Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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was acting a part. But it is nothing of the kind ; I am
sure of it. He is spontaneously boisterous and reserved
melancholy and gay, but all the moods have some common
source of overstrained excitement. I can't imagine what he
has to excite him. But he was always a nervous, impres-
sionable child. I shall recommend him a cold-water-cure
next summer."

The object of these considerations came up at this very
moment and sat down beside the doctor. " You were talk-
ing about my uncle at dinner," said Joost. " Now what,
honestly and truly, as between man and man, do you, with
all your professional experience and natural acuteness, say
that he died of. Doctor Kern ? "

" There you put a very difficult question, my good man,"
replied the doctor, thoughtfully eying his cigar. " When a
medical authority is asked what has actually caused death,
his safest answer is always ' want of breath.' Unless it be a
tile or a chimneypot."

" Yes, yes," said Joost impatiently ; " but supposing you
to be content with approximate accuracy."

" Well," said the doctor. " Of course we have to fill up
our certificates, and I fear we often put in what comes
handy in all good faith, of course. Mind you, I never
laugh at my profession. It's the grandest one on the face


of the earth. I believe fully in my own powers. Only I
believe in my own limitations too."

" Yes," said Joost. And what did my uncle die of ? "

" I should say," replied the doctor cautiously, " that the
cause of death was a rush of blood to the brain, probably
under the impulse of some strong excitement ; and, of course
the heart gave way. It had been unsound for a long time,
you know. Failure of the heart's action, in fact. But
really, as far as some of the symptoms went, he might have
choked himself or been choked. Strangulation, in fact.
Yes um, um one hardly likes to say it but, really, stran-
gulation. However, of course, that is evidently and entirely
out of the question. You were with him, at the time, were
you not ? And really, Avelingh, you ought to know more
about it than I can, considering you studied medicine. He
had ahem been drinking a good deal, I believe?"

" Yes," said Joost gravely, " he had."

" Just so, in fact, I should say between you and me
he was more than half drunk. Excuse plain speaking. It
is a most exceptional case. Really, without a post-mortem,
it would be impossible to say what your uncle died of."

" You filled in ' heart-disease,' '^ said Joost.
" Undoubtedly ; yes, and truthfully. If his heart had been
all right, he would have been alive this day, unless, of course,
he was choked which he was not. And, as I was saying
at dinner, he might have been alive in spite of his heart. A
strange business ; a very strange business." The doctor
smoked reflectively. Joost did not speak. " By-the-by,
Avelingh," Dr. Kern went on presently, " I never give pro-
fessional advice unasked, but, if you were to consult me
about a pleasant place to spend a month or so next summxcr,
I should say : try Godesberg. Pleasant place ; a little warm
in the full season ; excellent hydropathic establishment.
Plenty of compatriots."

" You say so because I broke that glass at dinner," cried


Joost. " You think me nervous ! Nonsense, doctor. Look
liere ! " He held out his uninjured hand, to show how
steady it was.

" That goes for nothing," replied the doctor. " Mind,
our bodies are brittle enough at the best. No use breaking
them and spilling the wine. With some of us they're like
ginger-beer bottles, and the ginger-beer works from inside
till they burst. The human frame divine, you know, and
all the rest of it. And no advice, of course ; I never give
advice unasked but if I were you, I should some day (no
hurry) go to Godesberg."

" They are getting up to join the ladies," said Joost.


THE jo:n"ker's legacy.

The carriages were called at ten ; and Joost and Agatha
went off together. The various guests began to disperse
along their several roads, and van Asveld, having walked up
the village-street with a friend, turned down a quiet lane,
which led to his own abode. He stepped out briskly, smok-
ing as he went, and reviewing the events of the evening.
The great Charity interested him little, or rather he looked
upon it with feelings of mingled irritation and disgust. He
considered it, naturally enough, as a gigantic bid for popu-
larity, and the only stupidity about it, when viewed in that
light, seemed to be that exactly the same object might have
been attained with one fifth of the money ; four- fifths there-
fore appeared absolutely wasted even from the donor's
standpoint. Why should all the wretched old paupers in
the province, after having been happy and contented in


hovels all their lives, want to die in a palace ? Surely an
old beggar must feel as uncomfortable in such a mansion, as
he, van Asveld, would be in a miserable hut ! Pigs in the
pigsty ; horses in the stable. That was the law of nature
and of ahem God.

