Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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make Arthur rich forever after. That was one. course to
pursue, the easier, and by far the more profitable. Or he
could put the whole matter in the hands of the authorities.
There was no profit to be got out of that ; ' only endless worry
and exposure and yes, undoubtedly and revenge,

" Here is money," he said, turning round, and throwing
a goldpiece across to Jan Lorentz. " Go and settle with
Baas Wurmers give him a florin or two and then get a
room in the village. We shall want you, of course, to bear
out your statement that your saw Mynheer Avelingh clench
his uncle by the throat and kill him. But, mind you : keep
a quiet tongue in your head. Not a word, not one word,
till I bid you speak. Unless you obey me exactly, you may
whistle for another penny of mine."

Jan Lorentz eyed the goldpiece and its giver dubiously
for a moment. Then he took up the money, bit it, as if ii^

" WANTED." 157

doubt of its corporeal existence, slipped it into his pocket
and slapped his side. It was many months since he had
possessed such a sum. His eyes twinkled with delight
possibly with visions of unlimited gin.

He shambled to the door. Arthur followed him and
called to the official, still busy at his writing in the outer
room : " The man can go, Stronk," he said. " He is a re-
spectable fellow, evidently. I have given him a florin or
two to settle with the old publican. Not worth sending
up to the District Court, surely."


" I WISH I had never begun the whole thing," said Joost
dejectedly. " It has brought me nothing but trouble and
disappointment from the first."

" It is a good work all the same, and a great one," an-
swered Kees, " and that's my opinion."

Agatha nodded gratefully to her brother. They were
sitting together in Joost's room again, and once more the sub-
ject of their conversation was the Charity.

It had not gone well with the Charity. In appearance,
undoubtedly, things were prospering as they should. The
Burgomaster, having once taken up the matter, had care-
fully nursed his son-in-law's project through all the perils
of a Board Meeting, and Joost had in due time been hon-
ored with a vote of thanks and an address.

The work of building had not yet begun, on account of
the season, but active preparations were already in progress,
and the necessary arrangements had been made with various


contractors. So far, so good. But Joost, having once been
partially enlightened by his father-in-law, perceived but too
plainly, how all these concerned in the business were com-
bining to get as far as possible, a maximum of profit out of
the concern by reducing the proposed benefit to the poor to
a minimum. When everybody from the highest to the
lowest had received the share he claimed as the price for
not betraying his neighbor, it would remain to be seen what
was left for the old people. The rules had been adopted
" in accordance with the wishes of the beneficent founder,"
and with some insignificant alterations only, which latter
however, as such alterations will sufficed to entirely sub-
vert Joost's intentions on several important points.

No wonder, therefore, that Joost considered he had a
right to feel aggrieved. He had attempted an impossible
thing, and was surprised to find out his mistake. Men con-
stantly strive to keep hold with one hand of what they es-
teem it their duty to let go with the other. He had been
resolved from the first to withdraw entirely from the man-
agement of the charity-fund ; he refused all honor or influ-
ence in connection with it ; he sincerely desired that pos-
terity might forget the very name of its founder, and the
measures he had taken rendered such a contingency more
than probable. And yet he could not bear with equanimity
to witness how the money, once out of his control, was used
in ways of which he must strongly disapprove. He would
have liked to see the whole Charity acting in entire inde-
pendence of his influence, and yet in exact accordance with
his wishes. And now far from that being the case the
whole thing was being used as a convenient means of put-
ting money into pockets already too full of ill-gotten gains.
He might well complain.

" It is a good work all the same," said Kees. " You can't
help the misdoings of other men. Charity begins at home
in this sense also, that it blesses the giver first, as Agatha

"WANTED." 159

said just now. It's quite true, and you'll get your blessing
in time."

** My blessing is the last thing I expect to come home to
roost," said Joost, a little bitterly. "Nor do I consider I
have deserved it. As long as the poor old paupers only get
their due. What do you say, Agatha ? "

" I can not help thinking," replied Agatha, " that it was
rather a pity you ever gave the whole thing so entirely out
of your own hands. But that's done now, and past crying
for. I am sure you would have managed it admirably,

" I am sure you would have done all things admirably,
Joost," said her husband laughing. " Anything of interest
on at the court, Kees ? "

" Nothing but endless drunkards and dog-keepers," said
Kees. " It's awfully slow work, a little district show like
that. What I should like would be a real criminal case to
work through from beginning to end, with a regular villain
in it. That must brace one up, I should think."

