Mathias Sandorf/Page 18
“The Mediterranean is beautiful above all in two respects—harmonious setting and transparency of light and atmosphere. Such as it is, it is an admirable temperer of man. It gives him a hard, unyielding strength: it produces the most substantial races.”
Micholet has said this, and said truly. But it is fortunate for humanity that nature, in place of Hercules, has separated the rock of Calpe from the rock of Abyla, to to form the Strait of Gibraltar. It must even be admitted, in spite of the assertions of most geologists, that this strait has always existed. Without it no Mediterranean. For, in truth, evaporation carries off from this sea three times as much water as is furnished it by tributary rivers, and in default of this Atlantic inflow—which, diffusing itself through the strait, regenerates it—it would have been these many centuries back no more than a kind of Dead Sea, instead of the Living Sea, par excellence.
It was in one of the deepest retreats and least known of this vast Mediterranean Sea that Count Mathias Sandorf—until the wished-for hour, until the entire fulfillment of his work, he should remain Dr. Antekirtt—had secluded himself in order to profit by all the benefits which his supposed death had given him.
There are two Mediterraneans on the terrestrial globe—one in the old world, the other in the new. The American Mediterranean is the Gulf of Mexico; it covers not less than four million and a half kilometers. If the Latin Mediterranean, having but an area of two million eight hundred and eighty-five thousand five hundred and twenty-two square kilometers, be but the half of the other, it is more varied in general design, richer in harbors and distinct gulfs, in large hydrographical subdivisions which have merited the name of seas. Such as Greek Archipelago, the Sea of Crete above the island of that name, the Libyan Sea below, the Adriatic, between Italy, Austria, Turkey and Greece; the Ionian, which washes Corfu, Zante, Cephalonia and other isles; the Tyrrhenian in the west of Italy, the Æolienne around the Liparis, the Gulf of Lyons hollowing out Provence, the Gulf of Genoa indenting the Ligurias, the Gulf of Gabes hollowing out the Tunisian shores, the two Syrtes of such profound depth between Cyrene and Tripoli in the African continent.
What secret place in or about this sea, of which many a landing is still but little known, had Dr. Antekirtt chosen as a dwelling-place? There are islands by hundreds, islets by thousands on the periplus of this immense basin. One would seek in vain to count its capes and coves. How many people of different race, customs and political state throng forward to this seaboard, where the story of humanity has left its imprint for more than twenty centuries past—Frenchmen, Italians, Spaniards, Austrians, Ottomans, Greeks, Arabians, Egyptians, Tripolitans, Tunisians, Algerians, Moroccoans, even Englishmen, at Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus. Three great continents embrace it with their shores, Europe, Asia and Africa. When, then, had Count Mathias Sandorf become Dr. Antekirtt—a name dear to Oriental lands—sought the remote dwelling-place, in which the programme of his life should work itself out? This was what Pierre Bathory was bound to learn ere long.
After opening his eyes for an instant he had fallen back completely exhausted, as insensible as when the doctor had left him for dead in the house of Ragusa. It was then that the doctor had succeeded in one of those physiologic experiments in which the will plays so important a part, and of which the phenomena are no longer open to doubt. Gifted with a singular power of magnetism, he had been able, without the aid of magnesium light or even a brilliant point of metal, simply by the penetration of his look, to cast the dying man into a hypnotic state and substitute his own will for Pierre's. Pierre, enfeebled by the loss of blood, had lost the very look of life, and had fallen asleep to wake when the doctor wished. But his life was wellnigh spent, and now it had to be revived. It was a difficult task, and required the most minute care and all the resources of the medical art. The doctor must not fail.
“He will live. I must have him live,” he repeated.
“Ah, why at Cattaro did I not act on my first idea? Why did the arrival of Sarcany at Ragusa prevent my snatching him from that accursed town? But I'll save him. In the time to come Pierre Bathory will be Mathias Sandorfs right hand.”
And for fifteen years to punish and reward had been the constant thought of Dr. Antekirtt. He had never forgotten what he owed to his companions, Stephen Bathory and Ladislas Zathmar. The time has come now to act, and that was why the “Savarena” had gone to Ragusa.
