SIX WEEKS had flown away, and Amine, restored to health, wandered over the country, hanging on the arm of her adored Philip, or nestled by his side in their comfortable home. Father Mathias still remained their guest; the masses for the repose of the soul of Vanderdecken had been paid for, and more money had been confided to the care of Father Seysen to relieve the sufferings of the afflicted poor. It may be easily supposed that one of the chief topics of conversation between Philip and Amine, was the decision of the two priests, relative to the conduct of Philip. He had been absolved from his oath, but, at the same time that he submitted to his clerical advisers, he was by no means satisfied. His love for Amine, her wishes for his remaining at home, certainly added weight to the fiat of Father Seysen; but, although he in consequence obeyed it more willingly, his doubts of the propriety of his conduct remained the same. The arguments of Amine, who, now that she was supported by the opinion of the priests, had become opposed to Philip’s departure; even her caresses, with which those arguments were mingled were effective but for the moment. No sooner was Philip left to himself no sooner was the question, for a time, dismissed, than he felt an inward accusation that he was neglecting a sacred duty. Amine perceived how often the cloud was upon his brow; she knew too well the cause, and constantly did she recommence her arguments and caresses, until Philip forgot that there was aught but Amine in the world.
One morning, as they were seated upon a green bank, picking the flowers that blossomed round them, and tossing them away in pure listlessness, Amine took the opportunity, that she had often waited for, to enter upon a subject hitherto unmentioned.
“Philip,” said she, “do you believe in dreams? think you that we may have supernatural communications by such means?”
“Of course we may,” replied Philip; “we have proof abundant of it in the holy writings.”
“Why, then, do you not satisfy your scruples by a dream?”
“My dearest Amine, dreams come unbidden; we cannot command or prevent them.”
“We can command them, Philip: say that you would dream upon the subject nearest to your heart, and you shall.”
“Yes! I have that power, Philip, although I have not spoken of it. I had it from my mother, with much more that of late I have never thought of. You know, Philip, I never say that which is not. I tell you, that, if you choose, you shall dream upon it.”
“And to what good, Amine? If you have power to make me dream, that power must be from somewhere.”
“It is, of course: there are agencies you little think of, which, in my country, are still called into use. I have a charm, Philip, which never fails.”
“A charm, Amine! do you, then, deal in sorcery? for such powers cannot be from Heaven.”
“I cannot tell. I only know the power is given.”
“It must be from the devil, Amine.”
“And why so, Philip? May I not use the argument of your own priests, who say, ‘that the power of the devil is only permitted to be used by Divine intelligence, and that it cannot used without that permission?’ Allow it then to be sorcery, or what you please, unless by Heaven permitted, it would fail. But I cannot see why we should suppose that it is from an evil source. We ask for a warning in a dream to guide our conduct in doubtful circumstances. Surely the evil one would rather lead us wrong than right!”
“Amine, we may be warned in a dream, as the patriarchs were of old; but to use mystic or unholy charms to procure a vision, is making a compact with the devil.”
“Which compact the evil could not fulfil if not permitted by a higher power. Philip, your reasoning is false. We are told that, by certain means, duly observed, we may procure the dreams we wish. Our observance of these means is certainly the least we can attend to, to prove our sincerity. Forgive me, Philip, but are not observances as necessary in your religion—which I have embraced? Are we not told that the omission of the mere ceremony of water to the infant will turn all future chance of happiness to misery eternal.”
Philip answered not for some time. “I am afraid, Amine,” said he, at last, in a low tone; “I—“
“I fear nothing, Philip, when my intentions are good,” replied Amine. “I follow certain means to obtain an end. What is that end? It is to find out (if possible) what may be the will of Heaven in this perplexing case. If it should be through the agency of the devil, what then? He becomes my servant, and not my master; he is permitted by Heaven to act against himself;” and Amine’s eyes darted fire, as she thus boldly expressed herself.
“Did your mother often exercise her art?” inquired Philip, after a pause.
