Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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" They who are at rest."

Again he caught up the word. ^' Rest ! " he said. " You
know what the Bible tells us, Agatha. ' There is no rest,
saith my God, for the wicked.* We are all wicked, I sup-

There was an unpleasant lightness in his tone that jarred
upon the words.

" Yes," she answered more softly still. " We are all
wicked, and that perhaps is why the peace of God, when
once it comes, is said by that same Bible to pass all under-


" Then it's no use trying to understand it," remarked

" No, dearest, but I believe each individual soul can/ee?
the answer to the question whether it is at peace with God
or not."

He did not seem to listen much to what she was saying.
" Rest ! " he cried. " Peace ! Beautiful words, in sooth.
We mortals have not learned to be so ambitious. We do not
ask for cooling breezes, only for a little tempering of the
flame. ' Reach down thy finger and touch but the tip of
my tongue ! ' Our hearts are burning."

Agatha drew near to him. He almost pushed her from

" You religious people," he said, " talk about all the
pains and penalties in the beyond. Penalties for what?
The pleasures of the present ? Great God ! if Hell be yon-
der, then what is this ? And do thy creatures pass from
suffering to suffering ? From hell of earth to hell of hell ? "

" Joost ! Joost ! " cried Agatha, " Oh dearest, sin alone
is suffering ! And they who pass from sin to sin forever,
must pass forever from woe to woe."

" Sin," said Joost gloomily, " the wrong choice between
good and bad, it is a mistake, an ignorance, a fatality call
it what you will. Call it all things but a conscious self-in-
jury. We men are not such fools as that. Never mind,
Agatha. Keep your happiness. You need not under-

" One thing I understand," said Agatha. " You are

" Wretched ! " said Joost. " No. Who is wretched ?
Who is happy ? Wretchedness is an immeasurable capability.
I have not reached its limits yet. Perhaps only touched the
surface. No, I can't say I am fully and sufficiently wretched.
Oh, Agatha, Agatha, life is an awful thing."

" And death more awful yet," murmured Agatha.


" Is it ? " said her husband. " That question remains un-
answered still."

He lay far through the night staring into the darkness
with wide-opened eyes. His wife dropped asleep at his side.
He listened to her breathing, and he, who had always re-
fused to let her share his sorrows, yet felt unconsciously ir-
ritated that she could sleep thus tranquilly after their con-
versation. It was very rarely that he gave such utterance to
his thoughts. And he could not have told himself this even-
ing why he had so suddenly opened a window, as it were, into
his heart that even this woman he loved best on earth might
look so deeply into it. He had done so, impelled to break
through his reserve by all the emotions of the day. And
she slept. Why should she not ? What could women with
their easier, lighter, smoother natures know of a man's life-
struggle against fate ? He turned restlessly on his pillow.
"Life is an awful, a horrible thing," he said to himself-
" But to bear is to conquer," he said.



Two months had elapsed since the events narrated in
the last few chapters. The new year had come to life, creep-
ing slowly out of its infant torpor and waking up, bit by bit,
beneath his coverlet of snow. He had not yet passed into
the stage of blustering boyhood ; that would come in time,
when the winds of March arose. At present there was si-
lence still ; frost and snow, the strange silence of winter,
when the waters lie bound, and the earth lies muffled, the
silence as round a dying bed or by a baby's cradle. And


the new year stirred in his sleep ; and men said : " Hush !
he is waking ! "

A lonely traveler was coming along the straight, deso-
late highway. The morning hung low : dull, and gray, and
cloudy. There was no one in sight but this solitary pedes-
trian. A country cart had met him some time ago, and
jogged away into the misty distance, right on, down the
narrow line of road. He had eyed it, in passing, with ex-
aggerated interest and then stumbled on awkwardly, swaying
to and fro as he went. He was a common man, of some
.thirty years or thereabouts, poorly and untidily dressed ; and
although his shambling gait may have been habitual to him,
there was something in his swinging progress, as well as in
the foolish scrutiny of the cart, which at once proclaimed
to any but the most superficial observer, that the man was
the worse for drink at this moment more so that he was
probably not unfrequently in a similar condition.

