The Best Collection of Louis Couperus - Louis Couperus - ebook
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The Best Works of Louis Couperus Dr. AdriaanFootsteps of FateMajestySmall SoulsThe Hidden ForceThe Twilight of the Souls 

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The Best Collection of Louis Couperus

Dr. Adriaan

Footsteps of Fate

Majesty

Small Souls

The Hidden Force

The Twilight of the Souls

Dr. Adriaan, by Louis Couperus, Translated by

DR. ADRIAAN

by

LOUIS COUPERUS

Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos

CHAPTER I

The afternoon sky was full of thick, dark clouds, drifting ponderously grey over almost black violet: clouds so dark, heavy and thick that they seemed to creep laboriously upon the east wind, for all that it was blowing hard. In its breath the clouds now and again changed their watery outline, before their time came to pour down in heavy straight streaks of rain. The stiff pine-woods quivered, erect and anxious, along the road; and the tops of the trees lost themselves in a silver-grey air hardly lighter than the clouds and dissolving far and wide under all that massive grey-violet and purple-black which seemed so close and low. The road ran near and went winding past, lonely, deserted and sad. It was as though it came winding out of low horizons and went on towards low horizons, dipping humbly under very low skies, and only the pine-trees still stood up, pointed, proud and straight, when everything else was stooping. The modest villa-residence, the smaller poor dwellings here and there stooped under the heavy sky and the gusty wind; the shrubs dipped along the road-side; and the few people who went along--an old gentleman; a peasant-woman; two poor children carrying a basket and followed by a melancholy, big, rough-coated dog--seemed to hang their heads low under the solemn weight of the clouds and the fierce mastery of the wind, which had months ago blown the smile from the now humble, frowning, pensive landscape. The soul of that landscape appeared small and all forlorn in the watery mists of the dreary winter.

The wind came howling along, chill and cold, like an angry spite that was all mouth and breath; and Adeletje, hanging on her aunt's arm, huddled into herself, for the wind blew chill in her sleeves and on her back.

"Are you cold, dear?"

"No, Auntie," said Adeletje, softly, shivering.

Constance smiled and pressed Adeletje's arm close to her:

"Let's walk a little faster, dear. It'll warm you; and, besides, I'm afraid it's going to rain. It's quite a long way to the old lady's and back again.... I fear I've tired you."

"No, Auntie."

"You see, I didn't want to take the carriage. This way, we do the thing by ourselves; and otherwise everybody would know of it at once. And you must promise me not to talk about it."

"No, Auntie, I won't."

"Not to anybody. Otherwise there'll be all sorts of remarks; and it's no concern of other people's what we do."

"The poor old thing was very happy, Auntie. The beef-tea and the wine and chicken...."

"Poor little old woman...."

"And so well-mannered. And so discreet.... Auntie, will Addie be back soon?"

"He's sure to telegraph."

"It's very nice of him to take such pains for Alex. We all of us give Addie a lot of trouble.... When do you think he'll come back?"

"I don't know; to-morrow, or the next day...."

"Auntie, you've been very fidgety lately."

"My dear, I haven't."

"Yes, you have.... Tell me, has anything happened with Mathilde? Has there?"

"No, child.... But do keep your little mouth shut now. I'm frightened, the wind's so cold."

They walked on in silence, Adeletje accommodating her step by Aunt Constance' regular pace. Constance was a good walker; and Addie always said that, leading the outdoor life she did, Mama grew no older. They had now been living for ten years at Driebergen, in the big, old, gloomy house, which seemed to be lighted only by themselves, by their affection for one another, but which Constance had never brought herself to like, hard though she tried. Ten years! How often, oh, how often she saw them speed before her in retrospect!... Ten years: was it really ten years? How quickly they had passed! They had been full and busy years; and Constance was satisfied with the years that had fleeted by, only she was distressed that it all went so fast and that she would be old before.... But the wind was blowing too fiercely and Adeletje was hanging heavily on her arm--poor child, she was shivering: how cold she must be!--and Constance could not follow her thoughts.... Before ... before.... Well, if she died, there would be Addie.... Only.... No, she couldn't think now; and besides they would be home presently.... They would be home.... Home! The word seemed strange to her; and she did not think that right. And yet, struggle against the singular emotion as she would, she could not cure herself of thinking that big house gloomy and regretting the little villa in the Kerkhoflaan at the Hague, even though she had never known any great domestic happiness there.... Still ... still, one loves the thing that one has grown used to; and was it not funny that she had grown so fond of that little house, where she had lived four years, and been disconsolate when, after the old man's death, Van der Welcke and Addie too had insisted on moving to the big, sombre villa at Driebergen?... Fortunately, it was at once lighted by all of them, by their affection for one another; if she had not had the consoling brightness of mutual love, oh, it would have been impossible for her to go and live in that dark, gloomy, cavernous villa-house, among the eternally rustling trees, under the eternally louring skies! The house was dear to Van der Welcke and Addie because of a strange sympathy, a sense that their home was there and nowhere else. The father was born in the house and had played there as a child; and the son, strangely enough, cherished the exact same feeling of attraction towards it. Had they not almost forced her to move into the house: Van der Welcke crying for it like a child, first going there for a few days at a time and living there with nobody but the decrepit old charwoman who made his bed for him; then Addie following his father's example, fitting up a room for herself and making constant pretexts--that he must go and have a look among his papers, that he must run down for a book--seizing any excuse that offered?... Then they left her alone, in her house in the Kerkhoflaan. That had trees round it too and skies overhead. But it was strange: among those trees in the Hague Woods, under those clouds which came drifting from Scheveningen, she had felt at home, though their little villa was only a house hired on a five years' lease, taken at the time under Addie's deciding influence. He, quite a small boy then, had gone and seen the fat estate-agent.... Oh, how the years, how the years hurried past!... To think that it was all so long ago!... Strange, in that leasehold house she had felt at home, at the Hague, among her relations, under familiar skies and among familiar people and things, unyielding though both things and people had often proved. Whereas here, in this house, in this great cavernous, gloomy villa-residence--and she had lived in it since the old man's death fully ten years ago--she had always felt, though the house belonged to them as their inheritance, as their family-residence, a stranger, an intruder, one who had come there by accident ... along with her husband and her son. She could never shake off this feeling. It pursued her even to her own sitting-room, which, with its bits of furniture from the Kerkhoflaan, was almost exactly the same as her little drawing-room at the Hague.... Oh, how the wind blew and how Adeletje was shivering against her: if only the poor child did not fall ill from that long walk!... There came the first drops of rain, thick and big, like tears of despair.... She put up her umbrella and Adeletje pushed still closer, walked right up against her, under the same shelter, so as to feel safe and warm.... The lane now ran straight into the high road; and there, before you, lay the house.... It stood in its own big garden--nearly a park, with a pool at the back--like a square, melancholy block, dreary and massive; and she could not understand why Van der Welcke and Addie clung to it so. Or rather she did understand now; but she ... no, she did not care for the house. It never smiled to her, always frowned, as it stood there broad and severe, as though imperishable, behind the front-garden, with the dwarf rose-bushes and standard roses wound in straw, awaiting the spring days.... It looked down upon her with its front of six upper windows as with stern eyes, which suffered but never forgave her.... It was like the old man himself, who had died without forgiving.... Oh, she could never have lived there if she had not always remembered the old woman's forgiveness, that last hour of gentleness by her bedside, the reconciliation, in complete understanding and knowledge almost articulate, offered at the moment of departure for ever.... Then it seemed to her as if she heard the old woman's breaking voice speak softly to her and say:

