Neatly dressed slaves served the refreshments; they consisted of tea, lemonade and pastries for the ladies, for the gentlemen[ 24 ]from beer, while the gold pipes were not forgotten either.
Mrs. Dammers emptied one cup after another, and in the meantime did not neglect to watch with disapproval as the young hostess herself offered a helpful hand to serve her guests.
“You still don’t get along very well with your slave girls,” she said after a while , “you spoil them by taking work off their hands. They don’t do that here, your husband had to unlearn it!”
“I am very satisfied with her services and so is my husband.”
‘I believe that, good Margaretha has given herself enough trouble for them. She was inexorably strict with them; for every little offense she made them give the 20 or 30. It is good that you know, for a trifle, but 10 or 12 stuivers, let the niggers of the tax do that, then one need not listen to their moaning; that’s very easy don’t you think? Today I had my slave Tandjoeng inflicted forty lashes, she had broken my most beautiful ivory comb on my hair, and imagine, this afternoon she declared that she was too ill to help me. I sent for her and she stumbled in; but when I threatened her that she could get twenty more the next day, the paper turned and she helped me as deftly as ever.?”
“I do not intend to have corporal punishment meted out to my servants.”
“Not! but dear madam! what are you thinking about? You who have just come here, will you prescribe the law for us?”
“I do not prescribe anything to anyone, but in my house I have rights and I will not tolerate any mistreatment of poor creatures, [ 25 ]who, like me, are children of the same Father in Heaven.”
Madame and Miss Dammers looked at the speaker with wide eyes; a stupid laugh pulled the young lady’s thick lips apart. She had not yet said a word, for she could hardly understand Dutch; Completely handed down from childhood to slaves and maidservants, though of pure European blood, she was as retarded as the children of the natives.
“Astaga!” she exclaimed, “begimana Njonja!”
“Children of the same Father; it was allowed, those brown creatures my brothers. Imagine Hendrika, what madam says, that Tongkeng and Djamoe are your brothers, your sudara!”
Nonna Hendrika chuckled; the host had overheard some notes of the conversation, and looked with concern at his young wife, who spoke so openly.
Digna forcibly controlled her feeling, then turned to the gentlemen with her usual grace:
“Are the gentlemen served? Doesn’t mister Dammers like a pipe?” she asked the young bier, who did not smoke.
“I beg your pardon ma’am, but I never smoke!” he answered, standing up and bowing deeply, so clumsily that he knocked over his glass of beer, which accident he made worse by his left movements.
“Oh, it’s nothing, don’t make a fuss , ” said Digna, laughing, and bent over to pick up the unbroken glass from the sand, and pour it back in.
„Digna! call Sidha!” said her husband, softly reproachfully.
“Nothing is spoiled?” said Digna kindly , “may I please you with these pastries?”[ 26 ]
“Aren’t they fried in oil?” he asked with a suspicious expression.
“Do not worry!” she replied with a smile, „no oil was used. Do you like the Indian food, sir?”
“As long as no oil comes in, I can accept it.”
“He eats nothing like cold rice with butter and sugar!” cried the madam indignantly , “I don’t want him to prepare anything else, he must get used to the way we all eat here from the Noble Lord General.”
“I’m afraid I’ll be starving to death before I get used to it , ” said the other sadly; There you have the Reverend Pastor Valentyn, who has been in the East for years, has stood at Amboina and is now attached to the Castle Church; he told me yesterday that it was impossible for him to eat the food prepared in the Javanese way, but you yourself, madam, who also recently left Europe, how do you like the Indian table?”
“You forget that I am a native Indian,” replied Digna, “it is true, however, that I have long forgotten the taste of Indian cuisine; but everything tastes good to me. If young Mr Dammers would do us the pleasure of sharing our modest table, I hope, however, to provide him with proof that it is not necessary to give up Dutch food in Batavia either.”
“Kurang Adjar!” 1 Mrs. Dammers muttered in her daughter’s ear.[ 27 ]
“Betoel,” 2 confirmed the young lady.
“Ma’am, the honor, the pleasure shall be mine,” exclaimed the young man in delight.
“You spoke of the Reverend Valentyn there, cousin,” said old Lord Dammers , “but you have just mentioned an example there that is not worthy of imitation. That venerable Lord does not enjoy good health, and makes his morbid condition worse by imagining all kinds of ailments and attributing them to the way of life here.”
