Mathias Sandorf/Page 19
“PAST AND PRESENT.”
And from the first the history of Dr. Antekirtt, which begins at the moment when Count Mathias Sandorf precipitated himself into the waters of the Adriatic.
“Through the midst of this hail of shot, with which the last discharge of police agents covered me, I passed safe and sound. The night was very dark. They could not see me. The current carried me out, and I could not have returned even had I wished. I did not wish it, moreover. Far better to die than be taken again and thrown into—perhaps slaughtered, in the donjon of Pisino. Should I succumb, all was ended. Should I succeed in saving myself, I could at least pass as one dead.
“Naught would longer impede me in the work of justice, which I had sworn to Count Zathmar, to your father, and to myself to accomplish, and which I shall accomplish.”
“A work of justice?” repeated Pierre, whose eyes shone at this word so unlooked for.
“Yes, Pierre, and this work you will know, for it is in order to associate you with myself in it, that I have snatched you, dead like myself, yet living as myself, from. the cemetery of Ragusa.”
At these words Pierre Bathory felt himself carried backward fifteen years, to the time when his father fell on the place of arms of the Pisino fortress.
“Before me,” resumed the doctor, “lay the sea as far as the Italian seaboard. Good swimmer as I was, I could not pretend to traverse it. Unless providentially succored, either by grasping a floating spar, or by a strange vessel perceiving me on board, I was destined to perish. But when one has risked one's life, one is very strong to defend it, if possible.
“At first I had dived several times to escape their last shots. Then, when certain I was no longer perceived, I kept myself on the surface, and directed myself out to sea. My clothing troubled me little, being light and fitting close to the body.
“It must have been half past nine in the evening, according to my reckoning. I swam for more than an hour in a direction opposite from the coast, thus removing myself from Rovigno, whose lights disappeared one by one in the distance.
“Where was I going then, and what was my hope? I had none, Pierre, but I felt in me a strength to resist, a tenacity, a superhuman, sustaining will. It was not only my life which I sought to save, but my work in the future. And even at this moment, if any fishing-bark had passed I would have dived to avoid it. On this Austrian seaboard how many traitors might I not still find ready to deliver me up in order to receive their premium? How many Carpenas for an honest Andrea Ferrato?
“It was even this that happened at the end of the first hour. A craft appeared in the darkness, almost unexpectedly. She came from far out at sea and ran near as if to touch land. Being already fatigued, I lay upon my back, but instinctively turned over again in readiness to dive. A fishing-bark which lay to in one of the Istrian ports could not but suspect me.
“I was almost certain as to this. One of the sailors cried out in a Dalmatian language to tack about.
“Of a sudden I dived, and the vessel, before those in command could have seen me, passed above my head.
“After a deep respiration I breathed freely and continued on my way westward.
“The breeze became lighter; the waves fell with the wind, and I was carried out to sea on the wide sweeping surge.
“Sometimes swimming, sometimes floating, I kept on further and further for about another hour. I saw but the object to attain, and not the road to reach it. Fifty miles across the Adriatic! Yes! And I was willing to swim them. Yes! I would swim them. Ah! Pierre, you must go through such trials before you know of what man is capable, before you know what the human machine can do when all its mental and physical forces are combined.
“For the second hour I thus kept afloat. That part of the Adriatic was absolutely deserted. The last birds had left it to regain their hollows in the rocks. Overhead the gulls and mews no longer circled in couples nor uttered their despairing screams.
“Although I felt no fatigue my arms became heavy, my legs seemed like lead. My fingers began to open and I found it most difficult to keep my hands together. My head felt as if it were a shot on my shoulders, and I began to lose the power of keeping myself on the surface.
“A kind of hallucination seized me. The guidance of my thoughts escaped me. Strange associations of ideas arose in my troubled brain. I felt that I could no longer hear or see properly, but I fancied that some distance away from me a noise was being produced and a light was approaching and I was right in its road. And that proved to be the case.
“It must have been about midnight when a dull, distant booming arose in the east—a booming that I could not explain. A light flashed through my eyelids, which had shut in spite of all I could do. I tried to raise my head, and I could not do so without letting myself almost sink. Then I looked.
“I give you all these details, Pierre, because it is necessary you should know them, and through them know me as well!”