"Forgive, even though he never forgives, for he will never forgive...."

And it seemed to her as if she heard that voice, rustling with soft encouragement, in the wind, in the trees, now that she was passing through the garden, while the implacable house looked down upon her with that everlasting cold frown. It was a strange feeling which always sent a shudder through her for just two or three seconds every time that she went past the roses in their straw wrappings to the great front door, the feeling which had sent a shudder through her the very first time when she alighted from their carriage ... after being disowned for years, as a disgrace, hidden away in a corner.... It was only for two or three seconds. The rain was now splashing down. She closed her umbrella as Truitje opened the door, with a glad laugh, that mevrouw had got home before it absolutely poured; and now she was in the long hall.... Oh, what a gloomy hall it was, with the oak doors on either side, the Delft jugs on the antique cabinet; the engravings and family-portraits; and then, at the far end, the one door gloomier than the others, that door which led ... simply to a small, inner staircase, for the servants, so that they should not constantly be using the main staircase.... But she had not known this until she moved in and, yielding to an impulse, ran to the sombre door which had always stared at her, from the far end of that typical Dutch interior, as an eternally-sealed mystery.... Pluckily, playing the mistress of the house who was looking into things, while her heart beat with terror, she had opened the door and seen the staircase, the little staircase winding up in the dark to the bedroom floor; and the old charwoman had told her that it was very handy for carrying up water, because there was no water laid on upstairs: a decided fault in the house.... Then she had shut the door again and known all about it: a little back-stair, for the maids, and nothing more.... But why had she never opened the door since, never touched the handle? No doubt because there was no need to, because she felt sure that the maids would scrub the small staircase as well as the big one on the days set aside for cleaning stairs and passages. Why should she have opened the gloomy door?... And she had never opened it since. Once and once only she had seen it open; old Mie had forgotten to shut it; and she had grumbled, had told Truitje that it looked slovenly to leave the door open like that.... She had then seen the little staircase winding up in the dark, its steps just marked with brown stripes against the black of the shadow.... But the door, when closed, stared at her. She had never told anyone; but the door stared at her ... like the front of the house. Yes, in the garden behind, the back-windows also stared at her as with eyes, but more gently, sadly and almost laughingly, with an encouraging and more winsome look amid the livelier green of the lime-trees which, in summer, surrounded her with their heavy fragrance.... Summer!... It was November now, with its incessant wind and rain, raging all around and against the house and rattling on the window-panes until they shivered.... It was a strange feeling ever and always, though it did last for only two or three seconds, but she could not feel at home there.... And yet during those ten years her life had sped and sped and sped.... It sped on without resting.... She was always busy....

She had sent Adeletje upstairs, to change her things at once, and opened the door of the drawing-room.... It felt a little chilly, she thought; and, while she saw her mother sitting quietly in the conservatory, peering out of doors from her usual seat, she went to the stove, moved the cinder-drawer to and fro to send the ashes to the bottom and make the fire glow up behind the mica doors....

"Aren't you cold out there, Mummie?"

The old woman looked round at the sound of her voice. Constance went into the conservatory and again asked:

"Aren't you cold, Mummie?"

The old woman heard her this time; and Constance stooped over her and kissed the waxen forehead.

"It's blowing," said the old woman.

"Yes, it's blowing like anything!" said Constance. "You don't feel cold?"

The old woman smiled, with her eyes in her daughter's.

"Won't you rather come and sit inside, Mamma?"

But the old woman only smiled and said:

"The trees are waving from side to side; and just now a branch fell ... right in front of the window."

"Yes. Harm'll have plenty of work to-morrow. There are branches lying all over the place."

"It's blowing," said the old woman.

Constance went in, took a shawl and put it over her mother's shoulders:

"You'll come in, won't you, Mamma, if you feel cold?"

And she went back to the drawing-room, intending to go upstairs.

But voices sounded from the hall and the door was opened. It was Gerdy and Guy:

"Are you in, Auntie?"

"Are you back at last?"

"Where have you been all the afternoon?"

"Have you been walking with Adele?"

"Come, Auntie," said Guy, "give an account of yourself!"

He was a well-set-up, fair-haired boy of nineteen, tall and broad, with a fair moustache; and she spoilt him because he was like his father. Really she spoilt them all, each for a different reason, but Guy could do anything that he pleased with her. He now caught her in his arms and asked once more:

"Now, Auntie, where have you been?"

