Maarten Maartens.

Joost Avelingh: a Dutch story online

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have any connection with the affair."

" What ? " cried Kees, opening his blue eyes. " Not even
your name in it ? Oh come now, that is good. Well, you
might have told a fellow ! All very noble and high-minded
and that ! But you'll be sorry afterward. That's my opin-
ion, and I don't consider myself a fool ! "

" I did tell you," said Joost. " At least, I seem to have
been telling everybody the last two days. I build the whole
concern and, when it is ready, I make a present of it to the
Commune with a draft of rules, which they can alter or not,
as they think fit. The grant is unconditional. And I re-
fuse to be connected in any way with the Board of Direct-

" Build a thing like that at the cost of half a million of
money* and then put it altogether into other people's
hands ! But, my dear Joost, supposing they mismanage it ? "

" I don't care," said Joost.

" Oh very well ! Only I was going to suggest "

" Don't bother. Read on," said Joost, peevishly.

" If he prefers it, Kees, you know," put in Agatha from
her corner.

Kees returned to his regulations, not without a shrug of
his shoulders. He did not pretend to understand his brother^

* 40,000.


in-law. A good man, certainly, but a peculiar. Changed,
in many ways, since he came into all that money. Irritable
and boisterous alternately. Not, certainly, as jovial and
good-natured as the outside world might think. Kees pre-
ferred equable tempers. But what did anything else matter,
as long as Agatha was content ?

'' It is very interesting," said Joost, when they had got
about half way, " at the discretion of the Secretary and in
the absence of the Treasurer ? Yes ; is there any more of
it, Kees?"

*' Only seventy-nine more articles. These things must
be done accurately, you know, or you get into any amount
of trouble afterward with all the revisions."

" Oh yes, of course. I'm awfully obliged to you for tak-
ing so much trouble. It's really very good of you ; I couldn't
have done it myself."

" You have plenty of other things to do, Joost," said
Agatha affectionately. " Your hands are already too full."
She could not bear any one to think there was anything
Joost could not do.

" They will be fuller soon, for all that," remarked Kees.
" Don't forget, you complete your thirtieth year in a month
or two. That makes you eligible for the States General, and
we shall have them putting you up as a candidate at the
next election."

" Yes," said Joost laughing. " Of course we shall. What

"Nonsense, you think it's a joke, but it's sober truth
and earnest. Do you think all these good deeds go for

" Good deeds as you are pleased to call them so are
never rewarded in Holland unless there is some political in-
trigue connected with them," said Joost, earnestly. " We
were talking about it at the Club only the other day. Lady
Burdett Coutts would have been Miss Coutts with us till the


day of her death. That makes it so much easier to do
them," he added, more earnestly still.

" Very true, as far as official recognition goes," said Kees.
" I grant it. But you can't keep the people from finding
out an honest man. All the embroidered coats in the
Hague can't do that, however hard they may want to."

" N o 0," said Joost, hesitatingly, " but "

" Why, man, you're the most popular man in the prov-
ince ! " the other went on, enthusiastically.

" I never noticed it," Joost interrupted, quickly. " Not
among the higher classes, certainly. The very reverse ! I
should say, sooner, the very reverse ! "

" That may be as it may be," his brother-in-law replied,
evasively. " Supposing your impression to be correct, it
still remains a fact that although we, like all nations that
are not governed by one man, are governed by a small clique
instead, there are one or two prizes that clique is not able to
bestow. Those are the seats in Parliament for large towns
or manufacturing centers. And it's my opinion that they'll
bring you in for the town in a few months, and really, Joost,
I'm not such a fool as you sometimes think. Besides, I've
heard more about it than I can repeat just at present."

Agatha had risen and come forward. There was a bright
sparkle in her eyes and a flush on her fair cheeks.

" Of course he is popular ! " she said. " And of course
he is liked and esteemed. He is always saying he isn't, and
that everybody hates him, but I tell him it can't be true."

Joost had risen too. He was walking up and down the
room with gigantic strides, his tall figure swaying to and
fro, his arms crossed across the broad chest. Suddenly he
stopped before his brother-in-law and threw back the wav-
ing black hair off his forehead with the old movement which
had brought on that early quarrel when his uncle struck
him. His dark eyes burned like coals from under the broad
white brows.


