Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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roborated this view, as appeared still more fully at the trial.
But the prisoner absolutely and consistently denied it.
They had to bring him back to his cell in desj)air.

In the mean time, Kees Hessel worked for him with un-
flagging energy. Some little privileges were obtained, as
has been said ; " it need not be inquired too particularly by
what means," cried the radical press. He was allowed to
see his wife once or twice; but the interviews agonizingly
painful as they were could bring neither of them much
satisfaction. During the month or two of the weary pre-
liminary inquiry his health broke down visibly. The
wretched food, the want of exercise, the anxiety, the harrow-
ing examinations ; all these combined to do him injury.

" The prisoner," said the papers, " insolently persists in
refusing to confess his guilt."

The opinion of the country went dead against Joost.
For much of that opinion, of course, the newspapers were
responsible, and these in so far as they were written for
men of the lower classes attacked, in the offender, the gen-
tleman of position. There was a nervous dread everywhere
that he must escape, as so many other men had done before
him, or that, even if he were condemned, he would be im-
mediately pardoned. Herein, however, public opinion went
wrong. It forgot, or ignored, the fact that Joost, thougli a


gentleman and a man of great wealth, had no patrons or
protectors among the influential members of his own class.
And he had not. On the contrary, he was generally disliked
by the very men who could best have helped him. Many of
them had hated him for his hard-working, honest efforts to
"curry favor" with the poor, for his great wealth and so-
called good luck, for the talents and ambitions and noble
desires, which made him so unlike one of them. They re-
joiced at his fall, and now kicked him when down.

" That's what comes of being cleverer than your neigh-
bors," said Beau Liederlen. " I always foretold he would
come to grief. When a man in our circle has too much
brains, he makes a bad use of them, say I."

Kees Hessel, therefore, had a bad time of it. He went
from house to house, and from man to man. He was voted
an insufferable bore in the Club smoking-room, but a right
good fellow all the same.

"Talk of something else, Kees," people said to him.
" We'll believe the man is innocent, if you'll talk of some-
thing else." In the female drawing-rooms matters were
made still more difficult for this special pleader. When he
started the subject, he was met by an icy stare, and pause,
and then that most cruel crusher of all, a sudden change in
the conversation. They thought it bad taste in him to al-
lude to the matter at all, the man being his sister's husband.
There was not a woman of her own class, except her mother,
who could unbend sufficiently to show Agatha any sympathy.

Only the little dressmakers and milliners, the little serv-
ant-girls, and the " unfortunates " spoke and thought pity-
ingly of the woman left deserted and despised in her great
mansion. They stopped before the shop- windows where the
" portrait of the murderer " hung, and they pitied him too
a little, " because he looked so melancholy, and had such
lovely dark eyes."

The van Hessel family had enough need of comfort and


sympathy, though they did not get it. The Burgomaster
seemed hopelessly crushed by this misfortune, the greatest
imaginable in his eyes : disgrace. He grew visibly thinner,
his large limbs lessened under his garments till the latter
flapped loosely about his frame. His carriage lost all its an-
cient strut, and a look of unmistakable worry settled on his
face. He would have avoided the Club, had not his son in-
sisted on his appearing there.

" We are innocent," said Kees, " and we intend to show
it in a few weeks."

It was Mevrouw who at this moment showed strength of
mind for the whole family. She calmly accepted the posi-
tion in which she found herself, neither flaunting her pride
in the face of a righteously indignant world, nor abating
one jot of it to please those who were eager for her humilia-
tion. No allusion to the matter crossed her lips, except
when she once or twice just at the right moment feel-
ingly mentioned, " our great sorrow " in passing, or on one
special occasion haughtily vindicated the innocence of " one
whom all his relations love and admire." She had never
cared much for Joost, there was too little sympathy between
their characters ; nor had she ever advocated his marriage
with her daughter, in spite of his wealth, but she stuck to
him now in her own cold imperious manner. And to Aga-
tha her heart went out in love and tenderness indescribable.
She had hurried up to the Castle immediately, and all
through those two terrible months of anxious waiting she
stayed with its sorrowful mistress.