And she blushed like a child. She did not mean to say where she had been, but she had not reckoned on his attacking her like this:

"Why, nowhere!" she said, defending herself. "I've been walking with Adele...."

"No!" said Guy, firmly. "You've been to the little old lady's."

"Oh, no!"

"Oh, yes!"

"Come, boy, let me be. I want to go up and change.... Where's Mamma?"

"Mamma's upstairs," said Gerdy. "Are you coming down soon again, Auntie? Shall I get tea ready? Shall I light the lamp? It's jolly, having tea in a storm like this."

"All right, dear, do."

"Will you come down soon?"

"Yes, yes, at once...."

She went upstairs, up the wide, winding oak staircase.... Why did she think, each time the wind blew, of that evening when she had gone up like that, across the passage, through the rooms, to the great, dark bedstead, in which the wan face of the dying woman showed palely on the pillow?... Then as now the heavy rain rattled against the windows and the tall cabinets in the dark passage creaked with those sudden sounds which old wood makes and which sometimes moaned and reverberated through the house. But one scarcely heard them now, because the house was no longer silent, because now there were always voices buzzing and young feet hurrying in the rooms and along the passages, thanks to all the new life that had entered the house.... Ten years, thought Constance, while she put on the light in her room, before dressing: was it really ten years?... Immediately after the death of her poor brother Gerrit--poor Adeline and the children had moved from their house to a cheap pension--came the death of old Mr. Van der Welcke, just as she, Van der Welcke and Addie, going through Gerrit's papers, had come upon this letter:

"Addie, I recommend my children to your care; my wife I recommend to yours, Constance."

It was the letter of a sick man, mentally and physically sick, who already saw death's wings beating before his eyes. And even in that shabby pension Addie had taken charge of the children, as though he were their own young father; but, when the old gentleman died and both Van der Welcke and Addie insisted on moving to Driebergen, then the boy had stepped forward boldly as the protector of those nine children, as the protector of that poor woman distraught and utterly crushed by the blow.... Even now, while hurriedly changing her dress, so as not to keep them waiting too long downstairs, Constance still heard her boy say, in his calm, confident voice:

"Papa ... Mamma ... we have a big house now, a very big house.... We are rich now ... and Aunt Adeline has nothing ... the children have only a couple of thousand guilders apiece.... They must all come to us now, mustn't they, all come and live with us at Driebergen, mustn't they, Papa ... and Mamma?"

He said nothing beyond those few simple words; and his confident voice was as quiet as though his proposal spoke for itself, as though it were quite commonplace....

"What is there to make a fuss about?" he had asked, with wide-open eyes, when she fell upon his neck with tears of emotion and kissed him, her heart swelling with happiness in her child....

She had just looked round anxiously at her husband, anxious what he would wish, what he would say to his son's words.... There were fewer scenes between them, it was true, much fewer; but still she had thought to herself, what would he say to this?... But he had only laughed, burst out laughing, with his young laugh like a great boy's ... laughed at all his son's great family: a wife and nine children whom Addie at sixteen was quietly taking unto himself, because his people had money now and a big house.... Since that time Van der Welcke had always chaffed the boy about his nine children. And Addie answered his father's chaff with that placid smile in his eyes and on his lips, as though he were thinking:

"Have your joke, Daddy. You're a good chap after all!..."

And Addie had interested himself in his nine children as calmly as if they were not the least trouble.... Then came the move to Driebergen, but Addie remained at the Hague, staying with Aunt Lot, for the two years that he still went to school. He came down each week-end, however: by the husband's train. Van der Welcke said, chaffingly, to join his wife and children; and he took a hand in everything: in the profitable investment and saving of their two thousand guilders apiece; in their schooling; in the choice of a governess for the girls: he saved Aunt Adeline all responsibility; his Saturday afternoons and Sundays were filled with all sorts of cares; he considered and discussed and decided.... Moreover, Granny, who was now lonely and fallen into her dotage, could no longer be left to live in her big house, with no one to look after her; and Constance had easily managed for old Mamma to accompany them to Driebergen. But the old woman had hardly noticed the change: she thought that she was still living in the Alexanderstraat sometimes, in the summer, she would be living at Buitenzorg, in the viceregal palace, and the children round her went about and talked vivaciously ... as she had always known them to do.... Emilie had refused to leave Constance; and, though she sometimes went to stay at Baarn, she really lived with them: Emilie, so grievously shattered in her young life, so unable to forget Henri's death that she was as a shadow of her former self, pale and silent, mostly pining in her room ... until from sheer loneliness she went to join the family-circle downstairs....

Ten years ... ten years had sped like this, sped like fleeting shadows of time; and yet how much had happened! The children growing up, blossoming into young girls and sturdy lads; Addie studying medicine at Amsterdam, walking the hospitals, until, after passing his examination, the young foster-father at last settled down among them all as a doctor, in the great house at Driebergen; and then that immense change in their lives: his marriage, his dreadfully premature marriage.... Oh, that marriage of her son's!... She had had to summon all her deeper wisdom and to clutch it with convulsive hands ... in order to approve ... to approve ... and not for a single moment to let herself be dragged along by all the prejudices of the old days, the prejudices of the narrow little circle which she had learnt to scorn in her later life, the life which had become permanent!... Now he was really a husband, now he was really a father.

"Aunt Constance ... do come!"

It was Gerdy's voice; and it fidgeted her. They were all very nice, certainly, but also they were all very restless; and she was really a woman for loneliness and dreams--had become so--and sometimes felt a need to be quite alone ... quite alone ... in her room; to lie on her sofa and think ... above all things, to think herself back into the years which had sped and sped and sped as fleeting shadows of time....

A tripping step came hastening up the stairs, followed by a tapping at the door:

"Auntie! Aunt Constance.... I've made tea; and, if you don't come, it'll be too strong...."

She would have liked to tell Gerdy that she did not care for that calling out all over the house and through the passages: it always jarred upon her, as though the clear, girlish voice profaned that brown indoor atmosphere of the sombre old house which was so full of the past ... as though the old people were still living there and might be shocked by all that youthful carelessness and presumption. But she never did tell her.

