IT was not until late in the autumn that Philip was roused from his dream of love (for what, alas! is every enjoyment of this life but a dream?) by a summons from the captain of the vessel with whom he had engaged to sail. Strange as it may appear, from the first day which put him in possession of his Amine, Philip had no longer brooded over his future destiny; occasionally it was recalled to his memory, but immediately rejected, and, for the time, forgotten. Sufficient he thought it, to fulfil his engagement when the time should come; and though the hours flew away, and day succeeded day, week week, and month month, with the rapidity accompanying a life of quiet and unvarying bliss, Philip forgot his vow in the arms of Amine, who was careful not to revert to a topic which would cloud the brow of her adored husband. Once, indeed, or twice, had old Poots raised the question of Philip’s departure, but the indignant frown and the imperious command of Amine (who knew too well the sordid motives which actuated her father, and who, at such times, looked upon him with abhorrence) made him silent, and the old man would spend his leisure hours in walking up and down the parlour with his eyes riveted upon the buffets, where the silver tankards now beamed in all their pristine brightness.
One morning, in the month of October, there was a tapping with the knuckles at the cottage door. As this precaution implied a stranger, Amine obeyed the summons.
“I would speak with Master Philip Vanderdecken,” said the stranger, in a half-whispering sort of voice.
The party who thus addressed Amine was a little meagre personage, dressed in the garb of the Dutch seaman of the time, with a cap made of badger-skin hanging over his brow. His features were sharp and diminutive, his face of a deadly white, his lips pale, and his hair of a mixture between red and white. He had very little show of beard—indeed, it was most difficult to say what his age might be. He might have been a sickly youth early sinking into decrepitude, or an old man, hale in constitution, yet carrying no flesh. But the most important feature, and that which immediately riveted the attention of Amine, was the eye of this peculiar personage—for he had but one; the right eye-lid was closed, and the ball within had evidently wasted away; but his left eye was, for the size of his face and head, of unusual dimensions, very protuberant, clear and watery, and most unpleasant to look upon, being relieved by no fringe of eyelash either above or below it. So remarkable was the feature, that when you looked at the man, you saw his eye and looked at nothing else. It was not a man with one eye, but one eye with a man attached to it; the body was but the tower of the lighthouse, of no further value, and commanding no further attention, than does the structure which holds up the beacon to the venturous mariner; and yet, upon examination, you would have perceived that the man, although small, was neatly made; that his hands were very different in texture and colour from those of common seamen; that his features in general, although sharp, were regular; and that there was an air of superiority even in the obsequious manner of the little personage, and an indescribable something about his whole appearance which almost impressed you with awe. Amine’s dark eyes were for a moment fixed upon the visitor, and she felt a chill at her heart for which she could not account, as she requested that he would walk in.
Philip was greatly surprised at the appearance of the stranger, who, as soon as he entered the room, without saying a word sat down on the sofa by Philip in the place which Amine had just left. To Philip there was something ominous in this person taking Amine’s seat; all that had passed rushed into his recollection and he felt that there was a summons from his short existence of enjoyment and repose to a life of future activity, danger, and suffering. What peculiarly struck Philip was, that when the little man sat beside him, a sensation of sudden cold ran through his whole frame. The colour fled from Philip’s cheek, but he spoke not. For a minute or two there was a silence. The one-eyed visitor looked round him, and turning from the buffets, he fixed his eyes on the form of Amine, who stood before him; at last the silence was broken by a sort of giggle on the part of the stranger, which ended in——
“Philip Vanderdecken—he! he!—Philip Vanderdecken, you don’t know me?”
“I do not,” replied Philip, in a half angry tone.
The voice of the little man was most peculiar—it was a sort of subdued scream, the notes of which sounded in your ear long after he had ceased to speak.
“I am Schriften, one of the pilots of the Ter Schilling,” continued the man; “and I’m come—he! he!”—and he looked hard at Amine—“to take you away from love,”—and looking at the buffets—“he! he! from comfort, and from this also,” cried he, stamping his foot on the floor as he rose from the sofa—“from terra firma—he! he!—to a watery grave perhaps. Pleasant!” continued Schriften, with a giggle; and with a countenance full of meaning he fixed his one eye on Philip’s face.
