Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

. (page 21 of 24)
Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 21 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the fields.

It was no wonder that Agatha should have noticed the
alteration which had slowly come over him in the last fort-
night. The rest which had followed on his acquittal of
the charge of murder had not been of many months' dura-
tion. And the successive discoveries he had made with re-
gard to his uncle's treatment of him had shocked and un-
settled his soul to its very foundation. In the suddenness
of the change, he now exaggerated the old man's goodness,
as much as he had formerly undervalued it, and all the
anger and hatred he had long cherished in his heart turned
rapidly and irresistibly against himself. The whole atmos-
phere of unkind ness and injustice which had lain so thick
around his youth, seemed to fade away and dissolve. He
caught at it in vain, and foolish man would have striven


to retain it, but he only found himself face to face with the
sunshine pouring down into his own black, ungrateful
heart. And his generous nature for it was thoroughly
and affectionately generous accordingly broke loose in un-
merited self-reproach. At first, of course, the discovery he
had made, largely as it affected his uncle's memory, did not
influence his own remorse for the sin he had committed, for
he was perfectly conscious that it is not a rule of ethics that
you may injure a man who has behaved badly to you but
may not injure the man who did well, yet, nevertheless,
gradually his impressions shifted like a dissolving view, and,
to say the least of it, his altered thoughts of the Baron
materially inclined the plane of self-recognition down which
his heart was already running. And Joost's was a very
human heart. It did not work out its problem according
to the rules of the psychologists, and two and two did not
always make four in it, but very often five.

He hated himself now, not with the pretty half-pleased
consciousness that he was properly self -reproachful, and dis-
tinguished shades of gray where most people talked of white,
but with the fierce dissatisfaction and restless self-contempt
of one who knows that, despite the scorn within him, no
human being can ever really deserve contempt alone. He
hated himself as a man of purer, nobler aspirations who had
lived a lie and loved it while he lived it. God ! that these
hearts of ours should take so long to learn that wrong is
hateful, not only because we have been taught to think it
so, but because of the misery it brings us !

Joost found, himself a prisoner as we all are more or
less in the environment he had built around himself. The
next step was not only difficult, but uncertain. The love
he owed his wife came into consideration ; the happiness
he owed her to her who had suffered so much for his
sake no less. The new sphere of usefulness opening up
before him and close at hand now with its special attrac-


tions for a man already occupied as he was, could not be
lightly overlooked. He had told himself, when first the
news was brought him, that this time the summons came
from a higher Power than human intrigue, and that he
must obey it. It was this idea which had chiefly helped to
overcome his scruples. He may be pardoned for the
thought. For he had been nominated in an entirely new and
striking manner directly by the people and the trials he
had gone through had served as a preparation for that
nomination ; with his income of twelve thousand a year he
was one of the wealthiest, and therefore one of the most
powerful men in the country ; he was yearning to benefit
those who would elect him, his head full of schemes both
practical and unpractical. Should he give up all prospects
of future utility, should he destroy his wife's felicity for an
idea ? Would he, in doing so, not rather disobey the Provi-
dence which had led him thus far ? He paused under the
trees of his own beautiful home-park, and struck his hand
against his forehead. The next step must be the one now
before him. The election was coming on in a few days. It
must come. Till then he could do nothing. He resolved
to let much depend on that. And would not his success
on that occasion be a divine answer to his doubts, a message
bidding him go forward in God's name and do well ? For
his heart recoiled from the other extreme.



A Dutch election is a very different thing from an En-
glish one. There is quite as much excitement and acri-


mony ; there is perhaps less bribery, but more intimidation ;
there is an equal amount of false representation of the candi-
dates on the other side. All that is unavoidable, and will
remain so, as long as men are men, and gold is gold. We
call it " political life among the masses " in Holland : in
England it is accounted for is it not? by the fact that
" party feeling runs high in the borough " ? After all these
nineteenth-century communities, big and little, Celtic and
Saxon, are very similar in their tastes and distastes. In the
autocratic East the ignorant multitude still venerate the
Czar, and the great Padishah; the West has grown more
cosmopolitan, and its nations blend their adoration in com-
mon w^orship of the same Golden Calf. The new religion is
called Democracy, and the polling-days are its high festivals.

