The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book III Chapter 27

At this time the duke, dividing his army into two corps, made the one march towards the Duchy of Luxembourg and the other towards the Marquisate of Namur.

“This,” said Ulenspiegel, “is some military decision unknown to me; it is all one to me, let us go towards Maestricht boldly.”

As they went alongside the Meuse near the city Lamme saw Ulenspiegel looking attentively at all the boats that were moving in the river; and he stopped before one of them that bore a siren on the prow. And this siren held a scutcheon on which there was marked in gold letters on a sable ground the sign J. H. S., which is that of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ulenspiegel signed to Lamme to stop and began to sing merrily like a lark.

A man came up on the boat, crowed like a cock, and then, on a sign from Ulenspiegel, who brayed like a donkey and pointed him to the people gathered on the quay, he began to bray terribly like a donkey. Ulenspiegel’s two asses laid back their ears and sang their native song.

Women were passing; men, too, riding the towing horses, and Ulenspiegel said to Lamme:

“That boatman is mocking us and our steeds. Suppose we go and attack him on his boat?”

“Let him rather come hither,” replied Lamme.

Then a woman spoke and said:

“If you do not want to come back with arms cut off, broken backs, faces in bits, let that Stercke Pier bray in peace as he pleases.”

“Hee haw! hee haw! hee haw!” went the boatman.

“Let him sing,” said the goodwife, “we saw him the other day lift up on his shoulders a cart laden with huge casks of beer, and stop another cart pulled by a powerful horse. There,” she said, pointing to the inn of the Blauwe-Toren, the Blue Tower, “he pierced with his knife, thrown from twenty paces off, an oaken plank twelve inches thick.”

“Hee haw! hee haw! hee haw!” went the boatman, while a lad of twelve years old got up on the bridge of the boat and started to bray also.

Ulenspiegel replied:

“Much we care for your strong Peter! However Stercke Pier he may be, we are more of it than he is, and there is my friend Lamme who would eat two of his size without a hiccup.”

“What are you saying, my son?” asked Lamme.

“What is,” replied Ulenspiegel; “do not contradict me through modesty. Aye, good people, goodwives and artisans, soon you will behold him try the work of his arms and annihilate this famous Stercke Pier.”

“Hold your tongue,” said Lamme.

“Your might is well known,” replied Ulenspiegel, “you could never hide it.”

“Hee haw!” went the boatman; “hee haw!” went the lad.

Suddenly Ulenspiegel sang again, most melodiously like a lark. And the men, the women, and the artisans, ravished with delight, asked him where he had learned that divine whistle.

“In paradise, whence I have come direct,” answered Ulenspiegel.

Then, speaking to the man who never stopped braying and pointing with his finger for mockery:

“Why do you stay there on your boat, rascal? Do you not dare to come to land and mock at us and our steeds?”

“Do you not dare?” said Lamme.

“Hee haw! hee haw!” went the boatman. “Masters, donkeys, playing the donkey, come up on my boat.”

“Do as I do,” said Ulenspiegel in a low voice to Lamme.

And speaking to the boatman:

“If you are the Stercke Pier, I, I am Thyl Ulenspiegel. And these twain are our asses, Jef and Jan, who can bray better than you, for it is their native tongue. As for going up on your rickety planks, we have no mind to it. Your boat is like a tub; every time a wave strikes it it goes back, and it can only move like the crabs, sideways.”

“Aye, like the crabs!” said Lamme.

Then the boatman, speaking to Lamme:

“What are you muttering between your teeth, lump of bacon?”

Lamme, becoming furious, said:

“Evil Christian, who reproached me with my infirmity, know that my bacon is my own and comes from my good food; while thou, old rusty nail, thou livest but on old red herrings, candle wicks, skins of stockfish, to judge from thy scrawny beef that can be seen sticking through the holes in thy breeches.”

“They’ll be giving each other a stiff drubbing,” said the men, women, and artisans, delighted and full of curiosity.