"Yes, darling, I'm coming."

She was ready now and turned out the gas. Gerdy ran downstairs again; and Constance found the lamps lit in the drawing-room and Gerdy very busy with the tea-pot and tea-cups. And Constance smiled, for there was a sort of homely peace, in this room, a peace almost of happiness, the lesser happiness which people sometimes find, for a brief moment. Marietje, the eldest of the girls, a motherly little soul from childhood, had coaxed Grandmamma into leaving the conservatory, which was really too cold, had installed her in the back drawing-room, where the old woman now sat, with her shawl round her, her toes on the foot-warmer, her hands trembling in her lap and her head nodding, as though she knew all sorts of things for certain.... Always she sat like that and scarcely spoke, only a few words, quietly living away the last few years of her life and already looking at the rest in panorama ... but quite unconscious of her surroundings.... In front of the fire, close together, sat Adeline and Emilie, both silent, but filled with the strange peace that reigned in both of them, because things around them were so youthful and so bright. For at this hour all the young people were gathered in the drawing-room, all Gerrit's children, except Constant, who was seventeen and at a boarding-school near Arnhem, to Gerdy's great regret, for she and he had always been together, two good little, fair-haired children. Marietje was twenty-two now, had not grown up pretty, was tall and lank, fair-haired, really an unattractive girl, though she had a certain lovableness from always caring for others, especially for Grandmamma: she had acquired this very early, as the eldest sister, because her mother had at once and as a matter of course entrusted her with the care of her little brothers and sisters. Adeletje too was plain and in addition ailing and anything but strong, with her narrow, shrunk chest; and Constance often wondered that the two elders had become like that, because she remembered them as the two pretty little fair-haired children that they used to be, frail, it is true, but rosy-cheeked, sweet little children. Alex also was there; and he too often surprised Constance, when she remembered the naughty rascal that he was, now a boy of twenty, pale and sallow, with frightened blue eyes, shy, reserved, with a trick of giving a sudden glance of terror which made her anxious, she did not know why. She recognized her brother Gerrit most in Guy, who was tall, fair and broad, as Gerrit had been, but who had always been unmanageable, with not one serious thought in his head; he was nineteen years old now and as undecided about his future as Alex himself.... That was Constance' great care and not only hers but Addie's as well; and Van der Welcke often chaffed his son, that it was not an unmixed joy to be the father of nine children. If Alex was gloomy now, with that strange look, sometimes of sudden fright, in his eyes, Guy was undoubtedly attractive, was genial, pleasant, cheerful, foolish, a great baby and the favourite nephew of Van der Welcke, with whom he went cycling, as Addie never had time now: Addie the serious man, the young doctor with an increasing practice. Guy called Van der Welcke Papa; they got on so well, almost too well together: Van der Welcke, who had remained a child for all his fifty-one years delighted in that tall, fair-haired adopted son of Addie's; and, jealous as he was of all the earnestness, the labour and care displayed by Addie, who had hardly a moment nowadays to give his father, he was glad to have found Guy, as though to show Addie:

"I've got another friend, you know, and I can do without you sometimes!"

After Guy came Gerdy, the beauty of the family, an exquisitely pretty girl of eighteen, who with Guy was the light and laughter of the house; next, Constant, away at boarding-school. The two younger boys, Jan and Piet, were fortunately doing well at their lessons, whereas little Klaasje, twelve years old, had remained very backward and might have been a child of eight, at one time dull and silent, at another wantonly gay, but so silly that she was not yet able to read.... Yes, she had all of them there, all Gerrit's children; she and Addie looked after them; and poor Adeline had come to take it as a matter of course and never decided anything for herself and consulted Constance and Addie about everything....

The wind outside roared and a violent rain beat down upon the windows, as though tapping at them with furious angry fingers. The drawn blinds, the closed curtains, the lighted lamps, Gerdy pouring out the tea with her pretty little ways: it all gave Constance, though she felt tired and would gladly have been alone for once, a caress of soft, homely satisfaction, a velvety sense of being in utter harmony with all around her, even though there was so much trouble, not only with the children, but also sometimes no little difficulty and misunderstanding with Mathilde, Addie's wife. Where was Mathilde now? Where were the two children? Gerdy, fussy and fidgety, pretending to be very busy, with a light clatter of her tea-things, had pushed an easy-chair nearer to the fireplace, where tongues of flames were darting. She now gave Constance her cup of tea, handed a plate of cakes; and Constance asked:

"Where's Mathilde?"

"Mathilde?... I don't know, but ... shall I go and look for her?"

"No, never mind. Where are the children?"

"In the nursery, I expect. Shall I send for them to come down?"

"No, dear, it doesn't matter...."

And Gerdy did not insist. With the wind and rain raging out of doors, it was still and peaceful inside; and, fidgety though Gerdy was, she felt that peaceful stillness and valued it, valued it as they all did. In her heart she hoped that Mathilde would not come down before dinner, because, whenever Mathilde did come down at tea-time, something happened, as though an imp were creeping in between Gerdy's nervous little fingers: she would break a cup or upset things; once indeed she had nearly set the house on fire, because she had tried to blow out the methylated spirit with a furious blast from her excitable little pouting lips.... It was very cosy now: if only Mathilde would remain upstairs a little longer.... And, while the wind and the rain raged outside, indoors there was but the sound of a few gentle phrases, uttered in the yellow circles of the lamps, which Gerdy had placed so that they shone with an intimate and pleasant cosiness.... Old Granny, over in her corner, sat quietly in her great arm-chair, which was like a throne; she did not move, did not speak, but was nevertheless in the picture, thought Gerdy: that waxen face of a very old lady, framed in the white hair; the woollen shawl over the shoulders; the motionless dark lines of the gown; and, in the lap, the fine detail of the fingers, quivering fingers, but for which she would have seemed devoid of all motion.... Near the fire, Constance was talking with Mamma and Emilie; and Gerdy did not know why, but something about those three, as they sat talking together, made her feel as if she could suddenly have cried for no reason, because of a touch of melancholy that just grazed against her, like a trouble dating back to former years and things that were long past.... Then Gerdy made an unnecessary clatter with her tea-cups and spoons and could not understand why she was so sensitive. Marie was doing some needlework and Alex was gloomily reading a book; but Guy was playing backgammon with Adeletje, making constant jokes in between: the dice were rattled in the boxes and dumped into the board; the men moved with a hard, wooden sound over the black and white points; the dice were rattled again and dumped down again.

