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profoundness of his judgment, and the dauntless integrity of his
character.

While lamenting that so many of the arrangements of this
great man were subsequently and remorselessly overthrov/n,
their success for a period of five years was of considerable value,
in showing how social disorders consequent on a long period of
misrule may be safely and satisfactorily remedied. His uncom-
promising abolition of slavery in Java alone was an act of signal
triumph, suggestive of what might elsewhere be effected, if
undertaken with a i^ight good will and in a right way. Unlike
men pledged by their prophetic fears and declamations to prove
that emancipation Avould be a forerunner of universal ruin. Sir
Stamford Raffles approached the subject with an all-abounding-
fsiith. in the ])o^y er ot justice, kindness, oxidi conciliation ; and the
result — joy, peace, industry, in place of misery, discontent, and
idleness — evinced the truthfulness of his calculations. With the
like soundness of conception did he sweep away the barren
monopolies of centuries, liberate commerce, and establish, by in-
disputable evidence, that freedom of trade is not only the most
just and rational, but that it is also the most expedient for ail
parties — blessing- not less the receivers than the givers. Whether,
therefore, as the governor of a colony, a law-giver, a financier,
and a man of taste and science. Sir Stamford Raffles may be said
to have been rarely surpassed, and as rarely equalled. How in-
comparably more glorious his achievements than those which the
proudest warrior can boast — how much more worthy will his^
name be held in remembrance than that of the desti'oyer oi
nations, surrounded by all the honours w^hich kings and courts
can bestow !

32




THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

A FLEMISH STORY.

EXTENDED FROM THE FREXCU OF BERTHOUD.



I.



THE FLOUR OIILL.




T a short distance from Levden, on the banks of the
Rhine, between the towns of Leyendorp and Koukerk,
there was, in 1616, a hamlet composed of eig'ht or ten
houses. Among' them was one of a hig'her class than
others : four stone steps conducted to a door which was
almost always open, on which were eng-raved rude sculp-
tures. Small windows were placed at each side of the
b door: the first storey, a rare luxury on the banks of the
Rhine, extended out for two or three feet above the door-sill,
so that it offered to the visitor a shelter from the rain or heat.
Above was inscribed, among- the Gothic ornaments, these words
— " Jacques Gerretz, Flour Merchant."

In the outer chamber of the house, seated before a counter of
white wood, which was covered with scales and weig-hts, mig-ht
be seen a woman of about thirty-five years of ag-e. When young",
her features mig-ht not have been devoid of grace, but they now
bore the withering- traces of fatigue, sickness, and grief. Dark
cii'cles were marked on her faded cheeks ; her eyes sparkled with
a strange light ; her shoulders were bent and cramped over her
chest ; a dry painful cough shook her at frequent intervals. In
No. 54. * 1



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

spite of her state of suffering", she neglected not the cares of her
business. She weighed and measured justly the flour which
persons bought from her, and had a pleasant word and smile
ready for each customer. Nevertheless, when the shop was
empty, this feverish activity was succeeded by profound exhaus-
tion. Madame Gerretz sank on her seat, her hands lay list-
lessly in her lap, and she remained pensive and immoveable
until a new customer appeared.

Evening arrived, and the customers all departed. Darkness
and solitude increased the melancholy of the poor woman, and
her thoughts took a direction so sad, that two large tears stole
down her cheeks. She was conscious of her approaching death ;
and death is a mournful idea for the mother of four children.
She arose quickly and fearfully, breathing as if for life ; but the
damp night air penetrating her lungs, produced a convulsive
cough, which dyed her lips with blood. At this fatal sign she
raised her eyes towards heaven. *

" My children ; my poor children ! " she murmured.

At this moment the sound of childish voices was heard. Im-
mediately Madame Gerretz dried her lips, adjusted her hair,
and passed her hands over her forehead, as if to efface the
wrinkles which despair and sorrow had imprinted there.

" Good evening-, dears," said she to a little boy and two little
girls, brought from school by their elder sister ; '' good evening :
have you all been good children?"

" Yes, yes," answered the youngest, a chubby little black-eyed
girl, who received from her mother in exchange for this assur-
ance a kiss on her rosy cheeks.

" That was well, my Therese ; very well indeed. And thou,
Fran9oise ? "

The little creature stood silent, her eyes half bent to the ground,
her lips partly opened with a discreet smile, and one of her hands
concealed under her apron.

