The Curious Tale of Van Wempel’s Goose

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.

The Tavern

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.  

Snores

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.

The Mill

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.

Pirate Gold

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

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Synopsis

 

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Middle English alliterative poem from the 14th century. It is a chivalric romance that uses the folkloric motifs of the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. The poem is from a single surviving manuscript known as Cotton Nero A.x which also hold three other narrative poems called; Pearl, Purity, and Patience. These three poems are of a Christian religious nature as is the Sir Gawain poem while many people see it as also containing pagan allusions. The author of the manuscript is unknown but generally referred to as either the Gawain Poet or the Pearl Poet. There are many different ways to interpret Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but what is provided here is a brief synopsis of the poem.

Brutus of Troy and the Founding of Britain

The poem begins by mentioning the mythical founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy in the Historical Prologue and tells how after the fall of Troy the descendants of the exiles founded new cities and countries.  According to the poem, Rome was founded by Romulus, Tuscany by Tiscius, Langoberde begins the settlement of the country later called Lombardy and Brutus became the founder of Britain.  This information is designed to give Camelot political significance and legitimacy and introduces King Arthur the noblest and greatest king and leader of the country.  This also gives him historical significance and legitimacy while also linking the poet’s own text with such classics as Virgil’s Aeneid, providing a literary link to those ancient times.

The Appearance of the Green Knight

The story begins in Camelot on the feast of New Year’s Day with the members of Arthur’s court giving and receiving presents from one another when Arthur requests to see or hear of a thrilling experience of exploit from someone before the feast commences. Apparently, in answer to this request there rides into the hall upon a massive green horse the huge figure of a knight.  He is not dressed for battle wearing and not wearing armor but his clothing and even his skin and hair are all green. In one hand he holds a most splendid battle axe while in the other he holds a branch of holly.

The Christmas Game

The Green Knight refused to enter into combat with anyone declaring there was no one present who could match him.  Instead he invited any who dared to take part in a special Christmas game. Explaining the rules he tells them that someone must strike him one blow with his axe but within one year and a day they must themselves take a blow from him. Whoever decides to play can keep the axe. On hearing these terms all the knights present at first refused to play but when it appeared that no one had the courage Arthur agreed. However, The youngest knight present, Sir Gawain, offered to step in and play the game for him which Arthur and the Green Knight accepted.

The Green Knight knelt and bows his head to receive a blow which is duly given by Sir Gawain severing the head from the body in one stroke. After the blow is delivered to the shock of all present the Green Knight is not killed but picking up his severed head mounts his horse. Holding the severed head to face Queen Guinevere the lips speak reminding Gawain and all those present that the two players in the game must meet again at the Green Chapel within the agreed space of time. The Green Knight then wheels his horse around and carrying his severed head aloft rides from the hall leaving the bemused Gawain, Arthur and his knights with little else to do other than admiring the battle axe left with Gawain. They made fun of the strange event, laughing while encouraging Guinevere to make light of the matter.  Life at Camelot soon returned to normal but time marched on.

Gawain’s Quest for the Green Chapel

With the approach of the allotted time and with only a few days left for the game to resume Gawain sets off to find the Green Chapel to keep his promise to the Green Knight. On his way, he has many adventures which he overcomes but is severely tested by the cold and bitter weather of winter. On Christmas morning he prays he might find somewhere to hear mass and finds a beautiful castle. The lord of the castle is a knight named Bertilak de Hautdesert who has a beautiful wife and both are highly honored to have Gawain as a guest in their castle. There is also a female guest present at the castle who although being old and ugly was treated with great respect and reverence by the lord and lady.

The Castle of Sir Bertilak de Hautdesert

Gawain explains to them about the game with the Green Knight telling them he is due to meet up with him on New Year’s Day and has only a few days left to find the Green Chapel.  Bertilak reveals that the Green Chapel is less than two miles away and suggests Gawain rests for the remaining time at his castle.  Gawain, after his long hard journey, is only too pleased to accept this proposition.

Bertilak tells Gawain he is going  hunting in the morning and that he should stay and rest himself in bed after his long and arduous journey.  He then proposed they make a pact with each other. Whatever he gains in the hunt he will bring home and give to Gawain. Whatever Gawain gains the next day by staying in the castle he will give to his host on his return. Gawain accepts the pact and goes to bed.

Gawain’s Pact with Bertilak

With Bertilak out hunting Gawain remains in bed in the castle and Lady Bertilak goes to his bedchamber and attempts to seduce him. Gawain though greatly tempted does not wish to betray Bertilak and at the same time does not wish to offend the lady.  Gently and politely he refuses her advances, but in doing so accepts a single kiss from her.  Bertilak has a successful day out hunting catching a deer which when he returns he fulfills his side of the bargain and gives it to Gawain. Gawain to fulfill his part gives Bertilak a kiss but does not reveal where he got it from pointing out that was not part of their pact.

lady_tempt_gawain

Sir Gawain and Lady Bertilak – By Anonymous (http://gawain.ucalgary.ca) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The next morning Bertilak again goes hunting leaving Gawain in his castle. Again Lady Bertilak tries to seduce him and although greatly tempted all he will accept is a kiss. Later that day Lady Bertilak tries again but  he will courteously only accept another kiss. When Bertilak returns he gives Gawain the head of a boar he has killed and receives from Gawain two kisses and again the source of these is not revealed.

