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Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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to prove it and the old man as violent and headstrong
undoubtedly, for so old men often will be, but kindly and


well-intentioned on the whole. He described the crime
which had been committed of the crime itself there could
be no doubt as entirely attributable to cupidity, resentment,
and youthful passion. For the latter, he said, some excuse
might certainly have been found the accused had most prob-
ably truly loved the woman he afterward married but that
excuse disappeared before the fact that there was evidently
as much cupidity as love in the motive which actuated the
murderer. And if love was a noble passion, and even lust
perhaps a palliable one, cupidity, the sordid desire of an old
man's gold, was the lowest, the most demoralizing of all.
The crime was an exceptional one. The guilty man be-
longed to a class in which criminals were rare not because
the men of that class were better than others, but because
they had less temptation to transgress. The victim was an
old noble, a person of great wealth, rank and consequence ;
he had been foully and secretly murdered by the viper he
had taken to his bosom. During ten long years the male-
factor had enjoyed all the fruits of his horrible deed, and
in that period he had sought to procure for himself a repu-
tation for charity and perhaps, who knows ? to lull his
guilty conscience to sleep by lavishly dispensing his ill-
gotten treasures. But at length the slow step of Justice
had tracked him, for her advance is sure, if slow. The
crime, truly, had been as was said, exceptional. The pun-
ishment of this generous, gentlemanly. God-fearing parri-
cide must be exemplary and exceptional too! A slight
burst of applause, suppressed immediately, greeted the con-
clusion of this eloquent harangue.

What could the counsel for the defense himself con-
vinced of his client's gnilt bring forward in reply ? He
tried, as best he could, to disarm the evidence of Jan Lo-
rentz ; he pointed out the discrepancies in the doctor's pro-
fessional statement ; he reproached the Notary bitterly for
not having given information earlier to the police if he con-


sidered the circumstances of the death at all suspicious.
He attacked that Notary with a vigor which showed that
he was seeking a safety-valve for his pent-up feelings. He
would not be so angry, said the old lawyers, shaking their
heads, if he did not feel that his was a losing cause.

As for his client, the advocate did not say much in his
favor. He felt that he could not. Something got up into
his throat and choked the words down. But he could
truthfully and conscientiously assert that in his opinion the
so-called legal evidence which the Dutch law demands had
not been sufficiently produced and that therefore, whatever
men might think for themselves, the judges, as judges,
must acquit a man whom they could not legally convict.

" My client has declared his innocence," said the Coun-
sel," and the law has not succeeded in establishing his
guilt. If he sinned, he sinned alone in the darkness, and
in the darkness his deed has remained. And sin, ere the
law can touch it, must lie red and glaring, an offense to
all who tread the highway, in the resistless light of day ! "

A voice from the gallery called out " Jan Lorentz ! " in
allusion to the words " alone in the darkness." There was
another burst of approval. Joost Avelingh, for the first
time during the long trial, hid his face in his hands.

It was growing dark when the Court rose. They were
lighting the street-lamps. Outside, a turbulent crowd still
waited, eager to get a glimpse of the prisoner, hoping to
hear something of what was going on inside, if it were only
the latest news of the proceedings. A broad stream of
black-coated gentlemen flowed out and mingled with the
populace. Everbody was discussing the events of the day,
the attitude of the prisoner, the statements of the witnesses,
the address of the Advocate-General. The black van again
rumbled under an archway, amid the disappointed hootings
of the roughs. The prisoner got into it. He was less
calm and firm now, it was said, than at the beginning of


the trial. His courage seemed to be giving way. He had
asked, immediately on coming out, to be allowed to see his
wife. The verdict would be given, as usual, after an inter-
val of a week.



" Yes, I've done it," said Jan Lorentz, " I've done it, and
now I want to know what I'm to get for my pains."

" You had your regular indemnification as witness, hadn't
you ? " said van Asveld with an awkward laugh. " If not,
you can still apply for it."

" Don't humbug me," cried Lorentz fiercely, " you'll be
so good as to give me a definite answer to-day, Jonker."

" Don't shout in that way," said Arthur. " I'm not deaf,
and, if I were, it would be better to carry on our negotia-
tions in writing than to yell at each other in this manner. I
do not as yet know what negotiations need take place. What
do you want of me ? "

" What do I want of you ? " repeated Lorentz in wrath-
ful amazement. " Why the money, of course, which I was
to have for giving my evidence."

