Although Philip would have been justified in firing upon the robbers when he first perceived them in consultation at the door, still there is that feeling in a generous mind which prevents the taking away of life, except from stern necessity; and this feeling made him withhold his fire until hostilities had actually commenced. He now levelled one of the carbines at the head of the robber nearest to the door, who was busy examining the effect which the discharge of the piece had made, and what further obstacles intervened. The aim was true, and the man fell dead, while the others started back with surprise at the unexpected retaliation. But in a second or two a pistol was discharged at Philip, who still remained leaning out of the casement, fortunately without effect; and the next moment he felt himself drawn away, so as to be protected from their fire. It was Amine, who, unknown to Philip, had been standing by his side.
"You must not expose yourself, Philip," said she, in a low tone.
She called me Philip, thought he, but made no reply.
"They will be watching for you at the casement now," said Amine. "Take the other carbine, and go below in the passage. If the lock of the door is blown off, they may put their arms in perhaps, and remove the bars. I do not think they can, but I'm not sure; at all events, it is there you should now be, as there they will not expect you."
"You are right," replied Philip, going down.
"But you must not fire more than once there; if another fall, there will be but two to deal with, and they cannot watch the casement and force admittance to. Go—I will reload the carbine."
Philip descended softly and without a light. He went up to the door and perceived that one of the miscreants, with his arms through the hole where the lock was blown off, was working at the upper iron bar, which he could just reach. He presented his carbine, and was about to fire the whole charge into the body of the man under his raised arm, when there was a report of fire-arms from the robbers outside.
"Amine has exposed herself," thought Philip, "and may be hurt."
The desire of vengeance prompted him first to fire his piece through the man's body, and then he flew up the stairs to ascertain the state of Amine. She was not at the casement; he darted into the inner room, and found her deliberately loading the carbine.
"My God! how you frightened me, Amine. I thought by their firing that you had shown yourself at the window."
"Indeed I did not; but I thought that when you fired through the door they might return your fire, and you be hurt; so I went to the side of the casement and pushed out on a stick some of my father's clothes, and they who were watching for you fired immediately."
"Indeed, Amine! who could have expected such courage and such coolness in one so young and beautiful?" exclaimed Philip, with surprise.
"Are none but ill-favoured people brave, then?" replied Amine, smiling.
"I did not mean that, Amine—but I am losing time. I must to the door again. Give me that carbine, and reload this."
Philip crept downstairs that he might reconnoitre, but before he had gained the door he heard at a distance the voice of Mynheer Poots. Amine, who also heard it, was in a moment at his side with a loaded pistol in each hand.
"Fear not, Amine," said Philip, as he unbarred the door, "there are but two, and your father shall be saved."
The door was opened, and Philip, seizing his carbine, rushed out; he found Mynheer Poots on the ground between the two men, one of whom had raised his knife to plunge it into his body, when the ball of the carbine whizzed through his head. The last of the robbers closed with Philip, and a desperate struggle ensued; it was, however, soon decided by Amine stepping forward and firing one of the pistols through the robber's body.
We must here inform our readers that Mynheer Poots, when coming home, had heard the report of fire-arms in the direction of his own house. The recollection of his daughter and of his money—for to do him justice he did love her best—had lent him wings; he forgot that he was a feeble old man and without arms; all he thought of was to gain his habitation. On he came, reckless, frantic, and shouting, and rushed into the arms of the two robbers, who seized and would have despatched him, had not Philip so opportunely come to his assistance.
As soon as the last robber fell, Philip disengaged himself and went to the assistance of Mynheer Poots, whom he raised up in his arms, and carried into the house as if he were an infant. The old man was still in a state of delirium from fear and previous excitement.
In a few minutes Mynheer Poots was more coherent.
"My daughter!" exclaimed he—"my daughter! where is she?"
"She is here, father, and safe," replied Amine.
"Ah! my child is safe," said he, opening his eyes and staring. "Yes, it is even so—and my money—my money—where is my money?" continued he, starting up.
"Quite safe, father."
"Quite safe—you say quite safe—are you sure of it?—let me see."
"There it is, father, as you may perceive, quite safe—thanks to one whom you have not treated so well."
"Who—what do you mean?—Ah, yes, I see him now—'tis Philip Vanderdecken—he owes me three guilders and a half, and there is a phial—did he save you—and my money, child?"
"He did, indeed, at the risk of his life."
"Well, well, I will forgive him the whole debt—yes, the whole of it; but—the phial is of no use to him—he must return that. Give me some water."
It was some time before the old man could regain his perfect reason. Philip left him with his daughter, and, taking a brace of loaded pistols, went out to ascertain the fate of the four assailants. The moon having climbed above the banks of clouds which had obscured her, was now high in the heavens, shining bright, and he could distinguish clearly. The two men lying across the threshold of the door were quite dead. The others, who had seized upon Mynheer Poots, were still alive, but one was expiring and the other bled fast. Philip put a few questions to the latter, but he either would not or could not make any reply; he removed their weapons and returned to the house, where he found the old man attended by his daughter, in a state of comparative composure.
"I thank you, Philip Vanderdecken—I thank you much. You have saved my dear child, and my money—that is little, very little—for I am poor. May you live long and happily!"
Philip mused; the letter and his vow were, for the first time since he fell in with the robbers, recalled to his recollection, and a shade passed over his countenance.
"Long and happily—no, no," muttered he, with an involuntary shake of the head.
"And I must thank you," said Amine, looking inquiringly in Philip's face. "O, how much have I to thank you for!—and indeed I am grateful."
"Yes, yes, she is very grateful," interrupted the old man; "but we are poor—very poor. I talked about my money because I have so little, and I cannot afford to lose it; but you shall not pay me the three guilders and a half—I am content to lose that, Mr Philip."
"Why should you lose even that, Mynheer Poots?—I promised to pay you, and will keep my word. I have plenty of money—thousands of guilders, and know not what to do with them."
"You—you—thousands of guilders!" exclaimed Poots. "Pooh, nonsense, that won't do."
"I repeat to you, Amine," said Philip, "that I have thousands of guilders: you know I would not tell you a falsehood."
"I believed you when you said so to my father," replied Amine.
"Then perhaps, as you have so much, and I am so very poor, Mr Vanderdecken—"
But Amine put her hand upon her father's lips, and the sentence was not finished.
"Father," said Amine, "it is time that we retire. You must leave us for to-night, Philip."
"I will not," replied Philip; "nor, you may depend upon it, will I sleep. You may both to bed in safety. It is indeed time that you retire—good-night, Mynheer Poots. I will but ask a lamp, and then I leave you—Amine, good-night."
"Good-night," said Amine, extending her hand, "and many, many thanks."
"Thousands of guilders!" muttered the old man, as Philip left the room and went below.
Philip Vanderdecken sat down at the porch of the door; he swept his hair from his forehead, which he exposed to the fanning of the breeze; for the continued excitement of the last three days had left a fever on his brain which made him restless and confused. He longed for repose, but he knew that for him there was no rest. He had his forebodings—he perceived in the vista of futurity a long-continued chain of danger and disaster, even to death; yet he beheld it without emotion and without dread. He felt as if it were only three days that he had begun to exist; he was melancholy, but not unhappy. His thoughts were constantly recurring to the fatal letter—its strange supernatural disappearance seemed pointedly to establish its supernatural origin, and that the mission had been intended for him alone; and the relic in his possession more fully substantiated the fact.
It is my fate, my duty, thought Philip. Having satisfactorily made up his mind to these conclusions, his thoughts reverted to the beauty, the courage, and presence of mind shown by Amine. And, thought he, as he watched the moon soaring high in the heavens, is this fair creature's destiny to be interwoven with mine? The events of the last three days would almost warrant the supposition. Heaven only knows, and Heaven's will be done. I have vowed, and my vow is registered, that I will devote my life to the release of my unfortunate father—but does that prevent my loving Amine?—No, no; the sailor on the Indian seas must pass months and months on shore before he can return to his duty. My search must be on the broad ocean, but how often may I return? and why am I to be debarred the solace of a smiling hearth?—and yet—do I right in winning the affections of one who, if she loves, would, I am convinced, love so dearly, fondly, truly—ought I to persuade her to mate herself with one whose life will be so precarious? but is not every sailor's life precarious, daring the angry waves, with but an inch of plank 'tween him and death? Besides, I am chosen to fulfil a task—and if so, what can hurt me, till in Heaven's own time it is accomplished? but then how soon, and how is it to end? in death! I wish my blood were cooler, that I might reason better.
Such were the meditations of Philip Vanderdecken, and long did he revolve such chances in his mind. At last the day dawned, and as he perceived the blush upon the horizon, less careful of his watch he slumbered where he sat. A slight pressure on the shoulder made him start up and draw the pistol from his bosom. He turned round and beheld Amine.
"And that pistol was intended for me," said Amine, smiling, repeating Philip's words of the night before.
"For you, Amine?—yes, to defend you, if 'twere necessary, once more."
"I know it would—how kind of you to watch this tedious night after so much exertion and fatigue! but it is now broad day."
"Until I saw the dawn, Amine, I kept a faithful watch."
"But now retire and take some rest. My father is risen—you can lie down on his bed."
"I thank you, but I feel no wish for sleep. There is much to do. We must to the burgomaster and state the facts, and these bodies must remain where they are until the whole is known. Will your father go, Amine, or shall I?"
