Flemish Legend Smetse Smee by Charles de Coster Chapter 3

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 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 Bateliers, 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, Slimbroek, 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 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 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.