"Five-three...."

"Double-six.... Double-four.... One more: two-three...."

And Klaasje had come and sat by Aunt Constance, almost creeping into her dress, with a very babyish picture-book in her hand. She pressed her fair-haired little head comfortably in Auntie's skirts, against Auntie's lap and had silently taken Auntie's arm and laid it round her neck. Herself unobserved, she noticed every single thing that happened: Guy and Adele's backgammon, Gerdy's fussing with the tea-things; and she listened to Auntie, Mamma and Emilie; but all the time it was as though she were outside that circle of homeliness, as though she were far away from it, as though she were hearing and seeing through a haze, unconsciously, in her slowly awakening little brains, the brains of a backward child. And, so as not to be too far away, she took Aunt Constance' hand, opened the palm with her fingers and pushed her little head under it: that made it seem as if she were much nearer....

Suddenly, the door opened; and everybody gave a little start, soon recovering, however: Mathilde had entered and only Grandmamma, yonder, more in the background in her dark corner, had remained motionless, with quivering fingers in her lap, white and waxen, trembling in the dark shadow of her dress.... But, near the fire, Constance, Adeline and Emilie were silent and remained sitting, stiffly, Adeline and Emilie without moving. Constance alone forced herself to look round at Mathilde; Alex read on, nervously hunching his shoulders; but Guy rattled his dice and Adeletje had a sudden flush on her cheek and turned pale.... And Gerdy was the most nervous of all: she suddenly ducked down in front of the fire and began poking it desperately.

"Do be careful, Gerdy!" said Adeline. "You'll set us on fire, the sparks are flying all over the place!"

Mathilde had sat down in the arm-chair next to Constance, which made little Klaasje feel a bit squeezed, in between Auntie and Mathilde, and Mathilde's shadow fell across the child's book and prevented her from seeing the pictures, causing such a sudden outburst of temper that, before anyone could stop her, she put out both arms convulsively, pushed with her hands against Mathilde's chair and cried:

"Go away!"

So much enmity was apparent in the child's voice that they all started again: only Grandmamma, in her corner, noticed nothing. But Constance recovered herself at once:

"For shame, Klaasje!" she said, in a chiding tone. "You mustn't do that, you know! What makes you so naughty?"

But the child pushed against the chair with such force that she pushed it aside, with Mathilde in it:

"Go away!" she repeated, pale in the face, with wide eyes starting from her head in hatred.

"Klaasje!" cried Constance. "Stop that at once!"

Her voice rang harsh and loud through the room. The child looked at her in alarm, understood merely that Auntie was angry and burst into loud sobs.

"Oh, very well, I'll go and sit somewhere else!" said Mathilde, pretending indifference.

She got up and sat beside Emilie.

"Haven't you been out?" asked Emilie, gently, for the sake of saying something.

"Out? In this horrible weather? Where would you have me go?" asked Mathilde, coldly. "No, I've had two hours' sleep. Gerdy, have you any tea left for me?"

"Yes, certainly," said Gerdy, in a forced voice.

She poked the fire once more, fiercely.

"But, Gerdy, mind what you're doing!" cried Adeline, terrified, for the sparks were flying out of the hearth.

Gerdy bobbed up from among her skirts and began clattering with her tea-tray. Klaasje had ceased crying, had stopped the moment that Mathilde had moved and was now looking up at Aunt Constance and trying to take her hand again.

"No," said Constance, "you're naughty."

"No-o!" whined the little girl, like a very small child. "I'm not naughty!"

"Yes, you are. It's not at all nice of you to push Mathilde away. You must never do that again, do you hear?"

"Oh, let the child be, Mamma!" said Mathilde, wearily.

The child looked up at Constance with such an unhappy expression in her face that Constance put her hand on her head again; and, at once forgetting everything, Klaasje now looked at her book and even hummed softly as she showed herself the pictures.

Gerdy was pouring out Mathilde's tea. There it was again: she had spilt the milk; the tea-tray was one white puddle! However, she mopped it up with a tea-cloth and now handed the cup to Mathilde.

Mathilde tasted it:

"Did you put any sugar in?"

"Yes, one lump."

"I never take sugar."

"Oh!... Shall I give you another cup?"

"No, thanks.... Your tea is weak."

Gerdy's tea was her pride, always:

"Tea gets bitter after standing three quarters of an hour," she said, aggressively, "or, if you pour water on it, it gets weak."

"Then I must always come three quarters of an hour late, for your tea is always either bitter or weak."

"Then make your own tea...."

But Gerdy saw Aunt Constance looking at her and said nothing more.

"Mamma," asked Mathilde, "do you know when Addie is coming back?"

"No, dear; to-morrow, I expect, or the next day."

"Haven't you had a card from him?"

"No, dear."

"Oh, I thought he would have written to you!... I might really have gone with him to Amsterdam."

"He had business to attend to...."

"Well, I shouldn't have hindered him in his business...."

