Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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more seeking van Hessel's face.

" Rather than have you sign such a document as that I'll
call a family council," cried Kees. " I'll have you put un-
der a curator for madness or imbecility, or prodigality, one
of the three ! The third in any case. "

"You will do nothing of the kind, Kees," answered
Joost sadly, " not when you know the peculiarities of the
case. And you wouldn't succeed if you tried."

" I have stuck to you through everything, but I desert
you now," shouted his irate brother-in-law. "Have you
considered for a moment what you're doing ? Is this money
which you are spending wisely for the benefit of thousands



to pass into the hands of a fellow like that," he pointed to
van As veld " a drunkard, a profligate ! No, you need not
make faces at me, sir ; it is true enough and you know it.
You are all that and more. And if I were to tell you so to
your face at the Club, you wouldn't have the heart to deny it."

" I have thought of that," interposed Joost, " but I can't
help it. The money's not mine. I'm not so sure it is de-
sirable it should be his, but, once more, I can't help it. I
give him the benefit of the doubt whether it would really
have been his, if my uncle had lived. I am confident it
would not have been mine."

" Then that is settled," said the Notary, who was getting
impatient and had another engagement. " I draw up the
deed ; and, by the time it is ready, I shall see how matters

" And in the mean time ? " queried van Asveld.

" In the mean time, sir," said Joost, turning fiercely upon
him, " I must bid you hold your peace and wait."

" Bid, bid," answered Arthur, " I do no man's bidding.
Not even a madman's."

Joost came close to him. " I have only this to tell
you," he said, " you have heard my intentions. If I find
that you whisper one word of them to any living soul before
I let you do so, I refuse to sign ; so keep a quiet tongue in
your head. And don't drink."

" And I have this to answer," replied Arthur ; " I don't
believe you, and when I find out for certain that you sent
for me here to insult me and make a fool of me, I'll have
my revenge, even if I become a murderer for it, like you."

" And how about the Deputyship, my dear Mynheer
Avelingh ? " asked the lawyer, pausing in the door- way.

" We shall see," said Joost.



It was a fortnight later. Agatha and Joost were once
more together in the old sitting-room his room in which
they had spent so many happy evenings during the dozen
years of their married life. This was to be the last day of
their stay at the Castle. To-morrow they would leave it for-
ever. They had succeeded in convincing Kees after long
discussions and expostulations " half convincing him " were
perhaps the correcter expression that they were acting for
the best. He had given way unwillingly, when all the circum-
stances had been made known to him, and had consented to
keep their secret, as they wished, till Joost should think fit
to proclaim it. And now, after much hesitation and pro-
crastination, the necessary deeds had been duly drawn up,
signed and registered ; the last formalities had been accom-
plished that morning, and, in fact, Arthur van Asveld was
actually owner of Trotsem Castle already, with the right to
take possession to-morrow. Joost had demanded to be al-
lowed to remain till to-morrow. For to-morrow he would be
admitted to take his seat as Member of the States-General.
He had taken the necessary steps to obtain that admission.
He had been flooded with congratulations, letters and cards
and addresses, from all parts of the country and he had quiet-
ly received them and laid them on one side. " Let me wait ? "
he replied to all Kees's inquiries, " Grant me at least this one
satisfaction that I may choose my own moment to speak."

" And you are not sorry Agatha? You don't regret it? "
Joost was saying on that last evening. It was the fiftieth
time he had asked her that question. He could not help it.
It came to his lips unhid. And she gave him no answer
but a kiss or a smile. " Not even now ? Not even since
you know"


" Not even since then, Joost."

" And we shall go away, dearest ? We shall try to get
work in the Dutch Indies or America. We shall be happy
there together* And I have my three thousand florins.
They will suffice till I find something to do. It is too late
to regret now that I did not stick to my profession."

" No, Joost, we shall stay here," said Agatha, " as you
said at first. You were right. I would not tempt you to
run away. We shall stay, and that will be our punishment ;
we will bear it together."

" But you" began Joost.

'I shall go with you to the Hague to-morrow," said
Agatha quickly. " You know you have promised to let me
live as close to your heart as possible in future, Joost ; and
that is to be our great happiness henceforth."