During these long years the doctor had so altered in appearance that it was impossible to recognize him. His hair, worn short, had become white, and his complexion had turned deadly pale. He was one of those men of fifty who have kept the strength of their youth and acquired the coolness and calm of ripe old age. The bushy hair, fresh complexion, and Venetian mustache of the young Count Sandorf would never have recurred to those who looked at Doctor Antekirtt. But more rigidly refined and more highly tempered, he remained one of those natures of iron of whom it can be said that with them the magnet swings only as they near it. Of Stephen Bathory's son he wished to make what he had made of himself.
For a long time Doctor Antekirtt had been the sole representative of the great family of Sandorf. It will be remembered that he had a child, a daughter, who after his arrest had been intrusted to the care of the wife of Landeck, the steward of the Castle of Artenak. This little daughter, then only two years old, had been the count's sole heiress. To her when she was eighteen was to come the half of her father's goods, in accordance with the sentence which enjoined the confiscation and the death penalty. The steward Landeck had been retained as manager of that part of the Transylvanian domain put under sequestration, and his wife and he remained at the castle with the child, intending to devote their lives to her. But it seemed as though some fatality pursued the Sandorf family, now reduced to this one small individual. A few months after the conviction of the Trieste conspirators, and the events which succeeded, the child had disappeared, and it had proved impossible to find her. Her hat had been found on the bank of one of the numerous rivulets that run through the park. It was only too obvious that the little girl had fallen into one of the ravines into which run the torrents of the Carpathians, and not a vestige of her could be found. Rosina Landeck, the steward's wife, took the loss so much to heart that she died a few weeks afterward. The government made no change in the arrangements entered into at the time of the sentence. The sequestration was maintained, and the possessions of Count Sandorf would revert to the state if the heiress, whose death had not been legally proved, did not reappear to claim them.
Such was the last blow that had reached the Sandorf race, now doomed to extinction by the disappearance of the last representative of the family. Time was gradually accomplishing its work, and oblivion was throwing its shade over this event, as well as over all the other facts of the conspiracy of Trieste.
It was at Otranto, where he was living in the strictest incognito, that Sandorf heard of his child's death. With his little daughter there disappeared all that remained to him of the Countess Rena, who had died so soon, and whom he had loved so much. Then he left Otranto, as unknown as when he arrived there, and no one could tell where he began his life anew.
Fifteen years later, when Sandorf had reappeared on the scene, no one suspected that he was playing the part of Dr. Antekirtt. Thenceforth Sandorf could devote himself entirely to his work. Now he was alone in the world with a task to perform—a task regarded as sacred. Many years after he had left Otranto, powerful by all the power that immense wealth gives, acquired under circumstances which will soon be ascertained, forgotten and concealed by his incognito, he had put himself on the track of those he had sworn to punish and reward. Already in his thoughts Pierre Bathory had been associated in the work of justice. Agents were stationed in the different coast towns of the Mediterranean. Well paid and sworn to secrecy, they corresponded only with the doctor either by the swift launches we know of, or the submarine cable which joined Antekirtta to Malta, and Malta to Europe.
It was in verifying the statement of his agents that the doctor had discovered the traces of all those who directly or indirectly had been mixed up in Sandorf's conspiracy. He could then watch them from afar, and let them have their run, as it were, uninterfered with for four or five years. Silas Toronthal, he knew, had left Trieste and settled at Ragusa with his wife and daughter. Sarcany he traced to the principal cities of Europe, where he wasted his fortune, and then to Sicily, to the eastern provinces where he and his companion Zirone were meditating some new scheme to again put them in funds. Carpena, he learned, had left Rovigno and Istria, to do nothing in Italy or Austria—the florins he had gained by his information permitting him to live in idleness.
Andrea Ferrato he would have helped to escape from the prison of Stein in the Tyrol—where he was expiating his generous conduct toward the fugitives of Pisino—had not death delivered the honest fisherman from his fetters a few months after he went there. His children, Maria and Luigi, had left Rovigno, and were now probably having a hard struggle for life. But they had disappeared, and he had not yet been able to come upon any trace of them. Of Mme. Bathory at Ragusa, with her son Pierre and Borik, the old servant of Ladislas Zathmar, the doctor never lost sight, and we know how he had sent them a considerable sum of money which was not accepted by the proud, courageous woman.
