The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 75

Soetkin was in Katheline’s standing against the wall, her head hanging low and her hands joined together. She was holding Ulenspiegel in her embrace, neither speaking nor weeping.

Ulenspiegel also remained silent; he was terrified to feel the fire of fever with which his mother’s body burned.

The neighbours, being back from the place of execution, said that Claes had ended his sufferings.

“He is in glory,” said the widow.

“Pray,” said Nele to Ulenspiegel: and she gave him her rosary; but he would by no means make use of it, because, said he, the beads had been blessed by the Pope.

Night having fallen, Ulenspiegel said to the widow: “Mother, we must put you in bed: I shall watch beside you.”

But Soetkin: “I have no need,” said she, “that you should watch; sleep is good for young men.”

Nele made ready a bed for each in the kitchen, then she went away.

They stayed together as long as the remains of a fire of roots burned in the chimney place.

Soetkin went to bed, Ulenspiegel likewise, and heard her weeping beneath the coverlets.

Outside, in the silence of night, the wind made the trees by the canal complain with a sound as of the sea, and, harbinger of autumn, flung dust in whirlwinds against the cottage windows.

Ulenspiegel saw as it might be a man coming and going; he heard as it might be a sound of feet in the kitchen. Looking, he saw no man; hearkening, he heard nothing now but the wind soughing in the chimney and Soetkin weeping under her bedclothes.

Then he heard steps again, and behind him, at his head, a sigh… “Who is there?” he said.

None answered, but three knocks were given on the table. Ulenspiegel grew afraid, and trembling: “Who is there?” he said again. He received no answer but three knocks on the table and he felt two arms clasp and strain him, and a body lean upon his face, a body whose skin was wrinkled and that had a great hole in its breast and a smell of burning:

“Father,” said Ulenspiegel, “is it thy poor body that weighs thus upon me?”

He got no answer, and although the shade was beside him, he heard a cry without: “Thyl! Thyl!” Suddenly Soetkin rose and came to Ulenspiegel’s bed, “Dost thou hear naught?” said she.

“Aye,” said he, “the father calling on me.”

“I,” said Soetkin, “I felt a cold body beside me in my bed; and the mattresses moved, and the curtains were shaken and I heard a voice saying: Soetkin; a voice low as a breath, and a step light as the sound of a gnat’s wings.” Then speaking to Claes’s spirit: – “Husband,” she said, “if thou desirest aught in heaven where God keeps thee in his glory, thou must tell us what it is, that we may carry out thy will.”

Suddenly a blast blew the door open impetuously, filling the chamber with dust, and Ulenspiegel and Soetkin heard the far-off croakings of ravens.

They went out together and came to the pyre.

The night was black, save when the clouds, driven away by the sharp north wind and galloping like stags across the sky, left the face of the moon clear and shining.

A constable of the commune was patrolling, keeping guard on the pyre. Ulenspiegel and Soetkin heard the sound of his steps upon the hard ground and the voice of a raven, doubtless calling others, for from afar croakings answered him.

Ulenspiegel and Soetkin having drawn near to the dead fire, the raven alit upon Claes’s shoulder; they heard the blows of his beak upon the body, and soon other ravens arrived.

Ulenspiegel would have leaped upon the pyre and struck at the ravens: the constable said to him:

“Wizard, seekest thou hands of glory? Know that the hands of men burned do not render invisible, but only the hands of men hanged as thou shalt be one day.”

“Messire Constable,” answered Ulenspiegel, “I am no wizard, but the orphaned son of him who is there fastened, and this woman is his widow. We were but minded to kiss him once again and to have a little of his ashes in memory of him. Give us leave for this, messire, who art no trooper from a foreign country, but a very son of this land.”

“Be it as thou wouldst,” replied the constable.

The orphan and the widow, going over the burnt wood, came to the body; both kissed with tears the face of Claes.

Ulenspiegel took from the place of the heart, where the flames had made a great hole, a little of the dead man’s ashes. Then kneeling, Soetkin and he prayed. When the dawn appeared pallid in the heavens, they were both there still; but the constable drove them away for fear of being punished because of his good-will.
Returning, Soetkin took a piece of red silk and a piece of black silk; with these she made a sachet, and then put the ashes in it, and to the sachet sewed two ribbands, so that Ulenspiegel could always wear it on his neck. When she was putting the sachet in its place on him, she said to him:

“Let these ashes, that are the heart of my man, this red that is his blood, this black that is our mourning, be ever on thy breast, like the fire of vengeance upon the murderers.”

“I would have it even so,” said Ulenspiegel.

And the widow embraced the orphan, and the sun arose.