" It isn't true, Kees," he said. " Say you're joking. It's
all nonsense ; no one ever thought of such a thing."

"It's all nonsense," replied Kees. "At least, I mean
your way of taking it is. What's there to be in a temper
about? Most men would give half their life to get into
the States, if they could get there in this manner. Why,
it's the glorious ideal ! The free voice of the free people !
Occurs once in twenty years, perhaps ! You haven't achieved
it as yet ; but when you do, as you will, I shall congratulate
you as heartily as I did when you told me your uncle was
dead and you were going to marry Agatha. No offense to
the old gentleman."

Joost stood before his desk again, his back turned to his
brother-in-law. " You are right," he said in a quiet voice.
" Of course it takes one aback. And you think this foun-
dation is responsible for it ? "

" This, and all your other efforts. Here you have been
for the last ten years taking an interest in all the charities
of the province, scattering your money among the halt, the
lame and the blind, till you're on half the philanthropic
councils of the country, looking up public matters at the
same time, working for the new canal to Amsterdam and
the steam-tram up to Arnhem, here you are in one word,
the man to whom the province owes most, and you don't
expect to be popular. I tell you again you're the most
popular man we have."

" It may be true," said Joost. " I didn't notice it, be-
cause, you see, I knew my own class hated me, and one
comes in contact most with them, of course. It can't be
helped. I mean, I dare say it's all for the best. Are you
going? Well, good-night. We shall see you to-morrow.

Joost remained standing by his writing-table, looking
down at the general plan of his almshouses, which the archi-
t3ct had left for his inspection. Agatha bent over her work,


stealing glances every now and then at her husband's stal-
wart form, shaded against his lamp.

" If I thought it. was this," suddenly said Joost impetu-
ously, " I should tear the whole thing in pieces."

He was speaking to himself, not to her. Agatha knew,
by experience, that he did not wish to be disturbed.

He stood silent for some minutes longer. " I hate it ! "
he cried out suddenly. " I hate the whole wretched thing ! "
he turned round to his wife : " I tell you I hate it, Agatha ! "

She came to him and put one arm round his neck.
" Why do it, if you do not wish to, dearest ? " she said. *' I
never thought you really quite liked it, but you seemed to
think you did. Can it not be undone still, perhaps ? "

" Can it not be undone ? " repeated Joost passionately.

" No, no, I should not have said that. You will enjoy
the thought of it afterward, as long as you live. It is a
grand work, a splendid work ! They are right to admire
you for it ! And you will feel, when this first impression
passes off, what a good deed it is. It is all the nobler to
feel like this about the honor it must bring you. It is like
you, Joost, my own pure, noble Joost. I honor you for it,
and so does Kees ; I saw it in his eyes. But you will take
courage and see what a blessing it is to be a blessing to
others. You are a benefactor of the whole province, Joost.
I like to think it ! It is a benefaction."

" A benefaction ! " said Joost sullenly. '^ It is an expia-
tion ! "

" An expiation ! My dearest ! " she clung to him with
a frightened expression in her innocent blue eyes. " What
do you mean ? What makes you say that ? I never heard
you speak so before, Joost ! "

" Did you not ? " he answered, turning on her almost
fiercely. " Every man has sins and follies enough to expi-
ate, I suppose. Never mind, dearest. There goes the bell
for prayers ! Go, dearest. I will join you immediately."


He disengaged her arms gently from his neck, and
watched her as she unwillingly left the room. " Prayers ! "
he said to himself with a bitter laugh, as soon as he was
alone. He stood in front of a little leaflet calendar his wife
had embroidered for him last year. It hung by his writing-
table. His eyes were fixed upon the date.

" The 14th of December," he said. " It is destiny."



JoosT AvELiNGH had spoken truly when he said that
he was not much liked among the men of his own rank.
Since his uncle's sudden death had made him possessor of
one of the largest fortunes in the country, many things had
happened to influence his development ; still, his character
had remained on the whole, as characters are wont to do,
essentially the same. And Joost Avelingh's character was
not one of those which obtain favor in the circle in which
he found himself placed. It was not one either to attract
particular dislike. His was one of those natures people let
alone, because they have nothing in common with the crowd
for no worse reason, if that be not the worst and most
unpardonable of all. He was not by any means a genius,
claiming and obtaining adoration ; he was just an ordinary
mortal ; a trifle more reflective, and with a trifle more " See-
lenleben " as the Germans say, than the common-place people
around him. Clever enough to appreciate cleverness in oth-
ers ; in many ways a most unhappy fate.

