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Title: Old People and the Things That Pass
Author: Couperus, Louis
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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OLD PEOPLE AND THE THINGS THAT PASS

by

LOUIS COUPERUS

Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos



New York
Dodd, Mead and Company
1919



CHAPTER I


Steyn's deep bass voice was heard in the passage:

"Come, Jack, come along, dog! Are you coming with your master?"

The terrier gave a loud, glad bark and came rushing madly down the
stairs, till he seemed to be tumbling over his own paws.

"Oh, that voice of Steyn's!" Ottilie hissed between her teeth angrily
and turned a number of pages of her novel.

Charles Pauws glanced at her quietly, with his little smile, his laugh
at Mamma's ways. He was sitting with his mother after dinner, sipping
his cup of coffee before going on to Elly.

Steyn went out with Jack; the evening silence settled upon the little
house and the gas hummed in the impersonal and unhomely sitting-room.
Charles Pauws looked down at the tips of his boots and admired their
fit.

"Where has Steyn gone?" asked Mamma; and her voice grumbled uneasily.

"Gone for a walk with Jack," said Charles Pauws.

He was called Lot[1] at home; his voice sounded soft and soothing.

"He's gone to his woman!" snarled Ottilie.

Lot made a gesture of weariness:

"Come, Mamma," he said, "be calm now and don't think about that scene.
I'm going on to Elly presently; meantime I want to sit cosily with
you for a bit. Steyn's your husband, after all. You mustn't always be
bickering with him and saying and thinking such things. You were just
like a little fury again. It brings wrinkles, you know, losing your
temper like that."

"I am an old woman."

"But you've still got a very soft little skin."

Ottilie smiled; and Lot stood up:

"There," he said, "give me a kiss.... Won't you? Must I give you one?
You angry little Mummy!... And what was it about? About nothing. At
least, I can't remember what it was all about. I should never be able
to analyse it. And that's always the way.... How do I come to be so
unruffled with such a little fury of a Mamma?"

"If you imagine that your father used to keep unruffled!"

Lot laughed that little laugh of his and did not reply. Mrs. Steyn de
Weert went on reading more peacefully; she sat in front of her book
like a child. She was a woman of sixty, but her blue eyes were like a
child's, full of a soft beauty, gentle and innocent; and her voice,
a little high-toned, always sounded like a child's, had just sounded
like the voice of a naughty child. Sitting, small and upright, in her
chair, she read on, attentively, calming herself because Lot had spoken
so calmly and kissed her so comfortingly. The gas hummed and Lot drank
his coffee and, looking at his boots, wondered why he was going to be
married. He did not think he was a marrying man. He was young still:
thirty-eight; he really looked much younger; he made enough money with
his articles to risk it, frugal-fashion, with what Elly would get from
Grandpapa Takma; but all the same he did not think that he was of the
marrying kind. His liberty, his independence, his selfish power to
amuse himself as he pleased were what he loved best; and marrying meant
giving one's self over, bound hand and foot, to a woman. He was not
passionately in love with Elly: he thought her an intelligent, artistic
little thing; and he was really not doing it for what she would inherit
from Grandpapa Takma. Then why was he doing it, he asked himself, as he
had asked himself day after day, during that week which had followed on
his proposal.

"Mamma, can you tell me? Why did I propose to Elly?"

Ottilie looked up. She was accustomed to queer and humorous questions
from Lot and she used to answer him in the same tone, as far as she was
able; but this question made her feel a prick of jealousy, a prick that
hurt very much, physically, like a thorn in the flesh.

"Why you proposed to Elly? I don't know. We always do things without
knowing why."

Her voice sounded soft and melancholy, a little sulky after the naughty
child's voice of just now. Had she not lost everything that she had
ever possessed? Would she not lose Lot, have to part with him to Elly
... as she had had to part with everything and everybody?...

"How seriously you answered, Mamma! That's not like you."

"Mayn't I be serious too, once in a way?"

"Why so sad and serious and tempersome lately? Is it because I am going
to be married?"

"Perhaps."

"But you're fond of Elly ..."

"Yes, she's very nice."

"The best thing we can do is to go on living together; Elly's fond of
you too. I've talked to Steyn about it."

Lot called his step-father, his second step-father, Steyn, without
anything else, after having called his first, when he was still a boy,
"Mr." Trevelley. Ottilie had been married three times.

"The house is too small," said Mamma, "especially if you go having a
family soon."

And yet she thought:

"If we remain together, I sha'n't lose Lot entirely; but I shall never
be able to get on with my daughter-in-law, especially if there are
children."

"A family?" he echoed.

"Children."

"Children?"

"Well, married people have had children before now!"

"Our family has lasted long enough. I shall be in no hurry about
children."

"And, when your wife hasn't you with her, what has she, if she hasn't
any children? It's true, you're both so clever. I'm only a stupid
woman; my children have often been a comfort to me...."

"When you were able to spoil them."

"It's not for you to reproach me with that!"

"I'm not reproaching you."

"As to living together, Lot," said Mamma, sadly, in a child's coaxing
voice, casting up her blue child-eyes, "_I_ should be quite willing, if
Elly is and if she promises to take things as she finds them. I shall
feel very lonely without you. But, if there were any objections, I
might go over to England. I have my two boys there. And Mary is coming
home from India this year."

Lot knitted his brows and put his hand up to his fair hair: it was very
neat, with a parting.

"Or else ... I might go and look up Ottilie at Nice."

"No, Mamma, not that!" said Lot, almost angrily.

"Why not?" exclaimed Mrs. Steyn de Weert, raising her voice. "She's my
child, surely?"

"Yes," Lot admitted, quickly recovering his composure. "But ..."

"But what? Surely, my own child...?"

"But it would be very silly of you to go to Ottilie."

"Why, even if we have quarrelled at times ..."

"It would never do; you can't get on with her. If you go to Ottilie, I
won't get married. Besides, Steyn has something to say in the matter."

"I'm so fond of Nice," said Mrs. Steyn de Weert; and her child-voice
sounded almost plaintive. "The winters there are so delightful....
But perhaps it would be difficult for me ... to go there ... because
Ottilie behaves so funnily. If it could be managed, I would rather
live with you, Lot. If Elly is willing. Perhaps we could have a little
larger house than this. Do you think we could afford it? Stay alone
with Steyn I will _not_. That's settled. That's quite settled."

"Mummy darling ..."

Lot's voice sounded full of pity. After her last determined words,
Mamma had big tears in her blue child-eyes, tears which did not fall
but which gave a sorrowful gleam to the naughty look in her face.
Then, with a sudden short sigh, she took up her book and was silent
and pretended to read. There was something resigned about her attitude
and, at the same time, something obstinate, the constant attitude of
a naughty child, a spoilt child that persisted in doing, quietly and
silently, what it wanted to. Lot, with his coffee-cup in his hand, his
laugh about his mouth, studied Mamma; after his compassion, he just
sat and studied her. Yes, she must have been very pretty; the uncles
always said, a little doll. She was sixty now and no longer made any
pretence to beauty; but she was still charming in a child-like and
doll-like fashion. She had the wrinkles and the deeper furrows of
an elderly woman; but the skin of her forehead and cheeks was still
white and soft, without a blemish, tenderly veined at the temples.
She had become very grey; but, as she had been very fair and her hair
was soft and curly, it sometimes looked as if she had remained fair;
and, simply though that hair appeared to be done, fastened up with one
quick movement and pinned, there were still some almost childish little
locks curling at the temples and in the neck. Her short, slim figure
was almost that of a young woman; her hands were small and pretty;
in fact, there was a prettiness about her whole person; and pretty
above all were the young, blue eyes. Lot, who smiled as he looked at
his mother, saw in her a woman over whom an emotional life, a life
of love and hate, had passed without telling very much upon her. And
yet Mamma had been through a good deal, with her three husbands, all
three of whom she had loved, all three of whom, without exception, she
now hated. A butterfly she had certainly been, but just an unthinking
butterfly, simply because her nature was a butterfly's. She had loved
much, but even a deep passion would not have made her life or her
different; naturally and unconsciously she was in headstrong opposition
to everything. She had never been economical; and yet her house was
never comfortable, nor had she ever spent much on dress, unconsciously
despising elegance and comfort and feeling that she attracted through
herself and not through any artistic surroundings. Mamma's get-up was
like nothing on earth, Lot thought; the only cosy room in the house was
his. Mamma, mad on reading, read very modern French novels, which she
did not always understand, despite a life of love and hatred, having
remained innocent in many things and totally ignorant of the darker
phases of passion. Then Lot would see, while she was reading, that she
was surprised and did not understand; a simple, childish wonder would
come into her eyes; she never dared ask Lot for an explanation....

Lot got up; he was going to Elly that evening. He kissed his mother,
with his constant little laugh of silent amusement, his little laugh at
Mamma.

"You never used to go out every evening," said Mamma, reproachfully;
and she felt the thorn in her heart's flesh.

"I'm in love now," said Lot, calmly. "And engaged. And a fellow must
go and see his girl, you know.... Will you think over my question,
why I really proposed to Elly ... and will you manage without me this
evening?"

"I shall have to do that many evenings...."

Mamma pretended to be absorbed in her French novel, but, as soon as Lot
had left the room, she put down the book and looked round, vaguely,
with a look of helplessness in her blue eyes. She did not move when
the maid brought in the tea-tray and kettle; she sat staring before
her, across her book. The water sang its bubbling song; outside the
windows, after the last summer heat, the first cold wind blew with
its wonted plaint. Ottilie felt herself abandoned: oh, how little
of everything remained! There she was now, there she was, the old,
grey-haired woman! What was there left of her life? And yet, strange
to say, her three husbands were all three alive: Lot had been lately
to Brussels with Elly, to see his father; Trevelley was spending a
life of pleasure in London: when all was said, she had liked him the
best. Her three English children lived in England, felt more English
than Dutch; Ottilie was leading her curious, unconventional life at
Nice: the whole family cried scandal about it; and Lot she was now
about to lose. He had always stayed with her so nicely, though he went
abroad pretty frequently; and he had hardly any friends at the Hague
and never went to the Witte.[2] Now he was going to be married; he was
no longer young, for a young man; he must be thirty-eight, surely? To
occupy herself a little now, beside her lonely tea-tray and bubbling
water, she began to count her children's ages on her tiny fingers.
Ottilie, Lot's sister, her eldest, forty-one: heavens, how old she was
growing! The English ones, as she always called them--"my three English
children"--Mary, thirty-five; John, thirty-two; even her handsome Hugh
was thirty: heavens above, how old they were growing! And, once she
was busy calculating ages, to amuse herself, she reckoned out that old
Mamma would now soon be--let's see--yes, she would be ninety-seven. Old
Mr. Takma, Elly's grandpapa, was only a year or two younger; and, when
she thought of him, Ottilie reflected that it was very strange that Mr.
Takma had always been so nice to her, as though it were really true
what people used to whisper, formerly, when people still interested
themselves in the family. So curious, those two old people: they saw
each other almost every day; for Papa Takma was hale and still went out
often, always walking the short distance from the Mauritskade to the
Nassaulaan and crossing the razor-back bridge with rare vigour. Yes
... and then Sister Thérèse, in Paris, eight years older than herself,
must be sixty-eight; and the brothers: Daan, in India,[3] seventy;
Harold, seventy-three; Anton, seventy-five; while Stefanie, the only
child of Mamma's first marriage and the only De Laders, was getting
on for seventy-seven. She, Ottilie, the youngest, felt that all those
others were very old; and yet she was old too: she was sixty. It was
all a matter of comparison, growing old, different ages; but she had
always felt it so: that she, the youngest, was comparatively young and
always remained younger than the others, than all the others. She had
to laugh, secretly, when Stefanie kept on saying:

"At our age ..."

Why, Stefanie was seventy-seven! There was a
difference--rather!--between sixty and seventy-seven. But she shrugged
her shoulders: what did it matter? It was all over and so long ago.
There she sat now, an old, grey-haired woman, and the aftermath of
life dragged on and the loneliness increased daily, even though Steyn
was here still: there he was, coming in. Where on earth did he go to
every evening? She heard the fox-terrier barking in the passage and her
husband's deep, bass voice:

"Hush, Jack! Quiet, Jack!..."

Oh, that voice, how she hated it!

What had she, whom had she left? She had five children, but only Lot
with her; and he went abroad so often and was now going to be married:
oh, how jealous it made her! Ottilie she never saw nowadays; Ottilie
didn't care for her mother; she sang at concerts and had made a name
for herself: she had a glorious voice; but she certainly behaved
very strangely: Stefanie spoke of her as "lost." Mary was married,
in India,[4] and her two English boys were in London: oh, how she
sometimes longed for Hugh! Which of her children was any use or
comfort to her, except that dear Lot? And Lot was going to be married
and he was asking her, his mother, who would miss him so, why he was
going to be married, why! Of course, he was only joking, really; but
perhaps it was also serious in part. Did people ever know anything?...
Did they know why they did a thing ... in their impulsiveness. She had
married three times.... Perhaps Ottilie was right after all? But no,
there was the world, there were people, even though neither the world
nor people had interested themselves in the family of late years; but
still there they were; and you couldn't act as Ottilie did, without
making yourself altogether impossible. That was why she, Mamma, had
married, had married three times. Perhaps she ought never to have
married at all: it would have been better for a heap of things, a heap
of people.... The old life was all gone. It had vanished, as if it had
never existed. And yet it had existed and, when it passed, had left
much behind it, but nothing except melancholy ghosts and shadows. Yes,
this evening she was in a serious mood and felt like thinking, a thing
which otherwise she did as seldom as possible: what good did thinking
do? When she had thought, in her life, she had never thought to any
practical purpose. When she had yielded to impulse, things had been
worse still. What was the good of wanting to live, when nevertheless
your life was mapped out for you by things stronger than yourself that
slumbered in your blood?

Ottilie gave herself up to her French novel, for Steyn de Weert had
entered the room, with Jack leaping in front of him. And any one
who had seen Mamma a moment ago and saw her now would have noticed
this phenomenon, that Mamma became much older as soon as her husband
entered. The plump cheeks contracted nervously and the lines round the
nose and mouth grew deeper. The little straight nose stuck out more
sharply, the forehead frowned angrily. The fingers, which were tearing
the pages of a novel anyhow with a hairpin, trembled; and the page was
torn awry. The back became rounder, like that of a cat assuming the
defensive. She said nothing, but poured out the tea.

"Coosh!" she said to the dog.

And, glad that the dog came to her, she patted him on the head with a
half-caress; and the fox-terrier, giving a last sharp bark, spun round
upon himself and, very suddenly, nestled down on Ottilie's skirt, with
a deep sigh. Steyn de Weert, sitting opposite her, drank his tea.
It appeared strange that they should be man and wife, for Mamma now
certainly looked her age and Steyn seemed almost young. He was a tall
fellow, broad-shouldered, not more than just fifty, with a handsome,
fresh-coloured, healthy face, the face of a strong out-of-doors man,
calm in glance and movement. The fact that, years ago, he had thrown
away his life, from a sense of honour, upon a woman much older than
himself had afterwards inspired him with an indifference that ceased
to reckon what might still be in store for him. What was spoilt was
spoilt, squandered for good, irretrievably. There was the open air,
which was cool and fresh; there was shooting; there was a drink, when
he wanted one; there were his old friends, dating back to the time when
he was an officer in the dragoons. Beyond these there were the little
house and this old woman: he accepted them into the bargain, because it
couldn't be helped. In externals he did, as far as possible, what she
wanted, because she could be so tempersome and was so obstinate; but
his cool stubbornness was a silent match for hers. Lot was a capital
fellow, a little weak and unexpected and effeminate; but he was very
fond of Lot: he was glad that Lot lived with them; he had given Lot one
of the best rooms in the house to work in. For the rest ... for the
rest, there were other things; but they were no concern of anybody.
Hang it all, he was a young man still, even though his thick hair was
beginning to turn grey! His marriage had come about through a point of
honour; but his wife was old, she was very old. The thing was really
rather absurd. He would never make a hell of his life, as long as he
still felt well and strong. With a good dose of indifference you can
shake off everything.

It was this indifference of his which irritated his wife, till she
felt as nervous as a cat when he did no more than enter the room. He
had not spoken a word, sat drinking his tea, reading the newspaper
which he had brought with him. In the small living-room, where the
gas hummed and the wind rattled the panes, the fox-terrier sometimes
snorted in dreams that made him groan and moan on the trailing edge of
his mistress' dress.

"Coosh!" she said.

And for the rest neither of them spoke, both sat reading, one her book,
the other his evening-paper. And these two people, whose lives had been
welded together by civil contract, because of the man's feelings of
conventional honesty and his sense of not being able to act otherwise
as a man of honour, these two had once, years ago, twenty years ago,
longed passionately, the man for the woman and the woman for the man.
When Steyn de Weert was a first lieutenant, a good-looking fellow,
just turned thirty, he had met Mrs. Trevelley, without knowing her
age. Besides, what did age matter when he set eyes upon a woman so
ravishingly beautiful to his quick desire that he had at once, at the
first moment that he saw her, felt the blood flaming in his veins and
thought:

"That woman I must have!..."

At that time, though already forty, she was a woman so full of
blossoming prettiness that she was still known as the beautiful Lietje.
She was small, but perfect in shape and particularly charming in
feature, charming in the still very young lines of throat and breast,
creamy white, with a few pale-gold freckles; charming with blue eyes
of innocence and very fair, soft, wavy hair; charmingly half-woman and
half-child, moulded for love, who seemed to exist only that she might
rouse glowing desires. When Steyn de Weert saw her thus for the first
time, in some ultra-modern Hague drawing-room of the Dutch-Indian set,
she was married to her second husband, that half-Englishman, Trevelley,
who was supposed to have made money in India; and Steyn had seen her
the mother of three biggish children: a girl of fifteen and two boys a
little younger; but the enamoured dragoon had refused to believe that,
by her first marriage, with Pauws, from whom she had been divorced
because of Trevelley, she had a daughter at the Conservatoire at Liège
and a son of eighteen at home! The beautiful Lietje? She had married
very young, in India, and she was still the beautiful Lietje. Such big
children? Was that woman forty? The young officer had perhaps hesitated
a moment, tried, now that he knew so much, to view Mrs. Trevelley with
other eyes; but, when he looked in hers and saw that she desired him as
he did her, he forgot everything. Why not cull a moment of happiness?
What was an instant of love with a still seductive and beautiful woman?
A triumph for a week, a month, a couple of months; and then each would
go a different way.

That was how he had thought at the time; but now, now he was sitting
here, because that bounder of a Trevelley, who wanted to get rid of
Ottilie, had taken advantage of their relations to create a scandal
and, after a pretence at a duel, to insist on a divorce; because all
the Hague had talked about Ottilie, when she was left standing alone
with a lover; and because he, Steyn, was an honest chap after all:
that, that was why he was sitting here, with that old woman opposite
him. Not a word was uttered between them; they drank their tea; the
tray was removed; Jack dreamed and moaned; the wind howled. The pages
followed in quick succession under Ottilie's fingers; and Steyn read
the Manchurian war-news and the advertisements, the advertisements and
the war-news. The room around them, married though they were, looked
as it had always looked, impersonal and unhomely; the clock ticked on
and on, under its glass shade. It looked like a waiting-room, that
drawing-room: a waiting-room where, after many things that had passed,
two people sat waiting. Sat waiting ... for what? For the end that was
so slow in coming, for the final death.

Steyn restrained himself and read through the advertisements once more.
But his wife, suddenly shutting up her book, said, abruptly:

"Frans!"

"Eh?"

"I was talking to Lot just now."

"Yes ..."

"Would you object if they stayed on with us, he and Elly?"

"No, on the contrary."

But it seemed as though Steyn's calm consent just irritated his wife,
perhaps against her own will, into contradiction:

"Yes, but it wouldn't be so easy!" she said.

"Why not?"

"The house is too small."

"We can move."

"A bigger house would be more expensive. Have you the money for it?"

"I think that, with what Lot makes and with Elly's allowance ..."

"No, a bigger house is too dear."

"Well, then here...."

"This is too small."

"Then it can't be done."

Ottilie rose, angrily:

"No, of course not: nothing can ever be done. Because of that wretched
money. But I'll tell you this: when Lot is married, I can't ... I
c-can't ..."

She stammered when she was angry.

"Well, what can't you?"

"I c-can't ... stay alone with you! I shall go to Nice, to Ottilie."

"All right, go."

He said it calmly, with great indifference, and took up his paper
again. But it was enough to make Ottilie, who was highly strung, burst
into sobs:

"You don't care a bit about me any more!"

Steyn shrugged his shoulders and went out of the room and upstairs; the
dog sprang in front of him, barking.

Ottilie remained alone; and her sobs ceased at once. She knew it
herself--the years had taught her as much as that--she easily lost her
temper and would always remain a child. But, in that case, why grow
older, in ever-increasing loneliness? There she sat, there she sat
now, an old, grey woman, in that unhomely room; and everything was
past. Oh, if Lot only remained with her, her Lot, her Charlot, her
boy! And she felt her jealousy of Lot and Elly, at first restrained,
rising more and more violently. And that other jealousy: her jealousy
of Steyn. He irritated her when he merely entered the room; but she
still remained jealous of him, as she always had been of every man that
loved her. Oh, to think that he no longer cared about her, because she
had grown old! Oh, to think that he never uttered a word of affection
now, never gave her a kiss on her forehead! She was jealous of Elly
because of Lot, she was jealous of Lot because of Steyn, because Steyn
really cared more for Lot, nowadays, than for her! How cruel the years
were, slowly to take everything from her! The years were past, the
dear, laughing love-years, full of caresses; all that was past! Even
the dog had just gone off with Steyn: no living creature was nice to
her; and why need Lot suddenly go getting married now? She felt so
forlorn that, after the forced sobs, which she had stopped as soon as
they were no longer necessary, she sank into a chair and wept softly,
really weeping, this time, because no one loved her and because she
was forlorn. Her still young and beautiful eyes, overflowing with
tears, looked into the vanished past. Then--in the days when she was
the beautiful Lietje--everything about her had been pleasant, nice,
caressing, playful, jesting, almost adoring and entreating, because she
was so pretty and gay and attractive and had an irresistible laugh and
a temper full of the most delightful little whims. True, through all
this there was always the sting of jealousy; but in those days so much
of it had come her way: all the caressing homage which the world, the
world of men, expends on a pretty woman! She laughed at it through her
tears; and the memory meandered around her, bright as pretty little,
distant clouds. Oh, what a wealth of adulation had surrounded her
then! Now, all those men were old or dead; only her own three husbands
were alive; and Steyn was still young. He was too young: if he had not
been so young, she would have kept her charm for him longer and they
would still be nice to each other, happy together as old people can be
sometimes, even though the warmth of youth is past.... She heaved a
deep sigh through her tears and sat in her chair like a helpless child
that has been naughty and now does not know what to do. What was there
for her to do now? Just to go quietly to bed, in her lonely room, an
old woman's room, in her lonely bed, and to wake in the morning and
drag one more old day after the old, old days! Ah, why could she not
have died while she was young?

She rang and told the maid to lock up; and these little habits had for
her the disconsolateness of everyday repetition, because it all seemed
unnecessary. Then she went upstairs. The little house was very tiny:
a small suite of rooms on the ground-floor, above that a suite with a
little dressing-room in addition to her room and Lot's, while Steyn had
hoisted himself up to the attic floor, doubtless so as not to be too
near his wife. And, as she undressed, she reflected that, if Elly would
consent to make shift, it might just be possible: she would give up her
present big room, with the three windows, to Lot and Elly; she, oh, she
could sleep in what was now Lot's little room: what did she care? If
only children did not come too quickly! Oh, if only she did not lose
Lot altogether! He asked her why he had proposed to Elly! He asked it
in his usual half-jesting way; but it was not nice of him to ask it:
she was glad that she had answered quietly and not worked herself into
a temper. Oh, the pain, the physical pain which she sometimes suffered
from that thorn in her heart's flesh, because of love, affection,
caresses even, that went out to another! And sadly, pitying herself,
she got into bed. The room was empty around her and unhomely: the
bedroom of a woman who does not care for all the trifles of comfort
and the vanities of the toilet and whose great joy always was to long
for the love and caresses of those whom she found attractive, because
of the once--often secret--wave of passion that flowed between them
and her. For this she had neglected the whole of the other life of a
wife, of a mother, even of a woman of the world and even of a smart
woman, not caring for it, despising auxiliaries, feeling sure of her
fascinations and very little of a mother by nature. Oh, she was old now
and alone! And she lay lonely in her chilly bed; and that evening she
had not even the consolation that Lot would come from the room next to
hers to give her a good-night kiss in bed as he knew how, pettingly,
a long, fond kiss on her forehead. At such times he would sit for a
moment on the edge of her bed, have a last chat with her; and then,
sometimes, passing his delicate hand over her cheek, he would say:

"Mamma, what a soft skin you have!"

When he came home now, he would think that she was asleep and would go
to bed. She sighed: she felt so lonely. Above Lot's room--you could
hear everything in that house--she heard Steyn pounding about. The
maid also was going to bed now; out of her own bed Ottilie listened to
all those sounds: doors opening; shoes put outside; a basin emptied.
It now became very still and she reflected what a good thing it was
that she always chose old servants. She thought of it with a certain
mischievous joy, glad that Steyn had no chance, with elderly servants.
The house was now quiet for the night, though it was not yet eleven....

Had she been asleep? Why did she wake suddenly? What was that creaking
on the stairs? Was it Lot coming home? Or was it Steyn sneaking out
again? Was it Lot? Was it Steyn? Her heart thumped in her chest. And
she got out of bed quickly and, before she knew what she was doing,
opened the door and saw a match struck flickering in the hall....

"Is that you, Lot?"

"No, it's I."

"You, Frans?"

"Yes, what's the matter?"

His voice sounded irritated, because she had heard him.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going out."

"At this time of night?"

"Yes. I can't sleep. I'm going for a walk."

"You're going for a walk at this hour?"

"Yes."

"Frans, you're not faithful to me!"

"Oh, rot! Not faithful to you! Go back to bed."

"Frans, I _won't_ have you go out."

"Look here!"

"Do stay at home, Frans! Lot isn't back yet and I'm frightened, alone.
Do, Frans!"

Her voice sounded like that of a pleading child.

"I want some air."

"You want ..."

She did not finish her sentence, suddenly choking with anger. On the
top floor--she knew it--the old servant-maid was standing with her door
ajar, laughing and grinning. She knew it. She felt stifled with rage,
with nervous rage; she quivered all over her body, shivering in her
night-dress. The hall-door had opened and shut. Steyn was outside; and
she ... she was still standing on the stairs above. She clenched her
fists, she panted; she could have run after him, in her night-dress;
the big tears sprang from her child-eyes; but, ashamed because of the
maid, she went back to her room.

She cried, cried very softly, so as not to let the maid hear, so that
the maid should not have that added enjoyment. Oh, that pain, that
sting, here, in her heart, a physical pain, a physical pain! No one
who did not feel it as she did could know the physical pain which it
gave her, the sort of pain one describes to a doctor. Where could Steyn
be going? He was still so young, he still looked so well-set-up. And
yet he was her husband, her husband! Oh, why had he not remained nice
to her, old though she was? She never even felt the touch of his hand
now! And how at one time she had felt that touch tingle through all
her being! Oh, never again, never even a kiss, a kind kiss, such as old
people still exchange at times!

She did not go to bed; she waited up. Would Steyn come back soon? Was
that ... was that he coming now? No, it was Lot: it was his key she
heard, his lighter footstep.

And she opened the door:

"Lot!"

"Mummy, aren't you in bed yet?"

"No, dear. Lot, Lot, come here!"

He went into her room.

"Lot, Steyn is out."

"Out?"

"Yes, he went to his room first ... and then I heard him go quietly
down the stairs; then he went out of the hall-door, quietly."

"He didn't want to wake you, Mummy."

"Ah, but where has he gone to?"

"For a walk. He often does. It's very hot and close."

"Gone for a walk, Lot, gone for a walk? No, he's gone ..."

She stood in front of him--he could see it by the candle-light--blazing
with passion. Her little figure in the white night-dress was like that
of a fury with the curly yellow hair, shot with grey, all shining;
everything that was sweet in her seethed up into a raging temper,
as though she were irritated to the utmost, and she felt an impulse
suddenly to raise her hand and box Lot's ears with its small,
quivering fingers for daring to defend Steyn. She controlled herself
and controlled her wrath, but words of vulgar invective and burning
reproach came foaming to her trembling lips.

"Come, Mummy, Mummy! Come!"

Lot tried to calm her. And he took her in his arms and patted her back,
as one does to an excited child:

"Come, Mummy, come!"

She now burst into sobs. But he remonstrated with her gently, said
that she was exaggerating, that she had been overwrought lately, that
he absolutely refused to get married if she did not become calmer; and
very prettily he flirted with her in this way and persuaded her to go
to bed, tucked her in, shook up her pillows:

"Come, Mummy, go to sleep now and don't be silly. Let Steyn go for his
walk in peace, don't think of Steyn, don't think of anything...."

She acquiesced, under the stroke of his delicate hand on her hair, her
cheek.

"Will you go to sleep now, you silly Mummy?... I say, Mummy, what a
soft skin you have!..."


[1] Pronounced "Lo," as in the French "Charlot."

[2] The Witte and the Plaats are the two leading clubs at the Hague.

[3] Dutch East Indies: Java.

[4] British India.



CHAPTER II


Elly Takma was very happy and looked better than she had done for a
long time. Well, thought Cousin Adèle, who had long kept house for
Grandpapa Takma--she was a Takma too and unmarried--well, a first
little love-romance which a girl experiences when not much over twenty
and which makes her feel unhappy, an engagement broken off with a
fellow who used to go and see his mistress after spending the evening
with his betrothed: a romance of that sort does not influence a girl's
life; and, though Elly had moped for a while, Lot Pauws was making her
happy and making her look better, with a glad laugh on her lips and a
bright colour in her cheeks.

Cousin Adèle--Aunt Adèle, as Elly called her, Indian-fashion--buxom,
full-figured, fresh and young-looking for her age, had nothing of a
poor relation employed to do the housekeeping, but was altogether the
capable mistress of the house, seeing to everything, caring for nothing
but the details of her household and proud of her orderly home. She
had never been in India and ruled Grandpapa's house with true Dutch
conscientiousness, leaving Elly entirely to her hobby of the moment;
for Elly had her hobbies, which she rode until she attained absolute
perfection, after which she would take up a fresh one. At eighteen,
she had been a famous tennis-player, winning medals in tournaments,
well-known for her exquisite, powerful and graceful play, mentioned in
all the sporting-papers. After achieving perfection in tennis, she had
suddenly grown bored with it, hung up her racket, studded round with
the medals, by a pink ribbon in her bedroom and begun to work zealously
for the Charity Organization Society, doing much practical slumming
and sick-visiting; they thought highly of her in the committee. One
day, however, when a sick man showed her his leg with a hole in it,
she fainted and considered that she had overstepped her philanthropic
limits. She resigned the work; and, feeling a certain handiness
quivering at the tips of her sensitive fingers, she started making
her own hats and also modelling. She was successful in both pursuits:
the hats were so pretty that she thought seriously of setting up as
a milliner and working for her living. The modelling too was most
charming: after the first few lessons, she was modelling from the life;
and her head of _A Beggar Boy_ was accepted for exhibition. Then Elly
had fallen in love and was very much in love; her engagement lasted
three months; then it was broken off; and Elly, who did nothing by
halves, for all her varying interests, had suffered a great deal and
faded and pined and been dangerously ill, until one day she recovered,
with a feeling of melancholy as her only remembrance.

She was then twenty-three and had taken to writing. Under a pseudonym,
she published her own engagement in the form of a short story: it
was not a bad short story. Her new hobby brought her gradually into
contact with Charles Pauws, who also wrote, mostly for the newspapers:
articles, _causeries_. Elly was of opinion that she had soon reached
her literary limits. After this short story, which had blossomed in
her and blossomed out of her heart, she would never write anything
more. She was twenty-three, she was old. She had lived her life, with
different vicissitudes. Still there was something, there was Charles.
Soft, weak, passably witty, with his mother's attractive eyes, with his
fair hair carefully brushed, with his too pale blue ties, he was not
the man of her dreams; and she still felt, sometimes very grievously,
the sadness of her sorrow. But she was fond of him, she was very fond
of him and she considered that he was wasting his talent on trivial
work, on journalism, which he did with remarkable ease--after all, it
was an art in itself, Charles would retort--whereas his two novels were
so good; and he had attempted no serious work for the last ten years.
And in this girl, with her thoroughness--within limits--there arose,
on the now somewhat romantic ground of her melancholy and her sorrow,
the mission to rouse Lot to work, to produce real work, fine work. She
must work no longer for herself but for another, for Lot, who possessed
so many good qualities, but did not cultivate them earnestly. She saw
more and more of him; she had him to tea; they talked, talked at great
length; Lot, though not physically in love with her, thought it really
pleasant to be with Elly, allowed himself to be stimulated, began a
novel, stuck in the middle. She created in his mind the suggestion
that he wanted her. And he proposed to her. She was very happy and he
too, though they were not passionately in love. They were attracted
by the prospect of being together, talking together, living, working,
travelling together, in the smiling sympathy of their two souls: his
a rather small, vain, cynical, artistic soul, with above all much
kindly indulgence for others and a tinge of laughing bitterness and one
great dread, which utterly swayed his soul, the dread of growing old;
hers, at this moment, full of the serious thought of remaining true to
her mission and giving her life a noble object by wrapping it up in
another's.

Elly, that morning, was singing while the wind sent the early autumn
leaves driving in a shower of golden sunlight along the window-panes.
She was busy altering a winter hat, with a talent which she had not
quite lost, when Cousin--Aunt--Adèle entered the room:

"Grandpapa has had a bad night; I kept on hearing him moving."

"Yes, then he's troubled with buzzings which are just like voices,"
said Elly. "Grandpapa is always hearing those voices, you know. Dr.
Thielens looks upon them as a premonitory symptom of total deafness.
Poor Grandad! I'll go to him at once ... I must just finish my hat
first: I want to wear it to-day. We are going to old Mrs. Dercksz and
to Aunt Stefanie.... Auntie, I am so happy. Lot is so nice. And he is
so clever. I am certain that we shall be very happy. I want to travel a
great deal. Lot loves travelling.... There is some talk of our living
with Steyn and Ottilie. I don't know what to say. I would rather we
were by ourselves. Still, I don't know. I'm very fond of Mamma; and
she's Lot's mother after all. But I like harmony around me; and Steyn
and she quarrel. I call him Steyn, simply. _Meneer_ is too stiff; and I
can't call him Papa. Besides, Lot calls him Steyn too. It's difficult,
that sort of household. Steyn himself would think it odd if I called
him Papa.... Do you like the hat like this? I'll alter yours to-morrow.
Look, it's an absolutely new hat!... I'll go to Grandpapa now. Poor
Grandad, so he's had a bad night?..."

She left the door open. Aunt Adèle looked round: the room was lumbered
with hat-trimmings. The _Beggar Boy_ smiled in a corner; the medals
were studded round the racket, on its pink ribbon; the writing-table
was tesselated with squares of note-paper.

"What a litter!" said Aunt Adèle.

She dared not touch the papers, though she would have liked to tidy
them: she could not bear to see such a heap of scattered papers and
she had to restrain her itching fingers. But she cleared up the
hat-trimmings, quickly, and put them away in cardboard boxes. Then she
went downstairs, where the maids were turning out the dining-room.
Elly, flitting up the stairs, heard the blows beating on an arm-chair,
felt them almost on her own back, ran still quicker up the stairs, to
the next floor, where Grandpapa's room was. She stopped outside his
door, recovered her breath, knocked, opened the door and went in with a
calm step:

"How are you this morning, Grandad?"

The old gentleman sat at a knee-hole table, looking in a drawer; he
locked it quietly when Elly entered. She went up and kissed him:

"I hear you did not sleep well?"

"No, child, I don't think I slept at all. But Grandad can do without
sleep."

Grandpapa Takma was ninety-three: married late in life and his son
married late made it possible for him to have a granddaughter of
Elly's age. He looked younger, however, much younger, perhaps because
he tactfully mingled a seeming indifference to his outward appearance
with a really studied care. A thin garland of grey hair still fringed
the ivory skull; the clean-shaven face was like a stained parchment,
but the mouth, because of the artificial teeth, had retained its
young and laughing outline and the eyes were a clear brown, bright
and even keen behind his spectacles. His figure was small, slender
and slight as a young man's; and a very short jacket hung over his
slightly-arched and emaciated back: it was open in front and hung in
folds behind. The hands, too large in proportion to the man's short
stature, but delicately veined and neatly kept, trembled incessantly;
and there was a jerk in the muscles of the neck that twitched the head
at intervals. His tone was cheerful and lively, a little too genial
not to be forced; and the words came slowly and well-weighed, however
simple the things which they expressed. When he sat, he sat upright,
on an ordinary chair, never huddled together, as though he were always
on his guard; when he walked, he walked briskly, with very short steps
of his stiff legs, so as not to betray their rheumatism. He had been
an Indian civil servant, ending as a member of the Indian Council, and
had been pensioned years ago; his conversation showed that he kept pace
with politics, kept pace with colonial matters: he laughed at them,
with mild irony. In his intercourse with others, who were always his
juniors--for he had no contemporaries save old Mrs. Dercksz, _née_
Dillenhof, who was ninety-seven, and Dr. Roelofsz, eighty-eight--in his
intercourse he was kindly and condescending, realizing that the world
must seem other to people even of sixty and seventy than it did to him;
but the geniality was too great, was sometimes too exuberant not to be
assumed and not to make people feel that he never thought as he spoke.
He gave the impression of being a diplomatist who, himself always on
his guard, was sounding another to find out what he knew. Sometimes,
in his bright eyes, a spark shone behind the spectacles, as though he
had suddenly been struck by something, a very acute perception; and
the jerk of the neck would throw his head on one side, as though he
suddenly heard something. His mouth would then distort itself into a
laugh and he would hurriedly agree with whomever he was addressing.

What was most striking in him was that quick, tremulous lucidity in so
very old a man. It was as though some strange capacity had sharpened
his senses so that they remained sound and serviceable, for he still
read a great deal, with glasses; he was sharp of hearing; he was
particular in the matter of wine, with an unimpaired sense of smell;
he could find things in the dark. Only, sometimes, in the midst of a
conversation, it was as though an invincible drowsiness overcame him;
and his eyes would suddenly stare glassily in front of him and he would
fall asleep. They left him alone and had the civility not to let him
know it; and, five minutes later, he would wake up, go on talking,
oblivious of that momentary unconsciousness. The inward shock with
which he had woke was visible to no one.

Elly went to see her grandfather in the morning, always for a minute.

"We are going to pay calls this afternoon," said Elly. "On the family.
We have been nowhere yet."

"Not even to Grandmamma."

"We shall go to her first this afternoon. Grandad, we've been engaged
three days. And you can't go troubling everybody with your happiness
immediately."

"And you _are_ happy, child," Grandpapa began, genially.

"I think so...."

"I'm sorry I can't keep you with me, you and Lot," he continued,
lightly: he sometimes had an airy way of treating serious topics; and
his thin voice then lacked emphasis. "But you see, I'm too old for
that: a young household grafted on mine! Besides, to live by yourselves
is more charming.... Baby, we never talk of money, you and I. As you
know, Papa left nothing and he ran through your mother's money, lost it
in different businesses in Java; they none of them succeeded. Your poor
parents never had any luck. Well, Baby, I'm not a rich man, but I can
live like this, on my Mauritskade, because an old man doesn't want much
and Aunt Adèle manages things so cleverly. I've worked out that I can
give you two hundred guilders a month. But that's all, child, that's
all."

"But, Grandad, it's really very handsome...."

"Well, you can accept it from your grandfather. You're my heiress,
after all, though you're not all alone; no, Grandfather has others:
kind acquaintances, good friends.... It won't last very long now,
child. You won't be rich, for my house is my only luxury. All the rest,
as you know, is on an economical scale. But you will have enough,
especially later on; and Lot appears to make a good bit. Oh, it's not
money that matters to him, child: what matters to him is ... is ..."

"What, Grandad?"

A drowsiness suddenly overcame the old man. But, in a few minutes, he
resumed:

"There is some talk of your living with Steyn...."

"Yes, but nothing's decided."

"Ottilie is nice, but hot-tempered," said the old gentleman, sunk in
thought: he seemed to be thinking of other things, of more important
things especially.

"If I do, it will be for Mamma's sake, Grandad, because she is so much
attached to Lot. I would rather have my own little house. But we shall
travel a good deal in any case. Lot says that he can travel cheaply."

"You might be able to do it, child, with a little tact: live with the
Steyns, I mean. Ottilie is certainly very much alone, poor thing.
Who knows? Perhaps you would supply a little affection, a little
sympathy...."

His airy voice became softer, fuller, sounded more earnest.

"We shall see, Grandpapa. Will you stay upstairs, or are you coming
down to lunch?"

"No, send me something up here. I've not much appetite, I've no
appetite...."

His voice sounded airy again, like the whisper of a breeze.

"It's windy weather; and I think it's going to rain. Are you going out
all the same, this afternoon?"

"For a moment, I think.... To Mrs. Dercksz' ..."

"To Grandmamma's...."

"Yes, yes, better say Grandmamma. When you see her, call her Grandmamma
at once. It's less stiff: she will like it ... even though you're not
married to Lot yet...."

His voice sank; he sighed, as though he were thinking of other things,
of more important things; and, with the jerk in his neck, he started
up and remained like that for a second, with his head on one side, as
if he heard something, as if he were listening. Elly did not think
Grandpapa looking well to-day. The drowsiness overcame him again; his
head dropped and his eyes grew glassy. And he sat there, so frail and
fragile, as if one could have blown the life out of him like a dancing
feather. Elly, after a moment's hesitation, left him alone. The old
gentleman gave a start, when he heard the door close gently, and
recovered his full consciousness. He sat for a second or two without
moving. Then he unlocked the drawer of his writing-table, with which
he had been busy before, and took out the pieces of a letter that had
already been torn up. He tore the pieces still smaller, as small as
they possibly could be, and scattered them in his waste-paper-basket,
in among other discarded papers. After that he tore up a second letter,
after that a third, without reading them over. He scattered the tiny
pieces in the basket and shook the basket, shook the basket. The
tearing tired his stiff fingers; the shaking tired his arm.

"A few more this afternoon," he muttered. "It's getting time, it's
getting time...."



CHAPTER III


The old gentleman went out at about three o'clock, alone: he did not
like to be accompanied when he went, though he was glad to be brought
back home; but he would never ask for this service. Aunt Adèle looked
out of the window and followed him with her eyes as he turned by the
barracks and crossed the razor-back bridge. He was not going farther
than just down the Nassaulaan, to Mrs. Dercksz'; and he managed the
distance with a delicate, erect figure and straight legs: he did
not even look so very old a man, in his overcoat buttoned up to the
throat, even though each step was carefully considered and supported
by his heavy, ivory-knobbed stick. In order above all not to let it be
perceived that this short walk was his exercise and his relaxation,
a great deal of exercise and relaxation for his now merely nervous
strength, he had needs to consider every step; but he succeeded in
walking as though without difficulty, stiff and upright, and he studied
his reflection in the plate-glass of the ground-floor windows. In the
street, he did not strike a passer-by as so very old. When he rang, old
Anna hurried and the cat slipped crosswise through her petticoats, cat
and maid making for the front-door at one run:

"The old gentleman, I expect."

Then she drove the cat back to the kitchen, afraid lest the old
gentleman should stumble, and drew him in with little remarks about
the weather and questions about his health; and to Takma it called
for rare art to let his overcoat, which he took off in the hall, slip
from his shoulders and arms into the maid's hands. He did it slowly
and gradually, a little tired with the walk, but in the meanwhile he
recovered breath sufficiently to go upstairs, one flight only, with
the aid of the stick--"We may as well keep the stick, Anna," he would
say--for Mrs. Dercksz nowadays never came down to the ground-floor
rooms.

She was expecting him.

He came almost every day; and, when he was not coming, Aunt Adèle or
Elly would call round to say so. So she sat, in her high-backed chair,
waiting for him. She sat at the window, looking out at the gardens of
the villas in the Sofialaan.

He murmured heartily, though his salutation was indistinct:

"Well, Ottilie?... It's blowing out of doors.... Yes, you've been
coughing a bit lately.... You must take care of yourself, you know....
I'm all right, I'm all right, as you see...."

With a few more words of genial heartiness, he sat down straight
upright in the arm-chair at the other window, while Anna now for the
first time relieved him of his hat, and rested his hands, still clad
in the wide, creased gloves of _glacé_ kid, on his stick.

"I haven't seen you since the great news," said Mrs. Dercksz.

"The children are coming presently to pay their visit of inspection...."

They were both silent, their eyes looking into each other's eyes, chary
of words. And quietly for a while they sat opposite each other, each
at a window of the narrow drawing-room. The old, old woman sat in a
twilight of crimson-rep curtains and cream-coloured lace-and-canvas
blinds, in addition to a crimson-plush valance, which kept out the
draught and hung with a bend along the window-frame. She had only moved
just to raise her thin hand, in its black mitten, for Takma to press.
Now they both sat as though waiting for something and yet pleased to
be waiting together.... The old lady was ninety-seven and she knew
that what she was waiting for must come before her hundredth year had
dawned.... In the twilight of that curtained corner, against the sombre
wall-paper, her face seemed almost like a piece of white porcelain,
with wrinkles for the crackle, in that shadow into which she still
withdrew, continuing a former prudent habit of not showing too much of
her impaired complexion; and her wig was glossy-black, surmounted with
the little black-lace cap; the loose black dress fell in easy, thin
lines around her almost brittle, lean figure, but hid her so entirely
in those never-varying folds of supple cashmere that she could never be
really seen or known, but only suggested in that dark drapery. Besides
the face, nothing else seemed alive but the frail fingers trembling
in her lap, like so many tapering, luminous wands in their black
mittens; the wrists were encircled in close-fitting woollen cuffs. She
sat upright on her high-backed chair, as on a throne, supported by a
stiff, hard cushion; another cushion was under her feet, which she
never showed, as they were slightly deformed by gout. Beside her, on
a little table, was some crochet-work, untouched for years, and the
newspapers, which were read to her by a companion, an elderly lady who
withdrew as soon as Mr. Takma arrived. The room was neat and simple,
with a few framed photographs here and there as the only ornament amid
the highly-polished, black, shiny furniture, the crimson sofa and
chairs, with a few pieces of china gleaming in a glass cabinet. The
closed folding-doors led to the bedroom: these were the only two rooms
inhabited by the old woman, who took her light meal in her chair.

Golden-sunny was the late summer day; and the wind blew gaily, in a
whirl of early yellow leaves, through the garden of the Sofialaan.

"A nice view, that," said Mrs. Dercksz, as she had said so often
before, with her mittened hand just hinting at an angular pointing
gesture.

The voice, long cracked, sounded softer than pure Dutch and was
mellower, with its creole accent; and, now that she looked out of the
window, the eyes also took on an eastern softness in the porcelain
features and became darker. She did not clearly distinguish things
outside; but yet the knowledge that there were flowers and trees over
the way was dear to her dim eyes.

"Fine asters in the garden opposite," said Takma.

"Yes," Mrs. Dercksz assented, unable to see them, but now knowing about
the asters.

She understood him quite well; her general deafness she concealed by
never asking what was said and by replying with a smile of her thin,
closed lips or a movement of her head.

After a pause, as each sat looking out of his own window, she said:

"I saw Ottilie yesterday."

The old gentleman felt bewildered for a moment:

"Ottilie?" he asked.

"Lietje ... my daughter...."

"Oh, yes!... You saw Lietje yesterday.... I thought you were speaking
of yourself."

"She was crying."

"Why?"

"Because Lot is going to be married."

"She'll be very lonely, poor Lietje; yet Steyn is a decent fellow....
It's a pity.... I like Steyn...."

"We are all of us lonely," said Mrs. Dercksz; and the cracked voice
sounded sad, as though she were regretting a past full of vanished
shades.

"Not all of us, Ottilie," said Takma. "You and I have each other. We
have always had each other.... Our child, when Lot is married, will
have no one, not even her own husband."

"Ssh!" said the old woman; and the straight, lean figure gave a shiver
of terror in the twilight.

"There's no one here; we can speak at our ease."

"No, there's no one...."

"Did you think there was some one?"

"No, not now.... Sometimes ..."

"Yes?"

"Sometimes ... you know ... I think there is."

"There's no one."

"No, there's no one."

"Why are you afraid?"

"Afraid? Am I afraid? What should I be afraid of? I am too old ... much
too old ... to be afraid now.... Even though _he_ may stand over there."

"Ottilie!"

"Ssh!"

"There's no one."

"No."

"Have you ... have you seen _him_ lately?"

"No.... No.... Not for months, perhaps not ... for years, for years....
But I did see him for many, many years.... You never saw him?"

"No."

"But ... you used to _hear_ him?..."

"Yes, _I_ ... I used to _hear_ him.... My hearing was very good and
always keen.... It was hallucinations.... I often heard his voice....
Don't let us talk about it.... We are both so old, so old, Ottilie....
He _must_ have forgiven us by now. Else we should never have grown so
old. Our life has passed peacefully for years: long, long, old years;
nothing has ever disturbed us: he _must_ have forgiven us.... _Now_ we
are both standing on the brink of our graves."

"Yes, it will soon come. I feel it."

But Takma brought his geniality into play:

"You, Ottilie? You'll live to be a hundred!"

His voice made an effort at bluff braggadocio and then broke into a
shrill high note.

"I shall never see a hundred," said the old woman. "No. I shall die
this winter."

"This winter?"

"Yes. I foresee it. I am waiting. But I am frightened."

"Of death?"

"Not of death. But ... of _him!_"

"Do you believe ... that you will see him again?"

"Yes. I believe in God, in the communion of souls. In a life hereafter.
In atonement."

"I don't believe in an atonement hereafter, because we have both of us
suffered so much in our lives, Ottilie!"

The old man's tone was almost one of entreaty.

"But there has been no punishment," said she.

"Our suffering was a punishment."

"Not enough. I believe that, when I am dead, he, _he_ will accuse me."

"Ottilie, we have become so old, quietly, quietly. We have only had
to suffer inwardly. But that has been enough, God will consider that
punishment enough. Don't be afraid of death."

"I should not be afraid if I had seen his face wearing a gentler
expression, with something of forgiveness. He always stared at me....
Oh, those eyes!..."

"Hush, Ottilie!..."

"When I sat here, he would stand there, in the corner by the cabinet,
and look at me. When I was in bed, he appeared in my mirror and gazed
at me. For years and years.... Perhaps it was an hallucination....
But I grew old like that. I have no tears left. I no longer wring my
hands. I never move except between this chair and my bed. I have had
no uneasiness ... or terror ... for years: _nobody knows_. Of the
_baboe_[1] ..."

"Ma-Boeten?"

"Yes ... I have had no news for years. She was the only one who knew.
She's dead, I expect."

"Roelofsz knows," said the old gentleman, very softly.

"Yes ... he knows ... but ..."

"Oh, he has always kept silent!..."

"He is ... _almost_ ... an accomplice...."

"Ottilie, you must think about it calmly.... We have grown so very
old.... You must think about it calmly, as _I_ think about it.... You
have always been too fanciful ..."

His voice sounded in entreaty, very different from its usual airy
geniality.

"It was after that in particular that I became full of fancies. No, I
have never been able to think about it calmly! At first I was afraid of
people, then of myself: I thought I should go mad!... Now, now that it
is approaching ... I am afraid of God!"

"Ottilie!"

"It has been a long, long, long martyrdom.... O God, can it be that
this life is not enough?"

"Ottilie, we should not have grown so very old--you ... and I ... and
Roelofsz--if God ... and _he_ also had not forgiven us."

"Then why did he so often ... come and stand there! Oh, he stood there
so often! He just stared, pale, with dark, sunken eyes, eyes like two
fiery daggers: like _that!..._"

And she pointed the two slender, wand-like fore-fingers straight in
front of her.

"I ... I am calm, Ottilie. And, if we are punished afterwards, after
our death, we must endure it. And, if we endure it ... we shall receive
mercy."

"I wish I were a Catholic. I thought for a long time of becoming a
Catholic. Thérèse was quite right to become a Catholic.... Oh, why do I
never see her now? Shall I ever see her again? I hope so. I hope so....
If I had been a Catholic, I should have confessed ..."

"There is no absolution among Catholics for _that_."