" Unfortunately, regular villains are scarce," said Joost.

Agatha shook her finger at him and laughed.

" You people are about the happiest in the world, I
should say," remarked Kees suddenly. " Far too much
money ; plenty of love ; a beautiful place like this ; all these
good things, and nothing to do but to enjoy them ! And
now, into the bargain, Joost must go and spend his time in
earning golden opinions all over the country, making him-
self the most popular man in it ! Here is the June ebction
coming on, with all the glory it is to bring you in prospect-
ive ! What more can you desire? I could almost find it in
my heart to envy you, Joost, if it were not that Agatha is
my sister ! "

" Yes," said Agatha quietly, " we have much to be thank-
ful for. I hope, I trust, we remember it."

" The only thing I shouldn't like would be the having


nothing more to be discontented about or to desire," cried Kees
laughing. " Oh yes, of course, I forgot," he said suddenly.
Ilis florid face crimsoned over. The good-natured fellow
looked quite distressed. " There is something wanting, cer-
tainly. Oh well, cheer up ; that may still come in time."

Joost's eyes met his wife's. A look of love shot into
them in answer to hers. He felt very tenderly toward her
that night ; he could not have told himself why. He got
up and kissed her in her brother's presence.

" There is room in house and heart," he said, " and when
the angel knocks at the window we shall open a deux hat-
tants. Till then, what avails it to gaze forth into the night ?
Enough to know that the issues of life, as of death, are in
the hand of God. Come in ! "

The last words were elicited by a knock at the door. A
servant entered with a note. " From whom ? "

" The messenger could not say. Mynheer."

Joost broke the seal ; it was wax, flattened with a piece
of current money. His eyes ran over the brief contents,
and his face expressed blank amazement. Then another
look began to creep across it, and he allowed the paper to
fall to the ground. He bent down to look for it ; felt for it
a minute or two, though it was Ijdng just in front of him,
and then raised himself again with the missive in qne hand.
His face was set and calm.

" You need not wait," he said to the servant. " I will
let the messenger have the answer immediately. He turned
to his bureau, hurriedly wrote a few words on a scrap of
paper, ran to the door, then stopped as if a sudden thought
had struck him. " Oh, Kees," he said, " would you mind
giving the man this for me ? They are sometimes so im-
portunate, if one speaks to them one's self. Awfully good
of you, if you would go down to him a minute."

" Certainly," said Kees starting up. His brother-in-law
pushed him into the hall. " Just see the address is all

WANTED." 161

riglit ! " he called after him. Kees glanced at the address,
stopped abruptly under the hall-lamp, tore open the paper,
and stood irresolute.

Joost had shut the room-door and come back to his wife.
Once more he kissed her on the forehead. But before he
resumed his seat a fresh thought seemed to strike him.
" Oh, I ought to have told Kees," he cried, once more turn-
ing to the door, " that he should " he closed the door be-
hind him.

He found his brother-in-law still standing under the
hall-lamp, the open paper in his hand. " Come into the
dining-room," he cried hurriedly, "as I told you to do."
He threw open the door as he spoke. A servant was clear-
ing away the dinner-things. " Tell the man down-stairs
there is no answer," he said. " Stop. Give him that." He
threw a small coin across the table.

" What does all this mystery mean ? " queried Kees.
He still held his scrap of paper in one hand. It was ad-
dressed to him, and inside were written the words : " Wait
for me in the dining-room, Kees."

" Read this," said Joost, holding out the letter the mes-
senger had brought him. On half a sheet of paper these
sentences were traced without heading, signature, date or
any other mark of identity :

"An accusation of the very gravest nature has been
lodged against you this morning. If your conscience con-
demns you, cross the frontier immediately. You have an
hour's start and will not be pursued too fast. There is no
extradition-treaty with Uruguay."

Kees stared blankly at Joost ; then he read the contents
of the note over again ; and then he once more lifted
amazed eyes to his brother-in-law's face.