" Thou answerest not, Frangoise ; hast thou done wrong, my
child?"

Suddenly and triumphantly Fran^oise took something from
under her apron and exhibited a splendid prize.

" Look, mother ; see what the master has given me as a re-
ward, and because "

Her mother gave her no time to finish, but overwhelmed her
with kisses.

"And Paul?" asked the mother after this effusion of joy,
while Fran^oise coquettishly adjusted her dress and collar, which
were a little crumpled by her mother's close embrace ; " and
Paul — will he not give me a similar pleasure ? "

The little boy turned aside with a sad and discontented air.
" Do not be angry, mother," said the eldest sister, " for Paul is
very sorry, and will be wiser in future."

" What has he done to-day, Louise ? ''



THE SISTER OP REMBRAK-DT.

Louise hesitated to reply.

" I have said that I will not learn Latin/' cried the boy im-
petuously ; " it wearies me, and I cannot understand it. 1 had
rather sell flour like you, mother, than continue this wearisome
learning". I was whipped yesterday, again to-day, and shall be
again to-morrow," added he resolutely, crossing- his arms, and
standing firmly in front of his mother ; " for I will learn Latin
no longer."

" You will then make me die of grief, Paul. You see not how
ill I am, and how you increase my sufferings."

The child threw himself on his mother's bosom, and wept
abundantly. " Forgive me, mother ; but you see I cannot learn
Latin. When I look at the book, I think of other things in spite
of all my efforts ; and when my turn comes to be qiTestioned by
the master, I know not how to answer. Mother, if you wish to
be satisfied with your little Paul, let him enter the studio of
Jacques Van Zwanenburg, and you will see how good I will be.
I will become a painter like him ; I will sell my pictures well,
and with this money I will buy you pretty dresses, mother, and
Louise, and Therese, and Fran^oise also ; and you will soon love,
me as well as you love my sisters."

" If I were sole mistress, Paul, I might do as you wish ; but
your father desires you to learn Latin. However, we will not
talk of this to-day. Come, my children, that I may put you to
bed."

So saying, she tried to rise ; but her strength failed, and she
was nigh falling. The little ones ran to her assistance. Louise,
her eyes filled with tears, came close to her mother, and asked
her timidly, " Mother, I think that I can undress my little
brothers and sisters myself."

A flush of delight passed over the countenance of Madame
Gerretz. " Try, my child," said she ; and Louise set about the
work as if she had been accustomed to it all her life. After
having undressed her two little sisters, washed their rosy faces
with Iresh water, and combed their hair, she took them by the
hand to receive their mother's kiss. Paul undressed himself
without help, and proud he was of it too. Madame Gerretz,
after kissing them all, gave them to Louise, who put them in
bed, and returned of her own accord to place the supper ready.

Madame Gerretz thanked Heaven in the depth of her soul, and
regretted life with less bitterness, for now her children would not
be motherless : fihal devotion had changed the girl of fifteen into
a woman.

Louise fulfilled all these domestic duties so noiselessly and care-
fully, that her mother was not roused from the light slumber into
which she had fallen, until the arrival of a man of about forty-
five years of age. As soon as she heard him, the almost joyous
activity of Louise ceased. The invalid started from her doze.

"Good evening, wife ; howis't?" and without waiting for a

3



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

reply, lie continued — " how hot it is to-day ! But that does not
prevent hunger. Is supper ready, wife ? "

Louise stood mute, listening- to these words in deep sadness.
Madame Gerretz folded her hands on her lap, as if arming- her-
self with resignation.

" If supper is not ready, make haste ahout it," said the man,
pacing- heavily up the room, not heeding- that the creaking of his
iron-nailed shoes affected painfully the aching head of his sick
wife. Supper was served ; he ate long and greedily, only stop-
ping to fill and empty a large antique glass, into which he poured
the contents of an immense jug of strong beer. When he had
finished, Madame Gerretz signed Louise to depart. The young
g-irl obej^ed.

" Jacques," said she with a strong effort, but with a tone of
resolution, "Jacques, this is the place and the time for an ex-
planation of which the child should not be a witness. The hour
is not far distant when your family will have none but you to
guide and instruct them. Look at me, Jacques ; look at her
who married you sixteen years since for love, when you were
but a poor J'oung- man at the mill. Look at her who for sixteen
years has suffered all sorts of grief for your sake, and from j'ou.
Look at her, Jacques ; do you not see that she is dying?"

