Max Havelaar (Wikisource)/20
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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
"Dear Max," Tine said, "the dessert is rather skimpy. Wouldn't you ... you know … Madame Geoffrin?"
"Talk some more, instead of cake? My goodness, I am hoarse. It's Verbrugge's turn."
"Yes, Mr Verbrugge! Do relieve Max," pleaded Mrs Havelaar.
Verbrugge thought a moment and began:
"Once upon a time there was a man who stole a turkey."
"Oh, rascal!" cried Havelaar, "you got that from Padang! How does it go on?"
"It's finished. Do you know how it continues?"
"Sure, I ate it, with … someone. Do you know why I was suspended in Padang?"
"It was said that there was a deficit in your books in Natal," Verbrugge continued.
"That's not really untrue, but it isn’t true either. For several reasons I had been very untidy with the financial bookkeeping, and I got a lot of remarks. That happened frequently in that time! The circumstances in the North of Sumatra were, shortly after taking Baroes, Tapoes and Singkel, rather confused, and you cannot blame a young man, who would rather sit on horseback than at a desk counting money or bookkeeping, if things are not as orderly as can be expected of a bookkeeper in Amsterdam who has nothing else to do. There was a war in the Battahlands and you know, Verbrugge, that everything that happens in the Battahs, has its influences in Natal. I slept with my clothes on so that I could be called quickly, and that was often needed. And there was a lot of danger – some time before my coming a plot had been discovered to kill my predecessor and start a revolt – the danger has something attractive, in particular if one is only 22 years old. This attractiveness sometimes makes a person unsuited for office work or for the stringent care which is needed for a good control of financial matters. And besides, I had all kinds of madness in my head."
"It's not needed," Mrs Havelaar called to a servant.
"What is not needed?"
"I said to prepare something in the kitchen, an omelette or so."
"Ha, and that's not needed if I start telling silly stories? That's naughty, Tine. It's fine, but these gentlemen also have a vote. Verbrugge, what do you want, your share of the omelette or the story?"
"That's an awkward position for a polite man," Verbrugge said.
"And I'd rather not choose either," added Duclari, "for it is about a decision between Mr and Mrs Havelaar and:".
"I'll help you, the omelette is..."
"Madam," said the very polite Duclari, "the value of the omelette will certainly be equal to..."
"To the story? If it had any value at all, However, the problem is..."
"I guess there is even no sugar in the house," cried Verbrugge. "Well, allow me to go and fetch from our house what's needed!"
"There is sugar, from Mrs Slotering. No, that's not the problem. And if the omelette were good, that would not be a problem either, but..."
"Well, Madam, has it fallen in the fire?"
"I wish that were true! No, it cannot fall in the fire. It is..."
"But, Tine," cried Havelaar, "what is it then?"
"It is inscrutable, Max, like your women in Arles had to be! I have no omelette, I have nothing!"
"Well, that leaves the story!" Duclari sighed with droll desperation.
"But we do have coffee," said Tine.
"Good! Have coffee on the porch, and let's also call Mrs Slotering with the girls," Havelaar said, and the small company left the house.
"I guess she won't come, Max. You know that she doesn't like to share our meals, and she is right."
"She may have heard that I tell stories." Havelaar said, "That frightened her."
"Why no, Max, that would not harm her, she doesn't understand Dutch. No, she told me that she prefers to have her own household, and I understand that quite well. Do you remember how you translated my name?"
"That's why! She is right. Besides, it appears to me that she is a bit shy. Imagine that she asks the servants to chase all foreigners away when they enter the premises."
"I beseech you to give me the story or the omelette," Duclari said.
"So do I!" cried Verbrugge. "No quibbling will be accepted. We are entitled to a complete meal, and therefore I require the turkey history."
"I already gave it, Havelaar said. I stole the beast from the General Vandamme and I ate it, with someone."
"Before that "someone" rose up too heaven," said Tine naughtily.
"No, that's cheating," Duclari cried. "We need to know why you took the turkey away."
"Well, I was hungry, and that was Vandamme's fault, since he had suspended me."
"If I don't hear more about it, I'll bring my own omelette next time," Verbrugge complained.
"Believe me, it was nothing more than that. He had lots of turkeys, and I had nothing. The animals were driven past my door. I took one of them and I said to the man who pretended to watch them: Tell the General that I, Max Havelaar, take this turkey because I want to eat."
"And the epigram?"
"Did Verbrugge speak about that?"
"It had nothing to do with the turkey. I made that thing because he suspended so many clerks. In Padang there were seven or eight whom had been suspended from their offices, with more or less just reason, and many of them deserved it less than I. The Assistant-Resident of Padang himself had been suspended, and the reason was, I believe, not at all the one that was recorded in the decision. I could tell you that, but I cannot guarantee that I know the correct facts, I only repeat what they considered the truth in the Chinese church of Padang, and what could have been the truth, in particular when we consider the known peculiarities of the General.
