“THIS, then, is the chamber, which has so long been closed,” said Amine, on entering it the next morning long before Philip had awakened from the sound sleep produced by the watching of the night before. “Yes, indeed, it has the air of having long been closed.” Amine looked around her, and then examined the furniture. Her eyes were attracted to the birdcages: she looked into them:—“Poor little things!” continued she, “and here it was his father appeared unto his mother. Well, it may be so,—Philip saith that he hath proofs; and why should he not appear? Were Philip dead, I should rejoice to see his spirit,—at least it would be something. What am I saying—unfaithful lips, thus to betray my secret?—The table thrown over:—that looks like the work of fear; a workbox, with all its implements scattered,—only a woman’s fear: a mouse might have caused all this; and yet there is something solemn in the simple fact that, for so many years, not a living being has crossed these boards. Even that a table thus overthrown could so remain for years seems scarcely natural, and therefore has its power on the mind. I wonder not that Philip feels there is so heavy a secret belonging to this room—but it must not remain in this condition—it must be occupied at once.”
Amine, who had long been accustomed to attend upon her father, and perform the household duties, now commenced her intended labours.
Every part of the room, and every piece of furniture in it, were cleaned; even the cobwebs and dust were cleared away, and the sofa and table brought from the corner to the centre of the room; the melancholy little prisons were removed; and when Amine’s work of neatness was complete, and the sun shone brightly into the opened window, the chamber wore the appearance of cheerfulness.
Amine had the intuitive good sense to feel that strong impressions wear away when the objects connected with them are removed. She resolved, then, to make Philip more at ease; for, with all the fire and warmth of blood inherent in her race, she had taken his image to her heart, and was determined to win him. Again and again did she resume her labour, until the pictures about the room, and every other article, looked fresh and clean.
Not only the birdcages, but the workbox and all the implements, were removed; and the piece of embroidery, the taking up of which had made Philip recoil as if he had touched an adder, was put away with the rest. Philip had left the keys on the floor. Amine opened the buffets, cleaned the glazed doors, and was busy rubbing up the silver flagons, when her father came into the room.
“Mercy on me!” exclaimed Mynheer Poots; “and is all that silver?—then it must be true, and he has thousands of guilders; but where are they?”
“Never do you mind, father; yours are now safe, and for that you have to thank Philip Vanderdecken.”
“Yes, very true; but as he is to live here—does he eat much—what will he pay me? He ought to pay well, as he has so much money.”
Amine’s lips were curled with a contemptuous smile, but she made no reply.
“I wonder where he keeps his money; and he is going to sea as soon as he can get a ship? Who will have charge of his money when he goes?”
“I shall take charge of it, father,” replied Amine.
“Ah—yes—well—we will take charge of it. The ship may be lost.”
“No, we will not take charge of it, father: you will have nothing to do with it. Look after your own.”
Amine placed the silver in the buffets, locked the doors, and took the keys with her when she went out to prepare breakfast, leaving the old man gazing through the glazed doors at the precious metal within. His eyes were rivetted upon it, and he could not remove them. Every minute he muttered, “Yes, all silver.”
Philip came down stairs; and as he passed by the room, intending to go into the kitchen, he perceived Mynheer Poots at the buffet, and he walked into the room. He was surprised as well as pleased with the alteration. He felt why and by whom it was done, and he was grateful. Amine came in with the breakfast, and their eyes spoke more than their lips could have done; and Philip sat down to his meal with less of sorrow and gloom upon his brow.
“Mynheer Poots,” said Philip, as soon as he had finished, “I intend to leave you in possession of my cottage, and I trust you will find yourself comfortable. What little arrangements are necessary, I will confide to your daughter previous to my departure.”
“Then you leave us, Mr Philip, to go to sea? It must be pleasant to go and see strange countries—much better than staying at home. When do you go?”
“I shall leave this evening for Amsterdam,” replied Philip, “to make my arrangements about a ship; but I shall return, I think, before I sail.”
“Ah! you will return. Yes—you have your money and your goods to see to; you must count your money. We will take good care of it. Where is your money, Mr Vanderdecken?”
“That I will communicate to your daughter this forenoon, before I leave. In three weeks, at the furthest, you may expect me back.”
“Father,” said Amine, “you promised to go and see the child of the burgomaster; it is time you went.”
“Yes, yes—by-and-by—all in good time; but I must wait the pleasure of Mr Philip first: he has much to tell me before he goes.”
Philip could not help smiling when he remembered what had passed when he first summoned Mynheer Poots to the cottage; but the remembrance ended in sorrow and a clouded brow.
Amine, who knew what was passing in the minds of both her father and Philip, now brought her father’s hat, and led him to the door of the cottage; and Mynheer Poots, very much against his inclination—but never disputing the will of his daughter—was obliged to depart.