It has already been said that he neither swore nor drank
nor gambled. It may be added that he led a strictly moral


life ; in short, he had no aristocratic tastes. Let it be stated
still further that he lived in the country, was a very rich
man, and yet cared neither for shooting nor horse-flesh, and
every one who knows anything about the matter will admit
that the catalogue of his deficiencies is complete. He had
a peculiar theory of his own that whosoever consciously oc-
casions unnecessary suffering to any living creature stands
lower in the rank of creation than any other brute beast
whatsoever, with the exception, perhaps, of that monster,
the cat ; and, concientiously sticking to this theory, he had
once asserted at the Club, to the general amusement, that
he had never despised any human being till he met with a
foreign nobleman who kept hunters and harriers. That
nobleman was at the time the Club's honored guest, and
there ensued a great shrugging of shoulders and tapping of
foreheads all round. Many of the young men present re-
gretted only too sincerely that fox-hunting was impossible
in Holland, and hare-hunting forbidden, and that even an
innocent little attempt to get up pigeon shooting had re-
cently been put down by public opinion. " They manage
these things better abroad," said Arthur van Asveld.

On the other hand Joost Avelingh, while he did not
sympathize with the tastes most generally cultivated, had
disagreeable little likings of his own which nobody appreci-
ated. The early habit of reading, contracted in the dull
days of his childhood, still held him in bondage, and that
among a society which never read anything at all but the
newspapers, the magazines, and the latest French novels.
Full of some interesting book he had lately come across, he
had once or twdce innocently told others about it. Fool
that he was, he had immediately contracted the fatal repu-
tation of " pedantry," a reputation which the utter fatuity
of months of ordinary conversation would not suffice to
efface. J' You are the clever man who reads Taine," old
Beau Liederlen had said to him once, some time after he


had last offended in this manner, " I will tell you what, sir :
" les origines de la France contemporaiiie^ ce sont les co-
cottesy Every one enjoyed that joke immensely ; it was the
best that had been heard in the Club for years. And Joost
went by the name of " le petit Taine " for some few months
accordingly ; nobody could exactly have told you why.

Joost, then, was neither liked nor exactly disliked by his
associates. They endured him ; he was " so peculiar, you
know." He could not be ignored ; he was too rich for that.
And perhaps a little envy crept in with regard to such a very
wealthy personage, for 12,000 a year is an enormous for-
tune in Holland, where many have enough and but few too
much. Then there was the unwilling tribute of respect
which ignorance always pays to knowledge, however loudly
it may affect contempt, and, as has been already said, in
Joost's circle the man who read other books than novels
and pamphlets on public affairs was at once written down as
" zeer knap." * It was no use talking to Avelingh ; " he had
such ideas, you know." Nobody else had ideas.

On the other hand Joost had been unconsciously build-
ing up for himself a great reputation among the lower
classes of his neighborhood. When the old Notary first
told him that by the terms of his uncle's will, " my nephew,
Joost Avelingh, the only near relation I have, and the child
of my dearly loved sister, Adelheid " was appointed sole
heir of every rood of ground and every brass half -penny the
old Baron possessed, the young man formed three rapid re-
solves in the twinkle of an eye : to stop studying medicine ;
to marry Agatha immediately ; to live on a fourth of his
income and do what good he could with the rest. His uncle
had not left a single legacy, but he had recommended his
servants to the heir's sense of justice. Joost could not en-
dure to keep about him the witnesses of his daily degrada-

* " Knap " is clever, with a dash of actual knowledge through it.


tion. He disbanded the whole staff, indoor and outdoor,
pensioning off, where he could, with what his uncle would
have called, not justice, but prodigality, and paying the
younger servants their full wages till new places were got
for them. All went, even the occasional helps, and the
man who milked the cows. The lease of the home-farm
was bought off at an exorbitant price and a new tenant
found. Perhaps the whole measure was not a wise one ;
Joost had reason to repent it afterward, with regard to one
man, at any rate. Despite its generosity, it caused a good
deal of ill-feeling at the time in the neighborhood, ill-feel-
ing as inexplicable as it was distressing to the new lord of
the Castle. However, he lived that down. Perhaps that
outburst of feeling kept him from a project of entirely re-
fitting and refurnishing the house. Such a plan had cer-
tainly flashed across his mind for a moment. Agatha, the
thrifty, common-sense Dutchwoman would not hear of it.
" Why do it ? " she asked. " Everything seems in very good
repair. There's only a looking-glass broken in the dining-
room, I saw." Yes, Joost knew there was a looking-glass
broken in the dining-room.