Philip’s first impulse was to put his new visitor out of the door; but Amine, who read his thoughts, folded her arms as she stood before the little man, and eyed him with contempt, as she observed:—
“We all must meet our fate, good fellow; and, whether by land or sea, death will have his due. If death stare him in the face, the cheek of Philip Vanderdecken will never turn as white as yours is now.”
“Indeed!” replied Schriften, evidently annoyed at this cool determination on the part of one so young and beautiful; and then fixing his eye upon the silver shrine of the Virgin on the mantelpiece—“You are a Catholic, I perceive—he!”
“I am a Catholic,” replied Philip; “but does that concern you? When does the vessel sail?”
“In a week—he! he!—only a week for preparation—only seven days to leave all—short notice!”
“More than sufficient,” replied Philip, rising up from the sofa. “You may tell your captain that I shall not fail. Come, Amine, we must lose no time.”
“No, indeed,” replied Amine, “and our first duty is hospitality: Mynheer, may we offer you refreshment after your walk?”
“This day week,” said Schriften, addressing Philip, and without making a reply to Amine. Philip nodded his head, the little man turned on his heel and left the room, and in a short time was out of sight.
Amine sank down on the sofa. The breaking-up of her short hour of happiness had been too sudden, too abrupt, and too cruelly brought about for a fondly doting, although heroic woman. There was an evident malignity in the words and manner of the one-eyed messenger, an appearance as if he knew more than others, which awed and confused both Philip and herself. Amine wept not, but she covered her face with her hands as Philip, with no steady pace, walked up and down the small room. Again, with all the vividness of colouring, did the scenes half forgotten recur to his memory. Again did he penetrate the fatal chamber—again was it obscure. The embroidery lay at his feet, and once more he started as when the letter appeared upon the floor.
They had both awakened from a dream of present bliss, and shuddered at the awful future which presented itself. A few minutes was sufficient for Philip to resume his natural self-possession. He sat down by the side of his Amine, and clasped her in his arms. They remained silent. They knew too well each other’s thoughts; and, excruciating as was the effort, they were both summoning up their courage to bear, and steeling their hearts against, the conviction that, in this world, they must now expect to be for a time, perhaps for ever, separated.
Amine was the first to speak: removing her arms, which had been wound round her husband, she first put his hand to her heart, as if to compress its painful throbbings, and then observed—
“Surely that was no earthly messenger, Philip! Did you not feel chilled to death when he sat by you? I did as he came in.”
Philip, who had the same thought as Amine, but did not wish to alarm her, answered confusedly—
“Nay, Amine, you fancy—that is, the suddenness of his appearance and his strange conduct have made you imagine this; but I saw in him but a man who, from his peculiar deformity, has become an envious outcast of society—debarred from domestic happiness, from the smiles of the other sex; for what woman could smile upon such a creature? His bile raised at so much beauty in the arms of another, he enjoyed a malignant pleasure in giving a message which he felt would break upon those pleasures from which he is cut off. Be assured, my love, that it was nothing more.”
“And even if my conjecture were correct, what does it matter?” replied Amine. “There can be nothing more, nothing which can render your position more awful, and more desperate. As your wife, Philip, I feel less courage than I did when I gave my willing hand. I knew not then what would be the extent of my loss; but fear not, much as I feel here,” continued Amine, putting her hand to her heart—“I am prepared, and proud that he who is selected for such a task is my husband.” Amine paused. “You cannot, surely, have been mistaken, Philip?”
“No! Amine, I have not been mistaken, either in the summons, or in my own courage, or in my selection of a wife,” replied Philip, mournfully, as he embraced her. “It is the will of Heaven.”
“Then may its will be done,” replied Amine, rising from her seat. “The first pang is over. I feel better now, Philip. Your Amine knows her duty.”
Philip made no reply; when, after a few moments, Amine continued—
“But one short week, Philip—“
“I would it had been but one day,” replied he; “it would have been long enough. He has come too soon—the one-eyed monster.”
