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another smithy. This Slimbroek was an ugly, wizened, lean
and puny personage, white-faced, underhung in the jaw like
a fox, and nicknamed the Red on account of the colour of
his hair.

Skilled in intrigue, expert in sharp-practice, master of
arts in cant and hypocrisy, and making himself out to be the
finest of smiths, he had interested in his business all the rich
and gentle folk of the town, who from fear or otherwise held
to the Spaniards and wished ill to those of the reformed
faith. They were before, for the most part, customers of
Smetse, but Slimbroek had put them against him, saying :
" This Smetse is a knave to the bottom of his heart, he was
a marauder in his young days, sailing the seas with the men
W Zeeland in despite of Spain, on the side of this religion
which they call reformed. He still has many friends and
relatives in Walcheren, more particularly at Middelburg,
Arnemuiden, Camp-Veere, and Flushing, all obstinate Pro-
testants, and speaking of the Pope of Rome and my Lords
the Archdukes without veneration.

" And for the rest," added he, " this fellow Smetse is
altogether an atheist, reading the bible of Antwerp in despite
of the decrees, and going to church only because he is afraid,
and not at all because he will."

By such slanders as these Slimbroek robbed Smetse of
all his customers.

And soon the fire was out in the forge of the good smith,
and soon, too, the savings were eaten up, and Dame Misery
came to the dwelling.

///. Wherein Slimbroek is seen in the river prettily tricked
out.

Brought to this pass Smetse, nevertheless, would not let
himself take to despair ; but he was always sad and heavy
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Smetse Smee

of heart when, sitting in his cold smithy and looking at all
his good tools lying idle on the ground, he heard the fair
sound of hammers and anvils coming from Slimbroek's shop.

But what angered him most was that whenever he passed
before Slimbroek's dwelling the traitor carrot-head would
appear suddenly on the threshold, and, saluting him graciously
and giving him fair compliments, would make a hundred
flattering speeches, accompanied by as many hypocritical
salutations, and all for the sake of poking fun at him and to
laugh unkindly at his misery.

These ugly encounters and grimaces went on a long while,
and Smetse came to the end of his patience : " Ah," said
he, " it angers me to be in such poor case ; although I must
submit, for such is the holy will of God. But it irks me too
bitterly to see this wicked knave, who by his trickeries has
taken away all my customers, so amusing himself with my
misery."

Meanwhile Slimbroek spared him not at all, and each day
became sharper in speech, for the more wrong he did to the
good smith the more hate he bore him.

And Smetse swore to have his revenge on him, in such
a way as to spoil thenceforward his taste for mockery.

It so happened that one Sunday when he was standing
on the Quai des B ateliers, looking at the river with a crowd
of watermen, townsfolk, boys, and scholars who were idle
for the holy day, suddenly there came out of a pothouse,
wherein he had been swallowing many pints of ale, Slim-
broek, bolder than usual on account of the drink. Seeing
Smetse he came and placed himself close to him, and with
much gesticulation, loud bursts of talk and laughter, said to
him in an insolent tone : " Good day, Smetse, good day, my
worthy friend. How is thy fine face ? It seems to lose its
fat, which was of good quality, Smetse. 'Tis a great pity.
What is the reason for it ? Art thou angry at the loss of
thy customers, Smetse ? Thou must drink well to bring
back the joy to thy stomach, Smetse. We never see thee

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Flemish Legends

now at vespers in the inn of Pensaert ; why, Smetse ? Hast
no pennies to get drink ? I have plenty for thee, if thou
wilt, Smetse." And he shook his money-bag to make it
ring.

" Thank thee kindly," said Smetse, " thou art too
generous, Master Slimbroek, 'tis my turn to stand thee drink



now."



" Ah," cried Slimbroek, feigning pity and compassion,
" why wilt thou stand drink to me ? The world knows thou
art not rich, Smetse."

" Rich enough," answered the smith, " to stand thee the
best draught thou ever had."

" Hark to him," said Slimbroek to the crowd of watermen
and townsfolk, " hark to him. Smetse will stand us drink !
The world is coming to an end. 'Tis the year of golden
rags. Smetse will stand us drink ! Ah ! I shall taste with
great pleasure the bruinbier that Smetse will stand us. I
am thirsty as an African desert, thirsty as Sunday, thirsty
as a devil half-boiled in the cauldrons of Lucifer."

" Drink then, Slimbroek," said Smetse, and threw him
into the river.