"Isn't there? I thought ... I thought that a priest could forgive
anything ... and cleanse the soul before you died. The priest at any
rate could have consoled me, could have given me hope! Our religion is
so cold. I have never been able to speak of it to a clergyman...."

"No, no, of course not!"

"I could have spoken of it to a priest. He would have made me do
penance all my life long; and it would have relieved me. Now, _that_ is
always here, on my breast. And I am so old. I sit with it. I lie in bed
with it. I cannot even walk about with it, roam about with it, forget
myself in movement...."

"Ottilie, why are you talking about it so much to-day? Sometimes we do
not mention it for months, for years at a time. Then the months and
years pass quietly.... Why are you suddenly talking so very much about
it to-day?"

"I began thinking, because Lot and Elly are getting married."

"They will be happy."

"But isn't it a crime, a crime against nature?"

"No, Ottilie, do reflect ..."

"They are ..."

"They are cousins. They don't know it, but that isn't a crime against
nature!"

"True."

"They are cousins."

"Yes, they're cousins."

"Ottilie is my daughter; her son is my grandson. Elly's father ..."

"Well?"

"Do reflect, Ottilie: Elly's father, my son, was Lietje's brother.
Their children are first cousins."

"Yes."

"That's all they are."

"But they don't know that they are cousins. Lietje has never been told
that she is your daughter. She has never been told that she was your
son's sister."

"What difference does that make? Cousins are free to marry."

"Yes, but it's not advisable.... It's not advisable because of the
children that may come, because of the blood and because ... because
of everything."

"Of what, Ottilie?"

"They inherit our past. They inherit that terror. They inherit our sin.
They inherit the punishment for our offence."

"You exaggerate, Ottilie. No, they don't inherit as much as that."

"They inherit everything. One day perhaps they will see _him_ standing,
perhaps they will hear him, in the new houses where they will live....
It would have been better if Elly and Lot had found their happiness
apart from each other ... in other blood, in other souls.... They will
never be able to find the ordinary happiness. Who knows, perhaps their
children will be ..."

"Hush, Ottilie, hush!"

"Criminals...."

"Ottilie, please be quiet! Oh, be quiet! Why do you speak like that?
For years, it has been so peaceful. You see, Ottilie, we are _too_ old.
We have been allowed to grow so old. We have had our punishment. Oh,
don't let us speak about it again, never again! Let us wait calmly,
calmly, and suffer the things that come after us, for we cannot alter
them."

"Yes, let us wait calmly."

"Let us wait. It will come soon. It will come soon, for you and me."

His voice had sounded imploringly; his eyes shone wet with terror.
She sat stiff and upright in her chair; her fingers trembled violently
in the deep, black folds of her lap. But a lethargy descended upon
both of them; the strange lucidity and the anxious tension of their
unaccustomed words seemed but for a moment to be able to galvanize
their old souls, as though by a suggestion from without. Now they both
grew lethargic and became very old indeed. For a long time they stared,
each at his window, without words.

Then there was a ring at the front-door.


[1] Malay: nurse, _ayah_.



CHAPTER IV


It was Anton Dercksz, the old lady's eldest son by her second marriage;
by her first she had only an unmarried daughter, Stefanie de Laders.
Anton also had never married; he had made his career in Java; he was an
ex-resident. He was seventy-five, taciturn, gloomy and self-centred,
owing to his long, lonely life, full of lonely thoughts about himself,
the heady thoughts of a sensualist who, in his old age, had lapsed
into a sensualist in imagination.... It had been his nature, first
instinctively, then in a more studied fashion, to hide himself, not to
give himself; not to give of himself even that which would have won
him the praise and esteem of his fellow-men. Endowed with intelligence
above the ordinary, a student, a man of learning, he had fostered that
intelligence only for himself and had never been more than an average
official. His self-centred, gloomy soul had demanded and still demanded
solitary enjoyments, even as his powerful body had craved for obscure
pleasures.

He entered in his overcoat, which he kept closely wrapped about him,
feeling chilly, though it was still a sunny September and autumn had
hardly given its first shiver. He came to see his mother once a week,
from an old habit of respect and awe. Her children--elderly men and
women, all of them--all called regularly, but first asked Anna, the
maid, with the cat always among her skirts, who was upstairs with
Mamma. If some member of the family were there already, they did not
go up at once, anxious on no account to tire her with too great a
gathering and too many voices. Then Anna would receive them in the
downstairs morning-room, where she kept up a fire in the winter, and
often the old servant would offer the visitor a brandy-cherry. If old
Mr. Takma had only just arrived, Anna did not fail to say so; and the
children or grandchildren would wait downstairs for a quarter of an
hour and longer, because they knew that Mamma, that Grandmamma liked
to be alone for a while with Takma, her old friend. If Takma had been
there some time, Anna would reckon out whether she could let them go
upstairs at once.... The companion was not there in the afternoons,
except when mevrouw sent for her, as sometimes happened when the
weather was bad and nobody called.

Anton Dercksz entered, hesitating because of Takma, uncertain whether
he was intruding. The old woman's children, however much advanced in
years, continued to behave as children to the once stern and severe
mother, whom they still saw in the authority of her motherhood. And
Anton in particular always saw her like that, seated in that chair
which was as an unyielding throne, strange in that very last and
fragile life hanging from a brittle, invisible thread, which, in
snapping, would have broken life's last string. At the window, because
of a lingering ray of sunshine outside, the mother sat in a crimson
twilight of curtains and valance, sat as if she would never move again
until the moment came for the dark portals to open. For the "children"
did not see her move, save with the single, angular gesture sometimes
suggested by once active, but now gouty, slender, wand-like fingers.
Anton Dercksz knew that--if the portals had not opened that day--his
mother would move, round about eight o'clock, to be taken to bed by
Anna and the companion. But he never saw this: what he saw was the
well-nigh complete immobility of the brittle figure in the chair that
was almost a throne, amid a twilight just touched with pink. Old man
as he himself was, he was impressed by this. His mother sat there so
strangely, so unreally: she sat waiting, waiting. Her eyes, already
glazed, stared before her, sometimes as though she were afraid of
something.... The lonely man had developed within himself an acute
gift of observation, a quick talent for drawing inferences, which he
never allowed any one to perceive. For years he had held the theory
that his mother was always thinking of something, always thinking of
_something_, an invariable something. What could it be?... Perhaps
he was mistaken, perhaps he looked too far, perhaps his mother's
expression was but the staring of almost sightless eyes. Or was she
thinking of hidden things in her life, things sunk in her life as in
a deep, deep pool? Had she her secrets, as he had his, the secrets of
his sullen hedonism? He was not inquisitive: everybody had his secrets;
perhaps Mother had hers. He would never strive to find out. People
had always said that Takma and Mother had been lovers: she no doubt
thought of those old things ... or was she not thinking, was she merely
waiting and staring out of her window?... However this might be, his
awe remained unchanged.

"It is lovely weather, for September," he said, after the usual
greetings.

He was a big man, broad in his overcoat, with a massive florid face, in
which deep folds hung beside the big nose and made dewlaps under the
cheeks; the grey-yellow moustache bristled above a sensual mouth with
thick, purple lips, which parted over the yellow teeth, crumbling, but
still firm in their gums; the thick beard, however recently shaved,
still left a black stubble on the cheeks; and a deep scar cleft the
twice deeply-wrinkled forehead, which rose towards a thinning tuft of
yellow-grey hair, with the head bald at the back of it. The skin of his
neck was rough, above the low, stand-up collar, and grooved, though
not quite so deeply, like that of an old labourer, with deep-ploughed
furrows. His coarse-fisted hands lay like clods on his thick knees; and
a watch-chain, with big trinkets, hung slackly over his great stomach,
which had forced open a button of his worn and shiny waistcoat. His
feet rested firmly on the carpet in their Wellington boots, whose
tops showed round under the trouser-legs. This outward appearance
betrayed only a rough, sensual, elderly man: it showed him neither
in his intellect nor, above all, in his power of imagination. The
great dream-actor that he was remained hidden from whoever saw him no
otherwise than thus.

Takma, so many years older, with his habit of gaiety and his sometimes
shrill heartiness, which gave a birdlike sound to his old voice and
a factitious glitter to his false teeth, Takma, in his short, loose
jacket, had something delicate beside Anton Dercksz, something younger
and more restless, together with a certain kindly, gentle, benevolent
comprehension, as if he, the very old man, understood the whole life
of the younger one. But this was just what always infuriated Anton
with Takma, because he, Anton Dercksz, saw through it. It concealed
something: Takma hid a secret, though he hid it in a different way
from Anton Dercksz'. He hid a secret: when he started, with that jerk
of his head, he was afraid that he had been seen through.... Well,
Anton was not inquisitive. But this very old man, this former lover of
his mother, of the woman who still filled Anton with awe when he saw
her sitting erect, waiting, in her chair by the window: this old man
annoyed him, irritated him, had always roused his dislike. He had never
allowed it to show and Takma had never perceived it.

The three old people sat without exchanging many words, in the
narrow drawing-room. The old woman had now calmly mastered herself,
because her son, her "child," was sitting there and she had always
remained calm before the splenetic glance of his slightly prominent
eyes. Straight up she sat, as though enthroned, as though she were
a sovereign by reason of her age and her authority, dignified and
blameless, but so frail and fragile, as though the aura of death
would presently blow away her soul. Her few words sounded a note of
appreciation that her son had come to see her, asking, as was his
filial duty, once a week, after her health. She was pleased at this;
and it was not difficult for her to calm herself, suddenly put in a
placid mood by that feeling of satisfaction, even though but now, as
in a suggestion from without, she had been obliged to speak of former
things which she had seen pass before her eyes. And, when the bell rang
again, she said:

"That's the children, I expect...."

They all three listened, in silence. Sharp-eared old Takma heard some
one speaking to Anna in the hall:

"They're asking if it won't be too much for you," said Takma.

"Anton, call down the stairs to have them shown up," said the old lady;
and her voice rang like a maternal command.

Anton Dercksz rose, went to the door and called out:

"You can come up. Grandmamma's expecting you."

Lot and Elly came in and their entrance was as though they feared
to dispel the atmosphere around the old woman with the too-great
youthfulness approaching her. But the old woman made an angular
movement of her arms, which lifted themselves in the black folds of the
wide sleeves; and a hint of the gesture was given, gouty-stiff, in the
crimson shade of the curtains, while she said:

"So you're going to get married; that's right."

The gesture brought the mittened hands to the level of Lot's head,
which she held for a moment and kissed with a trembling mouth; she
kissed Elly too; and the girl said, prettily:

"Grandmamma...."

"I am glad to see you both. Mamma has already told me the great news.
Be happy, children, _happy_...."

The words sounded like a short speech from out of the twilight of the
throne-like chair, but they trembled, breaking with emotion:

"Be happy, children, _happy_," Mamma had said.

And Anton Dercksz seemed to see that his mother was thinking that there
had not been many happy marriages in the family. He was conscious of
the underlying thought in her words and was glad that he had never been
married: it gave him a silent, pleasurable sense of satisfaction, as
he looked at Lot and Elly. They were sitting there so youthful and
unwrung, he thought; but he knew that this was only on the surface,
that Lot, after all, was thirty-eight and that this was not Elly's
first engagement. Yet how young those two lives were and how many
vigorous years had they not before them! He became jealous at the
thought and envious; and his eyes grew sullen when he reflected that
vigorous years were no longer his. And, with the sly glance of a man
secretly enjoying the sensual pleasures of the imagination, he asked
himself whether Lot was really a fellow who ought to think of marrying.
Lot was delicately built, was hardly a man of flesh and blood, was like
his mother in appearance, with his pink face and his fair plastered
hair, his short fair moustache above his cynical upper lip, and very
spruce in his smooth-fitting jacket and the neat little butterfly tie
beneath his double collar. And yet no fool, thought Anton Dercksz: his
articles written from Italy, on Renascence subjects, were very good and
Anton had read them with pleasure, without ever complimenting Lot upon
them; and his two novels were excellent: one about the Hague, one about
Java, with a keen insight into Dutch-Indian society. There was a great
deal in the lad, more than one would think, for he looked not a man of
flesh and blood, but a fair-haired, finikin doll, a fashion-plate.

Elly was not pretty, had a pale but sensible little face: he did
not believe that she was a woman of warm passion, or, if she was,
it would not reveal itself till later. He did not expect that they
would kiss each other very rapturously; and yet that was the most
genuine consolation in this confounded life of ours, always had been
so to him. Everything grew confused before his jaundiced eyes, in a
regret for things that were lost; but nevertheless he listened to the
conversation, which was carried on calmly and quietly, in order not to
tire Grandmamma: when Lot and Elly meant to get married, where they
would go for the honeymoon.

"We shall be married in three months," said Lot. "There's nothing to
wait for. We shall go to Paris and on to Italy. I know Italy well and
can show Elly about...."

Anton Dercksz rose and took his leave; and, when he went downstairs, he
found his sister, Ottilie Steyn de Weert, and Roelofsz, the old doctor,
in the morning-room:

"The children are upstairs," he said.

"Yes, I know," said Ottilie. "That's why I'm waiting; it would be too
much for Mamma otherwise ..."

"Well-well-well," muttered the old doctor.

He sat huddled in a chair, a shapeless mass of dropsical obesity: his
one stiff leg was stuck out straight in front of him and his paunch
hung sideways over it in curving lines; his face, clean-shaven but
bunched into wrinkles, was like the face of a very old monk; his thin
grey hair looked as if it were moth-eaten and hung in frayed wisps from
his skull, which was shaped like a globe, with a vein at one temple
meandering in high relief; he lisped and muttered exclamation upon
exclamation; his watery eyes swam behind gold spectacles.

"Well-well-well, Ottilie, so your Lot is getting married at last!..."

He was eighty-eight, the doctor, the last surviving contemporary of
Grandmamma and Mr. Takma; he had brought Ottilie Steyn into the world,
in Java, at a time when he was a young doctor, not long since arrived
from Holland; and he called her either by her Christian name or "child."

"At last?" cried Ottilie, in a vexed tone. "It's early enough for _me!_"

"Yes-yes-yes, yes-yes, child; you'll miss him, you'll miss your boy, I
daresay.... Still, they'll make a nice couple, he and Elly, well-well,
yes-yes-yes, working together, artistic, yes, well.... That good old
Anna hasn't started her fires yet! This room's warm, but upstairs,
yes-yes, it's very chilly.... Takma's always blazing hot inside, eh-eh?
Well-well! Mamma likes a cool room too; well-well, cool: cold, _I_ call
it. I consider it warmer in here: ay-ay, it _is_ warmer down here.
Well-well!... Mamma wasn't so well, child, yesterday...."

"Come, doctor," said Anton Dercksz, "you'll make Mamma see a hundred
yet!"

And he buttoned up his coat and went away, satisfied at having
performed his filial duty for that week.

"Oh-oh-oh!" cried the doctor; but Anton was gone. "A hundred! A
hundred! Oh-dear-no, oh-dear-no, tut-tut! No, _I_ can do nothing, _I_
can do nothing. I'm old myself, yes-yes, I'm old: eightee-eight years
old, eightee-eight, Lietje!... Yes-yes, that counts, yes-yes.... No,
_I_ can do nothing more, what do you say? And it's a good thing that
Mamma's got Dr. Thielens: he's young, ay-ay, he's young.... Here come
the children! Well-well!" the doctor continued, by way of greeting.
"Best congratulations, ay-ay, very nice! Art, eh, art for art's
sake?... Is Granny better to-day? Then I'll just go upstairs, yes-yes,
well-well!..."

"Where are you going now, children?" asked Mamma Ottilie.

"To Aunt Stefanie's," said Elly. "And perhaps to Uncle Harold's
afterwards."

Anna let them out; and Ottilie, going upstairs behind Dr. Roelofsz, who
hoisted himself up one step after the other, tried to understand what
he was muttering, but understood nothing. He kept talking to himself:

"Yes-yes, that Anton, all-very-well, make her see a hundred! A hundred!
Well, _he'll_ see a hundred all right, ay-ay, yes-yes, though he _has_
been such a beast!... Yes-yes, yes-yes, a beast: don't I know him?
Tut-tut! A beast, that's what he's been!... Yes-yes, perhaps he's still
at it!"

"What do you say, doctor?"

"Nothing, child, nothing.... Make her see a hundred! I, _I_, who am old
myself; eightee-eight ... eightee-eight!..."

Puffing with the effort of climbing the stairs, he entered and greeted
the two old people, his contemporaries, who nodded to him, each at a
window:

"Well-well, yes-yes, how-do, Ottilie? How-do, Takma?... Well-well,
yes-yes.... Well, I don't call it warm in here!..."

"Come," said Takma, "it's only September...."

"Yes, you're always blazing hot inside!..."

Ottilie walked behind him, like a little child, and kissed her mother,
very gently and carefully; and, when she went up to Takma afterwards,
he pulled her hand, so that she might give him a kiss too.



CHAPTER V


Papa Dercksz had not left much behind him, but Stefanie de Laders, the
only child of the first marriage, was a rich woman; and the reason
why old Mamma had only a little left of her first husband's fortune
was because she had never practised economy. Stefanie, however, had
saved and put by, never knowing why, from an inherited proclivity for
adding money to money. She lived in a small house in the Javastraat
and was known in philanthropic circles, devoting herself prudently and
thriftily to good works. Lot and Elly found Aunt at home: she rose from
her chair, amidst a twittering of little birds in little cages, and she
herself had something of a larger-sized little old bird: short, lean,
shrivelled, tripping with little bird-like steps, restless, in spite
of her years, with her narrow little shoulders and her bony hands,
she was a very ugly little old woman, a little witch. Never having
been married, devoid of passions, devoid of the vital flame, she had
grown old unscathed in her little egoisms, with only one great fear,
which had clung to her all her life: the fear of encountering Hell's
terrors after her death, which, after all, was drawing nearer. And so
she was very religious, convinced that Calvin knew all about it, for
everybody and for all subsequent ages; and, trusting blindly in her
faith, she read anything of this tendency on which she could lay hands,
from paper-covered tracts to theological works, though she did not
understand the latter, while the former left her full of shuddering.

"Quite a surprise, children!" Aunt Stefanie de Laders screamed, as
though Lot and Elly were deaf. "And when are you getting married?"

"In three months, Aunt."

"In church?"

"I don't think so, Aunt," said Lot.

"I thought as much!"

"Then you made a good guess."

"But it's not the thing. Don't you want to get married in church
either, Elly?"

"No, Aunt, I agree with Lot.... May I say Aunt?"

"Yes, certainly, child, say Aunt. No, it's not the thing. But you get
that from the Derckszes: they never thought of what might be in store
for them hereafter...."

The birds twittered and Aunt's high-pitched voice sounded aggressive.

"If Grandpapa could be at the wedding, I should do it perhaps, for his
sake," said Elly. "But he's too old to come. Mamma Steyn doesn't make a
point of it either."

"No, of course not!" screamed Aunt Stefanie.

"You see, Aunt, you're the only one in the family who _does_," said Lot.

He did not see Aunt Stefanie often; but, when he saw her, it amused him
to draw her out.

"And there's no need to do it for _my_ sake," said Aunt,
self-righteously; and she thought to herself, "They sha'n't come in for
a cent, if they don't get married in church and do the proper thing. I
had intended to leave them something: now I shall leave everything to
Harold's grandchildren. They at least behave properly...."

But, when Elly made as though to rise, Aunt, who was flattered at
having visitors, said:

"Well, stay a bit longer, come, Elly! I don't see Lot so often; and
he's his aunt's own nephew after all.... It's not the thing, my boy....
You know, _I_ just speak out. I've done so from a child. I'm the
eldest: with a family like ours, which has not always behaved properly,
I have always had to speak out.... I've shown a great deal of tact,
however. But for me, Uncle Anton would have been quite lost, though
even now he isn't always proper. But leave him to his fate I will
_not_. Uncle Daniel and especially Uncle Harold, with their children:
how often haven't they needed me!..."

"Aunt, you have always been invaluable," said Lot. "But you were not
able to do much for Aunt Thérèse: she turned Catholic; and that wasn't
due to your influence, surely!"

"Thérèse is lost!" cried Aunt Stefanie, violently. "I've long since
given up having anything to do with Thérèse.... But any one for whom
I can do anything ... I sacrifice myself for. For Uncle Harold I do
what I can, also for his children; to Ina I am a second mother, also to
D'Herbourg: now there's a proper man for you; and Leo and Gus are good
and proper boys...."

"Not forgetting Lily," said Lot, "who didn't hesitate to call her
first-born son after you, though I think Stefanus a queer sort of name!"

"No, you'll never call your children after me," screamed Aunt, in
between the birds, "not though you get a dozen girls! What do you want
me to say, my boy? Uncle Harold's family has always shown me more
affection than your mother's family has; I got most perhaps from the
Trevelley children! And yet God alone knows what your mother owes to
me: but for me, Lot, she would have been lost! I'm not saying it to be
unpleasant, my boy; but she would have been lost, Lot, but for me! Yes,
you can feel grateful to me! You can see for yourself, your dear Mamma,
twice divorced, from her first two husbands: no, Lot, that was anything
but proper."

"My dear Aunt, Mamma has always been the black sheep of our virtuous
family."

"No, no, no!" said Aunt Stefanie, shaking her restless little bird-like
head; and the birds around her agreed with her and twittered their
assent. "The family's not so virtuous as that. Generally speaking, it
has never been proper! I won't say a word against my mother, but this
much is certain: she lost my father too early. You can't _compare_ Papa
Dercksz with _him_."

"Of course, there's no comparing a Dercksz with a De Laders," said Lot.

"You're being sarcastic!" said Aunt; and the birds twittered their
indignation in sympathy. "But there's many a true word spoken in jest.
I'm not saying it because of your mother, who's a dear child, whom
I'm fond of, but all the other Derckszes, with the exception of Uncle
Harold, are ..."

"Are what, Aunt Stefanie?"

"Are a sinful, hysterical crew!" cried Aunt Stefanie, aggressively.
"Uncle Anton, Uncle Daan, Aunt Thérèse and, my boy--though she's not
a Dercksz, it's in her blood--your sister Ottilie as well! They're a
sinful, hysterical, crew!" And she thought, "Your mother's one of them
too, my boy, though I'm not saying so."

"Then I'm once more glad," said Lot, "that _my_ Dercksz hysteria is
steadied by a certain Pauws calmness and sedateness." And he thought,
"Aunt's quite right, but it all comes from her own mother ... only it
happened to pass over Aunt Stefanie."

But Aunt went on, seconded by the birds:

"I'm not saying it to say anything unpleasant about the family, my boy.
I daresay I'm hard, but I speak out properly. Who speaks out properly
in our family?"

"You do, Aunt, you do!"

"Yes, I do, I, I, I!" cried Aunt; and all the birds in all the cages
twittered their agreement. "Don't go away just yet, stay a little
longer, Elly. I think it's so nice of you to have come. Elly, just
ring the bell, will you? Then Klaartje will bring a brandy-cherry: I
make them after the recipe of Grandmamma's Anna; and she makes them
properly."

"Aunt, we must really be getting on."

"Come, just one cherry!" Aunt insisted; and the birds joined in the
invitation. "Otherwise Aunt will think that you're angry with her for
speaking out...."

The brandy-cherries were tasted; and this put Aunt in a good humour,
even when Lot exclaimed, through the twittering of the birds:

"Aunt ... have _you_ never been hysterical?"

"I? Hysterical? No! Sinful, yes: I am sinful still, as we all are! But
hysterical, thank God, I have never been! Hysterical, like Uncle Anton,
Aunt Thérèse and ... your sister Ottilie, I have never been, never!"

The birds could not but confirm this.

"But you've been in love, Aunt! I hope you'll tell me the story of your
romance one day; then I'll make it into a very fine book."

"You've put too much about the family into your sinful books, as
it is, for Aunt ever to tell you that, though she had been in love
ten times over. For shame, boy! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!
Write a moral book that's a comfort to read, but don't go digging up
sinfulness for the sake of describing it, however fine the words you
choose may be."

"So at any rate you think my words fine?"

"I think nothing fine that you write, it's accursed books that you
write!... Are you really going now, Elly? Not because I don't admire
Lot's books, I hope? No? Then just one more cherry. You should get the
recipe from Anna, at Grandmamma's. Well, good-bye, children; and think
over what sort of present you'd like from Aunt. You can choose your
own, child, you can choose your own. Aunt'll give a present that's the
proper thing."

The birds agreed and, as Lot and Elly took their leave, twittered them
lustily out of the room.



CHAPTER VI


"Oof!" said Lot, outside, putting two fingers in his ears, which
had been deafened by the birds. "No more uncles and cousins for the
present, Elly: I'm not going to Uncle Harold and the D'Herbourgs after
this! A grandmamma, a future grandpapa, an uncle, an aunt and a very
old family-doctor: that's enough antediluvianism for one day! I can't
do with any more old people to-day, not even Uncle Harold, who is far
from being the most repellent. So many old people, all in one day:
it's too oppressive, it's stifling!... Let's walk a bit, if you're not
tired. It's fine, the wind'll refresh us, it won't rain.... Come into
the dunes with me. Here's the steam-tram coming: we'll take it as far
as the Witte Brug[1] and then go into the dunes. Come along!"

They went by tram to the Witte Brug and were soon in the dunes, where
they went and sat in the sand, with a strong sea-breeze blowing over
their heads.

"I hope I shall never grow old," said Lot. "Elly, don't _you_ think it
terrible to grow old, older every day?..."

"Your pet aversion, Lot?" asked Elly.

She smiled. He looked at her seriously, almost pale in the face, but,
because he saw her smiling, he managed to speak lightly:

"Worse than that. It's my nightmare. To see more and more wrinkles
every day in your skin, more streaks of grey in your hair; to feel your
memory going; to feel the edge of your emotions growing blunt; to feel
an extra crease in your stomach which spoils the fit of your waistcoat;
to feel your powers waning and your back bending under all the weight
of the past which you drag along with you ... without being able to do
a thing to prevent it!... When your suit gets old, you buy a new one:
I'm speaking from the capitalist's point of view. But your body and
soul you get once for all and you have to take them with you to the
grave. If you economize with either of them, then you haven't lived,
whereas, if you squander them, you have to pay for it.... And then that
past, which you tow and trail along! Every day adds its inexorable
quota. We are just mules, dragging along till we can go no farther and
till we drop dead with the effort.... Oh, Elly, it's terrible! Think of
those old people of to-day! Think of Grandpapa Takma and Grandmamma! I
look upon them as something to shudder at.... There they sit, nearly
every day, ninety-three and ninety-seven, each looking out of a window.
What do they talk about? Not much, I expect: their little ailments,
the weather; people as old as that don't talk, they are numbed. They
don't remember things. Their past is heavy with years and crushes them,
gives them only a semblance of life, of the aftermath of life: they've
had their life.... Was it interesting or not? You know, I think it must
have been interesting for those old people, else they wouldn't trouble
to meet now. They must have lived through a good deal together."

"They say that Grandpapa ..."

"Yes, that he was Grandmamma's lover.... Those old people: to believe
_that_, when you see them _now!_... To realize love ... passion ... in
those old people!... They must have lived through a lot together. I
don't know, but it has always seemed to me, when I see them together,
as if there were something being wafted between them, something
strange, to and fro: something of a tragedy which has become unravelled
and of which the last threads, now almost loose, are hovering between
the two of them.... And yet their souls must be numbed: I cannot
believe that they talk much; but they look at each other or out of
the window: the loose threads hover, but still bind their lives
together.... Who knows, perhaps it was interesting, in which case it
might be something for a novel...."

"Have you no idea, at the moment?"

"No, it's years since I had an idea for a novel. And I don't think
that I shall write any more. You see, Elly, I'm getting ... too old to
write for very young people; and who else reads novels?"

"But you don't write only for the public; you have your own ideal of
art!"

"It's such a barren notion, that principle. All very fine when you're
quite young: then it's delightful to swagger a bit with that ideal of
art; you go in for it then as another goes in for sport or a cultivated
palate.... Art really isn't everything. It's a very beautiful thing,
but, properly speaking, it oughtn't to be an aim in life. Artists
combine a great deal of pretentiousness with what is really a small
aim."

"But, Lot, the influence they exercise ..."

"With a book, a painting, an opera? Even to the people who care about
it, it's only an insignificant pleasure. Don't go thinking that artists
wield great influence. All our arts are little ivory towers, with
little doors for the initiate. They influence life hardly at all. All
those silly definitions of art, of Art with a capital A, which your
modern authors give you--art is this, art is that--are just one series
of exaggerated sentences. Art is an entertainment; and a painter is an
entertainer; so is a composer; so is a novelist."

"Oh, no, Lot!"

"I assure you it is so. You're still so precious in your conception
of art, Elly, but it'll wear away, dear. It's an affectation. Artists
are entertainers, of themselves and others. They have always been so,
from the days of the first troubadours, in the finest sense of the
word. Make the sense of it as fine as you please, but entertainers
they remain. An artist is no demigod, as we picture him when we
are twenty-three, like you, Elly. An entertainer is what he is; he
entertains himself and others; usually he is vain, petty, envious,
jealous, ungenerous to his fellow-entertainers, puffed up with his
principles and his art, that noble aim in life; just as petty and
jealous as any one else in any other profession. Then why shouldn't I
speak of authors as entertainers? They entertain themselves with their
own sorrows and emotions; and with a melancholy sonnet or a more or
less nebulous novel they entertain the young people who read them. For
people over thirty, who are not in the trade, no longer read novels
or poems. I myself am too old to write for young people. When I write
now, I have the _bourgeois_ ambition to be read by my contemporaries,
by men getting on for forty. What interests them is actual life, seen
psychologically, but expressed in concrete truths and not reflected in
a mirage and poetized and dramatized through fictitious personages.
That's why I'm a journalist and why I enjoy it. I like to grip my
reader at once and to let him go again at once, because neither he nor
I have any time to spare. Life goes on. But to-morrow I grip him again;
and then again I don't want to charm him any longer than I grip him. In
our ephemeral lives, this, journalism, is the ephemeral and the true
art, for I want the form of it to be frail but chaste.... I don't say
that I have got so far myself; but that is _my_ artistic ideal...."

"Then will you never write any more novels?"

"Who can say what he will or will not do again? Say it ... and you do
something different all the same. Who knows what I shall be saying or
doing in a year's time? If I knew Grandmamma's inner life, I should
perhaps write a novel. It is almost history; and, even as I take an
interest in the story of our own time, in the anticipation of our
future, so history has a great charm for me, even though history
depresses humanity and human beings and though our own old folk depress
me. Grandmamma's life is almost history: emotions and events of another
period...."

"Lot, I wish you would begin to work seriously."

"I shall start working as soon as we are in Italy. The best thing,
Elly, is not to think of setting up house yet. Not with Mamma and also
not by ourselves. Let us go on wandering. When we are very old it will
be time enough to roost permanently. What draws me to Italy is her
tremendous past. I try to reach antiquity through the Renascence, but
I have never got so far and in the Forum I still think too much of
Raphael and Leonardo."

"So first to Paris ... and then Nice ..."

"And on to Italy if you like. In Paris we shall look up another aunt."

"Aunt Thérèse?"

"Yes. That's the one who is more Catholic than the Pope. And at Nice
Ottilie.... Elly, you know that Ottilie lives with an Italian, she's
not married: will you be willing to see her all the same?"

"I should think so," said Elly, with a gentle smile. "I am very anxious
to see Ottilie again.... The last time was when I heard her sing at
Brussels."

"She has a heavenly voice ..."

"And she's a very beautiful woman."

"Yes, she is like Papa, she is tall, she doesn't take after Mamma a
bit.... She could never get on with Mamma. And of course she spent more
of her time with Papa.... She's no longer young, she's two years older
than I.... It's two years since I saw her.... What will she be like?
I wonder if she is still with her Italian.... Do you know how she met
him? By accident, in the train. They travelled in the same compartment
from Florence to Milan. He was an officer. They talked to each other
... and they've been together ever since. He resigned his commission,
so as to go with her wherever she was singing.... At least, I believe
they are still together.... 'Sinful and hysterical,' Aunt Stefanie
would say!... Who knows? Perhaps Ottilie met a great happiness ... and
did not hesitate to seize it.... Ah, most people hesitate ... and grope
about!..."

"We're different from Ottilie, Lot, and yet we don't grope ... or
hesitate...."

"Elly, are you quite sure that you love me?"

She bent over him where he lay, stretched out in the sand, leaning
on his two elbows. She felt her love inside her very intensely, as a
glowing need to live for him, to eliminate herself entirely for his
sake, to stimulate him to work, but to great, very great work.... That
was the way in which her love had blossomed up, after her grief....
Under the wide sky, in which the clouds drifted like a great fleet of
ships with white, bellying sails, a doubt rose in her mind for perhaps
one moment, very vaguely and unconsciously, whether he would need her
as she herself intended to give herself.... But this vague, unconscious
feeling was dissipated in the breeze that blew over her temples; and
her almost motherly love was so intense and glowing that she bent over
him and kissed him and said, quite convinced and certain of herself,
though not so certain of life and the future:

"Yes, Lot, I am sure of it."

Whatever doubt he may have entertained was scattered in smiles from his
soul after this tender and simple affirmation that she loved him, as
he felt, for himself alone, in a gentle, wondering bliss that already
seemed to see happiness approaching....


[1] The White Bridge.



CHAPTER VII


Harold Dercksz, the second son, was seventy-three, two years younger
than Anton. He was a widower and lived with his only daughter, Ina,
who had married Jonkheer[1] d'Herbourg and had three children: Lily, a
young, flaxen-haired little woman, married to Van Wely, an officer in
the artillery, and two boys, Pol and Gus, who were at the university
and the grammar-school respectively.

It was sometimes very unpleasant for Ina d'Herbourg that her father's
family, taken all round, did not display a correct respectability more
in keeping with the set in which she moved. She was quite at one with
Aunt Stefanie--with whom she curried favour for other reasons too--and
she agreed with Aunt that Grandmamma had been ill-advised, after having
married a De Laders, to get married again to one of the much less
distinguished Derckszes: this though Ina herself was a Dercksz and
though her very existence would have been problematical if Grandmamma
had not remarried. Ina, however, did not think so far as this: she
was merely sorry not to be a De Laders; and the best thing was to
mention Papa's family as little as possible. For this reason she denied
Uncle Anton, as far as her acquaintances were concerned, he being
a discreditable old reprobate, about whom the queerest stories were
rumoured. At the same time, he was a moneyed uncle; and so she caused
him to be kept in view, especially by the young Van Wely couple, for
Ina, in her very small soul, was both a good daughter to her father and
a good mother to her children and would like to see Uncle Anton leave
his money--how much would he have?--to her children. Then there was the
Indian family of Uncle Daniel, who was Papa's partner in business in
Java and who came over to Holland at regular intervals: well, Ina was
glad when business went well--for that meant money in the home--and
when Uncle Daniel and fat, Indian Aunt Floor were safe on board the
outward mail again, for really they were both quite unpresentable,
Uncle with his East-Indian ways and Aunt such a _nonna_[2] that Ina was
positively ashamed of her! Well, then, in Paris you had Aunt Thérèse
van der Staff, who, after leading a pretty loose life, had turned
Catholic: there you were, that again was so eccentric! The De Laders
had always been Walloons[3] and the D'Herbourgs also were always
Walloons: really, Walloonism was more distinguished than Catholicism,
at the Hague. The best thing was ... just never to mention Aunt
Thérèse. Last but not least, there was Aunt Ottilie Steyn de Weert,
living at the Hague, alas, three times married and twice divorced! And
she had a daughter who was a singer and had gone to the bad and a son
who had written two immoral novels: oh, that was a terrible thing for
Ina d'Herbourg, you know; it was such bad form and so incorrect; and
all their acquaintances knew about it, though she never mentioned Aunt
Ottilie or her three husbands, who were all three alive! And, when Ina
d'Herbourg thought of Aunt Steyn de Weert, she would cast up her weary,
well-bred eyes with a helpless air and heave a deep sigh; and, with
that glance and her despair, she looked an entire IJsselmonde. For she
herself, she thought, inherited more of the aristocratic blood of her
mother, a Freule[4] IJsselmonde, than of her father's Dercksz blood.
An only daughter, she had been able, through the Aunts IJsselmonde, to
mix in rather better circles than the all too East-Indian circle of
her father's family, in so far as that circle existed, for the family
was little known in society: an isolation seemed to reign around the
Derckszes, who knew very few people; and even her mother, when she was
still alive, had never been able to push Papa forward as something of
a specialist in East-Indian affairs and make him aim at the colonial
secretaryship, hard though she had tried to do so.

No, Father was not to be dragged out of his innate, silent timidity;
and, though he was quite gentle and amenable, though he joined in
paying all the visits that were deemed essential, though he gave
dinners and went out to dinner, he remained the man he was, a quiet,
peaceful man of business, ailing in health and silently broken in soul,
with pain and suffering in his eyes and around his mouth, but never
complaining and always reticent. Harold Dercksz was now a tall, thin
old man; and that intermittent suffering and eternal silence seemed to
grow worse with the years of sorrow and pain, seemed no longer capable
of concealment; yet he spoke of it to nobody but his doctor and not
much to him. For the rest, he was silent, never talked about himself,
not even to his brother Daan, who came at regular intervals to Holland
on the business-matters in which they were both interested.

Ina d'Herbourg was a good daughter: when her father was ill, she looked
after him as she looked after everything in the house, correctly and
not without affection. But she did sometimes ask herself whether her
mother had not been disappointed in her marriage, for Papa had not
much money, in spite of all the Indian business. Yes, Mamma had been
disappointed financially; and financial disappointment was always
facing Ina too. But, when Ina's husband, Leopold d'Herbourg--who,
after taking his degree in law, had first thought of entering the
diplomatic service, but who, in spite of his self-importance, had
not felt himself sufficiently gifted for that career and was now a
briefless barrister--when Ina's husband was also disappointed with the
Indian money, then Ina, after a few domestic scenes, began to think
that it would be her fate always to long for money and never to have
any. Now, it was true, they lived in a big house and Papa was very
generous and bore the whole expense of keeping Pol at Leiden; but
yet things didn't go easily with Ina, the money trickled through her
fingers and she would very much have liked to see more money about, a
great deal more money. That was why she was pleasant to Aunt Stefanie
de Laders and pleasant, furtively, to Uncle Anton.

Her fate continued to persecute her: instead of Lily's waiting a little
and making a good match, she had fallen so deeply in love, when hardly
twenty, with Frits van Wely, a penniless subaltern, that Ina could do
nothing, especially when Papa said:

"Do let the children be happy!..."

And he had given them an allowance, but it meant sheer poverty; and yet
Frits and Lily were married and in less than no time there was a boy.
Then the only thing that Ina could induce them to do was to call the
baby after Aunt Stefanie.

"Stefanus?" Lily exclaimed, in dismay.

Well, anything for a quiet life! They would call the boy Stef, which
sounded rather nice, for Aunt would never hear of Etienne. Ina would
have liked Stefanus Anton best; but to this Frits and Lily would not
consent.

It was a principle of Ina d'Herbourg's never to talk about money and
never about the family; but, because principles are very difficult to
maintain, there was always talk about money in the D'Herbourgs' house
and a great deal of talk about the family. Both were grateful subjects
of conversation between Ina and her husband; and, now that Lot Pauws
was engaged to Elly Takma, the talk flowed on of its own accord, one
evening after dinner, while Harold Dercksz sat looking silently in
front of him.

"How much do you think they'll have, Papa?" asked Ina.

The old gentleman made a vague gesture and went on staring.

"Lot, of course, has nothing," said D'Herbourg. "His parents are both
alive. I daresay he makes something by those articles of his, but it
can't amount to much."

"What does he get for an article?" asked Ina, eager to know at all
costs.

"_ I_ don't know, I haven't the remotest notion!" cried D'Herbourg.

"Do you think he'll get anything from old Pauws? He lives in Brussels,
doesn't he?"

"Yes, but old Pauws has nothing either!"

"Or from Aunt Ottilie? She has the money her father left her, you know.
Steyn has nothing, has he, Father? Besides, why should Steyn give Lot
anything?"

"No," said D'Herbourg. "But old Mr. Takma has plenty: Elly's sure to
get something from him."

"I can't understand how they are going to live," said Ina.

"They won't have less than Lily and Frits."

"But I can't understand how those two are going to live either!" Ina
retorted.

"Then you should have found your daughter a rich husband!"

"Please," said Ina, wearily closing the well-bred eyes, with the glance
of the IJsselmondes, "don't let us talk about money. I'm sick and tired
of it. And other people's money ... is _le moindre de mes soucis_.
I don't care in the least how another person lives.... Still ... I
believe that Grandmamma is better off than we think."

"I know roughly how much she ought to have," said D'Herbourg. "Deelhof
the solicitor was saying the other day ..."

"How much?" asked Ina, eagerly; and the weary eyes brightened up.

But, because he saw an expression of pain come over his father-in-law's
face and wrinkle it and because he did not know whether the pain was
physical or moral, arising from gastritis or from nerves, D'Herbourg
evaded the question. It was difficult, however, to stop at once, even
though Papa did look pained, and so he said:

"Aunt Stefanie must be comfortably off."

"Yes, but I should think," said Ina, "considering how Uncle Anton used
to hoard while he was a resident, that he's much better off than Aunt
Stefanie. As an unmarried man, he never entertained during his term of
office: that I know for a fact. The resident's house was tumbling to
pieces when he left it after eight years...."

"But Uncle Anton is an old reprobate," said D'Herbourg, forcibly, "and
_that_ cost him money."

"_No!_" said Harold Dercksz.

He said it as though in pain, waving his hand in a gesture of denial;
but he had no sooner uttered this single word in defence of his brother
than he regretted it, for Ina asked, eagerly:

"No, Papa? But surely Uncle Anton's life won't bear investigation ..."

And D'Herbourg asked:

"Then how was he able to be such a beast, without paying for his
pleasures?..."

Harold Dercksz cast about for a word in palliation; he said:

"The women were fond of Anton ..."

"Women? Flappers, you mean!"

"No, _no!_" Harold Dercksz protested, repudiating the suggestion with
his lean old hand.

"Ssh!" said Ina, looking round.

The boys entered.

"Why, Uncle Anton was had up thirty years ago!" D'Herbourg continued.

"No, no," Harold Dercksz protested.

Pol, the student, and Gus, the younger boy, entered; and there was no
more talk about money and the family that evening; and, because of the
boys, the after-dinner tea went off pleasantly. Truly, Ina was a good
mother and had brought her boys up well: because of old Grandfather,
they were gay without being noisy, which always gave Harold Dercksz
an agreeable, homely feeling; and they were both very polite, to the
great contentment of Ina, who was able to say that Pol and Gus did
not get _that_ from the Derckszes: when Grandfather rose to go to his
study upstairs, Gus flew to the door and held it open, with very great
deference. The old man nodded kindly to his grandson, tapped him on
the shoulder and went up the stairs, reflecting that Ina was a good
daughter, though she had her faults. He liked living in her house. He
would have felt very lonely by himself. He was fond of those two boys.
They represented something young, something that was still on its way
to maturity, merrily and gaily, those two young-boyish lives: they were
not, like all the rest, something that passed, things that passed,
slowly and threateningly, for years and years and years....

On reaching his study, Harold Dercksz turned up the gas and dropped
into his chair and stared. Life sometimes veiled things, veiled them
silently, those terrible, life-long things, and then they did not
threaten so greatly and, until death came and wiped them away, they
passed, passed always, however slowly they might pass. But they
passed away very slowly, the things. He was an old man now, a man of
seventy-three, and an infirm old man, dragging his old age to the grave
for which he was yearning. How many sufferings had he not endured! He
could not understand why he need grow so old, while the things passed
so slowly, went silently by, but with such a trailing action, as though
they, the things of the past, were ghosts trailing very long veils
over very long paths and as though the veils rustled over the whirling
leaves that fluttered upon the paths. All his long aftermath of life
he had seen the things go past and he had often failed to understand
how seeing them go past like that was not too much for a man's brain.
But the things had dragged their veils and the leaves had just rustled:
never had the threat been realized; no one had stepped from behind
a tree; the path had remained desolate under his eyes; and the path
wound on and on and the ghostly things went past.... Sometimes they
looked round, with ghostly eyes; sometimes they went on again, with
dragging slowness: they were never brought to a standstill. He had
seen them pass silently through his childhood, through his boyhood,
when he was the age of Pol and Gus; he had seen them pass through his
very commonplace life as a coffee-planter in Java and a manufacturer
afterwards and through his married life with a woman whose existence
he had come to share by mistake, even as she had come by mistake to
share his: he, doubtless, because he did nothing but see those things,
the things that passed.... He now coughed, a hard, dry cough, which
hurt his chest and stomach and sent jolts shooting through his shrunken
legs....

Oh, how much longer would it last, his seeing the things?... They
went past, they went past and loitered and loitered.... Oh, why did
they not go faster?... From the time when he was a little fellow of
thirteen, a merry, sportive little fellow playing barefoot in the river
before the assistant-resident's house, rejoicing in the fruit, the
birds, the animals, rejoicing in all the glad child-life of a boy in
Java who can play in big grounds, beside running waters, and climb up
tall, red-blossoming trees; from the moment--a sultry night, the dark
sky first threatening and then shedding heavy, clattering torrents of
rain--from the moment when he saw the things, the first things, the
first terrible Thing: from that moment a confusion had crept over his
tender brain like a monster which had not exactly crushed the child,
but which had ever since possessed it, held it in its claws.... All the
years of his life, he had seen the Thing rise up again, like a vision,
the terrible Thing begotten and born in that night when, being no doubt
a little feverish, he had been unable to sleep under the heavy, leaden
night, which still held up the rain in powerful sails that could not
burst and allowed no air through for him to breathe. The vision? No,
the Thing, the actual Thing ...

       *       *       *       *       *

A lonely _pasangrahan_[5] in the mountains: he is there alone with
his two parents, he the darling of his father, who is taking his
sick-leave. The other brothers and the sisters have been left behind in
the town, in the assistant-resident's house.

He cannot sleep and he calls:

"_Baboe_, come here!..."

She does not answer. Where is she? As a rule, she lies outside his
door, on her little mat, and wakes at once.

"_Baboe, baboe_, come here!"

He becomes impatient; he is a big boy, but he is frightened, because
he has a touch of fever too, like Papa, and because the night is so
sultry, as though an earthquake were at hand.

"_Baboe!_..."

She is not there.

He struggles up and gets entangled in the _klamboe_,[6] which he is
unable to open in his feverish terror.... He now releases himself from
the muslin folds and is again about to call out for his _baboe_ ...
but he hears voices, whispering, in the back verandah.... The blood
curdles in the boy's body: he thinks of thieves, of _ketjoes_,[7] and
is horribly frightened.... No, they are not speaking Javanese: they
are not _ketjoes_. They are speaking Dutch, with Malay in between; and
he next recognizes Baboe's voice. And he tries to utter a scream of
fright, but his fright prevents him.... What are they doing, what is
happening? The boy is clammy, cold.... He has heard his mother's voice:
he now recognizes the voice of Mr. Emile, Mr. Takma, the secretary, who
is so often at the house in the town.... Oh, what are they doing out
there in the dark?... He was frightened at first, but now he is cold
rather and shivers and does not know why.... What can be happening?
What are Mamma and Mr. Takma and Ma-Boeten doing out there in the
night?... His curiosity overcomes his terrors. He keeps very quiet,
only his teeth chatter; he opens the door of his room, very gently, to
prevent its creaking. The middle verandah is dark, the back verandah is
dark....

"Hush, _baboe_, hush, O my God, hush!... Quietly, quietly.... If the
_sinjo_[8] should hear!..."

"He's asleep, _kandjeng_[9]...."

"If the _oppas_[10] should hear!..."

"He's asleep, _kandjeng_...."

"O my God, O my God, if he should wake!... Oh, _baboe, baboe,_ what are
we to do?..."

"Be quiet, Ottilie, be quiet!..."

"Nothing else for it, _kandjeng_: in the river, in the river!..."

"O my God, O my God, no, no, _not_ in the river!"

"Do keep quiet, Ottilie!"

"O my God, no, not in the river!"

"It's the only way, Ottilie! Be quiet, be quiet! Hold your tongue, I
say! Do you want to get us both taken up ... for murder?"

"I? Did I murder him?"

"_I_ couldn't help it! _I_ acted in self-defence! _You_ hated him, _I_
didn't, Ottilie. But you did it with me."

"Oh, my God, no, no!"

"Don't try to avoid your share of the blame!"

"No, no, no!"

"You hung on to him ..."

"Yes, no ..."

"When I snatched his kris from him!"

"Yes ... yes."

"Hush, _kandjeng_, hush!"

"O my God, O my God, it's lightning!... Oh, what a clap, what a clap!"

The mountains echo the rolling thunder, again and again and yet again.
The torrent pours down, as though the rain-sails were tearing....

The boy hears his mother's scream.

"Quiet, Ottilie, quiet!"

"I can bear it no longer, I shall faint!"

"Be quiet! Hold his leg. _Baboe_, you take the other leg!"

"There's blood, on the floor...."

"Wipe it up."

"Presently, _kandjeng_, oh, presently!... First to the river...."

"O my God, O my God!"

The boy's teeth chatter and his eyes start from his head and his heart
thumps, in his fever. He is mortally frightened, but he wants to see,
too. He does not understand and, above all, he wants to see. His
childish curiosity wants to see the terrible Thing which he does not
yet understand. Silently, on his bare feet, he steals through the dark
verandah. And, in the dim light of the night outside ... he sees! He
sees the Thing! A flash of lightning, terrible; a clap of thunder, as
if the mountains were falling ... and he has seen! He is now looking
only at vagueness, the vague progress of something which they are
carrying ... of somebody whom they are carrying, Mamma, Mr. Emile
and Ma-Boeten. In his innocence, he does not realize _whom_. In his
innocence, he thinks only of terrible things and people, of robbers and
treasures, of creepy incidents in his story-books.... _Whom_ are they
carrying through the garden? Can't Papa hear them? Won't he wake? Is he
so fast asleep?

Now he no longer hears their voices.... Now they have disappeared in
the garden.... Doesn't the _oppas_ hear?... No, everything remains
quiet; everything has disappeared in the darkness and the rain; he sees
nothing but the rain pouring in torrents, pelting, pelting, furiously.
The furious pelting prevents Father and Oppas from hearing.... The
sky has burst and all the rain in the sky is pelting down.... He is
shivering with cold and fever. And suddenly he feels his little bare
foot stepping on something warm and soft.... It is blood, clotted
blood....

He no longer dares to move forwards or backwards. He stands with his
teeth chattering and all the clatter of the rain around him.... But he
must wake his father, take refuge with him, hide himself in his arms
and sob and sob with fright!... He gropes his way back to the middle
verandah; he sees the door of Mamma's room standing open: a little
lamp is flickering faintly. Again his foot feels the soft warmth and
he shudders at the terrible mire, which is blood, clotted blood, and
lies everywhere, on the matting. But he wants to get to the little
lamp, to take it with him to Papa's room, so far away, near the front
verandah. He goes to the lamp and takes it and sees Mamma's bed all
tumbled, with the pillows on the floor.... And he now sees the red on
the floor, already almost black, and he is terrified and feels icy
cold and steps aside with the lamp, so as not to tread on a kris, a
handsome presentation weapon, which Papa received from the Regent[11]
yesterday! There it lies ... and the blade is red! Now everything is
misty-red before his childish eyes, oh, terribly red in the verandah,
with its dancing shadows, through which he, so small, goes with his
little lamp, in his terror and fever: perhaps he is dreaming!... To
Papa's room:

"Papa, oh, Papa, oh, Papa!"

He is stammering with fright, at his wits' end without Papa's
protection.

He opens Papa's door:

"Papa, oh, Papa, oh, Papa!"

He goes up to the bed with his little lamp in his hand. Papa has slept
in the bed, but is not there now.... Where is Papa?... And of a sudden
it stands revealed to his childish mind. He sees the terrible Thing,
sees it as a dreadful, awful, blood-red haunting vision. What they
carried away through the garden, through the pouring rain, to the river
... was Papa, was Papa! What Mamma and Mr. Emile and Ma-Boeten are
carrying away outside ... is Papa!... He is all alone in the house ...
Papa is dead and they are carrying him to the river.... He has seen the
Thing.... He goes on seeing the Thing.... He will always see it....
He does not know why--he has suddenly grown years older--but he shuts
Papa's door, goes back, puts Mamma's lamp where he found it and goes
back to his own room. He trembles in the dark and his teeth chatter and
his eyes start and stare out of his head. But he washes his feet, in the
dark, and at once flings the towel into the linen-basket. He creeps
into bed, pulls the _klamboe_ to, pulls the coverlet over his ears.
And he lies shaking with fever. The iron bedstead underneath him
trembles in unison. He is alone in the _pasangrahan_ and he has seen
the terrible Thing: first the actual progress of it and then the
revealing vision, in the glare of the lightning-flashes, under the
roar of the mountain-cleaving thunder. He lies and shakes.... How long
does it last? How long does it last?... Half an hour, three-quarters
of an hour.... He hears Baboe coming back and Mamma moaning, sobbing,
groaning and Ma-Boeten muttering:

"Hush, _kadjeng_, hush!..."

