AS every one descants upon the want of comfort in a prison, it is to be presumed that there are no very comfortable ones. Certainly that to which Philip and Krantz were ushered, had anything rather than the air of an agreeable residence. It was under the fort, with a very small aperture looking towards the sea, for light and air. It was very hot and moreover destitute of all those little conveniences which add so much to one’s happiness in modern houses and hotels. In fact, it consisted of four bare walls, and a stone floor, and that was all.
Philip, who wished to make some inquiries relative to Amine, addressed, in Portuguese, the soldier who brought them down.
“My good friend, I beg your pardon—“
“I beg yours,” replied the soldier, going out of the door, and locking them in.
Philip leant gloomily against the wall; Krantz, more mercurial, walked up and down three steps each way and turn.
“Do you know what I am thinking of?” observed Krantz, after a pause in his walk. “It is very fortunate that (lowering his voice) we have all our doubloons about us; if they don’t search us, we may yet get away by bribing.”
“And I was thinking,” rejoined Philip, “that I would sooner be here than in company with that wretch Schriften, whose sight is poison to me.”
“I did not much admire the appearance of the Commandant; but I suppose we shall know more to-morrow.”
Here they were interrupted by the turning of the key, and the entrance of a soldier with a chatty of water, and a large dish of boiled rice. He was not the man who had brought them to the dungeon, and Philip accosted him.
“You have had hard work within these last two days?”
“Yes, indeed! signor.”
“The natives forced us to join the expedition, and we escaped.”
“So I heard you say, signor.”
“They lost nearly a thousand men,” said Krantz.
“Holy St. Francis! I am glad of it.”
“They will be careful how they attack Portuguese in a hurry, I expect,” rejoined Krantz.
“I think so,” replied the soldier.
“Did you lose many men?” ventured Philip, perceiving that the man was loquacious.
“Not ten of our own people. In the factory there were about a hundred of the natives, with some women and children; but that is of no consequence.”
“You had a young European woman here, I understand,” said Philip with anxiety; “one who was wrecked in a vessel—was she among those who were lost?”
“Young woman!—Holy St. Francis. Yes, now I recollect. Why the fact is—“
“Pedro!” called a voice from above; the man stopped, put his fingers to his lips, went out, and locked the door.
“God of Heaven! give me patience,” cried Philip; “but this is too trying.”
“He will be down here again to-morrow morning,” observed Krantz.
“Yes! to-morrow morning but what an endless time will suspense make of the intervening hours.”
“I feel for you,” replied Krantz; “but what can be done? The hours must pass, though suspense draws them out into interminable years; but I hear footsteps.”
Again the door was unlocked, and the first soldier made his appearance. “Follow me—the Commandant would speak with you.”
This unexpected summons was cheerfully complied with by Philip and his companion. They walked up the narrow stone steps, and at last found themselves in a small room in presence of the Commandant, with whom our readers have been already made acquainted. He was lolling on a small sofa, his long sword lay on the table before him, and two young native women were fanning him, one at his head, and the other at his feet.
“Where did you get those dresses?” was the first interrogatory.
“The natives, when they brought us prisoners from the island on which we had saved ourselves, took away our clothes, and gave us these as a present from their king.”
“And engaged you to serve in their fleet, in the attack of this fort?”
“They forced us,” replied Krantz; “for, as there was no war between our nations, we objected to this service: notwithstanding which, they put us on board, to make the common people believe that they were assisted by Europeans.”
“How am I to know the truth of this?”
“You have our word in the first place, and our escape from them in the second.”
“You belonged to a Dutch East-Indiaman. Are you officers or common seamen?”
Krantz, who considered that they were less likely to be detained if they concealed their rank on board, gave Philip a slight touch with his finger as he replied, “We are inferior officers. I was third mate, and this man was pilot.”
“And your captain, where is he?”
“I—I cannot say whether he is alive or dead.”
“Had you no woman on board?”
“Yes! the captain had his wife.”
“What has become of her?”
“She is supposed to have perished on a portion of the raft which broke a drift.”
“Ha!” replied the Commandant, who remained silent for some time.
Philip looked at Krantz, as much as to say, “Why all this subterfuge;” but Krantz gave him a sign to leave him to speak.
“You say you don’t know whether your captain is alive or dead?”
“Now, suppose I was to give you your liberty, would you have any objection to sign a paper, stating his death, and swearing to the truth of it?”
Philip stared at the Commandant, and then at Krantz.
“I see no objection, exactly; except that if it were sent home to Holland we might get into trouble. May I ask, Signor Commandant, why you wish for such a paper?”
“No!” roared the little man, in a voice like thunder. “I will give no reason, but that I wish it; that is enough; take your choice—the dungeon, or liberty and a passage by the first vessel which calls.”
“I don’t doubt—in fact—I’m sure, he must be dead by this time,” replied Krantz, drawling out the words in a musing manner. “Commandant, will you give us till to-morrow morning to make our calculations?”
“Yes, you may go.”
“But not to the dungeon, Commandant,” replied Krantz; “we are not prisoners certainly; and, if you wish us to do you a favour, surely you will not ill-treat us?”
