BOTH Amine and Father Mathias started, and drew back with surprise, at this unexpected meeting. Amine was the first to extend her hand; she had almost forgotten at the moment how they had parted, in the pleasure she experienced in meeting with a well-known face.
Father Mathias coldly took her hand, and laying his own upon her head, said; “May God bless thee, and forgive thee, my daughter, as I have long done.” Then the recollection of what had passed rushed into Amine’s mind, and she coloured deeply.
Had Father Mathias forgiven her? The event would show; but this is certain, he now treated her as an old friend, listened with interest to her history of the wreck, and agreed with her upon the propriety of her accompanying him to Goa.
In a few days the vessel sailed, and Amine quitted the factory and its enamoured commandant. They ran through the Archipelago in safety, and were crossing the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, without having had any interruption to fine weather.
Father Mathias had returned to Lisbon when he quitted Ternicore, and, tired of idleness, had again volunteered to proceed as a missionary to India. He had arrived at Formosa, and, shortly after his arrival, had received directions from his superior to return, on important business, to Goa; and thus it was that he fell in with Amine at Tidore.
It would be difficult to analyse the feelings of Father Mathias towards Amine—they varied so often. At one moment he would call to mind the kindness shown to him by her and Philip, the regard he had for the husband, and the many good qualities which he acknowledged that she possessed; and now he would recollect the disgrace, the unmerited disgrace, he had suffered through her means and he would then canvass whether she really did believe him an intruder in her chamber for other motives than those which actuated him or whether she had taken advantage of his indiscretion. These accounts were nearly balanced in his mind: he could have forgiven all if he had thought that Amine was a sincere convert to the Church; but his strong conviction that she was not only an unbeliever, but that she practised forbidden arts, turned the scale against her. He watched her narrowly and when in her conversation she showed any religious feeling, his heart warmed towards her: but when, on the contrary, any words escaped her lips which seemed to show that she thought lightly of his creed, then the full tide of indignation and vengeance poured into his bosom.
It was in crossing the Bay of Bengal, to pass round the southern cape of Ceylon, that they first met with bad weather; and when the storm increased, the superstitious seamen lighted candles before the small image of the saint which was shrined on deck. Amine observed it, and smiled with scorn; and as she did so, almost unwittingly, she perceived that the eye of Father Mathias was earnestly fixed upon her.
“The Papooses I have just left do no worse than worship their idols, and are termed idolaters,” muttered Amine. “What, then, are these Christians?”
“Would you not be better below?” said Father Mathias, coming over to Amine. “This is no time for women to be on deck; they would be better employed in offering up prayers for safety.”
“Nay, father, I can pray better here. I like this conflict of the elements; and as I view, I bow down in admiration of the Deity who rules the storm—who sends the winds forth in their wrath, or soothes them into peace.”
“It is well said, my child,” replied Father Mathias; “but the Almighty is not only to be worshipped in his works, but in the closet, with meditation, self-examination and faith. Hast thou followed up the precepts which thou hast been taught?—hast thou reverenced the sublime mysteries which have been unfolded to thee?”
“I have done my best, father,” replied Amine, turning away her head, and watching the rolling wave.
“Hast thou called upon the Holy Virgin, and upon the saints—those intercessors for mortals erring like thyself?”
Amine made no answer; she did not wish to irritate the priest, neither would she tell an untruth.
“Answer me, child,” continued the priest with severity.
“Father,” replied Amine, “I have appealed to God alone—the God of the Christians—the God of the whole universe!”
“Who believes not everything, believes nothing, young woman. I thought as much! I saw thee smile with scorn just now. Why didst thou smile?”
“At my own thoughts, good father.”
“Say rather at the true faith shown by others.”
Amine made no answer.
“Thou art still an unbeliever and a heretic. Beware, young woman!—beware!”
“Beware of what, good father? Why should I beware? Are there not millions in these climes more unbelieving and more heretic, perhaps, than I? How many have you converted to your faith? What trouble, what toil, what dangers have you not undergone to propagate that creed; and why do you succeed so ill? Shall I tell you, father? It is because the people have already had a creed of their own—a creed taught to them from their infancy, and acknowledged by all who live about them. Am I not in the same position? I was brought up in another creed; and can you expect that that can be dismissed, and the prejudices of early years at once eradicated? I have thought much of what you have told me—have felt that much is true—that the tenets of your creed are godlike: is not that much? and yet you are not content. You would have blind acknowledgment, blind obedience: I were then an unworthy convert. We shall soon be in port: then teach me, and convince me, if you will. I am ready to examine and confess, but on conviction only. Have patience, good father, and the time may come when I may feel what now I do not—that yon bit of painted wood is a thing to bow down to and adore.”
