Mathias Sandorf/Page 21
THE DOCTOR DELAYS.
During these events which concerned Pierre so intimately he grew better from day to day. Soon there was no reason for anxiety about his wound. It had almost completely healed. But great were Pierre's sufferings as he thought of his mother and of Sava—whom he believed to be lost to him.
His mother? She could not be left under the supposition of her son's fictitious death. It had been agreed that she should be cautiously informed of the real state of things and brought to Antekirtta. One of the doctor's agents at Ragusa had orders not to lose sight of her until Pierre was completely restored to health and that would be very soon.
As far as Sava was concerned, Pierre was doomed never to speak of her to Dr. Antekirtt. But although he thought she was now Sarcany's wife, how could he forget her? Had he ceased to love her because she was the daughter of Silas Toronthal? No! After all, was Sava responsible for her father's crime? But it was that crime that brought Stephen Bathory to his death! Hence a continual struggle within him, of which Pierre alone could tell the innumerable vicissitudes.
The doctor felt this. And to give the young thoughts another direction, he constantly spoke to him of the act of justice they were to work out together. The traitors must be punished, and they should be. How they were to reach them they did not yet know, but they would reach them.
“A thousand roads, one end!” said the doctor.
And if need be he would follow the thousand roads to reach that end.
During the last days of his convalescence Pierre went about the island, sometimes on foot, sometimes in a carriage. And he was astonished at what the little colony had become under the administration of Dr. Antekirtt.
Work was going on at the fortifications destined to protect the town, the harbor, and in short the whole island from attack. When the works were finished they were to be armed with long-range guns, which from their position would cross their fires and thus render the approach of an enemy's ship impossible.
Electricity was to play an important part in the defensive system, not only in firing the torpedoes with which the channel was armed, but even in discharging the guns in the batteries. The doctor had learned how to obtain the most marvelous results from this agent to which the future belongs. The central station, provided with steam motors and boilers, contained twenty dynamo machines on a new and greatly improved system, and there the currents were produced which special accumulators of extraordinary intensity stored up in convenient form for the general use of Antekirtta—the water supply, the lighting of the town, telegraphs, telephones, and the circular and other railways on the island. In a word, the doctor had applied the studies of his youth to practical purposes, and realized one of the desiderata of modern science—the transmission of power to a distance by electric agency. Having succeeded in this he had had vessels built as we have seen, and the “Electrics” with their excessive speed enabled him to move with the rapidity of an express from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. As coal was indispensable for the steam engines which were required to produce the electricity, there was always a considerable stock in store at Antekirtta, and this stock was continually renewed by a ship that traded backward and forward to Wales.
The harbor from which the little town rose in the form of an amphitheater was a natural one, and had been greatly improved. Two jetties, a mole, and a breakwater made it safe in all weathers. And there was always a good depth of water, even alongside the wharves, so that at all times the flotilla of Antekirtta was in perfect security. This flotilla comprised the schooner “Savarena,” the steam collier working to Swansea and Cardiff, a steam yacht of between seven and eight hundred tons named the “Ferrato,” and three “Electrics,” of which two were fitted as torpedo boats which could usefully contribute to the defense of the island.
Under the doctor's direction Antekirtta saw its means of resistance improve from day to day, and of this the pirates of Tripoli were well aware. Great was their desire to capture it, for its possession would be of great advantage to the grand master of Senousism, Sidi Mohammed El Mahdi. But knowing the difficulties of the undertaking, they waited their opportunity with that patience which is one of the chief characteristics of the Arab. The doctor knew all this, and actively pushed on his defensive works. To reduce them when they were finished the most modern engines of destruction would be required, and these the Senousists did not yet possess. All the inhabitants of the island between eighteen and forty were formed into companies of militia, provided with the newest arms of precision, drilled in artillery maneuvers, and commanded by officers of their own élection, and this militia made up a force of five to six hundred trustworthy men.