Bettekoo's lover broke off the match on account of the
undesirable connection. So Bettekoo was sent for to the
Castle also, and the three women wept together. And yet,
despite their common misery and humiliation, there was
not one person in the whole family, after the first fright-
ened amazement was over, who believed in Joost's inno-
cence except Agatha and Kees. Verrooy made himself


agreeable to his wife about " the murderer " on every possi-
ble occasion, and by asking his children how they liked hav-
ing a convict for an uncle.

And Agatha ? Her servants liked her ; they had every
reason to do so. They were bound to her by many ties of
kindness in the past. They tried to show her their awk-
ward sympathy as best they could. The laborers on the
estate, the poor in the neighboring cottages; there were
tender hearts enough, eager to weep with her and for her,
and many a little token of affection found its way to her
heart. But none ever spoke of Joost. " Murder ! " It
was such an awful thing, and all believed him guilty. She
felt instinctively that it was so. And what then did sym-
pathy, however well-meaning, avail her ? It was not recog-
nition of her sorrow she wanted, but assertion of his inno-
cence. His innocence against the world! She did not
leave the grounds, except to go to church, during all those
weary weeks. It was shameless of her to appear there, said
the ladies and gentlemen. But what cared she, though her
most intimate friends looked away as she passed down the
aisle, and though not one hand was stretched out to her in
the entry ?

The little girl at the turnpike came running to her with
her accustomed smile and courtesy, and the child's mother
burst out crying as she threw open the bar. And Agatha
returned to the Castle, with her mother at her side, and
spent a quiet afternoon alone in the beautiful gardens of
her desolate home.

And God was very merciful to her. For He tempers
the wind.




Three gentlemen were leisurely walking down the vil-
lage-street on their way home from the Club late one even-
ing in April. They were Liederlen, Verrooy, and Doctor

The village of Heist, though still called a village, is
larger than many a country-town. It is surrounded by a
number of villas and small gentlemen's seats, and the in-
habitants of these villas have built themselves a very com-
fortable edifice at one end of the principal street, where
they can play whist in the afternoon, and vingt et un in the
evening. Sometimes, when the gambling runs high at
night, as it is very apt to do, the Club-lamp will twinkle far
down the deserted street till the sun mingles his fresh rays
with its sickly light.

It might burn on into the small hours on this occasion
for all the three gentlemen knew or cared. They had left
the smoking-room at 10 o'clock, as was their habit. Ver-
rooy did not gamble; his wife would soon have stopped
that. Liederlen played cards all day, but for the sake of
the game. He would have played all night, only, he could
find nobody to sit down with him, except for high stakes
after ten. As for the doctor he did not know the difference
between diamonds and clubs.

" I have always contended he was guilty," remarked
Liederlen, as they strolled down the quiet street. Of course
they were talking of the great case ; who ever talked of any-
thing else in Holland that April ? " I have always con-
tended he was guilty, and I shall say so in spite of Kees
Hessel's bluster. They ought to lock that fellow up too,
till the whole thing is over. Here he has been boring us
again to-night. And, after all, the whole flood of his elo-


quence proves nothing, actually nothing, except that he
means well; and that did not require proving of Kees

" Of course he is guilty," said Verrooy. " And really,
that wretched groom might have spoken up ten years sooner
and saved us all the disgrace. It will cost me my chance
for the Burgomastership of Zielen, and I really thought I
had succeeded this time."

" His poor wife," put in the doctor, pulling away at his
short pipe with a thoughtful air.

" Nonsense, doctor," cried Liederlen. " Wives must take
their chances, and, I dare say she knew all about it. She's
had her share of the spoil, at any rate. Why, they won't
be able to touch the money, as it is. I never pity a woman
with good health and fifty thousand * a-year. Such a woman
was never unhappy yet ; she couldn't be."

" I am not sure about the guilt," began the doctor
timidly. He was a nervous, thinking man, who did not
like to enunciate combative opinions.

" Oh, come ! come ! " cried both his companions.

" I was present at the preliminary proceedings, you
see,^' the doctor went on quickly. " Of course that's all a
secret, and I am a principal witness, unfortunately enough ;
I would have given my best skeleton to keep out of the
matter, still I may say this much that if I were a judge and
a medical man in one, I should not attach too much im-
portance to the testimony of the witness who's supposed to
prove the whole thing."

" Jan Lorentz ! " cried the others.

" Yes, Jan Lorentz."

