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Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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coverlet unconscious, insensible. A shaded lamp burned
on a side-table ; Dientje, the maid, rose softly from her
chair near it, and came forward. He motioned her away
toward the adjoining dressing-room and then sat down
alone by the bed.

God had answered him. In the pride of his heart he



290 JOOST AVELINGH.

had sought himself an answer, and had triumphed at the
thought that it should be a pleasing one. But the very fact
of his yearning for a sign in the heavens was the surest
proof that the oracle in his own heart had spoken already.
It had been speaking through all these months, as each suc-
cessive experience led him nearer to the truth ; all the shout-
ing and din of the election had not been able to silence its
voice completely; and now, over the tumult of this wild
hour of false exultation, it shrieked aloud ! The intoxica-
tion of the moment died away from him, leaving him the
more dejected. And the hatred and contempt of himself
which the last weeks had fostered once more overflowed his
heart.

God had answered him. He sat staring at the senseless
face before him, and he read the answer there. He did not
believe in such connection as the doctor seemed to snatch at
between Agatha's illness and the trial. Living with her day
by day, he had seen her well and happy, triumphant even,
in the recognition of his innocence. The change had come
suddenly ; in the last fortnight, perhaps. He had watched
it ; her mother had spoken of it ; her brother but he had
watched it, and seen it for himself. It was God's reply to
all his lying self-exculpation, to his life of deceit. The curse
of her race would fall, surely and swiftly, upon this innocent
wife of his, for so, mysteriously, yet wisely doth God visit
our sins upon our loved-ones. Or, in his mercy, he would
take her to himself and leave her husband comfortless, him
whom no comfort could advantage, and whom misery alone
yet might save. But, whatever the future might fashion, it
would bring them separation Joost's heart cried out that
it must be so, and the last words the doctor had spoken
were become an irrevocable decree to him. He understood
that it must be thus. He was unworthy to live longer by
the side of this woman whom he cheated, and, whether by
death to relieve her or by insanity to punish him she



JOOST SURRENDERS. 291

would pass out of his existence. She would never speak to
him again. ]N"ever ! In that thought he first realized how
unutterably he loved her, with a love which had grown
from a boy's rash fancy for a pretty face, through trials and
mutual enjoyments and deepening sympathies, into the very
essence and existence of the soul. And yet his first yearn-
ing was not to retain her, if God bade her pass from him ;
it was only that oh, by all his unworthiness of her, by his
guilt and her gentle innocence, by his passionate love and
her answering affection by their oneness of Tliy giving,
great Father he might obtain mercy to confess his iniquity
in her sight. For death was not death to him in that mo-
ment, nor detachment separation. And ere she his soul's
diviner part pass on to fuller purity of knowledge, he
would gather from her lips that she had learned his secret
on this earth, had understood it, and forgiven him. Not,
not to be left here standing with eyes that can not pierce
the darkness, and yet with a hope that told the loved one
loved him still, and now read the soul he had so shrewdly
veiled before her, and now mayhap mourned forever for
a unity, high and holy, broken and trodden under foot.
Oh God, have mercy !

He sank down by the bed and buried his face in his
hands. And in the untroubled silence his heart cried aloud.
It was of God that he must obtain forgiveness in the first
place, and he knew it. But his prayers, in that turmoil of
feeling, were of the woman he loved.

Agatha lay silent. She neither spoke nor moved. It
seemed natural to him it should be so. It Avas as he had
expected. She would never speak to him again. Never.
And his secret would remain his alone.

He still rested his face on his hands and, as he knelt
there, his whole life seemed to rise up before him in its se-
quence. And, gradually traveling upward, his thoughts
stopped at tlie days of the trial.



292 JOOST AVELINGH.

The recollection of Jan Lorentz fastened upon him.
He- could not shake it oS. What was the man thinking of
at that moment alone, probably, in his prison cell ? What
was his life? What were his griefs, his pleasures? Did he
repent of that night in which his heart had returned to its
duty and he had released Avelingh at the cost of his own
liberty ? Who shall say ? He got up and went into the
next room. The maid was sitting there.

" Do you know anything of Jan ? " he asked abruptly.
She started, but she did not ask what Jan he meant.

" I had a letter from him only this week. Mynheer," she
said, " he says he is well-cared for and happier than he
had thought a man could be in jail. He says he is happier
than he has ever been. He says he is at rest."