"My father surely is the more proper person, as the proprietor of the house. You must remain; and if you will not sleep, you must take some refreshment. I will go in and tell my father; he has already taken his morning's meal."
Amine went in, and soon returned with her father, who had consented to go to the burgomaster. He saluted Philip kindly as he came out; shuddered as he passed on one side to avoid stepping over the dead bodies, and went off at a quick pace to the adjacent town, where the burgomaster resided.
Amine desired Philip to follow her, and they went into her father's room, where, to his surprise, he found some coffee ready for him—at that time a rarity, and one which Philip did not expect to find in the house of the penurious Mynheer Poots; but it was a luxury which, from his former life, the old man could not dispense with.
Philip, who had not tasted food for nearly twenty-four hours, was not sorry to avail himself of what was placed before him. Amine sat down opposite to him, and was silent during his repast.
"Amine," said Philip at last, "I have had plenty of time for reflection during this night, as I watched at the door. May I speak freely?"
"Why not?" replied Amine. "I feel assured that you will say nothing that you should not say, or should not meet a maiden's ear."
"You do me justice, Amine. My thoughts have been upon you and your father. You cannot stay in this lone habitation."
"I feel it is too lonely; that is, for his safety—perhaps for mine—but you know my father—the very loneliness suits him, the price paid for rent is little, and he is careful of his money."
"The man who would be careful of his money should place it in security—here it is not secure. Now hear me, Amine. I have a cottage surrounded, as you may have heard, by many others, which mutually protect each other. That cottage I am about to leave—perhaps for ever; for I intend to sail by the first ship to the Indian seas."
"The Indian seas! why so?—did you not last night talk of thousands of guilders?"
"I did, and they are there; but, Amine, I must go—it is my duty. Ask me no more, but listen to what I now propose. Your father must live in my cottage; he must take care of it for me in my absence; he will do me a favour by consenting; and you must persuade him. You will there be safe. He must also take care of my money for me. I want it not at present—I cannot take it with me."
"My father is not to be trusted with the money of other people."
"Why does your father hoard? He cannot take his money with him when he is called away. It must be all for you—and is not then my money safe?"
"Leave it then in my charge, and it will be safe; but why need you go and risk your life upon the water, when you have such ample means?"
"Amine, ask not that question. It is my duty as a son, and more I cannot tell, at least at present."
"If it is your duty, I ask no more. It was not womanish curiosity—no, no—it was a better feeling, I assure you, which prompted me to put the question."
"And what was the better feeling, Amine?"
"I hardly know—many good feelings perhaps mixed up together—gratitude, esteem, respect, confidence, good-will. Are not these sufficient?"
"Yes, indeed, Amine, and much to gain upon so short an acquaintance; but still I feel them all, and more, for you. If, then, you feel so much for me, do oblige me by persuading your father to leave this lonely house this day, and take up his abode in mine."
"And where do you intend to go yourself?"
"If your father will not admit me as a boarder for the short time I remain here, I will seek some shelter elsewhere; but if he will, I will indemnify him well—that is, if you raise no objection to my being for a few days in the house?"
"Why should I? Our habitation is no longer safe, and you offer us a shelter. It were, indeed, unjust and most ungrateful to turn you out from beneath your own roof."
"Then persuade him, Amine. I will accept of nothing, but take it as a favour; for I should depart in sorrow if I saw you not in safety.—Will you promise me?"
"I do promise to use my best endeavours—nay, I may as well say at once it shall be so; for I know my influence. Here is my hand upon it. Will that content you?"
Philip took the small hand extended towards him. His feelings overcame his discretion; he raised it to his lips. He looked up to see if Amine was displeased, and found her dark eye fixed upon him, as once before when she admitted him, as if she would see his thoughts—but the hand was not withdrawn.
"Indeed, Amine," said Philip, kissing her hand once more, "you may confide in me."
"I hope—I think—nay, I am sure I may," at last replied she.
Philip released her hand. Amine returned to the seat, and for some time remained silent and in a pensive attitude. Philip also had his own thoughts, and did not open his lips. At last Amine spoke.
"I think I have heard my father say that your mother was very poor—a little deranged; and that there was a chamber in the house which had been shut up for years."
"It was shut up till yesterday."
"And there you found your money? Did your mother not know of the money?"
"She did, for she spoke of it on her death-bed."
"There must have been some potent reasons for not opening the chamber."
"What were they, Philip?" said Amine, in a soft and low tone of voice.
"I must not tell, at least I ought not. This must satisfy you—'twas the fear of an apparition."
"She said that my father had appeared to her."
"And did he, think you, Philip?"
"I have no doubt that he did. But I can answer no more questions, Amine. The chamber is open now, and there is no fear of his reappearance."
"I fear not that," replied Amine, musing. "But," continued she, "is not this connected with your resolution of going to sea?"
"So far will I answer you, that it has decided me to go to sea; but I pray you ask no more. It is painful to refuse you, and my duty forbids me to speak further."
For some minutes they were both silent, when Amine resumed—
"You were so anxious to possess that relic, that I cannot help thinking it has connection with the mystery. Is it not so?"
"For the last time, Amine, I will answer your question—it has to do with it: but now no more."
Philip's blunt and almost rude manner of finishing his speech was not lost upon Amine, who replied,
"You are so engrossed with other thoughts, that you have not felt the compliment shown you by my taking such interest about you, sir."
"Yes, I do—I feel and thank you too, Amine. Forgive me, if I have been rude; but recollect, the secret is not mine—at least, I feel as if it were not. God knows, I wish I never had known it, for it has blasted all my hopes in life."
Philip was silent; and when he raised his eyes, he found that Amine's were fixed upon him.
"Would you read my thoughts, Amine, or my secret?"
"Your thoughts perhaps—your secret I would not; yet do I grieve that it should oppress you so heavily as evidently it does. It must, indeed, be one of awe to bear down a mind like yours, Philip."
"Where did you learn to be so brave, Amine?" said Philip, changing the conversation.
"Circumstances make people brave or otherwise; those who are accustomed to difficulty and danger fear them not."
"And where have you met with them, Amine?"
"In the country where I was born, not in this dank and muddy land."
"Will you trust me with the story of your former life, Amine? I can be secret, if you wish."
"That you can be secret perhaps, against my wish, you have already proved to me," replied Amine, smiling; "and you have a claim to know something of the life you have preserved. I cannot tell you much, but what I can will be sufficient. My father, when a lad on board of a trading vessel, was taken by the Moors, and sold as a slave to a Hakim, or physician, of their country. Finding him very intelligent, the Moor brought him up as an assistant, and it was under this man that he obtained a knowledge of the art. In a few years he was equal to his master; but, as a slave, he worked not for himself. You know, indeed it cannot be concealed, my father's avarice. He sighed to become as wealthy as his master, and to obtain his freedom; he became a follower of Mahomet, after which he was free, and practised for himself. He took a wife from an Arab family, the daughter of a chief whom he had restored to health, and he settled in the country. I was born; he amassed wealth, and became much celebrated; but the son of a Bey dying under his hands was the excuse for persecuting him. His head was forfeited, but he escaped; not, however, without the loss of all his beloved wealth. My mother and I went with him; he fled to the Bedouins, with whom we remained some years. There I was accustomed to rapid marches, wild and fierce attacks, defeat and flight, and oftentimes to indiscriminate slaughter. But the Bedouins paid not well for my father's services, and gold was his idol. Hearing that the Bey was dead, he returned to Cairo, where he again practised. He was allowed once more to amass until the heap was sufficient to excite the cupidity of the new Bey; but this time he was fortunately made acquainted with the intentions of the ruler. He again escaped, with a portion of his wealth, in a small vessel, and gained the Spanish coast; but he never has been able to retain his money long. Before he arrived in this country he had been robbed of almost all, and has now been for these three years laying up again. We were but one year at Middleburgh, and from thence removed to this place. Such is the history of my life, Philip."
"And does your father still hold the Mahomedan faith, Amine?"
"I know not. I think he holds no faith whatever: at least he hath taught me none. His god is gold."
"Is the God who made this beautiful world, and all which it contains—the God of nature—name him as you will. This I feel, Philip, but more I fain would know; there are so many faiths, but surely they must be but different paths leading alike to heaven. Yours is the Christian faith, Philip. Is it the true one? But everyone calls his own the true one, whatever his creed may be."
"It is the true and only one, Amine. Could I but reveal—I have such dreadful proofs—"
"That your faith is true; then is it not your duty to reveal these proofs? Tell me, are you bound by any solemn obligation never to reveal?"
"No, I am not; yet do I feel as if I were. But I hear voices—it must be your father and the authorities—I must go down and meet them."
Philip rose, and went downstairs. Amine's eyes followed him as he went, and she remained looking towards the door.
"Is it possible," said she, sweeping the hair from off her brow, "so soon,—yes, yes, 'tis even so. I feel that I would sooner share his hidden woe—his dangers—even death itself were preferable with him, than ease and happiness with any other. And it shall be strange indeed if I do not. This night my father shall move into his cottage: I will prepare at once."
The report of Philip and Mynheer Poots was taken down by the authorities, the bodies examined, and one or two of them recognised as well-known marauders. They were then removed by the order of the burgomaster. The authorities broke up their council, and Philip and Mynheer Poots were permitted to return to Amine. It will not be necessary to repeat the conversation which ensued: it will be sufficient to state that Poots yielded to the arguments employed by Amine and Philip, particularly the one of paying no rent. A conveyance for the furniture and medicines was procured, and in the afternoon most of the effects were taken away. It was not, however, till dusk that the strong box of the doctor was put into the cart, and Philip went with it as a protector. Amine also walked by the side of the vehicle, with her father. As may be supposed, it was late that night before they had made their arrangements, and had retired to rest.
