In about three quarters of an hour, the bells of the post-horses were heard jingling without. The old servant again entered, after discreetly knocking at the door, and said:
"The carriage is ready."
Rodin nodded, and the servant withdrew. The secretary, in his turn, went to knock at the door of the inner room. His master appeared, still grave and cold, but fearfully pale, and holding a letter in his hand.
"This for my mother," said he to Rodin; "you will send a courier on the instant."
"On the instant," replied the secretary.
"Let the three letters for Leipsic, Batavia and Charlestown, leave to-day by the ordinary channel. They are of the last importance. You know it."
Those were his last words. Executing merciless orders with a merciless obedience, he departed without even attempting to see his mother. His secretary accompanied him respectfully to his carriage.
"What road, sir?" asked the postilion, turning round on his saddle.
"The road to ITALY!" answered Rodin's master, with so deep a sigh that it almost resembled a sob.
As the horses started at full gallop, Rodin made a low bow; then he returned to the large, cold, bare apartment. The attitude, countenance, and gait of this personage seemed to have undergone a sudden change. He appeared to have increased in dimensions. He was no longer an automaton, moved by the mechanism of humble obedience. His features, till now impassible, his glance, hitherto subdued, became suddenly animated with an expression of diabolical craft; a sardonic smile curled his thin, pale lips, and a look of grim satisfaction relaxed his cadaverous face.
In turn, he stopped before the huge globe. In turn, he contemplated it in silence, even as his master had done. Then, bending over it, and embracing it, as it were, in his arms, he gloated with his reptile-eye on it for some moments, drew his coarse finger along its polished surface, and tapped his flat, dirty nail on three of the places dotted with red crosses. And, whilst he thus pointed to three towns, in very different parts of the world, he named them aloud, with a sneer.
"In each of these three places," he added, "distant as they are from one another, there exist persons who little think that here, in this obscure street, from the recesses of this chamber, wakeful eyes are upon them—that all their movements are followed, all their actions known—and that hence will issue new instructions, which deeply concern them, and which will be inexorably executed; for an interest is at stake, which may have a powerful influence on Europe—on the world. Luckily, we have friends at Leipsic, Charlestown, and Batavia."
This funny, old, sordid, ill-dressed man, with his livid and death-like countenance, thus crawling over the sphere before him, appeared still more awful than his master, when the latter, erect and haughty, had imperiously laid his hand upon that globe, which he seemed desirous of subjecting by the strength of his pride and courage. The one resembled the eagle, that hovers above his prey—the other the reptile, that envelops its victim in its inextricable folds.
After some minutes, Rodin approached his desk, rubbing his hands briskly together, and wrote the following epistle in a cipher unknown even to his master:
"Paris, 3/4 past 9 A.M.
"He is gone—but he hesitated!
"When he received the order, his dying mother had just summoned him to her. He might, they told him, save her by his presence; and he exclaimed: 'Not to go to my mother would be matricide!'
"Still, he is gone—but he hesitated. I keep my eye upon him continually. These lines will reach Rome at the same time as himself.
"P.S.—Tell the Cardinal-Prince that he may rely on me, but I hope for his active aid in return."
When he had folded and sealed this letter, Rodin put it into his pocket. The clock struck ten, M. Rodin's hour for breakfast. He arranged and locked up his papers in a drawer, of which he carried away the key, brushed his old greasy hat with his sleeve, took a patched umbrella in his hand, and went out. (1)
Whilst these two men, in the depths of their obscure retreat, were thus framing a plot, which was to involve the seven descendants of a race formerly proscribed—a strange mysterious defender was planning how to protect this family, which was also his own.
1 Having cited the excellent, courageous letters of M. Libri, and the curious work edited by M. Paulin, it is our duty likewise to mention many bold and conscientious writings on the subject of the "Society of Jesus," recently published by the elder Dupin, Michelet, Quinet, Genin, and the Count de Saint Priest—works of high and impartial intellects, in which the fatal theories of the order are admirably exposed and condemned. We esteem ourselves happy, if we can bring one stone towards the erection of the strong, and, we hope, durable embankment which these generous hearts and noble minds are raising against the encroachments of an impure and always menacing flood.—E. S.
BOOK II. INTERVAL.—THE WANDERING JEW'S SENTENCE.
XVII. The Ajoupa XVIII. The Tattooing XIX. The Smuggler XX. M. Joshua Van Dael XXI. The Ruins of Tchandi XXII. The Ambuscade XXIII. M. Rodin XXIV. The Tempest XXV. The Shipwreck XXVI. The Departure for Paris XXVII. Dagobert's Wife XXVIII. The Sister of the Bacchanal Queen XXIX. Agricola Baudoin XXX. The Return XXXI. Agricola and Mother Bunch XXXII. The Awakening XXXIII. The Pavilion XXXIV. Adrienne at her Toilet XXXV. The Interview
THE WANDERING JEW'S SENTENCE.
The site is wild and rugged. It is a lofty eminence covered with huge boulders of sandstone, between which rise birch trees and oaks, their foliage already yellowed by autumn. These tall trees stand out from the background of red light, which the sun has left in the west, resembling the reflection of a great fire.
From this eminence the eye looks down into a deep valley, shady, fertile, and half-veiled in light vapor by the evening mist. The rich meadows, the tufts of bushy trees the fields from which the ripe corn has been gathered in, all blend together in one dark, uniform tint, which contrasts with the limpid azure of the heavens. Steeples of gray stone or slate lift their pointed spires, at intervals, from the midst of this valley; for many villages are spread about it, bordering a high-road which leads from the north to the west.
It is the hour of repose—the hour when, for the most part, every cottage window brightens to the joyous crackling of the rustic hearth, and shines afar through shade and foliage, whilst clouds of smoke issue from the chimneys, and curl up slowly towards the sky. But now, strange to say, every hearth in the country seems cold and deserted. Stranger and more fatal still, every steeple rings out a funeral knell. Whatever there is of activity, movement, or life, appears concentrated in that lugubrious and far-sounding vibration.
Lights begin to show themselves in the dark villages, but they rise not from the cheerful and pleasant rustic hearth. They are as red as the fires of the herdsmen, seen at night through the midst of the fog. And then these lights do not remain motionless. They creep slowly towards the churchyard of every village. Louder sounds the death-knell, the air trembles beneath the strokes of so many bells, and, at rare intervals, the funeral chant rises faintly to the summit of the hill.
Why so many interments? What valley of desolation is this, where the peaceful songs which follow the hard labors of the day are replaced by the death dirge? where the repose of evening is exchanged for the repose of eternity? What is this valley of the shadow, where every village mourns for its many dead, and buries them at the same hour of the same night?
Alas! the deaths are so sudden and numerous and frightful that there is hardly time to bury the dead. During day the survivors are chained to the earth by hard but necessary toil; and only in the evening, when they return from the fields, are they able, though sinking with fatigue, to dig those other furrows, in which their brethren are to lie heaped like grains of corn.
And this valley is not the only one that has seen the desolation. During a series of fatal years, many villages, many towns, many cities, many great countries, have seen, like this valley, their hearths deserted and cold—have seen, like this valley, mourning take the place of joy, and the death-knell substituted for the noise of festival—have wept in the same day for their many dead, and buried them at night by the lurid glare of torches.
For, during those fatal years, an awful wayfarer had slowly journeyed over the earth, from one pole to the other—from the depths of India and Asia to the ice of Siberia—from the ice of Siberia to the borders of the seas of France.
This traveller, mysterious as death, slow as eternity, implacable as fate, terrible as the hand of heaven, was the CHOLERA!
The tolling of bells and the funeral chants still rose from the depths of the valley to the summit of the hill, like the complaining of a mighty voice; the glare of the funeral torches was still seen afar through the mist of evening; it was the hour of twilight—that strange hour, which gives to the most solid forms a vague, indefinite fantastic appearance—when the sound of firm and regular footsteps was heard on the stony soil of the rising ground, and, between the black trunks of the trees, a man passed slowly onward.
His figure was tall, his head was bowed upon his breast; his countenance was noble, gentle, and sad; his eyebrows, uniting in the midst, extended from one temple to the other, like a fatal mark on his forehead.
This man did not seem to hear the distant tolling of so many funeral bells—and yet, a few days before, repose and happiness, health and joy, had reigned in those villages through which he had slowly passed, and which he now left behind him, mourning and desolate. But the traveller continued on his way, absorbed in his own reflections.
"The 13th of February approaches," thought he; "the day approaches, in which the descendants of my beloved sister, the last scions of our race, should meet in Paris. Alas! it is now a hundred and fifty years since, for the third time, persecution scattered this family over all the earth—this family, that I have watched over with tenderness for eighteen centuries, through all its migrations and exiles, its changes of religion, fortune, and name!