Seeing this the people who were on the quay applauded
heartily, and all ran to the edge to have a good look at
Slimbroek, who, falling into the water head first, had struck
and broken through the belly of a dog a long while dead,
which was floating down on the stream as such carrion will.
And he was tricked out round the neck with this dog in a
most marvellous manner, nor could he get rid of it, being
busy with his arms at keeping himself afloat, and his face
was smeared all over with offensive matter.

Notwithstanding that he was half-blinded, he dared not
come out on to the quay where Smetse was, but swam off
towards the other bank, decked with his carrion and blowing
like a hundred devils.

" Well," said Smetse, " dost find the bruinbier to thy
liking ; is it not the best in all the land of Flanders ? But
1 06



Smetse Smee

my good sir, take off thy bonnet to drink ; such headgear
is not worn for river parties."

When Slimbroek was in midstream, over against the
bridge, Smetse went up on to this bridge with the other
onlookers, and Slimbroek, in the midst of his puffing and
snorting, cried out to Smetse : " I'll have thee hanged,
accursed reformer ! "

" Ah," said the good smith, " you are mistaken, my
friend ; 'tis not I who am the reformer, but you, who devise
these new bonnets. Where got you this one ? I have never
seen such a one, neither so beautiful, nor so richly ornamented
with tufts and hangings. Is the fashion coming to Ghent
by and by ? "

Slimbroek answered nothing, and struggled to get rid of
the dead dog, but in vain, and having paused in his swimming
for this purpose, went down to the bottom, and came up
again more furious than ever, blowing harder, and trying
all the while to tear off the body."

" Leave your hat on, my master," said Smetse, " do not
so put yourself out in order to salute me, I am not worth the
trouble. Leave it on."

At last Slimbroek climbed out of the water. On the quay
he shook off the dog hastily and made away as fast as he
could to his dwelling. But he was followed by a crowd of
young watermen and boys, who ran after him hooting,
whistling, covering him with mud and other filth. And
they continued to do the same to his house-front after he
had gone in.

IF. Of the two branches.

In this wise Smetse had his revenge on Slimbroek, who
thereafter dared not look him in the face, and hid when he
passed.

But the good smith, nevertheless, had no more pleasure
in anything than before, for with every passing day he became
more and more needy, having already, with his wife, used

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Flemish Legends

up what help came to them from the guild, and also a small
sum of silver from Middelburg in Walcheren.

Ashamed to get his living by begging and knavery, and
knowing how to bear with his lot no longer, he resolved to
kill himself.

So one night he left his house, and went out to the moats
of the town, which are bordered by fine trees, forked and
spreading down to the ground. There he fastened a stone
to his neck, commended his soul to God, and, stepping back
three paces to get a better start, ran and jumped.

But while he was in the very act he was caught suddenly
by two branches, which, falling upon his shoulders, gripped
him like man's hands and held him fast where he was. These
branches were neither cold nor hard, as wood naturally is,
but supple and warm. And he heard at the same instant
a strange and scoffing voice saying : " Where goest thou,
Smetse ? "

But he could not answer by reason of his great astonish-
ment.

And although there was no wind the trunks and branches
of the tree moved and swung about like serpents uncoiling,
while all around there crackled above ten hundred thousand
sparks.

And Smetse grew more afraid, and a hot breath passed
across his face, and the voice, speaking again, but nearer,
or so it seemed, repeated : " Where goest thou, Smetse ? "

But he could not speak for fear, and because his throttle
was dry and his teeth chattering.

" Why," said the voice, " dost not dare answer him who
wishes thee naught but well ? Where goest thou, Smetse ? "

Hearing so pleasant and friendly a speech, the good smith
took heart and answered with great humility : " Lord whom
I cannot see, I was going to kill myself, for life is no longer
bearable."

" Smetse is mad," said the voice.

" So I am, if you will, Lord," answered the smith ; " never-
108




SMETSE CAUGHT BY THE TWO BRANCHES



Smetse Smee

theless when my smithy is lost to me by the cunning of a
wicked neighbour, and I have no way to live but by begging
and knavery, 'twould be greater madness in me to live than
to die."

" Smetse," said the voice, " is mad to wish himself dead,
for he shall have again, if he will, his fair smithy, his good
red fire, his good workmen, and as many golden royals in
his coffers as he sees sparks in this tree."

" I," exclaimed the smith in great delight, " shall never
have such fine things as that ! They are not for such miser-
ables as I."

" Smetse," said the voice, " all things are possible to my
master."

