Van Paassen Pierre - To Number Our Days

Author : Van Paassen Pierre
Title : To Number Our Days
Year : 1964

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The Ashes of Klaas. AND IT CAME to pass in the tenth year of the reign of King Philip that a new wave of persecution broke over the Netherlands. In every town and village the clouds of smoke of the autos-da-fé hung over the market places like a pail of doom. On a mere whispered word of denunciation, men and women were dragged from their bouses in the dead of night and led before the infamous Blood Tribunal. If a burgher was found guilty of heresy, ali his goods, movable and immovable, were confiscated and he himself sentenced to be burnt at the stake. And the informers received one third of the victim's property, and the King, though far away in his palace of the Escurial, inherited the rest. Now it so happened that ~ong the thousands of Hollanders and Flemings caught in the Blood Tribunal's dragnet was a humble charcoal humer by the name of Klaas who lived with his wife Soetkin and their twelve year old son Tyl, in a back street of the town of Damme in West Flanders. He was a man of open countenance and blue eyes wearing a trim pointed beard, ash-blond in color. Of frank speech and the jovial disposition of character often portrayed in the pictures of Jan Steen, Klaas talked a good deal, but he laughed still more. Once a day he drank beer in a tavem on the Grand' Place where he astonished bystanders with a display of inordinate physical strength by lifting a full barrel above his head. But he was not a heretic. His misadventures stemmed from the circumstance that he bad lately come into sorne money through a legacy from an uncle who died in a faraway country. An envious neighbor carried word to Johannes Titelman, the Grand Inquisitor, that the said Klaas kept a roll of gold ducats concealed in or about his' cottage. Also that he bad uttered blasphemy conceming the sacred oils employed by the Church in the administration of extreme unction. Thereupon the civic guards came to Klaas' dwelling, clamped irons around the charcoal burner's legs and led him before the Blood Tribunal. Then said the Grand Inquisitor with a disarming smile: "I pray thee, Klaas, tell me what may be thine opinion of oill" And Klaas, unsuspecting the trap, smiled back and replied: "Of oil, Most Reverend Father, I would say that it is a necessary, if not indispensable ingredient in the preparation of salad. . . . But it's also useful in another way in that one may conveniently grease one's boots therewith .... " And he laughed out loud. Upon hearing these words the Grand Inquisitor rose and, turning to his clerks and assistants, exclaimed: "What further need is there toquestion this man? He has freely confessed his blasphemies .... Ye have beard how he cast vile aspersions on our sacred religion. . . . Methinks, he deserves the death penalty. Accordingly, I turn him over to the secular arm for further questioning and punishment. ... " Then the bailiffs seized Klaas and bound him to the rack or pain hench, the pynbank, as they say in the Flemish tongue. And they tortured him by holding burning candies to the soles of his feet and under his armpits. Y et, however fierce the torment, the man made no outcry, not even when red-hot pincers were applied to his Hesh and his tongue was pierced for uttering ungodliness. But he did not disclose the biding place of the gold coins. And for once the King did not inherit. And Klaas was burnt by slow fire in the square of Damme before the portais of Our Lady's church in the presence of a vast throng while the belis pealed a salute to the incoming month of May, the month of Mary, full of grace. And when darkness descended, Soetkin took her son Tyl by the Iiand and walked to the place of execution. She spoke to the sentine! who was posted where still hung the charred corpse of her husband: "Messire Sergeant, as a son of Flanders, have compassion on this man's widow and orphan, and suffer us to pray for the repose of his dear soul." And the sergeant replied: "Pray if you will, but make sure to depart before dawn lest I be found transgressing the law which forbids granting favors to the relatives of a heretic." And Soetkin thanked the guard and knelt down and wept bitterly. After a time she rose to her feet and approached the body and touched it. And with a knife she scraped sorne ashes from the region of her dead man's heart. And she caught the ashes in her bands and carried them home. Then she made a sachet of two pieces of silk of equal size, one piece scarlet in color, the other black. And she sewed them together with needle and thread, and, after placing the ashes inside, hung the sachet by a cord around her son's neck. Then said Soetkin ta Tyl: "My son, the red is for the innocent blood shed in our land, and the black is the token of our mourning. ... I place these ashes on your heart and the hearts of ali those who come after you in these Netherlands as long as our race endures. And whenever an injustice is committed in any place whatsoever in the whole wide world, these ashes will warn you and your sons by stirring and beating upon your breasts. And upon feeling the ashes knock, you will open your hearts and go ta the aid of those who are oppressed. And you will stand by those who are reviled and persecuted for conscience's sake. And you will üght their hattie for those who cannat defend themselves because of their chains or dungeons. Nor will you count the cost to yourselves even if your life be imperiled .... "Will you, Tyl my son," asked she, "answer the call of the ashes of Klaas, your father?" And the son answered his mother and said: "I will itl" And the widow embraced the orphan and the sun rose. ...

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