"Oh! for this family, descended from the sister of the poor shoemaker,(2) what grandeur and what abasement, what obscurity and what splendor, what misery and what glory! By how many crimes has it been sullied, by how many virtues honored! The history of this single family is the history of the human race!
"Passing, in the course of so many generations, through the veins of the poor and the rich, of the sovereign and the bandit, of the wise man and the fool, of the coward and the brave, of the saint and the atheist, the blood of my sister has transmitted itself to this hour.
"What scions of this family are now remaining? Seven only.
"Two orphans, the daughters of proscribed parents—a dethroned prince—a poor missionary priest—a man of the middle class—a young girl of a great name and large fortune—a mechanic.
"Together, they comprise in themselves the virtues, the courage, the degradation, the splendor, the miseries of our species!
"Siberia—India—America—France—behold the divers places where fate has thrown them!
"My instinct teaches me when one of them is in peril. Then, from the North to the South, from the East to the West, I go to seek them. Yesterday amid the polar frosts—to-day in the temperate zone—to-morrow beneath the fires of the tropics—but often, alas! at the moment when my presence might save them, the invisible hand impels me, the whirlwind carries me away, and the voice speaks in my ear: 'GO ON! GO ON!'
"Oh, that I might only finish my task!—'GO ON!'—A single hour—only a single hour of repose!—'GO ON!'—Alas! I leave those I love on the brink of the abyss!—'GO ON! GO ON!'
"Such is my punishment. If it is great, my crime was greater still! An artisan, devoted to privations and misery, my misfortunes had made me cruel.
"Oh, cursed, cursed be the day, when, as I bent over my work, sullen with hate and despair, because, in spite of my incessant labor, I and mine wanted for everything, the Saviour passed before my door.
"Reviled, insulted, covered with blows, hardly able to sustain the weight of his heavy cross, He asked me to let Him rest a moment on my stone bench. The sweat poured from His forehead, His feet were bleeding, He was well-nigh sinking with fatigue, and He said to me, in a mild, heart piercing voice: 'I suffer!' 'And I too suffer,' I replied, as with harsh anger I pushed Him from the place; 'I suffer, and no one comes to help me! I find no pity, and will give none. Go on! go on!' Then, with a deep sigh of pain, He answered, and spake this sentence: 'Verily, thou shalt go on till the day of thy redemption, for so wills the Father which art in heaven!'
"And so my punishment began. Too late I opened these eyes to the light, too late I learned repentance and charity, too late I understood those divine words of Him I had outraged, words which should be the law of the whole human race. 'LOVE YE ONE ANOTHER.'
"In vain through successive ages, gathering strength and eloquence from those celestial words, have I labored to earn my pardon, by filling with commiseration and love hearts that were overflowing with envy and bitterness, by inspiring many a soul with a sacred horror of oppression and injustice. For me the day of mercy has not yet dawned!
"And even as the first man, by his fall, devoted his posterity to misfortune, it would seem as if I, the workman, had consigned the whole race of artisans to endless sorrows, and as if they were expiating my crime: for they alone, during these eighteen centuries, have not yet been delivered.
"For eighteen centuries, the powerful and the happy of this world have said to the toiling people what I said to the imploring and suffering Saviour: 'Go on! go on!' And the people, sinking with fatigue, bearing their heavy cross, have answered in the bitterness of their grief: 'Oh, for pity's sake! a few moments of repose; we are worn out with toil.'—Go on!'—'And if we perish in our pain, what will become of our little children and our aged mothers?'—'Go on! go on!' And, for eighteen centuries, they and I have continued to struggle forward and to suffer, and no charitable voice has yet pronounced the word 'Enough!'
"Alas! such is my punishment. It is immense, it is two-fold. I suffer in the name of humanity, when I see these wretched multitudes consigned without respite to profitless and oppressive toil. I suffer in the name of my family, when, poor and wandering, I am unable to bring aid to the descendants of my dear sister. But, when the sorrow is above my strength, when I foresee some danger from which I cannot preserve my own, then my thoughts, travelling over the world, go in search of that woman like me accursed, that daughter of a queen, who, like me, the son of a laborer, wanders, and will wander on, till the day of her redemption.(3)
"Once in a century, as two planets draw nigh to each other in their revolutions, I am permitted to meet this woman during the dread week of the Passion. And after this interview, filled with terrible remembrances and boundless griefs, wandering stars of eternity, we pursue our infinite course.
"And this woman, the only one upon earth who, like me, sees the end of every century, and exclaims: 'What another?' this woman responds to my thought, from the furthest extremity of the world. She, who alone shares my terrible destiny, has chosen to share also the only interest that has consoled me for so many ages. Those descendants of my dear sister, she too loves, she too protects them. For them she journeys likewise from East to West and from North to South.
"But alas! the invisible hand impels her, the whirlwind carries her away, and the voice speaks in her ear: 'Go on!'—'Oh that I might finish my sentence!' repeats she also,—'Go on!'—'A single hour—only a single hour of repose!'—Go on!'—'I leave those I love on the brink of the abyss.'—'Go on! Go on!—'"
Whilst this man thus went over the hill absorbed in his thoughts, the light evening breeze increased almost to a gale, a vivid flash streamed across the sky, and long, deep whistlings announced the coming of a tempest.
On a sudden this doomed man, who could no longer weep or smile, started with a shudder. No physical pain could reach him, and yet he pressed his hand hastily to his heart, as though he had experienced a cruel pang. "Oh!" cried he; "I feel it. This hour, many of those whom I love—the descendants of my dear sister—suffer, and are in great peril. Some in the centre of India—some in America—some here in Germany. The struggle recommences, the detestable passions are again awake. Oh, thou that hearest me—thou, like myself wandering and accursed—Herodias! help me to protect them! May my invocation reach thee, in those American solitudes where thou now lingerest—and may we arrive in time!"
Thereon an extraordinary event happened. Night was come. The man made a movement; precipitately, to retrace his steps—but an invisible force prevented him, and carried him forward in the opposite direction.
At this moment, the storm burst forth in its murky majesty. One of those whirlwinds, which tear up trees by the roots and shake the foundations of the rocks, rushed over the hill rapid and loud as thunder.
In the midst of the roaring of the hurricane, by the glare of the fiery flashes, the man with the black mark on his brow was seen descending the hill, stalking with huge strides among the rocks, and between trees bent beneath the efforts of the storm.
The tread of this man was no longer slow, firm, and steady—but painfully irregular, like that of one impelled by an irresistible power, or carried along by the whirl of a frightful wind. In vain he extended his supplicating hands to heaven. Soon he disappeared in the shades of night, and amid the roar of the tempest.
(2) It is known that, according to the legend, the Wandering Jew was a shoemaker at Jerusalem. The Saviour, carrying his cross, passed before the house of the artisan, and asked him to be allowed to rest an instant on the stone bench at his door. "Go on! go on!" said the Jew harshly, pushing him away. "Thou shalt go on till the end of time," answered the Saviour, in a stern though sorrowful tone. For further details, see the eloquent and learned notice by Charles Magnin, appended to the magnificent poem "Ahasuerus," by Ed. Quinet.—E. S.
(3) According to a legend very little known, for we are indebted to the kindness of M. Maury, the learned sub-librarian of the Institute, Herodias was condemned to wander till the day of judgement, for having asked for the death of John the Baptist—E. S.
CHAPTER XVII. THE AJOUPA.
While Rodin despatched his cosmopolite correspondence, from his retreat in the Rue du Milieu des Ursins, in Paris—while the daughters of General Simon, after quitting as fugitives the White Falcon, were detained prisoners at Leipsic along with Dagobert—other scenes, deeply interesting to these different personages, were passing, almost as it were at the same moment, at the other extremity of the world, in the furthermost parts of Asia—that is to say, in the island of Java, not far from the city of Batavia, the residence of M. Joshua Van Dael, one of the correspondents of Rodin.
Java! magnificent and fatal country, where the most admirable flowers conceal hideous reptiles, where the brightest fruits contain subtle poisons, where grow splendid trees, whose very shadow is death—where the gigantic vampire bat sucks the blood of its victims whilst it prolongs their sleep, by surrounding them with a fresh and balmy air, no fan moving so rapidly as the great perfumed wings of this monster!
The month of October, 1831, draws near its close. It is noon—an hour well nigh mortal to him who encounters the fiery heat of the sun, which spreads a sheet of dazzling light over the deep blue enamel of the sky.
An ajoupa, or hut, made of cane mats, suspended from long bamboos, which are driven far into the ground, rises in the midst of the bluish shadows cast by a tuft of trees, whose glittering verdure resembles green porcelain. These quaintly formed trees, rounded into arches, pointing like spires, overspreading like parasols, are so thick in foliage, so entangled one with the other, that their dome is impenetrable to the rain.