"They're sure to have seen us!..."

"No, there was no one there.... Think of Sinjo Harold, _kandjeng_!..."

Everything becomes still....

Deathly still....

The boy lies shaking with fever; and all night long his starting eyes
stare and he sees the Thing....

He has seen it ever since; and he has grown to be an old man....

Next day, Papa's body is discovered among the great boulders in the
river. There are suggestions of a _perkara_[12] with a woman, in the
_kampong_,[13] of jealousy. But Dr. Roelofsz finds that the wound
was caused by nothing more than a sharp rock, to which Dercksz tried
to cling, when drowning.... No need to credit natives' gossip....
No question of a murder.... The controller draws up the report:
Assistant-resident Dercksz--staying temporarily in the _pasangrahan_,
unable to sleep because of his fever and the sultry weather--went out
during the night, for the sake of air.... The _oppasser_ heard him
... and was rather surprised, for it was raining in torrents.... But
it was not the first time that the _kandjeng_ had gone out into the
jungle at night, because of his sleeplessness.... He missed his way;
and the river was swollen.... It was impossible for him to swim, among
the great rocks.... He was drowned in the stormy night.... His body
was found by natives some distance below the _pasangrahan_, while Mrs.
Dercksz, on waking in the morning, was very uneasy at not finding her
husband in his room....

       *       *       *       *       *

Harold Dercksz sat and stared.

In his silent, gloomy business-man's study, he saw the Thing pass, but
with such a trailing movement and so slowly.... And he did not notice
the door open and his daughter Ina enter. "Father ..."

He did not answer.

"Father! Father ..."

He started.

"I have come to say good-night.... What were you thinking of so hard,
Father?"

Harold Dercksz drew his hand over his forehead:

"Nothing, dear ... things ... old things...."

He saw them: there they went, trailing long spectral veils over
rustling leaves ... and ... and was anything threatening behind the
trees in that endless path?...

"Old things?... Oh, Father, they are past by now!... _I_ never think of
old things: the life of to-day is difficult enough for people without
money...."

She kissed him good-night....

No, the old things ... are not yet the things of the past.... They are
passing, they are passing ... but so slowly!


[1] A Dutch title of nobility, ranking below that of baron.

[2] A half-caste.

[3] The Walloon Protestants are a branch of the French Calvinists
imported into the Netherlands at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
They differ from the general body of Dutch Calvinists only in the use
of the French language and the Geneva Catechism. They are gradually
dying out as a separate body.

[4] The title borne by the unmarried daughters of Dutch noblemen.

[5] Dak bungalow.

[6] Mosquito-curtain.

[7] Native robber-bands.

[8] The young gentleman.

[9] Mem-sahib.

[10] From the Dutch _oppasser_: overseer, watchman.

[11] A title of an independent native prince, equivalent to rajah.

[12] Business, fuss, bother.

[13] Compound.



CHAPTER VIII


Lot Pauws was sitting in his room, writing, when he heard the voices
of his mother and of her husband, Steyn, below. Mamma Ottilie's voice
sounded shrill, in steadily rising anger; and Steyn's calm, indifferent
bass voice boomed with short, jerky sentences and egged on Mamma's
words till she stuttered them out and almost choked in the panting
effort.

Lot put down his pen with a sigh and went downstairs. He saw the old
servant-maid listening eagerly at the kitchen-door, but she disappeared
when she heard Lot's footstep on the stair.

Lot entered the room:

"What's the matter?"

"What's the matter? What's the matter? I'll tell you what's the matter:
I was a fool when I married, I was a fool to bring my property into
settlement. If I hadn't, I could have done as I pleased! Aren't they my
children, my own children? If they want money, can't I send it to them?
Must they starve, while he ... while he ..."

She pointed to Steyn.

"Well, what?" said Steyn, challenging her.

"While he blows my money on women, his everlasting, low women ..."

"I say, Mamma!"

"Well, it's true!"

"Hush, Mamma, for shame: don't talk like that! What's it all about,
Steyn?"

"Mamma has had a letter from London."

"From the Trevelleys?"

"From Hugh. He asks for money."

"And can't I send my son money if I want to?" cried Mamma to Lot.
"Isn't Hugh my child, isn't he my son? It's bad enough of you to object
to my seeing much of them, but am I to break with them altogether? If
Hugh is without an appointment for the moment, can't I send him some
money? Isn't it my money? Steyn has _his_ money, his pension. I don't
ask him for his money!"

"Look here, Lot," said Steyn. "Mamma can do as she likes, of course.
But there is hardly enough as you know, for our regular expenses. If
Mamma goes and sends Hugh fifty pounds, I don't know how we shall
manage. That's all; and for the rest I don't care what Mamma says."

"You blew my money on low women, for you're low yourself and always
have been!"

"Mamma, stop that! And be quiet. I can't stand quarrelling and
scolding. Be quiet. Be quiet, Mamma. Let me see Hugh's letter."

"No, I sha'n't let you see it either! What do you imagine? I'm not
accountable to my son! Are you also siding with that brute against your
mother? You'd both of you like me to break with my own children, my
own flesh and blood, my darlings, my _d-dar-lings_, because it suits
your book! When do I see them? When? Tell me, when? Mary, John, Hugh:
when do I see Hugh? Suppose I _was_ mistaken in their father, aren't
they my own children, just as much as you and Ottilie? I can't let my
boy starve!"

"I know quite well that Hugh abuses your kindness, your weakness ...
not to speak of the two others."

"That's right, don't you speak of them! Just break with your brothers
and sisters! Just think that there's nobody in the world but yourself
and that your mother has no one but you; and go and get married and
leave your mother alone with that fellow, that low fellow, who sneaks
out at night to his women! Because he's still young! Because he's so
young and his wife is old! But, if he has to go to his women and if you
get married, I promise you I won't stay in the house alone and I swear
I'll go to Hugh. My own dear boy, my _d-dar-ling:_ when do I see him?
When do I see him? I haven't seen him for a year!"

"Please, Mamma, keep calm and don't scream so. Talk quietly. You
make me so dreadfully tired with that screaming and quarrelling and
scolding: I can't stand it ... I won't ask you to show me Hugh's
letter. But Steyn is right; and, from what I know of our present
financial position, it would be folly to send six hundred guilders to
Hugh, who never has more than some vague 'appointment' in the City.
You can't do it."

"Yes, I can, selfish brute that you are! What do you know about your
mother's money? I always have money when I want it!"

"Yes, I know: you lose it and then you find it again in your
cupboard...."

"And, though I don't find it in my cupboard this time and if Steyn
keeps the money locked up, I shall just go to the bank and ask for it
and they won't refuse me. And I'll have it sent by the bank. There, you
see, I _can_ do it, grasping, selfish brutes that you both are! I'll
put on my hat and go. I'll go at once, I'll go to the bank; and Hugh
... Hugh shall have his money to-morrow or next day, any day. I should
do it for you, Lot, or for Ottilie; and I shall do it for Hugh. I am
his mother and I shall do it: I shall, I shall, so _there!_"

She stammered and choked with rage; and a prick of jealousy, because
Lot had defended Steyn and because Steyn cared more for Lot than for
her, drove into the flesh of her heart and caused her such suffering
that she no longer knew what she was saying and felt like boxing Lot's
ears and felt that ... that she could have murdered Steyn! And she
flounced out of the room, pale with passion, knocking against the
furniture, slamming the door, and rushed upstairs. She could have
sobbed with that pricking pain.... Steyn and Lot heard her moving and
stamping overhead, putting on her things and talking to herself and
scolding, scolding, scolding.

Steyn's hard features, rough but handsome under his beard, were
suddenly twisted to softness by a spasm of despair.

"Lot, my dear fellow," he said, "I've stood this for nearly twenty
years."

"Now then, Steyn!"

"For nearly twenty years. Screaming, scolding, wrangling.... She's your
mother. We won't say any more about it."

"Steyn, she's my mother and I'm fond of her, in spite of everything;
but you know I feel how you must suffer."

"Suffer? I don't know. A chap gets dulled. But I do think sometimes
that I've thrown away my life in a most wretched way. And who's
benefited by it? Not even _she_."

"Try to look upon her as a child, as a tempersome, spoilt child. Be
nice to her, once in a way. A kind word, a caress: that's what she
needs. She's a woman who lives on petting. Poor Mamma: I know nobody
who needs it as she does. She leans up against me sometimes, while I
stroke her. Then she's happy. If I give her a kiss, she's happy. If I
tell her she's got a soft skin, she's happy. She is a child. Try to
look upon her as that; and be nice to her, just once or twice."

"I can't, any longer. I was mad on her, madly in love with her, at
one time. If she hadn't always quarrelled and been so impossibly
unreasonable, we could still be living together amicably. Though she is
older than I, we could still have got on. But she's impossible. You see
it as well as I do. There's no money; and, because she doesn't discover
any in her cupboard this time, she simply goes and draws it from the
bank to send to Hugh. It's those letters from the Trevelleys which
cause scenes at regular intervals. They bleed her in turns; and the
shabbiest part of it, you know, is that the father's at the back of it."

"Is that quite certain?"

"Yes. Trevelley's always at the back of it. He influences those
children. We are getting into debt for Trevelley's sake.... Lot, I've
often thought of getting a divorce. I wouldn't do it, because Mamma
has been twice divorced already. But I sometimes ask myself, am I not
throwing away my life for nothing? What good am I to her or she to me?
We are staying together for nothing, for things that are past, for a
passion that is past: one moment of mad, insensate blindness, of not
knowing or caring, of just wanting.... For things that are past I have
been throwing away my life, day after day, for twenty years on end. I
am a simple enough chap, but I used to enjoy my life, I enjoyed the
service ... and I have taken a dislike to everything and go on wasting
my life day after day.... For something that is quite past I ..."

"Steyn, you know I appreciate what you do. And you're doing it purely
for Mamma's sake. But, you know, I have often said to you, go your own
way. Barren sacrifices make no appeal to me. If you think you will
still find something in life by leaving Mamma, then do so."

But Steyn seemed to have recovered his indifference:

"No, my boy, what's spoilt is spoilt. Twenty years wear out a man's
energy to make something more of his life. I felt at the time that
I oughtn't to desert Mamma, when she was left all alone, not wholly
through my fault, perhaps, but still very much so. To leave her now,
when she is an old woman, would be the act of a cad: I can't do it. I
take that line not as a barren sacrifice, but because I can't help it.
I don't allow my life to be made a hell of. I go my own way when I want
to, though Mamma exaggerates when she pretends that I go to a woman at
night."

"Mamma is naturally jealous and she's still jealous of you."

"And she's jealous of you. She's an unhappy woman; and the older she
grows the unhappier she will be. She's one of those people who ought
never to grow old.... Come along, Jack, we're going for a walk.... But,
Lot, if Mamma goes on like this, we shall have to have her property
administered for her. There's nothing else for it."

Lot gave a start: he pictured Mamma with her property transferred to an
administrator; and yet Steyn was right. He thought that he had better
have a quiet talk with Mamma. For the moment, there was nothing to be
done: Mamma was exasperated, was behaving like a lunatic and would send
Hugh the fifty pounds.

Lot went back to his room and tried to resume his work. He was writing
an essay _On Art_, proving that art was entertainment and the artist
an entertainer. He did not know whether he agreed with everything that
he was saying, but that didn't matter and was of no importance. It was
a subject to fill a few brilliant pages, written with all his talent
for words; and it would catch the public, it would be read: it would
rouse indignation on the one side and a smile on the other, because
there really might be a good deal in it and because Charles Pauws
might be right in what he said. He lovingly fashioned his sentences
out of beautiful words, making them seem convincing through their
brilliancy.... But in between the sentences he thought of poor Mamma
and suddenly found that he could not go on writing. He pitied her. He
felt for Steyn, but he pitied poor Mamma.... He rose and paced his
room, which was full of spoils of Italy: a few bronzes, a number of
photographs after the Italian masters. A good fellow, Steyn, to let him
have this room next to Mamma's and to go up to the top floor himself.
But he pitied his mother, who was such a child. She had always been a
child: she could not help being and remaining a child. She had been so
very pretty and so seductive: a little doll always; and he remembered,
when he was already a boy of seventeen, how perfectly charming Mamma
used to look: so young, so extraordinarily young, with that adorable
little face, those blue childlike eyes and that perfect, plump figure.
She was thirty-eight then, without a sign of age; she was a pretty
woman in the full bloom of her attractiveness. He had no need to
look at Mamma's photographs as she was in those days and earlier: he
remembered her like that; he remembered her looking like a young girl
in a low, creamy-white lace dress, which she did not even take the
trouble to put on very neatly, looking above all things charming, so
intensely charming; he remembered her in a brown-cloth frock trimmed
with astrakhan, with a little astrakhan cap on her frizzy hair, skating
with him on the ice, so lightly and gracefully that people believed her
to be his sister.... Poor Mamma, growing old now! And yet she still
looked very nice, but she was growing old; and she had nothing--he
was sure of this--she had nothing but her faculty for love. She had
five children, but she was not a mother: Lot laughed and shook his
head at the thought. He had educated himself; Ottilie had very early
become aware of her great talent and her beautiful voice and had also
educated herself; the Trevelleys had run more wild.... No, Mamma was
not a mother, was not a woman of domestic tastes, was not even a woman
of the world: Mamma had nothing but her faculty for love. She needed
love, probably no longer needed passion, but still needed love; and
what she needed most, needed mortally, was petting, like a child. And
nobody petted her more than he did, because he knew that Mamma was mad
on petting. She had once said to him, pointing to a photograph of his
half-brother Hugh Trevelley, a good-looking lad turned twenty:

"Lot, it's eight months since I had a kiss from him!"

And he had seen something in Mamma as though she were craving for
Hugh's kiss, though he sometimes treated her so roughly and cavalierly.
Of course, this was also a motherly feeling on Mamma's part, but it
was perhaps even more a need to have this lad, who was her son, caress
her, caress her sweetly.... And were they to put her under any kind of
restraint? Perhaps it would have to come! It would be perfectly horrid:
that dear Mummy! But she was so silly sometimes! So stupid! Such a
child, for such an old woman!... Oh, it was terrible, that growing old
and older and yet remaining what you were! How little life taught you!
How little it formed you! It left you as you were and merely wore off
your sharp and attractive irregularities!... Poor Mamma, her life was
made up of nothing but things that were past ... and especially things
of love!... Aunt Stefanie spoke of hysteria; and a great streak of
sensual passion had run through the family; but it did not come from
the Derckszes, as Aunt Stefanie pretended: it came from Grandmamma
herself. He had always heard that, like his mother, she too had been
a woman of passion. People talked of all sorts of adventures which
she had had in India, until she met Takma. There was a kind of curse
on their family, a curse of unhappy marriages. Both of Grandmamma's
marriages had turned out unhappily: General de Laders appeared to have
been a brute, however much Aunt Stefanie might defend her father. With
Grandpapa Dercksz, so people said, Grandmamma was exceedingly unhappy:
the adventures dated back to that time. Grandpapa Dercksz was drowned
by falling at night into the swollen river behind a _pasangrahan_ in
the Tegal mountains. Lot remembered how that had always been talked
about, how the rumours had persisted for years. The story, which dated
sixty years back, ran that Grandpapa Dercksz had shown kindness to
a woman in the _kampong_ and that he was stabbed by a Javanese out
of jealousy. It was mere gossip: Dr. Roelofsz said that it was mere
gossip.... A curse of unhappy marriages.... Uncle Anton had never been
married; but in him the streak of passion developed into a broad vein
of hysteria.... Uncle Harold, human but inscrutable, had been unhappy
with his _freule_, who was too Dutch for an Indian planter.... Uncle
Daan, in India--they were on their way to Holland at this moment--was
to outward appearances not unhappy with a far too Indian wife, Aunt
Floor: they were now old and staid and sedate, but there was a time
when the fatal streak had run through both of them, developing in
Aunt--a Dillenhof, belonging to Grandmamma's family--into the vein, the
broad vein. Well, that was all past: they were old people now.... Aunt
Thérèse van der Staff had become a Catholic, after an unhappy marriage;
they said that Theo, her son, was not the son of her husband.... And
his own poor mother, thrice married and thrice unhappily!

He had never looked at it like this before, throughout and down the
generations, but, when he did, it was terrible: a sort of clinging
to the social law--of marriage--which was suited to none of those
temperaments. Why had they married? They were all old people now, but
... if they had been young now, with modern views, would they have
married? Would they have married? Their blood, often heated to the
point of hysteria, could never have endured that constraint. They had
found the momentary counterparts of their passion, for not one of
them--with the exception perhaps of Uncle Harold--had married for other
than passionate reasons; but, as soon as the constraint of marriage
oppressed them, they had felt their fate, the social law which they
had always honoured, thoughtlessly and instinctively, and which did
not suit them; they had felt their family curse of being married and
unhappy.... And he himself, why was he getting married? He suddenly
asked himself the question, seriously, as he had once asked his mother
in jest. Why was he getting married? Was he a man for marriage? Did he
not know himself only too well? Cynical towards himself, he saw himself
as he was and was fully aware of his own egotism. He knew all his
little vanities, of personal appearance, of a fine literary style....
He smiled: he was not a bad sort, there were worse than he; but, in
Heaven's name, why was he getting married? Why had he proposed to
Elly?... And yet he felt happy; and, now that he was seriously asking
himself why he was getting married, he felt very seriously that he was
fond of Elly, perhaps fonder than he himself knew. But--the thought was
irrepressible--why get married? Would _he_ escape the family curse?
Wasn't Ottilie at Nice really right, Ottilie who refused to marry and
who lived unbound with her Italian officer--she herself had written
to tell him so--until they should cease to love each other? Was the
streak continued in her or ... was she right and he wrong? Was she, his
sister, a woman, stronger in her views of life than he, a man?... Why,
why get married? Couldn't he say to Elly, who was so sensible, that he
preferred to live unbound with her?... No, it was not feasible: there
remained, however little it might count with them, the question of
social consideration; there was her grandfather; there were people and
things, conventions, difficulties. No, he could not put it to Elly;
and yet she would have understood it all right.... So there was nothing
for it but to get married in the ordinary way and to hope--because
they loved each other so thoroughly and not only out of passion--that
the curse would not force its fate upon them, the yoke of an unhappy
marriage....

Those people, those uncles and aunts, had been unhappy, in their
marriages. They were now growing old; those things of other days were
now all passing.... They were passing.... Would they come to him, who
was still young? Must they come around him, now that he was growing
older? Oh, to grow older, to grow old! Oh, the terrible nightmare of
growing old, of seeing the wintry-grey vistas opening before him! To
be humbled in his conceit with his appearance did not mean so very
much; to be humbled in his conceit with his literary gifts hurt more;
but to be humbled in his whole physical and moral existence: that
was the horror, the nightmare! Not humbled all at once, but slowly
undergoing the decay of his young and vigorous body, the withering of
his intelligence and his soul.... Oh, to grow as old as Grandmamma and
as Grandpapa Takma: how awful! And those were people who had _lived_
for their ninety years and more. An atom of emotion still seemed to
be wafted between the two of them, an atom of memory. Who could tell?
Perhaps they still talked ... about the past.... But to grow so old as
that: ninety-seven! Oh, no, no, not so old as that: let him die before
he decayed, before he withered! He felt himself turn cold with dread
at the thought and he trembled, now that he realized so powerfully the
possibility of growing as old as that: ninety-seven!... O God, O God,
no, no!... Let him die young, let it be over, in his case, while he was
still young! He was no pessimist, he loved life: life was beautiful,
life was radiant; there were so many beautiful things in art, in Italy,
in his own intellect: in his own soul even, at present, that emotion
for Elly. But he loved young and vigorous life and did not want decay
and withering. Oh, for vigour, vigour always, youth always! To die
young, to die young! He implored it of That which he accepted as God,
that Light, that Secret, which perhaps, however, would not listen from
out of Its unfathomable depths of might to a prayer from him, so small,
so selfish, so unmanly, so cowardly, so vain, so incredibly vain! Oh,
did he not know himself? Did he pretend not to see himself as he was?
Could he help seeing himself as he was?

He paced his room and did not hear the door open.

"And the fifty pounds is in the post!"

He started. His mother stood before him, looking like a little fury:
her blue eyes blazed like those of a little demon and her mouth was
wide open like a naughty child's.

"Oh!... Mamma!"

"Lot!... What's the matter with you?"

"With me?... Nothing...."

"Oh, my boy, my boy, what's the matter with you?"

He was shivering as in a fever. He was quite pale. He tried to master
himself, to be manly, plucky and brave. A dark terror overwhelmed him.
Everything went black before his eyes.

"My dear, my dear ... what is it?"

She had thrown her arm round him and now drew him to the sofa.

"Oh, Mamma!... To grow old! To grow old!"

"Hush, darling, be still!"

She stroked his head as it lay on her shoulder. She knew him like that:
it was his disease, his weakness; it returned periodically and he would
lie against her thus, moaning at the thought of growing old, of growing
old.... Ah, well, it was his disease, his weakness; she knew all about
it; and she became very calm, as she would have done if he had been
feverish. She fondled him, stroked his hair with regular strokes,
trying not to disorder it. She kissed him repeatedly. She felt a glow
of content because she was petting him; her motherly attitude was bound
to calm him.

"Hush, darling, be still!"

He did keep still for a moment.

"Do you really think it so terrible ... to grow old ... perhaps ...
later on?" asked Ottilie, melancholy in spite of herself.

"Yes...."

"I didn't think it pleasant either. But you ... you are so young still!"

He was already regaining his self-control and feeling ashamed of
himself. He was a child, like his mother, an ailing, feeble, hysterical
child at times. That was _his_ hysteria, that dread of old age. And he
was looking for consolation to his mother, who was not a mother!...

No, he regained his self-control, was ashamed of himself:

"Oh, yes ... I'm young still!" he made an effort to say, indifferently.

"And you're going to be married: your life is only just beginning ..."

"Because I'm getting married?"

"Yes, because you're getting married. If only you are happy, dear, and
not ... not as your mother ..."

He gave a little start, but smiled. He regained his self-control now
and at the same time regained his control over his mother, to whom he
had looked for a moment for consolation and who had always petted him.
And he fondled her in his turn and gave her a fervent kiss:

"Poor little creatures that we are!" he said. "We sometimes act and
think so strangely! We _are_ very ill and very old ... even though we
are still young.... Mamma, I must have a serious talk with you some day
... _serious_, you know. Not now, another time: I must get on now with
my work. Leave me to myself now and be calm ... and good. Really, I'm
all right again.... And don't _you_ go on behaving like a little fury!"

She laughed inwardly, with mischievous delight:

"I've sent off the fifty pounds for all that!" she said, from behind
the open door.

And she was gone.

He shook his head:

"I am sorry for her!" he thought, analysing his emotions. "And ... for
myself! Even more for myself. We poor, poor creatures! We ought all to
be placed under restraint ... but whose? Come, the best thing is to get
to work and to keep working, strenuously, always...."



CHAPTER IX


Old Takma was just coming from the razor-back bridge by the barracks,
stiff and erect in his tightly-buttoned overcoat, considering each step
and leaning on his ivory-knobbed stick, when Ottilie Steyn de Weert,
arriving from the other side, saw him and went up to him:

"How do you do, Mr. Takma?"

"Ah, Ottilie, how do you do?... Are you going to Mamma's too?"

"Yes...."

"It was raining this morning and I thought I shouldn't be able to go.
Adèle was grumbling because I went out after all, but it's fine now,
it's fine now...."

"I think it'll rain again presently though, and you haven't even an
umbrella, Mr. Takma."

"Well, you see, child, I hate an umbrella: I never carry one.... Fancy
walking with a roof over your head!"

Ottilie smiled: she knew that the old man could not lean on his stick
when holding up his umbrella. But she said:

"Well, _if_ it rains, may I see you home?... That is, if you won't have
a carriage?"

"No, child, I think a carriage even more horrid than an umbrella."

She knew that the jolting of a cab caused him great discomfort.

"The only carriage in which I'm likely to drive will be the black
coach. Very well, child, if it rains, you shall bring me home ... and
hold your little roof over my head. Give me your arm: I'll accept that
with pleasure."

She gave him her arm; and, now that he was leaning on her, his stiff,
straight step became irregular and he let himself go and hobbled along
like a very old, old man....

"How quiet you are, child!"

"I, Mr. Takma?"

"Yes."

"You notice everything."

"I could hear at once by your voice that you were not in good spirits."

"Well, perhaps I am worried.... Here we are."

She rang at old Mrs. Dercksz': old Anna, inside, came hurrying at a
great rate to open the door.

"I'll just take breath, Anna," said the old gentleman, "just take
breath ... keep on my coat, I think ... and take breath for a moment
... in the morning-room."

"It's getting coldish," said old Anna. "We shall start fires soon
in the morning-room. The mistress never comes downstairs, but
there's often some one waiting; and Dr. Roelofsz is a very chilly
gentleman...."

"Don't start fires too soon, don't start fires too soon," said the old
man, querulously. "Fires play the dickens with us old people...."

He sat down, wearily, in the morning-room, with his two hands on the
ivory knob of his stick. Anna left them to themselves.

"Come, child, what is it? Worry?"

"A little.... I shall be so lonely.... The wedding's to-morrow."

"Yes, yes ... to-morrow is Lot and Elly's wedding. Well, they'll be
very happy."

"I hope so, I'm sure.... But I...."

"Well?"

"I shall be _un_happy."

"Come, come!"

"What have I left? Not one of my children with me. I sometimes think
of going to England. I have John and Hugh there ... and Mary is coming
home from India."

"Yes, child, as we grow older, we are left all alone. Look at me. Now
that Elly is marrying, I shall have no one but Adèle. It's lucky that
I can still get out ... and that I sometimes see Mamma ... and ... and
all of you ... and Dr. Roelofsz.... But, if I were helpless, what would
there be for _me?_... You, you're young still."

"I? Do you call _me_ young?..."

"Yes, child, aren't you young?..."

"But, Mr. Takma, I'm sixty!"

"Are you sixty?... Are you _sixty?_... Child, do you mean to tell me
you're sixty?"

The old man cudgelled his brains, fighting against a sudden cloud in
his memory that hazed around him like a mist. And he continued:

"No, you must be mistaken. You _can't_ be sixty."

"Yes, really, Mr. Takma, really: I'm sixty!"

"Oh, Lietje, my child, are you really ... as old ... as that!"

He cudgelled his brains ... and closed his eyes:

"Sixty!" he muttered. "More than sixty ... more than sixty years ..."

"No, sixty exactly."

"Yes, yes, sixty! Oh, child, are you really sixty? I thought you
were forty or fifty at most ... I was dreaming.... The old man was
dreaming.... Sixty!... More than sixty years ago!..."

His voice mumbled; she did not understand what he meant:

"Were you a little confused?"

"When?" he asked, with a start.

"Just now."

"Just now?..."

"When you thought ... that I was forty."

"What do you say?"

"When you thought that I was _forty_."

"Yes, yes ... I hear what you say.... I can still hear very well.... I
have always heard very well ... too well ... too well ..."

"He's wandering," thought Ottilie Steyn. "He's never done that before."

"So you're sixty, child!" said the old man, more calmly, recovering his
voice. "Yes, I suppose you must be.... You see, we old people, we very
old people, think that you others always remain children ... well, not
children, but young ... that you always remain young.... Ah ... and you
grow old too!"

"Oh, yes, _very_ old! And then there's so little left."

Her voice sounded ever so sad.

"Poor girl!" said old Takma. "But you oughtn't to quarrel so with Pauws
... I mean ... I mean, with Trevelley."

"With Steyn, you mean."

"Yes, I mean, with Steyn ... of course."

"I can't stand him."

"But you could, once!"

"Ah ... when one's in love ... then...!"

"Yes, yes, you were able to stand him at one time!" said the old man,
obstinately. "And so the wedding is to-morrow?"

"Yes, to-morrow."

"I can't be there: I'm very sorry, but ..."

"Yes, it would tire you too much.... They're coming to take leave of
Grandmamma presently."

"That's nice, that's nice of them."

"It'll be a tame affair," said Ottilie. "They are so tame. There'll be
nothing, no festivity. They refuse to be married in church."

"Yes, those are their ideas," said the old man, in a tone of
indifference. "I don't understand it, that 'not being married in
church;' but they must know their own business."

"Elly hasn't even a bridal dress; I think it so odd.... Elly is really
_very_ serious for so young a girl. I shouldn't care to be married like
that, when you're married for the first time. But, on the other hand,
what's the use of all that fuss, as Lot says? The relations and friends
don't really care. And it runs into money."

"Elly could have had whatever she liked," said the old gentleman, "a
dinner, a dance or anything.... But she refused."

"Yes, they're both agreed."

"Those are their ideas," said the old man, with indifference.

"Mr. Takma ..." said Ottilie, hesitatingly.

"Yes, child?"

"I wanted to ask you something, but I dare not...."

"What are you afraid of, child? Do you want something?"

"No, not exactly, but ..."

"But what, child?... Is it money?"

Ottilie heaved a great sob:

"I hate asking you!... I think it's horrid of me.... And you mustn't
_ever_ tell Lot that I ask you sometimes.... But, you see, I'll tell
you frankly, I've sent Hugh some money; and now ... and now I have
nothing left for myself.... If you hadn't always been so immensely kind
to me, I should never dare ask you. But you've always spoilt me, as you
know.... Yes, you know: you've always had a soft place in your heart
for me.... And, if you don't think it horrid of me to ask you and if
you could ... let me have ..."

"How much do you want, child?"

Ottilie looked at the door, to see if any one was listening:

"Only three hundred guilders...."

"Why, of course, child, of course. Come round to-morrow, to-morrow
evening ... after the wedding.... And, when you want anything, ask me,
do you see? Ask me with an easy conscience.... You can ask me whenever
you please...."

"You _are_ so good to me!..."

"I have always been very fond of you ... because I'm so very fond of
your mother.... So ask me, child ... ask me whenever you please, only
... be sensible ... and don't do ..."

"Don't do what, Mr. Takma?"

The old man suddenly became very uncertain in his speech:

"Don't do ... don't do anything rash....."

"What do you mean?.

"Sixty years ... sixty years ago ..."

He began to mumble; and she saw him fall asleep, sitting erect, with
his hands on the ivory knob of his stick.

She was frightened and, stealing noiselessly to the door, she opened it
and called:

"Anna ... Anna...."

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Come here.... Look.... Mr. Takma has fallen asleep.... We'd better
stay with him till he wakes up, hadn't we?"

"Oh, the poor soul!" said the maid, compassionately.

"He isn't...?" asked Ottilie, in the voice of a frightened child.

But Anna shook her head reassuringly. The old man slept on, stiff and
straight in his chair, with his hands resting on his stick.

The two women sat down and watched.



CHAPTER X


There was a ring; and Ottilie whispered:

"Do you think that's Mr. Lot and Miss Elly?..."

"No," said Anna, looking out of the window, "it's Mr. Harold."

And she went to the front-door. Ottilie came out to her brother in the
passage.

"How are you, Ottilie?" said Harold Dercksz. "Is there no one with
Mamma?"

"No. I met Mr. Takma just outside the door. Look, he's fallen asleep.
I'm waiting here till he wakes."

"Then I'll go up to Mamma meanwhile."

"You're looking poorly, Harold."

"Yes. I do not feel well. I'm in pain ..."

"Where?"

"Everywhere. Heart, liver: everything's wrong.... So to-morrow is the
great day, Ottilie?"

"Yes," said Ottilie, mournfully, "to-morrow.... They're so
unenterprising. No reception and no religious marriage."

"Lot asked me to be one of his witnesses."

"Yes, you and Steyn, with Dr. Roelofsz and D'Herbourg for Elly....
Anton declined...."

"Yes, Anton doesn't care for that sort of thing."

He went upstairs slowly, knocked, opened the door. The companion was
sitting with the old woman and reading something out of the paper in a
monotonous voice. She rose from her chair:

"Here's Mr. Harold, mevrouw."

She left the room; and the son bent over his mother and gave her a
very gentle kiss on the forehead. As it was dark, the lined porcelain
of the old woman's face was hardly indicated in the crimson twilight
of the curtains and the tall valance. She sat on the chair, in the
cashmere folds of her wide dress, straight upright, as on a throne;
and in her lap the frail fingers trembled like slender wands in the
black mittens. A few words were exchanged between mother and son, he
sitting on a chair beside her, for no one ever took the chair by the
window, which was kept exclusively for Mr. Takma: words about health
and weather and the wedding of Elly and Lot next day. Sometimes a look
of pain came over Harold's parchment-coloured face; and his mouth was
drawn as though with cramp. And, while he talked about Lot and about
health and weather, he saw--as he always saw, when sitting here beside
or opposite Mamma--the things that passed and dragged their ghostly
veils over the path rustling with dead leaves: the things that passed
so slowly, years and years to every yard, until it seemed as though
they never would be past and as though he would always continue to
see them, ever drawing out their pageant along the age-long path.
While he talked about health and weather and Lot, he saw--as he always
saw, when sitting beside or opposite Mamma--the one thing, the one
terrible Thing, the Thing begotten in that night of clattering rain
in the lonely _pasangrahan_ at Tegal; and he heard the hushed voices:
Baboe's whispering voice; Takma's nervous-angry voice of terror; his
mother's voice of sobbing despair; himself a mere child of thirteen.
He knew; he had seen, he had heard. He was the only one who had heard,
who had seen. All his life long--and he was an old, sick man now--he
had seen the Thing slowly passing like that; and the others had heard
nothing, seen nothing, known nothing.... Had they really not known,
not seen, not heard? He often asked himself the question. Roelofsz
must surely have seen the wound. And Roelofsz had never mentioned a
wound; on the contrary, he had denied it.... Rumours had gone about,
vague rumours, of a woman in the _kampong_, of a stab with a kris, of
a trail of blood: how many rumours were there not going about! His
father was drowned in the river, one sultry night, when he had gone
into the garden for air and been caught in the pelting rain.... The
Thing, the terrible Thing was passing, was a step farther, looked
round at him with staring eyes. Why did they all live to be so old
and why did the Thing pass so slowly?... _He knew_: he had known
more ... because of rumours which he had heard; because of what he
had guessed instinctively in later years, when he was no longer a
child: his father hearing a sound ... a sound of voices in his wife's
room.... Takma's voice, the intimate friend of the house.... His
suspicions: was he right? Was it Takma? Yes, it was Takma.... Takma
in his wife's room.... His rage, his jealousy; his eyes that saw red;
his hand seeking for a weapon.... No weapon but the kris, the handsome
ornamental kris, a present which Papa received only yesterday from the
Regent.... He steals to his wife's room.... There ... _there_ ... he
hears their voices.... They are laughing, they are laughing under their
breath.... He flings himself against the door; the bamboo bolt gives
way; he rushes in.... Two men face to face because of a woman.... Their
contest, their passion, as in primeval days.... Takma has snatched
the kris from Harold's father.... No longer human beings, no longer
men, but male animals fighting over a female.... No other thoughts in
their red brains and before their red gaze but their passion and their
jealousy and their wrath.... His father mortally wounded!... But Harold
Dercksz does not see his mother in all this: he does not see her, he
does not know how she behaves, how she behaved during the struggle
between these two animal men.... He does not see how the female
behaved: that never rose up before his intuition, however often he may
have stared after the Thing that passed, however often, for years
and years, again and again he may have sat beside his mother, talking
about health and weather. And to-day it is much stronger than his whole
being; and he asks the very old woman:

"Was your companion reading the paper to you?"

"Yes."

"Does she read nicely?"

"Yes. She sometimes finds it difficult to know what to choose."

"Politics don't interest you?"

"The war does: it's terrible, all that loss of human life."

"It's murder ... on a large scale...."

"Yes, it's murder...."

"Does she read you the serial story?"

"No, no; I don't care for serials."

"No more do I."

"We are too old for that."

"Yes, we old people have our own serial stories...."

"Yes.... A quiet life's the best...."

"Then you have nothing to reproach yourself with...."

He sees the slender, wand-like fingers tremble. _Has_ she anything to
reproach herself with, more than her infidelity to the man who was her
husband? He has never seen it for himself; and yet the Thing has always
and always dragged its ghostly veils rustling over dead leaves....

"Hasn't she been reading about that murder?"

"What murder?"

"In England, the woman who ..."

"No, no, she never reads me that sort of thing...."

Her words are almost an entreaty.... How old she is, how old she is!...
The toothless mouth trembles and mumbles, the fingers shake violently.
He is full of pity, he, the son, who knows and who suspects what he
does not know, because he knows the soul of that mother, her soul now
dulled and blunted in waiting for the body's death, but her soul also
once a soul of passion, of temper, an amorous creole soul, capable at
one moment of forgetting all the world and life itself for a single
instant of rapture ... or perhaps of hate! He knows that she hated his
father, after first adoring him; that she hated him because her own
passion expired before him in a heap of ashes.... This had all been
made clear to him, gradually, year after year, when he was no longer a
child but grew into a man and was a man and understood and looked back
and reflected and pieced together what he had understood and looked
back upon.... He suspects, because he knows her soul. But how blunted
that soul is now; and how old she is, how old she is! A pity softens
his own soul, old, old, too, and full of melancholy for all the things
of life gone by ... for his mother ... and for himself, an old man
now.... How old she is, how old she is!... Hush, oh, hush: let her
grow just a little older; and then it will be over and the Thing will
have passed! The last fold of its spectral veil will have vanished; the
last leaf on that endless, endless path will have rustled; and, though
once a rumour, vaguely, with a dismal moaning, hovered through those
trees, it never grew into a voice and an accusation and, from among
those trees, no one ever stepped forward with threatening hand that
stayed the Thing, the sombre, ghostly Thing, dragging itself along its
long road, for years and years and years....



CHAPTER XI


The front-door bell made old Takma wake with a start. And he knew that
he had been to sleep, but he did not allude to it and quietly acted as
though he had only been sitting and resting, with his hands leaning on
his ivory-knobbed stick. And, when Dr. Roelofsz entered, he said, with
his unvarying little joke:

"Well, Roelofsz, you don't get any thinner as the years go by!"

"Well-well," said the doctor, "d'you think so, Takma?"

He came rolling in, enormous of paunch, which hung dropsically and
askew towards his one stiff leg, which was shorter than the other;
and, in his old, clean-shaven, monkish face, his bleared little eyes
glittered behind the gold spectacles and were angry because Takma was
always referring to his paunch and he didn't like it.

"Harold is upstairs," said Ottilie Steyn.

"Come, child," said Takma, rising with an effort, "we'd better go
upstairs now; then we'll drive Harold away...."

They went up slowly. But there was another ring at the front-door.

"There's _such_ a bustle some days," said old Anna to the doctor. "But
the mistress isn't neglected in her old age! We shall soon have to
start fires in the morning-room, for there's often some one waiting
here...."

"Yes-yes-yes," said the doctor, rubbing his short, fat, fleshy hands
with a shiver. "It's coldish, it's chilly, Anna. You may as well have a
fire...."

"Mr. Takma says fires are the dickens."

"Yes, but he's always blazing hot inside," said Dr. Roelofsz,
viciously. "Well-well-well, here are the children...."

"Can we go up?" asked Elly, entering with Lot.

"Yes, go upstairs, miss," said Anna. "Mr. Harold is just coming down;
and there's no one upstairs but Mamma ... and Mr. Takma."

"Grandmamma's holding a court," said Lot, jestingly.

But his voice hesitated in joking, for a certain awe always oppressed
him as soon as he entered his grandmother's house. It was because
of that atmosphere of the past into which he sometimes felt too
hyperimaginative to intrude, an atmosphere from which bygone memories
and things constantly came floating. The old doctor, who had something
of a monk and something of a Silenus in his appearance, was so very
old and, though younger than Grandmamma, had known her as a young and
seductive woman.... Here was Uncle Harold coming down the stairs: he
was much younger, but a deep and mysterious melancholy furrowed his
faded face, which moreover was wrung with physical pain.

"Till to-morrow, till to-morrow, children," he said, gently, and went
away after shaking hands with them. "Till to-morrow, till to-morrow,
Roelofsz...."

That voice, broken with melancholy, always made Lot shudder. He now
followed Elly up the stairs, while the doctor remained below, talking
to old Anna:

"Yes-yes-yes, well-well-well!"

The ejaculations pursued Lot as he mounted the stairs. Each time that
he came to the house he became more conscious of finding himself on
another plane, more sensitive to that atmosphere of former days, which
seemed to drag with it something that rustled. A whole past lay hidden
behind the joviality of the voluble doctor. Oh, to grow old, to grow
old! He shivered at the thought on that first autumnal day.... They
now entered the room: there they sat, Grandmamma, Grandpapa Takma and,
in between them, so strangely, like a child, Lot's mother. And Lot,
walking behind Elly, modulated his tread, his gestures, his voice; and
Elly also was very careful, he thought, as though she feared to break
that crystal, antique atmosphere with too great a display of youth.

"So you're to be married to-morrow? That's right, that's right," said
the old woman, contentedly.

She raised her two hands with an angular gesture and, with careful and
trembling lips, kissed first Elly and then Lot on the forehead. They
were now all sitting in a circle; and a few words passed at intervals;
and Lot felt as if he himself were a child, Elly quite a baby, his
mother a young woman. She resembled Grandmamma, certainly; but what in
Grandmamma had been an imposing creole beauty had been fined down in
Mamma, had become the essence of fineness, was so still. Yes, she was
like Grandmamma, but--it struck him again, as it had before--she had
something, not a resemblance, but a similar gesture, with something
about the eyes and something about the laugh, to Grandpapa Takma....
Could it be true after all, what people had whispered: that the
youngest child, Ottilie, had been born too long after Dercksz' death
for his paternity to be accepted, for the paternity to be attributed
to any one but Takma? Were they really sitting there as father, mother
and child? He, was he Takma's grandson? Was he a cousin of Elly's?...
He didn't know it for certain, nothing was certain: there were--he
had heard them very long ago--those vague rumours; and there was that
likeness! But, if it was so, then they both knew it; then, if they were
not quite dulled, they were thinking of it at this moment. They were
not in their dotage, either of them, those old, old people. It seemed
to Lot that some emotion had always continued to sharpen their wits;
for it was wonderful how well Grandmamma, despite her age, understood
all about everything, about his marriage now, about the family:

"Uncle Daan and Aunt Floor are on their way from India," said
Grandmamma. "I can't imagine what they are coming for ... with the
winter so near. Aunt Floor won't like it, I know.... I only wish that
_I_ had remained in India, instead of coming here.... Yes, I've been
sitting here for years now, until ... until ..."

She stammered and looked out of the window, waiting, waiting. At the
other window sat Takma and waited, waited, nodding his head. Oh, it was
awful, thought Lot, looking at his mother. She did not understand his
look, had forgotten his moment of prostration and weakness, his dread
of old age, because she always forgot when he did not complain; and she
merely thought that he wanted to get up. She smiled, sadly, as was her
custom in these days, nodded and was the first to rise:

"Well, we'd better be going now, Mamma.... Mr. Takma, am I not to see
you home?"

"No, child, it's not raining; and I can manage by myself, I can
manage...."

Ottilie's voice sounded very sad and childish and old Takma's paternal,
but fluttering and airy. Lot and Elly rose; and there were more careful
kisses; and Mr. Takma kissed Ottilie also. When they were gone, the old
doctor came rolling in.

"Well, Roelofsz," said Grandmamma.

"Well-well-well, yes-yes," mumbled the doctor, dropping into a chair.

They sat like that, without words, the three old people. The light was
waning outside; and a bleak autumnal wind drove the first yellow leaves
through the gardens of the Sofialaan.

"You're out too late, Takma," said the doctor.

"No, no," said the old man.

"It gets chilly early, at this season."

"No, no, I'm not chilly."

"Yes, you're always blazing hot inside."

"Yes, just as you're always getting fatter."

The doctor gave an explosive laugh, not viciously this time, because
he had got his joke in first; and Takma also laughed, with a shrill,
cracked note. The old woman did not speak, leant over slightly, looked
out of the window. The dusk of evening was already gathering over the
Nassaulaan.

"Look," said the old woman, pointing with her trembling, slender,
wand-like finger.

"What?" asked the two men, looking out.

"I thought ..."

"What?"

"I thought that there was something ... moving ... over there, under
the trees...."

"What was moving?"

"I don't know: something ... somebody...."

"She's wandering," thought the doctor to himself.

"No, Ottilie," said Takma, "there's nothing moving."

"Oh, is there nothing moving?"

"No."

"I thought that something was passing ... just hazily...."

"Yes ... well ... that's the damp rising," said the doctor.

"Yes," said Takma, "that's mist...."

"You're out of doors much too late, Takma," said the doctor.

"I've got my great-coat, a warm one...."

"Well-well...."

"The leaves are rustling," said the old woman. "And the wind's howling.
It'll soon be winter."

"Well ... yes-yes, winter's coming. One more of 'em...."

"Yes," said the old woman. "The last ... the last winter...."

"No-no-no-no!" boasted the old doctor. "The last! I promise you, you'll
see a hundred yet, Ottilie!..."

Old Takma nodded his head:

"It's more than sixty years ..."

"Wha-at?" exclaimed the doctor, in a startled voice.

"Ago ..."

"What are you saying?" cried the old woman, shrilly.

"I'm saying," said Takma, "that Ottilie, that Lietje ... is turned
sixty ..."

"Oh, yes!"

"And so it's more than sixty ... more than sixty years ago since ..."

"Si-ince _what?_" exclaimed the doctor.

"Since Dercksz ... was drowned," said Takma.

And he nodded his head.

"Oh!" moaned the old woman, lifting her hands to her face with an
angular and painful movement. "Don't speak about that. What made you
say that?"

"No," said Takma, "I said nothing...."

"No-no-no-no!" mumbled the doctor. "Don't talk about it, don't talk
about it.... We never talk about it.... Yes ... aha ... Takma, what
made you talk about it?... There-there-there-there ... it's nothing,
but it makes Ottilie sad...."

"No," said the old woman, calmly. "I'm never sad now.... I'm much too
old for that.... I only sit and wait.... Look, isn't that something
passing?..."

"Where?"

"In the street, opposite ... or down there, in the road ... something
white...."

"Where? Aha, oh, there?... No, Ottilie, that's mist."

"The leaves ... the leaves are rustling."

"Yes-yes-yes, autumn ... winter's coming...."

"The last," said the old woman.

The doctor mumbled a vague denial. Takma nodded his head. They sat
very still, for a time. Yes, it was more than sixty years ago.... They
all three saw it: the old man and the old woman saw it happening; and
the doctor saw it as it had happened. He had understood and guessed,
at once, and he had known, all those years long. Very many years ago
he had been in love with Ottilie, he much younger than she, and there
was a moment when he had called upon her to pay him the price of his
knowledge.... He had buried all that in himself, but he saw it as it
had happened.... It was more than sixty years ago.

"Come," said Takma, "it's time I went.... Else ... else it'll be too
late...."

He rose with an effort and remembered that he had not torn up one
letter to-day. That was not right, but the tearing tired his fingers.
The doctor also arose and rang the bell twice, for the companion.

"We're going, juffrouw."

It was almost dark in the room.

"Good-bye, Ottilie," said Takma, pressing the mittened hand, which was
raised an inch or two.

The doctor also pressed her hand:

"Good-bye, Ottilie.... Yes-yes-yes: till to-morrow or next day."

Mr. Takma found Ottilie Steyn de Weert waiting downstairs:

"You here still, child?"

"Yes, Mr. Takma. I'll just see you home. You've really stayed out too
late to-day; Elly thought so too; and Adèle will be uneasy...."

"Very well, child, do; see the old man home."

He took her arm; and his now irregular step tottered as Anna let them
out.

"Juffrouw," said the old woman, upstairs, when the companion was about
to light the lamp, "wait a moment and just look out of the window. Tell
me: there, on the other side of the road, through those leaves falling
... isn't there something ... something white ... passing?"

The companion looked through the window:

"No, mevrouw, there's nothing. But there's a mist rising. Mr. Takma has
stayed much too long again."

She closed the shutters and lit the lamp. The old woman sat and took
her soup; then the companion and old Anna put her to bed.



CHAPTER XII


Old Mr. Pauws came to meet them at the station, in the evening, at
Brussels:

"My dear boy, my _dear_ boy, how are you? And so this is your little
wife! My dear child, I wish you joy with all my heart!"

His arms, thrown wide, embraced first Lot and then Elly.

"And I've taken a room for you at the Métropole, but I reckoned on it
that you'd first come and have supper at my place. Then I shall have
been at your wedding too. I don't expect you're tired, are you? No,
it's nothing of a journey. Better send your trunks straight to the
hotel. I've got a carriage: shall we go home at once? Do you think
there's room for the three of us? Yes, yes, we'll fit in nicely."

It was the second time that Elly had seen the old gentleman, a
pink-and-white, well-preserved man of seventy: she had been with Lot to
look him up during their engagement. There was something decided and
authoritative about him, together with a cheerful gaiety, especially
now, because he was seeing Lot again. He would receive them at his own
place, at his rooms, for he lived in bachelor quarters. He opened the
door with his latch-key; he had paid the cabman quickly, before Lot
could; and he now hustled the young couple up the stairs. He himself
lit a gas-jet in the passage:

"I have no one to wait on me in the evening, as you see. A
_femme-de-ménage_ comes in the morning. I take my meals at a
restaurant. I thought of treating the two of you to supper at a
restaurant; but I think this is pleasanter.... There!"

And he now lit the gas in the sitting-room, with a quick movement, like
a young man's. Elly smiled at him. The table was laid and there were
flowers on it and a few pints of Heidsieck in a wine-cooler.

"Welcome, my dear child!" said the old man, kissing Elly.

He helped her take off her hat and cloak and carried them into his
bedroom:

"You'd better bring your coat in here too, Lot."

"Your father is wonderful!" said Elly.

The little sitting-room was cosy and comfortable; it was his own
furniture. There were books about; photographs on the walls and prints
of horses and dogs; arms on a rack; and, underneath--it impressed Elly,
just as it had impressed her the first time--a portrait of Ottilie at
twenty, in an old-fashioned bonnet which made her look exquisitely
pretty, like a little heroine in a novel. Strange, thought Elly to
herself, Steyn also had pictures of dogs and horses in his room; Steyn
also was a hunting man, a man of out-door pursuits; Steyn also was
good-looking. She smiled at her reflection that it was always the same
sort of manliness that had attracted Ottilie; she smiled just as Lot
sometimes smiled at his mother.

"You two are very like each other," said Pauws, as they sat down to
table. "Look, children, here's what I've got for you. Everything's
ready, you see. Hors d'oeuvres. Do you like caviare, with these toasted
rolls?"

"I'm mad on caviare," said Lot.

"I remembered that! After the hors d'oeuvres, a mayonnaise of fish:
perhaps that's rather too much fish, but I had to think out a cold
menu, for I've no cook and no kitchen. Then there's cold chicken and
compote: a Dutch dish for you; they never eat the two together here or
in France. Next, there's a _pâté-de-foie-gras_. And tartlets for you,
Elly."

"I'm fond of tartlets too," said Lot, attentively examining the dish.

"All the better. A decent claret, Chateau-Yquem and Heidsieck. I got
you some good fruit. Coffee, liqueurs, a cigar, a cigarette for you,
Elly, and that's all. It's the best I could do."

"But, Papa, it's delightful!"

The old gentleman was uncorking the champagne, quickly and handily,
with a twist of the wires:

"Here goes, children!"

The wine frothed up high.

"Wait, Elly, wait, let me fill up your glass.... There, here's to you,
children, and may you be happy!"

"You take after Lot," said Elly.

"I? In that case, Lot takes after me."

"Yes, I meant that of course."

"Ah, but it's quite a different thing!"

"Yes, but Lot ... Lot is also like his mother."

"Yes, I'm like Mamma," said Lot.

He was short, slender, almost frail of build and fair; the old
gentleman was solid in flesh and figure, with a fresh complexion and
very thick grey hair, which still showed a few streaks of black.

"Yes, but I think Lot also has that flippancy of yours, though he is
like his mother."

"Oh, so I'm flippant, am I?" said old Pauws, laughing.

