« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
And then Tante Lotje, eyeing her with the same kind of suspicious curiosity with which the Hagenaars had looked upon herself in an earlier day, was silent. The majesty of Marie's sorrow disconcerted her.
It wounded her, too, in her affection, which held surprising tender depths. For it was constantly happening now that Marie had confidences into which her aunt was not permitted to follow her. They were confidences always, of course, arising out of this widowhood,—this astonishing, stupefying widowhood. It was notorious, for example, that de Bruin was rich; indeed, precisely how rich was a speculation that made a main channel for the conversation of all the van de Burgs. They knew, and everybody guessed, that by his death Marie became possessed of a fortune. There was the pension, also, and there were stories about it being calculated on a larger scale, and even (though this was merely a canard) of a special allowance to the widow. But on this matter, the very matter on which Tante Lotje had the most acute curiosity, Marie was silent. She received by every mail documents and papers, which required her attention for hours at a time. For the easier despatch of all this business she had settled herself in the General's cabinet, and there she sat writing and snipping coupons, and (as Tante Lotje said) Lord knows what! The house seemed to be full of notaries. Two or three times a week, too, Tante Lotje had to escort her to the bureau of Banker Schmidt, with whom
Marie was closeted in long consultation, while she herself had a seat in the cold in the outer office. It was unfriendly. was cruel. It was not as if Tante Lotje wished to pry into Marie's affairs, Tante Lotje herself said. "Heaven knew, she wasn't inquisitive." But for a niece to behave to an aunt, her own father's sister, with so much reserve, not merely refraining from inviting her confidence or advice, but positively, it really seemed, taking precautions against her overhearing a flying word or unwittingly chancing upon a stray paper,— no, it wasn't nice.
She could not refrain from telling Marie so at last; and Marie replied, quite frankly,
"My dear Tante Lotje, if I were to tell you all these things you would be sure to tell everybody, and you know—"
Well, have I ever all my life!" cried Tante Lotje; "do you think I can't keep a secret? Let me tell you, I can keep my mouth shut as close as any person living. son living. Why, girl, I've known all about you since you were three years old. Everything," she added bitterly, "except what has happened to you since that voyage to Suez and back. And have you known me once to breathe an indiscreet whisper? Tell everybody, forsooth!"
"Aunt, dear," Marie replied, "if it were only my own business it would not greatly matter if you did. But you forget that these affairs intrusted to me concern my noble husband. To let in the vulgar gaze upon them would be sacrilege. I may not tell anybody — anybody.
Why, they are in a measure affairs of State."
"Och! dear folks," cried Tante Lotje, fanning herself in her room. "There is a widow for you with a capital W!"
In the spring the General returned to Europe. He was still the successful campaigner, the hero, but this home-coming did not hold for him the acute triumph of the earlier. There is no bite like the first bite. Moreover, the nation is not particularly martial, and it had rather overstretched its enthusiasm in the de Bruin affair. These things are not mentioned to make you understand that the General was in any way soured or envious: he was a brave and generous soldier. But possibly his public reception may have made him peculiarly sensitive to that awaiting him in his own home. The first hint of trouble-it was a small matter, but indicative of many to follow-arose out of Marie's occupancy of the cabinet. The General wished immediate entry, and got his way without a word of demur, but it was noticeable that Marie reflected a moment before she agreed to quit. It was not that she hesitated, but simply that she considered for a second, like one sounding the depths of duty. He was less successful in the matter of the notaries, whom he would have hustled with his well-known energy of despatch. Marie interfered to indicate gently that their business, being her husband's, was her own. The General shot at her a sharp glance from the grey eyes under grizzled bastions, and Tante Lotje winked
She would do nothing to assist him to an understanding: there was too much gratification for her in the sight of the General in the same plight as herself. Following a few more such skirmishes, there came to the General an uneasy sense of a position which was made more intolerable by the deference he met with out of doors. On the Plein, at the club-where there were living heroes, by Gad! and not relicts of dead ones-Michiel van de Burg was cock of the walk, undisputed. "Bombs and grenades!"-he was walking home to dinner after his five-o'clock borreltje, and this obsequiousness was in his head with the vermuth "Bombs and grenades! He would show her!"
but it gave the General an opening for reminding her that the figure was not literally true, and of other unique conditions of her widowed state, frank remarks which we may be permitted to omit. Marie, in angry amaze, bade him be silent.
"Duvekatersche meid!" cried her father. "Do you remember that I am General Michiel van de Burg?"
"You forget, General," replied Marie, "that I am the widow of de Bruin."
"Damn de Bruin," he muttered; and that may be taken as acknowledgment of his one defeat.
