The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book III Chapter 44

The bell called Borgstrom rang next day to summon the bailiff, aldermen, and clerks of the court to the Vierschare on the four turf benches, under the tree of justice, which was a noble lime tree. All around were the common folk. Being interrogated the fishmonger would confess nothing, even when he was shown the three fingers severed by the soldier, and missing from his right hand. He kept saying:

“I am poor and old; have compassion.”

But the common folk hooted him, saying:

“Thou art an old wolf, a child killer; do not have pity on him, judges.”

The women said:

“Look not on us with thy cold eyes; thou art a man and not a devil; we do not fear thee. Cruel beast, more coward than a cat devouring small birds in the nest, thou didst kill poor little girls asking to live their pretty little lives in all honesty.”

“Let him pay by slow fire, by red-hot pincers,” cried Toria.

And in spite of the sergeants of the commune, the mothers egged on the lads to throw stones at the fishmonger. And the boys did so eagerly, hooting him every time he looked at them and crying incessantly: “Blood-zuyger, blood-sucker! Sla dood, kill, kill!”

And Toria cried without ceasing:

“Let him pay by slow fire; by red-hot pincers let him pay!”

And the populace growled.

“See,” said the women among each other, “how cold he is under the sun that shines in the sky, warming his white hairs and his face torn by Toria.”

“And he shivers with pain.”

“’Tis the justice of God.”

“And he stands there with a lamentable air.”

“See his murderer’s hands tied before him and bleeding from the wounds of the trap.”

“Let him pay, let him pay!” cried Toria.

He said, bemoaning himself:

“I am poor, let me go.”

And everyone, nay, even the judges, mocked as they listened to him. He wept feigningly, meaning to touch their hearts. And the women laughed.

The evidence being sufficient to warrant torture, he was condemned to be put on the bench until he had confessed how he killed, whence he came, where were the spoils of the victims, and the place where he had his gold hidden.

Being in the torture chamber, and shod with foot-gear of new leather too small for him, and the bailiff asking him how Satan had come to suggest to him such black designs and crimes so abominable, he replied:

“Satan is myself, my natural being. Already when a small boy, but ugly to look on, unfit for all bodily exercise, I was held a ninny by everybody and often beaten. Lad nor lass had pity never. In my adolescence no women would have me, not even though I paid. Then I put on cold hatred against every being born of a woman. That was why I denounced Claes, beloved of all. And I loved but Money only, that was my darling, white or golden; to have Claes killed I found both profit and pleasure. After I must live like a wolf more than ever, and I dreamed of biting. Passing through Brabant, I saw there the waffle irons of that country and thought that one of them would be a good iron mouth for me. Why do not I have you by the neck, you evil tigers, that delight in an old man’s torment! I would bite you with greater joy than the soldier and the little girl. For her, when I saw her so sweet, sleeping on the sand in the sun, holding the little bag of money in her hands, I felt love and pity; feeling myself too old and not being able to take her, I bit her…”
The bailiff asking him where he lived, the fishmonger replied:

“At Ramskapelle, whence I go to Blanckenberghe, to Heyst, even as far as Knokke. On Sundays and feast days, I make waffles, after the fashion of those of Brabant, in all the villages with yonder machine. It is always very clean and well oiled. And this novelty of foreign parts was well received. If you should please to know more, and how it was that no one could recognize me, I will tell you that by day I reddened my face with rouge and painted my hair red. As for the wolf skin you are pointing to with your cruel finger, questioning me, I will tell you, defying you, that it comes from two wolves killed by me in the woods of Raveschoot and of Maldeghen. I had but to sew the skins together to cover myself with them. I hid it in a box in the dunes of Heyst; there are also the clothes stolen by me to sell later at a fit opportunity.”

“Take him from before the fire,” said the bailiff. The tormentor obeyed.

“Where is thy gold?” said the bailiff again.

“The king shall never know,” replied the fishmonger.

“Burn him with the candles nearer him,” said the bailiff. “Put him closer to the fire.”

The tormentor obeyed and the fishmonger cried:

“I will say nothing. I have spoken too much; ye will burn me. I am no sorcerer; why do ye set me at the fire again? My feet are bleeding from the burns. I will say nothing. Why nearer now? They bleed, I tell you, they bleed; these slippers are boots of red-hot iron. My gold? Ah, well, my only friend in this world, it is … take me away from the fire; it is in my cave at Ramskapelle, in a box … leave it to me; grace and mercy, master judges; cursed tormentor, take the candles away… He burns me more … it is in a box with a false bottom wrapped in wool, so as to avoid a noise if any one shakes the box; now I have told all; take me away.”

When he was taken away from before the fire, he smiled maliciously.

The bailiff asked him why.

“’Tis for comfort at being eased,” replied he.

The bailiff said to him:

“Did no one ever ask thee to let him see thy toothed waffle iron?”

The fishmonger replied:

“It was seen like any other, save that it is pierced with holes in which I was wont to screw the iron teeth at dawn I took them out; the peasants prefer my waffles to those of the other sellers; and they call them ‘Waefels met brabandsche knoopen’, ‘waffles with brabant buttons’, because when the teeth are away, the empty holes make little half spheres like buttons.”

