Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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none of the principal actors in the tragedy could ever ex-
actly tell how. Joost Avelingh had been taken back to his
cell, there to await the result of the action brought by the
Crown against the perjurer. For the value of the latter's
retraction must be carefully tested before the appeal in the
earlier case could come on. The Magistrates the legal
world generally were of opinion at first, that the witness's
original story was the true one, and that the explanation he
now gave had been put into his mouth by the friends of the
murderer. And to the objection that he would then be ly-
ing away his own liberty, they merely replied that even that
sacrifice might easily have been made worth his while by



people who were as rich as the Avelinghs. To obtain such
a result, a man or woman possessed of millions would will-
ingly spend hundreds of thousands in any case, and many
a man, especially a young one, would gladly undergo several
years of confinement with the hope of a fortune at the close.
It was a difficult matter. If the man stuck to his state-
ment, it would be impossible to convict Avelingh, even
though the judges might feel confident the statement was a
false one. But the proceedings for the charge of perjury
must, in any case, come on first.

This was the opinion of the authorities and the legal
luminaries. But the world at large did not take their view
of the matter. It had got into its head that it had ill-used
Avelingh, and so it veered round to the other extreme and
made much of him. It may be confidently affirmed that it
would have acted exactly in the same manner, whether the
accused man was actually guilty or not, for the world, as we
all know, lives by impressions, and public opinion seldom
does a thing by halves. The men who had been present
during Lorentz's confession had very generally accepted its
sincerity, and it was they who spread the story far and wide.
And that same evening, in spite of one or two warning
voices here and there, the country had declared for Joost.
A large number of newspapers hung back at first,, undoubt-
edly, but that was because their earlier opinions, unlike
those of the changeable crowd, had the disadvantage of still
being there to bear witness against them, and they shrank
from disproving all the subtle arguments of the day before
yesterday. But, the press being, after all, quite as much the
slave as the master of that spoilt overgrown child " The
Public," it was not long before " our more judicious readers "
began to find out " that we have always drawn attention to the
weak points in the prosecution." And, having once got so
far, it was easy for the radical " Cry of the People" to at-
tack the legal institutions of the country, wnich made it so


simple a matter to condemn an innocent man. It was not
only that insignificant organ, however, that fell foul of the
magistrature. The " Cry of the People," when it goes forth,
must always be raised against some scapegoat or other, and,
Jan Lorentz being more or less interesting on account of
his "martyrdom of virtue," it was evident that only the
authorities remained to be blamed. Everybody who was
angry with himself for having originally taken a wrong view
of the case that is to say, almost every inhabitant of the
country above the age of fifteen abused the examining
judge and the Advocate-General for having led his judgment
astray. Somehow, everybody forgot to call the newspapers
to account, probably because those papers themselves were
now engaged in the campaign with such laudable vigor.
And so public discontent, after having wandered from one
to another like a ball on a bagatelle board finally settled
down in its favorite little hole : the " Police."

Joost Avelingh sat in his prison-cell. The authorities
were angry with him for having " through his perversity,"
as they put it, brought discredit upon them, and the severi-
ties of prison discipline were but little relaxed. They allowed
him to see his wife once or twice, in the presence of a ward-
er, and he learned from her lips how she had been the
means of saving him. He learned also that his innocence
had already obtained credence with all but the magistrates.
And, in the revulsion of feeling he perhaps realized more
fully wliat an agony there had lain for his sensitive, love-
loving nature in the hatred and wrath of a nation risen up
against him. Few men pass through the ordeal, few men
would be morally so unfit for it as Joost Avelingh. It has
been said of him that his nature in his youth " wanted to be
put out in the sunshine." At least, so it ever seemed to him
and his friends. But the Supreme Wisdom that ruled his
life decided otherwise, and he passed through the very
blackness of night.


