Van Wempel's Goose

: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

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


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


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


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.