The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book III Chapter 7

Next day, in bright sunshine, the procession issued forth from the church. Ulenspiegel had, as best he could, patched up the twelve saints that balanced themselves on their pedestals between the banners of the guilds, then came the statue of Our Lady; then the daughters of the Virgin all clad in white and singing anthems; then the archers and crossbowmen; then the nearest to the dais and swaying more than the others, Pompilius sinking under the heavy accoutrements of Master Saint Martin.

Ulenspiegel, having provided himself with itching powder, had himself clothed Pompilius with his episcopal costume, had put on his gloves and given him his crozier and taught him the Latin fashion of blessing the people. He had also helped the priests to clothe themselves. On some he put their stole, on others their amice, on the deacons the alb. He ran hither and thither through the church, restoring the folds of doublet or breeches. He admired and praised the well-furbished weapons of the crossbowmen, and the formidable bows of the confraternity of the archers.

And on everyone he poured, on ruff, on back or wrist, a pinch of itching powder. But the dean and the four bearers of Saint Martin were those that got most of it. As for the daughters of the Virgin, he spared them for the sake of their sweetness and grace.
The procession went forth, banners in the wind, ensigns displayed, in goodly order. Men and women crossed themselves as they saw it passing. And the sun shone hot.

The dean was the first to feel the effect of the powder, and scratched a little behind his ear. All, priests, archers, crossbowmen, were scratching neck, legs, wrists, without daring to do it openly. The four bearers were scratching, too, but the bellringer, itching worse than any, for he was more exposed to the hot sun, did not dare even to budge for fear of being boiled alive. Screwing up his nose, he made an ugly grimace and trembled on his tottery legs, for he nearly fell every time his bearers scratched themselves.

But he did not dare to move, and let his water go through fear, and the bearers said:

“Great Saint Martin, is it going to rain now?”

The priests were singing a hymn to Our Lady.

“Si de coe … coe … coe … lo descenderes
O sanc … ta … ta … ta … Ma … ma … ria.”

For their voices shook because of the itching, which became excessive, but they scratched themselves modestly and parsimoniously. Even so the dean and the four bearers of Saint Martin had their necks and wrists torn to pieces. Pompilius stayed absolutely still, tottering on his poor legs, which were itching the most.

But lo on a sudden all the crossbowmen, archers, deacons, priests, dean, and the bearers of Saint Martin stopped to scratch themselves. The powder made the soles of Pompilius’s feet itch, but he dared not budge for fear of falling.

And the curious said that Saint Martin rolled very fierce eyes and showed a very threatening mien to the poor populace.

Then the dean started the procession going again.

Soon the hot sun that was falling straight down on all these processional backs and bellies made the effect of the powder intolerable.

And then priests, archers, crossbowmen, deacons, and dean were seen, like a troop of apes, stopping and scratching shamelessly wherever they itched.

The daughters of the Virgin sang their hymn, and it was as the angels’ singing, all those fresh pure voices mounting towards the sky.

All went off wherever and however they could: the dean, still scratching, rescued the Holy Sacrament; the pious people carried the relics into the church; Saint Martin’s four bearers threw Pompilius roughly on the ground. There, not daring to scratch, move, or speak, the poor bellringer shut his eyes devoutly.

Two lads would have carried him away, but finding him too heavy, they stood him upright against a wall, and there Pompilius shed big tears.

The populace assembled round about him; the women had gone to fetch handkerchiefs of fine white linen and wiped his face to preserve his tears as relics, and said to him: “Monseigneur, how hot you are!”

The bellringer looked at them piteously, and in spite of himself, made grimaces with his nose.

But as the tears were rolling copiously from his eyes, the women said:

“Great Saint Martin, are you weeping for the sins of the town of Ypres? Is not that your honoured nose moving? Yet we have followed the counsel of Louis Viv?s and the poor of Ypres will have wherewithal to work and wherewithal to eat. Oh! the big tears! They are pearls. Our salvation is here.”

The men said:

“Must we, great Saint Martin, pull down the Ketel-straat in our town? But teach us above all ways of preventing poor girls from going out at night and so falling into a thousand adventures.”

Suddenly the people cried out:

“Here is the beadle!”

Ulenspiegel then came up, and taking Pompilius round the body, carried him off on his shoulders followed by the crowd of devout men and women.

“Alas!” said the poor ringer, whispering in his ear, “I shall die of itch, my son.”

“Keep stiff,” answered Ulenspiegel; “do you forget that you are a wooden saint?”

He ran on at full speed and set down Pompilius before the provost who was currying himself with his nails till the blood came.

“Bellringer,” said the provost, “have you scratched yourself like us?”

“No, Messire,” answered Pompilius.

“Have you spoken or moved?”

“No, Messire,” replied Pompilius.

“Then,” said the provost, “you shall have your fifteen ducats. Now go and scratch yourself.”