The slave obeyed with alacrity, and when the two were seated he described his recent interview with Hester Sommers.
No words can do full justice to the varied expressions that flitted across the negro's face as the midshipman's narrative went on.
"So," he said slowly, when it was concluded, "you's bin an' had a long privit convissation wid one ob Ben-Ahmed's ladies! My! you know what dat means if it found out?"
"Well, Miss Sommers herself was good enough to tell me that it would probably mean flogging to death."
"Floggin' to deaf!" echoed Peter. "P'r'aps so wid massa, for he's a kind man; but wid most any oder man it 'ud mean roastin' alibe ober a slow fire! Geo'ge, you's little better'n a dead man!"
"I hope it's not so bad as that, for no one knows about it except the lady and yourself."
"Das so; an' you're in luck, let me tell you. Now you go to work, an' I'll retire for some meditation—see what's to come ob all dis."
Truly the changes that take place in the feelings and mind of man are not less sudden and complete than the physical changes which sometimes occur in lands that are swept by the tornado and desolated by the earthquake. That morning George Foster had risen from his straw bed a miserable white slave, hopeless, heartless, and down at spiritual zero— or below it. That night he lay down on the same straw bed, a free man— in soul, if not in body—a hero of the most ardent character—up at fever-heat in the spiritual thermometer, or above it, and all because his heart throbbed with a noble purpose—because an object worthy of his efforts was placed before him, and because he had made up his mind to do or die in a good cause!
What that cause was he would have found it difficult to define clearly in detail. Sufficient for him that an unknown but stalwart father, with Radical tendencies, and a well-known and lovely daughter, were at the foundation of it, and that "Escape!" was the talismanic word which formed a battery, as it were, with which to supply his heart with electric energy.
He lived on this diet for a week, with the hope of again seeing Hester; but he did not see her again for many weeks.
One morning Peter the Great came to him as he was going out to work in the garden and said—
"You git ready and come wid me into town dis day."
"Indeed," returned Foster, as much excited by the order as if it had been to go on some grand expedition. "For what purpose?"
"You 'bey orders, sar, an' make your mind easy about purpisses."
In a few minutes Foster was ready.
No part of his original costume now remained to him. A blue-striped cotton jacket, with pants too short and too wide for him; a broad-brimmed straw hat, deeply sunburnt face and hands, with a pair of old boots two sizes too large, made him as unlike a British naval officer as he could well be. But he had never been particularly vain of his personal appearance, and the high purpose by which he was now actuated set him above all such trifling considerations.
"Is your business a secret?" asked Foster, as he and his companion descended the picturesque road that led to the city.
"No, it am no secret, 'cause I's got no business."
"You seem to be in a mysterious mood this morning, Peter. What do you mean?"
"I mean dat you an' me's out for a holiday—two slabes out for a holiday! T'ink ob dat!"
The negro threw back his head, opened his capacious jaws, and gave vent to an almost silent chuckle.
"That does indeed mound strange," returned Foster; "how has such a wonderful event been brought about?"
"By lub, Geo'ge. Di'n't I tell you before dat hub am eberyt'ing?"
"Yes; and my dear old mother told me, long before you did, that 'love is the fulfilling of the law.'"
"Well, I dun know much about law, 'xcep' dat I b'lieve it's a passel o' nonsense, for what we's got here an't o' no use—leastwise not for slabes."
"But my mother did not refer to human laws," returned Foster. "She quoted what the Bible says about God's laws."
"Oh! das a bery diff'rent t'ing, massa, an' I s'pose your mudder was right. Anyway it was lub what obercame Ben-Ahmed. You see, I put it to 'im bery tender like. 'Massa,' says I, 'here I's bin wid you night an' day for six year, an' you's nebber say to me yet, "Peter de Great, go out for de day an' enjoy you'self." Now, massa, I wants to take dat small raskil Geo'ge Fuster to de town, an' show him a few t'ings as'll make him do his work better, an' dat'll make you lub 'im more, an' so we'll all be more comfrable.' Das what I say; an' when I was sayin' it, I see de wrinkles a-comin' round massa's eyes, so I feel sure; for w'en dem wrinkles come to de eyes, it is all right. An' massa, he say, 'Go'—nuffin more; only 'Go;' but ob course das nuff for me, so I hoed; an' now—we're bof goin'."
At this point in the conversation they came to a place where the road forked. Here they met a number of Arabs, hasting towards the town in a somewhat excited frame of mind. Following these very slowly on a mule rode another Arab, whose dignified gravity seemed to be proof against all excitement. He might have been the Dey of Algiers himself, to judge from his bearing and the calm serenity with which he smoked a cigar. Yet neither his occupation nor position warranted his dignified air, for he was merely a seller of oranges, and sat on a huge market-saddle, somewhat in the lady-fashion—side-wise, with the baskets of golden fruit on either side of him.
Going humbly towards this Arab, the negro asked him in Lingua Franca if there was anything unusual going on in the town?
The Arab replied by a calm stare and a puff of smoke as he rode by.
"I 'ope his pride won't bust 'im," muttered Peter, as he fell behind and rejoined his companion.
"Do you think anything has happened, then?"
"Dere's no sayin'. Wonderful geese dey is in dis city. Dey seem to t'ink robbery on the sea is just, an' robbery ob de poor an' helpless is just; but robbery ob de rich in Algiers—oh! dat awrful wicked! not to be tololerated on no account wa'somever. Konsikence is—de poor an' de helpless git some ob de strong an' de clebber to go on dere side, an' den dey bust up, strangle de Dey, rob de Jews, an' set up another guv'ment."
"Rob the Jews, Peter! Why do they do that?"
"Dun know, massa—"
"Please don't call me massa any more, Peter, for I'm not massa in any sense—being only your friend and fellow-slave."
"Well, I won't, Geo'ge. I's a-goin' to say I s'pose dey plunder de Jews 'cause dey's got lots o' money an' got no friends. Eberybody rob de Jews w'en dere's a big rumpus. But I don't t'ink dere's a row jus' now—only a scare."
The scare, if there was one, had passed away when they reached the town. On approaching the Bab-Azoun gate, Peter got ready their passports to show to the guard. As he did so, Foster observed, with a shudder, that shreds of a human carcass were still dangling from the large hooks on the wall.
Suddenly their steps were arrested by a shriek, and several men immediately appeared on the top of the wall, holding fast a struggling victim. But the poor wretch's struggles were vain. He was led to the edge of the wall by four strong men, and not hurled, but dropped over, so that he should not fail to be caught on one of the several hooks below.
Another shriek of terror burst from the man as he fell. It was followed by an appalling yell as one of the hooks caught him under the armpit, passed upwards right through his shoulder and into his jaws, while the blood poured down his convulsed and naked limbs. That yell was the poor man's last. The action of the hook had been mercifully directed, and after a few struggles, the body hung limp and lifeless.
Oh! it is terrible to think of the cruelty that man is capable of practising on his fellows. The sight was enough, one would think, to rouse to indignation a heart of stone, yet the crowds that beheld this did not seem to be much affected by it. True, there were several faces that showed traces of pity, but few words of disapproval were uttered.
"Come, come!" cried our midshipman, seizing his companion by the arm and dragging him away, "let us go. Horrible! They are not men but devils. Come away."
They passed through the gate and along the main street of the city a considerable distance, before Foster could find words to express his feelings, and then he had difficulty in restraining his indignation on finding that the negro was not nearly as much affected as he himself was by the tragedy which they had just witnessed.
"We's used to it, you know," said Peter in self-defence. "I's seen 'em hangin' alibe on dem hooks for hours. But dat's nuffin to what some on 'em do. Look dar; you see dat ole man a-sittin' ober dere wid de small t'ings for sale—him what's a-doin' nuffin, an' sayin' nuffin, an' almost expectin' nuffin? Well, I once saw dat ole man whacked for nuffin—or next to nuffin—on de sole ob his foots, so's he couldn't walk for 'bout two or t'ree mont's."
They had reached the market-square by that time, and Foster saw that the man referred to was the identical old fellow with the blue coat and hood, the white beard, and the miscellaneous old articles for sale, whom he had observed on his first visit to the square. The old Arab gave Peter the Great a bright look and a cheerful nod as they passed.
"He seems to know you," remarked Foster.
"Oh yes. He know me. I used to carry him on my back ebery mornin' to his place here dat time when he couldn't walk. Bress you! dar's lots o' peepil knows me here. Come, I'll 'troduce you to some more friends, an' we'll hab a cup o' coffee."
Saying this, he conducted our middy into a perfect labyrinth of narrow streets, through which he wended his way with a degree of certainty that told of intimate acquaintance. Foster observed that he nodded familiarly to many of those who crowded them—to Jews, Arabs, water-carriers, and negroes, as well as to the dignified men who kept little stalls and shops, many of which shops were mere niches in the sides of the houses. So close were the fronts of these houses to each other that in many places they almost met overhead and obscured much of the light.
At last the middy and his friend stopped in front of a stair which descended into what appeared to be a dark cellar. Entering it, they found themselves in a low Arab coffee-house.
OUR HERO SEES THE MOORS IN SEVERAL ASPECTS, AND MAKES A GREAT DISCOVERY.
Whatever may be said of Mohammedanism as a religion, there can be no question, we should think, that it has done much among the Eastern nations to advance the cause of Temperance.
We make no defence of Mohammed—very much the reverse—but we hold that even a false prophet cannot avoid teaching a certain modicum of truth in his system, and when Mohammed sternly put his foot down upon strong drink, and enforced the principle of total abstinence therefrom, he did signal service to a large portion of the human family. Although, for want of better teaching, Mohammedans cling to many vices, one never sees them howling through the streets in a state of wild ferocity, or staggering homewards in a condition of mild imbecility, from the effects of intoxicating drink.
