Maarten Maartens.

My poor relations : stories of Dutch peasant life online

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A Story of the Pure in Heart.


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Publithed March, 1905


Jan Hunkum's Money
The Fair-Lovbr
The Mother
The Summer Christmas
The Notary's Love Story
The Banquet
" Silly " . .
The Minister's Dog .
Tom Potter's Pilgrimage
' The Trick " .
Why He Loved Her
In Extremis . *
A Bit of To -Day




Jan Hunkum's Money

THE whole hamlet effervesced with delicious per-
turbation. Every one was telling every one else
that Jan Hunkum lay murdered in his bed.

The Hemel is one of the dirtiest spots in a country
where no spot is very dirty. The appearance of the
place is against it : some few dozen disorderly hovels lie
pitched across a field, their builders having allowed
them to fall as they chose. Some, abusing this permis-
sion, lurch heavily, looking as if, like many of the
people inside them, they had frequently taken a drop
too much. Others bend backwards, propped up with
the pride that cometh before a fall, and the general
crookedness, and the old age that accentuates it, give
the tumble-down dwellings a disreputable leer such as
many of the indwellers have developed for themselves.
Our conceptions of heaven — wLich is " De Hemel " —
must inevitably remain inadequate at the best : perhaps
the angels up yonder, in clouland, cannot properly
distinguish the gulf which, in our ap^.reciation, sinks a
pool of poverty and wickedness like this httle Dutch
hamlet beneath a favoured nook of our deteriorated
Paradise such as, say, Monte Carlo. Still, the name is
undoubtedly euphemistic : and yet, again, how easily



the place might have been, or grown, worse ! True, its
houses, and heads, are untidily thatched : the nakedness
of the land is as patent as that of many a yokel pretending
to till it : never has anything connected with the village
been properly drained or trained : never has anything
been quite sufficiently scrubbed, excepting the newest
born baby — yet, as a rule, the community washes itself
grey, and in all its rag-and-bone debasement it tries to
draw the hne at vermin. Dutch squalor does.

In Jan Hunkum's day the old man's cottage was the
only hale and hearty building of the lot. Forty years of
his stupid hfe Jan Hunkum spent in it — more than half
the whole — and during that long period of possession,
for he owned it, he had it once repainted and twice
repaired. Therefore it stood, distinctly noticeable,
amongst the straggUng paths and rough potato-plots,
with a yellow zone of weeded gravel round it, a sort of
self-important centre towards which its ramshackle sur-
rounders seemed to have been huddling before they came
to pieces on the moor.

Across the open space in front of this central cottage
a rabble of excited men, women, and children now
swarmed, eagerly expectant of horrors to come. It was
early morning, misty and chilly, a raw November day-
break. The damp little dwelUng stared back at the
whispering groups, its two windows tightly shuttered,
the door in the middle ostentatiously opaque.

Somebody — no one knew who — running past some-
body else, had cried out that Jan Hunkum lay murdered.
Somebody — opinion here varied — had raced off to
Horstwyk, the village, for its single policeman. Sud-
denly every one was full of the news. No two stoiies
coincided as to persons or particulars. Nobody really



knew anything. That, too, was dehghtful. For neces-
sity became the swift mother of invention.

But all were fully agreed that it served Jan Hunkum
right. Not because he was a bad man — few of them
cared to discriminate badness — but because he was rich
and a miser, and they, the whole tribe of them, were his
putative heirs. 'Tis ill waiting for the death of a cousin
close on eighty, when that cousin daily duns you for
exorbitant rent.

Jan Hunkum had long been known as the oldest
inhabitant. There might easily have been many far
older — for the human plant, as all men can see, excepting
sanitarians and scientists, grows toughest on a dunghill
— but the population tired of its grandparents as soon
as the old people got " it " on the chest, and would
bundle them off to the Horstwyk poorhouse with a
shamelessness which disgusted the very beggars of the
more respectable place. In defence of the Hemelers it
must be stated that admission into the poorhouse was
considered a safeguard against death, on the principle
that it takes two killings to kill a pauper, just as a charity
child is known to have nine lives. " And what's more,"
said Joop Sloop, the Hemelers' self-appointed wiseacre,
" there never yet was anybody born so fond of his
relatives, that he could 'a stood them coughing all night
unless he'd had a cough of his own ! " After seventy all
died of " it " on the chest. Nobody had ever been mur-
dered. That was distinctly original.