Jacques turned away his head, and took softly the hand of the
sick woman.

" I am about to die, Jacques, and what will become of the little
fortune I brought you in marriag'e, and which I have increased
by my care ? You have lost the habit of labour, Jacques : it is
impossible for you to resume it. Active diligence has enriched
us, though slowly ; the want of it will quickly ruin us."

Jacques sighed deeply, but more with impatience than regret.

" It is vain to promise me to reform your manner of life,
Jacques ; you cannot do it, or will not ; and how can you dissi-
pate your children's fortune, and appear before God at the judg-
ment-day with such a crime on your head ? Our mill and flour
must be sold, and the money placed safely and advantageously.
The godfather of Louise is a sensible man, whose counsels will
assist you in this matter. As to Paul, the idea of making him a
lawyer must be given up. He has taste for drawing, and I have
lieard that an artist's profession is lucrative and honourable.
You wished your son to follow the law, that one of the family
might have a profession instead of a trade ; well, instead of a
lawyer, let him be a j)ainter, and your fatherly pride will lose no-
thing. Do not thwart Paul's inclination ; I know him well ; to
embitter him is to lose him. Will you promise me this ? Let
me bear this consolation to the tomb with me. Say the word,
and my last accents will pardon and bless you." She extended
her hand to her husband — he had sunk into sleep !

" Oh God of mercy ! " cried she, raising her eyes to heaven^
*' Thou triest me sore : but thv will be done."
4



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

Meanwhile, Louise hovered round her mother's chamber..
Inquiet as to the result,^ she "waited for the end of the conver-
sation in a kind of terror. Too far off to hear what her mother
was saying", and not choosing- to approach contrary to her will,
she listened with a beating- heart to the slow and trembling tones,
interrupted at times by a hoarse coug'h. All at once the voice
ceased ; there was one groan, and nothing more ! Louise hesi-
tated : she came to the door to knock, but dared not ; withheld
at once by her mother's prohibition and the fear of her father,
who was always rude and unkind towards her. After some
minutes, which seemed ages, she approached ag-ain, thinking* she
heard voices. But no ; it was only the wind in the chimney.
Then she was afraid. Her cheeks turned pale ; her knees tottered ;
she leant against the wall. This first terror overcome, Louise,
unable to remain longer in doubt, knocked softly at the door.
There was no answer. Twice, thrice she knocked ; still no an-
swer. Then her terror was overwhelming. " Mother, mother ! "
No sound. " Father, father ! " She rushed into the apartment :
her father slept ; her mother — yes, she was sleeping also — a quiet
immoveable repose. She seemed to stir ; but no — it was the
firelight gleaming on her face. Louise took her hand ; it was
quite cold. Her eyes and mouth were open. She was relieved
from all her sorrows.

" Father, father, help ! — look at my mother ! "

He started up. " Call for assistance, Louise. She is dead !
"Wretch that I am ! what have I done ? And to be sleeping too ! "

Louise raised her mother's head, looked at her stony eyes, and
remained there alone until the physician came. As soon as he
saw Madame Gerretz — " My child," said he, " your place is not
hei*e ; your presence will hinder me in my cares for your
mother."

Louise departed slowly and sorrowfully. The physician, an
old friend of the family, covered the face of Madame Gerretz,
knelt down, and recited a prayer on behalf of the afflicted
family.

n.

THE ORPHANS.

Next morning an old woman of the neighbourhood, who had
kept watch with the bereaved family in the chamber of death,
arose from the large arm-chair where she had been sleeping, and
went to open the window-curtains. The room was tilled with day-
light, and the red glare of the lamp grew pale and faded awaj^.
At this sight the sobs and passionate tears, which weariness had
lulled for a time, again burst forth. The old neighbour herself,
whose heart had grown hard with age and misery, felt vaguely
softened by the mournful spectacle which surrounded her.



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

Here was tlie corpse of tlie departed, extended on a couch, and
covered with drapery, which just indicated the form beneath.
There M. Gerretz, his eyes swollen with weeping, leant on a
table, seeking- to stifle his remorse and grief with incessant drink-
ing. Farther off were three Httle children weeping together.
Eeside them sat a young girl, pale, and bowed down with sorrow,
who told them not to Aveep, yet wept herself.

Another person entered the room. It was the woman to en-
shroud the dead.

The four children threw themselves on the body of their
mother.