Instead of entering a low den where riot and revelry, with bad language and quarrelling, might be expected to prevail, George Foster found himself in a small white-washed apartment, where there sat several grave and sedate men, wrapped in the voluminous folds of Eastern drapery, sipping very small cups of coffee, and enjoying very large pipes of tobacco.
The room was merely a cellar, the walls being thickly stuccoed and white-washed, and the ceiling arched; but, although plain, the place was reasonably clean and eminently quiet. The drinkers did not dispute. Conversation flowed in an undertone, and an air of respectability pervaded the whole place.
At the further end of the apartment there was a curious-looking fireplace, which seemed to have been formed without the use of square or plummet, and around which were scattered and hung in comfortable confusion the implements and utensils of cookery. Nothing of the cook was visible except his bare legs and feet, the rest of him being shrouded in a recess. Beside the fireplace an Arab sat cross-legged on a bench, sipping his coffee. Beyond him in a recess another Arab was seated. He appeared to be sewing while he conversed with a negro who stood beside him. Elsewhere, in more or less remote and dim distances, other customers were seated indulging in the prevailing beverage.
"You sit down here, Geo'ge; drink an' say not'ing, but wait for me."
With this admonition Peter the Great whispered a few words to the man who owned the establishment, and hurriedly left the place.
The middy naturally felt a little disconcerted at being thus left alone among strangers, but, knowing that in the circumstances he was absolutely helpless, he wisely and literally obeyed orders. Sitting down on a bench opposite the fire, from which point of observation he could see the entrance-door and all that went on around him, he waited and said nothing until the chief of the establishment presented him with a white cup of coffee, so very small that he felt almost equal to the swallowing of cup and coffee at one gulp. With a gracious bow and "Thank you," he accepted the attention, and began to sip. The dignified Arab who gave it to him did not condescend upon any reply, but turned to attend upon his other customers.
Foster's first impulse was to spit out the sip he had taken, for to his surprise the coffee was thick with grounds. He swallowed it, however, and wondered. Then, on taking another sip and considering it, he perceived that the grounds were not as grounds to which he had been accustomed, but were reduced—no doubt by severe pounding—to a pasty condition, which made the beverage resemble chocolate. "Coffee-soup! with sugar—but no milk!" he muttered, as he tried another sip. This third one convinced him that the ideas of Arabs regarding coffee did not coincide with those of Englishmen, so he finished the cup at the fourth sip, much as he would have taken a dose of physic, and thereafter amused himself with contemplating the other coffee-sippers.
At the time when our hero first arrived at Ben-Ahmed's home, he had been despoiled of his own garments while he was in bed—the slave costume having been left in their place. On application to his friend Peter, however, his pocket-knife, pencil, letters, and a few other things had been returned to him. Thus, while waiting, he was able to turn his time to account by making a sketch of the interior of the coffee-house, to the great surprise and gratification of the negroes there—perhaps, also, of the Moors—but these latter were too reticent and dignified to express any interest by word or look, whatever they might have felt.
He was thus engaged when Peter returned.
"Hallo, Geo'ge!" exclaimed the negro, "what you bin up to—makin' picturs?"
"Only a little sketch," said Foster, holding it up.
"A skitch!" repeated Peter, grasping the letter, and holding it out at arm's length with the air of a connoisseur, while he compared it with the original. "You call dis a skitch? Well! I neber see de like ob dis—no, neber. It's lubly. Dere's de kittles an' de pots an' de jars, an'—ha, ha! dere's de man wid de—de—wart on 'is nose! Oh! das fust-rate. Massa's awrful fond ob skitchin'. He wouldn't sell you now for ten t'ousand dollars."
Fortunately the Arab with the wart on his nose was ignorant of English, otherwise he might have had some objection to being thus transferred to paper, and brought, as Arabs think, under "the power of the evil eye." Before the exact nature of what had been done, however, was quite understood, Peter had paid for the coffee, and, with the amateur artist, had left the place.
"Nothing surprises me more," said Foster, as they walked along, "than to see such beautiful wells and fountains in streets so narrow that one actually has not enough room to step back and look at them properly. Look at that one now, with the negress, the Moor, and the water-carrier waiting their turn while the little girl fills her water-pot. See what labour has been thrown away on that fountain. What elegance of design, what columns of sculptured marble, and fine tessellated work stuck up where few people can see it, even when they try to."
"True, Geo'ge. De water would run as well out ob a ugly fountain as a pritty one."
"But it's not that I wonder at, Peter; it's the putting of such splendid work in such dark narrow lanes that surprises me. Why do they go to so much expense in such a place as this?"
"Oh! as to expense, Geo'ge. Dey don't go to none. You see, we hab no end ob slabes here, ob all kinds, an' trades an' purfessions, what cost nuffin but a leetle black bread to keep 'em alibe, an' a whackin' now an' den to make 'em work. Bress you! dem marble fountains an' t'ings cost the pirits nuffin. Now we's goin' up to see the Kasba."
"What is that, Peter?"
"What! you not know what de Kasba am? My, how ignorant you is! De Kasba is de citad'l—de fort—where all de money an' t'ings—treasure you call it—am kep' safe. Strong place, de Kasba—awrful strong."
"I'll be glad to see that," said Foster.
"Ho yes. You be glad to see it wid me," returned the negro significantly, "but not so glad if you go dere wid chains on you legs an' pick or shovel on you shoulder. See—dere dey go!"
As he spoke a band of slaves was seen advancing up the narrow street. Standing aside in a doorway to let them pass, Foster saw that the band was composed of men of many nations. Among them he observed the fair hair and blue eyes of the Saxon, the dark complexion and hair of the Spaniard and Italian, and the black skin of the negro—but all resembled each other in their looks and lines of care, and in the weary anxiety and suffering with which every countenance was stamped,—also in the more or less dejected air of the slaves, and the soiled ragged garments with which they were covered.
But if some of the resemblances between these poor creatures were strong, some of their differences were still more striking. Among them were men whose robust frames had not yet been broken down, whose vigorous spirits had not been quite tamed, and whose scowling eyes and compressed lips revealed the fact that they were "dangerous." These walked along with clanking chains on their limbs—chains which were more or less weighty, according to the strength and character of the wearer. Others there were so reduced in health, strength, and spirit, that the chain of their own feebleness was heavy enough for them to drag to their daily toil. Among these were some with hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, whose weary pilgrimage was evidently drawing to a close; but all, whether strong or weak, fierce or subdued, were made to tramp smartly up the steep street, being kept up to the mark by drivers, whose cruel whips cracked frequently on the shoulders of the lagging and the lazy.
With a heart that felt as if ready to burst with conflicting emotions, the poor midshipman looked on, clenching his teeth to prevent unwise exclamations, and unclenching his fists to prevent the tendency to commit assault and battery!
"This is dreadful," he said, in a low voice, when the gang had passed.
"Yes, Geo'ge, it is drefful—but we's used to it, you know. Come, we'll foller dis gang."
Keeping about twenty yards behind, they followed the slaves into the Kasba, where they met with no interruption from the guards, who seemed to be well acquainted with Peter the Great, though they did not condescend to notice him, except by a passing glance.
"How is it that every one lets you pass so easily?" asked Foster, when they had nearly reached the southern wall of the fortress.
"Eberybody knows me so well—das one reason," answered the negro, with a grin of self-satisfaction.
"I's quite a public krakter in dis yar city, you mus' know. Den, anoder t'ing is, dat our massa am a man ob power. He not got no partikler office in de state, 'cause he not require it, for he's a rich man, but he's got great power wid de Dey—we's bof got dat!"
"Indeed; how so?"
"Stand here, under dis doorway, and I tell you—dis way, where you can see de splendid view ob de whole city an' de harbour an' sea b'yond. We kin wait a bit here while de slabes are gittin' ready to work. You see de bit ob wall dat's damaged dere? Well, dey're goin' to repair dat. We'll go look at 'em by-an'-by."
As the incident which Peter narrated might prove tedious if given in his own language, we take the liberty of relating it for him.
One fine morning during the previous summer the Dey of Algiers mounted his horse—a fiery little Arab—and, attended by several of his courtiers, cantered away in the direction of the suburb which is now known by the name of Mustapha Superieur. When drawing near to the residence of Ben-Ahmed the Dey's horse became unmanageable and ran away. Being the best horse of the party, the courtiers were soon left far behind. It chanced that Ben-Ahmed and his man, Peter the Great, were walking together towards the city that day. On turning a sharp bend in the road where a high bank had shut out their view they saw a horseman approaching at a furious gallop.
"It is the Dey!" exclaimed Ben-Ahmed.
"So it am!" responded Peter.
"He can't make the turn of the road and live!" cried the Moor, all his dignified self-possession vanishing as he prepared for action.
"I will check the horse," he added, in a quick, low voice. "You break his fall, Peter. He'll come off on the left side."
"Das so, massa," said Peter, as he sprang to the other side of the narrow road.
He had barely done so, when the Dey came thundering towards them.
"Stand aside!" he shouted as he came on, for he was a fearless horseman and quite collected, though in such peril.
