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" We rich ? " she said, " ah, poor beggarman. Do I not
know what is in our chest ? Hast ever put thy nose in to

Smetse Smee

see, any more than in the bread-pan ? Art thou become the
housewife ? Alas, my man is mad, God help us ! "

Meanwhile the three men came back into the smithy.

Seeing them again, the wife ran to them : " Master trades-
men," said she, " you heard me well enough, for you are
not deaf, I believe ; we have nothing, we can pay you
nothing ; take back your provisions."

But without looking at her, nor seeming to hear her, the
three went off, walking stiff and silently.

No sooner had they gone out than a brewer's cart drew
up at the door, and the brewer's men came into the smithy
carrying between them a great barrel full of bruinbier.

" Smetse," said his wife, " this is too much ! Master
brewers, this is not for us ; we do not like beer at all, we
drink water. Take this barrel to one of our neighbours, it
is no concern of ours, I tell you."

None the less the brewer's men took down the barrel of
bruinbier into the cellar, came up again, and went out to
fetch others, and placed them alongside the first to the
number of twenty. The good wife, trying to stop them,
was pushed aside, while Smetse could not speak for laughing,
and could only draw her to his side, and so prevent her from
hurting herself on the barrels, which the men were carrying
from street to cellar with marvellous speed and dispatch.

" Oh," she wailed, " let me be ! This is too much,
Smetse ! Alas ! Now we are worse than beggars, we are
debtors, Smetse : I shall go and throw myself into the river,
my man. To run up debts to fill a famished stomach, that
is shame enough ; but to do so from simple gluttony, that
is unbearable deceit. Canst thou not be content with bread
and water got honestly with thy two hands ? Art thou then
become such a delicate feeder that thou must have cakes,
fine cheeses, and full barrels ? Smetse, Smetse, that is not
like a good man of Ghent, but rather like a Spanish rogue.
Oh, I shall go and drown myself, my man ! "

" Wife," said Smetse, troubled at seeing her in such


Flemish Legends

distress, " do not weep. 'Tis all ours, my dear, duly, and
by right."

" Ah," she said moaning, " 'tis an ill thing to lose in this
wise in your old age that honesty which was your only

While the smith was endeavouring, but in vain, to console
her, there entered a vintner followed by three-and-thirty
porters, each carrying a basket full of bottles containing
precious wines of great rarity, as was shown by the shape
of those said bottles.

When the good wife saw them she was overcome with
despair, and her courage failed her : " Come in," she said
in a piteous voice, " come in, master vintners ; the cellar
is below. You have there a goodly number of bottles, six
score for certain. That is none too much for us who are
wealthy, wealthy of misery, vermin, and lice ; come in, my
masters, that is the door of the cellar. Put them all there,
and more besides if you will."

And giving Smetse a push : " Thou art happy, no doubt,"
said she, " for 'tis a fine sight for a drunkard, such as thou
art, to see all this good wine coming into the house without
payment. Ah, he laughs ! "

" Yes, wife," said Smetse, " I laugh with content, for the
wines are ours, ours the meats, ours the loaves and cheeses.
Let us make merry over it together." And he tried to
embrace her : but she, shaking herself free : " Oh, oh," she
said, " he runs up debts, he tells lies, he laughs at his shame :
he has all the vices, none is wanting."

" Wife," said Smetse, " all this is ours, I tell thee again.
To this amount am I paid in advance for certain large orders
which have been graciously given me."

" Art thou not lying ? " said she, growing a little calmer.

" No," said he.

" All this is ours ? "

" Yes," he said, " by the word of honour of a citizen of

Smetse Smee

" Ah, my man, then we are henceforward out of our

" Yes, wife," said he.

" 'Tis a miracle from God."

" Alas," said he.

" But these men come hither by night, against the usual
custom, tell me the reason of that."

" He who knows the reason for everything," said Smetse,
" is an evil prier. Such a one am not I."

" But," said she, " they speak never a word."

" They do not like to talk," said Smetse, " that is clear.
Or it may be that their master chose them dumb, so that
they should not waste time chattering with housewives."

" Yes, that may be," she said, while the thirty-first porter
was going past, " but 'tis very strange, I cannot hear their
footfalls, my man ? "

" They have for certain," said Smetse, " soles to suit their

" But," she said, " their faces are so pale, sad, and
motionless, that they seem like faces of the dead."

" Night-birds have never a good complexion," said

" But," said his wife, " I have never seen these men
among the guilds of Ghent."

