The Seventh Etching

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Overview

A historic family drama based in and near 1640 Amsterdam, the wealthiest city on earth at the time, The Seventh Etching tells the story of two families over a one-year period. Both Griet and Johannes Verhoeven, farmers, in their early 20's and Jos and Myriam Broekhof, wealthy merchants in their 30's, face devastating losses that threaten their livelihoods and their marriages.

After a major flood, Griet and Johannes attempt to rebuild two combined family farms - a unique, ...

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The Seventh Etching

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Overview

A historic family drama based in and near 1640 Amsterdam, the wealthiest city on earth at the time, The Seventh Etching tells the story of two families over a one-year period. Both Griet and Johannes Verhoeven, farmers, in their early 20's and Jos and Myriam Broekhof, wealthy merchants in their 30's, face devastating losses that threaten their livelihoods and their marriages.

After a major flood, Griet and Johannes attempt to rebuild two combined family farms - a unique, promising inheritance that initially brought them together, but now overwhelms them. Myriam secretly sells her husband's valuable art collection to build a hidden monument to her deceased daughter. Jos suffers despair and defeat as he combs every corner of the city in his obsessive attempt to complete a set of playfully erotic etchings.
It is a six-year old Gypsy orphan, Nelleke, who connects the two couples. Sprightly and spirited, Nelleke both delights and exasperates. Might this mysterious child have the power to heal struggling adults and find the permanent home she seeks? Does she, innocently and unknowingly, hold the clue to the missing etching, as Jos suspects?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781475908114
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/2012
  • Pages: 284
  • Sales rank: 899,206
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Seventh Etching


By Judith K. White

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Judith K. White
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4759-0811-4


Chapter One

Last Morning/First Night

Nelleke loved the sound of the cock crowing. It meant light. It meant morning. Always the first awake, she leaped up that day, slipped on her wooden shoes, and ran outside to the privy. Her pet goose waited for her and greeted her with a loud honk that roused the rest of the family. Nelleke opened the lid of a barrel and tossed him a fistful of grain. While the goose pecked at his morning meal, she gently caressed his white feathers and spoke to him softly.

"Some people eat geese. I won't eat you, Langenek. Never. Ever. Even when I'm 'one hundred years old,' I'm gonna still feed you every single day."

A lavender butterfly flew in front of her, almost landing in the yellow ringlet that fell out of her white cap down the middle of her forehead between her large, alert eyes. She laughed and chased the delicate flapping color to the edge of the pond, then watched it continue over the water where she could not follow. Even though she was still lured by the pond's mysteries, she would no longer touch it even with the toes of her shoes. The memory of the pond's frightening, sharp taste was still strong. She began to gag as if that taste were again filling her nostrils and throat, smothering her. For those few moments last summer she had felt like a lost fish caught and dragged down by green slime.

Another honk from Langenek reminded her that the amount of grain her small fist could hold was never enough for him. She ran back to the barrel where the goose stood stretching out its neck toward her, demanding. She reached into the barrel with both hands and simultaneously threw out two more fistfuls, one way in front of Langenek, the other behind him, then amused herself watching him search.

'One hundred years old,' she thought, and then ran inside, calling.

"Aunt Griet. Aunt Griet. How old was your mother when she died?"

Griet was sitting up in bed trying to coach her infant toward her breast. Beginning with the first feeding every day, this was a mother/ child struggle that had begun ten months before. Frans did not root like other babies or like piglets or kittens or lambs for that matter. He fussed and complained. He showed little enthusiasm for porridge and mashed berries either, even mixed with honey. In contrast to his robust, ravenous two-year-old cousin, Jacob, Frans was thin. He seemed to have no muscle strength in either arms or legs. And now Griet was pregnant again.

"Aunt Griet. How old was your mother when she died? She was my grandmother and I want to know."

"I don't know, Nelleke. Around twenty-five probably," Griet answered just as Frans finally latched on.

"How old was my mother? The same age?"

"I think so."

"Around twenty-five then?"

"Get Jacob dressed, Nelleke, please."

"Well, she had dark eyes. I know that much. Eyes like mine. I have her eyes. That's what people say. So does Jacob."

Frans broke off from the weak sucking and turned his head toward his lively cousin. With her constant motion and chatter, she was always more interesting to him than anything else.

"Look, Nelleke. You're distracting him again. Get Jacob dressed, I told you."

