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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Joost Surrenders
By Maarten Maartens (J. M. W. van der Poorten Schwartz) (1858–1915)
 
From ‘The Sin of Joost Avelingh’

JOOST AVELINGH went up to his wife’s room.  1
  The doctor’s last words had been spoken low; but Joost, stopping for a moment in the hall to pass a hand over his eyes and collect his bewildered thoughts, just caught them. He stumbled up-stairs, opened the bedroom door, and walked in.  2
  God had answered him. There lay his wife, white and motionless, with staring, meaningless eyes, under the white coverlet; unconscious, insensible. A shaded lamp burned on a side table; Dientje the maid rose softly from her chair near it, and came forward. He motioned her away—towards the adjoining dressing-room—and then sat down alone by the bed.  3
  God had answered him. In the pride of his heart he had sought himself an answer, and had triumphed at the thought that it should be a pleasing one. But the very fact of his yearning for a sign in the heavens was the surest proof that the oracle in his own heart had spoken already. It had been speaking through all these months, as each successive experience led him nearer to the truth, all the shouting and din of the election had not been able to silence its voice completely; and now, over the tumult of this wild hour of false exultation, it shrieked aloud! The intoxication of the moment died away from him, leaving him the more dejected. And the hatred and contempt of himself which the last weeks had fostered, once more overflowed his heart.  4
  God had answered him. He sat staring at the senseless face before him, and he read the answer there. He did not believe in such connection as the doctor seemed to snatch at between Agatha’s illness and the trial. Living with her day by day, he had seen her well and happy, triumphant even, in the recognition of his innocence. The change had come suddenly; in the last fortnight, perhaps. He had watched it; her mother had spoken of it; her brother—but he had watched it, and seen it for himself. It was God’s reply to all his lying self-exculpation, to his life of deceit. The curse of her race would fall surely and swiftly upon this innocent wife of his; for so mysteriously, yet wisely, doth God visit our sins upon our loved ones. Or, in his mercy, he would take her to himself and leave her husband comfortless,—him whom no comfort could advantage, and whom misery alone yet might save. But whatever the future might fashion, it would bring them separation: Joost’s heart cried out that it must be so, and the last words the doctor had spoken were become an irrevocable decree to him. He understood that it must be thus. He was unworthy to live longer by the side of this woman whom he cheated; and whether by death to relieve her, or by insanity to punish him, she would pass out of his existence. She would never speak to him again. Never! In that thought he first realized how unutterably he loved her, with a love which had grown from a boy’s rash fancy for a pretty face, through trials and mutual enjoyments and deepening sympathies, into the very essence and existence of the soul. And yet his first yearning was not to retain her, if God bade her pass from him: it was only that—oh, by all his unworthiness of her, by his guilt and her gentle innocence, by his passionate love and her answering affection—by their oneness—of Thy giving, great Father—he might obtain mercy to confess his iniquity in her sight. For death was not death to him in that moment, nor detachment separation. And ere she—his soul’s diviner part—pass on to fuller purity of knowledge, he would gather from her lips that she had learned his secret on this earth, had understood it, and forgiven him. Not, not to be left here standing with eyes that cannot pierce the darkness, and yet with a hope that told the loved one loved him still, and now read the soul he had so shrewdly veiled before her, and now—mayhap—mourned forever for a unity, high and holy, broken and trodden under foot. O God, have mercy!  5
  He sank down by the bed and buried his face in his hands. And in the untroubled silence his heart cried aloud. It was of God that he must obtain forgiveness in the first place, and he knew it. But his prayers, in that turmoil of feeling, were of the woman he loved.  6
 
 
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