But Ben-Ahmed would not stand aside. Although an old man, he was still active and powerful. He seized the reins of the horse as it was passing, and, bringing his whole weight and strength to bear, checked it so far that it made a false step and stumbled. This had the effect of sending the Dey out of the saddle like a bomb from a mortar, and of hurling Ben-Ahmed to the ground. Ill would it have fared with the Dey at that moment if Peter the Great had not possessed a mechanical turn of mind, and a big, powerful body, as well as a keen, quick eye for possibilities. Correcting his distance in a moment by jumping back a couple of paces, he opened his arms and received the chief of Algiers into his broad black bosom!
The shock was tremendous, for the Dey was by no means a light weight, and Peter the Great went down before it in the dust, while the great man arose, shaken indeed, and confused, but unhurt by the accident.
Ben-Ahmed also arose uninjured, but Peter lay still where he had fallen.
"W'en I come-to to myself," continued Peter, on reaching this point in his narrative, "de fus' t'ing I t'ink was dat I'd been bu'sted. Den I look up, an' I sees our black cook. She's a nigger, like myself, only a she one.
"'Hallo, Angelica!' says I; 'wass de matter?'
"'Matter!' says she; 'you's dead—a'most, an' dey lef' you here wid me, wid strik orders to take care ob you.'
"'Das good,' says I; 'an' you better look out an' obey your orders, else de bowstring bery soon go round your pritty little neck. But tell me, Angelica, who brought me here?'
"'De Dey ob Algiers an' all his court,' says she, wid a larf dat shut up her eyes an' showed what a enormous mout' she hab.
"'Is he all safe, Angelica,' says I—'massa, I mean?'
"'Oh, I t'ought you meant de Dey!' says she. 'Oh yes; massa's all right; nuffin'll kill massa, he's tough. And de Dey, he's all right too.'
"'Das good, Angelica,' says I, feelin' quite sweet, for I was beginnin' to remember what had took place.
"'Yes, das is good,' says she; 'an', Peter, your fortin's made!'
"'Das awk'ard,' says I, 'for I ain't got no chest or strong box ready to put it in. But now tell me, Angelica, if my fortin's made, will you marry me, an' help to spend it?'
"'Yes, I will,' says she.
"I was so took by surprise, Geo'ge, when she say dat, I sprung up on one elber, an' felled down agin wid a howl, for two o' my ribs had been broke.
"'Neber mind de yells, Angelica,' says I, 'it's only my leetle ways. But tell me why you allers refuse me before an' accep' me now. Is it—de—de fortin?' Oh, you should have seen her pout w'en I ax dat. Her mout' came out about two inch from her face. I could hab kissed it—but for de broken ribs.
"'No, Peter, for shame!' says she, wid rijeous indignation. 'De fortin hab nuffin to do wid it, but your own noble self-scarifyin' bravery in presentin' your buzzum to de Dey ob Algiers.'
"'T'ank you, Angelica,' says I. 'Das all comfrably settled. You's a good gall, kiss me now, an' go away.'
"So she gib me a kiss an' I turn round an' went sweetly to sleep on de back ob dat—for I was awrful tired, an' de ribs was creakin' badly."
"Did you marry Angelica?" asked our middy, with sympathetic interest.
"Marry her! ob course I did. Two year ago. Don' you know it's her as cooks all our wittles?"
"How could I know, Peter, for you never call her anything but 'cook?' But I'm glad you have told me, for I'll regard her now with increased respect from this day forth."
"Das right, Geo'ge. You can't pay 'er too much respec'. Now we'll go an' look at de works."
The part of the wall which the slaves were repairing was built of great blocks of artificial stone or concrete, which were previously cast in wooden moulds, left to harden, and then put into their assigned places by slave-labour. As Foster was watching the conveyance of these blocks, it suddenly occurred to him that Hester Sommers's father might be amongst them, and he scanned every face keenly as the slaves passed to and fro, but saw no one who answered to the description given him by the daughter.
From this scrutiny he was suddenly turned by a sharp cry drawn from one of a group who were slowly carrying a heavy stone to its place. The cry was drawn forth by the infliction of a cruel lash on the shoulders of a slave. He was a thin delicate youth with evidences of fatal consumption upon him. He had become faint from over-exertion, and one of the drivers had applied the whip by way of stimulus. The effect on the poor youth was to cause him to stumble, and instead of making him lift better, made him rest his weight on the stone, thus overbalancing it, and bringing it down. In falling the block caught the ankle of the youth, who fell with a piercing shriek to the ground, where he lay in a state of insensibility.
At this a tall bearded man, with heavy fetters on his strong limbs, sprang to the young man's side, went down on his knees, and seized his hand.
"Oh! Henri, my son," he cried, in French; but before he could say more a whip touched his back with a report like a pistol-shot, and the torn cotton shirt that he wore was instantly crimsoned with his blood!
The man rose, and, making no more account of his fetters than if they had been straws, sprang like a tiger at the throat of his driver. He caught it, and the eyes and tongue of the cruel monster were protruding from his head before the enraged Frenchman could be torn away by four powerful janissaries. As it was, they had to bind him hand and foot ere they were able to carry him off—to torture, and probably to death. At the same time the poor, helpless form of Henri was borne from the place by two of his fellow-slaves.
Of course a scene like this could not be witnessed unmoved by our midshipman. Indeed he would infallibly have rushed to the rescue of the bearded Frenchman if Peter's powerful grip on his shoulder had not restrained him.
"Don't be a fool, Geo'ge," he whispered. "Remember, we must submit!"
Fortunately for George, the guards around were too much interested in watching the struggle to observe his state of mind, and it is doubtful whether he would have been held back even by the negro if his attention had not at the moment been attracted by a tall man who came on the scene just then with another gang of slaves.
One glance sufficed to tell who the tall man was. Hester Sommers's portrait had been a true one—tall, handsome, strong; and even in the haggard, worn, and profoundly sad face, there shone a little of the "sweetness" which his daughter had emphasised. There were also the large grey eyes, the Roman nose, the iron-grey hair, moustache, and beard, and the large mouth, although the "smile" had fled from the face and the "lovingness" from the eyes. Foster was so sure of the man that, as he drew near to the place where he stood, he stepped forward and whispered "Sommers."
The man started and turned pale as he looked keenly at our hero's face.
"No time to explain," said the middy quickly. "Hester is well and safe! See you again! Hope on!"
"What are you saying there?" thundered one of the drivers in Arabic.
"What you say to dat feller? you raskil! you white slabe! Come 'long home!" cried Peter the Great, seizing Foster by the collar and dragging him forcibly away, at the same time administering several kicks so violent that his entire frame seemed to be dislocated, while the janissaries burst into a laugh at the big negro's seeming fury.
"Oh! Geo'ge, Geo'ge," continued Peter, as he dragged the middy along, shaking him from time to time, "you'll be de deaf ob me, an' ob yourself too, if you don't larn to submit. An' see, too, what a hyperkrite you make me! I's 'bliged to kick hard, or dey wouldn't b'lieve me in arnist."
"Well, well, Peter," returned our hero, who at once understood his friend's ruse to disarm suspicion, and get him away safely, "you need not call yourself a hypocrite this time, at all events, for your kicks and shakings have been uncommonly real—much too real for comfort."
"Didn't I say I was 'bleeged to do it?" retorted Peter, with a pout that might have emulated that of his wife on the occasion of their engagement. "D'you s'pose dem raskils don' know a real kick from a sham one? I was marciful too, for if I'd kicked as I could, dere wouldn't be a whole bone in your carcass at dis momint! You's got to larn to be grateful, Geo'ge. Come along."
Conversing thus pleasantly, the white slave and the black left the Kasba together and descended into the town.
THE MIDDY OBTAINS A DECIDED ADVANCE, AND MAKES PETER THE GREAT HIS CONFIDANT.
Many months passed, after the events narrated in the last chapter, before George Foster had the good-fortune to meet again with Hugh Sommers, and several weeks elapsed before he had the chance of another interview with the daughter.
Indeed, he was beginning to despair of ever again seeing either the one or the other, and it required the utmost energy and the most original suggestions of a hopeful nature on the part of his faithful friend to prevent his giving way altogether, and having, as Peter expressed it, "anoder fit ob de blues."
At last fortune favoured him. He was busy in the garden one day planting flowers, when Peter came to him and said—
"I's got news for you to-day, Geo'ge."
"Indeed," said the middy, with a weary sigh; "what may your news be?"
"You 'member dat pictur' ob de coffee-house in de town what you doo'd?"
"Yes, now you mention it, I do, though I had almost forgotten it."
"Ah! but I not forgit 'im! Well, yesterday I tuk it to massa, an' he bery much pleased. He say, bring you up to de house, an' he gib you some work to do."
"I wish," returned Foster, "that he'd ask me to make a portrait of little Hester Sommers."
"You forgit, Geo'ge, de Moors neber git deir portraits doo'd. Dey 'fraid ob de evil eye."
"Well, when are we to go up?"
"Now—I jist come for you."
Throwing down his garden tools, Foster followed the negro to the house, and was ushered into a small chamber, the light of which was rendered soft and mellow, by the stained glass windows through which it passed. These windows were exceedingly small—not more than a foot high by eight inches broad—and they were placed in the walls at a height of nine feet or more from the ground. The walls of the room were decorated with richly-coloured tiles, and the floor was of white marble, but the part that attracted our hero most was the ceiling, which was arched, according to Moorish form, and enriched with elaborate designs in stucco—if not in white marble, the difference being difficult to distinguish. On the marble floor lay several shawls, richly embroidered in coloured silk and gold, a pair of small scarlet slippers, covered with gold thread, a thin veil, and several cushions of different sizes. On one of these last reposed a little tame gazelle, whose bright eyes greeted the two slaves with an inquiring look as they entered.
