The Phantom Ship

Chapter Fifteen

Frederick Marryat

IT WAS about three months after this conversation that Amine and Philip were again seated upon the mossy bank which we have mentioned, and which had become their favourite resort. Father Mathias had contracted a great intimacy with Father Seysen, and the two priests were almost as inseparable as were Philip and Amine. Having determined to wait a summons previous to Philip’s again entering upon his strange and fearful task; and, happy in the possession of each other, the subject was seldom revived. Philip, who had, on his return, expressed his wish to the Directors of the Company for immediate employment, and, if possible, to have the command of a vessel, had, since that period, taken no further steps, nor had had any communication with Amsterdam.

“I am fond of this bank, Philip,” said Amine; “I appear to have formed an intimacy with it. It was here, if you recollect, that we debated the subject of the lawfulness of inducing dreams; and it was here, dear Philip, that you told me your dream, and that I expounded it.”

“You did so, Amine; but if you ask the opinion of Father Seysen, you will find that he would give rather a strong decision against you—he would call it heretical and damnable.”

“Let him, if he pleases. I have no objection to tell him.”

“I pray not, Amine; let the secret remain with ourselves only.”

“Think you Father Mathias would blame me?”

“I certainly do.”

“Well, I do not; there is a kindness and liberality about the old man that I admire. I should like to argue the question with him.”

As Amine spoke, Philip felt something touch his shoulder, and a sudden chill ran through his frame. In a moment his ideas reverted to the probable cause: he turned round his head, and, to his amazement, beheld the (supposed to be drowned) mate of the Ter Schilling, the one-eyed Schriften, who stood behind him with a letter in his hand. The sudden appearance of this malignant wretch induced Philip to exclaim, “Merciful Heaven! is it possible?”

Amine, who had turned her head round at the exclamation of Philip, covered up her face, and burst into tears. It was not I fear that caused this unusual emotion on her part, but the conviction that her husband was never to be at rest but in the grave.

“Philip Vanderdecken,” said Schriften, “he! he! I’ve a letter for you—it is from the Company.”

Philip took the letter, but, previous to opening it, he fixed his eyes upon Schriften. “I thought,” said he, “that you were drowned when the ship was wrecked in False Bay. How did you escape?”

“How did I escape?” replied Schriften. “Allow me to ask, how did you escape?”

“I was thrown up by the waves,” replied Philip; “but—“

“But,” interrupted Schriften, “he! he! the waves ought not to have thrown me up.”

“And why not, pray? I did not say that.”

“No! but I presume you wish it had been so; but, on the contrary, I escaped in the same way that you did—I was thrown up by the waves—he! he! but I can’t wait here. I have done my bidding.”

“Stop,” replied Philip; “answer me one question. Do you sail in the same vessel with me this time?”

“I’d rather be excused,” replied Schriften; “I am not looking for the Phantom Ship, Mynheer Vanderdecken;” and, with this reply, the little man turned round, and went away at a rapid pace.

“Is not this a summons, Amine?” said Philip, after a pause, still holding the letter in his hand, with the seal unbroken.

“I will not deny it, dearest Philip. It is most surely so; the hateful messenger appears to have risen from the grave that he might deliver it. Forgive me, Philip; but I was taken by surprise. I will not again annoy you with a woman’s weakness.”

“My poor Amine,” replied Philip, mournfully. “Alas! why did I not perform my pilgrimage alone? It was selfish of me to link you with so much wretchedness, and join you with me in bearing the fardel of never-ending anxiety and suspense.”

“And who should bear it with you, my dearest Philip, if it is not the wife of your bosom? You little know my heart if you think I shrink from the duty. No, Philip, it is a pleasure, even in its most acute pangs; for I consider that I am, by partaking with, relieving you of a portion of your sorrow, and I am proud that I am the wife of one who has been selected to be so peculiarly tried. But, dearest, no more of this. You must read the letter.”

Philip did not answer. He broke the seal, and found that the letter intimated to him that he was appointed as first mate to the Vrow Katerina, a vessel which sailed with the next fleet; and requesting he would join as quickly as possible, as she would soon be ready to receive her cargo. The letter, which was from the secretary, further informed him that, after this voyage, he might be certain of having the command of a vessel as captain, upon conditions which would be explained when he called upon the Board.

“I thought, Philip, that you had requested the command of a vessel for this voyage,” observed Amine, mournfully.

“I did,” replied Philip; “but not having followed up my application, it appears not to have been attended to. It has been my own fault.”

“And now it is too late.”

“Yes, dearest, most assuredly so: but it matters not; I would as willingly, perhaps rather, sail this voyage as first mate.”

