Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

. (page 3 of 24)
Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 3 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

done something wrong.

As Joost grew older and his character developed, his
uncle began to take a greater interest in him. They were
very different, and yet in one or two things they were
strangely alike. Joost also early displayed a taste for wan-


dering away into the woods alone, to liis uncle's disappoint-
ment, who now, irrationally enough, was in want of a com-
panion. But Joost did not get intimate with nature, at
least not in his uncle's manner. He would lie out in some
sun-checkered copse or by some murmuring stream, en-
joying himself with an intense enjoyment, but when he
came home, he could not tell what he had seen. One day
he stood listening to a singing bird, lost in a rapture of de-
light. His uncle came suddenly upon him, and, momenta-
rily pleased at the boy's evident pleasure, asked him what
kind of a bird it was. " A a lark," said Joost, confusedly.
" The boy is an utter, hopeless fool," thought the uncle, for
it was a nightingale. Van Trotsem came to the conclusion
that a boy who wandered out into the woods without caring
for them, must be after some secret kind of mischief, and
he forbade the lonely excursions, though he would never
have stooped to asking his nephew to accompany him.
Joost, whose one great pleasure those moonings had been,
acquiesced sullenly. It was like the Beast to shut the fair-
est chamber up.

Other subjects with regard to which they came near
enough to clash would not be difficult to find. The Baron
was by nature straightforward, but the quality had been
warped by years and misfortunes, till he had learned to ac-
quire a certain amount of astuteness. Joost was also strictly
truthful, but, with him, the habit was more a carefully in-
culcated one, his natural tendency lying in the direction
not of untruthfulness, but of the avoidance of all unpleas-
antness whatsoever. His fath ;r had never told him a lie or
even joked him untruthfully ; he soon got to see that his
nurse had a whole list of deceptions ready and measured
them out, as required, by the yard. His uncle too, strictly
honorable in all transactions, did not consider a "fancy"
answer to a child in the light of a really responsible full-
blown lie. And so Joost soon found himself at sea, though


he stuck hard to his ideas of truth, imbedded as they were,
in his dead father's Beauty's memory.

He had been a year or two at the Castle when Mevrouw
van Hessel not by any means always distinguishable for
tact asked him in the Baron's presence, whether he did
not love the dear good uncle who was so kind to him im-
mensely. Joost lifted up his great dark eyes to hers and
said softly but resolutely, " ISTo." An awkward silence fell
upon the company, and the child stole a timid look at his
uncle with oh such a fear bumping at his heart. It was this
incident which revealed to the Baron what a turn things
were taking. He drove back, his little nephew sitting op-
posite, without a word, simply because he did not know what
to say. " He will murder me when we get home," thought
little Joost. "Never mind, I shall go to Beauty." But the
next morning the Baron called him out, not to stab him on
the terrace, as he expected, but to show him a little pony he
was to have for his own. It was partly the Baron's tribute
to the boy's intrepidity and partly a shamefaced attempt to
gain his affection. Joost's eyes grew even larger and round-
er with pleasure, yet in the first moment he shrunk back
with a half-nervous awe from the living, prancing, palpitat-
ing wonder before him. His uncle saw the movement and,
crying out that the child was a coward, stung to the quick,
he ordered the groom to take the animal back to the dealer's.
Joost never saw that marvelous vision again except in his
dreams ; it often came to him then, and he kissed it and
fondled it. He thought his uncle had arranged the whole
scene to punish him, to insult him ; and he clenched his
small fist beneath the coverlet.

There came a time when Baron Dirk would have been
ashamed to confess to himself how anxious he was that the
child should take to him. He was full of false sbame, was
the Baron like all egotists of false shame and true pride.
And in spite of his desire he did nothing or the wrong


thing to gain Joost's love. He would sit opposite to him
sometimes in silence for a-quarter-of-an-hour, with his
hands on his knees, his great red face bent forward and his
fierce, prominent eyes staring, staring at the child, seeking
to stare into his features as it were some resemblance to
the dead Adelheid. It was a futile undertaking, for Joost
was like his father, and like his father alone. It was a
terrible ordeal to the self-willed old man to see thus ever
before him this living monument of the whole cruel, painful