His hands, moving in sweeping gestures, were busy across the table,
with the hors d'oeuvres, which he was now handing.

"Would you ever believe that Papa was seventy?" said Lot. "Papa, I'm
amazed every time I see you! What keeps you so young?"

"I don't know, my boy; I'm built that way."

"Were you never afraid of getting old?"

"No, my dear fellow, I've never been afraid ... of getting old or of
anything else."

"Then whom do I get it from? Mamma hasn't that fear, not as I have it,
although ..."

"You're an artist; they have those queer ideas. I'm just ordinary."

"Yes, I wish I were like you, tall and broad-shouldered. I'm always
jealous when I look at you."

"Come, Lot, you're very well as you are!" said Elly, defending him
against himself.

"If you were like me, you wouldn't have attracted your wife, what do
you say, Elly?"

"Well, there's no telling, Papa!"

"How are things at home, my boy?"

"Same as usual, just the same."

"Is Mamma well?"

"Physically, yes. Morally, she's depressed ... because I'm married."

"How do she and Steyn get on?"

"They quarrel."

"Ah, that mother of yours!" said Pauws. "Elly, will you help the
mayonnaise? No, Lot, give me the Yquem: I'll open it.... That mother of
yours has always quarrelled. Pity she had that in her. Temper, violent
words ... all about nothing: it was always like that in my time. And
she was so nice otherwise ... and so sweetly pretty!"

"Yes," said Lot, "and I'm like Mamma, an ugly edition."

"He doesn't mean a word of it," said Elly.

"No," said the old gentleman, "not a word of it, the conceited fellow!"

"All the same, I'd rather be like you, Papa."

"Lot, you're talking nonsense.... Some more mayonnaise, Elly? Sure?
Then we'll see what the cold chicken's made of. No, give it here, Lot,
I'll carve.... And your wedding was very quiet? No religious ceremony?"

"No."

"No reception?"

"No, Elly has so few friends and I have so few, in Holland. We lead
such a life of our own, at the Hague. I know more people in Italy than
I do at the Hague. The whole family rather lives a life of its own.
Except the D'Herbourgs there's really nobody."

"That's true."

"Those very old, old people are out of the question, of course."

"Yes, Grandpapa, Grandmamma.... And the old doctor...."

"Uncle Anton lives his own life."

"H'm, h'm ... yes...."

"Uncle Harold is old also."

"Two years older than I."

"But he's poorly."

"Yes ... and queer. Always has been. Quiet and melancholy. Still, a
very good sort."

"We at home, with Steyn and Mamma: what's the use of our entertaining
people?"

"You forget Aunt Stefanie: she's an aunt with money to leave, just as
Uncle Anton is an uncle with money to leave; but your aunt has plenty."

"Oh, Lot is quite indifferent to what money he inherits!" said Elly.

"Besides, you two won't be badly off," said old Pauws. "You're right:
what's the use of wedding-festivities? As for acquaintances ..."

"We none of us have many."

"It's a funny thing. As a rule, there's such a lot of movement around
Indian families. 'Swirl' we used to call it."

"Oh, I don't know: there's no 'swirl' of acquaintances round us!"

"No, we've had 'swirl' enough among ourselves: Mamma saw to that at
least!"

"It made Mamma lose her friends too."

"Of course it did. Mamma's life has really been hardly decent ... with
her three husbands!"

"Well, of course.... I don't allow it to upset me.... But the family
isn't thought much of."

"No. Grandmamma was the first to begin it. She also did just what she
pleased...."

"I've heard a lot of vague rumours...."

"Well, I've heard a lot of rumours too, but they weren't vague.
Grandmamma was a _grande coquette_ in her day and inspired more than
her share of the great passions in Java."

"They say that Mamma ..."

"I don't know, but it's quite possible. At least, you two are so like
each other that you might be brother and sister."

"Well, at the worst, we're cousins," said Elly.

"Yes, Grandmamma began it.... There was a lot of talk.... Oh, those
people are so old now! Their contemporaries are dead. And things pass.
Who is there now to think and talk about things that are so long past?"

"Grandmamma's lovers?"

"Innumerable!"

"The doctor?"

"So they say. And Elly's grandpapa."

"Those old people!" said Elly.

"They were young once."

"And we shall be old one day," said Lot. "We're growing old as it is."

"Shut up, boy! There's time enough for that when you're seventy....
Yes, Grandmamma de Laders, Grandmamma Dercksz: I can remember her in
India fifty years ago."

"O my God, what a time to remember things!" said Lot, shuddering.

"Take some more champagne, if it makes your flesh creep.... Fifty years
ago, I was little more than a boy, I was twenty. Grandmamma was still
a fine woman, well over forty. She became a widow quite young, on the
death of her first husband. Well, let's see: when Dercksz was drowned,
she was ... about ... thirty-six.... Then Mamma was born."

"What a long, long time ago that was!" said Lot. "It makes one giddy to
look back upon."

"That's sixty, yes, sixty years ago now," said Pauws, dreamily. "I was
a child then, ten years old. I still remember the incident. I was at
Semarang; my father was in the paymaster's department. My people knew
the Derckszes. The thing was talked about. I was a child, but it made
an impression on me. It was very much talked about, it was talked about
for years and years after. There was a question of exhuming the body.
They decided that it was too late. At that time, he had been buried for
months. They said that ..."

"That a native ... with a kris ... because of a woman...?"

"Yes; and they said more than that. They said that Takma had been to
the _pasangrahan_ that evening and that Grandmamma.... But what's the
use of talking about it? What can it matter to you? Elly's as white as
a sheet--child, how pale you look!--and Lot is shivering all over his
body, though it happened so long ago."

"Should you say that those old people ... are hiding something?"

"Probably," said Pauws. "Come, let's have some champagne and not talk
about it any more. They themselves have forgotten it all by this time.
When you get as old as that ..."

"You become dulled," said Lot.

"So you're going on to Paris to-morrow?"

"Yes."

"Shall you look up Aunt Thérèse?"

"Yes, I expect so," said Elly. "We mustn't behave quite like savages."

"And then?"

"We shall go to Nice."

"Oh, really?... And ... and will you see Ottilie there?"

"Of course we shall," said Lot.

"That's right, that's right.... Yes, how can you expect a family like
ours to keep up a circle of decent acquaintances?... Ottilie writes to
me now and again.... She's living with an Italian.... Why they don't
get married is more than I can make out."

"And why should they get married?" asked Lot.

"But, Lot," said Elly, "you and I did!"

"We are more conventional than Ottilie. I am more conventional than
Ottilie ever was. I should never have dared to suggest to you _not_ to
get married. Ottilie is more thorough than I."

"She's a thorough fine girl ... and a devilish handsome woman," said
Pauws.

"Now _she's_ like you."

"But a good-looking edition!" said the old gentleman, chaffingly.
"Here, Elly, have some more _pâté_. But why they don't want to get
married I can't and never shall make out. After all, we have all of us
got married."

"But _how?_" said Lot.

"I must say you're not defending marriage very vigorously on your
wedding-day!"

"Ottilie has seen so many unhappy marriages all around her."

"That's what she writes. But I don't consider that a reason. Hang
it all, when a man falls in love, he goes and gets married! He gets
married by the mayor and by the parson.... Yes, to tell you the truth,
I think it was rather feeble of you two not to get married in church."

"But, Papa, you surely don't attach importance to having your marriage
blessed by a parson!"

"No more I do, but still one does it. It's one of the things one does.
We're not quite a law unto ourselves."

"No, but all social laws are being changed."

"Well, you can say what you please: I stick to it that you _have_
to get married. By the mayor and by the parson. You two have been
married by the mayor; but Ottilie refuses to be married at all. And
I'm expected to think it natural and enlightened and I don't know
what. I can't do it. I'm sorry for her sake. It's all very well: she's
a great artist and can behave differently from an ordinary woman;
but, if one fine day she returns to our ordinary circles, she'll find
that she's made herself impossible.... How would you have friends and
acquaintances gather round such a family?"

"They don't gather; and I'm glad of it. I have the most charming
acquaintances in Italy, friends who ..."

"Children, you may be right. Ottilie may be right not to get married at
all; and you may be right to have been married only by the mayor."

"At any rate," said Elly, "I never thought that, though there was no
reception, we should have such a cosy little supper."

"And such a nice one," said Lot. "Elly, these tarts are heavenly!"

"Only we oughtn't to have sat rooting up past things," said the old
gentleman. "It makes Lot's flesh creep. Look at the fellow eating
tarts! It's just what your mother used to do. A baby, a regular baby!"

"Yes, I'm a baby sometimes too, but not so much as Mamma."

"And is she going to England now?"

"She promised me not to. But her promise doesn't mean much. We shall
be so long away; we shall be in Italy all through the winter. There's
one thing makes me feel easier: Mamma has no money; and I went to the
bank before I left and asked them, if Mamma came for money, to make up
a story and persuade her that it couldn't be done, that there was no
money...."

"But she draws ... she always did."

"The manager told me that he would help me, that he wouldn't let her
have any money."

"Then she'll get it just the same."

"From whom?"

"I don't know, but she'll get it. She always gets it, I don't know
how...."

"But, Papa!"

"Yes, my boy, you can be as indignant as you please: I am speaking
from experience. How often haven't I had questions about money with
Mamma! First there was none; and then, all of a sudden, there it
was!..."

"Mamma is bad at figures and she is untidy. Then she finds some money
in her cupboard."

"Yes, I know all about it: in the old days she was always finding
something in her cupboard. A good thing, that she goes on finding it.
Still, we should never have parted because of money. If it hadn't been
for that damned Trevelley, we might still.... But, when Mamma had once
set her heart on anybody, then.... Don't let's talk about it.... Look
here, you know this old photograph. It's charming, isn't it, Elly?
Yes, that's how she used to look. I've never been able to forget her.
I've never loved any one else. I'm an old fellow now, children, but
... but I believe that I'm still fond of her.... I sometimes think
that it's past, that it's all past and done with; and yet, sometimes,
old as I am, I still suffer from it and feel rotten.... I believe I'm
still fond of her.... And, if Mamma had had a different character and
a different temper and if she hadn't met Trevelley.... But there are
so very many 'ifs' in the case.... And, if she hadn't met Trevelley,
she would have met Steyn just the same.... She would always have met
somebody.... Come, Elly, pour out the coffee. Will you have chartreuse
or benedictine? And stay on and talk a bit, cosily. Not about old
things: about young things, young things; about yourselves, your plans,
Italy.... It's not late yet; it's barely half-past ten.... But, of
course, you're only this moment married.... Well, I'll see you to your
hotel.... Shall we walk? It's no distance.... Let your old father see
you to your hotel and give you a good-night kiss at the door and wish
you happiness, every happiness ... dear children!"



CHAPTER XIII


They had now been a few days in Paris; and Elly, who was seeing Paris
for the first time, was enchanted. The Louvre, the Cluny, the life in
the streets and the cafés, the theatres in the evenings almost drove
Aunt Thérèse from her mind.

"Oh, don't let's go to her!" said Lot, one morning, as they were
walking along the boulevards. "Perhaps she doesn't even know who we
are."

Elly felt a twinge of conscience:

"She wrote me a very nice letter on my engagement and she gave us a
wedding-present. Yes, Lot, she knows quite well who we are."

"But she doesn't know that we're in Paris. Don't let's go to her. Aunt
Thérèse: I haven't seen her for years, but I remember her long ago ...
at the time of Mamma's last marriage. I was a boy of eighteen then.
Aunt Thérèse must have been forty-eight. A handsome woman. She was
even more like Grandmamma than Mamma is: she had all that greatness
and grandness and majesty which you see in the earlier portraits of
Grandmamma and which she still has when she sits enthroned in her
chair.... It always impresses me.... Very slender and handsome and
elegant ... calm and restful, distinguished-looking, with a delightful
smile."

"The smile of _La Gioconda_...."

"The smile of _La Gioconda_," Lot repeated, laughing because of his
wife, who was enjoying herself so in Paris. "But by the way, Elly ...
the Venus of Milo: I couldn't tell you so when we were standing there,
because you were in such silent rapture, but ... after I hadn't seen
her for years, I found her such a disappointment. Only imagine ..."

"Well, what, Lot?"

"I thought her grown old!"

"But, Lot!..."

"I assure you, I thought her grown old! Does everything grow old then,
do even the immortals grow old? I remember her as she used to be: calm,
serene, imposing, white as snow, in spite of her mutilation, against
a brilliant background of dark-red velvet. This time I thought her
no longer imposing, no longer white as snow; she seemed pathetically
crippled; and the velvet background was no longer brilliant. Everything
had grown old and dull and I had a shock and felt very sad.... Soberly
speaking, I think now that they ought just to clean her down one
morning and renew the velvet hanging; and then, on a sunny day, if I
was in a good mood, I daresay I should think her serene and white as
snow again. But, as she showed herself to me, I thought her grown old;
and it gave me a shock. It upset me for quite an hour, but I didn't
let you see it.... For that matter, I think Paris altogether has grown
very old: so dirty, so old-fashioned, so provincial; a conglomeration
of _quartiers_ and small towns huddled together; and so exactly
the same as it was fifteen years ago, but older, grimier and more
old-fashioned. Look! This papier-mâché chicken here"--they were in the
Avenue de l'Opéra--"has been turning on that spit, as an advertisement,
with the oily butter dripping from it: Elly, that chicken has been
turning for fifteen years! And last night, at the Théâtre Français, I
had a shock, just as I did to-day at the Venus of Milo. The Théâtre
Français had grown so old, so old, with that dreadful ranting, that I
asked myself, 'Was it always so old, or do I think it old because I am
older myself?'..."

"But Aunt Thérèse ..."

"So you insist on going to her.... Really, we'd better not. She too has
grown old; and what are we to her?... We are young still.... I also
am young still, am I not?... You don't think me too old, your _blasé_
husband?... In Italy, we shall find real enjoyment...."

"Why, everything will be still older there!"

"Yes, but everything is not _growing_ older. That's all past, it's all
_the_ past. It's the obvious past and therefore it's so restful. It's
all dead."

"But surely the country is alive?... Modern life goes on?..."

"I don't care about that. All that I see is the past; and that is so
beautifully, so restfully dead. That doesn't sadden me. What saddens me
is the old people and the old things that are still alive and ever so
old and have gradually, gradually gone past us; but things which are
restfully dead and which are so exquisitely beautiful as in Italy, they
don't sadden me: they calm me and rouse my admiration for everything
that was once so beautifully alive and is still so beautiful in death.
Paris saddens me, because the city is dying, as all France is; Rome
exhilarates me: the city, what _I_ see of it, _is_ dead; and I feel
myself young in it still and still alive; and that makes me glad,
selfishly glad, while at the same time I admire the dead, calm beauty."

"So that will be the subject of your next essay."

"Now you're teasing! If I can't talk without being accused of
essay-writing ... I'll hold my tongue."

"Don't be so cross.... Now what about Aunt Thérèse?"

"We won't go.... Well, talk of the devil! Goodness gracious, how small
Paris is! A village!"

"Why, what is it, Lot?"

"There's Theo! Theo van der Staff!"

"Theo, Aunt Thérèse's son?"

"Yes. Hullo, Theo! How are you?... How funny that we should meet
you!..."

"I didn't know you were in Paris.... Are you on your honeymoon?"

He was a fat little man of over forty, with a round face containing
a pair of small, sparkling eyes: they leered at Elly with an almost
irresistible curiosity to see the young wife, married but a few days
since. A sensuality ever seeking physical enjoyment surrounded him
as with a warm atmosphere, jovial and engaging, as though he would
invite them presently to come and have a nice lunch with him in a good
restaurant and to go on somewhere afterwards. His long residence abroad
had imparted a something to his clothes, a something to his speech and
gestures that lightened his native Dutch heaviness, rather comically,
it is true, because he remained a little elephantine in his grace. Yet
his ears pricked up like a satyr's; and his eyes sparkled; and his
laughing lips swelled thickly, as though with Indian blood; and his
small, well-kept teeth glistened in between. When a woman passed, his
quick glance undressed her in a twinkling; and he seemed to reflect,
for a second or two.

"We were just speaking of your mother, Theo. Funny that we should meet
you," Lot repeated.

"I walk down the boulevards every morning, so it's very natural that we
should meet. I'm glad to have the opportunity of congratulating you....
Mamma? She's all right, I believe."

"Haven't you seen her lately?"

"I haven't seen her for a week. Are you going to call on her? Then I
may as well come too. Shall we have a good lunch somewhere afterwards,
or shall I be in the way? If not, come and lunch with me. Not in one
of your big restaurants, which everybody knows, but at a place where
_I'll_ take you: quite a small place, but exquisite. They have a
_homard à l'américaine_ that's simply heavenly!" And he kissed the tips
of his fat fingers. "Do you want to go to Mamma's at once? Very well,
we'll take a carriage, for she lives a long way off."

He stopped a cab and gave the address:

"_Cent-vingt-cinq_, Rue Madame."

And he gallantly helped Elly in, then Lot, insisted upon himself taking
the little back seat and sat like that, with one foot on the step of
the carriage. He enquired conventionally and indifferently after the
relations at the Hague, as after strangers whom he had seen once or
twice. In the Rue Madame the driver pulled up outside a gate of tall
railings, with a fence of boards behind it, so that no one could see in.

"This is the convent where Mamma lives," said Theo.

They stepped out and Theo rang. A sister opened the gate, said that
Mme. van der Staff was at home and led the way across the courtyard.
The convent belonged to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Our
Lady of Lourdes; and Aunt Thérèse boarded there, together with a few
other pious old ladies. The sister showed them into a small parlour on
the ground-floor and opened the shutters. On the mantelpiece stood a
statue of the Blessed Virgin between two candelabra; there were a sofa
and a few chairs in white loose covers.

"Is Reverend Mother at home, sister?" asked Theo.

"Yes, monsieur."

"Would it be convenient for her to see me? Will you tell her that I
have come to call on her?"

"Yes, monsieur."

The sister left the room. Theo gave a wink:

"I ought to have done that long ago," he said. "I am seizing the
opportunity. The reverend mother is a sensible woman, twice as sensible
as Mamma."

They waited. It was cold and shivery in the bare parlour. Lot shuddered
and said:

"I couldn't do it. No, I couldn't do it."

"No more could I," said Theo.

The reverend mother was the first to enter: a short woman, lost in the
spacious folds of her habit. Two brown eyes gleamed from under the
white band over her forehead.

"M. van der Staff ..."

"Madame ..."

He pressed her hand:

"I have long been wanting to come and see you, to tell you how grateful
I am for the care which you bestow upon my mother."

His French sentences sounded polite, gallant and courteous.

"May I introduce my cousins, M. and Mme. Pauws?"

"Newly married, I believe," said the reverend mother, bowing, with a
little smile.

Lot was surprised that she should know:

"We have come to pay my aunt a visit ... and you too, madame la
supérieure," he added, courteously.

"Pray sit down. Madame will be here at once."

"Is Mamma quite well?" asked Theo. "I haven't seen her ... for some
time."

"She's very well," said the reverend mother. "Because we look after
her."

"I know you do."

"She won't look after herself. As you know, she goes to extremes. _Le
bon Dieu_ doesn't expect us to go to such extremes as madame does. I
don't pray a quarter as much as madame. Madame is _always_ praying. I
shouldn't have time for it. _Le bon Dieu_ doesn't expect it. We have
our work; I have my nursing-institute, which keeps us very busy. At
this moment, nearly all the sisters are out nursing. Then I have my
servants' registry-office. We _can't_ always be praying."

"Mamma can," said Theo, with a laugh.

"Madame prays _too much_," said the reverend mother. "Madame is an
_enthousiaste_ ..."

"Always was, in everything she did," said Theo, staring in front of him.

"And she has remained so. She is an _enthousiaste_ in her new creed,
in our religion. But she oughtn't to go to extremes ... or to fast
unnecessarily.... The other day we found her fainting in the chapel....
And we have our little _trucs_: when it is not absolutely necessary
to fast, we give her _bouillon_ in her _soupe-maigre_ or over her
vegetables, without her noticing it.... Here is madame...."

The door was opened by a sister; and Mrs. van der Staff, Aunt Thérèse,
entered the room. And it seemed to Lot as though he saw Grandmamma
herself walk in, younger, but still an old woman. Dressed in a smooth
black gown, she was tall and majestic and very slender, with a striking
grace in her movements. Grandmamma must have been just like that. A
dream hovered over her dark eyes, which had remained the eyes of a
creole, and it seemed as if she had a difficulty in seeing through the
dream; but the mouth, old as it now was, had a natural smile, with
ecstasy playing around it. She accepted Theo's kiss and said to Lot and
Elly, in French:

"It's very nice of you to look me up. I'm very grateful to you.... So
this is Elly? I saw you years ago, in Holland, at Grandpapa Takma's.
You were a little girl of fourteen then. It's very nice of you to come.
Sit down. I never go to Holland now ... but I often think, I very often
think ... of my relations...."

The dream hovered over her eyes; ecstasy played around her smile. She
folded her thin hands in her lap; and their fingers were slender and
wand-like, like Grandmamma's. Her voice sounded like Grandmamma's.
As she sat there, in her black gown, in the pale light of that
convent-parlour, permeated with a chilliness that was likewise pale,
the resemblance was terrifying: this daughter appeared to be one and
the same as her mother, seemed to be that mother herself; and it was as
though bygone years had returned in a wonderful, haunting, pale, white
light.

"And how are they all at the Hague?" asked Aunt Thérèse.

A few words were exchanged about the members of the family. Soon the
reverend mother rose discreetly, said good-bye, expressed her thanks
for the visit.

"How is Uncle Harold?... And how is Mamma, Charles? I very often think
of her. I often pray for Mamma, Charles...."

Her voice, long cracked, sounded softer than pure Dutch and was mellow
with its creole accent; both Lot and Elly were touched by a certain
tenderness in that cracked voice, while Theo stared painfully in front
of him: he felt depressed and constrained in his mother's presence.

"It is nice of you not to forget us," Lot ventured to say.

"I shall never forget your mother," said Aunt Thérèse. "I never see
her now and perhaps I shall never see her again. But I am very, very
fond of her ... and I pray, I often pray for her. She needs it. We
all need it. I pray for all of them ... for all the family. They all
need it. And I also pray for Mamma, for Grandmamma. And, Elly, I pray
for Grandpapa too.... I have been praying now for years, I have been
praying for quite thirty years. God is sure to hear my prayers...."

It was difficult to say anything; and Elly merely took Aunt's hand
and pressed it. Aunt Thérèse lifted Elly's face a little by the chin,
looked at it attentively, then looked at Lot. She was struck by a
resemblance, but said nothing.

She knew. Aunt Thérèse knew. She never went to Holland now and she
expected that probably she would never again see her sister, whom
she knew to be Takma's child, never again see Takma, never again her
mother. But she prayed, especially for those old people, because she
knew. She, who had once, like her mother, been a woman of society
and a woman of passion, with a creole's heart that loved and hated
fervently, had learnt from her mother's own lips, in violent attacks
of fever, the Thing which she had since known. She had seen her mother
see--though she herself had not seen--she had seen her mother see the
spectre looming in the corner of the room. She had heard her mother
beg for mercy and for an end to her punishment. She had not, as had
Harold Dercksz, seen the Thing sixty years ago, but she had known it
for thirty years. And the knowledge had given a permanent shock to
her nervous and highly-strung soul; and, after being the creole, the
woman of passionate love and hatred, the woman of adventures, the woman
who loved and afterwards hated those whom she had loved, she had sunk
herself in contemplation, had bathed in ecstasy, which shone down upon
her from the celestial panes of the church-windows; and one day, in
Paris, she had gone to a priest and said:

"Father, I want to pray. I feel drawn towards your faith. I wish to
become a Catholic. I have wished it for months."

She had become a Catholic and now she prayed. She prayed for herself,
but she prayed even more for her mother. All her highly-strung soul
went up in prayer for that mother whom she would probably never see
again, but through whom she suffered and whom she hoped to redeem from
sin and save from too horrible a punishment hereafter; that mother who
had prevented _him_, her father, from defending himself, by clinging
to him until the other man had snatched the weapon from the clenched
hand that was seeking revenge in blood-maddened rage.... She knew. Aunt
Thérèse knew. And she prayed, she always prayed. Never could too many
prayers rise to Heaven to implore mercy.

"Mamma," said Theo, "the reverend mother told me that you have fainted
in chapel. And that you don't eat."

"Yes, I eat, I eat," said Aunt Thérèse, softly and slowly. "Don't make
yourself uneasy, Theo."

A contempt for her son embittered the smile on her old lips; her voice,
in addressing her son, grew cold and hard, as though she, the woman of
constant prayer, suddenly became once more towards her son the former
woman, who had loved and afterwards hated that son's father, the father
who was not her husband.

"I eat," said Aunt Thérèse. "Indeed, I eat too much. Those good
sisters! They sometimes forget when we have to fast; and they give me
meat. Then I take it and give it to my poor.... Tell me more, children,
tell me more about the Hague. I have a few moments left. Then I must go
to the chapel. I say my prayers with the sisters."

And she asked after everybody, all the brothers and sisters and their
children:

"I pray for all of them," she said. "I shall pray for you also,
children."

A restlessness overcame her and she listened for a sound in the
passage. Theo winked at Lot and they rose to their feet.

"No," Aunt Thérèse assured them, "I shall not forget you. Send me your
photographs, won't you?"

They promised.

"Where is your sister, Charles?"

"At Nice, Aunt."

"Send me her photograph. I pray for her too. Good-bye, children,
good-bye, dear children."

She took leave of Lot and Elly and went away in a dream and forgot to
notice Theo. He shrugged his shoulders. The chant of a litany came from
the chapel, which occupied a larger room opposite the little parlour.

They met the reverend mother in the passage; she was on her way to the
chapel:

"How did you find your aunt?" she whispered. "Going to extremes, I
expect: yes, she does go to extremes. Look!..."

And she made Elly, Lot and Theo peep through the door of the chapel.
The sisters, kneeling on the praying-chairs, were chanting their
prayers. On the floor, between the chairs, lay Aunt Thérèse, prostrate
at full length, with her face hidden in her hands.

"Look!" said the reverend mother, with a frown. "Even _we_ don't do
that. It is unnecessary. It is not even _convenable_. I shall have to
tell monsieur le directeur, so that he may speak to madame about it. I
shall certainly tell him. _Au revoir, madame, au revoir, messieurs_...."

She bowed, like a woman of the world, with a smile and an air of calm
distinction.

A sister saw them to the gate, let them out....

"Oof!" sighed Theo. "I've performed my filial duty once more for a few
months."

"I could not do it," muttered Lot. "I simply couldn't."

Elly said nothing. Her eyes were wide-open and staring. She understood
devotion and she understood vocation; though she understood
differently, where she was concerned, yet she understood.

"And now for the _homard à l'américaine_!" cried Theo.

And, as he hailed a carriage, it was as though his fat body became
relaxed, simply from breathing the fresh, free air.



CHAPTER XIV


In the night express, the young wife sat thinking. Lot lay asleep, with
a rug over him, in one corner of the carriage, but the little bride
could not sleep, for an autumnal wind was howling along the train;
and so she just sat silently, in the other corner, thinking. She had
now given her life to another and hoped for happiness. She hoped that
she had a vocation and that she would have devotion to bestow. That
was happiness; there was nothing else; and Aunt Thérèse was right,
even though she, Elly, conceived devotion, happiness and vocation so
very differently. She wanted more than the feeling, the thought; she
wanted, above all, action. Even as she had always given herself to
action, though it was only tennis at first--and sculpture later and in
the end the pouring out of her own sorrow in words and the sending of
it to an editor, to a publisher--so she now longed to devote herself
to action, or at least to active collaboration. She looked wistfully
at Lot and felt that she loved him, however differently it might be
from the way in which she had loved the first time. She loved him
less for her own sake, as when she had been in love before, and loved
him more for his sake, to rouse him to great things. It was all very
vague, but there was ambition in it and ambition, springing from love,
for his sake. What a pity that he should fritter away his talent in
witty little articles and hastily-written essays. That was like his
conversation, light and amusing, unconvinced and unconvincing; and he
could do better than that, much better. Perhaps writing a novel was
also not the great thing; perhaps the great thing _was_ writing, but
not a novel. What then? She sought and did not yet find, but knew for
certain--or thought she knew--that she _would_ find and that she would
rouse Lot.... Yes, they would be happy, they would continue happy....
Out there, in Italy, she would find it. She would find it in the past,
in history, perhaps; in things that were past, in beautiful noble
things that were dead, peacefully dead and still beautiful.... Then why
did she feel so melancholy? Or was it only the melancholy which she had
always felt, so vaguely, and which was as a malady underlying all her
activity and which broke in the inflection of her quick, voluble voice:
the melancholy because her youth, as a child without parents, brothers
or sisters, had bloomed so quietly in the old man's big house. He had
always been kind and full of fatherly care for her; but he was so old
and she had felt the pressure of his old years. She had always had old
people around her, for, as far back as she could remember anything, she
remembered old Grandmamma Dercksz and Dr. Roelofsz: she knew them, old
even then, from the time when she was a little child. Lot also, she
thought--though the life of a man, who went about and travelled, was
different from that of a girl, who stayed at home--Lot also had felt
the pressure of all that old age around him; and that, no doubt, was
the reason why his dread of growing old had developed into a sort of
nervous obsession. Aunt Stefanie and the uncles at the Hague were old
and their friends and acquaintances seemed to have died out and they
moved about, without contemporaries, a little lonesomely in that town,
along the streets where their houses were, to and fro, to and fro among
one another.... It was so forlorn and so very lonely; and it engendered
melancholy; and she had always felt that melancholy in her youth....
She had never been able to keep her girl-friends. She no longer saw the
girls of the tennis-club; her fellow-pupils at the Academy she just
greeted with a hurried nod when she passed them in the street. After
her unfortunate engagement, she had withdrawn herself more than ever,
except that she was always with Lot, walking with him, talking to him;
he also was lonely at the Hague, with no friends: he was better off for
friends, he said, in Italy.... How strange, that eternal loneliness and
sense of extinction around both of them! No friends or acquaintances
around them, as around most people, as around most families. It was
doubtless because of the oppression of those two very old people;
but she could not analyse beyond that and she felt that something
escaped her which she did not know, but which was nevertheless there
and pressed upon her and kept other people away: something gloomy, now
past, which remained hovering around the old man and the old woman and
which enveloped the others--the old woman's children, the old man's
only grandchild--in a sort of haze, something indescribable but so
definitely palpable that she could almost have taken hold of it by
putting out her hand....

It was all very vague and misty to think about, it was not even
possible to think about it; it was a perception of something chill,
that passed, nothing more, no more than that; but it sometimes
prevented her breathing freely, taking pleasure in her youth, walking
fast, speaking loud: when she did that, she had to force herself with
an effort. And she knew that Lot felt the same: she had understood it
from two or three very vague words and more from the spirit of those
words than from their sound; and it had given her a great soul-sympathy
for Lot. He was a strange fellow, she thought, looking at him as he
slept. Outwardly and in his little external qualities and habits, he
was a very young boy, a child sometimes, she thought, with round his
childishness a mood of disillusionment that sometimes uttered itself
quite wittily but did not ring sincere; beneath the exterior lay a
disposition to softness, a considerable streak of selfishness and a
neurotic preoccupation where he was himself concerned, tempered by
something that was almost strength of character in dealing with his
mother, for he was the only one who could get on with Mamma. With
this temperament he possessed natural gifts which he did not value,
though it was really necessary for him to work. He presented a medley
of contradictions, of seriousness and childishness, of feeling and
indifference, of manliness and of very feeble weakness, such as she
had never seen in any man. He was vainer of his fair hair than of his
talent, though he was vain of this too; and a compliment on his tie
gave him more pleasure than a word of praise for his finest essay. And
this child, this boy, this man she loved: she considered it strange
when she herself thought of it, but she loved him and was happy only
when he was with her.

He woke up, asked her why she was not sleeping and now took her head on
his breast. Tired by the train and by her thoughts, she fell asleep;
and he looked out at the grey dawn, which broke over the bleak and
chilly fields after they had passed Lyons. He yearned for sea, for blue
sky, for heat, for everything that was young and alive: the South of
France, the Riviera and then Italy, with Elly. He had disposed of his
life and he hoped for happiness, happiness in companionship of thought
and being, because loneliness induces melancholy and makes us think the
more intensely of our slow decay....

"She is very charming," he thought, as he looked down upon her where
she slept on his breast; and he resisted the impulse to kiss her now
that she had just fallen asleep. "She is very charming and she has
a delicate artistic sense. I must tell her to start modelling again
... or to write something: she's good at both. That was a very fine
little book of hers, even though it is so very subjective and a great
deal too feminine. There is much that is good in life, even though
life is nothing but a transition which can't signify much in a world
that's rotten. There must be other lives and other worlds. A time must
come when there will be no material suffering, at most a spiritual
suffering. Then all our material anxieties will be gone.... And yet
there is a great charm about this material life ... if we forget all
wretchedness for a moment. A spell of charm comes to everybody: I
believe that mine has come. If it would only remain like this; but
it won't. Everything changes.... Better not think about it, but work
instead: better do some work, even while travelling. Elly would like
it. At Florence, the Medicis; in Rome, the whole papacy.... I don't
know which I shall select: it must be one of the two. But there's such
a lot of it, such a lot of it.... Could I write a fine history of
civilization, I wonder?... I hate collecting notes: all those rubbishy
odds and ends of paper.... If I can't see the whole thing before me, in
one clear vision, it's no good. I can't study: I have to see, to feel,
to admire or shudder. If I don't do that, I'm no good. An essay is what
I'm best at. A word is a butterfly: you just catch it, lightly, by the
wings ... and let it fly away again.... Serious books on history and
art are like fat beetles, crawling along.... _Tiens!_ That's not a bad
conceit. I must use it one day in an article: the butterfly wafted on
the air ... and the heavy beetle...."

They were approaching Marseilles; they would be at Nice by two o'clock
in the afternoon....



CHAPTER XV


Lot had ordered a bedroom in the Hôtel de Luxembourg and had written
to his sister Ottilie. On arriving, they found a basket of red roses
awaiting them in their room. It was October; the windows were open; and
the sea shone with a dark metallic gleam in a violent flood of sunlight
and rippled under the insolent forward thrusts of a gathering mistral.

They had a bath, lunched in their bedroom, feeling a little tired after
the journey; and the scent of the roses, the brightness of the sun,
the deepening turquoise of the sky and the more and more foam-flecked
steel of the sea intoxicated both of them. The salad of tomatoes and
capsicums made a red-and-orange patch around the chicken on the table;
and long pearls seemed to melt in their glasses of champagne. The wind
rose in mighty gusts and with its arrogant, brutal, male caresses swept
away any haze that still hung around. The glowing sun poured forth its
flood as from a golden spout in the turquoise sky.

They sat side by side, intoxicated with it all, and ate and drank
but did not speak. A sense of peace permeated them, accompanied by a
certain slackness, as though in surrender to the forces of life, which
were so turbulent and so violent and so radiantly gold and insolently
red.

There was a knock; and a woman's head, crowned with a large black hat,
appeared through the open door:

"May I come in?"

"Ottilie!" cried Lot, springing up. "Come in, come in!"

She entered:

"Welcome! Welcome to Nice! I haven't seen you for ages, Lot! Elly, my
sister, welcome!... Yes, I sent the roses. I'm glad you wrote to me ...
and that you are willing to see me and that your wife is too...."

She sat down, accepted a glass of champagne; cordial greetings passed
between Lot and his sister. Ottilie was a couple of years older than
Lot; she was Mamma's eldest child and resembled both her father,
Pauws, and Mamma, for she was tall, with her father's masterful ways,
but had Mamma's features, her clear profile and delicate chin, though
not her eyes. But her many years of public appearances had given her
movements a graceful assurance, that of a talented and beautiful woman,
accustomed to being looked at and applauded, something quite different
from any sort of ordinary, domestic attractiveness: the harmonious,
almost sculptural gestures, after being somewhat studied at first, had
in course of time become natural....

"What a good-looking woman!" thought Elly; and she felt herself to be
nobody, small, insignificant, in the simple wrap which she had put on
hurriedly after her bath.

Ottilie, who was forty-one, looked no more than thirty and had the
youthfulness of an artist who keeps her body young by means of an art
and science of beauty unknown to the ordinary woman. A white-cloth
gown, which avoided the last extravagances of fashion, gave her figure
the perfection of a statue and revealed the natural outlines of arms
and bosom beneath the modern dress. The great black hat circled its
black ostrich-feather around her copper-glowing fair hair, which was
plaited in a heavy coil; a wide grey boa hung in a light cloud of
ostrich-feathers around her; and, in those colourless tints--white,
black and grey--she remained, notwithstanding her almost too great
beauty, attractive at once as a well-bred woman and an artist.

"Well, that's my sister, Elly!" said Lot, proudly. "What do you think
of her?"

"I've seen you before, Elly, at the Hague," said Ottilie.

"I don't remember, Ottilie."

"No, you were a little girl of eight, or nine perhaps; and you had a
big playroom at Grandpapa Takma's and a lovely doll's-house...."

"So I did."

"I haven't been to the Hague since."

"You went to the Conservatoire at Liège?"

"Yes."

"When did you sing last?" asked Lot.

"In Paris not long ago."

"We hear nothing of you. You never sing in Holland."

"No, I don't ever go to Holland."

"Why not, Ottilie?" asked Elly.

"I have always felt depressed in Holland."

"Because of the country or the people?"

"Because of everything: the country, the people, the houses ... the
family ... our circle...."

"I quite understand," said Lot.

"I couldn't breathe," said Ottilie. "It's not that I want to run the
country down, or the people or the family. It all has its good side.
But, just as the grey skies hindered me from breathing, so the houses
hindered me from producing my voice properly; and there was something
around me, I don't know what, that struck me as terrible."

"Something that struck you as terrible?" said Elly.

"Yes, an atmosphere of sorts. At home, I could never get on with Mamma,
any more than Papa and Mamma could ever get on together. Mamma's
impossible little babyish character, with her little fits of temper,
used to drive me wild. Lot has a more accommodating nature than I!..."

"You ought to have been a boy and I a girl," said Lot, almost bitterly.

"_Mais je suis très femme, moi_," said Ottilie.

Her eyes grew soft and filmy and happiness lurked in her smile.

"_Mais je te crois_," replied Lot.

"No," continued Ottilie, "I couldn't hit it off with Mamma. Besides, I
felt that I must be free. After all, there was life. I felt my voice
inside me. I studied hard and seriously, for years on end. And I made a
success. All my life is given to singing...."

"Why do you only sing at concerts, Ottilie? Don't you care about opera?
You sing Wagner, I know."

"Yes, but I can't lose myself in a part for more than a few moments,
not for more than a single scene, not for a whole evening."

"Yes, I can imagine that," said Lot.

"Yes," said Elly, with quick understanding, "you're a sister of Lot's
in that. He can't work either for longer than his essay or his article
lasts."

"A family weakness, Ottilie," said Lot. "Inherited."

Ottilie reflected, with a smile: the Gioconda smile, Elly thought.

"That may be true," said Ottilie. "It was a shrewd observation of your
little Elly's."

"Yes," said Lot, proudly. "She's very observant. Not one of our three
natures is what you would call commonplace."

"Ah," murmured Ottilie, "Holland ... those houses ... those people!...
Mamma and 'Mr.' Trevelley at home: it was terrible. One scene after
the other. Trevelley reproaching Mamma with Papa, Mamma reproaching
Trevelley with a hundred infidelities! Mamma was jealousy incarnate.
She used to keep her hat and cloak hanging in the hall. If 'Mr.'
Trevelley went out, Mamma would say, 'Hugh, where are you going?'
'Doesn't matter to you,' said Trevelley. 'I'm coming with you,' said
Mamma, putting on her hat all askew and flinging on her cloak; and go
with him she did. Trevelley cursed and swore; there was a scene; but
Mamma went with him: he walking along the street two yards in front of
her, Mamma following, mad with rage.... She was very, very pretty in
those days, a little doll, with a fair-haired Madonna face, but badly
dressed.... Lot was always quiet, with calm, tired-looking eyes: how
well I remember it all! He was never out of temper, always polite to
'Mr.' Trevelley...."

"I have managed to get on with all my three papas."

"When Mamma and Trevelley had had enough of each other and Mamma fell
in love with Steyn, I cleared out. I went first to Papa and then to the
Conservatoire. And I haven't been back in Holland since.... Oh, those
houses!... Your house, Elly--Grandpapa Takma's house--everything very
neatly kept by Aunt Adèle, but it seemed to me as if something stood
waiting behind every door.... Grandmamma's house and Grandmamma's
figure, as she sat at the window there staring ... and waiting, she
too. Waiting what for? I don't know. But it did depress me so. I longed
for air, for blue sky, for freedom; I had to expand my lungs."

"I have felt like that too sometimes," said Lot, half to himself.

Elly said nothing, but she thought of her childhood, spent with the old
man, and of her doll's-house, which she ruled so very seriously, as if
it had been a little world.

"Yes, Lot," said Ottilie, "you felt it too: you went off to Italy to
breathe again, to live, to live.... In our family, they _had_ lived.
Mamma _still_ lived, but her own past clung to her.... I don't know,
Elly; I don't think I'm very sensitive; and yet ... and yet I did feel
it so: an oppression of things of the past all over one. I couldn't go
on like that. I longed for my own life."

"That's true," said Lot, "you released yourself altogether. More so
than I did. I was never able to leave Mamma for good. I'm fond of
her. I don't know why: she has not been much of a mother to me. Still
I'm fond of her, I often feel sorry for her. She is a child, a spoilt
child. She was overwhelmed, in her youth, with one long adoration. The
men were mad on her. Now she is old and what has she left? Nothing and
nobody. Steyn and she lead a cat-and-dog life. I pity Steyn, but I
sometimes feel for Mamma. It's a dreadful thing to grow old, especially
for the sort of woman that she was, a woman--one may as well speak
plainly--who lived for her passions. Mamma has never had anything in
her but love. She is an elementary woman; she needs love and caresses,
so much so that she has not been able to observe the conventions.
She respected them only to a certain point. When she fell in love,
everything else went by the board."

"But why did she marry? _I_ didn't marry! And I am in love too."

"Ottilie, Mamma lived in a different social period. People used to
marry then. They marry still, for the most part. Elly and I got
married."

"I have nothing to say against it, if you know that you have found each
other for life. Did Mamma know that with any of her husbands? She was
mad on all the three of them."

"She now hates them all."

"Therefore she ought not to have married."

"No, but she lived in a different social period. And, as I say,
Ottilie, people still get married."

"You disapprove of my not marrying."

"I don't disapprove. It's not my nature to disapprove of what other
people think best in their own judgment."

"Let us talk openly and frankly. You call Mamma a woman who lives for
her passions. Perhaps you call me the same."

"I don't know much about your life."

"I have lived with men. If I had had Mamma's ideas, or rather her
unconscious conventions, I should have married them. I loved and was
loved. Twice I could have married, as Mamma did; but I didn't do it."

"You were disheartened by what you had seen."

"Yes; and I didn't know, I never knew. Perhaps now, Lot, perhaps now I
feel certain for the first time."

"Do you feel certain, Ottilie?" said Elly.

She took Ottilie's hand. She thought Ottilie so beautiful, so very
beautiful and so genuine that she was greatly affected by her.

"Perhaps, Elly, I now know for certain that I shall never love any one
else as I love Aldo.... He loves me ..."

"And you will get married?" asked Lot.

"No, we shall not get married."

"Why not?..."

"Is _he_ certain?"

"But you say he's fond of you."

"Yes, but is he _certain?_ No, he is not. We are happy together, ever
so happy. He wants to marry me. But is he certain? No, he is not. He is
not certain: I know for certain that he does not know for certain....
Why should we bind ourselves with legal ties? If I have a child by
him, I shall be very happy and shall be a good mother to my child.
But why those legal ties?... Aldo isn't _certain_, happy though he
may be. He is two years older than I. Who knows what may be waiting
for him to-morrow, what emotion, what passion, what love?... I myself
know that I have found, but I know that he does _not_ know.... If he
leaves me to-morrow, he is free. Then he can find another happiness,
perhaps the lasting one.... What do we poor creatures know?... We seek
and seek until suddenly we find certainty. _I_ have found it. But _he_
has not.... No, Lot, we shall not get married. I want Aldo to be free
and to do as he pleases. I am no longer young and I want to leave him
free. Our love, our bodies, our souls are free, absolutely free, in our
happiness. And, if I am old to-morrow, an old woman, with no voice left
..."

"Then you will pay the penalty, Ottilie," said Lot.

"Then I shall pay no penalty, Lot. Then I shall have been happy. Then I
shall have had my portion. I don't ask for eternity here below. I shall
be satisfied and I shall grow old, quietly, quietly old...."

"Oh, Ottilie, and _I_ ... I suffer from growing old, from growing
older."

"Lot, that's a disease. You're happy now, you have Elly, life is
beautiful, there is sunshine, there is happiness. Take all that, enjoy
it and be happy and don't think of what is to come."

"Don't you then ever think of growing old and of the horror of it?"

"I do think of growing old, but I don't see anything horrible in it."

"If Aldo were to leave you to-morrow, you would be alone ... and you
would grow old."

"If Aldo left me to-morrow, for his own happiness, I should think it
right and I should grow old, but I should not be alone, for I should
have all my memories of his love and of our happiness, which is actual
now and so real that there can be nothing else after it."

She got up.

"Are you going?"

"I have to. Come and lunch with us to-morrow. Will you come, Elly?"

"Thanks, Ottilie."

Ottilie looked out of the window. The sun beamed as it died away, from
behind mauve and rose clouds, and the wind had subsided on the waves:
the sea just rocked it softly on her rolling, deep-blue bosom, like a
gigantic lover who lay resting in her lap after his spell of blazing
ardour.

"How splendid those clouds are!" said Elly. "The wind has gone down."

"Always does, at this time," said Ottilie. "Look, Lot, there he is!"

"Who?"

"Aldo. He's waiting for me."

They saw a man sitting on the Promenade des Anglais--there were not
many people about--and looking at the sea.

"I can only see his back," said Lot.

"You shall see him to-morrow. I'm delighted that you're coming."

Her voice sounded grateful, as though she were touched. She kissed them
both and went away.

"Heavens, what a beautiful woman!" said Lot. "She is anything but
young, but years don't count with a woman accustomed to appear in
public and as handsome as she is...."

Elly had gone out on the balcony:

"Oh, Lot, what a glorious sunset!... It's like a fairy-picture in the
sky. That's how I imagine the atmosphere of the Arabian Nights. Look,
it's just like the tail of a gigantic phoenix vanishing behind the
mountains in flames.... There's Ottilie, on the promenade; she's waving
her handkerchief."

"And there's Aldo, with her, bowing.... A fine good-looking fellow,
that Italian officer of hers.... What a handsome couple!... Look, Elly,
as they're walking together: what a handsome couple! I declare I'm
jealous of him. I should like to be as tall as that, with such a pair
of shoulders and such a figure."

"But aren't you content that I like you as you are?"

"Yes, I'm quite content. I'm more than content, Elly.... I believe that
I have come to my divine moment, my moment of happiness...."

"It will be more than a moment."

"Are you certain of it?"

"Yes, I feel it within me ... just as Ottilie felt it within her. And
you?"

He looked at her gravely and did not tell her that she was much younger
than Ottilie, too young to know so much. And he merely answered:

"I too believe that I know for certain. But we must not force the
future.... Oh, what a wonderful evening! Look at those mountains
beginning to turn violet.... The fairy-picture is changing every
moment. The sea is rocking the wind in her lap and the phoenix is
dying away in ashes. Let's stay here, let's stay and look. There are
the first stars. It's as though the sea were becoming very calm and
the wind sleeping peacefully on her blue breast. You can just feel its
breath still, but it's asleep.... This is the land of life and love. We
are too early for the season; but what do we care for smart people?...
This is gorgeous, Elly, this wealth of life, of love, of living colour,
fading away so purple in the darkness of the night. The cool breath
of that mighty wind, which is now asleep: how very different from
the howling wind of our north, which whistles so dismally! This mad
merry wind here, now sleeping, like a giant, in the blue lap of that
giantess, the sea! That's freedom, life, love and glory and pomp and
gaiety. Oh, I'm not running down my country; but I do feel once more,
after all these months, that I can breathe freely and that there's a
glow in life ... and youth, youth, youth! It makes you feel drunk at
first, but I'm already getting used to the intoxication...."

They remained on the balcony. When the wind woke in the lap of the sea
and got up again, with an unexpected leap of its giant gaiety, blowing
the first stars clear of the last purple clouds with a single sweep,
they went inside, with their arms around each other's waist.

Over the joyously-quivering sea the fierce mistral came rushing.



CHAPTER XVI


The garden was reached from the flat by a little terrace and two or
three steps.

"You are too early to see it in its winter glory," said Ottilie.
"You're much too early. Nature here sleeps all through the summer under
the scorching sun."

"That's one long, long love-sleep," said Lot, with his arm in his
sister's.

"Yes, one long love-sleep," Ottilie echoed. "At the beginning of the
autumn, the heavy rains come. They may overcome us yet, suddenly. When
they are past, then nature buds for the winter. That is so exquisite
here. When, everywhere up in the north, there's not a leaf or flower
to be seen, the ground here is dug up, grass is sown and the mimosa
blossoms and the carnations and you get your violets. You're too early,
but you can see one phase of the change. Look at my last summer roses,
blooming in such mad, jolly disorder. And the heliotrope, delicious,
eh? Yes, this one is still glorious. Look at my pears: did you ever see
such big ones? How many are there? Three, four, five ... six. We'll
pluck them; they're quite ripe: if they fall to the ground, the ants
eat them in a moment.... Aldo! Aldo! Come here for a second.... Pluck
a few pears, will you? I can't reach them, no more can Lot ... Elly,
have you seen my grapes? Just look at my trellis-work of vines? It
might be a pergola, mightn't it? And they're those raspberry-grapes,
you know; you must taste them. Try this bunch: they're delicious....
We'll eat the pears presently, at lunch. They're like sweet, aromatic
snow.... Here are figs for you: this is an old tree, but it still
stands as a symbol of fruitfulness. Pick them for yourself, take as
many as you like.... Here are my peaches.... How hot the sun is still!
And everything's steaming: I love all that natural perfume. Those
grapes sometimes drive me mad...."

She thrust a white arm out of the sleeve of her white gown among the
hazy-blue bunches and picked and picked, more and more. It was a feast
of gluttony, an orgy of grapes. Aldo picked the finest for Elly. Well
past forty, in the tranquil calmness of his graceful strength he was
plainly a man of warm passion, a southern man of passion, a tranquil,
smiling and yet passionate nature. As he drew himself up lissomely, in
his loose-fitting grey-flannel suit, and stretched his hands towards
the highest bunches, the harmonious lines of his statuesquely handsome
figure appeared sinewy and supple; and there was this contradiction in
him, that he suggested a piece of classic sculpture in the costume
of to-day. The smiling serenity of his regular, large-boned face also
reminded Lot of busts which he had seen in Italy: the _Hermes_ of the
Vatican--no, Aldo was not so intelligent as that--the _Antinous_ of
the Capitol, but a manlier brother; the _Wrestlers_ of the Braccio
Nuovo, only not so young and more powerfully built.... Aldo's smile
answered to Ottilie's smile and contained the tranquillity of a secure
happiness, of an intense moment of perfect human bliss. That moment
was there, even if it were passing. That secure happiness was as the
pressed bunch of grapes....