She sat silent now and indifferent and looked at her watch, regretting that she had come down too early. She thought that it was six and that they would be having dinner at once. And it was not even half-past five yet.... Should she go upstairs again for a bit?... No, she was there now and she would stay.... She had slept too long that afternoon.... She felt heavy and angry.... What a place, what a place, Driebergen in November! Not a soul to talk to, except three or four antediluvian families.... When was she likely to see the Hague again? The children would be looked after all right: there were busybodies enough in the house for that!... And she remained sitting beside Emilie, without moving or speaking, weary, indifferent and heavy after her long sleep.... She knew it: as usual, her entrance had caused friction. That odious idiot child, pushing her chair away, with its "Go away!" She could have boxed its ears.... But she had controlled herself. Didn't she always control herself? Wasn't she always being insulted by her husband's relatives?... Why on earth had she married him? Couldn't she have married anybody at the Hague?... In her weary, heavy indifference, mingled with spiteful rancour, she felt herself a martyr.... Wasn't she a very handsome woman? Couldn't she have married anybody, though her father was a penniless naval officer, though there was no money on her mother's side either?... She was a handsome girl; and, from the time when she was quite young, her one thought had been to make a good match, first and foremost a good match, and to get away from the poverty and the vulgar crew that gathered in Papa and Mamma's house.... Oh, yes, she was very fond of her husband; but now it was all his fault: he ... he was neglecting her!... Wasn't she a martyr?

Deep down within herself, no doubt, she knew that she had not married him for himself alone, that she had certainly thought it heavenly, she, a Smeet, plain Mathilde Smeet, to marry Baron van der Welcke ... plenty of money ... a smart match ... even though the family no longer lived in the Hague....

Baroness van der Welcke.... On her cards: Baroness van der Welcke.... A coronet on her handkerchiefs, a coat-of-arms on her note-paper: oh, how delicious, how delicious!... What a joy at last to order the gowns in Brussels, to get out of the poverty of her parents' home, which reeked of rancid butter and spilt paraffin, to shake it from her, to plunge and drown it in the past, that poverty, as you drown a mangy dog in a pond....

Driebergen ... well, yes. But it wouldn't always be Driebergen. She would back herself to coax her husband out of that patriarchy, to coax him to the Hague, where he would be the young, fashionable doctor: a fine house, smart acquaintances, a box at the Opera, presentation at court, Baroness ... Baronne van der Welcke....

She had two children now, a boy and a girl. It was irresistible; and yet she knew that she must take care and not let the nurse have too much of it:

"Geertje, have you washed the jonker's hands?... Geertje, I want the freule to wear her white frock to-day?"[1]

For she had noticed that the others never used the words in speaking to Geertje or to the maids, never said jonker or freule, always just simply Constant and Henriette, or even Stan and Jet; and so, when the others were there, she copied them and said, "Stan" and "Jet"; but oh, the joy, as soon as they were gone, of once more blurting out the titles to Geertje, the warm rapture of feeling that she was not only a baroness but the mother of a freule and a jonker:

"Geertje, has Freule Henriette had her milk?... Geertje, let the jonker wear his new shoes to-day!..."

No, she simply could not keep from it; and yet she had sense enough to know and perception enough to feel that the others thought it a mark of bad breeding in her, to refer to her babies of one year old and two as freule and jonker.... That was the worst of it, that she had married not only her husband but his whole family into the bargain: his grandmamma, his parents and Aunt Adeline with her troops of children whom Addie--so silly of him, because he was so young--regarded as his own, for whom it was his duty to care.... That was the worst of it; and oh, if she had known everything, known what a martyr she would be in this house, where she never felt herself the mistress--a victim to the idiot child's rude ways, a victim to Gerdy, who gave her sugar in her tea--if she had known everything, she might have thought twice before marrying him at all!...

And yet she was wonderfully fond of Addie, might still be very happy with him, if he would only come back to her ... and not neglect her, over and over again, for all that crew of so-called adopted children with which he had burdened himself.... Oh, to get him out of it, out of that suffocating family-circle ... and then to the Hague: her husband a young, smart doctor, she at court; and then see all the old friends again ... and Papa and Mamma's relations ... and perhaps leave cards on them sweetly: Baronne van der Welcke!...

She was not all vanity: she had plenty of common sense besides and no small portion of clear and penetrating insight. She saw her own vanity, indeed, but preferred not to see it. She would rather look upon herself as a martyr than as vain and therefore saw herself in that light, deliberately thrusting aside her common sense; and then, sometimes, in an unhappy mood, she would weep over her own misfortunes. Her only consolation at such times was that she was handsome, a young, handsome woman, and healthy and the mother of two pretty little children: a jonker and a freule.

She now sat wearily, with very few words passing among them all; the dice in Adele and Guy's boxes rattled loudly and worked on Mathilde's nerves.

Gerdy could stand it no longer: she had run out into the hall and almost bumped against Van der Welcke, who was just going to the drawing-room.

"Hullo, kiddie!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, Uncle!"

"Where are you rushing off to?"

She laughed.

"Nowhere, Uncle. I don't know. I'm going to wash my hands. I upset the milk.... There's no tea left, Uncle."

"That's all right, kiddie, I don't want any tea.... Shall we be having dinner soon?"

"It's not six yet."

"Anything from Addie?"

"No, Uncle."

"Has ... has Mathilde come down?"

"Yes, Uncle."

"I see. Well, I think I'll go upstairs again for a bit."

"Oh, don't, Uncle!"

"I may as well."

"No, don't. Why should you? You're always putting her on us and clearing out yourself!"

"I? But I have nothing to do with her!"

"She's your daughter-in-law."

"I dare say, but I can't help that."

"Yes, you can."

"How do you mean? How can I help it?"

"Why, if you had stopped Addie at the time ... had forbidden it ... as his father."

"You young baggage! Do you imagine that I can forbid Addie anything? I've never been able to prevent his doing a thing. He's always done what he wanted to, from the time when he was a child."

"You can help it."

"Can I? Well, whether I can help it or not ... I'm going upstairs."

"No, Uncle, you're not to. You must come in. Do be nice. Come along for our sake. You're fond of us, aren't you? You love all Addie's adopted children, Uncle, don't you?"

"Yes, kiddie, I'm fond of you all, though I've lost Addie altogether through you."

"No, Uncle, not altogether."

"Well, what's the use of sharing him with the pack of you?"

"But you can afford to share him a little bit. Tell me: you are fond of us?"