He staggered on till he reached a little knot of cottages.
Here he stopped, gazing stupidly from side to side, with
that same look of senseless interest. Gradually his sunken
eyes seemed to brighten, as if with a smile of recognition :
he stumbled forward, pushed open a low door, and disap-
peared into the interior of a tiny public-house.

" And what may you want, my good friend ? " queried
the master of the house in no very friendly tone, as the new-
comer slouched up to the bar.

" A borrel," was the surly answer.

" Well, you can get that, though I should say, by the
look of you, that you had had quite as much as was good
for you already."

The other did not answer immediately. The publican
carefully measured out a small glass of the commonest gin
and placed it on the counter.

His customer took it up and, holding it by the foot,
began slowly, thoughtfully, luxuriously, to suck in its con-


tents. His little blood-shot eyes twinkled. Half-wa)^
through, he rested with a deep-drawn sigh of enjoyment.

" I reckon I've never had enough, from your point of
view," he said. " As long as I've got half a dozen cents left
to pay for more."

" The police would tell you a different story," replied
the publican.

" The police ! " cried the wayfarer, with a snort of con-
tempt. " There's all the difference in the world between
the police and a public house keeper." He evidently
enjoyed this sentence and the tone of contempt he threw,
into the last words extremely. He repeated them slowly.
" It's just the employers and the employed," he went on. " If
there were no public-house keepers damn it there need
be no police. You're just the beaters, you are, when the
police go hunting." He spoke in a slow provincial drawl,
and having said his say sucked again at his little spirit-

" Yes," remarked the publican spitefully, " and fellows
like you are the quarry."

" Eight you are," said the other, " and the quarry was
the most respectable party in every hunt that ever I

The publican did not reply. He limped away he was
a lame man to another part of the bar. The fellow was
only repeating he felt sure of it some of the foolish tem-
perance talk that has recently come into fashion, and it was
a matter of principle with the publican never to pay any
attention to temperance people. " It unsettled your ideas
of right and wrong," he was wont to say.

The stranger finished his glass with a smack of the
lips, and pushed it across the counter. " Give me another,"
he said.

" Cents first," said the publican, tersely.

His customer winked and slowly produced from a rag-


ged pocket ten copper cent-pieces, which, he spread out in
a straggling row before him.

The publican leisurely refilled the little glass.

" Always the same, eh ? " said the other, winking again.
" Smart as ever. Not a day older than ten years ago. I
know you."

" Do you ? " asked the publican with a keen glance.
" I haven't that advantage with regard to your Honor."

" No fooling ! " said the fellow fiercely. " I know you,
I tell you, Wurmers, you old thief. Knew you ever since I
was a child. You must be pretty near eighty, you old
Methusaleh ! "

" No calling names ! " cried the publican more fiercely
still. " What do you mean, you scoundrel ? "

The other instantly collapsed. " Methusaleh was a
damned respectable party," he murmured in a cowed tone.

" Yes," said the publican, " but thieves aren't, what-
ever you may think. And as for Bible history, a drunkard
might remember there were no publicans before Noah."

" Well, I know you at any rate, Wurmers, I tell you.
It's not the first borrel I've had in your house, and the gin's
as watery as ever."

" You're drunk," said Baas Wurmers. " You're drunk
enough to taste water in hell- fire."

" Drunk, am I ? " screamed the other. " You wouldn't
have spoken like that to me the last time I stopped at your
house. I was in a handsome chaise then, and sitting be-
hind as good a horse as ever stepped, I was."

" You're drunk," repeated the publican. " You look
like the kind of party that drives a handsome chaise, you

" I didn't say I was driving," replied the man. " And
I didn't say it was my chaise. I'm an honest man I am, as
honest as adverse circumstances will permit. As good as
a publican any day ! "


He struck his fist violently on the edge of the bar.
The wood was old, like the publican, and rotten. It cracked
across under the blow, or rather, a little crack the master
of the house had noticed for many a year, spread suddenly
into one of larger size.

The man stopped, looking at his handiwork in some

" That's damage," said the publican quietly, " to be paid

The delinquent moved awkwardly to the door.

" No you don't," cried the little old rogue, limping
round the bar with wonderful agility. " No you don't. Pay
first, and make yourself scarce afterward. Show your cents ! "

The other with a rueful countenance, turned out two
empty pockets.

