Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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was not a sufficiently bad man not to desire to be a better.
And when the wave of conviction rolled in upon him, it


struck against no granite rock. He went down before it
from debility as much as from deliberate choice. But he
was almost glad when he was down.

That did not mean, however, that he bore gladly the
consequences of his deed. Nor were they such as men ac-
cept lightly, whatever may be their consciousness of guilt.
In that never-ending night when he poured forth his broken
confessions, exculpations, entreaties to the sympathetic, si-
lent women by his bedside, his hand clasping that of his old
sweetheart, he had often faltered and shrunk away with
sudden indecision; And even then when, having spoken,
he fell back and lay still, but for an occasional murmur, he
had realized with terror what his self-surrender meant. But
the sequence of his action swept down upon him, irresist-
less from the first. He bowed his head, and did not try to
resist it.

But gradually, with the rest his avowal brought him and
the knowledge of doing right, now inseparable from his
misfortunes, courage and a certain contentment came back
to the man. He went through the trial for perjury victo-
riously, even though it ended, as it inevitably must, in his
condemnation to a long term of imprisonment. One bright
point, which Agatha timidly pointed out to him, he seized
with avidity, fixing his eyes upon it till it illuminated the
darkness. This imprisonment would give him an opportu-
nity, such as he could nowhere else have found, of escaping
from the power of the drink. " Yes," he said, " with God's
help, there is that to llf^e for. And when I come out of
prison, Dientje ? When I come out of prison? " He lin-
gered wistfully over the^words. She. drooped her eyes to
the OTOund and did not answer. The:?fe was no need to un-
deceive him now, should she so wish it. And many years
would pass before he saw the sun again.

In the course of his examination Jan Lorentz admitted
that he had told a lie at first, had adhered to it through the


inquiry, and sworn it during the trial. He had not seen
Joost touch his uncle on the night of the old man's death.
But he pleaded, truthfully, that he had never intended to
say so in the beginning, and that the story had been forced
upon him, somehow, by van Asveld. The Jonker, called to
explain this, pooh-poohed also truthfully the idea, and
swore that his first doubt of Jan Lorentz's sincerity had
arisen on the day when the verdict was given. The judges
believed him, and absolutely disbelieved Lorentz, for van As-
veld was a gentleman and the prisoner a self-avowed liar. It
went very much against the accused that he thus tried to
explain away his guilt and lay the blame on another man's

Had he seen nothing, then, he was asked, from his place
in the dickey ? And it came out that he had. Had it not
been so, he would probably never have told even his trumped-
up story at the trial. He had seen Joost clench the reins
tightly, and drive on as if hell and death were pursuing him
as they were. It was this he had been about to tell Ar-
thur when the latter's impetuous conviction led his thoughts

And he had seen more. For he had seen that the old
Baron himself, when he fell back in the chaise, clutched at
the neckerchief round his throat and fumbled at it for a mo-
ment. Then the dying man's hands fell to his knees, and
the cloth remained unloosed. Had he tightened it in his
hurried efforts to unfasten the knot ? Probably that was
what had occurred. The doctor repeaj;ed his original state-
ment. When called to see the corpse, he found evidences of
strangulation. They were not sufficient to prove death from
that cause. As a rule, the symptoms of strangulation were
unmistakable. That was not the case with the deceased.
The deceased had been dead " about half an hour." There
had been no post-mortem examination. There ought to
have been. He could not say deceased had died from strangu-


lation. He thought it highly improbable he had done so.
It was impossible to speak positively. As doctors talk, una-
ble, after all, to look before and after, however good their
will may be. There was hardly a medical man in the coun-
try who did not vehemently impugn Doctor Kern's evidence,
and declare that, if lie had been called to view the body he
would have been able to accurately diagnose the state of af-
fairs. Every tyro could see whether a man had died from
strangulation or a fit. " Or from both?" asked Doctor Kern

And so the prison doors closed upon Jan Lorentz. And
the world forgot him. Only two women in it, though they
never breathed his name to one another, remembered him in
their prayers. And God remembered him ; and the Lord
Christ came to him in his solitary cell.



