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William Chambers.

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abandonment of grief. Paul stood silent — motionless : he did not
weep ; but a look of anguish passed over his face, then a bright
colour flashed to it, and finally, an expression of deep deter-
mination settled upon his countenance.

'• I will be a painter," said the boy sullenly.

" Hush ! " murmured Louise. But the father had heard the
word of defiance, and, half-intoxicated, aimed a blow at the
12 9



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

child. He escaped from it, but it fell on Louise, and she sank
to the earth. At this sig-ht Paul became indifferent to his own
dang-er, raised her up, and bathed her bruised temple from the
running" stream. It must be confessed that Jacques Gerretz was
something- shocked at the consequence of his own violence ; but,
with that sort of low cunning* which often belongs to minds like
his, he thoug-ht he perceived now a method of mastering* the
unruly boy.

"Hark ye, young* rascal!" he exclaimed; "you mind not
blows any more than my plain orders; but your sister helps
you out in all your disobedience, and if you offend me, I will
punish her."

It is to be supposed he was not quite such a ruiBan as to mean
what he said. Yet it had the desired effect, and for a time at
least there was no more talk of Paul becoming* an artist. He
even tried to continue studying* the much-hated Latin ; but with
all Louise's manag*ement, affairs did not go on very well ; and
the selfish father willingly curtailed expenses by putting a stop
to his child's instruction, rather than debar himself of his dram.
Released from school, Paul now assisted the workpeople at the
mill and his sister in the shop ; but though Jacques Gerretz still
refused to make his son an artist, the latter found many an hour
at his own disposal. The insatiable desire to draw and paint was
constantly his, and with the rudest materials — a piece of charred
wood for his pencil, and a flour sack for his canvas, or a lump
of chalk and the back of the shop door — he would produce designs
that might have proclaimed to any one competent to judge, that
the soul of a heaven-gifted painter was struggling to declare its
mission.

So time passed on for many months. At last Louise observed
that her brother had seemed for three or four days more than
commonly absent in mind, and more eager than ever to seize
every opportunity of withdrawing to a sort of loft near the mill,
of which he had been allowed to take possession. This was the
boy-artist's first rude studio. One day the careful, thoughtful
sister had missed him for a longer time than usual ; and, anxious
to know if he was safe at his favourite occupation, yet fearful
of disturbing him, she crept softly up the ladder, and before he
was conscious of her presence, was looking over his shoulder.
She perceived he was at work on a portrait which she instantly
recognised as intended for her mother. Yes, there was the
patient suffering face, the mild eyes, and gentle expression so
familiar to her children. Louise flung her arms round her
brother's neck, and kissed him affectionately, though with some-
thing of pride in his achievement, and gratitude for his success.
The tears sprung to her eyes as she exclaimed, " Paul, you are
right ; you must indeed be a painter ! "

It was the artist's first triumph — a triumph mingled, too, with
all sweet recollections and affections. For a minute he enjoyed

10



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

it to the full ; but then came up the old bitterness, and he cried,
" How can I be a painter, if my father will not allow me to
study ? Ah, I should have rim away from home, beg-g-ed my
way to Leyden, and then have thrown myself on the compassion
of the great artist there. Surely, if he could see my distress, he
would have pity on me — but my father's threat of punishing
you, g-ood kind Louise, has prevented me ! "

" It is well," replied the gentle girl, " that there has been a
motive to keep you to your duty. Success and happiness would
never have been the fruit of disobedience. But come, I have a
thought, a hope. I have observed my father often sighs when
we speak of our mother. I do believe he sometimes grieves over
the sorrow he cost her, and regrets his unkindness. Let us con-
trive, when he comes home to-day, before he gets mad with that
vile liquor, to show him your picture. "\Mio knows, when he
sees what a great thing you have already done, but that he may
consent to your going. I am sure, at any rate, the sight of that
face will melt his anger, and we need not dread another scene of
rage and violence."

The event proved that Louise was right. The harsh and selfish
father, the half-brutalised sot, was subdued by what seemed to
him the apparition of the once-loved and much-wronged one.
He insisted on keeping the picture, but dismissed his son with
a blessing. Paul did not now regret that he had refrained from
running away.

