Presented here is a retelling of an old folktale from the days when the great city of New York in New York was known as New Amsterdam. It is from a collection of early American folktales and traditions collected by Charles M. Skinner in his book, The Isle of Manhattoes and Nearby Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Volume I and called Van Wempel’s Goose.
Nicholas Van Wempel
The hero of the story is Nicholas Van Wempel, of Flatbush who was almost as wide as he was tall though he was not very tall. Nevertheless, he was of a mild and timid nature which led to him being badly henpecked by his wife, Vrouw Van Wempel. Despite his timidity he remained unruffled despite, or perhaps, to spite her and was renowned for being something of a harmless fantasist. To be fair to his good wife her husband had a fatal flaw that if not kept under strict control would land him in all sorts of trouble. Therefore, she did her best to moderate it for his own good.
He was a fairly well off man but his greatest pleasure was to escape into the comforting arms of schnapps. He sure loved his schnapps and this was his fatal flaw! Sadly for him his wife kept tight control only allocating just enough cash to get her groceries or to buy himself clothes.
The New Year’s Goose
On the eve of the New Year of 1739 she called him to her. Placing ten English shillings into his hand she firmly instructed him to hurry down to Dr. Beck’s store to procure a fat goose she had ordered for their New Year’s Day celebration dinner. As he waddled through the door glad for a bit of respite the errand would bring she gave him one last instruction,
“Do not under any circumstances go near, walk by or stop at the tavern! Stay away, stay clear, do not enter and keep out of the tavern. If you enter the tavern for any reason my wrath shall fall upon you like a ton of bricks from a great height! Just bring back the goose! Do you understand?”
In a shrill voice she then threatened a number of other dire and deadly consequences should he dare to disobey.
“Do you understand?” she barked again, glaring at him with a look that could curdle vinegar. Indeed, Nicholas understood perfectly and shot her a weak smile in acceptance as she sent him scurrying down the path.
“As if I would ever dream of entering the tavern of all places!” he called back in answer.
Outside, the snow had fallen in the night and it was a cold, icy day. As he struggled along against the biting wind a sudden gust lifted his hat clean off his head and rolled it into the doorway of the forbidden tavern. Had he but allowed it to lie and passed it by things might have turned out very different, but it was a bitter wind that whistled around his ears. He also thought he could hear someone calling to him from the doorway, but dismissed this. He thought it was just the icy wind on his neck and decided he needed his hat back.
Alas, as he bent to pick it up a strong aroma of beer, booze, tobacco and schnapps assaulted his nostrils along with the sound of merry voices and a tinkling piano. It was a heady mix!
He remembered his promise and all the dire and deadly consequences that would befall him. Well, it was icy outside and the wind froze to the bone and inside the tavern was warm, hazy and friendly. He was sure he heard someone inside calling his name and after a few minutes of staring at his feet they gave him permission to enter.
Inside he met an old friend who called him over and treated him to schnapps. They chatted and laughed reminiscing about old times and it only seemed right that he should return the treat and bought his friend and himself another schnapps.
To his surprise and delight more of his old friends appeared who treated him and of course he returned the treat. His friends knowing of the dominance of his wife in his life teased him in good nature. They urged him to stand up for himself and put her firmly in her place.
Slowly but surely the goose money left his pocket to find a new home behind the bar in the till of the landlord. Realizing his money was gone he thumped the bar. Loudly he declared that it was his money anyway and he would spend it however he saw fit without leave of his good wife.
The last thing he remembered was standing by the bar with his friends cheering and applauding him wildly for his heroic stand. After that the world seemed to merge into snores. When he came round he had his head on a table at the back of the tavern. He could hear the sound of low voices talking over the far side of the bar.
Sleepily he opened his eyes and saw two strangers deep in conversation with each other. He saw they had black beards and rings in their ears and around their foreheads they wore brightly colored bandanas.
He pretended to be asleep but carefully listened to what they said. They were talking of gold hidden on the marshes at the tide mill. Before he could fully grasp what his ears had heard through his schnaps sodden mind the idea had worked its way beyond reason. With a sudden burst of more energy and enthusiasm than he found in years he jumped to his feet and left the tavern.
“Gold …” – “the marshes …” – “tide-mill …”
These words revolved round and round in his schnapps sozzled brain. Fueled by these and the schnapps he crunched through the snow back to his home.
Quietly and carefully so as not to arouse his good wife, who would surely ask the embarrassing question of the whereabouts of the goose, he crept to the shed. There he procured for himself a shovel and a lantern. With unbelievable speed and quietness considering his drunken state he made his way to the old tide-mill on the marsh.
On reaching the mill he decided to start in the cellar and began digging up the floor. He had been so eager to commence work he had not thought to check if there was anyone else in the building, therefore he did not know there were four men upstairs.
After a short while his shovel struck something hard. He dug quickly around the object discovering it to be a large, but old, canvas bag similar to what a sailor might possess.
Excitedly he brushed the dirt from it and found it was heavy but he managed to lift it out of the hole. As he did so a shower of gold coins fell from it and cluttered to the ground. Tying up his trouser legs he filled them and his coat pockets with as many coins as he could. However, in the floor above he had been heard and four rough looking men came down the cellar steps to confront him. He recognized two of these as the men from the tavern.
The men saw the lantern, the bag and Nicholas who despite his inebriation realized these were not just sailors but pirates. His trousers were so full of gold he could hardly move and they laid their hands on him and dragged him upstairs. They poured for him another schnapps and made him drink to the health of their flag and brotherhood. Roughly they turned him upside down and shook him vigorously causing all the gold coins to fall from his trousers and coat pockets.
With no further ceremony they grabbed hold of him and threw him out of the window thinking he would drown in the tide or the fall would kill him. In the brief struggle he managed to grab hold of something before he was forced out.
Fortunately for him, the tide was out and his fall was cushioned by the mud of the tidal marsh around the mill. Finding himself unscathed he held up his hand to see he clutched a plump, plucked, goose which the pirates had stolen earlier for their New Year’s Day dinner.
After the schnapps the pirates had given him he now found the energy to struggle through the mud as the tide began creeping up on him. Things looked bleak, but perhaps, mercifully, thanks to the power of schnapps, he remembered no more.
The Wrath of Vrouw Van Wempel
When at last he awoke it was to the shrill voice of his good wife. She was standing over him loudly berating him as he lay in a snow drift not far from their home. Opening his eyes and hearing her shrill voice and seeing her formidable form all he could do was smile sweetly.
“What did I tell you about the tavern? Where did all that mud come from? Where is the goose? “she growled menacingly.
From behind his back he brought forth the plucked, oven ready goose he still clutched in his hand and proudly presented it to her. Seeing he had at least come back with a goose placated the angry wife diverting her attention from the state she had found her husband in.
Snatching the goose from him, Vrouw Van Wempel, turned on her heels and marched directly back home. After struggling to his feet Nicholas followed sheepishly behind.
In later days he tried to explain to her about the pirates and the gold and how he was lucky to still be alive. She asked why if he had found gold he now had none to show for it? He would reply that if his story was not true how did he come by the goose after he had spent all of the ten shillings in the tavern but he soon learnt this was a mistake. The very mention of the tavern would cause his good wife to fly into a rage and spend the rest of the day berating him.
Whenever he got the chance he would slip off to the tavern and tell his story to more sympathetic ears and point towards the old tide mill to collaborate his story. His friends would just laugh and tease him.
Nevertheless, every now and then, thanks to the power of schnapps, he would find himself taken off on some bold adventure. Unfortunately he would be brought back with a bump when his good wife caught up with him.
© 09/12//2020 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright December 9th 2020 zteve t evans