Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

. (page 20 of 24)
Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 20 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

house-tops although house-tops are the best things for
views, eh?" (Nobody saw this. Besides, a Dutch boer
never laughs.) " It's backstairs influence you and I want, I
suppose. It's backstairs influence does it. And backstairs
influence you shall have. Half-a- word's enough to a good
listener. Mind that, when you speak to my son-in-law.
Half -a- word's enough to a good listener. Fine weather for


the crops, eh?" And the Burgomaster talked about the
agricultural outlook till Joost Avelingh walked into the

The preparations for the election were in full swing now,
and the candidate had a busy time of it. He looked bright
and energetic ; it was true, as he said, that the bustle and
hard work did him good. He stopped, when he saw the
little group round his father-in-law, and looked inquiringly
from one to the other. The worthy Burgomaster rapidly
introduced the deputation, and explained the object of their

" I am much obliged to you," said Joost, " for the trouble
you have taken in coming to see me " ; he had learned al-
ready, to a certain extent, the little ways and tricks of a suc-
cessful politician. " I shall of course do what I can to fur-
ther your interests, but I can not promise anything with
regard to the canal."

The Burgomaster winked at the deputation. Nobody
winked back, but there was the slightest twinkle of sympa-
thy in one or two of those cunning little eyes.

" I have not studied the subject at all, as yet," said Joost.
" I should say, superficially speaking, that the canal would
naturally go by Zielen. But I must examine the matter

" Of course, of course," interposed the Burgomaster.
"Naturally by Zielen, but there may be other reasons
other reasons which we shall easily discover, why it should

" There may," said Joost, " but I must wait till I have
discovered them."

" Zielen is not in your district," said one boer, with a
sharp look.

The Burgomaster trembled for the effect of this speech.
" You may be sure," he said, hastily, " that we shall act as
seems best."*


" Yes," said Joost. '' I shall do what I think is right, as
far as possible. Be sure, gentlemen, that I shall further the
interests of my district, and of your part of it, with all the
means in my power. I shall do what I can for you. But I
must do what is right. You will take a glass of beer ? "
He passed on to the dining-room. The Burgomaster winked
once more to the deputation, and put his finger to his lips.



" It was quite i-ight of you not to commit yourself," he
said to Joost as soon as they were alone. " And, really, the
idea of the canal going round in an unnecessary curve like
that is too absurd, and could only come up in the heads of
clownish peasants like those creatures. But you can always
talk about it to the minister afterward and tell him you
don't expect him to listen to you but that you do it '^ pour
acquit de conscience.'^''

Joost did not answer. He was wondering how long he
Avould keep his hands clean in the struggle of political life.

" But now to talk of something else," said the Burgo-
master, walking to another part of the room and earnestly
scrutinizing a picture which hung there. " I am sorry to
say that I also must have a little conversation on business
with you, Joost."

" Indeed ! " said his son-in-law. A cloud came over his
face. He did not like talking about business with Mynheer
van Hessel.

" Yes," replied the Burgomaster, still deep in contem-
plation of the work of art before him. " Yes.' It is always


more or less unpleasant, but it is unavoidable. You know
I hate beating about the bush. Let us be brief, and frank.
I will be frank above all things. Even my enemies admit
that I am the soul of frankness. Very well. I must make
a clear statement. Some people would call it a confession.
Let me rather describe it as an elucidation of such action as
I may have considered myself obliged to take under peculiar
circumstances. Confession is such a misleading word. You
are with me so far ? "

" Farther," said Joost with a lowering smile. " If you
want money again, please tell me at once how much. I
can't promise I shall be able to give a large sum this time."

The Burgomaster turned from the picture and came for-
ward, holding up both hands deprecatingly. " Money ! "
he said, " money, dear boy ; I do not want money.

" ' I ask not silver, ask not gold,

I claim the love which you withhold.'

Not that you withhold your love from me far from it
but the poet says so, and I am not responsible for his senti-
ments. No, I am not going to ask you for money, but your
generous offer makes what I was going to say so much easier.
I have got to speak of some money I owe you and unhap-
pily at present can hardly refund."

" I know all about that," said Joost hastily, " why speak
of it?"

