Koosje: A Study of Dutch Life by John Strange Winter
Her name was Koosje van Kampen, and she lived in Utrecht, that most quaint of quaint cities, the Venice of the North.
All her life had been passed under the shadow of the grand old Dom Kerk; she had played bo-peep behind the columns and arcades of the ruined, moss-grown cloisters; had slipped up and fallen down the steps leading to the grachts; had once or twice, in this very early life, been fished out of those same slimy, stagnant waters; had wandered under the great lindens in the Baan, and gazed curiously up at the stork's nest in the tree by the Veterinary School; had pattered about the hollow-sounding streets in her noisy wooden klompen; had danced and laughed, had quarrelled and wept, and fought and made friends again, to the tune of the silver chimes high up in the Dom--chimes that were sometimes old Nederlandsche hymns, sometimes Mendelssohn's melodies and tender "Lieder ohne Worte."
But that was ever so long ago, and now she had left her romping childhood behind her, and had become a maid-servant--a very dignified and aristocratic maid-servant indeed--with no less a sum than eight pounds ten a year in wages.
She lived in the house of a professor, who dwelt on the Munster Kerkhoff, one of the most aristocratic parts of that wonderfully aristocratic city; and once or twice every week you might have seen her, if you had been there to see, busily engaged in washing the red tile and blue slate pathway in front of the professor's house. You would have seen that she was very pleasant to look at, this Koosje, very comely and clean, whether she happened to be very busy, or whether it had been Sunday, and, with her very best gown on, she was out for a promenade in the Baan, after duly going to service as regularly as the Sabbath dawned in the grand old Gothic choir of the cathedral.
During the week she wore always the same costume as does every other servant in the country: a skirt of black stuff, short enough to show a pair of very neat-set and well-turned ankles, clad in cloth shoes and knitted stockings that showed no wrinkles; over the skirt a bodice and a kirtle of lilac, made with a neatly gathered frilling about her round brown throat; above the frilling five or six rows of unpolished garnet beads fastened by a massive clasp of gold filigree, and on her head a spotless white cap tied with a neat bow under her chin--as neat, let me tell you, as an Englishman's tie at a party.
But it was on Sunday that Koosje shone forth in all the glory of a black gown and her jewellery--with great ear-rings to match the clasp of her necklace, and a heavy chain and cross to match that again, and one or two rings; while on her head she wore an immense cap, much too big to put a bonnet over, though for walking she was most particular to have gloves.
Then, indeed, she was a young person to be treated with respect, and with respect she was undoubtedly treated. As she passed along the quaint, resounding streets, many a head was turned to look after her; but Koosje went on her way like the staid maiden she was, duly impressed with the fact that she was principal servant of Professor van Dijck, the most celebrated authority on the study of osteology in Europe. So Koosje never heeded the looks, turned her head neither to the right nor to the left, but went sedately on her business or pleasure, whichever it happened to be.
It was not likely that such a treasure could remain long unnoticed and unsought after. Servants in the Netherlands, I hear, are not so good but that they might be better; and most people knew what a treasure Professor van Dijck had in his Koosje. However, as the professor conscientiously raised her wages from time to time, Koosje never thought of leaving him.
But there is one bribe no woman can resist--the bribe that is offered by love. As Professor van Dijck had expected and feared, that bribe ere long was held out to Koosje, and Koosje was too weak to resist it. Not that he wished her to do so. If the girl had a chance of settling well and happily for life, he would be the last to dream of throwing any obstacle in her way. He had come to be an old man himself; he lived all alone, save for his servants, in a great, rambling house, whose huge apartments were all set out with horrible anatomical preparations and grisly skeletons; and, though the stately passages were paved with white marble, and led into rooms which would easily have accommodated crowds of guests, he went into no society save that of savants as old and fossil-like as himself; in other words, he was an old bachelor who lived entirely for his profession and the study of the great masters by the interpretation of a genuine old Stradivari. Yet the old professor had a memory; he recalled the time when he had been young who now was old--the time when his heart was a good deal more tender, his blood a great deal warmer, and his fancy very much more easily stirred than nowadays. There was a dead-and-gone romance which had broken his heart, sentimentally speaking--a romance long since crumbled into dust, which had sent him for comfort into the study of osteology and the music of the Stradivari; yet the memory thereof made him considerably more lenient to Koosje's weakness than Koosje herself had ever expected to find him.