Louise was overjoyed, and busied herself in preparing her
brother's clothes and linen for his journey, carefully repairing
everjnhing ; and when there was not a button to be sewed on,
nor a stocking to be darned, she locked them up in a trunk,
and went to fetch her little sisters from school — a joyful surprise
which their mother was wont to give them sometimes when
she was living. The young children clapped their hands with
delight when they heard that Paul was at last happy — that he
was to be a painter.



IV.

JACQUES VAN ZWANENBURG.

Before continuing this history, we must say a word regard-
ing the artist to whom Louise was about to consign her brother.
Educated by his good and pious mother, who had been a widow
for twenty years, Jacques Van Zwanenburg grew up to manhood
without knowing any cares or sorrows. His mother, like a
guardian angel, watched over him, and surrounded him with
happiness. When Just entering on his professional career, he
had the great misfortane of becoming attached to a beautiful
girl, whom he followed everywhere — for her he quitted even his
mother. It was blind attachment : the object of it was a heart-

11



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

less flirt. After having' encouraged the enthusiastic addresses of
the young painter, she married another. The blow fell heavily,
but Jacques bore up under its infliction. " I will return home,"
said he, " for there I shall suffer less in weeping on my mother's
bosom ; she will understand me, and comfort me. Thank God,
I am not alone in the world ! I have still my mother to love
me ; and a mother's love never deceives, they say."

Returning home, he hastened on to the door ; and as he joy-
fully pulled the bell, he seemed to have forgotten all he suffered :
he rejoiced in the prospect of so soon seeing his mother. His
mother was dead !

Jacques became, as it were, insane. For a year he shut him-
self up, and would see no one. An old servant placed food at his
door-sill : sometimes it remained there three days without being
touched.

One morning he went to pray on his mother's grave ; after-
wards he went into the town, bought colours and canvas, and then
shut himself up as usual in his chamber. No one recognised in
this pale, thin, white-haired, austere man, the youth whose bold
step, bright eye, and jet mustache, had fascinated the girls of
the neighbourhood.

Jacques now devoted himself to his art ; but another passion
had withered his youth and chilled his energies. Even the love
of art was powerless to awaken him. He wanted perseverance
and daring. Without these, art cannot flourish. Still, he became
the head of the then Flemish schools of painting, and numerous
-pupils solicited as a favour admission into his studio. But this was
not easy ; for Van Zwanenburg was the oddest and most capri-
cious artist that ever entered a studio. Consciousness of medio-
crity, which yet he could not overcome, rendered him sarcastic
and severe. A satirical expression contracted his features, and
added, if possible, to the bitterness of the raillery with which he
provoked those of his pupils whom a mistaken vocation brought
to his studio. He left them no illusion ; he showed them their
incapacity openly, without preamble or restraint. Fortunate
were they if this ignominy was not in presence of the rest. On
the other hand, he lavished constant care on the pupils in whom
he discerned the fire of genius ; but even this care was mingled
with harshness. He crushed without pity their wild hopes and
dreams. Did they seem to think of fame and honour, he told
them of Homer the beggar, Tasso the madman, Ovid the exile,
and of renowned painters who lived and died in misery.

But with all this. Van Zwanenburg had an invincible faculty
of advancing his pupils in art. Wo to those, however, who
obeyed him not in all things, or who wanted patience ! — " For,"
said the old painter to every pupil, "without patience, success
in art is impossible."

Hard would it have been for poor Louise to have obtained
from him the favour she wished, or even to have seen him per-

12



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

sonally, had not a happy incident rendered her interview with
Van Zwanenbur^ easy and favourable. We shall see how that
happened.

V.

THE JOURNEY.

Some distance from Leyden, the little carriage in which were
Louise and Paul passed by a man who lay extended insensible
on the road. Louise jumped out, restored him to consciousness,
and wished him to enter the conveyance. Van Zwanenburg-,
seated near the foot of a tree, watched this proceeding", and felt
his eyes moisten with unwonted tears. He rose and addressed
the young" girl. Louise answered candidly, and by degrees he
learned the motive of her journey. The countenance of Van
Zwanenburg darkened : he looked severely at Paul, and spoke no
more. Soon after, the travellers passed by a forge, which cast a
red and splendid glare on the faces of the workmen, contrasting
with the gloom of the cavern behind. The child stopped short,
clasping his hands with ecstasy.