" Ah," said the smith, " you come from the devil, Lord ? "

" Yes," answered the voice, " and I come to thee on his
account to propose a bargain : For seven years thou shalt
be rich, thou shalt have thy smithy the finest in the town of
Ghent ; thou shalt win gold enough to pave the Quai aux
Oignons ; thou shalt have in thy cellars enough beer and
wine to wet all the dry throttles in Flanders ; thou shalt eat
the finest meats and the most delicate game ; thou shalt
have hams in plenty, sausages in abundance, mince-pies in
heaps ; every one shall respect thee, admire thee, sing thy
praises ; Slimbroek at the sight of it shall be filled with
rage ; and for all these great benefits thou hast only to give
us thy soul at the end of seven years."

" My soul ? " said Smetse, " 'tis the only thing I have ;
would you not, My Lord Devil, make me rich at a less
price ? "

" Wilt thou or wilt thou not, smith ? " said the voice.

" Ah," answered Smetse, " you offer me things that are
very desirable, even, My Lord Devil (if I may say it without
offence), more than I wish ; for if I might have only my
forge and enough customers to keep the fire alight I should
be happier than My Lord Albert or Madam Isabella."

" Take or leave it, smith," said the voice.

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Flemish Legends

" Lord Devil," answered Smetse, " I beg you not to
become angry with me, but to deign to consider that if you
give me but my forge, and not all this gold, wine, and meats,
you might perhaps be content to let my soul burn for a
thousand years, which time is not at all to be compared with
the great length of all eternity, but would seem long enough
to whomever must pass it in the fire."

" Thy forge for thee, thy soul for us ; take or leave it,
smith," said the voice.

" Ah," lamented Smetse, " 'tis dear bought, and no offence
to you, Lord Devil."

" Well then, smith," said the voice, " to riches thou
preferest beggary ? Do as thou wilt. Ah, thou wilt have
great joy when, walking with thy melancholy countenance
about the streets of Ghent, thou art fled by every one and
dogs snap at thy heels ; when thy wife dies of hunger, and
thou chantest mea culpa in vain ; then when, alone in the
world, thou beatest on thy shrunken belly the drum for a
feast, and the little girls dancing to such music give thee a
slap in the face for payment ; then, at last, when thou dost
hide thyself in thy house so that thy rags shall not be seen
in the town, and there, scabby, chatter-tooth, vermin-fodder,
thou diest alone on thy dung-hill like a leper, and art put
into the earth, and Slimbroek comes to make merry at thy
downfall."

" Ah," said Smetse, " he would do it, the knave."

*\Do not await this vile end," said the voice, " it were
better to die now : leap into the water, Smetse ; leap,
Smee."

" Alas," lamented he, " if I give myself to you, I shall
burn for all eternity."

" Thou wilt not burn," said the voice, " but serve us for
food, good smith."

" I ? " cried Smetse, much frightened at these words,
" do you think to eat me down there ? I am not good for
eating, I must tell you. There is no meat more sour, tough,
no



Smetse Smee

common, and vulgar than mine is. It has been at one time
and another diseased with plague, itch, and other vile
maladies. Ah, I should make you a shabby feast, you and
the others, My Lord Devil, who have in hell so many souls
which are noble, succulent, tasty, and well-fed. But mine
is not at all good, I declare."

" Thou art wrong, smith," said the voice. " Souls of
wicked emperors, kings, princes, popes, famous captains of
arms, conquerors, slayers of men, and other brigands, are
always as hard as an eagle's beak ; for sp their omnipotence
fashions them ; we break our teeth .off bit by bit in eating
them. Others, having been eaten up beforehand by ambition
and cruelty, which are like ravenous worms, give us hardly
a crumb to pick. Souls of girls who, without want or hunger,
sell for money what nature bids them give for nothing, are
so rotten, putrid, and evil-smelling that the hungriest of
devils will not touch them. Souls of vain men are bladders,
and within there is nothing but wind ; 'tis poor food. Souls
of hypocrites, canters,, liars, are like beautiful apples without,
but beneath the skin are full of bile, gall, sour wine, and
frightful poison ; none of us will have any ado with them.
Souls of envious men are as toads, who from spleen at being
so ugly, run yellow spittle on whatever is clean and shining,
from mouth, feet, and all their bodies. Souls of gluttons
are naught but cow-dung. Souls of good drinkers are always
tasty, and above all when they have about them the heavenly
smell of good wine and good bruinbier. But there is no soul
so tasty, delectable, succulent, or of such fine flavour as that
of a good woman, a good workman, or a good smith such as
thou. For, working without intermission, they have no time
for sin to touch and stain them, unless it be once or twice
only, and for this reason we catch them whenever we can ; but
'tis a rare dish, kept for the royal table of My Lord Lucifer."