" Thou dost not know them all," said Smetse.

" That may be, my man."

In this manner the smith and his wife held converse
together, the one very curious and disturbed, the other
confused and ashamed at his lies.

Suddenly, as the three-and-thirtieth porter of the master-
vintner was going out of the door, there rushed in in great
haste a man of middling height, dressed in a short black
smock, pale-haired, large-headed, wan-faced, stepping deli-
cately, quick as the wind, stiff as a poker ; for the rest,
smiling continually, and carrying a lantern.

The man came up to Smetse hurriedly, without speaking


Flemish Legends

bade him follow, and seized him by the arm. When Smetse
hung back he made him a quick sign to have no fear, and
led him into the garden, whither they were followed by the
good wife. There he took a spade, gave his lantern to
Smetse to hold, dug in the earth rapidly and opened a great
hole, pulled out of the hole a leathern bag, opened it quickly,
and with a smile showed Smetse and his wife that it was
full of gold coin. The good wife cried out at the sight of
the gold, whereupon he gave her a terrible great buffet in
the face, smiled again, saluted, turned on his heel and went
off with his lantern.

The good wife, knocked down by the force of the blow,
and quite dazed, dared not cry out again, and only moaned
softly : " Smetse, Smetse," said she, " where art thou, my
man ? my cheek hurts me sorely."

Smetse went to her and picked her up, saying : " Wife,
let this buffet be a lesson to thee henceforward to control
thy tongue better ; thou hast disturbed with thy crying all
the good men who have come here this night for my good ;
this last was less patient than the rest and punished thee,
not without good reason."

" Ah," she said, " I did ill not to obey thee ; what must
I do now, my man ? "

" Help me," said Smetse, " to carry the bag into the

" That I will," she said.

Having taken in the bag, not without some trouble, they
emptied it into a coffer.

" Ah," she said, seeing the gold run out of the bag and
spread itself this way and that, " 'tis a fine sight. But who
was this man who showed thee this sack with such kindness,
and who gave me this terrible great blow ? "

" A friend of mine," said Smetse, " a great discoverer of
hidden treasure."

" What is his name ? " said she.

" That," said Smetse, " I am not allowed to tell thee."
1 20

Smetse Smee

" But, my man . . ."

" Ah, wife, wife," said Smetse, " thou wilt know too much.
Thy questioning will be thy death, my dear."
" Alas," said she.

VI. Wherein the wife of Smetse shows the great length of her

When the day was up, Smetse and his wife sat down
together to the good loaves, the fat ham, the fine cheese,
the double bruinbier y and the good wines, and so eased their
stomachs, hurt a little by being such a long while hungry.

Suddenly there came in all the old workmen, and they
said :

" Baes Smetse, thou didst send for us ; here we are, right
glad to see thy fire lit up again, and to work for thee who
wast always so good a master."

" By Artevelde ! " said Smetse, " here they all are : Pier,
Dolf, Flipke, Toon, Hendrik, and the rest. Good day, my
lads ! " and he gripped them by the hand, " we must drink."

While they were drinking, his wife said suddenly with a
toss of the head : " But no one sent for you all ! Is that
not so, Smetse ? "

" Wife, wife," said the smith, " wilt thou never learn to
hold thy to*ngue ? "

" But," said she, " I am speaking the truth, my man."

" Thou art speaking foolishly," said he, " of things whereof
thou knowest nothing. Stay in thy kitchen and do not come
meddling in my forge."

" Baesine" said Flipke, " without wishing to belie you,
I must tell you that a message was sent to us in the name
of the baes. For a man came in the middle of the night
knocking on the doors of our houses, shouting out that we
should all of us come hither without fail this morning for
work of great urgency, and that for this we should each be
given a royal as forfeit to our several masters. And we
came, all of us, not wishing to leave our baes in the lurch."


Flemish Legends

" 'Tis good of you," said Smetse, " ye shall have the
promised royal. But come with me, I will apportion to each
of you the usual task." This he did, and once again the
good music of sledges beating, anvils ringing, bellows blowing,
and workmen singing was heard in the forge of the good smith.

Meanwhile Smetse went to his wife and said to her with
great heat : " Dost think it a fine thing to gainsay me before
these good men ! Chattering magpie, wilt never learn to
hold thy tongue ? Hast not already to-night been admo-
nished sharply enough ? Must thou have more telling ? "

" But, Smetse," said his wife, " I did not know that you
had sent for them."