JoosT AvELiKGH was oncc more at the Cattle. The
June election had swept by and was a thing of the past. It
was true that Joost's name had been brought forward as a
candidate here and there in the past winter, but nothing
positive had been decided upon, and his brother-in-law may
have given too loose a rein to a naturally sanguine tempera-
ment when he spoke with such assurance of his chances.
Whatever these may liave been originally, by the time the
electioneering campaign came on Joost's name was envel-
oped in a whirlwind of obsecration. It swept by ; and be-
fore the end of May he was liberated and restored to his
rank, but then other candidates had been nominated, and


the election was at the very door. Joost never even remem-
bered it. He had other things to think of, assuredly.

Gradually, however, he returned to his occupations, and
the first painful impression wore off. He resumed the man-
agement of his estate ; he took his place again at his numer-
ous committee meetings. The men of his class were much
more cordial to liim than formerly. It seemed as if every
one were anxious to make up to him for wrong thoughts of
him in the past. The Supreme Court had unwillingly and
ungraciously acquitted him ; and society, angry with itself
for having believed in the guilt the criminal guilt, be it
remarked of one of its members, did all that it could to
atone to him for its injustice. The common people of the
neighborhood merely returned to their allegiance ; they had
cause enough to feel grateful to Joost. Wherever he came,
he was received sympathetically. He went out more " dans
le monde^^ and people said : " He was really not so bad when
you got to know him. And they had certainly treated him
ill, poor fellow ! " The first time he drove into the chief
town of the province he was recognized ; and a small crowd
largely composed of street-boys cheered his carriage.

He also resumed his charities, and now dispensed them
more openly than formerly. There was no more of the
shamefaced attempt to buy off his conscience ; he had come
to look upon these matters, as has been said, in a different
light. And for that reason he admitted Agatha into his
confidence, and they talked his plans over together, to her
great delight. Till then he had excluded her, from no mo-
tives of unkindness, but because he told himself he had no
right nor she either to draw any pleasure or profit from
such perfunctory benevolence. He was less sensitive now.
The trial had hardened him. And he resolved henceforth
" to do good and fear naught," not even himself.

So he slipped into the position of a wealthy, beneficent,
active and prosperous country gentleman. He kept his per-



sonal tastes more in the background in his intercourse with
those who did not share them, and it was noticed that he
had lost in prison the boisterous and unnatural bursts of
gayety which had made Liederlen liken him to a hyena. He
was never outrageously funny now.

Large-handed charity is not of common occurrence. It
is more frequent, perhaps, in Holland than in most coun-
tries, for it must be admitted of the Dutch that, with all
their faults, they are, on the whole, a generous people, will-
ing to alleviate suffering where they can, and to dispense
hospitality, as the nations of Europe have good cause to re-
member. But even in Holland a munificent man stands
out as a harbor-light, to which all the shipwrecked on life's
solemn main immediately direct their course. Joost Ave-
lingh's post-bag brought him a daily batch of begging let-
ters, some of them heart-rending, some of them side-split-
ting, all of them full of faultless misfortune. He attended
to an inordinate number, and Kees Hessel, who would have
shared his last crust with a beggar, said that from a politico-
economical point of view his brother-in-law did far more
harm than good.

One morning a paper with a deep black border lay
among the other letters on the breakfast table. Joost tossed
it to his wife unopened. " Cards for somebody,"- he said, as
he took up a newspaper. It sounded a little heartless, per-
haps, but had the loss been in his own immediate circle of ac-
quaintances, he would have heard of it before receiving the
" lettre de faire part." Agatha unfolded the paper and read
out with some astonishment the demise of an old clergyman
in a village in the North of Holland, a man perfectly un-
known to her. " My beloved husband, Hieronymus Helle-
vaer, at the age of eighty-three," said Agatha. " Poor old
lady ! And who is the Eight Eeverend, Very Learned Heer,
Dominus Hieronymus Hellevaer, Joost?"