It was just like Jan Hunkum, who had always been
unique. Who but he had ever kept money in his purse
or kept a purse to keep the money in ? Jan Hunkum
had strong boxes, iron safes, coffers full of gold. Nobody
had ever beheld them : everybody knew they were there.



Nobody minded their existence — have there not always
been rich folk and poor folk ? — but everybody abused
him for the cruel old miser he certainly was, these
improvident rapscallions all around him being far too
necessitous to understand the madness of money

And yet he was one of themselves, cousin, variously
removed, to the whole lazy crew of them. Herein also
his case was peculiar. For while many of them were
affiliated, and many at feud, he was everybody's relation
and detested by all.

A voice rose above the loud murmurs by the cottage.
" I won't go for to say it serves him right ! " said the
voice. " Seeing as 'tis Goramighty gives us all our dues.
But I will say as 'twas bound to happen. Lor, it'll
happen again ! "

This statement was received in silence.

" With an old man living by himself," continued the
voice, " in a house that's packed with gold from floor to
ceihng ! "

Though all recognized this well-known fact, yet a
thrill ran through the assembly to see it thus nakedly

" And tramps going by all day," said another voice.
This suggestion received general approval. Everybody
eagerly said — " Tramps."

" Is the gold there ? " queried a small boy with a
wizened face. He pointed to the cottage.

A murmur arose like the swift soughing of the wind.
Momentous question ! Was the gold still there ? Each
hungry creature gazed into his neighbour's apprehensive
eyes. Supposing that, in the very moment of righteous
acquisition, the trecisure of the Hemel had melted away



from the extended claw ! A groan broke loose : then,
of a sudden, all were talking together, out loud.

They must get into the silent house to make sure !
They could go round by the back — no, that would be
impossible ! — they must all break open the door.
Somebody — no, all together — by the httle scullery win-
dow ! — why together ? — for a moment, in the fierce flare
of universally disclaimed distrust, there arose a menace
of battle — all together, mind ! Share and share ahke —
who says the poUce must enter first ? Oh, only that
fool, Jaap Avis !

" 'Tis the law," said Jaap Avis quietly, audible amid
the noise.

" The law ? And a man's relations ? Shall a dead
corpse he weltering in gore and its own relations not try
to restore it ? "

A woman's screech had soared above the Babel with
" own relations ! " Immediately there followed a lull.
A gaunt creature with violent eyes had pushed herself
to the front. " Yes, own relations," she repeated
fiercely. " 'Tis a dead man's nearest relations must look
after things. That's the law ! And I'm sure, if my
Uncle Hunkum "

Fierce as she was, she shrank back before their out-
burst of abuse. " Uncle, indeed ! Her uncle ! The
impudence ! Her daughter's uncle, perhaps ? Ha !
Ha ! He was every one's uncle and nobody's uncle !
They were all his equal relations, his cousins, his heirs ! "

" No ! " cried Joop Sloop, the publican and barber.
There was conscious authority in his accents. " Shares'll
depend on degrees of relationship. Of cousinship," he
added, with a scornful glance at the silently defiant
" niece."



For a moment again they stood hushed, all grown
suddenly genealogical. And amidst the knitted brows
and dumbly computing lips a meek little voice piped

" But supposing he's left a Scripture, Joop ? "

" A testament, you mean, Jaap Avis. How ignorant
you people are ! He hasn't left, as I happen to be aware,
any sort of last will or testament."

" How aware ? " cried a dozen voices. " What's a
last will or testament, Joop ? "

The barber rubbed his unshaven cheek.

" Never you mind how I know what I know," he said.

" I don't care," persisted Jaap Avis, the shoemaker,
sullenly. " When a man makes a writing at a notary's,
his relatives don't get a cent. I know they don't. For
why ? I had a plaguy sister did it."

They all jeered at this boast. " A sister as was a lady,
I suppose ? " said one.