Not that she had intended to tell him at first; she was only three and twenty, and, though Jan van der Welde was as fine a fellow as could be seen in Utrecht, and had good wages and something put by, Koosje was by no means inclined to rush headlong into matrimony with undue hurry. It was more pleasant to live in the professor's good house, to have delightful walks arm in arm with Jan under the trees in the Baan or round the Singels, parting under the stars with many a lingering word and promise to meet again. It was during one of those very partings that the professor suddenly became aware, as he walked placidly home, of the change that had come into Koosje's life.
However, Koosje told him blushingly that she did not wish to leave him just at present; so he did not trouble himself about the matter. He was a wise man, this old authority on osteology, and quoted oftentimes, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
So the courtship sped smoothly on, seeming for once to contradict the truth of the old saying, "The course of true love never did run smooth." The course of their love did, of a truth, run marvellously smooth indeed. Koosje, if a trifle coy, was pleasant and sweet; Jan as fine a fellow as ever waited round a corner on a cold winter night. So brightly the happy days slipped by, when suddenly a change was effected in the professor's household which made, as a matter of course, somewhat of a change in Koosje's life. It came about in this wise.
Koosje had been on an errand for the professor,--one that had kept her out of doors some time,--and it happened that the night was bitterly cold; the cold, indeed, was fearful. The air had that damp rawness so noticeable in Dutch climate, a thick mist overhung the city, and a drizzling rain came down with a steady persistence such as quickly soaked through the stoutest and thickest garments. The streets were well-nigh empty. The great thoroughfare, the Oude Gracht, was almost deserted, and as Koosje hurried along the Meinerbroederstraat--for she had a second commission there--she drew her great shawl more tightly round her, muttering crossly, "What weather! yesterday so warm, to-day so cold. 'Tis enough to give one the fever."
She delivered her message, and ran on through Oude Kerkhoff as fast as her feet could carry her, when, just as she turned the corner into the Domplein, a fierce gust of wind, accompanied by a blinding shower of rain, assailed her; her foot caught against something soft and heavy, and she fell.
"Bless us!" she ejaculated, blankly. "What fool has left a bundle out on the path on such a night? Pitch dark, with half the lamps out, and rain and mist enough to blind one."
She gathered herself up, rubbing elbows and knees vigorously, casting the while dark glances at the obnoxious bundle which had caused the disaster. Just then the wind was lulled, the lamp close at hand gave out a steady light, which shed its rays through the fog upon Koosje and the bundle, from which, to the girl's horror and dismay, came a faint moan. Quickly she drew nearer, when she perceived that what she had believed to be a bundle was indeed a woman, apparently in the last stage of exhaustion.
Koosje tried to lift her; but the dead-weight was beyond her, young and strong as she was. Then the rain and the wind came on again in fiercer gusts than before; the woman's moans grew louder and louder, and what to do Koosje knew not.
She struggled on for the few steps that lay between her and the professor's house, and then she rang a peal which resounded through the echoing passages, bringing Dortje, the other maid, running out; after the manner of her class, imagining all sorts of terrible catastrophes had happened. She uttered a cry of relief when she perceived it was only Koosje, who, without vouchsafing any explanation, dashed past her and ran straight into the professor's room.
"O professor!" she gasped out; but, between her efforts to remove the woman, her struggle with the elements, and her race down the passage, her breath was utterly gone.
The professor looked up from his book and his tea-tray in surprise. For a moment he thought that Koosje, his domestic treasure, had altogether taken leave of her senses; for she was streaming with water, covered with mud, and head and cap were in a state of disorder, such as neither he nor any one else had ever seen them in since the last time she had been fished out of the Nieuwe Gracht.
"What is the matter, Koosje?" he asked, regarding her gravely over his spectacles.
"There's a woman outside--dying," she panted, "I fell over her."
"You had better try to get her in then," the old gentleman said, in quite a relieved tone. "You and Dortje must bring her in. Dear, dear, poor soul! but it is a dreadful night."
The old gentleman shivered as he spoke, and drew a little nearer to the tall white porcelain stove.
It was, as he had said a minute before, a terrible night. He could hear the wind beating about the house and rattling about the casements and moaning down the chimneys; and to think any poor soul should be out on such a night, dying! Heaven preserve others who might be belated or houseless in any part of the world!