"This, then, is the chamber which has so long been closed," said Amine, on entering it the next morning, long before Philip had awakened from the sound sleep produced by the watching of the night before. "Yes, indeed, it has the air of having long been closed." Amine looked around her, and then examined the furniture. Her eyes were attracted to the bird-cages; she looked into them:—"Poor little things!" continued she, "and here it was his father appeared unto his mother. Well, it may be so,—Philip saith that he hath proofs; and why should he not appear? Were Philip dead, I should rejoice to see his spirit,—at least it would be something. What am I saying—unfaithful lips, thus to betray my secret?—The table thrown over;—that looks like the work of fear; a workbox, with all its implements scattered,—only a woman's fear: a mouse might have caused all this; and yet there is something solemn in the simple fact that, for so many years, not a living being has crossed these boards. Even that a table thus overthrown could thus remain for years, seems scarcely natural, and therefore has its power on the mind. I wonder not that Philip feels there is so heavy a secret belonging to this room—but it must not remain in this condition—it must be occupied at once."
Amine, who had long been accustomed to attend upon her father, and perform the household duties, now commenced her intended labours.
Every part of the room, and every piece of furniture in it, were cleaned; even the cobwebs and dust were cleared away, and the sofa and table brought from the corner to the centre of the room; the melancholy little prisons were removed; and when Amine's work of neatness was complete, and the sun shone brightly into the opened window, the chamber wore the appearance of cheerfulness.
Amine had the intuitive good sense to feel that strong impressions wear away when the objects connected with them are removed. She resolved then to make Philip more at ease; for, with all the fire and warmth of blood inherent in her race, she had taken his image to her heart, and was determined to win him. Again and again did she resume her labour, until the pictures about the room, and every other article, looked fresh and clean.
Not only the bird-cages, but the workbox, and all the implements, were removed; and the piece of embroidery, the taking up of which had made Philip recoil, as if he had touched an adder, was put away with the rest. Philip had left the keys on the floor. Amine opened the buffets, cleaned the glazed doors, and was busy rubbing up the silver flagons when her father came into the room.
"Mercy on me!" exclaimed Mynheer Poots; "and is all that silver?—then it must be true, and he has thousands of guilders; but where are they?"
"Never do you mind, father; yours are now safe, and for that you have to thank Philip Vanderdecken."
"Yes, very true; but as he is to live here—does he eat much—what will he pay me? He ought to pay well, as he has so much money."
Amine's lips were curled with a contemptuous smile, but she made no reply.
"I wonder where he keeps his money; and he is going to sea as soon as he can get a ship? Who will have charge of his money when he goes?"
"I shall take charge of it, father," replied Amine.
"Ah—yes—well—we will take charge of it; the ship may be lost."
"No, we will not take charge of it, father; you will have nothing to do with it. Look after your own."
Amine placed the silver in the buffets, locked the doors, and took the keys with her when she went out to prepare breakfast, leaving the old man gazing through the glazed doors at the precious metal within. His eyes were riveted upon it, and he could not remove them. Every minute he muttered, "Yes, all silver."
Philip came downstairs; and as he passed by the room, intending to go into the kitchen, he perceived Mynheer Poots at the buffet, and he walked into the room. He was surprised as well as pleased with the alteration. He felt why and by whom it was done, and he was grateful. Amine came in with the breakfast, and their eyes spoke more than their lips could have done; and Philip sat down to his meal with less of sorrow and gloom upon his brow.
"Mynheer Poots," said Philip, as soon as he had finished, "I intend to leave you in possession of my cottage, and I trust you will find yourself comfortable. What little arrangements are necessary, I will confide to your daughter previous to my departure."
"Then you leave us, Mr Philip, to go to sea? It must be pleasant to go and see strange countries—much better than staying at home. When do you go?"
"I shall leave this evening for Amsterdam," replied Philip, "to make my arrangements about a ship, but I shall return, I think, before I sail."
"Ah! you will return. Yes—you have your money and your goods to see to; you must count your money—we will take good care of it. Where is your money, Mr Vanderdecken?"
"That I will communicate to your daughter this forenoon, before I leave. In three weeks at the furthest you may expect me back."
"Father," said Amine, "you promised to go and see the child of the burgomaster; it is time you went."
"Yes, yes—by-and-bye—all in good time; but I must wait the pleasure of Mr Philip first—he has much to tell me before he goes."
Philip could not help smiling when he remembered what had passed when he first summoned Mynheer Poots to the cottage, but the remembrance ended in sorrow and a clouded brow.
Amine, who knew what was passing in the minds of both her father and Philip, now brought her father's hat, and led him to the door of the cottage; and Mynheer Poots, very much against his inclination, but never disputing the will of his daughter, was obliged to depart.
"So soon, Philip?" said Amine, returning to the room.
"Yes, Amine, immediately. But I trust to be back once more before I sail; if not, you must now have my instructions. Give me the keys."
Philip opened the cupboard below the buffet, and the doors of the iron safe.
"There, Amine, is my money; we need not count it, as your father would propose. You see that I was right when I asserted that I had thousands of guilders. At present they are of no use to me, as I have to learn my profession. Should I return some day, they may help me to own a ship. I know not what my destiny may be."
"And should you not return?" replied Amine, gravely.
"Then they are yours—as well as all that is in this cottage, and the cottage itself."
"You have relations, have you not?"
"But one, who is rich; an uncle, who helped us but little in our distress, and who has no children. I owe him but little, and he wants nothing. There is but one being in this world who has created an interest in this heart, Amine, and it is you. I wish you to look upon me as a brother—I shall always love you as a dear sister."
Amine made no reply. Philip took some more money out of the bag which had been opened, for the expenses of his journey, and then locking up the safe and cupboard, gave the keys to Amine. He was about to address her, when there was a slight knock at the door, and in entered Father Seysen, the priest.
"Save you, my son; and you, my child, whom as yet I have not seen. You are, I suppose, the daughter of Mynheer Poots?"
Amine bowed her head.
"I perceive, Philip, that the room is now opened, and I have heard of all that has passed. I would now talk with thee, Philip, and must beg this maiden to leave us for awhile alone."
Amine quitted the room, and the priest, sitting down on the couch, beckoned Philip to his side. The conversation which ensued was too long to repeat. The priest first questioned Philip relative to his secret, but on that point he could not obtain the information which he wished; Philip stated as much as he did to Amine, and no more. He also declared his intention of going to sea, and that, should he not return, he had bequeathed his property—the extent of which he did not make known—to the doctor and his daughter. The priest then made inquiries relative to Mynheer Poots, asking Philip whether he knew what his creed was, as he had never appeared at any church, and report said that he was an infidel. To this Philip, as usual, gave his frank answer, and intimated that the daughter, at least, was anxious to be enlightened, begging the priest to undertake a task to which he himself was not adequate. To this request Father Seysen, who perceived the state of Philip's mind with regard to Amine, readily consented. After a conversation of nearly two hours, they were interrupted by the return of Mynheer Poots, who darted out of the room the instant he perceived Father Seysen. Philip called Amine, and having begged her as a favour to receive the priest's visits, the good old man blessed them both and departed.
"You did not give him any money, Mr Philip?" said Mynheer Poots, when Father Seysen had left the room.
"I did not," replied Philip; "I wish I had thought of it."
"No, no—it is better not—for money is better than what he can give you; but he must not come here."
"Why not, father," replied Amine, "if Mr Philip wishes it? It is his own house."
"O yes, if Mr Philip wishes it; but you know he is going away."
"Well, and suppose he is—why should not the Father come here? He shall come here to see me."
"See you, my child!—what can he want with you? Well, then, if he comes, I will not give him one stiver—and then he'll soon go away."
Philip had no opportunity of further converse with Amine; indeed he had nothing more to say. In an hour he bade her farewell in presence of her father, who would not leave them, hoping to obtain from Philip some communication about the money which he was to leave behind him.
In two days Philip arrived at Amsterdam, and having made the necessary inquiries, found that there was no chance of vessels sailing for the East Indies for some months. The Dutch East India Company had long been formed, and all private trading was at an end. The Company's vessels left only at what was supposed to be the most favourable season for rounding the Cape of Storms, as the Cape of Good Hope was designated by the early adventurers. One of the ships which were to sail with the next fleet was the Ter Schilling, a three-masted vessel, now laid up and unrigged.
Philip found out the captain, and stated his wishes to sail with him, to learn his profession as a seaman; the captain was pleased with his appearance, and as Philip not only agreed to receive no wages during the voyage, but to pay a premium as an apprentice learning his duty, he was promised a berth on board as the second mate, to mess in the cabin; and he was told that he should be informed whenever the vessel was to sail. Philip having now done all that he could in obedience to his vow, determined to return to the cottage; and once more he was in the company of Amine.