“Hee haw! hee haw!” went the boatman.

“Do not throw stones,” said Ulenspiegel.

The boatman said a word in the ear of the lad hee-hawing beside him on the boat, and with the help of a boat hook, which he handled dexterously, came to the bank. When he was quite close, he said, standing proudly upright:

“My baes asks if you dare to come on board his boat and wage battle with him with fist and foot. These goodmen and goodwives will be witnesses.”

“We will,” said Ulenspiegel with much dignity.

“We accept the combat,” said Lamme with great stateliness.

It was noon; the workmen, navvies, paviours, ship-makers, their wives armed with their husbands’ luncheons, the children that came to see their fathers refresh themselves with beans or boiled meat, all laughed and clapped their hands at the idea of a battle at hand, gaily hoping that one or the other of the combatants would have a broken head or would fall into the river all in pieces for their delectation.

“My son,” said Lamme in a low voice, “he will throw us into the water.”

“Let yourself be thrown,” said Ulenspiegel.

“The big man is afraid,” said the crowd of workmen.

Lamme, still sitting on his ass, turned on them and looked wrathfully at them, but they hooted him.

“Let us go on the boat,” said Lamme, “they will see if I am afraid.”

At these words he was hooted again, and Ulenspiegel said:

“Let us go on the boat.”

Alighting from their asses, they threw the bridles to the boy who patted the donkeys in friendly fashion, and led them where he saw thistles growing.

Then Ulenspiegel took the boat hook, made Lamme get into the dinghy, sculled along towards the boat, where by the help of a rope he climbed up, preceded by Lamme, sweating and blowing hard.

When he was upon the bridge of the vessel, Ulenspiegel stooped down as though he meant to lace up his boots, and said a few words to the boatman, who smiled and looked at Lamme. Then he roared a thousand insults at him, calling him rascal, stuffed with guilty fat, gaol seed, pap-eter, eater of pap, and saying: “Big whale, how many hogsheads of oil do you give when you are bled?”

All at once, without answering him, Lamme hurled himself on him like a wild bull, flung him down, struck him with all his might, but did him little harm because of the fat pithlessness of his arms. The boatman, while pretending to struggle, let him do as he would, and Ulenspiegel said: “This rascal will pay for liquor.”

The men, women, and workmen, who from the bank looked on at the battle, said: “Who would have imagined that this big man was so impetuous?”

And they clapped their hands while Lamme struck like a deaf man. But the boatman took care for nothing except to save his face. Suddenly Lamme was seen with his knee on Stercke Pier’s breast, holding him by the throat with one hand and raising the other to strike.

“Cry for mercy,” he said in fury, “or I will drive you through the ribs of your tub!”

The boatman, coughing to show that he could not cry out, asked for mercy with his hand.

Then Lamme was seen generously lifting up his enemy, who was soon on his feet, and turning his back on the spectators, put out his tongue at Ulenspiegel, who was bursting with laughter to see Lamme, proudly shaking the feather in his cap, walking up and down the boat in mighty triumph.

And the men, women, lads, and lasses, who were on the bank, applauded with all their might, saying: “Hurrah for the conqueror of Stercke Pier! He is a man of iron. Did ye see how he thumped him with his fist and how he stretched him on his back with a blow from his head? There they are, going to drink now to make peace. Stercke Pier is coming up from the hold with wine and sausages.”

In very deed, Stercke Pier had come up with two tankards and a great quart of white Meuse wine. And Lamme and he had made peace. And Lamme, all gay and jolly because of his triumph, because of the wine and the sausages, asked him, pointing to an iron chimney that was disgorging a black thick smoke, what were the fricassees he was making in his hold.

“War cookery,” replied Stercke Pier, smiling.