" No a lady's maid," retorted the little man, too weak
to swear at any but the absent or the dead. He turned
on his heel.

" And what's more," continued Joop Sloop, with
unction, " I advise you all to wait very patiently till
Government pays each man his share. Government's
never in a hurry. 'Cause why ? 'Cause Government
never dies. And now go home, you people, and don't
anybody talk of breaking in doors."

" But the money ! " clamoured half a dozen voices.
" The money ! Is it there ? Is it gone ? "

" He's there, at any rate," said a young girl, who, till
then, had stood silent beside the " niece." All stared at
her. A new idea again.

" Hes there," the girl repeated hurriedly. " One'd



think his ghost was peering at us through that hole in the
left-hand shutter. I've seen his eye a-twinkling there
a hundred times when I came to bring the bread. That's
his bedroom."

A couple of women shrieked. The girl stepped for-
ward to the barred and watchful house. " La, I saw
something shine ! " she cried, and leaped away.

But, if this was a ruse to protect the cottage, it failed.
Protestant Dutchmen are the least superstitious of
mankind. With a general outcry, " The thief ! The
thief ! " the whole band, intent upon saving " their "
property, rushed madly at the door.

Before any one could reach it, they saw it fall open.
The murdered man stood on the threshold. Screaming
now, in good earnest, the whole dingy flight fluttered

He was wrapped in a faded dressing-gown. His livid
face, with the bushy eyebrows and immense protruding
underlip, was swathed in linen bandages. There were
horrid stains upon the bandages. His wicked eyes shot

" Ha ! Ha ! Ha ! " he said : there was no laugh in the
sound. " Ha ! Ha ! Ha ! Ha ! Ha ! Ha ! " For a
moment he seemed incapable of any other utterance.
" My poor relations ! " he said at length. " My poor, poor
— relations ! Are you all there, my relations ? Has
nobody forgotten to come ? "

They stood in a furious half-circle. But nobody
minded his sarcasm, except the girl, who shrank behind
her mother.

" Walk in, ladies and gentlemen," continued Jan,
standing aside with a swift profusion of bows. The ends
of linen on his bald head went bobbing to and fro.



" Walk in, pray, and inspect the property ! A very
desirable property ! " Then, as nobody moved, he
burst out —

" Come here — do you mind me ? — you white-Uvered
cowards ! What are you afraid of, you skulking thieves ?
Is it a dead man you fear, you robbers ? Afraid he's not
dead enough — ha ! " And now he really laughed — a
discordant twang. " Come in and see what there's left
of Jan Hunkum's money ! Each of you may keep what
he finds and be welcome to waste it ! — ha ! " By sheer
force of passion he dragged them towards him : slowly
the whole troop crept forward into the narrow passage
and, pushed from behind, all over the two little

The cottage presented a scene of the wildest disorder.
Everything bore evidence, in the bedroom, of a struggle,
in the parlour, of a search. The scant furniture had been
upset and flung asunder and scattered across the floor.
Nothing seemed seriously damaged or broken, but the
cupboard doors swung everywhere unlocked, the drawers,
with their meagre contents, lay yawning right and left.
The clumsy visitors hung open-mouthed. Not one of
them had ever been, as yet, inside Jan Hunkum's
jealously bolted door.

" Now search while you can ! " cried the miser,
rubbing his discoloured hands. " If there's a penny left,
find it, keep it, and spend it ! But only for money,
mind ! Is there any money left, you murderers ?
Which of you has got it, you cut-throats ? Or have
you already divided it between you — share and share
ahke ! — and nobody blabs ? "

The gaunt woman turned indignantly. " Now the
Lord Almighty is witness, Jan Hunkum," she said, " that



none of us has ever seen a penny of yours. / haven't.
And well I might."

" Is that you ? " replied the old man coolly. " Trust
you to talk loudest, Mary Brock. And why, pray, should
/ pay, more than others, for Mary's daily gin ? "

" 'Cause she's your niece, don't you know — cousin ! "
broke in a lean woman with a hump.

" My niece ? That's a lie, and she knows it. Her
grandfather was brother to my mother. Oh, I know
about your precious relationships — none better — as
some day you'll all find out ! "

At this moment Jaap Avis, whose mild eyes had been
ceaselessly travelling round the apartment, darted for-
ward and picked something up. " One florin for me,"
he said gently. " You said we might keep all we found."