He fell into a fit of abstraction,--a habit not uncommon with learned men,--wondering why life should be so different with different people; why he should be in that warm, handsome room, with its soft rich hangings and carpet, with its beautiful furniture of carved wood, its pictures, and the rare china scattered here and there among the grim array of skeletons which were his delight. He wondered why he should take his tea out of costly and valuable Oriental china, sugar and cream out of antique silver, while other poor souls had no tea at all, and nothing to take it out of even if they had. He wondered why he should have a lamp under his teapot that was a very marvel of art transparencies; why he should have every luxury, and this poor creature should be dying in the street amid the wind and the rain. It was all very unequal.
It was very odd, the professor argued, leaning his back against the tall, warm stove; it was very odd indeed. He began to feel that, grand as the study of osteology undoubtedly is, he ought not to permit it to become so engrossing as to blind him to the study of the greater philosophies of life. His reverie was, however, broken by the abrupt reentrance of Koosje, who this time was a trifle less breathless than she had been before.
"We have got her into the kitchen, professor," she announced. "She is a child--a mere baby, and so pretty! She has opened her eyes and spoken."
"Give her some soup and wine--hot," said the professor, without stirring.
"But won't you come?" she asked.
The professor hesitated; he hated attending in cases of illness, though he was a properly qualified doctor and in an emergency would lay his prejudice aside.
"Or shall I run across for the good Dr. Smit?" Koosje asked. "He would come in a minute, only it is such a night!"
At that moment a fiercer gust than before rattled at the casements, and the professor laid aside his scruples.
He followed his housekeeper down the chilly, marble-flagged passage into the kitchen, where he never went for months together--a cosey enough, pleasant place, with a deep valance hanging from the mantel- shelf, with many great copper pans, bright and shining as new gold, and furniture all scrubbed to the whiteness of snow.
In an arm-chair before the opened stove sat the rescued girl--a slight, golden-haired thing, with wistful blue eyes and a frightened air. Every moment she caught her breath in a half-hysterical sob, while violent shivers shook her from head to foot.
The professor went and looked at her over his spectacles, as if she had been some curious specimen of his favourite study; but at the same time he kept at a respectful distance from her.
"Give her some soup and wine," he said, at length, putting his hands under the tails of his long dressing-gown of flowered cashmere. "Some soup and wine--hot; and put her to bed."
"Is she then to remain for the night?" Koosje asked, a little surprised.
"Oh, don't send me away!" the golden-haired girl broke out, in a voice that was positively a wail, and clasping a pair of pretty, slender hands in piteous supplication.
"Where do you come from?" the old gentleman asked, much as if he expected she might suddenly jump up and bite him.
"From Beijerland, mynheer," she answered, with a sob.
"So! Koosje, she is remarkably well dressed, is she not?" the professor said, glancing at the costly lace head-gear, the heavy gold head-piece, which lay on the table together with the great gold spiral ornaments and filigree pendants--a dazzling head of richness. He looked, too, at the girl's white hands, at the rich, crape-laden gown, at their delicate beauty, and shower of waving golden hair, which, released from the confinement of the cap and head-piece, floated in a rich mass of glittering beauty over the pillows which his servant had placed beneath her head.
The professor was old; the professor was wholly given up to his profession, which he jokingly called his sweetheart; and, though he cut half of his acquaintances in the street through inattention and the shortness of his sight, he had eyes in his head, and upon occasions could use them. He therefore repeated the question.
"Very well dressed indeed, professor," returned Koosje, promptly.
"And what are you doing in Utrecht--in such a plight as this, too?" he asked, still keeping at a safe distance.
"O mynheer, I am all alone in the world," she answered, her blue misty eyes filled with tears. "I had a month ago a dear, good, kind father, but he has died, and I am indeed desolate. I always believed him rich, and to these things," with a gesture that included her dress and the ornaments on the table, "I have ever been accustomed. Thus I ordered without consideration such clothes as I thought needful. And then I found there was nothing for me--not a hundred guilders to call my own when all was paid."
"But what brought you to Utrecht?"
"He sent me here, mynheer. In his last illness, only of three days' duration, he bade me gather all together and come to this city, where I was to ask for a Mevrouw Baake, his cousin."
"Mevrouw Baake, of the Sigaren Fabrijk," said Dortje, in an aside, to the others. "I lived servant with her before I came here."
"I had heard very little about her, only my father had sometimes mentioned his cousin to me; they had once been betrothed," the stranger continued. "But when I reached Utrecht I found she was dead-- two years dead; but we had never heard of it."