" Mother ! mother ! " they cried, " we will not let thee go ; we
will die with thee! Mother, listen to us — look at thy little
children ! "

" And I," said M. Gerretz to himself — " I, who caused her
grief even yesterday — who even yesterday heard her gentle re-
proaches — they will pursue me, and render my whole life un-
happy; and justly so."

" Mother ! mother ! do not abandon us ! " cried the little ones
anew with one voice.

Louise, who found strength in the necessity for consoling the
rest, wished to take them awaj^.

" No, no, sister ; leave us ! — we will not quit mamma ! Leav6 us
here ! " And the poor orphans stamped with their feet, and
sobbed bitterly.

" Who will be our mother now ? " asked the little Fran^oise.

At this question Louise arose, and said with deep and solemn
earnestness, " / will ! "

There was something in her manner which struck the chil-
dren with wonder. Their tears ceased immediately''. It seemed
as if an angel stood beside Louise, and said, "Behold your
mother ! "

" Do you not wish me to be your mother?" she repeated.

The little ones ran into her embrace. She folded her arms
round them, and all wept together.

When they were a little calmer, Paul took his sister's hand,
and kissed it with respect. " Little mother," said he, " tell me
what thou wishest, and I will always obey thee."

" And so will we too," cried Fran§oise and Therese, attracted
by the example of their brother.

Louise thanked them all with a look full of gentle sweetness ;
then, as she looked at them, she fell by degrees into a deep and
mournful reverie. All at once she rose up, advanced towards the
remains of her mother, and kneeling beside the bed, pronounced
a short and fervent prayer, and bent over the beloved face, gazing
on it for the last time. Then she drew the curtains, took her
little sisters by the hand, signed to Paul to follow her, and said
to the attendant in a firm tone, and without tears, " Now, fulfil
your duty."

6



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

For the whole day this firmness never left her, and yet it was
severely tried. She had first to remove her father, who was
plung-ed in a state of deplorable intoxication. She did it with so
much address and care, that no one perceived his condition, and
M. Gerretz thus escaped the ignominy he deserved.

" Thank God ! " she muttered in a low voice, when she had
locked her father's door and taken the key — " thank God 1 no
one will know of this."

She descended to the house, repressed all the little disorders
which had already arisen there, and gave her instructions to the
servants with gentle dignity, which commanded instant obe-
dience. Then collecting the scattered keys, she fastened them
to her giixile, and gave out the necessary provisions for the
funeral feast, at which, according to- the usage of the country,
relatives from a distance were expected to assist in the ceremony.
She listened to the answers of aU, adopted useful hints, showed
the uselessness of exaggerated demands, and arranged everything
in the house for the reception and comfort of the expected guests.
Many a time during these cares her heart was nigh failing her,
but she courageously fought against this weakness.

" My mother is looking on me from heaven," thought she.

Nevertheless, once her despamng grief returned with violence :
it was when she heard the blows of the hammer resounding on
the coffin. She sank down almost fainting, when her little
sisters, who had themselves been terrified by the sound, began to
weep and call out aloud, " Louise ! — little mother, Louise ! "

Then by a strong effort, to accomplish which aid from heaven
was doubtless granted to the feeble girl, Louise, pale and trem-
bling, fell on her knees beside the children, and signed to them
to kneel likewise. She prayed long and devoutly; and she found
strength. Happy are those who can thus pray !



in.

%

THE FUTURE.

Despair is at first like a burning fever, whose tortures exalt
and produce a fictitious energy : in such a state the hardest sacri-
fices and exertions seem easy. But this first crisis past, lassitude
follows courage, feebleness succeeds to energy. Then we shrink
before our former resolutions ; we bend under our heavy biu'den ;
we can neither endure the latter, nor execute the former ; we
doubt ourselves ; we weep.

So wept Louise, when, poor child as she was, she felt herself
alone in that large house, which appeared so desolate without her
mother. Her cares and responsibilities seemed numberless.

" I can never do all," she cried, as, bitterly sobbing, she sank
back in her mother's arm-chair. Then what would be the end t

7



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

Her father was incapable of business ; the house would be with-
out rule or order ; the customers would leave — then poverty and
misery ! No, no ; one must foresee such trials, and prevent
them. Courage, poor child, God will protect thee — God will
never forsake thee, thy brother and sisters. " But, my mother,
why did she leave her child alone and abandoned 1 My mother,
oh, my mother !"