“Not to my knowledge; but it was said that she was most expert. She died young (as you know), or I should have known much more. Think you, Philip, that this world is solely peopled by such dross as we are?—things of clay—perishable and corruptible? Lords over beasts—and ourselves but little better. Have you not, from your own sacred writings, repeated acknowledgments and proofs of higher intelligences mixing up with mankind and acting here below? Why should what was then, not be now! and what more harm is there to apply for their aid now, than a few thousand years ago? Why should you suppose that they were permitted on the earth then—and not permitted now? What has become of them? Have they perished? have they been ordered back—to where—to heaven? If to heaven—the world and mankind have been left to the mercy of the devil and his agents. Do you suppose that we, poor mortals, have been thus abandoned? I tell you plainly, I think not. We no longer have the communications with those intelligences that we once had, because, as we become more enlightened, we become more proud, and seek them not: but that they still exist—a host of good against a host of evil, invisibly opposing each other—is my conviction. But, tell me, Philip, do you in your conscience believe that all that has been revealed to you is a mere dream of the imagination?”
“I do not believe so, Amine: you know well I wish I could.”
“Then is my reasoning proved; for if such communications can be made to you, why cannot others? You cannot tell by what agency; your priests say it is that of the evil one; you think it is from on high. By the same rule who is to decide from whence the dream shall come?”
“’Tis true, Amine, but are you certain of your power?”
“Certain of this; but if it pleases superior intelligence to communicate with you, that communication may be relied upon. Either you will not dream, but pass away the hours in deep sleep, or what you dream will be connected with the question at issue.”
“Then, Amine, I have made my mind up—I will dream: for at present my mind is racked by contending and perplexing doubts. I would know whether I am right or wrong. This night your art shall be employed.”
“Not this night, nor yet to-morrow night, Philip. Think you one moment that, in proposing this, I serve you against my own wishes? I feel as if the dream will decide against me, and that you will be commanded to return to your duty; for I tell you honestly, I think not with the priests; but I am your wife, Philip, and it is my duty that you should not be deceived. Having the means, as I suppose, to decide your conduct, I offer them. Promise me that, if I do this, you will grant me a favour which I shall ask as my reward.”
“It is promised, Amine, without its being known,” replied Philip, rising from the turf; “and now let us go home.”
We observed that Philip, previous to his sailing in the Batavia, had invested a large proportion of his funds in Dutch East India stock: the interest of the money was more than sufficient for the wants of Amine, and, on his return, he found that the funds left in her charge had accumulated. After paying to Father Seysen the sums for the masses, and for the relief of the poor, there was a considerable residue, and Philip had employed this in the purchase of more shares in the India Stock.
The subject of their conversation was not renewed. Philip was rather averse to Amine practising those mystical arts, which, if known to the priests, would have obtained for her in all probability the anathema of the Church. He could not but admire the boldness and power of Amine’s reasonings, but still he was averse to reduce them into practice. The third day had passed away, and no more had been said upon the subject. Philip retired to bed, and was soon fast asleep; but Amine slept not. So soon as she was convinced that Philip would not be awakened, she slipped from the bed and dressed herself. She left the room, and in a quarter of an hour returned, bringing in her hand a small brazier of lighted charcoal, and two small pieces of parchment, rolled up and fixed by a knot to the centre of a narrow fillet. They exactly resembled the philacteries that were once worn by the Jewish nation, and were similarly applied. One of them she gently bound upon the forehead of her husband, and the other upon his left arm. She threw perfumes into the brazier, and as the form of her husband was becoming indistinct, from the smoke which filled the room, she muttered a few sentences, waved over him a small sprig of some shrub which she held in her white hand, and then closing the curtains and removing the brazier, she sat down by the side of the bed.
“If there be harm,” thought Amine, “at least the deed is not his—’tis mine; they cannot say that he has practised arts that are unlawful and forbidden by his priests. On my head be it!” And there was a contemptuous curl on Amine’s beautiful arched lip, which did not say much for her devotion to her new creed.
Morning dawned, and Philip still slumbered. “’Tis enough,” said Amine, who had been watching the rising of the sun, as she beheld his upper limb a pear above the horizon. Again she waved her arm over Philip, holding the sprig in her hand, and cried, “Philip, awake!”
Philip started up, opened his eyes, and shut them again to avoid the glare of the broad daylight, rested upon his elbow, and appeared to be collecting his thoughts.
“Where am I?” exclaimed he. “In my own bed? Yes!” He passed his hand across his forehead, and felt the scroll.