"Dear, dear, dear!" exclaimed the professor, pityingly. "Well, you had better let Koosje put you to bed, and we will see what can be done for you in the morning."
"Am I to make up a bed?" Koosje asked, following him along the passage.
The professor wheeled round and faced her.
"She had better sleep in the guest room," he said, thoughtfully, regardless of the cold which struck to his slippered feet from the marble floor. "That is the only room which does not contain specimens that would probably frighten the poor child. I am very much afraid, Koosje," he concluded, doubtfully, "that she is a lady; and what we are to do with a lady I can't think."
With that the old gentleman shuffled off to his cosey room, and Koosje turned back to her kitchen.
"He'll never think of marrying her," mused Koosje, rather blankly. If she had spoken the thoughts to the professor himself, she would have received a very emphatic assurance that, much as the study of osteology and the Stradivari had blinded him to the affairs of this workaday world, he was not yet so thoroughly foolish as to join his fossilised wisdom to the ignorance of a child of sixteen or seventeen.
However, on the morrow matters assumed a somewhat different aspect. Gertrude van Floote proved to be not exactly a gentlewoman. It is true that her father had been a well-to-do man for his station in life, and had very much spoiled and indulged his one motherless child. Yet her education was so slight that she could do little more than read and write, besides speaking a little English, which she had picked up from the yachtsmen frequenting her native town. The professor found she had been but a distant relative of the Mevrouw Baake, to seek whom she had come to Utrecht, and that she had no kinsfolk upon whom she could depend--a fact which accounted for the profusion of her jewellery, all her golden trinkets having descended to her as heirlooms.
"I can be your servant, mynheer," she suggested. "Indeed, I am a very useful girl, as you will find if you will but try me."
Now, as a rule, the professor vigorously set his face against admitting young servants into his house. They broke his china, they disarranged his bones, they meddled with his papers, and made general havoc. So, in truth, he was not very willing to have Gertrude van Floote as a permanent member of his household, and he said so.
But Koosje had taken a fancy to the girl; and having an eye to her own departure at no very distant date,--for she had been betrothed more than two years,--she pleaded so hard to keep her, promising to train her in all the professor's ways, to teach her the value of old china and osteologic specimens, that eventually, with a good deal of grumbling, the old gentleman gave way, and, being a wise as well as an old gentleman, went back to his studies, dismissing Koosje and the girl alike from his thoughts.
Just at first Truide, poor child, was charmed.
She put away her splendid ornaments, and some lilac frocks and black skirts were purchased for her. Her box, which she had left at the station, supplied all that was necessary for Sunday.
It was great fun! For a whole week this young person danced about the rambling old house, playing at being a servant. Then she began to grow a little weary of it all. She had been accustomed, of course, to performing such offices as all Dutch ladies fulfil--the care of china, of linen, the dusting of rooms, and the like; but she had done them as a mistress, not as an underling. And that was not the worst; it was when it came to her pretty feet having to be thrust into klompen, and her having to take a pail and syringe and mop and clean the windows and the pathway and the front of the house, that the game of maid- servant began to assume a very different aspect. When, after having been as free as air to come and go as she chose, she was only permitted to attend service on Sundays, and to take an hour's promenade with Dortje, who was dull and heavy and stupid, she began to feel positively desperate; and the result of it all was that when Jan van der Welde came, as he was accustomed to do nearly every evening, to see Koosje, Miss Truide, from sheer longing for excitement and change, began to make eyes at him, with what effect I will endeavour to show.
Just at first Koosje noticed nothing. She herself was of so faithful a nature that an idea, a suspicion, of Jan's faithlessness never entered her mind. When the girl laughed and blushed and dimpled and smiled, when she cast her great blue eyes at the big young fellow, Koosje only thought how pretty she was, and it was must a thousand pities she had not been born a great lady.
And thus weeks slipped over. Never very demonstrative herself, Koosje saw nothing, Dortje, for her part, saw a great deal; but Dortje was a woman of few words, one who quite believed in the saying, "If speech is silver, silence is gold;" so she held her peace.
