‘André, what’s wrong, are you hiding something?
Why have you been behaving so strangely lately?
Aren’t you feeling well?
Can’t you tell me what it is?
Come on, don’t be so sad. And don’t think we haven’t noticed,
we love you too much for that.
Come, tell me what’s wrong.
You’re not like you used to be, and you no longer enjoy your work either.
You don’t pay as much care and attention either.
Come on, we’re alone, now tell me all about it.
I won’t breathe a word to your mother yet, if you don’t want me to.
Don’t let me keep on asking.
Come on, son, if something is bothering you, you shouldn’t keep it all to yourself.’
These words were spoken by Hendriks, André’s father, while they were in the workshop together.
Hendriks was a simple carpenter, a hardworking man who would do anything he could for his family, his wife and his son.
The business had been in existence for a great many years, as grandfather Hendriks had inherited it from his father.
They were known as decent, honest people who never failed their duties towards anyone, nor would they ever take more than their due.
Hendriks devoted himself entirely to the business, which determined a large part of his life, his existence.
It was a few hundred years old and, when the time came when he would no longer be able to work, André would have to take over.
André, his child, whom he dearly loved and for whom he did anything.
Times hadn’t been easy for the boy lately; he had even lost all pleasure in his work; it showed clearly in everything he did.
He knew his boy too well.
He had always been a good lad, ready to do anyone a favour. He found joy in everything and always felt happy.
But nowadays he only did his duty because it was expected of him.
It worried Hendriks.
He couldn’t put it out of his mind.
André wasn’t well. He must find out what lay behind this, no matter how.
His son was popular with the people in the neighbourhood; he was always ready to help each person and did what he could to help all of them.
‘You never know, dad, some day we might need these people too,’ he would say, and right now he needed help himself, that was certain.
‘Come on, André, speak up.
Tell me what’s bothering you.’
‘What can I say, dad?
I haven’t the faintest idea.
I don’t seem to be myself lately.
It’s just as if something is hanging over my head.
Sometimes I’m afraid, and then life is just too much for me. I don’t know what it is, dad, but don’t you worry, it’s not that bad.
And it’ll probably pass.
Maybe I’m just a little nervous.’
Hendriks left it at that.
Yet he sensed that this wasn’t the truth.
We’ll see, he thought, but it kept on worrying him.
Strange things indeed were happening to André. Upstairs in his room he felt as if he were surrounded by people.
Sometimes he even heard his name being called, and it frightened him.
He didn’t dare live as free and easy as he used to, and it weighed on him and made him nervous.
What should he tell his father?
It was just as if the place were haunted.
These things usually happened when he was in bed and everything around was quiet.
And then he couldn’t fall asleep, which had never happened before.
His life had always been so full of happiness.
Everything had always seemed so full of fun and laughter to him.
It didn’t look like that now.
He often felt as if he had a lump in his throat and as if an inner voice were cautioning him.
And when that happened, all his cheerfulness left him.
After all, there wasn’t really anything to worry him?
Mum and dad were always kind to him and they had no financial problems.
They had saved enough for a rainy day.
No, that was not the reason, because all was well at home.
Nor did he spend all his money, since all he bought was the wood he used to make figurines of.
His father had taught him that.
He made beautiful wood carvings.
He preferred to cut figures that were related to religion.
He looked at the last plank, it was supposed to represent ‘The martyrs of Gorinchem’, and he had nearly finished it.
But that didn’t appeal to him anymore either.
All the love he used to feel for this beautiful work had vanished.
He still remembered the exact moment his restlessness had started. It had happened while he was busy cutting the figure of Saint Anthony.
That was when the first signs had appeared.
Afterwards his mind was muddled and he was unable to think properly.
There must be something that caused him to feel so confused.
But whom could he turn to for advice?
Who would be able to help him?
Nobody of course; neither could mum and dad.
What would they know about these things?
Nothing at all.
And yet it surely meant something special.
He thought about consulting a doctor, but he rejected the idea as quickly as it had come into his mind.
He had never been ill, so whatever could he tell the man?
The work on that last plank had started in a very strange way.
He was about to cut the gallows that these wretched people were strung up on, but unrelated thoughts kept on pushing away his own.
It seemed to him as if some invisible force were directing his arm and pulling it towards a certain spot.
Never in all the thirteen years that he had been busy for his father in this workshop had anything like this happened before. Not until now that he was twenty-eight.
It was very strange indeed.