Although there were a few farms in the country, by far the greater number of colonists lived in the town which had received the Transylvanian name of Artenak in remembrance of the Count Sandorf's estate on the Carpathian slopes. A picturesque place was Artenak with its few hundred houses. Instead of being built like a chessboard in the American style, with roads and avenues running at right angles, it was arranged irregularly. The houses clustered on the smaller hills shaded with orange-trees and standing amid beautiful gardens, some of European, some of Arab design, and past them flowed the pleasant, cooling streams from the water-works. It was a city in which the inhabitants were members of the same family, and could live their lives in common without forfeiting the quiet and independence of home. Happy were the people of Antekirtta. “Ubi bene, ibi patria,” is perhaps not a very patriotic motto, but it was appropriate enough for those who had gathered at the doctor's invitation and left their old country, in which they had been miserable, to find happiness and comfort in this hospitable island.
Doctor Antekirtt lived in what was known as the Stadthaus—not as their master, but as the first among them. This was one of those beautiful Moorish dwellings with miradores and moucharabys, interior court, galleries, porticoes, fountains, saloons and rooms decorated by clever ornamentists from the Arabic provinces. In its construction the most precious materials had been employed—marble and onyx from the rich mountain of Filfila on the Numidian Gulf, a few miles from Philippeville—worked and introduced with as much knowlege as taste. carbonates lend themselves marvelously to an architect's fancies, and under the powerful climate of Africa soon clothe themselves with that golden tone that the sun bestows on the buildings of the East. At the back of the city rose the tower of the small church built of the black and white marble from the same quarry, which served indeed for all the requirements of architecture and statuary, and which with its blue and yellow veins was curiously similar to the ancient products of Paros and Carrara.
Outside the town on the neighboring hills were a few houses, a villa or two, a small hospital at the highest point, where the doctor intended to send his patients—when he had them. On the hill-sides, sloping to the sea there were groups of houses forming a bathing station. Among the other houses one of the most comfortable—a low block-house-looking building near the entrance on to the mole—was called “Villa Pescade and Matifou,” and there the two inseparables had taken up their quarters with a servant of their own. Never had they dreamed of such affluence!
“This is good!” remarked Cape Matifou over and over again.
“Too good!” answered Point Pescade. “It is much too good for us! Look here, Cape Matifou, we must educate ourselves, go to college, get the grammar prize, obtain our certificates of proficiency.”
“But you are educated, Point Pescade.” replied the Hercules. “You know how to read, to write, to cipher—”
In fact, by the side of his comrade Point Pescade would have passed for a man of science! But he knew well enough how deficient he was. All the schooling he had had was at the “Lycée des Carpes de Fontainebleau,” as he called it. And so he was an assiduous student in the library of Artenak, and in his attempt to educate himself he read and worked, while Cape Matifou, with the doctor's permission, cleared away the sand and rocks on the shore, so as to form a small fishing harbor.
Pierre gave Pescade every encouragement, for he had recognized his more than ordinary intelligence which only required cultivation. He constituted himself his professor, and directed his studies so as to give him very complete elementary instruction, and his pupil made rapid progress. There were other reasons why Pierre should interest himself in Point Pescade. Was he not acquainted with his past life? Had he not been intrusted with the task of watching Toronthal's house? Had he not been in the Stradone during the procession when Sava had swooned? More than once Point Pescade had had to tell the story of the sad events in which he had indirectly taken part. It was to him alone that Pierre could talk when his heart was too full for him to be silent. But the time was approaching when the doctor could put his double plan into execution—first to reward, then to punish.
That which he could not do for Andrea Ferrato, who had died a few months after his sentence, he wished to do for his children. Unfortunately his agents had as yet been unable to discover what had become of them. After their father's death Luigi and his sister had left Rovigno and Istria, but where had they gone? No one knew, no one could say. The doctor was much concerned at this, but he did not give up the hope of finding the children of the man who had sacrificed himself for him, and by his orders the search was continued.
Pierre's wish was that his mother should be brought to Antekirtta; but the doctor, thinking of taking advantage of Pierre's pretended death, as he had of his own, made him understand the necessity of preceeding with extreme prudence. Besides, he wished to wait till the convalescent had regained sufficient strength to accompany him in his campaign; and as he knew that Sava's marriage had been postponed by the death of Mme. Toronthal, he had decided to do nothing until the wedding had taken place.
