Old People and the Things that Pass/Chapter VII
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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 marriedd'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 athat 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 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 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 Stef anus 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 lonelyin 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.
She is not there.
He struggles up and gets entangled in the, 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 , 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, hushl ... Quietly, quietly.... If the should hear! ..."
"If theshould 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 I ..."
"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 lightening! ... 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 theyesterday! 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....
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 awith a woman, in the , 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 walking 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.
He did not answer.
"Father! Father ..."
"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 ... 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!