Joost did not reply. Even while the maid was speak-
ing, a sudden burst of loud music broke the stillness of the
calm evening. He tore aside a curtain. There were lights,
and moving figures under them, dancing to and fro among
the shadows of the trees.

A procession of some kind was coming up the Avenue.

Joost ran downstairs. He met his brother-in-law in the
hall.

" Good Heavens, they're coming to serenade you, Joost,"
cried Kees. " What will do you ? What an unfortunate
moment ! How is Agatha ? "

" 'No better," said Joost. " Tell them, some one, to stop
that confounded music."

A servant ran out, and Joost followed on to tlie terrace,
scarcely knowing what he was doing, or what would happen
next.

The crowd with their torches and lanterns, their music
and banners, were already in front of the house they had
struck up within a few paces of their destination, so as to
make their surprise more complete. The appearance of the
man they sought was the signal for a burst of cheering.



JOOST SURRENDERS. 293

Cries of " Long live Joost Avelingh ! Long live the Dep-
uty ! " broke forth on all sides, and the music fell in with
ih.Q fanfare which Dutch custom prescribes on such occa-
sions. The crowd began to sing ; " Long shall he live in
glory," the Dutch equivalent to " For he's a jolly good fel-
low ! " and it was several minutes before silence could be re-
stored. Ultimately, however, the last sounds died away. A
great stillness followed. Everybody expected the Deputy
would now speak.

Joost's voice rose clear and stern on the hushed air.

" Friends," he said, standing on the terrace, with Kees
a few paces behind him. The confused glare from the
torches fell on the stately house and on the tall form and
white face of its master. " Friends, I am grateful for your
kindness. Believe me, I am truly grateful. But do not
expect me to say much to-night. My wife is lying up
there," he pointed with his right hand " dying perhaps
already dead. And I " he faltered ; a whirlwind of con-
fusion swept over him.

" Good-night," he said.

The crowd amazed, frightened, thoroughly disconcerted
turned to slink away by twos and threes. But even in
that moment of misery he could not bear to do an unkind
action.

" My brother-in-law will receive you in the stables," he
called. " In the stables ! Me you must excuse ! See they
get what they want, Kees," he said, " beer and something."
And he crept upstairs again.

" Long live Joost Avelingh ! Long live the Deputy ! "
the words went ringing in his ears still. They had always
seemed very sweet to him. Praise, love, admiration the
very ecstasy of living. He pressed his clammy forehead
against the window-pane and looked out upon his broad
acres lying in the shadows, and his heart within him grew
strangely still.



294 JOOST AVELINGH.

He turned away, and stood one moment gazing down at
the motionless face uplifted toward him. And then he flung
himself down by the bed in an agony of tears.

" God," he cried, " I surrender. I surrender. I have
striven in vain to expiate my own faults, to shape my own
life wisely, to do well in thy sight. And I have failed. I
am guilty ! I am guilty ! Have mercy upon me a sinner,
God!'

He lay there : how long he never knew. He was re-
called to the world around him by a soft voice saying
" Joost."

He lifted up his head. Meaning had again returned to
those staring eyes. They were looking affectionately at him.

It did not surprise him that it should be so. He under-
stood that his prayer had been answered, and that the spirit,
already drawn toward another world, had been checked on
its threshold to hold parley with him once more.

And, as one who speaks a last word to the dying, he
said solemnly : " Agatha. Listen to me. I am innocent in
the sight of man, and guilty in the sight of God."

She made an effort to speak, and failed. She lifted her
head slightly, and tried again. And the words came back
to him in a trembling whisper.

" I knew it, Joost."

And, wonderful to relate, in spite of all his fears of the
last hour, that also in that moment now she said it, did
not seem strange to him.

She smiled to him, a pitiful little smile, full of hope and
comfort, and moved her hand. And he seized it, and
clasped it, and held it tight on the coverlet, and, laying his
head down upon it, he covered it with his kisses and his
tears.

" It is the doctor," whispered Dientje at the door. " The
doctor has come back," said Kees.

Joost Avelingh came out into the light.



JOOST SURRENDERS. 295

" She is better, Doctor," he said. " She will never go mad.
I have fought with myself for her, and regained her from
God."

He went downstairs slowly, with Kees still close beside
him.

" I must see van Asveld to-morrow," he said.

"Van Asveld? My dear fellow? What in the world?"