We must now pass over two months, during which Mynheer Poots continued to labour at his vocation, and was seldom within doors, and our two young friends were left for hours together. Philip's love for Amine was fully equal to hers for him. It was more than love—it was a devotion on both sides, each day increasing. Who, indeed, could be more charming, more attractive in all ways than the high-spirited, yet tender Amine? Occasionally the brow of Philip would be clouded when he reflected upon the dark prospect before him; but Amine's smile would chase away the gloom, and, as he gazed on her, all would be forgotten. Amine made no secret of her attachment; it was shown in every word, every look, and every gesture. When Philip would take her hand, or encircle her waist with his arm, or even when he pressed her coral lips, there was no pretence of coyness on her part. She was too noble, too confiding; she felt that her happiness was centred in his love, and she lived but in his presence. Two months had thus passed away, when Father Seysen, who often called, and had paid much attention to Amine's instruction, one day came in as Amine was encircled in Philip's arms.
"My children," said he, "I have watched you for some time: this is not well. Philip, if you intend marriage, as I presume you do, still it is dangerous. I must join your hands."
Philip started up.
"Surely I am not deceived in thee, my son," continued the priest, in a severe tone.
"No, no, good Father; but I pray you leave me now: to-morrow you may come, and all will be decided. But I must talk with Amine."
The priest quitted the room, and Amine and Philip were again alone. The colour in Amine's cheek varied and her heart beat, for she felt how much her happiness was at stake.
"The priest is right, Amine," said Philip, sitting down by her. "This cannot last;—would that I could ever stay with you: how hard a fate is mine! You know I love the very ground you tread upon, yet I dare not ask thee to wed to misery."
"To wed with thee would not be wedding misery, Philip," replied Amine, with downcast eyes.
"'Twere not kindness on my part, Amine. I should indeed be selfish."
"I will speak plainly, Philip," replied Amine. "You say you love me,—I know not how men love,—but this I know, how I can love. I feel that to leave me now were indeed unkind and selfish on your part; for, Philip, I—I should die. You say that you must go away,—that fate demands it,—and your fatal secret. Be it so;—but cannot I go with you?"
"Go with me, Amine—unto death?"
"Yes, death; for what is death but a release? I fear not death, Philip; I fear but losing thee. Nay, more; is not your life in the hands of Him who made all? then why so sure to die? You have hinted to me that you are chosen—selected for a task;—if chosen, there is less chance of death; for until the end be fulfilled, if chosen, you must live. I would I knew your secret, Philip: a woman's wit might serve you well: and if it did not serve you, is there no comfort, no pleasure, in sharing sorrow as well as joy with one you say you dote upon?"
"Amine, dearest Amine; it is my love, my ardent love alone, which makes me pause: for, O Amine, what pleasure should I feel if we were this hour united! I hardly know what to say, or what to do. I could not withhold my secret from you if you were my wife, nor will I wed you till you know it. Well, Amine, I will cast my all upon the die. You shall know this secret, learn what a doomed wretch I am, though from no fault of mine, and then you yourself shall decide. But remember, my oath is registered in heaven, and I must not be dissuaded from it; keep that in mind, and hear my tale,—then if you choose to wed with one whose prospects are so bitter, be it so,—a short-lived happiness will then be mine, but for you, Amine—"
"At once the secret, Philip," cried Amine, impatiently.
Philip then entered into a detail of what our readers are acquainted with. Amine listened in silence; not a change of feature was to be observed in her countenance during the narrative. Philip wound up with stating the oath which he had taken. "I have done," said Philip, mournfully.
"'Tis a strange story, Philip," replied Amine: "and now hear me;—but give me first that relic,—I wish to look upon it. And can there be such virtue—I had nigh said, such mischief—in this little thing? Strange; forgive me, Philip,—but I've still my doubts upon this tale of Eblis. You know I am not yet strong in the new belief which you and the good priest have lately taught me. I do not say that it cannot be true: but still, one so unsettled as I am may be allowed to waver. But, Philip, I'll assume that all is true. Then, if it be true, without the oath you would be doing but your duty; and think not so meanly of Amine as to suppose she would restrain you from what is right. No, Philip, seek your father, and, if you can, and he requires your aid, then save him. But, Philip, do you imagine that a task like this, so high, is to be accomplished at one trial? O! no;—if you have been so chosen to fulfil it, you will be preserved through difficulty and danger until you have worked out your end. You will be preserved, and you will again and again return;—be comforted—consoled—be cherished—and be loved by Amine as your wife. And when it pleases Him to call you from this world, your memory, if she survive you, Philip, will equally be cherished in her bosom. Philip, you have given me to decide;—dearest Philip, I am thine."
Amine extended her arms, and Philip pressed her to his bosom. That evening Philip demanded his daughter of the father, and Mynheer Poots, as soon as Philip opened the iron safe and displayed the guilders, gave his immediate consent.
Father Seysen called the next day and received his answer; and three days afterwards, the bells of the little church of Terneuse were ringing a merry peal for the union of Amine Poots and Philip Vanderdecken.
It was not until late in the autumn that Philip was roused from his dream of love (for what, alas! is every enjoyment of this life but a dream?) by a summons from the captain of the vessel with whom he had engaged to sail. Strange as it may appear, from the first day which put him in possession of his Amine, Philip had no longer brooded over his future destiny: occasionally it was recalled to his memory, but immediately rejected, and, for the time, forgotten. Sufficient he thought it to fulfil his engagement when the time should come; and although the hours flew away, and day succeeded day, week week, and month month, with the rapidity accompanying a life of quiet and unvarying bliss, Philip forgot his vow in the arms of Amine, who was careful not to revert to a topic which would cloud the brow of her adored husband. Once, indeed, or twice, had old Poots raised the question of Philip's departure, but the indignant frown and the imperious command of Amine (who knew too well the sordid motives which actuated her father, and who, at such times, looked upon him with abhorrence) made him silent, and the old man would spend his leisure hours in walking up and down the parlour with his eyes riveted upon the buffets, where the silver tankards now beamed in all their pristine brightness.
One morning, in the month of October, there was a tapping with the knuckles at the cottage door. As this precaution implied a stranger, Amine obeyed the summons, "I would speak with Master Philip Vanderdecken," said the stranger, in a half-whispering sort of voice.
The party who thus addressed Amine was a little meagre personage, dressed in the garb of the Dutch seamen of the time, with a cap made of badger-skin hanging over his brow. His features were sharp and diminutive, his face of a deadly white, his lips pale, and his hair of a mixture between red and white. He had very little show of beard—indeed, it was almost difficult to say what his age might be. He might have been a sickly youth early sinking into decrepitude, or an old man, hale in constitution, yet carrying no flesh. But the most important feature, and that which immediately riveted the attention of Amine, was the eye of this peculiar personage—for he had but one; the right eye-lid was closed, and the ball within had evidently wasted away; but his left eye was, for the size of his face and head, of unusual dimensions, very protuberant, clear and watery, and most unpleasant to look upon, being relieved by no fringe of eyelash either above or below it. So remarkable was the feature, that when you looked at the man, you saw his eye and looked at nothing else. It was not a man with one eye, but one eye with a man attached to it: the body was but the tower of the lighthouse, of no further value, and commanding no further attention, than does the structure which holds up the beacon to the venturous mariner; and yet, upon examination, you would have perceived that the man, although small, was neatly made; that his hands were very different in texture and colour from those of common seamen; that his features in general, although sharp, were regular; and that there was an air of superiority even in the obsequious manner of the little personage, and an indescribable something about his whole appearance which almost impressed you with awe. Amine's dark eyes were for a moment fixed upon the visitor, and she felt a chill at her heart for which she could not account, as she requested that he would walk in.
Philip was greatly surprised at the appearance of the stranger, who, as soon as he entered the room, without saying a word, sat down on the sofa by Philip in the place which Amine had just left. To Philip there was something ominous in this person taking Amine's seat; all that had passed rushed into his recollection, and he felt that there was a summons from his short existence of enjoyment and repose to a life of future activity, danger, and suffering. What peculiarly struck Philip was, that when the little man sat beside him, a sensation of sudden cold ran through his whole frame. The colour fled from Philip's cheek, but he spoke not. For a minute or two there was a silence. The one-eyed visitor looked round him, and turning from the buffets he fixed his eyes on the form of Amine, who stood before him; at last the silence was broken by a sort of giggle on the part of the stranger, which ended in—
"Philip Vanderdecken—he! he!—Philip Vanderdecken, you don't know me?"
"I do not," replied Philip, in a half-angry tone.
The voice of the little man was most peculiar—it was a sort of subdued scream, the notes of which sounded in your ear long after he had ceased to speak.
"I am Schriften, one of the pilots of the Ter Schilling," continued the man; "and I'm come—he! he!"—and he looked hard at Amine—"to take you away from love"—and looking at the buffets—"he! he! from comfort, and from this also," cried he, stamping his foot on the floor as he rose from the sofa—"from terra firma—he! he!—to a watery grave perhaps. Pleasant!" continued Schriften, with a giggle; and with a countenance full of meaning he fixed his one eye on Philip's face.
Philip's first impulse was to put his new visitor out of the door; but Amine, who read his thoughts, folded her arms as she stood before the little man, and eyed him with contempt, as she observed:—
"We all must meet our fate, good fellow; and, whether by land or sea, death will have his due. If death stare him in the face, the cheek of Philip Vanderdecken will never turn as white as yours is now."
"Indeed!" replied Schriften, evidently annoyed at this cool determination on the part of one so young and beautiful; and then fixing his eye upon the silver shrine of the Virgin on the mantel-piece—"You are a Catholic, I perceive—he!"
"I am a Catholic," replied Philip; "but does that concern you? When does the vessel sail?"
"In a week—he! he!—only a week for preparation—only seven days to leave all—short notice!"