One of his agents at Ragusa kept him informed of all that took place, and watched Mme. Bathory's house with as much care as he did Toronthal's. Such was the state of affairs, and the doctor waited with impatience for the delay as to the wedding to come to an end. If he did not know what had become of Carpena, whose track he had lost after his departure from Rovigno, Toronthal and Sarcany at Ragusa could not escape him. Suddenly, on the 20th of August, there arrived a telegram informing him of the disappearance of Silas Toronthal, Sava, and Sarcany, and also of Mme. Bathory and Borik, who had just left Ragusa without giving any clew to their destination.
The doctor could delay no longer. He told Pierre what had happened, and hid nothing from him. Another terrible blow for him! His mother disappeared, Sava dragged off they knew not where by Silas Toronthal, and, there was no doubt, still in Sarcany's hands.
“We shall start to-morrow,” said the doctor.
“To-day!” exclaimed Pierre. “But where shall we look for my mother? Where shall we look for—”
He did not finish the sentence. The doctor interrupted him—
“I do not know if it is only a coincidence. Perhaps Toronthal and Sarcany have something to do with Madame Bathory's disappearance. We shall see. But we must be after the two scoundrels first.”
“Where shall we find them?”
It will be remembered that in the conversation between Sarcany and Zirone which the doctor overheard in the donjon of Pisino, Zirone had spoken of Sicily as the usual scene of his exploits, and proposed that his companion should join him there if circumstances required it. The doctor had not forgotten this, nor had he forgotten the name of Zirone. It was a feeble clew, perhaps, but in default of any other it might set them again on the trail of Sarcany and Toronthal.
The start was immediately decided on. Point Pescade and Cape Matifou were informed that they would be wanted to go to the doctor. Point Pescade at the same time was told who Toronthal, Sarcany and Carpena were,
“Three scoundrels!” he said. “And no mistake!”
Then he told Cape Matifou—
“You will come on the scene soon.”
“Yes, but you must wait for the cue.”
They started that evening. The “Ferrato,” always ready for sea, with provisions on board, bunkers coaled and compasses regulated, was ordered to sail at eight o'clock.
It is nine hundred and fifty miles from the Syrtis Major to the south of Sicily, near Porto di Palo. The swift steam yacht, whose mean speed exceeded eighteen knots, would take about a day and a half to accomplish the distance. She was a wonderful vessel. She had been built at one of the best yards on the Loire. Her engines could develop nearly fifteen hundred horse power effective. Her boilers were on the Belleville system—in which the tubes contain the flame and not the water—and possessed the advantage of consuming little coal, producing rapid vaporization, and easily raising the tension of the steam to nearly thirty pounds without danger of explosion. The steam, used over again by the reheaters, became a mechanical agent of prodigious power, and enabled the yacht, although she was not as long as the dispatch boats of the European squadrons, to more than equal them in speed.
It need scarcely be said said that the “Ferrato” was fitted so as to insure every possible comfort to her passengers. She carried four steel breech-loaders, mounted on the barbette principle, two revolving Hotchkiss guns, two Gatlings, and, in the bow, a long chaser which could send a five-inch conical shot a distance of four miles.
The captain was a Dalmatian named Kostrik, and he had under him a mate and second and third officers. For the machinery there were a chief engineer, a second engineer, and six firemen; the crew consisted of thirty men, with a boatswain and two quartermasters, and there was a steward, a cook, and three native servants. During the first hour or two the passage out of the gulf was made under favorable conditions. Although the wind was contrary—a brisk breeze from the north-west—the captain took the “Ferrato” along with remarkable speed; but he did not set either of the head sails or the square sails on the foremast, or the lateens on the main and mizzen.