" Yes, I must see van Asveld. Agatha agrees, for, when
I said ' van Asveld ? ' she nodded assent. It had better be
to-morrow. Will you bring, him up here to-morrow, Kees ?
I can't very well leave the house just now."

" But he won't come."

" He will. Tell him it is on most important business.
In connection with my uncle. He will come."

The doctor came running down-stairs after them. " My
dear Avelingh," he cried, " I congratulate you. I can't un-
derstand it. But she's better ; there is no danger of conges-
tion now. You will have to keep her very quiet, all the
same. Perhaps I was a little too anxious, but she certainly
was very ill when I came."

Joost turned round and looked at him.

" Did I not tell you so," he said, " before you had seen
her? We are nearer to God than we know. Dr. Kern."

" We are not near to God at all," said Dr. Kern to him-
self, as he got into his gig. " There is nothing but matter
and force, and the two produce such fools as Joost Ave-
lingh."

The doctor himself had once said: "Then God help
the prisoner," but perhaps he agreed with Beau Liederlen :
" que^ ^ Dieu ' c^est une faQon de parler dont on ne pour rait
plus Men se dispenser. ^^ And to Joost Avelingh, kneeling
far into the night by his wife's bedside, came the revelation
of the one Reality of which all this life is but a shadow that
recedes.



-296 JOOST AVELINGH.

CHAPTER XXXVII.

" COULD WE DO ELSE ? "

" AiTD you are willing it should be so, dearest ? " said
Joost.

" Quite willing."

" And you realized, as far as possible, what it involves ? "

" I believe so. I have had time enough to think about
it."

" Only since yesterday evening ! "

"I have thought about it before, Joost."

Joost walked to the window. "How long is it," he
asked without looking at his wife, " since you since you
knew about this ? How did you know it ? "

Agatha smiled faintly. She was lying back on a sofa,
still looking very white among the cushions. " I learned it
in a foolish manner," she said, " in such a simple, old-fash-
ioned, terrible manner, Joost" she shuddered slightly
" For the last two weeks, or perhaps three, you have been
talking about it in your sleep, and you told me the whole
story bit by bit. I didn't understand in the beginning, but,
after the first night or two, the whole thing became clear
to me. And then I understood it all."

" It was dreadful," she continued after a moment.
" Most dreadful of all to think you were keeping it from
me. We can bear it together, Joost. We could not bear it
alone. I could not. You see how it has been. I had
strength for the trial but not for this. And yesterday,
somehow I do not know how I felt I could bear it no
longer. And something in my heart gave way and I fell.
And I remember nothing more, but hearing beautiful music,
until I awoke and looked into your eyes and knew that there
was nothing between us any more."

Had the band and the shouting more effective than all



"COULD WE DO ELSE?" 297

the doctor's stillness and soothing recalled her wandering
senses ? It were impossible to say for certain.

" And when I understood it all, Joost, I understood you
for the first time," said Agatha. " And so, now that there
is communion between us again, darling, this avowal has not
estranged us, but brought us much nearer to each other,
much nearer. And therein lies cause for lasting happiness.
It has stood between us, more or less, through all these years.
And now nothing shall ever come between us any more."

" And you are willing ? " said Joost again.

" I am willing to bear all consequences with you," replied
Agatha, " could I do else ? Or less ? "

" Yet I ask myself : have I a right of my own free will,
to condemn you to such a punishment ? "

" A punishment ! No, Joost, do not call it that. It is
but the natural development of our actions, surely. Noth-
ing else as I say nothing less, would satisfy us. Let us
seek satisfaction first. We have been miserable long
enough."

"We!" said Joost. "I! No! I can not say that
either ; I have been guilty, and we have been miserable. I
should be happy to-day, were it not for the thought of the
sorrow I have brought upon you."

" The sorrow and the joy, Joost," said Agatha. She was
too weak to rise from her cushions, but she held out both
her hands to him. " The sorrow and the joy. Do not try
to separate what is interwoven for all time. And whatever
the future brings us, we will rejoice to bear it together, my
husband."



298 JOOST AVELINGH.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

WHAT SHOULD IT PKOFIT A MAN^ ?

" Yes," said Joost to the servant who knocked at the
door. " Show the gentleman into my study."

He came forward once more to his wife's sofa. " It is
to be then ? " he said.

"No," she replied, looking full into his face. He
started involuntarily. " No, it is not to be, if you hesitate
over it. Let us not be sentimental. Let us, least of all,
make sacrifices for an idea which later reflection might dis-
prove. If there be a choice in our hearts, an alternative,
we will not do it, Joost."