Coming out, then, as from a tunnel, blinded with the
sudden radiance, his heart leaped up and staggered within
him. During all those weeks of prolonged suffering, the
physical side, so to call it, had scarcely troubled his repose.
The imprisonment, the restraint, the deprivations, he had
hardly counted these at all. His ordeal had been altogether
a moral one, and, besides the inevitable separation from his
wife, it was in the judgment which the world had passed
upon him that his torture had asserted itself, as his punish-
ment would have lain there, had the law finally condemned
him. It seemed, then, when once, in the silence of his cell
at evening, he heard a passing street-boy call out ; " Long
live Joost Avelingh ! " that the windows of Heaven fell
open and filled the dark earth with light. It was not that
he cared for the silly cry and the ephemeral popularity it
brought him, but that in the thought that once more his
fellow-men esteemed and honored him he drank as it were
the new wine of life.

Had he a right to such esteem and honor ? He could,
perhaps, scarcely have told himself. In the novel delight of
living which came over him during these wonderful days he
would certainly have answered yes, but he would not have
accounted to himself for the answer. The circumstances of
the trial had worked a great change in his nature, subvert-
ing to a certain extent his ideas of right and wrong. A
man does not pass through such an experience and come
out unharmed. He had learned he would have been sur-
prised, had he known how unexpectedly and how thorough-
ly what a difference there is between calling one's self a
sinner and being called a sinner by the law. He knew well
enough that he was not a good man. Above all, he had
had weighing upon him for many years the half-admitted
consciousness of a great transgression. He had played with
it, and mourned over it, and repented and done penance
for it. He had been miserable over it just with that amount


of misery which makes a man interesting to himself, and
contented with the working of his own conscience. He was
not, he told himself, as the mass of men around him who
sinned carelessly and smilingly on without pausing to de-
plore their weakness. And his own " soul-sufl'ering," his
" expiation," his " inmost weariness," perfectly sincere as
they ever remained were not unpleasing to him, for they
seemed to him like a patent of his soul's nobility, creden-
tials which assigned him a superior rank among God's creat-
ures, that something divine within the best and bravest
which brings them comfort in the triumphant knowledge
that they who most aspire most often go astray.

It will readily be believed that Joost Avelingh himself
had not realized these considerations which were actuating
him. It would have been absurd to expect him to do so.
He realized the result. He was unhappy, so sincerely and
earnestly unhappy that in spite of all his efforts to avoid
reflection, he had once or twice in inevitably quieter mo-
ments been brought face to face with the idea of suicide,
and had not recoiled from it. His love for Agatha and
perhaps still more, her love for him had struck down the
thought to the ground.

He had confessed his sin to God, he told himself, and
obtained no pardon for it. He had striven to expiate it in
the sight of Heaven, and the expiation, returning as a ball
thrown upward, had brought him honor, gratitude, praise;
and, as if a curse had rested on it, the good he had striven
to do had changed to evil. He had held out his gold to
the sick and the necessitous, and it had turned to ashes in
his hand. The fault was not his, but God's.

Then came as a thunderbolt from a clear sky, in spite
of all his self-deception the accusation of murder. What
he thought, what he believed, what he felt in the first mo-
ment of that discovery, he never could explain in after
years. Not God, not his own tender conscience, not the


lifelong grief that gnawed at his heart others, rough, rude
voices, the police, the law, the press, the whole world, accused
him of a crime, accused him of the worst crime of all, mur-
der. Was the accusation rational ?

They did not come upon him, mind you, and tell him
without further preface, that he had deliberately strangled
his uncle with a neckerchief. Had they done so, his expe-
riences might have been different. It is hard to say. But
when he first learned in the repose and fancied security of
his own home, sitting there quietly in his study-chair be-
tween w^ife and friend that a " serious charge had been
brought against him," his first impression naturally was that
there must be some mistake. For in spite of the long
schooling of his heart to one idea, or perhaps just on ac-
count of the fixed form in which that idea had thus been
cast he could see no connection between his own accusa-
tions of himself and such as the law might bring against
him. Or it may be presumed that he just saw enough con-
nection for one moment to explain a passing confusion
and then clearly separate the ideas forever. In an instant's
flash of thought quicker than any visible spark the fancy
crossed his brain that God might have taken up arms
against him ; but the next moment he remembered that God
does not grant such revelations of His justice. Knowing,
therefore, that such accusations as he might whisper against
himself could not be the same as those the world would
bring forward, his mind turned to other possibilities and,
after wildly grasping at the recollection of all the pecula-
tions in connection with his charitable grant (not that he
was to blame in that matter), desisted in despair and truth-
fully declared itself utterly at sea.