The soil, ever marshy, notwithstanding the insupportable heat, disappears beneath an inextricable mass of creepers, ferns, and tufted reeds, of a freshness and vigor of vegetation almost incredible, reaching nearly to the top of the ajoupa, which lies hid like a nest among the grass.
Nothing can be more suffocating than the atmosphere, heavily laden with moist exhalations like the steam of hot water, and impregnated with the strongest and sharpest scents; for the cinnamon-tree, ginger-plant, stephanotis and Cape jasmine, mixed with these trees and creepers, spread around in puffs their penetrating odors. A roof, formed of large Indian fig-leaves, covers the cabin; at one end is a square opening, which serves for a window, shut in with a fine lattice-work of vegetable fibres, so as to prevent the reptiles and venomous insects from creeping into the ajoupa. The huge trunk of a dead tree, still standing, but much bent, and with its summit reaching to the roof of the ajoupa, rises from the midst of the brushwood. From every crevice in its black, rugged, mossy bark, springs a strange, almost fantastic flower; the wing of a butterfly is not of a finer tissue, of a more brilliant purple, of a more glossy black: those unknown birds we see in our dreams, have no more grotesque forms than these specimens of the orchis—winged flowers, that seem always ready to fly from their frail and leafless stalks. The long, flexible stems of the cactus, which might be taken for reptiles, encircle also this trunk, and clothe it with their bunches of silvery white, shaded inside with bright orange. These flowers emit a strong scent of vanilla.
A serpent, of a brick-red, about the thickness of a large quill, and five or six inches long, half protrudes its flat head from one of those enormous, perfumed calyces, in which it lies closely curled up.
Within the ajoupa, a young man is extended on a mat in a profound sleep. His complexion of a clear golden yellow, gives him the appearance of a statue of pale bronze, on which a ray of sun is playing. His attitude is simple and graceful; his right arm sustains his head, a little raised and turned on one side; his ample robe of white muslin, with hanging sleeves, leaves uncovered his chest and arms worthy of the Antoinous. Marble is not more firm, more polished than his skin, the golden hue of which contracts strongly with the whiteness of his garments. Upon his broad manly chest a deep scar is visible—the mark of the musket-ball he received in defending the life of General Simon, the father of Rose and Blanche.
Suspended from his neck, he wears a medal similar to that in the possession of the two sisters. This Indian is Djalma.
His features are at once very noble and very beautiful. His hair of a blue black, parted upon his forehead, falls waving, but not curled over his shoulders; whilst his eyebrows, boldly and yet delicately defined, are of as deep a jet as the long eyelashes, that cast their shadow upon his beardless cheek. His bright, red lips are slightly apart, and he breathes uneasily; his sleep is heavy and troubled, for the heat becomes every moment more and more suffocating.
Without, the silence is profound. Not a breath of air is stirring. Yet now the tall ferns, which cover the soil, begin to move almost imperceptibly, as though their stems were shaken by the slow progress of some crawling body. From time to time, this trifling oscillation suddenly ceases, and all is again motionless. But, after several of these alternations of rustling and deep silence, a human head appears in the midst of the jungle, a little distance from the trunk of the dead tree.
The man to whom it belonged was possessed of a grim countenance, with a complexion the color of greenish bronze, long black hair bound about his temples, eyes brilliant with savage fire, and an expression remarkable for its intelligence and ferocity. Holding his breath, he remained quite still for a moment; then, advancing upon his hands and knees, pushing aside the leaves so gently, that not the slightest noise could be heard, he arrived cautiously and slowly at the trunk of the dead tree, the summit of which nearly touched the roof of the ajoupa.
This man, of Malay origin, belonging to the sect of the Lughardars (Stranglers), after having again listened, rose almost entirely from amongst the brushwood. With the exception of white cotton drawers, fastened around his middle by a parti-colored sash, he was completely naked. His bronze, supple, and nervous limbs were overlaid with a thick coat of oil. Stretching himself along the huge trunk on the side furthest from the cabin, and thus sheltered by the whole breadth of the tree with its surrounding creepers, he began to climb silently, with as much patience as caution. In the undulations of his form, in the flexibility of his movements, in the restrained vigor, which fully put forth would have been alarming, there was some resemblance to the stealthy and treacherous advance of the tiger upon its prey.
Having reached, completely unperceived, the inclined portion of the tree, which almost touched the roof of the cabin, he was only separated from the window by a distance of about a foot. Cautiously advancing his head, he looked down into the interior, to see how he might best find an entrance.
At sight of Djalma in his deep sleep, the Thug's bright eyes glittered with increased brilliancy; a nervous contraction, or rather a mute, ferocious laugh, curling the corners of his mouth, drew them up towards the cheekbones, and exposed rows of teeth, filed sharp like the points of a saw, and dyed of a shining black.
Djalma was lying in such a manner and so near the door of the ajoupa, which opened inwards, that, were it moved in the least, he must be instantly awakened. The Strangler, with his body still sheltered by the tree, wishing to examine more attentively the interior of the cabin, leaned very forward, and in order to maintain his balance, lightly rested his hand on the ledge of the opening that served for a window. This movement shook the large cactus-flowers, within which the little serpent lay curled, and, darting forth it twisted itself rapidly round the wrist of the Strangler. Whether from pain or surprise, the man uttered a low cry; and as he drew back swiftly, still holding by the trunk of the tree, he perceived that Djalma had moved.
The young Indian, though retaining his supine posture, had half opened his eyes, and turned his head towards the window, whilst his breast heaved with a deep-drawn sigh, for, beneath that thick dome of moist verdure, the concentrated heat was intolerable.
Hardly had he moved, when, from behind the tree, was heard the shrill, brief, sonorous note, which the bird of paradise titters when it takes its flight—a cry which resembles that of the pheasant. This note was soon repeated, but more faintly, as though the brilliant bird were already at a distance. Djalma, thinking he had discovered the cause of the noise which had aroused him for an instant, stretched out the arm upon which his head had rested, and went to sleep again, with scarcely any change of position.
For some minutes, the most profound silence once more reigned in this solitude, and everything remained motionless.
The Strangler, by his skillful imitation of the bird, had repaired the imprudence of that exclamation of surprise and pain, which the reptile bite had forced from him. When he thought all was safe, he again advanced his head, and saw the young Indian once more plunged in sleep. Then he descended the tree with the same precautions, though his left hand was somewhat swollen from the sting of the serpent, and disappeared in the jungle.
At that instant a song of monotonous and melancholy cadence was heard in the distance. The Strangler raised himself, and listened attentively, and his face took an expression of surprise and deadly anger. The song came nearer and nearer to the cabin, and, in a few seconds, an Indian, passing through an open space in the jungle, approached the spot where the Thug lay concealed.
The latter unwound from his waist a long thin cord, to one of the ends of which was attached a leaden ball, of the form and size of an egg; having fastened the other end of this cord to his right wrist, the Strangler again listened, and then disappeared, crawling through the tall grass in the direction of the Indian, who still advanced slowly, without interrupting his soft and plaintive song.
He was a young fellow scarcely twenty, with a bronzed complexion, the slave of Djalma, his vest of blue cotton was confined at the waist by a parti-colored sash; he wore a red turban, and silver rings in his ears and about his wrists. He was bringing a message to his master, who, during the great heat of the day was reposing in the ajoupa, which stood at some distance from the house he inhabited.
Arriving at a place where two paths separated, the slave, without hesitation took that which led to the cabin, from which he was now scarce forty paces distant.
One of those enormous Java butterflies, whose wings extend six or eight inches in length, and offer to the eye two streaks of gold on a ground of ultramarine, fluttering from leaf to leaf, alighted on a bush of Cape jasmine, within the reach of the young Indian. The slave stopped in his song, stood still, advanced first a foot, then a hand, and seized the butterfly.
Suddenly he sees a dark figure rise before him; he hears a whizzing noise like that of a sling; he feels a cord, thrown with as much rapidity as force, encircle his neck with a triple band; and, almost in the same instant, the leaden ball strikes violently against the back of his head.
This attack was so abrupt and unforseen, that Djalma's servant could not even utter a single cry, a single groan. He tottered—the Strangler gave a vigorous pull at the cord—the bronzed countenance of the slave became purple, and he fell upon his knees, convulsively moving his arms. Then the Strangler threw him quite down, and pulled the cord so violently, that the blood spurted from the skin. The victim struggled for a moment—and all was over.
During his short but intense agony, the murderer, kneeling before his victim, and watching with ardent eye his least convulsions, seemed plunged into an ecstasy of ferocious joy. His nostrils dilated, the veins of his neck and temples were swollen, and the same savage laugh, which had curled his lips at the aspect of the sleeping Djalma, again displayed his pointed black teeth, which a nervous trembling of the jaws made to chatter. But soon he crossed his arms upon his heaving breast, bowed his forehead, and murmured some mysterious words, which sounded like an invocation or a prayer. Immediately after, he returned to the contemplation of the dead body. The hyena and the tiger-cat, who, before devouring, crouch beside the prey that they have surprised or hunted down, have not a wilder or more sanguinary look than this man.