Yet even this bitter thought vanished in a resigned and gentle
sadness. Louise arose, dried her tears, called the servants belong-
ing to the house and mill, and regulated everything. Then she
went to the children's apartment, awakened them, kissed them
as her mother was wont to do, dressed them carefully, and took
them to school. Returning, she went to the shop, and began to
serve the flour to customers. The neighbours saw her smiling
on all with a kind and gentle answer, like her mother, and they
returned softened and wondering, resolving never to forsake the
orphan.

Towards mid-day, M. Gerretz sat down to dinner with his
usual carelessness, neither sadder nor gayer than ordinary, as if
death had not entered his house. He dined without speaking ;
but at the end of the meal he desired the maid to bring a bottle
of Rhine wine. Now, during the lifetime of Madame Gerretz,
this wine was only brought out on a holiday.

" Father," said Louise firmly, but with a tremulous voice —
" father, to-day is not a holiday."

M. Gerretz gave her one of those dull stupid looks peculiar to
intoxication ; then seized the ale, and emptied the jug. He rose
from table, and went towards the mill as usual, resigned to be
guided by his daughter, as formerly by his wife.

When Louise had put all things by, as was her mother's cus-
tom, she called Paul, and taking the boy's two hands in hers,
said, " Listen to me, Paul, for thou art of an age to understand.
I know thou hast a good heart, and art no ordinary child."

" Speak, sister," answered Paul, fixing his large dark eyes on
the blue ones of Louise.

" Well,*' said she, " we will immediately ask our father to send
you to Leyden to learn painting from Jacques Van Zwanen-
Durg."

" Oh, my sister, my good little sister," cried Paul, throwing
himself into her arms.

" You see, Paul, this is not a trifling matter that we are about
to attempt. We are thwarting our father's plans, who will not
fail to reproach me if we find not happy results. It will cost
much money, and we are poor : above all, it will separate me
from you, Paul, and so bitter a loss as ours should draw closer
family ties."

Paul kissed his sister's hand. " Listen," said he ; "a feehng
within me says, ' Go, and thy sister will rejoice at it one day!*
Let me then depart ; and if ever I cause you sorrow, love me not,

8



THE SISTER OF IIEMBE,A>"DT.

but condemn me, for I shall tlien be the most ungrateful wretch
on earth."

'' If our father consents, Paul, we will go together to-morrow.
I will take you myself to Van Zwanenburg, and then we shall
have one more day to be together." She wept as she said this.
*' But it is for your good, Paul, so take courage. Let us go to
meet our father, and gain his consent, then you shall set off to-
morrow morning."

Jacques Gerretz was walking up and down beside his mill,
when he saw Louise and Paul approaching him. Jacques, it
may be observed, was something of a sot and simpleton — a man
easily misled by companions, and though heartless and selfish,
not a positive villain. He was glad, in the first instance, to
allow his wife to earn the family bread, and now had no objec-
tion that his daughter should perform the same useful piece of
duty. He was desirous of educating Paul for a learned profes-
sion, so that he might derive a little glory from his son's exer-
tions; and on this project he had some time set his heart, without,
however, taking* any personal trouble to bring it about.

Louise approached him with modest firmness. " Father," said
she, sitting down on a bench, and drawing the trembling Paul
close to her — " father, we are come to ask a favour."

" Indeed ! " said M. Gerretz, with a sullen look. " I under-
stood that Mademoiselle Louise was accustomed to command,
not to intreat."

" Father," replied the young girl, her eyes full of tears —
" father, have I been so unfortunate as to have offended you ? "

" I never said so ; you are a very good girl," replied M. Ger-
retz, moved by the trouble of Louise ; " you must not take what
I say seriously, and trouble yourself. It is I who am in the
wrong, and who neither deserved the wife I have lost, nor the
daughter I have remaining. What dost wish, child 1 "

" Paul, father, wishes not to learn Latin any more."

" And what does he want to do ?"

" To be pupil to an artist at Leyden."

" He shall not go !" exclaimed the father in a voice of passion.
The fury of his temper, which had been calmed in the house of
death, and by the tender affection of his daughter, was suddenly
aroused at this opposition to his wishes on the point on which,
of all others, he had set his mind. Nevertheless, Louise ventured
to take his hand, and looked at him through the tears which
now half-blinded her, as they flowed down her cheeks in all the



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 42 of 59)