Nothing was of interest to him, no longer did he have any hobbies or go places.
His friends didn’t call on him anymore either, they knew he wouldn’t join them anyway.
He would go to his room in the early evening, get into bed and then all he could think of were these puzzling events.
Sometimes he felt a strong urge to pray, which he did, with a complete love for God.
Then he would ask for protection, and to be set free from those mysterious things.
In the evening he always prayed together with his father and mother, and mother would always say ‘Deliver us from evil’.
André thought that was strange.
Why should these words creep into his mind right now?
What kind of evil?
Had he done so much wrong?
He had sinned against no one. He was always ready to lend a helping hand.
He loved everybody, and yet at present he had no peace of mind.
When would he ever find it again?
These were his thoughts while he worked.
The day’s job was finished and Hendriks went to the living-room, where his wife had started to serve the meal.
On entering he said: ‘There’s something wrong with André.
I asked him this afternoon why he’s so quiet, but I didn’t get any sense out of him.
All he answered was: ‘I don’t know, dad.’
But I won’t settle for that.
What are we to do, Marie?
It can’t go on like this.’
‘No Willem, it certainly can’t.
There’s not an hour that my thoughts aren’t with the boy.
He has never been like that.
Should we go and see the reverend?
Maybe he could help us.’
‘No Marie, don’t do that, what would you say to him?
He would answer: ‘Don’t worry, it will all solve itself.’
And where would that get you?
Nowhere at all.
Don’t get other people involved, after all, we’re quite able to look after our child ourselves.
If he did wrong things, that would be something different, but there’s no question of that.
He’s just in a quiet and sad mood.’
Hendriks wanted to cheer up his wife, because he clearly felt that she was very anxious.
‘Do you mind that much, Marie?’
‘It’s worrying you too, father.
Don’t pretend it isn’t.
You know he doesn’t go out anymore, and he has dropped his woodcarving too.
His friends have also stopped coming by, because the boy has withdrawn completely.
He’s gone within himself, as if there were nobody else around.
But I’ve got an idea.
Listen, and tell me what you think.
Maybe you’ll reckon it to be a strange idea, but I talked to Mrs. Hoenders at the market last week, and she told me she had been downtown for her youngest daughter, the one who has seen many doctors for ages but who is still ill in bed with open wounds on her legs.
The doctors did all they could, but to no avail.
Then she went to see a clairvoyant, and I believe that man could help us too.
It was so surprising, so strange, she said. This man immediately had seen which illness her child had, how old she was and how long this trouble had been going on.
He gave her some water and told her that he had magnetized it.
She was to use that water to moisten pieces of cloth with which she should dress the wounds.
Now that was only two weeks ago and the wounds are already getting smaller.
It must be a marvel, father.
Perhaps this man can tell us too what we ought to do with André. What do you think?’
‘What can I say, Marie?
You shouldn’t believe that kind of thing, it’s like fortune-telling, just for the money.
I don’t believe in it, but it’s up to you.’
‘No Willem, this man is not after the money, because he told Mrs. Hoenders to pray with him, and in the evenings too, when she renews the dressings.
Surely that shows he’s not a bad person.
I don’t know, but it gives me confidence, and I’ve got a feeling that this is the only thing that can help us.
After all, you haven’t any idea either what is troubling André.
Should you wait until it’s too late?
No father, I’m definitely going there.
First thing tomorrow.
All I need is a portrait of André, this man can tell everything from it.
But don’t tell the boy anything, I don’t want him to know yet.’
‘Do as you please, Marie, it’s up to you.’
André had freshened up a bit before having supper with his parents.
They always used to sit together enjoying a chat, and father would discuss the next day’s work with his son.
These were wonderful moments with so much harmony between them.
Hendriks never needed to remind him of anything, because André never forgot anything and would simply go his own way.
He had soon proved his skill in handling the earnings too.
Fortunately he had a good understanding of the work, since every inch of wood had to earn its money.
He had always been a support to Hendriks.
But no matter what he asked him nowadays, there wasn’t a word you could get out of the boy, and the wonderful hours at suppertime had changed into a silence that put a strain on all of them.
And why, and for what good reason?
It was maddening.
This just couldn’t go on.
Marie was right.
There must be help.
Racking your brains wouldn’t get you anywhere, and the family happiness had gone.
What sense was there in all the work, now that their child, the centre of their life, no longer felt happy?
Come what may, this had to stop.
That’s what father Hendriks thought.