Several years had passed before he spoke to the boy of
his mother. He did so one evening, in the twilight, sud-
denly, with an impetuous effort. But he struck no answer-
ing chord; Joost could remember nothing of her. The
child sat silent for half-a-dozen moments, and then called
to the dog. A burning desire had often come over him
almost insupportable at first to speak to some one of his
father, but an instinctive tenderness held him back. He
had grown to be twelve before the subject was broached at
all. And then it came up quite suddenly. Joost had
recently acquired a habit of throwing back his black locks
with an impatient movement of the head. It was a daily
bitterness to his uncle's heart, for it had been the high-
spirited doctor's favorite gesture, the scornful shake with
which he had flung from him the Baron's brutal attacks.
" Don't do that ! " said van Trotsem one morning, exasper-
ated beyond endurance. " Don't do that ; it's ungentle-
manly ! "

The word stung Joost out of his life-long reticence.
" Papa used to do it," he said. Suddenly, in that moment,
the memory flashed upon him across the years.

" Your father," shouted the Baron recklessly, " was not
a gentleman ! "

The child started back. " You lie," he cried. His uncle
struck him, for the first time, a blow across the cheek.


The blow was never repeated, but it marked a fresh
turning-point where the paths of uncle and nephew went
still farther apart. Joost never forgot its disgrace, and, as
he went up to his room, he vowed that he would nevermore
give his uncle cause to strike him again. He was by nature
uncommunicative ; he now grew taciturn. See what came
of resenting wrong fresh, insupportable insult ! He would
render it impossible. Before all his uncle's gibes and re-
proaches he henceforth sat silent, sullen, often apparently
sleepy, thereby maddening the old man more and more, and
ignoring the one means by which he might have fronted
and routed him. The habit, thus assumed in youth as a
preventive against violence, grew upon him. It was easy,
after all ; and you soon get indifferent. It never left him



When Joost attained his thirteenth birthday, it became
evident that he must go to the Public School at the county
town. Till then he had been educated in a happy-go-lucky
manner, the village schoolmaster coming up in vacant hours
and setting him long tasks to fill up the intervals. French
he had learned from his early governess, and he spent too
much of his free time in the disused library, reading and re-
reading the French classic poets, and even the great masters
of French prose. His selections were often not those a care-
ful mother would have made. He knew La Rochefoucauld
and Le Sage well before he was twelve, and was not un-
acquainted even with Rabelais. Then he dived into French
translations of the Greek and Latin authors a chance


volume of Herodotus led him thither reading on " fast and
loose " as they say in Dutch, and forgetting what he could
not understand. His uncle disapproved of the whole taste
without being able to control it. What rational boy would
prefer a book to a boat, a pen to a pony ? Joost would wil-
lingly have accepted the pony and the boat too, had his uncle
offered them. He was now driven to the library by sheer
ennui, and it was a blessing he enjoyed himself there. He
did not care for the society of the children of those grooms
and laborers his uncle was so familiar with in his own
haughty manner. He idled out into the gardens and com-
posed verses. They were not very good verses, and he was
by no means a nineteenth-century Milton, but they kept
him innocently employed for he could not publish them.

Even Dirk Trotsem would have comprehended that such
a boy must be properly educated, had he been left to find it
out by himself. But the village schoolmaster spared him
that trouble by telling him plainly, that Joost now knew all
he could learn at home. And the old man, who looked upon
his nephew as a continual worry, an annoyance and a re-
proach, who had no common interests with the lad and no
agreeable intercourse, and who even felt at times that he
positively disliked him the old man now suddenly realized
that he could not let the child leave the house. He hated
the idea of being left alone in it ; there would be nobody to
talk to, nobody to talk at, if you wdll, nobody upon whom to
pour out his grievances. The next worst thing to keeping
Joost was letting Joost go. Both were evils ; his life was
made up of evils ; he was an ill-used, undeservedly perse-
cuted, miserable, righteous old man.