"More than sufficient," replied Philip, rising up from the sofa. "You may tell your captain that I shall not fail. Come, Amine, we must lose no time."
"No, indeed," replied Amine, "and our first duty is hospitality: Mynheer, may we offer you refreshment after your walk?"
"This day week," said Schriften, addressing Philip, and without making a reply to Amine. Philip nodded his head, the little man turned on his heel and left the room, and in a short time was out of sight.
Amine sank down on the sofa. The breaking-up of her short hour of happiness had been too sudden, too abrupt, and too cruelly brought about for a fondly doting, although heroic, woman. There was an evident malignity in the words and manner of the one-eyed messenger, an appearance as if he knew more than others, which awed and confused both Philip and herself. Amine wept not, but she covered her face with her hands as Philip, with no steady pace, walked up and down the small room. Again, with all the vividness of colouring, did the scenes half forgotten recur to his memory. Again did he penetrate the fatal chamber—again was it obscure. The embroidery lay at his feet, and once more he started as when the letter appeared upon the floor.
They had both awakened from a dream of present bliss, and shuddered at the awful future which presented itself. A few minutes were sufficient for Philip to resume his natural self-possession. He sat down by the side of his Amine, and clasped her in his arms. They remained silent. They knew too well each other's thoughts; and, excruciating as was the effort, they were both summoning up their courage to bear, and steeling their hearts against the conviction that, in this world, they must now expect to be for a time, perhaps for ever, separated.
Amine was the first to speak: removing her arms, which had been wound round her husband, she first put his hand to her heart, as if to compress its painful throbbings, and then observed—
"Surely that was no earthly messenger, Philip! Did you not feel chilled to death when he sat by you? I did, as he came in."
Philip, who had the same thought as Amine, but did not wish to alarm her, answered confusedly—
"Nay, Amine, you fancy—that is, the suddenness of his appearance and his strange conduct have made you imagine this; but I saw in him but a man who, from his peculiar deformity, has become an envious outcast of society—debarred from domestic happiness, from the smiles of the other sex; for what woman could smile upon such a creature? His bile raised at so much beauty in the arms of another, he enjoyed a malignant pleasure in giving a message which he felt would break upon those pleasures from which he is cut off. Be assured, my love, that it was nothing more."
"And even if my conjecture were correct, what does it matter?" replied Amine. "There can be nothing more—nothing which can render your position more awful and more desperate. As your wife, Philip, I feel less courage than I did when I gave my willing hand. I knew not then what would be the extent of my loss; but fear not, much as I feel here," continued Amine, putting her hand to her heart—"I am prepared, and proud that he who is selected for such a task is my husband." Amine paused. "You cannot surely have been mistaken, Philip?"
"No! Amine, I have not been mistaken, either in the summons or in my own courage, or in my selection of a wife," replied Philip, mournfully, as he embraced her. "It is the will of Heaven."
"Then may its will be done," replied Amine, rising from her seat. "The first pang is over. I feel better now, Philip. Your Amine knows her duty."
Philip made no reply; when, after a few moments, Amine continued:
"But one short week, Philip—"
"I would it had been but one day;" replied he; "it would have been long enough. He has come too soon—the one-eyed monster."
"Nay, not so, Philip. I thank him for the week—'tis but a short time to wean myself from happiness. I grant you, that were I to tease, to vex, to unman you with my tears, my prayers, or my upbraidings (as some wives would do, Philip), one day would be more than sufficient for such a scene of weakness on my part, and misery on yours. But, no, Philip, your Amine knows her duty better. You must go like some knight of old to perilous encounter, perhaps to death; but Amine will arm you, and show her love by closing carefully each rivet to protect you in your peril, and will see you depart full of hope and confidence, anticipating your return. A week is not too long, Philip, when employed as I trust I shall employ it—a week to interchange our sentiments, to hear your voice, to listen to your words (each of which will be engraven on my heart's memory), to ponder on them, and feed my love with them in your absence and in my solitude. No! no! Philip; I thank God that there is yet a week."
"And so do I, then, Amine; and, after all, we knew that this must come."
"Yes! but my love was so potent, that it banished memory."
"And yet during our separation your love must feed on memory, Amine."
Amine sighed. Here their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mynheer Poots, who, struck with the alteration in Amine's radiant features, exclaimed, "Holy Prophet! what is the matter now?"
"Nothing more than what we all knew before," replied Philip; "I am about to leave you—the ship will sail in a week."
"Oh! you will sail in a week?"
There was a curious expression in the face of the old man as he endeavoured to suppress, before Amine and her husband, the joy which he felt at Philip's departure. Gradually he subdued his features into gravity, and said—
"That is very bad news, indeed."
No answer was made by Amine or Philip, who quitted the room together.
We must pass over this week, which was occupied in preparations for Philip's departure. We must pass over the heroism of Amine, who controlled her feelings, racked as she was with intense agony at the idea of separating from her adored husband. We cannot dwell upon the conflicting emotions in the breast of Philip, who left competence, happiness, and love, to encounter danger, privation, and death. Now, at one time, he would almost resolve to remain, and then at others, as he took the relic from his bosom and remembered his vow registered upon it, he was nearly as anxious to depart. Amine, too, as she fell asleep in her husband's arms, would count the few hours left them; or she would shudder, as she lay awake and the wind howled, at the prospect of what Philip would have to encounter. It was a long week to both of them, and, although they thought that time flew fast, it was almost a relief when the morning came that was to separate them; for to their feelings, which, from regard to each other, had been pent up and controlled, they could then give vent; their surcharged bosoms could be relieved; certainty had driven away suspense, and hope was still left to cheer them and brighten up the dark horizon of the future.
"Philip," said Amine, as they sat together with their hands entwined, "I shall not feel so much when you are gone. I do not forget that all this was told me before we were wed, and that for my love I took the hazard. My fond heart often tells me that you will return; but it may deceive me—return you may, but not in life. In this room I shall await you; on this sofa, removed to its former station, I shall sit; and if you cannot appear to me alive, O refuse me not, if it be possible, to appear to me when dead. I shall fear no storm, no bursting open of the window. O no! I shall hail the presence even of your spirit. Once more; let me but see you—let me be assured that you are dead—and then I shall know that I have no more to live for in this world, and shall hasten to join you in a world of bliss. Promise me, Philip."
"I promise all you ask, provided Heaven will so permit; but, Amine," and Philip's lips trembled, "I cannot—merciful God! I am indeed tried. Amine, I can stay no longer."
Amine's dark eyes were fixed upon her husband—she could not speak—her features were convulsed—nature could no longer hold up against her excess of feeling—she fell into his arms, and lay motionless. Philip, about to impress a last kiss upon her pale lips, perceived that she had fainted.
"She feels not now," said he, as he laid her upon the sofa; "it is better that it should be so—too soon will she awake to misery."
Summoning to the assistance of his daughter Mynheer Poots, who was in the adjoining room, Philip caught up his hat, imprinted one more fervent kiss upon her forehead, burst from the house, and was out of sight long before Amine had recovered from her swoon.
Before we follow Philip Vanderdecken in his venturous career, it will be necessary to refresh the memory of our readers by a succinct recapitulation of the circumstances that had directed the enterprise of the Dutch towards the country of the East, which was now proving to them a source of wealth which they considered as inexhaustible.
Let us begin at the beginning. Charles the Fifth, after having possessed the major part of Europe, retired from the world, for reasons best known to himself, and divided his kingdoms between Ferdinand and Philip. To Ferdinand he gave Austria and its dependencies; to Philip Spain; but to make the division more equal and palatable to the latter, he threw the Low Countries, with the few millions vegetating upon them, into the bargain. Having thus disposed of his fellow-mortals much to his own satisfaction, he went into a convent, reserving for himself a small income, twelve men, and a pony. Whether he afterwards repented his hobby, or mounted his pony, is not recorded; but this is certain—that in two years he died.
Philip thought (as many have thought before and since) that he had a right to do what he pleased with his own. He therefore took away from the Hollanders most of their liberties: to make amends, however, he gave them the Inquisition; but the Dutch grumbled, and Philip, to stop their grumbling, burnt a few of them. Upon which, the Dutch, who are aquatic in their propensities, protested against a religion which was much too warm for their constitutions. In short, heresy made great progress; and the Duke of Alva was despatched with a large army, to prove to the Hollanders that the Inquisition was the very best of all possible arrangements, and that it was infinitely better that a man should be burnt for half-an-hour in this world than for eternity in the next.
This slight difference of opinion was the occasion of a war, which lasted about eight years, and which, after having saved some hundreds of thousands the trouble of dying in their beds, at length ended in the Seven United Provinces being declared independent. Now we must go back again.
For a century after Vasco de Gama had discovered the passage round the Cape of Good Hope, the Portuguese were not interfered with by other nations. At last the adventurous spirit of the English nation was roused. The passage to India by the Cape had been claimed by the Portuguese as their sole right, and they defended it by force. For a long time no private company ventured to oppose them, and the trade was not of that apparent value to induce any government to embark in a war upon the question. The English adventurers, therefore, turned their attention to the discovery of a north-west passage to India, with which the Portuguese could have no right to interfere, and in vain attempts to discover that passage, the best part of the fifteenth century was employed. At last they abandoned their endeavours, and resolved no longer to be deterred by the Portuguese pretensions.
