Van Wempel's Goose
Myths and Legends of Our Own Lands
Allow us to introduce Nicholas Van Wempel, of Flatbush: fat, phlegmatic, rich, and henpecked. He would like to be drunk because he is henpecked, but the wife holds the purse-strings and only doles out money to him when she wants groceries or he needs clothes. It was New Year's eve, the eve of 1739, when Vrouw Van Wempel gave to her lord ten English shillings and bade him hasten to Dr. Beck's for the fat goose that had been bespoken. "And mind you do not stop at the tavern," she screamed after him in her shrillest tone. But poor Nicholas! As he went waddling down the road, snapping through an ice-crust at every step, a roguish wind—or perhaps it was one of the bugaboos that were known to haunt the shores of Gravesend Bay—snatched off his hat and rolled it into the very doorway of the tavern that he had been warned, under terrible penalties, to avoid.
As he bent to pick it up the door fell ajar, and a pungency of schnapps and tobacco went into his nostrils. His resolution, if he had one, vanished. He ordered one glass of schnapps; friends came in and treated him to another; he was bound to do as much for them; shilling by shilling the goose money passed into the till of the landlord. Nicholas was heard to make a muttered assertion that it was his own money anyhow, and that while he lived he would be the head of his own house; then the mutterings grew faint and merged into snores. When he awoke it was at the low sound of voices in the next room, and drowsily turning his head he saw there two strangers,—sailors, he thought, from their leather jackets, black beards, and the rings in their ears. What was that they said? Gold? On the marshes? At the old Flatlands tide-mill? The talkers had gone before his slow and foggy brain could grasp it all, but when the idea had fairly eaten its way into his intellect, he arose with the nearest approach to alacrity that he had exhibited in years, and left the place. He crunched back to his home, and seeing nobody astir went softly into his shed, where he secured a shovel and lantern, and thence continued with all consistent speed to the tumbledown tide-mill on the marsh,—a trying journey for his fat legs on a sharp night, but hope and schnapps impelled him.
He reached the mill, and, hastening to the cellar, began to probe in the soft, unfrozen earth. Presently his spade struck something, and he dug and dug until he had uncovered the top of a canvas bag,—the sort that sailors call a "round stern-chest." It took all his strength to lug it out, and as he did so a seam burst, letting a shower of gold pieces over the ground. He loosed the band of his breeches, and was filling the legs thereof with coin, when a tread of feet sounded overhead and four men came down the stair. Two of them he recognized as the fellows of the tavern. They saw the bag, the lantern, then Nicholas. Laden though he was with gold until he could hardly budge, these pirates, for such they were, got him up-stairs, forced him to drink hot Hollands to the success of their flag, then shot him through the window into the creek. As he was about to make this unceremonious exit he clutched something to save himself, and it proved to be a plucked goose that the pirates had stolen from a neighboring farm and were going to sup on when they had scraped their gold together. He felt the water and mud close over him; he struggled desperately; he was conscious of breathing more freely and of staggering off at a vigorous gait; then the power of all the schnapps seemed to get into his head, and he remembered no more until he heard his wife shrilling in his ears, when he sat up and found himself in a snow-bank close to his house, with a featherless goose tight in his grasp.
Vrouw Van Wempel cared less about the state of her spouse when she saw that he had secured the bird, and whenever he told his tale of the pirates she turned a deaf ear to him, for if he had found the gold why did he not manage to bring home a few pieces of it? He, in answer, asked how, as he had none of his own money, she could have come by the goose? He often told his tale to sympathetic ears, and would point to the old mill to prove that it was true.