Max Havelaar (Wikisource)/10

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Prologue - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 - Chapter 8 - Chapter 9 - Chapter 10 - Chapter 11 - Chapter 12 - Chapter 13 - Chapter 14 - Chapter 15 - Chapter 16 - Chapter 17 - Chapter 18 - Chapter 19 - Chapter 20 - Chapter 21 - Chapter 22 - Chapter 23 - Chapter 24 - Chapter 25 - Chapter 26 - Chapter 27 - Chapter 28 - Chapter 29 - Chapter 30 - Chapter 31 - Chapter 32 - Chapter 33 - Chapter 34 - Chapter 35 - Chapter 36 - Chapter 37 - Chapter 38 - Chapter 39


It would have been hard to guess what could be found in that coach before Dongso, helped by the runners and many other servants who belonged to the Regent's train, had loosened all the belts and knots which covered the vehicle with a black leather casing which reminded one of the discretion which used to be common when lions and tigers entered the city, when zoological gardens were still travelling animal shows. There were neither lions nor tigers in that coach. Everything had only been closed up carefully because it was the West monsoon, so one had to be prepared for rain. Alighting from a coach, after a long bumpy journey over the road, is not as easy as one would imagine if one had never travelled. Almost like the old dinosaurs from prehistoric times, who after a long time have became an integral part of the clay, in which they had not come with the intention of staying there, something happens with the travellers, who have been a long time in a cramped space in a travelling coach, which I might call assimilation. In the end one does not know any more where the leather cushion of the coach stops and the ego starts, yes, the idea is not strange to me that one can have some toothache in such a coach which is mistaken for a moth in the clothing, or the other way round.

There are few circumstances in the material world, which give a thinking man a reason to make remarks in a sensible area, and thus I often wondered whether there are not many errors which have the power of a law among us, many crooked things which we consider straight, caused because we have been too long with the same company in the same travelling coach. The leg that you had to stick out on the left, between the hat box and the basket of cherries, the knee you pushed against the door, to prevent the lady across the way from thinking that you intended an attack on crinoline or virtue, the callus which was so afraid of the soles of the commis-voyageur beside you, the neck which you had to turn to the left, because it drips on the right, behold, they all eventually become necks and knees and feet which get something crooked. I think it is a good idea to change every now and then to another coach, another seat and other fellow-travellers. It allows you to turn your head, you can move your knee every now and then, and perhaps there is a young lady beside you with dancing shoes, or a little boy whose legs do not touch the floor. It gives you a chance to see straight and walk straight as soon as you have fixed ground under your feet.

I do not know whether in that coach, which now stopped in front of the pendoppo, there was something that was contrary to the 'solution of continuity', but it is certain that it took a long time before something appeared. It seemed there was a contest of politeness. One heard words like "If you please, my lady!" and "Resident!" However, eventually a man alighted, whose stature and attitude reminded one a bit of the dinosaurs, of which I spoke a moment ago. Since we will soon see him again, I'll tell you right now that his motionlessness was not only caused by his assimilation with the coach, but also that he showed a caution and deliberateness when there was no vehicle within many miles. It would make many dinosaurs jealous and in the eyes of many it would have been a sign of distinction and wisdom. He was, like most Europeans in the Indies, very pale, which in that part of the world is certainly not a sign of bad health, and he had fine features which showed a good development. But there was something cold in his looks, something which reminded one of a logarithm table, and although his appearance was certainly not unpleasant or repelling, one could not help thinking that his rather big, pointed nose was bored on that face, because there was so little to do there.

He politely offered his hand to a lady to help her alighting, and after taking a child from a man who was still in the coach, a little, fair-haired boy of about three years, they entered the pendoppo. Eventually there followed the gentleman himself, and whoso knew Java, would have found it remarkable that he waited at the door to help an old Javanese baboe to alight. Three servants had loosened themselves from the leather box that had been stuck on the back of the coach like a young oyster on the back of its mother.

The gentleman who alighted first had offered his hand to the Regent and to Controller Verbrugge, which was politely accepted, and the entire attitude showed that they felt themselves to be in the presence of an important person. It was the Resident of Bantam, the big region of which Lebak is a department, a regentship, or as one officially says, an assistant-residency.

While reading poetical stories, I am often annoyed because the authors pay so little attention to the taste of the reader. That happened in particular when they indicated that they wanted to produce something that was supposed to be droll or burlesque, to avoid the word humour, a peculiarity which is in a wretched way confused with funny. A person speaks who does not understand the language or pronounces it badly, a Frenchman says: "ka kauw na de krote krak" or "krietje kooit keen kare kroente kraak wek." If there is not a Frenchman, the author takes someone who stammers, or he creates a person who always uses the same words again. I saw a very foolish vaudeville which was successful because there was a man in it who said nothing but "My name is Meyer". This kind of comedy appears rather cheap to me, and, to say the truth, it makes me angry if you find them funny.

