Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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ashamed of himself for feeling sorry. And so he had suc-
cessively found out Mevrouw van Hessel, Mevrouw Verrooy,
and Annemie ; and now only one parcel remained. This,
then, surely, must be Agatha's. He took off a number of
papers and disclosed a small black leather case. His hands
trembled a little as he opened it and gazed down on a Meer-
schaum cigar-holder. He felt now instinctively that he must
keep back the one word that was pushing to the front, and
yet, looking round, he stammered out : " Agatha." There
was a general laugh, and Kees, the giver of the pipe, slapped
him on the back and cried " Bravo," and so Joost was mis-
erable for the rest of the evening.

* Short for " Nicholas."


"Agatha's present is not yet quite ready," said Mynheer
van Hessel. " I tell her she must wait to give it you until "

" And here is something new," cried Mevrouw, as the
folding-doors were thrown open.

A personage entered, of reverend aspect, with flowing
beard of cotton- wool, robed in a crimson mantle and wear-
ing a bishop's mitre. In his hand he carried a well- stuffed
bag, and as he slowly advanced, he told his name and mis-
sion : St. Nicholas, the good bishop, friend and patron of
all good children. The two smaller Verrooy's stood staring
curiously ; but when the Saint asked gravely, if there were
any such good children there? the youngest promptly an-
swered: "Yes," and they held out their hands for their
presents and scrambled gleefully for the sweetmeats which
were soon being scattered all over the floor from the Bish-
op's inexhaustible bag. But the eldest, " who was no more a
child," shrank back nervously, being old enough to question,
and would not take courage, till Kees, the very person who
had done most to convince her, took pity and whispered :
" It was only Uncle Klaas," thereby dispelling all belief in
Saint Mcholas, in good fairies, ghosts, and good fortune

The disappearance of Saint Nicholas heralded the de-
parture of the children who went off, laden with more good-
ies than they could eat in a month, and more toys than they
could comfortably break in a week. Then, all the parcels
having been opened, a lull fell on the party, till Bettekoo,
who was the sprightliest of the family, proposed a new game
she had recently seen played, a French game, you know,
they call it " Combles," in which every player has to give
his definition of some " Comble " selected before hand. Le
Comble de I'ennui, le Comble de la betise, le Comble de I'ava-
rice, and so forth ; you agree on a special subject, and then
give your idea of its non plus ultra ; the best definition to
gain the prize.


Le Comble du pleonasme was chosen, and Mevrouw van
Hessel led off " with a reasonable argument," at which her
husband shook his head. Then came Kees with " unneces-
sary superfluity," Annemie with " attractive beauty " (" very
bad," said Kees) and Mynheer van Hessel with " unreason-
able woman," accompanied by a triumphant look at his wife.

And now it was Joost's turn. He had got his pleonasm
ready beforehand and was burning to say " Fair Agatha " ;
but at the last he feared it would be considered immodest,
and so he said " good Agatha " instead.

" Eight," said Kees.

" Why ? " asked Bettekoo, who was not aware that Aga-
tha means " good."

" You should have said, ' fair Agatha," remarked Myn-
heer van Hessel. " In my youth, when men were still gal-
lant, every cavalier would have said ^ fair Agatha' ; but you
youngsters can not turn a neat compliment nowadays."

It did not comfort Joost much after this that "good
Agatha" gained the prize.

" Good -by," said Agatha, at the hall-door, " I I had
got something for you, Joost; only mamma did not like
what I had chosen, and "

" Ask Agatha for her present, Joost ! " called out Myn-
heer van Hessel.

"I don't think mamma would like the present I should
ask,'^ said Joost to himself, as he walked out briskly into the
frosty night.




" You are a fool, Joost," said the Baron van Trotsem,
next morning at breakfast.

Joost did not answer.

" You are a fool," repeated his uncle. Do you, perhaps,
a studeut of medicine, a wise man, scientific and all the rest
of it, mean to tell me you believe in Santa Claus or any saint,
good or bad? Nonsense; you scientists nowadays believe
only in the devil, whom you worship as the origin of evil by
his new name of the great Microbe."

Still Joost was silent. He smiled to himself, for he
thouglit that he recognized a saying of Mynheer van

" And did you enjoy yourself ? " queried the old gentle-
man, as he poured himself out a cup of tea.