" Ahem," replied the Burgomaster. " It is not that.
Hardly that. I am not alluding to the small sum which
well, well ; we will drop that subject as you wish it. This
is a different matter ; no connection with any arrangements
of yours. Altogether unknown to you in fact."

" Indeed ? " said Joost. " Then can't it remain so ? "

" It might, perhaps," answered the Burgomaster, a little
ruefully. " But no," he struck his manly breast " I con-
sider it my duty to make you acquainted with the facts.


And I hope you will appreciate my uprightness in so doing.
It is painful as you can imagine, for a parent "

" Yes," interrupted Joost, hastily. " And now, briefly,
if you would be so kind, as you promised and frankly,
what is it?"

" I had a sister once, Joost. I do not suppose you were
aware of that fact ? "

" No," said Joost, with genuine astonishment.

" She was older than I was. She never appeared in these

" She died young, I suppose ? " said Joost.

" Hardly. No ; I should not say she died young. She
disappeared young ; let us put it like that. When she was
about twenty years old, she unfortunately went off her head ;
turned crazy, you know ; very regrettable. And so eh
they locked her up. Very sad eh very sad. Same thing
had happened to her aunt before ; made it all the worse."

" I had no idea of this," said Joost. It was very sad, as
you say, for the lady. Does Agatha know of it ? "

" Not she. In fact nobody knows of it. At least, nobody
who would speak of the subject. She was mercifully
abroad at the time, and my father gave out that she died
there. He did not want it to damage my prospects, and he
knew, poor man, that Ms eldest sister's madness had kept
his other two sisters who weren't crazier than most old
maids from marrying all their lives. So we brought poor
Agatha home and locked her up in the provincial asylum,
and kept it dark."

" Agatha," cried Joost, with an involuntary shudder.

" Yes, that was her name. One of the daughters in our
family has been called Agatha for at least six generations,"
said the Burgomaster with evident pride.

Joost shuddered again. " How could you call your
daughter Agatha ? " he asked.

"Why not?" said the Burgomaster in astonishment.


" I don't know," said Joost. " The name " he shuddered
again. He had always had an inexplicable horror of madness
in all its forms. At that moment he remembered his visit to
the asylum with his uncle on the day of van Trotsem's death.

" Nonsense, Joost. I have always said you were so melo-
dramatic. You must have it from your poor mother who
made that runaway match. It was a foolish match ; old
Trotsem was right there. And I dare say she repented of it."

"And what about your sister? What connection had
she with the money you owe me?"

" I am coming to that. Of course, my poor sister being
mad, hopelessly mad, as all the doctors said and in spite
of their unanimity she never got better, but she was always
of a contrary nature from her birth I might naturally be
considered her heir. In fact, I could really be looked upon
as the de facto owner of her property already. Does the law
admit that mad people can have property ? Evidently not.
And that's why we appoint a trustee or curator."

" The opposite conclusion seems as reasonable," said
Joost. " Were you curator ? " He threw a good deal of
unconscious meaning into the last three words.

" I was. And I may say that the deceased had no cause
to regret it. She never wanted for anything, and a first-class
lunatic, as you may be aware, is a very expensive thing."

" But if the money was her own ? " said Joost.

"Just so. She never wanted for anything. But the
money was not her own, exactly. And in fact look here,
Joost, this was how the whole thing came about. My sister
had no money, and I had none either you know that ; for
you found it out when you took my poor Agatha without a
penny ; my money is my wife's and really, I do not know
what would have become of her, if your uncle van Trotsem,
who was the soul of generosity, had not stepped in and pro-
vided for her for life."

" My uncle van Trotsem ! " cried Joost in amazement,


" my uncle van Trotsem was not the soul of generosity, noi*
anything like it. What made him do that? "

But the Burgomaster hurried on with his back turned to
his son-in-law : " And I must tell you briefly and frankly,
Joost ; briefly and frankly : that he settled during his life-
time, in fact, shortly after my father's death, a sum of
eighty thousand florins * on the poor creature for life, the
money to be administered by me and the yearly interest to
go to her support. And I can assure you most solemnly I
can swear to you that she received every penny that was
due to her until the day of her death, which occurred a
month or two ago, I regret to say."

