“I am Ulenspiegel,” he answered, “the son of Soetkin and of Claes.”

She shook her head and knew him; then beckoning him close with her finger and bending to his ear:

“If thou see him whose kisses are as snow, tell him to come back to me, Ulenspiegel.”

Then showing her burned hair:

“I am ill,” she said; “they have taken my wits, but when he comes he will fill my head again, which now is all empty. Hearest thou? it sounds like a bell; it is my soul knocking at the door to depart, because it burns. If Hanske comes and has no mind to fill me my head again, I will tell him to make a hole in it with a knife: the soul that is there, ever knocking to come out, grieveth me cruelly, and I shall die, yea. And now I never sleep, and I look for him always, and he must fill me my head again, yea.”

And sinking down again, she groaned.

And the peasants that were coming back from the fields to go to dinner, while the church bell called them to it, passed before Katheline saying:

“There is the madwife.”

And they made the sign of the cross.

And Nele and Ulenspiegel wept, and Ulenspiegel must needs go on upon his pilgrimage.