After one or two unsuccessful expeditions, an armament was fitted out and put under the orders of Drake. This courageous and successful navigator accomplished more than the most sanguine had anticipated. He returned to England in the month of May, 1580, after a voyage which occupied him nearly three years; bringing home with him great riches, and having made most favourable arrangements with the king of the Molucca Islands.
His success was followed up by Cavendish and others in 1600. The English East India Company, in the meanwhile, received their first charter from the government, and had now been with various success carrying on the trade for upwards of fifty years.
During the time that the Dutch were vassals to the crown of Spain, it was their custom to repair to Lisbon for the productions of the East, and afterwards to distribute them through Europe; but when they quarrelled with Philip, they were no longer admitted as retailers of his Indian produce: the consequence was, that, while asserting, and fighting for, their independence, they had also fitted out expeditions to India. They were successful; and in 1602 the various speculators were, by the government, formed into a company, upon the same principles and arrangement as those which had been chartered in England.
At the time, therefore, to which we are reverting, the English and Dutch had been trading in the Indian seas for more than fifty years; and the Portuguese had lost nearly all their power, from the alliances and friendships which their rivals had formed with the potentates of the East, who had suffered from the Portuguese avarice and cruelty.
Whatever may have been the sum of obligation which the Dutch owed to the English for the assistance they received from them during their struggle for independence, it does not appear that their gratitude extended beyond the Cape; for, on the other side of it, the Portuguese, English, and Dutch fought and captured each other's vessels without ceremony; and there was no law but that of main force. The mother countries were occasionally called upon to interfere, but the interference up to the above time had produced nothing more than a paper war; it being very evident that all parties were in the wrong.
In 1650, Cromwell usurped the throne of England, and the year afterwards, having, among other points, vainly demanded of the Dutch satisfaction for the murder of his regicide ambassador, which took place in this year, and some compensation for the cruelties exercised on the English at Amboyne some thirty years before he declared war with Holland. To prove that he was in earnest, he seized more than two hundred Dutch vessels, and the Dutch then (very unwillingly) prepared for war. Blake and Van Tromp met, and the naval combats were most obstinate. In the "History of England" the victory is almost invariably given to the English, but in that of Holland to the Dutch. By all accounts, these engagements were so obstinate, that in each case they were both well beaten. However, in 1654, peace was signed; the Dutchman promising "to take his hat off" whenever he should meet an Englishman on the high seas—a mere act of politeness which Mynheer did not object to, as it cost nothing. And now, having detailed the state of things up to the time of Philip's embarkation, we shall proceed with our story.
As soon as Philip was clear of his own threshold, he hastened away as though he were attempting to escape from his own painful thoughts. In two days he arrived at Amsterdam, where his first object was to procure a small, but strong, steel chain to replace the ribbon by which the relic had hitherto been secured round his neck. Having done this, he hastened to embark with his effects on board of the Ter Schilling. Philip had not forgotten to bring with him the money which he had agreed to pay the captain, in consideration of being received on board as an apprentice rather than a sailor. He had also furnished himself with a further sum for his own exigencies. It was late in the evening when he arrived on board of the Ter Schilling, which lay at single anchor, surrounded by the other vessels composing the Indian fleet. The captain, whose name was Kloots, received him with kindness, showed him his berth, and then went below in the hold to decide a question relative to the cargo, leaving Philip on deck to his own reflections.
And this, then, thought Philip, as he leaned against the taffrail and looked forward—this, then, is the vessel in which my first attempt is to be made. First and—perhaps, last. How little do those with whom I am about to sail imagine the purport of my embarkation? How different are my views from those of others? Do I seek a fortune? No! Is it to satisfy curiosity and a truant spirit? No! I seek communion with the dead. Can I meet the dead without danger to myself and those who sail with me? I should think not, for I cannot join it but in death. Did they surmise my wishes and intentions, would they permit me to remain one hour on board? Superstitious as seamen are said to be, they might find a good excuse, if they knew my mission, not only for their superstition, but for ridding themselves of one on such an awful errand. Awful indeed! and how to be accomplished? Heaven alone, with perseverance on my part, can solve the mystery. And Philip's thoughts reverted to his Amine. He folded his arms and, entranced in meditation, with his eyes raised to the firmament, he appeared to watch the flying scud.
"Had you not better go below?" said a mild voice, which made Philip start from his reverie.
It was that of the first mate, whose name was Hillebrant, a short, well-set man of about thirty years of age. His hair was flaxen, and fell in long flakes upon his shoulders, his complexion fair, and his eyes of a soft blue; although there was little of the sailor in his appearance, few knew or did their duty better.
"I thank you," replied Philip; "I had, indeed, forgotten myself, and where I was: my thoughts were far away. Good-night, and many thanks."
The Ter Schilling, like most of the vessels of that period, was very different in her build and fitting from those of the present day. She was ship-rigged, and of about four hundred tons burden. Her bottom was nearly flat, and her sides fell in (as she rose above the water), so that her upper decks were not half the width of the hold.
All the vessels employed by the Company being armed, she had her main deck clear of goods, and carried six nine-pounders on each broadside; her ports were small and oval. There was a great spring in all her decks,—that is to say, she ran with a curve forward and aft. On her forecastle another small deck ran from the knight-heads, which was called the top-gallant forecastle. Her quarter-deck was broken with a poop, which rose high out of the water. The bowsprit staved very much, and was to appearance almost as a fourth mast: the more so, as she carried a square spritsail and sprit-topsail. On her quarter-deck and poop-bulwarks were fixed in sockets implements of warfare now long in disuse, but what were then known by the names of cohorns and patteraroes; they turned round on a swivel, and were pointed by an iron handle fixed to the breech. The sail abaft the mizen-mast (corresponding to the driver or spanker of the present day) was fixed upon a lateen-yard. It is hardly necessary to add (after this description) that the dangers of a long voyage were not a little increased by the peculiar structure of the vessels, which (although with such top hamper, and so much wood above water, they could make good way before a favourable breeze) could hold no wind, and had but little chance if caught upon a lee-shore.
The crew of the Ter Schilling were composed of the captain, two mates, two pilots, and forty-five men. The supercargo had not yet come on board. The cabin (under the poop) was appropriated to the supercargo; but the main-deck cabin to the captain and mates, who composed the whole of the cabin mess.
When Philip awoke the next morning he found that the topsails were hoisted, and the anchor short-stay apeak. Some of the other vessels of the fleet were under weigh and standing out. The weather was fine and the water smooth, and the bustle and novelty of the scene were cheering to his spirits. The captain, Mynheer Kloots, was standing on the poop with a small telescope, made of pasteboard, to his eye, anxiously looking towards the town. Mynheer Kloots, as usual, had his pipe in his mouth, and the smoke which he puffed from it for a time obscured the lenses of his telescope. Philip went up the poop ladder and saluted him.
Mynheer Kloots was a person of no moderate dimensions, and the quantity of garments which he wore added no little to his apparent bulk. The outer garments exposed to view were, a rough fox-skin cap upon his head, from under which appeared the edge of a red worsted nightcap; a red plush waistcoat, with large metal buttons; a jacket of green cloth, over which he wore another of larger dimensions of coarse blue cloth, which came down as low as what would be called a spencer. Below he had black plush breeches, light blue worsted stockings, shoes, and broad silver buckles; round his waist was girded, with a broad belt, a canvas apron which descended in thick folds nearly to his knee. In his belt was a large broad-bladed knife in a sheath of shark's skin. Such was the attire of Mynheer Kloots, captain of the Ter Schilling.
He was as tall as he was corpulent. His face was oval, and his features small in proportion to the size of his frame. His grizzly hair fluttered in the breeze, and his nose (although quite straight) was, at the tip, fiery red from frequent application to his bottle of schnapps, and the heat of a small pipe which seldom left his lips, except for him to give an order, or for it to be replenished.
"Good morning, my son," said the captain, taking his pipe out of his mouth for a moment. "We are detained by the supercargo, who appears not over-willing to come on board; the boat has been on shore this hour waiting for him, and we shall be last of the fleet under weigh. I wish the Company would let us sail without these gentlemen, who are (in my opinion) a great hindrance to business; but they think otherwise on shore."
"What is their duty on board?" replied Philip.
"Their duty is to look after the cargo and the traffic, and if they kept to that, it would not be so bad; but they interfere with everything else and everybody, studying little except their own comforts; in fact, they play the king on board, knowing that we dare not affront them, as a word from them would prejudice the vessel when again to be chartered. The Company insist upon their being received with all honours. We salute them with five guns on their arrival on board."
"Do you know anything of this one whom you expect?"
"Nothing, but from report. A brother captain of mine (with whom he has sailed) told me that he is most fearful of the dangers of the sea, and much taken up with his own importance."
"I wish he would come," replied Philip; "I am most anxious that we should sail."
"You must be of a wandering disposition, my son: I hear that you leave a comfortable home, and a pretty wife to boot."
"I am most anxious to see the world," replied Philip; "and I must learn to sail a ship before I purchase one, and try to make the fortune that I covet." (Alas! how different from my real wishes, thought Philip, as he made this reply.)
"Fortunes are made, and fortunes are swallowed up too, by the ocean," replied the captain. "If I could turn this good ship into a good house, with plenty of guilders to keep the house warm, you would not find me standing on this poop. I have doubled the Cape twice, which is often enough for any man; the third time may not be so lucky."
"Is it so dangerous, then?" said Philip.