Nelleke knelt down beside Aunt Griet and Uncle Johannes's tall bed. Then she poked her head underneath the bed into the space where she and Jacob slept. Stretching out her arm, she felt a little boy leg, a leg she loved for its sturdiness and for the warmth it gave off during the cold winter nights. She reached inside the wool stocking covering that leg and moved her fingers down to the bottom of the foot. Jacob pulled away, rolled out from under the opposite side of the bed, and ran teasingly away from his sister, round and round the one large room the family shared. Twirling the stocking, Nelleke ran too. When she caught Jacob and delighted him with insistent tickles on the bottom of that one bare foot, their joint giggles filled the room.

Aunt Griet propped Frans between pillows and began readying breakfast – ale and plain bread. Nelleke pushed open the shutter, letting in some welcome light. She could see Uncle Johannes in the barn milking their two remaining cows and pouring the milk into large earthen jugs for transport. They could no longer spare any milk for butter or cheese for themselves she had heard him say. He took every drop to the market to be sold.

The early autumn air was cool, but Nelleke would never let a few shivers keep her inside. She banged the house door behind her and began balancing on the long wooden planks that led to the barn. Uncle Johannes had put them there to make a path through the mud last spring, but the planks had sunk in places. Nelleke enjoyed seeing how far she could stretch her legs in order to step only on the wood, avoiding the dirt.

She stepped inside the barn with its familiar mixed odors of hay, fresh milk, sweaty cow, and cow poop. Uncle Johannes said to call it by its name, manure. He had already cleaned the barn, but the odors lingered. Nelleke passed rows of empty stalls until she came to where Uncle Johannes sat on a stool with his face against a cow's side, pulling rhythmically on its teats.

"May I taste the milk, Uncle Johannes? Just a little bit?"

"Just a little bit, Nelleke. In a minute."

Nelleke walked over to the piles of hay. In the farthest corner, she gave several exploratory kicks before she located her secret sack. Recently, she had noticed that an animal had been chewing on it. She gave the sack a hard kick before she felt assured that no mouse or rat was using her sack for breakfast feed. Only then could she play her favorite game. She closed her eyes and reached deep into the sack, feeling the stones inside. She chose one, felt its size and weight, turned it over in her palm and tried to picture it.

She guessed that the stone she held was the flat white one with the gray stripes in the shape of a cross. It was the one she had found before, turned up by Uncle Johannes's plow in the center of a field maybe one year ago. She pulled her hand out of the sack.

"I was right, Uncle Johannes. I guessed it. See?" she said, running to show him. "This is the one."

"How many do you have now, Nelleke?"

"Twelve. Want me to count them for you?"

"No, that's okay. I believe you."

Uncle Johannes had taught her to count, but he was too busy to listen to her counting them every day.

"Do you think I'll ever get a hundred in my collection Uncle Johannes? Is a hundred the highest number in the world?"

"Just about."

Uncle Johannes moved the stool and bucket over to the second cow and began milking.

Nelleke sat down in the hay and poured out the sack's contents on the barn floor. Recently, since people had learned that she collected stones, they had been giving them to her. Her favorites were the ones Mrs. Kist gave her last Sunday after church.

"Here, Nelleke, I found these for you," she said as she tucked them into Nelleke's palm. Three clear, rounded stones, each the size of the tip of her thumb. At first they looked exactly alike, but now Nelleke could tell one from the other. One was slightly flatter. One had a jagged side. One had a tiny blue dot.

"What shall I name the sister stones, Uncle Johannes?"

"Up to you."

"I know. How about Liesje, Femke, and Antje?"

"Nelleke, breakfast," Aunt Griet called.

Nelleke returned all the stones to the bag, twisted the top, and tucked it back into its hiding place. She used to play with the stones inside on the floor of the house. But she often forgot to pick them up even when Aunt Griet reminded her that Frans and Jacob might eat one and choke. One day Aunt Griet swept all the stones outside along with dust, dried apple peels, and dead spiders. Nelleke had to rescue them one by one. Now she kept them tucked away and protected with a layer of hay on top.

Usually, before Aunt Griet could find tasks for her niece, Nelleke would try to escape into the yard, the barn, down by the pond – anywhere she could explore and search for bugs, snakes, and dead birds. Every day she watched as her uncle loaded the mare he shared with a neighbor. He would tie down the milk jugs and begin the walk to town.

On Sundays Nelleke went to the church at the edge of the town, but she had never been to the market in the center plaza. She would bombard Uncle Johannes with questions: "Do they sell pretty skirts? Do you ever see books? Does anyone there play the violin? Can I go? Please, Uncle?"