"Of course I am, you're a dear, jolly lot. But Mathilde...."

"What about Mathilde, Uncle?"

He bent over her and bit each word separately into her ear:

"I--can't--stand--her.... I hate her as I have never hated anybody."

"But, Uncle, that's overdoing it," said Gerdy, lapsing into reasonableness.

"Overdoing it?"

"Yes, she's not so bad as all that. She can be very nice."

"You think her nice, do you? Well, she's like a spectre to me."

"No, no, you mustn't say that. And she's Addie's wife and the mother of his children."

"Look here, kiddie, don't be putting on such wise airs. They don't suit you."

"But she is the mother of his children and you're not to be so jealous."

"Am I jealous?"

"Yes, you're jealous ... of Mathilde and of us."

"Very likely. I never see Addie. If I hadn't got Guy...."

"Well, you've got Guy. And you've got Addie as well."

"No, I haven't.... Do you know when he's coming back?"

"No, I don't, Uncle. And now come along in."

She drew Van der Welcke into the room with her; and, as usual, he went up to the old woman seated silently in her corner, rubbing his hands, trying to speak a few words to her. She recognized him and smiled.... The wind outside raged with a deeper note.... The branches of the trees swished along the windows, the twigs tapped at them as with fingertips.... And amid the eeriness of it all Constance suddenly felt it very strange that they were all of them there, all strangers in the old, gloomy house, which had once belonged to Henri's stern parents. The old woman had forgiven her, but the old man had never forgiven. He had died, his heart filled with rancour. And now they were all there, all strangers, except the son, except the grandson; and he was not there at the moment.... They were all strangers: her mother, in her second childhood, imagining herself at the Hague and very often at Buitenzorg;[2] she herself and Gerrit's widow and their children; Emilie: all, all strangers, all with their manifold life and ceaseless bustle filling the once silent and serious house.... And Mathilde, a stranger.... And, so strange, even Mathilde and Addie's children, little Constant and Jetje, were two little strangers, though they bore the family name.... Why did she feel this? Perhaps because she still considered that the great gloomy house belonged to the old man. It was as though he lived there still, as though he still walked outside, in the garden. It was as though the great, gloomy house was still filled with his rancour towards her and hers.... Yes, she had been living here for ten years, but the old man still bore rancour because she was there and because so many of hers had come with her to the house in which they had no business, in which she herself was an intruder as were all who had intruded themselves along with her.... It was a feeling which had so often oppressed her, during those ten years, and which would always oppress her.... And she would not utter it to anybody, for Van der Welcke had given Addie free leave to bring the troop with him; and he himself loved the troop....

Oh, how the angles between her and her husband had been rubbed smooth with the years, whether they passed slow or fast!... How they had learnt to put up with each other!... They were growing old: she fifty-six, he a little younger; it was true, no affection had come between them, but so much softening of all that had once been sharp and unkind between them, so that they had been able to go on living, in this house, and together with their child performing the task that seemed to be laid upon them: looking after Gerrit's children!...

And Adeline took it as quite natural; but yet ... how grateful she was to them! How often she told them that she could never have brought up the children alone, that she would have had neither the strength for it nor the money!... Gerrit's death had broken her. She had always quietly done her little duties as a wife and mother, but Gerrit's death had broken her. She had remained among all her children as one who no longer knows. It was as if the simplicity of her life had become shrouded in a darkness wherein she wandered and sought, groping with outstretched hands. Ah, if Constance and Addie had not led her!...

And Constance in her turn was grateful to Van der Welcke, for was it not his house in which she lived with her nephews and nieces, was it not with his money, for a great part, that she brought up those children?... Oh, if the old man would only cease spreading that rancour around them, filling the whole great sombre house with it because they had intruded, because they were living there on his money, though that money now belonged to his heir! At every guilder that Constance spent on her swollen household, she felt the old man's rancour. And it made her thriftier than she had ever been at the time when she and Henri, though their needs were far from small, had had to live on a few thousand guilders a year. Though she now lived in this big house, though twelve and often fifteen of them sat down to table, she was comparatively thriftier in her whole mode of life than she had ever been in her little house with her husband and child.... It was the old man's money, a large fortune, and it was Henri's money now, of course, but it was first and foremost the old man's money!... The curtains in the drawing-room were sadly faded, but she would not buy new, though Van der Welcke himself had begged her at least to buy some for the front room. Her everyday table was very simple, simpler than she had ever been accustomed to. And this gave her the remorse that she was feeding Henri, now that he was growing older, more simply than she had in his younger days. And she urged him daily to buy a motor-car....

He was sensible, refused to do anything of the kind. Buying the "sewing-machine," well, yes, that was one big initial outlay ... but the most expensive part of it was the upkeep of it, the chauffeur, the excursions. He feared that, once he possessed the "machine," it would become a very costly joke.... And all those ten years, though he had often thought of a car, he had never bought the old sewing-machine. Then Constance felt so violently self-reproachful, at using Henri's money for her brother's children, that she discussed it with Addie. Those discussions about the motor had recurred regularly every year. Addie thought that Papa was right, that it was not the initial outlay that was so burdensome, but all the further expenses. Then again motor-cars were being so much improved yearly that, when once Papa had caught the fever, he would get rid of his sewing-machine yearly to buy a new and more modern one. No, it would be a very expensive story.... And Van der Welcke had never bought his sewing-machine, had barely, once in a way, hired one.... Constance felt a lasting self-reproach because of it....

They were rich now; and yet ... what was their fortune, with so many burdens! Burdens, moreover, which were not even the natural burdens of one's own children growing up! Burdens of Gerrit's children!... And so she economized more and more, wearing her gowns till they became shiny, till Addie said that Mamma was losing all her daintiness in her old age. He had always known his mother as a well-dressed woman and now she went about in blouses that shone like looking-glasses. He used to tease her; there was one which he always called the looking-glass blouse. Constance laughed gaily, said she no longer cared so much about clothes. Well off though she now was, she spent upon her dress not half of what she used to in the old days.... And Mathilde, who sprang from a poverty reeking of paraffin and rancid butter, Mathilde, who would have liked to be surrounded with luxury at every moment, Mathilde thought her mother-in-law above all things stingy, decided that stinginess was the outstanding feature of her character....

