Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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that Dientje had gone up to the village, it being her evening
out. Mevrouw van Hessel quietly got her own and her
daughter's wraps, and in another twenty minutes they were
bowling swiftly along the road to Heist.

Kees Hessel had been able to tell them where to find the
man they were in search of. The carriage took them to the
Burgomaster's, and from thence the two women walked a
distance of some fifteen minutes along a still country road.
It was barely half-past eight when they turned into the

They reached Jutfrouw Kaas's little tobacco shop, and
Agatha entered first. A thick gray veil she wore completely
hid her face. She stood for a moment irresolute by the
counter. The little shop-bell tinkled on.

It brought out Juffrouw Kaas in a great hurry. Lady-
ctistomers were naturally an unusual thing with her. The
good woman's face was redder than ever, but she had dried
her tears.

" Does a person of the name of Jan Lorentz live here ? "
Agatha was beginning. She stopped in dismay. Through
the open glass door she saw her maid sitting near a cosy
tea-tray in the snug little room at the back of the shop. For-
tunately her mother caught sight of the girl at the same
moment and rapidly signed to her not to betray them. Good
Juffrouw Kaas looked from one to the other with evident

" Jan Lorentz is my lodger," she began. " Do the
ladies wish to speak to him ? If so, I will run up and tell

' No," said Agatha. " I could not think of causing you
that trouble. We v/ill go to him. He is in his room, you
say ? It is at the top of the house ? "


" Oh, Mevrouw, it is not a place for ladies like you !
And who knows but he may have been having a drop too
much again, lie offends in that way just a little occasion-
ally. I must admit that he does. I was not aware of any
such thing, you may be sure, Mevrouw, when I let him have
my room."

Agatha could not repress a slight shudder. But at the
same time, she passed to the steep staircase at the back of
the shop and began to mount it without further parley. Her
mother followed her. They could trust Dientje.

" I must request you," said Agatha, stopping on the
stairs and raising her voice purposely so that the maid
might hear, "not to follow us. It is unnecessary. The
door on the second story to the right, you say ? Thank
you. I wish to speak to this man alone."

Dientje was naturally tingling all over with curiosity.
But she would keep Juffrouw Kaas downstairs now, all the

The two ladies groped their way up and found the door.
They knocked ; a gruff voice bade them enter. There was
a little fumbling to find the door-handle at the dark stair-
head you could not call it a passage and then Agatha
opened the door and walked in. Her mother followed

The garret was dark but for such light as came in
through the curtainless window from a clouded moon. A
man sat on a chair, cowered up somehow, with his arms gn
the back, and his head in his arms. He did not look up.
He thought it was Juffrouw Kaas, come to prattle about to-

" You are Jan Lorentz ? " said Agatha, pausing near the

He started at the strange voice. " Yes," he said, getting
off his chair and standing awkwardly beside it. " Yes, I
am Jan Lorentz."


Agatha took a step forward into the dim room. " And
I am Mevrouw Avelingh," she said.

He staggered back and reeled backward, clinging to his
chair. " What do you want with me, Mevrouw ? " he stam-
mered forth.

" I am Mevrouw Avelingh," she continued, speaking
hurriedly as if she were afraid to trust her own voice, " the
wife of the man who is to be condemned to-morrow. He
will be condemned on evidence which you have given. And
I am come to ask you why you gave it, knowing it to be a

He stood staring at her. Even in the semi-darkness she
could see his wild eyes. She faced him, throwing back her
veil so as to see the better and speak the clearer. Her fair
face seemed to gather toward it all the scattered rays of
light in the little room.

" For you knew it to be a lie," she went on more hur-
riedly still. " And you know this very evening, sitting here
alone in the darkness, that it is a lie you have spoken before
man and before God. I ask myself how it is possible that
you can abide thus with your own thoughts in the stillness
of the coming night, that you can go to sleep, to rest, with
the thought upon your heart of what you have done, of what
you are doing still. Tell me, do you sleep ? "

"What do you know?" murmured the wretched man,
sinking back on his chair. " What do you say ? What do
you mean?" She came yet more forward into the vague
light of the window. Her face, with its aureole of golden
hair, standing out from the dark indistinctness of her cloth-
ing, seemed to him like an angel's, without corporeal frame.
Mevrouw van Hessel stood back in the shade by the door.