“So soon, Philip?” said Amine, returning to the room.
“Yes, Amine, immediately; but I trust to be back once more before I sail; if not, you must now have my instructions. Give me the keys.”
Philip opened the cupboard below the buffet, and the doors of the iron safe.
“There, Amine, is my money. We need not count it, as your father would propose. You see that I was right when I asserted that I had thousands of guilders. At present they are of no use to me, as I have to learn my profession. Should I return some day, they may help me to own a ship. I know not what my destiny may be.”
“And should you not return?” replied Amine, gravely.
“Then they are yours, as well as all that is in this cottage, and the cottage itself.”
“You have relations, have you not?”
“But one, who is rich—an uncle, who helped us but little in our distress, and who has no children. I owe him but little—and he wants nothing. There is but one being in this world who has created an interest in this heart, Amine, and it is you. I wish you to look upon me as a brother. I shall always love you as a dear sister.”
Amine made no reply. Philip took some more money out of the bag which had been opened, for the expenses of his journey, and then locking up the safe and cupboard, gave the keys to Amine. He was about to address her when there was a slight knock at the door, and in entered Father Seysen, the priest.
“Save you my son; and you, my child, whom as yet I have not seen. You are, I suppose, the daughter of Mynheer Poots?”
Amine bowed her head.
“I perceive, Philip, that the room is now opened; and I have heard of all that has passed. I would now talk with thee, Philip, and must beg this maiden to leave us for a while alone.”
Amine quitted the room; and the priest, sitting down on the couch, beckoned Philip to his side. The conversation which ensued was too long to repeat. The priest first questioned Philip relative to his secret; but on that point he could not obtain the information which he wished. Philip stated as much as he did to Amine, and no more. He also declared his intention of going to sea, and that, should he not return, he had bequeathed his property—the extent of which he did not make known—to the doctor and his daughter. The priest then made inquiries relative to Mynheer Poots, asking Philip whether he knew what his creed was, as he had never appeared at any church, and report said that he was an infidel. To this Philip, as usual, gave his frank answer, and intimated that the daughter, at least, was anxious to be enlightened, begging the priest to undertake a task to which he himself was not adequate. To this request Father Seysen, who perceived the state of Philip’s mind with regard to Amine, readily consented. After a conversation of nearly two hours, they were interrupted by the return of Mynheer Poots, who darted out of the room the instant he perceived Father Seysen. Philip called Amine, and having begged her as a favour to receive the priest’s visits, the good old man blessed them both and departed.
“You did not give him any money, Mr Philip?” said Mynheer Poots, when Father Seysen had left the room.
“I did not,” replied Philip; “I wish I had thought of it.”
“No, no—it is better not—for money is better than what he can give you; but he must not come here.”
“Why not, father,” replied Amine, “if Mr Philip wishes it? It is his own house.”
“O yes, if Mr Philip wishes it; but you know he is going away.”
“Well, and suppose he is—why should not the Father come here? He shall come here to see me.”
“See you, my child!—what can he want with you? Well, then, if he comes, I will not give him one stiver—and then he’ll soon go away.”
Philip had no opportunity of further converse with Amine; indeed he had nothing more to say. In an hour he bade her farewell in presence of her father, who would not leave them, hoping to obtain from Philip some communication about the money which he was to leave behind him.
In two days Philip arrived at Amsterdam, and having made the necessary inquiries, found that there was no chance of vessels sailing for the East Indies for some months. The Dutch East India Company had long been formed, and all private trading was at an end. The Company’s vessels left only at what was supposed to be the most favourable season for rounding the Cape of Storms, as the Cape of Good Hope was designated by the early adventurers. One of the ships which were to sail with the next fleet was the Ter Schilling, a three-masted vessel, now laid up and unrigged.
Philip found out the captain, and stated his wishes to sail with him, to learn his profession as a seaman; the captain was pleased with his appearance, and as Philip not only agreed to receive no wages during the voyage, but to pay a premium as an apprentice learning his duty, he was promised a berth on board as the second mate, to mess in the cabin; and he was told that he should be informed whenever the vessel was to sail. Philip having now done all that he could in obedience to his vow, determined to return to the cottage; and once more he was in the company of Amine.
