The Phantom Ship

Chapter Five

Frederick Marryat

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 that 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 her 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.”

“There were.”

“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.”

“What 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 re-appearance.”

“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 Middleburg, 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.”

“And yours?”

“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 every one 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 own faith is true: then is it not your duty to reveal these proofs? Tell me, are you bound by any solemn obligations 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 down stairs. 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 it may be supposed, it was late that night before they had made their arrangements, and had retired to rest.

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