"How do you sleep?" repeated Agatha, vehemently.
" Can you sleep ? I do not speak to you of the misery, the
utter, unfathomable ruin you are bringing upon the inno-
cent man, upon me, his wife, upon us all who love and cher-


ish him. I do not wish to dwell upon them. They must
be present with you night and day, in your dreams, in your
waking thoughts for, after all, you are a human being and
have a human heart, even although but no, I am not come
to reproach you. You must be too miserable to need any
reproach from me. And as for my cause, for my husband's
oh, however I long to obtain his deliverance, I would
leave it in the hands of the God who has said : ' Vengeance
is mine ; I will repay ! ' "

She stopped a moment, but it was only to gasp for
breath. The bowed and broken man before her gave a
faint groan but never moved.

" It is of yourself I would speak," said Agatha, softly.
" Of your own hopes, your fears, the conscience that lives
within you. Why do you do this thing ? All the misery it is
bringing upon others ; all the misery it has brought and still
will bring upon yourself is it worth it ? You are young
still, like the man you injure. You suffer already. I can see
it ; I thank God for it. He is more merciful to you even now
than you know. But the twinges of conscience you feel at
this moment are as nothing to the remorse which later years
will bring. As the years pass on, carrying this brief life
away with them, as you grow older and wearier and see
pleasures fade away in air which now still attract you, as
you watch death and its awful certainty of judgment draw-
ing nearer, miserable man, what an agony will be yours ! "
Her voice faltered. She steadied it. " I tremble," she
went on, " when I think of the future you are preparing for
me. It is almost too horrible to think of. But I tremble
yet more, when I turn to the future you are preparing for
yourself, even on this earth, and in the eternal retribution be-
yond. I dare not let my thoughts dwell upon it. Oh God,
have mercy upon this most wretched man ! " She burst
into tears.

" I plead for myself," she said more calmly, as soon as


she could speak. " So be it. I have a right to claim my
due. And I tell you that you have lied, and still lie, in the
sight of Heaven, that you are lying away a good man's, an
innocent man's whole life. I can not ask what are your
motives. Whatever they are, they shrink away too miser-
ably into nothing before the horror of your deed. Men tell
me you w^ant money. Poor fool, had 5^ou come to us, we
could have given it you ! Poor fool, had the world's wealth
been offered you, it would not have been worth the agony
which God Himself has already set gnawing at your heart.
What are you seeking? Happiness? Pleasure? Enjoy-
ment ? They will go from you forever with the setting of
to-morrow's sun ! "

Jan Lorentz raised his head. " Go ! " he said, huskily.
" Go ! Whoever you are, have mercy upon me I Go ! I
can't change anything now. It's too late."

" Oh let me plead with you," cried Agatha so near that
her clasped hands almost touched his shoulder. " For my-
self, if you will, and for you ! For you, most of all. You
are delivering over my husband to an earthly tribunal. You
will see him stand there to-morrow and, knowing him to be
innocent, will see him condemned. And for me that means
many years of suffering : thirty, forty, perhaps, if it be
God's will, but they will end, and God will approve us inno-
cent. But you you are delivering up yourself; yourself,
your own heart and soul that you love, the eternal within
you ; you are delivering up yourself perhaps in thirty years,
perhaps in forty, perhaps in an hour from this moment to
the judgment-seat of Almighty God ! "

There was a ring of real grief in her voice and even of
compassion that thrilled through the poor villain whom she
addressed She believed what she was saying Avith all the
strength of her being. She pitied him. In the midst of her
own terrible anxiety and sorrow, she pitied him, even him, the
man who had wronged her so cruelly. He felt it with a pang


of inexpressible shame. He believed what she was saying to
him ; his own heart's experience already bore it out. His
anger had died down from the moment he first saw his old
love once more looking at him. The tears, long strangers
to his eyes, had left his heart strangely tender. And now
there came surging in upon it all his fear and disappoint-
ment, all his misery and remorse. His past life lay open
before him, like a desert devoid of fruit, and the future
seemed to rise beyond it, black and vast with eternal doom.
It was more than heart of man could endure. He started
up with a despairing shriek. Its echo rang for many days
in the ears of his two hearers. And as he uttered it, he fell
heavily forward on the floor.