On the third morning, Bertilak once again goes off hunting leaving Gawain in the castle with Lady Bertilak. She asks him for a small gift or keepsake to remember him by but he tells her he has no such thing worthy of her. Again Lady Bertilak tries to seduce Gawain while offering him a gold ring to remember her by. Gawain courteously refuses the gift but she begs him to accept the green and gold girdle of silk she wears telling him it is magical and wearing it will keep him safe from all physical harm.  Gawain is mindful that the next day he must face the Green Knight in the Green Chapel to complete their game which he does not expect to survive and accepts the gift.

This time when Bertilak returns from hunting he has caught a fox which he gives to Gawain as agreed.  In return, Gawain gives him the three kisses he had received again not revealing where he got them from but withheld Lady Bertilak’s gift of her girdle saying nothing about it at all.

The Green Knight at the Green Chapel

The next morning Gawain wraps the girdle twice around his body and sets off with a guide provided by Bertilak to take him to the Green Chapel to play the final part of the strange and grim game with the Green Knight. When they draw near the guide tells Gawain that if he should decide to give up the game and ride away he would tell no one. Gawain is determined to keep his promise to the Green Knight.  The guide tells him that he is too afraid to go further himself that shows Gawain the way who rides on alone. When he arrives at the Green Chapel he finds the Green Knight already there sharpening a massive battle-axe.

Gawain dismounts and kneels and bows his head to receive a blow from the Green Knight. As the Green Knight prepares to bring down the axe on his neck Gawain flinches slightly as he swings. This cause the Green Knight to stop and berate him for cowardice. This shames Gawain who then waits unflinchingly for the blow but the Green Knight swings again but holds it from the final blow telling Gawain he is testing his nerve. Gawain, now angry berates the Green Knight insisting he gets on with it. This time the Green Knight does bring the axe down on his neck but at the last instant withholds force, causing only minor wound to Gawain’s neck and with this, the game is over.

Gawain then arms himself preparing to fight but the Green Knight reveals himself to be none other than Bertilak de Hautdesert who had been magically transformed into the Green Knight. Bertilak then explains that the entire game was a trick caused by the old ugly woman who had been his other guest and that she was the sorceress, Morgan le Fay in an attempt to frighten Queen Guinevere to death and create a test for Arthur and his knights.

Return to Camelot

After this revelation, Gawain is ashamed and tells Bertilak about the gift of the girdle. Birtilak laughs and absolves Gawain of any guilt calling him the most blameless knight in all the land. The two part as friends and Gawain returns to Camelot where he tells Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table of his adventure. Arthur and the knights also absolve him of the blame for not revealing the gift of the girdle and in an act of solidarity with him, all agree to wear a green sash to remind them to keep their integrity.

© 20/09/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright September 20th, 2017 zteve t evans

Welsh Folklore: The Spirit of the Van

Wales is a place of where every lake, mountain, hill or valley seems to have some ancient tradition, legend or folktale attached.  Presented here is The Spirit of the Van which is set in the Vans Pool which lies in the mountains of Carmarthenshire and is a variation of the legend of The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach.

The Spirit of the Van

The story tells of a beautiful female spirit that appears on a lake called the Van Pool.  She appears in a golden boat in the first hours of New Year’s Day and is dressed all in white and around her waist she wears a golden girdle  Her hair is long and golden and in her hand is a golden oar which she uses to deftly maneuver the boat. Those who have seen her, although admiring her beauty, are struck by the melancholy demeanor and milk- white face of the lovely lady.

Living near to the lake was a young farmer who had heard about the beautiful, melancholy spirit of the lake and became intrigued by what was said about her.  The more he thought about her the more a fervent desire to see her for himself grew upon him.

When New Year’s Eve came he went to the lake and chose a secluded and well hidden spot by the water’s edge where he settled down to await the arrival of the spirit of the Van Pool in the hours after midnight.  The moon was full and mirrored in the calm waters of the lake and he awaited in eager anticipation for the midnight hour.  At the strike of midnight as the old year was passing and the new was being born there on the opposite bank materialized the spirit of the lake in a golden boat that floated gracefully over the water steered by the lady with a golden oar.

The Lady of the Golden Boat

And there on the pool under the moonlight the young farmer beheld his heart’s desire and he watched in awe as she glided around the pool, a vision of loveliness, like a goddess of old. Time passed all too soon and as the stars dimmed the first signs of dawn appeared and his vision of loveliness too began to gently fade.  As she was about to vanish completely, unable to quell his emotions, he called out to her begging her to stay and be his wife.  The Lady of the Golden Boat quickly glanced over her shoulder towards him as she vanished from his sight.

Sadly, the young farmer returned to his home but a change had come over him since those early hours of New Year’s Day when he had seen and called out to the lady in the golden boat. He stopped eating properly and he could not sleep properly and took to wandering around the Van Pool in the night hoping to get but a glimpse of the Lady in the Golden Boat.  In sadness and gloom he neglected his farm and soon everything in his life was going to rack and ruin.