" A hoax," he said at last. " Who can have done it ? "

At this moment there came another knock at the door.
Joost started as if the blood-hounds of the law were already


on his track. It was only the servant, returning to continue
his work.

" Wait till you are called," cried his master in a passion.
He flung to the door and lockod it.

" A hoax," repeated Kees.

" I do not think so," said Joost. He took up a dessert
knife from the table and began playing nervously with it.

" Not ? " cried Kees. " Why, surely you don't mean to
say it's earnest ? Joost ! And what would the accusation
be about, pray? You'll tell me you know that, next."

" No," replied Joost. " I don't say that."

"You think it's meant seriously, and yet haven't an
inkling what it's all about."

" I did not say that either."

"Let's be practical, Joost; the time they allow you is
short enough. Have you any idea what this paper means ? '*

" No," said Joost " Unless " he paused.

"Unless what?"

" If your conscience condemns you," repeated Joost. " A
vague term. Whose conscience condemns him not ? "

"Not every man's conscience condemns him of grave
crimes against the law of the land," said Kees with ready
good sense. " Nor does yours, of course. So there's a mis-
take or slander, or something. Except it be a hoax. Let
me look at the paper again."

He took it to a shaded lamp on the sideboard, and
studied it carefully. As it happened, he Avas a bit of an ex-
pert in handwriting, having amused himself with graphology
at college. His ruddy face grew suddenly white.

"As I live," he cried, "the hand is yes, though it's
evidently feigned I would swear to it being Doverel's him-

" Doverel's ! " cried Joost. " The public prosecutor's !
Surely, he has no reason to shield me."

" It is Doverel," said Kees in an agitated voice. " I see

"WANTED." 163

his handwriting daily at the court. He has changed it for
this note. It is he, all the same. Joost Good Heavens
Joost. If you can understand anything of this, Joost,
you've not fifty minutes to get out of the house ! "

" And why should Doverel warn me ? " said Joost.

Van Hessel, more accustomed to such matters, could
have given several reasons, had he been calm enough to do
so. His hand trembled. " Joost," he stammered. " My
dear fellow, forgive me. Of course you are innocent, what-
ever the charge may be. I didn't know what I was saying.
Of course you will stay quietly here. It is absurd."

" I shall stay," said Joost.

There was a moment's silence after that. Joost con-
tinued to play with the knife he held in his hand. He
threw it up several times and caught it by the handle. His
brother-in-law stood staring at the terrible missive, too
amazed and stupefied to give advice.

Presently Joost spoke. "No extradition treaty with
Uruguay," he said. " Could I get away yet, I wonder, if I
wished to?"

" You could," replied Kees, waking up, as it were, from
a dream. " If you leave the house immediately, the police
will not pursue you just yet. That is what the letter means.
Doverel has his own reasons for doing a man like you a serv-
ice. But in an hour or so half-an-hour now they may
be here. Sooner, if the letter has been delayed."

Avelingh walked up and down the great room with rapid
strides. There were drops of cold sweat on his forehead.
He stopped opposite his brother-in-law.

" I shall stay," he said again.

" Of course," said Kees. " It will all be cleared up in a
day or two. It's so extraordinary; I don't know what to
say or think. You can't imagine what they may be aiming
at ? You really can't now ? "

Joost threw back his hair from his brow. "No," he


said. "What crossed my brain just now was too absurd,
too unlikely. No, Kees, in the sight of Heaven, I have
no idea what the charge can be."

" I thought so," said Kees, heartily. " I mean, I knew
it. Only, of course, one is so utterly amazed and confound-
ed. I can only say again : you must forgive me, Joost."
The two men shook hands.

Another knock came at the door. They shook hands
again, and then Kees went to open it. The servants stam-
mered excuses. Two gentlemen were asking for his master.
He had asked Mevrouw, and Mevrouw had said he must

" I will go to them," said Kees.

" No," cried Joost, standing at the far end of the room.
" Show them in here."

He had been playing with the silver knife. A moment
ago, however, he had laid it down and taken up a large steel
one in its stead. Playing thus, half carelessly, he had once
or twice made a rapid pass with the shining blade near his
throat. Only a feint or two at the best. Who shall say
what was passing in his mind ?

