The Phantom Ship

Chapter Twenty

Frederick Marryat

WE must return to Amine, who is seated on the mossy bank where she and Philip conversed when they were interrupted by Schriften, the pilot. She is in deep thought, with her eyes cast down, as if trying to recall the past. “Alas! for my mother’s power,” exclaimed she; “but it is gone—gone for ever! This torment and suspense I cannot bear—those foolish priests too!” And Amine rose from the bank and walked towards her cottage.

Father Mathias had not returned to Lisbon. At first he had not found an opportunity, and afterwards, his debt of gratitude towards Philip induced him to remain by Amine, who appeared each day to hold more in aversion the tenets of the Christian faith. Many and many were the consultations with Father Seysen, many were the exhortations of both the good old men to Amine, who, at times, would listen without reply, and at others, argue boldly against them. It appeared to them, that she rejected their religion with an obstinacy as unpardonable as it was incomprehensible. But, to her, the case was more simple: she refused to believe, she said, that which she could not understand. She went so far as to acknowledge the beauty of the principles, the purity of the doctrine; but when the good priests would enter into the articles of their faith, Amine would either shake her head, or attempt to turn the conversation. This only increased the anxiety of the good Father Mathias to convert and save the soul of one so young and beautiful; and he now no longer thought of returning to Lisbon, but devoted his whole time to the instruction of Amine, who, wearied by his incessant importunities, almost loathed his presence.

Upon reflection, it will not appear surprising that Amine rejected a creed so dissonant to her wishes and intentions. The human mind is of that proud nature, that it requires all its humility to be called into action before it will bow, even to the Deity.

Amine knew that her mother had possessed superior knowledge, and an intimacy with unearthly intelligences. She had seen her practise her art with success, although so young at the time, that she could not now recall to mind the mystic preparations by which her mother had succeeded in her wishes; and it was now that her thoughts were wholly bent upon recovering what she had forgotten, that Father Mathias was exhorting her to a creed which positively forbade even the attempt. The peculiar and awful mission of her husband strengthened her opinion in the lawfulness of calling in the aid of supernatural agencies; and the arguments brought forward by these worthy, but not over-talented, professors of the Christian creed, had but little effect upon a mind so strong, and so decided, as that of Amine—a mind which, bent as it was upon one object, rejected with scorn tenets, in roof of which, they could offer no visible manifestation, and which would have bound her blindly to believe what appeared to her contrary to common sense. That her mother’s art could bring evidence of its truth she had already shown, and satisfied herself in the effect of the dream which she had proved upon Philip;—but what proof could they bring forward?—Records—which they would not permit her to read!

“Oh! that I had my mother’s art,” repeated Amine once more as she entered the cottage; “then would I know where I was at this moment. Oh! for the black mirror, in which I used to peer at her command, and tell her what passed in array before me. How well do I remember that time—the time of my father’s absence, when I looked into the liquid on the palm of my hand, and told her of the Bedouin camp—of the skirmish—the horse without a rider—and the turban on the sand!” And again Amine fell into deep thought. “Yes,” cried she, after a time, “thou canst assist me, mother! Give me in a dream thy knowledge; thy daughter begs it as a boon. Let me think again. The word—what was the word? what was the name of the spirit—Turshoon? Yes, methinks it was Turshoon. Mother! mother! help your daughter.”

“Dost thou call upon the Blessed Virgin, my child?” said Father Mathias, who had entered the room as she pronounced the last words. “If so, thou dost well, for she may appear to thee in thy dreams, and strengthen thee in the true faith.”

“I called upon my own mother, who is in the land of spirits, good father,” replied Amine.

“Yes; but as an infidel, not, I fear, in the land of the blessed spirits, my child.”

“She hardly will be punished for following the creed of her fathers, living where she did, where no other creed was known?” replied Amine indignantly. “If the good on earth are blessed in the next world—if she had, as you assert she had, a soul to be saved—an immortal spirit—He who made that spirit will not destroy it because she worshipped as her fathers did. Her life was good: why should she be punished for ignorance of that creed which she never had an opportunity of rejecting?”

“Who shall dispute the will of Heaven, my child? Be thankful that you are permitted to be instructed, and to be received into the bosom of the holy church.”

“I am thankful for many things, father; but I am weary, and must wish you a good night.”

Amine retired to her room—but not to sleep. Once more did she attempt the ceremonies used by her mother, changing them each time, as doubtful of her success. Again the censer was lighted—the charms essayed; again the room was filled with smoke as she threw in the various herbs which she had knowledge of, for all the papers thrown aside at her father’s death had been carefully collected, and on many were directions found as to the use of those herbs. “The word! the word! I have the first—the second word! Help me, mother!” cried Amine, as she sat by the side of the bed, in the room, which was now so full of smoke that nothing could be distinguished. “It is of no use,” thought she, at last, letting her hands fall at her side; “I have forgotten the art. Mother! mother! help me in my dreams this night.”