We must now pass over two months, during which Mynheer Poots continued to labour at his vocation, and was seldom within doors, and our two young friends were left for hours together. Philip’s love for Amine was fully equal to hers for him. It was more than love,—it was a devotion on both sides, each day increasing. Who indeed could be more charming, more attractive in all ways than the high-spirited, yet tender Amine? Occasionally the brow of Philip would be clouded when he reflected upon the dark prospect before him; but Amine’s smile would chase away the gloom and as he gazed on her, all would be forgotten. Amine made no secret of her attachment; it was shown in every word, every look, and every gesture. When Philip would take her hand, or encircle her waist with his arm, or even when he pressed her coral lips, there was no pretence of coyness on her part. She was too noble, too confiding; she felt that her happiness was centred in his love, and she lived but in his presence. Two months had thus passed away, when Father Seysen, who often called, and had paid much attention to Amine’s instruction, one day came in as Amine was encircled in Philip’s arms.
“My children,” said he, “I have watched you for some time:—this is not well. Philip, if you intend marriage, as I presume you do, still it is dangerous. I must join your hands.”
Philip started up.
“Surely I am not deceived in thee, my son,” continued the priest in a severe tone.
“No, no, good Father; but I pray you leave me now: to-morrow you may come, and all will be decided. But I must talk with Amine.”
The priest quitted the room, and Amine and Philip were again alone. The colour in Amine’s cheek varied and her heart beat, for she felt how much her happiness was at stake.
“The priest is right, Amine,” said Philip sitting down by her. “This cannot last;—would that I could ever stay with you; how hard a fate is mine! You know I love the very ground you tread upon, yet I dare not ask thee to wed to misery.”
“To wed with thee would not be wedding misery, Philip,” replied Amine, with downcast eyes.
“’Twere not kindness on my part, Amine. I should indeed be selfish.”
“I will speak plainly, Philip,” replied Amine. “You say you love me,—I know not how men love,—but this I know, how I can love. I feel that to leave me now were indeed unkind and selfish on your part; for, Philip, I—I should die. You say that you must go away—that fate demands it,—and your fatal secret. Be it so;—but cannot I go with you?”
“Go with me, Amine—unto death?”
“Yes, death; for what is death but a release? I fear not death, Philip; I fear but losing thee. Nay, more; is not your life in the hands of Him who made all? then why so sure to die? You have hinted to me that you are chosen—selected for a task;—if chosen, there is less chance of death; for until the end be fulfilled, if chosen, you must live. I would I knew your secret, Philip: a woman’s wit might serve you well: and if it did not serve you, is there no comfort, no pleasure in sharing sorrow as well as joy with one you say you dote upon?”
“Amine, dearest Amine, it is my love, my ardent love alone, which makes me pause; for, O Amine, what pleasure should I feel if we were this hour united? I hardly know what to say, or what to do. I could not withhold my secret from you if you were my wife, nor will I wed you till you know it. Well, Amine, I will cast my all upon the die. You shall know this secret, learn what a doomed wretch I am, though from no fault of mine, and then you yourself shall decide. But remember my oath is registered in heaven, and I must not be dissuaded from it: keep that in mind, and hear my tale,—then if you choose to wed with one whose prospects are so bitter, be it so,—a short-lived happiness will then be mine, but for you, Amine—“
“At once the secret, Philip,” cried Amine, impatiently.
Philip then entered into a detail of what our readers are acquainted with. Amine listened in silence; not a change of feature was to be observed in her countenance during the narrative. Philip wound up with stating the oath which he had taken. “I have done,” said Philip, mournfully.
“’Tis a strange story, Philip,” replied Amine: “and now hear me;—but give me first that relic,—I wish to look upon it. And can there be such virtue—I had nigh said, such mischief—in this little thing? Strange; forgive me, Philip,—but I’ve still my doubts upon this tale of Eblis. You know I am not yet strong in the new belief which you and the good priest have lately taught me. I do not say that it cannot be true: but still, one so unsettled as I am may be allowed to waver. But, Philip, I’ll assume that all is true. Then, if it be true, without the oath you would be doing but your duty; and think not so meanly of Amine as to suppose she would restrain you from what is right. No, Philip, seek your father, and, if you can, and he requires your aid, then save him. But, Philip do you imagine that a task like this, so high, is to be accomplished at one trial? O! no; if you have been so chosen to fulfil it, you will be preserved through difficulty and danger until you have worked out your end. You will be preserved and you will again and again return;—be comforted—consoled—be cherished—and be loved by Amine as your wife. And when it pleases Him to call you from this world, your memory, if she survive you, Philip, will equally be cherished in her bosom. Philip, you have given me to decide;—dearest Philip, I am thine.”
Amine extended her arms, and Philip pressed her to his bosom. That evening Philip demanded his daughter of the father, and Mynheer Poots, as soon as Philip opened the iron safe and displayed the guilders, gave his immediate consent.
Father Seysen called the next day and received his answer—and three days afterwards, the bells of the little church of Terneuse were ringing a merry peal for the union of Amine Poots and Philip Vanderdecken.