" Why, van Asveld says it's convicting," remarked
Liederlen. " He says that when he first heard the fellow
describe what he'd seen, he felt as if he were actually pres-
, . . -

* About 4,000.


ent. The story is most exact, it appears, and the Notary-
bears it out."

" Van Asveld is free to have his impressions as I am to
have mine," said the doctor. " And my impression is,
though I cannot prove it to be the correct one, that man
Lorentz is both a feeble-minded and a foul-minded person-
age. He is very shrewd in one way, as such persons often
are, and the juge d'instruction evidently believes thorougiy
in him. It remains to be seen whether the judges will,
when the actual trial comes on. I should say he drinks,
though this is between you and me, for I've never seen him
in any way the worse for liquor during the examinations.
But, still I should say that he drinks. I should even say
that he has probably had delirium tremens once or twice.
I wish I could examine him closer."

" Even if he drinks," said Verrooy, " that proves nothing
as to his veracity. He wasn't drunk when he sat in that
dickey ten years ago."

The doctor shook his head. "Whatever his faculties
may have been," he said, " they're not to be trusted now.
He had a good brain once, and that makes the struggle all
the more intricate. I wish the judges would order an inquiry
into his mental condition and put in some man thoroughly
capable of judging. I wish they'd let me have a look at
him. But there he stands, quite calm and collected, and
gives his evidence, and it all goes down like melted butter."

" Well ? " said Verrooy. " What more can you want ? "

" I should like to see him an hour or two after he's
given his evidence," said the doctor quietly. " 1 should
like to know what his brain was like when the tension was

" As for drinking a glass too much now and then,"
remarked Liederlen. " Why, the charge might be brought
against many veracious people van Asveld himself, for in-


The doctor looked over his shoulder with a quick, half-
frightened movement. " Take care," he said, " van Asveld
was to come after us. He only stopped to finish his quarrel
with van Hessel."

" He does drink too much at times ; I am sure of it," said

" He may," said Doctor Kern. " I have no opportunities
of judging."

" Joost Avelingh did not drink, not he," sneered Verrooy.
" All proper and respectable, and too good to play whist, and
so on. Only a little murder now and then, Just to show you
he had foibles like other men."

A quick step was heard behind them. " Quand on parle
du diable on en voit la queue^'' said Liederlen. "Here
van Asveld comes."

" I can't imagine how he can walk so quickly, with the
weight he has to carry," remarked the doctor.

" Weight ! I should think so," quoth Liederlen. " Nigh
on a hundred kilogrammes, and the house of van Asveld and
all its fortunes into the bargain ! Well, Asveld, who had
the last word ? Ten to one you can't guess what we're talk-
ing about ! "

" Riva lien qui rira le dernier ^^^ said Arthur, as he came
up. " Van Hessel will sing a different tune next week. I
hear the trial comes on next Tuesday."

" So much the better," grumbled Verrooy. " We shall
have it over."

" So much the better, undoubtedly. We shall hear the
truth at last," said Liederlen. "I have been thirsting for
authentic news all these weeks. They ought to make the
preliminary inquiries public. Why, the whole country is
clamoring to know particulars, and nothing has transpired.
I envy you, doctor; you ungrateful man for complain-
ing ! "

The doctor only replied with an emphatic " Humph."


"I hear seats are at a premium," remarked Arthur.
" As you say, the whole country is in a ferment for news.
That comes of all the preliminary secrecy."

" It is said one or two ladies applied for cards," put in
Verrooy, " but we don't quite see the desirability of admit-
ting them, just yet, over here."

" It's a pity, I think," cried Arthur. " I should have had
his wife and mother up to see the show. To see the scoun-
drel standing there with his smooth dark face and lying
away his soul. It will be a sight worth gazing on. They
have not got him to confess as yet. It's my opinion they
never will. The pious, silky villain."

" You are very certain of his guilt," remarked the

" Certain ! I would stake my name on it ! Who can
doubt it ! I could find it in what is left in me of a heart to
weep for the poor old gentleman."

" Your sof t-heartedness does you credit, sir," said the doc-
tor gravely.

