The Phantom Ship
About the middle of the seventeenth century, in the outskirts of the small but fortified town of Terneuse, situated on the right bank of the Scheldt, and nearly opposite to the island of Walcheren, there was to be seen, in advance of a few other even more humble tenements, a small but neat cottage, built according to the prevailing taste of the time. The outside front had, some years back, been painted of a deep orange, the windows and shutters of a vivid green. To about three feet above the surface of the earth, it was faced alternately with blue and white tiles. A small garden, of about two rods of our measure of land, surrounded the edifice; and this little plot was flanked by a low hedge of privet, and encircled by a moat full of water, too wide to be leaped with ease. Over that part of the moat which was in front of the cottage door, was a small and narrow bridge, with ornamented iron hand-rails, for the security of the passenger. But the colours, originally so bright, with which the cottage had been decorated, had now faded; symptoms of rapid decay were evident in the window-sills, the door-jambs, and other wooden parts of the tenement, and many of the white and blue tiles had fallen down, and had not been replaced. That much care had once been bestowed upon this little tenement, was as evident as that latterly it had been equally neglected.
The inside of the cottage, both on the basement and the floor above, was divided into two larger rooms in front, and two smaller behind; the rooms in front could only be called large in comparison with the other two, as they were little more than twelve feet square, with but one window to each. The upper floor was, as usual, appropriated to the bedrooms; on the lower, the two smaller rooms were now used only as a wash-house and a lumber-room; while one of the larger was fitted up as a kitchen, and furnished with dressers, on which the metal utensils for cookery shone clean and polished as silver. The room itself was scrupulously neat; but the furniture, as well as the utensils, were scanty. The boards of the floor were of a pure white, and so clean that you might have laid anything down without fear of soiling it. A strong deal table, two wooden-seated chairs, and a small easy couch, which had been removed from one of the bedrooms upstairs, were all the movables which this room contained. The other front room had been fitted up as a parlour; but what might be the style of its furniture was now unknown, for no eye had beheld the contents of that room for nearly seventeen years, during which it had been hermetically sealed, even to the inmates of the cottage.
The kitchen, which we have described, was occupied by two persons. One was a woman, apparently about forty years of age, but worn down by pain and suffering. She had evidently once possessed much beauty: there were still the regular outlines, the noble forehead, and the large dark eye; but there was a tenuity in her features, a wasted appearance, such as to render the flesh transparent; her brow, when she mused, would sink into deep wrinkles, premature though they were; and the occasional flashing of her eyes strongly impressed you with the idea of insanity. There appeared to be some deep-seated, irremovable, hopeless cause of anguish, never for one moment permitted to be absent from her memory: a chronic oppression, fixed and graven there, only to be removed by death. She was dressed in the widow's coif of the time; but although clean and neat, her garments were faded from long wear. She was seated upon the small couch which we have mentioned, evidently brought down as a relief to her, in her declining state.
On the deal table in the centre of the room sat the other person, a stout, fair-headed, florid youth of nineteen or twenty years old. His features were handsome and bold, and his frame powerful to excess; his eye denoted courage and determination, and as he carelessly swung his legs, and whistled an air in an emphatic manner, it was impossible not to form the idea that he was a daring, adventurous, and reckless character.
"Do not go to sea, Philip; oh, promise me that, my dear, dear child," said the female, clasping her hands.
"And why not go to sea, mother?" replied Philip; "what's the use of my staying here to starve?—for, by Heaven! it's little better. I must do something for myself and for you. And what else can I do? My uncle Van Brennen has offered to take me with him, and will give me good wages. Then I shall live happily on board, and my earnings will be sufficient for your support at home."
"Philip—Philip, hear me. I shall die if you leave me. Whom have I in the world but you? O my child, as you love me, and I know you do love me, Philip, don't leave me; but if you will, at all events do not go to sea."
Philip gave no immediate reply; he whistled for a few seconds, while his mother wept.
"Is it," said he at last, "because my father was drowned at sea, that you beg so hard, mother?"
"Oh, no—no!" exclaimed the sobbing woman. "Would to God—"
"Would to God what, mother?"
"Nothing—nothing. Be merciful—be merciful, O God!" replied the mother, sliding from her seat on the couch, and kneeling by the side of it, in which attitude she remained for some time in fervent prayer.
At last she resumed her seat, and her face wore an aspect of more composure.
Philip, who, during this, had remained silent and thoughtful, again addressed his mother.
"Look ye, mother. You ask me to stay on shore with you, and starve,—rather hard conditions:—now hear what I have to say. That room opposite has been shut up ever since I can remember—why, you will never tell me; but once I heard you say, when we were without bread, and with no prospect of my uncle's return—you were then half frantic, mother, as you know you sometimes are—"
"Well, Philip, what did you hear me say?" enquired his mother with tremulous anxiety.
"You said, mother, that there was money in that room which would save us; and then you screamed and raved, and said that you preferred death. Now, mother, what is there in that chamber, and why has it been so long shut up? Either I know that, or I go to sea."
At the commencement of this address of Philip, his mother appeared to be transfixed, and motionless as a statue; gradually her lips separated, and her eyes glared; she seemed to have lost the power of reply; she put her hand to her right side, as if to compress it, then both her hands, as if to relieve herself from excruciating torture: at last she sank, with her head forward, and the blood poured out of her mouth.
Philip sprang from the table to her assistance, and prevented her from falling on the floor. He laid her on the couch, watching with alarm the continued effusion.
"Oh! mother—mother, what is this?" cried he, at last, in great distress.
For some time his mother could make him no reply; she turned further on her side, that she might not be suffocated by the discharge from the ruptured vessel, and the snow-white planks of the floor were soon crimsoned with her blood.
"Speak, dearest mother, if you can," repeated Philip, in agony; "what shall I do? what shall I give you? God Almighty! what is this?"
"Death, my child, death!" at length replied the poor woman, sinking into a state of unconsciousness.
Philip, now much alarmed, flew out of the cottage, and called the neighbours to his mother's assistance. Two or three hastened to the call; and as soon as Philip saw them occupied in restoring his mother, he ran as fast as he could to the house of a medical man, who lived about a mile off—one Mynheer Poots, a little, miserable, avaricious wretch, but known to be very skilful in his profession. Philip found Poots at home, and insisted upon his immediate attendance.
"I will come—yes, most certainly," replied Poots, who spoke the language but imperfectly; "but Mynheer Vanderdecken, who will pay me?"
"Pay you! my uncle will, directly that he comes home."
"Your uncle de Skipper Van Brennen: no, he owes me four guilders, and he has owed me for a long time. Besides, his ship may sink."
"He shall pay you the four guilders, and for this attendance also," replied Philip, in a rage; "come directly, while you are disputing my mother may be dead."
"But, Mr Philip, I cannot come, now I recollect; I have to see the child of the burgomaster at Terneuse," replied Mynheer Poots.
"Look you, Mynheer Poots," exclaimed Philip, red with passion; "you have but to