“Philip, I may as well speak now. That I am disappointed, I must confess; I fully expected that you would have had the command of a vessel, and you may remember that I exacted a promise from you on this very bank upon which we now sit, at the time that you told me your dream. That promise I shall still exact, and I now tell you what I had intended to ask. It was, my dear Philip, permission to sail with you. With you, I care for nothing. I can be happy under every privation or danger; but to be left alone for so long, brooding over my painful thoughts, devoured by suspense, impatient, restless, and incapable of applying to any one thing—that, dear Philip, is the height of misery, and that is what I feel when you are absent. Recollect, I have your promise, Philip. As captain, you have the means of receiving your wife on board. I am bitterly disappointed in being left this time; do, therefore, to a certain degree, console me by promising that I shall sail with you next voyage, if Heaven permit your return.”

“I promise it, Amine, since you are so earnest. I can refuse you nothing; but I have a foreboding that yours and my happiness will be wrecked for ever. I am not a visionary, but it does appear to me that, strangely mixed up as I am, at once with this world and the next, some little portion of futurity is opened to me. I have given my promise, Amine, but from it I would fain be released.”

“And if ill do come, Philip, it is our destiny. Who can avert fate?”

“Amine, we are free agents, and to a certain extent are permitted to direct our own destinies.”

“Ay, so would Father Seysen fain have made me believe; but what he said in support of his assertion was to me incomprehensible. And yet he said that it was a part of the Catholic faith. It may be so—I am unable to understand many other points. I wish your faith were made more simple. As yet the good man—for good he really is—has only led me into doubt.”

“Passing through doubt, you will arrive at conviction, Amine.”

“Perhaps so,” replied Amine; “but it appears to me that I am as yet but on the outset of my journey. But come, Philip; let us return. You must to Amsterdam, and I will go with you. After your labours of the day, at least until you sail, your Amine’s smiles must still enliven you. Is it not so?”

“Yes, dearest, I would have proposed it. I wonder much how Schriften could come here. I did not see his body it is certain, but his escape is to me miraculous. Why did he not appear when saved? where could he have been? What think you, Amine?”

“What I have long thought, Philip. He is a Ghoul with evil eye, permitted for some cause to walk the earth in human form; and is certainly, in some way, connected with your strange destiny. If it requires anything to convince me of the truth of all that has passed, it is his appearance—the wretched Afrit! Oh, that I had my mother’s powers!—but I forget, it displeases you, Philip, that I ever talk of such things, and I am silent.”

Philip replied not; and, absorbed in their own meditations, they walked back in silence to the cottage. Although Philip had made up his own mind, he immediately sent the Portuguese priest to summon Father Seysen, that he might communicate with them and take their opinion as to the summons he had received. Having entered into a fresh detail of the supposed death of Schriften, and his reappearance as a messenger, he then left the two priests to consult together, and went upstairs to Amine. It was more than two hours before Philip was called down, and Father Seysen appeared to be in a state of great perplexity.

“My son,” said he, “we are much perplexed. We had hoped that our ideas upon this strange communication were correct, and that, allowing all that you have obtained from your mother and have seen yourself to have been no deception, still that it was the work of the evil one, and, if so, our prayers and masses would have destroyed this power. We advised you to wait another summons, and you have received it. The letter itself is of course nothing, but the reappearance of the bearer of the letter is the question to be considered. Tell me, Philip, what is your opinion on this point? It is possible he might have been saved—why not as well as yourself?”

“I acknowledge the possibility, Father,” replied Philip; “he may have been cast on shore and have wandered in another direction. It is possible, although anything but probable; but since you ask me my opinion, I must say candidly that I consider he is no earthly messenger—nay, I am sure of it. That he is mysteriously connected with my destiny is certain. But who he is, and what he is, of course I cannot tell.”

“Then, my son, we have come to the determination, in this instance not to advise. You must act now upon your own responsibility and your own judgment. In what way soever you may decide, we shall not blame you. Our prayers shall be, that Heaven may still have you in its holy keeping.”

“My decision, holy Father is to obey the summons.”

“Be it so, my son; something may occur which may assist to work out the mystery,—a mystery which I acknowledge to be beyond my comprehension, and of too painful a nature for me to dwell upon.”

Philip said no more, for he perceived that the priest was not at all inclined to converse. Father Mathias took this opportunity of thanking Philip for his hospitality and kindness, and stated his intention of returning to Lisbon by the first opportunity that might offer.

In a few days Amine and Philip took leave of the priests and quitted for Amsterdam—Father Seysen taking charge of the cottage until Amine’s return. On his arrival, Philip called upon, the Directors of the Company, who promised him a ship on his return from the voyage he was about to enter upon, making a condition that he should become part owner of the vessel. To this Philip consented, and then went down to visit the Vrow Katerina, the ship to which he had been appointed as first mate. She was still unrigged, and the fleet was not expected to sail for two months. Only part of the crew were on board, and the captain, who lived in Dort, had not yet arrived.