" No," said Joost.

" And I suppose you told Mevrouw van Hessel so ! "
sneered his uncle.

" She did not ask me," said Joost.

" And if she had done so ? " the old gentleman paused,
with uplifted sugar tongs, and regarded his nephew from
under his beetling eyebrows.

" I should have told her the truth."

" You are a fool, Joost."

It was now sixteen years ago, that Joost Avelingh, a pale
little orphan of five, had first crossed his uncle's threshold,
and he had never since then spent more than half-a-dozen
consecutive nights under any other man's roof. People
often wondered how he came to be there at all. The Baron
van Trotsem himself could scarcely have told. If any one
had been able to give a fairly accurate explanation, it would
have been the Baron's old nurse ninety-three, and pen-


sioned off, in a cottage on the estate, for many long years
now but the Baron's old nurse was childish, and past talk-
ing accurately about anything whatsoever. It was a pity ;
for she might have told of days in the early years of the
century, when Dirk van Trotsem was a bright and loving,
if somewhat wayward and imperious child, an only child,
always playing alone, learning as it were to live alone, roam-
ing far and wide through the woods of the ancestral home
he dearly loved, and later on shooting through them day
after day, with no companion but his dogs. She might have
told of his passionate resentment when his father married
again, after twenty years of widowhood, and of his equally
passionate afterlove for his little half-sister Adelheid. She
had once remembered all the circumstances of their affec-
tionate intercourse; she had seen the girl grow up and
twine her charms round her brother's impetuous, impres-
sionable heart. She had seen them live together when the
old father died, in the time when the sister was twenty,
bright, gay and handsome, and the brother forty, a strong
man, but affectionate, a country gentleman to the backbone,
still fond of being left alone, knowing each inch of his own
estate and loving it, and proud with an all-corroding, all-
consuming pride of his great historic name and ancient

She could have remembered the great quarrel later on :
the Freule's match with the village doctor in open defiance
of her brother, the cruel separation forever, as it proved
when he drove her from his door ; the whole sad story ; the
old nurse could have told it once upon a time, and told it
well. But so far she would have recounted nothing that all
the village had not heard from its grandmother half-a-dozen
times before. However, she could have gone much further
and spoken of long lonely nights when the Baron stalked
up and down his dark room till daybreak, and of gray hairs
among the black, and deep furrows on the ruddy complexion.


" There was no doubt," as she said, at the time, " that
the separation tried the Baron cruelly, for if there was one
thing he loved more on earth than Trotsem Towers, it was
surely his sister. And she, poor thing ! Dear, dear, people
complained of his not having a good heart, but it was all
bluster bluster and a heart of gold."

Therein, however, her judgment failed her. It was not
all bluster. There was a burning wound, a depth of posi-
tive, continuous pain, such as few men can understand and
still fewer sympathize with. To acknowledge, and fairly
appreciate, the wrongs of injured family pride a man must
have ancestors and an ancestral name of his own. They are
a possession, as much so as houses and lands, or an honor-
able reputation ; too often they form the owner's only prop-
erty ; to take them from him is theft, to strike at them as-
sault. And the multitude, unjust in their ignorance, talk
of " vanity receiving its due reward," as if it were the de-
served fate of the proud possessor of a beautiful garden that
roughs should climb in and knock off all his roses.

The Baron Dirk van Trotsem was not an intellectual,
nor a well-educated, man. He had grown up, as has been
said, pretty much alone and at haphazard, with an old nurse
to look after his wants, and without seeing much of his
father, who was a State-minister and occupied with public
aifairs. Even as the boy grew older, he avoided the society
of his equals ; but he turned instinctively to the men about
the estate, and made friends with grooms, gardeners and
gamekeepers. From his earliest days he developed a very
passion for a country life, for country pursuits in all their
forms. Before he could conjugate " amo, amas, amat," he
knew the note of all the birds of his province. He never
learned to write Dutch correctly, but as years went on, he
acquired what may be called a personal acquaintance with
half the trees on his large estate, an individual acquaintance
which separated, and kept apart, the peculiarities of half-


a-dozen trees of the same species, standing side by side.
But, none the less, a bird was a bird, and a tree was a tree,
to the Baron van Trotsem. Trees remained material for
agricultural occupation, and birds chiefly remarkable an
game-birds, useful and harmful birds were made either .to
be killed or let alone. He knew the varieties of primroses,
and could even give you one or two Latin names (with a
false quantity), but for all that they were yellow primroses
to him and nothing more.