From all these things Foster judged that this was one of the women's apartments, and wondered much that he had been admitted into such a jealously-guarded sanctuary, but relieved his mind by setting it down to that eccentricity for which Ben-Ahmed was noted.
He had just arrived at this conclusion when a door opened, and Ben-Ahmed himself entered with the sketch of the coffee-house in his hand.
"Tell him," said the Moor to Peter, "that I am much pleased with this drawing, and wish him to make one, a little larger in size, of this room. Let him put into it everything that he sees. He will find paper in that portfolio, and all else that he requires on this ottoman. Let him take time, and do it well. He need not work in the garden while thus employed."
Pointing to the various things to which he referred, the Moor turned and left the apartment.
"Now, Geo'ge, what you t'ink ob all dat?" asked Peter, with a broad grin, when he had translated the Moor's orders.
"Really I don't know what to think of it. Undoubtedly it is a step upwards, as compared with working in the garden; but then, don't you see, Peter, it will give me much less of your company, which will be a tremendous drawback?"
"Das well said. You's kite right. I hab notice from de fus' dat you hab a well-constitooted mind, an' appruciates de value ob friendship. I lub your smood face, Geo'ge!"
"I hope you love more of me than my smooth face, Peter," returned the middy, "otherwise your love won't continue, for there are certain indications on my upper lip which assure me that the smoothness won't last long."
"Hol' your tongue, sar! What you go on jabberin' so to me when you's got work to do, sar!" said Peter fiercely, with a threatening motion of his fist. "Go to work at once, you white slabe!"
Our hero was taken aback for a moment by this sudden explosion, but the presence of a negro girl, who had entered softly by a door at his back, at once revealed to him the truth that Peter the Great had donned the garb of the hypocrite. Although unused and very much averse to such costume, he felt compelled in some degree to adopt it, and, bowing his head, not only humbly, but in humiliation, he went silently towards his drawing materials, while the girl placed a tumbler of water on a small table and retired.
Turning round, he found that Peter had also disappeared from the scene.
At first he imagined that the water was meant for his refreshment, but on examining the materials on the ottoman he found a box of water-colour paints, which accounted for its being sent.
Although George Foster had never been instructed in painting, he possessed considerable natural talent, and was intensely fond of the art. It was, therefore, with feelings of delight which he had not experienced for many a day that he began to arrange his materials and set about this new and congenial work.
Among other things he found a small easel, which had a very Anglican aspect about it. Wondering how it had got there, he set it up, with a sheet of paper on it, tried various parts of the room, in order to find out the best position for a picture, and went through that interesting series of steppings back and puttings of the head on one side which seem to be inseparably connected with true art.
While thus engaged in the profound silence of that luxurious apartment, with its "dim religious light," now glancing at the rich ceiling, anon at the fair sheet of paper, he chanced to look below the margin of the latter and observed, through the legs of the easel, that the gorgeous eyes of the gazelle were fixed on him in apparent wonder.
He advanced to it at once, holding out a hand coaxingly. The pretty creature allowed him to approach within a few inches, and then bounded from its cushion like a thing of india-rubber to the other end of the room, where it faced about and gazed again.
"You gaze well, pretty creature," thought the embryo artist. "Perhaps that's the origin of your name! Humph! you won't come to me?"
The latter part of his thoughts he expressed aloud, but the animal made no response. It evidently threw the responsibility of taking the initiative on the man.
Our middy was naturally persevering in character. Laying aside his pencil, he sat down on the marble floor, put on his most seductive expression, held out his hand gently, and muttered soft encouragements— such as, "Now then, Spunkie, come here, an' don't be silly—" and the like. But "Spunkie" still stood immovable and gazed.
Then the middy took to advancing in a sitting posture—after a manner known to infants—at the same time intensifying the urbanity of his look and the wheedlement of his tone. The gazelle suffered him to approach until his fingers were within an inch of its nose. There the middy stopped. He had studied animal nature. He was aware that it takes two to love as well as to quarrel. He resolved to wait. Seeing this, the gazelle timidly advanced its little nose and touched his finger. He scratched gently! Spunkie seemed to like it. He scratched progressively up its forehead. Spunkie evidently enjoyed it. He scratched behind its ear, and—the victory was gained! The gazelle, dismissing all fear, advanced and rubbed its graceful head on his shoulder.
"Well, you are a nice little beast," said Foster, as he fondled it; "whoever owns you must be very kind to you, but I can't afford to waste more time with you. Must get to work."
He rose and returned to his easel while the gazelle trotted to its cushion and lay down—to sleep? perchance to dream?—no, to gaze, as before, but in mitigated wonder.
The amateur painter-slave now applied himself diligently to his work with ever-increasing interest; yet not altogether without an uncomfortable and humiliating conviction that if he did not do it with reasonable rapidity, and give moderate satisfaction, he ran the chance of being "whacked" if not worse!
Let not the reader imagine that we are drawing the longbow here, and making these Moors to be more cruel than they really were. Though Ben-Ahmed was an amiable specimen, he was not a typical Algerine, for cruelty of the most dreadful kind was often perpetrated by these monsters in the punishment of trivial offences in those days. At the present hour there stands in the great square of Algiers an imposing mosque, which was designed by a Christian slave—an architect—whose head was cut off because he had built it—whether intentionally or accidentally we know not—in the form of a cross!
For some hours Foster worked uninterruptedly with his pencil, for he believed, like our great Turner in his earlier days, (though Turner's sun had not yet arisen!) that the preliminary drawing for a picture cannot be too carefully or elaborately done.
After having bumped himself against the wall twice, and tripped over an ottoman once—to the gazelle's intense surprise—in his efforts to take an artistic view of his work, Foster at last laid down his pencil, stretched himself to his full height, with his hands in the air by way of relaxation, and was beginning to remember that midday meals were not unknown to man, when the negress before mentioned entered with a small round brass tray, on which were two covered dishes. The middy lowered his hands in prompt confusion, for he had not attained to the Moors' sublime indifference to the opinion or thought of slaves.
He was about to speak, but checked the impulse. It was wiser to hold his tongue! A kindliness of disposition, however, induced him to smile and nod—attentions which impelled the negress, as she retired, to display her teeth and gums to an extent that no one would believe if we were to describe it.
On examination it was found that one of the dishes contained a savoury compound of rice and chicken, with plenty of butter and other substances—some of which were sweet.
The other dish contained little rolls of bread. Both dishes appeared to Foster to be made of embossed gold—or brass, but he knew and cared not which. Coffee in a cup about the size and shape of an egg was his beverage. While engaged with the savoury and altogether unexpected meal, our hero felt his elbow touched. Looking round he saw the gazelle looking at him with an expression in its beautiful eyes that said plainly, "Give me my share."
"You shall have it, my dear," said the artist, handing the creature a roll, with which it retired contentedly to its cushion.
"Perhaps," thought the youth, as he pensively sipped his coffee, "this room may be sometimes used by Hester! It obviously forms part of the seraglio."
Strange old fellow, Ben-Ahmed, to allow men like me to invade such a place.
The thought of the ladies of the harem somehow suggested his mother and sister, and when poor George got upon this pair of rails he was apt to be run away with, and to forget time and place. The reverie into which he wandered was interrupted, however, by the gazelle asking for more. As there was no more, it was fain to content itself with a pat on the head as the painter rose to resume his work.
The drawing was by this time all pencilled in most elaborately, and the middy opened the water-colour box to examine the paints. As he did so, he again remarked on the familiar English look of the materials, and was about to begin rubbing down a little of one of the cakes—moist colours had not been invented—when he observed some writing in red paint on the back of the palette. He started and flushed, while his heart beat faster, for the writing was, "Expect me. Rub this out. H.S."
What could this mean? H.S? Hester Sommers of course. It was simple— too simple. He wished for more—like the gazelle. Like it, too, he got no more. After gazing at the writing, until every letter was burnt into his memory, he obeyed the order and rubbed it out. Then, in a disturbed and anxious frame of mind, he tried to paint, casting many a glance, not only at his subject, but at the two doors which opened into the room.
At last one of the doors opened—not the one he happened to be looking at, however. He started up, overturned his stool, and all but knocked down the easel, as the negress re-entered to remove the refreshment-tray. She called to the gazelle as she went out. It bounded lightly after her, and the young painter was left alone to recover his composure.
"Ass that I am!" he said, knitting his brows, clenching his teeth, and putting a heavy dab of crimson-lake on the ceiling!
At that moment the other door opened, yet so gently and slightly that he would not have observed it but for the sharp line of light which it let through. Determined not to be again taken by surprise, he became absorbed in putting little unmeaning lines round the dab of lake—not so busily, however, as to prevent his casting rapid furtive glances at the opening door.
Gradually something white appeared in the aperture—it was a veil. Something blue—it was an eye. Something quite beyond description lovely—it was Hester herself, looking—if such be conceivable—like a scared angel!
"Oh, Mr Foster!" she exclaimed, in a half-whisper, running lightly in, and holding up a finger by way of caution, "I have so longed to see you—"
"So have I," interrupted the delighted middy. "Dear H—-ah—Miss Sommers, I mean, I felt sure that—that—this must be your room—no, what's its name? boudoir; and the gazelle—"
"Yes, yes—oh! never mind that," interrupted the girl impatiently. "My father—darling father!—any news of him."
Blushing with shame that he should have thought of his own feelings before her anxieties, Foster dropped the little hand which he had already grasped, and hastened to tell of the meeting with her father in the Kasba—the ease with which he had recognised him from her description, and the few hurried words of comfort he had been able to convey before the slave-driver interfered.