Now Truide, rendered fairly frantic by her enforced confinement to the house, grew to look upon Jan as her only chance of excitement and distraction; and Jan, poor, thick-headed noodle of six feet high, was thoroughly wretched. What to do he knew not. A strange, mad, fierce passion for Truide had taken possession of him, and an utter distaste, almost dislike, had come in place of the old love for Koosje. Truide was unlike anything he had ever come in contact with before; she was so fairy-like, so light, so delicate, so dainty. Against Koosje's plumper, maturer charms, she appeared to the infatuated young man like --if he had ever heard of it he would probably have said like a Dresden china image; but since he had not, he compared her in his own foolish heart to an angel. Her feet were so tiny, her hands so soft, her eyes so expressive, her waist so slim, her manner so bewitching! Somehow Koosje was altogether different; he could not endure the touch of her heavy hand, the tones of her less refined voice; he grew impatient at the denser perceptions of her mind. It was very foolish, very short-sighted; for the hands, though heavy, were clever and willing; the voice, though a trifle coarser in accent than Truide's childish tones, would never tell him a lie; the perceptions, though not brilliant, were the perceptions of good, every-day common sense. It really was very foolish, for what charmed him most in Truide was the merest outside polish, a certain ease of manner which doubtless she had caught from the English aristocrats whom she had known in her native place. She had not half the sterling good qualities and steadfastness of Koosje; but Jan was in love, and did not stop to argue the matter as you or I are able to do. Men in love--very wise and great men, too--are often like Jan van der Welde. They lay aside pro tem. the whole amount, be it great or small, of wisdom they possess. And it must be remembered that Jan van der Welde was neither a wise nor a great man.
Well, in the end there came what the French call un denouement,-- what we in forcible modern English would call a smash,--and it happened thus. It was one evening toward the summer that Koosje's eyes were suddenly opened, and she became aware of the free-and-easy familiarity of Truide's manner toward her betrothed lover, Jan. It was some very slight and trivial thing that led her to notice it, but in an instant the whole truth flashed across her mind.
"Leave the kitchen!" she said, in a tone of authority.
But it happened that, at the very instant she spoke, Jan was furtively holding Truide's fingers under the cover of the table-cloth; and when, on hearing the sharp words, the girl would have snatched them away, he, with true masculine instinct of opposition, held them fast.
"What do you mean by speaking to her like that?" he demanded, an angry flush overspreading his dark face.
"What is the maid to you?" Koosje asked, indignantly.
"Maybe more than you are," he retorted; in answer to which Koosje deliberately marched out of the kitchen, leaving them alone.
To say she was indignant would be but very mildly to express the state of her feelings; she was furious. She knew that the end of her romance had come. No thoughts of making friends with Jan entered her mind; only a great storm filled her heart till it was ready to burst with pain and anguish.
As she went along the passage the professor's bell sounded, and Koosje, being close to the door, went abruptly in. The professor looked up in mild astonishment, quickly enough changed to dismay as he caught sight of his valued Koosje's face, from out of which anger seemed in a moment to have thrust all the bright, comely beauty.
"How now, my good Koosje?" said the old gentleman. "Is aught amiss?"
"Yes, professor, there is," returned Koosje, all in a blaze of anger, and moving, as she spoke, the tea-tray, which she set down upon the oaken buffet with a bang, which made its fair and delicate freight fairly jingle again.
"But you needn't break my china, Koosje," suggested the old gentleman, mildly, rising from his chair and getting into his favourite attitude before the stove.
"You are quite right, professor," returned Koosje, curtly; she was sensible even in her trouble.
"And what is the trouble?" he asked, gently.
"It's just this, professor," cried Koosje, setting her arms akimbo and speaking in a high-pitched, shrill voice; "you and I have been warming a viper in our bosoms, and, viper-like, she has turned round and bitten me."
"Is it Truide?"
"Truide," she affirmed, disdainfully. "Yes, it is Truide, who but for me would be dead now of hunger and cold--or worse. And she has been making love to that great fool, Jan van der Welde,--great oaf that he is,--after all I have done for her; after my dragging her in out of the cold and rain; after all I have taught her. Ah, professor, but it is a vile, venomous viper that we have been warming in our bosoms!"
"I must beg, Koosje," said the old gentleman, sedately, "that you will exonerate me from any such proceeding. If you remember rightly, I was altogether against your plan for keeping her in the house." He could not resist giving her that little dig, kind of heart as he was.
"Serves me right for being so soft-hearted!" thundered Koosje. "I'll be wiser next time I fall over a bundle, and leave it where I find it."
"No, no, Koosje; don't say that," the old gentleman remonstrated, gently. "After all, it may be but a blessing in disguise. God sends all our trials for some good and wise purpose. Our heaviest afflictions are often, nay, most times, Koosje, means to some great end which, while the cloud of adversity hangs over us, we are unable to discern."
