Flemish Legend Smetse Smee by Charles de Coster Chapter 18

Wherein it is seen why Smetse was whipped

It was then All Saints’ Eve; bitter was the cold, and Smetse’s good wife was in her kitchen, brewing some good mixture of sugar, yolk of egg, and bruinbier, to cure her of an evil catarrh, which had lain upon her ever since her man died.

Smetse came and knocked at the window of the kitchen, whereat his wife was greatly frightened.

And she cried out sadly: “Do not come and torment me, my man, if ’tis prayers thou wilt have. I say as many as I can, but I will say more if need be. Wilt thou have masses said? Thou shalt have them, and prayers and indulgences likewise. I will buy them, my man, I promise thee; but go back quickly whence thou camest.”

Nevertheless Smetse went on knocking. “’Tis not masses or prayers,” said he, “that I want, but shelter, food, and drink, for bitter is the cold, rude the wind, sharp the frost.

Open, wife.”
But she, on hearing him speak thus, prayed the more and cried out the louder, and beat her breast and crossed herself, but made no move to open the door, saying only: “Go back, go back, my man; thou shalt have prayers and masses.”

Suddenly the smith discerned an open window in the attic. He climbed up and entered the house by that means, went down the stair, and, opening the door, appeared before his wife; but as she kept drawing back before him as he advanced, crying out and calling the neighbours at the top of her voice, Smetse stood still so as not to frighten her further, sat down on a stool, and said:

“Dost not see, mother, that I am indeed Smetse, and wish thee no harm?”

But his wife would listen to nothing and crept back into a corner. Thence with her teeth a-chatter, and her eyes open wide, she made a sign to him to leave her, for she could no longer find her tongue, by reason of her great fear.

“Wife,” said the smith in friendly tones, “is it thus that thou givest greeting and welcome to thy poor husband, after the long time he has been away? Alas, hast forgot our old comradeship and union?”

Hearing this soft and joyous voice she answered in a low tone and with great timidity:

“No, dead master.”

“Well then,” said he, “why art thou so afraid? Dost not know thy man’s fat face, his round paunch, and the voice which in former days sang so readily hereabout?”

“Yes,” she said, “I know thee well enough.”

And why,” said he, “if thou knowest me, wilt not come to me and touch me?”

“Ah,” said she, “I dare not, master, for ’tis said that whatever member touches a dead man is itself dead.”

“Come, wife,” said the smith, “and do not believe all these lying tales.”

“Smetse,” said she, “will you in good truth do me no hurt?”

“None,” said he, and took her by the hand.

“Ah,” she said suddenly, “my poor man, thou art cold and hungry and thirsty indeed!”

“Yes,” said he.

“Well then,” said she, “eat, drink, and warm thyself.”

While Smetse was eating and drinking he told his wife how he had been forbidden the door to Paradise, and how he designed to take from the cellar a full cask of bruinbier and bottles of French wine, to sell to those who went into the Holy City, so that he might be well paid, and with the money he received buy himself better food.

“This, my man,” she said, “is all very well, but will Master St. Peter give thee permission to set up at the gates of Paradise such a tavern?”

“Of that,” he said, “I have hope.”

And Smetse, laden with his cask and bottles, went his way back, up towards the good Paradise.

Having reached the foot of the wall he set up his tavern in the open air, for the weather is mild in this heavenly land, and on the first day all who went in drank at Smetse’s stall, and paid him well out of compassion.

But one or two became drunk, and entering Paradise in this state, set Master Peter inquiring into the cause of it; and having found it out he enjoined Smetse to stop his selling, and had him whipped grievously.