" Hellevaer," said Joost thoughtfully, laying down his


paper, " Ilellevaer, Hellevaer." I can't remember the name.
But I've heard it somewhere, all the same. Let me see "
a sudden expression of displeasure passed over his face
" Oh yes, I know now," he said. " Certainly, that was the
name of the clergyman who was present at my father's death
and who who sent me to my uncle. It is the same, I sup-
pose. Did he live till now ? He must have been very old,
I should think. Where do they write from ? "

" Eighty-three," replied Agatha. " From Tjumstjump-

" What a name ? " said Joost. " He must have got an-
other parish. It was at Overveer that my father died."

They went on with their breakfast in silence. Presently
Joost said, a little bitterly " Poor man, he did me a bad
service. I suppose I ought to forgive him. He meant it
for the best."

" It was for the best, after all, surely, Joost," said

He looked at her for a long time with a vacant, dreamy
look, without answering. Then he said : " Do you know,
Agatha, what my father wanted to do with me ? "

" No Joost. How should I ? You never told me."

" He wanted to send me to the orphan asylum."

" To the orphan asylum ? My dearest ! "

" My father was a wise man, Agatha. Perhaps it would
have been better."

He cast a glance over the lofty room in which they were
sitting, with its oak-carvings and frescoed walls, and out at
the great windows over the broad meadow in front of the
house and the green woods beyond. It was a lovely August
morning, glittering with light and balmy with approaching
heat. The smell of the roses came in under the striped

" Perhaps it would have been better," he said. He said
it dreamingly, questioningly, and, as the words left his lips,


his coachman knocked at the door and came in to ask
for orders as Dutch coachmen do toward the end of

" You must go over to the dealer's this morning," began
Joost in a practical tone. " You can take the bay filly, and
warn him that I won't keep the new pair, if the off-horse
shies again at the steam-tram as she did yesterday. And if
you come across the steward, send him up and tell him to
bring the estimate with him for that wall at the back of the
lower lane cottages. Is there anything he can get you from
the village, Agatha ? "

He lounged away to the window and remained standing
there till the man was gone. Perhaps he remembered his
uncle's warning that it was not a little thing to give up all

It seemed as if his return to his old surroundings after
the sudden deprivation which he had undergone, had awak-
ened within him a greater taste for luxury, or, at any rate, a
greater enjoyment of it than he had felt before. It had
never been his weakness to take especial pleasure in such
beauty as only money can buy ; he had always delighted in
the fields, and the woods, the birds and the sunshine, such
enjoyments as God gives to all. He appreciated them now
with a keener relish after the close confinement he had suf-
fered, but he also began to notice more the comforts and ad-
vantages which only wealth can bestow : the great house
with its beautiful old furniture, the stables, the gardens,
even the well-appointed and well-furnished dinner-table.
The difference with his plank bed and a little pannikin of
weak pea-soup was too great for human flesh not to linger
complacently over it.* He was not a luxurious man, far

* It may surely be doubted in the interests of equality whether
it is just to suppress those arrangements by which criminals of tho
better class are enabled to procure themselves food a trifle superior to
the common prison fare.


from it, but lie realized as lie liad never done before, what a
difference there is between affluence and penury, between
comfort and jmvation. He clung also, more than had been
his wont, to the old house for its own sake ; he wandered
through the woods and said, not only : they are beautiful,
but also : they are mine !

" It is difficult to forget," he said, when the servant was
gone, still staring out of the window, " and, whatever they
may say, it is difficult to forgive."

Agatha looked a little puzzled. " Surely you do not feel
you have anything to forgive that poor old man, Joost ? "
she said. She was washing up the tea-things. The Dutch
nse costly porcelain as a rule brought from Japan and the
Dutch Indies, often a couple of centuries ago, when they
still made fine porcelain over there and Dutch housewives
invariably look after it themselves.

" I was not thinking of the Domine," * said Joost. " I
was thinking of my uncle."

Agatha put down her little fringed towel and went up to
her husband. She laid her head on his shoulder, and he,
looking moodily down on it, askance, from where he stood
close against the window, his hands in his pockets, he
noticed once again the frequent gray hairs among her thick
golden tresses.

" Are you angry with his memory still ? " she asked

" Yes," he said grimly. " I hate him even now. I have
always hated him. It seems as if I had always hated him.
Look at the wrong he has done me, and you."