" Let us understand each other," said Arthur, sitting down
at his table and measuring imaginary lines with a ruler
which lay there. " You were in possession of certain facts
which it is in itself a legal offense not to communicate to the
authorities ; you alluded to them in the course of an inter-
view with me, an official interview, mind you, and I, of
course, having received your information, in my official ca-
pacity, passed it on, as I was bound to do, to the Public Prose-
cutor. That functionary examined you ; he could not well
act otherwise. In due time the case came on for trial, and


you appeared in it as witness. So far, all seems plain, and
there is nothing unusual. For which of these successive
developments all growing out of each other, it appears to
me, as the leaves of a plant if you understand so poetic a
simile do you expect to be exceptionally rewarded ? "

Jan Lorentz looked mystified. " I want my money," he
said doggedly, after a moment's pause. It seemed the safest
thing to say.

" Would you," began Arthur again, smiling sweetly,
*' oblige me by answering my first question before we proceed
any farther ? "

" Jonker, I don't care. You promised me my money,
and I must have it. You promised that you would pay
me for giving my evidence. You very well know you

" As you will not answer my question," said Arthur in a
tone of gentle complaint, " I suppose I must continue with-
out knowing. your opinion. Now, here the personal consid-
eration comes in " the stout Jonker rubbed his hands. He
was not as has been said, a particularly bright personage
himself, and he therefore intensely enjoyed intellectually
mastering this ignorant creature "the personal question
comes in. For reasons of no further import to any one but
myself I have special cause to regard Mynheer Avelingh
with disfavor and I cherish the memory of my venerable,
let us say venerable, uncle. I therefore take a peculiar,
and perhaps abnormal, interest in this confession of yours,
and to express the satisfaction I feel at your having done
your duty, simply your duty, mind you, the duty of every
honest citizen, I obtain your release from custody by myself
paying off your damages, and "

" And ? " said Lorentz, his eyes growing bright and cun-
ning again.

" And you reward me, you scoundrel, by asking for
more ! "


Lorentz was thoroughly taken aback by this unexpected
conclusion. "You promised," he stammered again, "you
know you promised to give me more than Mynheer Ave-
lingh ever did. Not that Avelingh ever gave me any-
thing ! "

" By your own confession, then," said Asveld coolly, " if
those last words be true, I have already redeemed my prom-
ise. But, look here, you needn't think that a man of my
rank will deny his word to a poor beggar like you. I told
you I would give you money, as you say. I was a fool to do
it, and really I can scarcely account for my behavior now.
I was very excited but that is neither here nor there.
Money you shall have."

" How much ? " said Lorentz.

" One can see you are not accustomed to do business
with gentlemen. On the day of the verdict, if it goes
against Avelingh, as it certainly will, I shall give, although
as I say, you have done nothing to earn them, but because I
have passed my word in a moment of excitement, I shall
give 3^ou a hundred florins."

" A hundred florins," repeated Lorentz slowly. " Pooh,"
he suddenly said.

" Do you mean to say, damn you," cried Arthur in a sud-
den fury, " that you consider the sum too small ? "

" Pooh," said Lorentz again. Yet at the same time he
began to tremble violently from suppressed excitement,
which his enfeebled frame v/as unable to support.

' Damn you twice over," cried Arthur, in a still louder
voice. " Get out of the room this instant before I knock you
down-stairs ! Get out, I tell you ! " He ran round to the
door and threw it wide open. Lorentz shrank back. He
v^^as frightened. He was not a man to threaten, but there
v/as a look in his eyes which well might have made Arthur
pause and parley. But the Jonker all his pride up in
arms at the insult his generous offer had received and.


really, in making it he had been moved by a magnanimous
impulse to redeem a promise thoughtlessly made the Jon-
ker pointed haughtily to the door. Jan Lorentz crept cau-
tiously past him, and slunk slowly down the stairs.