The smoke gradually cleared away, and, when Amine lifted up her eyes, she perceived a figure standing before her. At first she thought she had been successful in her charm; but, as the figure became more distinct, she perceived that it was Father Mathias, who was looking at her with a severe frown and contracted brow, his arms folded before him.

“Unholy child! what dost thou?”

Amine had roused the suspicions of the priests, not only by her conversation, but by several attempts which she had before made to recover her lost art; and on one occasion, in which she had defended it, both Father Mathias and Father Seysen had poured out the bitterest anathemas upon her, or any one who had resort to such practices. The smell of the fragrant herbs thrown into the censer, and the smoke, which afterwards had escaped through the door and ascended the stairs, had awakened the suspicious of Father Mathias, and he had crept up silently, and entered the room without her perceiving it. Amine at once perceived her danger. Had she been single, she would have dared the priest; but, for Philip’s sake, she determined to mislead him.

“I do no wrong, father,” replied she calmly, “but it appears to me not seemly that you should enter the chamber of a young woman during her husband’s absence. I might have been in my bed. It is a strange intrusion.”

“Thou canst not mean this, woman! My age—my profession—are a sufficient warranty,” replied Father Mathias, somewhat confused at this unexpected attack.

“Not always, father, if what I have been told of monks and priests be true,” replied Amine. “I ask again, why comest thou here into an unprotected woman’s chamber?”

“Because I felt convinced that she was practising unholy arts.”

“Unholy arts!—what mean you? Is the leech’s skill unholy? Is it unholy to administer relief to those who suffer?—to charm the fever and the ague, which rack the limbs of those who live in this unwholesome climate?”

“All charms are most unholy.”

“When I said charms, father, I meant not what you mean; I simply would have said a remedy. If a knowledge of certain powerful herbs, which, properly combined, will form a specific to ease the suffering wretch—an art well known unto my mother, and which I now would fain recall—if that knowledge, or a wish to regain that knowledge, be unholy, then are you correct.”

“I heard thee call upon thy mother for her help.”

“I did, for she well knew the ingredients; but I, I fear, have not the knowledge that she had. Is that sinful, good father?”

“’Tis, then, a remedy that you would find?” replied the priest; “I thought that thou didst practise that which is most unlawful.”

“Can the burning of a few weeds be then unlawful? What did you expect to find? Look you, father, at these ashes—they may, with oil, be rubbed into the pores and give relief—but can they do more? What do you expect from them—a ghost?—a spirit?—like the prophet raised for the King of Israel?” And Amine laughed aloud.

“I am perplexed, but not convinced,” replied the priest.

“I, too, am perplexed and not convinced,” responded Amine, scornfully. “I cannot satisfy myself that a man of your discretion could really suppose that there was mischief in burning weeds; nor am I convinced that such was the occasion of your visit at this hour of the night to a lone woman’s chamber. There may be natural charms more powerful than those you call supernatural. I pray you, father, leave this chamber. It is not seemly. Should you again presume, you leave the house. I thought better of you. In future, I will not be left at any time alone.”

This attack of Amine’s upon the reputation of the old priest was too severe. Father Mathias immediately quitted the room, saying, as he went out, “May God forgive you for your false suspicions and great injustice! I came here for the cause I have stated, and no more.”

“Yes!” soliloquised Amine, as the door closed, “I know you did; but I must rid myself of your unwelcome company. I will have no spy upon my actions—no meddler to thwart me in my will. In your zeal you have committed yourself, and I will take the advantage you have given me. Is not the privacy of a woman’s chamber to be held sacred by you sacred men! In return for assistance in distress—for food and shelter—you would become a spy. How grateful, and how worthy of the creed which you profess!” Amine opened her door as soon as she had removed the censer, and summoned one of the women of the house to stay that night in her room, stating that the priest had entered her chamber, and she did not like the intrusion.

“Holy father! is it possible?” replied the woman. Amine made no reply, but went to bed; but Father Mathias heard all that passed as he paced the room below. The next day he called upon Father Seysen, and communicated to him what had occurred and the false suspicions of Amine.

“You have acted hastily,” replied Father Seysen, “to visit a woman’s chamber at such an hour of the night.”

“I had my suspicions, good Father Seysen.”

“And she will have hers. She is young and beautiful.”

“Now, by the blessed Virgin—“

“I absolve you, good Mathias,” replied Father Seysen, “but still, if known, it would occasion much scandal to our church.”

And known it soon was; for the woman who had been summoned by Amine did not fail to mention the circumstance and Father Mathias found himself everywhere so coldly received, and, besides, so ill at ease with himself, that he very soon afterwards quitted the country, and returned to Lisbon, angry with himself for his imprudence, but still more angry with Amine for her unjust suspicions.

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