" So you spend your last copper on gin, do you ? " cried
the little publican, hopping from one leg to the other, as
well as his lameness would allow. " And a wife and chil-
dren at home crying for food, very likely ! Ugh to think
of it ! But you don't get away, my fine fellow, till you've
paid me for what you've broke ! "

" I haven't got the money, as you see," said the other
threateningly. " And your rotten old planks would have
come to pieces, any way. So you'll just let me pass."

He made for the door, but the old Baas flung himself
straight at his whilom customer, and fastened his skinny
arms round the man's unsteady legs, holding him there in a
tight embrace, and screeching for help at the top of a shrill
discordant voice.

Another little old man came running in the grocer
from over the way. Various women and children from the
neighboring half-dozen cottages grouped themselves around
the now open door.

" Police ! police ! " screamed the publican. " They're
robbing me ! Thieves ! Help ! Police ! "


Police there were none. But the half-tipsy and alto-
gether broken-down personage thus attacked was the last
criminal to offer a determined resistance. He allowed him-
self to be secured by the two old fellows who had seized
hold of him, and he was led away up the road in the direc-
tion of Heist, staggering on between them, with a lessening
procession of children bringing up the rear. During the
first part of the journey old Wurmers was very eloquent
about his fancied wrongs, but his indignant expostulations
gradually dropped into an occasional murmur, and the little
j)arty reached the Burgomaster's office in melancholy si-

But here all the Baas's indignation overflowed afresh.
The criminal stood by with an agitated expression on his
face. In spite of his ragged appearance, he was evidently
not accustomed to such humiliating contact with the police.

A grave functionary in a dark blue coat the garde cliam-
petre took down the old publican's deposition with an in-
different air. It did not seem a very important case, he
thought. The hour was still too early ; there was no one in
the office yet. He advised Baas Wurmers to go back to his
gin-shop for the present. The man was a vagabond. That
was all.

The little group dispersed. The constable sat down to a
table covered with papers. The tramp stood at the window
and looked out. Presently the door was thrown open, and
Arthur van Asveld walked in. The constable rose; the
tramp turned from the window and made an attempt at a
military salute.

" Who is this, Stronk?" said Arthur in his official voice.

" A vagabond, Jonker. Brought in just now. Drunk
and disorderly in a public-house on the Hoester Road."

" I will examine him till the Burgomaster comes, and
make out the report." He passed into an inner room. He
had no particular right to examine anybody, being only a


clerk, but lie liked to make a show of his authority, fancied
or real, and, after all, that may be excused as an innocent
enjoyment. The constable followed him with the cul-

" Your name ? " said Arthur, authoritatively, installing
himself behind a green table.

"Jan Lorentz."


" Gentleman's servant out of place."

Van Asveld surveyed the figure before him. " Out of
place for some time, I should think ? " he said.

"I have been unfortunate, Nobly Eespectable Sir. I
come from this neighborhood. I have never been in such a
position before. I was born and bred on the finest estate in
the country "

" Silence," said Arthur with great dignity. "Place of

" The Castle at Hoest, Nobly Respectable Sir."

" Indeed ? " remarked Arthur. " Last place of abode ? "

" Yes, I was born on the estate, where my father was
servant before me. My father was Mynheer the Baron's
coachman. Nobly Respectable Sir, and I was for many years
one of Mynheer the Baron's grooms."

" Silence ! " said Arthur. " You say you were, in the
Baron van Trotsem's service. You will have to prove that.
How long were you employed at the Castle ? "

" I have my papers. Nobly Respectable," began Lorentz
eagerly, fumbling in a breast-pocket. "I was four years
with the Baron after I came back from military service. I
should be there still, only the nephew turned us off. And
I was present with the Baron in his last moments too ! It
was a shame to do it, a shameful shame ! and no offense to
your Honor."

" I can not allow you to speak in that manner of a man
in Mynheer Avelingh's position," interposed Arthur sternly.


" Do I understand you to say you were with, the Baron van
Trotsem at his death ? "

" Indeed I was, Nobly Respectable. And I helped to
bring him to ; only it was no use, because he was dead."

" Silence ! Last place of abode ? I must once more
insist on your answering questions only."