At twenty-three, Johannes had become sullen. He and his neighbors thought that they had saved the land forever from the water threats. The dikes were built, patched, and regularly reinforced. The recently improved windmills drained the polders efficiently at first. Yet after three weeks of constant rain, they had been powerless. Johannes struggled to hold onto his former vision of grazing cattle, freshly painted buildings, and a contented wife surrounded by rosy children. He had intended to raise his wife's niece and nephew along with his own. Now he felt he was abandoning his family role.

Today Uncle Johannes did not load up the mare. He borrowed another neighbor's wagon and lined up the jugs in it. He hooked the mare up to the wagon.

"Why are you taking the wagon, Uncle Johannes? Are you going to buy something special for us? Bring us back something big that fills the whole wagon? Please, Uncle. A surprise? Will you?"

Aunt Griet called, "Stop pestering Uncle Johannes, Nelleke. Come inside." Nelleke walked slowly, kicking pebbles, picking up sticks, and throwing them. She was sure that some unpleasant task awaited her. Scrub the floor. Hang up the wet clothes. Change the squirmy, smelly baby.

Yet here was the surprise: When Nelleke arrived at the door, Aunt Griet was holding Nelleke's Sunday clothes. This wasn't a church day. Why did Aunt Griet look so sad? She might have been crying.

"You're going with your uncle today. Come here. I'll help you dress."

"Just me? Now who died?"

"No one has died, Nelleke. You're just going with your uncle, that's all."

"To town? To the market? I know. Maybe we're going to visit Mrs. Kist.

She'll give us snacks, I bet. Am I starting school? Will I learn to read?"

"No, Nelleke. Stop this mindless guessing. Please. Turn around while I tie your apron. Put your cap on straight. Go now."

Nelleke whooped and leaped right out of her shoes, sending them clattering against each other. She picked them up and ran in her stockings out to where her uncle was waiting.

Only later did she realize that she had never said good-bye to Jacob.

* * *

Nelleke kept moving up and down, rocking side by side on the seat beside her uncle.

"When will we get to the market, Uncle Johannes?"

"Never, if you don't sit still. Stop it, Nelleke. You'll tip us right over."

"I bet you'll buy flour. Maybe you'll buy Aunt Griet some lace. Maybe we can find a toy for Jacob. Maybe ..."

"I'm buying nothing. I'm selling the milk. That's all."

"Can we at least buy Aunt Griet some cheese?"

Johannes gave the horse a little lick of the whip.

Nelleke waved vigorously to every neighbor they passed. She remembered when their fields looked like lakes. There were still puddles or thick mud in many places. Finally, she saw her church, then houses close together, then another church right in the center of town, then an open plaza.

"Stay here in the wagon, Nelleke. I'll be right back."

Nelleke stood up, held onto the side of the wagon and watched her uncle leave with the heavy milk jugs. He walked along the canal and then disappeared around a corner.

A ragged man with a dirt-smeared, caved-in face walked by the wagon, mumbling. Nelleke was frightened. When the man was gone, she climbed down off the wagon and went looking for Uncle Johannes. She set off in the direction where she saw him round the corner.

But she was quickly distracted. There was so much noise. Chickens squawking. Children whining. Others running. Parents calling. Vendors shouting. She stopped at a fabric stall. Bolt after bolt of solid-colored cloth: black, brown, gray, and one exquisite red. Wouldn't she love it if Aunt Griet would make her a new Sunday dress! And ready-made aprons. Some just her size. So white and clean. With a full-length apron like that her new dress would never get dirty. Caps, too, trimmed in dainty lace.

Suddenly, the stench of raw meat overwhelmed her. In the next stall, there was a family of butchers – husband, wife, and son all with red-streaked aprons, hacking at a side of pork. The pig's head hung at the front of the stall. The head was an enticement to all who passed by and a promise that the pork was fresh. Nelleke held her nose and rushed by, trying to escape the blood odors. She noticed that all three members of the family had what looked like permanent rust stains under their fingernails, on their hands, even on their arms.

The pungent smell of the herring stalls was more pleasant. A customer removed his hat, tipped back his head and, holding the raw herring by the tail, lowered the slimy, salty fish down his throat, then took a long slurp of beer and let out a contented belch.

Nelleke ran on, but stopped at a frame stall. Wooden frames of all sizes. Most were empty, but a few had paintings in them. She gazed at one in particular. It was a little girl, perhaps a year younger than Nelleke, about five. The child was concentrating on the knitting in her lap. In a small cart beside her was a chubby infant. They were in a field beside a lake. That could be me and my brother, she thought. Except that Nelleke could never sit still long enough to knit. The child in the painting was so calm. How long did she have to sit there, she wondered, to be painted like that?

"Little girl. Little girl. Here." A stout woman in a fruit stall was holding out to her a big, red apple. "Thank you, Ma'am, but I have no money," Nelleke said, looking back and forth between the smiling vendor and the juicy offering.