So he contented himself with fitting up a boudoir for
her, and a bedroom.

" The large South room," said Agatha.

" No, not that one, dearest ; my -uncle slept there."

" And what of that, Joost ? There's not a room in the
house which hasn't been slept in by half-a-dozen people,
dead and gone long ago."

Agatha was not sentimental. And Joost felt ashamed
to seem so. Sentiment is the one great disease which Dutch
society both fears and despises. In its less virulent form of
" feeling," the complaint is mostly successfully stamped out
in youth. Fortunately, cases are rare. The Dutch put up,
in obedience to the law of the land, placards with the name
of the infectious disease on the doors of all infected houses ;


society sticks its warning on the front of unsound hearts,
and the weakness dies off, or kills. And so no cases occur
after twenty-five. And that is a satisfactory conclusion.

The South bedroom it was. And Joost installed him-
self in his uncle's former sitting-room, in the same round
armchair at the same old desk.

" Why not," said Agatha.

He moved in one or two bookcases for his favorites, and
turned out the old man's pipes and hunting trophies. He
turned out also Rietstap's Noble Families of the Nether-
lands, but he retained the account books of the estate, and
conscientiously, painfully, laboriously, he set himself to
mastering the mysteries of the management of that large

And so nearly ten years had passed. " Slipping away,"
said Agatha. " Creeping," said Joost. And yet she, the
childless mistress of many servants, might have had time
enough upon her hands, while he could scarcely have
found a moment to call his own, had he so wished it. But
he did not wish it. He flung himself into a vortex of vari-
ous occupations, looking after his estate, not as well as his
uncle, certainly, but still quite well enough, considering how
irksome the duty was to him, and pushing with unexpected
energy every plan that was started for the welfare of the
community. " He is aiming at a political career," said the
men at the Club, over their whist. He came down there too,
of afternoons. In spite of all incompatibility, he, formerly
so reserved and gauche, now sought the society of other
men. Gauche he was still, but no longer reserved. " Ave-
lingh is getting a positive bore with his boisterousness,"
said Beau Liederlen marking honors. " He never used to
be witty, and I can't think what makes him fancy himself
so now. His jokes are very stupid, really ; and I wish to
goodness he would send his laugh to a tuner's. He might
have waited for his father-in-law's shoes, in any case ; one


buffoon in a Club is quite enough." He looked across to
where the subject of his remarks now sat silent ; alone and
haughty, with a dark cloud on his face and a great sadness
in his eyes. His lips were moving nervously ; they often
did, as if in prayer. " He is like a hyaena," said Liederlen,
scornfully, " always laughing one moment and preying the

Joost, certainly, was fully occupied, and the people were
beginning to acknowledge it. He found plenty of leisure
for reading, he said ; that meant that he read in the train, in
the carriage, while dressing. " No wonder he does not
sleep well at night," poor Agatha complained to her mother.
" His brain is overwrought."



" Is the Burgomaster up already ? " asked Joost.

It was a bright, bitterly cold winter's morning. The
many windows of the van Hessel's substantial, brown-brick
mansion were coated over with fairy traceries of frost-work,
the only beautiful thing, by-the-by, about the dull, com-
fortable house. There were frost and snow on the hard
ground and on the trees of the semi-circular carriage sweep.
There was snow on Joost's great boots as he stamped up and
down on the steps. There was snow, gray and clotted,
about the shafts of his sledge. But the glittering sun shone
down from the blue sky on the red plumes and gay trap-
pings, on the horse, tossing his bedizened head to the tinkle
of a dozen bells, and sending forth great shafts of breath
into the clear, cold air.


" Brisk weather, Mynheer," said the red-nosed servant
who opened the front door, after having fumbled over the
bolts and chain. He rubbed his purple fingers.