Lot felt that he was living his own ecstatic moment, felt that he
was happy in Elly, but yet he experienced a certain jealousy because
of the physical happiness in that very good-looking couple: there
was something so primitive in it, something almost classical in this
southern autumnal nature, among this superabundance of bursting fruits;
and he knew for certain that he would never approach such happiness,
physically, because he felt the north in his soul, however eagerly
his soul might try to escape that north; because he felt the dread of
the years that were to come; because his love for Elly was so very
much one of sympathy and temperament; because his nature was lacking
in vigorous sensuality. And it made him feel the want of something;
and because of that want he was jealous, with all the jealousy which
he had inherited from his mother.... They too, Aldo and Ottilie,
felt no morbid melancholy, no sickly dread; and yet their happiness,
however superabundant, had the sere tint of autumn, like all the
nature around them. The glowing-copper leaves of the plane-trees blew
suddenly over the vine-trellis, scattered by the rough, brusque hands
of the gaily-gathering wind. A shudder passed through the disordered
rose-bushes; a heavy-ripe pear fell to the ground. It was autumn; and
neither Aldo nor Ottilie was young, really young. And yet they had
found this; and who could tell what they had found before, each on
a different path! Oh, that untrammelled happiness, that moment!...
Oh, how Lot felt his jealousy!... Oh, how he longed to be like Aldo,
so tall, so vigorous, handsome as a classical statue, so natural, a
classical soul!... To feel his blood rush madly through his veins!...
Oh, that north, which froze something inside him; that powerlessness
to seize the moment with a virile hand; and the dread, the dread of
what was to come: that horror of old age, while after all he was still
young!... He now looked at his wife; and suddenly his soul became
quite peaceful. He loved her. Silent inward melancholy, dread: those
were his portion; they couldn't be helped; they must be accepted with
resignation. The headiness of rapture could overwhelm him for a moment:
it was not the true sphere of his happiness. It would intoxicate him:
his blood was not rich enough for it. He loved, in so far as he was
able; he was happy, in so far as he could be. It was that, after all:
he had found what he wanted, he wished to be grateful. A tenderness for
Elly flowed through him so intensely: he felt that his soul was the
sister-soul to hers. Superabundance was not for him; and the pressure
of the things that passed had always weighed upon him and always
hindered him from flinging his two arms riotously round life....

He threw away the stalk of his bunch of grapes and followed Aldo, who
was calling to him, indoors. The Italian took his arm with a movement
of sympathy:

"Ottilie's going to sing," he said. "Your wife has asked her to."

His French had the sensual softness of his too southern accent.

Ottilie was already singing, to her own accompaniment, in the
drawing-room. Her rich voice, schooled to the spaciousness of large
halls, swelled to a pure stream of sound, made the air quiver even in
the garden with notes heavy with happiness. It was an Italian song, by
a composer whom Lot did not know; and it provided an illusion as though
Ottilie were improvising the song at the moment. There was a single
phrase, which opened softly, rippled with laughter and melted away
swooning, like a nymph in a faun's arms.

"Another time, perhaps I'll sing you something serious," said Ottilie.
"This is only a single cry: a cry of life, nothing more...."

They sat down to lunch. The sun, which had scorched them, the wind,
which had covered them with rough kisses, had given them an appetite;
and the saffron _bouillabaisse_ stimulated their palates lustily.
On the side-board the fruit lay heaped in large, plain baskets and
represented autumn's lavish abundance indoors as well.

"Lot," said Elly, suddenly, "I don't know what it is, but I suddenly
feel the south."

"We poor northerners!" said Lot. "Ottilie and Aldo: _they_ feel the
south."

"But so do I!" said Elly.

"Nice is a novitiate for you, Elly, before you get to Italy!" said
Ottilie. "Do you actually feel the south here? In the air?"

"Yes, in the air ... and in myself, in _myself_...."

"Well, we have tropical blood in us," said Ottilie. "Why shouldn't we
feel the south at once? Aldo could never feel the north: he went to
Stockholm with me when I was singing there."

"Didn't you feel the north, in the air?" asked Lot.

"_Sicuro!_" said Aldo. "I found it cold and bleak, but then it was
winter. I felt no more in it than that. You northerners feel things
more sensitively. We feel perhaps ... more brutally and fully. We have
redder blood. You have the gift of feeling _nuances_. We haven't. When
I feel, I feel entirely. When Ottilie feels a thing now, she also
feels it like that. But she was not always so."

"Aldo is making a southerner of me!" said Ottilie. "He is wiping out
all my _nuances!_"

Outside, the mistral rose and raged in a whirl of glowing-copper
plane-leaves.

"That's autumn," said Ottilie.

"Turning into winter," said Lot.

"But winter here is life again, renewed. Life is renewed daily. Every
day that comes is new life."

"So no dying, but everlasting resurrection?" asked Lot, with a smile.

"No dying, everlasting resurrection!"

Her voice rang out defiantly. Oh, to embrace the moment ... with
virile strength! It was not for him, thought Lot. But what there was
was tender happiness. If only it remained so! If only he were not
left behind, lonely, alone and old, now that he had known tender
happiness!... He looked at his wife. The topaz-coloured wine sent a
sparkle to her eyes and a flush over her usual pallor; she was joking
with Aldo and Ottilie, was gayer than Lot had ever seen her; she became
almost pretty and began boldly to talk Italian to Aldo, spinning out
whole sentences which he corrected with his quiet laugh.

"Who knows," thought Lot, "what she may yet feel? She is twenty-three.
She is very fond of me; and, before she came to love me, she had known
sorrow, because of another love. Who can tell what the years may bring?
Oh, but this is a divine moment, these days are perhaps forming the
most heavenly moment of my life! Let me never forget them.... I am
happy, so far as I can be happy. And Elly must be feeling happy too....
She is breathing again.... It is as though an oppression had gone over
her and as though she were breathing again. She lived too long with the
old man. The past is an oppression in his house. It is an oppression
at Grandmamma's. It is an oppression even with us, at home, because of
Mamma.... Life does not renew itself there. It dies away, it passes;
and the melancholy of it depresses even us, the young people.... Oh,
Elly will not be really happy until she is in Italy!... This is only
an intoxication, delicious, but too full and brutal for our senses;
and there ... there, when we are working together, we shall find glad
happiness: I know it! Glad happiness in a country not so sensual as
Nice, but more intelligent and dusted exquisitely with the bloom of the
dead past.... Yes, we shall be in harmony there and happy and we shall
work together...."

Aldo was opening the champagne; and Lot whispered:

"Elly!"

"What?"

"You felt the south just now?"

"Yes ... oh, Lot, beyond a doubt!"

"Well, I ... _I_ feel happiness!"

She squeezed his hand; a smile played around her lips. She also would
never forget this moment of her life, whatever else those future years
might bring: with her northern soul of sadness, she felt the south and
her happiness ... and what passed they did not see....



CHAPTER XVII


There was a cold wind, with whirling snowflakes, and Aunt Stefanie
de Laders had not at first intended to go out: she had a cough and
lately had not been feeling at all the thing; she feared that this
winter would be her last. Not everybody lived to be so old as Mamma
or Mr. Takma; and she, after all, was seventy-seven: wasn't that a
fine age? But she did not want to die yet, for she had always been
very much afraid of death, always carried a horrid vision of Hell
before her eyes: you could never know what awaited you, however good
and religious you might have been, serving God properly. Now she,
thank God, had nothing to reproach herself with! Her life had gone
on calmly, day after day, without a husband, or children, or mundane
ties, but also without any great sorrow. Twice she had suffered the
loss of a tom-cat to which she was attached; and she thought it very
sad when the birds in the cages grew old and lost their feathers and
sometimes gripped on to their perches with their long claws, for years
together, until one fine morning she found their little bodies stiff.
She thought it sad that the family had no religion--the De Laders had
always had religion--and she felt very sad when Thérèse, in Paris,
became a Catholic, for after all papistry was idolatry, that she knew
for certain; and she also knew for certain that Calvin had had the
root of the matter in him. She had always been able to save money and
did not quite know how to dispose of it: she had executed a number of
different wills, making bequests and then rescinding them; she would
leave a good deal to charitable institutions. Her health for very long
had been exceedingly good. Short, sprightly and withered, she had been
very active, had for years run along the streets like a lapwing. Her
witch-face became brown and tanned and wrinkled, small and wizened;
and her little figure, with the shrunk breasts, bore no resemblance
whatever to the even yet majestic old age of old, old Mamma. The barren
field of her life, without emotion, love or passion, had grown drier
and drier around her carping egoism, without arousing in her a sense of
either melancholy or loss. On the contrary, she had felt glad that she
was able to fear God, that she had had time to make her own soul and
that she had not heard the sins of the body speak aloud, in between the
murmured reading of her pious books and the shrill twittering of her
birds. Lucky that she had never been hysterical, like those Derckszes,
she thought contentedly, preferring with a certain filial reverence
to put down that hysteria rather to the Derckszes' account than to
that of her old mother, though nevertheless she shook her head over
Mamma for thinking so little, at her age, of Heaven and Hell and for
continuing to see old Takma, doubtless in memory of former sinfulness.
Anton was a dirty old blackguard and, old as he was, had narrowly
escaped most unpleasant consequences, a month ago, for allowing himself
to take liberties with his laundress' little girl; and Aunt, who saw
a great deal of Ina, knew that it was owing to D'Herbourg's influence
and intervention--he being the only one of the family who had any
connections--that the business had no ill results, that it was more or
less hushed up. But Aunt Stefanie thought it so sinful and hysterical
of Anton, looked upon Anton as so irretrievably sold to Satan that she
would have preferred to have nothing more to do with him ... if it were
not that he had some money and that she feared lest he should leave
the money to sinful things and people ... whereas Ina could do with it
so well. And she now, in spite of the weather, thought of sending for
a cab and going out: then she could first pick up Anton, as arranged,
and take him with her to the Van Welys, Lily and Frits, to see their
godchildren, Stefje and Antoinetje. There were two babies now; and
she and Anton had a godchild apiece. A tenderness flowed through her
selfish old-maid's heart at the thought of those children, who belonged
to her just a little--for she tyrannized over Anton's godchild too--and
in whom, she reflected contentedly, she had not the least sinful share.
For she considered the things of the flesh more or less sinful, even
when hallowed by matrimony.

The cab came; and Aunt Stefanie, in a very old fur cloak, hoisted
herself in, sprightlily, climbed up the step and felt anything but
well. Was it coming at last? Was she about to fall ill and die? Oh, if
she could only be sure of going to Heaven! So long as she was not sure
of it, she would rather go on living, rather grow as old as Mother and
Takma, rather live to be a hundred. The cab was now pulling up in front
of the ground-floor rooms in which Anton lived; and she thought, should
she wait till he came out or should she get out herself for a minute?
She resolved upon the latter course and, when the door was opened by
the landlady, she clambered down the step of the cab again, refusing
the driver's assistance, and, with a few snowflakes on her old-lady's
cape and old fur cloak, went in to her brother, who was sitting beside
a closed stove, with his book and his pipe. A thick haze of smoke
filled the room, drifting heavily with slow, horizontal cloud-lines.

"Well, Anton, you're expecting me, aren't you? It wouldn't be the thing
if you weren't!" said Aunt Stefanie, in a tone of reproach.

Trippingly and imperiously, she went up to him. Her voice sounded
shrill and her little witch-face shook and shivered out of the worn fur
collar of her cloak, because she felt cold.

"Yes, all right," said Anton Dercksz, but without getting up. "You'll
sit down first, won't you, Stefanie?"

"But the cab's waiting, Anton; it means throwing money away for
nothing!"

"Well, that won't ruin you. Is it really necessary that we should go
and look at those brats?"

"You must see your godchild, surely. That's only proper. And then we're
going on, with Ina and Lily, to Daan and Floor, at their hotel."

"Yes, I know, they arrived yesterday.... Look here, Stefanie, I can't
understand why you don't leave me here in peace. You always want to
boss people. I'm comfortable here, reading...."

The warmth of the stove gave old Stefanie de Laders a blissful feeling;
she held her numbed feet--Anton possessed no foot-stove--voluptuously
to the glow; but the smoke of the pipe made her cough.

"Yes, yes, you're just sitting reading; I read too, but I read better
books than you.... Let me see what you're reading, Anton. What is it?
Latin?"

"Yes, it's Latin."

"I never knew that you read Latin."

"You don't know everything about me yet."

"No, thank God!" cried Stefanie, indignantly. "And what is that Latin
book?" she asked, curiously and inquisitorially.

"It's sinful," said Anton, teasingly.

"I thought as much. What's it called?"

"It's Suetonius: _The Lives of the Caesars_."

"So you're absorbed in the lives of those brutes, who tortured the
early Christians!"

He grinned, with a broad grin. He sat there, big and heavy; and
the folds and dewlaps of his full, yellow-red cheeks thrilled with
pleasure at her outburst; the ends of his grey-yellow moustache stood
straight up with merriment; and his eyes with their yellow irises
gazed pensively at his sister, who had never been of the flesh. What
hadn't she missed, thought Anton, in scoffing contempt, as he sat
bending forwards. His coarse-fisted hands lay like clods on his thick
knees; and the tops of his Wellington boots showed round under the
trouser-legs. His waistcoat was undone; so were the two top buttons of
his trousers; and Stefanie could just see his braces.

"You know more about history than I thought," he grinned.

She thought him repulsive and looked nervously round the room, which
contained a number of open book-cases, with the curtains drawn back:

"Have you read all those books?" she asked.

"And read them over again. I do nothing else."

Stefanie de Laders was coughing more and more. Her feet were warm by
this time. She was proof against much, but she felt as if she would
faint with the smoke.

"Sha'n't we go now, Anton?"

He was not in the least inclined to go. He was greatly interested in
Suetonius at the moment; and she had disturbed him in his fantasy,
which was intense in him. But she had such a way of nagging insistency;
and he was really a weak man.

"I must just wash my hands."

"Yes, do, for you reek of that pipe of yours."

He grinned, got up and, without hurrying himself, went to his bedroom.
Nobody knew of his solitary fantasies, which became more intense as
he grew older and more impotent in his sensuality; nobody knew of the
lust of his imagination nor how, as he read Suetonius, he pictured
how he had once, in a century long past, been Tiberius, how he had
held the most furious orgies in gloomy solitude at Capri and committed
murder in voluptuousness and sent the victims of his passions dashing
into the sea from the rocks and surrounded himself with a bevy of
children beautiful as Cupids. The hidden forces of his intellect and
imagination, which he had always enjoyed secretly, with a certain
shyness towards the outside world, had caused him to read and study
deeply in his younger years; and he knew more than any one talking
to him would ever have suspected. On his shelves, behind novels and
statute-books, he concealed works on the Kabbala and Satanism, being
especially attracted in his morbid fancies by the strange mysteries
of antiquity and the middle ages and endowed with a powerful gift
of thinking himself back into former times, into a former life,
into historic souls to which he felt himself related, in which he
incarnated himself. No one suspected it: people merely knew that he had
been a mediocre official, that he read, that he smoked and that he had
occasionally done shameful things. For the rest, his secret was his
own; and that he often guessed at another's secret was a thing which
not his mother nor Takma nor anybody would ever have suspected....

The moment he had gone to his bedroom, Aunt Stefanie rose, tripped to
the bookshelves and let her eyes move swiftly along the titles. What a
lot of books Anton had! Look at that whole shelf of Latin books: was
Anton as learned as that? And behind them: what did he keep behind
those Latin books? Great albums and portfolios: what was in them?
Would she have time to look? She drew one from behind the Latin books
and, with quick, bird-like glances at the bedroom, opened the album,
which had _Pompeii_ on it.... What were those strange prints and
photographs? Taken from statues, quite naked, from mural and ceiling
frescoes; and such queer subjects, thought Aunt Stefanie. What was it
all, what were those things and people and bodies and attitudes? Were
they merely jokes which she did not understand?... Nevertheless they
were enough to make her turn pale; and her wrinkled little witch-face
grew longer and longer in dismay, while her mouth opened wide. She
turned the pages of the album more and more swiftly, so as to be sure
and miss nothing, and then went back to certain plates which struck
her particularly. The world, so new to her, of classical perversion
sped past her awe-struck eyes in undivined sinfulness, represented
by man and beast and man-beast in contortions which her imagination,
untutored in sensuality, could never have suspected. A devil's sabbath
hypnotized her from out of those pages; and the book, weighing so
heavy in her trembling old fingers, burnt her; but she simply could
not slip it back into its hidden nook ... just because she had never
known ... and because she was very inquisitive ... and because she had
never suspected superlative sin.... Those were the portals of Hell;
the people who had acted so and thought so would burn in Hell-fire for
ever: she not, fortunately!

"What are you doing?"

Anton's voice startled her; she gave a little scream; the book slipped
from her hands.

"_Must_ you go prying about?" asked Anton, roughly.

"Well, can't I look at a book?" stammered Aunt Stefanie. "I wasn't
doing anything improper!" she said, defending herself.

He picked up the album and shoved it back violently behind the Latin
volumes. Then, becoming indifferent, he grinned, with eyes like slits:

"And what have you seen?"

"Nothing, nothing," stammered Stefanie. "You just came in ... and
startled me so. I saw nothing, nothing.... Are you ready? Shall we go?"

Buttoned up in his great-coat, he followed her tripping little steps;
he grinned at her scornfully: how much she had missed! And, if she
_had_ seen anything, how she must have been shocked!

"He is the devil!" she thought, in her fright. "He is the devil! If it
wasn't for that sinful money, which it would be such a pity for him not
to leave to Ina, I should drop him altogether, I should never wish to
see him again. For he is not all the thing...."



CHAPTER XVIII


Ina d'Herbourg was waiting for them in the little house of her
son-in-law and daughter, Frits and Lily van Wely: Frits, a callow
little officer; Lily, a laughing, fair-haired little mother, up
again pluckily after her confinement. There were the two children,
Stefanus a year and Antoinetje a fortnight old; the monthly nurse,
fat and pompous; the maid-of-all-work busy with the little boy; the
twelve-o'clock lunch not cleaned away yet; a bustle of youth and young
life: one child crowing, the other screaming, the nurse hushing it and
filling the whole house with her swelling figure. The maid let the milk
catch, opened a window; there was a draught; and Ina cried:

"Jansje, what a draught you're making! Shut the window, shut the
window, here are Uncle and Aunt!..."

And Jansje, who knew that Uncle Anton and Aunt Stefanie were godfather
and godmother, flew to the door, leaving the milk to boil over,
forgetting to close the window, with the result that the old people
were received amidst a cold hurricane which made Aunt Stefanie, whose
throat was already irritated by Anton's smoke, cough still more and
mumble:

"It's not the thing, a draught like this; _such_ a draught!"

The fire which Jansje had lighted in the little drawing-room had
gone out again; and Lily and Frits, wishing above all to make things
pleasant for the old people, now brought them back again to the
dining-room, where Jansje, in her eagerness to clear the table, dropped
and broke a plate, whereupon exclamations from Jansje and reproaches
from Lily and despairing glances of Ina at her son-in-law Frits. No,
Lily did not get that slovenliness from her, for _she_ took after the
IJsselmondes and they were correct; Lily got it from the Derckszes. But
Frits now understood that he must be very civil to Uncle Anton, whom
he detested, while Lily, whom Uncle Anton always kissed at very great
length, loathed him, felt sick at the sight of him, for Lily also had
to make up to Uncle Anton, that being Mamma's orders. She had married
Frits without any money; but the young couple had very soon perceived
that money was not to be despised; and the only two from whom there was
a trifle to be expected were Aunt Stefanie and Uncle Anton.

The old man, after being dragged there by his sister against his will,
had recovered his good temper thanks to the lingering kiss which he had
given Lily and, with his fists like clods upon his knees, sat chuckling
and nodding in admiration when Nurse held up the yelling brat to him.
And, though he was jealous of young, vigorous people, he found an
emotion in his jealousy, found young, vigorous people pleasant to look
at and considered that that virile little Frits, that callow, stiff
little officer, might well make a good husband to his wife. He nodded
at Lily and then at Frits, to convey that he understood them, and Lily
and Frits smiled back vacuously. They did not understand him, but that
didn't matter: he guessed that they were still very much in love, even
though they had two brats; and he also guessed that they were keen
on his bit of money. Well, they were quite right from their point of
view; only he couldn't stand Ina, because, ever since D'Herbourg had
helped him in his trouble with the little laundry-girl, she treated him
with a kindly condescension, as the influential niece who had saved
her imprudent uncle from that _soesah_.[1] He grinned, seeing through
all that coaxing pretence and chuckling to himself that it was all
wasted, because he had no intention of leaving them his bit of money.
But he knew better than to let this out to Stefanie or any of them;
on the contrary, amid all the pretty things that were said to him, he
gloated over the gin-and-bitters which Frits so attentively set before
him, after helping him off--he wasn't feeling cold now, was he?--with
his great-coat. He thought the whole farce most diverting and laughed
pleasantly and benevolently, with the air of a good, kind uncle who was
so fond of the children, while he thought to himself:

"They sha'n't get one cent!"

And he chuckled so deliciously at the thought that he was quite
pleased to give the fat monthly nurse a couple of guilders. They were
all taken in--Aunt Stefanie, Ina and the young couple--when they saw
Uncle behaving so good-naturedly and so generously; they looked upon
him as hooked; and he left them in the illusion, which he so cleverly
saw through. What the devil, he thought, in a dull, gathering rage,
did he care about those young people? Hadn't they enough with their
youth and their two vigorous bodies, that they must go coveting his
few thousand guilders? And what did he care about that brat which
they had christened Antoinette after him? He had a horror of new-born
children, though he had sometimes thought children very nice when they
were just a few years older. Things misted before his eyes, but he
mastered himself in his dull rage and in his slimy thoughts and behaved
benevolently and genially as the well-off uncle and godfather who was
going to leave all his money to the brat.

"And Uncle Daan and Aunt Floor arrived yesterday," said Ina d'Herbourg,
with a suppressed sigh, for she looked upon the Indian relations as
unpresentable. "We said we'd call on them together to-day, didn't we,
Aunt Stefanie?"

"That'll save her a cab-fare," thought Anton Dercksz.

"Yes," said Lily, "we might as well be going on, don't you think so,
Uncle?"

"Certainly, dear."

"Frits'll come on presently, won't you, after barracks? I'll just go
and get on my things. I do think it so nice of you, Uncle Anton, to
come and have a look at the baby. I had begun to despair of your ever
coming, for you had promised me so long...."

"You see Uncle always keeps his promises, dear...."

He said it with the appearance of kindliness, put out his hand as she
passed, drew her to him and, as though under the softening influence
of the visit, gave her another long, lingering kiss. She shuddered and
hurried away. In the passage she met her husband, buckling on his sword.

"Don't let that filthy old scoundrel kiss you like that!" hissed Frits,
furiously.

"How can I help it? The brute makes me sick!..."

He went out, slamming the front-door, thinking that his young happiness
was already being defiled because they were hard up and had to
besmirch themselves in consequence. Ina, Uncle and Aunt waited in the
dining-room until Lily was ready.

"Uncle Daan must be very comfortably off," said Ina, with glittering
eyes. "Papa, who is bound to know, always refuses to talk about money
and wouldn't say how much he thought Uncle Daan had...."

"And how much would you say it was?" asked Aunt Stefanie.

"Oh, Aunt," said Ina, with a well-bred glance of her weary eyes,
"I _never_ speak or think about money and I really don't know how
rich Uncle Daan is ... but still I believe he is worth seven hundred
thousand guilders. What makes them come to Holland so suddenly, in the
winter? Business, Papa said; and he ought to know. But, as you know,
Papa never says much and never talks about business or money. But
_I've_ been wondering to myself, could Uncle Daan have lost all his
money? And mark my words: if so, Papa will have him on his hands."

For Uncle Daan and Aunt Floor, who were unpresentably Indian, had
children of their own; there were no expectations therefore from that
quarter; and Ina hated them with a profound hatred and, jealous of
their wealth, spoke as much ill of them as she dared.

"Should you say so?" asked Aunt Stefanie.

"They've always been in business together," said Ina, "so, _if_ Uncle
Daan has lost his money, Papa is sure to have him on his hands."

"But, if he's worth seven hundred thousand guilders?" asked Anton
Dercksz.

"Yes, in that case," said Ina, covetously. "But perhaps he hasn't seven
hundred thousand. I don't know. I never talk about money; and what
other people have is _le moindre de mes soucis_."

Lily came down, looking the sweetest of little fair-haired women in her
fur boa; and the four of them went to the cab, while Jansje created a
fresh draught by opening the door too wide.

And Ina insisted that Uncle Anton should sit in the front seat, beside
Aunt Stefanie, and she and Lily with their backs to the horse, while
Uncle Anton, with pretended gallantry, tried to resign the place of
honour to her, though he was glad that she did not accept it. All that
family was only a tie, which bound you without doing you the least
good. There was that old bird of a Stefanie, who had dragged him from
his reading, his warm room, his pipe, his Suetonius and his pleasant
reverie, first to look at a brat to whom he wasn't going to leave
a cent and next to call at an hotel on a brother who chose to come
from India to Holland in December. All such unnecessary things; and
what thousands of them you did in your life! There were times when
you simply couldn't be your own master.... He indemnified himself by
pressing his knees against Lily's and feeling the warmth of her fresh
young body. His eyes grew misty.

The cab stopped at the big _pension_ where Uncle Daan was accustomed to
stay when he came home from India. They were at once shown in to Aunt
Floor, who had seen them through the window; a _baboe_ was standing at
the door of the room.

"Come inn! Come insside!" cried Aunt Floor, in a bass voice and
accentuating her consonants. "How d'ye do, Stefanie? How d'ye do,
Anton? And how d'ye do, Ina ... and you, little Lily: _allah_,[2] two
childr-r-ren alr-r-ready, that little thing!"

Aunt Floor had not got up to receive them; she was lying on a sofa and
a second _baboe_ was massaging her huge, fat legs. The girl's hands
glided to and fro beneath her mistress' dressing-gown.

"Caughtt cold!" said Aunt Floor, angrily, as though the others could
help it, after renewed words of welcome on their part and enquiries
after the voyage. "Caughtt cold in the train from Paris. I assur-r-re
you, I'm as stiff as a boar-r-rd. What came over Dhaan, to want to come
to Gholland at thiss time of year, I cannott make out...."

"Why didn't you stay behind in India, Aunt?" asked Ina, well-bred and
weary-eyed.

"Not likely! I ssee myself letting Dhaan gho alone! No, dear, we're
man and wife and where Uncle Dhaan ghoes _I_ gho. Old people like us
belong to one another.... Dhaan is with Gharold now, in the other
room: your Papa arrived a moment agho, Ina. Those two are talking
bissiness of course. I asked Dhaan, 'Dhaan, what on ear-r-rth do you
want to gho to Gholland for?' 'Bissiness!' says Dhaan. Nothing but
bissiness, bissiness. I don't understand it: you can always wr-r-rite
about bissiness. Year after year that confounded bissiness; and
nothing ghoes r-r-right: we're as poor as r-r-rats.... There, Saripa,
_soeda_,[3] that's enough: I'm as stiff as a boar-r-rd all the same."

The two _baboes_ left the room; the anthracite-stove glowed like an
oven, red behind its little mica doors. Aunt Floor had drawn herself up
with a deep sigh and was now sitting: her fat, yellow face, with the
Chinese slanting eyes, loomed like a full moon from out of the hair,
still black, which went back, smooth and flat, to a large _kondé_;[4]
and there was something of a mandarin about her as she sat, with her
legs wide apart in the flannel dressing-gown and her fat, swollen
little hands on her round knees, just as Anton Dercksz often used to
sit. Her sunken breast hung like the bosom of a _tepèkong_[5] in two
billows on her stomach's formidable curve; and those rounded lines gave
her an idol-like dignity, as she now sat erect, with her stiff, angry
mandarin-face. From the long lobes of her ears hung a pair of enormous
brilliants, which gleamed round her with startling brightness and did
not seem to belong to her attire--the loose flannel bag--so much as
to her own being, like a jewel set in an idol. She was not more than
sixty; she was the same age as Ottilie Steyn de Weert.

"And is old Mamma well?... It's nice of you to have come," she said,
remembering that she had not yet said anything amiable to her relations.

Her gelatinous mass now shook more genially on the sofa, while around
her sat Stefanie, with her wrinkled witch-face; Anton, who recollected
Floor forty years ago, when she was still a strapping young _nonna_,
a _nonna_ with Chinese blood in her veins, which gave her an exotic
attraction for the men; Ina d'Herbourg, very Dutch and correct,
blinking her eyes with a well-bred air; and the fair-haired little
wife, Lily.

"Why dhoesn't Dhaan come?" exclaimed Aunt Floor. "Lily, gho and see
what's become of your gr-r-randpapa and your uncle."

"I'll go, Aunt," said Ina d'Herbourg. "You stay here, dear. She mustn't
walk about much yet, Aunt."

And Ina, who was curious to see the rooms which Uncle Daan and Aunt
Floor occupied, rose and went through Aunt's bedroom, with a quick
glance at the trunks. One of the _baboes_ was busy hanging up dresses
in a wardrobe.

"Where are the gentlemen, _baboe_?"

"In the study, _njonja_."

The _baboe_ pointed the way to Ina through the conservatory. Well, they
were handsome and no doubt expensive rooms. Ina knew that the _pension_
was not a cheap one; and Uncle Daan and Aunt Floor would hardly be
poor as "r-r-rats." So Uncle had his own bedroom and a study besides.
Papa was with him now and they were doubtless talking business, for
they were jointly interested in various undertakings. At home Papa
never talked about business, vouchsafed no information, to Ina's great
despair.... She heard their voices. And she was thinking of creeping
up quietly through the conservatory--who knew but that she might
overhear some detail which would tell her of the state of Uncle Daan's
fortune?--from sheer innocent curiosity, when she suddenly stopped with
a start. For she had heard Uncle Daan's voice, which had not changed
during the five years since she had seen Uncle, exclaim:

"Harold, have you known it all this time?"

"Ssh!" she heard, in her father's voice.

And Uncle Daan repeated, in a whisper:

"Have you known it all this time?"

"Don't speak so loud," said Harold Dercksz, in a hushed tone. "I
thought I heard somebody...."

"No, it's the _baboe_ clearing up ... and she doesn't understand
Dutch...."

"Speak low for all that, Daan," said Harold Dercksz. "Yes, I've known
it all this time!"

"All the time?"

"Yes, sixty years."

"I never ... I never knew it."

"Speak low, speak low! And is _she_ dead now?"

"Yes, she's dead"

"What did you say her name was?"

"Ma-Boeten."

"That's it: Ma-Boeten. I was a child of thirteen. She was Mamma's maid
and used to look after me too."

"It was her children who began to molest me. She told her son about it:
he is a _mantri_[6] in the rent-office."

"Yes."

"He's a damned villain. I gave him money."

"That was right.... But, you see, Daan, it's so long ago now."

"Yes, it's a very long time ago."

"Don't speak about it to Floor."

"No, never, never. That's why it's just as well she came with me. If
she had stayed at Tegal, that damned villain might have.... Yes, it's
certainly a very long time ago."

"And it's passing.... It's passing.... A little longer and ..."

"Yes, then it will all be past.... But to think that you, Harold,
should have known it all this time!"

"Not so loud, not so loud! I hear something in the conservatory...."

It was Ina's dress rustling. She had heard with a beating heart,
tortured with curiosity. And she had not understood a word, but she
remembered the name of the dead _baboe_, Ma-Boeten.

She now deliberately rustled the silk of her skirt, pretended to have
just come through the conservatory, threw open the doors, stood on the
threshold:

"Uncle Daan! Uncle Daan!"

She saw the two old men sitting, her father and his brother. They were
seventy-three and seventy. They had not yet been able to recover their
ordinary expression and relax the tense dismay of their old faces,
which had gazed with blinded eyes into the distant past. Ina thought
them both looking ghastly. What had they been talking about? _What_
was it that they were hiding? _What_ had Papa known for sixty years?
_What_ had Uncle Daan only known for such a short time?... And she felt
a shiver going along her, as of something clammy that went trailing by.

"I've come to look for you, Uncle Daan!" she exclaimed, with an
affectation of cordiality. "Welcome to Holland, Uncle, welcome! You're
not lucky with the weather: it's bleak and cold. You must have been
very cold in the train. Poor Aunt Floor is as stiff as a board....
Uncle Anton is there too and Aunt Stefanie; and my Lily came along with
us. I'm not interrupting you ... in your business?"

Uncle Daan kissed her, answered her in bluff, genial words. He was
short, lean, bent, tanned, Indian in his clothes; a thin grey tuft of
hair and the cut of his profile gave him a look of a parrot; and,
thanks to this bird-like aspect, he resembled his sister Stefanie. Like
her, he had quick, beady eyes, which still trembled with consternation,
because of what he had been discussing with his brother Harold. He
clawed a few papers together, crammed them into a portfolio, to give
the impression that he and Harold had been talking business, and said
that they were coming. They went back with Ina to the sitting-room and
greetings were exchanged between Uncle Daan and those who had come to
welcome him.

"Aunt Floor knows nothing," thought Ina, remembering how Aunt had just
spoken about her coming to Holland.

Why had they come? What was the matter? _What_ was it that Papa had
known for sixty years and Uncle Daan for only such a short time? Was
_that_ why he had come to Holland? Had it anything to do with money:
a legacy to which they were entitled?... Yes, that was it, a legacy:
perhaps they would still become very rich. Did Aunt Stefanie know
about it? Uncle Anton? Aunt Ottilie? Grandmamma? Mr. Takma?... _What_
was it? And, if it was a legacy, how much?... She was burning with
curiosity, while she remained correct, even more correct than she was
by nature, in contrast with the Indian unconstraint of Uncle Daan--in
his slippers--and the Chinese _tepèkong_ that was Aunt Floor, with
her bosom billowing down upon her round stomach. She was burning with
curiosity, while her eyes glanced wearily, while she made well-bred
efforts to conceal her eager longing to find out. And stories were told
that did not interest her. Uncle Daan and Aunt Floor talked about their
children: Marinus, who was manager of a big sugar-factory and lived
near Tegal, with a large family of his own; Jeanne--"Shaan," as Aunt
called her--the wife of the resident of Cheribon; Dolf unmarried, a
magistrate. She, Ina d'Herbourg, did not care a jot about the cousins,
male or female, would rather never see them: they were such an Indian
crew; and she just made herself pleasant, condescendingly, but not too
much so, pretending to be interested in the stories of Clara, Marinus'
daughter, who was lately married, and Emile, "Shaan's" son, who was so
troublesome.

"Yes," said Aunt Floor, "and here we are, in Gholland, in this
r-r-rotten _pension_ ... for bissiness, nothing but bissiness ... and
yes, _kassian_,[7] we're still as poor as r-r-rats! What am I to do
here for five months? I shall never stand it, if this weather keeps on.
Luckily, I've got Tien Deysselman and Door Perelkamp"--these were two
old Indian ladies--"and they'll soon look me up. They wr-r-rote to me
to bring them some Chinese cards and I've brought twenty packs with me:
that'll help me get through the five months...."

And Aunt Floor glared out of her angry old mandarin-face at her
husband, "Dhaan."

No, thought Ina, Aunt Floor did not know about the legacy. Perhaps it
wasn't a legacy. But then what was it?...

She and Lily went back in the cab that came for Harold; Stefanie drove
Anton home in hers. Ina at once went in search of her husband: she must
consult somebody and she knew of no one better. She found him in his
office:

"Leopold, can I speak to you?" she asked.

"I have a consultation presently," he said, consequentially.

She knew that he was lying, that he had nothing to do. She sat down
quietly, without removing her cloak or hat.

"Leopold ..."

She frightened him.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"We _must_ find out why Uncle Daan and Aunt Floor have come to Holland."

"Goodness gracious!" he exclaimed. "Papa's affairs haven't gone wrong,
have they?"

"I don't know, I don't think so; but there's something that's brought
Uncle Daan over."

"Something? What?"

"I don't know, but there's something: something that Papa has known for
sixty years, ever since he was a child of thirteen. Uncle Daan has only
known it a little while and apparently has come to Holland to consult
Papa."

"How do you know?"

"I know: take it from me that I know. And I know more besides."

"What is that?"

"That Aunt Floor does _not_ know and that Uncle Daan does not mean to
tell her. That Grandmamma's old _baboe_ was called Ma-Boeten and that
she's dead. That her son is a _mantri_ at Tegal and that Uncle Daan has
given him money. That's all I know."

They looked at each other. Both of them were very pale.

"What an incoherent story!" said Leopold d'Herbourg, barrister and
solicitor, with a consequential shrug of the shoulders.

Ina, well-bred as usual, cast up her eyes wearily:

"It's very important. I don't know what it is, but it's important and I
want to know. Could it have to do with a legacy?"

"A legacy?" echoed D'Herbourg, failing to see.

"Something that's due to us? Could that _mantri_ know things which, if
Uncle Daan gave him money ..."

"Perhaps," said D'Herbourg, "it has to do with money which Papa and
Uncle Daan owe ..."

This time, Ina turned very pale:

"No," she exclaimed, "that would be ..."

"You can never tell. The best thing is not to talk about it. Besides,
Papa won't let anything out, in any case."

But Ina's curiosity was too much for her. She nodded her head in her
well-bred way, under the white bird of paradise in her hat:

"I _must_ know," she said.

"How will you find out?"

"You might speak to Papa, ask him what's depressing him...."

"What's depressing him? But I've never known him to be anything but
depressed, during all the twenty-three years that we've been married.
Papa never talks to me; he even employs another solicitor for his
business, as you know."

"Then _I_ will ask Papa."

"That won't be any good."

"I _must_ know," said Ina, rising. "I don't see a legacy in it, after
what you've said. Oh dear, oh dear, who knows what it can be? Money
perhaps which ..."

"It's certainly money."

"Which Papa and Uncle Daan ..."

"May have to repay, if ..."

"Do you think so?"

"They do so much business in common. That leads to all sorts of
complications. And it won't be the first time that men who do a great
deal of business ..."

"Yes, I understand."

"Perhaps it's better not to mix yourself up in it at all. You would do
wiser to be careful. You never know what hornets' nest you're bringing
about your ears."

"It happened sixty years ago. It dates sixty years back. What an
immense time!" said Ina, hypnotized by the thought.

"That's certainly very long ago. The whole thing is out of date!" said
D'Herbourg, pretending to be indifferent, though inwardly alarmed.

"No," said Ina, shaking the white bird of paradise, "it's something
that is not yet past. It _can't_ be. But Papa hoped that, before very
long ..."

"What?"

"It _would_ be past."

They both looked very pale:

"Ina, Ina, do be careful!" said D'Herbourg. "You don't know what you're
meddling with!"

"No!" she said, like a woman in a trance.

She must know, she was determined to know. She resolved to speak to her
father that evening.


[1] Malay: bother, scrape, fuss.

[2] Lord!

[3] That will do.

[4] The chignon or knot of hair at the back of the head.

[5] A Javanese dancer or nautch-girl, often old and ugly.

[6] Native clerk.

[7] Oh dear! Poor things!



CHAPTER XIX


She wandered round the house, greatly agitated and uncertain what to
do. She heard her son Pol, the undergraduate, in his room downstairs,
next to the front-door. He was sitting there smoking with some friends;
and as she passed she listened to the lads' noisy voices. There was a
ring at the door: it was her younger boy, Gus, her favourite; and, glad
to hear his merry and youthful chatter, she forgot for a moment the
feverish curiosity that consumed her so fiercely.

She now thought of going to her father in his study, but it was too
near dinner-time, she feared, and Papa did not like being disturbed at
this hour. She was restless, could not sit down, kept wandering about.
Just imagine, if Papa was ruined, what should they do? Aunt Stefanie
would perhaps leave something to Gus, she was fonder of him than of the
others; but there were so many nephews and nieces. If only Aunt didn't
fritter her little fortune away in legacies!... Her maternal feelings,
always centring on the question of money, made her think of the future
of her three children. Well, for Lily she was doing everything in her
power, working on the feelings of both Aunt Stefanie and Uncle Anton.
As for Pol, he must manage as best he could: if he had a million, he
would still be hard up.

The dinner-hour approached; and she waited, with D'Herbourg and the two
boys, in the dining-room, for Papa to come down. When Harold Dercksz
entered, it seemed to her that Father's long, lean figure, which was
always bent, was now more bent than ever; a bilious yellow gave his
hollow cheeks a deep metallic colour. Ina loved a formal but cheerful
table; the simple meal was tastefully served; she kept up a certain
style in her home, was a very _grande dame_ of a housekeeper. She had
brought up her children with the utmost correctness and could not
understand that Lily had so soon kicked over the traces, immediately
after her marriage: what a scene of slovenliness you always found at
Frits and Lily's! She was pleased with her boys as she thought of it,
pleased with their manners at table: Pol talked gaily and pleasantly,
though not too noisily, because of Grandpapa; Gus made a little joke
from time to time; then Ina would laugh and stroke his head. Harold
Dercksz hardly spoke at all, listened to the boys with a smile of pain
on his lips. D'Herbourg carved. There was usually a separate dish
for Grandpapa: he had to be very careful because of his digestion
and his liver. As a matter of fact, he was always in pain. Sometimes
his forehead puckered with physical agony. He never spoke of what
he suffered, did what the doctor told him, was always taciturn and
gentle, quietly dignified, broken in body through illness, broken in
soul through the melancholy that shone in the gentle glance of his old
eyes with their discoloured irises. Ina looked after her father, began
by seeing to his special dish; she was attentive and liked to have
everything quite right in her house and at her table.

At dessert, however, her uncontrollable curiosity arose in her once
more. Questions burnt upon her lips, but of course she would ask
nothing during dinner ... and she again laughed at something that
Gus said, stroked his curly head. She looked more motherly in her
indoor dress; when she was with Gus, her weary eyes had not the same
ultra-well-bred glance as under the waving white bird of paradise, when
she sat cheek by jowl with fat Aunt Floor, who was so Indian. Papa got
up at dessert and said, courteously:

"Do you mind, Ina? My pain's rather bad this evening...."

"Poor Father!" she said, kindly.

The old man left the room: Pol had jumped up at once to open the door
for him. The parents and the two boys sat on a little longer. Ina
told the others about Uncle Daan and Aunt Floor; they were amused at
the twenty packs of Chinese playing-cards. Gus, who was a good mimic,
imitated the Indian accent of Aunt Floor, whom he remembered from her
last visit, a couple of years ago; and Ina laughed merrily at her boy's
wit. Thus encouraged, Gus mimicked Aunt Stefanie, made his face look
like an elderly bird's, with a quivering, flexible neck, and D'Herbourg
roared with delight; but Pol, the undergraduate, cried:

"Don't forget, Gus, that you've got expectations from Aunt. You must
never let her know you mimic her!"

"It's not nice of you to say that," said Ina, in a mildly reproachful
tone. "No, Pol, it's not nice of you. You know Mamma doesn't like
allusions to expectations and so forth. No, Pol, it's not very good
taste.... I can't understand how Papa can laugh at it."

But the merriment continued because of Gus; and, when he imitated Uncle
Anton, with his fists clenched on his knees, Ina allowed herself to be
led on and they all three laughed, leagued against the Derckszes as in
a family alliance of aristocratic Jonkheer d'Herbourgs against Indian
uncles, aunts, granduncles and grandaunts.

"Yes, Grandpapa is certainly the best of them," said Pol. "Grandpapa is
always distinguished."

"Well, Greatgranny"--as the children called the old lady--"Greatgranny,
old as she is, is a very distinguished woman!" said Ina.

"What tons of old people we have in the family!" said Gus, irreverently.

Ina repressed him: no jokes about the old lady; for that matter, they
all of them stood in awe of her, because she was so very old and
remained so majestic.

"Aunt Ottilie has turned sixty, hasn't she?" Ina asked, suddenly,
hypnotized by the number sixty, which loomed fatefully large before her
eyes.

And the D'Herbourgs now ceased talking of money, but discussed the
family instead. With the exception of Grandmamma and Papa--Greatgranny
and Grandpapa to the boys--they pulled all the others to pieces and Gus
mimicked them all: in addition to Uncle Anton, Aunt Stefanie and Aunt
Floor, he mimicked Uncle Daan, mimicked the son who held a legal office
out there, mimicked "Shaan," the resident's wife at Cheribon. He had
seen them all in Holland, when they came home for anything from two to
twelve months on leave; and they always provided food for discussion
and jest in the D'Herbourg mansion. But Ina did not laugh any more and
stood up, while her curiosity burnt her to the point of causing her
physical pain.

Harold Dercksz was sitting upstairs at his big writing-table. A lamp
with a green shade made him appear still yellower; and the wrinkles
were sharply furrowed in the old man's worn face. He sat huddled in
his chair, screening his eyes with his hand. In front of him lay
great sheets of figures, which he had to examine, as Daan had asked
him to. He stared before him. Sixty years ago he had seen the Thing.
It was slowly passing, but in passing it came back again to him so
closely, so very closely. The sight of it had given his child-brain
and child-nerves a shock for all his life; and that he had grown
old quietly, very old, older than he need have, was due to his
self-restraint.... The thing of the past, the terrible Thing, was a
ghost and looked at him with eyes while it came nearer, dragging its
veil of mist over rustling leaves, over a path lined with sombre trees
from which the leaves fell everlastingly.... The Thing was a ghost and
came nearer and nearer in passing, before it would vanish entirely in
the past; but never had a single creature appeared from behind the
trees to stretch out a forbidding hand and hold back the ghastly Thing
that went trailing by.... Was a shadow loitering behind the trees,
was some one really appearing, did he really see a hand motioning the
thing, the ghastly Thing, to stop in its passage through the rustling
leaves?... Oh, if it would only pass!... How slowly, how slowly it
passed!... For sixty long years it had been passing, passing.... And
the old man and the old woman, both in their respective houses or
sitting together at the windows, were waiting until it should have
passed.... But it would not pass, so long as they were still alive....
Harold Dercksz felt pity for the old man, for the old woman.... Oh,
if it would but pass!... How long the years lasted!... How old _they_
had grown!... Why must they grow so old?... Was that their punishment,
_their_ punishment, the punishment of both of them? For he now knew
what part his mother had played in the crime, the terrible crime. Daan
had told him; Ma-Boeten had told her son; the _mantri_ had told Daan.
There were so many who knew it! And the old people believed that nobody
... that nobody knew it except ... except old Dr. Roelofsz!... Oh, so
many knew it, knew the Thing that was buried and kept on raising its
spectral form, the secret that was always rising up again in its clammy
mist.... Oh, that he must needs grow so old, _so_ old that Daan now
knew it too! If only Daan held his tongue and did not tell Floor! Would
he hold his tongue? Would the _mantri_ go on holding his tongue? Money
must be paid, at least until the old, the poor old people were dead ...
and until the Thing was past for them and with them....

A gentle tap; and the door opened: he saw his daughter on the threshold.

"Father dearest," she said, winningly.

"What is it, dear?"

Ina came nearer.

"I'm not disturbing you, I hope? I came to see how you were. I thought
you looked so bad at dinner...."

She tended him, like a good daughter; and he appreciated it. His heart
was sensitive and soft and he appreciated the companionship of the
home: Ina's care, the boys' youth imparted a genial warmth to his poor
chilled heart; and he put out his hand to her. She sat down beside his
chair, giving a quick glance at the papers before him, interested in
the sight of all those figures, which no doubt represented the state
of Papa's fortune and Uncle Daan's. Then she asked:

"Are you ill, Father dear?"

"Yes," he said, moaning, "I'm in pain." And, moved by her affection, he
added, "Better if it were over with me soon."

"Don't say that: we could never do without you."

He smiled, with a gesture of denial:

"You would have a trouble the less."

"Why, you know you're no trouble to me."

It was true and she said it sincerely; the note of sincerity rang true
in his child's motherly voice.

"But you oughtn't to be always working like this," she went on.

"I don't do much work."

"What are all those figures?"

She smiled invitingly. He knew her curiosity, had known it ever since
her childhood, when he had caught her ferreting in his writing-desk.
Since that time, he had locked everything up.

"Business," he replied, "Indian business. I have to look into these
figures for Uncle Daan, but it doesn't mean much work."

"Is Uncle Daan satisfied with the business?"

"Yes, he is. We shall be rich yet, dear."

"Do you think so?"

Her voice sounded greedy.

"Yes. Have no fear. I'll leave you something yet."

His voice sounded bitter.

"Oh, Father, I really wasn't thinking of that. I do worry about money
sometimes, because of Lily, who married on nothing: what have Frits
and Lily to live on? And because of my boys. I don't care about money
myself."

It was almost true; it had become true as the years went on. Since she
had grown older, she thought of money more for her children's sake;
motherliness had developed in her soul, even though that soul remained
material and small.

"Yes," said Harold Dercksz, "I know."

"You are so depressed, Father."

"I am just the same as usual."

"No, Uncle Daan has made you depressed. I can see it."

He was silent and on his guard.

"You never speak out, Father. Is there nothing I can do for you? What's
depressing you?"

"Nothing, dear."

"Yes, there is; yes, there is. Tell me what's depressing you."

He shook his head.

"Won't you tell me?"

"There's nothing."

"Yes, there's something. Perhaps it's something terrible."

He looked her in the eyes.

"Father, is it a secret?"

"No, dear."

"Yes, it is; it's a secret. It's a secret, a secret that's depressing
you ... since I don't know how long."

He turned cold in his limbs and all his soul armed itself, as in a
cuirass, and he remained like that, on his guard.

"Child, you're fancying things," he said.

"No, I'm not, but you won't speak. It hurts me to see you so sad."

"I am unwell."

"But you are depressed ... by that terrible thing ... that secret...."

"There's nothing."

"No, there must be something. Is it about money?"

"No."

"Is it about money which Uncle Daan ..."

He looked at her.

"Ina," he said, "Uncle Daan sometimes has different ideas about
absolute honesty in business ... from those which I have. But he always
ends by accepting my view. I am not depressed by any secret about
money."

"About what then?"

"Nothing. There is no secret, dear. You're fancying things."

"No, I'm not. I ... I ..."

"You know?" he asked, loudly, with his eyes looking into hers.

She started.

"N-no," she stammered. "I ... I don't know anything ... but ... I
_feel_ ..."

"What?"

"That there's a secret that's depressing you."

"What about?"

"About ... about something that's happened ..."

"You know," he said.

"No, I don't."

"Nothing has happened, Ina," he said, coldly. "I am an old, sick man.
You tire me. Leave me in peace. Leave me in peace."

He rose from his chair, nervous, agitated. She drew up her weary eyes
with her well-bred expression, with her mother's expression, the
expression of the IJsselmondes, who were her source of pride.

"I will not tire you, Papa," she said--and her voice, sharp but tuned
to the correct social enunciation, sounded affected--"I will not tire
you. I will leave you in peace. I came to you, I wanted to speak to you
... because I thought ... that you had some worry ... some sorrow. I
wanted to share it. But I will not insist."

She went on, slowly, with the offended haughtiness of a _grande dame_,
as Harold Dercksz remembered seeing his mother leave the room after a
conversation. A reproachful tenderness welled up in him; he had almost
kept her back. But he restrained his emotion and let her go. She was a
good daughter to him, but her soul, the soul of a small-minded woman,
was all consumed with money needs, with foolish conceit about small,
vain things--because her mother was a Freule IJsselmonde--and with a
passionate curiosity. He let her go, he let her go; and his loneliness
remained around him. He sank into his chair again, screened his eyes
with his hand; and the lamplight under the green shade furrowed the
wrinkles sharply in his worn face of anguish. He stared out before him.
What did she know? What did she guess? What had she overheard perhaps
... in the conservatory, as she came to them?... He tried to remember
the last words which he had exchanged with Daan. He could not remember.
He decided that Ina knew nothing, but that she guessed, because of his
increased depression.... Oh, if the Thing would only pass!... Oh, if
the old people would only _die!_... Oh, that no one might be left to
know!... It was enough, it was enough, there had been enough years of
self-reproach and silent, inward punishment for people who were so old,
so very old....

And he stared, as though he were looking the Thing in the eyes.

He stared all the evening long; sitting in his chair, his face twisted
with illness and pain, he fell asleep with the light sleep of old
people, quick to come and quick to go, and he saw himself again, a
child of thirteen, in the night in the _pasangrahan_ and heard his
mother's voice:

"O my God, O my God, no, no, _not_ in the river!"

And he saw those three--but young still--his mother, Takma, Ma-Boeten;
and between them his father's lifeless body, in the pelting rain of
that fatal night....



CHAPTER XX


Ina lay awake all night. Yes, curiosity was her passion, had been
since her childhood. If she could only know now, now, now! Her husband
would give her no assistance, was afraid of complications which might
threaten, if they meddled with matters that did not concern them. She
herself was curious to the point of imprudence. She now wanted to talk
to Uncle Daan, whom she was sure to meet next day at Grandmamma's....

She went that afternoon to the Nassaulaan. Old Anna opened the door,
glad that the old lady was not neglected:

"Good-afternoon, ma'am.... Mr. Takma, Dr. Roelofsz and Mrs. Floor are
upstairs.... Yes, you can go up presently.... Thank you, the old lady
is very well indeed.... Yes, yes, she'll outlive us all yet.... Would
you mind waiting a minute, in the morning-room? We're keeping up a nice
fire here now, in the cold weather; for, though the mistress never
comes downstairs, as you know, there's usually somebody of the family
waiting...."

Old Anna gave Ina a chair. The servant had turned the morning-room into
a comfortable waiting-room. This secured that there was never too
much fuss around the old lady, which would not have done at all. The
closed stove burnt well. The chairs were arranged in a circle. And the
old servant, from politeness, to keep Ina company, stood by her for a
moment, talking, till Ina said:

"Sit down, Anna."