Tears were coursing each other rapidly down Hester's cheeks while he was speaking; yet they were not tears of unmingled grief.
"Oh, Mr Foster!" she said, seizing the middy's hand, and kissing it, "how shall I ever thank you?"
Before she could add another word, an unlucky touch of Foster's heel laid the easel, with an amazing clatter, flat on the marble floor! Hester bounded through the doorway more swiftly than her own gazelle, slammed the door behind her, and vanished like a vision.
Poor Foster! Although young and enthusiastic, he was not a coxcomb. The thrill in the hand that had been kissed told him plainly that he was hopelessly in love! But a dull weight on his heart told him, he thought as plainly, that Hester was not in the same condition.
"Dear child!" he said, as he slowly gathered up the drawing materials, "if that innocent, transparent, almost infantine creature had been old enough to fall in love she would sooner have hit me on the nose with her lovely fist than have kissed my great ugly paw—even though she was overwhelmed with joy at hearing about her father."
Having replaced the easel and drawing, he seated himself on an ottoman, put his elbows on his knees, laid his forehead in his hands, and began to meditate aloud.
"Yes," he said, with a profound sigh, "I love her—that's as clear as daylight; and she does not love me—that's clearer than daylight. Unrequited love! That's what I've come to! Nevertheless, I'm not in wild despair. How's that? I don't want to shoot or drown myself. How's that? On the contrary, I want to live and rescue her. I could serve or die for that child with pleasure—without even the reward of a smile! There must be something peculiar here. Is it—can it be Platonic love? Of course that must be it. Yes, I've often heard and read of that sort of love before. I know it now, and—and—I rather like it!"
"You don't look as if you did, Geo'ge," said a deep voice beside him.
George started up with a face of scarlet.
"Peter!" he exclaimed fiercely, "did you hear me speak? What did you hear?"
"Halo! Geo'ge, don't squeeze my arm so! You's hurtin' me. I hear you say somet'ing 'bout plotummik lub, but what sort o' lub that may be is more'n I kin tell."
"Are you sure that is all you—But come, Peter, I should have no secrets from you. The truth is," (he whispered low here), "I have seen Hester Sommers—here, in this room, not half an hour ago—and—and I feel that I am hopelessly in love with her—Platonically, that is—but I fear you won't understand what that means—"
The midshipman stopped abruptly. For the first time since they became acquainted he saw a grave expression of decided disapproval on the face of his sable friend.
"Geo'ge," said Peter solemnly, "you tell me you hab took 'vantage ob bein' invited to your master's house to make lub—plo—plotummikilly or oderwise—to your master's slabe?"
"No, Peter, I told you nothing of the sort. The meeting with Hester was purely accidental—at least it was none of my seeking—and I did not make love to her—"
"Did she make lub to you, Geo'ge—plo—plotummikilly."
"Certainly not. She came to ask about her poor father, and I saw that she is far too young to think of falling in love at all. What I said was that I have fallen hopelessly in love, and that as I cannot hope that she will ever be—be mine, I have made up my mind to love her hopelessly, but loyally, to the end of life, and serve or die for her if need be."
"Oh! das all right, Geo'ge. If dat's what you calls plo—plotummik lub—lub away, my boy, as hard's you kin. Same time, I's not kite so sure dat she's too young to hub. An' t'ings ain't allers as hopeless as dey seems. But now, what's dis you bin do here? My! How pritty. Oh! das real bootiful. But what's you got in de ceiling—de sun, eh?"
He pointed to the dab of crimson-lake.
Foster explained that it was merely a "bit of colour."
"Ob course! A cow wid half an eye could see dat!"
"Well—but I mean—it's a sort of—a kind of—tone to paint up to."
"H'm! das strange now. I don't hear no sound nowhar!"
"Well, then, it's a shadow, Peter."
"Geo'ge," said the negro, with a look of surprise, "I do t'ink your plo-plotummik lub hab disagreed wid you. Come 'long to de kitchen an' hab your supper—it's all ready."
So saying, he went off with his friend and confidant to the culinary region, which was also the salle a manger of the slaves.
A SEVERE TRIAL—SECRET COMMUNICATION UNDER DIFFICULTIES, AND SUDDEN FLIGHT.
The devotion of our middy to the fine arts was so satisfactory in its results that Ben-Ahmed set him to work at various other apartments in his dwelling when the first drawing was nearly finished.
We say nearly finished, because, owing to some unaccountable whim, the Moor would not allow the first drawing to be completed. When Foster had finished a painting of the central court, his master was so pleased with the way in which he had drawn and coloured the various shrubs and flowers which grew there, that he ordered him forthwith to commence a series of drawings of the garden from various points of view. In one of these Foster introduced such a life-like portrait of Peter the Great that Ben-Ahmed was charmed, and immediately gave orders to have most of his slaves portrayed while engaged in their various occupations.
In work of this kind many months were spent, for Foster was a painstaking worker. He finished all his paintings with minute care, having no capacity for off-hand or rapid sketching. During this period the engrossing nature of his work—of which he was extremely fond— tended to prevent his mind from dwelling too much on his condition of slavery, but it was chiefly the knowledge that Hester Sommers was under the same roof, and the expectation that at any moment he might encounter her, which reconciled him to his fate, and even made him cheerful under it.
But as week after week passed away, and month after month, without even a flutter of her dress being seen by him, his heart failed him again, and he began to fear that Ben-Ahmed's son Osman might have returned and carried her off as his bride, or that she might have been sold to some rich Moor—even to the Dey himself! Of course his black friend comforted him with the assurance that Osman had not returned, and that Ben-Ahmed was not the man to sell a slave he was fond of; but such assurances did not afford him much comfort. His mind was also burdened with anxiety about his mother and sister.
He was sitting one day while in this state at an angle of the garden trying to devote his entire mind to the portrayal of a tree-fern, and vainly endeavouring to prevent Hester Sommers from coming between him and the paper, when he was summoned to attend upon Ben-Ahmed. As this was an event of by no means uncommon occurrence, he listlessly gathered up his materials and went into the house.
He found the Moor seated cross-legged on a carpet, smoking his hookah, with only a negress in attendance. His easel, he found, was already placed, and, to his surprise, he observed that the original drawing with which his career as a painter had commenced was placed upon it.
"I wish you to finish that picture by introducing a figure," said Ben-Ahmed, with solemn gravity.
He spoke in Lingua Franca, which Foster understood pretty well by that time.
It now became evident to him why the drawing of the room had been left unfinished, and he thought it probable that modesty—or, perhaps, a difficulty in overcoming the Moslem's dislike to being transferred to canvas at all—had caused the delay.
"In what attitude do you wish to be painted?" asked the middy, as he moved the easel a little, and took a professional, head-on-one-side look at his subject.
"In no attitude," returned the Moor gravely.
"Pardon me," said Foster in surprise. "Did you not say that—that—"
"I said that I wish you to finish the drawing by introducing a figure," returned Ben-Ahmed, taking a long draw at the hookah.
"Just so—and may I ask—"
"The figure," resumed the Moor, taking no notice of the interruption, "is to be one of my women slaves."
Here he turned his head slightly and gave a brief order to the negress in waiting, who retired by the door behind her.
The middy stood silent for a minute or so, lost in wonder and expectation, when another door opened and a female entered. She was gorgeously dressed, and closely veiled, so that her face was entirely concealed; nevertheless, George Foster's heart seemed to bound into his throat and half choke him, for he knew the size, air, and general effect of that female as well as if she had been his own mother.
The Moor rose, led her to a cushion, and bade her sit down. She did so with the grace of Venus, and then the Moor removed her veil—looking fixedly at the painter as he did so.
But the middy had recovered self-possession by that time. He was surprised as well as deeply concerned to observe that Hester's beautiful face was very pale, and her eyes were red and swollen, as if from much crying, but not a muscle in his stolid countenance betrayed the slightest emotion. He put his head a little to one side, in the orthodox manner, and looked steadily at her. Then he looked at his painting and frowned, as if considering the best spot in which to place this "figure." Then he began to work.
Meanwhile the Moor sat down to smoke in such a position that he could see both painter and sitter.
It was a severe test of our middy's capacity to act the "hyperkrite!" His heart was thumping at his ribs like a sledge-hammer anxious to get out. His hand trembled so that he could scarcely draw a line, and he was driven nearly mad with the necessity of presenting a calm, thoughtful exterior when the effervescence within, as he afterwards admitted, almost blew his head off like a champagne cork.
By degrees he calmed down, ceased breaking the point of his pencil, and used his india-rubber less frequently. Then he took to colour and the brush, and here the tide began to turn in his favour. Such a subject surely never before sat to painter since the world began! He became engrossed in his work. The eyes became intent, the hand steady, the heart regular, the whole man intense, while a tremendous frown and compressed lips told that he "meant business!"
Not less intense was the attention of the Moor. Of course we cannot tell what his thoughts were, but it seemed not improbable that his eccentric recklessness in violating all his Mohammedan habits and traditions as to the seclusion of women, by thus exposing Hester to the gaze of a young infidel, had aroused feelings of jealousy and suspicion, which were not natural to his kindly and un-Moorish cast of soul.
But while young Foster was employed in the application of his powers to energetic labour, the old Moor was engaged in the devotion of his powers to the consumption of smoke. The natural results followed. While the painter became more and more absorbed, so as to forget all around save his sitter and his work, the Moor became more and more devoted to his hookah, till he forgot all around save the soporific influences of smoke. An almost oppressive silence ensued, broken only by the soft puffing of Ben-Ahmed's lips, and an occasional change in the attitude of the painter. And oh! how earnestly did that painter wish that Ben-Ahmed would retire—even for a minute—to give him a chance of exchanging a word or two with his subject.