" Oh, Louise, look, look ! " he cried.

" Canst thou sketch this scene ? " incredulously asked their
taciturn fellow-traveller.

Paul took a pencil, and in a few moments traced a sketch, im-
perfect no doubt, but one in which the principal effects of light
and shade especially were accurately produced.

" Young girl," said the painter, " you need go no further. I
am Van Zwanenburg, and I admit your brother from this minute
to my studio. Go and tell this to your mother."

" My mother ! " repeated Louise mournfully — " my mother ! —
she is in heaven."

" Yes," added Paul, " she is dead. Louise is now our little
mother."

A few questions soon showed to Van Zwanenburg the sorrows
of Louise, her difficult position, and courageous self-devotion.
He kissed her brow, and promised to treat her brother as if he
were his own son. Then he parted from her, took Paul, and
walked with a light step towards Leyden. He breathed easier,
he felt better ; his misanthropy was partly swept away. It was
because Louise had restored to him ib.efa.iih. — without which there
can be neither virtue nor joy — faith in the goodness of woman.



VL

THE LOST CHILDREN.

To the convulsive grief of parting, succeeds generally a moral
and physical prostration, which produces for'^the time a deep
sadness. Such were the sensations of Louise on her journey



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT^

from Leyden to Leyendorp. A thousand painful ideas passed
over her mind, as she halt* reclined at the bottom of the rude
carriage on a heap of straw. Her mother lost for ever, Paul far
away, her father continually intoxicated, her two little sisters,
the care of the shop ; all these thoughts haunted her — past, pre-
sent, and future, were strangely mingled. The night was dark,
hut now and then a glare from some window as they passed
lighted up the young girl's face. The damp of evening pene-
trated her delicate frame, and all combined to throw her into a
sort of waking slumber, which lasted until the conveyance arrived
at her door. The driver knocked, but no one answered. He
repeated his attempts several times with his stick. The melan-
choly howling of the house-dog was the only reply. Louise
shuddered with terror.

" What can be the matter?" said the old servant who had ac-
companied Louise. " Listen ; there are noises."

They now heard an indistinct murmur, and saw lights flashing
at a distance. It was M. Gerretz and a group of neighbours,
who, greatly agitated, were searching in the wood and the roads
adjoining.

" We must give it up," Louise heard them say.

" Give it up?" cried M. Gerretz, whose energy was now not
taken away by intoxication. " Give up the chance of finding my
children lost in the wood ? "

" Lost in the wood ? " echoed Louise. " Oh, my God 1 have
mercy on me 1 "

Then she seemed to acquire supernatural courage and calm-
ness. She asked when they had disappeared. They had gone
to gather heath and pick up acorns, and had not been seen since
noon.

" For the sake of pity and charity then," said she, " do as I
tell you. You are twelve in all ; divide, and each one enter the
forest, calling aloud, and listen for any answer. At the least
noise, go straight to where it proceeds from. My father and I
will search this way. Go; and may God bless you for your
charity ! "

All began anew, encouraged by the energy of Louise. She
took the hand of her weeping father, and they entered the wood.
They walked more than an hour, and heard nothing. At last
Louise fancied she distinguished a sound like a groan. They
rushed to the place : it was but the cry of a bird, which fled
away in terror at the light of the torches. Louise sank down
fainting. Her father fixed the torch between two heavy stones,
and tried to chafe the blue rigid hands of the poor child,
who at last had lost courage, and wished even to die in her
despair.

" And it is I who have caused all this," sighed M. Gerretz.
" I have lost all my childi-en by my evil ways." Louise answered
not. " We cannot stay here. Come, Louise." She tried to

14



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

rise, but in vain ; she fell back on her knees. " She cannot
walk," said M. Gerretz ; " I must carry her." And as he took
her in his arms, he let fall the torch and exting-uished it.

Next morning- M. Gerretz, pale, and scarcely able to sup-
port himself, returned home, carrying" his daug-hter, insensible,
in his arms. The neig"hbours had broug-ht back his two chil-
dren. One was a corpse, the other scarcely gave any signs of
life, but afterwards recovered.