" What ! " shrieked the old man. " Have they left

me a florin ? G , let me look at it, Jaap Avis ! A

florin ! A whole silver florin ! Well, an honest man's
word is as good as an oath, they say " — his voice died to
a moan — " you must keep it." He sank into an old
wicker armchair and covered his face with his hands.

The search now began in earnest ; the whole rabble
turned and twisted in the narrow space, bumping one
against the other as they painfully bent, while the
children gleefully scrambled in and out, or rubbed their
grumbling elders' unaccustomed backs. The owner of
the cottage had adjusted his bandage and sat watching,
with folded arms, no expression on his wicked old face.

" That's right ! " he said. " Mind you look every-
where ! Think of Jaap Avis' florin ! Only yesterday,
as all of you know, my house was heaped full of gold
and silver. And now there's nothing left but one beg-
garly florin, and Jaap Avis has gotten that. Oh Law ! "



He began to moan and beat his breast. " Jaap Avis ! "
he cried with sudden fury, " Jaap Avis has gotten
that ! "

Evidently, no such luck was in store for the others.
One by one, the searchers slackened ; the children had
long ago desisted : suddenly all stopped, dead beat.
The oldest and weariest, hngering last, sank in a heap on
the floor. None of the Hemelers was accustomed to
labour in any form.

" Not a penny left," said the old man slowly, and
stared at the knocked-up do-nothings in front of him.
" Robbed of everything in a single night. Are you sure
that you've looked everywhere ? Jaap Avis found a
florin. My last florin. Look again. Look everywhere.
Look again."

Some of them turned despairing eyes to various cor-
ners, but the heart had gone out of the Hemelers. Jan
Hunkum's glance fell upon the girl, as she lolled, indif-
ferent, against the outer door. " Go home, Liza Brock,"
he said almost gently for him. And she obeyed him,
slinking away.

" And now, hear me, you all ! " he began. " You see
that I've been robbed of every penny. Go and find the
man that did it : go and bring my money back. It's in
a brown leather chest — no very big chest — a brown
leather chest with bright brass fittings. All my money's
in that chest. The man that brings my money back —
hearken to me : I swear it by the Heaven that made us
— made me, at any rate, you brutes — the man that brings
me my money back shall have every penny of it, legally,
lawfully, by will and testament, if ever I come to die.
But first he must kill the man that took it. And hearken
again, you brutes" — he spoke very carefully, without



any excuse for the violence of his language — " you've
seen the whole place now, as you've thirsted to do for
years and years — oh, I know you ! — you've seen the
coffers and cupboards, and the diamonds all piled to the
ceiling " — he cast a swift leer round the bare but clean
little bedroom — " and now if one of you ever darkens
my threshold again on any pretence — mind you, on any
pretence — I swear it : he shall never — no, not if he did
it to save my life — he shall never inherit a penny of
mine. I shall write that down in a will to-night, lest
I die ere I've done it. Get out ! " He pointed to the
door and continued silently pointing till the last ragged
figure had slouched away into the bluish autumn mist.

Then he slowly raised himself and began to unwind
the blood-stained bandages. His bald head with its
fluffy fringe, his skinny neck and sharp cheek-bones and
chin, the whole cunning, covetous countenance gradually
stood out clear against the whitewashed wall. He drew
forward to the little tenpenny shaving-glass that hung
in the window. There was no sign of a wound anywhere.
He chuckled softly. " I should like to hear Jaap Avis,"
he muttered aloud, " when he finds that his florin's a
bad one. I've had it about me more than twenty years :
never did I think to get so advantageously rid of it.
The more fool I to take counterfeit coin ! "


That evening the customary Saturday conversazione
at Joop Sloop's was quite unprecedentedly animated.
Clouds of surmise and suggestion ascended over the pipes
and " Hollands." There was much discussion, but little

2 17


Immemorial tradition decrees that the least indolent
of the Hemelers shall shave all the others on Saturday
nights at a farthing per chin. Also that he shall be
permitted to eke out his Uttle profits by keeping them
waiting as long as he likes (they're not in a hurry) whilst
purveying, for their delectation, the smallest of gossip
and the filthiest of unlicensed spirits. Joop Sloop had
now been a barber for a quarter of a century, by right of
his possessing the biggest front room. Also he possessed
a strapping red and black daughter, Juha, who could
take the gin-money, and a coarse jest, with a laugh, and
could parry the jest. He was absent to-night. Mean-
while Juha was doing the honours.