During the night the doctor and Pierre in their rooms aft, and Point Pescade and Matifou in their cabins forward, could sleep without being inconvenienced by the movement of the vessel, which rolled a little like all fast boats. But although sleep did not fail the two friends, the doctor and Pierre bad too much anxiety to take any rest. In the morning when the passengers went on deck, more than 120 miles bad been run in the twelve hours since they had left Antekirtta. The wind was in the same direction, with a tendency to freshen. The sun had risen on a stormy horizon, and everything betokened a roughish day.
Point Pescade and Cape Matifou wished the doctor and Pierre good-morning.
“Thank you, my friends,” said the doctor. “Did you sleep well in your bunks?”
“Like dormice with an easy conscience!” answered Point Pescade.
“And has Cape Matifou had his first breakfast?”
“Yes, doctor, a tureen of black coffee and four pounds of sea biscuit.”
“Hum! A little hard, that biscuit!”
“Bah! For a man that used to chew pebbles between his meals!”
Cape Matifou slowly nodded his huge head in sign of approval of his friend's replies.
The “Ferrato” by the doctor's orders was now driving along at her utmost speed and sending off from her prow two long paths of foam. To hurry on was only prudent Already Captain Kostrick, after consulting the doctor, had begun to think of putting for shelter into Malta, whose lights were sighted about eight o'clock in the evening. The state of the weather was most threatening. Notwithstanding the westerly breeze, which freshened as the sun went down, the clouds mounted higher and higher, and gradually overspread three quarters of the sky. Along the sea-line was a band of livid gray, deepening in its density and becoming black as ink, when the sun's rays shot from behind its jagged edges. Now and then the silent flashes tore asunder the cloud bank, whose upper edge rounded off into heavy volutes and joined on to the masses above. At the same time, as if they were struggling with the wind from the west and the wind from the east that they had not yet felt, but, whose existence was shown by the disturbed state of the sea, the waves increased as they met, and, breaking up confusedly, began to come rolling on to the deck. About six o'clock the darkness had completely covered the cloudy vault, and the thunder growled, and the lightning vividly flashed in the gloom.
“Better keep outside!” said the doctor to the captain.
“Yes,” answered Captain Kostrik. “In the Mediterranean it is either one thing or the other. East and west strive which shall have us, and the storm coming in to help, I am afraid the first will get the worst of it. The sea will become very rough off Gozo or Malta, and it may hinder us a good deal. I don't propose to run into Valette, but to find a shelter till daylight under the western coast of either of the islands.”
“Do as you think best,” was the reply.
The yacht was then about thirty miles to the westward of Malta. On the island of Gozo, a little to the north-west of Malta and separated from it only by two narrow channels formed by a central islet, there is a large light-house with a range of twenty-seven miles.
In less than an hour, notwithstanding the roughness of the sea, the “Ferrato” was within range of the light. After carefully taking its bearings and running toward the land for some time the captain considered he was sufficiently near to remain in shelter a few hours. He therefore reduced his speed so as to avoid all chance of accident to the hull or machinery. About half an hour afterward, however, the Gozo light suddenly vanished.
The storm was then at its height. A warm rain fell in sheets. The mass of cloud on the horizon, now driven into ribbons by the wind, flew overhead at a terrible pace. Between the rifts the stars peeped forth for a second or two, and then as suddenly disappeared, and the ends of the tatters dragging in the sea swept over its surface like streamers of crape. The triple flashes struck the waves at their three points, sometimes completely enveloping the yacht, and the claps of thunder ceaselessly shook the air. The state of affairs had been dangerous; it rapidly became alarming.
Captain Kostrik, knowing that he ought to be at least within twenty miles of the range of the Gozo light, dared not approach the land. He even feared that it was the height of the cliffs which had shut out the light, and if so, he was extremely near. To run aground on the isolated rocks at the foot of the cliffs was to risk immediate destruction.
About half past nine the captain resolved to lay-to and keep the screw at half speed. He did not stop entirely, for he wanted to keep the ship under the control of her rudder.
For three hours she lay head to wind. About midnight things grew worse. As often happens in storms, the strife between the opposing winds from the east and west suddenly ceased. The wind went round to the point from which it had been blowing during the day.