You must know that he had married his wife to win a bet, and also a barrel of wine. He often left the house at dusk, to walk around. His supernumerary Valkenaar met him in the street near the girls' orphanage and, respecting his incognito, gave him a beating as if he was a common street ruffian. Not far away lived. There was a rumour that this Miss had given life to a child who had disappeared. The Assistant-Resident, being chief of the police, had the duty to check this out, and he also intended to do so. It appears that he said something of this intention during a whist party at the General's. But behold, the next day he gets the order to go to a certain department, where the Controller had been suspended for some assumed dishonesty, so he can investigate certain things on the spot and report about it. The Assistant-Resident certainly wondered why he had to do something which did not concern his department, but strictly speaking he could see this order as an honourable award. Besides, he was a good friend of the General's, so he had no reason to think of a trap, so he agreed to this mission and went to … I don't remember where, to do what he had been told to do. After some time he returned and he offered a report that was not unfavourable for that Controller. But lo, in the meantime the public – that is no-one and everyone – had discovered that this clerk had only been suspended to create an opportunity to remove the Assistant-Resident from that place, to prevent that he'd investigate what happened to the disappeared child, or at least to postpone the investigation, so that the problem would be harder to solve. I repeat that I am not sure whether this was true, but, according to what I learned myself from General Vandamme, it appears not unbelievable. In Padang there was no-one who considered him able to do such a thing – in view of the level to which his morality had descended. Most knew only one good property: he was never afraid of danger, and if I, who have seen him in a dangerous situation, thought that he was a brave man after all, this would only cause me to be silent about this history. It is true, on Sumatra he had put many to the sword, but if you had seen certain events from nearby, you'd feel the need to judge him less brave, and, although it may seem strange, I believe that he owed most of his fame as a warrior to the longing for contradiction, which inspires us all more or less. One often says: It is true that Peter or Paul is this, this and this, but that he is, that must be allowed to him. And one can never be sure to be praised, except when one has a very obvious ailment. You, Verbrugge, you are always drunk..."
"I?" asked Verbrugge, whose soberness was exemplary.
"Yes, I make you drunk, all days. You are so drunk that Duclari trips in the evening over your body. He'll find that unpleasant, but he'll immediately remember that he found something good in you that he never noticed before. And when I come, and I find you so very – horizontal – he will put his hand on my arm and cry: Please believe that he is usually a very good boy!"
"I always say that of Verbrugge," said Duclari, "even if he is vertical."
"But with less fire and not so convincingly. Remember how often you hear say: "Oh, if that man took a bit more care, that would be someone! But ..." followed by an explanation that he does not take care, so he is not someone. I think I know the reason. Even of the dead one hears always good properties which we never noticed before. The cause may be that they offend no-one. All men are participators, more or less. We would like to place each person completely below us. But saying that is not polite and it is even not in one's own interest, for people would soon stop to believe us, even if we told the truth. A detour must be found and this is how we do it. When you, Duclari, say: "Lieutenant Gaiter is a good soldier, he truly is a good soldier, I cannot say it often enough that Lieutenant gaiter is a very good soldier, but he is not a theoretician." Didn't you say so, Duclari?"
"I never knew or saw a Lieutenant Gaiter."
"Well, create him, and say it."
"Yes, I create him, and say it."
"Do you know what you have said? You said that you, Duclari, know everything about theory. I am not better at all. Believe me, it is injustice to become angry with someone who is bad, since the good ones among us are the worst! Let's say that perfection is zero and hundred degrees is bad, how wrong will we do, we, who are between 98 and 99, to blame someone who is 101! And yet I believe that many people are unable to reach a hundred degrees because they lack good properties, courage for example, to be completely what they are."
"How many degrees am I, Max?"
"I need a magnifying glass for the small parts, Tine."
"I complain," cried Verbrugge, "no Madam, not against your person who approaches zero, no, but some clerks have been suspended, a child is missing, a General is being accused, I want:!"
"Tine, make sure that we have something to offer next time. No, Verbrugge, I won't give you la pièce, not until I looked around on my hobbyhorse of contradictions. I say that each man regards his fellow-man as a competitor. One cannot always disapprove – it would be too conspicuous – so we exalt a good property, so that the bad properties, which we actually want to reveal, draws attention, and we appear to be impartial about that. If someone complains to me because I had said: "his daughter is very beautiful but he is a thief" I can reply: "why are you angry? Didn’t I say that your daughter is a good girl?" See, that wins double. We are both grocers, I take his customers who do not want to buy a thief's raisins and at the same time they say that I am a good man because I praised the competitor's daughter."
"No, it's not so bad," Duclari said, "it's a bit improbable!"
