The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 69

Soon the news ran abroad through the villages round about that a man had been cast into prison for heresy and that the inquisitor Titelman, the dean of Renaix, nicknamed the Inquisitor Pitiless, would conduct the interrogatories. Ulenspiegel was then living at Koolkerke, in the most private favours of a pretty farmer, an amiable widow that denied him nothing that was hers. There he was very well off, spoiled and caressed until the day when a treacherous rival, the sheriff of the commune, lay in wait for him one morning as he came out of the tavern and would fain have rubbed him down with an oaken towel. But Ulenspiegel, to cool his anger, cast him in a pond whence the sheriff crept out as best he could, green as a toad and steeped full as a sponge.

Ulenspiegel for this high feat, must leave Koolkerke and set off with all speed towards Damme, fearing the sheriff’s vengeance.

The evening was falling cool, Ulenspiegel ran swiftly; fain would he have been at home already, in his mind’s eye he saw Nele sewing, Soetkin preparing supper, Claes binding faggots, Schnouffius gnawing on a bone and the stork knocking with her bill on the housewife’s front to have some scraps of food.

A pedlar afoot said to him as he passed:

“Whither away in such hurry?”

“To Damme, to my own home,” replied Ulenspiegel.

The pedlar answered:

“The town is not safe now by reason of the folk of the reformed faith that are being arrested there.”

And he went on his way.

Arrived before the inn of the Roode-Schildt, Ulenspiegel went in to drink a glass of dobbel-cuyt. The baes said to him:

“Are not you the son of Claes?”

“I am,” answered Ulenspiegel.

“Make haste, then,” said the baes, “for the ill hour has struck for your father.”

Ulenspiegel asked what he meant.

The baes replied that he would know all too soon.

And Ulenspiegel continued to run.

As he was at the entrance to Damme, the dogs that were on the doorsteps jumped out at his legs yelping and barking. The goodwives came out at the noise and said to him, all talking at once:

“Whence come you?” “Have you news of your father?” “Where is your mother?” “Is she with him in prison, too?” “Alas! if only they do not burn him!”

Ulenspiegel ran the harder.

He met Nele, who said to him:

“Thyl, do not go to your house: the town governors have put a guard in it on behalf of His Majesty.”

Ulenspiegel stopped.

“Nele,” said he, “is it true that my father Claes is in prison?”

“Yea,” said Nele, “and Soetkin weeps on the threshold.”

Then the heart of the prodigal son was swollen with anguish and he said to Nele:

“I am going to see them.”

“That is not what you should do,” said she, “but you should obey Claes instead, who said to me before he was taken: ‘save the carolus, they are behind the chimney-back.’ They are what you must save first and foremost, for it is the inheritance of Soetkin, the poor woman.”

Ulenspiegel, listening no whit, ran to the gaol. There he saw Soetkin seated on the threshold; she embraced him with tears, and they wept together.

The people assembling, because of these two, in a crowd in front of the gaol, the constables came and told Ulenspiegel and Soetkin that they were to be off out of that and at the speediest possible.

Mother and son went away to Nele’s cottage, next door to their own home, before which they saw one of the lansquenet troopers summoned from Bruges through fear of the troubles that might arise during the trial and during the execution. For the folk of Damme loved Claes greatly.

The trooper was sitting on the pavement, before the door, busy sucking the last drop of brandy out of a flask. Finding nothing more in it, he flung it some paces away, and drawing his dagger, he amused himself in digging up the paving stones.

Soetkin, all tears, entered Katheline’s house.

And Katheline shaking her head: “The fire! Make a hole, the soul would fain escape,” said she.