Out of her manifold resources, Tante Lotje has cleared up since then this mystifying situation. Need it be said that were it otherwise, she should not have found her present historian. Tante Lotje always says that the Solution came to her during a conversation between the General and his brother Maarten. In this she is right, no doubt; but it is proper to remark that her subsequent plan of campaign was made easy by certain measures taken by her quite undesignedly and without reference to it, and indeed before the new light broke. Curiously, the clarifying conversation referred to bore more or less directly on the insolubility of the problem: the General explained it, "Out of the eater came forth meat; out of the strong, sweetness,' as David or Jehoshaphat said." The General's knowledge of the Scripture was not particularly accurate, even on the military
side, but evidently he had grasped their spirit. Dr Maarten had been greatly impressed by the stately bearing of the Widow-"whom he hadn't the pleasure of living with," growled the General-and came over it again and again,
"Did not she rise to the occasion, Michiel?"
"Rise to the occasion! She's a heartless baggage," roared the General at length.
"Not heartless, Michiel," interrupted Tante Lotje, when Maarten protested, "but just with a heart pretty deep down. And, maybe, to be sure, it's one or two sizes smaller than girls wore in my young day : that's why it has been so easy to hide it!"
And when Tante Lotje reflected on what she had said, she knew that she had been inspired.
The Solution was a Heartfinder, and Remmers, of course, was the man. It was for him to strike the rock of the Widow's nature, and bid its sweetness flow. He was the miner who, with the lamp of his own affection in hand, was to seek the hidden treasure, unfortunately so rare, and, for all parties, so desirable. In some such figure does Remmers, the Heart-finder, appear to us. Tante Lotje saw а Captain of Engineers, frank and honest as the sun still, but laughing out of steadier blue eyes, and buckled tight in full uniform, who came to the house of the Voorhout one afternoon, and, after interviewing the General, went straight to Marie and took her in his arms. The ob
stacle in the way was the van Staate girl; and it was here that Tante Lotje's earlier manœuvres stood her in good stead. She brought to the Widow one day the news that the Remmers van Staate engagement was broken off— by the lady, of course. She did not say anything of the cause alleged, rumours of Remmer's affections being engaged elsewhere, or that these rumours were the reverberations of Tante Lotje's own stories whispered "but don't say that I said it, mind!"-in the echoing wastes of The Hague society. If Tante Lotje expected the news to surprise Marie into some telltale flutter of the eyes or blood, she was disappointed. On the contrary, the Constant Widow received the account of the van Staate girl's fickleness with so great a measure of complacency that Tante Lotje bounced out of the room with the curls shaking violently. But, at any rate, it was easy now to bring Remmers to the rock, to the mouth of the treasure - cave, to the house in the Voorhout, to
Marie, in fact. He came to the interview primed-not consciously, remember, but in a whirl, after half-an-hour with Tante Lotje. And probably there may have reached him echoes of another of her whispers: "Marie is in love with Remmers."
As Tante Lotje brought them together, so it is to her that we owe the knowledge of what passed between them. How she came by it we do not know, we prefer not to ask.
The Widow, it appears, extended to the jilted Captain a regal sympathy, and he had laughed. Tante Lotje could hear him laugh, though she was far off, at the other end of the house of course.
"Do you know why I broke off the engagement, Marie?" he asked.
"They said that she broke it," Marie replied. "Naturally," said Remmers, with a twinkle.
"You, Christiaan !" spoke in sorrow and reproach. "You? You, faithless? You, so wanting in a sense of duty? You, to be forgetful of all that your position, your profession, your pledges, your honour, your kinship with my brave, noble husband I am ashamed. I am vexed." ("Mijn Hemel!" said Tante Lotje.)
Marie spoke in sorrow, as one who, holding the banner aloft, finds the most trusted follower untrue to it.
"Marie," said Remmers, some sternness hardening the boyish voice. "Marie, were you always true, faithful, to your professions, your pledges?'
"Have I not atoned?" she cried. "Have I not atoned? Ah! Christiaan, that night on the Red Sea, when the moon shone down . . ."
"By heaven, Marie!" Remmers cried in anger. "You are without a heart. Atoned! How could you atone? What was there to atone for-to him, at least. You are living in an illusion.
Deceiving others, deceiving yourself. Duty! It's the cant of the ungenerous heart, the idealess mind. We
have a duty to ourselves. You have, I have. Marie, I was a fool. But when I saw what was before me, knew what I was doing, if I had not drawn back I should have been worse than a fool, a rascal. When I knew that my heart was not the woman's to whom I had pledged it, if this precious duty of yours demanded that I should pretend it was, was there not a higher duty bidding me sacrifice profession, pledges, position, honour even, for a higher hon
Tante Lotje believed that she heard Remmers go in, but she thought she might as well make sure. The spectacle that met her eye, when she popped her head round the door, made the curls rustle roguishly.
"I knew it! I knew it! I never breathed it to a soul, but I knew it," she cried; and popped out again. "she
'Well, of all the
cried aloud in the hall, but for once Tante Lotje could not find her words. She flew to the General, and shook the curls upon his neck. "Oh! Michiel. Marie
she cried. "The baggage," he said, disengaging her, and Tante Lotje laughed.
"'Deed, she's no great catch," she said to herself. But from what she told the General, we gather that Marie rose to the occasion once more, and no doubt Uncle Maarten was satisfied.
Apparently Remmers was.