But whatever happens in Holland on such occasions,
happens behind the scenes. There are no placards, no rib-
bons, no banners, no musicians, no processions, no polling-
booths, " no nothing," in fact of all that goes to make an
English election amusing.

Carriages, without any visible emblem, are employed to
convey lazy, or sick, or decrepit electors to the public build-
ing in which the usual urn has been set up for the votes.
Unwilling or half-hearted individuals are hunted up in
their homes and reminded of the duty they owe Church
and State. For the political struggle in Holland unavoid-
ably turns almost entirely on the question " Orthodox or lib-
eral in matters of religion ? " Circumstances have so shaped
the destinies of the country that for the present no other
battle-ground seems possible. We can not, unfortunately,
agree beforehand on the stakes of our political tourna-
ments, or the English would never have chosen " home rule."

The contest is intense with all the vindictiveness and in-
tolerant enthusiasm of religious dissensions, but the Dutch
are a quiet people, and their animosities lie low. The for-
eigner who arrived in one of their cities would certainly not


know that an election was going on there and a certain
number of the inhabitants of the place itself the quiet old
maids and the happy people who never read the papers, and
do not know whether the Clericals or the Liberals are in
power remain in blissful ignorance of the fact from first to
last. The whole city retains its wonted aspect ; only in the
immediate neighborhood of the " bureaus " a line of silent,
determined looking individuals may be perceived slowly
filing past the solemn officials, with their voting-papers
clenched, tightly in their hands. And drunkenness there is

On the evening of the day set apart for the voting in the
chief town which had nominated Joost his was a by-elec-
tion, you remember, caused by an unexpected vacancy the
candidate had come down to Heist, so as to be more within
reach of the telegrams which came pouring in as the votes
were counted. There was< more opposition, after all, than
people had thought possible at first. The side which had
not proclaimed Joost as their candidate merely because the
others were beforehand had tried in vain to get him to
formally accept their political programme in all its particu-
lars, none the less ; and, when this failed them he had taken
no definite engagements upon him, even with regard to the
Club which was pushing -him they quickly put forward a
man of their own. The people had nominated Joost ; the
choice of his antagonists, accordingly immediately fell on a
large employer of labor and that divided the votes. Many
of the gentry, too, hesitated about giving their support to
Joost Avenlingh he was too popular a man to their taste
and they carried their unwilling servants and tenants Avith
them. The new idea of independent selection met with a
good deal of quiet disapproval. There was cause enough
then to scrutinize anxiously the telegrams which succeeded
each other in intervals of a few minutes only.

Joost, Kees and the Burgomaster sat in the latter gen-


tleman's private room around a table strewn with papers.
Kees had a great sheet before him on which he was jotting
down the figures as they altered ; Joost sat with his arms
crossed and his lips compressed ; the Burgomaster lay back
in his chair and blew rings of smoke from his cigar. Only
four or five days ago immediately after Mevrouw had given
her permission Joost had brought his father-in-law to book
in Kees's presence. Mynheer van Hessel had protested in-
nocence at first and righteous indignation. He had talked
with his hand on his heart about " integer vitas scelerisque
purics " and " teaching your grandmother to suck eggs,"
but when Joost took him aside and plainly told him that the
settlement of that little bill of the curatorship and the con-
tentment of the troublesome Kotary depended upon this
primary arrangement, he acquiesced, though it took two
hours and a half of pleading and protestation to get the
truth out of his good-natured, untruthful old head. At last
it became plain that, if Joost's claim were sunk altogether,
enough might be saved from the wreck of Mevrouw van
Hessel's fortune to allow the family to live on quietly with
considerable retrenchment. The money must henceforth be
managed by the two younger men, Mevrouw van Hessel to
receive the interest in monthly installments. The Burgo-
master cried, called himself a bitterly ill-used old creature,
and then after having likened himself to King Lear gave
his son a long description of a parody of the tragedy he had
seen in his youth, and roared with laughter over the comical
character of " la trop cordiale Cordelie.'''' In the mean time
Joost sat ciphering at a side-table. When he brought back
his terms, the Burgomaster assented under protest ; he only
stipulated that the post of his 'own private expenses should
remain untouched. " I can't smoke another brand of ci-
gars,^' he said, " I'm too old ; and I must give your mother
her silk dress on her birthday, Kees. She's had it for the
last thirty years, and she couldn't live without it."