A moment later two strangers entered, grave-looking
men in dark clothes. " Mynheer Avelingh ? " said the
elder interrogatively.

" Yes," replied Joost.

The first speaker hesitated, and cast a glance at Kees.

" My brother-in-law, Mynheer van Hessel, Clerk of the
District Court," said Joost.

The stranger looked relieved, but he hesitated still.

" This gentleman may hear anything you wish to say,"
continued Joost.

" Anything ? " queried the other with a marked accentua-
tion of the word.

" Anything and everything," said Joost.

" It is an unpleasant task that brings us here, Mynheer

"WANTED." 165

Avelingh," continued the officer, " but we are only carrying
out orders. I very much regret that those orders should
have been necessary."

" Do your duty," said Joost briefly.

The police officer seemed to be unfavorably impressed
by the fact that his arrival did not occasion more surprise.
It was as if he had been expected. And yet such visits as
this in a gentleman's mansion were surely unusual, to say
the least. He looked from one gentleman to the other and
hastily concluded that Joost must be guilty. Policemen are
almost always dominated by one hasty impression, and allow
themselves to be actuated by that impression alone. For-
tunately, their experience insures a fair chance of its being
a correct one on the whole.

" My duty," said the man, roughly, " is to arrest you, in
the King's name." He showed his badge of office as he

" And what," asked Joost, "is the charge' against me?"

" That," replied the officer, " you will hear later on.
Put down that knife, if you please. Mynheer." Joost flung
the knife he was holding to the table, with a laugh so fierce
that his three companions involuntarily started back.

" What is the charge ? " said Kees. " You heard this
gentleman mention my quality. I am Clerk of the District
Court. What is the charge ? "

" If you wish it," answered the officer, in a sulky man-
ner, " I suppose there is no especial reason for my not tell-
ing you. The charge is an exceptionally grave one it's
just murder. That's all. There's an accusation lodged
against Joost Avelingh for the murder of his Uncle, Dirk
van Trotsem Dirk, Baron van Trotsem, it is, I believe."

Joost began to tremble violently over his whole frame.
He felt that all three men were watching him intently, but
he strove in vain to steady himself. There was a moment's
terrible silence ; then, controlling himself as best he could,


the accused man hissed out : " Are you flesh and blood, or

And a few seconds later he added, in a still lower gasp :
"Or angels?"

In spite of the sick terror at his heart, Kees wondered at
the words. He involuntarily recalled his father's frequent
assertion that " Joost was so melodramatic," and he would
have smiled, if there had been room in his thoughts for any-
thing approaching a smile, as his eyes turned to the com-
monplace-looking men before him.

Neither of the officers took any notice of Joost's excla-

" I must request you to follow me," said the elder one,
" we have a carriage in waiting down-stairs."

" Yes," said Joost. " I understand. I presume I may
take leave of my wife ? "

" Certainly. But we must be back in town to-night."

"I shall not require long," replied Joost. He turned to
his brother-in-law. " Good-by, Kees," he said. " I do not
know what you may think, but I can assure you by all that
I hold sacred that such an accusation as this never came
into my head. When I hesitated just now, it was because a
wild suspicion crossed my brain that some dealings in con-
nection with that wretched Charity but there ; I knew the
idea to be absurd at once. Such things are not punished.
Good-by, Kees. Tell your people at home, and and "
his voice faltered " take care of Agatha. I swear to you I
never dreamed of the possibility of this ; I am as utterly
amazed and bewildered as you can be."

Kees Hessel wrung his brother-in-law's hand. The tears
stood in the honest fellow's eyes. " I don't doubt it," he
said. " It will all be set right in a day or two. Some one's
gone mad somewhere, evidently. That's the solution. And
till we find it out, I'll fight for your innocence against the
world." He ran after Joost as the latter was passing out of

"WANTED." 167

the room. " Take plenty of money with you/' he whispered.
" The more the better. Money buys pretty well everything,

Joost crossed over to the study where Agatha was sitting
quietly at her work, the tea-things waiting at her side, the
kettle singing on its little peat-stove. He was about to shut
the door behind bim, but one of the officers interposed. He
turned fiercely on the intruder. " Excuse me, no," said the
man, " the charge is too serious a one. We can not let you
out of our sight."