The old servant sat down respectfully on the edge of a chair. That was
a habit which visitors had adopted with her, because she was so old.
She asked politely after Mrs. Lily's little ones.

"The first really fine day, Mrs. van Wely will bring the babies to see
their great-great-grandmamma."

"Yes, the mistress will love that," said the old servant; but she
jumped up at the same time and exclaimed, "Well, I never! There's Miss
Stefanie too! Well, they're certainly not neglecting the old lady!"

She showed Aunt Stefanie de Laders in to Ina and withdrew to the
kitchen.

"Mr. Takma, the doctor and Aunt Floor are upstairs," said Ina. "We will
wait a little, Aunt.... Tell me, Aunt, do you know why Uncle Daan has
really come to Holland?"

"Business?" said Stefanie, interrogatively.

"I don't think so. I believe there's something the matter."

"Something the matter?" said Stefanie, with rising interest. "What sort
of thing? Something that's not quite proper?"

"I can't tell what it is exactly. As you know, Papa never lets anything
out."

"Is Uncle Daan ruined?"

"I thought he might be, but Papa says positively that there is no
question of money. As to _what_ it is ..."

"But what could it be?"

"There's _something_."

They looked into each other's eyes, both of them burning with curiosity.

"How do you know it, Ina?"

"Papa is very much depressed since he's seen Uncle Daan."

"Yes, but _how_ do you know that there's something the matter?"

The need to talk overcame Ina's prudence:

"Aunt Stefanie," she whispered, "I really couldn't help it ... but
yesterday, when I went to fetch Uncle Daan and Papa in Uncle's study, I
heard ... in the conservatory ..."

Aunt Stefanie, eager to learn, tremulously nodded her restless little
bird's-head.

"I heard ... Papa and Uncle Daan talking for a moment. Of course I
didn't listen; and they stopped speaking when I went in. But still I
heard Uncle Daan say to Papa, 'Have you known it all this time?' And
then Papa said, 'Yes, sixty years.'"

"Sixty years?" said Aunt Stefanie, in suspense. "That's ever since
Ottilie was born. Perhaps it had to do with Ottilie. You know, Ina,
Aunt Ottilie is ..."

"Takma's daughter?"

Aunt Stefanie nodded:

"People used to talk a lot about it at one time. They've forgotten it
now. It all happened so long ago. Mamma did not behave at all properly.
Yes, she has been very sinful."

"Could that be what they were talking about?"

"No, I don't think so. Uncle Daan knew all about it. And Papa would not
have said, 'I've known it for sixty years.'"

"No," said Ina, lost in conjecture.

And her usually weary eyes were bright and clear, in their effort to
penetrate the vagueness of the Thing which she saw.

"No," said Stefanie, "it can't be that."

"What then?"

"Something ... about Mamma."

"About Grandmamma?"

"Yes, it's sure to have been about Grandmamma.... Sixty years ago...."

"What a long time!" said Ina.

"I was a girl of ... seventeen," said Aunt Stefanie. "Yes, it was a
long time ago."

"And you were seventeen."

"Yes.... That's when Papa Dercksz died."

"Grandpapa?"

"Yes. He was drowned, you know."

"Yes, it dates back to that time."

"Yes.... What _can_ it be?"

"Do you remember Grandmamma's _baboe_?"

"I do. She was called Ma-Boeten."

"She's dead."

"How do you know?"

"I heard it."

"In the conservatory?"

"Yes, I heard it in the conservatory."

"What else did you hear?"

"Ma-Boeten's son is a _mantri_ in the Tegal rent-office."

"Well...?"

"Uncle Daan gives him money."

"Money?"

"Either to speak ... or to hold his tongue. I believe it's to hold his
tongue."

"Then can anything have happened?"

"Sixty years ago? Auntie, _can't_ you remember?"

"But, my dear, I was so young, I didn't notice things. I was a
girl of seventeen. Yes, yes, Auntie herself was young once. I was
seventeen.... I and the other children had remained in the town: a
sister of Grandmamma's was taking charge of us. Papa had gone to the
hills for his health. He and Mamma were staying at a _pasangrahan_
and--I remember _this_ now--they had taken Harold with them. Yes, I
remember, Harold was not with us. They had taken him: Harold was Papa's
favourite.... It was there that Papa was drowned. One night, in the
_kali_.[1] He was restless, could not sleep, walked into the jungle,
missed his way and slipped into the river. I remember all that."

"And Papa was in the _pasangrahan_ with them?"

"Yes, your father was with them. He was a little fellow of thirteen
then."

"And he has _known_, since then?"

"Is that what he says?"

"Then he must know something ... about the hills, about the
_pasangrahan_...."

"Ina, what _can_ it be?"

"I have no idea, Aunt, but it must be something ... about
Grandmamma...."

"Yes," said Aunt Stefanie, with sudden caution; "but, whatever it is,
dear ... it happened so long ago. If it's anything, it's probably
something ... improper. Don't let's rake it up. It is so long ago now,
sixty years ago. And Grandmamma is so old...."

She stopped; and her beady bird's-eyes stared and blinked. It was as if
she suddenly saw something looming, something that was coming nearer;
and she did not want to talk any more. She did not even want to know.
A shuddering anxiety, mingled with a mist of vaguest memories, swam in
front of her blinking eyes. She would enjoin silence upon it. It was
not wise to penetrate too deeply into the things of the past. Years
passed, things passed: it was best to let them pass quietly, to let
sin pass by.... The powers of Hell lurked in sinfulness. Hell lurked
in curiosity. Hell lurked as a devil's sabbath in Anton's books and
albums. It lurked in her mother's past. It lurked in Ina's devouring
curiosity. She, Aunt Stefanie, was afraid of Hell: she wanted to go to
Heaven. She no longer wanted to know what might have happened. And she
shut her blinking eyes before the mist of remembrance and kept them
closed:

"No, dear," she repeated, "_don't_ let us rake it up."

She would not say any more; and Ina was certain that Aunt knew, that
Aunt at any rate remembered something. But she knew Aunt Stefanie: she
would not speak now, any more than Papa would. Was she on her guard?
Oh, what was it, what could it be?


[1] River.



CHAPTER XXI


But Aunt Floor was just coming, shuffling down the stairs with her
flopping bosom, and Uncle Daan was just ringing at the front-door. Old
Anna was delighted. She loved that bustle of members of the family on
the ground-floor and she received everybody with her pleased old face
and her meek, civil remarks, while the fat cat under her petticoats
arched its back and tail against her legs. Old Dr. Roelofsz came
limping down the stairs behind Aunt Floor, hobbling on his one stiff
leg; and his enormous paunch seemed to push Aunt Floor on, as she
shuffled carefully, step by step.

Aunt Stefanie was glad to get rid of Ina d'Herbourg and said:

"Now _I'll_ go upstairs."

She pushed past Roelofsz' stiff leg in the passage and forced her way
to the stairs between Daan and Aunt Floor; and, in her nervous hurry,
afraid of Ina, of sinfulness, of curiosity, afraid of Hell, she almost
stumbled over the cat, which slipped just between her feet.

"I thought I should find you here, Roelofsz," said Uncle Daan. "If I
hadn't, I should have looked you up at once."

"Aha, aha, well-well-well, so you're back once more, Dercksz!" said the
old doctor.

They shook hands; and Daan Dercksz nervously looked at Dr. Roelofsz,
as if he wanted to say something. But he wavered and merely remarked,
hesitatingly, to Ina:

"Aren't you going upstairs, Ina?"

"No, Uncle," answered Ina, with apparent politeness, glad to have a
word with Dr. Roelofsz. "You go first. Honestly, you go first. I can
easily wait a little longer. I'll wait down here."

Dr. Roelofsz joined her in the morning-room, rubbing his cold hands,
saying that it was warmer here than upstairs, where they only kept up a
small fire: old Takma was never cold; he was always blazing hot inside.
But Aunt Floor, who also came into the morning-room for a minute,
puffed and put off her heavy fur cloak, Ina helping her:

"A handsome cloak, Aunt."

"Oh, I don't know, child!" said Aunt Floor, disparagingly. "Just an
old fur. Had it thr-r-ree year-r-rs. But useful in Gholland: nice and
war-r-r-m!"

Inwardly proud of the cloak, she bit the last word into Ina's face,
rolling her r's as she did so. They all three sat down and Anna thought
it so pleasant of them that she brought in some brandy-cherries, three
glasses on a tray:

"Or would you rather have tea, Mrs. Ina?"

"No, Anna, your cherries are delicious."

The servant went away, glad, happy at the bustle on the ground-floor,
to which the old lady no longer ever descended. That ground-floor was
her kingdom, where not even the companion held sway, where she, Anna,
alone held sway, receiving the family and offering refreshments.

Ina tasted a cherry, was sorry that Aunt Floor had joined them in the
morning-room. It was quite possible that the old doctor, a younger
contemporary of Grandmamma's, knew something; but it was not certain.
For Uncle Daan himself had only known it such a little while, though
Papa had known it for sixty years. Sixty years! The length of that
past hypnotized her. Sixty years ago, that old ailing doctor--who had
given up practice and now merely kept Grandmamma and Mr. Takma going,
with the aid of a younger colleague--was a young man of twenty-eight,
newly-arrived in Java, one of Grandmamma's many adorers.

She saw it before her and tried to see farther into it; her curiosity,
like a powerful lens, burnt and revealed a vista in front of her,
gleaming with new light, through the opaque denseness of the past. And
she began:

"Poor Papa is not at all well. I'm afraid he's going to be ill. He
is so depressed mentally too. Yes, Aunt, he has been more depressed,
mentally, since he saw Uncle Daan again than I have known him for
years. What can it be? It can't be money-matters...."

"No, my dear, it's not money-matters, though we're still as poor as
r-r-rats."

"Then what has brought Uncle Daan to Holland?" asked Ina, suddenly and
quickly.

Aunt Floor looked at her stupidly:

"What's brought him?... Upon my word, child, I don't know. Blessed if
I know. Uncle always ghoes r-r-regularly to Gholland ... on bissiness,
bissiness, always bissiness. What they're scheming together now, your
Papa and Uncle Daan, blessed if I know; but we sha'n't get rich on it."
And she shook her head almost in Ina's face, reproachfully. "And it's
year-r-rs that they've been messing about together."

"Poor Papa!" said Ina, sighing.

"Yes-yes-yes, well-well-well," exclaimed the doctor, sitting sideways,
with his paunch dangling in front of him, "we're getting old, we're
getting old ..."

"Speak for yourself!" cried Aunt Floor, angrily. "I'm only ssixty."

"Only sixty? Aha, aha!" mumbled the doctor. "Only sixty? I thought you
were older."

"I'm only ssixty, I tell you!" said Aunt Floor, wrathfully.

"Yes-yes, then you're the same age ... as ... as Ottilie.... Well-well,
well-well!..."

"Yes," said Aunt Floor, "I'm just the same age as Ottilie Steyn."

"Sixty years ... well-well!" mumbled the doctor.

"You were a young man then, doctor," said Ina, with a little laugh.

"Yes-yes, child, yes-yes ... a young man!"

"There's a good many years between you and Grandmamma, isn't there?"

"Yes-yes-yes!" said Dr. Roelofsz, confirming the statement vehemently.
"Nine years' difference, nine years.... And with Takma ... five years
... aha, yes, five years ... that's the difference between him and me
..."

"It's so nice that you and Grandmamma and Mr. Takma have always kept
together," Ina continued, softly. "First in India ... and afterwards
always here, at the Hague."

"Yes-yes, we just kept together...."

"Ssuch old fr-r-riends!" said Aunt Floor, with feeling.

But she winked at Ina, to convey that Dr. Roelofsz, in spite of the
difference of nine years, had nevertheless been a very intimate friend
of Grandmamma's.

"Doctor," said Ina, suddenly, "is it true that, sixty years ago...?"

She stopped, not knowing what to say. She had begun her sentence like
that, craftily, and now broke it off deliberately. The old doctor had a
shock: his paunch flung itself from left to right and now hung over his
sound leg.

"_Wha-at?_" he almost screamed.

His eyes rolled in his head as he looked at her. Terror distorted the
wrinkled roundness of his enormous old head, with the monk's-face,
clean-shaven, and the sunken mouth, which was now open, while slaver
flowed between the crumbly teeth over the frightened lips. He clenched
and raised his old hands, with the skin hanging in loose, untidy folds,
and then dropped them on his knee.

He _knew:_ Ina saw that at once. And she acted as though his scream was
no more than an exclamation following upon a failure to hear, because
of his deafness; she raised her voice politely and quietly and repeated
in a little louder tone, articulating her words very clearly:

"Is it true that, sixty years ago, Grandmamma--though she was
thirty-seven then--was still a gloriously beautiful woman? Yes, those
old people took more care of themselves than we do. I'm forty-five, but
I'm an old woman...."

"Come, come," said Aunt Floor, "an oldd womann!"

And the doctor mumbled:

"Yes-yes, aha, oh, is that what you were asking, Ina?... Yes, yes,
certainly: Grandmamma ... Grandmamma was a splendid, a splendid woman
... even after she was past her first youth...."

"And what about Ottilie? She was for-r-rty when Steyn fell in love with
her."

"Yes," said Ina. "It wasn't ... quite nice of Aunt Ottilie; but it was
a wonderful testimony to her youth...."

And she stared at the doctor with the hidden glance of her well-bred,
wearily-blinking eyes. He sat huddled in his chair, an old, decayed,
shapeless mass, a heaped-up ruin of a man and a human being, an old,
old monk, but wearing a loose frockcoat and loose waistcoat, which
draped his broad body. The terror in his rolling eyes had died away;
and his glance drooped to the left, his head to the right. It was
as though he were seized with inertia, after his fright, after his
excessive emotion at Ina's question, at the ominous number of sixty.
He nodded his enormous head sagaciously; and, in the wintry light from
outside, the shiny top of his head became covered with bright patches.

"Yes-yes-yes, well-well-well!" he mumbled, almost like an idiot.

He rose laboriously, now that Daan Dercksz came downstairs, followed by
Stefanie, followed by old Mr. Takma, who refused any assistance on the
stairs, though Anna made a point of looking on anxiously, driving away
the cat, fearing lest it should slip between the old gentleman's feet.

"Grandmamma is tired," said Daan Dercksz.

"Then I'd better not go up," said Ina. "No, Anna, I think I won't go
up. I'll come back some other day soon. Grandmamma has had so many
visitors to-day."

Nevertheless she lingered a little and then went away, sick with
unsatisfied curiosity, which filled her soul with ravenous hunger. Aunt
Stefanie also took her leave, saying that Mamma was poorly to-day; and
the last to go was old Takma, calculating his steps carefully, but
walking straight and erect. Ina felt that he too must know. What was
it, what could it be? Those old people knew, every one of them!

"Come, let's go home, Dhaan," said Aunt Floor. "Our car-r-riage is
waiting."

"You go," said Daan Dercksz, hesitating. "I want to talk to Roelofsz
first. I'm so glad to see him again...."

"Eh, always talking!" said Aunt Floor, displeased when her husband left
her side. "Then I'll send back the car-r-riage for you presently...."

She said good-bye and shuffled away.

"May I see you home, Mr. Takma?" Ina asked.

Takma nodded his consent:

"Do, child," he said, taking her arm.

Though he held himself well and would never have a cab, he always
thought it reassuring and pleasant if somebody went back with him,
down the Nassaustraat, over the razor-back bridge, to his house on the
Mauritskade. He never asked to be accompanied, but was glad to accept
when any one offered. Ina, however, reflected that she would not dare
to ask old Mr. Takma anything: imagine, suppose he knew and were also
to get a shock, in the street! It would be enough to give him a stroke!
No, she was too careful for that, but she was sick and famished with
the hunger of curiosity in her soul. What could it be? And how _should_
she ever know?

Daan Dercksz remained behind with the old doctor. His parrot-profile
shook and his beady bird's-eyes--Aunt Stefanie's eyes--kept blinking
as though with excitement, while all his lean figure seemed to shrivel
still smaller beside the colossal bulk of the doctor, who towered
before him with the figure of a deformed Templar, resting on one leg
which was sound and one which was short and limping.

"Well, Roelofsz," said Daan Dercksz, "I _am_ glad to see you again."

"Yes-yes, aha, it's quite five years since you were in Holland last....
Well-well, that's a long time.... We're growing old, we're growing
old.... You didn't expect to find your mother so fit.... Yes-yes, I'll
make her see a hundred yet! You wait and see, you wait and see....
Perhaps she'll survive us all, Takma and me, yes-yes...."

"Yes," said Daan Dercksz, "Mamma is very little altered."

"She has a splendid constitution, yes-yes, always has had. Her mind's
quite clear; her memory is good; well-well, yes-yes, that's a
blessing, at her age...."

"And Takma also ..."

"Keeps well, keeps well, yes-yes.... Well-well, we're all growing old
... I too, yes-yes, I too...."

But Daan Dercksz was greatly agitated. He had promised his brother
Harold to be very careful and not to talk, but, during the two months
that he had known, the secret and the horror of it burnt into his soul,
the soul of a business-man who, old as he was, for the first time
underwent a great emotion outside his business.

And he could not hold himself in check. The house was silent. Anna had
gone back to her kitchen; the old lady was sitting upstairs, alone
with the companion. A small gas-jet was burning in the morning-room;
another in the passage. Afternoon darkness and silence hovered in the
atmosphere of the little house in which the old lady had lived so long,
had so long sat waiting at her window upstairs, in her high chair.

"Roelofsz," said Daan Dercksz.

He was a head shorter than the doctor; he took hold of a button of the
doctor's waistcoat.

"Yes-yes," said Roelofsz. "What is it, Dercksz?"

"Roelofsz ... I've heard about it."

"_What?_" shouted the doctor, deaf.

"I've heard everything ... in India."

"_What?_" shouted the doctor, no longer deaf, but dismayed.

"I've heard _everything_, heard it all ... in India."

The doctor looked at him with rolling eyes; and his pendulous lips
slavered in his clean-shaven monk's-face, while his breath panted,
reeking between the crumbly teeth.

And he, in his turn, caught hold of one of Daan Dercksz' buttons:

"_What_ have you heard?"

"I've heard _everything_," Daan Dercksz repeated. "Heard it all ... in
India. I know ... I know everything."

"You know ... everything? Oh? Oh? You know everything?... What ... what
_do_ you know?"

"About ... about Mamma.... About Takma.... About ..."

They stood staring into each other's startled eyes.

"About my father," said Daan Dercksz; and his frightened voice sank to
a hesitating whisper. "About my father. What you know too. What you
have always known. That Takma, that night, when he was with my mother,
snatched my father's own weapon from him: a kris which the Regent had
given him the day before...."

"You know?" cried the doctor. "You know? Oh, my God! Do you know that?
I ... I have never said a _word_. I am eightee-eight years of age ...
but I've ... I've never said a _word_."

"No, you never said anything ... but Mamma's _baboe_ ..."

"Ma-Boeten?"

"Yes, Ma-Boeten told her son, a _mantri_ at Tegal. Ma-Boeten is dead
and the _mantri_ has started blackmailing me. He's been to me for
money. I've given him money. I shall give him money every month."

"So you know.... Yes-yes, O my God, yes-yes!... So you know, Dercksz,
you _know?_"

"Yes, I know."

"What did the _mantri_ say? What had Ma-Boeten told him?

"That my father tried to kill Takma, with a kris.... That Takma
snatched the kris from him, while ..."

"While what?... Yes-yes, while what?"

"While Mamma ... while my mother ..."

"Yes-yes?"

"Flung her arms round my father, to prevent him ..."

"O my God, yes, yes!"

"To prevent him from defending himself ... and that Ma-Boeten, behind
the door, heard her say ..."

"Yes-yes ... yes-yes ... O my God!"

"Heard her say, 'I _hate_ you, I _hate_ you: I've always hated you ...'"

"Yes-yes ... O my God!"

"'I've always hated you and ... and I love Emile!'"

"Yes-yes ... and then?"

"And then she called out to Takma, almost aloud, 'Emile, give him a
stab: rather he than you!'"

"O ... my ... God!"

The doctor sank, in a heavy mass, upon a chair:

"So you _know!_" he moaned. "It's sixty years ago, yes-yes, O my God,
yes-yes! I've never spoken about it, _never!_ I was so fond of your
mother. I ... I ... I held an inquest on the body next day!"

"Yes, they let it drift down stream ... in the _kali_ ..."

"I held an inquest on the body next day ... and I ... I
_understood_.... I had understood it before, for I had seen your
mother that morning and she was raving in her delirium ... and I ...
I promised ... yes-yes, I promised that I wouldn't tell ... O my God,
O my God ... if she ... if she would consent to love me! O my God, O
my God, Dercksz, Dercksz, Daan, I have never ... I have never said a
word!... And God knows what people, sixty years ago, yes-yes, sixty
years ago, didn't think ... and say ... and gossip and gossip ...
without knowing the truth ... until it was all forgotten ... until it
was too late to hold a fresh inquest, after all those months.... I
never, never said a _word_.... O my God, no-no, no-no!..."

"When I knew, Roelofsz, I _couldn't_ stay in India. I felt that I must
see Harold, see you, see Mamma, see Takma...."

"_Why?_"

"I don't know, I had to see you all. Oh, how they must have suffered. I
am sorry for her, for Takma. I had to see you, to talk to you about it.
I knew that you ..."

"Did the _mantri_ know ... about _me?_"

"Through Ma-Boeten."

"Yes, she knew everything, the hag!"

"She held her tongue for years. I did not even know that she was alive.
And then she told her son. She thought Mamma was dead. The son knew
some of the servants at our house. He got to know that Mamma was still
alive...."

"O my God, O my God, yes-yes!"

"I give him so much a month."

"Until Mamma dies?"

"Yes ... until she dies!"

"O my God, O my God, yes-yes!"

"But Roelofsz, what you did _not_ know ..."

"What.... What?... _What_ didn't I know?"

"What you did not know is that Harold ..."

"Harold? Your brother?"

"_Knew!..._"

"Harold _knew?_"

"Yes!... Yes!..."

"He knew? How did Harold know? O my God, O my God! _How_ did Harold
know?"

"Harold knew ... because he saw!"

"He saw? Harold saw?"

"He was with them there, in the hills; he was in the _pasangrahan_."

"Harold?"

"He was a boy of thirteen. He woke up! He saw Mamma, Takma and
Ma-Boeten. He saw them carrying his father's body. He stepped in his
father's blood, Roelofsz! He was thirteen years old! He was thirteen
years old! He has never forgotten what he saw! And he has known it
_always_, all his life, all his life long!"

"O my God, O my God!... Oh, dear!... Is it true? Is it really _true?_"

"It's true! He told me himself."

"And he too ... did he never tell?"

"No, he never told!"

"He's a good fellow, yes-yes, one of the best of fellows. He does not
want to bring disgrace ... oh, dear ... on his old mother's head!...
Daan, Daan ... O my God!... Daan, don't you ever tell: don't _ever_
tell!"

"No, I sha'n't tell. I have spoken to you and to Harold, because I
discuss everything with him: business matters and ... and everything.
He's often helped me.... He helped me in India, in a nasty affair which
I had out there ... in my time ... yes ... O Lord ... in my time! I've
always discussed _everything_ with Harold. I spoke to you because I
knew that you knew...."

"Well-well-well, yes-yes-yes.... But Daan, Dercksz, don't speak to any
one else!"

"No, no, I sha'n't speak to any one else."

"Not to Stefanie, not to Anton, not to Ottilie ..."

"_Their_ child!..."

"Yes-yes, her child and his. Hush-hush, Daan, these are such _old_
things, they're all past!"

"If only they were! But they are not past ... as long as Mamma ... and
Takma ... are still alive!"

"Yes-yes, yes-yes, you're right: as long as they're alive, those things
are not past.... But, oh, they are so old, he and she! It won't last
much longer. They're passing, they're passing, those things ... slowly,
but they're passing.... Yes-yes, it's so very long ago.... And people
no longer trouble about any of us.... In the old days, yes, in the
old days they, people, used to talk ... about Mamma and Takma and the
children, about Anton, about _you_ ... and that scandal in India ...
about Ottilie: they talked a great deal about Ottilie.... That's all
past now ... it's passing.... We are old ... yes-yes ... we are old...."

He sank back in his chair; his shapeless bulk collapsed over his
slanting paunch, as if it would fall to the floor.

At that moment there came from upstairs a shrill scream, suppressed
but penetrating, as though it issued from an old throat that was being
strangled; and almost at the same time the door upstairs was flung back
and the companion called:

"Anna ... Anna, come quick!"

Daan Dercksz was an old man, but a shiver ran down his back like
ice-cold water. The doctor started, tottering on his legs, and at last
drew up his shapeless bulk and cried:

"What is it? What _is_ it?"

And the two men hurried up the stairs as fast as they could, with Anna
behind them.

There were two lamps alight in the drawing-room; and the old lady was
sitting straight up in her chair. Her eyes, enormously dilated, stared
from her head in tense dismay; her mouth remained open, after the
scream which she had uttered, and formed a dark cavity; and she held
one arm uplifted, pointing with an outstretched finger to the corner of
the room, near the china-cabinet. Thus she sat, as though petrified and
rigid: rigid the staring expression and the open mouth, rigid all the
old face, in extreme terror, petrified the gesture of the stiffly-held
arm, as though she could never lower it again. And the companion and
Anna, who now went up to her together excitedly, asked:

"Mevrouw, mevrouw, what's the matter? Aren't you well? Aren't you well?"

"_The-ere!_" stammered the old woman. "_There!... There!_"

And she stared and kept on pointing. The two men had appeared in the
doorway and instinctively they all turned their eyes to the corner,
near the china-cabinet. There was nothing to be seen save by the eyes
of the old lady, nothing save what she saw there--and she alone saw
it--rising before her, nothing save what she saw rising in a paroxysm
of the remorse that had overwhelmed her for years and years ... until
suddenly she _saw_ again, saw for ten or twenty seconds, in which she
became petrified and rigid, while the old blood froze in her veins. She
now received a shock; her hand fell in her lap; she herself dropped
back against the straight pillow of her high-backed chair and her eyes
closed.

"The mistress has been taken like this before," said old Anna, in a
whisper.

They all, all except Daan Dercksz, knew that she had been taken like
that before. They crowded round her. She had not fainted. Soon she
opened her eyes, knew the doctor, knew the two women, but did not know
her son Daan. She glared at him and then gave a sudden shiver, as if
she had been struck by a resemblance.

"Mother! Mother!" cried Daan Dercksz.

She still stared, but she now realized that he was not a
materialization of what she had just seen, realized that he was a son
who resembled his father, the man whom she had first loved and then
hated. Her fixed look died away; but the wrinkles in her face, in
the later paroxysm of shuddering, remained motionless in their deep
grooves, as though etched and bitten in.

Anna stroked her hand and wrist with the soft, regular movement of a
light massage, to restore her consciousness entirely ... until the old
blood melted and flowed again.

"To bed," murmured the old lady. "To bed...."

The two men went away, leaving her to the care of the women. At the
bottom of the stairs, the dimly-lighted ground-floor shivered, full of
shadow silent as the grave. Daan Dercksz took Roelofsz' arm, while the
doctor hobbled laboriously down the stairs, from the bad leg on to the
sound leg.

"What was it she saw?" asked Daan Dercksz.

"Ssh!" said the old doctor. "Yes-yes ... yes-yes...."

"What did she see?"

"She saw ... _Dercksz;_ she saw ... _your father!_..."

In the kitchen the cat sat mewing with fright.



CHAPTER XXII


Aunt Adèle Takma, with her key-basket on her arm, came fussing quietly
from the dining-room into the passage, for she had seen the postman
and was hoping for a letter from Elly. Lot and Elly were at Florence,
both of them working busily at the Laurentiana and the Archives, where
Lot was collecting materials for an historical work on the Medicis.
They had been as far as Naples and, on the homeward journey, tired of
so much sightseeing--Italy was quite new to Elly--they had stopped at
Florence, settled down in a _pension_ and were now working together.
Elly seemed happy and wrote enthusiastic letters.

Aunt Adèle looked in the letter-box. Yes, there was a letter from Elly,
a letter for Grandpapa. Aunt Adèle always read the letters out to
Grandpapa: that was so nice; and after all the letter was for her too.
Yes, the children were sure to be away three months longer--it was the
beginning of January now--and then the plan was that they would quietly
take up their quarters with Steyn and Mamma, for a little while, to
see if it answered; and, if it did not answer, they would quietly turn
out again and go their own way: they were still keen on travelling
and were not yet anxious for a settled home. Ottilie was in London,
where she had her two boys, John and Hugh Trevelley: Mary was in India
and married. Mamma had been quite unable to stand it by herself; and
there was certainly no harm in her going to look up her two sons ... if
only those two sons had not been such sharks. They were always wanting
money: Aunt Adèle knew that from Elly and Lot.

Aunt Adèle finished what she had to do downstairs, spoke to the
cook, locked the store-cupboard, smoothed a tablecloth here, put a
chair straight there, so that she need not come down again and might
have time to read Elly's letter to the old gentleman at her ease. He
always liked hearing Elly's letters, because she wrote in a clever and
sprightly style; they always gave him a pleasant morning; and he often
read them over and over again after Aunt Adèle had read them out to him.

Aunt Adèle now went upstairs, glad at having the letter, and knocked at
the door of the old gentleman's study. He did not answer and, thinking
that he had gone to his bedroom, she moved on there. The door was open
and she walked in. The door between the bedroom and the study was open
and she walked in. The old man was sitting in his usual chair, in front
of the writing-table.

He was asleep. He sat limply in his chair; and it struck her how
very small he looked, as though he had shrunk in his sleep. His eyes
appeared to be closed and his hand lay on an open drawer of his desk.
A waste-paper-basket stood beside him; other papers and letters lay
scattered over the table.

"He's asleep," she said to herself.

And, so as not to wake him, she stole away on tiptoe through the open
door. She did not wish to disturb his rest, if he did not wake of
himself through the mere fact of her entering. He was so old, so very
old....

She was sorry at having to wait before reading Elly's letter. She had
nothing more to do, her housekeeping-duties were finished; the two
servants were quietly doing their work. And Aunt Adèle sat down by
the window in the dining-room, with her key-basket beside her, glad
that everything was nicely tidied, and read the morning paper, which
had just come: she would take it up to him presently. It was snowing
outside. A still white peace slumbered through the room and through
the house. The voice of one of the maids sounded for a moment and died
away towards the kitchen. Aunt Adèle quietly read the four pages of the
newspaper.

Then she got up, took her basket, the letter and the paper and went
upstairs once more. She knocked at the door of the study. But the old
man did not reply. She now opened the door. He was still sitting in his
chair, in the same attitude of sleep as just now. But he looked even
more shrivelled--oh, so very small!--in his short jacket.

Aunt started and came nearer to him. She saw that his eyes were not
closed but staring glassily into distant space.... Aunt Adèle turned
pale and trembled. When she was close to the old gentleman, she saw
that he was dead.

He was dead. Death had overtaken him and a slight touch had sufficed to
make his blood stand still for good in his worn veins. He was dead and,
as it would seem, had died without a struggle, merely because death had
come and laid a chill finger on his heart and head.

Aunt Adèle trembled and burst into sobs. She rang the bell and called
out in fright for the maids, who came running up at once, the two of
them.

"The old gentleman is dead!" cried Aunt Adèle, sobbing.

The two servants also began to cry; they were three women all alone.

"What shall we do, miss?"

"Keetje,"[1] said Aunt Adèle, "go straight to Dr. Thielens and then on
to Mr. Steyn de Weert. I don't know of any one else. Your master had no
relations. But Mr. Steyn de Weert is sure to help us. Take a cab and
go at once. Bring Mr. Steyn straight back with you. Mrs. Steyn is in
London. Go, Keetje, go, quick!"

The maid went, crying.

"He's dead," said Aunt Adèle. "The doctor can do nothing for him, but
he must give a certificate. Door,[2] you and I will lay the master on
his bed and undress him gently...."

They lifted the old man out of the chair, Aunt Adèle taking his head,
Door his feet: he weighed nothing in the women's hands. He was so
light, he was so light! They laid him on the bed and began to undress
him. The jacket, when they hung it over a chair, bulged out behind,
retained the shape of the old man's back.

Keetje had found Steyn de Weert at home; and he came back with her in
the cab: they left word at Dr. Thielens' house; the doctor was out.
Aunt Adèle met Steyn in the hall. A still, white peace dozed through
the big house downstairs; outside, the snow fell thicker than ever.

"I knew of no one but you, Steyn!" cried Aunt Adèle, sobbing. "And I
also sent for you because I knew--the old gentleman told me so--that
you're his executor. Yes, he's dead. He went out like a candle.... This
morning, I brought him his breakfast, as usual. Then he went and sat at
his table, looking through some papers. I got a letter from Elly and
came upstairs and found him ... asleep, as I thought. I went away, so
as not to wake him. But, when I came back, he was still sitting like
that. He was dead. He is dead, Steyn.... He was close upon ninety-four."

Steyn remained with Aunt Adèle until the doctor had been and signed the
death-certificate; Steyn would see to everything that had to be done.
He telegraphed to London to his wife: Aunt Adèle asked him to do this;
he telegraphed to Florence to Lot and Elly: they certainly could not
get back to the Hague in time for the funeral. And he went on at once
to his brother-in-law Harold Dercksz, whom he found at home after lunch:

"Harold," he asked, "what are we to do about Mamma? We can't tell her,
can we?"

Harold Dercksz had sunk back into his chair. It was one of his bad
days, he was moaning with anguish and, though he did not complain, his
face was wrung painfully and his breath came in dull jerks.

"Is ... is the old man ... dead?" he asked.

He said nothing more, sat moaning.

"Do you feel so rotten?" asked Steyn.

Harold Dercksz nodded.

"Shall I send for Dr. Thielens to come and see you?"

Harold Dercksz shook his head:

"There's nothing he can do. Thank you, Frans. I know what to do for it:
the great thing is to pay no attention to it...."

He was silent again, sat staring in front of him, holding his hand
before his eyes because the light outside, reflected by the snow, hurt
his face. And he went on breathing with dull, irregular jerks....
The old man was dead.... The old man was dead.... At last.... The
Thing, the terrible Thing was passing, was not yet past, was trailing,
rustling, staring at him with its fixed, spectral eyes, which he had
known ever since his childhood; but it was passing, passing.... Oh, how
he had looked and looked for the old man's death! He had hated him, the
murderer of his father, who had been dear to him when a child; but,
first as a child, afterwards as a young man, he had been silent, for
his mother's sake, had been silent for sixty years. Only now, quite
lately, he had spoken to Daan, because Daan had come from India in
dismay, knowing everything, knowing everything at this late date, after
the death of the _baboe_, who had spoken to her son, the _mantri_....
He had hated him, in his secret self, hated his father's murderer. Then
his hatred had cooled, he had come to understand the passion and the
self-defence of the crime; then he had felt pity for the old man, who
had to carry the burden of his remorse for all those years; then his
pity had grown into compassion, deep, quivering compassion for both of
them, for Takma and for his mother....

"Give him a stab; rather he than you!"

Oh, that passion, oh, the hatred, of years ago, in the woman that she
had then been, a still young and always attractive woman, she who was
now dragging out the last years of her life: did she remember? Did she
remember, as she sat in her straight-backed chair, in that red twilight
of the window-curtains?... He, Harold Dercksz, had longed for the
death of Takma, longed for the death of his mother ... so that for
both of them, the old people, the thing, the terrible Thing might have
passed entirely and plunged into the depths of what had been.... He had
longed; and now ... now the old man was dead!

Harold Dercksz breathed again:

"No, Frans," he said, in his soft, dull voice, "we cannot tell
Mother.... Remember how very old she is...."

"So I thought. We must keep the old man's death from her at any
rate.... It won't be possible to keep it from Dr. Roelofsz ... but it
will be a blow to him."

"Yes," said Harold Dercksz. "You've telegraphed to Ottilie?"

"Adèle said I was to."

"Yes," said Harold Dercksz. "She's ... she's his daughter."

"Did she know it? We never spoke of it."

"I never spoke of it to Mamma either. I believe Ottilie suspected it.
You're the executor...."

"So Adèle said."

"Yes," said Harold Dercksz. "He'll have left most of his money ... to
Elly ... and to Ottilie. When's the funeral?"

"Monday."

"Lot and Elly won't be here."

"No. It won't be possible to wait for them."

"Will the funeral procession go through the Nassaulaan?"

"It's on the way to the cemetery."

"You had better let it go round ... not past Mamma's house. She's
always sitting at the window."

"I'll arrange that."

"How soon can Ottilie be here?"

"She can take the night-boat this evening."

"Yes, she's sure to do that. She suspects ... she suspects it all; she
was very fond of the old man and he of her."

"I must go, Harold. Would you mind telling Dr. Roelofsz?"

"I'll do that certainly. If I can be of any further use ..."

"No, thank you."

"Let us meet at Mother's this afternoon. We must warn the family as far
as possible not to drop the least hint before Mamma; we must keep it
from her. The shock would kill her...."

And Harold thought to himself that, if only she were dead, then the
Thing would be past; but they had no right to murder her.

When Steyn opened the door, he ran against Ina in the passage. She
had been at the window and seen him come; and, curious to know what
he wanted to talk about with her father, she had crept upstairs and
listened casually.

"Good-morning, Steyn," she said: she did not call him uncle because of
the very slight difference between their ages. "Has anything happened?"

She knew before she asked.

"Old Mr. Takma is dead."

"Ina," said her father, "be sure not to say a word to Grandmamma. We
want to keep it from her. It is such a blow for the old lady that it
might be the death of her...."

"Yes," said Ina, "we won't say anything to Grandmamma. Mr. Takma was
well off, wasn't he? I suppose Elly will get everything?..."

"I don't know," said Steyn. "Probably."

"Lot and Elly have become rich all of a sudden."

"Remember, Ina, won't you?" said her father.

He shook hands with Steyn and went straight off to Roelofsz'.

"Did he die during the night?" asked Ina.

Steyn gave the details. He let out that he had telegraphed to Lot and
to his wife, Aunt Ottilie.

"Why Aunt Ottilie?"

"Because ..." said Steyn, hesitating, regretting his slip of the
tongue. "It's better she should be there."

Ina understood. Aunt Ottilie was old Takma's daughter: she was sure to
get a legacy too.

"How much do you think the old man will leave?... Haven't you any idea?
Oh, not that it interests me to know: other people's money-matters are
_le moindre de mes soucis!..._ Don't you think Papa very depressed,
Steyn? He has been so depressed since he saw Uncle Daan again....
Steyn, don't _you_ know why Uncle Daan has come to Holland?"

She was still yearning with curiosity and remained ever unsatisfied.
She went about with her gnawing hunger for days and weeks on end; she
did not know to whom to turn. The craving to know was constantly with
her. It had spoilt her sleep lately. She had tried to start the subject
once more with Aunt Stefanie, to get behind it at all costs; but Aunt
Stefanie had told her firmly that she--whatever it might be--_refused_
to know, because she did not want to have anything to do with old sins
and things that were not proper; even though they had to do with her
mother, they did not concern _her_. It was Hell lying in wait for them;
and, after Aunt Stefanie's penitential homily, Ina knew that she would
get nothing out of her aunt, not even the hazy recollection that might
have loomed for a moment before her aunt's eyes. What was it, what
could it be that Papa had known for sixty years, that Uncle Daan had
learnt quite lately and that had brought him to Holland? Oh, to whom,
to whom was she to turn?

No, Steyn knew nothing and was surprised at her question, thinking that
Daan must have had business to discuss with Harold, as usual. And he
went away, hurried off to Stefanie, to Anton, to Daan and Floor, to
the Van Welys; and he impressed upon all of them that the old man's
death must be kept from Mamma. They all promised, feeling one and the
same need, as children, to keep from their mother the death of the man
to whom she had remained so long attached, whom she had seen sitting
opposite her, almost every day, on a chair by the window. And Steyn
arranged with all of them merely to say that Mr. Takma was unwell and
not allowed out ... and to keep it up, however difficult it might be in
the long run.

Then Steyn went to Aunt Adèle; and she asked:

"Couldn't we tidy up those papers in the old gentleman's study, Steyn?
It's such a litter. They're all lying just as he left them."

"I'd rather wait till Lot and Elly are back," said Steyn. "All you have
to do is to lock the door of the room. There's no need to seal anything
up. I've spoken to the solicitor."

He went away; and Aunt Adèle was left alone in the house of death,
behind the closed shutters. The old lady, over in the Nassaulaan, so
close by, never saw any one except her children and grandchildren: she
would not be told. Monday was the funeral. Lot and Elly could not be
expected home before Wednesday. It was hard on them, poor children, to
be disturbed like that in Italy, in the midst of their work. But still
Elly was--to the outside world--the old man's only relation; and she
was his heiress....

Aunt Adèle was not grasping. The old man was sure to have left her a
handsome legacy: she felt certain of that. What would upset her was to
have to leave the big house: she had lived there so long, had looked
after it so very long for the old gentleman. She was fond of it, was
fond of every piece of furniture in it.... Or would Elly keep the house
on? She thought not: Elly considered it gloomy; and it would be too
big, thought Aunt Adèle, for Elly was no doubt sharing the money with
Ottilie Steyn.... Of course, people would talk, though perhaps not
so very much; the old gentleman had, so to speak, become dead to the
outside world, with the exception of the Dercksz family; and, except
Dr. Roelofsz, all his contemporaries were dead. The only survivors of
his period were the old lady and the doctor.... Yes, she, Aunt Adèle,
would certainly have to leave the house; and the thought brought tears
to her eyes. How beautifully it was kept, for such an old place! What
she regretted was that Steyn had not consented to tidy up the papers in
the study. He had locked the door and given her the key. That was the
only room, in all the tidy house, with litter and dust in it. Next to
the study, in his bedroom, lay the old gentleman: he was to be put into
his coffin that evening; Steyn and Dr. Thielens would be there then.
The whole house was quiet and tidy around the dead man, except for the
dust and litter in the study. The thought irritated Aunt Adèle. And,
that afternoon, she took the key and went in. The room had remained as
it was when they lifted the old gentleman out of his chair--so light,
oh, so light!--and laid him on his bed and undressed him....

Aunt Adèle opened the windows: the cold wintry air entered and she drew
her woollen cape closer over her shoulders. She stood at a loss for a
moment, with her duster in her hand, not knowing where to begin. One of
the drawers of the writing-table had been left open; there were papers
on the table; a waste-paper-basket stood close by; papers lay on the
ground. No, she couldn't leave things like that; instead of a crime,
it was a kindness to the old man who lay waiting in the next room,
lifeless, to put a little order into it all. She collected what she
found on the table and tucked it into a letter-wallet. She dusted the
desk, arranged everything neatly, pushed the open drawer to and locked
it. She picked up what lay on the floor; and she gave a start, for she
saw that it was a letter torn across the middle, a letter torn in two.
The old gentleman had been tearing up letters: she could see that from
the paper-basket, in which the little, torn pieces made white patches.
This letter had evidently dropped from his hand at the last moment of
all, when death came and tapped him on the heart and head. He had not
had the strength to tear up into smaller pieces the letter already torn
in two; the two halves had slipped from his fingers and he himself had
slid out of life. It touched Aunt Adèle very much; tears came to her
eyes. She remained staring irresolutely, with the two pieces in her
hand. Should she tear them up? Should she put them away, in the wallet,
for Steyn? Better tear them up: the old gentleman had intended to tear
them up. And she tore the two pieces in four....

At that moment, an irresistible impulse forced her to glance at the
uppermost piece. It was hardly curiosity, for she did not even think
that she was holding in her hand anything more than a very innocent
letter--the old gentleman kept so many--a letter, among a hundred
others, which he had gradually come to the conclusion that he would
do well to destroy. It was hardly curiosity: it was a pressure from
without, an impulse from outside herself, a force compelling her
against her honest conviction. She did not resist it: she read; and,
as she read, the idea rose clearly within her to finish tearing up the
letter and drop the pieces in the basket.

Yet she did not do so: she read on. She turned pale. She was a
simple-minded, placid woman, who had reached years of maturity calmly,
with healthy, unstirred blood, foreign to all violent passion. Reading
had left her soul untouched; and burning sentences, she thought, were
invented by the authors for the sake of fine writing. The fact that
words could be written down such as she now read, on paper yellow
with age, in ink pale-red with age, struck her with consternation, as
though a red flame had burst forth from smouldering ashes which she
was raking. She never knew that such a thing could be. She did not know
that those violent glowing words could be uttered just like that. They
hypnotized her. She had sunk into the old man's chair and she read,
unable to do anything but read. She read of burning things, of passion
which she had never suspected, of a melting together of body and soul,
a fusion of souls, a fusion of bodies, only to forget, at all costs to
forget. She read, in a frenzy of words, of a purple madness exciting
itself in order to plunge and annihilate two people in each other's
soul and, with undiscovered kisses, to burn away and melt away in
oblivion, in oblivion....

To melt into each other and never to be apart again.... To be together
for ever.... To be inseparable for ever in unquenchable passion.... To
remain so and to forget.... Especially to forget, O God, to forget ...
that one night, that night!... And through the first passionate purple
words there now began to flow the purple of blood.... Through the words
of passionate love there now flowed words of passionate hatred.... The
frenzied joy that this hatred had cooled after all.... The jubilant
assurance that, if that night could ever recur, the hatred would cool a
second time! The mad words deceived themselves, for, immediately after,
they again writhed in despair and declared that nevertheless, in spite
of satisfied passion, the memory was as a spectre, a bloody spectre,
that never left you.... Oh, the hatred would always cool like that,
for a third time, for a fourth time ... but yet the bloody spectre
remained horrible!... It was maddening.... It was maddening.... And the
letter ended with an entreaty that he would come, come speedily, to
blend with her in soul and body and, in the rapture of it, to forget
and no longer to behold the spectre. At the bottom of the letter were
the words, "Tear this up at once," and the name:

"OTTILIE."

Aunt Adèle remained sitting motionless, with the four pieces in her
hand. She had read the letter: it was irrevocable. She wished that she
had not read it. But it was too late now. And she knew....

The letter was dated from Tegal, sixty years ago. Flames no longer
flickered out of the words, now that Aunt Adèle had read them, but
the scarlet quivered before her terrified eyes. She sat huddled and
trembling and her eyes stared at that quivering scarlet. She felt
her knees shake; they would not let her rise from her chair. And she
_knew_. Through a welter of hatred, passion, jubilation, madness,
passionate love and passionate remorse, the letter was clear and
conjured up--as in an unconscious impulse to tell everything, to feel
everything over again, to describe everything in crimson clearness--a
night of years and years ago, a night in silent mountains, by a dark
jungle, by a river in flood, a night in a lonely _pasangrahan_, a
night of love, a night of hatred, of surprise, of self-defence, of not
knowing how, of rising terror, of despair to the pitch of madness....
And the words conjured up a scene of struggle and bloodshed in a
bedroom, conjured up a group of three people who carried a corpse
towards that river in flood, not knowing what else to do, while the
pouring rain streamed and clattered down.... All this the words
conjured up, as though suggested by a force from the outside, an
impulse irresistible, a mystic violence compelling the writer to say
what, logically speaking, she should have kept hidden all her life
long; to describe in black on white the thing that was a crime, until
her letter became an accusation; to scream it all out and to paint in
bright colours the thing which it would have been safest to keep buried
in a remorseful soul and to erase, so that not a trace remained to
betray it....

And the simple, placid woman, grown to mature years in calmness of
blood, sat dismayed at what had been revealed to her. At first, her
dismay had shone red in front of her, dismay at an evocation of hatred
and passionate love; and now, suddenly, there rose before her eyes the
drawing-room of an old woman and the woman herself sitting at a window,
brittle with the lasting years, and, opposite her, Takma, both silently
awaiting the passing. The old woman sat there still; yonder, in the
next room, lay the old man and he too awaited the morrow and the last
honours: for to-day everything was past....

O God, so _that_ was the secret of their two old lives! So vehemently
had they loved, so violently hated, so tragic and ever-secret a crime
had they committed in that lonely mountain night and such blood-red
memories had they dragged with them, always and always, all their long,
long lives! And now, suddenly, she alone knew what nobody knew!... She
alone knew, she thought; and she shuddered with dread. What was she to
do with that knowledge, what was she to do with those four pieces of
yellow paper, covered with pale-red ink as though with faded letters of
blood?... What was she to do, what was she to do with it all?... Her
fingers refused to tear those four pieces into smaller pieces and to
drop them into the paper-basket. It would make her seem an accomplice.
And what was she to do with her knowledge, with what she alone knew?...
That tragic knowledge would oppress her, the simple-minded woman, to
stifling-point!...

Now at last she rose, shivering. It was very cold in the aired room.
She went to the window to close it and felt her feet tottering, her
knees knocking together. Her eyes staring in dismay, she shook her head
to and fro, to and fro. Mechanically, with her duster in her hand, she
dusted here and there, absent-mindedly, constantly returning to the
same place, dusting two and three times over. Mechanically she put
the chairs straight; and her habit of neatness was such that, when she
left the room, she was still trembling, but the room was tidy. She had
locked up the torn letter. She could not destroy it. And suddenly she
was seized with a fresh curiosity, a fresh impulse from without, a
strange feeling that compelled her: she wanted to see the old man....
And she entered the death-chamber on the tips of her slippered toes. In
the pale dim light, the old man's head lay white on the white pillow,
on the bed with its white counterpane. The eyelids were closed; the
face had fallen away on either side of the nose and mouth in loose
wrinkles of discoloured parchment; there were a few scanty grey hairs
near the ears, like a dull silver wreath. And Aunt Adèle looked down
upon him, with eyes starting from their sockets, and shook her head to
and fro in dismay. There he lay, dead. She had known him and looked
after him for years. She had never suspected _that_. There he lay,
dead; and in his dead relics lay all the past passionate love and
hatred; surely too the past remorse and remembrance. Or was there
a hereafter yet to come, with more struggling and more remorse and
penitence ... and punishment perhaps?...

Whatever he might have suffered within himself, he had not been fully
punished here on earth. His life, outwardly, had flowed long and
calmly. He had achieved consideration, almost riches. He had not had an
ailing old age. On the contrary, his senses had remained unimpaired;
and she remembered that he even used often to complain, laughing in his
genial manner--which was too pronounced to be sincere--that he heard
everything and was far from growing deaf with age, that in fact he
heard voices which did not exist. What voices had he heard, what voice
had he heard calling? What voice had called to him when the letter,
half-destroyed and too long preserved, dropped from the hand that
played him false?... No, in this world he had not been fully punished,
unless indeed his whole life was a punishment.... A cold shiver passed
through Aunt Adèle: that a person could live for years beside another
and not know him and know nothing about him! How long was it? For
twenty-three years, she, the poor relation, had lived with him like
that!... And the old woman also lived like that....

Shaking her head in stupefaction, Aunt Adèle moved away. She clasped
her hands together, gently, with an old maid's gesture. She saw the
old woman in her imagination. The old woman was sitting, dignified and
majestic, frail and thin, in her high-backed chair. She had once been
the woman who was able to write that letter full of words red with
passion and hatred and madness and the wish to forget, in a fusion of
the senses with him, with him who lay there so insignificant, so small,
so old, dead now, after years and years. She had once been able to
write like that!...

The words still burnt before the eyes of the stupefied elderly woman,
placid in soul and blood. That such things were, that such things could
be!... Her head kept shaking to and fro....


[1] Kate, Kittie.

[2] Dora.



CHAPTER XXIII


Next morning, Ottilie Steyn de Weert arrived at the Hook of Holland.
She was accompanied by a young fellow of nearly thirty, a good-looking,
well-set-up young Englishman, clean-shaven, pink and white under
his travelling-cap, broad-shouldered in his check jacket and
knickerbockers. They took the train to the Hague.

Ottilie Steyn was under the influence of emotion. She could be
silent when she wished and so she had never spoken about it; but she
suspected, she knew almost for certain that Takma was her father and
she had loved him as a father.

"He was always so good to me," she said, in English, to Hugh Trevelley,
her son. "I shall miss him badly."

"He was your father," said Hugh, coolly.

"Not at all," Ottilie protested. "You know nothing about it, Hugh.
People are always talking."

"He gave you the money to come to England."

Mamma Ottilie did not know why, but she was sometimes more sincere with
Hugh than she was with Lot at home. She loved both these two sons, but
she loved Lot because he was kind to her and she was really fonder of
Hugh because he was so good-looking and broad-shouldered and because
he reminded her of Trevelley, whom she had really loved the best. She
had never told Lot that the old gentleman was very generous to her,
but she had sometimes said so to Hugh. She was glad to be travelling
with Hugh, to be sitting next to him; and yet she was not pleased that
Hugh had come with her. He never came to the Hague; and it only meant
complications with Steyn, she thought, especially now.

