“THUS are all our hopes wrecked,” said Philip, mournfully; “what chance have we now of escaping from this little tyrant?”
“Chances turn up,” replied Krantz; “at present, the prospect is not very cheering. Let us hope for the best. I have an idea in my head which may probably be turned to some account,” continued Krantz, “as soon as the little man’s fury is over.”
“That, much as he likes your wife, there is something which he likes quite as well—money. Now, as we know where all the treasure is concealed, I think he may be tempted to offer us our liberty, if we were to promise to put it into his possession.”
“That is not impossible. Confound that little malignant wretch Schriften; he certainly is not, as you say, of this world. He has been my persecutor through life, and appears to act from an impulse not his own.”
“Then must he be part and portion of your destiny. I’m thinking whether our noble commandant intends to leave us without anything to eat or drink.”
“I should not be surprised; that he will attempt my life I am convinced, but not that he can take it; he may, however, add to its sufferings.”
As soon as the commandant had recovered from his fury, he ordered Schriften in, to be examined more particularly; but, after every search made for him, Schriften was nowhere to be found. The sentry at the gate declared that he had not passed: and a new search was ordered, but in vain. Even the dungeons and galleries below were examined, but without success.
“Can he be locked up with the other prisoners?” thought the commandant: “impossible—but I will go and see.”
He descended and opened the door of the dungeon, looked in, and was about to return without speaking, when Krantz said, “Well, signor, this is kind treatment, after having lived so long and so amicably together; to throw us into prison merely because a fellow declares that we are not what we represented ourselves to be; perhaps you will allow us a little water to drink?”
The commandant, confused by the extraordinary disappearance of Schriften hardly knew how to reply. He at last said in a milder tone than was to be anticipated, “I will order them to bring some, signor.”
He then closed the door of the dungeon and disappeared.
“Strange,” observed Philip, “he appears more pacified already.” In a few minutes the door was again opened, and Pedro came in with a chatty of water.
“He has disappeared like magic, signors, and is nowhere to be found. We have searched everywhere, but in vain.”
“Who?—the little old seaman?”
“Yes, he whom you kicked as you were led to prison. The people all say, that it must have been a ghost. The sentry declares that he never left the fort, nor came near him; so how he has got away is a riddle, which I perceive has frightened our commandant not a little.”
Krantz gave a long whistle as he looked at Philip.
“Are you to have charge of us, Pedro?”
“I hope so.”
“Well, tell the commandant that when he is ready to listen to me, I have something of importance to communicate.”
Pedro went out.
“Now, Philip, I can frighten this little man into allowing us to go free, if you will consent to say that you are not the husband of Amine.”
“That I cannot do, Krantz. I will not utter such a falsehood.”
“I was afraid so, and yet it appears to me that we may avail ourselves of duplicity to meet cruelty and injustice. Unless you do as I propose, I hardly know how I can manage it; however, I will try what I can do.”
“I will assist you in every way, except disclaiming my wife: that I never will do.”
“Well, then, I will see if I can make up a story that will suit all parties: let me think.”
Krantz continued musing as he walked up and down, and was still occupied with his own thoughts, when the door opened, and the commandant made his appearance.
“You have something to impart to me, I understand—what is it?”
“First, sir, bring that little wretch down here and confront him with us.”
“I see no occasion for that,” replied the commandant; “what, sir, may you have to say?”
“Do you know who you have in your company when you speak to that one-eyed deformity?”
“A Dutch sailor, I presume.”
“No—a spirit—a demon—who occasioned the loss of the vessel; and who brings misfortune wherever he appears.”
“Holy Virgin! what do you tell me, signor?”
“The fact, Signor Commandant. We are obliged to you for confining us here, while he is in the fort; but beware for yourself.”
“You are laughing at me.”
“I am not; bring him down here. This noble gentleman has power over him. I wonder, indeed, at his daring to stay while he is so near; he has on his heart that which will send him trembling away. Bring him down here, and you shall at once see him vanish with curses and screams.”