But, remembering that his task was not yet accomplished tearing himself unwillingly from the hideous spectacle, he unbound the cord from the neck of his victim, fastened it round his own body, dragged the corpse out of the path, and, without attempting to rob it of its silver rings, concealed it in a thick part of the jungle.
Then the Strangler again began to creep on his knees and belly, till he arrived at the cabin of Djalma—that cabin constructed of mats suspended from bamboos. After listening attentively, he drew from his girdle a knife, the sharp-pointed blade of which was wrapped in a fig-leaf, and made in the matting an incision of three feet in length. This was done with such quickness, and with so fine a blade, that the light touch of the diamond cutting glass would have made more noise. Seeing, by means of this opening, which was to serve him for a passage, that Djalma was still fast asleep, the Thug, with incredible temerity, glided into the cabin.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE TATTOOING
The heavens, which had been till now of transparent blue, became gradually of a greenish tint, and the sun was veiled in red, lurid vapor. This strange light gave to every object a weird appearance, of which one might form an idea, by looking at a landscape through a piece of copper colored glass. In those climates, this phenomenon, when united with an increase of burning heat, always announces the approach of a storm.
From time to time there was a passing odor of sulphur; then the leaves, slightly shaken by electric currents, would tremble upon their stalks; till again all would return to the former motionless silence. The weight of the burning atmosphere, saturated with sharp perfumes, became almost intolerable. Large drops of sweat stood in pearls on the forehead of Djalma, still plunged in enervating sleep—for it no longer resembled rest, but a painful stupor.
The Strangler glided like a reptile along the sides of the ajoupa, and, crawling on his belly, arrived at the sleeping-mat of Djalma, beside which he squatted himself, so as to occupy as little space as possible. Then began a fearful scene, by reason of the mystery and silence which surrounded it.
Djalma's life was at the mercy of the Strangler. The latter, resting upon his hands and knees, with his neck stretched forward, his eye fixed and dilated, continued motionless as a wild beast about to spring. Only a slight nervous trembling of the jaws agitated that mask of bronze.
But soon his hideous features revealed a violent struggle that was passing within him—a struggle between the thirst, the craving for the enjoyment of murder, which the recent assassination of the slave had made still more active, and the orders he had received not to attempt the life of Djalma, though the design, which brought him to the ajoupa, might perhaps be as fatal to the young Indian as death itself. Twice did the Strangler, with look of flame, resting only on his left hand, seize with his right the rope's end; and twice his hand fell—the instinct of murder yielding to a powerful will, of which the Malay acknowledged the irresistible empire.
In him, the homicidal craving must have amounted to madness, for, in these hesitations, he lost much precious time: at any moment, Djalma, whose vigor, skill, and courage were known and feared, might awake from his sleep, and, though unarmed, he would prove a terrible adversary. At length the Thug made up his mind; with a suppressed sigh of regret, he set about accomplishing his task.
This task would have appeared impossible to any one else. The reader may judge.
Djalma, with his face turned towards the left, leaned his head upon his curved arm. It was first necessary, without waking him, to oblige him to turn his face towards the right (that is, towards the door), so that, in case of his being half-roused, his first glance might not fall upon the Strangler. The latter, to accomplish his projects, would have to remain many minutes in the cabin.
The heavens became darker; the heat arrived at its last degree of intensity; everything combined to increase the torpor of the sleeper, and so favor the Strangler's designs. Kneeling down close to Djalma, he began, with the tips of his supple, well-oiled fingers, to stroke the brow, temples, and eyelids of the young Indian, but with such extreme lightness, that the contact of the two skins was hardly sensible. When this kind of magnetic incantation had lasted for some seconds, the sweat, which bathed the forehead of Djalma, became more abundant: he heaved a smothered sigh, and the muscles of his face gave several twitches, for the strokings, although too light to rouse him, yet caused in him a feeling of indefinable uneasiness.
Watching him with his restless and burning eye, the Strangler continued his maneuvers with so much patience, that Djalma, still sleeping, but no longer able to bear this vague, annoying sensation, raised his right hand mechanically to his face, as if he would have brushed away an importunate insect. But he had not strength to do it; almost immediately after, his hand, inert and heavy, fell back upon his chest. The Strangler saw, by this symptom, that he was attaining his object, and continued to stroke, with the same address, the eyelids, brow, and temples.
Whereupon Djalma, more and more oppressed by heavy sleep, and having neither strength nor will to raise his hand to his face, mechanically turned round his head, which fell languidly upon his right shoulder, seeking by this change of attitude, to escape from the disagreeable sensation which pursued him. The first point gained, the Strangler could act more freely.
To render as profound as possible the sleep he had half interrupted, he now strove to imitate the vampire, and, feigning the action of a fan, he rapidly moved his extended hands about the burning face of the young Indian. Alive to a feeling of such sudden and delicious coolness, in the height of suffocating heat, the countenance of Djalma brightened, his bosom heaved, his half-opened lips drank in the grateful air, and he fell into a sleep only the more invincible, because it had been at first disturbed, and was now yielded to under the influence of a pleasing sensation.
A sudden flash of lightning illumined the shady dome that sheltered the ajoupa: fearing that the first clap of thunder might rouse the young Indian, the Strangler hastened to complete his Task. Djalma lay on his back, with his head resting on his right shoulder, and his left arm extended; the Thug, crouching at his left side, ceased by degrees the process of fanning; then, with incredible dexterity, he succeeded in rolling up, above the elbow, the long wide sleeve of white muslin that covered the left arm of the sleeper.
He next drew from the pocket of his drawers a copper box, from which he took a very fine, sharp-pointed needle, and a piece of a black-looking root. He pricked this root several times with the needle, and on each occasion there issued from it a white, glutinous liquid.
When the Strangler thought the needle sufficiently impregnated with this juice, he bent down, and began to blow gently over the inner surface of Djalma's arm, so as to cause a fresh sensation of coolness; then, with the point of his needle, he traced almost imperceptibly on the skin of the sleeping youth some mysterious and symbolical signs. All this was performed so cleverly and the point of the needle was so fine and keen, that Djalma did not feel the action of the acid upon the skin.
The signs, which the Strangler had traced, soon appeared on the surface, at first in characters of a pale rose-color, as fine as a hair; but such was the slowly corrosive power of the juice, that, as it worked and spread beneath the skin, they would become in a few hours of a violet red, and as apparent as they were now almost invisible.
The Strangler, having so perfectly succeeded in his project, threw a last look of ferocious longing on the slumbering Indian, and creeping away from the mat, regained the opening by which he had entered the cabin; next, closely uniting the edges of the incision, so as to obviate all suspicion, he disappeared just as the thunder began to rumble hoarsely in the distance.(4)
(4) We read in the letters of the late Victor Jacquemont upon India, with regard to the incredible dexterity of these men: "They crawl on the ground, ditches, in the furrows of fields, imitate a hundred different voices, and dissipate the effect of any accidental noise by raising the yelp of the jackal or note of some bird—then are silent, and another imitates the call of the same animal in the distance. They can molest a sleeper by all sorts of noises and slight touches, and make his body and limbs take any position which suits their purpose." Count Edward de Warren, in his excellent work on English India, which we shall have again occasion to quote, expresses himself in the same manner as to the inconceivable address of the Indians: "They have the art," says he, "to rob you, without interrupting your sleep, of the very sheet in which you are enveloped. This is not 'a traveller's tale.' but a fact. The movements of the bheel are those of the serpent. If you sleep in your tent, with a servant lying across each entrance, the bheel will come and crouch on the outside, in some shady corner, where he can hear the breathing of those within. As soon as the European sleeps, he feels sure of success, for the Asiatic will not long resist the attraction of repose. At the proper moment, he makes a vertical incision in the cloth of the tent, on the spot where he happens to be, and just large enough to admit him. He glides through like a phantom, without making the least grain of sand creak beneath his tread. He is perfectly naked, and all his body is rubbed over with oil; a two-edged knife is suspended from his neck. He will squat down close to your couch, and, with incredible coolness and dexterity, will gather up the sheet in very little folds, so as to occupy the least surface possible; then, passing to the other side, he will lightly tickle the sleeper, whom he seems to magnetize, till the latter shrinks back involuntarily, and ends by turning round, and leaving the sheet folded behind him. Should he awake, and strive to seize the robber, he catches at a slippery form, which slides through his hands like an eel; should he even succeed in seizing him, it would be fatal—the dagger strikes him to the heart, he falls bathed in his blood, and the assassin disappears."—E. S.
CHAPTER XIX. THE SMUGGLER
The tempest of the morning has long been over. The sun is verging towards the horizon. Some hours have elapsed, since the Strangler introduced himself into Djalma's cabin, and tattooed him with a mysterious sign during his sleep.