" That is no reason," he said, " why thou shouldst give
me the lie before all my workmen ; canst thou not leave
thy speaking until I have done, or else hold thy tongue
altogether, which would be better still."

" Smetse," said his wife, " I never saw you so angry
before. Do not beat me, my man, I will be henceforward
as dumb as this cheese."

" So you should," said Smetse.

" But, my man," said she, " canst not explain to me
somewhat of all these happenings ? "

" Sometime," he said, and went back into his smithy.

711. Of Smetse the Rich.

That day there came to Smetse many persons, both
notable and common, nobles, priests, burgesses, and peasants,
to give him orders for much work, and so it went on again
on other days, and all through the year.

Soon the smithy became too small, and Smetse had to
enlarge it by reason of the ever-growing numbers of his work-
men. And the work which they did was so beautiful and
so marvellously well done that the fame of it spread abroad
to foreign and distant countries, and people came to see and
admire it from Holland, Zeeland, Spain, Germany, England,
and even from the land of the Turk.


Smetse Smee

But Smetse, thinking of the seven years, was not happy
at all.

Soon his coffers were full of fine crusats, angelots, rose
nobles , and golden jewels. But he found no pleasure in
looking at all this wealth, for he thought them poor payment
for giving his soul to the devil for all the length of eternity.

Red Slimbroek lost all his customers, who came back one
by one to Smetse. Ragged and miserable he used to come
every day and lounge on the quay, watching from there the
bright fire glowing in the forge of the good smith, and, so
standing, he seemed dazed and stupid, like an owl watching
a doit. Smetse, knowing that he was needy, sent him several
customers to bring him some means of sustenance, and also
more than once a gift of money. But although he thus
repaid evil with good he was no longer happy, thinking of
the seven years.

Smetse's wife, finding him so wealthy, bought for dinner
each Sunday legs of fat mutton, geese, capons, turkeys, and
other good meats ; invited to her table his relatives, friends,
and workmen ; and then there would be a great feast, well
washed down with double bruinbier. But Smetse, though
he ate and drank like an emperor, was not at all happy,
thinking of the seven years. And the steam from the roast
meats spread abroad on the Quai aux Oignons, so fragrant
and succulent, and so sweetening the air, that all the dogs
wandering in the streets of the town would stop before the
house and sniff at the smell, and there on their haunches,
nose in air, would wait for crumbs : and the beggars, of
whom there were great numbers, came thither likewise and
tried to drive away the dogs. Thereupon ensued furious
battles, in which many were badly bitten. Seeing this,
Smetse's wife and other women would come every Sunday
to the door with baskets of alms, and there, before the meal
began, would give the beggars good bread, slices of meat,
and two farthings to get themselves drink, and all this with
soft words and fair speaking ; then they charged them to


Flemish Legends

go away from the quay, which they did in an orderly manner.
But the dogs stayed behind, and at the end of the feast there
was given to them likewise food of some sort. And then
they would go off also, taking each his bone or other booty.

Smetse and his wife together took both dogs and men
into their affection ; to the beggars he gave food and shelter ;
and so also to all the dogs of Ghent that were lame, infirm,
or sickly, until at length his house came to be called the
Dogs' Hospital and the Home of the Poor.

Nevertheless he was not at all happy, thinking of the
seven years.

Worn and troubled with these thoughts, Smetse stopped
singing and lost his fat, shrivelled visibly, became melancholy
and moody, and in his smithy said never a word, except to
give a necessary order.

And he was no longer called Smetse the Merry, but Smetse
the Rich.

And he counted the days.

VIII. How there came a ragged wayfarer to Smetse's door, and
with him, on an ass, a sweet wife and a little child.

On the two hundred and forty-fifth day of the seventh
year, when the plum-trees were in bloom, Smetse, dumb as
a stone, was taking a little noonday rest. He sat on a wooden
bench opposite his door, and with melancholy mien looked
at the trees planted all along the quay, and the small birds
playing among the branches or squabbling and pecking one
another over some morsel of food, and blinked in the bright
sun which made these birds so merry, and heard at his back
the goodly sounds of his forge, his wife preparing dinner, and
his workmen hurrying at their work so that they might be
off to their meal, for it was nearing the time ; and he said
to himself that in hell he would see neither the sun, nor the
birds, nor the trees with their load of green leaves, nor hear
any more the sounds of his forge, nor the smiths hurrying,
nor his good wife preparing dinner.