The crowd of artisans, women, and children being dispersed to go back to their work or to their homes, the rumour ran speedily from mouth to mouth that a great fat man, mounted on an ass and accompanied by a little pilgrim, also mounted on an ass, was stronger than Samson and that care must be taken not to offend him.

Lamme drank and looked at the boatman with a conquering air.

The other said suddenly:

“Your donkeys are tired of being over yonder.”

Then, bringing the boat up against the quay, he got out on the earth, took one of the asses by the hind legs and the forelegs, and carrying him as Jesus carried the lamb, set it down on the bridge of the boat. Then having done the same with the other one without so much as drawing a quicker breath, he said:

“Let us drink.”

The lad leaped on the bridge.

And they drank. Lamme, all in a maze, no longer knew if it was himself, native of Damme, who had beaten this strong man, and he no longer dared to look at him, save by stealth, without any triumphing, fearing that he might take a notion to lay hold of him as he had done with the donkeys and throw him alive into the Meuse, for spite at his overthrow.

But the boatman, smiling, invited him gaily to drink again, and Lamme recovered from his fright and looked on him once more with victorious assurance.

And the boatman and Ulenspiegel laughed.

In the meanwhile, the donkeys, dumbfounded to find themselves on a floor that was not the cows’ floor, as the peasants call dry land, had hung their heads, laid back their ears, and dared not drink for fear. The boatman went off to fetch them one of the pecks of corn he gave the horses that towed his boat, buying it himself so as not to be cheated by the drivers in the price of fodder.

When the donkeys saw the grain they murmured paternosters of the jaw while staring at the deck of the boat in melancholy fashion and not daring to move a hoof for fear of slipping.

Thereupon the boatman said to Lamme and to Ulenspiegel:

“Let us go into the kitchen.”

“A war kitchen, but you may go down into it without fear, my conqueror.”

“I am nowise afraid, and I follow you,” said Lamme.

The lad took the tiller.

Going down they saw everywhere bags of grain, of beans, peas, carrots, and other vegetables.

The boatman then said to them, opening the door of a small forge:

“Since ye are men of valiant heart and know the cry of the lark, the bird of the free, and the warrior clarion of the cock, and the braying of the ass, the gentle worker, I am minded to show you my war kitchen. This little forge you will find such an one in most Meuse boats. No one can be suspicious of it, for it serves to mend and repair the ironwork of the vessels; but what all do not possess is the goodly vegetables contained in these cupboards.”

Then removing some stones that covered the floor of the hold, he raised a few planks, and pulled up a fine sheaf of musket barrels, and lifting it as if it had been a feather, he put it back in its place; then he showed them lance heads, halberds, sword blades; bags of bullets, bags of powder.

“Long live the Beggar!” said he; “here are beans and their sauce, the musket stocks are legs of mutton, the salads are these halberd heads, and these musket barrels are ox shins for the soup of freedom. Long live the Beggar! Where am I to take this victual?” he asked Ulenspiegel.

“To Nim?guen, where you will enter with your boat still more heavily laden, with real vegetables, brought you by the peasants, which you will take on board at Etsen, at Stephansweert, and at Ruremonde. And they, too, will sing like the lark, the bird of the free; you shall answer with the warlike clarion of the cock. You are to go to the house of Doctor Pontus, who lives beside the Nieuwe-Waal; you are to tell him you are coming to the city with vegetables, but that you fear the drought. While the peasants go to the market to sell the vegetables at a price too dear for any to buy, he will tell you what you are to do with your weapons. I think, too, that he will direct you to pass, not without danger, by the Wahal, the Meuse, or the Rhine, exchanging vegetables for nets for sale, so that you may wander with the Harlingen fishing boats, where there are many sailors that know the lark’s song; skirt the coast by the Waden, and get to the Lauwer-Zee; exchange the nets for iron and lead; give costumes of Marken, Vlieland, and Ameland to your peasants; remain awhile on the coasts, fishing and salting down your fish to keep it and not to sell it, for to drink cool and make war on salt is a lawful thing.”