“What is this,” continued he, pulling it off and examining it. “And Amine, where is she? Good Heavens, what a dream! Another?” cried he, perceiving the scroll tied to his arm. “I see it now. Amine, this is your doing.” And Philip threw himself down, and buried his face in the pillow.
Amine, in the mean time, had slipped into bed, and had taken her place by Philip’s side. “Sleep, Philip, dear: sleep!” said she, putting her arms round him; “we will talk when we wake again.”
“Are you there, Amine?” replied Philip, confused. “I thought I was alone; I have dreamed.” And Philip again was fast asleep before he could complete his sentence. Amine, too, tired with watching, slumbered, and was happy.
Father Mathias had to wait a long while for his breakfast that morning; it was not till two hours later than usual that Philip and Amine made their appearance.
“Welcome my children,” said he; “you are late.”
“We are, Father,” replied Amine; “for Philip slept, and I watched till break of day.”
“He hath not been ill, I trust,” replied the priest.
“No not ill; but I could not sleep,” replied Amine.
“Then didst thou do well to pass the night—as I doubt not thou hast done, my child, in holy watchings.”
Philip shuddered; he knew that the watching, had its cause been known, would have been, in the priest’s opinion, anything but holy. Amine quickly replied—
“I have, indeed, communed with higher powers, as far as my poor intellect hath been able.”
“The blessing of our holy Church upon thee, my child!” said the old man, putting his hand upon her head; “and on thee, too, Philip.”
Philip, confused, sat down to the table; Amine was collected as ever. She spoke little, it is true, and appeared to commune with her own thoughts.
As soon as the repast was finished, the old priest took up his breviary, and Amine beckoning to Philip, they went out together. They walked in silence until they arrived at the green spot where Amine had first proposed to him that she should use her mystic power. She sat sown, an Philip, fully aware of her purpose, took his seat by her in silence.
“Philip,” said Amine, taking his hand, and looking earnestly in his face, “last night you dreamed.”
“I did indeed, Amine,” replied Philip, gravely.
“Tell me your dream, for it will be for me to expound it.”
“I fear it needs but little exposition, Amine. All I would know is, from what intelligence the dream has been received?”
“Tell me your dream,” replied Amine, calmly.
“I thought,” replied Philip, mournfully, “that I was sailing as captain of a vessel round the Cape; the sea was calm and the breeze light; I was abaft; the sun went down, and the stars were more than usually brilliant; the weather was warm, and I lay down on my cloak, with my face to the heavens, watching the gems twinkling in the sky and the occasionally falling meteors. I thought that I fell asleep, and awoke with a sensation as if sinking down. I looked around me; the masts; the rigging, the hull of the vessel—all had disappeared, and I was floating by myself upon a large, beautifully-shaped shell on the wide waste of waters. I was alarmed, and afraid to move, lest I should overturn my frail bark and perish. At last I perceived the fore-part of the shell pressed down, as if a weight were hanging to it; and soon afterwards, a small white hand, which grasped it. I remained motionless, and would have called out that my little bark would sink, but I could not. Gradually a figure raised itself from the waters and leaned with both arms over the fore-part of the shell, where I first had seen but the hand. It was a female, in form beautiful to excess; the skin was white as driven snow; her long loose hair covered her, and the ends floated in the water; her arms were rounded and like ivory; she said, in a soft sweet voice—
“‘Philip Vanderdecken, what do you fear? Have you not a charmed life?’
“‘I know not,’ replied I, ‘whether my life be charmed or not; but this I know, that it is in danger.’
“‘In danger!’ replied she; ‘it might have been in danger when you were trusting to the frail works of men, which the waves love to rend to fragments—your good ships, as you call them, which but float about upon sufferance; but where can be the danger when in a mermaid’s shell, which the mountain wave respects, and upon which the cresting surge dare not throw its spray? Philip Vanderdecken, you have come to seek your father!’
“‘I have,’ replied I; ‘is it not the will of Heaven?’
“‘It is your destiny—and destiny rules all above and below. Shall we seek him together? This shell is mine; you know not how to navigate it; shall I assist you?’
“‘Will it bear us both?’
