Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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life was young. And it was from that love that perhaps
some day, if ever, in the far future, the regeneration of this
man's whole being might go forth. He sighed heavily.

" Is it worth while ?" he asked himself. The question
had kept coming up in his mind again and again during the
last few weeks, and each time he had answered " Yes,"
though with varying emphasis. " It means money," he said,
" plenty of money. And plenty of money means respecta-
bility. And if I'm once again respectable, I shall turn over


a new leaf, for I'm an honest fellow still in spite of adverse
circumstances, and, perhaps, some day I may go up to the
Castle, and if I find Dientje still to my taste, well, she might
have changed her mind, and who knows ? But I must have
money first, to come with. No use going to the girls with-
out that. And I sha'n't drink any more."

It was the great dream of his life, intermittent, but con-
stantly recurring, " to be respectable once again." And no
poor wretch in whom that aspiration lives can be utterly



The Court was crowded. Any one could have foreseen
that this would have been the case ; and accordingly ticket-
holders had begun to form up in line almost an hour before
the doors were opened. As for the ticketless, their chance
seemed of the smallest. Yet there was a great, gaping, chat-
tering crowd all down the wide road and on the opposite
side of the canal. Policemen in glittering helmets were
keeping a path clear for the carriages that drove rapidly up.
The crowd chaffed the occupants, and, if it could be done
while a constable's back was turned, some wretched little
street-boy would even try to raise a laugh by pitching a
paper pellet or a handful of dirt into an open landau. For
the street boys, tiresome everywhere, are it must be ad-
mitted with regret almost ungovernable in the larger cities
of Holland. Drunken with the national \rine of freedom
which has always been poured out so generously in this fa-
vored little corner of Europe, and unable as yet to moderate
^eir transports, school children and hobble-de-hoys are

m a lamentable trouble to the quiet, respectable people


who love to go their way in peace. And there is no doubt
that at some not very remote period the question of the lib-
erty and license of the streets will have to occupy the atten-
tion of the wise men who seek to govern Holland without
ruling it ; or better still, perhaps, of those home legislators
who, by the fiats of public opinion, could do so much to
settle the question, and perhaps might even now willingly
do so, if nineteenth century philanthropy had not decreed
so remorselessly that the boxing even of the wickedest,
thievingest street boy's ears by any but the constituted au-
thority is such a severely punishable oft'ense. The human
ear even of the humblest of God's creatures is a far more
sacred thing than any rich man's apples, or white pants, or
silk carriage cushions. And it must be protected accord-
ingly while the apples and carriage-cushions are not. For
it is difficult for the constituted authority to catch a street
boy. Philanthropy is the same all the world over. And it
is a very beautiful thing. But the street boy is pretty much
the same also. And he is a nuisance.

This, however, is a digression hardly warranted by the
fact that the ragamuffins of a certain large Dutch town were
amusing themselves in their peculiar manner on the morn-
ing of the great murder trial. After all, pellets are harm-
less things happy the man who got nothing worse ! But
there were other things to occupy the thoughts of the crowd.
The trial itself was naturally on all lips, and in all ears.
The opinion of great and small, rich and poor, was unani-
mously against the accused. The mere fact of his being a
gentleman proved his guilt to the crowd. No gentleman was
ever accused of crimes unless he had really committed them,
and the pity which one might naturally mete out to a poor
man and brother, victim of plutocratic legislation, was
changed to execration and righteous vindictiveness now the
criminal was himself a plutocrat. It had got known, besides
and the fact had been widely disseminated by all the papers


from an early stage that the murdered man had been the
murderer's protector and benefactor from his infancy up-
ward; that he had fed, clothed, nurtured, and educated
him, and had made him his heir. As a return for this life-
long benevolence the nephew had killed his uncle so as the
sooner to possess himself of his inheritance, and he had in
reality enjoyed that inheritance during ten long, guilty
years ! When the melancholy prison-van made its appear-
ance, yells of hate and fury rent the air. Agatha heard
them, waiting with a sick yet prayerful heart in a hired
room close by the " Palais de Justice ; " the prisoner heard
them as he sat in his little, carefully locked box. They
drove him under a covered archway and shut the gates.
There were hundreds of men in that surging, ragged crowd
eager to strike him to the ground, hundreds of women who,
if once he lay there, would not have hesitated to trample on
his heart. The case had somehow got hold of the popular
imagination, and public feeling ran high.