“There is no need of that, doctor, none!” answered the young man. “Do you think my mother has never told me what sort of a man was Mathias Sandorf?”
“She may have known Mathias Sandorf, Pierre, but Doctor Antekirtt she does not know! And he it is you must know! Listen then! Hear me out!
“The noise I heard was produced by a vessel coming from the east and bound for the Italian coast. The light was her white light hanging on her forestay—which showed her to be a steamer. Her side lights I also saw, red at port and green at starboard, and as I saw them both together the steamer must have been bearing straight down on me.
“That moment was a critical one. In fact the chances were that the steamer was an Austrian bound outward from Trieste. To ask help from her were to put myself again in the power of the gendarmes of Rovigno. I resolved to do nothing of the kind, but to take advantage of another means of safety that I had thought of.
“The steamer was a fast one. She grew rapidly larger as she neared me, and I saw the foam leaping off white from her bows. In less than two minutes she would cut through the place where I lay motionless.
“That the steamer was an Austrian I had no doubt. But there was nothing impossible in her destination being Brindisi and Otranto, or at least she might call there. If so, she would arrive in less than twenty-four hours.
“My decision was taken, and I waited. Sure of being unseen in the darkness, I kept myself in the steamer's path, and fortunately she slowed slightly as she gently rose and fell with the waves.
“At length the steamer reached me; her bow, some twenty feet from the sea, towered above me. I was wrapped in foam as she cleft the sea, but I was not struck. I was grazed by the long iron hull, and I pushed myself away from it with my hands as it passed me. This only lasted for a second or so. Then I found her lines began to curve in for her stem, and at the risk of being cut up by the screw I caught hold of the rudder.
“Fortunately the steamer had a full cargo, and her screw was deep down and did not strike above the water, else I should not have been able to get out of the whirlpool or retain my hold of the support to which I had clung. Like all steamships, she had a pair of chains hanging from her stern and fixed on to the rudder, and I had seized one of these chains, pulled myself up to the ring to which it hung, and there I sat on the chain close to the stern-post and just a inches above the sea. I was in comparative safety.
“Three hours elapsed and day broke. I reckoned I would have to remain where I was for another twenty-four hours if the steamer was going to call at Brindisi or Otranto. What I should have to suffer most from would be hunger and thirst. The important thing for me was that I could not be seen from the deck nor even from the boat hanging by the stern davits. Some vessel meeting us might, it is true, see me and signal me. But very few ships met us that day, and they passed too far off for them to notice a man banging by the rudder chains.
“A scorching sun soon dried my clothes. Andrea Ferrato's 300 florins were in my belt. They would make me feel safe once I got to land. There I should have nothing to fear. In a foreign country Count Mathias Sandorf would have nothing to fear from the Austrian police. There is no extradition for political refugees. But it was not enough that they should think my life was saved. I wished them to think I was dead. No one should know that the last fugitive from the donjon of Pisino had set foot on Italian soil.”
“What I wished happened. The day passed without adventure. Night came. About ten o'clock in the evening I saw a light at regular intervals away to the south-west. It was the light-house at Brindisi. Two hours afterward the steamer was just outside the harbor.
“But then before the pilot came on board, when we were about a mile from the land, after making a parcel of my clothes and tying them to my neck, I slipped off the rudder chain into the sea.
“A minute afterward I had lost sight of the steamer, whose steam-whistle then began its shrieking. In half an hour I had reached the shore, hidden among the rocks, resumed my clothes, and on a bed of sea-weed had fallen asleep. In the morning I entered Brindisi, found one of the humblest hotels in the place, and there awaited events before settling on the plan of an entirely new life.
“Two days afterward, Pierre, the newspapers informed me that the conspiracy of Trieste was at an end. They said that the search for Count Sandorf's body had been fruitless. I was held to be dead—as dead as if I had fallen with my two companions, Ladislas Zathmar and your father, Stephen Bathory, in the donjon of Pisino.
“I, dead! No, Pierre, and they shall see that I am living!”
Pierre had listened greedily to the doctor's story. He was as deeply moved by it as if the story had been told him from the tomb. Yes! It was Count Mathias Sandorf who thus had spoken. In the presence of him, the living portrait of his father, his habitual coldness had gradually abandoned him, he had revealed his real character, he had shown himself as he really was, after years of disguise. What he had said about the audacious voyage across the Adriatic was true in the minutest details. It was thus that he arrived at Brindisi, where Mathias Sandorf remained dead to the world.