But the Moor was steady as a rock. Indeed he was too steady, for the curtains of his eyes suddenly fell, and shut in the owlish glare with which he had been regarding the middy. At the same moment a sharp click and clatter sent an electric thrill to the hearts of all. The Moor's mouthpiece had fallen on the marble floor! Ben-Ahmed picked it up and replaced it with severe gravity, yet a faint flicker of red in his cheek, and a very slight air of confusion, showed that even a magnificent Moor objects to be caught napping by his slaves.
This incident turned Foster's thoughts into a new channel. If the Moor should again succumb to the demands of nature—or the influence of tobacco—how could he best make use of the opportunity? It was a puzzling question. To speak—in a whisper or otherwise—was not to be thought of. Detection would follow almost certainly. The dumb alphabet would have been splendid, though dangerous, but neither he nor Hester understood it. Signs might do. He would try signs, though he had never tried them before. What then? Did not "Never venture, never win," "Faint heart never won," etcetera, and a host of similar proverbs assure him that a midshipman, of all men, should "never say die."
A few minutes more gave him the chance. Again the mouthpiece fell, but this time it dropped on the folds of the Moor's dress, and in another minute steady breathing told that Ben-Ahmed was in the land of Nod—if not of dreams.
A sort of lightning change took place in the expressions of the young people. Hester's face beamed with intelligence. Foster's blazed with mute interrogation. The little maid clasped her little hands, gazed upwards anxiously, looked at the painter entreatingly, and glanced at the Moor dubiously.
Foster tried hard to talk to her "only with his eyes." He even added some amazing motions of the lips which were meant to convey—"What's the matter with you?" but they conveyed nothing, for Hester only shook her head and looked miserable.
A mild choke at that moment caused the maid to fall into statuesque composure, and the painter to put his frowning head tremendously to one side as he stepped back in order to make quite sure that the last touch was really equal, if not superior, to Michael Angelo himself!
The Moor resumed his mouthpiece with a suspicious glance at both slaves, and Foster, with the air of a man who feels that Michael was fairly overthrown, stepped forward to continue his work. Truly, if Peter the Great had been there at the time he might have felt that he also was fairly eclipsed in his own particular line!
Foster now became desperate, and his active mind began to rush wildly about in quest of useful ideas, while his steady hand pursued its labour until the Moor smoked himself into another slumber.
Availing himself of the renewed opportunity, the middy wrapped a small piece of pencil in a little bit of paper, and, with the reckless daring of a man who had boarded a pirate single-handed, flung it at his lady-love.
His aim was true—as that of a midshipman should be. The little bomb struck Hester on the nose and fell into her lap. She unrolled it quickly, and an expression of blank disappointment was the result, for the paper was blank and she had expected a communication. She looked up inquiringly, and beaming intelligence displaced the blank when she saw that Foster made as though he were writing large text on his drawing. She at once flattened the bit of paper on her knee—eyeing the Moor anxiously the while—and scribbled a few words on the paper.
A loud cough from Foster, followed by a violent sneeze, caused her to crush the paper in her hand and again become intensely statuesque. Prompt though she was, this would not have saved her from detection if the violence of Foster's sneeze had not drawn the Moor's first glance away from her and towards himself.
"Pardon me," said the middy, with a deprecatory air, "a sneeze is sometimes difficult to repress."
"Does painting give Englishmen colds?" asked the Moor sternly.
"Sometimes it does—especially if practised out of doors in bad weather," returned Foster softly.
"H'm! That will do for to-day. You may return to your painting in the garden. It will, perhaps, cure your cold. Go!" he added, turning to Hester, who immediately rose, pushed the paper under the cushion on which she had been sitting, and left the room with her eyes fixed on the ground.
As the cat watches the mouse, Foster had watched the girl's every movement while he bent over his paint-box. He saw where she put the paper. In conveying his materials from the room, strange to say, he slipped on the marble floor, close to the cushion, secured the paper as he rose, and, picking up his scattered things with an air of self-condemnation, retired humbly—yet elated—from the presence-chamber.
Need we say that in the first convenient spot he could find he eagerly unrolled the paper, and read—
"I am lost! Oh, save me! Osman has come! I have seen him! Hateful! He comes to-morrow to—"
The writing ended abruptly.
"My hideous sneeze did that!" growled Foster savagely. "But if I had been a moment later Ben-Ahmed might have—well, well; no matter. She must be saved. She shall be saved!"
Having said this, clenched his teeth and hands, and glared, he began to wonder how she was to be saved. Not being able to arrive at any conclusion on this point, he went off in search of his friend Peter the Great.
He found that worthy man busy mending a rake in a tool-house, and in a few eager words explained how matters stood. At first the negro listened with his wonted, cheerful smile and helpful look, which hitherto had been a sort of beacon-light to the poor midshipman in his troubles, but when he came to the piece of paper and read its contents the smile vanished.
"Osman home!" he said. "If Osman come back it's a black look-out for poor Hester! And the paper says to-morrow," cried Foster; "to take her away and marry her, no doubt. Peter, I tell you, she must be saved to-night! You and I must save her. If you won't aid me I will do it alone—or die in the attempt."
"Geo'ge, if you was to die a t'ousan' times dat wouldn't sabe her. You know de Kasba?"
"Yes, yes—go on!"
"Well, if you was to take dat on your shoulders an' pitch 'im into de sea, dat wouldn't sabe her."
"Yes it would, you faint-hearted nigger!" cried the middy, losing all patience, "for if I could do that I'd be able to wring the neck of every pirate in Algiers—and I'd do it too!"
"Now, Geo'ge, keep cool. I's on'y p'intin' out what you can't do; but p'r'aps somet'ing may be done. Yes," (he struck his forehead with his fist, as if to clinch a new idea),—"yes, I knows! I's hit it!"
"What!" cried Foster eagerly.
"Dat you's got nuffin to do wid," returned the negro decisively. "You must know not'ing, understand not'ing, hear an' see not'ing, for if you do you'll be whacked to deaf. Bery likely you'll be whacked anyhow, but dat not so bad. You must just shut your eyes an' mout' an' trust all to me. You understand, Geo'ge?"
"I think I do," said the relieved middy, seizing the negro's right hand and wringing it gratefully. "Bless your black face! I trust you from the bottom of my soul."
It was, indeed, a source of immense relief to poor Foster that his friend not only took up the matter with energy, but spoke in such a cheery, hopeful tone, for the more he thought of the subject the more hopeless did the case of poor Hester Sommers appear. He could of course die for her—and would, if need were—but this thought was always followed by the depressing question, "What good would that do to her?"
Two hours after the foregoing conversation occurred Peter the Great was seated in a dark little back court in a low coffee-house in one of the darkest, narrowest, and most intricate streets of Algiers. He sat on an empty packing-box. In front of him was seated a stout negress, in whom an Ethiopian might have traced some family likeness to Peter himself.
"Now, Dinah," said he, continuing an earnest conversation which had already lasted for some time, "you understand de case properly—eh?"
"Ob course I does," said Dinah.
"Well, den, you must go about it at once. Not a minute to lose. You'll find me at de gardin door. I'll let you in. You know who you's got to sabe, an' you must find out your own way to sabe her, an'—now, hol' your tongue! You's just a-goin' to speak—I must know nuffin'. Don' tell me one word about it. You's a cleber woman, Dinah."
"Yes, my brudder. I wasn't born yesterday—no, nor yet the day before."
"An', Samson, will you trust him?"
"My husband is as good as gold. I trust him wid eberyt'ing!" replied this pattern wife.
"An' Youssef—what ob him?"
"He's more'n t'ree quarters blind. Kin see not'ing, an' understan's less."
"Dinah, you's a good woman," remarked her appreciative brother, as he rose to depart. "Now, remember, dis am de most important job you an' I hab had to do since we was took by de pirits out ob de same ship. An' I do t'ink de Lord hab bin bery good to us, for He's gi'n us good massas at last, though we had some roughish ones at fust. Foller me as quick as you can."
Dinah, being a warm-hearted woman, and very sympathetic, did not waste time. She reached Ben-Ahmed's villa only half an hour later than her brother, with a basket of groceries and other provisions that Peter had purchased in town. Peter took care that the young negress, whom we have already introduced as an attendant in the house, should be sent to receive the basket, and Dinah took care that she should not return to the house until she had received a bouquet of flowers to present to the young English girl in the harem. Inside of this bouquet was a little note written by Peter. It ran thus—
"Tri an git owt to de gardin soons yoo kan."
When Hester Sommers discovered this note, the first ray of hope entered into her fluttering heart, and she resolved to profit by it.
Meanwhile, Dinah, instead of quitting the place after delivering her basket, hid herself in the shrubbery. It was growing dark by that time, and Peter made a noisy demonstration of sending one of the slaves to see that the garden gate was locked for the night. Thereafter he remained all the rest of the evening in his own apartments in pretty loud conversation with the slaves.
Suddenly there was a cry raised, and several slaves belonging to the inner household rushed into the outer house with glaring eyes, shouting that the English girl could not be found.
"Not in de house?" cried Peter, starting up in wild excitement.
"No—nowhar in de house!"
"To de gardin, quick!" shouted Peter, leading the way, while Ben-Ahmed himself, with undignified haste, joined in the pursuit.