" Disgusting," said Arthur to himself, as he shut the
door. " What are these insolent beggars coming to, I won-
der ? Here do I, hard-up as I am, offer this man a present
of a hundred florins, merely out of a conscientious desire to
keep my word to him, and look what I get in reply. And
surely, I owe him nothing. I may have said that morning ;
' I would have given anything,' or ' half the world,' or
something of the kind; I really don't remember. People
use such expressions every day. And the idea of taking one
at one's word. Half the world indeed ! It's as much as I
can do to keep my tailor in a fairly good temper and per-
suade him to let me have a new coat."

So reasoned Arthur van Asveld, not altogether unfairly,
and threw himself down on a sofa with a yellow-covered
novel in his hand.

The man he had so ignominously dismissed, walked
slowly down the village street toward his own home. There
was an angry look in his eye and there was fury, red and
raging, in his heart. He was not accustomed to feel strongly
his soul had lived in a thickening haze for many years
and the very violence of his emotion alarmed him. One
thought was beating at his brain ; this van Asveld had
cruelly wronged him, and he was unable to retaliate. And
before the wrong so suddenly made apparent, his bright day-
dream of future respectability seemed to vanish into space.
AVorse than that, he had sold his soul for gold, and found
himself defrauded of the price. For Arthur, looking at the
question from his point of view and entirely unconscious of
any foul play, it was perhaps not unnatural to conclude,
that he owed the man nothing but a reward which his ex-
cited promises had rendered inevitable. But to Lorentz


who regarded the matter in quite a different light and be-
lieved himself to have been inveigled by van Asveld into
statements he would never otherwise have made, it seemed
that nothing but wealth almost unmeasured could make
good such a sacrifice of peace.

He stumbled on then with a fierce, ungovernable fury at
his heart, largely made up, though he knew it not, of re-
morse and despair. He hated Arthur. But he was power-
less to hurt him in any way. He was equally powerless to
undo the wrong he had done. And so, to the end, he must
continue to serve the Jonker's purposes, and be laughed at,
after all, for his pains. He was angry ; he was glad he was
angry. He thought with a dim foreboding fear, how miser-
able he would b3 when the anger passed away. At van As-
veld's bidding, or persuasion, call it what you will, he had
abstained from drink almost entirely of late. The more fool
he ! He resolved to do so no longer. He would have a
drink that night " a regular good one " and that would
put a little strength in his veins. It would warm up his
hatred of his enemy, too. Yes, that would be the best thing
for the moment, a " regular good, thundering drinking-
bout ! "

The mere idea seemed to invigorate him. He turned
down toward the shop over which he had his room. He
was in a mood which would either drive him to the devil
forever, or rescue him on the very brink of the precipice.

As he entered the shop, he saw that a woman was stand-
ing at the counter, talking to the. mistress of the place.
Both were crying. At least, the one whose back was turned
to him had her handkerchief before her face, and Juffrouw
Kaas, his landlady, was also allowing the great tears to
course slowly down her fat, red cheeks. With Juffrouw
Kaas weeping was a cheap luxury, to be enjoyed as often as
a rational occasion presented itself, sorrow and joy being
alike available, although sorrow was decidedly preferred.


The sorrow of others, of course. That goes without saying.
It was so much more thrilling and emotional than joy.

Lorentz was about to find his way up-stairs, as was his
wont, with a surly " good evening " to the shop-woman,
when she stopped him with a little cry of delight. She
often stopped him or tried to do so because he was the
best authority upon the great trial and could give the latest
news. She was proud of him on that account and had
made peace with him in spite of v^arious little deficiencies she
would never have borne in any other lodger. She often told
herself he should go as soon as the trial was over. But till
then he was well worth keeping. He gave her quite an im-
portant position among the numerous gossips of the neigh-
borhood. She was " Jan Lorentz's landlady " nowadays,
almost more than Juffrouw Kaas.

"Why, here is Jan Lorentz himself," cried the good
Juffrouw. " Oh dear ! Oh dear ! Mynheer Lorentz, this
is Mejuffrouw from the castle. And oh dear, dear, to think
of the sorrow up there ! It's terrible to think of ! " And
Juffrouw Kaas fell to crying again.

The woman by the counter took her handkerchief from
her eyes and turned round quickly. Jan Lorentz found
himself gazing upon the same countenance which had lived
on in his dreams all those years. It was but little changed ;
a trifle rounder, perhaps, and fuller; that was all. The
same prim, innocent expression ; the same pink cheeks and
clear blue eyes. These latter were dimmed with tears at the
present moment, but their owner looked all the sweeter in
her sorrow. It was Dientje.