So the boy remained at the Castle and drove over to
school daily, a drive of some nine miles. He got on better
with his companions than might have been expected. His
heart warmed and thawed amid all that bright young life.
He was quicker than most boys, certainly, and more reflect-


ive, born with what the poets call an " inward eye," but once
out in the open air with schoolfellows, he became a differ-
ent creature. He could run with the swiftest and laugh
with the loudest, and he showed quite an unexpected cour-
age in hitting out when attacked. In athletic sports and
games he did not excel ; " I can only run away," he used to say
in later years. But he had a frank, ingenuous manner, which
goes home straight to boys' hearts no one but a bully would
have struck J cost Avelingh.

His uncle guided therein by the Public School masters
had destined him for the bar. It seemed the natural thing,
and Joost was well satisfied it should be so. By the time
he was eighteen, and in the highest class, he looked upon
the matter as definitely settled and made all his plans ac-
cordingly with Kees van Hessel, his class-fellow and chum.
They were to go up together.

But in the long vacation at the last moment almost
a sudden change came. The old Baron he was just about
sixty by this time called Joost into his room. He sat in
the armchair by his desk, looking straight in front of him
out of the window, with his back turned to the youth.

" I have been obliged to alter my arrangements," he said,
abruptly ; " you will study medicine."

Joost stood as if a thunderbolt had fallen on his heart.
Perhaps who knows ? if he had burst into hot reproach
and refusal, he might have shaken his uncle's purpose. But
that was not Joost's manner with regard to " the transaction
of unavoidable business," as he had come to call his inter-
course with his uncle. He hesitated for some time ; then
he asked quietly and, worst of all, sneeringly : Might I know
your reasons for so sudden a change ? " Now that he was no
longer a child, he had got into this dreadful sneering accent
with his uncle, unconsciously, as a man of superior intellect
is apt to do under oppression. It was the worst tone of all
with van Trotsem, who could not have told why it stung.


" I have my reasons," said the Baron, shifting his ac-
count books.

" It is, therefore, I should like to hear them," said Joost.
There was a long silence. The big dog at the Baron's feet
rose up, stretched himself, lifted his head, gave a long look
at Joost, a deep sigh, and lay down again. The Baron
kicked out one foot, unintentionally, and struck against

" I may say on my side," continued Joost, " that, al-
though I am a doctor's son, or perhaps, on that account, I
have a particular, a peculiar dislike to the study of medi-
cine. I loathe it. The idea of always puddling in putrid
matter is especially obnoxious to me. You may wish to
know this."

The Baron nodded his head once or twice. " That comes
true," he said aloud, more to himself than to Joost, " quite
true." He took out, mechanically, a sheet of paper from the
blotter before him, held it up for a few moments without
reading the contents, and then put it back. Joost noticed
the paper ; is was of a peculiar pink tint, covered with writ-
ing in a large, florid hand.

" Quite true. Quite, true " said the Baron softly.

" And therefore," repeated Joost, " I should feel obliged
if you could communicate your reasons to me."

The old man now for the first time turned round and
looked at his nephew. The dog came up and put his nose
against Joost's hand. " Joost," said the Baron, quite kindly,
" believe me, I have my reasons. I consider them impera-
tive. I am sure they are right. I can't tell you ; at least, I^
don't wish to. I want you to begin studying medicine to
please me. You'll like it afterward. I know you will.
They say so ; do it to please me."

The tone of the voice almost imploring was lost upon
Joost. " Thank you, sir," he said, coldly. " I do not be-
lieve I need trouble you for any reasons. I am confident I


know them. In fact, I should say I had stated them my-
self just now."

He turned to go. " What ! " screamed the old man,
starting up and shaking his fist. " Damn you, you thank-
less scoundrel. Damn you and the bread you eat. Medi-
cine ! You shall study medicine ! I'll make you study it !
I'll damn you, what do you mean by your insolence?
What was good enough for your rogue of a father is good
enough for his blackguard of a son ! Damn you ! "

Joost stood looking at him for a moment, then smiled
the faintest ripple of a smile and left the room.

He really thought that he knew the reason. He believed
that the whole comedy of preparation had been played by
the old man for the sake of this final coup. He had been
led to make all his plans for the future, that the disappoint-
ment, the humiliation, might be the greater in the end.