Uppermost in the Jonker's mind was the thought of his
dead cousin's great wealth. " Avelingh must be rolling in
gold," he reasoned, and the recollection of his own conver-
sation with the Baron van Trotsem on the very morning of
the old man's last day on earth, came back to him with re-
vived bitterness. Often and often, since that fatal day, he
had recalled the farewell scene, the old Baron's promise of a
considerable legacy, the cruel disappointment when the will
was proved to speak of no provision at all. Even now, after
ten years, Arthur stamped his foot at the recollection, upon
the frozen snow. " Life had gone hardly with him," he
thought, and not untruly. The failure of that one hope, at
any rate, was as vivid, as irritating to-day, as when first it
became unpleasantly patent to him and to all his creditors.
Somehow he had convinced himself that both Joost and the
Baron had done him a personal injury by allowing death to
supervene before the necessary testamentary arrangements
had been definitely made. He did not reason much about
it ; but he liked Avelingh none the better because of that
gentleman's good luck.

From these reflections upon what might have been, the
Jonker naturally dropped into a review of his present financial
position. There could be nothing very attractive in that, and
he was not displeased to find his attention diverted by the
discovery that he was rapidly gaining on some one, who
seemed to be strolling leisurely on, a few paces ahead.
Walking briskly, as he was doing, he had almost come up
to the figure in front before he noticed it at all. " Who could
be out in this lonely spot at such an hour ? " he asked him-
self, " a tramp perhaps ? The Burgomaster's clerk must


see to that." Whatever van Asveld might be, he was any-
thing but a coward. He increased his speed and came
alongside of the man. " Good evening," he said. There
was no necessity for courage of any kind. It was only
Joost Avelingh.

" Avelingh," cried Asveld, in great disgust. He ha(^
expected to be able to make a show of his authority.
" What the devil are you doing here, if one may ask ? "

" Walking home," replied Joost, quietly. " And unless
you object, I shall continue my road."

" It is no business of mine, of course ! " replied the other.
" Only it seems a deuced strange way of getting back."

" I often walk after such an evening," said Joost. It
cools one down wonderfully. Gives one a better chance of

It was true. The man who could never be alone or idle
by day, rushing from one occupation to another, reading
even while he thus rushed, the same man would wander out
at night for long lonely walks. Was it because he knew
that, whether in the house or out of it, he 7nust be alone at
night? He had put Agatha into the carriage and started
down the dark road by himself. It would take him more
than an hour to reach home, and the night was bitterly cold,
but he had a fur coat on and a cigar between his lips.

" Cools one down ! I should think so ! " said Arthur.
" No danger of that. Freezes one. How is your hand ? "

" Quite comfortable, I thank you," said Joost stiffly.

" I thought you weren't looking well all the evening. I
told you so at the time. You looked as ill as a living man
can look, while the doctor was speaking during dinner about
'Cousin Dirk's death."

" It is a painful subject," said Joost.

" Undoubtedly. Though scarcely so for you, I should
say. Oh yes, of course, and all that. I^o doubt. And I
Quite believe yon, but if /were to say it was a painful subject


for me, a very peculiarly painful one, I am afraid the cynical
world would sooner believe me."

" I suppose you mean," said Joost, " that you would have
liked my uncle to leave you some money. I have often heard
that you were disappointed about some such matter. And I
wanted to speak to you about it. But I do not see why the
memory of my uncle's death should therefore be peculiarly
painful to you. You would not be any the richer, I feel sure,
if he were alive to-day."

" No," said van Asveld, brusquely, " but I should have
been richer if he had lived a little longer, or he was a
damned old liar."

They walked on for several minutes in silence. At last,
when Joost spoke, there was an unmistakable tremor in his
voice and yet it only gave utterance to the two simple
words : " How so ? "

" How so ? " repeated the other, " I can't tell how much
you know, Avelingh, and for all I could prove, you may be
as ignorant and innocent as a new-born babe. Mind you, I
don't for one moment insinuate you are not. Only, I can
scarcely understand, that living with you all day, as the old
man did, and bursting out into voluble rages as he was apt
to do also, he should never have let out anything to you of
his plan for me."