" I hesitated for your sake, Agatha," said Joost ; and he
passed into the next room.

Kees van Hessel stood near the writing-table, with a
puzzled look on his face. By the mantelpiece sat van As-
veld, looking puffy, and blown, and discontented. The fat
Jonker was beginning to bear visibly about him the effects
of his intemperate habits. He rose, slowly and awkwardly,
as the master of the house entered. Joost Avelingh eyed
him with ill-concealed disgust.

No one spoke for a moment. " We have come, you see,"
said Kees at length, " as you wished." He was glad to
break the embarrassing silence.

" Yes," said Asveld, " and I am waiting to hear, Avel-
ingh, what are your reasons for requesting me once more to
enter this house which is full of such painful memories to
me, as you are aware, and in which I had hoped never to set
foot again."

" You must excuse my deferring my explanation a few
minutes longer," answered Joost ; "I am waiting for a
fourth person who was to be here by eleven. It is now five
minutes past. I believe I see the gig coming up the avenue."



WHAT SHOULD IT PROFIT A MAN? 299

Kees opened his eyes still wider. Avelingh stood with-
out taking any further notice of his visitors, and the Jon-
ker after having waited in vain to be offered a seat sank
back into his easy-chair again. Presently the Notary
walked into the room.

After the preliminary greetings while the ]S"otary still
stood pulling off his gloves and staring from one to the
other, wondering what he had been sent for Joost began
speaking, suddenly, without further preparation.

" Mynheer the Notary," he said, you will admit, I doubt
not that the proceedings in the trial in which you also ap-
peared as a witness against me ended with my complete
acquittal of the charge that had been trumped up against
me and that henceforth the law can not touch me ? "

" Of course. Mynheer Avelingh," said the Notary.

" Of course," said Kees.

" And you. Mynheer van Asveld," continued Joost, " you
will not, I presume, object to that conclusion? "

" How can I ? " murmured Arthur. " You know my
private opinion. What foolery is this ? "

" And furthermore," said Joost, again addressing the
Notary, " you will admit that, whether I had been con-
demned at the trial or not, I should have always been, as I
am now, the lawful possessor of the whole fortune left by
my uncle unconditionally. Is it not so ? "

" It is, my dear Heer," said the Notary, " but I can not
understand "

" And you," Joost went on, turning to Arthur, " you
know it is so do you not ? "

" You have no right to .put me meaningless questions,"
replied the Jonker, " and I shall not answer them. Is this
what you wanted me for ? "

" The meaning is coming," said Joost. " My property
being unconditionally my own, I can do what I like with
it ; can I not, Notary ? "



300 JOOST AVELINGH.

" Always subject to the restrictions of the law," answered
the Notary. " Yes."

" That being clearly understood," Joost went on, " and
all the circumstances being fully admitted on both sides,
I wish to state that it is my intention to make over to the
Jonkheer Arthur van Asveld here present, without any
reservation whatever, the whole estate real and personal,
which I inherited from my uncle the Baron van Trot-
sem."

" Joost," cried Kees, " are you mad ? "

" What nonsense is this ? " said Asveld rising in a fury.
" I ask once more ; have I been sent for here to be made a
fool of ? You mistake me very much, Heer Deputy, if you
think you can play off your jokes upon me ! " he made for
the door.

" Stay," said Joost. " It is no joke, but terrible earnest.
If you wait, I shall prove it to you. The Notary will draw
up the necessary deeds, and you shall see me sign them."

" But, my dear Heer " began the Notary.

" The Notary will do no such thing," cried Kees. " He
will understand at once that delay is necessary " he cast
a meaning side-glance at the little gentleman in black, who
quietly returned it. " Of course such arrangements may
sometimes be desirable, Joost, but they render a number of
formalities indispensable. A list of the property will have
to bo made out. Van Asveld may thank you for your kind
intentions on his behalf, and then we had better disperse
in expectation of further arrangements. Nothing can be
done to-day, can it, Notary ? "

" Certainly not," said the Notary. " I will see about
getting the necessary papers ready, and that will take me
some weeks; it is unavoidable."

" Damn me," cried Arthur, " I won't thank anybody
for nothing. You may carry off your mad brother-in-law
to the Asylum as best you can, van Hessel, but you needn't



WHAT SHOULD IT PROFIT A MAN? 301

look for lielp from me ! And now, sir, mad or not, I shall
trouble you to get away from that door."