So Joost bought the repose of his mother-in-law and her
daughters for eighty thousand florins.

" Why, things aren't half as bad yet as they might have
been," said Kees, who, like the rest of the world, knew
nothing about the terms of this compromise. " I only hope
we haven't been too hard on the poor old governor." Joost
went and told Mevrouw van Hessel, who sat anxiously
awaiting the result of the conference, what decision they
had come to. The carriage must be suppressed; a servant
must go, if possible, and one or two laborers also. The
dinner parties must be made less frequent and more simple ;
the girls must give up a large part of their allowance.

" Is that all ? " asked Mevrouw. It seemed to her that
the sacrifice was too little, for she had prepared herself for
the worst. Joost, looking at the tall reposeful woman won-
dered whether she had schooled her heart to the work-
house. Compared to what she had been accustomed to
from her birth, this new life would be penury, misery,
drudgery, and she seemed resolved not to let him see she
disliked the idea. The Burgomaster crept in with a rue-
ful look, and kissed his wife cautiously on the back of her

" Ichabod. Ichabod," he said. " The glory is departed
from Israel. And as for the carriage, it is but half an
economy, for we shall be spending two thirds oi the money
on boots and cabs." " Half " and " two thirds " ; the con-
fusion, by a comical chance, happily illustrated the worthy
man's ideas of finance.

And now the three gentlemen sat together in the Burgo-
master's room. That unpleasant little discussion about
money-matters was never more alluded to between them.
And for the moment, at any rate, each one's thoughts were
occupied with the election. Joost himself, carried away by
the excitement and, that craving to " come in first " which
overmasters man and beast in every contest, was " in it "


heart and soul. He snatched the telegrams and tore them
open. " We must win, Kees," he said.

" Of course we shall win," replied Kees.

" I only wish Agatha had been able to come with me."

" Is Agatha less well again ? I thought she was looking
poorly," said Kees, " she has got quite gloomy of late. You
must cheer her up."

" Woman is the weaker vessel," interposed the Burgo-
master sententiously ; " this excitement is doubtless telling
upon her. They are not able to bear worry as we are.
Look how your mother fidgets, Kees, when she has to go to
the station. Agatha will be all right when this election is

A telegram was brought in as he spoke. They were
counting rapidly over yonder. Joost so far was but two
or three hundred votes ahead of the other man. There
could only be a few more hundreds to count altogether.

" Why, almost every elector in the place must have
voted," said Kees.

" There are too many electors now by far," grumbled his
father. " Things were better in my day when only those
could express their opinion who had something to lose if
the voting went wrong."

" I don't know, papa," said Kees. " The people with
something to lose are too apt to think themselves the only
people who should have something to gain. And that's my

Another telegram. Only three hundred more voters in
the district, and Joost still ahead !

" How many votes have the ou,tsiders ? "

" There will be a second ballot," cried Joost, fretfully.
" What a calamity ! Another fortnight of suspense ! I
can't stand it."

"To think of its being so contested," said Kees. "I
should never have thought it possible at first The other.


side have f ouglit bravely. Do you know, the most ridicu
lous thing of all is the part that van Asveld has sought to
play against you. They tell me he has made himself quite
useful to the others, if only by going about everywhere and
calling you a murderer and telling every one that the magis-
trates do not believe in your innocence. And to-day, J.
hear, he has been driving a break all over the town at a
frantic pace, bringing up voters from tiie other ends of the
earth. How that fellow hates you ! And all on account of that
money. I don't believe he would have got it in any case."

Another telegram. A considerable accession of votes to
Joost. He had passed the absolute majority. More than
that, he had already, although the other candidate was but
a couple of hundred behind him, exceeded one half of the
number of votes which could possibly be registered, even
though all the electors of the district should avail them-
selves of their right. He was elected.