Inside the building the sentiment against the accused,
though more refined in its expression, was not a whit less
strong. The great hall was filled to overflowing with men
belonging to the upper classes ; all the seats reserved for
persons of distinction were occupied by those who had a full
right to be so designated ; the lawyers were passing into their
particular quarters; the representatives of the press were
quarreling for a seat. There was not standing-room by the
time the judges filed in, trying to look as important as pos-
sible in their long black robes. The case, being one of so
grave a nature, had come on before the Chief Court of the
Province. The hall was wide and lofty, full of light, and
even cheerful. The judges sat in armchairs behind a green
table on a dais at one end of it, with a great statue of Themis
above them holding her scales awry. To their right was
the public prosecutor, also in his robes, and opposite him
the clerk of the Court. Immediately below the dais stood


the bench for the prisoner, who had his counsel near him,
though out of reach of his hand or voice. Behind the pris-
oner, again, sat the witnesses.

The judges being seated, the preliminary rustle died
away in a few nervous coughs, a laugh here and there, the
fall of an umbrella, and then a gradually deepening silence.
In the hush the voice of the President was heard, low at
first, declaring the sitting opened. The inevitable formali-
ties were gone through amid evident impatience, and a
whisper arose every now and then above the monotonous
voice of the clerk. Then the case was called. Two thou-
sand pairs of eyes were directed to a little door near the
dais ; and several policemen brought in Joost Avelingh.

He Stopped for one instant in the doorway, and cast a
swift glance over the sea of faces turned toward him. And
in that brief moment it seemed to him as if he had taken
in the expression of each individual countenance. He had
seen his father-in-law looking utterly dejected ; he had met
Kees van Hessel's anxious, wistful gaze ; and braved Arthur
van Asveld's arrogant, confident, and contemptuous one.
He had faced hundreds of wrathful, scornful eyes on every
side, and felt as if torrents of hatred were pouring down
on him from all directions. The feeling had left him calm,
almost indifferent. He was accustomed to the dislike of his
own class. One thing indeed had moved him strongly, it
was that yell of hatred outside the walls. For a man with
Joost Avelingh's love of admiration and need of affection
that experience was one of more than endurable bitterness.

The prisoner passed to his bench, bowed to the Presi-
dent, who took no notice of the salutation, and sat down.
All through the proceeding his demeanor was, of course,
most closely watched. It did not give satisfaction. Once or
twice he shrank back, as if in pain, and people said he was
cowardly ; once or twice he looked calmly round, and they
complained he was impudent. For the most part he sat


immovable, with his arms crossed over his breast, and his
dark eyes fixed on the presiding judge.

The act of accusation, as they call it, was read, a lengthy
document, quite a small book in itself, setting forth the
whole story of the crime as it presented itself to the mind
of the public prosecutor the Advocate- General, to give him
his proper title. This document really nothing more than
a written brief against the prisoner attacked him with vio-
lence from the very first, and ascribed to him, besides the
crime now actually under consideration, as many more as it
could conveniently insinuate. The man thus accused ap-
peared to listen with great composure. The audience, how-
ever, at least the non-legal part of it, got imj)atient, and be-
gan to whisper in friendly ears that the same thing might
have been said with half the words in a quarter of the time.
But the slow, monotonous drone went on as if it would
never come to a conclusion. It did so, nevertheless, unex-
pectedly; the President nodded; somebody coughed; and
soon after the examination of the prisoner began.

In Holland, as in France, there is no examining or cross-
examining of witnesses by the bar, the general impression
being that the lawyers' object on sucii occasions is too often
not to guide a witness into telling the truth, but to confuse
him into telling a lie. The presiding judge examines, and
he alone. It is true that the public prosecutor and the pris-
oner's counsel may suggest the putting of some particular
question, but young barristers are loth to avail themselves of
that privilege, for the President is very apt to take such sug-
gestions amiss, as implying a lack of ability in him with
regard to the conducting of the case. Both systems appear
to have their advantages, and their disadvantages.