"Hugh," she said, caressingly, taking his hand and holding it between
hers, "Hugh, Mummy is so glad to be with you, my boy. I see you so
seldom. I'm very glad.... But perhaps you would have done better not to
come."

"I daresay," said Hugh, coolly, withdrawing his hand.

"Because of Steyn, you know."

"I won't see the fellow. I sha'n't set foot in your house. I'll go
to an hotel. Do you think I want to see that scoundrel? That cad ...
for whom you left my father? Not I! But I've come to look after my
interests. I sha'n't make any trouble. But I want to know. You're
coming into money from that old man. He's your father, I know he is.
You're sure to come into money. All I want is to know how things stand:
whether he leaves you any money and how much. As soon as I know that, I
shall go back. For the rest, I sha'n't trouble any one, not even you."

Ottilie sat looking in front of her, like a child that has been
rebuked. They were alone in the compartment; and she said, coaxingly:

"Boy, dear boy, don't talk like that to your mother. I'm so glad to
have you with me. I'm so very, very fond of you. You're so like your
father and I loved your father, oh, more than Steyn, ever so much more
than Steyn! Steyn has wrecked my life. I ought to have stayed with
your father and all of you, with you and John and Mary. Don't speak so
harshly, my boy. It hurts me so. Do be nice again to your mother. She
has nothing, nothing left in her life: Lot is married; the old man is
dead. She has nothing left. No one will ever be nice to her again, if
you aren't. And in the old days ... in the old days everybody used to
be so very nice to her; yes, in the old days ..."

She began to cry. It came from her regret for the old man, from her
anger about Lot, who was married, from her jealousy of Elly and her
pity for herself. Her fingers, like a little child's, felt for Hugh's
strong hand. He smiled with his handsome, clean-shaven mouth, thought
her funny for such an old woman, but realized that she might have been
very charming once. A certain kindness showed itself in him and, with
bluff tenderness, putting his arm round her waist, he said:

"Come, don't start crying; come here."

And he drew her to him. She crept up against him like a child, nestled
against his tweed jacket; he patted her hand; and, when he kissed her
on the forehead, she was blissfully happy and lay like that, with a
deep sigh, while he, smiling and shaking his head, looked down on his
mother.

"Which hotel are you going to?" she asked.

"The Deux-Villes," he said. "Have you any more money for me?"

"No, Hugh," she replied, "I gave it you all, for the tickets and ..."

"All you had on you?"

"Yes, boy, really, I haven't a cent in my purse. But I don't want it.
You can keep what's left."

He felt in his pocket:

"It's not much," he said, rummaging among his change. "You can give me
some more at the Hague. One of these days, when I'm well off, you can
come and live with me and enjoy a happy old age."

She laughed, pleased at his words, and stroked his cheeks and gave him
a kiss, as she never did to Lot. She really doted on him; he was her
favourite son. For one word of rough kindness from Hugh she would have
walked miles; one kiss from him made her happy, positively happy, for
an hour. To win him, her voice and her caress unconsciously regained
something of their former youthful seductiveness. Hugh never saw her as
a little fury, as Lot often did, Lot whom in the past she had sometimes
struck, against whom she even now sometimes felt an impulse to raise
her quick little hand. She never felt that impulse towards Hugh. His
manliness, a son's manliness, mastered her; and she did whatever he
wished. Where she loved manliness, she surrendered herself; she had
always done so and she now did so to her son.

On arriving at the Hague, she took leave of Hugh and promised to
keep him informed, imploring him to be nice and not to do anything
disagreeable. He promised and went his way. At home, she found her
husband waiting for her.

"How did the old man die?" she asked.

He gave her a few brief details and said:

"I'm the executor."

"You?" she asked. "Why not Lot, as Elly's husband?"

He shrugged his shoulders, thought it disingenuous in her to ask:

"I don't know," he said, coldly. "The old man arranged it so. Besides,
I shall do everything with Lot. He may be here in two days. The
undertakers are coming to-night; the funeral will be to-morrow."

"Can't it wait for Lot?"

"Dr. Thielens thought it inadvisable."

She did not tell him that Hugh had come with her and, after lunch, she
went to the Mauritskade and embraced Adèle Takma, who was bearing up
though the red letters still whirled before her stupefied eyes, like
faded characters written in blood. Ottilie Steyn asked to see the old
gentleman for the last time. She saw him, white in the pale, dim
light, his old white face on the white pillow, with its scanty little
wreath of hair, his eyelids closed, the lines on either side of his
nose and mouth fallen away in slack wrinkles of discoloured parchment.
She wrung her hands softly and wept. She _had_ been very fond of the
old man and he had always been exceedingly kind to her. Like a father
... like a father ... she always remembered him like that. Papa Dercksz
she had never known. _He_, he had been her father. He had petted her
even as a child; and afterwards he had always helped her, when in any
sort of money trouble. If ever he reproached her, it had always been
gently ... because she played with her life so: that was his expression
at the time of her first divorce, from Pauws; of her second divorce,
from Trevelley. She remembered it all: in India and at the Hague. He
had liked Pauws very much; Trevelley he disliked; Steyn he had ended by
pronouncing to be a good fellow after all. Yes, he had never reproached
her except gently, because she was unable to manage herself and her
love-affairs; and he had always been so exceedingly kind to her.... She
would miss him, in the morning-room at Mamma's, or on the days when
she used to look him up in his study and he would give her a couple of
banknotes, with a kiss, saying:

"But don't talk about it."

He had never said that he was her father; she had always called him
Mr. Takma. But she had suspected; and she now felt it, knew it for
certain. This affection, perhaps the last, was passing from her, had
passed from her....

She went again in the evening, with Steyn, and Dr. Thielens came too,
to be present when the body was put in the coffin. Aunt Adèle said, no,
she was not afraid of being in the house with the corpse, nor the maids
either: they had slept quite well the night before. Next day also, the
day of the funeral, Aunt Adèle was composed. She received Dr. Roelofsz
very quietly; the doctor panted and groaned and pressed his hands to
his stomach, which hung crooked: he had intended to go to the cemetery
with the rest, but did not feel equal to it; and so he stayed behind
with Adèle. The Derckszes came: Anton and Harold and Daan; Steyn came;
D'Herbourg came, with his son-in-law Frits van Wely; and the women came
too: Ottilie Steyn, Aunt Stefanie, Aunt Floor, Ina and the fair-haired
little bride, Lily; they all remained with Dr. Roelofsz and Aunt Adèle,
who was quite composed. When the funeral procession was gone, the women
said how sad it was for Grandmamma; and the old doctor began to cry.
It was a pitiful sight, to see that old man, shapeless as a crumbling
mass, huddled in a chair; to hear him exclaim, "Well-well ... yes-yes
... oh, yes!" to see him cry; but Adèle remained composed. Ottilie
Steyn was not so; she wept bitterly; and they all saw that she was
mourning the death of a father, though not any of them had uttered the
word, not even quietly among themselves.

Next morning, Steyn had an interview with the solicitor; and, when he
came home, he said to his wife:

"Adèle has a legacy of thirty thousand guilders; Elly and you get
something over a hundred thousand each."

Mamma Ottilie sobbed:

"The dear good man!" she stammered through her sobs. "The dear good
man!"

"Only we thought, Ottilie, the solicitor and I thought, that it would
be best, for Mamma's sake to speak of the inheritance as little as
possible."

"Does the old gentleman acknowledge me as his daughter?"

"There is no question of acknowledging. He leaves you the half of his
property; you and Elly share and share alike, after deducting Adèle's
legacy. Only we thought, the solicitor and I, that, for Mamma's sake,
it would be better not to talk about it to any one who needn't know."

"Yes," said Ottilie, "very well."

"You can be silent when you choose, you know."

She looked at him:

"I shall not talk about it. But why do you say that?"

"Because I see from the old gentleman's books that he often used to
give you money. At least there are entries: 'To O. S.'"

She flushed up:

"I wasn't obliged to tell you."

"No, but you always used to say that you had found some money in your
cupboard and make yourself out more careless than you were."

"The old man himself asked me not to talk about that money...."

"And you were quite right not to. I only say, you can be silent when
you _choose_. So be silent now."

"I don't want your advice, thank you!" she blazed out; but he had left
the room.

She clenched her fist: oh, she hated him, she hated him, especially
for his voice! She could not stand his cold, bass voice, his deep,
measured words. She hated him: she could have smacked his face, just to
see if he would then still speak in cool, deliberate tones. She hated
him more and more every day. She hated him so much that she longed
for his death. She had wept beside the old man's body; she could have
danced beside Steyn's! Oh, she didn't yet realize how she hated him!
She pictured him dead, run over, or wounded to the death, with a knife
in his heart or a bullet through his temple ... and she knew that she
would then rejoice within herself. It was all because he spoke so
coolly and deliberately and never said a kind word to her now and never
caressed her!...

"A hundred thousand guilders!" she thought. "It's a lot of money. Ah,
I'd rather the dear good man were still alive! And that now and then,
in that kind way of his, he gave me a couple of hundred guilders.
That's what I shall miss so terribly. It's true, I have some money now;
but I have nothing else left!"

And she wrung her hands and sobbed again, for she felt very lonely: the
old man was dead; Hugh at the Hague, but in his hotel; fortunately, Lot
was coming home that evening....



CHAPTER XXIV


They arrived in the evening, on the day after the funeral, Lot and
Elly, tired from the journey and out of harmony amid their actual
sorrow. Aunt Adèle--they were to stay in the Mauritskade--did not
notice it at once; for she, after bearing up for the last two days, had
thrown herself sobbing in Elly's arms, sobbing as Elly had never seen
her; and, when the sobs gave themselves free scope, her nerves gave out
and she fell in a faint.

"The mistress has had such a busy, upsetting time," said Door; and
Keetje confirmed it; and they and Elly brought Aunt Adèle round.

"I'm better, dear, it's nothing. Come, let's go to the dining-room. I
expect you two will be glad of something to eat."

She was still sobbing, overwrought, but she steadied herself with an
effort. When they were seated at dinner, she noticed Lot's and Elly's
lack of harmony.

"Was Grandpapa buried yesterday?" asked Elly.

"Yes, dear. Dr. Thielens dared not wait any longer."

"Then it was really superfluous for us to come home," said Lot,
irritably.

His lips trembled and there was a set hardness in his usually gentle,
pink-and-white face.

"We telegraphed to you to come," said Aunt Adèle, still crying, softly,
"because Elly will have to go into business-matters at once ..."

"Perhaps I might have come home by myself," said Elly, "for these
matters of business...."

"Steyn is the executor," said Aunt Adèle, gently, "and he thought ..."

"Steyn?" asked Elly. "Why not Lot?"

"The old man had settled it so, dear.... He's the husband of Mamma ...
who comes into money too ... with you ..."

"Mamma?" asked Lot.

"Yes," said Aunt Adèle, a little embarrassed.

They understood and asked no more questions, but it was obvious that
they were out of harmony; their features looked both tired and hard.

"Mamma is coming this evening to see you," said Aunt Adèle.

Elly shook her head:

"I'm dead-tired," she said. "I can't see Mamma this evening. I'm going
up to bed, Auntie."

"_I'll_ see Mamma," said Lot.

Elly rose quickly and went upstairs. Aunt Adèle followed her; and Lot
went to another room to change his things. On the stairs, Elly began to
cry:

"Poor old Grandpapa!" she sobbed; and her voice broke.

They reached the bedroom. Aunt Adèle helped her undress.

"Are you so tired, dear?"

Elly nodded.

"Dear, is anything the matter? You've something so hard about your
face, something I've never seen there before.... Tell me, dear, you are
happy, aren't you?"

Elly gave a vague smile:

"Not quite as happy perhaps as I expected, Auntie.... But, if I'm not,
it's my own fault."

Aunt Adèle asked nothing more. She thought of the elated letters which
had always given the old man such pleasant moments and reflected how
deceptive letters could be.

Elly undressed and got into bed.

"I'll leave you to yourself, dear...."

But Elly took her hand, with a sudden tenderness for the woman who had
been a mother to her:

"Stay a little longer, Auntie ... until Mamma comes."

"Dear," said Aunt Adèle, feeling her way, "you're not put out, are you,
because Mamma inherits her share too. She's his daughter, you know...."

"Yes, Auntie, I know that. No, Auntie, really I'm not put out at that.
I'm only tired, very tired ... because everything that we set ourselves
to do ... seems useless...."

"Darling," said Aunt Adèle, only half hearing, "I also ... am tired, I
am worn out. Oh, I wish I dared tell you!..."

"What?"

"No, dear, no, I daren't."

"But what is it?"

"No, dear, I daren't. Not yet, not yet, perhaps later.... Hark, there's
the bell: that must be Mamma.... Yes, I hear Steyn's voice too.... I'd
better go downstairs, dear...."

She left Elly, but was so much upset that downstairs she once more
burst into tears....

"Elly is so tired," she said to Ottilie, "she's gone to bed: I should
leave her alone to-day, if I were you...."

But she herself was quite unhinged. She felt that the terrible secret
which she alone knew--so she thought--weighed too heavily on her simple
soul, that she was being crushed by it, that she must tell it, that she
must share it with another. And she said:

"Steyn, Steyn.... While Lot is talking to his mother, don't you know,
I'd like to speak to you ... if I may...."

"Certainly," said Steyn.

They left the room.

"Upstairs?" asked Steyn.

"Yes," said Aunt Adèle, "in the old gentleman's room."

She took him there: it was cold, but she lit the gas.

"Steyn," she said, "I'm sorry for what I've done. I tidied up those
papers a bit, there was such a litter. And on the ground was a ... a
letter, a torn letter: the last one ... which the old gentleman meant
to tear up.... I don't know how it happened, Steyn ... but, without
intending to or knowing it, I ... I read that letter.... I would give
all the money in the world not to have done it. I _can't_ keep it to
myself, all to myself. It's driving me crazy ... and slowly making me
frightened ... and nervous.... See, here's the letter. I don't know if
I'm doing right. Perhaps I'd have done better just to tear the letter
up.... After all, that was the old man's wish...."

She gave him the four pieces.

"But then it will be best," said Steyn, "for me to tear up the letter
... and not read it...."

And he made a movement as though to tear the letter. But she stopped
him:

"And leave _me_ ... to carry about with me ... all by myself ...
something that I can't speak of! No, no, read it, in Heaven's name ...
for _my_ sake, Steyn ... to share it with me.... Read it...."

Steyn read the letter.

Silence filled the room: a cold, lonely, wintry, silence, with not
a sound but that of the flaring gas. From the faded characters of
the frayed, yellow letter, torn in part, rose hatred, passion, mad
jubilation, mad agony of love and remorse for a night of blood, an
Indian mountain night, clattering with torrents of rain. With all of
that these two had nothing to do; they were foreign to it; and yet the
Thing that was passing brushed against their bodies, their souls, their
lives. It made them start, reflect, look each other shudderingly in the
eyes, strangers though they were to the Thing that was passing....

"It is terrible," said Steyn. "And no one knows it?..."

"No," said Aunt Adèle, "no one knows it except you and me...."

But Steyn was not satisfied:

"We ought not to have read that letter," he said.

"I don't know how I came to do it," said Aunt Adèle. "Something
impelled me to, I don't know what. I'm not naturally inquisitive. I had
the pieces in my hand to tear them up still smaller. I tore the two
pieces into four...."

Mechanically, Steyn tore the four pieces into eight.

"What are you doing?" asked Aunt Adèle.

"Destroying the letter," said Steyn.

"Wouldn't you let Lot...?"

"No, no," said Steyn, "what does Lot want with it? _There!_..."

He tore up the letter and dropped the pieces, very small, into the
paper-basket.

Before his eyes shimmered pale-red the bygone passions that were
strange to him; they loomed up before him; and yet he saw the room,
wintry-cold and silently abandoned by the old man, with not a sound in
it save the flaring gas.

"Yes," said Aunt Adèle, "perhaps it's better that no one should know
... except ourselves.... Oh, Steyn, it _has_ relieved me ... that you
should know, that you should know!... Oh, how dreadful life is, for
such things to happen!"

She wrung her hands, shook her head from side to side.

"Come," said Steyn; and his great frame shuddered. "Come, let's go...."

Aunt Adèle, trembling, turned out the gas.

They went downstairs.

The dark room remained wintry and silently abandoned.

The letter lay in the basket, torn up very small....



CHAPTER XXV


"Oh dear!" said old Anna, with a sigh. "We can't possibly keep it a
secret from the mistress always!"

She moaned and groaned and, raising her two arms in the air, drove the
cat back to the kitchen, because the passage was full enough as it
was: Ina d'Herbourg had arrived with her daughter Lily van Wely and
two perambulators; one was pushed by the little mother and the other
by the nurse; and Lily and the nurse now shoved the perambulators into
the morning-room, where Anna had made up a good fire, to welcome the
family; and, while Lily and the nurse were busy, Ina talked to old
Anna about the old gentleman's death and Anna said that her mistress
had not the least idea of it, but that, after all, that couldn't go on
forever....

"Oh, what darlings, what sweet little dots!" said Anna, clasping her
hands together. "And how pleased the mistress will be that Mrs. Lily
has come to show her the babies! Yes, I'll let the old lady know...."

"Lily," said Ina, "you go first with Stefje; I'll come up afterwards
with little Netta."

Lily took the baby out of the perambulator. The child whimpered a bit
and crowed a bit; and the dear, flaxen-haired little mother, with her
very young little motherly laugh, carried it up the stairs. Anna
was holding the door open and the old lady was looking out. She was
sitting upright in her high-backed chair, which was like a throne,
with the pillow straight behind her back. In the light of the early
winter afternoon, which filtered through the muslin blinds past the red
curtains and over the plush valance, she seemed frailer than ever; and
her face, brightened with a smile of expectation, was like a piece of
lined white porcelain, but so vaguely seen under the even, hard-black,
just-suggested line of the wig and the little lace cap that she did
not seem to belong to the world of living things. The ample black
dress fell in supple lines and hid her entirely in shadow-folds with
streaks of brighter light; and, now that Lily entered with the baby,
the old woman lifted from her deep lap her trembling, mittened hands,
with fingers like slender wands, lifted them into a stiff and difficult
gesture of caress and welcome. Long cracked sounded the voice, still
round and mellow with its Indian accent:

"Well, child, that's a nice idea of yours, to bring the little boy at
last.... That's a nice idea.... That's a nice idea.... Yes, let me have
a look at him.... Oh, what a sweet baby!"

Lily, to let Great-great-grandmother see the baby well, had knelt down
on a hassock and was holding up the baby, which shrank back, a little
startled at the brittle, wrinkled face that made such an uncanny patch
in the crimson dusk; but its little mother was able to hush it and it
did not cry, only stared.

"Yes, Greatgranny," said Lily, "this is your great-great-grandchild."

"Yes, yes," said the old woman, with her hands still trembling
in the air, in a vague gesture of hesitating caress, "I'm a
great-great-grandmamma.... Yes, little boy, yes.... I'm your
great-great-grandmother...."

"And Netta's downstairs: I brought her too."

"Oh, your little girl!... Is she here too?"

"Yes, would you like to see her presently?"

"Yes, I want to see them both.... Both together, together...."

The little boy, hushed, looked with wondering earnestness at the
wrinkled face, looked with a wavering glance of reflection and
amazement, but did not cry; and, even when the slender, wand-like
finger tickled him on his cheek, Lily was able to hush him and keep him
from crying. It was a diversion too when Ina came upstairs with Netta
on her arm: a bundle of white and a little pink patch for a face and
two little drops of turquoise eyes, with a moist little munching mouth;
and Lily was afraid that the little boy would start screaming and
handed him to the nurse at the door: fortunately, for on the landing he
opened his throat lustily, greatly perturbed in his baby brain by his
first sight of great age. But the bundle of white and the little pink
patch with the two little drops of turquoise munched away contentedly
with the moist little mouth and was even better-behaved than Stefje had
been, so well-behaved indeed that the old woman was allowed to take it
for a moment in her deep lap, though Lily remained on her guard and
kept her hands under it.

"That's made me very happy, dear," said the old woman, "to have seen
my great-great-grandchildren. Yes, Stefje is a fine little man ... and
Netta is a darling, Netta is a darling...."

It was time to say good-bye; and Lily carried off the pink-patched
bundle of white, saying, in her laughing, young-motherly way, that the
children must go home. Ina sat down.

"It has really made me happy," the old woman repeated, "to have seen
that young life. For I have been very sad lately, Ina. It must be quite
ten days since I saw Mr. Takma."

"No, Granny, it's not so long as that."

"How long has he been ill then?"

"Six days, seven perhaps."

"I thought it was quite ten days. And Dr. Roelofsz comes so seldom
too.... Yes, that chair by the window ... has been empty now a whole
week.... I thought it was ten days.... It's cold, raw weather, isn't
it?... I don't feel it in here.... But, oh, even if that gets better
... it will take a very long time ... and Mr. Takma won't come again
this winter!..."

Her dry old eyes did not weep, but her cracked voice wept. Ina could
not find much more to say, but she did not want to go away yet. She
had come with the children, in the hope of hearing something perhaps at
Grandmamma's.... She still did not know. She still knew nothing; and
there was so much to know. There was first the great Something, that
which had happened sixty years ago: Grandmamma _must_ know about it,
but she dared not broach the Something at Grandmamma's, afraid lest
she should be touching upon the very Past. If it _was_ anything, then
it might make the old woman ill, might cause her sudden death.... No,
Ina looked forward in particular to seeing any one who might call that
afternoon, to having talks in the morning-room downstairs, for there
were more things to know: how much Elly had come into; and whether
Aunt Ottilie had also come in for her share.... All this was hovering
in vagueness: she could not get to the bottom of it; she _must_ manage
to get to the bottom of it that afternoon.... So she sat on quietly;
and the old lady, who did not like being alone, thought it pleasant
when she made an occasional remark. But, when it lasted too long
before any one else came, Ina got up, said good-bye, went downstairs,
chatted a bit with Anna and even then did not go, but sat down in the
morning-room and said:

"Sit down too, Anna."

And the old servant sat down respectfully on the edge of a chair; and
they talked about the old man:

"Mrs. Elly is well-off, now," said Ina. "Don't _you_ know how much the
old gentleman left?"

But Anna knew nothing, merely thought--and said so with a little
wink--that Mrs. Ottilie would be sure to get something too. But there
was a ring at the door; and it was Stefanie de Laders, tripping along
very nervously:

"Doesn't Mamma know yet?" she whispered, after Anna had returned to the
kitchen.

"No," said Ina, "Grandmamma doesn't know, but she sits looking so
mournfully at Mr. Takma's empty chair."

"Is there no one with her?"

"No, only the companion."

"I have a great piece of news," said Stefanie.

Ina pricked up her ears; and her whole being was thrilled.

"_What_, Aunt?"

"Only think, I've had a letter from Thérèse ..."

"From Aunt Thérèse in Paris?..."

"Yes, from Aunt van der Staff. She's coming to the Hague. She
writes that she felt something urging her, something impelling her,
while she was saying her prayers--we know those Roman Catholic
prayers!--something impelling her to come to the Hague and see Mamma.
She hasn't seen Mamma for years. She hasn't been to the Hague for
years, which wasn't at all the thing.... What does she want to come
here for now, exciting Mamma perhaps, with her popery, in her old age!"

It was a very great piece of news and Ina's usually weary, well-bred
eyes glistened.

"What! Is Aunt Thérèse coming here?"

It was a most important piece of news.

"Could _she_ know anything?" asked Ina.

"What about?"

"Well, about--you know--what we were talking of the other day: what
Papa has known for sixty years ... and Uncle Daan...."

Aunt Stefanie made repeated deprecatory gestures with her hand:

"I don't know ... whether Aunt Thérèse knows anything about it. But
what I do know, Ina, is that I mean to keep _my_ soul clear of any sins
and improper things that may have happened in the past. It's difficult
enough to guard one's soul in the present. No, dear, no, I won't hear
any more about it."

She closed her beady bird's-eyes and shook her nodding bird's-head
until her little old-lady's toque jigged all askew on her scanty
hair; and she almost stumbled over the cat before she hoisted herself
upstairs, jolting and stamping, to go to her mother.

Ina remained irresolute. She went into the kitchen. Anna said:

"Oh, is that you, ma'am? Are you staying a little longer?"

"Yes ... Mrs. Ottilie may come presently.... I want to speak to her."

It was quite likely, thought Anna, that Mrs. Ottilie would come to-day.
But, when there was a ring at the front-door, she looked out of the
window and cried:

"No, it's Mr. Daan...."

Daan Dercksz stuck his parroty profile through the door of the
morning-room, nervously, and, on seeing Ina, said:

"I've brought bad news!"

"Bad news!" cried Ina, pricking up her ears again. "What is it, Uncle?"

"Dr. Roelofsz is dead."

"Oh, no!"

"Yes," said Uncle Daan to Ina, staring at him in dismay, and Anna,
standing with the cat among her petticoats. "Dr. Roelofsz is dead. An
apoplectic stroke.... They sent round to me first, because my _pension_
was nearest.... It seems he took Takma's death very much to heart."

"It's dreadful," said Ina. "How is Grandmamma to be told? It will be
such a blow to her. And she doesn't even know of Mr. Takma's death...."

"Yes, it's very difficult.... I've sent word to your father and I
expect him here any minute; then we can talk over what we are to do and
say. Perhaps somebody else will come to-day...."

"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!" sighed Anna.

She looked at the stove, which was burning rather low, and, reflecting
that perhaps there would be a good many using the morning-room that
day, she shook the cinder-drawer: the fire began to glow behind the
mica panes.

"Ah me!" cried Ina. "Grandmamma won't survive them long now.... Uncle,
do you know that Aunt Thérèse is coming to the Hague? Aunt Stefanie has
had a letter.... Oh, if only she arrives in time to see Grandmamma!...
Oh, what a terrible winter!... And Papa is looking so depressed....
Uncle," she said--Anna had gone back to the kitchen, moaning and
groaning and stumbling over the cat--"Uncle, tell me: _why_ has Papa
been so depressed ... ever since you came back to Holland?"

"Since I came back to Holland, dear?..."

"Yes, Uncle. There's something that brought you back to Holland ...
something that's made Papa so terribly depressed."

"I don't know, dear, I don't know...."

"Yes, you do.... I'm not asking out of curiosity, I'm asking for Papa's
sake ... to help him ... to relieve him ... if he's in trouble.... It
may be business-matters...."

"No, dear, it's not business-matters...."

"Well, then, what _is_ it?"

"Why, dear, it's nothing, nothing at all."

"No, Uncle Daan, there's _something_."

"But then why not ask your father?"

"Papa refuses to speak about it."

"Then why should _I_ speak about it?" cried Daan Dercksz, put on his
guard by Ina's slip of the tongue. "Why should _I_ speak about it, Ina?
There may be something ... business-matters, as you say ... but it'll
be all right. Yes, really, Ina, don't alarm yourself: it's all right."

He took refuge in a feigned display of indignation, pretended to think
her much too curious about those business-matters and scratched the
back of his head.

Ina's eyes assumed their well-bred, weary expression:

"Uncle, other people's money-matters are _le moindre de mes soucis_....
I was only asking you for an explanation ... because of my love for my
father."

"You're a good daughter to your father, we all know that, all of us....
Ah, there he is: he's ringing!"

And, before Anna had time to go to the door, he had let Harold Dercksz
in.

"Do you mean to say that Dr. Roelofsz is dead?" asked Harold.

He had received Daan's note after Ina had gone out to take Lily's
children to their great-great-grandmother.

"Yes," said Daan, "he's dead."

Harold Dercksz sank into a chair, his face twisted with pain.

"Papa, are you ill?" cried Ina.

"No, dear, it's only a little more pain ... than usual.... It's
nothing, nothing at all.... Is Dr. Roelofsz dead?"

He saw before his eyes that fatal night of pouring rain: saw himself,
a little fellow of thirteen, saw that group of three carrying the body
and heard his mother crying:

"Oh, my God, no, not in the river!"

The day after, Dr. Roelofsz had held an inquest on his father's body
and certified death by drowning.

"Is Dr. Roelofsz dead?" he repeated. "Does Mamma know?"

"Not yet," said Daan Dercksz. "Harold, you had better tell her."

"I?" said Harold Dercksz, with a start. "I? I can't do it.... It would
mean killing my mother.... And I _can't_ kill my mother...."

And he stared before him....

He saw the Thing....

It passed, spectral in trailing veils of mist, which gathered round
its slowly, slowly moving form; the leaves rustled; and ghosts
threatened to appear from behind the silent trees, to stop the Thing's
progress.... For, once his mother was dead, the Thing would sink into
the abyss....

"I _can't_ kill my mother!" Harold Dercksz repeated; and his martyred
face became drawn with torturing pain.

He clasped his hands convulsively....

"And yet some one will _have_ to tell her," Ina muttered to Anna, who
stood beside her, mumbling, speaking to herself, utterly distraught.

But there was a ring at the bell. She went to the door. It was Anton:
this was the day when he came to pay his mother his weekly visit.

"Is there any one with Mamma?"

"Aunt Stefanie," said Ina.

"What's happened?" he asked, seeing her consternation.

"Dr. Roelofsz is dead."

"Dead?"

Daan Dercksz told him, in a few words.

"We've all got to die," he muttered. "But it's a blow for Mamma."

"We were just discussing, Uncle, who had better tell her," said Ina.
"Would _you_ mind?"

"I'd rather not," said Anton Dercksz, sullenly.

No, they had better settle that among themselves: he was not the man
to meddle in tiresome things that didn't concern him. What did it all
matter to him! He called once a week, to see his mother: that was his
filial duty. For the rest, he cared nothing for the whole pack of
them!... As it was, Stefanie had been bothering him more than enough
of late, trying to persuade him to leave his money to his godchild,
the Van Welys' little Netta; and he had no mind to do anything of the
sort: he would rather pitch his money into the gutter. With Harold and
Daan, who did business in India together and were intimate for that
reason, he had never had much to do: they were just like strangers to
him. Ina he couldn't stand, especially since D'Herbourg had helped him
out of a mess, in the matter of that little laundry-girl. He didn't
care a hang for the whole crew. What he liked best was to sit at home
smoking his pipe and reading and picturing to himself, in fantasies
of sexual imagination, pleasant, exciting events which had happened
in this or that remote past.... But this was something that no one
knew about. Those were his secret gardens, in which he sat all alone,
wreathed in the smoke that filled his room, enjoying and revelling in
indescribable private luxuries. Since he had become so very old that
he allowed himself to be tempted into futile imprudent acts, as with
the laundry-girl, he preferred to keep quiet, in his clouds of smoke,
and to evoke the lascivious gardens which he never disclosed and where
no one was likely to look for him. And so he chuckled with secret
contentment, brooding ever more and more in his thoughts as he grew
older and older; but he merely said, repeating his words:

"No, I'd rather not.... It's very sad.... Is no one upstairs except
Stefanie? Then I may as well go up too, Anna...."

He moved towards the stairs....

Could Uncle Anton know anything, Ina wondered, with fierce curiosity.
He was so sullen always, so reserved; no doubt he kept what he knew to
himself. Should she go and ask him? And, while her father, sitting on
his chair in pain, was still discussing with Uncle Daan which of them
had better tell the old lady that Dr. Roelofsz was dead, Ina hurried
after her uncle in the passage--Anna had gone back to the kitchen--and
whispered:

"Tell me, Uncle. What was it that happened?"

"Happened? When?" asked Anton.

"Sixty years ago.... You were a boy of fifteen then.... Something
happened then ... that ..."

He looked at her in amazement:

"What are you talking about?" he asked.

"Something happened," she repeated. "You _must_ remember. Something
that Papa and Uncle Daan know, something that Papa has always known,
something that brought Uncle Daan to Holland."

"Sixty years ago?" said Anton Dercksz.

He looked her in the eyes. The suddenness of her question had given
such a shock to his self-centred, brooding brain that he suddenly saw
the past of sixty years ago and clearly remembered that he had always
thought that there must be something between his mother and Takma,
something that they kept concealed between themselves. He had always
felt this when, full of awe, almost hesitatingly, he approached his
mother, once a week, and found old Takma sitting opposite her, starting
nervously with that muscular jerk of his neck and seeming to listen
for something.... Sixty years ago?... Something must, something must
have happened. And, in his momentary clearness of vision, he almost saw
the Thing, divined its presence, unveiled his father's death, sixty
years ago, was wafted almost unconsciously towards the truth, with
the sensitive perspicacity--lasting but a second--of an old man who,
however much depraved, had in his very depravity sharpened his cerebral
powers and often read the past correctly.

"Sixty years ago?" he repeated, looking at Ina with his bleared eyes.
"And what sort of thing could it be?"

"Can't you remember?"

She was all agog with curiosity; her eyes flashed into his. He hardly
knew her, with all her well-bred weariness of expression gone; and he
couldn't endure her at any time and he hated D'Herbourg and he said:

"Can't I remember? Well, yes, if I think hard, I may remember
something.... You're right: I was a lad of fifteen then...."

"Do you remember"--Ina turned and looked down the passage, looked at
the open door of the morning-room, saw her father's back huddled into a
despondent curve--"do you remember ... Grandmamma's _baboe_?"

"Yes, certainly," said Anton Dercksz, "I remember her."

"Ma-Boeten?"

"I daresay that was her name."

"Did she know anything?"

"Did she know anything? Very likely, very likely.... Yes, I expect she
knew...."

"What _was_ it, Uncle? Papa is so depressed: I'm not asking out of
curiosity...."

He grinned. He did not know; he had only guessed something, for the
space of a second, and had always suspected something between his
mother and Takma, something that they hid together, while they waited
and waited. But he grinned with pleasure because Ina wanted to know and
because she was not going to know, at least not through him, however
much she might imagine that he knew. He grinned and said:

"My dear, there are things which it is better not to know. It doesn't
do to know everything that happened ... sixty years ago...."

And he left her, went slowly up the stairs, reflecting that Harold and
Daan knew what the hidden Something was, the Something which Mamma and
Takma had kept hidden between themselves for years and years.... The
doctor had also known it, probably.... The doctor was dead, Takma was
dead, but Mamma did not know that yet ... and Mamma now had the hidden
Thing to herself.... But Harold knew where it lay and Daan also knew
where it lay ... and Ina was looking for it....

He grinned on the landing upstairs before he went in to his mother; he
could hear Stefanie's grating voice inside.

"_I_," he said to himself, "don't care a hang for the whole crew. As
long as they leave _me_ alone, with my pipe and my books, I don't care
a hang for the whole pack of them ... even though I do come and see my
mother once a week.... And what she is keeping to herself and what she
did with Takma, sixty years ago, I don't care a curse about either;
that's her business, _their_ business maybe ... but _my_ business it is
_not_."

He entered and, when he saw his mother, preternaturally old and frail
in the red dusk of the curtains, he hesitated and went up to her, full
of awe....



CHAPTER XXVI


There was another ring; and Anna, profoundly moved by the death of
Dr. Roelofsz and moaning, "Oh dear, oh dear!" opened the door to
Ottilie Steyn de Weert and Adèle Takma. Ina came out to them in the
passage. They did not know of the doctor's death; and, when they heard
and saw Daan and Harold in the morning-room, there was a general
outcry--subdued, because of Mamma upstairs--and cross-questioning, a
melancholy dismay and confusion, a consulting one with another what had
best be done: whether to tell Mamma or keep it from her....

"We can't keep it from her for ever," said Ottilie Steyn. "Mamma
doesn't even know about Mr. Takma ... and now there's this on top of
it! Oh, it's terrible, terrible! Adèle, are you going up?"

"No," said Adèle Takma, shrinking, in this house, now that she knew.
"No, Ottilie, I must go home, Mamma will have plenty of visitors
without me."

She shrank from seeing the old lady, now that she knew; and, though she
had walked to the house and walked in with Ottilie Steyn, she would not
go upstairs.

"Ottilie," said Daan Dercksz to his sister, "_you_ had better tell her
... about Dr. Roelofsz."

"I?" said Ottilie Steyn, with a start.

But, at that moment, some one appeared in the street outside and looked
in through the window.

"There's Steyn," said Harold, dejectedly.

Steyn rang and was shown in. No one had ever seen him in so great a
rage. He vouchsafed no greetings and marched straight up to his wife:

"I thought I should find you here," he growled at her, in his deep
voice. "I've seen your son, who came over from London with you."

Ottilie drew herself up:

"Well?"

"Why need the arrival of that young gentleman be kept as a surprise for
me to come across in the street?"

"Why should I tell you that Hugh came with me?"

"And what has he come for?"

"What has that to do with you? Ask him, if you want to know."

"When he makes his appearance, it's for money."

"Very well, then it's for money. Not your money, at any rate!..."

They looked each other in the eyes, but Steyn did not want to go on
discussing money, because Ottilie had inherited a part of Mr. Takma's.
Hugh Trevelley scented money, whenever there was any about; and it was
not that Steyn looked upon his wife's money as his own, but, as old
Takma's executor, he thought it a shame that his wife's son should be
after it so soon.... He ceased speaking and his eyes alone betrayed his
hatred; but Harold took his hand and said:

"Frans, Dr. Roelofsz is dead."

"_Dead?_" echoed Steyn, aghast.

Ina stared and pricked up her ears again. The afternoon had indeed been
full of news. Even though she did not know about That, she was hearing
other things: she had heard of the doctor's sudden death, heard that
Aunt Thérèse was coming from Paris, heard that Hugh Trevelley was at
the Hague. And now she had very nearly heard about the old gentleman's
money. He must have left Aunt Ottilie something, but how much? Was it
a big legacy?... Yes, the afternoon had really been crammed with news;
and her eyes forgot to look weary and glistened like the glowing eyes
of a basilisk....

But the brothers were consulting Steyn: what did he think? Tell Mamma
of Dr. Roelofsz' death, or keep it from her?... They reflected in
silence. Out of doors, it suddenly began to pour with rain, a numbing
rain; the wind blew, the clouds lowered. Indoors, the red light of the
stove, burning with a sound of gentle crackling behind the mica panes,
gleamed through the falling dusk. Meanwhile the Thing passed ... and
stared at Harold, stared into his eyes, which were almost closed with
pain. The Thing! Harold had known it since his early boyhood; Daan
had known it for a few months and had come home from India, to his
brother, because of it; upstairs, because of the old woman, who knew
it, Stefanie and Anton both guessed it, but both refused to know it,
lest they should be disturbed in the pursuit of their own lives; but
downstairs Adèle and Steyn also knew it, because of the letter torn
into two, four, eight pieces, the letter which the old man had been
unable to destroy. In Paris, Thérèse, who was coming to Holland, knew
it; in India, the _mantri_ knew it.... But no one spoke of the Thing
... which was passing; and Harold and Daan did not know that Adèle and
Steyn knew; and none of them knew that Thérèse in Paris knew; and Steyn
and Adèle did not know that the _mantri_ in India knew, that Daan knew
and that Harold had known so long.... But Ina knew about the _mantri_
and knew that there was something, though she knew nothing about Adèle
and Steyn and never for a moment suspected that they knew.... No one
spoke of the Thing and yet the shadow of the Thing was all around them,
trailing its veil of mist.... But the one who knew nothing at all and
guessed nothing was Ottilie Steyn, wholly and sorrowfully absorbed in
the melancholy of her own passing life: a life of adulation and fond
admiration and passion, the tribute of men. She had been the beautiful
Lietje; now she was an old woman and hated her three husbands, but
she hated Steyn most! And, perhaps because she was so much outside the
Thing's sphere, Harold gently took her hand and, obeying an unconscious
impulse, said:

"Yes, Ottilie, you ... _you_ must tell Mamma that Dr. Roelofsz is dead.
It will be a great blow to her, but we cannot, we must not keep it from
her.... As for Takma's death, ah, Mamma will soon understand that,
without any telling!..."

His soft voice calmed the dismay and confusion; and Ottilie said:

"If you think, Harold, that I can tell her, I will go upstairs and try
... I'll try and tell her.... But, if I can't do it, in the course of
conversation, then I won't ... then I simply will not tell her...."

She went upstairs, innocent as a child: she did not _know_. She did not
know that her mother, more than sixty years ago, had taken part in a
murder, which that old deaf doctor had helped her to hush up. She knew
that Takma was her father, but not that _he_, together with her mother,
had murdered the father of her brothers, the father of her sister
Thérèse. She went upstairs; and, when she entered the drawing-room,
Stefanie and Anton rose to go, so that Mamma might not have too many
visitors at a time.

For that matter, it did not tire the old woman to chat--or to sit with
a visitor in cosy silence for a little while--so long as the "children"
did not all come at once. She was still slightly elated with the young
life which she had seen, with Lily van Wely's babies. She had talked
about them to Stefanie and Anton, not knowing that the babies were
their godchildren: no one had told her that; and she really thought
that little Netta's name was Ottilitje and spoke of little Lietje: they
knew whom she meant.

Ottilie Steyn was left alone with her mother. She did not speak much,
but sat beside her mother, who had taken her hand.... Ah, she herself
felt touched! There, in that empty chair, at which the old woman kept
staring, old Mr. Takma would never sit again.... Her father! She
had loved him as a daughter loves her father! She was inheriting a
hundred thousand guilders from him; but never again would he put a
hundred-guilder note in her hand, in that kind way of his.

It was as though the old woman guessed some of her daughter's thoughts,
for she said, with a movement of her hand towards the chair:

"Old Mr. Takma is ill."

"Yes," said Ottilie Steyn.

The old woman shook her head mournfully:

"I don't expect I shall see him again this winter."

"He will get well again...."

"But even so he will not be allowed out...."

"No," said Ottilie, feebly. "Perhaps not, Mamma...."

She was holding the brittle, slender, wand-like old fingers in hers....
Downstairs, she knew, the brothers were waiting; Stefanie probably
also; Ina too.... Adèle Takma had gone.

"Mamma," she said, all of a sudden, "do you know that somebody else is
ill?"

"No, who?"

"Dr. Roelofsz."

"Roelofsz? Yes, I haven't seen him ... I haven't seen him for the last
two days."

"Mamma," said Ottilie Steyn, turning her sorrowful little face--it was
still a pretty face, with blue, child-like eyes--to her mother, "it's
very sad, but ..."

No, she simply could not say it. She tried to withdraw her sentence,
not to complete it; but the old woman had at once seized the meaning of
those few words:

"He's dead?" she asked, quickly.

Her voice cut through Ottilie Steyn. She had not the strength to utter
a denial: with a heartrending smile on her face she nodded yes.

"A-ah!" sighed the old woman, overwhelmed.

And she stared at Takma's chair. Her old, dried-up eyes did not weep;
they merely stared, intensely. She remained sitting straight up in her
chair. The past heaved up before her eyes; there was a great buzzing
all around her. But she remained sitting upright and staring before her.

"When did he die?" she asked, at last.

Ottilie Steyn told her, in a very few words. She was crying, not her
mother. The old, old woman saw herself as she was, more than sixty
years ago. It was then that she had given herself to Roelofsz, so
that he should not speak.... He had not spoken.... He had remained
her friend, loyally, for all those long, long years, had shared the
hideous burden of the past with her and Takma.... No, he had never
spoken ... and they had grown so very old, without ... without anybody
knowing.... Nobody knew it, not one of her children.... People had
talked sometimes, in the old days, had whispered terrible things: that
was past.... Everything passed, everything passed.... Nobody knew,
except Takma himself, now that poor Roelofsz was dead. He had exacted a
high price ... but he had always remained loyal....

Ottilie Steyn was crying, said nothing more, held her mother's hand....
It had grown very dark: the companion came in, to light the lamp....
The wind howled dismally; the rain dashed against the window-panes; a
clammy dampness gave Ottilie an unpleasant sensation, as of something
chilly passing over her in that room with its scanty fire, because the
old woman could no longer bear a great heat. The hanging lamp above the
table in the middle of the room cast down a circle of light; the rest
of the room remained in shadow: the walls, the chair, the empty chair
opposite. The companion had gone, when the old woman asked, suddenly:

"And ... and Mr. Takma, Ottilie?"

"Yes, Mamma?..."

"Is ... is he ill, also?..."

The daughter was startled by the expression on her mother's face; the
dark eyes stared wide....

"Mamma, Mamma, what's the matter?"

"Is he ill ... or is he ... also...."

"Ill? Yes, he's ill too, Mamma...."

She did not finish....

Her mother was staring in front of her, staring at the empty chair
opposite, in the shadow against the wall. Ottilie grew frightened; for
her mother, stiffly and laboriously, now lifted a trembling arm from
her lap and pointed with a slender, wand-like finger....

"Mamma, Mamma, what _is_ it?..."

The old woman stared and pointed, stared and pointed at the empty chair.

"There ... _the-there!_" she stammered. "_There!_"

And she continued to stare and point. She said nothing, but she saw.
She did not speak, but she saw. Slowly she stood up, still staring,
still pointing, and shrank back, slowly, very slowly.... Ottilie rang
the bell, twice; the companion rushed into the room at once; from below
came sounds of confusion, faint exclamations, Anna's "Oh dear, oh dear,
oh dear!" and whispering voices. Ina, Daan and Stefanie came upstairs.
But they did not enter the room; the companion made a sign that it was
not necessary....

The old woman's stiff arm fell slowly to her side, as she stood.... But
she was still staring and shrinking back, slowly....

She no longer seemed to see Ottilie in her horror at what she did see.
And all that she said, with unseeing eyes, though the rest of her
consciousness remained, was:

"To bed!... To bed!..."

She said it as though she were very, very tired. They put her to bed,
Anna and the companion. She remained silent, with her thin lips pressed
together and her eyes still staring. Her heart had seen and ... she
knew. She knew that he, Takma, Emile--the man whom she had loved above
everything, above everybody, in the dead, dead years--that he was dead,
that he was dead....



CHAPTER XXVII


"Come," said Lot, gently, one morning, sitting with Elly in the
sitting-room where he came so often to chat and have tea with her in
the old days before they were married, "come, let us talk sensibly.
It put both of us out to be dragged back from Italy, from our work,
while--very foolishly--we never thought that this might easily happen
one day. Dear old Grandpapa was so very old! We thought that he would
live for ever!... But now that we are here, Elly, and Steyn has told
us that all the affairs are settled, we may as well come to a sensible
decision. You don't want to stay in this house; and it is, no doubt,
too big, too gloomy, too old.... To live with Mamma ... well, I did
hint at it the other day, but Mamma talked of it so vaguely, as though
she really didn't much care about it.... Now that Hugh is with her
she's quite 'off' me: it's Hugh here and Hugh there. It was always like
that: it was like that in 'Mr.' Trevelley's time, when I was a boy and
Hugh a child. John and Mary didn't count for much either; and it's just
the same now.... So we won't talk of setting up house together....
But what shall we do, Elly? Look out for a smaller house and settle
down? Or go abroad again, go back to Italy?... You enjoyed it, after
all, and we were working together so pleasantly.... We were very happy
there, weren't we, Elly?"

His voice sounded gentle, as it always did, but there was a note almost
of entreaty in it now. His nature, his fair-haired person--was he not
turning a little grey at the temples?--lacked physical vitality and
concealed no passionate soul; but there was a great gentleness in him:
under that touch of laughing bitterness and vanity and superficial
cynicism he was kind and indulgent to others, with no violent longings
for himself. Under his feminine soul lay the philosophy of an artist
who contemplates everything around and within himself without bursting
into vehemence and violence about anything whatever. He had asked Elly
to be his wife, perhaps upon her own unspoken suggestion that she
needed him in her work and in her life; and, often in jest and once in
a way in earnest, he had asked himself why he was getting married, why
he had got married and whether liberty and independence did not suit
him better. But, since he had seen his sister's happiness with Aldo at
Nice and had also felt his own, softer-tinted happiness, very fervent
and very true in his wistfully-smiling, neutral-tinted soul, which
withdrew itself almost in panic under his fear of old age; since he
had been able to seize the moment, carefully, as he would have seized
a precious butterfly: since then it had all remained like that, since
then his still, soft happiness had remained with him as something very
serious and very true, since then he had come to love Elly as he never
thought that he could love any one. And it had been a joy to him to
roam about Italy with Elly, to watch her delight in that beautiful
past which lay so artistically dead and, on returning to Florence, to
plunge at her instance into earnest studies of the Medici period. How
they had rooted and ransacked together, taking notes as they worked;
how he had written in the evenings, feeling so utterly, so fondly happy
in their sitting-room at the _pension_ where they stayed! Two lamps,
one beside Elly, one beside himself, shed a light over their papers and
books; vases of fragrant flowers surrounded them; photographs pinned to
the walls shadowed back the beauties of the museums in the gathering
dusk. But, amid the beauties of that land and of that art, amid his
happiness, amid the sunshine, an indolence had stolen over him; he
often proposed a trip into the country, a drive, a walk to Fiesole, to
Ema; he loved looking at the life of the people in the street, smiling
at it with gladness: the Archives were cold and dusty; and he simply
could not keep on working so regularly. And in the evening he would
gaze across the Arno and sit blissfully smoking his cigarette at the
window, until Elly also shut up her books and the Medicis drifted away
in the changing lights of early evening outside and grew indistinct....

He had at first not noticed her disappointment. When he did, he was
unwilling to pain her and he went back to his research. But he did it
against the grain. That regular work did not suit him. It tired his
brain; behind his forehead he plainly felt a reluctancy, a barrier
that prevented something from entering ... just as he had felt when,
at school, he had to do a sum and failed, twice and thrice over....
In addition, he was burning to write ephemeral essays: he had a
superabundance of material, about the Medicis, about Benozzo Gozzoli's
frescoes at the Palazzo Riccardi, for instance.... Oh, to write an
essay like that from afar, all aglow, with azure jewels and gold! But
he dared not write the article, because Elly had once said:

"Don't go cutting up into articles all that we have discovered."

As for Elly, she devoted herself earnestly and with masculine
perseverance to her research and felt almost an inner inclination
herself to write their book, a fine, serious historical study; but she
understood that her art alone would not suffice for it. Whereas she
thought that Lot had only to wish it and that they would then turn
out something very good between them.... But Lot felt that indolence
impairing his powers more and more, felt his reluctance, like an
impeding, resisting barrier, drawn right across his forehead; and one
morning he said, a little nervously, that it was impossible for him,
that it was too difficult for him, that he couldn't do it. She had not
insisted; but a great disappointment had come over her and yet she had
remained gentle and kind and had answered lightly and not betrayed
the depth of her disappointment.... The books now remained closed,
the notes under the paper-weights; and there was no more question of
the Medicis. It produced a void about them, but Lot nevertheless felt
happy and remained true to that soft blissfulness which had come to him
smilingly and which cast a soft gloss over both his worldly cynicism
and the overhanging dread. But Elly's disappointment increased and
became a great sorrow to her, greater even, she thought, than the
sorrow which she had felt as a young girl at her broken engagement,
at the loss of the man whom she had first loved. She was a woman to
suffer more for another than for herself; and she suffered because
she could not rouse Lot to great things. Her love for Lot, after her
emotional passion for another, was very intellectual, more that of a
cultured woman than of a woman all heart and senses. She did not see
this so plainly herself; but her disappointment was very great that
she could not lead Lot on to do great work; and the void around her
widened, whereas he, in the beauty of the land that was dear to him,
in his gentle happiness, just felt the void around himself shrinking
into a perspective in which his eyes wandered dreamily.... Not a bitter
word was spoken between them; but, when they sat together, Elly felt
herself grow very aimless. She was not of a contemplative mind. That
wandering through Italian cities, that pleasant rambling among the
beauties of the museums did not satisfy her, to whom action was a real
and positive need. Her fingers had a nervous tremor of aimlessness
between the pages of her Baedeker. She could not be always admiring and
musing and existing in that way. She must act. She must devote herself.
And she longed for a child.... And yet a child, or perhaps several
children, while not bringing unhappiness, would not bring happiness
either; for she knew that, even if she had children, she would not find
sufficient satisfaction for her activity in educating them and bringing
them up: she would do it as a loving duty, but it would not fill her
life. She felt that almost masculine call within her, to strive as far
as she could. If her limit was reached, well, then she would go no
farther. But to strive to that limit, to perform her task as far as her
nature demanded!... And she spoke to Lot in this sense. He did not know
how to answer her, did not understand her and felt that something was
escaping him. It never came to bitter words, but on both sides there
were little thrills and counterthrills, after the first harmonious soft
billowing over them both....