" Elected ! hurrah ! " cried Kees, throwing up a pen-
wiper the first thing he could lay hold of and catching
it as it fell. The Burgomaster blew out his most perfect
little smoke-ring, and lovingly watched it, as it floated up
toward the ceiling.

" The world, which fools so fooHsh call,
Is not so foolish after all,"

he said; "it can give wonderful proofs of sagacity some-
times. I congratulate you, my dear Deputy, from the
depths of a father's heart. This is a proud moment in the
annals of the family."

Joost stood motionless, with the telegram in his hand.
" It is God's answer," he said to himself.

Kees drew the slip of paper out of his hand. " Avelingh,
3,010," he read hurriedly. " Possen, 2,770. Others, 30.
It's all right, Joost. There are only six thousand electors,
altogether. Never mind further telegrams."


" I must be off home," cried Joost ; " I want to tell
Agatha. Send my man round, jplease. He was not to un-

" Let me go with you," said Kees. " Don't be afraid.
I sha'n't intrude."

"All right," Joost called out. He was already in the
hall. " I'll just run in to the others, and then we can

They had heard his voice as he opened the door, and
they all came streaming out of the drawing-room. There
were acclamations and congratulations and hand-shakings
innumerable. The servants cre^^t up to the top of the stairs
and looked across curiously. The butler ventured further into
the hall, and congratulated the family. A ncAV light flickered
in Mevrouw van Hessel's pale eyes. A flood of brightness
seemed to be poured out on the whole household after the
depression and gloom of the last few days. For the excite-
ment of the approaching election had not been able to dis-
pel the heaviness which the family misfortunes had brought
in their train. The van Hessels were glad to have some-
thing to rejoice at. So they laughed, and shouted : " hong,
live the Deputy ! " and escorted Joost in triumph to his
carriage, which had come round to the front door.

" Mynheer is elected," cried Kees to the coachman.

" Yes," said Joost, as he stepped in. " Drive as fast as
you can ! " The brougham, with the two brothers-in-law
inside it, dashed away into the darkness of the soft autumn

Kees rattled on all the time about the incidents of the
struggle, but his companion answered him in inconsequent
monosyllables only. His heart was overflowing in a very
triumph of rejoicing, and sparkling with the intoxicating
glitter of victory like a goblet of champagne newly filled
all a-tremble with its own golden froth. Victory, victory
for this bright delicious moment ! Oh that he could seize


at that fleeting experience, and, shivering the wine glass,
could grasp one fair fragment in his hand forever. But
the golden bubbles fly upward and burst on the surface.
Pooh, it was not the broken glass he desired, but the wine
that tingled in it, and the wine is best for drinking when
its effervescence is stilled. In the future, the calm, hard-
working future now opening up in the distance, the true
triumph would lie. God had answered him and had bidden
him put his hand to the plow and not falter. There was
work to be done, plenty of it, for those with heads and
above all with hearts to do it. All that he had achieved
for tlie toilers of his own province till now was as nothing
to what he could do for the nation ! Work for the poor and
the oppressed, the wretched factory girls and the little chil-
dren, the paupers in the workhouse, the unfortunates in the
streets. God had answered him and had said to him : " Go
forward and do it." Till now there had been sorrow enough
in his life, and temptation, and trial. They were prepara-
tions for the sphere of usefulness to which he was to be
called. And now let him use his little day, while he
.could, nothing wavering. The night cometh in which no
man can work ! He leaned back in his corner, his whole
frame in such a tremble of exultation he dreaded lest
Kees should see it and laugh at him. The carriage passed
swiftly up the avenue to the Castle, its lamps flashing
on the great, century-old trees. It drew up before the

Joost sprang out. The great door was thrown open. In
another moment he" was in the hall. He ran to the draw-
ing-room, and, finding it empty, passed hurriedly into Aga-
tha's boudoir. A lamp was burning ; a small fire was light-
ed ; her books lay aboat and a piece of unfinished needle-
work. She was not there. He ran back to the hall. Kees
had just reached the mat. " Mynheer is elected," said Kees
to the manservant.


" Where is Mevrouw ? " cried Joost exultingly, as he hur-
ried across to his own room and threw open the door.

The servant came after him. Joost, turning suddenly,
saw that the man's face was white and scared.