" He may well do it for love of me," muttered the Baron
to himself, as he fumed up and down his sanctum. " Why
should that not be the best reason of all ? As good any day
as the other. Why should he not care for my wishes, the
ungrateful vagabond ? Talk of filial affection ! If such a
thing exists, he ought to feel it for me ! And his father,
whom he has never seen since he was a child ! Whom he
owes nothing but beggary ! Doubtless he would gladly do
it for his father. He sha'n't do it for his father. He shall
do it for me."

" And he enjoys it," said Joost to himself, alone with his
cigar, by the pond. " I tell him it means life-long misery
to me. And he enjoys that. That's what he wants. I hate
him. Great Heaven, how I hate him ! Can it be wrong to
hate as I do? With such a cause."

He was debating with himself, smoothly and leisurely,
v/hether he should turn his back upon his uncle and his
uncle's house forever. He could enlist as a soldier for


That meant a horrible death in a year or two. Friends
the most intimate, to whom he had confided something
of his troubles had advised him to enlist. They were
snugly settled in their own homes, and it sounded well. He
might come back a general, with the Military Order of Will
iam on his breast. He might Joost thought of the un-
speakable horrors of Acheen, and shuddered as he looked
down into the blackness of the pond.

He was well aware of his poverty. He had been too
often taunted with it for the ghost of a doubt to be possible
on that score. The exact amount of his possessions stood
out before him, as he had heard it a hundred times from
the lips of his uncle : three thousand three hundred and
twenty-nine florins, fifty-five and a half cents, " the interest
you know, Joost, goes in keeping you. It really all goes ;
or would you desire me to give you a written account?"
He was too much a child of the nineteenth century and he
had been too accurately enlightened by his uncle not to
know that a couple of thousand florins were at best but a
loosening rope over the precipice of starvation. And be-
sides, even what little he had was in his uncle's keeping.
That uncle was rich enough ; it had been Dirk van Trot-
sem's mother whose money had bought off the mortgages on
the estate and restored the family to their pristine glory.
The second wife, Joost's grandmother, had been as poor in
her own right as the old Baron, her husband, was'in his.

Joost could not escape from his guardian, even if he
wished it. For the ensuing five years he was bound by the
law to obey in all things. If he fled, he would be brought
back with contumely. He could not, therefore, obtain a
situation and "honestly earn an independent crust.'-' He
could only attempt to run away run to sea, in fact. Not
all young men have a natural aptitude or inclination that
way (if they had, there would be more good admirals) ; Joost
looked down again, this time at his own reflection in the


pond and the red spot of the cigar. He was too old and
too tall for a cabin boy. Decidedly the idea was unpracti-
cal, and Joost, being practical, walked up the terrace and
rang for some coffee.

So Joost Avelingh studied medicine. He began his
work with a rooted dislike, and the farther he went the
wider that dislike spread out, until his life was overshad-
owed by its branches. The young men of his own rank, or
rather of the rank his uncle's position had brought him,
were law students, and naturally kept a good deal to them-
selves, though they made an exception, as far as possible, for
Joost. His own fellow-students were rough lads of the
lower middle class, who laughed at the airs he gave him-
self, and despised him for his dislike of his profession. He
turned sick at the sight of blood, and even the professor
burst out laughing. The smell of the laboratory, the touch
of all that putrescent flesh were horrible to him. Often,
after lecture, he could not eat a morsel. His daily occupa-
tions became a terror. He fled from them whither ? It is
a wonder now, looking back, to think he did not fly to his
own ruin ; he sought a refuge in his old favorite, literature,
and thereby escaped many a danger.

He lived in rooms of his own now. It was inevitable
on his going up to the University, but it was also desired on
both sides. The time had long gone by when the Baron
was anxious to keep his nephew near him. He saw that
the young man avoided him, and he also was quite content
they should see but little of each other. He regretted sin-
cerely that there should be so little sympathy between them,
and he laid the blame on Joost.

If there was in Joost's character a strongly marked fault
growing out of a virtue what the French call : Un-de-faut
de ses qualites it must have been the intense longing for
approval and admiration which was part of his affectionate-


ness. He was anxious to do all men a pleasure, but he was
also anxious to be thought pleasing by them, and it was an
extravagant enjoyment to him to know that they thought
him pleasing. He wanted to be liked and honored and
praised. Why not? He wanted affection. But in his
present position he could not get what he desired. Besides,
in any case, he was not a man to be popular at a Dutch
University. He drank but little ; he swore not at all, and
he never played.