" And so good-by," said Joost, with a long look at the
shadows deepening in stately sweeps over the golden autumn
chestnuts, "good-by to Trotsem Castle."

Even as he spoke, the door was thrown open, and Kees
Hessel came rushing in, with a pale, frightened face.

" Joost " he cried, " van Asveld ! you must come to him
at once ! He is dying ! You must come at once, or he may
be dead ! "

" What has happened ? " asked Joost in great agitation.
" What has happened, Kees ? "

" I hardly know," said Kees hurriedly. " It appears that
this afternoon, after having got the documents registered, he
went out and had one of his drinking-bouts. In honor of
the occasion, I suppose. And, coming home drunk, he
seems to have slipped at the top of the stairs and fallen
headlong. He's injured internally. The doctor said he
couldn't live twelve hours. All the more dangerous, you
know, from his being drunk at the time. And you are to
come instantly, Joost."

" Why ? " said Joost. " Has he asked for me ? "


" He can't speak, but they think so. He nodded or
something. And so they sent to let me know."

Joost hurried upstairs to get his coat, and Kees, left
alone with his sister, came up to her, trembling with excite-
ment. " Who knows what change this may bring," he said,
" if he dies ? Agatha, it may all pass by like a nightmare ! "

" I do not think so," she replied. " The sin remains, and
its consequences must remain also. The death of no indi-
vidual can change that."

" You are resolved to be beggars," said Kees testily.
" What will you live on ? You know, Agatha, Papa is com-
paratively a poor man too, nowadays."

" Joost will find work," said Agatha, " and he will sup^
port us. And oh, Kees " she blushed shyly " I must tell
you. If God is merciful to us this time, there will be three
of us to support."

" A child ! Oh, Agatha ! And, with that knowledge,
you can defraud the unborn babe of its rights ! "

" We did not know at the time, but, had we known, what
else could we have done, Kees ? We may be mistaken, but,
dear boy, we go wrong in good faith. And it seems to us
there is no other course."

" You are fools," said Kees with a break in his voice,
" or innocents, the whole three of you. And you were much
better in some other world, where people reason as you do ;
and that's my opinion; and I don't know which is the
greater fool, Joost or myself. G-od bless the whole lot of
you, Agatha."

Half-an-hour later Joost stood by van Asveld's side.
They had not been able to move the Jonker, and he lay as
he had fallen, all in a confused heap, at the bottom of a
steep, straight staircase, leading up from the shop over which
he lived. It was a poor little shop with a sanded floor, the
stairs of common unpainted wood ; the staircase, often
almost like a ladder, is the weak point in all Dutch houses,


be it said. An oil-lamp was burning with unsteady light
in the growing darkness. There was a strong smell of
paraffin, and, mingled with this the fumes of wine made
themselves plainly manifest. Joost noticed this last horri-
ble item with a shudder. He looked at the doctor, standing,
sullen and useless, against the wall, at the landlady, a woman
with a hard face and stony, indifferent stare. What sur-
roundings to die in !

He knelt by van Asveld's side. The Jonker groaned
heavily and opened his eyes. They were fast glazing over,
but they brightened with sudden interest when they fell
upon Joost. The old hate had gone out of them. He
struggled to make himself understood with faint murmurs
and attempts to move somewhat, but in vain, and he was
getting excited over these useless efforts, when Kees sud-
denly perceived that he was endeavoring to reach the point
of a piece of paper which stuck out of his coat-pocket. Van
Hessel drew it out at haphazard. He recognized it at once ;
it was the deed of gift. He held it before the dying man ;
and van Asveld's eyes immediately expressed his satisfac-
tion, while he began to make fresh signs, which Kees and
Joost, though this time they seemed plainer, yet hesitated
to understand.

The doctor came forward. " He wants you to tear up
that paper," he said. " It is evident."

Joost held it in his hand. It was, as Kees had said, the
deed of gift. Kees bent forward. " Tear it up ! " he whis-
pered in his brother-in-law's ear, " if he dies, the money goes
to his half-sister in India. The Notary will keep our secret."

