The Phantom Ship

Chapter Thirty-four

Frederick Marryat

IT WAS a bright morning when the Portuguese vessel on which Amine was on board entered into the bay and roadstead of Goa. Goa was then at its zenith,—a proud, luxurious, superb, wealthy city—the capital of the East—a city of palaces whose viceroy reigned supreme. As they approached the river, the two mouths of which form the island upon which Goa is built, the passengers were all on deck; and the Portuguese captain, who had often been there, pointed out to Amine the most remarkable buildings. When they had passed the forts, they entered the river, the whole line of whose banks were covered with the country seats of the nobility and hidalgos—splendid buildings embosomed in groves of orange-trees, whose perfume scented the air.

“There, signora, is the country palace of the viceroy,” said the captain, pointing to a building which covered nearly three acres of ground.

The ship sailed on until they arrived nearly abreast of the town, when Amine’s eyes were directed to the lofty spires of the churches, and other public edifices; for Amine had seen but little of cities during her life, as may be perceived when her history is recollected.

“That is the Jesuits’ church, with their establishment,” said the captain, pointing to a magnificent pile. “In the church now opening upon us lie the canonised bones of the celebrated Saint Francisco, who sacrificed his life in his zeal for the propagation of the Gospel in these countries.”

“I have heard of him from Father Mathias,” replied Amine; “but what building is that?”

“The Augustine convent; and the other, to the right, is the Dominican.”

“Splendid, indeed!” observed Amine.

“The building you see now, on the water-side, is the viceroy’s palace; that to the right again, is the convent of the barefooted Carmelites; yon lofty spire is the cathedral of St. Catherine; and that beautiful and light piece of architecture is the church of our Lady of Pity. You observe there a building with a dome, rising behind the viceroy’s palace?”

“I do,” replied Amine.

“That is the Holy Inquisition.”

Although Amine had heard Philip speak of the Inquisition, she knew little about its properties; but a sudden tremor passed through her frame as the name was mentioned, which she could not herself account for.

“Now we open upon the viceroy’s palace, and you perceive what a beautiful building it is,” continued the captain. “That large pile, a little above it, is the Custom-house, abreast of which we shall come to an anchor. I must leave you now, signora.”

A few minutes afterwards the ship anchored opposite the Custom-house. The captain and passengers went on shore with the exception of Amine, who remained in the vessel while Father Mathias went in search of an eligible place of abode.

The next morning the priest returned on board the ship, with the intelligence that he had obtained a reception for Amine in the Ursuline convent, the abbess of which establishment he was acquainted with; and before Amine went on shore, he cautioned her that the lady-abbess was a strict woman, and would be pleased if she conformed as much as possible to the rules of the convent; that this convent only received young persons of the highest and most wealthy families, and he trusted that she would be happy there. He also promised to call upon her, and talk upon those subjects so dear to his heart, and so necessary to her salvation. The earnestness and kindness with which the old man spoke melted Amine to tears; and the holy father quitted her side to go down and collect her baggage with a warmth of feeling towards her which he had seldom felt before, and with greater hopes than ever that his endeavours to convert her would not ultimately be thrown away.

“He is a good man,” thought Amine, as she descended—and Amine was right. Father Mathias was a good man; but, like all men, he was not perfect. A zealot in the cause of his religion, he would have cheerfully sacrificed his life as a martyr; but if opposed or thwarted in his views, he could then be cruel and unjust.

Father Mathias had many reasons for placing Amine in the Ursuline convent. He felt bound to offer her that protection which he had so long received under her roof; he wished her to be under the surveillance of the abbess, for he could not help imagining, although he had no proof, that she was still essaying or practising forbidden arts. He did not state this to the abbess, as he felt it would be unjust to raise suspicions; but he represented Amine as one who would do honour to their faith to which she was not yet quite converted. The very idea of effecting a conversion is to the tenants of a convent an object of surpassing interest, and the abbess was much better pleased to receive one who required her counsels and persuasions, than a really pious Christian, who would give her no trouble. Amine went on shore with Father Mathias; she refused the palanquin which had been prepared for her, and walked up to the convent. They landed between the Custom-house and the viceroy’s palace, passed through the large square behind it, and then went up the Strada Diretta, or straight street, which led up to the Church of Pity, near to which the convent is situated. This street is the finest in Goa, and is called Strada Diretta from the singular fact that almost all the streets in Goa are quadrants or segments of circles. Amine was astonished. The houses were of stone, lofty and massive; at each story was thrown out a balcony of marble, elaborately carved; and over each door were the arms of the nobility, or hidalgos, to whom the houses belonged. The square behind the palace and the wide streets were filled with living beings; elephants with gorgeous trappings; led or mounted horses in superb housings; palanquins, carried by natives in splendid liveries; running footmen; syces; every variety of nation, from the proud Portuguese to the half-covered native; Mussulmans, Arabs, Hindoos, Armenians; officers and soldiers in their uniforms, all crowded and thronged together,—all was bustle and motion. Such was the wealth, the splendour, and luxury of the proud city of Goa—the Empress of the East at the time we are now describing.