“By your leave, Noble Lord!” said Digna, “but I believe that the Europeans here in general would be much healthier if they adapted their way of life and dress to the demands of the climate.”
“For instance, as you do, young lady! Well, I would advise anyone who saw his head graying in the East Indies to follow your advice, which you so kindly impart,” snapped Mrs. Dammers mockingly, “it seems you know everything much better than we who living on Batavia over the next 20 years.”
“Forgive me, madam, I didn’t mean to force my point of view on you,” said Mrs. Voorneman, always politely , “may I give the young lady another cup of tea?”
“Thank you, don’t like,” was the reply.
“Choice Hendrika is your tongue still burning?” asked the young gentleman, who now joined the ladies, feeling a sympathy for the dear hostess which had hitherto remained foreign to him in this country.
“What?” asked his niece.
“I ask you whether your tongue still burns with this devil’s fare, [ 28 ]which you soon made me taste. Me for me, my lips are still glowing.”
The young lady burst out in ill-mannered laughter, and her nephew continued, now addressed to Digna:
‘Imagine, madam, she soon offered me something which she called fruit in jelly, and put it right to her mouth with her fingers, appetizingly. I sighed and oh shit! It was as if my palate and tongue were in flames.”
Nonna Hendrika kept on screaming. “It was roedjak 3 !” it sounded only between the fits of laughter.
The two gentlemen meanwhile had resumed their conversation about politics, they were discussing the chances of a new Java war, which now became more and more likely.
The old, dazed Susuhunan Hamangkoe-Rat had passed away to the great joy of his eldest son and heir Adipati Anum, who had already been recognized as his successor during the old emperor’s lifetime. The lords bowed to the violence, but still saw with sorrowful eyes the cruel, lustful prince take his father’s throne; with both hands they seized the pretext that according to the adats (laws or customs) he must be excluded from government because he was crippled.
Nor was the Company pleased with the new emperor, who made no secret of his hatred of the Dutch and was eager to destroy them all, or at least drive them out of Java; The Company could not in the least expect from him that he would put an end to the tense relationship that had been going on between Captain Tak since the murder of Captain Tak, that is, since 1686.[ 29 ]Karta-Sura and Batavia ruled. The debt of 1200000 rijksdaalders had still not been settled; in the letters which he sent to Batavia he did not say a word about this debt.
The resistance in Karta-Sura grew more and more fierce, however, until at last the Emperor’s uncle Pangeran Poeger, after a humiliating punishment inflicted on him by his nephew, fled to Samarang to invoke the protection of the Company; he now saw the opportunity to gain influence at the Mataram court.
Since there was nothing to hope for her from the new emperor, called Sunan Mas, she declared not to recognize him, but instead to pay tribute to his uncle, around whom the leading great-grandmothers immediately united and who now under the name of Paku Buwana as emperor acted; he promised complete submission and unbounded gratitude to the Hollanders, who now, as soon as he was enthroned, understood that they had in their hands a willing instrument to accomplish their purposes.
But still Sunan Mas was in reality dominated, though he seemed to consider his condition dangerous, for his attitude towards the Company changed completely; as proud and presumptuous as she had been before, so creeping and submissive she now became. He made the most outrageous promises when people would only recognize him and hand his uncle over to him. All his efforts were in vain; his condition grew more and more precarious, even the envoys he sent to the Company submitted to Paku Buwana and returned to him with treachery in their hearts.
The Company had now at last resolved to fight the deposed Emperor by force of arms; new forces had recently arrived from Europe, and they would soon leave Batavia to advance towards Karta-Sura . This war could[ 30 ]to assure the Company a formidable new power if it was brought to a successful conclusion.
“And yet,” said Mr. Voorneman, “nothing will be gained as long as that Balinese slave holds sway in the East Corner. He is more to be feared than the Mataram princes have sunk in their effeminacy.”
“But we will also let our forces advance against him, and then we will not lack the support of the Javanese either, for Surapati or, as he now calls himself, Radhen Adipati Wiro Negoro is the bitterest enemy of Mataram.”
“Do you really believe that, my friend? There is so little to build upon the enmity or friendship of these men; it is said that Sunan Mas will invoke his help and protection, if we continue to turn a blind eye to his exaggerated offers; if so, it will be against this formidable foe that we must fight, the more formidable since he has knowledge of our conditions and our weapons.”
“Do you speak of Surapati?” asked Mrs. Voorneman, joining in the conversation, probably because she was bored listening to her visitors, “is that the same that caused my father’s cruel death?”