" But what induced my uncle to make such an arrange-
ment ? " queried Joost.

" I always said it was a bad arrangement, not square and
above-hand, you know. And I am glad to see you agree
with me. But your venerable relation, who, perhaps, was
stingy, as you say, thought differently, and he made the
extraordinary stipulation that the capital should revert to
him or his heirs at her death. Only, as we were all anxious
that no one should know anything about the sad circum-
stances, it was to be refunded to the heirs as repayment of
money the Baron had lent me."

" And the money is gone ? " said Joost.

" I regret to say, my dear boy, that there is not as much
money left as I had hoped there would be. Through no fault
of mine, I can assure you. Unfortunate investments : Mis-
placed confidence. You know what the Scripture saith :
' Riches make unto themselves wings and flee away.' No
one, I can assure you, is to blame, but the money is unhap-
pily not forthcoming."

" Then why tell me of the whole matter ? " said Joost.
" I did not know about it."

* Some 6,500.


" For that, my dear boy, nothing is to blame but another
man's fussy interference. It was a great mistake of your
uncle to mix up a N"otary in so private a matter, and ap-
point him co-trustee. And now, though I have told the
^^otary a hundred times to leave near relations like you and
me to settle such matters between them, he insists upon see-
ing your receipt for the money. He has worried my life out
of me these last three weeks." The Burgomaster heaved a
deep sigh.

" I see," said Joost. " And how much of the money is
left ? "

" Well, if you wish it, I believe it might be possible to
say that five thousand florins were left but really "

" I see," said Joost. " So you want me to sign a little
paper stating that I have received eighty thousand from
Mynheer van Hessel in payment of a debt contracted in
my uncle's lifetime."

" Really, Joost, there is no hurry. At least, there would
not be, if that unconscionable Notary had any sense of de-
cency. Of course, I have told him how busy you are with
your election just now. But he won't listen ; and if you
could oblige me Bis dat qui cito dat^ you know."

" I must think of it," said Joost, shortly. " I believe I
shall have some conditions to propose. The whole story has
taken me utterly by surprise. I can not understand my un-
cle's action in the matter."

" Well, to tell you the truth, there had been some flirta-
tions, all in secret though, between him and my sister.
Your uncle was a young fellow of twenty or so. His father
wouldn't hear of it. Stupid old man, I suppose. And
Agatha went mad, and your uncle remained unmarried and
loved his sister instead, who wasn't born, I should say, at
the time. She would have gone mad in any case, I suppose,
like her aunt. But I don't know what your uncle thought,
or didn't think. All I know is he looked after her, and I


believe he used to go and see her even. Eum story. Sounds
quite romantic. Queer old chap, your uncle. I have some-
times thought his refusal to let you marry my girl had some-
thing to do with a romantic fear he had she might go mad in
time, like the other two women."

The whole connection rushed in upon Joost with terrible
certainty. He was amazed at himself for not having per-
ceived it before.

" Do you mean to tell me," he cried, starting up, " that
my uncle was bound to secrecy about this horrible family-
secret of yours, and that you now come and tell me my wife
is going mad, and you both knew it ? " He seized the old
man by the breast and actually shook him.

" Joost, my dear Joost ! " cried the Burgomaster, retreat-
ing rapidly, " you are outrageous. Really, I can not allow
this. I must beg of you There is no question of mental
derangement in Agatha ! She is perfectly well and sensible.
Really, my dear Joost ! '*

Joost recovered himself with an effort. " I beg your
pardon," he said, " the news upset me. I think you had
better leave me for a little."

" I assure you Agatha is not at all like her aunt. The
poor old lady was as silly as silly can be. She called her-
self Countess de Montelimart, an absurdity ; and even at her
death she left me a parrot and a canary she called her chil-
dren, and she sent me word that two others had died. I had
their necks wrung immediately ; the parrot might have told
unpleasant tales."

" Leave me now," said Joost in a dull voice, " I will let
you know about the money. I shall make a condition about
it; that is all. Good-by, Burgomaster." He leaned his
elbows on the desk, and hid his face in his hands till the
Burgomaster had softly left the room.