" Ah," said Smetse, " you have made up your mind to
eat me, I see well enough ; nevertheless 'twould not cost you
much to give me back my forge for nothing."

in



Flemish Legends

" 'Tis no great discomfort," said the voice, " to be so
eaten, for My Lord and King has a mouth larger than had
the fish whereby Jonah the Jew was swallowed in olden time ;
thou wilt go down like an oyster into his stomach, without
having been wounded by his teeth in any wise ; there, if it
displease thee to stay, thou must dance with feet and hands
as hard as thou canst, and My Lord will at once spit thee
out, for he will not find it possible to stand for long such a
drubbing. Falling at his feet thou wilt show him a joyous
face, a steady look in his eyes, and a good countenance, and
the same to Madam Astarte, who, without a doubt, will
take thee for her pet, as she has done already to several ;
thereafter thou wilt have a joyous time, serving My Lady
merrily and brushing his hair for My Lord ; as for the rest
of us, we shall be right glad to have you with us, for, among
all these familiar vile and ugly faces of conquerors, plunderers,
thieves, and assassins, 'twill do us good to see the honest
countenance of a merry smith, as thou art."

" My Lord Devil," said Smetse, " I do not merit such
honour. I can well believe, from what you tell me, that 'tis
pleasant enough down there with you. But I should be ill
at ease, I must tell you, being naturally uncouth in the
company of strangers ; and so I should bring no joy with
me, and should not be able to sing ; and therefore you would
get but poor amusement from me, I know in advance. Ah,
give me back rather my good forge and my old customers,
and hold me quit ; this would be the act of a royal devil
and would sit well upon you."

Suddenly the voice spoke with anger : " Smith, wilt thou
pay us in such ape's coin ? Life is no longer of benefit to
thee, death is abhorrent, and thou wouldst have from us
without payment the seven full, rich and joyous years which
I offer thee. Accept or refuse, thy forge for thee, thy soul
for us, under the conditions I have told thee."

" Alas," said Smetse, " then I will have it so, since it
must be, Lord Devil ! "
112



Smetse Smee

" Well then," said the voice, " set thy mark in blood to
this deed."

And a black parchment, with a crow's quill, fell from the
tree at the smith's feet. He read on the parchment, in
letters of fire, the pact of seven years, opened his arm with
his knife, and signed with the crow's quill. And while he
was still holding the parchment and the quill, he felt them
suddenly snatched from his hands with violence, but he saw
nothing, and only heard a noise as of a man running in
slipper-shoes, and the voice saying as it went into the distance :
" Thou hast the seven years, Smetse." And the tree ceased
its swaying, and the sparks in the branches went out.

V . Of the flaming ball, of the forge relit, and of the terrible great
buffet which the man with the lantern gave to Smetse's wife.

Smetse, greatly amazed, rubbed his eyes, thinking he was
dreaming. Suddenly shaking himself : " This devil," said
he, " was he not making fun of me after all ? Have I verily
gotten my good forge back again ? I will go and see."

Having said this he started running in haste, and from
far away saw a great light reddening the sky above the
houses, and it seemed to him that the fire sending up this
light was on the Quai aux Oignons ; and he said to himself :
" Could that be my forge ? " And he ran the faster.

Coming to the quay he found it lit up as if by a sun, from
the paving-stones up to the tops of the trees which stood
alongside, and he said to himself : " It is my forge."

Then he was seized and shaken with joy, his legs failed
him, and his breath grew short ; but he kept running as
hard as he could, and coming at last to his house he saw his
smithy wide open as in the daytime, and at the back of it
a great bright fire.

Unable to contain himself at this sight he fell to dancing,
leaping, and bursting out into laughter, crying : "I have
my forge, my own forge ! Ghent is mine ! " Then he went
in. Inspecting, examining, touching everything, he saw at

H 113



Flemish Legends

the sides, laid out in good order, iron of all kinds : armour-
iron, iron bars, plough-iron. " By Artevelde ! " he said,
" the devil was not lying ! " And he took up a bar, and
having made it red with the fire, which was done quickly,
started beating it, making the hammer ring on the anvil like
thunder, and crying : " Ha, so I have my good tools back
again, and hear once more this good music which has so
long been silent ! " And while he was wiping away a tear
of joy, which gave an unaccustomed wetness to his eye, he
saw on a chest near by a good pewter pot standing, and
beside it a fine mug, and he filled up the mug several times
and drank it down with relish : " Ah," he said, " the good
bruinbier, the drink which makes men ! I had lost the taste
for it ! How good it is ! " Then he went back to hammering
the iron bar.