" Is the Burgomaster up, already ? " asked Joost stamp-
ing and puffing.

" I shall have to go and see," said Piet.

Joost waited in the Burgomaster's study. The stove,
newly-lighted, was roaring and fussing, without, however,
emitting any heat as yet. A portfolio, from the so-called
" Reading Society," lay on the table ; Joost opened it and
looked through the engravings of one or two Dutch and
French papers without seeing one of them. He shut the
portfolio again, and stared at the stove.

The Burgomaster entered, in a gray dressing-gown and
slippers, unshaven as yet, his eyes very sleepy, his hands
very cold. Mynheer van Hessel had not changed much
during the last ten years. He looked a little stouter, a little
balder, a little less red in the face ; that was all.

" My dear Joost ! " he said. " Oh, of course you are
most welcome. But if you had let me know in time of your
intentions, I should have .told them to keep up the fire all

" It is cold," said Joost apologetically.

" Cold ! " cried the Burgomaster ; " the wonder is to think
it can ever get warm again. The earth's crust must heat
faster than the physicists tell us it cools, I should say. One
degree in a million years, isn't it? or something of the kind!
Modest kind of person, the earth, eh ? Contented so long
as she can dip her crust in cold water. I must remember
that for this evening, capable of improvement perhaps.
And what brings you here?" The Burgomaster settled
himself in an armchair, drew his dressing-gown tightly
round him, and tucked up his feet against the stove.
"Agatha all right, I suppose?" he added, as an after-


" Oh yes," said Joost.

" Ever after that last affair, of course, one feels anxious,"
pursued Mynheer van Hessel. " Nothing of the kind in
sight at this moment ? "

" Oh no," said Joost.

*' So much the better."

" I'm so sorry to trouble you at so early an hour," con-
tinued the son-in-law. " But I was afraid that to-day espe-
cially it was my only chance of catching you, to come almost
before you were up. I was afraid the Governor would take
up all your time."

" Yes," interrupted the Burgomaster. " And as it is, I
haven't got much to spare. The Governor is to arrive at
eleven, and the inspection is to begin immediately. I shall
have to look over my address presently. ' Highly Honorable
Austerity ! ' Would you like to hear it, Joost ? You might
give me your opinion."

"No, no," said Joost, with that wretched straightfor-
wardness of his. " I shall hear it presently. We shall have
a cold time of it. Whatever makes him choose this season ?
I thought they always came in spring."

" This suited him better," said the Burgomaster, looking
away in sudden confusion. " And oh ah ahem, you re-
member what the poet says :

" ' By " antechambering " let the truth be told
The only thing I ever got was cold ! ' "

" I have come," said Joost impatiently, " about impor-
tant business. I sha'n't take up more of your time than I
can help ! "

" No, don't," said the Burgomaster. " That's right. Im-
portant business, really? The Charity-foundation, I sup-
pose. Kees told me last night he had found Timmers with
you. Don't you think you had better tell your man to walk


the mare up and down ? She will catch her death of cold
standing there."

" No," said Joost imperiously. " It is the Charity."

" Well ? "

" I am going to give it up."

" Give it up," cried the Burgomaster in dismay, his feet
falling from the stove. " Joost ! What do you mean ? "

" I have changed my mind. I won't give the money."

" Impossible. Really, Joost, you might have thought of
that sooner. I always said the sum was exaggerated, frantic,
as you will remember, a tenth would have suited your ob-
ject just as well. You will remember my telling you that I
considered it a positive spoliation of your future children,
and you may very well have children still, in spite of these
earlier mishaps. I told you all that, over and over again.
But the thing's done now. It's too late. No use crying
over spilt milk, though I don't wonder you're sorry you spilt
such pailfuls."

" Quite true," said Joost ; " but I have changed my mind,
and I withdraw my offer."

" You can't do it, Joost. You would make an unutter-
able fool of yourself forever. Good Heavens, how the
whole world would despise you ! The very thought makes
me slmdder. Better to let the money go noiv than to
keep it at such a price."

" The money ! " cried Joost vehemently. " You can keep
the money, if you like. But I am going to withdraw my
proposal to use it in charity. I wrote out my letter this
morning. Here it is ! " He drew out an envelope and
threw it on the table.

Online LibraryMaarten MaartensJoost Avelingh: a Dutch story → online text (page 8 of 24)