But the bailiff:

“When didst thou bite the poor victims?”

“By day and by night. By day I used to wander about the dunes and the highways, carrying my waffle iron, keeping in hiding, and especially on Saturday, the day of the great Bruges market. If I saw some rustic pass, wandering melancholy, I left him alone, judging that his trouble was a flux of the purse; but I used to walk along by him whom I saw journeying merrily; when he did not look for it I would bite him in the neck and take his satchel.

And not only in the dunes, but on all the byways and highways of the flat country.”
The bailiff then said:

“Repent and pray unto God.”

“It is the Lord God that willed I should be what I am. I did all without my will, egged on by Nature’s will. Wicked tigers, ye will punish me unjustly. But do not burn me … I did all without my will; have pity, I am poor and old; I shall die of my wounds; do not burn me.”

He was then taken to the Vierschare, under the lime tree, there to hear his sentence in the presence of all the people assembled.

And he was condemned, as a horrible murderer, robber, and blasphemer, to have his tongue pierced with a red-hot iron, his right hand cut off, and to be burned alive in a slow fire, until death ensued, before the doors of the Townhall.

And Toria cried:

“It is just; he pays!”

And the people cried:

“Lang leven de Heeren van de Wet,” long life to the men of the law.

He was taken back into prison, where he was given meat and wine. And he was merry, saying that he had never till then eaten or drunk, either, but that the king, inheriting his goods, could well pay for his last meal for him.

And he laughed sourly.

The next day, at the first of dawn, while they were taking him to execution, he saw Ulenspiegel standing beside the stake, and he cried out, pointing to him with his finger:

“That one there, murderer of an old man, ought to die as well; he flung me into the canal of Damme, ten years ago, because I had denounced his father, wherein I had served His Catholic Majesty as a faithful subject.”

The bells of Notre Dame rang for the dead.

“For thee even as for me are those bells tolling,” said he to Ulenspiegel; “thou shalt be hanged, for thou hast killed.”

“The fishmonger lies,” cried all the common folk; “he lies, the murdering ruffian.”

And Toria, like a madwoman, cried out, flinging a stone at him that cut his forehead:

“If he had drowned thee, thou wouldst not have lived to bite my poor girl, like a bloodsucking vampire.”

As Ulenspiegel uttered no word, Lamme said:

“Did any see him throw the fishmonger in the water?”

Ulenspiegel made no answer.

“No, no,” shouted the people; “he lied, the murderer!”

“No, I lied not,” cried the fishmonger, “he threw me in, while I implored him to forgive me, and by the same token, I got out by the help of a skiff tied up alongside the high bank. Wet through and shivering, I could scarcely get back to my poor home. I had the fever then, none looked after me, and I deemed I must die.”

“Thou liest,” said Lamme; “no man saw it.”

“No, no man saw it,” cried Toria. “To the fire with the murderer. Before he dies he wants an innocent victim; let him pay! He has lied. If thou didst do it, confess not, Ulenspiegel. There are no witnesses. Let him pay by slow fire, by red-hot pincers.”

“Didst thou commit the murder?” the bailiff asked Ulenspiegel.

Ulenspiegel replied:

“I flung the murderer, the denouncer of Claes, into the water. My father’s ashes were beating on my heart.”

“He confesseth,” said the fishmonger; “he shall die even as I. Where is the gallows, that I may see it? Where is the executioner with the sword of justice? The death bells are ringing for thee, rascal, murderer of an old man.”

Ulenspiegel said:

“I threw thee into the water to kill thee; the ashes were beating on my heart.”

And among the people, the women said:

“Why confess it, Ulenspiegel? No man saw it, now thou shalt die.”

And the prisoner laughed, leaping for bitter joy, waving his arms that were tied and covered with blood-stained wrappings.

“He will die,” he said, “he will pass from earth into hell, the rope about his neck, as a ragamuffin, a robber, a rascal: he will die, God is just.”

“He shall not die,” said the bailiff. “After ten years, murder may not be punished in the soil of Flanders. Ulenspiegel committed a bad action, but through filial love: Ulenspiegel will not be prosecuted for this deed.”

“Long live the law!” cried the people. “Lang leven de Wet.”

The bells of Notre Dame rang for the dead. And the prisoner gnashed his teeth, drooped his head, and wept his first tear.

And he had his hand cut off, and his tongue pierced with a hot iron, and he was burned alive by a slow fire before the doorway of the Townhall.

At the point of death he yelled:

“The king shall not have my gold; I lied… Evil tigers, I will come back to bite you.”

And Toria cried:

“He pays, he pays! They writhe and twist, the arms and the legs that ran to murder: it smokes, the murderer’s body; his white hair, hy?na’s hair, burns on his pale face. He pays! He pays!”

And the fishmonger died, howling like a wolf.

And the bells of Notre Dame tolled for the dead.

And Lamme and Ulenspiegel mounted upon their asses again.

And Nele, sad and grieving, dwelt with Katheline, who said, without ceasing:

“Take away the fire! my head is burning; come back, Hanske, my darling.”