But now I must introduce you to something like that. Every now and then I must bring someone on the stage – I'll avoid it as much as possible – who really had a way of speaking which makes me fear that you will accuse me of a failed attempt to make you laugh. Therefore I assure you that it is not my fault, when the most distinguished Resident of Bantam, for that's the person I mean, had such a peculiarity of speaking that it is really hard to represent it here, without making you think that I attempt to find something funny in a person's quirk. He namely talked as if there was a full stop after every word, or even a long pause, and I can only compare the space between his words to the silence that follows when a preacher has said "amen" after a long prayer, which as you know, is a sign for everyone to change position, to cough or to blow his nose. What he said, was usually very well considered, and if he could have avoided those pauses, his words would usually have been quite sound. But all that breaking apart, that bumpiness, made it hard to listen to him. People often complained about it. For usually, if one started to reply, thinking that he had finished speaking, or that he left the last few words to be filled in by the listener's acuteness, the last few words came like trainards from a beaten army, which made you feel that you had interrupted him, and that is always unpleasant. The people in the capital Serang, as far as they were not in the government's service – a circumstance which makes people a bit cautious – called his way of speaking slimy. It is not a very tasteful word, but I must admit that it was a clear expression of the Resident's eloquence.

I have still said nothing of Max Havelaar and his wife – the two persons who had alighted from the coach with their child and the baboe – and perhaps it is better to leave a description of their appearances and characters to the reader's imagination. However, I was just giving a description, and therefore I can say that Mrs Havelaar was not beautiful, but her glance and her speech showed some loveliness, and the easy informality of her manners was a clear sign that she had been in the world, and that she belonged to the upper classes of society. She lacked the stiffness and unpleasantness of civilian manners, which in order to appear 'distinguished' teases himself and others with shame, and therefore she was not concerned with outward appearance, something that appears to be very important to other women. Her clothing was also an example of simplicity. A white, muslin baadjoe with a blue cordelière – I think they'd call it a peignoir in Europe – was her travel cloth. Around her neck she wore a blue silk thread with two small lockets, which, however, could not be seen, because they were hidden in the folds of her clothing. Further, her hair was à la chinoise, and she wore a garland of melatti in the kondeh and that was all.

I said that she wasn't beautiful, but yet I do not want you to think the opposite. I hope that you will find her fair, as soon as I have the opportunity to represent her, burning with indignation at what she called "misunderstanding of genius" when her dear Max was talked about, when she thought of an idea which was related to the well-being of her child. It has been said too often that the face is the mirror of the soul, so we cannot appreciate the portrait of a motionless face, in which nothing can be reflected because there is no soul in it. Well, she had a fair soul, and one had to be blind if one did not consider her face beautiful, if her soul was reflected in it.

Havelaar was a man of 35 years. He was slender and his movements were quick. Apart from his short, mobile upper lip, and his big faint-blue eyes, which appeared to be dreaming when he was in a calm mood, but blazed when an idea possessed him, there was nothing peculiar about him. His fair hair hung straight down at his temples, and I can understand that some people, who saw him for the first time, had the idea that they had met someone who belonged to a rare species, both in head and in heart. He was a barrel full of contradictions. Sharp as a knife, soft as a girl, he was always first to inspect the wound which his bitter words had caused, and he suffered more from them than the injured person. He had a quick understanding, which immediately grabbed the highest and most complicated thing, liked to play with the solution of complicated questions, for which he sacrificed all the time he had, and yet he often did not understand simple cases, which were so simple that a child could explain them. Full of love for truth and righteousness, he often neglected his simple immediate obligations, to restore an injustice which was higher or further or deeper, and which attracted him more because it probably required more effort. He was knightly and courageous, but, like Don Quixote, often spent his courage tilting at windmills. He burned with unquenchable ambition which made him disregard all common distinctions in social life, and yet his greatest fortune was a calm, snug life at home. A poet in the highest sense of the word, dreaming of solar systems near a spark, peopled with creatures he made himself, he felt himself lord of the world which he had himseld called to life, and yet he could, without any daydream, discuss the price of rice, the rules of a language, or the economic advantages of an Egyptian chicken farm. No science was unknown to him, he was interested in things he did not know – everyone knows little, and he, perhaps knowing more than others, was no exception to this - to be able to use those few things in a way which augmented his knowledge. He was neat and precise, and extremely patient, but that was because he found neatness, precision and patience hard, since his spirit had a wildness to it. He was slow and careful when judging cases, although it appeared different to those who hurriedly heard him draw conclusions. His impressions were too vivid to be considered lasting, and yet he often proved that they were lasting. He was attracted by anything that was great and exalted, and at the same time he was silly and naïve like a child. He was honest, in particular when honesty became generosity, and he would have left unpaid a debts of hundreds because he had given away thousands. He was witty and entertaining when he felt that his spirit was understood, but otherwise surly and solitary. Being kind to his friends he often made – sometimes too quickly – a friend of everyone who suffered. He was sensitive to love and affection – true to his word – weak in small things, but perseverant and stubborn when he found it worth while to show his character – humble and kind to those who recognised his spiritual superiority, but troublesome when one tried to oppose him – straightforward out of pride, and sometimes tight-lipped, since he was afraid that his candour would be misunderstood for stupidity – shy and ill-speaking when he thought he wasn’t understood, but eloquent when he felt that his words fell in good soil – slow when he was not inspired by an incentive from his own soul, but industrious, ardent and vigorous when he was – furthermore kind, civilised in his manners, and irreproachable in his conduct: well, that was almost Havelaar!