A horseman advances rapidly down a long avenue of spreading trees. Sheltered by the thick and verdant arch, a thousand birds salute the splendid evening with songs and circlings; red and green parrots climb, by help of their hooked beaks, to the top of pink-blossomed acacias; large Morea birds of the finest and richest blue, whose throats and long tails change in the light to a golden brown, are chasing the prince oriels, clothed in their glossy feathers of black and orange; Kolo doves, of a changeable violet hue, are gently cooing by the side of the birds of paradise, in whose brilliant plumage are mingled the prismatic colors of the emerald and ruby, the topaz and sapphire.
This avenue, a little raised, commanded a view of a small pond, which reflected at intervals the green shade of tamarind trees. In the calm, limpid waters, many fish were visible, some with silver scales and purple fins, others gleaming with azure and vermilion; so still were they that they looked as if set in a mass of bluish crystal, and, as they dwelt motionless near the surface of the pool, on which played a dazzling ray of the sun, they revelled in the enjoyment of the light and heat. A thousand insects—living gems, with wings of flame—glided, fluttered and buzzed over the transparent wave, in which, at an extraordinary depth, were mirrored the variegated tints of the aquatic plants on the bank.
It is impossible to give an adequate idea of the exuberant nature of this scene, luxuriant in the sunlight, colors, and perfumes, which served, so to speak, as a frame to the young and brilliant rider, who was advancing along the avenue. It was Djalma. He had not yet perceived the indelible marks, which the Strangler had traced upon his left arm.
His Japanese mare, of slender make, full of fire and vigor, is black as night. A narrow red cloth serves instead of saddle. To moderate the impetuous bounds of the animal, Djalma uses a small steel bit, with headstall and reins of twisted scarlet silk, fine as a thread.
Not one of those admirable riders, sculptured so masterly on the frieze of the Parthenon, sits his horse more gracefully and proudly than this young Indian, whose fine face, illumined by the setting sun, is radiant with serene happiness; his eyes sparkle with joy, and his dilated nostrils and unclosed lips inhale with delight the balmy breeze, that brings to him the perfume of flowers and the scent of fresh leaves, for the trees are still moist from the abundant rain that fell after the storm.
A red cap, similar to that worn by the Greeks, surmounting the black locks of Djalma, sets off to advantage the golden tint of his complexion; his throat is bare; he is clad in his robe of white muslin with large sleeves, confined at the waist by a scarlet sash; very full drawers, in white cotton stuff, leave half uncovered his tawny and polished legs; their classic curve stands out from the dark sides of the horse, which he presses tightly between his muscular calves. He has no stirrups; his foot, small and narrow, is shod with a sandal of morocco leather.
The rush of his thoughts, by turns impetuous and restrained, was expressed in some degree by the pace he imparted to his horse—now bold and precipitate, like the flight of unbridled imagination—now calm and measured, like the reflection which succeeds an idle dream. But, in all this fantastic course, his least movements were distinguished by a proud, independent and somewhat savage grace.
Dispossessed of his paternal territory by the English, and at first detained by them as a state-prisoner after the death of his father—who (as M. Joshua Van Dael had written to M. Rodin) had fallen sword in hand—Djalma had at length been restored to liberty. Abandoning the continent of India, and still accompanied by General Simon, who had lingered hard by the prison of his old friend's son, the young Indian came next to Batavia, the birthplace of his mother, to collect the modest inheritance of his maternal ancestors. And amongst this property, so long despised or forgotten by his father, he found some important papers, and a medal exactly similar to that worn by Rose and Blanche.
General Simon was not more surprised than pleased at this discovery, which not only established a tie of kindred between his wife and Djalma's mother, but which also seemed to promise great advantages for the future. Leaving Djalma at Batavia, to terminate some business there, he had gone to the neighboring island of Sumatra, in the hope of finding a vessel that would make the passage to Europe directly and rapidly; for it was now necessary that, cost what it might, the young Indian also should be at Paris on the 13th February, 1832. Should General Simon find a vessel ready to sail for Europe, he was to return immediately, to fetch Djalma; and the latter, expecting him daily, was now going to the pier of Batavia, hoping to see the father of Rose and Blanche arrive by the mail boat from Sumatra.
A few words are here necessary on the early life of the son of Kadja sing.
Having lost his mother very young, and brought up with rude simplicity, he had accompanied his father, whilst yet a child, to the great tiger hunts, as dangerous as battles; and, in the first dawn of youth, he had followed him to the stern bloody war, which he waged in defence of his country. Thus living, from the time of his mother's death, in the midst of forests and mountains and continual combats, his vigorous and ingenuous nature had preserved itself pure, and he well merited the name of "The Generous" bestowed on him. Born a prince, he was—which by no means follows—a prince indeed. During the period of his captivity, the silent dignity of his bearing had overawed his jailers. Never a reproach, never a complaint—a proud and melancholy calm was all that he opposed to a treatment as unjust as it was barbarous, until he was restored to freedom.
Having thus been always accustomed to a patriarchal life, or to a war of mountaineers, which he had only quitted to pass a few months in prison, Djalma knew nothing, so to speak, of civilized society. Without its exactly amounting to a defect, he certainly carried his good qualities to their extreme limits. Obstinately faithful to his pledged word, devoted to the death, confiding to blindness, good almost to a complete forgetfulness of himself, he was inflexible towards ingratitude, falsehood, or perfidy. He would have felt no compunction to sacrifice a traitor, because, could he himself have committed a treason, he would have thought it only just to expiate it with his life.
He was, in a word, the man of natural feelings, absolute and entire. Such a man, brought into contact with the temperaments, calculations, falsehoods, deceptions, tricks, restrictions, and hollowness of a refined society, such as Paris, for example, would, without doubt, form a very curious subject for speculation. We raise this hypothesis, because, since his journey to France had been determined on, Djalma had one fixed, ardent desire—to be in Paris.
In Paris—that enchanted city—of which, even in Asia, the land of enchantment, so many marvelous tales were told.
What chiefly inflamed the fresh, vivid imagination of the young Indian, was the thought of French women—those attractive Parisian beauties, miracles of elegance and grace, who eclipsed, he was informed, even the magnificence of the capitals of the civilized world. And at this very moment, in the brightness of that warm and splendid evening, surrounded by the intoxication of flowers and perfumes, which accelerated the pulses of his young fiery heart, Djalma was dreaming of those exquisite creatures, whom his fancy loved to clothe in the most ideal garbs.
It seemed to him as if, at the end of the avenue, in the midst of that sheet of golden light, which the trees encompassed with their full, green arch, he could see pass and repass, white and sylph-like, a host of adorable and voluptuous phantoms, that threw him kisses from the tips of their rosy fingers. Unable to restrain his burning emotions, carried away by a strange enthusiasm, Djalma uttered exclamations of joy, deep, manly, and sonorous, and made his vigorous courser bound under him in the excitement of a mad delight. Just then a sunbeam, piercing the dark vault of the avenue, shone full upon him.
For several minutes, a man had been advancing rapidly along a path, which, at its termination, intersected the avenue diagonally. He stopped a moment in the shade, looking at Djalma with astonishment. It was indeed a charming sight, to behold, in the midst of a blaze of dazzling lustre, this youth, so handsome, joyous, and ardent, clad in his white and flowing vestments, gayly and lightly seated on his proud black mare, who covered her red bridle with her foam, and whose long tail and thick mane floated on the evening breeze.
But, with that reaction which takes place in all human desires, Djalma soon felt stealing over him a sentiment of soft, undefinable melancholy. He raised his hand to his eyes, now dimmed with moisture, and allowed the reins to fall on the mane of his docile steed, which, instantly stopping, stretched out its long neck, and turned its head in the direction of the personage, whom it could see approaching through the coppice.
This man, Mahal the Smuggler, was dressed nearly like European sailors. He wore jacket and trousers of white duck, a broad red sash, and a very low-crowned straw hat. His face was brown, with strongly-marked features, and, though forty years of age, he was quite beardless.
In another moment, Mahal was close to the young Indian. "You are Prince Djalma?" said he, in not very good French, raising his hand respectfully to his hat.
"What would you?" said the Indian.
"You are the son of Kadja-sing?"
"Once again, what would you?"
"The friend of General Simon?"
"General Simon?" cried Djalma.
"You are going to meet him, as you have gone every evening, since you expect his return from Sumatra?"
"Yes, but how do you know all this?" said the Indian looking at the Smuggler with as much surprise as curiosity.
"Is he not to land at Batavia, to-day or to-morrow?"
"Are you sent by him?"
"Perhaps," said Mahal, with a distrustful air. "But are you really the son of Kadja-sing?"
"Yes, I tell you—but where have you seen General Simon?"