“Exactly my dear! That man was once a slave here on Batavia. It is said that because of a love affair with a Dutch girl, locked up in prison, he managed to escape and later fled to Karta-Sura; there the false emperor or his rulers wished to use him to murder the soldiers of the Company. The matter will always remain obscure. Your father, the Company’s extraordinary envoy, was killed on the day of his arrival by the Balinese scoundrels, and the scorn has not yet been avenged; the villain escaped and settled in East Java,[ 31 ]where he now reigns supreme and allows himself to be shown royal honors. Even the independent empire of Balembangan is subject to him; all the enemies of the Dutch find refuge with him, all the provinces of Mataram belong to him, because he conquered them and the emperor lacks the power to resist.”
“And must this situation continue any longer? Is it not a shame that the mighty Company is resisted by a runaway slave, whom she sees nearly twenty years elapse before she avenges the scorn done to her? I was a child of barely a year and a half when my father died, now I am already a husband, and still his murderer continues to defy the Company.”
Digna’s soft, kind eyes flickered with indignation. The ladies looked at each other meaningfully, the cousin’s eyes rested full of admiration on her beautiful face, more highly colored by emotion. Her husband smiled and the Noble Heer Dammers shrugged.
“Those feelings do honor to your child’s heart, madam,” he said, a little mockingly, “but the Company is not all-powerful, especially in recent years it has had to feel enough how its power has limits. When your esteemed father, whom I had the privilege of knowing very closely, was murdered, the Governor-General Speelman had just passed away, leaving a grave confusion in the affairs of the Board, a confusion the consequences of which we still bear to this day. I, for my part, believe that the Company is going into a slow decline; for the moment she will probably have the necessary strength not to suffer defeat in the war she is about to make against Sunan Mas; for Surapati however[ 32 ]to attack, it needs the support of the Javanese chiefs. Think, madam, how incalculable damage an unfortunate campaign must cause her in the eyes of the Javanese. May not the very legitimate desire for revenge be sacrificed to this? It is necessary above all that we appear to them as a loftier sort of men, their born masters, as invincible warriors.”
“And to that end we take their treasures, make use of their quarrels to make them bow under our power, but teach them to esteem us a truly good and magnanimous people, you think not of that. I lament that my father’s death has not been avenged, why, then, if avenging is too heavy for you, not exercised the divine right of pardon? Why do we take advantage of their vices to make ourselves richer and more powerful, why … but it behooves me not to reproach young inexperienced woman, men of tried experience. You can’t change it either, but I would think it so much nobler and more Christian if the Dutch, instead of thinking about their power and wealth above all else, understood how sad the situation of these poor people is,
“You are the niece of the Lord Supreme Governor,” said Mrs. Dammers contemptuously, “why don’t you unfold to His Nobility your ideas, which fit better in a preacher’s mouth than in your own? Oh, what would my good Margaret say if she heard you?”
“Forgive me, madam!” said the Digna calmly, „I am immodest[ 33 ]I fear, but these thoughts so often come to my mind that they escape my mouth as if of their own accord. May I offer you another cup of tea?”
“It will be time to get up and go home,” said Mrs. Dammers. “It has become quite dark.”
A few moments later the carriage, preceded by flames, rode out of Voorneman’s yard, and the host went up and down the hall of his house, richly decorated with gilding and carving, in a violent tumult.
Digna put her stepson to bed; when the lad slept peacefully, she returned to her husband, who waited for her with apparent impatience. He came to meet her, she took both his hands in hers and looked at him confidentially.
“I’m sorry Markus,” she said , “I have been very careless, have I done great harm?”
He pressed her hands to his lips and replied in a hushed voice:
“You are a bigot, Digna, a sweet, heroic bigot. It is not your fault, my poor child, but of those around you, that you do not fit in her midst. Oh, if I had been twenty years younger, and had come to know you, what a man you would have made me.”
Sighing deeply, he dropped into one of the carved armchairs without letting go of her hands; she stood beside him, kind and gentle as ever.