“Heaven defend us!” cried the commandant, terrified.
“Send for him now, signor.”
“He is gone—vanished—not to be found!”
“I thought as much,” replied Philip, significantly.
“He is gone—vanished—you say. Then, commandant, you will probably apologise to this noble gentleman for your treatment of him, and permit us to return to our former apartments. I will there explain to you this most strange and interesting history.”
The commandant, more confused than ever, hardly knew how to act. At last he bowed to Philip, and begged that he would consider himself at liberty; “and,” continued he to Krantz, “I shall be most happy at an immediate explanation of this affair, for everything appears so contradictory.”
“And must, until it is explained. I will follow you into your own room; a courtesy you must not expect from my noble friend, who is not a little indignant at your treatment of him.”
The commandant went out, leaving the door open. Philip and Krantz followed: the former retiring to his own apartment; the latter, bending his steps after the commandant to his sitting-room. The confusion which whirled in the brain of the commandant made him appear most ridiculous. He hardly knew whether to be imperative or civil; whether he was really speaking to the first mate of the vessel, or to another party; or whether he had insulted a noble, or been cajoled by a captain of a vessel: he threw himself down on his sofa, and Krantz, taking his seat in a chair, stated as follows:—
“You have been partly deceived and partly not, commandant. When we first came here, not knowing what treatment we might receive, we concealed our rank; afterwards I made known to you the rank of my friend on shore; but did not think it worth while to say anything about his situation on board of the vessel. The fact is, as you may well suppose of a person of his dignity, he was owner of the fine ship which was lost through the intervention of that one-eyed wretch; but of that by-and-by. Now for the story. About ten years ago there was a great miser in Amsterdam; he lived in the most miserable way that a man could live in; wore nothing but rags; and having been formerly a seaman, his attire was generally of the description common to his class. He had one son, to whom he denied the necessaries of life, and whom he treated most cruelly. After vain attempts to possess a portion of his father’s wealth, the devil instigated the son to murder the old man, who was one day found dead in his bed; but as there were no marks of violence which could be sworn to, although suspicion fell upon the son, the affair was hushed up, and the young man took possession of his father’s wealth. It was fully expected that there would now be rioting and squandering on the part of the heir, as is usually the case; but, on the contrary, he never spent anything, but appeared to be as poor—even poorer—than he ever was. Instead of being gay and merry, he was, in appearance, the most miserable, downcast person in the world; and he wandered about, seeking a crust of bread wherever he could find it. Some said that he had been inoculated by his father, and was as great a miser as his father had been; others shook their heads, and said that all was not right. At last, after pining away for six or seven years, the young man died at an early age, without confession or absolution; in fact, he was found dead in his bed. Beside the bed there was a paper addressed to the authorities, in which he acknowledged that he had murdered his father for the sake of his wealth; and that when he went to take some of it for his expenses on the day afterwards, he found his father’s spirit sitting on the bags of money, and menacing him with instant death, if he touched one piece. He returned again and again, and found his father a sentinel as before. At last, he gave up attempting to obtain it: his crime made him miserable, and he continued in possession, without daring to expend one sixpence of all the money. He requested that, as his end was approaching, the money should be given to the church of his patron saint, wherever that church might be found; if there was not one, then that a church might be built and endowed. Upon investigation, it appeared that there was no such church in either Holland or the Low Countries (for you know that there are not many Catholics there); and they applied to the Catholic countries, Lisbon and Spain, but there again they were at fault; and it was discovered, that the only church dedicated to that saint was one which had been erected by a Portuguese nobleman in the city of Goa, in the East Indies. The Catholic bishop determined that the money should be sent to Goa and, in consequence it was embarked on board of my patron’s vessel, to be delivered up to the first Portuguese authorities he might fall in with.
“Well, signor, the money, for better security was put down into the captain’s cabin, which, of course, was occupied by my noble friend, and when he went to bed the first night he was surprised to perceive a little one-eyed old man sitting on the boxes.”