"Never you mind, child. If you want it, it's yours."

"Thank you." Nelleke smiled her gap smile. Her two front teeth were missing. When they had become quite loose and were hanging, Uncle Johannes gave them a final tug. "Best not to swallow these," he said. Nelleke added the teeth to her secret pouch in the barn. New teeth were just beginning to peek through. She reached for the apple and, using her side teeth, took the biggest bite she could.

With sweet crunchy apple filling her mouth, Nelleke continued to wander more deeply into the labyrinth of vendors. By the time an hour had passed, she was holding in her small fist an orange flower with a broken stem, two crispy string beans, and a whirligig. Shiny apple juice stained her chin. Her apron was covered with wet soapy spots from the bubbles game a chubby little boy had shared with her. Some of the bubbles had splashed on her cap, too, and on the flaxen curls that spilled out of the cap.

"Is that a violin, Sir? It's so big."

"It's called a gamba, child," said the instrument dealer. "The notes are lower than a violin's. Listen."

The vendor plucked one of the strings. The deep, vibrating sound sent a thrill through Nelleke.

"Do it again."

The musician plucked out a quick melody, showing off all the strings. The tune made Nelleke think of the frogs in the pond.

"Here, you try it."

Nelleke stretched her small finger toward a thick string, intently anticipating the sound she was about to produce. Before she could reach the instrument, though, someone tucked her finger into her fist and pulled her hand back.

"Nelleke, I've been looking for you for a long time. I told you to stay in that wagon."

Chapter Two

The Aunts Decide

Already, Griet regretted the decision. She and Johannes had discussed it for months. The idea first came to her after the waters had receded enough for them to come down out of the attic. Two weeks up there with three children and the only animals they had been able to save: five chickens, one goose, and two cows. A whole herd gone. Some days people rowed by and threw up a bit of bread. Other days Johannes grabbed the rope outside the attic's only window. Slowly moving one hand, then one foot, then the other hand, then the other foot, he descended into their small rowboat and paddled away looking for food.

It took weeks longer for the land to dry. Their once promising farm was in ruins. They could no longer afford laborers. Johannes had to care for the animals, till the soil, rebuild the barn, and keep the boat repaired. He also worked with the other farmers to continue to drain the land and build more dikes and windmills. And, of course, he went every day to the market. The milk from the two cows brought in needed cash.

Household help was now out of the question. Griet alone ground the grain, baked the bread, made the candles, even combined herbs in an attempt to build strength, soothe sore muscles, and cure headaches. Gone were the days when Griet could enjoy a quiet moment at her lace making or read favorite books to the children.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Seventh Etching by Judith K. White Copyright © 2012 by Judith K. White. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The Seventh Etching gives readers a fascinating glimpse into 17t

    The Seventh Etching gives readers a fascinating glimpse into 17th century Amsterdam. This novel is the story of two families suffering strife, and covers both extreme wealth and poverty during the era.

    To read this book is like taking a trip back in time to experience the social, political, and religious circumstances. With meticulous detail, the author describes food, clothing, and art, lending the novel credence and richness.

    Beyond the well-written prose and lush storyline are the characters who face numerous struggles and behave in realistic manners. No novel of Amsterdam is complete without reference to its famous painters. I thoroughly enjoyed the scene with Rembrandt. This is a rich historical fiction novel set in a lesser known country with plenty of conflict and details that will keep readers reading. Definitely recommended!

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  • Posted June 23, 2012

    Recommended for lovers of historic novels!

    Being born and raised in Amsterdam, I felt almost flattered when I found out that an American author took ‘my’ city as the topic of her novel. And she didn’t disappoint me! Judith K. White truly managed to bring the city alive: I could almost here the carriages on the cobblestones, smell the day market and hear the fishwives scream. Her main characters are described just as detailed. Rich and poor, old and young, urban and rural, protestant and catholic all meet each other in this novel with well built-up suspense.
    “The Seventh Etching” is an intriguing story about loss and possession and definitely worth reading for all lovers of historic novels.

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  • Posted June 7, 2012

    From the very first page of this compelling novel I was captivat

    From the very first page of this compelling novel I was captivated. The eloquence and historical accuracy with which the author writes -- together with the fascinating plot which includes mystery, art, and humor -- holds your attention throughout. The characters are engaging and memorable and at the end of the novel you want to hear more about their lives. This is a book for all ages -- I sent copies to my senior-citizen sister-in-law for her book club as well as to my daughter and teen-age granddaughters, and we are all anxiously awaiting a sequel.

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