His father had, after a fierce struggle, given up all at-
tempts to send the boy to the University : he died, bitterly
disappointed, soon after the loss of his second wife, whom
he had been chiefly prompted to marry by the desire for a
more promising son, and who only presented him with one
little daughter. Dirk found himself his own master at the
age of twenty- three, alone in a large old-fashioned castle
with a middle-aged housekeeper, who had been his nurse,
an infant, and a host of servants. He laughed at all ambi-
tious advice, answered that to be the last van Trotsem was in
itself a vocation, shot and fished over his property and ex-
plored every nook of it, putting to rights the many things
his father had neglected, until each slate lay on the cottages
and each twig fell from the trees according to the strictest
rules of economical accuracy. There was not a better man-
aged estate in the country than Dirk van Trotsem's ; there
was no budget in commercial Amsterdam more beautifully
worked out than his. The Baron could not reason logi-
cally, but he could cipher with the best. His father's book-
cases stood untouched and dusty, but he had his private
library, consisting of three volumes : his mother's Bible,
Rietstap's " Noble Families of the Netherlands " and the ac-
count-book of the estate. The first he honored from a dis-
tance; the second he admired and often looked into of a
Sunday ; the third he studied all the week.

In short. Dirk van Trotsem was a hard-headed, not too


soft-hearted, old-fashioned country gentleman, with an im-
mense idea of the greatness of his race, and of himself as its
representative, but not otherwise of noticeable vanity; a
good landlord because a so conscientiously painstaking one ;
and a good citizen, because, although he usually voted for
nothing at all, he never voted for anything wrong. Senti-
ment first came into his life when his little half-sister began
to attach herself to him, and within a short time he had
given his whole heart, such as it was, to the child. She was
beautiful, and he worshiped her beauty ; she was affection-
ate, and he went a-begging for her kisses ; she was imperi-
ous, and he bowed his neck to the family spirit. The con-
trol of the estate was his daily bread ; the coming home to
Adelheid a jam-puff at the close.

There was nothing romantic in his love, for all that. It
was good, solid, every-day, wear and tear affection. He
liked Adelheid, not for any far-sought reason, but for what
she really was to him : a van Trotsem, his sister, a sunbeam
in the gloomy house ; and, as years went on, a quick, if care-
less housekeeper. He liked her to play the piano to him in
the evening, although he never recognized the tune; he
liked her to listen to his interminable stories about the cows
and the crops, and that in spite of the ignorance she re-
vealed when he asked her opinion. And, under his rough
exterior, his heart, ever quicker than his head, swift to flame
though slow to melt was unsuspectingly susceptible of the
caresses his little sister bestowed on him. It lay dozing
like a cat, but it purred when stroked.

Then came the dispute, when Adelheid's spirit asserted
itself in quite an unexpected manner. She was barely
twenty ; she had fallen in love with Dr. Avelingh and de-
clared herself resolved to marry him. The village doctor !
a poor man ! that did not matter but a bourgeois ! An
honest man, and a clever ! Faugh ! All gentlemen are
honest ; and cleverness is not a gentlemanly quality at all.


There was a regular tussle. According to Dutch law, a
woman can not marry without her guardian's consent till
she is twenty-three, so Dirk had several years before him.
He shut up his sister in the castle and used all his influence
to drive her lover from the village. But the doctor set his
back to the wall and stood firm. And Adelheid took to
feminine arguments, and began to look pale and wan and
fading away. So Dirk sent for a great man from Utrecht,
and oast murderous glances into the doctor's dispensary as
he drove his visitor up from the station. The doctor re-
turned them defiantly, and took off his hat to his distin-
guished colleague.

Was the Utrecht Professor in the lovers' secret ? Or did
he guess it, and are there still romantic medical men ? He
took the Baron into a side-room and told him that the in-
valid was dying of heart-disease which indulgence of her
fancies alone could cure.

" You must let her do as she likes," he said.

" Thank you," answered the Baron, " and to begin with
I'll see you d driven back to the station."