“‘You will see,’ replied she, laughing, as she sank down from the fore-part of the shell, and immediately afterwards appeared at the side, which was not more than three inches above the water. To my alarm, she raised herself up, and sat upon the edge, but her weight appeared to have no effect. As soon as she was seated in this way—for her feet still remained in the water—the shell moved rapidly along, and each moment increased its speed, with no other propelling power than that of her volition.
“‘Do you fear now, Philip Vanderdecken?’
“‘No!’ replied I.
“She passed her hands across her forehead, threw aside the tresses which had partly concealed her face, and said—‘Then look at me.’
“I looked, Amine, and I beheld you!”
“Me!” observed Amine, with a smile upon her lips.
“Yes, Amine, it was you. I called you by your name, and threw my arms round you. I felt that I could remain with you, and sail about the world for ever.”
“Proceed, Philip,” said Amine, calmly.
“I thought we ran thousands and thousands of miles—we passed by beautiful islands, set like gems on the ocean-bed; at one time bounding against the rippling current, at others close to the shore—skimming on the murmuring wave which rippled on the sand, whilst the cocoa-tree on the beach waved to the cooling breeze.
“‘It is not in smooth seas that your father must be sought,’ said she; ‘we must try elsewhere.’
“By degrees the waves rose, until at last they were raging in their fury, and the shell was tossed by the tumultuous waters; but still not a drop entered, and we sailed in security over billows which would have swallowed up the proudest vessel.
“‘Do you fear now, Philip?’ said you to me.
“‘No’ replied I; ‘with you, Amine, I fear nothing.’
“‘We are now off the Cape again,’ said she; “and here you may find your father. Let us look well round us, for if we meet a ship it must be his. None but the Phantom Ship could swim in a gale like this.’
“Away we flew over the mountainous waves—skimming from crest to crest between them, our little bark sometimes wholly out of the water; now east, now west, north, south, in every quarter of the compass, changing our course each minute. We passed over hundreds of miles: at last we saw a vessel tossed by the furious gale.
“‘There,’ cried she, pointing with her finger, ‘there is your father’s vessel, Philip.’
“Rapidly did we approach—they saw us from on board, and brought the vessel to the wind. We were alongside—the gangway was clearing away—for though no boat could have boarded, our shell was safe. I looked up. I saw my father, Amine! Yes, saw him, and heard him as he gave his orders. I pulled the relic from my bosom, and held it out to him. He smiled as he stood on the gunnel, holding on by the main shrouds. I was just rising to mount on board, for they had handed to me the man-ropes, when there was a loud yell, and a man jumped from the gangway into the shell. You shrieked, slipped from the side and disappeared under the wave, and in a moment the shell, guided by the man who had taken your place, flew away from the vessel with the rapidity of thought. I felt a deadly chill pervade my frame. I turned round to look at my new companion—it was the pilot Schriften!—the one-eyed wretch who was drowned when we were wrecked in Table Bay!
“‘No! no! not yet!’ cried he.
“In an agony of despair and rage, I hurled him off his seat on the shell, and he floated on the wild waters.
“‘Philip Vanderdecken,’ said he, as he swam, ‘we shall meet again!’
“I turned away my head in disgust, when a wave filled my bark, and down it sank. I was struggling under the water sinking still deeper and deeper, but without pain, when I awoke.”
“Now, Amine,” said Philip, after a pause, “what think you I of my dream?”
“Does it not point out that I am your friend, Philip, and that the pilot Schriften is your enemy?”
“I grant it; but he is dead.”
“Is that so certain?”
“He hardly could have escaped without my knowledge.”
“That is true, but the dream would imply otherwise. Philip, it is my opinion that the only way in which this dream is to be expounded is—that you remain on shore for the present. The advice is that of the priests. In either case you require some further intimation. In your dream I was your safe guide—be guided now by me again.”
“Be it so, Amine. If your strange art be in opposition to our holy faith, you expound the dream in conformity with the advice of its ministers.”
“I do. And now, Philip, let us dismiss the subject from our thoughts. Should the time come, your Amine will not persuade you from your duty; but recollect, you have promised to grant one favour when I ask it.”
“I have: say, then, Amine what may be your wish?”
“O! nothing at present. I have no wish on earth but what is gratified. Have I not you, dear Philip?” replied Amine, fondly throwing herself on her husband’s shoulder.