The shriek, piercing, as it did, through that quiet little
house, brought up the two women who had sat wondering
till then in the little back-parlor. Juffrouw Kaas had ceded,
much against her will, to Dientje's entreaties that she should
remain below and not trouble the unknown ladies, but those
entreaties had required renewal, as it was, almost every five
minutes, and now, when that cry broke the stillness, the
landlady was half-way upstairs before Dientje properly real-
ized that she had left the room. So the maid rose and fol-
lowed her.

The man lying evidently unconscious, Mevrouw van Hes-
sel's practical energy asserted itself. She knelt down by
him and raised his head immediately ; she would have got
him on to the bed with her daughter's help, had not
Juffrouw Kaas come running in before she could do so.
Juffrouw Kaas had certainly made a pretense of knocking
at the door on her way, but she had not paused one instant
for an answer. " I thought murder was going on here,"
she gasped, with her fat hand on her ample bosom. " Oh
dear ladies. I thought he was murdering you ! " Juffrouw
Kaas had never run upstairs so fast in her life.

As she choked over the words a moonbeam, emerging


from a cloud, fell full into the little room. The sky was
clearing. In the bright light the fat little tobacconist im-
mediately recognized the Burgomaster's wife. She dropped
a courtesy. " Mevrouw, the Burgomaster," she said in a low
Yoice. " Dear, dear, to think of it ! Mevrouw, the Burgo-
master ! "

Madame van Hessel rose from her knees. She took
hold of the amazed Juffrouw by her fat shoulders and
walked her incontinently out of the room. Dientje stood
on the landing, uncertain what might be desired of her.
Mevrouw called her in, and then shut the door and turned
the key upon Juffrouw Kaas.

" We can't have any extra, unnecessary trouble," she
said. " Heaven knows we have quite enough already with-
out that."

Together the three women moved Jan Lorentz on to his
bed, and Mevrouw van Hessel, producing a small scent-
bottle, rubbed his forehead and hands with eau-de-cologne
and water. After a few moments he moved, heaved a deep
sigh, and opened his eyes. They rested immediately on one
of the three faces anxiously bending over him. . " Dientje,"
he said in an awe-struck whisper. She shrank back. An
expression of such anguish came into the sick man's face
that Agatha, putting her arm round her maid's waist, once
more gently drew her forward. Jan Lorentz lay still, gazing
at her for several minutes. To her they seemed hours. At
last he said, still in a very feeble voice : " I forget how it
was. I think I must have fainted. I think it was an angel
told me not to sin against God, and I was frightened."

It sounded almost childlike in its simplicity, coming
from that guilty man. No one disturbed his thoughts, and
gradually the truth came back upon him. " I have been
dizzy like that once or twice before," he said, "and my
brain goes round. It's the wretched drink. Oh, God, if I
could escape from the drink ! It has made a devil of me."


" No, no," said Agatha. " Do not speak like that ! Oh,
let me tell you ! There is pardon for you ! There is mercy !
Oh mother, how gladly I would speak to him, if it did not
seem as if I were goading him on to destroy his own earthly
happiness, that my husband's and mine might be saved."

Jan Lorentz did not seem to hear her. He was lying
with his old love's hand clasped tight in both his own.

" The angel was right, Dientje," he murmured. " I be-
lieve that God sent her to me. I must not be my own ac-
cuser before the judgment seat of God."



" SiLEKCE ! " cried the usher, settling his broad orange
scarf as he spoke. The presiding judge took up one of the
documents lying before him. A nervous thrill of expecta-
tion ran through the vast concourse. The prisoner knitted
his eyebrows slightly. It was noted with some surprise that
Kees van Hessel was not present, as he had been all through
the day of the trial.