" Not me," she said in surprise. " He would have, per-
haps, if he could. But he was prevented. It is wonderful
to think how he was prevented. If it were not that it looks
as if one rejoiced at his death, I have often thought that

* Minister.


God brought you and me together in a very special manner,

Joost did not answer.

" And so you must forgive your uncle for the sake of

" He always wronged me," said Joost, " and therefore I
suppose I must always have hated him. It may be un-
christian, but it is very natural. I can not remember his
doing anything for me, or with me, unless it was to make
me wretched." He shuddered. " He must have been a very
bad man, Agatha," he said.

" I did not like him, certainly," replied Agatha, frankly.
" He was very cross and disagreeable, and I could not for-
give him for being unkind to you, Joost."

He caught at the expression, for his mind was full of it.
" Could not forgive him," he repeated. " There, you see,
you say it yourself ! "

She nodded her head at him, laughingly, in spite of his
earnest tone. " Nonsense, Joost," she said, " the poor man
is dead ten years and more."

" I can't help it," said her husband fiercely. " I hate
his memory. He has ruined my life, and I hate him for it.
I am glad I do. It makes some things much easier for me."



Barely a fortnight after the arrival of the " lettre cle
f aire part .i'^ Joost Avelingh found a thick packet in the
post-bag bearing the same postmark : Tjumstjumperadeel.
He opened it, and a closed envelope fell out, with a sheet of
notepaper folded round it. The sheet of nptepaper proved


to be a letter from the widow Hellevaer, and the letter was
as follows : " Highly Nobly Born Heer,"

(In a land of titles, like Holland, the begging letters are
always extra polite).

" Highly Nobly Born^ Heer, It is a painful task
for me to recall myself to the recollection of your Noble-
ness. And perhaps it is wrong of me to seek to do so, for it
is more than twenty-five years ago since I kissed your No-
bleness farewell in the drawing-room of Castle Trotsem.
But I can not forget that it was my beloved husband who,
having been the friend of your honored father. Doctor
Avelingh, and having received you from his hands in the
hour of his death, was the means of restoring your Noble-
ness to your uncle the late lamented Baron van Trotsem. He
and I both rejoiced ever since most sincerely at your good
fortune, and were glad to think that my dear husband had
been instrumental in preparing it for you. He was taken
from me, by the inscrutable decree of the Almighty, on the
fifth of this month at thirty-three minutes past seven in the
morning, and died in peace of an influential attack of the
chest he had been asthmatic of late years, though other-
wise in good health, praise God. And while I rejoice that
he should have been spared to me so long, I can not deny that
his loss is therefore the greater trial to me. But I will not
complain, knowing that it is our duty to be resigned under all
our afflictions, which endure but for a moment. I am old
and shall not live much longer. But at present I am left
almost destitute and with but few friends, most of whom are
prevented by their own limited means from assisting me, as
they would be only too desirous to do. I rejoice to think
that my dearly beloved husband's intervention saved Your
Nobleness at the time from all the horrors of poverty and
public charity. Excuse, Highly Nobly Born Heer, my im-
portunity. I found recently among my husband's papers


some documents which will probably have some value for
your N'obleness, and which are of no further importance to
me. I send them, therefore, to your Nobleness, and it is
the anxiety to let you have them which explains this letter
and must excuse it.

" Hoping that your [N'obleness will favor me with an
early reply, for, indeed, I sorely stand in need of it. I re-
main, Highly Nobly Born Heer, Your High Nobleness's old
friend and humble servant,


" Widow of the Eight Reverend Very Learned Heer Domi-
nus Hieronymus Hellavaer."

Joost laid the letter down, with a smile over the " influ-
ential attack," and an inward resolve to inquire into the
woman's condition. And then he turned to the little par-
cel of papers she had sent, as an excuse for her appeal, it
must be feared.