While he was making all this noise, he heard himself
called by name, and looking to see whence the voice came
he perceived his wife in the half-open door which led from
the kitchen, thrusting through her head and looking at him
with a startled face.

" Smetse," she said, " is it thou, my man ? "

" Yes, wife," said he.

" Smetse," she said, " come close to me, I dare not set
foot in this forge."

" And why not, wife ? " said he.

" Alas," she said, clinging to him and gazing into the
forge, " wert thou alone there, my man ? "

" Yes," said he.

" Ah," she said, " Smetse, while you were away there
were strange happenings ! "

" What happenings, wife ? "

" As I was lying in bed," she said, " suddenly the house
trembled, and a flaming ball passed across our room, went
out through the door, without hurting anything, down the
stairs, and into the forge, where, bursting, as I suppose, it
made a noise like a hundred thunder-claps. Suddenly all
114



Smetse Smee

the windows and doors were thrown open with a great clatter
Getting out of bed, I saw the quay all lit up, as it is now.
Then, thinking that our house was on fire, I came down in
haste, went into the forge, saw the fire lit, and heard the
bellows working noisily. In each corner the iron of different
kinds arranged itself in place according to the work for which
it was used ; but I could see no hands moving it, though
there must have been some for sure. I began to cry out in
a fright, when suddenly I felt, as it were, a glove of hot
leather pressed against my mouth and holding it shut, while
a voice said : ' Do not cry out, make no sound, if thou wilt
not have thy husband burnt alive for the crime of sorcery.'
Nevertheless he who thus ordered me to keep silent made
himself more noise than I should ever have dared, but by
a miracle none of our neighbours heard it. As for me, my
man, I had no more heart to make a sound, and I fled back
hither into the kitchen, where I was praying to God when
I heard thy voice, and dared to open the door a crack. Oh,
my man, since thou art here, explain, if thou can, all this
tumult."

" Wife," answered Smetse, " we must leave that to those
more learned than ourselves. Think only to obey the order
of the voice : keep thy mouth shut, speak to no one of what
thou hast seen to-night, and go back to thy bed, for it is
still pitch-dark."

" I go," she said, " but wilt thou not come also, my
man ? "

" I cannot leave the forge," said he.

While he was speaking thus there came towards them,
one after another, a baker carrying new-baked bread, a grocer
carrying cheeses, and a butcher carrying hams.

Smetse knew well enough that they were devils, from
their white faces, hollow eyes, scorched hair, twisted fingers,
and also from the fact that they walked with so little sound.

His wife, amazed to see them coming into her house with
all this food, would have stopped them, but they slipped

5



Flemish Legends

between her hands like eels, and went into the kitchen,
walking straight and silently.

There, without a word spoken, the baker arranged his
loaves in the pan, while the butcher and grocer put their
cheeses and hams in the cool of the cellar. And they finished
their work, taking no notice of the smith's wife, who kept
crying : " 'Tis not here you must bring these things ; you
have made a mistake, I tell you, my good men. Go else-
whither."

But they, notwithstanding her voice, arranged the loaves,
meat, and cheeses quietly.

This made the good woman more than ever put out, and
she grew angry : " I tell you," she exclaimed, " you have
made a mistake ; do you not hear me ? You have made a
mistake, 'tis not here you should be ; I say here, with us,
in this place, in the house of Smetse the beggar, who has not
a farthing to his name, who will never pay you. Alas, they
will not listen to me ! "

And crying out at the top of her voice : " Masters, you
are at Smetse's, do you not understand ? Smetse the beggar !
Do I not say it loud enough ? Jesus, Lord, God ! Smetse
the needy ! Smetse the ragged ! Smetse the starved ! Smetse
who is rich in nothing but lice ! Who will pay you nothing : do
you hear me ? Who will pay you nothing, nothing, nothing ! "

" Wife," said the smith, " you are losing your head, my
dear. 'Tis I who sent for these good men."

" Thou ! " said his wife, " thou ! but thou art mad, my
man ; yes, he is mad, my masters, altogether mad. Ah, 'tis
thou who sent for them ! 'Tis thou who sendest for loaves,
hams, and cheeses in this profusion, like a rich man, when
thou knowest well enough we cannot pay for them, and so
showest thy bad faith ! "

" Wife," answered Smetse quietly, " we are rich, and will
pay for everything."


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