The judge began to read the verdict in a shrill voice, full
of abortive attempts at impressiveness. It was a long docu-
ment, comprising several folio pages and giving, first an
accurate summary of the facts of the case, and then a full
exposition of the legal consequences the deed must involve.
Seven minutes were spent over the descriptions in the first
part ; the President cleared his throat and coughed solemnly
as he turned over page after page. At last, however, long
after every one was tired of hearing facts enumerated which
most men by this time had unwillingly learnt by heart at
last the legal part of the document was reached. The Presi-


dent laid down the paper and blew his nose. Then he
glared round at the expectant crowd before him, took off his
spectacles, wiped them, resettled them carefully over his
eyes, glared round again at the public and resumed his read-
ing. The prisoner uncrossed his legs, and then crossed them
again. Much of what the President read was a repetition
of the address of the Advocate- General on the day of the
trial. The same charges of ingratitude and avarice were
brought against Joost. Full attention was accorded to the
testimony of Jan Lorentz, the principal witness. It was
supplemented by that of the Notary and the Doctor. And
taking all things into consideration, and reckoning that the
motives for the deed and the circumstances immediately
connected with it, everything, in fact, but the actual com-
mission of the crime had been confessed by the prisoner,
the judges came to the conclusion that they were justified
in declaring that the necessary legal evidence had been sup-
plied, and on the ground of that evidence, and all that had
come to their knowledge in connection with it, they found
the prisoner " Guilty of Murder."



As the concluding sentences rolled forth sonorously
from the President's lips, a commotion, which had been
increasing for the last few minutes at the entrance to the
judgment hall, assumed such proportions that it attracted
attention from those who sat higher up. People began to
look round and to cry " Hush ! " One or two of the judges
themselves looked across, and the youngest of them, bend-
ing sideways over his armchair, spoke to the colleague who


sat next to him. The President looked nervously to the
right and left, out of the corners of his eyes, but read on,
his rubicund face growing purple. He had reached the
last words of the verdict ; the declaration of the prisoner's
guilt had already passed his lips ; nothing now remained
but the sentence : " Find the accused to be guilty of mur-
der," read the President, " and accordingly "

" Stop ! " cried a shrill voice from the back of the hall.
" Stop ! Stop ! Don't sentence an innocent man ! "

The President involuntarily checked himself and' glared
over his paper. All eyes, even the prisoner's, were turned
in the direction of the principal entrance. Men started up
from their seats ; those at the back jumped on to the benches
and looked over their neighbors' shoulders. In the con-
fusion one or two chairs were upset with a crash ; exclama-
tions of sudden irritation or curiosity broke forth on all
sides. A wave of hushed sound and checked movement
passed over the vast assembly. Men were restraining them-
selves still under the influence of the place and the occa-
sion, but the decorum of the court of law was broken for
the moment. The prisoner his view obstructed by those
who had risen behind him sank back on his wooden bench
and shielded his eyes with one hand.

" Silence ! " said the little President, in high indigna-

But no one heeded him. For all were gazing at the
lanky figure of Jan Lorentz, struggling with two police-
men, just within the entry.

" No, no ! " cried Jan Lorentz, in the same shrill, ex-
cited voice. " Let me speak while I dare. He is innocent !
I have lied against him ! Let me speak ! "

" Let him speak ! " cried a chorus of voices from vari-
ous parts of the building. The President's renewed call
for silence was overborne in the protest. Even the judges
who sat next to him were agitated by a human curiosity.


wliicli induced tliem to half rise from their chairs. A knot
of gentlemen round the combatants by the entrance forcibly
rescued the man, who was struggling and shouting with
what weak strength he had, from the hands of his assail-
ants, and bade him go on to the front in God's name ! And
others in the body of the hall, alternately making way for
him and pushing him forward, bore him up on a wave of
excitement to the very feet of the President. He arrived,
gasping for breath, his shabby clothes torn, his face white
and haggard, his eyes staring in front of the dais, by the
side of Joost Avelingh.

The President was an old man. He had grown gray
in the law-courts. But he had never seen such a sitting as
this. And he was at a loss how to act. In his anxiety to
preserve his own dignity and that of the Court, and yet at
the same time to do no injustice nor oifend public opinion,
he hesitated altogether, and looked from one colleague to
the other.

" Let him speak ! " cried one or two voices again. It was
simply curiosity that actuated all present.

Jan Lorentz, standing there, with his gaunt frame
thrown forward, his lean hands clasped convulsively round
the railing, to the left of the prisoner, the whole man
trembling with emotion and struggling to find utterance
Jan Lorentz availed himself of the President's momentary
indecision, and in the sudden silence he began to speak.
He poured his words forth in short, rapid sentences, hurry-
ing on, as a man hurries who does not trust himself to
finish what he has begun.