But the hour had come for the doctor to begin his difficult campaign. Assuring himself that he would never be recognized after his fifteen years' absence and his supposed death, he arrived in Ragusa and found Stephen Bathory's son in love with Silas Soronthal's daughter. It will be remembered how Sarcany had intervened and thrust them apart, how Pierre had been taken to his mother's house, how Dr. Antekirtt had acted when he was at the point of death, and how he had called him back to life to reveal himself to him under his real name of Mathias Sandorf. Now his task was to cure him, to tell him what he did not know, how treachery had delivered over his father and his companions, to acquaint him with the names of the traitors, to win over his help in the work the doctor had set himself to, of dealing out justice far beyond that ordinary justice of which he had been the victim.
In the first place, then, Pierre had to be restored to health,and it was to this restoration that he entirely devoted himself. In the first eight days after his arrival in the island Pierre literally hung between life and death. Not only was his wound very serious, but his mental state was even more so. The thought of Sava being now Sarcany's wife, the resurrection of Count Mathias Sandorf as Dr. Antekirtt—Sandorf, the most devoted of all his father's friends—all was enough to unsettle a mind already sorely shaken. Day and night the doctor did not leave him. He heard him in his delirium repeat the name of Sava Toronthal. He learned how deep and true was his love for her, and how her marriage was torturing him. He asked if this love would not prove resistless even when he learned that Sava was the daughter of the man who had sold and killed his father. The doctor would tell him, nevertheless. He had made up his mind to do so. It was his duty.
Again and again Pierre almost succumbed. Doubly injured, in mind and body, he was so near to death that he did not recognize Sandorf at his bedside. He had not even strength to whisper Sava's name.
But skillful care prevailed and the reaction began.
Youth gained the mastery. The sick man was cured in body before he was cured in mind. His wound began to heal, his lungs regained their normal powers, and on the 17th of July the doctor knew that Pierre was saved.
That day the young man recognized him. In a voice still weak he called him by his true name.
“To you, my son, I am Mathias Sandorf,” was the reply, “but to you alone.”
And as Pierre by his looks seemed to ask for explanations which he was naturally anxious to hear—
“Later on,” added the doctor, “later on.”
It was in a beautiful room with the windows opening to the fresh sea breezes, beneath the shade of lovely trees which the running streams kept evergreen, that Pierre swiftly and surely grew convalescent. The doctor untiring in his attention, he was with him every moment, but as the recovery became assured there was no strange in his calling in an assistant, in whose kindness and intelligence he had absolute confidence.
This was Point Pescade, as devoted to Pierre as he was to the doctor. We need hardly say that he and Cape Matifou had kept profoundly secret what had taken place at the cemetery of Ragusa, and that they had revealed to none that the young man had been snatched alive from the tomb.
Point Pescade had been rather closely connected with the facts which had been brought out during this period of several months. In consequence he was seized with a lively interest in his patient. This love affair of Pierre Bathory, thwarted by the interference of Sarcany—an impudent fellow, who had inspired him with justifiable antipathy—the meeting of the funeral procession and the wedding carriages before the hotel of Stradone, the exhumation in the Ragusa cemetery, all these had deeply affected this good being, and the more so because he felt himself associated, without understanding their purpose, with the designs of Dr. Antekirtt.
It follows, then, that Point Pescade accepted eagerly the task of nursing the invalid. It had been recommended that he at the same time divert him as much as possible by cheerful humor. He did not fail in this. Besides since the fête of Gravosa, he considered Pierre Bathory as a creditor, and on that occasion he had resolved to, in one way or another, discharge the indebtedness.
This, then, is why Point Pescade, installed at the side of the convalescent, made the attempt to divert his thoughts, and by chatting and jabbering not to allow him time for reflection.
It was under these circumstances that one day, by direct demand of Pierre, he was led to tell how he made the acquaintance of Dr. Antekirtt.
“It was the trabacolo affair, Mr. Pierre,” he replied. “You ought to remember! The trabacolo affair, which so easily made a hero of Cape Matifou!”
Pierre by no means had forgotten the grave event which had marked the fête of Gravosa on the arrival of the pleasure yacht; but he was unaware that, at the doctor's», proposing it, the two acrobats had abandoned their calling to go over to his service.
“Yes, Mr. Bathory,” said Point Pescade. “Yes, that is it, and the devotion of Cape Matifou has been a stroke of fortune for us! But what we owe to the doctor should not cause us to forget what we owe to you.”
“To you, Mr. Pierre; to you, who that day just missed becoming our public—that is to mention a sum of two florins we had not earned, since our public was missing, well as he had paid for his place.”
And Point Pescade recalled to Pierre Bathory how, at the moment for entering the Provençal arena, he had suddenly disappeared.