This sudden journey home, though causing an abrupt distraction, had,
because of its relative futility, intensified Elly's feeling that
she was out of tune with things. She had loved the old man, as a
father more than a grandfather, but she was too late to see him on his
deathbed and the business-matters could have been arranged by power of
attorney.

"Yes, but we're here now," said Lot, "and we must have a talk like
sensible people.... Shall we go back to Italy, Elly?"

"No, Lot, I'm glad I saw the place, with you; why go back at once and
try to repeat...?"

"Settle down here at the Hague? Go and live in the country, when the
winter is over?"

She looked at him because she heard the note of entreaty in his voice:
he was entreating her because he felt something escape him ... and she
suddenly felt pity for him. She flung herself on his breast, threw her
arms round him:

"My dear, darling boy!" she said. "I am so absolutely devoted to you."

"And I to you, Elly dearest.... I love you more than I thought I could
love anybody. Oh, Elly, let us keep this feeling! Don't let us be
irritable.... You see, there has never been an unkind word between us,
but still I feel something in you, a dissatisfaction.... Is it because
..."

"Because what, Lot?"

"Because I can't do ... as much as you would like me to?... We were
working together so pleasantly; and the work we did is not wasted ...
that sort of work is never wasted.... But, you know, darling, to do it
as you would have me do it ... is beyond me: I am not so thorough as
that. I am a writer for the magazines, a dilettante, not an historian.
Mine is an ephemeral talent and all that I create is ephemeral: it
always was.... Take it like that...."

"Yes, Lot, I do take it like that. I am no longer distressed ... about
our poor Medicis."

"You'll see, I shall make a series of articles out of our researches:
really, something quite good. A series: they'll follow on one
another...."

"Yes, do it that way."

"But then you must interest yourself in it."

"That I certainly shall."

"And now let us talk about what we shall do, where we shall live."

"We'd better not settle down.... Stay here, until the house is sold,
and then ..."

"Very well, then we can see."

"Yes."

"We haven't seen Grandmamma yet. Shall we go this afternoon?"

"I don't believe that she has been up since, but we can go and ask."

She gave him an affectionate kiss. It was as an atonement after what
had clashed and thrilled through them, without bitter words. She tried
to recollect herself, to force herself, in the empty hunger of her
soul. She loved Lot with all her heart; she would devote herself to
him ... and perhaps later to his children.... That must be enough to
fill a woman's life.... She would have her hobbies: she would take up
her modelling again; after all, the _Beggar Boy_ was very good.... That
would certainly give completeness to her life, so long as she was happy
with her husband; and that she was sure she was. She began to talk in
a livelier strain than at first: something seemed to recover itself
in her dejection. She would lead an ordinary life, as a happy wife, a
happy mother, and cease longing for great, faraway things.... She would
give up striving for horizons difficult of approach, horizons that
proved to be limits, so that she had to go back after all.

She was gay at luncheon and Aunt Adèle brightened: the poor thing had
been depressed lately and walked with a stoop, as though bending under
a heavy load; she was sad also because she thought that Lot and Elly
were not quite happy. Aunt Adèle now freshened up, glad because Elly
was more cheerful and looked brighter and was once more talking with
her restless volubility.



CHAPTER XXVIII


That afternoon, Lot and Elly went to Grandmamma's.

Since the evening when Mamma Ottilie had told her of Dr. Roelofsz'
death, the old woman had not left her bed. Dr. Thielens called every
day, declaring that she was really remarkably well: she was not
suffering from any complaint whatever; she was perhaps suffering from
old age; her brain was perfectly clear; and he was amazed at that
splendid constitution, the constitution of a strong woman who had
possessed a great deal of blood and a magnificent vitality.

When Anna opened the door in the Nassaulaan, just as Lot and Elly rang,
they found her talking in the passage to Steyn.

"I've come to see how Mamma is," he was saying.

"Do come in, please!" said Anna. "There's a nice fire in the
morning-room."

The old servant shooed the cat to the kitchen. She did not care for
chatting in the passage, but thought it pleasant in the morning-room,
when the relations were waiting there or came to ask for news; and she
at once brought out her brandy-cherries:

"That's nice and comforting in this cold weather, Mr. Lot and Mrs.
Elly.... Yes, the old lady has been in bed ever since.... Ah, who can
tell if it's not the beginning of the end!... Still, Dr. Thielens is
pretty satisfied.... And, you know, Mrs. Thérèse is here too!" she
added in a whisper.

"Oh?" said Lot. "When did she come?"

"Yesterday.... And the mistress saw her at once ... and she's very
nice, I must say ... but, you see ... she's on her knees all day by
the mistress' bed, saying her prayers ... and whether that'll do the
mistress any good, who was never very religious.... And then those
Catholic prayers, they last so long, so long ... I wonder Mrs. Thérèse
doesn't get stiff knees from it: I couldn't stand it, that I'm sure
of.... Yes, yes, Mrs. Thérèse is here: she sleeps at an hotel, but
she's here all day praying ... and I believe she would have liked to
stay last night ... but the companion said that, if the mistress got
worse, she'd ask the people next door to telephone at once: they have
a telephone; the mistress would never have one.... So Mrs. Thérèse
went away, but she was here by seven o'clock this morning, before I
myself was up!... Mr. Daan called yesterday, so did Mrs. Ina; they saw
Mrs. Thérèse; I don't think she's calling on any of the family: she
says she hasn't the time--likely enough, with all that praying--and
she thought she could see the family down here, where I always keep
up a good fire.... Yes, I asked Dr. Thielens: 'Doctor,' I said, 'is
it a good thing that Mrs. Thérèse keeps praying all day long by the
mistress' bed?' But the doctor, who had seen the mistress, said, 'Well,
it doesn't seem to excite her: on the contrary, she is very quiet and
pleased to see Mrs. Thérèse again ... for the last time perhaps!'...
Ah, Mrs. Elly and Mr. Lot, it's a sad home-coming for you!... And who
do you think I saw as well? Your brother, Mr. Lot ..."

"Hugh...?"

"Well, I just call him Mr. Hugo: I can't manage that English name. He
came with Mrs. Ottilie; and it's a pleasure to look at them.... Not
that I think any the less of you, Mr. Lot, far from it; but Mr. Hugo is
a handsome fellow, so broad-shouldered and such a jolly face, with his
clean-shaven upper-lip, and _such_ nice eyes!... Yes, I can understand
that Mrs. Ottilie dotes on him: she looked so pretty too, beside her
son.... Yes, it's wonderful how young she looks, though she _is_ sixty:
you'd never think it, to look at her.... You mustn't mind my speaking
so freely of your wife, Mr. Frans ... nor about Mr. Hugo either, you
mustn't be angry. I know you're not very fond of him; and he's a sly
one, that I do believe; but he makes you like him and no mistake about
it.... Well, you always got on with Mr. Lot, didn't you, Mr. Frans?...
And now I'd better tell Mrs. Thérèse that you're here...."

Old Anna tripped away and up the stairs and Steyn asked:

"Haven't you decided yet what you're going to do?"

"No," said Lot.

"We shall stay in the Mauritskade till the house is sold," said Elly.

"I'm glad I saw you to-day," said Steyn. "I'd have come to you
otherwise: I wanted to speak to you, Lot.... Perhaps I can do so before
any one comes...."

"What is it, Steyn?"

"I wanted to tell you of a step I've determined to take. You won't like
it, but it's inevitable. I've spoken to Mamma, as much as it's possible
to speak to her.... I sha'n't go on living with her, Lot."

"Are you going to get divorced?" cried Lot.

"That I don't mind: if Mamma wants to, I'm agreeable.... Lot, you were
talking the other day of the needless sacrifice which I was making in
living with your mother...."

"I meant ..."

"Yes, I know, you meant that I could just go away, without a
divorce.... I shall certainly do that. I can't go on sacrificing
myself, because ... well, there's no need for it now. Since you left to
get married, the house is simply a hell. You brought a certain peace
and quiet at times; you managed to ensure a little harmony at meals.
But that's all gone now.... For you to come and live with us ... I
shouldn't even wish it. It would mean a wretched life for Elly. Besides
... Mamma has money enough now to go where she likes ... and, now
that she has money, Hugh remains with her.... I asked her to talk as
little as she could about the legacy and I don't believe that she goes
chattering about it either; but she has told Hugh everything...."

"I know she has," said Lot. "I've seen Hugh; and he said, 'Mamma's had
a good bit left her.'"

"Exactly ... and he remains with her and she with him. Formerly I used
to think, if I go leaving her, then I'm leaving her alone with you; and
money was scarce on both sides: I could never bring myself to do it
then; but now, Lot, I shall go my own way."

"But, Steyn, you can't abandon Mamma to Hugh's mercies!"

"Can't I?" cried Steyn, flaring up. "And what would you have me do?
Look on? Look on while she squanders her money on that boy? What can
I do to stop it? Nothing! I refuse to give the least impression that
_I_ want to be economical with her money. _Let_ her throw it away
on that boy! She's got a hundred thousand: it'll be finished in a
year. What she'll do then, _I_ don't know. But I consider that I have
suffered enough for what was once my fault. _Now_, now that she has
money _and_ Hugh, my sacrifice becomes needless.... I'm going away:
that's certain. If Mamma wants a divorce, I don't care; but I'm going.
I shall leave the Hague. I shall go abroad. Perhaps I sha'n't see you
for a long time. I can't say.... Lot, my dear fellow, I've stood it
all for twenty years; and my only comfort in my home was yourself. I
have learnt to be fond of you. We are two quite different natures, but
I thank you for what you have been to me: a friend, a dear friend. If
your gentle nature had not smoothed over all that could be smoothed
over at home, I should never have stood it for all these twenty years.
Now I'm going away, but with pleasant memories. You were eighteen years
old when I married your mother. You and I have never had a single harsh
word; and the merit of it is due to you entirely. I'm a rough chap and
I have become very bitter. All the kindness in my life has come from
your side. When you got married ... I really missed you more perhaps
than Mamma did: don't be angry with me, Elly, for saying so.... There,
perhaps we shall see each other again ... somewhere or other.... Don't
cry, Lot, there's a good fellow!"

He took Lot in his arms and kissed him as a father kisses his son. He
held him in his embrace for a moment and then shook him firmly by the
hand:

"Come, Lot, my dear fellow ... be a man!..."

"Poor Mamma!" said Lot.

His eyes were full of tears; he was greatly moved.

"When are you going?" he asked Steyn.

"To-morrow."

"At what time?"

"Nine in the morning ... for Paris."

"I'll come and see you off...."

"So will I, Steyn," said Elly.

She kissed him.

He turned to go; but there was a ring and Anna came down the stairs:

"I didn't dare disturb Mrs. Thérèse," she said. "She's so wrapped up
in her prayers that ... Why, look, Mr. Lot: there's Mamma ... and your
English brother!..."

"Damn it!" said Steyn, between his teeth. "I _can't_ see her again...."

"Steyn!" said Elly, in a voice of entreaty.

She was sorry for Lot, who sat huddled in a chair and unable to
restrain himself: he was crying, though he knew that it wasn't manly.

Anna had opened the door and Ottilie and Hugh came in. They met Steyn
in the passage. He and she looked each other in the eyes. Hugh's hand
went to his cap, as in salutation to a stranger. They passed one
another without a word; and Steyn walked out of the door. That was his
leave-taking of his wife: he never saw her again; and with him there
passed the last remnant of all her life of love.

"I came to see how Mamma is," she said to Elly, to Anna. "And Hugh
would so much like to see his grandmother. But Mamma is still in bed,
isn't she, Anna?..."

She entered the morning-room:

"Ah, Lot!... Why, what's the matter, my boy?"

"Nothing, Mummy, nothing...."

"Why are you looking so sad? Have you been crying?"

"No, Mummy, no.... Nerves a bit unstrung, that's all.... Hullo, Hugh!
That's a thing you don't suffer from, slack nerves, eh, old chap? No, I
don't expect you ever cry like an old woman, as I do...."

Lot mastered himself, but his eyes were full of sorrow; they looked at
his mother and his brother.... His mother did not care about dress;
and he was struck by the fact that she had had a short tailor-made
skirt built for her in London and a little simple, black-cloth coat
that was moulded to her still young and slender figure, while her hat
displayed a more youthful curve than he was accustomed to see on her
pretty, grey-blond curly hair. She was sixty years of age! But she was
all smiles; her smooth, round face, scored by scarce a wrinkle, was
bright and cheerful; and--oh, he knew his mother so well!--he could
see that she was happy. That was how she looked when she was happy,
with that blue innocence in her eyes.... She was an old woman, she
was sixty; but, when she now entered beside her English son, she was
of no age, because of a happiness that owed nothing to real maternal
feeling, a happiness due only to a little affection which her English
son bestowed upon her in words of flattery and caresses. He said
coaxing things to her, roughly; he fondled her, roughly; and she was
happy, she brightened under a new happiness. Lot she did not miss: he
no longer existed for her ... at the moment. She was simply radiant
because she had Hugh by her side. And Lot, as he saw the two of them,
felt a pang pierce his soul.... Poor Mamma! He had always been fond of
his mother and he thought her so nice and such fun; and, thanks to his
natural gentleness and tact, they had always got on well together. He
knew that she was fond of him too, even though he was out of her mind
for the moment. She had always loved Hugh best, of her five children.
She had always loved Trevelley best, of her three husbands.... Poor,
poor Mamma, thought Lot. She had her bit of money now: what _was_ a
hundred thousand guilders, if it was not properly looked after? What
was a hundred thousand ... to Hugh? And, when that hundred thousand was
finished--in ... in a couple of years, perhaps--what would poor Mamma
do then? For then his handsome English brother, with the bold eyes and
the shaven upper-lip, would not stay with poor Mamma.... And what would
her old age be like then? Poor, poor Mamma!...

"You're extraordinarily like Mamma, Lot," said Hugh.

Yes, he was like his mother: he too was short, had very nearly her
eyes, had very nearly her pretty hair, had the moulding of her young
face.... He had been vain sometimes of his appearance in his youth,
when he knew that he was a good-looking, fair-haired little chap.
But he was vain no longer; and, beside Hugh, he felt an old woman,
a slack-nerved old woman.... To be so tall, so broad-shouldered, so
bold-eyed, with such a smiling-selfish mouth, such a cold heart, such
calm, steel muscles and especially nerves; to care for nothing but your
own comfort and victorious progress; to be able to live quietly on your
mother's money and, when that was finished, calmly and quietly to throw
your mother overboard and go your own way: that was the real sign of
a strong attitude towards life! That meant keeping the world and your
emotions under your thumb! That meant having no fear of what was coming
or of approaching old age! That meant knowing nothing of nervous dread
and never blubbering like an old woman, a slack-nerved old woman!

"Yes, Hugh, I'm like Mamma."

"And Elly's ... like _you_," said Hugh.

"And, in a very ugly edition, like Mamma: at least, so people say,
Mummy," said Elly, softly.

And she kissed her mother-in-law: she too was sad, thinking of the old
man ... and of Steyn ... and of poor Lot....

The bell suddenly rang upstairs, twice: that was for the companion.

"Is Aunt Thérèse upstairs?" asked Elly.

"I haven't seen her yet," said Ottilie. "But what can it be?..."

"Oh dear, oh dear!" cried Anna, coming from the kitchen and driving the
cat away. "It must be the mistress again, behaving funnily: you know,
she sees things...."

But the companion came tearing down the stairs, with a pale face:

"I believe she's dying!" she exclaimed, "I'm going next door ... to
telephone for the doctor...."

"Stay!" said Lot. "I'll go."

He took his hat and went out. Dismay hovered over the house. Mamma,
Ottilie, Elly, the companion and Anna went upstairs.

"You wait here, Hugh," said Ottilie.

He nodded.

He remained alone in the morning-room, sat down, amused himself by
flinging his cap to the ceiling and catching it each time it fell....
He thought that his mother would not inherit much from Grandmother....
There would be beastly little; and even then it would be divided among
many.

He lit a cigarette and, when Lot came back, opened the door to him,
which Anna afterwards thought very nice of Hugh.

Lot also went upstairs. In the bedroom--the folding-doors were open,
for the sake of the air, making the bedroom of a piece with the
drawing-room where the old woman usually sat--dismay hovered, but it
was subdued. Only Mamma was unable to restrain her sobs. It was so
unexpected, she considered. No, she would never have thought it....

Beside the bed stood Aunt Thérèse. And it seemed to Lot, when he
entered, as though he were seeing Grandmother herself, but younger....

Aunt Thérèse's dark creole eyes gave Lot a melancholy greeting. Her
hand made a gesture towards the bed, on which the old woman lay, quite
conscious.

Death was coming gradually, without a struggle, like a light guttering
out. Only the breath came a little faster, panted with a certain
difficulty....

She knew that her children were around her, but did not know which of
them. They were children: so much she knew. And this one, she knew, was
Thérèse, who had come; and she was grateful for that. Her hand moved
over the coverlet; she moaned and said:

"Thérèse ... Thérèse ..."

"Yes, Mamma ..."

"Thérèse ... Thérèse ... pray...."

She herself folded her hands.

Thérèse van der Staff knelt down beside the bed. She prayed. She prayed
at great length. The old woman, with folded hands, lay dying, very
slowly, but calmly.... Mamma Ottilie was sobbing in Lot's arms....

There was a ring at the door downstairs.

"That dear Mr. Hugo!" whispered old Anna. "He's opening the door!"

It was Dr. Thielens, but there was nothing for him to do. The old woman
had hardly been ill: it was a light burning out. Since they had told
her of Roelofsz' death, since she herself had seen Takma dead, she had
not got up and had only still enjoyed, in gratitude, the one great
happiness of seeing her daughter Thérèse appear so unexpectedly beside
her bed. No one had spoken to her of Takma's death, but speaking was
not necessary: she had seen and she knew.... She remembered quite well
that Thérèse had become a Catholic and that she herself had sometimes
longed for the peace of absolution and the consolation of prayer, which
would be wafted by the saints to the throne of God and Mary. And she
had asked Thérèse to pray, to pray for her old mother.... She, the
mother, did not know that Thérèse knew: she had forgotten, entirely
forgotten, the fever, many years ago, when she had been delirious in
her daughter's arms.... And, now that she was dying, she reflected,
gratefully, that God had been very good to her, notwithstanding her
sinful soul, for no one, no one knew. No one, no one had ever known.
Her children had never known.... She had suffered punishment, within
herself, the punishment of remorse, borne for long old years. She
had suffered punishment in the terror which "his" spectre had given
her, rising all bloody in the corner of the room, a few times during
those years, in the corner by the china-cabinet. Yes, she had suffered
punishment!... But still God had been merciful: no one, no one had
known; no one, no one knew or would ever know.... Now she was dying,
with her hands folded together; and Thérèse, who knew how to pray,
prayed....

Softly she sighed her breath away, the old woman; long, long she lay
sighing away her breath.... The silence of the room was broken by
Ottilie Steyn's sobs and by the sighing of the old woman's breath....
Out of doors, the thaw stole down the window-panes like a stream of
tears.

"Oh!" Anna wept. "How long the old lady takes dying!... Hark ...
there's a ring!... That kind Mr. Hugo, the dear boy, he's a great help
to me, Mrs. Ottilie: listen, he's opening the door again!..."

Hugh did in fact open the door; and in quick succession there entered
Harold, Daan and Floor, Stefanie and Anton, Ina, D'Herbourg and the Van
Welys. Lot had telephoned to them from the neighbours' to come, because
Grandmamma was dying. Aunt Adèle also arrived. She came upstairs,
just for a minute, to take a last glance from behind the bed-curtain
at the old woman, and then went down again. The last sighing breaths
pursued her to the morning-room below. All that she had seen in that
brief moment, was the peacefulness of the dying mother and, beside her
bed, Thérèse, whom she had not seen for years, praying without looking
up. Downstairs, Harold Dercksz had sunk into a chair: he was suffering
unendurable pains, his face was twisted with torture and before his
eyes he saw his own deathbed: it would not be long now, he had suffered
too much lately; and it was only his strength of will that kept him
going. Daan Dercksz stood in front of him and whispered in Harold's ear:

"Harold ... Harold ... it is a good thing that Mamma is dying ... and
she is dying peacefully ... so it seems...."

Yes, she was dying, dying peacefully.... Beside her bed Thérèse knelt
and prayed, Thérèse who did not know, so Harold thought: nobody ...
nobody knew but himself and Daan.... The Thing ... the Thing was
passing.... Listen, upstairs his mother was sighing away her last few
breaths; and at each breath the Thing passed, passed farther, trailing
its misty veil: leaves rustled, the thaw poured on as in a stream of
tears, spectres loomed behind the trees, but the Thing ... the Thing
was passing!...

Oh, for years, for sixty long years he had seen the Thing dragging
past, so slowly, so lingeringly, as if it would never pass, as if it
would tarry for ever, too long for a human life yearning for the end!
Sixty years long he had seen it thus, the Thing; sixty years long it
had stared him in the eyes.... Listen, Mamma was moaning more loudly,
more violently for a while; they could hear Ottilie sobbing more
passionately....

The companion came downstairs. There stood or sat the children, elderly
people all.

"It is over," she said, softly.

They wept, the old people; they embraced one another; Aunt Floor
screamed:

"Ah!... _Kassian!_... That poor-r-r, dhear-r-r Mamma!"

Over the whole house hovered the emotion of death which had come and
was going....

Harold Dercksz gazed before him.... His eyes of pain stared from his
face, but he did not move in his chair.

The Thing: he saw the terrible Thing! It was turning at the last bend
of its long, long, endless path....

And it plunged headlong, into an abyss.

It was gone.

Only a mist, like the haze of its nebulous veil, drifted to and fro
before Harold's eyes.

"O my God!" cried Ina. "Papa's fainting!" She caught him in her arms....

The dark evening fell.

One by one, the "children" went upstairs and looked at their old
mother. She lay in the peacefulness of death; the lined porcelain
face made a vague blur in the shadow against the white of her pillow,
but it was now smooth, untroubled, at rest. And her hands were folded
together: she had died like that.

Thérèse knelt beside the bed....



CHAPTER XXIX


The room was warmed by a moderate fire; the curtains were half-closed;
and Lot had slept calmly, for the first time since the fever had passed
its crisis. It was his own old room, in Mamma's house; and, when he
woke, his fingers, after a deliciously lazy interval, felt for the
letter which Elly had written him from St. Petersburg. He drew the
letter from the envelope and read and read it again, glad that she
had written so fully and that she seemed charged with courage and
enthusiasm. Then his hand dropped, feeling the cold, and hid itself
under the blankets. He lay in quiet content, after his first calm
sleep, and looked round the room, the room which Steyn had given up
to him years ago, so that he might work at his ease, with his books
and knick-knacks around him. It was the only comfortable room in the
house.... Well, he would not have it long. Steyn was gone; and Mamma
intended to pay the final quarter's rent, sell the furniture and go
back to England with Hugh....

Lot felt a little light-headed, but easy and with no fever, really a
great deal better than he could remember having been for a long time
past. He enjoyed the warmth of the bed, while outside--he had just
noticed it--the rain came pattering down; but he, lying quietly in
bed, did not mind the rain. On the table beside him was some water, a
bottle of quinine capsules, a plate of hot-house grapes and his bell.
He picked a couple of grapes, sucked them and rang.

Ottilie entered, anxiously:

"Are you awake, Lot?"

"Yes, Mummy."

"Have you had a sleep?"

"Yes, I'm feeling rather well."

"Oh, Lot, you were so bad yesterday and the day before!... You were
delirious and kept calling out ... for your father ... and for Elly....
I didn't know what to do, my boy, and at last ..."

"Well?"

"Nothing. Your cough's bad still, Lot...."

"Yes, I caught cold; we know that; it'll get better ... as soon as I'm
out of this confounded country, as soon as I'm in Italy."

"I shouldn't go thinking of Italy just yet."

"As soon as I'm better, I'll first go and take the sun at Nice, with
Ottilie and Aldo, and then on to Rome."

"What do you want to do there, all by yourself?"

"I have old friends there, fellows I know. And I shall do some
writing.... Is Hugh at home?"

"Yes, he's in his little room."

"Has he got Steyn's room?"

"Well, of course! What other room would you have me give him? Now that
Steyn has gone ... abroad, surely I can have my own son with me!"

"I should like to talk to Hugh. Would you ask him to come to me?"

"Won't it tire you, Lot?"

"No, Mummy. I've had a good sleep."

"Do you want to talk to Hugh alone?"

"Yes, please."

"What about?"

"About you."

"And mayn't I be there?"

"No. You mustn't listen outside the door either. Do you promise?"

"What do you want to talk to Hugh about?"

"I've told you: about you. There, ask him to come to me. And then leave
us alone for a bit."

"Are you sure there's no fever?"

She felt his forehead.

"Take my temperature, if you like...."

"It's just over ninety-eight," she said, in a minute or two.

"I told you so. I'm feeling very well."

"Do you like your grapes?"

"Yes...."

She went at last, still hesitating.... She had meant to tell him that,
two days ago, he had been so ill and had called out so eagerly for his
father and Elly that she had sent Hugh to telegraph to Pauws; that
Pauws had come from Brussels; that Pauws had seen him the night before
last. Lot had not recognized his father.... But she found all this
rather difficult to tell and she went away....

In a few moments Hugh came in, sturdy as usual, with his calves showing
under the breeches of his check bicycling-suit, and asked:

"Feeling better, Lot?"

"Yes, a great deal better. I wanted to have a talk with you, Hugh. Will
it bore you?"

"Not at all, Lot."

"We've always got on all right, haven't we, you and I?"

"Of course we have."

"It may have been because I was never much in your way; but in any case
..."

"You were always a good chap."

"Thank you."

"Doesn't it tire you, talking?"

"No, old fellow; in fact, I want to talk to you.... Hugh, there's
something I want to ask you."

"What's that, Lot?"

"Mamma is going to London with you."

"Yes, she thought she'd like to come with me this time. You see, John
and I never see her; and Mary will soon be home from India."

"Yes, I can understand ... that she sometimes wants to see her other
children too. Hugh, all I wanted to ask you is: be kind to her."

"But aren't I?"

"Well, then, remain so. She's a big child, Hugh. She wants a lot of
affection, wants it coming her way. You see, I've been with her most:
thirty-eight years, with a few intervals. You've lived away from her
for over ten years; and even before that you were more with your father
than with her. So you don't know Mamma very well."

"Oh, I know her well enough!"

"Perhaps," said Lot, wearily. "Perhaps you know her well enough.... But
try to be _nice_ to her, Hugh."

"Of course I will, Lot."

"That's a good chap."

His voice fell, despondently; but his hand grasped his half-brother's
hand. Oh, what was the use of insisting? What did that strong, cool
lad, with his bold eyes and his laughing, clean-shaven mouth, feel,
except that Mamma had money--a hundred thousand guilders--and was going
with him to his country? In Hugh's firm hand Lot felt his own fingers
as though they were nothing. So thin, so thin: had he wasted away so
much in a week?

"Hugh, I wish you'd just give me that hand-glass."

Hugh gave him the mirror.

"Draw the blind a little higher."

Hugh did so; and Lot looked at himself. Yes, he had grown thin, but he
also looked very bad because he was unshaved.

"Hugh, if you're going out again, you might look in at Figaro's and
tell him to come and shave me."

"Right you are."

Lot put down the looking-glass.

"Have you heard from Elly, Lot?"

"Yes, Hugh."

"That's a fine thing she's doing."

"Yes."

"One'd think she was an Englishwoman!" said Hugh, almost in admiration.

"Yes," said Lot, gently, "just so, an Englishwoman...."

But an unaccustomed voice sounded from below; and Lot, listening, was
greatly surprised, because he seemed to recognize the voice of his
father, of Pauws, speaking to the servant.

He sat up in bed:

"Hugh!" he cried. "Hugh! Can it be ... _is_ that my father?"

"I believe so," drawled Hugh, laconically.

"Is that Papa? How does he come to be here, _in this house?_"

"Ah," said Hugh, "you're no end of a swell to-day! But two days ago you
were delirious, calling out for your governor. So Mother said, 'Wire.'
I wired. He stood by your bedside for a moment, but you didn't know
him...."

"Have I been as ill as all that?" cried Lot.

He felt things growing misty and unsteady, but yet he distinguished
Pauws cautiously entering the room:

"My boy!..."

"Father!..."

Pauws stepped briskly to the bed, took Lot's hand; then he remained
quite still for at least an hour. Hugh had gone. For at least an hour
Pauws sat without speaking. It seemed that Lot had fallen asleep. He
woke after that long silence and said:

"Mamma telegraphed to you ..."

"Two days ago. I came at once. You didn't know me...."

"Did you ... speak to Mamma?"

"No."

"Have you seen her?"

"No. The servant told me the day before yesterday, when I went away,
that they would let me know at the hotel if there was any change in
you. Yesterday, when I called, you were asleep.... But where's Elly?"

"Don't you know?..."

"How should I know?"

Lot had closed his eyes again and old Mr. Pauws sat silent, asking no
more questions, with Lot's hand in his. Once more there was a long,
throbbing silence. Old Pauws looked round the room, casting his quick
glance here and there, breathing again because Lot was not going to
die.... He had never been inside the house before. He had not seen
Ottilie for years and years. Nor had she shown herself this time.
Nevertheless he had heard her voice, hushed immediately, behind a door;
and the sound of that voice, that voice of the old days, had moved
him violently.... She had grown old, no doubt; but that voice behind
the door was the same voice, the voice of Ottilie, his wife! Oh, what
a sweet, pretty creature she was when he married her, a girl just
turned twenty, and how happy they had been, in spite of an occasional
angry word, in Java, with their two children: little Ottilie first and
then Lot!... Only a few years; and then ... and then she had met that
bounder Trevelley, the father of the boy whom he had just seen, with
his damned English mug, a mug that was like his father's. And since
then he had never seen her again! How long was that ago? He reckoned
it out: it was thirty-four years! His little Ottilie was a girl of
six then, Lot a little chap of four: two such loves of children, such
dear, pretty children!... At the divorce, the custody of the children
was awarded to him, not her; but Lot was so fond of his mother and he
had consented, after some years, that they should stay on with their
mother: she remained their mother, in spite of what she had done....
Little Ottilie had spent a very long time with him sometimes; Lot, on
the other hand, would be longer with his mother: it was a constant
going to and fro for the poor mites, who had no fixed home in which
to live with their parents. Still, he had always gone on seeing his
children and keeping in touch with them; and he admired little
Ottilie, because she grew into big Ottilie and became very handsome;
but he had always doted on Lot, though he was such a frail little
fair-haired chap--perhaps for that very reason--and because he was
really so ridiculously like his mother.... There the poor fellow lay.
Where was his wife? Where was Elly?

He had seen her neither yesterday nor the day before. What had
happened?... He had now been sitting for over an hour by Lot's bed,
with Lot's hand in his: the boy had closed his eyes again; yet a
pressure of that small, thin, delicate hand told his father that he was
not asleep, but only resting.... Pauws let his son lie quite still,
wiped the sweat from Lot's forehead with a handkerchief.... Well, he
was perspiring nicely, the skin felt relaxed.... Patience now, until
Lot felt inclined to talk again; patience now, to find out about Elly!
Thank God, the beggar wasn't going to die, as Pauws had feared for a
moment; but the flesh he'd lost! And he had never had much to spare.
How thin his face had grown! How young he looked for his age, even
though his fair hair was beginning to turn grey!... Pauws had always
been very fond of him, because of his calm and gentle character, so
very different from his mother's. He had no doubt become so gentle and
calm because he wasn't strong: when those violent scenes took place at
home, Lot, as a child, used to go and sit quietly in his corner until
the scene had ended.... But what could have happened with Elly?

Lot opened his eyes at last, but the old man dared not yet ask after
Elly. If it was anything sad, something that he couldn't imagine, then
he mustn't ask Lot: it might make the poor boy go quite off his head
again. So he merely wiped his son's forehead with some eau-de-Cologne
which he saw standing there and asked:

"Are you better, old chap?..."

"Yes, Father ... a great deal better.... It seems so strange to me,
to have you sitting here ... but I'm very glad of it.... Was I so
ill that Mamma had to telegraph? I didn't know it myself.... I woke
this morning and felt very weak ... but quiet.... It was a fever, you
see, and I caught a bad cold into the bargain, in this beastly winter
weather, here.... Bronchitis, but not at all serious, you know.... A
touch of influenza as well: nothing out of the way.... I shall soon
get right with a little nursing.... When I'm well, I shall go to the
south, to Ottilie: she's still with her Aldo; yes, it can't be helped,
they'll never get married.... And perhaps they're right.... And there
you are, sitting by my bed.... Well, now that you're here, guv, you're
just going to stay at the Hague until I'm better. If you've brought
no luggage, you can buy a couple of shirts and a toothbrush....
No, I don't mean to let you go again. Mamma needn't see you, if you
don't wish it. But, now that she's been mad enough to wire to you and
frighten you out of your wits, she must put up with the worry of it, if
it is a worry.... Besides, she won't stay very long herself...."

"Don't talk too much, my boy...."

"No, it doesn't tire me ... meandering on like this. Mamma won't stay
long. You don't know anything: I'll tell you how things stand. Steyn
has gone ... abroad; perhaps for good. Mamma has come into money from
old Mr. Takma; yes, she came into a hundred thousand guilders.... And
she is now going to England, with Hugh.... And she will stay there,
with Hugh, I expect, as long as the hundred thousand lasts...."

"Is that it? Oh, your poor mother!"

"You needn't pity her, Father: not yet, at least. She is very, very
happy at the moment. She dotes on her Hugh. I had to fall ill to make
her remember that she had a Lot as well. But she was very nice to me:
she nursed me, I think.... Really, she is _quite_ happy.... Perhaps in
a year or two ... when the hundred thousand is gone ... she will come
back to me...."

"But what about you, old chap, what about you?" exclaimed the old man,
unable to contain himself any longer.

"I?... I shall go to Nice first, to take in the sun a bit ... and then
to Italy, to write...."

"But ..."

"Oh yes, I remember: I've told you nothing yet!"

He closed his eyes, but pressed his father's hand.

There was a knock at the door; the servant put in her head and said:

"If you please, sir, if you please, Mr. Lot, the barber has come. The
mistress asked if it wouldn't be too tiring for you...."

"No," said Lot, "let him come up."

"Aren't you really too tired, Lot?" asked Pauws.

"No. It causes me physical pain to look as I do now."

The barber entered with a hesitating but cheerful step: he had a round,
jovial face.

"Come along, Figaro!" said Lot.

"Well, sir, are you pulling round?... It's over a week since I saw you
... but I heard that you were ill."

Pauws walked about the room impatiently, sat down petulantly by the
window.

"Shave me very nicely, won't you, Figaro?" said Lot. "For I look
awful with this beard on me.... Yes, you'll find everything on the
wash-hand-stand."

"I've brought your own razor, sir."

"That's right, Figaro.... I'm glad to see your face again. Is there
no news?... Yes, it's a delight to feel your velvety blade gliding
down my cheek.... As a matter of fact, it does one's skin a heap of
good to go unshaved for a week or so.... But it's heavenly to feel
one's face smooth again.... That gentleman, Figaro, sitting over
there, is my father.... But he shaves himself, so don't reckon on him
as a customer.... I say, Figaro, you might give me a clean suit of
pyjamas: there, the second drawer from the top.... Yes, one of the
silk ones, with the blue stripes.... I believe in silk pyjamas, when
you're ill.... Yes, just valet me, now that you're here, Figaro....
Help me on ... that's right ... and now pitch the dirty ones into the
clothes-basket.... Give me a clean handkerchief.... And now brush my
hair: you'll find some eau-de-quinine over there.... And a wet towel
for my hands, please.... Ah, I feel a king, even after this first,
short clean-up!... Thank you, Figaro."

"Come again to-morrow, sir?"

"Yes, do ... or no, let's say the day after ... to spare my skin, you
know. Day after to-morrow. Good-bye, Figaro...."

The barber went away. Pauws said:

"How can you be such a baby, Lot?"

"Father, come and sit here now. Look, I'm a different creature. I feel
ever so much revived with my soft skin and my silk pyjamas. Tuck me in
at the back, will you?... Have a grape!..."

"Lot ..."

"Oh yes, you wanted to know!... I remember, you don't know anything
yet. I'll tell you, Father. Elly is at St. Petersburg."

"At St. Petersburg?"

"Yes, Father."

"What's she doing there?"

"I'll tell you...."

"Have you quarrelled, has she gone away, has Elly gone away?"

"Do have patience. What an impatient old man you are! No, we haven't
quarrelled.... Elly is going to the war."

"The war?"

"To Mukden.... She's joining the Red Cross at St. Petersburg."

"Elly?"

"Yes."

"My God!"

"Why, Father? It's her vocation. She feels that she must obey it; and
it is fine of her to do so.... She and I discussed it at length. I did
not think it my duty to oppose her. I went with her to the Russian
minister. I helped her with all her preparations. She is very strong
and very plucky; and she has become even pluckier than she used to
be.... She used to nurse the sick poor once, you know.... Father, I
saw her at Florence: a little boy of six was run over by a motor-car.
She took him up in her arms, put him in a cab and drove with him to a
doctor ... whereas _I_ almost fainted!... Whether she will stay with
the Red Cross I can't tell; but I am convinced that, as long as she
does, she will devote herself with all her might and main.... You see,
she's like that, Father; it's the tendency, the line of her life....
Each of us has a different line. Getting married and trying to draw two
lines into one by a legal foot-rule is all nonsense. Aldo and Ottilie
are right.... But, though Elly and I are married according to the legal
foot-rule ... she is free. Only, I ..."

He paused and then went on:

"I suffered, when she went away ... for who knows how long.... I am so
intensely fond of her ... and I miss her, now that she has been mine."

"The damned baggage!" cried Pauws.

Lot took his father's hand:

"Don't say that, Father...."

"Those damned women!" cried Pauws. "They're all ... they're all ..."

He could not find his words.

"No, Father, they are not 'all.'... Each of them is different ... and
so are we.... Don't talk like that, don't talk of 'men' and 'women.'
We are all poor, seeking, straying human beings. Let her seek: that is
her life. In seeking, she does fine things, good things ... finer and
better things than I.... Here, read her letter: she has written to me
from St. Petersburg."

"No, Lot, I will not read her letter. Her place is with her husband,
especially when he is ill...."

"She doesn't know that I'm ill. Surely you wouldn't telegraph to her to
come over from St. Petersburg, as you came from Brussels, because I've
had a touch of fever. Father, don't condemn her...."

"Yes, I do condemn her and I condemn you too, for your cowardice in
letting her go, for not being a man and compelling her to stay with
you."

Lot clasped his hands:

"Father," he said, gently, "don't speak like that. Don't speak like
that. You pain me so.... And I have suffered so much pain as it is: not
pain, but sorrow, sorrow!"

A great sob shook his body and he burst into tears.

"My boy, my poor, dear boy!"

"Father, I am not plucky, but I will try to be. And calm. And quiet....
Don't leave me just yet. Mamma is going to England with Hugh. Listen:
she will never see Steyn again. He has gone away for good.... Now that
she has money, now that she has Hugh, the rest means nothing to her,
even I am nothing to her.... Don't leave me. Come with me to Nice, come
with me to Italy.... Don't abandon me to my sorrow; but don't let us
talk about it either; and please don't condemn Elly again ... if you
and I are to remain friends. She does as she is bound to do and she
can't do otherwise."

His voice sounded manlier; and old Pauws was surprised at the energy
with which he uttered the last words.... Yes, he was surprised.... That
was certainly another breed than his; and those were ideas, views,
conditions which were totally beyond his reach! Not to get married
in church; after a few months' marriage, to allow your wife to join
the Red Cross; and to feel sorrow at her leaving you, but to consider
that it couldn't be different and that she was doing what she had to:
those, you know, were conditions, views, ideas so far removed from
his own that, in his swelling indignation at what Elly had done, they
all whirled before his eyes; and he felt that he belonged to another
breed, to another period. He gave an almost imperceptible shrug of
the shoulders, but did not wish to express any more of his utterly
different and doubtless old-fashioned feelings; and, when Lot repeated
his request that he should stay with him, he merely answered:

"Yes, my boy, _I'll_ stay with you!..."

And the emphasis which he laid upon the words was the only comment
that he allowed himself. Lot gave a deep sigh and left his hand in his
father's. A few seconds later, the old man noticed that Lot had fallen
asleep. He released his hand from his son's slack fingers and stole
from the room on tiptoe, unperceived by Lot.

Pauws remained standing on the landing.... Yes, it was all whirling
before his eyes. That was not the way in which he had loved, with
so much self-control and philosophy and understanding of another's
soul: he had loved differently, more ardently, more passionately, with
simple, fierce virility.... Now, after many years, he was in his wife's
house and he felt that, though she was old, he still loved her ...
that he had always loved her and that, gradually, his love for her, no
longer fierce, passionate or ardent--for the old years were growing
cold--had become abiding and fond....

He remained standing, irresolutely.... What should he do?... Something
hesitated within him: whether to stay here, in the house, or rush
out into the rain! He could not have stayed another minute in Lot's
sick-room: the air oppressed him; and, active old man that he was, he
felt a need, after what he had heard, to move about, to shake himself,
to shake himself free of the whirl of those views and ideas which were
so strange to him.... And yet!...

Slowly he went down the stairs; and his heart thumped like a young
man's.... Where would she be? There!... He heard her voice in the
drawing-room, the voice which he had not heard for years, talking
English with her son, with her son Hugh! They were laughing, they were
laughing together: Hugh's voice sounded coaxing, roughly caressing; her
voice sounded ... oh, it sounded as it had always sounded: so intensely
sweet ... and bewitching!... Had she really grown older?... A fierce,
rebellious jealousy boiled up within him because of that son who was
not his son, that son whom he had seen for two seconds in Lot's room,
that son who was like his father ... Trevelley! He clenched his fists.
He felt inclined to dash open the door with those fists and to rush
into the room and say furious words, do furious things....

But no ... no ... it was all past. Only think: years had gone by....
She was sixty: he could not imagine her that.... She was happy, so Lot
had said; she would be happy, as long as her money lasted.... She was
sixty years of age, but she remained a child; and not till later, when
she was a very old woman--who could tell: perhaps ill and broken and
miserable?--after that fellow had run through her money ...

He pulled the latch of the front-door, went out into the street, into
the rain. Very softly he closed the door after him. Oh, he could not,
could not come back again and hear her voice once more behind that
drawing-room door!... He would write to Lot from the hotel ... that
he would certainly not leave him, that he would go abroad with him,
but that he could not come back to Ottilie's house, now that Lot was
mending, and that he would wait for him in Brussels ... to go south
together....



CHAPTER XXX


The sunny days had come, at the end of April, in Naples; and Lot, from
his room, across the green-lacquered palms of the Villa Nazionale,
saw the sea stretch blue, a calm, straight, azure expanse, hazing
away, farther towards the horizon, in a pearly mist, from which, in
dreamy unreality, Castellamare stood out with brighter, square white
patches....

He looked out of his high window, feeling a little tired after his
walk with Steyn, who had just gone, after sitting with him for a long
time. He had been glad to see Steyn, feeling lonely at the departure
of old Mr. Pauws, who had gone back to Brussels after spending two
months with Lot. Yes, the old gentleman had been unable to stand it:
the scorching April heat in Naples was too much for him, whereas it
sent Lot into the seventh heaven. Lot was quite well again. That had
been a pleasant time with Papa: they had gone for long excursions in
the Campaigna and latterly in the environs of Naples; and this constant
living in the open air, without fatiguing himself, had done Lot a
world of good: he felt himself growing stronger daily. Then old Pauws
left him: Lot himself had insisted upon Papa's going, dreading that
the sun-swept, southern spring, in Naples of all places, would affect
the old gentleman's health, hale and hearty though he might be. And so
old Pauws went back, regretting that he had to leave Lot by himself,
but pleased with the time which they had spent together and with the
harmony that existed between him and his son, who was so very different
from him.

This was all because of Lot's character; he gave Lot full credit for
it, for he himself was a brusque, somewhat rough, masterful man, but
Lot, with his yielding gentleness and his not so very cynical laugh,
smoothed away, with native ease, anything that might provoke a conflict
or want of harmony between an old father and a son who was still young.

Yes, Lot was glad that Steyn had broken his journey and put in a day
or two at Naples. Though Lot had acquaintances at Naples and he saw
them regularly, he had found in Steyn something to remind him of home
and his country and his family. It happened fortunately that Steyn
arrived after Lot's father had left, so that there was no possibility
of a painful meeting between these two husbands of his mother. And yet
they had nothing to reproach each other with: "Mr." Trevelley came in
between them!...

But Lot was very tired after his talk with Steyn. It all whirled
before his mind, it swam before his eyes, which gazed out at the white
fairy-city, at Castellamare in the pearly distance.... Steyn had said
so much to him, revealed to him so much that he did not know, so much
that Lot would probably never have known but for Steyn, things to which
he was a stranger, which were strange to him, but which nevertheless
made him seize and grasp and understand all sorts of things, suddenly,
suddenly: sensations experienced as a child, in the little house in
the Nassaulaan, Grandmamma's house.... Yes, Steyn, in the confidence
arising from their association, after first lunching together, had
told him of the letter which he had read, in the act of tearing it
up, with Adèle Takma in the old gentleman's study; and Lot, in utter
stupefaction, had heard everything: Lot now _knew_ ... and thought that
he alone knew, together with Steyn and Aunt Adèle.... How terrible,
those passions of former days, of hatred, of love, of murder! He now
saw, in that narrow drawing-room, each at a window, those two very old
people sitting and waiting ... waiting ... waiting.... Now, now it had
come, what they had so long waited for.... Now, now they were both
dead.... Oh, to grow so old, under so heavy a life's secret: he could
never do it, he thought it too terrible!... And, gazing wearily into
the pearly evening distance, which began to turn pink and purple in the
reflection of the setting sun, he felt--he, the grandchild of those
two murderers--felt dread descending upon him, gigantic, as a still
invisible but already palpable, wide-winged shadow: the dread of old
age. O God, O God, to grow so old, to wait so patiently, to see things
pass so slowly!... It took away his breath; and he shivered, closed the
window, looked out through the closed window.... Oh, he had not the
passion that had filled those old people; his neutral-tinted soul would
never let itself be tempted to any sort of passion; his disillusioned,
nerveless, dilettante nature contemplated the violent things of this
life with a slightly bitter little smile, thought them superfluous,
asked itself, why?... So heavy a life's secret he would never have
to bear, no; but there was so much else--so much melancholy, so much
silent suffering and loneliness--that, feeling the shadowy dread sink
down upon him, he asked:

"O God, O my God, _can_ I ever grow so old? So old as those two old
people were?... Is it possible that I shall slowly wither and fade,
gradually dying and dragging myself along, always with that same
gnawing at my heart, always with that same sorrow, a sorrow which I
cannot yet utter to anybody, to anybody ... not even to Steyn ...
because I will not judge, because I _can_ not judge ... because Elly is
right from her point of view ... because she lives in what she is now
doing and would pine if she always remained with me, by whose side she
feels herself to be useless ... aimless ... aimless?..."

O God, no, let him not grow old, let him die young, die young and not,
year after year, feel the dread pressing more and more heavily on his
small, vain soul, his soul so childishly terrified of what was to
come!... Let him not, year after year, feel that dread gnawing more and
more at his heart, like an animal eating his heart away, and let him
not, for years and years on end, feel that silent sorrow weeping within
him, never uttered or shown, not even to Elly, if she ever came back,
because he would want to assure her with a smile that he understood her
aspirations and respected them and approved and admired them!

Loneliness was all around him now: his father was gone, Steyn was gone;
Elly was so far from him, in a sphere to which, despite her letters,
he was so little able to follow her in thought, a sphere of terror and
horror so great that he kept on asking himself:

"Can she do _that?_... Has she the strength to keep it up?... Those
hospitals ... the din of the battlefield thundering in her ears ... the
sufferings of the wounded ... their cries ... their blood: could she
hear and see all that ... and devote herself ... and act?..."

When he saw it looming up out of her hurried letters, it was so
terrible a vision that he did not see Elly in it: she faded and passed
into somebody else, he did not know her, hardly knew her even in the
photograph which she had sent him and in which he vacantly looked for
his wife among a number of other Red Cross nurses.... No, in this
photograph she looked neither like him nor Mamma: she was herself
this time, another, some one quite different.... The energy of her
undreaming, harder eyes startled him: in this portrait he saw, in a
sort of bewildered ecstasy, a willing, a striving perhaps to transcend
the bounds which she already saw before her!... Oh, was it possible
that she might soon return, worn out, and fall asleep in his arms?
Had he the right to wish it, for himself ... and for her? Ought he
not rather to hope that she would persevere and live according to the
career which she herself had chosen? Perhaps so ... but to him it was
such an unspeakable grief that she was not there, that she was not by
his side, she whom he had come to love as he never thought that he
could love!...

And this made everything so lonely around him. What were a few
pleasant, intelligent, artistic friends at Naples, with whom he chatted
and dined now and again at a restaurant? And beyond that there was
nothing, nothing; and that ... that perhaps was how he would have to
grow old: ninety-three, ninety-seven years old! Oh, how that dread
shuddered, that shadowing dread, which would always grow colder and
colder still, as he grew older! O God, no, no, let him die young, while
still in the flower of his youth, though his life was morbid; let him
die young!...

Even Mamma was not with him now! She was in London: there lay her last
letter; and in her angry written words she complained that Hugh was
such a man for girls, always out with girls, leaving her alone!...
She saw John now and again, saw Mary now and again; but she suffered
agonies because Hugh neglected her, though he always knew how to come
to her when he wanted money! It was the first letter in which she
expressed herself so angrily, unable to restrain herself, because she
suffered so from the sting of jealousy in the flesh of her heart:
jealousy because Hugh amused himself with other women, with girls, more
than with his mother! And Lot pictured her, alone, spending a long,
dreary evening in her room at the hotel, while Hugh was out, with his
girls.... Poor Mamma!... Was it beginning so early? But, now that she
had Hugh, whom she worshipped, it would last as long as she had any
money left ... and only then, when it was all finished, would she come
back to him, to Lot ... and, if Elly had returned by that time, then
she would be jealous of Elly!...

Yes, that would be the future, without a doubt.... Beyond a doubt, he
had not seen Elly for the last time; beyond a doubt she would come
back, wearied, and sleep, sleep off her weariness in his arms.... And
he would see his mother again also: older, an older woman, worn out,
penniless; and she would cry out her grief, cry out her grief in his
arms.... And he, with a little laugh of disillusionment, would find a
chaffing word of consolation ... and the days would drag by, the things
would pass ... pass very, very slowly ... not full of red remorse and
hatred, passion and murder, as they had passed for those two very old
people ... but full of an inner canker, inner grief and inner, painful
suffering, which he would never express and which would be his secret,
his, his secret: an innocent secret, free from all crime and other
scarlet things, but as torturing as a hidden, gnawing disease....

It was evening now. Well, he would not go out to look for his friends.
He would stay indoors, sup off a couple of eggs.... It was late; and
the best way to forget was to light the lamp cosily ... and to work,
to work quietly, in his loneliness.... Come! He had made the room
look homely; there were green plants and white plaster casts and
warm-coloured pieces of drapery; there were fine brown photographs
on the walls; and he had a big table to write at and the lamp was
burning nicely now, after spluttering a little at first.... Come, to
work: his dilettante work, the work which he could do best.... To
recast and rewrite those articles on the Medicis--O sweet memories of
Florence!--that was his work for this evening.... Come, every one must
be the best judge of his destiny: Elly of hers, he of his; and that
this was so was really not worth distressing yourself for all your life
long. There were beautiful and interesting things left, especially in
Italy; and spring in the south was such an undiluted joy.... Come, let
him soak himself in it now, quietly and in solitude ... and work, work
hard and forget.... There was nothing like work: it took your thoughts
off yourself and all those dreadful things; and, though you withered
and faded in working, still you withered and faded with no time for
repining.... And yet it was terrible, terrible ... that one could
become as old as Grandmamma had become ... as Mr. Takma had become!...
Well, suppose he wrote a novel: a novel about two old people like that
... and about the murder in Java?

He smiled and shook his head:

"No," he thought, almost speaking aloud, "it would be too romantic for
_me_.... And then there are so many novels nowadays: I'll keep to my
two.... That is enough, more than enough. Better by far rewrite the
Medici series...."

And, as the chill of sunset was over and the starry night outside was
growing sultry, he flung open the windows again, drew a deep breath and
sat down to his big table, by his bright lamp.... His fair and delicate
face bent low over his papers; and, so close to the lamp, it could be
seen that he was growing very grey at the temples.





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