“Wherefore, let us drink,” said the boatman.

And they went up on the deck.

But Lamme, falling into melancholy:

“Master boatman,” said he, suddenly, “you have here in your forge a little fire so bright that for certain one might cook with it the most delicious of hotpots. My throat is thirsty for soup.”

“I will refresh you,” said the man.

And speedily he served him a rich soup, in which he had boiled a thick slice of salt ham.

When Lamme had swallowed a few spoonfuls, he said to the boatman:

“My throat is peeling, my tongue is burning: this is no hotpot.”

“‘Cool drink and salt war’, it was written,” replied Ulenspiegel.

Then the boatman filled up the tankards, and said:

“I drink to the lark, the bird of freedom.”

Ulenspiegel said:

“I drink to the cock, blowing the clarion of war.”

Lamme said:

“I drink to my wife; may she never be athirst, the poor darling.”

“You are to go as far as Emden by the North Sea,” said Ulenspiegel to the boatman. “Emden is a refuge for us.”

“The sea is wide,” said the boatman.

“Wide for the battle,” said Ulenspiegel.

“God is with us,” said the boatman.

“Who then shall be against us?” replied Ulenspiegel.

“When do you depart?” said he.

“Immediately,” replied Ulenspiegel.

“Good voyage and a following wind. Here are powder and bullets.” And kissing them, he brought them ashore, after carrying the two donkeys on his neck and shoulders like lambs.

Ulenspiegel and Lamme having mounted them, they started for Li?ge.

“My son,” said Lamme, as they went on their way, “how did that man, so strong as he is, allow himself to be so cruelly thumped by me?”

“So that everywhere we go,” said Ulenspiegel, “terror may precede you. That will be a better escort to us than twenty landsknechts. Who would henceforth dare to attack Lamme the mighty, the conqueror; Lamme the bull without peer, who with his head, before the eyes and to the knowledge of everyone, overthrew the Stercke Pier, Peter the Strong, who carries asses like lambs and lifts with one shoulder a cart of beer barrels? Everyone knows you here already; you are Lamme the terrible, Lamme the invincible, and I walk in the shadow of your protection. Everyone will know you along the way we are to go, no one will dare to look on you with an unfriendly eye, and considering the great valour of mankind, you will find nothing on your path but louting, salutations, homage, and venerations offered to the might of your redoubtable fist.”
“You speak well, my son,” said Lamme, drawing himself up in his saddle.

“And I speak the truth,” replied Ulenspiegel. “Do you see these curious faces in the first houses of this village? They are pointing the finger, showing to one another Lamme, the terrific conqueror. Do you see these men that look at you with envy and these poor cowards that doff their kerchiefs! Reply to their salutation, Lamme, my dear; disdain not the poor weak common herd. See the children know your name and repeat it with awe and fear.”

And Lamme passed by, proud and stately, saluting to the right and to the left like a king. And the word of his prowess followed him from burg to burg, from city to city, to Li?ge, Choquier, to Neuville, Vesin, and Namur which they avoided because of the three preachers.

They went on thus a long time, following up rivers, streams, and canals. And everywhere to the lark’s song answered the crowing of the cock. And everywhere for the work of liberty men founded forges and furbished the weapons that went away on the ships that skirted along the coasts.

And they passed the tolls in casks, in cases, in baskets.

And there were found always good folk to receive them and to conceal them in a sure place, with powder and bullets, until the hour of God.

And Lamme wending his way with Ulenspiegel, still preceded by his victorious reputation, began himself to believe in his great strength, and becoming proud and bellicose, he let his hair grow long. And Ulenspiegel christened him “Lamme the Lion.”

But Lamme did not hold steadfast in the design because of the irritation of the young growth on the fourth day. And he had the razor passed over his conquering face, which appeared to Ulenspiegel once more, round and full like a sun, lit up with the flame of good victual.

In this wise they came to Stockem.