"Ah!" sniffed Koosje, scornfully.
"This oaf--as I must say you justly term him, for you are a good clever woman, Koosje, as I can testify after the experience of years-- has proved that he can be false; he has shown that he can throw away substance for shadow (for, of a truth, that poor, pretty child would make a sad wife for a poor man); yet it is better you should know it now than at some future date, when--when there might be other ties to make the knowledge more bitter to you."
"Yes, that is true," said Koosje, passing the back of her hand across her trembling lips. She could not shed tears over her trouble; her eyes were dry and burning, as if anger had scorched the blessed drops up ere they should fall. She went on washing up the cups and saucers, or at least the cup and saucer, and other articles the professor had used for his tea; and after a few minutes' silence he spoke again.
"What are you going to do? Punish her, or turn her out, or what?"
"I shall let him--marry her," replied Koosje, with a portentous nod.
The old gentleman couldn't help laughing. "You think he will pay off your old scores?"
"Before long," answered Koosje, grimly, "she will find him out--as I have done."
Then, having finished washing the tea-things, which the professor had shuddered to behold in her angry hands, she whirled herself out of the room and left him alone.
"Oh, these women--these women!" he cried, in confidence, to the pictures and skeletons. "What a worry they are! An old bachelor has the best of it in the main, I do believe. But oh, Jan van der Welde, what a donkey you must be to get yourself mixed up in such a broil! and yet--ah!"
The fossilised old gentleman broke off with a sigh as he recalled the memory of a certain dead-and-gone romance which had happened--goodness only knows how many years before--when he, like Jan van der Welde, would have thrown the world away for a glance of a certain pair of blue eyes, at the bidding of a certain English tongue, whose broken Nederlandsche taal was to him the sweetest music ever heard on earth --sweeter even than the strains of the Stradivari when from under his skilful fingers rose the perfect melodies of old masters. Ay, but the sweet eyes had been closed in death many a long, long, year, the sweet voice hushed in silence. He had watched the dear life ebb away, the fire in the blue eyes fade out. He had felt each day that the clasp of the little greeting fingers was less close; each day he had seen the outline of the face grow sharper; and at last there had come one when the poor little English-woman met him with the gaze of one who knew him not, and babbled, not of green fields, but of horses and dogs, and of a brother Jack, who, five years before, had gone down with her Majesty's ship Alligator in mid-Atlantic.
Ay, but that was many and many a year agone. His young, blue-eyed love stood out alone in life's history, a thing apart. Of the gentler sex, in a general way, the old professor had not seen that which had raised it in his estimation to the level of the one woman over whose memory hung a bright halo of romance.
Fifteen years had passed away; the old professor of osteology had passed away with them; and in the large house on the Domplein lived a baron, with half a dozen noisy, happy, healthy children,--young fraulas and jonkheers,--who scampered up and down the marble passages, and fell headlong down the steep, narrow, unlighted stairways, to the imminent danger of dislocating their aristocratic little necks. There was a new race of neat maids, clad in the same neat livery of lilac and black, who scoured and cleaned, just as Koosje and Dortje had done in the old professor's day. You might, indeed, have heard the selfsame names resounding through the echoing rooms: "Koos-je! Dort-je!"
But the Koosje and Dortje were not the same. What had become of Dortje I cannot say; but on the left-hand side of the busy, bustling, picturesque Oude Gracht there was a handsome shop filled with all manner of cakes, sweeties, confections, and liquors--from absinthe to Benedictine, or arrack to chartreuse. In that shop was a handsome, prosperous, middle-aged woman, well dressed and well mannered, no longer Professor van Dijck's Koosje, but the Jevrouw van Kampen.
Yes; Koosje had come to be a prosperous tradeswoman of good position, respected by all. But she was Koosje van Kampen still; the romance which had come to so disastrous and abrupt an end had sufficed for her life. Many an offer had been made to her, it is true; but she had always declared that she had had enough of lovers--she had found out their real value.
I must tell you that at the time of Jan's infidelity, after the first flush of rage was over, Koosje disdained to show any sign of grief or regret. She was very proud, this Netherland servant-maid, far too proud to let those by whom she was surrounded imagine she was wearing the willow for the faithless Jan; and when Dortje, on the day of the wedding, remarked that for her part she had always considered Koosje remarkably cool on the subject of matrimony, Koosje with a careless out-turning of her hands, palms uppermost, answered that she was right.
