The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 73

On the morrow, which was the day before Claes was to die, the sentence was made known to Nele, to Ulenspiegel, and to Soetkin.

They asked the judges for permission to enter the prison, which was granted, but not to Nele.

When they went in, they saw Claes fastened to the wall with a long chain. A little wood fire was burning in the fireplace because of the dampness. For it is ordained by law and justice, in Flanders, to be indulgent with those that are to die, and to give them bread, meat or cheese, and wine. But the greedy gaolers often violate the law, and many of them eat the greater part and the best of the poor prisoners’ food.

Claes embraced Ulenspiegel and Soetkin weeping, but he was the first to dry his eyes, because such was his will, being a man and head of a family.

Soetkin wept and Ulenspiegel said:

“I will break these cruel irons.”

Soetkin wept, saying:

“I will go to King Philip, he will grant pardon.”

Claes replied:

“The king inherits the goods of the martyrs.” Then he added: “Beloved wife and son, I am about to go sadly and dolorously out of this world. If I have some fear of suffering for my body, I am sore troubled also thinking that, when I am no more, ye will both be poor and in need, for the king will take all your goods.”

Ulenspiegel answered, speaking in a whisper:

“Nele saved all yesterday with me.”

“I am full glad of it,” replied Claes; “the informer will not laugh over my spoils.”

“Rather let him die first,” said Soetkin, her eye full of hate and without weeping.

But Claes, thinking of the carolus, said:

“Thou wast cunning, Thylken my dear boy; she will not be hungry then in her old age, Soetkin my widow.”

And Claes embraced her, pressing her body tightly to his breast, and she wept more, thinking that soon she must lose his sweet protection.

Claes looked at Ulenspiegel and said:

“Son, thou didst often sin as thou didst run upon the highways, as do wicked lads; thou must do so no more, my child, nor leave the afflicted widow alone in her house, for thou owest her protection and defence, thou the male.”

“Father, this I shall do,” said Ulenspiegel.

“O my poor husband!” said Soetkin, embracing him. “What great crime have we committed? We lived by us two peaceably, an honest simple life, loving one another well, Lord God, thou knowest it. We arose betimes to labour, and at night, giving thee thanks, we ate our daily bread. I will go to the king and rend him with my nails. Lord God, we were not guilty folk!”

But the gaoler came in and they must needs depart.

Soetkin begged to remain. Claes felt her poor face burn his own, and Soetkin’s tears, falling in floods, wetting his cheeks, and all her poor body shivering and trembling in his arms. He begged that she might stay with him.

The gaoler said again that they must go, and took Soetkin from out of Claes’s arms.

Claes said to Ulenspiegel:

“Watch over her.”

Ulenspiegel said he would do this. Then he went away with Soetkin, the son supporting the mother.