" My uncle's volubility," replied Joost, "restricted itself to
a very limited circle of " he was going to say " epithets " but
he substituted " interests. " " There is no reason, as you say,
why you should believe me, but, if it is any satisfaction to
you, I have no hesitation about declaring on my word as a
gentleman perhaps you do not consider me entitled to give

" Every man is a gentleman," said Arthur haughtily, " in
that sense."

" Thank you. On my word as a gentleman, or if you
will, my Bible oath that, as far as I had, or have, any cog-


nizance, my uncle, at any rate till the day of his death, had
made no plans whatever on your behalf."

" Just so," said van Asveld, " I don't doubt your word. I
dare say the old close-fist wouldn't blab. But you yourself
make a restriction. Might I ask you to explain it ? "

" Why not ? " replied Joost. " On the last day of his
life my uncle mentioned your name in connection with his
will. He told me why should I not repeat it ? that he
would rather leave his money to you than suffer me to diso-
bey him. It was said in a passion, as a threat. That was
the only time I heard of any intentions on your behalf. And
as I tell you, the words seemed but a passing allusion. I
have no more to say on the subject."

" But I have ! " cried Arthur hotly : " A great deal
more ! That remark was not a passing allusion, as you choose
to call it. I know better ! Perhaps I know more than you
do. On the very morning of his death I was closeted with
Cousin Dirk, as you will scarcely have forgotten, and when
I left him, I took with me the solemn assurance, the all but
written guarantee, that I should be handsomely remembered
in his will. He passed me his word on it. He told me I
might trade on it with the Jews or my future father-in-law.
And I tried to that very afternoon with old Moses ; only he
wouldn't see it, damn him. And he was right in the end,
as he told me afterward ; the hoary scoundrel ! But for all
that if the old beast had only lived a little longer, I am
sure he would have kept his word, for he was a gentleman,
hang him, with all his faults, and that's more than many of
us can say."

" Do I understand," asked Joost, " that my uncle gave
you his solemn assurance on the day of his death that he
would leave you money ? "

" Yes," replied Arthur, "didn't I say so?"

" And he told you you might trade on reckon on his
promise ? "


" Yes," repeated Arthur, " do you want the whole story
again ? "

" He did not, I presume, mention any particular

Arthur hesitated a moment barely a moment. He re-
called the whole conversation of that eventful morning, its
minutest details stood engraved in his memory forever : he
remembered the terms he had proposed and his cousin's an-
swer to them, and he considered that he was hardly pre-
varicating when he answered, " There had been a question
between us from the first of some forty or fifty thousand

They walked on, after that, side by side, through the
dark night. Presently said Arthur : " So you see I have full
right to complain that Cousin Dirk's death is a peculiarly
painful subject to me."

Joost did not answer.

They reached the house where Arthur had rooms, and

" Good night, Avelingh," said Arthur, not too ungra-
ciously, holding out his hand.

" I believe what you have told me," said Joost abruptly,
standing with his hands in the pockets of his fur coat. " I
see no reason to disbelieve it. In a day or two, as soon as I
can conveniently make the necessary arrangements, I shall
instruct Leening & Co., who are my bankers, to pay over to
you the sum of forty thousand florins with compound inter-
est from the day of my uncle's demise."

He turned upon his heel without another word.

" Avelingh," the other called after him, " Good Heavens !
Avelingh ! Damn it. What do you mean ? "

Joost walked on. " What's the use of long delibera-
tions?" he said to himself. "And what does it matter
whether he gets the money or some other poor beggar?
These things when done at all, are best done quickly.


And if what he says be true, I owe him the money more
surely than I owe my butcher's bill."