Even then he retained the same position. He was slowly
recapitulating the events of that fatal fourteenth of Decern-


ber, his uncle's last day on earth. He knew now the reason
why that uncle had opposed his marriage, a reason prompt-
ed, after all, whatever mightji^ve been its real value, by the
interest the old man felt in nis nephew. And a solemn
promise, given to the father of four marriageable daughters,
had bound over the Baron to a silence he could not even
break when his ward's happiness came to be concerned in
the matter. The old man's words came back to Joost now,
across the years, with frightful clearness, no longer as cruel
threats and meaningless taunts. The kindness, misplaced
as it had been, and awkward and unintelligible, had been
truly kindness of its sort. No one, overlooking the past,
could say that Joost's had been a happy boyhood, or that
his uncle had done aught to brighten it, but the great
charges of cruelty, which Joost's heart had always preferred
against his guardian, had vanished into air, and, in the sud-
den alteration, it seemed to Joost himself that he had lost
tangible hold of all unkindness whatsoever, and that noth-
ing remained to him but the great sense of the life-long in-
jury he had done, in thought and word, to a man who had
suffered years of continual misrepresentation on behalf of
his sister, and of his sister's child.

" What does it matter? " he said, raising a hot face from
his hands and throwing back his hair. " What does it mat-
ter after all? The result is that he made me miserable."

It was true, if you will. Yet he sank his face on his
hands again with something like a groan.





" I WAS coming to you, mamma," said Joost, reining in
his horses.

" And I to you," replied Mevrouw van Hessel, from her
victoria. " I got your note this morning."

" And I yours an hour ago. Shall I join you ? "

" Let us get out/' said Mevrouw, in French. " We can
walk up the road a little, and talk without the servants

Joost jumped down and held out his hand to assist his
mother-in-law in alighting. They strolled up the dusty
highway side by side. It was a beautiful September after-
noon, warm, and fresh, and exhilarating, with a clear white-
flecked sky and soft tints on the trees. Neither spoke. It
seemed as if both, had some difficulty about beginning.
Joost stole one or two side-glances at Mevrouw van Hessel,
still portly and stately of bearing, but with a careworn ex-
pression on her features and intricate lines on the lofty
forehead, only partly hidden under braids of snow-white

"Your letter said you had something you wished to
speak to me about," he remarked at last.

" Yes, Joost, I have, but I do not know how to begin,"
she answered. " I am so afraid of offending you. It's a
difficult matter for old people like me to interfere with you
young ones, and it's especially unwise of parents to meddle
in any way in the married life of their children. If I had
not been so convinced of that, I should have spoken about
it long ago."

" Fie, mamma ; that was not right of you," said Joost
kindly. " Surely you have a claim to be heard, if you deem
it advisable. You must speak now, at any rate."


" I must," said Mevrouw, " or I should not have broached
the subject at all. But, Joost,' she turned round and
looked full in his face " I warn you, I am going to inter-
fere and give advice. Can you bear it from me? If not,
better tell me at once, and we'll say no more about it."

" I can bear a good deal from Agatha's mother," said
Joost. " For I know that her one thought is Agatha's hap-

" Yours too," said Mevrouw quickly. " Yours too, most
certainly, for you are my son also now. But it's just the
happiness of you both I want to speak about. Only I am
so afraid of implying that I fancy you don't try to make
Agatha happy, which is just the last thing I am wanting to
say : I know you are indeed very happy together, and that
ought to make it easier to tell you that you might be hap-
pier still. There. It is out, and you must forgive me. I
am sure you might be happier if you gave her your full con-
fidence, Joost."

" You have reason to believe Agatha is not as happy as
she might be with me ! " said Joost a little bitterly.

" There you rush off into extravagances at once. My
dear Joost, I used to think myself a wonderfully sensible
woman ; I have begun to have my doubts on the subject of
late years, but surely I must be exceptionally stupid, if I
can not make myself plainer to you than that. If I thought
you made Agatha unhappy, or if she had spoken to me on
the subject, as you seem to infer that she has, should I have
begun this conversation with you at all ? " She laid her
hand on his arm. " You need not answer me, Joost. Least
of all need you furnish me any explanation. Only it ap-
pears to me that Agatha is unusually depressed, especially
of late. Is there, perhaps, some trouble about this election
which is coming on next week? and I should say you
must forgive a mother ? Nothing but a mother's love for
her child would make any one speak on so unpleasant a


subject, but, although she has never said a word to me about
it, my impression is that you are keeping something back
from her and that she knows it is so. It is probably the
merest trifle, Joost, and therefore it seems such a pity. She
has not been well these last weeks. She will not tell you,
perhaps, but she is decidedly ailing. Try and find out what
is troubling her. And now you will forgive me, will you
not? and we shall never speak about it again. Tell me
what it is that made you ask me to come up to the Castle."