In half an hour they forced their way through the crowd, and arrived at the convent, where Amine was well received by the abbess; and, after a few minutes’ conversation, Father Mathias took his leave; upon which the abbess immediately set about her task of conversion. The first thing she did was to order some dried sweetmeats—not a bad beginning, as they were palatable; but as she happened to be very ignorant, and unaccustomed to theological disputes, her subsequent arguments did not go down as well as the fruit. After a rambling discourse of about an hour, the old lady felt tired, and felt as if she had done wonders. Amine was then introduced to the nuns, most of whom were young, and all of good family. Her dormitory was shown to her; and expressing a wish to be alone, she was followed into her chamber by only sixteen of them, which was about as many as the chamber could well hold.

We must pass over the two months during which Amine remained in the convent. Father Mathias had taken every step to ascertain if her husband had been saved upon any of the islands which were under the Portuguese dominions, but could gain no information. Amine was soon weary of the convent; she was persecuted by the harangues of the old abbess, but more disgusted at the conduct and conversation of the nuns. They all had secrets to confide to her—secrets which had been confided to the whole convent before: such secrets, such stories, so different from Amine’s chaste ideas—such impurity of thought—that Amine was disgusted at them. But how could it be otherwise? The poor creatures had been taken from the world in the full bloom of youth, under a ripening sun, and had been immured in this unnatural manner to gratify the avarice and pride of their families. Its inmates being wholly composed of the best families, the rules of this convent were not so strict as others; licences were given—greater licences were taken—and Amine, to her surprise, found that in this society, devoted to Heaven, there were exhibited more of the bad passions of human nature than she had before met with. Constantly watched, never allowed a moment to herself, her existence became unbearable; and, after three months, she requested Father Mathias would find her some other place of refuge, telling him frankly that her residence in that place was not very likely to assist her conversion to the tenets of his faith. Father Mathias fully comprehended her, but replied, “I have no means.”

“Here are means,” replied Amine, taking the diamond ring from her finger. “This is worth eight hundred ducats in our country; here, I know not how much.”

Father Mathias took the ring. “I will call upon you to-morrow morning, and let you know what I have done. I shall acquaint the lady abbess that you are going to your husband, for it would not be safe to let her suppose that you have reasons for quitting the convent. I have heard what you state mentioned before, but have treated it as scandal: but you, I know, are incapable of falsehood.”

The next day Father Mathias returned, and had an interview with the abbess, who after a time sent for Amine, and told her that it was necessary that she should leave the convent. She consoled her as well as she could at leaving such a happy place, sent for some sweetmeats to make the parting less trying, gave her a blessing, and made her over to Father Mathias; who, when they were alone, informed Amine “that he had disposed of the ring for eighteen hundred dollars, and had procured apartments for her in the house of a widow lady, with whom she was to board.”

Taking leave of the nuns, Amine quitted the convent with Father Mathias, and was soon installed in her new apartments, in a house which formed part of a spacious square called the Terra di Sabaio. After the introduction to her hostess, Father Mathias left her. Amine found her apartments fronting the square, airy and commodious. The landlady, who had escorted her to view them, not having left her, she inquired “what large church that was on the other side of the square?”

“It is the Ascension,” replied the lady; “the music is very fine there; we will go and hear it to-morrow, if you please.”

“And that massive building in face of us?”

“That is the Holy Inquisition,” said the widow, crossing herself.

Amine again started, she knew not why. “Is that your child?” said Amine, as a boy of about twelve years old entered the room.

“Yes,” replied the widow, “the only one that is left me. May God preserve him.” The boy was handsome and intelligent, and Amine, for her own reasons, did everything she could to make friends with him, and was successful.

The Phantom Ship - Contents    |     Chapter Thirty-five

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