And so Joost Avelingh had spent three years at the
University : he was therefore now, at the age of twenty-
one, about half-way in the Dutch curriculum. He had even
passed his first examination, although with but indifferent

He went over to his uncle from Saturday to Monday ac-
cording to agreement. The rest of the week he worked as
little, and read as much, as he possibly could. He dreamed
of the great things he might have done, and thought him-
self a good deal cleverer than he really was. Most young
men do, and that is why the very clever ones are so unbear-
ably conceited. During the vacations he returned home,
" by royal command " as he expressed it. He was at home
at the time of that Santa Glaus evening when Agatha van
Hessel " fair Agatha " sent him away empty-handed.



" I SHOULD ask her, Joost," said Kees.
They were skating leisurely up the crooked Rhine on
their way past Utrecht to the quaint old town of Ysseltein.


Behind them skated the rest of the party. They in-
tended making quite a day of it and were in high spirits ac-
cordingly. Mynheer and Mevrouw van Hessel had driven
over with several other middle-aged people, and the young
ones were now skating to join them. There was to be a
simple luncheon when they reached their destination, and
then all were to skate back again along the white canals.

" I can't think," Joost had been saying, " what I can
have done to offend Agatha. I suppose I have no right to
expect her to give me presents, but she always has done so
till now on St. Nicholas eve. So I suppose she's offended
about something."

" I should ask her, Joost," said Kees.

*' You don't know anything about that thing she said she
had got for me ? " continued Joost, wishing his friend would
be more communicative, " and which your mother er er
disapproved of."

" No," said Kees truthfully, " only that my father said
she could give it you next year."

" Anyhow," Joost went on grumbling with a lover's in-
constancy, " she didn't give me anything. So I'm sure
that she's offended. I wonder what I have done."

" Ask her, Joost," said Kees imperturbably, pulling a
long whiff from his short curved pipe.

" Ask her ! Ask her ! " cried the other, losing all pa-
tience, and sweeping round the corner with a flourish that
almost made him lose his balance. " How can you be so
provoking, Kees ? I can't go up to your sister and say :
' Freule, why don't you give me presents ? ' I might as well
stop a young lady in the street and say : ' Freule, why don't
you give me yourself ? ' "

" You might," said Kees. " And the young lady might
be my sister, or she might not. Look here, Joost " he
struck with a short stick he was carrying at a lump of snow
that lay handy, " you have known Agatha ever since she


was a child. You like her, and she likes you, and if you
can't ask her by this time whatever you want to, you must
be a duffer. That's my opinion, and I don't consider my-
self a fool."

Joost skated on in silence. A year ago he had come to
the conclusion that he was in love with Agatha van Hessel,
and he had found amusement and interest in developing
the tender passion ever since. So by this time it was a very
serious thing indeed. At least, so he told himself. She
occupied his thoughts, and he liked to have them so occu-
pied. Of course she had early taken possession of his verses,
and her presence in them had materially improved these
works of art. The idea of his having somehow displeased
her worried him, chiefly because it hurt his comfortable
self-esteem. He did not like people to be dissatisfied with
him. He liked to please them.

" Van Asveld," he said presently, " is a cad."

" Of course," acquiesced Kees. " Nobody doubts that, I

" Then why did you ask him ? "

" My dear fellow, man is a gregarious animal, and only
a gentlemanly hermit could keep himself clear of cads. I
am content, therefore, to draw the line at officially recogized,
objective cads. I exclude all honest people in fustian, but
the subjective broadcloth cad, the coronetted cad, I admit.
I must talk to somebody. At least, that's my opinion, and
I don't call myself a fool."

" No," interpolated Joost, " leave that to me, as your
father says. No offense."

" The van Asvelds are an old family," continued Kees.
" Title pretty old too. Besides Arthur's a relation of

" He is no relation of mine ! " shouted Joost with un-
necessary vehemence. " He is only a cousin of my uncle's,
as I have told you a hundred times." He cast furious


glances behind him, where Agatha was skating, at some
distance from them^ hand in hand with the objectionable

Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 3 of 24)