" And oh the agony up at the Castle," cried Juffrouw
Kaas. " Oh my dear Dientje ! My dear Mr. Lorentz it is
heartrending to think of it ! " She burst out crying afresh,
and Dientje, who had kept her eyes till then fixed immova-
bly on her former lover's face, also suddenly buried them
afresh in her handkerchief.


Jan Lorentz gazed at her for one moment, and then,
turning, fled up-stairs, as fast as his shaky legs could carry
him. He reached his garret in safety and there, throwing
himself down on the bed, he sobbed like a little child.



It was true, as Juffrouw Kaas had said, that the grief
at the castle was heartrending. But if that worthy woman
had seen it, she would probably not have emitted any such
opinion. It is far more likely that she would have remarked
on the coldness and indifference of these rich people who sit
silent and sleepy while their husbands and sons are being
dragged away to prison. And she would have tried to pict-
ure to you some conception of her own sorrow, if any similar
misfortune had been possible in her case. But, thank
Heaven, no ; hers was a respectable family. " Though,
really, no offense to you, Dientje, for Mr. Avelingh was
always as pleasant-spoken a gentleman as ever I came

The agony through which Agatha Avelingh passed dur-
ing that final week of suspense was too awful for utterance.
She bore it, then, almost silently, and, but for an occasional
pressure of the hand or look of affection, even her own
mother scarcely dared to express sympathy. In such a ter-
rible crisis as this what could words, however tender, avail ?
They spoke sometimes for a few moments, in a half-fright-
ened whisper, of the incidents of the trial, or of some cir-
cumstance which concerned the case. But both women
seemed to be afraid of stirring the depths of their sorrow.
It was a relief to Agatha to weep with Bettekoo over her


minor troubles, and they talked freely together, and fre-
quently, of the faithless lover.

On this particular evening they were sitting in Joost's
room around a lingering fire, for it was the end of April
and the days were still chilly. Agatha, somehow, liked to
spend most of her time in that room, in spite of the pain
which each familiar object caused her. She preferred pass-
ing the hours there in silence, working at some trifle that
occupied her fingers and let her thoughts go free. It would
have been better, perhaps, had she thrown herself into a full
stream of continued eifort, as Joost had done when his
troubles overmastered him. She admitted it to herself, but
she could not find strength to begin. She had striven, and
with partial success, to occupy her thoughts in the previous
weeks, but during this last period of suspense between the
trial and the verdict, anxiety breathless, heartbreaking
anxiety conquered every other impression. And this even-
ing the evening before the decisive day she sat by the
fireside with Joost's belongings all around her, and, as she
bent over her crochet, her whole soul was with her husband
in his prison-cell.

Kees Hessel had come up to see his mother and sisters.
He joined them frequently of evenings after his day's work
was over. And they would sit and talk of many things, while
thinking of one. And if Kees could bring a whisper from
the outer world, however insignificant, which seemed to turn
the faintest current in Joost's favor, he would spread it out
before them, and they would reason over it together, till it
looked like a mighty wind that was bringing them hope and
good news. They talked of the trial openly every now and
then, when the tension became unbearable, and strong feel-
ing broke through the dyke.

Kees was telling a long story now as he bent toward the
fire with outstretched hands, of the comical courting of a
young man of their own circle, who, having heard that the


girl he was enamored of, had a weakness for gingerbread,
had sent her the whole of her name in great gingerbread
letters : Sophia Dorothea van Duivenvoorden, a cartful of
honey-cake. They were laughing at the story with what
small courage for laughter they had. Even Agatha smiled a
wan little smile.

" And they say,'' concluded Kees, " that she ate it all up
in a month, a letter a day from the first to the thirtieth, and
then, having no more gingerbread on the thirty-first, accepted
him in the course of that morning."

" Kees," said Agatha, with her eyes on her work, " will
they condemn him ? "

" I don't know," replied Kees, staring at the fire. " I
daren't say, Agatha. I daren't hold out any false hopes to
you. Things are very much against him."