Then came a few minutes later ; but a few minutes are
often a long period in the story of a soul the express
charge of murder. It was that word v/hich flashed across
his brain the thought of a divine revelation and brought to


his lips the hesitating words or " angels " ? with which he
had greeted the police-officers to Kees Hessel's amazement.
" Or angels," remarked the younger policeman to his com-
rade when they found themselves alone. "What foolish
things some of these criminals say, to be sure ! "

Joost Avelingh now found himself thrown into utter
confusion. He knew perfectly well that the law could not
accuse him of murder. At least, he had always taught him-
self to believe that it could not, whatever doubts may some-
times have crossed his mind on the subject. He had often,
undoubtedly, brought terrible accusations against himself,
and, sitting there as judge, jury, prosecutor, witness, and
defendant, had never come to a satisfactory verdict. He
had grown accustomed to the case of " Avelingh against
Avelingh " ; it had become quite a part of his existence. It
dragged on forever, and he could not well have got on with-
out it, though he paid the costs with the peace of his soul.
" The Crown against Avelingh " was a very different matter.
" The world against Avelingh " was agony indeed.

He was rescued from the confusion into which he had
fallen by the specification of the charge of murder which had
been brought against him. He found himself confronted
with Jan Lorentz ; he heard the man's story ; he was asked
whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty. He could give but
one answer, and he gave it immediately, and persevered in it
all through the trial. He was not guilty. Whatever accu-
sations a too sensitive conscience might sometimes suggest,
this charge of willful murder was absurd, scandalous ; an
infamy. His heart gathered strength at the thought. Fool
that he had been to dream of God's retribution, here was he
brought face to face with an outrageous, libelous attack upon
his good name and fame. He owed it to himself, to his
wife, to society itself to defend himself with all the means
in his power. Summoned to confess, he refused with right-
eous scorn. He turned upon the witness and told him that


he lied, as he did. He repeated haughtily and consisteiitly>
that the charge was a slander, that he was innocent of the
deed it attributed to him, He could not do otherwise ; he
was perfectly justified in doing what he did.

And so complicated are these hearts of ours in their per-
ceptions, that it remains true as has already been said
that Joost Avelingh, in spite of the grief of separation, in
spite of the agony of general opprobium he was enduring,
found cause for comfort and rejoicing in these days of dis-
tress. Can a man be happy and wretched at the same time ?
The rational answer is No. And yet Joost Avelingh, when
he came out of prison with a sprinkling of gray over his jet-
black hair, could only tell that for some thoughts and at
some moments the happiest experience of his life had come
to him in a cell. As the certainty of his condemnation
grew more manifest, the undercurrent of elation, indigna-
tion, protestation, self-glorification call it what you will ;
it was something of all four broadened through his soul.
It was a new feeling to be accused unjustly, to know that
there was nothing in his heart deserving such persecution,
to endure to a certain extent the martyrdom of injured in-
nocence. It was a new thing to be a far better man than the
world acknowledged, and it brought its peculiar compensa-
tions. Before the trial was over, Joost Avelingh felt better
satisfied with himself than he had ever felt before in his life.
It was the one great result which his ordeal produced, at first,
at any rate. The slow evolution of feeling had been too con-
tinuous to be suddenly annihilated by the unexpected conclu-
sion. Eather, it found itself confirmed by the voice of pub-
lic opinion. He came out of prison at peace with himself
and the world. All his little self-accusations had faded
into the glaring light of the prosecution for willful murder.
He stood out in that white light, and men cried : " He is
innocent ! " Joost Avelingh did not echo the cry, but
he accepted it. And the voice of the people, recognizing


