Flemish Legend Smetse Smee by Charles de Coster Chapter 17

Of Hell, of Purgatory, of the long ladder, and finally of Paradise

When he was dead his soul had to pass through Hell in the guise of a smith. Coming thither he saw, through the open windows, the devils which had so frightened him in the vision on the Lys, and who were now busy torturing and tormenting the poor damned souls as terribly as they could. And Smetse went to the doorkeeper; but the doorkeeper, on seeing him, howled out in a most awful fashion: “Smetse is here, Smetse Smee the traitor smith!” And he would not let him in. Hearing the hubbub, My Lord Lucifer, Madam Astarte, and all their court came to the windows, and all the other devils after them.

And they all cried out in fear:

“Shut the doors, ’tis the enchanted Smetse, Smetse the traitor smith, Smetse the beater of poor devils. If he comes in here he will overset, spoil, break up everything. Begone, Smetse!”

“My masters,” said Smetse, “if I do indeed come hither to look at your snouts, which are not beautiful I promise ye, ’tis not at all for my pleasure; and besides, I am not by any means anxious to come in. So do not make such a noise, master devils.”

“Yes, indeed, my fine smith,” answered Madam Astarte, “thou showest a velvet pad now, but when thou art within thou wilt show thy claws and thine evil intention, and will slay us all, me, my good husband, and all our friends. Be off, Smetse; be off, Smee.”

“Madam,” said Smetse, “you are indeed the most beautiful she-devil I ever saw, but that is, nevertheless, no reason why you should think so ill of a fellow-creature’s intentions.”

“Hark to the fellow!” said Madam Astarte, “how he hides his wickedness under sugared words! Drive him away, devils, but do him no great harm.”

“Madam,” said Smetse, “I beg you to listen.”

“Be off, smith!” cried out all the devils; and they threw burning coals at him, and whatever else they could find. And Smetse ran off as fast as his legs would take him.

When he had travelled some way he came before Purgatory. On the other side was a ladder, with this inscription at its foot: “This is the road to the good Paradise.”

And Smetse, filled with joy, began to climb the ladder, which was made of golden thread, with here and there a sharp point sticking out, in virtue of that saying of God which tells us: “Broad is the way which leadeth to Hell, strait and rough the way to Heaven.” And, indeed, Smetse soon had his feet sore. Nevertheless, he made his way upward without halting, and only stopped when he had counted ten hundred thousand rungs and could see no more of either earth or hell. And he became thirsty. Finding nothing to drink he became a little sullen, when suddenly he saw a little cloud coming past, and drank it up joyfully. It did not indeed seem to him as good drink as bruinbier, but he took consolation from the thought that it is not possible to have comforts everywhere alike. A little higher up the ladder he suddenly had hard work to keep his bonnet on his head, by reason of a treacherous autumn wind which was going down to earth to pull off the last leaves. And by this wind he was sorely shaken, and nearly lost his hold. After he was out of this pass he became hungry, and regretted the good earthly beef, smoked over pine-cones, which is so good a food for poor wayfarers. But he took heart, thinking that it is not given to man to understand everything.

Suddenly he saw an eagle of terrible aspect coming upon him from the earth. Thinking for certain that he was some fat sheep, the eagle rose above him and would have dropped on him like a cannon-ball; but the good smith had no fear, bent to one side and caught the bird by the neck, which he wrung subtly. Then, still going up, he hastened to pluck it, ate morsels of it raw, and found them stringy. Nevertheless, he took this meat with patience, because he had no other. Then, patiently and bravely, he climbed for several days and several nights, seeing nothing but the blue of the sky and innumerable suns, moons, and stars above his head, under his feet, to right, to left, and everywhere. And he seemed to be in the midst of a fair great globe, whereof the inner walls had been painted this fair blue, strewn with all these suns, moons, and stars. And he was frightened by the great silence and by the immensity.

Suddenly he felt a genial warmth, heard sweet voices singing, distant music, and the sound of a city toiling. And he saw a town of infinite size girt about with walls, over which he could see housetops, trees, and towers. And he felt that he was moving more quickly despite his own legs, and by and by, leaving the last rung behind, he set foot before the gate of the town.

“By Artevelde!” said he, “here is the good Paradise.”

And he knocked on the gate; St. Peter came to open to him.

Smetse was somewhat frightened at the gigantic appearance of the good saint, his great head of hair, his red beard, his large face, his high forehead, and his piercing eyes, with which he looked at him fixedly.

“Who art thou?” quoth he.

“Master St. Peter,” said the smith, “I am Smetse Smee, who in his lifetime lived at Ghent on the Quai aux Oignons, and now prays you to let him enter your good Paradise.”

“No,” said St. Peter.

“Ah, my master!” said Smetse most piteously, “if ’tis because in my lifetime I sold my soul to the devil, I make bold to tell you that I repented most heartily, and was redeemed from his power and kept nothing that was his.”
“Excepting a sackful of royals,” said the saint, “and on that account thou shalt not come in.”

“Master,” said the smith, “I am not so guilty as you suppose; the sack stayed in my house because it had been blessed, and for that reason I thought I might well keep it. But take pity on me, for I knew not what I was doing. I pray you also to deign to consider that I come from a far country, that I am greatly tired, and would gladly rest in this good Paradise.”

“Be off, smith,” said the saint, who was holding the door a crack open.

Meanwhile Smetse had slipped through the opening, and taking off his leathern apron sat down, saying:

“Master, I am here rightfully, you cannot turn me out.”

But St. Peter bade a troop of halberdier angels who were near at hand drive him away: and this the halberdier angels did with great dispatch.

Thereafter, Smetse did not cease to beat on the door with his fists, and lamented, wept, and cried out: “Master, have pity on me, let me in, my master; I repent of all the sins I have committed, and even the others as well. Master, grant me permission to enter the blessed Paradise. Master…” But Master St. Peter, hearing this, put his head over the wall:

“Smith,” said he, “if thou wilt persist in this uproar, I shall have thee sent to Purgatory.”

And poor Smetse held his peace, and sat down on his seat, and so passed sad days, watching others enter.

In this wise a week went by, during which he lived on a few scraps of bread which were thrown to him over the wall, and on grapes gathered from a sour vine which grew on the outer face of the wall of Paradise in this part.

And Smetse was most unhappy, leading this idle existence. And he sought in his head for some work or other which would gladden him somewhat. Having found it, he shouted as loud as he could, and St. Peter put his head over the wall.

“What wilt thou, Smetse?” said he.

“Master,” answered the smith, “will you be pleased to let me go down to earth for one night, so that I may see my good wife and look to my affairs?”

“Thou mayst, Smetse,” answered St. Peter.