" Have you then heard anything new ? "

What could he say to her ? They had been telling at
the Club that afternoon that the judges were unanimous.
So much had leaked out, as such things will. It was hardly
likely that they would be unanimous in a resolve to acquit

" There are always rumors of various kinds afloat on
such occasions," he replied uneasily. '^ It's no use worrying
you with all that people conjecture. But I can not deny
that we must prepare for the worst."

'^ Oh, Kees, he will be condemned ! " she said, and she
dropped her face on her hands.

There was silence in the room for some minutes. Mev-
rouw van Hessel made a movement as if to go to her daughter,
but sank back in her chair again undecided.

Agatha looked up, " And when he is. condemned," she
said, " it will be on the evidence of Jan Lorentz."

" Not on that alone, Agatha. That would not suflfice."

" No I know," she said, a little impatiently. She was
going over the ground in her mind again for the hundredth



time. " Of course they must have the other witnesses to
complete it. But you yourself think,Kees, do you not ? "
She turned to him with a sudden appeal in her eyes " that
the legal proof of the deed has not been furnished ? "

" I do," he answered. " I have said so dozens of times
to whomsoever will hear me. And it's my opinion, but
people think me a fool."

" But the judges may share that opinion ? He may get
off on that score, even if the world still thinks him guilty."

Kees shook his head doubtingly. " He may," he said.

" But he will not ! " cried Agatha. " And yet, if Lo-
rentz's evidence were not there, he could never be con-
demned ! There would be no talk of legal proof at all ! "

" If it were not for Lorentz's evidence," said her brother,
" there would never have been any case at all. There would
have been really no proof, legal or otherwise. The others
merely complete his story and give it an air of probability.
They furnish the judges with the necessary pretext to con-
demn the accused on what is practically the testimony of
one witness. Hundreds of men are judged in that way.
It's all fair and square as a rule. You can't let every mur-
derer go free who hasn't invited two friends to come and see
him do the murder."

" When he is condemned," said Agatha, " it will be on
the evidence of Jan Lorentz."

" Well, yes. Have it so, if you will, though that's not
the way we lawyers put it."

" And this man says," Agatha went on after a short,
thoughtful pause, " that he saw Joost clench his uncle by the
throat and strangle him with a neckerchief."

" So he says," replied Kees.

" He lies, Kees."

" I have no doubt of it, dearest. If I did not think he
lied, I could not believe Joost to be innocent, as I do from
the bottom of my heart."


" Yes, he is innocent," said Agatha, aloud, to herself.
" Let us never forget that that is the great consolation. Oh,
mother, if he were guilty, it would be unbearable."

" Doctor Kern and I were talking about it only this after-
noon," remarked Kees. " The Doctor has veered round a
good deal lately. Not about his evidence ; he sticks to that,
as indeed he easily can, for it may mean everything or noth-
ing. But about Lorentz. He believed in Lorentz quite at
first. Now, however, for the last week or so, he has altered
his opinion. He has been watching him closely, and he tells
me he thinks the man is playing a part, or telling a got-up
story. Money may be at the bottom of it. Nothing else
well could be, one would say. I have sometimes wondered
whether Arthur van Asveld, with whom the whole thing be-
gan, can possibly but no, the idea is too absurd. Besides,
van Asveld couldn't pay the price usually charged for a vil-
lainy, even if he wanted to. No, no ; it's a mysterious busi-
ness altogether."

Agatha started up. " I must go and see this man," she
said. " Mother will you go with me ? "

" My dear girl," cried Kees in alarm, " what are you
thinking of? It would be no manner of use ! Only bring
you fresh trouble."

" This man," said Agatha, " swears he saw my husband
do a thing I know he did not do. I must find out why he
swears it. I have often thought I should wish to see him
and ask him. I have put it off till now, but, somehow, the
thought of of to-morrow gives me courage. Let us go at

" I think it is unwise," said Kees. " It is only exposing
yourself to unnecessary insult. Let me go, if the thing is to
be done, though I do not see what you expect to gain by it."

" No, no," cried Agatha. " I must go. I have resolved
now to see him. And mamma will accompany me. Ring
the bell, Kees, and tell them to get a carriage ready."


Kees obeyed her. l^o one could contradict her well at
this moment, or cause her the most trivial unnecessary dis-
pleasure. Her maid was sent for, but the answer came back

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 15 of 24)