M. Gerretz felt that this calamity had arisen from his neglect
and carelessness, and for a little while he benefited by the lesson,
inasmuch as he somewhat refrained from the excesses in which
he had used to indulge, and seemed to take more interest than
before in his family. But it is only when right principle is
aroused, and a strong will is possessed, and marshalled on the
side of determined reformation, that the evil habits of years are
overcome. Jacques Gerretz soon relapsed into the indulgence of
his old vices.

It would be very difficult to describe the trials which beset
Louise for the next few years. To be up early and late, to work
hard, and to spend little, were things which she considered it her
duty to do, and at which she did not repine. But it was a hard
trial for her to see the fi'uits of her industiy swept away by her
father's improvidence: it was difficult for her to save, as she
strove hard to do, a trifle of money with which occasionally to
supply her darling brother ; and not altogether easy to control,
without parental authority, her younger sister. Therese was
growing up a high-spirited and somewhat self-willed girl. Too
young to have profited by her mother's lessons of forbearance
and self-denial, she did not perceive the beauty of her sistei*'s
character, or understand the value of her precepts. She thought
it hard to be curbed in the enjoyment of pleasure ; and when
Louise in a gentle voice expostulated with her, and pointed out
the diso^race of debt, and the misery which always follows it, she
was either totally inattentive, or pretended to laugh at what she
called her careful sister's needless fears. Louise, for many reasons,
was unwilling to complain of her sister to her father ; first, be-
cause she disliked the office of fault-finder, and complaints would
most likely tend only to sever her sister yet more from her ; and,
secondly, Gerretz, like all topers, was afflicted with an evil and
unreasonable temper, and, according as the mood might be,
would either punish the little girl too severely, or fail to perceive
her fault at all. But it was during the long illness which pre-
ceded his death that the trials of Louise were at the highest. It
was her part to superintend the business, manage the family, and
nurse the querulous old man.

One day, after having been for some hours occupied in the
shop, she entered her father's chamber, and was struck by ob-
serving that he was in one of his morose humours ; in fact,
more ill-tempered than ever. Presently she noticed that he

15



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.

was clutching in his hand a little canvas bag-, in which she
was in the habit of keeping certain monies which she put
away for the purpose of paying the rent of the shop and the
corn-merchant. She knew that he must have been searching
in a little closet where, for security, she was in the habit of
hiding the bag; for where honest people have the manage-
ment of a family, of which there are extravagant members, it
is very excusable for them to resort to an innocent artifice of
that kind.

" So, Mademoiselle Gerretz," said the sick man, addressing
her with a formal coldness which pierced to her heart, " you
have thought proper to deceive your old father, and plead a
poverty which does not exist, to deprive him of the generous
wine that might have spared him this illness, and have de-
barred your young sister of the pleasures so natural to her
age ; and all to indulge in the miserly habits which of all
things I detest."

The improvident, be it remembered, commonly detest pru-
dence.

" Father," exclaimed Louise, " the money you have found is
not mine — scarcely yours. I put it away to pay our rent, and
to satisfy the claims of our corn-merchant."

" The rent-day is yet two weeks oflF,'" replied Gerretz sulkily,
" and you did not tell me that Giles Ransenan had sent in his
account. He ought to wait the convenience of such good cus-
tomers as we are."

" Father," said Louise, " it seems to me we ought not to wait
for the rent-day to arrive, and the bill to be sent in, before pre-
paring our accounts. Oh, do not use that money for any other
purpose, I beseech you." And as she spoke, the poor girl took
hold of his arm, as if to add force to her intreaty.

" I will have a flask of wine," replied Jacques Gerretz : " here,
take this gold piece and send for one."

But when Louise beheld the sacred hoard thus broken on, her
grief increased.

" I will have the wine," continued the old man; "if you have
other money, use it, and I will replace this."

" I have no other money — there is no other money in the
house," and she wrung her hands in despair.

" Then send for the wine, I command you. The world is come
to a pretty pass if men are to be governed by girls."

Next morning*, Louise arose with calm resolution, and open-
ing a box in which she was accustomed to keep the things
she most valued, she took from it a gold cross, almost the only
remaining relic of her beloved parent, and placed it, with the
hoarded money, in the little bag — which she had recovered
from her father when he had supplied his wants from its con-
tents — determined, if need be, to give that up rather than prove
a defaulter. In seeking it, she had come across the portrait



THE SISTER OF REMBRANDT.



painted by Paul, and she fancied lier mother's gentle face smiled
approval of her conduct.
Such for a time were the hard trials of Louise.



vn.