This paper was, of course, only a copy of the original
deed, for the ISTotary had the latter in his keeping, but Kees
did not doubt that, now the secret was still theirs, the man
of law, on the doctor's evidence, would consent to annul it.
It may be questioned, however, whether the lawyer would
have dared to do so.


" I can't," said Joost in a low voice. " And if I could,
I wouldn't. Once more; let the cursed money go. I've
never wanted it, and what I did, I did not do for the money.
I might have kept it even now, only people would not have
believed me. Let it go."

The dying man, having rid himself of the paper, which
had seemed to oppress him, appeared to forget it. He
probably believed that his wish with regard to it had been
fulfilled. He was sinking fast. With an intense effort he
opened his eyes and smiled to Joost. Joost took his hand
and retained it in his own. Arthur feebly returned the
pressure, and when Joost would have withdrawn his arm, a
troubled look came over the Jonker's features. And so
Joost knelt there, cramped at the stairfoot, silent and
solemn, with his hand clasping that of the man who had
hated and persecuted him, the only being on earth toward
whom he yet felt ill-will. The flickering oil-lamp played
over the Jonker's face. The doctor and Kees stood motion-
less by the wall in the narrow passage. The landlady had
withdrawn, fretful and grumbling. And so, with Joost's
face looking down upon him, sad and serious and pitiful,
Arthur van Asveld died.

" And it's very sad," said the landlady querulously, as
she let the two gentlemen out, " and a great trouble alto-
gether, not to speak of the damage, with the doctor locking
the shop-door and preventing my selling a thing all the
evening. It's very hard on me, gentlemen ; it is a consider-
able pecuniary loss."

Joost threw a dollar on the counter without speaking, as
he passed out. It was the old habit ; he forgot that dollars
would be precious with him henceforth.




The members of the Second Chamber of the States Gen-
eral were settling down in their places ; some eighty gentle-
men of various ages, the grizzly predominating, with here
and there a shining bald crown or a head of yellow curls,
all uncovered according to the inviolable foreign rule. The
hall was like any other similar council-chamber, only smaller
than most, well fitted for the purpose it was intended to
serve, with a number of seats on both sides of a green cov-
ered table, retained for the ministers, and the President's
chair facing the throne. Everything as simple as possible,
perhaps a little too simple, some might think ; no robes or
or wigs, or maces of any kind, very unlike the British House
of Commons, but not different from the parliament cham-
ber of any other small European state. Grave, solemn, or-
derly, decorous ; none of the turmoil Englishmen have
grown accustomed to. A certain impressiveness in the very
simplicity and repose. There are never recriminations or
personalities, or unpleasantnesses of any kind in the Dutch
House of Commons. There is no Irish question to produce
them. There is never an " Incident." And the Dutch,
cool, phlegmatic, fish-blooded, as unlike the French or Irish
as it is possible for one human being to be unlike another,
live under the unadmitted impression, most certainly an
erroneous one, that the man who expresses himself forcibly
or enthusiastically must naturally be in the wrong. And so
the tide of parliamentary eloquence flows on without a rip-
ple, for a ripple in that quiet country would be marked with
a danger-buoy at once.

The galleries were filling not an event of daily occur-
rence. A good deal of curiosity was being manifested in
the country about the new Deputy, as well on account of his


past history as, more especially, on account of the circum-
stances under which he had been elected. People in the
Hague were anxious to have a look at him. It was reported
that he was handsome ; he was certainly interesting, he was
wealthy ; he had passed through a trial for murder and been
acquitted, he had been nominated in a public meeting by the
people the populace, they said in the Hague without the
interference of any political club, a dangerous precedent,
but an incident which showed the man's great popularity in
his part of the country. A popularity actually gained, as it
appeared, not by speechifying, but by spending his money
for the benefit of others. Very extraordinary. So society
sent some of its members to criticise Joost Avelingh. It
was quite worth while wasting an hour of the afternoon to
see him take his seat.