“A light on the starboard bow!” shouted one of the quartermasters, who was on the lookout by the bowsprit.
“Put the helm hard down!” shouted Captain Kostrik, who wished to keep off the shore.
He also had seen the light. Its intermittent flashes showed him it was Gozo. There was only just time for him to come round in the opposite direction, the wind sweeping down with intense fury. The “Ferrato” was not ten miles from the point on which the light had so suddenly appeared.
Orders to go full speed were telegraphed to the engineer; but suddenly the engine slowed, and then ceased to work.
The doctor, Pierre, and all those on deck feared some serious complication. An accident had in fact happened. The valve of the air pump ceased to act, the condenser failed, and after two or three loud reports, as if an explosion had taken place in the stern, the screw stopped dead.
Under such circumstances the accident was irreparable. The pump would have to be dismantled, and that would take many hours. In less than twenty minutes the yacht, driven to leeward by the squalls, would be on shore.
“Up with the forestaysail! Up with the jib! Set the mizzen!”
Such were the orders of Captain Kostrik, whose only chance was to get under sail at once. The orders were rapidly executed. That Point Pescade with his agility and Cape Matifou with his prodigious strength rendered efficient service we need hardly stop to say. The halyards would have soon broken if they had not yielded to the weight of Cape Matifou.
But the position of the “Ferrato” was still very serious. A steamer, with her long hull, her want of beam, her slight draught, and her insufficient canvas, is not made for working against the wind. If she is laid too near, and the sea is rough, she is driven back in irons, or she is blown off altogether. That is what happened to the “Ferrato.” She found it impossible to beat off the lee shore. Slowly she drifted toward the foot of the cliffs, and it seemed as though all that could be done was to select a suitable place to beach her. Unfortunately, the night was so dark that the captain could not make out the coast. He knew that the two channels separated Gozo from Malta on each side of the central islet, one the North Comino, the other the South Comino. But how was it possible for him to find the entrances in the pitch darkness, or to take his ship across the angry sea to seek shelter on the eastern coast of the island, and perhaps get into Valetta harbor? A pilot might, perhaps, attempt the dangerous maneuver; but in this dense atmosphere, in this night of rain and fog, what fisherman would venture out, even to a vessel in distress? There was, perhaps, a chance that one might come, and so the steam whistle was set going, and three cannon-shots were fired, one after the other, as a signal.
Suddenly from the landward side a black point appeared in the fog. A boat was bearing down on the “Ferrato” under close-reefed sail. Probably it was some fisherman who had been obliged by the storm to take shelter in the little creek of Melleah, where his boat, run in behind the rocks, had found safety in that admirable grotto of Calypso, which bears a favorable comparison with the grotto of Fingal in the Hebrides. He had evidently heard the whistle and signal of distress, and at the risk of his life had come to the help of the half-disabled yacht. If the “Ferrato” was to be saved it could only be by him.
Slowly his boat came up. A rope was got ready to be thrown to him as soon as he came alongside. A few minutes elapsed, which seemed interminable. The steamer was not half a cable's length from the reefs. The rope was thrown, but a huge wave caught the boat on its crest and dashed it against the side of the “Ferrato.” It was smashed to pieces, and the fisherman would have certainly perished had not Matifou snatched at him, lifted him at arm's length, and laid him on the deck as if he had been a child.
Then without a word—would there have been time?—the man ran to the bridge, seized the wheel, and as the bows of the “Ferrato” fell off toward the rock, he sent the wheel-spokes spinning round, headed her straight for the narrow channel of the North Comino, took her down with the wind dead aft, and in less than twenty minutes was off the east shore of Malta in a much calmer sea. Then with sheets hauled in he ran along about half a mile from the coast, and about four o'clock in the morning, when the first streaks of dawn began to tinge the horizon, he run down the Valetta channel, and brought up the steamer off Senglea Point. Doctor Antekirtt then mounted the bridge and said to the young sailor:
“You saved us, my friend.”
“I only did my duty.”
“Are you a pilot?”
“No, I am only a fisherman.”
“And your name?”