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The Fourth Man (8)

A Story from the Time of the Afscheiding

Translated by Rev. Cornelius Hanko

Chapter 8

At the Cattle Market

(Editor’s Note: The last chapter dealt with the birth of a new baby and the visit to this home by rough men looking for a drink to satisfy their craving for liquor. They received instead a cigar and a testimony of the wrongs of drinking. The scene now changes to the cattle market. Earlier in the book the author had made reference to the fact that a market day in Hilversum meant also a day off from school for the children. We meet a few new characters in this chapter, but renew also an old acquaintance, the fish peddler, Aalt Boer, whose wagon had been knocked over by Martin when he was running home from school.)

The day of the cattle market, to which the boys and girls of the town eagerly looked forward, had a dreary beginning. All night long there had been a downpour. True, by sun rising the rain had stopped, but the sandy roads were filled with muddy pools.

Nevertheless, early in the morning many cattle dealers went with their cows and horses to Hilversum. The cattle market, which was held on the first and second Tuesday of April and October, was too important to miss. The first Tuesday generally brought an especially large crowd. At the Kerkbrink, where the market was held, the market supervisor expected many cattle traders and, as they arrived, appointed a place for each.

Naturally he could not please everyone with the place assigned to them, but with a joke or two he knew how to keep them all in a good humor.

Soon the old market square was full and the first buyers appeared.

With them came also a crowd of boys and girls, who–mud or no mud–could not possibly have been kept home. The buyers muttered about whether their teachers had nothing to do, but often had no time to await an answer; the dealing had begun. With much clapping of the hands the seller and the farmer tried to agree on a price.1 Sometimes the farmer would walk away in a pretense of anger, only to try again a little later. When the demand and the offer were finally agreed upon the buyer and the seller disappeared in “The Large Tavern” to settle the deal while enjoying a drink.

The boys took delight in the bidding; especially Dokkie2 could not be driven away. He enjoyed immensely the colorful language and the studied grimaces of the buyers. Also the dealers in horses drew a large crowd, especially when they let their horses gallop before the critical eye of the buyer.

As the morning progressed and business increased one had an opportunity to meet all kinds of acquaintances.

Priest Van Wijk3 walked between the cows. His parish belonged to the Old Catholic Church which had repudiated the authority of the pope with the appointment of a new bishop. Priest Van Wijk was too much of a friend of animals to stay home. He enjoyed the dealings of the cattle market, even as he handed out advice to cattlemen who had tied their cows too tight.

The pensioned Hussar Sergeant Manus Rebel from Naarden pottered about in his tattered uniform.4 He inspected each horse; no fault escaped his experienced eye. Many buyers sought his advice, although this enraged the dealers. However the dealers did not dare to object, for if they objected, a stream of tobacco juice would shoot past their noses. The old hussar was a sharp shooter.

The police, represented by the constables De Nooy and Van Huizen, kept a watchful eye on the sales. It was a remarkable sight to see both men walking next to each other. De Nooy was a giant, as strong as an ox, whose very eyes forced silence upon everyone in a tavern. Van Huizen, on the contrary, was of small stature, and besides somewhat of an invalid, so that he soon received the cruel name of “the lame constable.” The constables were just ready to enter the courthouse when the innkeeper came running to announce that a fight had broken out in his tavern between two young fellows of Hilversum and Bussum.

That appealed to De Nooy, who with giant steps crossed the market and disappeared in the tavern, followed by Ruwalda.

Van Huizen remained waiting on the porch of the courthouse.

At that moment an old acquaintance appeared on the scene: the fish peddler, Aalt Boer. He knew the markets in the area well and tried to earn a bit at each one. He soon discovered a vacant spot between the rows of cattle and without batting an eye stood there with his cart.

On the handle he placed a paper of doubtful color bearing the words, “Fresh sea fish.”

After a minute or so the first customer appeared: Manus Rebel. The old sergeant eagerly rubbed his hand. “It will soon be time to forage;5 quickly give me a mess of flounder.” “According to your order, lieutenant,” chortled the other and began to weigh the fish which Rebel ordered.

“Mister, don’t try to cheat me; I have seen more of the world than you and all your fish,” scolded Rebel. “Then you likely can swim well,” the fish peddler added, but he suddenly was uncomfortably silent, for his customer had snatched a small flounder from the scale and allowed the sun to shine on the watery fish.

“The gentleman sells fresh fish, does he not,” Rebel said in an ominous and slow voice.

“Floundering fresh,” Aalt Boor tried to act cheerful, “the tails are still wet from the Zuiderzee.”

Then since when did a worm creep out of the head of a fresh flounder?” asked his customer, still seeming calm.

“Well, that’s amazing!” Aalt said politely; “There is actually a retired fish among the young fellows. It’s accidental. That little worm is included in the bargain, Lieutenant-colonel.”

Splat! With a wild wave the angry hussar sergeant slapped the flounder against the head of the fish peddler, so that the scales stuck to his ear lobes. “You lying swindler! The fish stinks so bad that even the worms say “Foey on it.”