"If you are the son of Kadja-sing," resumed Mahal, continuing to regard Djalma with a suspicious eye, "what is your surname?"
"My sire was called the 'Father of the Generous,'" answered the young Indian, as a shade of sorrow passed over his fine countenance.
These words appeared in part to convince Mahal of the identity of Djalma; but, wishing doubtless to be still more certain, he resumed: "You must have received, two days ago, a letter from General Simon, written from Sumatra?"
"Yes; but why so many questions?"
"To assure myself that you are really the son of Kadja-sing, and to execute the orders I have received."
"From General Simon."
"But where is he?"
"When I have proof that you are Prince Djalma, I will tell you. I was informed that you would be mounted on a black mare, with a red bridle. But—"
"By the soul of my mother! speak what you have to say!"
"I will tell you all—if you can tell me what was the printed paper, contained in the last letter that General Simon wrote you from Sumatra."
"It was a cutting from a French newspaper."
"Did it announce good or bad news for the general?"
"Good news—for it related that, during his absence, they had acknowledged the last rank and title bestowed on him by the Emperor, as they had done for others of his brothers in arms, exiled like him."
"You are indeed Prince Djalma," said the Smuggler, after a moment's reflection. "I may speak. General Simon landed last night in Java, but on a desert part of the coast."
"On a desert part?"
"Because he has to hide himself."
"Hide himself!" exclaimed Djalma, in amazement; "why?"
"That I don't know."
"But where is he?" asked Djalma, growing pale with alarm.
"He is three leagues hence—near the sea-shore—in the ruins of Tchandi."
"Obliged to hide himself!" repeated Djalma, and his countenance expressed increasing surprise and anxiety.
"Without being certain, I think it is because of a duel he fought in Sumatra," said the Smuggler, mysteriously.
"A duel—with whom?"
"I don't know—I am not at all certain on the subject. But do you know the ruins of Tchandi?"
"The general expects you there; that is what he ordered me to tell you."
"So you came with him from Sumatra?"
"I was pilot of the little smuggling coaster, that landed him in the night on a lonely beach. He knew that you went every day to the mole, to wait for him; I was almost sure that I should meet you. He gave me details about the letter you received from him as a proof that he had sent me. If he could have found the means of writing, he would have written."
"But he did not tell you why he was obliged to hide himself?"
"He told me nothing. Certain words made me suspect what I told you—a duel."
Knowing the mettle of General Simon, Djalma thought the suspicions of the Smuggler not unfounded. After a moment's silence he said to him: "Can you undertake to lead home my horse? My dwelling is without the town—there, in the midst of those trees—by the side of the new mosque. In ascending the mountain of Tchandi, my horse would be in my way; I shall go much faster on foot."
"I know where you live; General Simon told me. I should have gone there if I had not met you. Give me your horse."
Djalma sprang lightly to the ground, threw the bridle to Mahal, unrolled one end of his sash, took out a silk purse, and gave it to the Smuggler, saying: "You have been faithful and obedient. Here!—it is a trifle—but I have no more."
"Kadja-sing was rightly called the 'Father of the Generous,'" said the Smuggler, bowing with respect and gratitude. He took the road to Batavia, leading Djalma's horse. The young Indian, on the contrary, plunged into the coppice, and, walking with great strides, he directed his course towards the mountain, on which were the ruins of Tchandi, where he could not arrive before night.
CHAPTER XX. M. JOSHUA VAN DAEL.
M. Joshua Van Dael a Dutch merchant, and correspondent of M. Rodin, was born at Batavia, the capital of the island of Java; his parents had sent him to be educated at Pondicherry, in a celebrated religious house, long established in that place, and belonging to the "Society of Jesus." It was there that he was initiated into the order as "professor of the three vows," or lay member, commonly called "temporal coadjutor."
Joshua was a man of probity that passed for stainless; of strict accuracy in business, cold, careful, reserved, and remarkably skillful and sagacious; his financial operations were almost always successful, for a protecting power gave him ever in time, knowledge of events which might advantageously influence his commercial transactions. The religious house of Pondicherry was interested in his affairs, having charged him with the exportation and exchange of the produce of its large possessions in this colony.
Speaking little, hearing much, never disputing, polite in the extreme—giving seldom, but with choice and purpose—Joshua, without inspiring sympathy, commanded generally that cold respect, which is always paid to the rigid moralist; for instead of yielding to the influence of lax and dissolute colonial manners, he appeared to live with great regularity, and his exterior had something of austerity about it, which tended to overawe.
The following scene took place at Batavia, while Djalma was on his way to the ruins of Tchandi in the hope of meeting General Simon.
M. Joshua had just retired into his cabinet, in which were many shelves filled with paper boxes, and huge ledgers and cash boxes lying open upon desks. The only window of this apartment, which was on the ground floor, looked out upon a narrow empty court, and was protected externally by strong iron bars; instead of glass, it was fitted with a Venetian blind, because of the extreme heat of the climate.
M. Joshua, having placed upon his desk a taper in a glass globe, looked at the clock. "Half-past nine," said he. "Mahal ought soon to be here."
Saying this, he went out, passing through an antechamber, opened a second thick door, studded with nail-heads, in the Dutch fashion, cautiously entered the court (so as not to be heard by the people in the house), and drew back the secret bolt of a gate six feet high, formidably garnished with iron spikes. Leaving this gate unfastened, he regained his cabinet, after he had successively and carefully closed the two other doors behind him.
M. Joshua next seated himself at his desk, and took from a drawer a long letter, or rather statement, commenced some time before, and continued day by day. It is superfluous to observe, that the letter already mentioned, as addressed to M. Rodin, was anterior to the liberation of Djalma and his arrival at Batavia.
The present statement was also addressed to M. Rodin, and Van Dael thus went on with it:
"Fearing the return of General Simon, of which I had been informed by intercepting his letters—I have already told you, that I had succeeded in being employed by him as his agent here; having then read his letters, and sent them on as if untouched to Djalma, I felt myself obliged, from the pressure of the circumstances, to have recourse to extreme measures—taking care always to preserve appearances, and rendering at the same time a signal service to humanity, which last reason chiefly decided me.
"A new danger imperiously commanded these measures. The steamship 'Ruyter' came in yesterday, and sails tomorrow in the course of the day. She is to make the voyage to Europe via the Arabian Gulf; her passengers will disembark at Suez, cross the Isthmus, and go on board another vessel at Alexandria, which will bring them to France. This voyage, as rapid as it is direct, will not take more than seven or eight weeks. We are now at the end of October; Prince Djalma might then be in France by the commencement of the month of January; and according to your instructions, of which I know not the motive, but which I execute with zeal and submission, his departure must be prevented at all hazards, because, you tell me, some of the gravest interests of the Society would be compromised, by the arrival of this young Indian in Paris before the 13th of February. Now, if I succeed, as I hope, in making him miss this opportunity of the 'Ruyter' it will be materially impossible for him to arrive in France before the month of April; for the 'Ruyter' is the only vessel which makes the direct passage, the others taking at least four or five months to reach Europe.
"Before telling you the means which I have thought right to employ, to detain Prince Djalma—of the success of which means I am yet uncertain—it is well that you should be acquainted with the following facts.
"They have just discovered, in British India, a community whose members call themselves 'Brothers of the Good Work,' or 'Phansegars,' which signifies simply 'Thugs' or 'Stranglers;' these murderers do not shed blood, but strangle their victims, less for the purpose of robbing them, than in obedience to a homicidal vocation, and to the laws of an infernal divinity named by them 'Bowanee.'
"I cannot better give you an idea of this horrible sect, than by transcribing here some lines from the introduction of a report by Colonel Sleeman, who has hunted out this dark association with indefatigable zeal. The report in question was published about two months ago. Here is the extract; it is the colonel who speaks:
"'From 1822 to 1824, when I was charged with the magistracy and civil administration of the district of Nersingpore, not a murder, not the least robbery was committed by an ordinary criminal, without my being immediately informed of it; but if any one had come and told me at this period, that a band of hereditary assassins by profession lived in the village of Kundelie, within about four hundred yards of my court of justice—that the beautiful groves of the village of Mundesoor, within a day's march of my residence, formed one of the most frightful marts of assassination in all India—that numerous bands of 'Brothers of the Good Work,' coming from Hindostan and the Deccan, met annually beneath these shades, as at a solemn festival, to exercise their dreadful vocation upon all the roads which cross each other in this locality—I should have taken such a person for a madman, or one who had been imposed upon by idle tales. And yet nothing could be truer; hundreds of travellers had been buried every year in the groves of Mundesoor; a whole tribe of assassins lived close to my door, at the very time I was supreme magistrate of the province, and extended their devastations to the cities of Poonah and Hyderabad. I shall never forget, when, to convince me of the fact, one of the chiefs of the Stranglers, who had turned informer against them, caused thirteen bodies to be dug up from the ground beneath my tent, and offered to produce any number from the soil in the immediate vicinity.'(5)
"These few words of Colonel Sleeman will give some idea of this dread society, which has its laws, duties, customs, opposed to all other laws, human and divine. Devoted to each other, even to heroism, blindly obedient to their chiefs, who profess themselves the immediate representatives of their dark divinity, regarding as enemies all who do not belong to them, gaining recruits everywhere by a frightful system of proselytising—these apostles of a religion of murder go preaching their abominable doctrines in the shade, and spreading their immense net over the whole of India.