" Yes, damn it ; your soft-heartedness does you credit,"
sneered Verrooy. " And your uncle cousin what was it ?
ought to have taken it into account in his will, van As-

The all-absorbing interest of their conversation had led
these gentlemen when they reached the bottom of the street,
to turn and once more saunter up it. As they passed under
the light of one of the few widely scattered lamps, a man,
who had been fumbling, at a street door, shrank back into
the shade.

" Who's out at this hour ? " laughed Liederlen. " Go to
bed ! Go to bed ! Can't be respectable."

The doctor was nearest to the individual in question.
"As I live, it's Jan Lorentz," he said, stopping short
" Good night, Lorentz."

" Goo' nigh'," said a thick, unsteady voice in answer.


" I thought so," said the doctor quietly. " Drunk ! "

" Drunk ! " cried van Asveld, with an oath. " I don't
believe it ! Not a bit of it ! "

" You need not," said the doctor.

They stood in a half circle round the wretched creature
cowering against the door-post. He had visibly started at
the sound of van Asveld's voice, and seemed very much ter-
rified. He stammered something about " Come again next
hie morning. Too late now. Goo' nigh'."

" Here, I must talk to this fellow " said Arthur, in an
agitated voice. " Don't wait for me ! Au revoir ! See you

" I should like to have examined this subject," began the

" Oh, examine him some other day," interrupted Arthur.
" Do, please, leave me alone with him. Do, my good Doc-
tor, go home before it gets so very late."

" Yes, yes," cried Verrooy. " Don't let's loaf about here.
It's quite time we were back. Come along. Doctor ; you go
my way."

The doctor, always unwilling to oppose, allowed himself
to be led away, and Arthur found himself alone with the
tipsy man, face to face in the dark, desolate street.

" You are drunk, you scoundrel," he said fiercely.

Jan Lorentz could not summon up impudence enough to
deny the charge, but he seemed inclined to resent the form
in which it was made. He scowled at his accuser in a very
ugly manner.

" You swore to me," said van Asveld, violently, " that
you would keep steady till this business was over. After
that you may drink up the whole devil dissolved for aught
I care. But you swore you would not touch a drop during
these few weeks. You know you did."

" Yes," murmured the drunkard, " so I did. And so I
will. I haven't had a drop till this evening. And I won't


again. It was only just once, so help me ; and my throat
was just simply burned up."

" Damn you," said Arthur, angrily, as he turned on his

" Damn me ! " muttered the drunken man to himself
with another tipsy " hie." " It looks very like it at present,
but it won't be your doing, my fine master ; no, nor your
preventing, but just my own choosing ; worse luck."

He began fumbling at the door again, making vain efforts
to open it with what was evidently too small a key. He
might have continued this labor indefinitely, but suddenly
the door was thrown open from the inside, and a flood of
light, and a flood of shrill feminine eloquence, poured out
upon the bewildered being. His landlady stood before him,
in undress and a furious temper.

" And this is how you come scraping and scratching at
the door in the middle of the night, is it ? " cried the lady,
" as if you hadn't a key to let yourself in by, every bit like a
dog rather than a rational being, and talking and quarreling
outside in the dead hours of silence, waking up honest peo-
ple that were in bed and asleep, as you ought to be. You
ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mynheer Lorentz, though
I say it, who never was." The good lady having wound up
her oration with this rather enigmatical finale, opened the
door wide, and stood on one side, candle in hand, to let her
lodger pass.

He stammered a few words of excuse, and lurched up
against her in his anxiety to keep on the further side. She
saw how matters stood at a glance, and immediately, con-
trary to his expectation, the springs of her eloquence
dried up.

"Aha," she merely snapped, in a tone pregnant of vague
terrors in the future. " Drunk ! we shall see ! So thafs the
kind of lodger the Jonker van Asveld recommends to people
as thoroughly respectable. We shall see."


" It's no use talking to a drunken man," this wise woman
used to tell lier cronies. " For it only hardens them. And
so you go and spill all your powder before you had need to
use it at all, you see. Now, take my advice and wait till
next morning, when all the drink has gone out of them, and
then, the lower they happen to be, the hotter you give it
them. Once you get them under your thumb that way,
and you can keep them tliere a month with management.
With good management, of course. Don't I know. Didn't
I have seventeen years of it with my good husband ; God
rest him? And wasn't he as sorry the last time he got
drunk and he so weak, he spilled half of it, but he managed
to get drunk all the same as the first ? Almost, at any
rate ; and that's saying a good deal, I can tell you, neighbor.
You look at other families, and find out if it isn't. But you
bully them when they're in liquor, and the liquor gives them
impudence to fight it out."