again his claim to esteem, was inexpressibly sweet in his

He went back to his wife, when at last the prison doors
were opened, with a love for her in his heart such as he had
never felt before. It is not necessary to ask whether it was
greater, whether there was more of it ; it was different. If
he had contented himself till then, in his intellectual pride,
with thinking that a man's love to his wife must be all ten-
derness and petting, he could no longer deny Agatha that
element of respect and admiration which he had till now
unconsciously withheld. She had achieved a claim to his
lasting gratitude which his heart must bend to admit. It
did so most willingly, most gladly, but it bent none the less.
He need not he did not love her for what she had done ;
he had always loved her ; but now in his love was irresistibly
intermingled the memory of the debt he owed her, and that
love was beautified and elevated by the thought. " Not such
a great thing after all," may be said, but it was great enough,
if deeds are estimated by their consequences. And it was
great in its devotion, in its courage, and most of all in its
mastery of a human soul. Joost Avelingh had nothing to
do with the various influences which had effected the altera-
tion of Lorentz and, in truth, Agatha's coming had been
but as the fall of a stone in a brimming cup to the hus-
band it was his wife who had saved him, and there was heav-
en in the thought. It was she who, by the words she had
spoken, by the thoughts to which those words gave utter-
ance, had vanquished as vile a heart as ever lied on earth.
It was she who, when all others stood back careless or pow-
erless, she the woman, who had stepped forward and achieved
what neither her brother nor the lawyer would even attempt.
When she came to him in the governor's sitting-room, upon
his liberation, he could only fold her to his bosom and clasp
her there in silence. But it was some days later, as he
walked slowly up and down his study in his old accustomed


manner, revolving many things, that he suddenly stopped
before Agatha, and bent over her hand and kissed it. And
she, looking up into his face and smiling, was astonished at
the look of tender reverence she read there. But she never
guessed the meaning of that kiss.

Supposing that formerly he had loved her for her beauty
only though that would be but a very one-sided way of ex-
plaining his alfection it would have been all the more de-
sirable that his feelings should undergo a change. For her
beauty, in spite of her youth, had not remained uninjured
by the sufferings she had gone through. She had never
been as lovely as Joost thought her, but the pure, sweet,
somewhat haughty expression of her fair face had a great
charm in it ; and that it would always retain. " She is very
much aged, nevertheless," said her acquaintances. " It is
wonderful what a few weeks will do. She must have felt
terribly cut up about the whole matter. Poor thing ! " Her
eyes had acquired a troubled expression. There were hard
lines here and there about the mouth and forehead, and
there was gray as with Joost in the masses of golden hair
her husband and mother were so proud of. Everybody
called upon her again now, and everybody told her that they
had wanted to come and comfort her all along, but had
dreaded being thought indiscreet. " I assure you, my dear,
I had ordered the carriage the very instant I first heard the
terrible news," said one lady, " hut my husband came and
told me he was sure you would rather be left alone. ' If
my wife were being tried for were arrested like that,' he
said, ' I am sure I should not like you to come bothering
me.' Wasn't it unkind of him, my dear? So I just
changed my mind and drove to the pastrycook's. And I was
so sorry for you ; I could not sleep all night for thinking of
you, though Everard said it was the tarts. Men are so un-
feeling ; are they not. Mynheer Avelingh ? "

Joost had become an object of the greatest interest


People asked him impertinent questions, which he did not
answer. He turned on his heel once or twice, very abrupt-
ly, and left some fair catechizer all perplexed in the middle
of the room. Decidedly, Joost was not destined to shine in
polite society. " I can't understand," the parish clergyman's
wife complained to Mevrouw Verrooy. " I only asked him
what his favorite text had been in prison, and he stared at
me with those great eyes of his and said it was very warm.
He is not an agreeable man. I do so hope, for his poor
wife's sake, that confinement has not affected his head."