Smetse Smee

By and by the workmen came out, and Smetse was left
sitting alone on his bench, pondering in his mind whether
there were not some way whereby he might outwit the devil.

Suddenly there drew up at his door a man of piteous
appearance, with brown hair and beard, dressed like a ragged
townsman, and carrying a great staff in his hand. He was
walking beside an ass, and leading it along by a rein. On
the ass rode a sweet and beautiful young woman with a noble
mien, suckling a little child, who was quite naked, and of
such gentle and winsome countenance that the sight of it
warmed Smetse's heart.

The ass stopped at the door of the smithy and began to
bray loudly.

" Master smith," said the man, " our ass has cast one
of his shoes on his way hither, wilt thou be pleased to give
orders that another should be given him ? "

" I will do it myself," said Smetse, " for I am alone here."

" I should tell thee," said the man, " that we are beggars,
without money."

" Have no care for that," said Smetse, " I am rich enough
to be able to shoe in silver without payment all the asses in

Hearing this the woman alighted from the ass and asked
Smetse if she might sit down on the bench.

" Yes," said he.

And while he was fastening up the beast, paring his hoof
and fitting the shoe, he said to the man : " Whence come
you, with this woman and this ass ? "

" We come," said the man, " from a distant country, and
have still far to go."

" And this child whom I see naked," said Smetse, " does
he not oftentimes suffer from the cold ? "

" Nay," said the man, " for he is all warmth and all life."

" Well, well," said Smetse, " you do not cry down your
own children, master. But what is your meat and drink
while you are travelling in this manner ? "


Flemish Legends

" Water from streams," said the man, " and such bread
as is given us."

" Ah," said Smetse, " that is not much, I see, for the
ass's panniers are light. You must often go hungry."

" Yes," said the man.

" This," said Smetse, " is displeasing to me, and it is
most unwholesome for a nursing mother to suffer hunger,
for so the milk turns sour, and the child grows in sickly wise."
And he called out to his wife : " Mother, bring hither as
many loaves and hams as will fill the panniers of this beast.
And do not forget some double bruinbier, 'tis heavenly comfort
for poor travellers. And a good peck of oats for the ass."

When the panniers were filled and the beast shod, the
man said to Smetse : " Smith, it is in my mind to give thee
some recompense for thy great goodness, for such as thou
seest me I have great power."

" Yes," said Smetse, with a smile, " I can see that well

" I am," said the man, " Joseph, nominal husband of the
very blessed Virgin Mary, who is sitting on this bench, and
this child that she has in her arms is Jesus, thy Saviour."

Smetse, dumbfounded at these words, looked at the way-
farers with great astonishment, and saw about the man's
head a nimbus of fire, a crown of stars about the woman's,
and, about the child's, beautiful rays more brilliant than the
sun, springing from his head and girdling him round with

Thereupon he fell at their feet and said : " My Lord
Jesus, Madam the Virgin, and my Master St. Joseph, grant
me pardon for my lack of understanding."

To this St. Joseph replied : " Thou art an honest man,
Smetse, and righteous as well. For this reason I give thee
leave to make three requests, the greatest thou canst think
of, and my Lord Jesus will listen to them favourably."

At these words Smetse was filled with joy, for it seemed
to him that in this way he might perhaps escape the devil ;


Smetse Smee

but at the same time he did not dare to avow that he had
traded his soul away. So he remained in silence for a few
moments, thinking of what things he could ask, then sud-
denly said, with great respect : " My Lord Jesus, Madam
St. Mary, and you, Master St. Joseph, will you please to
enter my dwelling ? There I can tell you what boons I

" We will," said St. Joseph.

" Mother," said Smetse to his wife, " come hither and
look to the ass of these noble lords."

And Smetse went in before them, sweeping the threshold
so that there should be no dust to touch the soles of their feet.

And he took them into his garden, where there was a
fine plum-tree in full blossom. " My Lord, Madam, and
Sir," said Smetse, " will it please you to order that whosoever
shall climb up into this plum-tree shall not be able to come
down again unless I so desire ? "

" It will," said St. Joseph.

Thence he led the way into the kitchen, where there stood
a great and precious arm-chair, well padded in the seat, and
of enormous weight.

" My Lord, Madam, and Sir," said Smetse, " will it
please you that whosoever shall sit in this chair shall not be
able to rise unless I so desire ? "

" It will," said St. Joseph.