The young man had lost recollection of this incident, but he answered Point Pescade with a smile—a sad smile, for he also remembered that he had only mingled with the crowd in order to once again meet Sava Toronthal!
His eyes closed once more. He reflected upon all that had occurred since that day. In thinking of Sava, whom he believed, whom he had to believe, married, a bitter anguish seized him, and he was tempted to curse those who had snatched him from death.
Point Pescade saw quickly that this fête at Gravosa recalled sad memories. He did not, therefore, persist; he even remained silent, saying to himself, “A half teaspoonful of good humor, to be administered every five minutes to my patient. Yes, a very good doctor's prescription, but not easy to follow.”
“It was Pierre who, opening his eves again some moments later, re-opened the conversation.”
“And so, Point Pescade,” he said, “before the trabacolo affair you did not know Doctor Antekirtt?”
“We had never seen him, Mr. Pierre,” replied Point Pescade, “and were ignorant even of his name.”
“Since that day you have never left him?”
“Never, unless upon errands with which he has charged us.”
“And in what country are we now? Could you tell me that, Point Pescade?”
“I have reason to believe, Mr. Pierre, that we are on an island, for the sea surrounds us.”
“Undoubtedly. But in what part of the Méditerranean?”
“Ah! That's it? South, north, east, or west,” said Point Pescade; “that is just what I do not know at all. After that it matters little! What is certain is that we are at Doctor Antekirtt's home, and that one is well fed, well clothed, well sheltered here, without counting th consideration—”
“But at least you know the name of this island, whose situation you do not know?” Pierre questioned.
“The name of it? Oh, certainly,” answered Point Pescade. “The name of it is Antekirtta!”
Pierre Bathory sought vainly to remember any island of the Mediterranean with such a name, and he looked at Point Pescade.
“Yes, Mr. Pierre, yes!” responded the honest fellow. “Antekirtta—nothing at all of longitude, and still less of latitude—the Mediterranean. It is to this address that my uncle would write to me if I had an uncle, but thus far Heaven has denied me that blessing. After all, it is not surprising that this island should be called Antekirtta, for it belongs to Doctor Antekirtt. However, for me to tell you whether the doctor took his name from the island or the island from the doctor, would be impossible, even if I were general secretary of the Geographical Society.”
Nevertheless, Pierre's convalescence pursued its due course. None of the complications one might have feared made an appearance. With substantial, yet judicious diet, the invalid recovered his strength perceptibly from day to day. The doctor visited him often, and conversed with him upon no subjects save those in which he was most interested. And Pierre, not wishing to provoke premature confidence, waited until it should please him to give it.
Point Pescade had always faithfully reported to the doctor the fragments of conversation exchanged by himself and his patient. Evidently the incognito, which covered not only Mathias Sandorf, but even the island he inhabited, quite engrossed Pierre Bathory. It was equally evident that he constantly thought of Sava Toronthal, now so far away from him, since all communication between Antekirtta and the rest of the European Continent seemed broken off. But the time approached when he should be strong enough to hear all.
Yes! to hear all; and that day, like the surgeon who operates, the doctor would be insensible to the cries of the patient.
Several days slipped by. The young man's wound was completely healed. Already he could rise and seat himself at the window of his chamber. The Mediterranean sunshine came to caress him there, the quickening sea-breeze filled his lungs and gave him health and vigor. In spite of all, he felt himself renewed. Then his eyes would fasten obstinately on the limitless horizon, beyond which he would have gladly pierced, but reason was still sick with him. This vast extent of water around the unknown isle was almost always deserted. Some coasters—xebecs or tartans or polacks—would appear in the distance, but never turn or veer about to come alongside; never any great trading vessel, never any of the steamships, whose paths traverse the great European lake in every direction.
One had said truly that Antekirtta was banished to the confines of the world.
The 24th of July the doctor announced to Pierre Bathory that upon the following afternoon he might take a walk, and offered to accompany him in his first outing.
“Doctor,” said Pierre, “if I have strength to go out, I should have strength enough to listen to you.”
“To listen to me, Pierre? What do you mean?”
“I mean that you know all my history and I do not know yours.”
The doctor regarded him attentively, not as friend, but as physician who is about to decide if he shall apply steel or fire to the quick flesh of the patient. Then, seating himself near to him:
“You wish to know my history, Pierre? Then listen to me!”