Notwithstanding this taunt at the close of this speech, there was so much truth in the observations of Amine, that Father Mathias felt their power. As the wife of a Catholic he had been accustomed to view Amine as one who had backslided from the Church of Rome—not as one who had been brought up in another creed. He now recalled to mind that she had never yet been received into the Church, for Father Seysen had not considered her as in a proper state to be admitted, and had deferred her baptism until he was satisfied of her full belief.
“You speak boldly; but you speak as you feel, my child,” replied Father Mathias, after a pause. “We will, when we arrive at Goa, talk over these things, and, with the blessing of God, the new faith shall be made manifest to you.”
“So be it,” replied Amine.
Little did the priest imagine that Amine’s thoughts were at that moment upon a dream she had had at New Guinea, in which her mother appeared, and revealed to her her magic arts, and that Amine was longing to arrive at Goa that she might practise them.
Every hour the gale increased, and the vessel laboured and leaked. The Portuguese sailors were frightened, and invoked their saints. Father Mathias and the other passengers gave themselves up for lost, for the pumps could not keep the vessel free; and their cheeks blanched as the waves washed furiously over the vessel: they prayed and trembled. Father Mathias gave them absolution. Some cried like children, some tore their hair, some cursed, and cursed the saints they had but the day before invoked. But Amine stood unmoved; and as she heard them curse, she smiled in scorn.
“My child,” said Father Mathias, checking his tremulous voice, that he might not appear agitated before one whom he saw so calm and unmoved amidst the roaring of the elements—“my child, let not this hour of peril pass away. Before thou art summoned, let me receive thee into the bosom of our Church—give thee pardon for thy sins, and certainty of bliss hereafter.”
“Good father, Amine is not to be frightened into belief, even if she feared the storm,” replied she; “nor will she credit your power to forgive her sins merely because she says in fear that which in her calm reason she might reject. If ever fear could have subjected me, it was when I was alone upon the raft—that was, indeed a trial of my strength of mind, the bare recollection of which is, at this moment, more dreadful than the storm now raging, and the death which may await us. There is a God on high in whose mercy I trust—in whose love I confide—to whose will I bow. Let him do his will.”
“Die not, my child, in unbelief.”
“Father,” replied Amine, pointing to the passengers and seamen, who were on the deck crying and wailing, “these are Christians—these men have been promised by you, but now, the inheritance of perfect bliss. What is their faith, that it does not give them strength to die like men? Why is it that a woman quails not, while they lie grovelling on the deck?”
“Life is sweet, my child—they leave their wives, their children, and they dread hereafter. Who is prepared to die?”
“I am,” replied Amine. “I have no husband—at least, I fear I have no husband. For me life has no sweets; yet, one little hope remains—a straw to the sinking wretch. I fear not death, for I have nought to live for. Were Philip here, why, then indeed—but he is gone before me, and now, to follow him is all I ask.”
“He died in the faith, my child—if you would meet him, do the same.”
“He never died like these,” replied Amine, looking with scorn at the passengers.
“Perhaps he lived not as they have lived,” replied Father Mathias. “A good man dies in peace, and hath no fear.”
“So die the good men of all creeds, father,” replied Amine; “and in all creeds death is equally terrible to the wicked.”
“I will pray for thee, my child,” said Father Mathias, sinking on his knees.
“Many thanks—thy prayers will be heard, even though offered for one like me,” replied Amine, who, clinging to the man-ropes, made her way up to the ladder, and gained the deck.
“Lost! signora, lost!” exclaimed the captain, wringing his hands as he crouched under the bulwark.
“No!” replied Amine, who had gained the weather side, and held on by a rope; “not lost this time.”
“How say you, signora?” replied the captain, looking with admiration at Amine’s calm and composed countenance. “How say you, signora?”
“Something tells me, good captain, that you will not be lost if you exert yourselves—something tells it to me here,” and Amine laid her hand to her heart. Amine had a conviction that the vessel would not be lost, for it had not escaped her observation that the storm was less violent, although, in their terror, this had been unnoticed by the sailors.
The coolness of Amine, her beauty, perhaps, the unusual sight of a woman so young, calm and confiding, when all others were in despair, had its due effect upon the captain and sea men. Supposing her to be a Catholic, they imagined that she had had some warrant for her assertion, for credulity and superstition are close friends. They looked upon Amine with admiration and respect, recovered their energies, and applied to their duties. The pumps were again worked; the storm abated during the night, and the vessel was, as Amine had predicted, saved.
The crew and passengers looked upon her almost as a saint, and talked of her to Father Mathias, who was sadly perplexed. The courage which she had displayed was extraordinary; even when he trembled, she showed no sign of fear. He made no reply, but communed with his own mind, and the result was unfavourable to Amine. What had given her such coolness? What had given her the spirit of prophecy? Not the God of the Christians, for she was no believer. Who then? and Father Mathias thought of her chamber at Terneuse, and shook his head.