Arthur van Asveld remained standing by the little
wooden garden-gate that waited to admit him. He felt
dazed, as a man might feel on being suddenly struck to the
ground by a gold nugget, with a rough " That's for you ! "
His first impulse was not to believe the whole statement, to
look upon it as a vulgar joke. But " No," he said to him-
self the next moment, " we are not on such terms as those
with each other. And, besides, he was unmistakably in ear-
nest. Good heavens, what can he mean ? " Then came a
momentary flush of admiration and gratitude for Joost's
generosity. And then again, almost immediately, while he
yet stood out there in the cold, the doubt broke in upon
Arthur's mind : " Can all be right and square and above
hand with regard to Avelingh's succession? Men do not
give away forty thousand florins like a pair of old boots.
But they will pay out that and more than that, with a rea-
son. Some men's consciences require sedatives Arthur
smiled to himself in the dark some men's secrets are best
buried in gold. Forty thousand florins ! What could it
mean ? He regretted not having asked for fifty or sixty.
He was right, for Joost had immediately passed over that
" or fifty " as an attempt at niere extortion.

" What could it mean ? " He asked himself the question
again and again, as he went up to his room. Despite the
pleasure of thus finding temporary relief from his most
pressing liabilities, the question continued to worry him.
Why ? Why ? " Das geht nicht mit rechten Dingen zu,"
he said.




Agatha drove home by herself in the carriage, listening
vaguely to the regular tramp of the horses' feet on the frozen
snow, and dreamily thinking of many things. There had
been a time when Joost would have proposed to sleigh back
with her through the calm winter's night, and when she
would not have minded the cold, as long as they were to-
gether. Did he love her less than formerly ? She thought
not. Differently? No; he had never loved her quite as
she loved him. Had she a right to expect it ?

Joost Avelingh had sought in his wife what most men
seek : an ornament, a delight, a continual pleasure, but not,
in the full sense of the word, a companion a pet, dearly
cherished, but not an intellectual equal, to be honored, con-
sulted, esteemed. The force of circumstances, undoubtedly,
would have made it difficult for him to admit her to his full
confidence, but he had never sought or desired to do so.
He loved Agatha with all the early tenderness, " too much
tenderness " might well be said, if there were no danger of
being misunderstood. He admired her pure, fair beauty,
and he wished it to be admired by others. He was proud
of her as she entered a room with all her mother's majestic
bearing, her delicate complexion changing with every im-
pulse of feeling, her eyes shining calm and good under the
coronet of yellow hair. Her beauty had developed into
fuller matronhood as the years went on. He had never
loved her for that beauty only. He had loved her for her
goodness, her sweetness, her purity, all that goes to make a
good woman lovable, and he loved her for them still. He
would do anything that struck him to give her pleasure ;
any sorrow of hers was a deep grief to him also. He had
espoused her, fully, loyally, with his heart forever ; but his


mind's life, the deep, strong current of his thinking soul,
flowed up to her, babbled round her, and flowed past.

She gave him more who can doubt it ? She gave him
what a woman can her all. And she was happy, though
with a lurking suspicion that she might be much happier
still. It was at particular moments especially, when the
shadow fell broad across her sunlight, that she sorrowed
over it ; at other times she would strive to convince herself
that what she condemned as shadows were but specks upon
the sun. It was not in Agatha Avelingh's nature to be-
moan herself, and the wrongs that others did her had to be
very large indeed before her eye perceived them. She was
always the last to see any injury unless kind friends could
point it out.

On this occasion, however, her heart was troubled. She
had not liked Joost's mood all through the evening. She
had seen far more clearly than van Asveld how the doc-
tor's talk at dinner had unnerved him ; she had felt all the
pins and needles of the Burgomaster's speech in her own
breast almost before they reached Joost's; she had been
much distressed and puzzled by the incident of the broken
glass. She had often felt instinctively that her husband
kept his troubles from her. Could there be money diffi-
culties? Hardly. Agatha smiled at the thought. There
seemed to be too much money. True, he never spoke to
her on the subject, it being one of his theories that women
could know nothing about matters of finance, and that it
was foolish to instruct them ; but she knew, none the less,
that Joost was not the kind of man to be much troubled by
pecuniary considerations. Something wrong, probably, in
one of his many committees or councils. It vexed her more
than she would confess that he never spoke to her about all
this business, philanthropic, political, or personal, in which
he was involved. When she asked : " And how were they
in your meeting this afternoon ? " he would answer : "Oh,


very good, love, but not as good as you," and stop her moutli
witli a kiss. And when she ventured to trot out her wise
observations on the state of modern politics at home or
abroad, he would say, " They ought to make you Prime
Minister, dearest. How nice you would look opening Par-
liament in your new red velvet dress." What was the use,
then, of asking him what little matter worried him? It
only meant provoking the stereotype answer : " Nothing."
She resolved, as she went up-stairs to her room, to do it all
the same. She looked at the clock. Past eleven. She sat
down in her dressing-gown by the fire.