Lanterns were lighted, and were soon flitting like fireflies all over the garden, but no trace of the fugitive was found. Peter entered into the search with profound interest, being as yet utterly ignorant of the method of escape devised by his sister. Suddenly one of the slaves discovered it. A pile of empty casks, laid against the wall in the form of a giant staircase, showed how Hester had climbed, and a crushed bush on the other side testified to her mode of descent.
Ben-Ahmed and Peter ran up to the spot together. "Dey can't hab gone far, massa. You want de horses, eh?" asked the latter.
"Yes. Two horses, quick!"
Peter went off to the stables in hot haste, remarking as he ran—
"What a hyperkrite I is, to be sure!"
HESTER INTRODUCED TO A NEW HOME AND NEW FRIENDS UNDER PECULIAR CIRCUMSTANCES, AND A NEW NAME.
Long before their flight was discovered Hester Sommers and Dinah had penetrated into a dense thicket, where the negress proceeded to produce a wonderful metamorphosis.
"Now, my dear," she said, hastily undoing a large bundle which she carried, while Hester, panting and terrified, sat down on the grass beside her, "don't you be frighted. I's your fri'nd. I's Dinah, de sister ob Peter de Great, an' de fri'nd also ob Geo'ge. So you make your mind easy."
"My mind is quite easy," said Hester; "and even if you were not Peter's sister, I'd trust you, because of the tone of your kind voice. But who is Geo'ge?"
Dinah opened her eyes very wide at this question, for Peter had already enlightened her mind a little as to the middy's feelings towards Hester.
"You not know Geo'ge?" she asked.
"Never heard of him before, Dinah."
"Oh, I understand! It was your way of pronouncing his name that puzzled me," returned the girl, with a faint smile. "I'm glad you are his friend, too, poor fellow!"
"Well, you is a babby!" exclaimed Dinah, who had been mixing up what appeared to be black paint in a wooden bowl. "Now, look yar, don't you be frighted. It's a matter ob life an' deaf, you know, but I's your fri'nd! Jest you do zackly what I tells you."
"Yes, Dinah," said Hester, alarmed, notwithstanding, by the earnestness and solemnity of her new friend, "what am I to do?"
"You come yar, an' don't moob whateber I does to you. Dere, I's goin' to make you a nigger!"
She applied a large brush to Hester's forehead, and drew it thence down her left cheek, under her chin, up the right cheek, and back to the starting point, thus producing a black band or circle two inches broad.
"Now shut your bootiful eyes," she said, and proceeded to fill up the circle.
In a quarter of an hour Hester was as black as the ace of spades—neck, hands, and arms, as well as face—her fair hair was effectually covered and concealed by a cotton kerchief, and then her dress was changed for the characteristic costume of negro women.
"Now your own mudder wouldn't know you," said Dinah, stepping back to survey her work, and, strange to say, putting her black head quite artistically a little on one side. "You's a'most as good-lookin' as myself—if you was on'y a little fatter. Now, mind, you's a dumb gal! Can't speak a word. Don't forgit dat. An' your name's Geo'giana. Come along."
Leaving her fine clothes concealed in a deep hole, Hester followed her companion as fast as she could. On returning to the road Dinah took her friend by the hand and helped her to run for a considerable distance. Then they walked, and then ran again, until poor Hester was almost exhausted.
Resuming their walk after a short rest, they gained the main road and met with several people, who paid no attention to them whatever, much to Hester's relief, for she had made sure of being detected. At last they reached the city gate, which was still open, as the sun had not yet set. Passing through unchallenged, Dinah at once dived into a maze of narrow streets, and, for the first time since starting, felt comparatively safe.
Fortunately for the success of their enterprise, the negress costume fitted loosely, so that the elegance of Hester's form was not revealed, and her exhaustion helped to damage the grace of her carriage!
"Now, dearie, you come in yar an' rest a bit," said Dinah, turning into a dark cellar-like hole, from which issued both sounds and smells that were not agreeable. It was the abode of one of Dinah's friends—also a negress—who received her with effusive goodwill.
Retiring to the coal-hole—or some such dark receptacle—Dinah held her friend in conversation for about a quarter of an hour, during which time several hearty Ethiopian chuckles were heard to burst forth. Then, returning to the cellar, Dinah introduced her friend to Hester as Missis Lilly, and Hester to Missis Lilly as Miss Geo'giana.
Wondering why her friend had selected for her the name—if she remembered rightly—of one of Blue Beard's wives, Hester bowed, and was about to speak when Dinah put her flat nose close to hers and sternly said, "Dumb."
"Moreober," she continued, "you mustn't bow like a lady, or you'll be diskivered 'mediately. You must bob. Sally!"
This last word was shouted. The instant effect was the abrupt stoppage of one of the disagreeable sounds before referred to—a sound as of pounding—and the appearance of a black girl who seemed to rise out of a pit in the floor at the darkest end of the cellar.
"Sally, show dis yar stoopid gal how to bob."
The girl instantly broke off, so to speak, at the knees for a moment, and then came straight again.
"Now, Geo'giana, you bob."
Hester entered into the spirit of the thing and broke off admirably, whereat Dinah and Lilly threw back their heads and shook their sides with laughter. Sally so far joined them as to show all her teeth and gums. Otherwise she was expressionless.
"Now you come yar wid me into dis room," said Dinah, taking Hester's hand and heading her along a passage which was so profoundly dark that the very walls and floor were invisible. Turning suddenly to the left, Dinah advanced a few paces and stood still.
"You stop where you is, Geo'giana, till I gits a light. Don't stir," she said, and left her.
A feeling of intense horror began to creep over the poor girl when she was thus left alone in such a horrible place, and she began almost to regret that she had forsaken the comfortable home of the Moor, and to blame herself for ingratitude. In her agony she was about to call aloud to her negro friend not to forsake her, when the words, "Call upon Me in the time of trouble," occurred to her, and, falling on her knees, she cast herself upon God.
She was not kept waiting long. Only a minute or two had elapsed when Dinah returned with a candle and revealed the fact that they stood in a small low-roofed room, the brick floor of which was partially covered with casks, packing-cases, and general lumber.
"Dis am to be your room, Geo'giana," said her friend, holding the candle over her head and surveying the place with much satisfaction.
Poor Hester shuddered.
"It is an awful place," she said faintly.
"Yes, it am a awrful good place," said Dinah, with satisfaction. "Not easy to find you yar; an' if dey did git dis lengt' widout breakin' dere legs, dere's a nice leetil hole yar what you could git in an' larf to youself."
She led the poor girl to the other end of the room, where, in a recess, there was a boarded part of the wall. Removing one of the boards, she disclosed an opening.
"Das a small hole, Geo'giana, but it's big enough to hold you, an' when you's inside you've on'y got to pull de board into its place, and fix it—so."
Setting down the candle, the woman stepped into the hole, and went through the performance that would devolve upon Hester in case of emergency.
"But why leave me here at all?" pleaded Hester, when Dinah had exhausted her eulogy of the hiding-place. "Why not take me to your own home?"
"Cause it's not so safe as dis," answered Dinah. "P'r'aps in time you may come dere—not now. Moreober, Missis Lilly is a fuss-rate creetur, most as good as myself, if her temper was a leetil more 'eavenly. But she's a winged serubim wid dem as don't rile 'er, an' she'll be awrful good to you for my sake an' Peter's. You see, we was all on us took by the pints at de same time, and we're all Christ'ns but ob course we don't say much about dat yar!"
"And am I to be always dumb—never to speak at all?" asked Hester, in a rather melancholy tone.
"Oh! no—bress you! It's on'y when you're in de front or outside dat you's dumb. When you's back yar you may speak to Lilly an' Sally much as you like, on'y not too loud; an' keep your eyes open, an' your ears sharp always. If you don't it's lost you will be. Don't forgit Osman!"
Hester shuddered again; said that she would never forget Osman, and would be as careful and attentive to orders as possible.
"An' dey'll gib you a little work to do—not much—on'y a little. When peepil speak to you, just point to your ears and mout', an' shake your head. Das enuff. Dey won't boder you arter dat. Now, dearie, I must go. I'll come an' see you sometimes—neber fear. What's to become ob you in de long-run's more'n I kin tell, for it's Peter de Great as'll hab to settle dat kestion. You's in his hands. I knows not'ing, so you'll hab to be patient."
Patient, indeed! Little did that poor painted slave think what demands would yet be made upon her patience. Full two months elapsed before she again saw Peter, or heard anything about Ben-Ahmed and her former friends at Mustapha!
Meanwhile, Dinah having departed, she wisely set herself to make the most of her new friends.
Mrs Lilly she soon found to be quite as amiable as Dinah had described her. She and Sally were slaves to the Moor who dwelt in the house which formed the superstructure of their cellars; but, unlike white slaves, they were allowed a good deal of personal liberty; first, because there was no danger of their running away, as they had no place to run to; second, because their master wanted them to buy and sell vegetables and other things, in order that he might reap the profit; and, last, because, being an easy-going man, the said master had no objection to see slaves happy as long as their happiness did not interfere in any way with his pleasure.
"Now, Geo'giana," said Mrs Lilly, in the course of their first conversation, "my massa he neber come down yar, nor trouble his head about us, as long's I take him a leetle money ebery day, an' nobody else hab got a right to come, so you's pretty safe if dey don't send de janissaries to make a sarch—an' if dey do, you know whar to go. I'll tell massa we make more money if I gits anoder slabe-gal, an' he'll agree, for he agrees to eberyt'ing ob dat sort! Den he'll forgit all about it, an' den you an' Sally kin go about town what you like."
"But I fear, Mrs Lilly, that I won't be able to help you to make more money," objected Hester timidly.