“By your own acknowledgment you have taken up arms against the most Christian King; however, you may remain at liberty for the night—to-morrow morning will decide whether or no you are prisoners.”
Philip and Krantz thanked the little Commandant for his kindness, and then hastened away to the ramparts. It was now dark, and the moon had not yet made her appearance. They sat there on the parapet enjoying the breeze, and feeling the delight of liberty even after their short incarceration; but, near to them, soldiers were either standing or lying, and they spoke but in whispers.
“What could he mean by requiring us to give a certificate of the captain’s death; and why did you answer as you did?”
“Philip Vanderdecken, that I have often thought of the fate of your beautiful wife, you may imagine; and when I heard that she was brought here, I then trembled for her. What must she appear, lovely as she is, when placed in comparison with the women of this country? And that little Commandant—is he not the very person who would be taken with her charms? I denied our condition, because I thought he would be more likely to allow us our liberty as humble individuals, than as captain and first-mate; particularly as he suspects that we led on the Ternate people to the attack; and when he asked for a certificate of your death, I immediately imagined that he wanted it in order to induce Amine to marry him. But where is she? is the question. If we could only find out that soldier, we might gain some information.”
“Depend upon it, she is here,” replied Philip, clenching his hands.
“I am inclined to think so,” said Krantz; “that she is alive, I feel assured.”
The conversation was continued until the moon rose, and threw her beams over the tumbling waters. Philip and Krantz turned their faces toward the sea, and leant over the battlements in silence; after some time their reveries were disturbed by a person coming up to them with a “Buenos noctes, signor.”
Krantz immediately recognised the Portuguese soldier, whose conversation with him had been interrupted.
“Good night, my friend! We thank Heaven that you have no longer to turn the key upon us.”
“Yes, I’m surprised!” replied the soldier, in a low tone.—“Our Commandant is fond of exercising his power; he rules here without appeal, that I can tell you.”
“He is not within hearing of us now,” replied Krantz. “It is a lovely spot this to live in! How long have you been in this country?”
“Now thirteen years, signor, and I’m tired of it. I have a wife and children in Oporto—that is, I had—but whether they are alive or not, who can tell?”
“Do you not expect to return and see them?”
“Return—signor! no Portuguese soldier like me ever returns. We are enlisted for five years, and we lay our bones here.”
“That is hard indeed.”
“Hard, signor,” replied the soldier in a low whisper; “it is cruel and treacherous. I have often thought of putting the muzzle of my arquebuse to my head; but while there’s life there’s hope.”
“I pity you, my good fellow,” rejoined Krantz; “look you, I have two gold pieces left—take one; you may be able to send it home to your poor wife.”
“And here is one of mine, too, my good fellow,” added Philip, putting another in his hand.
“Now may all the saints preserve you, signors,” replied the soldier, “for it is the first act of kindness shown to me for many years—not that my wife and children have much chance of ever receiving it.”
“You were speaking about a young European woman when we were in the dungeon,” observed Krantz, after a pause.
“Yes, signor, she was a very beautiful creature. Our commandant was very much in love with her.”
“Where is she now?”
“She went away to Goa, in company with a priest who knew her, Father Mathias, a good old man; he gave me absolution when he was here.”
“Father Mathias!” exclaimed Philip; but a touch from Krantz checked him.
“You say the commandant loved her?”
“Oh yes: the little man was quite mad about her; and had it not been for the arrival of Father Mathias, he would never have let her go, that I’m sure of, although she was another man’s wife.”
“Sailed for Goa, you said?”
“Yes, in a ship which called here. She must have been very glad to have got away, for our little commandant persecuted her all day long, and she evidently was grieving for her husband. Do you know, signors, if her husband is alive?”
“No, we do not; we have heard nothing of him.”
“Well, if he is, I hope he will not come here; for should the commandant have him in his power, it would go hard with him. He is a man who sticks at nothing. He is a brave little fellow, that cannot be denied; but to get possession of that lady, he would remove all obstacles at any risk—and a husband is a very serious one, signors. Well, signors,” continued the soldier, after a pause, “I had better not be seen here too long—you may command me if you want anything; recollect, my name is Pedro—good night to you, and a thousand thanks,” and the soldier walked away.
“We have made one friend, at all events,” said Krantz, “and we have gained information of no little importance.”
“Most important,” replied Philip. “Amine then has sailed for Goa with Father Mathias! I feel that she is safe, and in good hands. He is an excellent man, that Father Mathias—my mind is relieved.”
“Yes; but recollect you are in the power of your enemy. We must leave this place as quick as we can—to-morrow we must sign the paper. It is of little consequence, as we shall probably be at Goa before it arrives; and even if we are not, the news of your death would not occasion Amine to marry this withered piece of mortality.”
“That I feel assured of; but it may cause her great suffering.”
“Not worse than her present suspense, believe me, Philip; but it is useless canvassing the past—it must be done. I shall sign as Cornelius Richter, our third mate; you, as Jacob Vantreat—recollect that.”
“Agreed,” replied Philip, who then turned away, as if willing to be left to his own thoughts. Krantz perceived it, and lay down under the embrasure, and was soon fast asleep.