He examined the papers listlessly. There were one or
two letters from the Baron van Trotsem, treating, as briefly
as possible, of business matters with regard to the death of
Joosfs father, faneral expenses, sale of furniture and so
on. They were yellow and faded with the lapse of years.
Then came a fresher looking letter, and, tied up with it,
a sheet of tinted paper, covered with writing in a big florid
hand. A vague recollection of having seen that document
before flashed across Joost's brain, but he could not account
for it. He turned to his uncle's letter and read :

" Dear Domike : I am obliged to you for your letter
and inclosure, which I return as desired. It shall be as the
man wished, but 1 must eifectuate the thing in my own
manner. I can not endure to appear in any way as if I
carried out his orders. Nor can I bear the thought that
the son would probably immediately consent to do for the


sake of his father, whom he has never seen and to whom
he owes literally nothing, what he will refuse to do for my
sake, although he is indebted to me for all he possesses. I
am resolved therefore that he shall do it for my sake, and
for my sake only, and I must request you not to com-
municate with my nephew on the subject.

" Yours, etc. Vak Tkotsem."

Joost took up the inclosure alluded to, and glanced over
the first lines. He started, flushed up, turned to the signa-
ture at the back of the paper, and began reading again.
The letter was signed : " Joost Avelingh." He was gazing
at his dead father's handwriting for the first time in his

" My Dear Hellevaer " thus ran the letter " Let
me remind you once more of our conversation of the other
evening. I repeat that it is my earnest desire, more than
that, it is the one wish of my heart I can scarcely put the
matter too strongly that my dear boy should in time take up
my profession. You laugh at my theory on the subject, but
your laughter is accounted for, excuse my saying so, by
your ignorance. Had you studied the question as I have,
you would judge differently. ' Heredity ' has always been
my hobby; my university-dissertation treated mainly of
that subject, and I have occupied myself with it ever since.
I feel sure that, if the same profession were followed up
through several generations with us, as it is in the East,
and as it used to be in Europe, we, with our modern oppor-
tunities of study, would attain to an excellence never
dreamed of before. I flatter myself I am a better doctor
than my father was, and I feel confident that my son will
in time be a better doctor than I. The difficulty lies in the
fact, which I have noticed with care I may say, that I
have discovered it, in so far as it is the result of scientific


observatiou that sons, as a rule, after having in their child-
hood declared for their father's profession, manifest an aver-
sion to it in later youth. This dislike, natural enough and
easily explainable, for they see all the outer annoyances and
none of the inner compensations, comes to the front at the
very time when they are called upon to make a choice, and
the parent, instead of treating it as an excusable symptom,
allows it to decide the child's future. I have noticed ex-
actly the same phenomenon in numerous families. And
my own little Joost, if you now ask him what he wishes to
become when he is a man, will promptly tell you ' A doctor
like papa.' By the time he is eighteen or nineteen he will
most probably say, ' anything but a doctor,' but, if wisely
guided, he will live to thank his father's penetration. I
hope to superintend his studies myself, but should fate pre-
vent me from doing so, I most earnestly entreat you or
whoever may have the care over his future life to remember
that it was his father's wish, I would almost say his com-
mand, that he should study medicine.

"Joost Avelin^gh."

The younger Joost read this letter twice over with eyes
of immeasurable amazement. A flood of memories swept
back upon him ; he must have a moment's time to think
them out. His father the bright phantom of his infancy,
the "Beauty" of his childhood, forgotten now for many
years, yet vaguely cherished like a moss-hidden grave his
father stood out before him again under the full light of
this letter. He cast a long glance at the big portrait, en-
larged from a photograph, which he had caused to be made
some years ago, and which now hung over his writing-
table. His eye lingered over the dark face, with its obsti-
nate mouth, and strong, energetic expression. There was
much in these to remind you of the son, but the romantic
part of Joost's nature, inherited from his mother, was al-


together lacking. Joost also had his stock of energy,
though it may have been less prominent than his father's.
The members of his various committees could testify to its
being there.

The doctor had been a headstrong man, and the letter
was a headstrong letter. Joost remembered now where he
had first seen that sheet of pink tinted paper ; in the Baron's
hand on the day when the old man made known his wishes
to him with regard to his future career. Many of the cir-
cumstances of that interview now rose up before him. He
took up the two letters again, his father's and his uncle's

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 18 of 24)