I say: almost. A description is hard, in particular when it is a description of a person who differs greatly from the basic pattern. That may be the reason why novelists usually describe their heroes as devils or angels. Black and white are easy to paint, while it is very hard to show the gradations in between, in particular when one wants to be truthful, which means that the painting should be neither too dark nor too bright. I really feel that I gave a very imperfect description of Havelaar. Lots of materials are in front of me, and these are so diverse and give me such a lot of information, that they make my judgement only harder. Perhaps I will, while I develop the events which I wish to tell, add some things to it. One thing is sure: he was an unusual man, and worthy of examination. I already see that I neglected to mention one of his major features, that he'd consider the ridiculous and serious sides of things with the same speed and at the same time, a feature which gave his way of speaking, while he did not realise it, a kind of humour, leaving his listeners to doubt whether they were moved by the deep feeling in his words or whether they had to laugh about the fun which suddenly made an end to the seriousness.

It was remarkable that his appearance, and even his wants, showed so few traces of his past. Boasting of the past has become very common. There are people who floated fifty or sixty years on a stream, thinking that they are swimming, while all the time they can only tell that they moved from A Canal to B Street. Nothing is more common than hearing people who boast of the past, in particular by people who obtained their grey hairs so easily. Others think that they have experience because their fates had really changed, but there is no evidence that these changes influenced their souls. I can imagine that being near an important event – or even being part of it – has little or no influence on a certain sort of feeling, in people who are not able to perceive and process those impressions. Whoso doubts this, may wonder whether one can assume that experience could be found in the inhabitants of France, who were 40 or 50 years old in 1815. After all, they had all witnessed the important tragedy that started in 1789, and some had even played an important role in it.

And, the other way around, many obtain diseases, although the external circumstances give no reason for it. Think of the novels about Crusoe, of the imprisonment of Silvio Pellico and of the sweet Picciola by Saintine, of the fight in the breast of an old crone who had one passion all her life, without ever betraying to anyone what happened in her heart, of the feelings of the philanthropist who, without apparently being involved in the course of events, is ardently interested in the well-being of a fellow-citizen. Imagine how he hopes and fears, how he watches every change, gets excited about a fair idea and burns with anger when he sees it pushed away and trampled by those who, for a moment, were stronger than those fair ideas. Think of the philosopher who, from his cell, attempts to teach people what truth is, while finding that his voice is shouted down by pious hypocrisy or fortune-seeking quacksalvers. Imagine Socrates – not when he empties the poisonous cup, for I'm thinking of the experience of feelings, and not those which are immediately caused by external circumstances – how bitterly sad his soul must have been when he searched for the good and true one and was called "a spoiler of youth and a despiser of Gods."

Or better still: think of Jesus, who stares sadly towards Jerusalem, saying "that it did not desire it."

Such a sad cry – before poisoned cup or wooden cross – does not emerge from an innocent heart. There must have been suffering, there, a lot of experience!

I had to say this. It's there now and there it will remain. Havelaar had suffered aplenty. Do you want something that outweighs moving from A Canal to B Street? He had been in shipwrecks, more than once. There were fires, uproar, assassination, war, duels, wealth, poverty, hunger, cholera, love and "loves" in his diary. He had visited many countries, he had met people of all races and all levels of society, morals, prejudices, religion and skin colour.

As regards circumstances of life, he could have experienced much. And that he had really experienced them, that he had not walked through life without noticing the impressions which were offered abundantly, that may be proven by the quickness of his spirit, and the susceptibility of his mind.

One thing roused the amazement of all those who knew or could guess how much he had experienced or suffered. There was little to see of it on his face. However, his features showed some fatigue, but this seemed more like a prematurely-ended childhood than like approaching old age. And yet it had to be an approaching old age; in the Indies a 35-year-old man is no longer young.

His behaviour had remained youthful too. He could play with a child, and like a child. Often he complained that his "little Max" was too young to fly kites, something the "big Max" enjoyed so much. With boys he played leapfrog and he gladly drew an embroidering pattern for the girls. He even handled the needle himself and enjoyed that work, although he often said that there were better things to do than simply counting stitches. With 18-year-old young men he was a young student who enjoyed singing his Patriam canimus or Gaudeamus igitur; yes, I am not quite sure whether he did not, when he was on holiday in Amsterdam, destroy a signboard at a shop, because it displeased him that it showed a negro, tied to the feet of a European with a long pipe in his mouth, and underneath the text the smoking, young merchant.

The baboe whom he had helped to alight, was like all baboes in the Indies when they are old. If you know these kinds of servants, I need not tell you what she looked like. And if you do not know them, I cannot tell you. Only this made her different from all nannies in the Indies: she had very little to do. Mrs Havelaar herself took examplary care of her child, and whatever was done with little Max, she did it herself, which greatly amazed other ladies, who could not conceive that a mother was the slave of her children.