" Well ? " said Jaap Avis with measured exultation.
" Now whom do you believe, pray, neighbours, Joop
Sloop or me ? Can a man leave his money where he likes
or can't he ? " Jaap Avis felt that sometimes 'tis
pleasanter to be proved mistaken, "Jan Hunkum
makes his testament and none of us gets our own.
Now that he's lost his money, the old rogue gives it

" You needn't complain, Jaap Avis," replied one of
the men with a grunt. " You've got your florin, you
have. None of us can say as much." The others looked
stolid approval : very rarely does the real peasant com-
mit himself to the proverbial " nod " of assent.

Jaap Avis smiled. " Yes, I've got my florin," he
said. But then his complacent cheeks sank in. " And
what's a beggarly florin ? " he said.

" 'Tis twenty stivers, a hundred cents. Two whole
years' shaving," came the quick reply. " 'Tis a bird in
the hand, and is a bit of good luck, 'tis a — shame !
You'll have to stand treat, Jaap Avis."



The speaker, a blustering bully, struck the table with
his fist.

" All right : hold your row," muttered the shoemaker
fretfully. " Julia, get Fistycuffs a pennyworth o' gin ! "
The girl stretched across her brown arm for the bottle,
throwing little Jaap Avis, as she did so, a look of uncon-
scious contempt. " And fill it up full ! " grinned the
giant. " Don't try to bully me," retorted Julia, de-
liberately spilling a great splash from the glass.

At this juncture her father entered. In th3 sudden
silence every face said — " Well ? " All being anxious
to put the same question, nobody spoke. Solemnly the
slow barber seated himself.

" A — a — ah," he said. Then he wiped his forehead
with a red pocket-handkerchief. " Mum's the word," he

" Did anybody ask ye anything ? " questioned the
bully. Joop Sloop stared straight in front of him.
" The testamfent," he continued softly, " is sealed.
Mum's the word."

Somebody more nervous than the rest spat on the floor.

" And the fate of the Hemel," whispered Joop Sloop,
" is sealed too."

A flash of covetousness died away across twenty
cautiously closing eyes. The barber leant back in his
chair, secure of his effect. " But hush ! " he said, and
put one finger to his lips. " So much I owe to Cousin
Jan ! "

The bully stumbled to his feet and came heavily for-
ward. " You'll finish now that you've begun, Joop
Sloop ! " he cried, " or I'll mash your potato nose into a
pancake, Joop Sloop ! " He thrust up a great dumpy
fist : the girl struck it down. " Two goes of gin," she



said deliberately, " to whoever turns the drunken rascal
out ! "

" I'll turn myself out, if you'll gi' me the drink,"
replied the fellow coolly. " Boys, you all heard her !
She owes me twopennyworth of the best Schiedam ! "
He grinned. " Best or worst, 'tis all equally bad," he
said — " Pah ! " This termination seemed to exasperate
Juha. She ran round the counter. " Pack o' cowards ! "
she screamed. " Smoke your pipes and see me Uck the
biggest coward amongst ye ! " A lubberly, yellow-
haired young fellow, who had been dozing on a settle,
sprang up as she passed him, and, pushing her down on
it with one hand, caught the bully with the other by
the scruff of the neck. " Out you go ! " he said
quietly. They could all hear Fistycuffs swearing,
as he picked himself up on the outer side of the bolted

Then Julia, crossing the room in silence, reached down
from the mantelshelf a brilliantly painted tumbler,
" Love's Gift " in a wreath of forget-me-nots and roses,
an heirloom, dusty with half -forgotten honour and long-
buried affection. The others looked on.

Careless of their conclusions, she almost filled the
undusted goblet. " Strong drinks to the strong ! " she

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