The galleries, then, were soon filled to overflowing. The
ministers drew up their arm-chairs to the table, and, bend-
ing over to each other, whispered about public business.
The President, an old gentleman of reverend aspect, looked
about him inquiringly, up at the galleries, down at the
Deputies. " Right," and " Left " dropped on to their re-
spective benches. Bits of conversation here and there flick-
ered and went out. A great silence fell upon the assembly.
The President opened the session. The business of the day

Joost had been greeted with a cheer by the small crowd
outside, as he drove up in a cab from the station with his
wife by his side. He entered the building alone. The loiter-
ers evidently approved of his bearing and general appear-
ance. They cheered him again. He raised his hat slightly
in reply. It was the last time the world cheered Joost Ave-

In the House itself his appearance created no enthusi-
asm. Both parties considered him more or less as an intruder.
He had been forced upon them. It was not desirable from


the point of view of party politics that the electors should
get into the way of sending up independent representatives.
The whole system of parliamentary government on which
modern prosperity hinges would become impossible if such
an exception were to develop into the rule.

The President specially deputed to do so in this case
by royal authority called upon the new member to take the
Oath of Allegiance. Joost Avelingh stepped forward, but
before he proceeded to do as was expected of him, he asked
permission to make a personal statement. There was a mo-
ment's hesitation. The request was altogether an unex-
pected one. The President, though he felt it his duty to
rule it out of order, shrank from doing so immediately.
Joost took advantage of the delay and began speaking.

" Mynheer the President," he said, standing out, straight
and stalwart, the black hair thrown back from his brow, " I
claim your permission, as I said, to make what I have called
a personal statement. It may be unusual to do so ; I have
no doubt that in so young and so new a member it will be
considered presumptuous. I must beg of your charity to
allow me to have my own way for a moment. I shall take
up as little as possible of the time this assembly owes to the

" But I also. Mynheer the President, consider that I owe
something to the country ; I owe it this statement. I owe
such explanations as I am desirous of giving, to your august
chamber, to which I have had the honor of being called ; to
the electors who did me that honor an illustrious one as I
am only too deeply conscious ; to the country at large,
which is witness of my election. When I first found myself
designated as representative of the people, I accepted the
position which was offered me. If my projects have changed
since then, I owe it to myself and to all men concerned, to ex-
plain them. It is therefore I have considered it my duty not
to withdraw in private but publicly to explain my action here."


He stopped to draw breath. A faint murmur ran
through the house. Curiosity was visible on all the faces
turned toward him, curiosity and astonishment, not too
benevolent," a general expectation and dislike of some
approaching " scene."

" I was accused," Joost went on, " as all will remember,
in the course of the spring of this year, of the murder of my
uncle. Van Trotsem. I was brought to trial, and first con-
demned, then acquitted. The case came on ultimately in
the Court of Appeal, and that Supreme Court decided that
I was innocent of all instrumentality in the death of my
uncle. It decided wrongly. I was guilty."

He uttered the last words very softly. His head sank on
his breast. But the next moment he lifted it up again with
a proud movement, and spoke in the same clear voice he
had used at first. When his confession left his lips, a thrill
struck through the ranks of his hearers ; it was not an ex-
pression of kindly sentiment. There was the same curiosity
as before, but no sympathy with the speaker. And among
his brother-members many a thin lip curled up with a smile
of half-skeptical contempt.

" I was guilty," said Joost, " but not as the world counts
guilt. Do you care to hear the story ? I owe it, as I said
at first, to you, and still more to the men who gave me their
votes. When I drove by my uncle's side on that terrible
evening, there was rage and hate and disappointment un-
controllable in my heart. I hated him never mind now
whether rightly or wrongly; I believed, oh so rightly I
hated him, as few men ever learn to hate a fellow-being ; I
hated him for all the misery of a lifetime laid at his door.
It matters not that now I know I wronged him at least, in
part, the greater part, that now I perceive how much of
what I accused him of was false, and understand that he
strove according to his lights his weak and misleading
lights to do his duty by me. I owe it to his memory to


declare that publicy, but none-the-less, as I sat by his side
that evening, I hated him, not without full cause.