"Three of their principal chiefs, and one of their adepts, flying from the determined pursuit of the English governor-general, having succeeded in making their escape, had arrived at the Straits of Malacca, at no great distance from our island; a smuggler, who is also something of a pirate, attached to their association, and by name Mahal, took them on board his coasting vessel, and brought them hither, where they think themselves for some time in safety—as, following the advice of the smuggler, they lie concealed in a thick forest, in which are many ruined temples and numerous subterranean retreats.
"Amongst these chiefs, all three remarkably intelligent, there is one in particular, named Faringhea, whose extraordinary energy and eminent qualities make him every way redoubtable. He is of the mixed race, half white and Hindoo, has long inhabited towns in which are European factories and speaks English and French very well. The other two chiefs are a Negro and a Hindoo; the adept is a Malay.
"The smuggler, Mahal, considering that he could obtain a large reward by giving up these three chiefs and their adept, came to me, knowing, as all the world knows, my intimate relations with a person who has great influence with our governor. Two days ago, he offered me, on certain conditions, to deliver up the Negro, the half-caste, the Hindoo, and the Malay. These conditions are—a considerable sum of money, and a free passage on board a vessel sailing for Europe or America, in order to escape the implacable vengeance of the Thugs.
"I joyfully seized the occasion to hand over three such murderers to human justice, and I promised Mahal to arrange matters for him with the governor, but also on certain conditions, innocent in themselves, and which concerned Djalma. Should my project succeed, I will explain myself more at length; I shall soon know the result, for I expect Mahal every minute.
"But before I close these despatches, which are to go tomorrow by the 'Ruyter'—in which vessel I have also engaged a passage for Mahal the Smuggler, in the event of the success of my plans—I must include in parentheses a subject of some importance.
"In my last letter, in which I announced to you the death of Djalma's father, and his own imprisonment by the English, I asked for some information as to the solvency of Baron Tripeaud, banker and manufacturer at Paris, who has also an agency at Calcutta. This information will now be useless, if what I have just learned should, unfortunately, turn out to be correct, and it will be for you to act according to circumstances.
"This house at Calcutta owes considerable sums both to me and our colleague at Pondicherry, and it is said that M. Tripeaud has involved himself to a dangerous extent in attempting to ruin, by opposition, a very flourishing establishment, founded some time ago by M. Francois Hardy, an eminent manufacturer. I am assured that M. Tripeaud has already sunk and lost a large capital in this enterprise: he has no doubt done a great deal of harm to M. Francois Hardy; but he has also, they say, seriously compromised his own fortune—and, were he to fail, the effects of his disaster would be very fatal to us, seeing that he owes a large sum of money to me and to us.
"In this state of things it would be very desirable if, by the employment of the powerful means of every kind at our disposal, we could completely discredit and break down the house of M. Francois Hardy, already shaken by M. Tripeaud's violent opposition. In that case, the latter would soon regain all he has lost; the ruin of his rival would insure his prosperity, and our demands would be securely covered.
"Doubtless, it is painful, it is sad, to be obliged to have recourse to these extreme measures, only to get back our own; but, in these days, are we not surely justified in sometimes using the arms that are incessantly turned against us? If we are reduced to such steps by the injustice and wickedness of men, we may console ourselves with the reflection that we only seek to preserve our worldly possessions, in order to devote them to the greater glory of God; whilst, in the hands of our enemies, those very goods are the dangerous instruments of perdition and scandal.
"After all it is merely a humble proposition that I submit to you. Were it in my power to take an active part in the matter, I should do nothing of myself. My will is not my own. It belongs, with all I possess, to those whom I have sworn absolute obedience."
Here a slight noise interrupted M. Joshua, and drew his attention from his work. He rose abruptly, and went straight to the window. Three gentle taps were given on the outside of one of the slats of the blind.
"Is it you, Mahal?" asked M. Joshua, in a low voice.
"It is I," was answered from without, also in a low tone.
"And the Malay?"
"He has succeeded."
"Really!" cried M. Joshua, with an expression of great satisfaction; "are you sure of it?"
"Quite sure: there is no devil more clever and intrepid."
"The parts of the letter, which I quoted, convinced him that I came from General Simon, and that he would find him at the ruins of Tchandi."
"Therefore, at this moment—"
"Djalma goes to the ruins, where he will encounter the black, the half blood, and the Indian. It is there they have appointed to meet the Malay, who tattooed the prince during his sleep."
"Have you been to examine the subterraneous passage?"
"I went there yesterday. One of the stones of the pedestal of the statue turns upon itself; the stairs are large; it will do."
"And the three chiefs have no suspicion?"
"None—I saw them in the morning—and this evening the Malay came to tell me all, before he went to join them at the ruins of Tchandi—for he had remained hidden amongst the bushes, not daring to go there in the daytime."
"Mahal—if you have told the truth, and if all succeed—your pardon and ample reward are assured to you. Your berth has been taken on board the 'Ruyter;' you will sail to-morrow; you will thus be safe from the malice of the Stranglers, who would follow you hither to revenge the death of their chiefs, Providence having chosen you to deliver those three great criminals to justice. Heaven will bless you!—Go and wait for me at the door of the governor's house; I will introduce you. The matter is so important that I do not hesitate to disturb him thus late in the night. Go quickly!—I will follow on my side."
The steps of Mahal were distinctly audible, as he withdrew precipitately, and then silence reigned once more in the house. Joshua returned to his desk, and hastily added these words to the despatch, which he had before commenced:
"Whatever may now happen, it will be impossible for Djalma to leave Batavia at present. You may rest quite satisfied; he will not be at Paris by the 13th of next February. As I foresaw, I shall have to be up all night.—I am just going to the governor's. To-morrow I will add a few lines to this long statement, which the steamship 'Ruyter' will convey to Europe."
Having locked up his papers, Joshua rang the bell loudly, and, to the great astonishment of his servants, not accustomed to see him leave home in the middle of the night, went in all haste to the residence of the governor of the island.
We now conduct the reader to the ruins of Tchandi.
(5) This report is extracted from Count Edward de Warren's excellent work, "British India in 1831."—E. S.
CHAPTER XXI. THE RUINS OF TCHANDI. To the storm in the middle of the day, the approach of which so well served the Strangler's designs upon Djalma, has succeeded a calm and serene night. The disk of the moon rises slowly behind a mass of lofty ruins, situated on a hill, in the midst of a thick wood, about three leagues from Batavia.
Long ranges of stone, high walls of brick, fretted away by time, porticoes covered with parasitical vegetation, stand out boldly from the sheet of silver light which blends the horizon with the limpid blue of the heavens. Some rays of the moon, gliding through the opening on one of these porticoes, fall upon two colossal statues at the foot of an immense staircase, the loose stones of which are almost entirely concealed by grass, moss, and brambles.
The fragments of one of these statues, broken in the middle, lie strewed upon the ground; the other, which remains whole and standing, is frightful to behold. It represents a man of gigantic proportions, with a head three feet high; the expression of the countenance is ferocious, eyes of brilliant slaty black are set beneath gray brows, the large, deep mouth gapes immoderately, and reptiles have made their nest between the lips of stone; by the light of the moon, a hideous swarm is there dimly visible. A broad girdle, adorned with symbolic ornaments, encircles the body of this statue, and fastens a long sword to its right side. The giant has four extended arms, and, in his great hands, he bears an elephant's head, a twisted serpent, a human skull, and a bird resembling a heron. The moon, shedding her light on the profile of this statue, serves to augment the weirdness of its aspect.
Here and there, enclosed in the half-crumbling walls of brick, are fragments of stone bas-reliefs, very boldly cut; one of those in the best preservation represents a man with the head of an elephant, and the wings of a bat, devouring a child. Nothing can be more gloomy than these ruins, buried among thick trees of a dark green, covered with frightful emblems, and seen by the moonlight, in the midst of the deep silence of night.
Against one of the walls of this ancient temple, dedicated to some mysterious and bloody Javanese divinity, leans a kind of hut, rudely constructed of fragments of brick and stone; the door, made of woven rushes, is open, and a red light streams from it, which throws its rays on the tall grass that covers the ground. Three men are assembled in this hovel, around a clay-lamp, with a wick of cocoanut fibre steeped in palm-oil.