The prisoner stood up to be examined. As he did so,
even his enemies and who but Kees Hessel was his friend
in that large concourse? even his enemies acknowledged
the dignity of his bearing. . He might be nervous afterward


under the statements of some of those called to give evi-
dence against him, but in his own answers he was firm and
collected. The attitude he assumed was insolent, said the
lawyers, for he admitted everything but the crime itself.
Only the evening before a last desperate attempt had been
made to force a confession from him. It had failed, and the
failure was resented accordingly.

" Your name ? " said the President.

" Joost Avelingh."

" Your profession ? " .

" I have none."

" You have no title of any kind ? No university degree ? "


" No occupation ? " The President, a red-faced little
man, leered at the prisoner over his round spectacles. Joost
smiled a bitter little smile.

" I am a member of the Council of Management of some
ten or twelve charitable societies," he said, " and on the
Board of some half-dozen Industrial Companies ; that is all."

" Yes," said the President, " I know. You have found
charity a convenient cloak to hide a multitude of sins."

Joost's soul flinched, if that expression be permissible.
The outer frame stood calm, erect and stately; the eyes
were gazing at the statue of Justice above the little Presi-
dent's head.

The usual questions followed, and then a closer inquiry
began into the circumstances of the crime itself.

" You admit," said the President, " that the Baron van
Trotsem, your uncle, took you into his house when you
were a destitute orphan of five, and that from that moment
until the day of his death, he fed, clothed, and educated
you, and that finally he appointed you his heir ? "

" Yes," said Joost,

" Did you know during the Baron's lifetime that his wiU
had been drawn up in your favor ? "


" I had reasons to suspect it from frequent allusions which
he made."

" Had you, in spite of all you owed him, any cause in
your own opinion to dislike the Baron van Trotsem, or to
feel a grudge against him ? "

" Yes," said Joost in a distinct voice. " We did not get
on well together, and he made me very unhappy." He re-
fused to see the anxious signs his advocate was covertly
making him. The poor man desisted in despair.

". That is vague," said the President, " and unsatisfac-
tory. Were there any special grievances which you could
bring forward ? "

" My uncle," replied the accused, " had resisted my
wishes whenever he could do so. He had refused to allow
me to take up a legal career, and had insisted on my study-
ing medicine without any adequate reason. He had for-
bidden me to marry the lady who is at present my wife,
also without in any way explaining his action in that

" Ah ! " said the President. People looked at each other.
It seemed as if the President's portentous exclamation was
echoed from every lip.

" Many a man," continued Joost's examiner, " has been
compelled by his very affection to resist youthful de-
sires, to choose another profession for a son or ward, to deny
his consent to an early marriage. In such cases the ' rea-
sons ' usually appear ' inadequate ' to the sufferer. Are these
all the offenses you charge your uncle with ? "

" I charge him with nothing," replied the prisoner, " I
answer your questions as best I can."

" And you admit that you hated him ? "

" Yes," replied Joost softly. ,^

Once more quick glances were interchanged. The coun-
sel for the defense cast up his eyes to heaven and folded his
lean hands over his black robe.


" On the evening of your uncle's death you had had
words with him ? "

" I had."

" And you knew, when he ordered his carriage, that he
was about to drive to the Notary to alter his will ? "

"I did."

" You knew you were bringing him there, and that it
was his intention to disinherit you in case you married the
Freule van Hessel ? "

" Yes."

" He had told you so expressly ? "

" He had."

" And you killed him before he could reach his destina-

" No." Joost's voice rang out clear and full.

" That will do : Prisoner, you may sit down."

After that the witnesses were called, the witnesses for
the prosecution ; there were none for the defense.

Jan Lorentz gave his evidence brightly and decidedly
enough. He deposed to having heard the Baron's threats
and insults, and he declared that he had wondered how
flesh and blood could stand them. His evidence exculpated
the prisoner to a certain extent, but at the same time it
made his action seem all the more probable. His account of
the events of the evening flowed on smoothy till it reached
the description of the moment when the crime was committed.
Here the witness faltered, contradicted himself, stopped.