" At the time of his death my uncle, as was shown dur-
ing the trial, was driving to the village-notary to alter his
will. It was not his intention simply to disinherit me
that would, I may truthfully say, under ordinary circum-
stances have left me more indifferent than most men, but it
was his intention deliberately so to word his dispositions
that my marriage with the woman I had chosen for my
wife should become forever impossible, unless she married,
as I knew she never would, in deliberate defiance of her
father. I knew, as 1 sat there beside him, that I was hur-
rying on every ring of the horse's hoofs bringing me near-
er to the ruin of my new-found happiness. And I owed
my life-long wretchedness in the past, in the present, and
now in all the future, to the meaningless, cowardly cruelty,
as I thought, of the man at my side.

" But before we reached our destination, my uncle, who
had been ailing all the evening, and of the precarious state
of whose health I was well aware, fell back in a fit. What
thoughts rushed through my brain in those few terrible mo-
ments I could never clearly recall. But one thing I can attest
before Heaven, I did not think of the miserable man's gold.
I thought of my love, of the will lying uncanceled, of the
wrongs of the past, of the great wrong still undone. It
seemed to me as if God intervened on my behalf and struck
down this persecutor in the way. I drove on. I had
studied medicine, I knew that immediate help was often de-
cisive in these circumstances. I believe I realized that at
the moment. I looked neither to right nor left, but drove
on. I could not stretch out my hand to assist this man. I
could not have stretched it out to hurt him. Yet I heard
him gasp out, as he fell back, once, twice : ' Stop ! ' I
heard him. The words have rung in my ears ever since.

" I drove on as fast as the horse could tear forward. I


felt that the sooner we reached the village the sooner other
help would be forthcoming, and the sooner the agony of my
struggle would cease. I hoped, I yearned that such help
might save him. But I could not, once more, I could not
stretch out my own hand to the work.

" I did not see him touch his neckerchief. I saw noth-
ing ; I heard nothing after that first despairing cry. I was
blinded, maddened by the hope, the fear, the doubt the hate,
the terror within me. I desired but one thing, to reach the
village, and let it end.

" So much I have to confess, and no more. I am told
that even if 1 had stopped the chaise and given my uncle
such assistance as I could, he would probably have died from
the attack which struck him down. I willingly believe it. I
have told myself so, often and often again. It appears
probable. It will never be certain on earth.

" And for me remains that unanswered appeal ; it will
remain till my death. There remains the knowledge that I
desired this man's destruction, and that if Christ's teaching
means anything I am a murderer at heart. Many hundreds
who hear my story, and to whom Christ's teaching means
nothing, will laugh at my sufferings. Those who can meas-
ure crime only by the damage it does others, and not by the
ruin it brings upon ourselves, will bid me take heart and be
merry, or laugh at me for a fool. But I know, and many,
I rejoice to think, despite the sadness of the thought, many
will know with me that Christ has told men truly, that sin
is a thing of the thought, not the deed. And I must bear my
burden. I used to think, that if I coidd obtain an affirma-
tion to the question whether the dead man would have died,
even though I had checked my course and helped him, this
cloud of accusation would roll from me. I would give my
life to obtain such an answer, but I thank God that it would
not fully content me now.

" Why I have waited to speak till now, and why I speak


at this moment I am willing to tell it to whoso cares to
hear, but this is not the time nor the place for further con-
fession. The gradual enlightenment of a soul is too long
and too strange a story for these walls. SuiBfice it that I con-
fess the measure of my guilt. I confess no more. The law
can not touch me ; and, when it sought to do so, I defended
myself against false accusation, as each man has a right to
do. But such accusation as is my due I now bring against
myself. One thing more ! I might, perchance, have re-
tained the money I inherited from the Baron van Trotsem ;
I have resolved not to do so. First, because otherwise my
confession as the judgment of men is wont to go would
have lost more than half its meaning; and secondly, be-
cause I wish, as far as possible, to annul all advantages
which have accrued to me from my uncle's death. I can
not annul my marriage. Besides, it may yet be asked,
whether circumstances might not, after all, have made that
marriage possible. But it is certain, at least to my mind,
knowing my uncle as I did, and knowing also his reasons
for acting, that he would not have changed his views of it.
I can not, therefore, retain both my wife and my money,
for the possession of both together is may be the result
of my sin. I let the money go without regret. I thank
God I can say that, and cling the closer to the great treasure

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Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 23 of 24)