1634: THE DREESON INCIDENT – snippet 25:
Laurent Mauger surveyed his warehouse with pride.
Excusable pride, he thought. He had built a business that supported his entire family. Supported it well. Not to mention, employed most of it.
His sons were learning the business. Barendt and Jan Willem, the only survivors of the nine children born to his late wife. Barendt was twenty-two already. Time flew. He’d need to start looking for a wife pretty soon. Jan Willem at eighteen could afford to wait a few more years before worrying about such weighty matters.
Neither was home. Barendt was observing wine-making in the Moselle Valley. Jan Willem had accompanied his cousin Pierre Guillaume de Grasse to Italy on a buying trip.
Which brought Laurent to those who had finished learning the business and now helped him run it. Pierre Guillaume was his chief buyer. He was the younger son of his widowed half-sister, Marie, who ran his household here in town. Her older son, Laurent, called Lolo by the family, was his chief accountant. Her daughters, both unmarried, lived at home.
A slight shadow passed over his face. The girls should be married by now, but their brothers were reluctant to let the dowry money bequeathed by Marie’s late husband out of their own hands.
Then there were the sons of his deceased half-sister Louise. Jan Dircksen Pieterz was, unfortunately, as improvident as his late father had been. Mauger kept looking for some avenue by which Jan might display his talents. Thus far, none had appeared, and the boy was… um… thirty-six years old now, it must be. Still, he was family, so he must be fed—and luckily, he hadn’t married. For the time being, he was in charge of arranging shipping contracts. Somebody else always double-checked the arrangements he made, of course. Usually his younger brother, who was cautious and careful, if not particularly resourceful.
They couldn’t have dowered their sisters if they wanted to. Dirck had died bankrupt. So both Alida and Madeleine were, to put it plainly, upper servants. Ladies-in-waiting to the wives of wealthy merchants. Not chambermaids, but not far above that status, either. They fetched, carried, read out loud, made lace.
He had offered to dower them, but they were both too proud. Or ashamed that he had needed to make the offer. Alida had been in her teens when Dirck went bankrupt and killed himself. Madeleine was old enough to remember that time.
All six of those boys, his own sons and the sons of his half-sisters, had a remarkable sense of entitlement where the business was concerned. They thought of it as already theirs, although he was far from dead yet.
Nowhere close to dead. How surprised they would be if they knew that his sedate business trips also involved secret work for the Huguenot cause!
His greatest affection was reserved for his younger sister Aeltje. She wasn’t here. Widowed like Marie, she had chosen not to depend on him when Louis died. Rather, she had remained in Leiden, where she had turned her large house into a residence for a dozen or so students. Both of her sons were attending the university. Mauger liked the boys, too. Jean-Louis was studying science and engineering. He said that the chemistry, at least, would be of use in the wine business if he some day joined the firm. The younger boy had started classes this semester. Aeltje was no longer young, but now she had the help of her daughter Marte, who had a quite respectable dowry.
With any luck, Marte would soon find a husband in the form of one of her brothers’ friends. University towns were useful, that way. They provided a pool of promising young men, pre-selected for a certain minimum level of intelligence and ambition.
Aeltje was not stupid. That might be why she was his favorite sister.
Mauger spent three days reviewing the business developments that had occurred while he was gone. Then he couldn’t put it off any longer. He would be made to regret it if he postponed it any farther.
It was time to face the villa.
He had bought the villa after Adriaantje had died. His late wife. A saint. Not in the idolatrous Catholic sense of the word, of course. Rather, a saint as in “a woman of noble character.”
The “girls” had lived with them throughout their marriage. Not one of them had been willing to assume responsibility for the household after Adriaantje died. They said that, never having married, they had no experience in the matter.
So he had asked Marie. Who came and, a scant three months later, proclaimed: “Either they go or I go.”
He needed Marie in his Haarlem townhouse. So he bought the villa. Hired a steward and a housekeeper. It was a truly lovely country home.
The door opened. They emerged like a flock of crows. His oldest half-sister, Catherine. She was seventy-two now. Followed by his three older sisters.
Not an Arminian among them. Surely that consistency of theological opinion in his family was something of which a man could be proud.
But he would prefer to be away on a business trip.
“Perhaps he is interested in you.” Veda Mae pursed her lips. “Personally, I mean.”
Velma Hardesty shook her head. She might not be a brain, but one thing was always perfectly clear to her. “Look, Veda Mae. I can tell when a man’s interested in me.”
“You’ve certainly had enough chances to practice that skill.”
“Thanks for the compliment. But, what I mean is—Jacques-Pierre isn’t. Interested in me, I mean. Except for teaching me to Meditate. Which must have been Meant. By the Stars, you know. It’s sort of too bad. He’s in great condition.”
Veda Mae cocked her head to the side. “Spending every day trotting alongside a wagon and heaving the contents of garbage cans into it will do that for the old biceps and triceps and abs, I suppose. Several of the orderlies at the assisted living center—why don’t they tell the plain truth and call it an old folks home or a nursing home, the way people used to?—are in really good shape, too.”
Velma raised her eyebrows. “Window shopping?”
“I’m a widow,” Veda Mae said righteously. “It’s perfectly proper, as long as all I do is look.”