" Take care," said the President sternly. " You repeat-
edly stated in the preliminary inquiry that you saw the ac-
cused seize his uncle by the red neckerchief he wore. That
statement is fully corroborated by the evidence of the Jon-
ker van Asveld, who says that you first made it to him when
you were arrested on a charge of vagabondage, thereby
causing him to communicate with the necessary authorities.
Do you maintain it now ? "



The witness looked round nervously at Joost Avelingh,
then at van Asveld. His eyes wandered rapidly over the
glass ceiling of the hall back to the President's face.

" Yes," he said.

The impression, at the conclusion of this witness's evi-
dence was unfavorable to him, but still more so to the pris-
oner. From the clumsy attempts he had made to " say a
good word for the accused," and from his hesitation over
facts he had stated plainly on earlier occasions, it was evi-
dent to every one who could put two and two together that
the man had been tampered with by the murderer's friendsT
Money, you know, will do a good deal in the world, and
this Lorentz is but a poor devil, they say.

The Notary described the arrival of the chaise with the
dead man at his house. He created a great sensation by
solemnly affirming that the red comforter was drawn
into a tight knot round the neck of the corpse, a knot so
tight indeed that it must, in his opinion, have been
purposely tightened. The prisoner was once more called

" Can you explain the tightness of the knot round your
uncle's neck ? "

" No,", said Joost.

" While he was lying in the chaise in that condition
dying that, at any rate is 171 confesso what did you do to
relieve him ? "

" Nothing," said Joost.

He felt the absurdity of the answer, even while he made
it. There was not a man in the hall who believed him on
this point not even Kees Hessel.

" You may sit down," said the President.

The Notary continued his account. It ended with the
recital of the prisoner's last words that fatal evening.
" AYhen I told him the Baron was dead," said the Notary,
" Mynheer Avelingh broke out into a wild cry. ' I knew


it ! ' he shrieked. ' I would give the world it were not so.'
That was all he said at the time."

" Can you explain that exclamation ! " asked the Presi-
dent of the prisoner.

" I do not wish to do so."

" You will scarcely pretend, I suppose, that it was caused
by grief for the loss of the man whom you regarded as
you have just admitted with feelings of such strong aver-
sion ? "

" It was not," said Joost.

After that came the doctor, who was vague and unde-
cided, as it is the nature of many conscientious medical men
to be of none more so than Doctor Kern. There were
signs, he admitted, which pointed to strangulation, but as it
was certain that the dead man had previously had a fit of
some kind, it was almost impossible to say whether the
tightening of the comforter, which accounted for the symp-
toms alluded to, had occasioned death, or had perhaps
merely accompanied, or even immediately succeeded it.

" You mean to imply," said the President, " that the
Baron might, judging from the condition of the brain and
heart, have died before the neckerchief was drawn tight ? "

" That may have been so," said the doctor. " Immedi-
ately before."

"On the other hand, the tightening of the neckerchief
may have been in itself sufficient to cause death?"

" I can not say," replied the doctor. " It depends first
on how tight it was drawn, secondly on how long it had
been tightened before the Notary loosened it ; thirdly on the
appearance the corpse presented immediately before, and
immediately after the unfastening of the knot. I did not
see the corpse till half-an-hour later, and there was no post-
mortem examination. I can not say."

" But you must say, sir ! " cried the little President pet-
tishly, " the whole case turns on it.''


" Then God help the prisoner, Mynheer the President.
If my evidence and Jan Lorentz's be all the proof against
him, God grant him a good escape."

" Silence ! " cried the President, " you were not asked for
any such expression of opinion. Step down, sir."

The Jonker van Asveld was next called. He described
his first interview with Lorentz. He also bore witness to
the bad feeling existing between Joost and the Baron. He
spoke affectionately of the latter. People pitied van Asveld
and sympathized with him. He had behaved very well they

It transpired in the course of the examination that Ar-
thur had received money from Joost. The whole story of
the legacy came out, to the amazement of the audience.