Twice during these years of her married life the joy of
motherhood had seemed very near to her ; twice her hope
had been frustrated, the bright dream had faded into air
like a mirage. She regretted the disappointment certainly,
but when she rose from her weary bed of sickness, her heart,
rebounding to her husband, found no room for loneliness
or repining. For Joost, the regret was a much stronger
one. His had been and still was the masculine desire
for a child, a child, namely, not merely for love, but for
honor, ambition, enjoyment, for all its capabilities of great-
ness and success. It was the only thing he would gladly
have changed in Agatha, the one misfortune he could almost
have reproached her for.

It was nearly twelve, when the husband, softly pushing
open the door, a candle in his hand, suddenly came into the
unexpected brightness.

" Up still ! " he said. " I thought you would have been
in bed long ago. I wish you would not sit up for me, dear-
est. You know how often I have told you I do not like it."

" But I like it so much," she answered, " I can not bear
going to bed and to sleep quite comfortably and unconcern-
edly, while you are still out in the cold, as if we were not
married at all. And it is such a real pleasure to see you
come home."


She spoiled him, this handsome, melancholy husband of
hers. Could she wonder if afterward she had cause to com-
plain of his behavior ? Very few husbands can stand being
systematically spoiled.

They began to talk of the evening's experiences, she
making the greater part of the observations upon them, he
answering in monosyllables, mostly. Dutch gentlemen
rarely have dressing-rooms : Joost had one and but seldom
used it. He left the door open and the gas turned up, and
wandered in and out to his wife. He listened to what was
chiefly innocent gossip with a certain appearance of inter-
est. He had almost forgotten the scene with van As veld,
barely half-an-hour ago. It had made but little impression
upon him. The gift of the money had left him supremely
indifferent. Perhaps, if had weighed the matter in the
silence of his own room, leisurely considering the pros and
cons, he would have concluded not to give Arthur the
money. Who shall say ? But now he had acted, as he so
often did, upon a sudden impulse, and he was not sorry it
should have been so. It was an impulse altogether in ac-
cordance with his nature and with his present mode of
thought. What did money matter to him ? He was only
too anxious to get rid of it in a manner pleasing to his con-
science. And to the peculiar promptings of that conscience
the Jonker van Asveld's claims seemed especially plausible.
He did not like van Asveld certainly. Eeason the more to
do him the strictest justice. The whole matter seemed
scarcely worth a thought, unless it were to extract a mo-
mentary pleasure from the idea of having done what might
perhaps be best. Perhaps it was not really the best ? Well,
of such stuff are we mortals made that the second best must
do as well.

And Agatha prattled on of many things while her heart
still dwelt on one. She was yearning to speak to Joost of
his trouble, of his sudden sickness, of the broken glass. An


accident ? No, it was more than that. A loving woman
reads her husband's countenance like an open book after ten
years of married life, even when that countenance is as
habitually dark and overcast as Joost Avelingh's. And she
had seen, from her distant place across the table, had seen,
as no other had, the nervous grip tightening slowly around
the brittle stem. What thought tormented him ? Had she,
his lawful, loyal wife, not the fullest right to know ?

" Joost," she said, with her back turned to him stand-
ing before her looking-glass. " How is your hand ? "

" You asked me that just before you started, Agatha,"
replied Joost, a little crossly. "That is not two hours ago.
Are you going to ask me every two hours ? "

" I am so afraid, dearest, that some glass may have re-
mained in the wound. It was quite a deep cut."

" A mere scratch. Nonsense, if one had nothing to bear
but that ! The hand is all right, I tell you."

" And the heart ? " she said, suddenly facing him.

" The heart," he echoed, laughing uneasily, " why,
Agatha, the heart as they say in the bulletins is as well as
can be expected under the circumstances."

" I should so like it to be quite happy," she said softly.

" Quite happy ! " he repeated bitterly. " Who is hap-

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 10 of 24)