The Phantom Ship

Chapter Twenty-eight

Frederick Marryat

WHEN Amine again came to her senses, she found herself lying on the leaves of the palmetto, in a small hut. A hideous black child sat by her, brushing off the flies. Where was she?

The raft had been tossed about for two days, during which Amine remained in a state of alternate delirium and stupor. Driven by the current and the gale, it had been thrown on shore on the eastern end of the coast of New Guinea. She had been discovered by some of the natives, who happened to be on the beach trafficking with some of the Tidore people. At first they hastened to rid her of her garments, although they perceived that she was not dead; but before they had left her as naked as themselves, a diamond of great value, which had been given to her by Philip, attracted the attention of one of the savages; failing in his attempt to pull it off, he pulled out a rusty, blunt knife, and was busily sawing at the finger, when an old woman of authority interfered and bade him desist. The Tidore people also, who were friends with the Portuguese, pointed out that to save one of that nation would insure a reward; they stated moreover, that they would, on their return, inform the people of the Factory establishment that one of their countrywomen had been thrown on shore on a raft. To this Amine owed the care and attention that was paid to her; that part of New Guinea being somewhat civilised by occasional intercourse with the Tidore people, who came there to exchange European finery and trash for the more useful productions of the island.

The Papoose woman carried Amine into her hut, and there she lay for many days, wavering between life and death, carefully attended, but requiring little except the moistening of her parched lips with water, and the brushing off of the mosquitoes and flies.

When Amine opened her eyes, the little Papoose ran out to acquaint the woman, who followed her into the hut. She was of large size, very corpulent and unwieldy, with little covering on her body; her hair, which was woolly in its texture, was partly plaited, partly frizzled, a cloth round her waist, and a piece of faded yellow silk on her shoulders, was all her dress. A few silver rings, on her fat fingers, and a necklace of mother-of-pearl, were her ornaments. Her teeth were jet black, from the use of the betel-nut, and her whole appearance was such as to excite disgust in the breast of Amine.

She addressed Amine, but her words were unintelligible: and the sufferer, exhausted with the slight effort she had made, fell back into her former position, and closed her eyes. But if the woman was disgusting, she was kind, and by her attention and care Amine was able in the course of three weeks, to crawl out of the hut and enjoy the evening breeze. The natives of the island would at times surround her, but they treated her with respect, from fear of the old woman. Their woolly hair was frizzled or plaited, sometimes powdered white with chunam. A few palmetto-leaves round the waist and descending to the knee was their only attire; rings through the nose and ears, and feathers of birds, particularly the bird of paradise, were their ornaments; but their language was wholly unintelligible. Amine felt grateful for life; she sat under the shade of the trees, and watched the swift peroquas as they skimmed the blue sea which was expanded before her; but her thoughts were elsewhere—they were on Philip.

One morning Amine came out of the hut with joy on her countenance, and took her usual seat under the trees. “Yes, mother, dearest mother, I thank thee; thou hast appeared to me; thou hast recalled to me thy arts, which I had forgotten, and had I but the means of conversing with these people, even now would I know where my Philip might be.”

For two months did Amine remain under the care of the Papoose woman. When the Tidore people returned, they had an order to bring the white woman, who had been cast on shore, to the Factory, and repay those who had taken charge of her. They made signs to Amine, who had now quite recovered her beauty, that she was to go with them. Any change was preferable to staying where she was, and Amine followed them down to a peroqua, on which she was securely fixed, and was soon darting through the water with her new companions; and, as they flew along the smooth seas, Amine thought of Philip’s dream and the mermaid’s shell.

By the evening they had arrived at the southern point of Galolo, where they landed for the night: the next day they gained the place of their destination, and Amine was led up to the Portuguese factory.

That the curiosity of those who were stationed there was roused, is not to be wondered at—the history given by the natives of Amine’s escape appeared so miraculous. From the commandant to the lowest servant, every one was waiting to receive her. The beauty of Amine, her perfect form, astonished them. The commandant addressed a long compliment to her in Portuguese, and was astonished that she did not make a suitable reply—but as Amine did not understand a word that he said, it would have been more surprising if she had.

As Amine made signs that she could not understand the language, it was presumed that she was either English or Dutch, and an interpreter was sent for. She then explained that she was the wife of a Dutch captain, whose vessel had been wrecked, and that she did not know whether the crew had been saved or not. The Portuguese were very glad to hear that a Dutch vessel had been wrecked, and very glad that so lovely a creature as Amine had been saved. She was informed by the commandant that she was welcome, and that during her stay there everything should be done to make her comfortable; that in three months they expected a vessel from the Chinese seas, proceeding to Goa, and that, if inclined, she should have a passage to Goa in that vessel, and from that city she would easily find other vessels to take her wherever she might please to go; she was then conducted to an apartment, and left with a little negress to attend upon her.

The Portuguese commandant was a small, meagre, little man dried up to a chip, from long sojourning under a tropical sun. He had very large whiskers, and a very long sword: these were the two most remarkable features in his person and dress.

His attentions could not be misinterpreted; and Amine would have laughed at him, had she not been fearful that she might be detained. In a few weeks, by due attention, she gained the Portuguese language so far as to ask for what she required; and before she quitted the island of Tidore she could converse fluently. But her anxiety to leave, and to ascertain what had become of Philip, became greater every day; and at the expiration of the three months her eyes were continually bent to seaward, to catch the first glimpse of the vessel which was expected. At last it appeared; and as Amine watched the approach of the canvas from the west, the commandant fell on his knees, and declaring his passion, requested her not to think of departure, but to unite her fate with his.

Amine was cautious in her reply, for she knew that she was in his power. “She must first receive intelligence of her husband’s death, which was not yet certain; she would proceed to Goa, and if she discovered that she was single, she would write to him.”

This answer, as it will be discovered, was the cause of great suffering to Philip. The commandant, fully assured that he could compass Philip’s death, was satisfied—declared that, as soon as he had any positive intelligence, he would bring it to Goa himself, and made a thousand protestations of truth and fidelity.

“Fool!” thought Amine, as she watched the ship, which was now close to the anchorage.

In half an hour the vessel had anchored, and the people had landed. Amine observed a priest with them as they walked up to the fort. She shuddered—she knew not why. When they arrived, she found herself in the presence of Father Mathias.

The Phantom Ship - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty-nine

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