Very soon after their marriage Jan and his young wife left Utrecht for Arnheim, where Jan had promise of higher wages; and thus they passed, as Koosje thought, completely out of her life.
"I don't wish to hear anything more about them, if--you--please," she said, severely and emphatically, to Dortje.
But not so. In time the professor died, leaving Koosje the large legacy with which she set up the handsome shop in the Oude Gracht; and several years passed on.
It happened one day that Koosje was sitting in her shop sewing. In the large inner room a party of ladies and officers were eating cakes and drinking chocolates and liquors with a good deal of fun and laughter, when the door opened timidly, thereby letting in a gust of bitter wind, and a woman crept fearfully in, followed by two small, crying children.
Could the lady give her something to eat? she asked; they had had nothing during the day, and the little ones were almost famished.
Koosje, who was very charitable, lifted a tray of large, plain buns, and was about to give her some, when her eyes fell upon the poor beggar's faded face, and she exclaimed:
Truide, for it was she, looked up in startled surprise.
"I did not know, or I would not have come in, Koosje," she said, humbly; "for I treated you very badly."
"Ve-ry bad-ly," returned Koosje, emphatically. "Then where is Jan?"
"Dead!" murmured Truide, sadly.
"Dead! so--ah, well! I suppose I must do something for you. Here Yanke!" opening the door and calling, "Yanke!"
"Je, jevrouw," a voice cried, in reply.
The next moment a maid came running into the shop.
"Take these people into the kitchen and give them something to eat. Put them by the stove while you prepare it. There is some soup and that smoked ham we had for koffy. Then come here and take my place for a while."
"Je, jevrouw," said Yanke, disappearing again, followed by Truide and her children.
Then Koosje sat down again, and began to think.
"I said," she mused, presently, "that night that the next time I fell over a bundle I'd leave it where I found it. Ah, well! I'm not a barbarian; I couldn't do that. I never thought, though, it would be Truide."
"Hi, jevrouw," was called from the inner room.
"Je, mynheer," jumping up and going to her customers.
She attended to their wants, and presently bowed them out.
"I never thought it would be Truide," she repeated to herself, as she closed the door behind the last of the gay uniforms and jingling scabbards. "And Jan is dead--ah, well!"
Then she went into the kitchen, where the miserable children--girls both of them, and pretty had they been clean and less forlornly clad-- were playing about the stove.
"So Jan is dead," began Koosje, seating herself.
"Yes, Jan is dead," Truide answered.
"And he left you nothing?" Koosje asked.
"We had had nothing for a long time," Truide replied, in her sad, crushed voice. "We didn't get on very well; he soon got tired of me."
"That was a weakness of his," remarked Koosje, drily.
"We lost five little ones, one after another," Truide continued. "And Jan was fond of them, and somehow it seemed to sour him. As for me, I was sorry enough at the time, Heaven knows, but it was as well. But Jan said it seemed as if a curse had fallen upon us; he began to wish you back again, and to blame me for having come between you. And then he took to genever, and then to wish for something stronger; so at last every stiver went for absinthe, and once or twice he beat me, and then he died."
"Just as well," muttered Koosje, under her breath.
"It is very good of you to have fed and warmed us," Truide went on, in her faint, complaining tones. "Many a one would have let me starve, and I should have deserved it. It is very good of you and we are grateful; but 'tis time we were going, Koosje and Mina;" then added, with a shake of her head, "but I don't know where."
"Oh, you'd better stay," said Koosje, hurriedly. "I live in this big house by myself, and I dare say you'll be more useful in the shop than Yanke--if your tongue is as glib as it used to be, that is. You know some English, too, don't you?"
"A little," Truide answered, eagerly.
"And after all," Koosje said, philosophically, shrugging her shoulders, "you saved me from the beatings and the starvings and the rest. I owe you something for that. Why, if it hadn't been for you I should have been silly enough to have married him."
And then she went back to her shop, saying to herself:
"The professor said it was a blessing in disguise; God sends all our trials to work some great purpose. Yes; that was what he said, and he knew most things. Just think if I were trailing about now with those two little ones, with nothing to look back to but a schnapps-drinking husband who beat me! Ah, well, well! things are best as they are. I don't know that I ought not to be very much obliged to her--and she'll be very useful in the shop."