The interrogation continued ; the culprit telling the com-
mon tale of a character lost never to be recovered : drink,
misery, destitution, then more drink on that account, but no
crime. Arthur looked at the testimonial Avelingh had given
the man on dismissing him with the other servants, it was
fairly favorable ; undoubtedly it was genuine ; Arthur rec-
ognized the large, somewhat reckless and restless handwrit-
ing of the present Lord of Trotsem Castle.

" That will do," said Arthur presently. " You can go
back to your work, Stronk. Let the man remain here. I
have one or two things still which I may as well settle be-
fore the Burgomaster comes. And you can go on with your
reports in the mean time. Sit down there, you, what's your
name. The Burgomaster will be in presently. And shut
the door as you go out, Stronk ; it is really quite cold still."

The constable passed into the anteroom. When the
door had closed behind his retreating figure, Arthur got up
and came round to the corner in which the tramp had sat

" Remain where you are," said van Asveld condescend-
ingly. " And what is this story that you tell, my good man,
about your having been present when the Baron van Trot-
sem died ? "

" I was groom, sir, in the Baron's stables, as I told you,"
said the fellow, civilly. " And I was with him at the time.
You may have heard that he died in a chaise on the high
road. I was in the dickey when it happened, and I saw the
whole thing done."

" Done ! " cried van Asveld, thrown completely off his


guard by this unexpected expression. "Do you mean to
say that you saw any deed done that night, which can be
said to have any connection with the Baron van Trotsem's

Jan Lorentz hesitated. His one desire was to get away.
He was frightened at the idea of any dealings with the
police, and anxious not to commit himself further. He
felt just tipsy enough to know he must be careful about his
words ; the walk up to the Office had sobered him, and no
one now who spoke to him, as Arthur was doing, would re-
ceive the impression that he was much under the influence
of drink ; but for all that his brain never clear at the best
felt fuddled and confused.

" Oh, no, nothing," he said awkwardly. " I was in the
dickey, and through the glass in the hood they had forgot-
ten that little glass I heard and saw it all, you see."

Arthur bent forward and put one hand on the back of
the man's chair. " I have my reasons," he said, " for sus-
pecting that you know more about the Baron van Trotsem's
death than you care to show. Now look here ; you've got
into a mess with the police this morning. You say it's the
first time ! "

" It is. Indeed it is, Nobly Respectable Sir," cried Lo-

" Very well. I am willing to believe you. Mind you
get out of their clutches, that's all. It's always a good deal
easier to get in."

" What am I to do, Nobly Respectable ? I will do any-
thing ! "

" I am sorry for you," continued Arthur, " and willing
to help you out of this scrape. What's more, if yoa make
it worth my while, I may do a good deal more for you,
mind you, a good deal more. Do you understand that ? "

The tramp shook his head with an assumption of
shrewdness. " I'll do anything," he said ; " you try me, sir."


" So much is not required of you," said Arthur. " The
Baron van Trotsem was a near and dear relation' of mine.
His death took place under the most mysterious circum-
stances. I have recently been led to suspect that there was
foul play somewhere in that business. Now, you tell me
you were present from first to last ? "

" Yes," said Lorentz. " Yes, that true. I sat in the
dickey and saw it all."

" Very well. Now mind you, I shall ask you some ques-
tions. Y^our own future, for a good deal, will depend upon
how you answer them. And first ; What part did Mynheer
Avelingh play in the whole matter ? What did he do ? "

" N nothing," said the tramp, hesitatingly.

" Nothing ! " repeated Arthur, sarcastically. " Eeally ?
Nothing? With his uncle dying at his side? That is
very extraordinary ! We shall hardly get you out of prison,
or into a comfortable means of earning an honest livelihood,
by such statements as that. Nothing ! Indeed ? No fool-
ing," he continued, suddenly changing his tone to one of bitter
earnest. " Look here, Lorentz, I can well understand, that
if anything evil happened, you were paid to keep silence.
And you seemed to have earned your pay. But the other
side don't seemed to have looked after you very satisfacto-
rily, and now I'll pay you to talk. I think I shall probably
pay you better. There ; you can grasp that ! "

" Yes," replied the man quietly, " and a good deal more
than your Noble Eespectability perhaps thinks. And what
am I to say ? "

" Answer my questions ; that is all. And, to begin with
the beginning, what did you hear the Baron say in the
chaise ? Did you hear him say anything at all ? "

" Only now and then. Nobly Eespectable. But at times
he shouted loud enough to be heard half-a-mile down the
road. And he abused his young nephew most terribly for
wanting to marry the Freule van Hessel, and I heard him


cry out a dozen times, quite plain, that rather than let him
do that, he'd leave all his money to a certain Mynheer van

" Indeed ! " said Arthur, looking out of the window.
" You heard him say that ? "

" A dozen times, so help me God. And it was you he
meant, Jonker."