An Offering

At last, he pulled himself together long enough to seek help and he went to see a wise woman who advised him to  make an offering of food to her.  Well, the young farmer was desperate and without having any better plan decided he would give it a try.  He could not bear to wait until the New Year so he thought he would try his luck on Midsummer’s Eve. When Midsummer’s Eve came he took a basket with a generous portion of the best cheese and the best loaf of bread he could afford along to Van Pool in the hope of enticing the Lady of the Golden Boat to marry him.

Although he waited by the poolside all night long she did not materialize.  Nevertheless, he thought that in the spot where he had previously seen her there was a faint shimmering of light and he fancied he heard the faint notes of the most beautiful music. These small signs gave him hope and night after night he would visit the pool carrying a basket of bread and cheese.  When midnight came he would gently drop his offering to the lady into the pool.  Still the lady did not appear but the young farmer continued making this offering to her right the way through the year until New Year’s Eve came around again.

The Lady Appears

Then, putting on his best clothes the young farmer took a basket of the finest cheese and the very best bread he could find along with him for his vigil on the banks of the Van Pool.  At the stroke of midnight he gently dropped his offering of  bread and cheese into the waters of the pool and then waited in quiet desperation as the full moon hid behind a cloud.  Then across the water from the other side he saw a faint shimmering and the Lady of the Golden Boat appeared  gliding sedately towards him.  The boat came alongside where he was standing and the lady stepped lightly on to the shore.

The young farmer was thrilled and by the light of the full moon went down on one knee and proposed marriage.  The Lady of the Golden Boat listened to him and then to his delighted accepted his marriage proposal but laid a strict condition on him.  That condition was that he should not strike her for a third time as if he did she would have to leave him forever. Naturally the young farmer not being a cruel or violent man could not imagine ever striking her so he eagerly agreed.

So the two were wed and she brought with her from the Other-world a dowry of a flock of fine sheep and a herd of cattle the like that had never been seen in Wales before. She also brought with her fine flocks of ducks and chickens and soon his farm prospered greatly and the two lived happily together and were very much in love.

The Christening

One day after they had been happily married for a few years one of their neighbors invited then to a christening.  To the surprise of all those present, halfway through the christening service the young farmer’s wife began crying.  The young farmer was embarrassed at his wife’s behavior and angry at her weeping at what should have been a happy event.  “What ever are you crying for?  This is a Christening and you are making yourself look foolish!”  he angrily said giving her a light pat on the shoulder.

“Alas, my eyes see a baby entering a world of sorrow, pain and sin.  I see nothing but misery and pain for the babe.  There is nothing to rejoice over,” replied his wife who still retained her fairy eyes, “and you have struck me for the first time!”

The anger passed and the young farmer regretted he had struck his wife.  Although it was only a light pat he really did feeling sorry and ashamed of himself because he really did love her dearly.  She let it be and things were soon good again between them because she really did love him as well.

The Funeral

Sadly, some time later they were invited to attend the funeral of the child whose christening they had attended.  Half way through the funeral service the farmer’s wife burst out laughing much to the shock of her husband and all those in attendance. Furiously he asked why she was laughing at such a sad occasion.  Telling her she was making a fool of herself he gave her a light pat to her shoulder and told her to stop weeping.

She answered saying,  “With my eyes I see the child and it is no longer suffering and has left the world of sin and sorrow.  The child is whole, healthy and happy for all time so tell me what is there to weep over?  You have struck me for a second time!”

The Wedding

They went home and the incident was forgotten and they were still very happy together and time passed by as it does. Then one day they received an invitation to attend the wedding of one of their neighbors daughters.   She was a bonny, pretty young girl but she was marrying an old, wizened man, who was rich but miserly.  So they attended the church and half way through the ceremony the farmer’s wife burst into tears.

“What is the matter with you,” her husband demanded, “Everyone is looking at you. Stop making a fool of yourself!” And he gave a gentle push to her shoulder.

“I weep because summer is now bound to winter. I weep because youth is sold for gold.  I weep because this wedding is a devil’s bargain and will bring the girl nothing but unhappiness!” she answered and then looked at him with her eyes full of love and sorrow and told him,  “Alas, now you must remember our bargain.  You have struck me a third time and there can be no other so with love and sadness, I say goodbye for we must part forever!”  

The Parting

With those words she simply turned her back and walked out of the church and back through their farm towards Van Pool.  As she walked she called out the names of  all the sheep, cattle, ducks, chickens and geese she had brought with her when she got married. They all stopped what they were doing and followed her towards the pool.   When she reached the water she did not stop at the edge but continued walking into the pool.  The last the farmer saw of his wife was her golden hair floating in the water before finally disappearing under the surface. Following on behind came all of the farm animals who followed her into the pool.

The farmer was heart broken and would go to the pool with bread and cheese each night making an offering in the hope of meeting his wife again but he never did and died a broken man.

© 13/09/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright September 13th, 2016 zteve t evans