Then Smetse fetched a sack, and, showing it to them,
said : " My Lord, Madam, and Sir, will it please you that,
whatsoever his stature, man or devil shall be able to get into
this sack, but not out again, unless I so desire ? "

" It will," said St. Joseph.

" My Lord, Madam, and Sir," said Smetse, " thanks be
unto you. Now that I have made my three requests I have
naught else to ask of your goodness, save only your blessing."

" We will give it," said St. Joseph.

And he blessed Smetse, and thereafter the holy family
went upon their way.


Flemish Legends

IX. What Smetse did in order to keep his secret.

The good wife had heard nothing of what was said to her
man by the celestial wayfarers, and she was amazed to see
the behaviour and hear the speech of the good smith. But
she was more so than ever when, on the departure of the
all-powerful visitors, Smetse began to give forth bursts of
laughter, to rub his hands, take hold of her, thump her on
the chest, twist her this way and that, and say in a triumphant
tone : " It may be, after all, that I shall not burn, that I
shall not roast, that I shall not be eaten ! Art not glad of

" Alas/' she said, " I cannot understand what you are
talking about, my man ; have you gone mad ? "

" Wife," said Smetse, " do not show me the whites of
thine eyes in this pitiful manner, 'tis no time for that. Canst
not see how light my heart has grown ? 'Tis because I have
got rid of a burden on my shoulders heavier than the belfry
itself ; I say this belfry, our own, with the dragon taken
from that of Bruges. And I am not to be eaten. By
Artevelde ! my legs bestir themselves of their own accord
at the thought of it. I dance ! Wilt not do likewise ? Fie,
moody one, brewing melancholy when her man is so happy !
Kiss me, wife, kiss me, mother, for my proficiat ; and so
thou shouldst, for instead of despair I have found a good
and steadfast hope. They think to roast me with sauces
and feast off my flesh to their fill. I will have the laugh of
them. Dance, wife, dance ! "

" Ah, Smetse," said she, " you should take a purge, my
man ; they say 'tis good for madness."

" Thou," he said, tapping her on the shoulder with great
affection and tenderness, " talkest boldly."

" Hark," said she, " to the good doctor preaching reason
to me ! But wert thou mad or not, Smetse, doffing thy
bonnet as thou did to those beggars who came hither sowing
their lice ; giving to me, thy wife, their ass to hold ; filling
their hampers with our best bread, bruinbier, and ham ;

Smetse Smee

falling on thy knees before them to have their blessing, and
treating them like archdukes, with a torrent of My Lords,
Sirs, and Madams."

At these words Smetse saw well enough that the lordly
wayfarers had not wished to discover themselves to any but
he. " Wife," he said, " thou must not question me further,
for I can tell thee nothing of this mystic happening, which
it is not given thee to understand."

" Alas," said she, " then 'tis worse than madness, 'tis
mystery. Thou dost ill to hide thyself from me in this wise,
Smetse, for I have always lived in thy house, faithful to thee
only, cherishing thine honour, husbanding thy wealth, neither
lending nor borrowing, holding my tongue in the company
of other wives, considering thy secrets as mine own and
never breathing a word of them to any one."

" I know it," said Smetse, " thou hast been a good and
true wife."

" Then why," said she, " knowing this, hast thou not
more faith in me ? Ah, my man, it hurts me ; tell me the
secret, I shall know how to keep it, I promise thee."

" Wife," said he, " knowing nothing thou wilt be able to
hold thy tongue the more easily."

" Smetse," said she, " wilt thou verily tell me nothing ? "

" I cannot," said he.

" Alas," said she.

By and by the workmen came back, and Smetse gave
each of them a good royal to get themselves drink.

Whereat they were all so merry, and felt themselves so
rich, that for three days none of them put his nose into the
smithy, save one old man who was too withered, stiff, short
of breath, and unsteady on his legs to go swimming with the
others in the Lys, and afterwards drying in the sun among
the tall grasses, dancing in the meadows to the music of
rebecks, bagpipes, and cymbals, and at night in the tavern
emptying pots and draining glasses.

i 129

Flemish Legends

X. Of the Bloody Councillor.

At length the day came on which the good smith was
due to hand over his soul to the devil, for the seventh year
had run out, and plums were once again ripe.

At nightfall, when certain workmen were busy on a
grating for the Franciscan brothers which was to be done
that night, and had stayed behind with Smetse for that
purpose, there came into the forge an evil-looking fellow,

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