" It was a pity of that good stuff your husband spilt,"
said the neighbor. " Was it gin now, Juffrouw Kaas ? "

Jan Lorentz stumbled up the stairs in the dark, with one
or two muttered imprecations. He was furious with van
Asveld, whose overbearing manner was beginning to gall
him excessively. He was still more furious with himself
for having sinned again after several weeks of abstention.

" You don't get a candle from me," his landlady called
after him, " and you may just go to bed as best you can."

He closed his door with a grin and a scowl, and sat down
heavily on a chair by the curtainless window. Jan Lorentz
was not a bad man, but he was a culpably weak one. He
knew that, and the thought, while it caused him real sorrow,
broke by its very existence such strength as he had.

He had been respectable enough once, when he was a
groom in the Baron van Trotsem's stables. The son of that
gentleman's coachman, bright, brisk, and good-looking, he
had even been reckoned among the elite of the young men


of the neighborhood. He had flirted, more or less harm-
lessly, in various quarters, and had so early acquired the
reputation, easily acquired among that simple peasantry, of
being a little wild. Then had come, a year or so before the
Baron's death, the great ruling influence of his life, as it
proved, when he fell in love, heart and soul, with pretty
blue-eyed Dientje, a maid in the van Hessel family. But
Dientje, who was thoroughly respectable, and a bit of a
prude, with her pink print dress and stiff, frilled cap, refused
to have anything to say to a young man with " antecedents."
A year of hopeless courting followed, and then the death of
the Baron intervened, and Jan, turned off with the other
servants, drifted away to Amsterdam in search of work. He
got a fresh place there, and, Dientje proving inexorable, he
fell into bad company and, unable to resist a coachman's
constant temptations, began at intervals to take a glass too
much. The rest was sufficiently easy the devil takes care
to keep his roads in excellent order ; the best surveyor in all
creation is this old gentleman who limps himself and
Dientje, now maid to Mevrouw Avelingh, when she some-
times heard sad stories of " that drunken fellow, Lorentz,"
would plume herself upon her own discrimination and re-
ceive with a smooth little smile the congratulations of her
circle of middle-aged spinsters, all as respectable, as primly
dressed, and as stiffly capped as herself.

Jan Lorentz had a grudge against Avelingh, an exag-
gerated grudge, which increased the more he was dissatis-
fied with himself, for we all like to have our scapegoats. He
was angry with the young master for having turned off his
uncle's servants, in spite of the generous manner in which it
had been done, and he attributed to this measure his removal
to Amsterdam, his separ^ttion from Dientje, and all his sub-
sequent misfortunes. The more he felt those misfortunes,
and the more he regretted them, the more eagerly he turned
from awkward self-reproach to abuse of Joost Avelingh.


He had almost begun to believe, that, but for Joost Ave-
lingh, Jan Lorentz would have been a happy and an hon-
orable man.

He sat himself down, half tipsy, half sobered, and stared
out of the window. He did not like the midnight sky, it
gave him vague impressions of heaven, and darkness, and
the life beyond. The room in which he sat was a poor
one, but neat and clean. On a deal chest of drawers, among
two or three untidy articles he had thrown down there, stood
a small portrait in a common faded plush frame, the portrait
of the woman he had loved, the woman he loved still. It
was a coarse photograph, done at some country fair, all pale
now and brown and stained. It had never been like her ; it
was least of all like her now. It was altogether an ugly,
vulgar object, and no one who looked at it would have said
that it represented a pretty woman. But it was the one
thing in all the wide world toward which this poor creature's
soul still felt tenderly. The woman up yonder at the castle,
living on and changing slowly with the impressions of ten
long years, had passed out of his life ; he had never seen
her ; he could not tell what she was like, by this time, in
mind or body; but the photograph, individualized into a
separate existence, remained with him still. It was the
photograph he loved and cherished : the symbol of that pure,
pretty, eighteen year old maiden, who had said ^' No " to him
so demurely under her father's apple tree in the time when

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 13 of 24)