" Yes," said Joost, without moving, " you think me
mad, Kees, or unstrung, or excited or something. Think it'll
be all right to-morrow. You are quite mistaken. You can
go in there, if you like and ask Agatha ; she knows what I
am doing. I intend to give up this wretched inheritance,
and if you'll listen, I will give you my reason. Stay
there, you," he cried, addressing Arthur, " I could knock
you down with half a hand, and I shall do it, if you move.'*

The words were true, but Arthur was the last man to
pocket such an insult. He dashed at the door ; Kees Hes-
sel flung himself between the antagonists. " No quarrel-
ing," he said. " We want cool heads here, and that's my
opinion."

- " Have you all forgotten the trial ? " asked Joost, des-
perately, " and the charges brought against me ? My mo-
tives for my action are simple enough, when one comes to
think of it. I have reasons for being positively certain
that my uncle's warnings were not mere empty threats, but
that he was fixedly resolved on the day of his death to make
a will leaving all his possessions to van Asveld, in case I at
any time married the woman who is now my wife. I have
in the last few weeks learned particulars, utterly unsuspected
till then, which, while explaining my uncle's course of action
and showing me that I had been wrong to look upon it as a
passing caprice at the time, have convinced me more fully
still of the immutable character of his resolve. Had he
lived an hour or two longer van xAsveld would have been in
my place. For I should certainly have married all the
same, if ever I could have done so. He did not live an
hour or two longer ; never mind why not, but for me the
moral obligation remains the same."

" You have been slow to discover it then," said Arthur.

" True," replied Joost, humbly. " You must forgive me



302 JOOST AVELINGH.

for that. And also for the actual pecuniary loss the delay
may entail. Remember, you have no legal right to a far-
thing. And I stipulate that you receive the estate and the
personalty as they now stand. You will find them intact,
but the interest has been spent, and with regard to that
you will ask no further questions. For myself I shall re-
tain nothing but such trifles of personal property as my wife
may wish to take away with her. At the time of my uncle's
death he had in his keeping my own small private fortune,
inherited from my father, amounting to three thousand
three hundred florins odd. I consider it my duty to retain
that also. I do so, because I am entitled to the money, and
because it is incumbent upon me not to leave my wife en-
tirely destitute. You can take the rest."

" What am I to believe ? " asked Arthur, turning to the
Notary.

" Accept it," cried Kees in despair, " accept it, and be-
lieve what you like afterward. Believe what every sensible
man would. Very well, Joost, we quite understand you,
and it is undoubtedly true. And the notary will arrange it
all for you without loss of time."

" I am not a child," said Joost flercely, " to be humored
and played with. I am a man in full possession of my senses
and I am acting advisedly and within my legal rights when
I fling away this cursed money for another man to pick up.
Will you, Sir Notary, draw up this deed or shall I send for
another man ? "

" Of course," said the Notary, " if you wish it, and if you
can rationally explain it it is very extraordinary Nothing
of the kind has ever occurred to me before during my long
practice. And I must be sure forgive me Mynheer Ave-
lingh " he edged away a little behind Kees " I must be
sure that I am dealing with a sane man before I proceed."

" You may well make that proviso ! " cried Kees.
" Good heavens, Joost, what has happened to you ? Let



WHAT SHOULD IT PROFIT A MAN? 303

us go to Agatha and talk the matter over with her, as you
say. Do you forget, man, how you are beggaring her, rob-
bing her in this manner of the very means of subsistence?
Heer Notary, you can see he is not himself. He has been
overexcited by the election. We will talk of it again to-
morrow." The poor fellow was beside himself with anger
and distress.

"Yes," said the Notary, "we will talk of it again to-
morrow."

" We shall do no such thing," said Joost. " You will
tell me now, sir, before you leave the room, whether you in-
tend to draw up this deed of gift or not. It is to be a deed
of gift, you understand, free and unconditional, of the estate
real and personal, as it stands at present."

" I can't write it out here at this moment, with you wait-
ing," said the Notary peevishly. " I haven't got the stamped
paper."

" I do not expect you to do so. I give you a day or two ;
make it as short as possible. But I must know before you
go whether you intend to do the work for me."

" Why, yes, why should I not ? " said the Notary hesitat-
ingly. " I as well as any other man ; you can always see
later on whether you sign it or not," he added, his eyes once


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