“Nay, not so, Philip. I thank him for the week—’tis but a short time to wean myself from happiness. I grant you, that were I to teaze, to vex, to unman you with my tears, my prayers, or my upbraidings (as some wives would do, Philip), one day would be more than sufficient for such a scene of weakness on my part, and misery on yours. But, no, Philip, your Amine knows her duty better. You must go like some knight of old to perilous encounter, perhaps to death; but Amine will arm you, and show her love by closing carefully each rivet to protect you in your peril, and will see you depart full of hope and confidence, anticipating your return. A week is not too long, Philip, when employed as I trust I shall employ it—a week to interchange our sentiments, to hear your voice, to listen to your words (each of which will be engraven on my heart’s memory), to ponder on them, and feed my love with them is your absence and in my solitude. No! no! Philip; I thank God that there is yet a week.”
“And so do I, then, Amine! and, after all, we knew that this must come.”
“Yes! but my love was so potent, that it banished memory.”
“And yet, during our separation, your love must feed on memory, Amine.”
Amine sighed. Here their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mynheer Poots, who, struck with the alteration in Amine’s radiant features, exclaimed, “Holy prophet! what is the matter now?”
“Nothing more than what we all knew before,” replied Philip; “I am about to leave you—the ship will sail in a week.”
“Oh! you will sail in a week?”
There was a curious expression in the face of the old man as he endeavoured to suppress, before Amine and her husband, the joy which he felt at Philip’s departure. Gradually he subdued his features into gravity, and said—
“That is very bad news, indeed.”
No answer was made by Amine or Philip, who quitted the room together.
We must pass over this week, which was occupied in preparations for Philip’s departure. We must pass over the heroism of Amine, who controlled her feelings, racked as she was with intense agony at the idea of separating from her adored husband. We cannot dwell upon the conflicting emotions in the breast of Philip, who left competence, happiness, and love, to encounter danger privation, and death. Now, at one time, he would almost resolve to remain, and then at others, as he took the relic from his bosom, and remembered his vow registered upon it, he was nearly as anxious to depart. Amine, too, as she fell asleep in her husband’s arms, would count the few hours left them; or she would shudder, as she lay awake and the wind howled, at the prospect of what Philip would have to encounter. It was a long week to both of them, and, although they thought that time flew fast, it was almost a relief when the morning came that was to separate them; for, to their feelings, which, from regard to each other, had been pent up and controlled they could then give vent; their surcharged bosoms could be relieved; certainty had driven away suspense, and hope was still left to cheer them and brighten up the dark horizon of the future.
“Philip,” said Amine, as they sat together with their hands entwined, “I shall not feel so much when you are gone. I do not forget that all this was told me before we were wed, and that for my love I took the hazard. My fond heart often tells me that you will return; but it may deceive me—return you may, but not in life. In this room I shall await you; on this removed to its former station, I shall sit; and if you cannot appear to me alive, O refuse me not, if it be possible, to appear to me when dead. I shall fear no storm, no bursting open of the window. O no! I shall hail the presence even of your spirit. Once more: let me but see you—let me be assured that you are dead—and then I shall know that I have no more to live for in this world, and shall hasten to join you in a world of bliss. Promise me, Philip.”
“I promise all you ask, provided Heaven will so permit; but, Amine,” and Philip’s lips trembled, “I cannot—merciful God! I am indeed tried. Amine, I can stay no longer.”
Amine’s dark eyes were fixed upon her husband—she could not speak—her features were convulsed—nature could no longer hold up against her excess of feeling—she fell into his arms, and lay motionless. Philip, about to impress a last kiss upon her pale lips, perceived that she had fainted.
“She feels not now,” said he, as he laid her upon the sofa; “it is better that it should be so—too soon will she awake to misery.”
Summoning to the assistance of his daughter Mynheer Poots, who was in the adjoining room, Philip caught up his hat, imprinted one more fervent kiss upon her forehead, burst from the house, and was out of sight long before Amine had recovered from her swoon.