After that Baron Dirk locked himself up in his study
and had a bad time of it for an hour or two. He swore at
the doctor, the professor, his sister, himself, his ancestors,
the medical profession, the world in general. Heaven, Hell,
and then at the doctor again, and the devil he mixed these
two up rather toward the end.

Then he unlocked his door, and went up to his sister.
He remained standing in the middle of the room, at some
distance from her couch.

" Freule Adelheid van Trotsem," he said, " I have come
here to ask you to choose, once for all, between your name,
your rank, your kindred, your home, me, my my love on
the one hand, and on the other hand the village '^octor."

He paused. A slight flush crept over Adelheid's pale
face. She hesitated a moment not from indecision.


" I choose the doctor," she said softly.

" Thank you," he replied. " 1 shall be at the Stadhuis *
on Monday, the 17th, at twelve o'clock, to give my consent.
To-day is the 7th, the banns will take you till Monday. No,
I forgot. Excuse me. . I must go to the Horse Fair on Mon-
day. On Tuesday, the 18th at twelve o'clock, I shall be at
the Stadhuis."

He turned to go.

" Dirk," she cried starting up, " I must, I must Dirk,
let me"

The door closed upon him. Those were the last words he
spoke to her. He saw her once more, at the Townhall, as
he had promised, then never again.

She left the neighborhood with her husband. The lat-
ter was for braving out his noble brother-in-law's wrath, but
she loved that brother too much for such a measure. They
crept away, " like criminals," said the doctor, as he helped
his wife into the cab.

How the Baron got back into his room, after the inter-
view described above, he never knew. Before he realized
what he was doing he had broken every chair within reach,
what with swearing and raving and stamping about. He
was ashamed of his behavior during many ensuing weeks,
and persistently deprived himself of smoking yes, actually,
smoking till he had paid for every penny of the damage in
that manner.

These fits of passion grew upon him, as time went on.
He was past forty when his sister left him, when he sud-
denly a*woke to the consciousness of the fact that he was a
very lonely, dull and, as he considered, ill-used man. He
buried himself anew in the administration of his property,
and from being strictly just, grew stern. He would break
out into rages about nothing, pouring down over the heads

* Townhall. '


of liis servants abuse which was really aimed at his sister,
and still more at himself. Not that he thought himself to
be blamed in any way ; if anything, he was angry for having
acted right. He had had no occasion, while his sister occu-
pied his house and his affections, to .trouble about love-mak-
ing, and now it seemed too late for anything of that kind.
Besides, there were stories abroad of an earlier love affair
but we need not dwell upon these stories here. In fact, cir-
cumstances were broadening all the shadows in his charac-
ter and stunting the naturally feeble sunbeams ; he was grow-
ing into an unreasonable, unamiable man, with a heart pre-
maturely seared.

Two years after their parting on the Townhall stairs the
brothers-in-law met again, this time on the steps of Castle

Adelheid Avelingh was dying and she had sent her hus-
band to her brother with a message of peace. The doctor
went he would have done anything for his wife at that
moment; who would not? and Dirk, called out by a
servant, received his enemy on the threshold. The message
was delivered coldly and formally : a prayer for one more
meeting before the end ; the answer was given more briefly
still : an outstretched hand, a finger pointing down the
avenue ; that was all. The doctor turned to go, with rage
and contempt unspeakable battling in his heart, and did not
dream that the other stood there completely unable' to utter
a word, fighting with a tempest of sorrow and fury at him-
self, at his sister, at the man before him, in efforts that sent
the blood beating thunder against his brain and swan a red
ocean before his eyes.

Dirk van Trotsem watched his riv I pass out of sight
in that crimson mist : then he stumbled forward, stretch-
ing out one hand vaguely and feeling with the other in his
tail pocket, while the first and last tears he ever shed since
his childhood trickled heavily down his cheeks.


A couple of years again passed on, and then little Joost
Avelingh was brought to his uncle's house. And this was
how that came about. The w^idower, a strong, healthy man,
fully occupied by his profession and the care of his only
child, was suddenly struck down by an internal inflamma-
tion which carried him off in less than a week. During
the first days he was full of the knowledge that the disease
could be stopped ; then came the fatal change, and he knew
that he had but a few hours to live. He sent for the
minister of his village, a good man, with whom he had had
some intercourse. But when the minister came, he was
nearly speechless. He pointed to the child playing with
his cart and horse but a few feet from the bed.