[1] Jonker is the title borne by the sons of Dutch noblemen until they come of age, when, as a rule, they bear the same title as their father; freule is the title of all the unmarried daughters.

[2] The governor-general's house near Batavia.

CHAPTER II

It was six o'clock. Constance and Marietje had taken Grandmamma upstairs, for she no longer had her meals with the rest, but went to bed very early in the evening. And they were now in the dining-room, sitting at the great dinner-table: a table, Constance considered, of strangers--her brother's children--gathered round her husband, who alone had any right to live there, in the old man's house, and to sit at his table.... And yet it seemed quite natural that Emilie should be sitting there, that Adeline should be sitting there with her four girls, Marietje, Adele, Gerdy and Klaasje, and her two big boys, Alex and Guy; it seemed quite natural that, after the soup, the parlour-maid should set the great piece of beef in front of Guy for Guy to carve: one of the few things that he did well, as Van der Welcke told him, without thinking, for there was some truth in the jibe. It was the same simple fare daily: soup, a joint, green potatoes, vegetables and a sweet, so that Van der Welcke sometimes said:

"But, Constance, how Dutch you have grown in your taste!"

"Well, if there's anything you fancy, you have only to say so!" she would answer, gently.

And yet she was afraid that he would name something, some game or poultry, that would be much too expensive for so large a table and such appetites as the children's: wasn't she spending more than enough as it was, with that good, simple homeliness and wasn't the butcher's bill absurdly high, month after month?

And Guy carved the beef in fine, heavy slices, falling neatly and smoothly one on top of the other, with a dexterity which he remembered learning when quite a small boy from his father, when he recollected very well indeed carving the meat in the little dining-room in the Bankastraat.... That was Guy's duty, to carve the meat neatly; and he would have gone on carving till it all lay in neat slices on the dish, if Constance had not warned him:

"That ought to do, Guy."

The boy was just handing the dish to the maid, for her to take round, when a carriage drove into the front garden.

"Listen!" said Constance.

"That must be Addie!" exclaimed Gerdy, joyously.

"It's Addie, it's Addie!" cried Klaasje.

"Yes, it must be Addie," said Van der Welcke.

There was a loud ring at the bell; and at the same time a key grated in the latch.

"It's Addie!" they now all cried, with cheerful, expectant faces, rejoicing that he was back.

And Gerdy, in her restless way, got up. Mathilde would have got up too, but, finding Gerdy before her, she remained sitting. Gerdy's clear voice rang in the hall:

"Addie, you're back, you're back! Oh, but how cold and windy it is!"

The maids, likewise glad, fussed about, three of them to one handbag. Gerdy had left the door open and the draught penetrated to the dinner-table. But Addie was now in the room; and all their radiant faces were raised to his. They had done without him for five days.? They had missed him for five days.

"Good-evening, everybody!"

He flung off his wet great-coat: Truitje[1] caught it and took it out of the room. He gave a nod here and there, but kissed nobody and shook hands with nobody. He looked tired; and his collar was limp with the rain.

"Won't you go and change first, Addie?" asked Constance, smiling with content, because he was there.

"No, Mamma, I'd rather not. I'm hungry. Give me a glass of wine."

They saw at once what was the matter. He was out of humour. All their radiant faces fell immediately; and they were silent. Guy, who was nearest to him, poured him out a glass of wine, without a word. Addie drank down the wine. His eyes glanced up wearily from under their lashes; his gestures were nervous and jerky. When Addie was out of humour, they were silent, subduing the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes. Nobody knew what to say. And it cost Constance an effort to ask:

"How were things in Amsterdam?"

"All right."

He answered coldly, as though begging her to ask no more questions about Amsterdam. Nobody else asked anything: he would be sure to tell what there was to tell later. They began to talk among one another in constrained tones. They were sorry that Addie was out of humour, but they did not take it amiss in him. He must be tired; he had had a busy time. Yes, he must be tired. It was not only his collar: his coat also hung limp from his shoulders; his grey-blue eyes were dull. Oh, how serious his eyes had become, now that he was a man of twenty-six! How serious his forehead was, with those two wrinkles, above the nose, which seemed to unite with the tawny eyebrows! In face and figure alike he was older than his years, almost too old, as though bowed down with premature cares. He stooped over his plate; and they were all struck by his air of weary exhaustion. What was it that had overstrained him so? He did not speak, but ate on in silence and drank rather more wine than was his wont. Alex looked at him for a long time, with a touch of anxious surprise. And at last, glancing, almost in alarm, at their faces, he suddenly perceived how forced and confused they all were in their attitudes, sitting and staring in front of them or into their plates--even his father, even his mother--and he understood that they sat and stared like that because he had not returned in a cheerful mood, after his five days' absence. He had a feeling of remorse, did violence to his fatigue and his ill-humour, steadied his nerves. He smiled--a tired smile--at his mother; asked his wife:

"How are the children, Mathilde?"

It was at once evident to them all, from his tone of addressing Mathilde, that he was making an effort and no longer wished to be out of humour and tired. They were thankful that he was making this obvious effort, because, with Addie gloomy, a gloom fell over all. Even Alex seemed to breathe again. And they could none of them bear it when Mathilde just answered, coolly:

"All right."

Nevertheless his endeavour succeeded. He now spoke to his father; and Van der Welcke answered with a jest. There was a laugh at last; Gerdy led the outburst, about nothing; the voices broke into a hum....

After dinner, Addie went upstairs; and, when he had changed his things, he found Mathilde in her own sitting-room. Constant and Jetje had gone to bed. Out of doors, the night seemed to be wilder and stormier than ever; and the house creaked, the windows rattled. Mathilde sat staring before her, her ears filled with the sounds of the night. Nevertheless she heard her husband come in; but she did not move.

"Tilly...."