"As dangerous as tides and currents, rocks and sand-banks, hard gales and heavy seas, can make it,—no more! Even when you anchor in the bay, on this side of the Cape, you ride in fear and trembling, for you may be blown away from your anchor to sea, or be driven on shore among the savages, before the men can well put on their clothing. But when once you're well on the other side of the Cape, then the water dances to the beams of the sun as if it were merry, and you may sail for weeks with a cloudless sky and a flowing breeze, without starting tack or sheet, or having to take your pipe out of your mouth."
"What port shall we go into, Mynheer?"
"Of that I can say but little. Gambroon, in the Gulf of Persia, will probably be the first rendezvous of the whole fleet. Then we shall separate: some will sail direct for Bantam, in the island of Java; others will have orders to trade down the Straits for camphor, gum, benzoin, and wax; they have also gold and the teeth of the elephant to barter with us: there (should we be sent thither) you must be careful with the natives, Mynheer Vanderdecken. They are fierce and treacherous, and their curved knives (or creeses, as they, call them) are sharp and deadly poisoned. I have had hard fighting in those Straits both with Portuguese and English."
"But we are all at peace now."
"True, my son; but when round the Cape, we must not trust to papers signed at home: and the English press us hard, and tread upon our heels wherever we go. They must be checked; and I suspect our fleet is so large and well appointed in expectation of hostilities."
"How long do you expect your voyage may occupy us?"
"That's as may be: but I should say about two years;—nay, if not detained by the factors, as I expect we shall be, for some hostile service, it may be less."
Two years, thought Philip, two years from Amine! and he sighed deeply, for he felt that their separation might be for ever.
"Nay, my son, two years is not so long," said Mynheer Kloots, who observed the passing cloud on Philip's brow. "I was once five years away, and was unfortunate, for I brought home nothing, not even my ship. I was sent to Chittagong, on the east side of the great Bay of Bengala, and lay for three months in the river. The chiefs of the country would detain me by force; they would not barter for my cargo, or permit me to seek another market. My powder had been landed, and I could make no resistance. The worms ate through the bottom of my vessel, and she sank at her anchors. They knew it would take place, and that then they would have my cargo at their own price. Another vessel brought us home. Had I not been so treacherously served, I should have had no need to sail this time; and now my gains are small, the Company forbidding all private trading. But here he comes at last; they have hoisted the ensign on the staff in the boat; there—they have shoved off. Mynheer Hillebrant, see the gunners ready with their linstocks to salvo the supercargo."
"What duty do you wish me to perform?" observed Philip. "In what can I be useful?"
"At present you can be of little use, except in those heavy gales in which every pair of hands is valuable. You must look and learn for some time yet; but you can make a fair copy of the journal kept for the inspection of the Company, and may assist me in various ways, as soon as the unpleasant nausea, felt by those who first embark, has subsided. As a remedy, I should propose that you gird a handkerchief tight round your body so as to compress the stomach, and make frequent application of my bottle of schnapps, which you will find always at your service. But now to receive the factor of the most puissant Company. Mynheer Hillebrant, let them discharge the cannon."
The guns were fired, and soon after the smoke had cleared away, the boat, with its long ensign trailing on the water, was pulled alongside. Philip watched the appearance of the supercargo, but he remained in the boat until several of the boxes with the initials and arms of the Company were first handed on the deck; at last the supercargo appeared.
He was a small, spare, wizen-faced man, with a three-cornered cocked hat, bound with broad gold lace, upon his head, under which appeared a full-bottomed flowing wig, the curls of which descended low upon his shoulders. His coat was of crimson velvet, with broad flaps: his waistcoat of white silk, worked in coloured flowers, and descending half-way down to his knees. His breeches were of black satin, and his legs were covered with white silk stockings. Add to this, gold buckles at his knees and in his shoes, lace ruffles to his wrists, and a silver-mounted cane in his hand, and the reader has the entire dress of Mynheer Jacob Janz Von Stroom, the supercargo of the Hon. Company, appointed to the good ship Ter Schilling.
As he looked round him, surrounded at a respectful distance by the captain, officers, and men of the ship, with their caps in their hands, the reader might be reminded of the picture of the "Monkey who had seen the World" surrounded by his tribe. There was not, however, the least inclination on the part of the seamen to laugh, even at his flowing, full-bottomed wig: respect was at that period paid to dress; and although Mynheer Von Stroom could not be mistaken for a sailor, he was known to be the supercargo of the Company, and a very great man. He therefore received all the respect due to so important a personage.
Mynheer Von Stroom did not, however, appear very anxious to remain on deck. He requested to be shown into his cabin, and followed the captain aft, picking his way among the coils of ropes with which his path was encumbered. The door was opened, and the supercargo disappeared. The ship was then got under weigh, the men had left the windlass, the sails had been trimmed, and they were securing the anchor on board, when the bell of the poop-cabin (appropriated to the supercargo) was pulled with great violence.
"What can that be?" said Mynheer Kloots (who was forward), taking the pipe out of his mouth. "Mynheer Vanderdecken, will you see what is the matter?"
Philip went aft, as the pealing of the bell continued, and opening the cabin door, discovered the supercargo perched upon the table and pulling the bell-rope, which hung over its centre, with every mark of fear in his countenance. His wig was off, and his bare skull gave him an appearance peculiarly ridiculous.
"What is the matter, sir?" inquired Philip.
"Matter!" spluttered Mynheer Von Stroom; "call the troops in with their firelocks. Quick, sir. Am I to be murdered, torn to pieces, and devoured? For mercy's sake, sir, don't stare, but do something—look, it's coming to the table! O dear! O dear!" continued the supercargo, evidently terrified out of his wits.
Philip, whose eyes had been fixed on Mynheer Von Stroom, turned them in the direction pointed out, and, much to his astonishment perceived a small bear upon the deck who was amusing himself with the supercargo's flowing wig, which he held in his paws, tossing it about, and now and then burying his muzzle in it. The unexpected sight of the animal was at first a shock to Philip, but a moment's consideration assured him that the animal must be harmless, or it never would have been permitted to remain loose in the vessel.
Nevertheless, Philip had no wish to approach the animal, whose disposition he was unacquainted with, when the appearance of Mynheer Kloots put an end to his difficulty.
"What is the matter, Mynheer?" said the captain. "O! I see: it is Johannes," continued the captain, going up to the bear, and saluting him with a kick, as he recovered the supercargo's wig. "Out of the cabin, Johannes! Out, sir!" cried Mynheer Kloots, kicking the breech of the bear till the animal had escaped through the door. "Mynheer Von Stroom, I am very sorry—here is your wig. Shut the door, Mynheer Vanderdecken, or the beast may come back, for he is very fond of me."
As the door was shut between Mynheer Von Stroom and the object of his terror, the little man slid off the table to the high-backed chair near it, shook out the damaged curls of his wig, and replaced it on his head; pulled out his ruffles, and, assuming an air of magisterial importance, struck his cane on the deck, and then spoke.
"Mynheer Kloots, what is the meaning of this disrespect to the supercargo of the puissant Company?"
"God in Heaven! no disrespect, Mynheer;—the animal is a bear, as you see; he is very tame, even with strangers. He belongs to me. I have had him since he was three months old. It was all a mistake. The mate, Mynheer Hillebrant, put him in the cabin, that he might be out of the way while the duty was carrying on, and he quite forgot that he was here. I am very sorry, Mynheer Von Stroom; but he will not come here again, unless you wish to play with him."
"Play with him! I! supercargo to the Company, play with a bear! Mynheer Kloots, the animal must be thrown overboard immediately."
"Nay, nay; I cannot throw overboard an animal that I hold in much affection, Mynheer Von Stroom; but he shall not trouble you."
"Then, Captain Kloots, you will have to deal with the Company, to whom I shall represent the affair. Your charter will be cancelled, and your freight-money will be forfeited."
Kloots was, like most Dutchmen, not a little obstinate, and this imperative behaviour on the part of the supercargo raised his bile. "There is nothing in the charter that prevents my having an animal on board," replied Kloots.
"By the regulations of the Company," replied Von Stroom, falling back in his chair with an important air, and crossing his thin legs, "you are required to receive on board strange and curious animals, sent home by the governors and factors to be presented to crowned heads,—such as lions, tigers, elephants, and other productions of the East;—but in no instance is it permitted to the commanders of chartered ships to receive on board, on their own account, animals of any description, which must be considered under the offence of private trading."
"My bear is not for sale, Mynheer Von Stroom."
"It must immediately be sent out of the ship, Mynheer Kloots; I order you to send it away,—on your peril to refuse."
"Then we will drop the anchor again, Mynheer Von Stroom, and send on shore to head-quarters to decide the point. If the Company insists that the brute be put on shore, be it so; but recollect, Mynheer Von Stroom, we shall lose the protection of the fleet, and have to sail alone. Shall I drop the anchor, Mynheer?"
This observation softened down the pertinacity of the supercargo; he had no wish to sail alone, and the fear of this contingency was more powerful than the fear of the bear.
"Mynheer Kloots, I will not be too severe; if the animal is chained, so that it does not approach me, I will consent to its remaining on board."
"I will keep it out of your way as much as I can; but as for chaining up the poor animal, it will howl all day and night, and you will have no sleep, Mynheer Von Stroom," replied Kloots.
The supercargo, who perceived that the captain was positive, and that his threats were disregarded, did all that a man could do who could not help himself. He vowed vengeance in his own mind, and then, with an air of condescension, observed: "Upon those conditions, Mynheer Kloots, your animal may remain on board."