"Oh yes, you will. You'll larn to 'broider de red an' blue slippers. Das pay well when neatly done, an' I kin see by de shape ob your fingers you do it neatly. You's hungry now, I darsay, so go to work at your grub, an' den I'll show you what to do."
Somewhat comforted by the kindly tone and motherly bearing of Mrs Lilly, Hester went into one of the dark cellar-like rooms of the interior of her new home, and found it to be a sort of kitchen, which borrowed its light from the outer room by means of a convenient wall that was white-washed for the purpose of transmitting it. This reflector was not an eminent success, but it rendered darkness visible. At the time we write of, however, the sun having set, the kitchen was lighted by a smoky oil-lamp of classic form and dimness. Here she found Sally busy with her evening meal.
Sally was apparently about as little of a human being as was consistent with the possession of a human form and the power of speech. Most of her qualities seemed to be negative—if we may say so. She was obviously not unamiable; she was not unkind; and she was not sulky, though very silent. In fact, she seemed to be the nearest possible approach to a human nonentity. She may be described as a black maid-of-all-work, but her chief occupation was the pounding of roasted coffee-beans. This operation she performed in the pit in the floor before mentioned, which may be described as a hole, into which you descended by four steps from the front room. As the front room itself was below the level of the street, it follows that the "pit" penetrated considerably deeper into the bowels of the earth. In this pit Sally laboured hard, almost day and night, pounding the coffee-beans in an iron mortar, with an iron pestle so heavy that she had to stand up and use it with both hands. She had got into the habit of relieving herself by an audible gasp each time she drove the pestle down. It was not a necessary gasp, only a remonstrative one, as it were, and conveyed more to the intelligent listener than most of the girl's average conversation did. This gasp was also one of the disagreeable sounds which had saluted the ears of Hester on her first entrance into the new home.
"Mrs Lilly is very kind," said Hester, as she sat down at a small table beside her fellow-slave.
Sally stopped eating for a moment and stared. Supposing that she had not understood the remark, Hester repeated it.
"Yes," assented Sally, and then stopped the vocal orifice with a huge wooden spoonful of rice.
Judging that her companion wished to eat in undisturbed silence, Hester helped herself to some rice, and quietly began supper. Sally eyed her all the time, but was too busy feeding herself to indulge in speech. At last she put down her spoon with a sigh of satisfaction, and said, "Das good!" with such an air of honest sincerity that Hester gave way to an irresistible laugh.
"Yes, it is very good indeed. Did you cook it?" asked Hester, anxious to atone for her impoliteness.
"Yes. I cook 'im. I do all de cookin' in dis yar ouse—an' most ob de eatin' too."
"By the way, Sally, what is it that you keep pounding so constantly in that—that hole off the front room?"
"Coffee," answered Sally, with a nod.
"Indeed! Surely not the household coffee. You cannot drink such a quantity!"
Sally stared for a minute; then opened her mouth, shut her eyes, threw back her head, and chuckled.
"No," she said, with sudden gravity; "if we drink'd it all we'd all bu'st right off. I pounds it, Missis Lilly sells it, an' massa pockets de money."
"Do you pound much?" asked Hester, in a tone of sympathy.
"Oh! housefuls," said Sally, opening her eyes wide. "'Gin at daylight— work till dark, 'cept when doin' oder t'ings. De Moors drink it. Awrful drinkers am de Moors. Mornin', noon, an' night dey swill leetle cups ob coffee. Das de reason dey's all so brown."
"Indeed? I never heard before that the brown-ness of their complexion was owing to that. Are you sure?"
"Oh yes; kite sure. Coffee comes troo de skin—das it," returned Sally, with perfect confidence of tone and manner.
Suddenly she was smitten with a new idea, and stared for some time at her fellow-slave. At last she got it out.
"Missis Lilly say dat you's dumb. How kin you speak so well if you's dumb?"
Poor Hester was greatly perplexed. She did not know how far her companion had been let into the secret reason of her being there, and was afraid to answer. At last she made up her mind.
"I am not really dumb, you know; I have only to be dumb when in the street, or when any visitor is in the house here; but when alone with Mrs Lilly or you I am allowed to speak low."
A gleam of intelligence beamed on the black girl's face as she said, "No, you's not dumb. Moreober, you's not black!"
"Oh, Sally!" exclaimed Hester, in quite a frightened tone; "how did you find that out?"
"Hasn't I got eyes an' ears?" demanded Sally. "Your voice ain't nigger, your 'plexion ain't nigger, an' your mout' an' nose ain't nigger. Does you t'ink Sally's an ass?"
"No, indeed, I am sure you are not; but—but, you—you won't betray me, Sally?"
"You won't tell upon me? Oh, you can't think what dreadful punishment I shall get if I am found out! You won't tell on me, dear Sally—won't you not?" entreated Hester, with tears in her eyes.
"Dere, stop dat! Don't cry! Das wuss dan speakin', for de tearz'll wash all de black off your face! Tell on you? Dee see dat?"
Hester certainly did see "dat," for Sally had suddenly protruded we fear to say how many inches of red flesh from her mouth.
"I cut dat off wid de carvin'-knife sooner dan tell on you, for you's my fri'nd, because Peter de Great am your fri'nd. But you muss be dumb— dumb as you kin, anyhow—an' you mus' neber—neber cry!"
The earnestness of this remark caused Hester to laugh even when on the verge of weeping, so she grasped Sally's hand and shook it warmly, thus cementing the friendship which had so auspiciously begun.
After the meal Mrs Lilly took her lodger into the front room and gave her embroidery work to do. She found it by no means difficult, having learned something like it during her residence with Ben-Ahmed's household. At night she retired to the dark lumber-room, but as Sally owned one of the corners of it Hester did not feel as lonely as she had feared, and although her bed was only made of straw, it was by no means uncomfortable, being spread thickly and covered with two blankets.
She dreamed, of course, and it may easily be understood that her dreams were not pleasant, and that they partook largely of terrible flights from horrible dangers, and hairbreadth escapes from an ogre who, whatever shape he might assume, always displayed the head and features of the hated Osman.
Next morning, however, she arose pretty well refreshed, and inexpressibly thankful to find that she was still safe.
For a long time she remained thus in hiding. Then, as it was considered probable that search for her had been given up as useless, Mrs Lilly resolved to send her out with Sally to one of the obscurer market-places, to purchase some household necessaries.
"You see, chile," said the motherly woman, "you git sick on my hands if you not go out, an' dere's no danger. Just keep your shawl well ober your face, an' hold your tongue. Don't forgit dat. Let 'em kill you if dey likes, but don't speak!"
With this earnest caution ringing in her ears, Hester went forth with Sally to thread the mazes of the town. At first she was terribly frightened, and fancied that every one who looked at her saw through her disguise, but as time passed and no one took the least notice of her, her natural courage returned, and gradually she began to observe and take an interest in the strange persons and things she saw everywhere around her.
TORTURE IS APPLIED IN VAIN, AND TRUE LOVE IS NOT TO BE DECEIVED.
We must return now to the residence of Ben-Ahmed at Mustapha.
When his son Osman—who had seen Hester only once and that for but a few minutes—discovered that the fair slave had fled, his rage knew no bounds. He immediately sent for Peter the Great and sternly asked him if he knew how the English girl had escaped. Their intercourse, we may remark, was carried on in the same curious manner as that referred to in connection with Ben-Ahmed. Osman spoke in Lingua Franca and Peter replied in his ordinary language.
"Oh yes, massa, I know," said the latter, with intense earnestness; "she escaped ober de wall."
"Blockhead!" exclaimed the irate Osman, who was a sturdy but ill-favoured specimen of Moslem humanity. "Of course I know that, but how did she escape over the wall?"
"Don' know dat, massa. You see I's not dere at de time, so can't 'zactly say. Moreober, it was bery dark, an' eben if I's dar, I couldn't see peepil in de dark."
"You lie! you black scoundrel! and you know that you do. You could tell me much more about this if you chose."
"No, indeed, I don't lie—if a slabe may dar to counterdick his massa," returned Peter humbly. "But you's right when you say I could tell you much more. Oh! I could tell you heaps more! In de fuss place I was sotin' wid de oder slabes in de kitchen, enjoyin' ourselves arter supper, w'en we hear a cry! Oh my! how my heart jump! Den all our legs jump, and out we hoed wid lanterns an—"
"Fool! don't I know all that? Now, tell me the truth, has the English slave, George Fos—Fos—I forget his name—"
"Geo'ge Foster," suggested the negro, with an amiable look.
"Yes; has Foster had no hand in the matter?"
"Unpossible, I t'ink," said Peter. "You see he was wid me and all de oder slabes when de girl hoed off, an' I don't t'ink eben a Englishman kin be in two places at one time. But you kin ax him; he's in de gardin."
"Go, fetch him," growled the young Moor, "and tell four of my men to come here. They are waiting outside."
The negro retired, and, soon after, four stout Moorish seamen entered. They seemed worthy of their gruff commander, who ordered them to stand at the inner end of the room. As he spoke he took up an iron instrument, somewhat like a poker, and thrust it into a brazier which contained a glowing charcoal fire.
Presently Peter the Great returned with young Foster. Osman did not condescend to speak directly to him, but held communication through the negro.
Of course our hero could throw no light on the subject, being utterly ignorant of everything—as Peter had wisely taken the precaution to ensure—except of the bare fact that Hester was gone.
"Now, it is my opinion," said Osman, with a savage frown, "that you are both deceiving me, and if you don't tell the truth I will take means to force it out of you."