" Prisoner," said the President, " can you explain how
you came to give such an enormous sum as forty thousand
florins to the witness, merely because he asked for it ? "

" I considered it my duty to do so," said Joost.

" Ah, conscience is a wonderful power," said a clergyman
to his neighbor, " no rest, you see, no rest."

The Court adjourned at this stage of the proceedings.
There were three men in it, at that moment, and three only,
who did not believe the prisoner guilty; they were Kees
Hessel, Joost Avelingh, and Jan Lorentz.

Criminal cases do not take long in Holland, when once
the stage of publicity is reached. The hardest work has
been got through in the long and careful inquiry, which
may be looked upon as a full rehearsal for the grand repre-
sentation. And there was no insurmountable mass of evi-
dence on this occasion. The witnesses had been heard
before the luncheon recess ; the pleading would take place
immediately after. The case might be concluded before
nightfall. All but the verdict, be it understood ; that would
not be pronounced till a week later.


They locked the prisoner in a cell, while waiting for the
Court to reassemble. Joost Avelingh felt relieved to find
himself again alone. He had spent several weeks in almost
continued solitude, broken only by the rare visits he received,
chiefly from officials, and the inquiries held from time to time
by the Juge d'Instruction. After the long stillness of that
narrow prison the blinding light of the great judgment-hall,
the continual movement of such a mass of human faces,
had strangely disconcerted him at first. He was almost
glad to be back again in the shade and the silence. He sat
down on a coarse wooden bench and reviewed the morning's
proceedings as best he might. He could not shut his eyes
to the fact that matters had gone very much against him.
And no doubt it was true, as his counsel had told him in
passing out, that his own evidence had done most to dam-
age his cause. " If you are condemned, Mr. Avelingh," the
lawyer had said, not without a shade of bitterness in his
tone, "and there is every reason to fear you will be, you will
have yourself to blame. It would have been better to con-
fess altogether, than to confess as much as you have done,
and then deny the rest."

" I have confessed the exact truth/' replied Joost Avelingh.

The other shrugged his shoulders. " That is often the un-
wisest thing of all," he said.

And now in the quiet of this little cell the accused again
told himself that he had done right. Self-deception there
may have been in his conclusions, but they were undoubt-
edly sincere. No man need incriminate himself, he rea-
soned, but no man may tell a lie. I have answered each
question put to me according to my inmost conviction ; I
need not answer questions they do not put. The charge
against me is utterly and irremediably false, and I plead
" Not guilty " with all my heart and soul.

Strange to say, these last weeks since his arrest had been
in many ways the happiest of all his life. There had, of


course, been the cruel sorrow of the sorrow his wife was en-
during for his sake, but when he put the thought of that
away from him, his heart gained strength and happiness
from the struggle he was passing through. This story
trumped up against him, was a lie, and the battle with the
lie, by throwing the reality temporarily into the shade, and
crushing it down out of sight, brought him a sense of relief
and of rest which he had not known for many years. lie
accused himself now of morbidness, of hypersensitive con-
scientiousness ; he laughed at the thought of his own former
doubts and fears. This was what men punished ; this, what
the world called sin. And he a fool, a dreamer, he worried
his brain about little things ! He turned on one side on his
hard prison pallet and slept till the warder awoke him.

Such had been his thoughts. But now, while waiting
there in the interval of his trial, he first began to realize
what condemnation might mean ! He shuddered at the
idea, and once more his mind reverted to Agatha. He knelt
down on the stone floor and prayed God to have pity upon
her. And then the blue-coated officials came with their
bunches of keys and led him forth again.

As soon as the Advocate- General had got through the
opening sentences of his address to the judges, it became
apparent to all present that it was exceptionally hostile to
the prisoner. Joost Avelingh himself felt that, with growing
conviction, and bent forward in an attitude of anxious in-
quiry. It was terrible to think what opinion this man must
have formed of him. Was it but the expression of the
thoughts of all around ?

The Advocate-General painted in glowing colors the
benefactions which Joost had received from his uncJe in a
long course of years. He represented the boy as taciturn
and undutiful from the first there was evidence enough

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 14 of 24)