TEN YEARS AFTER.

Autumn, that season so majestic, and yet so melancholy on
the banks of the Rhine, autumn had brought back Van Zwanen-
burg" from the little farm where he was wont to pass the summer-
time. Ten years had introduced many and salutary changes in
the painter's household. The good angel who had caused this
was Louise Gerretz, whom, on the death of her father, he had
received into his house, and adopted as his own child, together
with her brother Paul. The young girl was now changed into
the active, brave-hearted woman of twenty-five ; not beautiful — for
the features of Louise wanted regularity — but there was a sweet-
ness, an expression of goodness in her smile, that won all hearts.
The artist and his pupils blessed the day when Louise came
among them. She was always ready to watch over the sick,
console those who were mortified with ill success in art, and
encourage with kind words those who cast aside their pencils in
despair.

The love and confidence of Van Zwanenburg knew no bounds ;
the influence of Louise softened his heart, and won him from his
misanthropy. His dearest wish was, that she should be united
in marriage to his nephew, Saturnin Vanderburck. The pro-
posal came upon Louise unexpectedly. She had never thought
seriously of the attentions of Saturnin, but when she learnt the
plans of her adopted father, and saw herself the object of attach-
ment by the young man, she gave her whole heart to him, as the
person to whom she was about to be united in the tenderest
bonds for life. Saturnin, who was good and amiable, without
any brilliant qualities, returned her affection with sincere attach-
ment ; and each day her feelings for him assumed more of
character and energy, so that at last they merged into that
strong devoted love which can only be felt by a young maiden,
whose heart has been until then untouched.

The marriage-day approached, and Louise gave herself up to
sweet dreams of love and happiness, when her young sister,
Therese, returned from Brussels, where she had been taken by
a rich aunt, who promised to leave all her fortune to the children
of Jacques Gerretz. That aunt was dead, and Therese came to
reside near her sister at Leyden. It was then that Saturnin saw
Therese, and loved her. In vain he reproached himself with the
meanness of his conduct, and wished to stifle his passion. One
evening he took the hand of Therese, and she suffered it to re-

17



THE SISTER OP REMBRANDT.

main. From that time she dared not meet the eyes of Saturnin ;
and it was a bitter punishment for the young* man to be near his
betrothed, to hear her talk of love, and happiness, and the future.
No suspicion ag-itated the heart of Louise ; far from it : she de-
lig-hted in the affection of her lover towards Therese, and the
sing-le-hearted girl went dreaming' on, nor thought of the sad
waking.

Louise went to the kitchen, heedless why she came ; and then,
after having sought her own chamber to calm her mind, she
descended to the garden to cool her blushing cheek. This
ramble suited her present mood, at once happy and sad; for,
says the poet,

" Happiness is oftentimes grave."

She strolled leisurely through the long alleys, over which the
pale moon cast fantastic lights and shadows. Louise, after some
minutes, stayed her walk opposite an immense oak, which put
her in mind of the trees which she had watched in childhood,
from the house where her mother died. Sad recollections came
over her ; she thought of this beloved mother. She thought of
her own promise to be a mother to her little sisters ; it seemed
as if this vow exacted some new sacrifice. A dark presentiment
fell on the heart of the young Fleming ; it seemed that a pitiless
hand was about to despoil her of her happiness. She re-entered
the house precipitately. As she traversed the dark corridor, she
heard two voices whispering. She stopped ; it was Saturnin
and Therese. " I will do my duty," Saturnin was saying : " I
will wed Louise. I will try to hide from her that I have loved
another, even though I die through it. Adieu, Therese ; adieu."
Therese wept bitterly.

Poor Louise ! It seemed that it was her destiny — surely for
some great and wise purpose — that she should be called on again
and again to sacrifice her own feelings, peace, and pleasures,
for the good of others. Not in vain did she live, if only to
shadow lorth the beauty of a generous self-denying nature. And
to the vii-tuous, the exercise of virtue is uniformly its own
reward.



vm.

LOUISE.

The art of painting was then, as now, divided into two schools
— Ideality and Reality. Van Zwanenburg belonged to the latter
■ — to the school of nature. His poetry consisted not in elegant



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 43 of 59)