Mynheer Kloots and Philip then left the cabin; the former, who was in no very good humour, muttering as he walked away—"If the Company send their monkeys on board, I think I may well have my bear" And, pleased with his joke, Mynheer Kloots recovered his good humour.
We must allow the Indian fleet to pursue its way to the Cape with every variety of wind and weather. Some had parted company; but the rendezvous was Table Bay, from which they were again to start together.
Philip Vanderdecken was soon able to render some service on board. He studied his duty diligently, for employment prevented him from dwelling too much upon the cause of his embarkation, and he worked hard at the duties of the ship, for the exercise procured for him that sleep which otherwise would have been denied.
He was soon a favourite of the captain, and intimate with Hillebrant, the first mate; the second mate, Struys, was a morose young man, with whom he had little intercourse. As for the supercargo, Mynheer Jacob Janz Von Stroom, he seldom ventured out of his cabin. The bear Johannes was not confined, and therefore Mynheer Von Stroom confined himself; hardly a day passed that he did not look over a letter which he had framed upon the subject, all ready to forward to the Company; and each time that he perused it he made some alteration, which he considered would give additional force to his complaint, and would prove still more injurious to the interests of Captain Kloots.
In the meantime, in happy ignorance of all that was passing in the poop-cabin, Mynheer Kloots smoked his pipe, drank his schnapps, and played with Johannes. The animal had also contracted a great affection for Philip, and used to walk the watch with him.
There was another party in the ship whom we must not lose sight of—the one-eyed pilot, Schriften, who appeared to have imbibed a great animosity towards our hero, as well as to his dumb favourite the bear. As Philip held the rank of an officer, Schriften dared not openly affront, though he took every opportunity of annoying him, and was constantly inveighing against him before the ship's company. To the bear he was more openly inveterate, and seldom passed it without bestowing upon it a severe kick, accompanied with a horrid curse. Although no one on board appeared to be fond of this man, everybody appeared to be afraid of him, and he had obtained a control over the seamen which appeared unaccountable.
Such was the state of affairs on board the good ship Ter Schilling, when, in company with two others, she lay becalmed about two days' sail to the Cape. The weather was intensely hot, for it was the summer in those southern latitudes, and Philip, who had been lying down under the awning spread over the poop, was so overcome with the heat that he had fallen asleep. He awoke with a shivering sensation of cold over his whole body, particularly at his chest, and half-opening his eyes, he perceived the pilot, Schriften, leaning over him, and holding between his finger and his thumb a portion of the chain which had not been concealed, and to which was attached the sacred relic. Philip closed them again, to ascertain what were the man's intentions: he found that he gradually dragged out the chain, and, when the relic was clear, attempted to pass the whole over his head, evidently to gain possession of it. Upon his attempt Philip started up and seized him by the waist.
"Indeed!" cried Philip, with an indignant look, as he released the chain from the pilot's hand.
But Schriften appeared not in the least confused at being detected in his attempt: looking with his malicious one eye at Philip, he mockingly observed:
"Does that chain hold her picture?—he! he!"
Vanderdecken rose, pushed him away, and folded his arms.
"I advise you not to be quite so curious, Master Pilot, or you may repent it."
"Or perhaps," continued the pilot, quite regardless of Philip's wrath, "it may be a child's caul, a sovereign remedy against drowning."
"Go forward to your duty, sir," cried Philip.
"Or, as you are a Catholic, the finger-nail of a saint; or, yes, I have it—a piece of the holy cross."
"That's it! that's it!" cried Schriften, who now went forward to where the seamen were standing at the gangway. "News for you, my lads!" said he; "we've a bit of the holy cross aboard, and so we may defy the devil!"
Philip, hardly knowing why, had followed Schriften as he descended the poop-ladder, and was forward on the quarter-deck, when the pilot made this remark to the seamen.
"Ay! ay!" replied an old seaman to the pilot; "not only the devil, but the Flying Dutchman to boot."
"The Flying Dutchman" thought Philip, "can that refer to—?" and Philip walked a step or two forward, so as to conceal himself behind the mainmast, hoping to obtain some information, should they continue the conversation. In this he was not disappointed.
"They say that to meet with him is worse than meeting with the devil," observed another of the crew.
"Who ever saw him?" said another.
"He has been seen, that's sartain, and just as sartain that ill-luck follows the vessel that falls in with him."
"And where is he to be fallen in with?"
"O! they say that's not so sartain—but he cruises off the Cape."
"I should like to know the whole long and short of the story," said a third.
"I can only tell what I've heard. It's a doomed vessel; they were pirates, and cut the captain's throat, I believe."
"No! no!" cried Schriften, "the captain is in her now—and a villain he was. They say that, like somebody else on board of us now, he left a very pretty wife, and that he was very fond of her."
"How do they know that, pilot?"
"Because he always wants to send letters home when he boards vessels that he falls in with. But, woe to the vessel that takes charge of them!—she is sure to be lost, with every soul on board!"
"I wonder where you heard all this," said one of the men. "Did you ever see the vessel?"
"Yes, I did!" screamed Schriften; but, as if recovering himself, his scream subsided into his usual giggle, and he added, "but we need not fear her, boys; we've a bit of the true cross on board." Schriften then walked aft as if to avoid being questioned, when he perceived Philip by the mainmast.
"So, I'm not the only one curious?—he! he! Pray did you bring that on board, in case we should fall in with the Flying Dutchman?"
"I fear no Flying Dutchman," replied Philip, confused.
"Now I think of it, you are of the same name; at least they say that his name was Vanderdecken—eh?"
"There are many Vanderdeckens in the world besides me," replied Philip, who had recovered his composure; and having made this reply, he walked away to the poop of the vessel.
"One would almost imagine this malignant one-eyed wretch was aware of the cause of my embarkation," mused Philip; "but no! that cannot be. Why do I feel such a chill whenever he approaches me? I wonder if others do; or whether it is a mere fancy on the part of Amine and myself. I dare ask no questions.—Strange, too, that the man should feel such malice towards me. I never injured him. What I have just overheard confirms all; but there needed no confirmation. Oh, Amine! Amine! but for thee, and I would rejoice to solve this riddle at the expense of life. God in mercy check the current of my brain," muttered Philip, "or my reason cannot hold its seat!"
In three days the Ter Schilling and her consorts arrived at Table Bay, where they found the remainder of the fleet at anchor waiting for them. Just at that period the Dutch had formed a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian fleets used to water and obtain cattle from the Hottentot tribes who lived on the coast, and who for a brass button or a large nail would willingly offer a fat bullock. A few days were occupied in completing the water of the squadron, and then the ships, having received from the Admiral their instructions as to the rendezvous in case of parting company, and made every preparation for the bad weather which they anticipated, again weighed their anchors, and proceeded on their voyage.
For three days they beat against light and baffling winds, making but little progress; on the third, the breeze sprang up strong from the southward, until it increased to a gale, and the fleet were blown down to the northward of the bay. On the seventh day the Ter Schilling found herself alone, but the weather had moderated. Sail was again made upon the vessel, and her head put to the eastward, that she might run in for the land.
"We are unfortunate in thus parting with all our consorts," observed Mynheer Kloots to Philip, as they were standing at the gangway; "but it must be near meridian, and the sun will enable me to discover our latitude. It is difficult to say how far we may have been swept by the gale and the currents to the northward. Boy, bring up my cross-staff, and be mindful that you do not strike it against anything as you come up."
The cross-staff at that time was the simple instrument used to discover the latitude, which it would give to a nice observer to within five or ten miles. Quadrants and sextants were the invention of a much later period. Indeed, considering that they had so little knowledge of navigation and the variation of the compass, and that their easting and westing could only be computed by dead reckoning, it is wonderful how our ancestors traversed the ocean in the way they did, with comparatively so few accidents.
"We are full three degrees to the northward of the Cape," observed Mynheer Kloots, after he had computed his latitude. "The currents must be running strong; the wind is going down fast, and we shall have a change, if I mistake not."
Towards the evening it fell calm, with a heavy swell setting towards the shore; shoals of seals appeared on the surface, following the vessel as she drove before the swell; the fish darted and leaped in every direction, and the ocean around them appeared to be full of life as the sun slowly descended to the horizon.
"What is that noise we hear?" observed Philip; "it sounds like distant thunder."
"I hear it," replied Mynheer Kloots. "Aloft there; do you see the land?"
"Yes," replied the man, after a pause in ascending the topmast shrouds. "It is right ahead—low sand-hills, and the sea breaking high."
"Then that must be the noise we hear. We sweep in fast with this heavy ground-swell. I wish the breeze would spring up."
The sun was dipping under the horizon, and the calm still continued: the swell had driven the Ter Schilling so rapidly on the shore that now they could see the breakers, which fell over with the noise of thunder.
"Do you know the coast, pilot?" observed the captain to Schriften, who stood by.
"Know it well," replied Schriften; "the sea breaks in twelve fathoms at least. In half an hour the good ship will be beaten into toothpicks, without a breeze to help us." And the little man giggled as if pleased at the idea.
The anxiety of Mynheer Kloots was not to be concealed; his pipe was every moment in and out of his mouth. The crew remained in groups on the forecastle and gangway, listening with dismay to the fearful roaring of the breakers. The sun had sunk down below the horizon, and the gloom of night was gradually adding to the alarm of the crew of the Ter Schilling.