"Mevrouw is not well. Mynheer," said the servant.
" Mevrouw is upstairs. The doctor is with her."

" The doctor ! " Joost had dashed across the vestibule
again, and was half-way up the staircase when he met Doc-
tor Kern. That gentleman put his arm through his and
drew him down again into his own room. He had heard
the sound of wheels, and had left the sickroom to meet the
master of the house.

" What is it, doctor ? " cried Joost. " Nothing much,
surely ? Let me go to her ! "

" My dear sir," said the doctor gravely, " not in this con-
dition. Calm yourself. Mevrouw has been taken unwell ;
somewhat suddenly. I am glad the servants had the good
sense to send for me immediately. I have done what I can.
We must wait and see."

" But what is it ? " cried Joost impatiently. " She was
all right this morning. Only a little tired, she said."

'' Hardly all right," replied the doctor. " The worst of
these abominable women is : they will not complain. If
they would only cry out before they were hurt, as we men
do, they would never get into any such scrapes."

" She is very ill ? " said Joost. " She is dying ? She is

" Tut, tut, tut, my good Heer. No, she is not dead yet.
One would think you believed I had buried her while you
were away. She is not dying either, but I tell you the whole
truth. She is certainly ill."

" Let me go to her," said Joost, making for the door.

" You shall, if you choose, though it is not much use,
for she is unconscious. That is the worst ; I can not get
her back to consciousness."



" What is wrong ? " said Joost. " For God's sake, what
is wrong ? "

" Sir," said the doctor gravely, " I can' not tell you defi-
nitely. I am afraid there is some mischief with the brain.
Mevrouw has evidently had much to worry her lately. She
has, of course, undergone quite exceptional sufferings at the
time of the trial, but it seems as if the results would have
manifested themselves sooner and not so many months after-
ward. Still, there is no saying, and probably this fresh ex-
citement about the election has completed the work. ' In-
flammation, Congestion,' are ugly words, but, really, we need
not be surprised if Mevrouw were to have a serious cerebral
illness. I could find causes enough to explain it, unless in-
deed " the doctor paused and cast a sharp look at Joost.
Was it accident or design ? " unless you perhaps can ac-
count for this special attack by some special circumstance,
Mynheer Avelingh ? "

" She came through the trial wonderfully well," inter-
posed Kees. " I was with her constantly all the time. It
is only these last weeks she has been so changed. But
while Joost was in prison she did not seem to suffer physi-
cally at all."

" The strain may have been all the greater," said the

" I don't think so. She was so convinced of his inno-
cence, you see. Showed her sense by never doubting for a
moment. And that's sure to carry you through, at least in
my humble opinion. It's the idea of guilt that kills."

" Doubtless." said the doctor, dryly. " Well, well, we
must hope for the best. I have to go back for something,
but I shall return as soon as I possibly can. You may go
upstairs, if you like, Avelingh, but as I tell you Mevrouw
is unconscious and will probably remain so. If she should
begin to talk, it will in all likelihood be nonsense. You
mustn't mind that. I have told her maid what to do.


Seems a sensible woman, that maid. Some connection with
Jan Lorentz, hadn't she? By the by, do you know any-
thing of Jan Lorentz ? "

" No," said Joost, huskily. " I will go upstairs. Come
back as soon as you can." He passed into the hall. "Ave-
lingh is elected, doctor," he heard Kees saying. " It's a pity
things should just come out like this. Very unfortunate."

" Elected, is he ? " said the doctor. " I suppose I should
congratulate him. I ought to have asked after it. I really
quite forgot. He is a very lucky man ! I only hope his
wife will some day appreciate his good luck. My great fear
is, van Hessel knowing what I know that, if she has such
an illness as this and recovers, she will never talk sense again
in her life."



Joost Avelikgh. went up to his wife's room.

The doctor's last words had been spoken low, but Joost,
stopping for a moment in the hall to pass a hand over his
eyes and collect his bewildered thoughts, just caught them.
He stumbled upstairs, opened the bed -room door, and
walked in.

God liad answered him. There lay his wife, white and
motionless, with staring, meaningless eyes, under the white

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21 23 24

Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 21 of 24)