"So it appears to you, because I made a very rough comparison. If we say "he is a thief" you must not take that completely seriously. In general the parable remains true. Imagine that we are forced to apply certain properties to a person, which make him esteemed or honoured. In that case it is pleasing to find that, apart from those properties, he has something that relieves us of that tribute. "For such a poet I would kneel … but he beats his wife!" See, we like to use the wife's bruises as a pretext to keep our heads up, and eventually it is a pleasure that he beats the woman, although otherwise it would be nasty. As soon as we must admit that someone has properties which make him deserve the honour of a pedestal, as soon as we can no more deny his claims to be honoured without being considered stupid, insensitive or jealous, we should say: "Fine, put him there!" But before he actually has been put there, while he still thinks that we are amazed at his splendour, we already laid a snare which is supposed to pull him down at the very first opportunity. The more changes there are among the people with pedestals, the greater the chance that others get a turn, and this is so true, that it has become our habit, just like a hunter who shoots crows but leaves the carcasses alone, to pull these statues down, even if we ourselves will never mount the vacated pedestal. Kappelman, who eats sauerkraut and drinks small beer, seeks to be exalted in the complaint: "Alexander was not great, he was excessive" although there is no chance for Kappelman that he will ever compete with Alexander to conquer the world.
However it be, I am sure that many will never get the idea to consider that General Vandamme was brave, if his braveness had not served as a vehicle for the always added "but his morality!" And also that this immorality would not be taken too seriously by the many people who were themselves not so upright in this matter, if they had not been needed to outweigh his fame of braveness, which prevented some people from sleeping.
One property he certainly had: willpower. What he intended to do, had to happen, and it usually happened. But – you see that I immediately have something opposite? – he was also a bit ... free in the choice of his means, and, as Van der Palm said of Napoleon – erroneously, I think – "obstacles of morality were never obstacles!" Well, that certainly makes it easier to reach your goal, than when one considers himself bound by morality.
The Assistant-Resident of Padang had produced a report which was favourable for the suspended Controller, and the suspension appeared to be something of an injustice. Rumours in Padang went on: people always talked about the disappeared child. The Assistant-Resident felt the need to pick up that case again, but before he had been able to reveal something, he receive a notice that he had been suspended by the Governor of Sumatra's West coast, because of dishonesty in his office. It was said that, perhaps out of friendship of pity, he had reported incorrect facts about the case of the Controller, although he knew better.
I did not read the documents of that matter, but I do know that the Assistant-Resident had no relationship at all to that Controller. After all, that was the reason why he had been chosen to investigate the case. I also know that he was a respectable man, and that he was so considered by the government, which is shown by the fact that the suspension was quashed when the case was investigated in another place. That Controller has also been restored in his honour. It was the suspension that inspired me to this epigram, which had been put on the General's breakfast table by someone who was in his service, and previously in my service.
- The wandering suspension decision that governs us suspending,
- John Suspensall, Governor, werewolf of our days,
- Had suspended his own conscience with pleasure
- If it had not been fired a long time ago."
"If you don't mind, Mr Havelaar, I find that such a thing cannot be done," Duclari said.
"So do I, but I had to do something! Imagine that I had no money, I received nothing, every day I feared starving, which I have actually come close to. I had very few relations on Padang, and besides, I had written to the General that he was responsible if I died in misery, and that I'd accept nobody's help. In the inner land there were people who had heard about my situation and had invited me to come, but the General would not give me a pass to go there. I could not leave for Java either. I would have been fine anywhere, and perhaps there as well, if one had no fear of that powerful General. It seemed to be his intention to make me starve. This lasted nine months!"
"And how did you manage to stay alive? Or had the General got many turkeys?"
"He had, but that wasn't helpful. You do such a thing only once, don't you? What did I do in the meantime? Well, I wrote poetry, comedies, and so on."
"Could you buy rice for that in Padang?"
"No, but I did not ask for it. I'd rather not say how I lived."
Tine touched his hand – she knew it.
"I read somewhere that in that time you wrote on the back of a receipt," Verbrugge said.
"I know what you mean. Those lines show my position. There was a magazine at that time, de Kopiist, and I was a subscriber. It was protected by the government – the editor was a clerk in the General's secretariat – and the subscriptions were paid to the national treasury. They gave me a receipt of twenty guilders. This money had to be traded at the Governor's office, so this receipt, if it remained unpaid, had to pass those offices to be sent back to Batavia. I used the opportunity to complain on the back of this piece of paper about my poverty:
Vingt-florins ... quel trésor! Adieu, littérature,
Twenty guilders – oh, what wealth. Farewell literature
Afterwards, when I went to the editors of De Kopiist with my twenty guilders, I owed them nothing. It appears that the General paid that money for me, so he wasn't forced to send the illustrated receipt back to Batavia."
"But what did he do after the stealing of the turkey? After all, it was theft. And after that epigram?"
"He punished me terribly! If he had made me stand trial, being guilty of disrespect towards the Governor of Sumatra's West coast, which could in those days be explained as "attempt to undermine the Dutch authority and stirring up to revolt" or "theft on the public road", he would have shown himself to be a good-natured man. But no, he punished me better – nasty! He ordered the man who took care of the turkeys to find a different road. And my epigram, well, that's even worse. He said nothing and did nothing. See, that's cruel! He did not allow me to feel like a martyr, no prosecution made me interesting and I was not allowed to be unhappy through extreme witticism! Oh, Duclari... oh, Verbrugge... It made me find epigrams and turkeys disgusting. So little encouragement quenches the fire of a genius and no spark remains, including: I never did it again!"