" To the orphanage," he gasped. The minister stood

" Surely," he began, " your relations, or your wife's "

The dying man signed impatiently for writing materials.
They were brought him. He scribbled down hurriedly:
" To the orphanage only not his uncle." The minister
bent over him. He had large, dark, penetrating eyes
fortunately, or who knows where little Joost might have
ended his days? He looked right into the dying man's
soul. "On whose behalf do you make that arrangement?"
he asked " Your own, or the child's ? "

Avelingh winced : he seized the scrap of paper and wrote
eagerly : " The child's."

The minister bent down closer, till his face almost
touched the other's. " On whose behalf," he said, slowly
and solemnly, " do you make that arrangement ? Your
own, or the child's ? "

The doctor started up so suddenly, that his interlocutor
recoiled. Supporting himself as best he could, Avelingh
sought the child, silent, struck still amidst his toys, staring
open-mouthed. With a swift wrench the father tore the
scrap of paper right across, and fell back. It was the one


great self-renunciation of Avelingh's life, made in the hour
of death. He lay unconscious till the evening, when he

After all debts were settled, the minister found him-
self in the possession of five-year-old Joost, an insurance
policy of three thousand florins* and three hundred and
twenty-nine florins, fifty-five-and-a-half cents of ready-
money. He sat down and composed a lengthy epistle to
the Baron van Trotsem, in which he, with much elaborate
care, gave a description of what had taken place and asked
for instructions with regard to the future of the little
orphan. , Ought he to have told so much ? He discussed
the question at length with his wife, and came to the con-
clusion that the father's memory was ruined, in every case,
beyond retrieval, and that the knowledge of the facts might
rouse the pride, if not the magnanimity, of the child's noble
relations. The answer to the letter came unexpectedly, by
telegram : " Send child." The minister's wife began pack-
ing up Joosf s little belongings, with a heart full of mingled
feelings, when a second telegram arrived : " Keep child.
Will pay expenses." But before the change was fully dis-
cussed, a third telegram appeared, which proved to be a
repetition of the first. Still later, during the course of that
ever memorable day, two other contradictory missives came
rushing in ; all the village street was in a ferment the
minister's quiet neighbors pressing their cheeks against the
panes for another sight of the wearied telegraph-boy. At
last came a fresh telegram with definite instructions : " Send
child unconditionally. Never mind further telegrams.
Van Trotsem." The minister obeyed with alacrity, and his
wife and her charge were already some way on their jour-
ney, ere he opened the last telegram and read : " Keep child.
Will pay expenses."

* Two hundred and fifty pounds.


Joost Avelingh was received by servants on his arrival at
the castle ; rooms were assigned to him in a side wing, and a
Swiss nursery-governess procured. The choice unfortu-
nately proved an unwise one ; the nurse was an ignorant and
unscrupulous, though a smooth-faced and smooth-mannered,
woman, and Joost found himself suddenly transported from
the free, intellectual intercourse with a father resolved to
make a clever man of his son to a nursery full of ghost sto-
ries, small lies and small persecutions. During the first year
or two he saw but little of his uncle, who dreaded the pain
of the whole connection. Those years gave their definite
impulse to his impressions of both past and present. The
image of his dead father deepened upon his childish mind
with all the glory of a lost happiness ; the grim uncle, seen
at rare intervals and never caressed, became the embodiment
of terror. Joost had an old picture book, his favorite, with
the story of " Beauty and the Beast." With a child's con-
tempt of incongruities, he clothed his uncle with the name
and attributes of the Monster and his father with those
of the unfortunate Bride. It was a dangerous game that
van Trotsem was playing ; and he lost it in the end.

Joost had been two days in the castle before uncle and
nephew met. " What is your name, child ? " said the uncle
abruptly. " Joost," replied the nephew, and added, " Ave-

It was the first time that the Baron heard the boy's name,
and he was angry at himself for being so angry that his sis-
ter had called her baby after her husband, and not after
him. He turned abruptly and left his little nephew stand-
ing on the grass-plot, all in a tremble at the fear of having

Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 2 of 24)