So far as Philip could judge, the Vrow Katerina was a very inferior vessel; she was larger than many of the others, but old, and badly constructed; nevertheless, as she had been several voyages to the Indies, and had returned in safety, it was to be presumed that she could not have been taken up by the Company if they had not been satisfied as to her seaworthiness. Having given a few directions to the men who were on board, Philip returned to the hostelrie where he had secured apartments for himself and Amine.

The next day, as Philip was superintending the fitting of the rigging, the captain of the Vrow Katerina arrived, and stepping on board of her by the plank which communicated with the quay, the first thing that he did was to run to the mainmast and embrace it with both arms, although there was no small portion of tallow on it to smear the cloth of his coat. “Oh! my dear Vrow, my Katerina!” cried he, as if he were speaking to a female. “How do you do? I’m glad to see you again—you have been quite well, I hope? You do not like being laid up in this way. Never mind, my dear creature! you shall soon be handsome again.”

The name of this personage who thus made love to his vessel was Wilhelm Barentz. He was a young man, apparently not thirty years of age, of diminutive stature and delicate proportions. His face was handsome, but womanish. His movements were rapid and restless, and there was that appearance in his eye which would have warranted the supposition that he was a little flighty, even if his conduct had not fully proved the fact.

No sooner were the ecstasies of the captain over, than Philip introduced himself to him, and informed him of his appointment. “Oh! you are the first mate of the Vrow Katerina Sir, you are a very fortunate man. Next to being captain of her, first mate is the most enviable situation in the world.”

“Certainly not on account of her beauty,” observed Philip; “she may have many other good qualities.”

“Not on account of her beauty! Why, sir, I say (as my father has said before me, and it was his Vrow before it was mine) that she is the handsomest vessel in the world. At present you cannot judge; and besides being the handsomest vessel, she has every good quality under the sun.”

“I am glad to hear it, sir,” replied Philip; “it proves that one should never judge by appearances. But is she not very old?”

“Old! not more than twenty-eight years—just in her prime. Stop, my dear sir, till you see her dancing on the waters, and then you will do nothing all day but discourse with me upon her excellence, and I have no doubt that we shall have a very happy time together.”

“Provided the subject be not exhausted,” replied Philip.

“That it never will be on my part: and allow me to observe, Mr Vanderdecken, that any officer who finds fault with the Vrow Katerina quarrels with me. I am her knight, and I have already fought three men in her defence,—I trust I shall not have to fight a fourth.”

Philip smiled: he thought that she was not worth fighting for; but he acted upon the suggestion, and, from that time forward, he never ventured to express an opinion against the beautiful Vrow Katerina.

The crew were soon complete, the vessel rigged, her sails bent, and she was anchored in the stream, surrounded by the other ships composing the fleet about to be despatched. The cargo was then received on board, and, as soon as her hold was full, there came, to Philip’s great vexation, an order to receive on board 150 soldiers and other passengers, many of whom were accompanied by their wives and families. Philip worked hard, for the captain did nothing but praise the vessel, and at last they had embarked everything, and the fleet was ready to sail.

It was now time to part with Amine, who had remained at the hostelrie, and to whom Philip had dedicated every spare moment that he could obtain. The fleet was expected to sail in two days, and it was decided that on the morrow they should part. Amine was cool and collected. She felt convinced that she should see her husband again, and with that feeling she embraced him as they separated on the beach, and he stepped into the boat in which he was to be pulled on board.

“Yes,” thought Amine, as she watched the form of her husband, as the distance between them increased—“yes, I know that we shall meet again. It is not this voyage which is to be fatal to you or me; but I have a dark foreboding that the next, in which I shall join you, will separate us for ever—in which way I know not—but it is destined. The priests talk of free will. Is it free-will which takes him away from me? Would he not rather remain on shore with me? Yes. But he is not permitted, for he must fulfil his destiny. Free-will? Why, if it were not destiny it were tyranny. I feel, and have felt, as if these priests are my enemies; but why I know not: they are both good men, and the creed they teach is good. Goodwill and charity love to all, forgiveness of injuries, not judging others. All this is good; and yet my heart whispers to me that—but the boat is alongside, and Philip is climbing up the vessel. Farewell, farewell, my dearest husband. I would I were a man! No, no! ’tis better as it is.”

Amine watched till she could no longer perceive Philip, and then walked slowly to the hostelrie. The next day, when she arose, she found that the fleet had sailed at daylight, and the channel, which had been so crowded with vessels, was now untenanted.

“He is gone,” muttered Amine; “now, for many months of patient, calm enduring,—I cannot say of living, for I exist but in his presence.”

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