Agatha looked up in mild surprise. "Dearest," said
Joost, leading her to the other side of the room, " something
very extraordinary, very sad, has happened. Can you bear

" Yes," said Agatha, " with you. What is it Joost ? "

" And disgrace ? "

She hesitated. " Yes," she said again. " Because it
would be unmerited. But, oh, darling, what is it ? "

" Those two men there are policemen. They have come
here with a charge against me. Some one has accused me
of an awful thing of of the murder of my old uncle,

" Murder ! " she repeated, vaguely. For a moment or
two the word seemed to make no impression on her. She
clung to him with an anxious, questioning look upon her

"Yes, dearest. How the charge is made, by whom
how such a thing is possible, I am striving in vain to un-
derstand. It is so. I must go with them to the town to-
night, Agatha. Now ! "

" Go with them? Oh, Joost ! " She burst into tears.

He pressed her to him in silence. " God will take care
of you, my own darling," he murmured, at last. " God help
me. You must pray for me all the time. Oh, my dearest,
that I should bring such grief upon you ! "


She lifted up her head from his breast and dashed back
the tears angrily. " You will come back to-morrow," she
said. " It is ridiculous. They will see you are innocent to-

The officer took a step forward, and coughed softly.
They had forgotten him.

" I am ready," said Joost, turning haughtily. He dis-
engaged himself from his wife's embrace and came forward.

" He is innocent ! " cried Agatha, almost defiantly. " He
is innocent ! He is innocent ! "

Joost paused for a moment in the door- way.

" God only knows," he said to himself. In that moment
his heart, in its forlornness, went out to his wife in love and
admiration as it had never done before.



The country was ringing with the news. A man of
Joost Avelingh's wealth and position arrested for -murder !
The thing was unheard of. And although his name only
appeared in initials in the papers, according to the queer
continental custom, yet everybody knew on the day after
the arrest who was meant by " an influential inhabitant
of Heist, J. A." The provincial paper, indeed, suppressed
the news altogether during the first few days, from a laud-
able, if foolish, desire to maintain the dignity of the
higher classes in the presence of the common people, and
one or two disreputable society-journals sent interviewers
to Agatha to ask her how much she would pay to have
the item kept out of their budget (the interviewers were


not received, be it said by the way) ; but the independ-
ent radical dailies published leaders which gave much
offense in all Government circles, as they were intended to
do urging the authorities to do their duty, and darkly
hinting at precedents which led them to infer that the
criminal would get off scott free.

Certainly no one could complain that the prisoner, once
arrested, was treated with exceptional lenity. No distinc-
tion at all was made between him and a common criminal,
even there where it might be argued that similar treatment
resulted in actual inequality. At least, such small favors as
he could succeed in obtaining were acquired in the strictest
secret from the prison warders at perfectly incredible prices,
and their existence was vigorously denied in the semi-official

He was locked up in a prison-cell and left to himself.
When there, he received an intimation that he might select
an advocate to act for him, but he was only allowed to see
that personage at rare intervals, and meanwhile the secret
inquiry into the case the " instruction " as they call it
proceeded. Dutch criminal procedure is very different from
English; it may be generally described in spite of nu-
merous deviations as having been modeled very closely
after the French. This book has nothing to do with the
question which system is preferable, but it must be stated in
explanation of what follows, that the foreign investigation
starts from the diametrically opposite point of view, as com-
pared with British ideas, that a prisoner, if there once be
sufficient ground to arrest him, may safely be presumed to
be guilty till you have proved he is innocent, and that, there-
fore, the one great object always to be kept in view is the
criminal's confession, to obtain which all efforts of the pre-
liminary examiners co-operate. On the other hand, the
Dutch have abolished all juries. A Court of several judges
varying in number, according to the gravity of the case


decide on all questions whatsoever. So much it seemed
necessary to explain.

The examining judge, then, was using all his efforts to
extract a confession from Joost Avelingh. This was the
more desirable because of the great scarcity of evidence
against the accused. But all threats and stratagems proved
equally vain. The prisoner, confronted with the chief
witness against him, heard the charge with evident surprise.
He was accused of having seized his uncle by the throat and
having strangled the old man by tightening the comforter
he wore. The evidence of the doctor and the notary cor-

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 12 of 24)