" You may be right, mamma/' said Joost gravely. " At
any rate, I am much obliged to you for speaking so kindly
about it. Believe me, I am in a very difficult position. I
must first get quite clear in my own heart about it all ! It
seems to me as if I should find no time to think till this
election is over. Fortunately it is close at hand now. The
last weeks have been very hard weeks for me. But I shall
still try to act for the best.

" And now let us^talk about something else," he contin-
ued, changing his tone. " All that you have said about in-
terfering between married people, mamma, is most true and
most applicable to me. I, also, have been hesitating for
some time. And you will forgive me will you not ? if I
speak now ? "

Mevrouw van Hessel stopped in the middle of the road
and stared Joost in the face. The two carriages, following
slowly some fifty paces behind them, immediately stopped

" It is only this," Joost went on hurriedly, " I should
like to be quite sure that papa has not been unfortunate in
money matters. I have feared for some time that it may
have been so from what he has said."

" Oh, is it only that ? " said Mevrouw van Hessel. She
had been asking herself if Joost fancied he had discovered
secrets more nearly touching her matrimonial happiness.
She would have laughed at him, and rightly, in that case,


for the Burgomaster had quite faults enough of his own,
without any need of inventing others for him. She drew
herself up. " Really, Joost," she said, " I should think we
had better leave papa to manage these things for himself.
He is the best judge of his own financial position, surely."

" I do not think so," said Joost coloring. " You must
bear with me now in your turn, mamma. You can imagine
it is far from agreeable for me to broach this subject. And
I also have awaited^ not weeks but months. It is of no
direct importance to me, as you will admit, but I must tell
you plainly that unless somebody stops the Burgomaster,
you will be ruined."

It was best to call things by their names in dealing with
Mevrouw van Hessel. Joost knew it. She bit her lips, and
walked on rapidly for some moments.

" Let us see exactly how we stand," she then said. " It
is true that you would not speak without good reason. You
have cause to believe we are ruined already."

" I do not say that. I do not know. But, if possible, I
want to prevent it. I want your permission I would do
nothing without that to go with Kees "

" Does Kees know ? " interrupted Mevrouw anxiously.

" Not yet, I think. To go with Kees and ask the
Burgomaster to let us see exactly how matters stand."

" He will not do so," said Mevrouw.

" I think he will. I believe I can persuade him. Then,
if things are as bad as I fear, we must insist that the
administration of what is left of your money pass into
other hands. And if he refuses or makes new debts, we
can always threaten him with it can't be helped a cura-

" Never," said Mevrouw.

" Remember," said Joost gently. " There are your
daughters to think of. Agatha is provided for. Verrooy,
I suppose has also a sufficiency. But the younger girls "


She signed to him to desist. They walked on again by
each other's side.

Presently Mevrouw van Hessel stopped. " So be it,"
she said firmly. She beckoned to her coachman.

" Poor Papa," she added, as if speaking to herself.

" Poor Mamma," said Joost. He took her hand and
would have bent over it, but she drew it quickly back.
*' Xo sympathy," she said in a hard voice.

The victoria drew up at her feet. She got into it and
then, bending over the side as Joost lifted his hat, she burst
out in rapid French : " Oh jou men, you men ! We be-
lieve in you, love you, trust you, serve you ; we live for you ;
we would die for you and you repay us ! I thought I
knew all his secrets, and no doubt I knew all but this one.
He so careful to smile it away ; I so fond to ignore it ! Go
back to your wife and tell her whatever you are hiding.
Better the worst of confessions than a life of deceit ! Home,

The victoria drove rapidly off. Joost, crying to his
coachman to begone, struck moodily into a bypath across

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24

Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 20 of 24)