“Merciful Saviour!” exclaimed the commandant, “what, the very same little man who appeared here this day?”
“The very same,” replied Krantz.
The commandant crossed himself, and Krantz proceeded:—
“My noble patron was, as you may imagine, rather alarmed; but he is very courageous in disposition, and he inquired of the old man who he was, and how he had come on board.
“‘I came on board with my own money,’ replied the spectre. ‘It is all my own, and I shall keep it. The Church shall never have one stiver of it if I can help it.’
“Whereupon, my patron pulled out a famous relic, which he wears on his bosom, and held it towards him; at which the old man howled and screamed, and then most unwillingly disappeared. For two more nights the spectre was obstinate, but at the sight of the relic, he invariably went off howling, as if in great pain; every time that he went away, invariably crying out ‘Lost—lost!’—and during the remainder of the voyage he did not trouble us any more.
“We thought, when our patron told us this, that he referred to the money being lost to him, but it appears he referred to the ship; indeed it was very inconsiderate to have taken the wealth of a parricide on board; we could not expect any good fortune with such a freight, and so it proved. When the ship was lost, our patron was very anxious to save the money; it was put on the raft, and when we landed, it was taken on shore and buried, that it might be restored and given to the church to which it had been bequeathed; but the men who buried it are all dead, and there is no one but my friend here, the patron, who knows the spot.—I forgot to say that as soon as the money was landed on the island and buried, the spectre appeared as before, and seated itself over the spot where the money was interred. I think, if this had not been the case, the seamen would have taken possession of it. But, by its appearance here this day, I presume it is tired, and has deserted its charge, or else has come here that the money might be sent for, though I cannot understand why.”
“Strange—very strange! So there is a large treasure buried in the sand?”
“I should think, by the spectre’s coming here, that it has abandoned it.”
“Of course it has, or it would not be here.”
“What can you imagine to have been the cause of its coming?”
“Probably to announce its intention, and request my friend to have the treasure sent for; but you know it was interrupted.”
“Very true; but it called your friend Vanderdecken.”
“It was the name which he took on board of the ship.”
“And it was the name of the lady.”
“Very true. He fell in with her at the Cape of Good Hope, and brought her away with him.”
“Then she is his wife?”
“I must not answer that question. It is quite sufficient that he treats her as his wife.”
“Ah! indeed. But about this treasure. You say that no one knows where it is buried but the patron, as you call him?”
“Will you express my regret at what has passed, and tell him I will have the pleasure of seeing him to-morrow.”
“Certainly, signor,” replied Krantz, rising from his chair, and wishing the commandant a good evening as he retired.
“I was after one thing, and have found another. A spectre that must have been; but he must be a bold spectre that can frighten me from doubloons; besides, I can call in the priests. Now, let me see: if I let this man go on condition that he reveals the site of the treasure to the authorities—that is to me—why then I need not lose the fair young woman. If I forward this paper to her, why then I gain her; but I must first get rid of him. Of the two, I prefer—yes!—the gold! But I cannot obtain both. At all events, let me obtain the money first. I want it more than the Church does; but if I do get the money, these two men can expose me. I must get rid of them—silence them for ever—and then perhaps I may obtain the fair Amine also. Yes, their death will be necessary to secure either; that is, after I have the first in my possession. Let me think.”
For some minutes the commandant walked up and down the room, reflecting upon the best method of proceeding. “He says it was a spectre, and he has told a plausible story,” thought he; “but I don’t know—I have my doubts; they may be tricking me. Well, be it so. If the money is there, I will have it; and if not, I will have my revenge. Yes! I have it: not only must they be removed, but by degrees all the others too who assist in bringing the treasure away. Then—but—who’s there, Pedro?”
“How long have you been here?”
“But as you spoke, signor; I thought I heard you call.”
“You may go—I want nothing.”
Pedro departed; but he had been some time in the room, and had overheard the whole of the commandant’s soliloquy.