Agatha sat and received her visitors and was amiable to
them. She was grateful, too, that they should make much
of Joost, and she tried hard to convince herself that they
had acted with superfine delicacy a delicacy not properly
appreciated at first sight, you know, but easily intelligible,
if you give your whole mind to it in not coming to see her
in the days of her distress. She found herself uncharitably
hard to convince.



But before Joost Avelingh could be liberated Jan Lo-
rentz had to be condemned. The thought although he
admitted its seriousness did not much trouble Joost, for in
the long solitude of his confinement he had learned to con-
sider the false witness with feelings of overwhelming hatred
and contempt. Can it be wondered at ? When they fetched
him from his cell, it was to confront him with this creature,
who coolly stood there lying away all that made life endura-
ble. So thought Joost ; and the wrong thus done him was
so unfathomable that he could not but hate the man, even
while he despised him. It is not true, by the way, surely it


is not true, though it has been often repeated, that hatred
and scorn can not mingle together in our thoughts of one
and the same person ? However that may be, Joost Ave-
lingh felt too intense an aversion suddenly to pity the per-
jurer when the confession of his crime had been wrung from
him. He considered that he but received what he merited ;
and the more he recalled his past wickedness the more he
appreciated Agatha's victory in bringing the scoundrel to

For Agatha the circumstances were different. She also had
good reason to shrink from all sympathy with Lorentz, but
she could not forget her last sad impression of him, received
on the night before the verdict. It still seemed to her as if
she saw the wretched garret with the moonbeams shifting
across it and playing over the bed on which he lay. She
could not forget the misery on his pale face and in his bro-
ken voice. She had watched him there through the whole
anxious night, first with her mother, then with Kees, who
had been sent for to join them and take down the guilty
man's deposition, and from first to last with Dientje. Jan
Lorentz had lain through the greater part of the time with
his fingers tightly clasped round his old love's hand, gazing
at her as if he would drink his fill of her face, and murmur-
ing occasionally some words of self-disparagement. Not of
endearment ; he would never have allowed himself to give
utterance to these. The woman had passed beyond him,
irretrievably ; none the less could he cherish and honor the
thought of her. He was not ill ; that is to say, his weak-
ened frame did not feel weaker than yesterday, but the
storm which had been sweeping over his spirit during the
last few days and had now culminated in this renunciation,
had left him prostrate in mind and in body. He was inex-
pressibly weary^ as a man after the crisis of a fever. But he
was also out of danger. In the fight in his soul the right
side had won.


Beggared, broken in health, utterly forlorn and misera-
ble, and now tormented by the stings of conscience, what
could he do but give up the struggle ? He had always re-
tained his fierce grudge against Joost, but it had never been
his intention to bear false witness against him, and, in spite
of his dislike, the possible injury to the accused soon out-
grew any vengeance he might have reckoned on. It was
true, as he said, that he had been unconsciously led into
making his original statement, and that he had never in-
tended to do so. He was not a sufficiently bad man to wish
to deliberately ruin the happiness of seve'ral innocent lives,
if he came to think out the subject. The hope of gain, and
the desire to free himself from a disagreeable dilemma, had
probably actuated him in the beginning, and also, quite as
much as both these, the fear of going back on the state-
ment he was once reported to have made. How he had first
made it he did not clearly remember. His impression was
that van Asveld had tricked him into it, knowing it to be
untrue, but therein he wronged the Jonker, who had merely
read his own thoughts too readily from the lips of another,
and who firmly believed, even after the condemnation of
Lorentz, that the man had been bought over for a small for-
tune by Agatha Avelingh.

Brought face to face with his lie in all its nakedness and
barrenness, Jan Lorentz could not continue to play a part he
had from the first been but loath to undertake. He betrayed
himself, and, once discovered, was a lost man, as far as keep-
ing up false appearances went. Not that he immediately
desired to sacrifice his liberty. His surrender was, perhaps,
at first more the result of moral and physical weakness than
of any higher resolve. It is always more or less difficult to
tell a lie consistently, and this liar's staying power gave out.
But also, it must be admitted, his heart was not in it. He

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 17 of 24)