" It is false ! " he panted, " my evidence ! He is inno-
cent ! I did not see it ! I did not say it ! I did not wish
to ! The Jonker asked me ! And he said I had said it !
And it was all a mistake ! And no one let me go back !
And I hated Mynheer Avelingh ! But he is innocent ! "

The young judge at the further end, forgetful of all


propriety, started up and ran around to the President.
The one between them also turned his head, and a hurried
confabulation took place. The President made a rapid
sign of assent, and addressed the man standing before him.

" As you have said so much," he squeaked, frowning se-
verely, " you may as well say more, and explain, though you
can not excuse, your most unseemly interruption. What
have you to tell ? "

" I never sav/ Mynheer Avelingh draw the handkerchief
round his uncle's throat," replied Lorentz more collectedly.
" No, so help me God ; all the time I was looking through
the glass in the hood I never saw him touch his uncle at all."

" Man ! " said the President impatiently, " take care what
you are doing. Justice does not allow herself to be played
with. If you have received money to come and tell this
story, you are not only a .scoundrel but a fool."

The President was not a shrewd judge of men, despite
his position. For it did not require much insight to per-
ceive that this one was undoubtedly sincere.

" I am telling . the truth," cried Jan Lorentz anxiously.
" I am, at last ! I can't help it ! Oh gentlemen, for the
love of God in Heaven, don't make it harder for me than
it is."

A murmur of sympathetic approval ran through the

" Do you mean to say," asked the President, " that you,
fully realizing the consequences of what you are doing, per-
sist in your declaration that you have borne false witness in
this court in the case of the Crown against Joost Avelingh ?"

Lorentz began trembling violently. He supported him-
self against the balustrade by an effort, and slov/ly gasped

" It is true. Yes."

Low as the words were, there was scarcely a man in the
hall but heard them, amid that breathless silence.


"And Avelingh is innocent?" cried a voice from the

Jan Lorentz bowed his head in acquiescence. It dropped
forward on his hands.

The Counsel for the accused started up. " I give notice
of Appeal to the Supreme Court," he said. He scarcely knew
what he was saying. How could he remember he had no right
to say it then ?

A shout rang through the hall. Then another ! And
another ! Men started up on the benches and chairs again,
and waved their pocket-handkerchiefs, and cheered. These
phlegmatic Dutchmen, roused out of their habitual apathy,
broke forth in an enthusiasm they would have been ashamed
to confess. It was too wonderful, the awful certainty, the
sudden hesitation, the rapid light and shade! And now
the deliverance ! The hearts of the spectators boiled over.
They cheered. They scarcely knew whom they were cheer-
ing ; Jan Lorentz or Joost Avelingh ?

The President rose, purple with passion. " This must
end," he cried, " immediately ! Arrest that man ! I sus-
pend the sitting ! Clear the Court ! "

After all, nothing was proved as yet ; nothing was even
changed. The judges, to a man, disbelieved this improbable
story. The witness had been tampered with; or he was
mad, or drunk. He would retract to-morrow, and get off
with a comparatively mild punishment for contempt of

But the public thought differently. One of those inex-
plicable, unreasonable waves of feeling which perplex those
who govern nations swept suddenly over the vast crowd that
had been present at the scene just enacted. The reaction
was the greater because of the opprobiura which had been
heaped on the prisoner. Without pausing to ask whether
Jan Lorentz's statement really did away with the charge
against the man already condemned as a murderer, the mul-


titude, full of the unexpected words : " He is innocent ! " ac-
quitted him in its own mind, and would have released him
where he stood. Some confused account of what was going
on inside the building spread rapidly to the thousands out-
side, and the foolish cry, " Long live Joost Avelingh ! " once
started, no one knew how, was taken up and repeated again
and again by the populace. Grentlemen of high position
pressed forward round the prisoner, as he was being led away
in custody, and shook hands with him. Kees Hessel, who
had come down with Jan Lorentz, struggled toward his
brother-in-law and threw his arm around his neck.

" I knew you were innocent, Joost," he sobbed, " but I
did not expect to hear others repeating it ! You are inno-
cent ! Hear them ! You are innocent ! "

" Grod alone knows," said Joost Avelingh.



Several weeks elapsed after Jan Lorentz's confession,

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 16 of 24)