“You must teach me how to behave in the company of these ladies. They speak a language I don’t understand. I much prefer to listen to the conversations of the men, they are more comprehensible to me. Imagine Markus that that woman advised me to have my slaves flogged even if they were innocent in order to maintain my authority, when I was so young. And another[ 34 ]she asked me, which I understand even less. She asked if I gave anything to the second mate with the ship that will soon leave for Japan; she already had ten chests ready. I looked at her silly and asked what to do with those boxes; she screamed with laughter, and replied, “Well, of course, they are sold there,” and when I remarked, “But the Company’s servants are not allowed to trade,” she laughed even louder, and said, “Who will dare to prevent them, for woe to anyone who dares to catch them. We are too high for a subordinate officer to charge us, they close their eyes!” I didn’t want to hear any more of it, but if it is true Markus, there is such a secret trade here, one need not ask why this apparently so powerful Company is indeed so weak; then the treasures benefit a few persons and not the Fatherland. Can’t the justice do anything about that, Markus?”
He looked away and bowed his head, he resumed hesitantly:
“Evil is too general, too deeply ingrained, it can no longer be counteracted.”
“What class is Mrs. Dammers really from, Markus,” asked Digna, feeling instinctively that she was touching here on a subject that hurt her husband; “I think she must not have belonged to the patrician families in Holland.”
“Very patrician indeed!” he replied mockingly, ‘her mother had a vegetable cellar in Leiden, and when she left for Java with her first husband, it is said that he had been in prison there for theft. He was a carpenter here, but they soon became rich, don’t ask how, and when he died she found a much more distinguished husband, so that no one blamed my friend Dammers when he became her third husband.[ 35 ]But if you would have peace, my dearest wife, take people and things as they are here. Listen and speak to me of your objections, but do not squander your beautiful thoughts on people who are not worthy of hearing them, who may draw erroneous inferences from them, which will be credited to you because you are envied for your beauty, your youth, your mind and development!”
“I’ll take your advice, my dear! And always tell me frankly when I’ve said something wrong. I am still so young and inexperienced!”
“Thou art my greatest, my dearest treasure, the light of my eyes, the joy of my soul, O why am I not a young, strong man, instead of a worn out, sick old man!” he exclaimed suddenly, and stretched out his arms passionately to his wife, who, surprised, recoiled more at the sound of his voice than at the movement.
“You avoid me!” he said despondently, and then slumped back in his chair. “It is true, perhaps you love me, but as a father, but not as a husband. There is another whose memory lives in your heart and whom you cannot forget.”
“Don’t speak like that, Markus!” said Digna, with his eyes downcast , “he is dead to me, perhaps he is no longer of the living. In any case, I have promised you faithfulness and love, and with God’s help I will fulfill that promise and live only for you and for our child!”
„I know Digna, I know! Thou art an exemplary husband, a careful mother; I thank God that He gave thee to me, foolish am I to desire more, how can I expect of thee the love which thou once bestowed upon thy young friend in so great a measure, but oh thou knowest not how I have loved thee ..”[ 36 ]
“You only spoke to me about friendship and affection before our marriage, and I promised you both in turn, as I had no more love to give away. He took the other one with him. God only knows whither!”
Her words ended in a sob, he heard it and pressed his hands to his heart as if he wanted to suppress an immeasurable pain by force.
“Forgive me,” she prayed, and knelt beside him, lifting her sweet, innocent face to him pleadingly, “it is not my fault; I have not deceived you, I try to do my duty and forget him. It was not I who began this so grievous conversation for both of us.”
“I don’t blame you, Digna, it’s all my fault. I promised you more or less than I could give, but I was no master of my heart. It was not until after our marriage that my calm friendship for you began to turn into a love so ardent and passionate that it seems ridiculous to my gray hair. Never before did I know what it meant to love a noble, pure woman, a woman who purifies the atmosphere in which she breathes, a woman who commands us love and at the same time respect, who thinks, lives and feels with us, who makes her home a sanctuary in which all virtues are honored and practiced. You taught me to understand that woman. Unfortunately! digna! too late! I am mad enough to tell you about my feelings, I may disturb your calm and tranquility, the gifts for which you are most grateful to me and which are the only ones, which I could give you. I would have liked to take my secret to the grave, from which I may be so short.”
With tears in his eyes Digna looked at him; deep pity, deep affection he read in that look, that’s all; she loved[ 37 ]her hands folded on the back of the chair, but did not reach out to caress him. He stroked his face, sighed deeply, and then stood up.
“Take a rest, darling!” said he, lifting her up and pressing a light kiss to her forehead, “try to forget what I told you and let everything be as it was before.”
“As before!” repeated Digna to herself when she was alone, ‘how will that ever happen? I felt so calm, so calm under his protection, shall I still be so when I know that he suffers bitterly and I cannot give my good man what comforts him?”