Aalt Boor now also became angry. “And you pay me damages for that flounder,” he growled, “or I’ll call the police.”

This pleasant discussion soon drew the attention of the market visitors, which quickly made up a crowd around the fish cart. The fish man now began to get very nervous and anxiously looked in all directions for help. Then he discovered Van Huizen sitting on the porch of the courthouse. “Police!” he shouted as loud as he could. The policeman saw that he could not ignore the call; and with slow steps he made his way to the place where the quarrel was going on. Because it involved two people from out of town, up to this point the viewers had remained neutral. They willingly allowed Van Huizen to make his way through the crowd. Rebel gave a description of the happenings in peppered language, while Aalt Boor strongly defended his wares.

Undecided, the policeman pushed back his cap, until he suddenly spotted the priest Van Wijk among the people. That gave him an idea.

“His honor, will you inspect this fish? It is said that you are an expert.”

The priest laughed and bent over the cart. But immediately his face changed. “These fish are far from fresh, even somewhat spoiled.” He spoke clearly and emphatically.

Van Huizen was most uncomfortable, but had to carry on.

“Rebel, go call the market master.” Now the flounder peddler was beside himself with rage. “I do not allow myself to be insulted by such a black pope!” he raged. Now there was no control of the situation any more.

The kind priest, as an old Catholic spiritual man, was deeply insulted by being called a “pope,” and became fiery red. The folk from Hilversum sided somewhat against Van Huizen, while a few of the town people stood with balled fists in front of the fish cart.6

In vain the policeman tried to keep the matter in hand. “Get out, folks; get back,” he said a bit illogically, when the crowd pressed forward.

In the meantime his colleague had removed the people of Bussem from the tavern, and he was now free to race to the tumult at the market. But Van Huizen did not see him. “I have to handle everything alone,” he angrily cried out, more to himself than to the people. “Even De Nooy left me on my own. O yes, when one is in need, his friends disappear.”

At the same time the voice of De Nooy grumbled behind him: “First of all, you are not in need, and secondly, I am not your friend. What is happening here anyway?” Van Huizen realized he was on the spot, but still told in a few sentences what had happened.

“Let me see your market permit,” demanded De Nooy briefly of the flounder peddler.

This man struck his forehead, “O no! In all my hurry I have completely forgotten that.”

“Accidentally,” mocked De Nooy. “So you stand on the market without a market permit, and besides that you are selling spoiled fish. We are going to put a stop to that at once!” Before the eyes of the chuckling audience he took out his little book. But the disturbance that began with an animal would also finish with an animal.

The gray tomcat of the innkeeper Ruwalda, which had been forgotten by its master on this busy morning, had decided to visit the market in search of something to eat.

Because it was constantly present in the noisy tavern, the cat was not afraid of people. Having come to the fish cart it first eagerly devoured the flounder that Rebel had used as a projectile and decided that this tasted like more.

No one paid attention to the tomcat, until it had jumped on the cart, taken the largest flounder, and like an arrow immediately ran off with it until it sat safely in a high tree.

A roar of laughter arose from the crowd. Manus Rebel struck his knees. De Nooy let his little book fall to the ground and even Van Huizen forgot his anger. Only Aalt Boer stared in amazement at the tree.

“Get out of the town,” commanded De Nooy, still biting on his mustache; “I’ll let it go this time.”

So for the second time within a week Aalt Boor left the town with shamed face. But this time it was entirely his own fault.

The market day continued without incident. At quitting time a number of poor children came with wheelbarrows to put in them any gifts for the compost pile at home.7 When their wheelbarrows were full, they still had their handkerchiefs…8

The only one who looked back on the day with mixed feelings was policeman Van Huizen. His reputation had not improved. He longed for an occasion in which he could prove himself.

That desire would soon be fulfilled.

Endnotes

1 Both the buyer and the seller would offer his new price with a clap of the hands.

2 Dokkie was one of Martin’s classmates, of whom we have not yet heard a great deal.

3 We met him in the last chapter when he was called to baptize a baby about to die shortly after birth. Some of the Roman Catholics in the Netherlands had declared their independence from the pope.

4 Manus Rebel is an interesting character whom we have not met before. He had served in the army in the Queen’s Hussars, but had now retired and was receiving a pension from the government for his years of service.

5 The old sergeant uses a word here usually applied to cattle who “forage” for their food. It was time to eat.

6 Although Roman Catholicism was still viewed with much suspicion, the Netherlands as a whole was more tolerant of religions other than the Reformed faith than almost any other country in Europe.

7 They came to collect the cow and horse manure that had fallen to the pavement; and perhaps to find a bit of food that had been dropped here and there.

8 The reference to handkerchiefs is to the fact that, when the wheelbarrows were full, the children could use their handkerchiefs to collect more manure to carry home. Women, even in the early years of the Dutch settlers in Grand Rapids (and presumably in other places as well), would collect horse manure from the streets and put the manure in their huge aprons to carry it home for their gardens.