The first of these three, about forty years of age, is poorly clad in the European fashion; his pale, almost white, complexion, announces that he belongs to the mixed race, being offspring of a white father and Indian mother.
The second is a robust African negro, with thick lips, vigorous shoulders, and lank legs; his woolly hair is beginning to turn gray; he is covered with rags, and stands close beside the Indian. The third personage is asleep, and stretched on a mat in the corner of the hovel.
These three men are the three Thuggee chiefs, who, obliged to fly from the continent of India, have taken refuge in Java, under the guidance of Mahal the Smuggler.
"The Malay does not return," said the half-blood, named Faringhea, the most redoubtable chief of this homicidal sect: "in executing our orders, he has perhaps been killed by Djalma."
"The storm of this morning brought every reptile out of the earth," said the negro; "the Malay must have been bitten, and his body ere now a nest of serpents."
"To serve the good work," proceeded Faringhea, with a gloomy air, "one must know how to brave death."
"And to inflict it," added the negro.
A stifled cry, followed by some inarticulate words, here drew the attention of these two men, who hastily turned their heads in the direction of the sleeper. This latter was thirty years old at most. His beardless face, of a bright copper color, his robe of coarse stuff, his turban striped brown and yellow, showed that he belonged to the pure Hindoo race. His sleep appeared agitated by some painful vision; an abundant sweat streamed over his countenance, contracted by terror; he spoke in his dream, but his words were brief and broken, and accompanied with convulsive starts.
"Again that dream!" said Faringhea to the negro. "Always the remembrance of that man."
"Do you not remember, how, five years ago, that savage, Colonel Kennedy, butcher of the Indians, came to the banks of the Ganges, to hunt the tiger, with twenty horses, four elephants, and fifty servants?"
"Yes, yes," said the negro; "and we three, hunters of men, made a better day's sport than he did. Kennedy, his horses, his elephants, and his numerous servants did not get their tiger—but we got ours," he added, with grim irony. "Yes; Kennedy, that tiger with a human face, fell into our ambush, and the brothers of the good work offered up their fine prey to our goddess Bowanee."
"If you remember, it was just at the moment when we gave the last tug to the cord round Kennedy's neck, that we perceived on a sudden a traveller close at hand. He had seen us, and it was necessary to make away with him. Now, since that time," added Faringhea, "the remembrance of the murder of that man pursues our brother in his dreams," and he pointed to the sleeping Indian.
"And even when he is awake," said the negro, looking at Faringhea with a significant air.
"Listen!" said the other, again pointing to the Indian, who, in the agitation of his dream, recommenced talking in abrupt sentences; "listen! he is repeating the answers of the traveller, when we told him he must die, or serve with us on Thuggee. His mind is still impressed—deeply impressed—with those words."
And, in fact, the Indian repeated aloud in his sleep, a sort of mysterious dialogue, of which he himself supplied both questions and answers.
"'Traveller,' said he, in a voice broken by sudden pauses, 'why that black mark on your forehead, stretching from one temple to the other? It is a mark of doom and your look is sad as death. Have you been a victim? Come with us; Kallee will avenge you. You have suffered?'—'Yes, I have greatly suffered.'—'For a long time?'—'Yes, for a very long time.'—'You suffer even now?'—'Yes, even now.'—What do you reserve for those who injure you?'—'My pity.'—'Will you not render blow for blow?'—'I will return love for hate.'—'Who are you, then, that render good for evil?'—'I am one who loves, and suffers, and forgives.'"
"Brother, do you hear?" said the negro to Faringhea; "he has not forgotten the words of the traveller before his death."
"The vision follows him. Listen! he will speak again. How pale he is!" Still under the influence of his dream, the Indian continued:
"'Traveller, we are three; we are brave; we have your life in our hands—you have seen us sacrifice to the good work. Be one of us, or die—die—die! Oh, that look! Not thus—do not look at me thus!'" As he uttered these last words, the Indian made a sudden movement, as if to keep off some approaching object, and awoke with a start. Then, passing his hand over his moist forehead, he looked round him with a bewildered eye.
"What! again this dream, brother?" said Faringhea. "For a bold hunter of men, you have a weak head. Luckily, you have a strong heart and arm."
The other remained a moment silent, his face buried in his hands; then he replied: "It is long since I last dreamed of that traveller."
"Is he not dead?" said Faringhea, shrugging his shoulders. "Did you not yourself throw the cord around his neck?"
"Yes," replied the Indian shuddering.
"Did we not dig his grave by the side of Colonel Kennedy's? Did we not bury him with the English butcher, under the sand and the rushes?" said the negro.
"Yes, we dug his grave," said the Indian, trembling; "and yet, only a year ago, I was seated one evening at the gate of Bombay, waiting for one of our brothers—the sun was setting behind the pagoda, to the right of the little hill—the scene is all before me now—I was seated under a figtree—when I heard a slow, firm, even step, and, as I turned round my head—I saw him—coming out of the town."
"A vision," said the negro; "always the same vision!"
"A vision," added Faringhea, "or a vague resemblance."
"I knew him by the black mark on his forehead; it was none but he. I remained motionless with fear, gazing at him with eyes aghast. He stopped, bending upon me his calm, sad look. In spite of myself, I could not help exclaiming: 'It is he!'—'Yes,' he replied, in his gentle voice, 'it is I. Since all whom thou killest must needs live again,' and he pointed to heaven as he spoke, 'why shouldst thou kill?—Hear me! I have just come from Java; I am going to the other end of the world, to a country of never-melting snow; but, here or there, on plains of fire or plains of ice, I shall still be the same. Even so is it with the souls of those who fall beneath thy kalleepra; in this world or up above, in this garb or in another, the soul must still be a soul; thou canst not smite it. Why then kill?'—and shaking his head sorrowfully, he went on his way, walking slowly, with downcast eyes; he ascended the hill of the pagoda; I watched him as he went, without being able to move: at the moment the sun set, he was standing on the summit of the hill, his tall figure thrown out against the sky—and so he disappeared. Oh! it was he!" added the Indian with a shudder, after a long pause: "it was none but he."
In this story the Indian had never varied, though he had often entertained his companions with the same mysterious adventure. This persistency on his part had the effect of shaking their incredulity, or at least of inducing them to seek some natural cause for this apparently superhuman event.
"Perhaps," said Faringhea, after a moment's reflection, "the knot round the traveller's neck got jammed, and some breath was left him, the air may have penetrated the rushes with which we covered his grave, and so life have returned to him."
"No, no," said the Indian, shaking his head, "this man is not of our race."
"Now I know it!"
"What do you know?"
"Listen!" said the Indian, in a solemn voice; "the number of victims that the children of Bowanee have sacrificed since the commencement of ages, is nothing compared to the immense heap of dead and dying, whom this terrible traveller leaves behind him in his murderous march."
"He?" cried the negro and Faringhea.
"Yes, he!" repeated the Hindoo, with a convinced accent, that made its impression upon his companions. "Hear me and tremble!—When I met this traveller at the gates of Bombay, he came from Java, and was going towards the north, he said. The very next day, the town was a prey to the cholera, and we learned sometime after, that this plague had first broken out here, in Java."
"That is true," said the negro.
"Hear me still further!" resumed the other. "'I am going towards the north, to a country of eternal snow,' said the traveller to me. The cholera also went towards the north, passing through Muscat—Ispahan—Tauris—Tiflis—till it overwhelmed Siberia."
"True," said Faringhea, becoming thoughtful:
"And the cholera," resumed the Indian, "only travelled its five or six leagues a day—a man's tramp—never appeared in two places at once—but swept on slowly, steadily,—even as a man proceeds."
At the mention of this strange coincidence, the Hindoo's companions looked at each other in amazement. After a silence of some minutes, the awe-struck negro said to the last speaker: "So you think that this man—"
"I think that this man, whom we killed, restored to life by some infernal divinity, has been commissioned to bear this terrible scourge over the earth, and to scatter round his steps that death, from which he is himself secure. Remember!" added the Indian, with gloomy enthusiasm, "this awful wayfarer passed through Java—the cholera wasted Java. He passed through Bombay—the cholera wasted Bombay. He went towards the north—the cholera wasted the north."
So saying, the Indian fell into a profound reverie. The negro and Faringhea were seized with gloomy astonishment.
The Indian spoke the truth as to the mysterious march (still unexplained) of that fearful malady, which has never been known to travel more than five or six leagues a day, or to appear simultaneously in two spots. Nothing can be more curious, than to trace out, on the maps prepared at the period in question, the slow, progressive course of this travelling pestilence, which offers to the astonished eye all the capricious incidents of a tourist's journey. Passing this way rather than that—selecting provinces in a country—towns in a province—one quarter in a town—one street in a quarter—one house in a street—having its place of residence and repose, and then continuing its slow, mysterious, fear inspiring march.