How could a man do what Alida’s husband did?
How could a man do what Opa did to Alida? Sophie thought as she sat on the couch, typing some of the new developments in Alida’s story.
Bea emerged from the spare room with another armful of paperwork. ‘I found many things I have to sort out, although not what I had in mind. But I have a few other things to tell you about your opa, which may explain how he could’ve done what he did with Alida.’
‘That’ll be great, thank you.’ Sophie moved the video camera to focus on both women seated on the soft leather couch which Bea had insisted on bringing from her old house.
‘Your opa had three older sisters, one of whom became pregnant. In that time, not being married, her family decided she couldn’t stay in the neighbourhood and sent the baby to somebody else in Holland. Her dad, your great-grandfather, was a seaman who did a lot of work in Dutch Indonesia, so they decided they would send her to work there. But on the boat, she met a nice man…’
Bea nodded. ‘He was not a Dutchman, but they married. I don’t know if it was on the boat. Sometimes the captain of the boat was allowed to marry people. They arrived in Indonesia, and after some time she discovered he was very rich. So their way of living changed a lot. They bought big houses in Amsterdam, America and many other places. Some were hotels. Her middle sister stayed in touch and was the only family member who knew about the whole history.’
Sophie’s eyes opened wide as Bea related the story without a pause.
‘About forty years ago her husband died, and she had no other children. She started to live in the properties around the world as if they were her own home. The one in Den Haag became famous because it was where government officials from other countries visited our government officials, as it was close to the parliament offices. I received an invitation to come and visit that hotel. She sent me photos and I thought you might be interested.’ Bea reached for the coffee table and picked up a book about a centimetre thick.
Sophie grinned as she reached for her aunt’s spectacles and moved to sit right next to her. Here is evidence that this amazing story is true, she thought to herself and said, ‘How much more incredible history is there in this family?’
Bea’s eyes twinkled as she opened the first page, ‘The history of your family is almost beyond belief – I know. Look! Here is one person who was a Dutch spy. Famous. Extremely rich.’ She read more of the Dutch text and translated it aloud into English. She continued this process as she showed photos and described kings from Ethiopia and movie stars who came to the hotel while Sophie’s great-aunt was living there.
‘When your great-aunt died, not long ago, your opa received a lot of money from her. He built a house in Australia. Perhaps you know the history?’
Sophie shook her head.
Bea leaned forward. ‘But suddenly the middle sister said, “It’s not right that we get the money because our eldest sister had a son; he should get the biggest part of it.” Of course, the other members of the family were unhappy about this.’ Bea shuddered. ‘Because this meant that they would get an extremely reduced amount of money, and your opa was very angry.’
Sophie reddened from head to toe, feeling rage and embarrassment about her grandfather’s behaviour.
Bea crossed her legs and cupped her elbows in her hands. ‘Yes, he made a lot of trouble. But in the end, the son got quite a lot of his mother’s estate, possibly about half of it. He lived with a very poor farmer until he was able to buy something for himself. It was very nice – I visited it, thanks to your opa’s youngest sister, Angelique, who lived in Canada.’ Bea drew a quick breath. ‘She went to look for their sister’s son, and I suppose you heard quite a lot of the story.’
Sophie shook her head. ‘Nobody except you has ever told me anything about the family history. I’m very grateful to you.’
Bea looked down at the book and passed it to Sophie. ‘Here you have photos of that hotel in Den Haag.’
‘Wow, that’s from the inside. I have to take a photo of it because this is something you want to keep?’ Sophie stood and took her mobile from her back pocket, photographed it and looked at a few photos on various pages.
‘If you want to have it, you can.’ Bea waved her hand to Sophie.
‘No, it’s easier to carry this one photo which weighs nothing on the camera, than take your whole nice gift book.’
Bea searched through piles of coloured maps and books, and eventually found the envelope she was looking for, which she’d placed there previously. ‘I can tell you that Angelique’s letters are quite long.’ Bea glanced at each of the see-through pages, then counted them out as if counting out money into Sophie’s hand.
‘It’s dated 10 October, 1962. I was just eight months old. I couldn’t possibly have understood, let alone deciphered the Dutch conversations between Opa and my mum.’
‘You can try to read it.’ Bea rolled herself up off the couch arm to stand, then took the cups to the sink, saying, ‘Otherwise I will have to translate it all.’
‘I can try…’ Sophie sat silently. She could read primary-school level, everyday Dutch conversations. But there were many long words which she didn’t know, so was unable to grasp the context of her great-aunt’s message.
Bea returned to the couch with both cups refilled with black tea. ‘How are you doing?’
Sophie rolled her eyes. ‘I’m sorry. If it was typed, perhaps I’d understand more. But this has shortened words, write-overs – it’s clear that she’s very emotional about her brother and his wife. And I can see that it’s about money. It seems to be about the inheritance left by their oldest sister, the details of which you just told me about.’
‘It begins with that. But what Tante Angelique writes about is what follows on from that.’ Bea scanned the first paragraphs then prefaced her translation with, ‘She writes to my husband who is her nephew…’