" What ? " cried van Asveld. " You know me ? "

*' As soon as I came in," replied the man, " only I
couldn't think clear at first. I can't always think clear.
Haven't I seen you up at the Castle in the old Baron's

" And so," said Arthur, speaking more to himself than
to his companion, " the old man was driving across to the
Notary we knew that shouting out all the way that he
intended to alter his will in my favor I don't think any of
us were aware of that little item ; it was not a detail Ave-
lingh would care to communicate. Why you scoundrel ! "
he cried, suddenly turning on the frightened tramp. " Talk
of getting you out of this scrape. Damn the old gin-seller
and his rotten tables ! It's worth half-a-dozen gin-sellers to
me to know what your keeping boxed up in that drink-
muddled head of yours ! Tell me what you saw through
that God-send of a little glass window, and I'll, pay you
twice whatever Avelingh gave you to hold your peace ! "

" There's nothing I want so much as to get out of this
trouble," said Lorentz, cautiously. " And I'm most anxious
to oblige you, Jonker. I saw it all through the glass, as I
said ! "

"Did you see him killed?" cried Arthur excitedly,
" Tell me for the love of Heaven, did you see him killed ? "

" I saw the old Baron fall back, and then I saw Mynheer
Joost throw back his arms and clench "

" Yes ! Yes ! " shouted Arthur. " Clench him by the
throat, eh ? Oh, my God ! What are you staring at me


like that for, you villain ? You fool to take ten years to
come and tell me that you saw Avelingh strangle his uncle,
when I would have made you rich the day after the deed,
had I but known ! "

The tramp stood silent, a troubled expression in his eyes.
Presently it cleared off, and he cast an unexpectedly acute
glance at the excited nobleman opposite him. He was a
strange creature, in whose brain original shrewdness and
drunken confusion had been fighting for the mastery during
several years. There could be little doubt which would
ultimately conquer.

"Never mind why you did not speak sooner," Arthur
continued more calmly, " the great point is that you have
spoken now. So much the better for you in every way.
You heard, therefore, as you now declare, the Baron van
Trotsem repeatedly express his resolve to alter the will on
that fatal night. And you know none better how it
came that he never lived to do it. It is not chance, my good
man, but Providence, that has brought you here this morn-

Arthur walked to the window and stood gazing out into
the gray sky. That hour had brought him a revelation so
terrible in its reality that he trembled to think of its im-
port in spite of all the hopes and fears of the last months.
He had received the so-called legacy in full from Avelingh,
and from that moment the conviction had deepened upon
him, that the man who paid away so much money, unasked,
must have his very good reasons for doing it. The doctor's
talk about van Trotsem's death had also rankled in his mind,
and, what with one thing and another, Arthur had felt more
and more convinced that, somewhere and somehow, a mys-
tery remained unsolved in connection with Joost Avelingh.
And yet in spite of this conviction, he told himself that the
actual discovery, as it now presented itself to his mind,
found him unprepared. It was too awful to think of. Ten


years ago, then, the old man had been murdered by his own
nephew, and that nephew had enjoyed his ill-gotten gains
ever since. To do Arthur justice, the horror of the thing
was uppermost in his thoughts at first. But soon the other
consideration came working its way to the top. It was not
only to enrich himself but to rob another that Joost Ave-
liugh had committed this crime. And that other was he,
Arthur van Asveld. But for this murder he might now
have been instead of a beggar as he was one of the richest
and most influential men in the province ! he might have
been, in fact, in Joost Avelingh's place. The conception
was torture to him. He turned away from it, and found
himself relentlessly recalled to it, till his heart hated Joost
as it had never hated before.

As he stood there, staring moodily at the clouds, the
choice between two modes of action presented itself to his
mind. He could take this secret to the guilty man and
trade upon it. It would be worth a fortune to him. How
much, it was impossible to say; enough undoubtedly, to

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 11 of 24)