But he had to leave Brindisi without delay. The town is only a transfer station. People come to it merely to embark for India or land for Europe. It is generally except on the two days of the week when the P. and 0. boats come in.
If the doctor had no further fear for his life, it was important that his death should be believed in. Thus he thought on the morning after his arrival, as he was walking at the foot of the terrace, which overlooks the column of Cleopatra, at the very spot where the old Appian Way begins. Already he had formed his plans. He would go to the East in search of wealth and power. But to embark on one of the steam-boats trading to Asia Minor among a crowd of passengers of all nations was not what he wanted. He wanted some more secret means of transport than he could find at Brindisi. And that evening he took train for Otranto.
In an hour and a half the train reached this town, situated almost at the end of the heel of the Italian boot. There, in this almost abandoned port, the doctor agreed with the captain of a xebec departing for Smyrna. In the morning the xebec sailed, and the doctor saw the light-house of Punta di Luca, the extreme point of Italy, sink beneath the horizon, while on the opposite coast the Aeroceraunian Mountains were hidden in the mist. A few days afterward, after a voyage without incident, Cape Matifou at the extremity of Southern Greece was doubled and Smyrna safely reached.
The doctor had succinctly related to Pierre this part of his voyage, and also how he had learned from the newspapers of the unexpected death of his daughter that had left him alone in the world.
“At last,” he said, “I was in the land of Asia Minor, where for so many years I was to live unknown. It was in studies of medicine, chemistry, natural science, that I had delighted during my youth, at the schools and universities of Hungary—where your father gained his renown—and it was to these studies that I was to trust to gain the means of livelihood.
“I was fortunate enough to succeed, and more promptly than I had hoped, first at Smyrna, where for seven or eight years I obtained great reputation as a physician. Some unexpected cures brought me into connection with the richest people of those countries in which the medical art is still in a rudimentary state. I then made up my mind to leave the town. And like the doctors of the days gone by, healing at the same time as I taught the art of healing, studying the almost unknown therapeutics of the talebs of Asia Minor, the pundits of India, I traveled through the whole of those provinces, stopping here a few weeks, there a few months, called for and asked for at Karabissar, Binder, Adana, Haleb, Tripoli, Damas, always preceded by a renown which increased without ceasing and brought me a fortune that increased with my renown.
“But that was not enough. What I wanted was unbounded power, such as that possessed by the wealthy rajahs of India, whose knowledge is equal to their wealth.
“My opportunity came.
“There was at Hans in Northern Syria a man dying of a slow disease. No physician had been able to tell what was the matter with him. Hence none of them knew how to treat him. This man was Faz-Rhat, and he had occupied very high posts in the Turkish Empire. He was then forty-five years of age, and an immense fortune allowed him to enjoy all the pleasures of life.
“Faz-Rhat had heard of me, for at the time my reputation was at its height. He invited me to Hans, and I accepted the invitation.
“‘Doctor,’ said he, ‘the half of my fortune is yours if you will give me back my life.’
“‘Keep the half of your fortune,’ I said. ‘I will take care of you and cure you if Heaven permits.’
“I carefully studied the malady the physicians had abandoned. A few months at the outside was all they had given him to live. But I was lucky enough to diagnose him unmistakably. For three weeks I remained with Faz-Rhat so as to follow the effects of the treatment I had prescribed. His cure was complete. When he wished to pay me I would accept only what seemed to me to be reasonable. And then I left Hans.
“Three years later by an accident when hunting, Faz-Rhat lost his life. He had no relatives whatever, and his will made me the sole heir of all his possessions. Their value was certainly not less than fifty millions of florins.
“Thirteen years had then elapsed since the fugitive of Pisino had taken refuge in Asia Minor. The name of Dr. Antekirtt, although somewhat legendary, was known throughout Europe. I had obtained the result I wished, and now I was ready to set to work at the object of my life.
“I had resolved to return to Europe, or at least to some point on the Mediterranean. I visited the African coast, and for a considerable sum I became the owner of an important island, rich, fertile, and suitable in every way for a small colony—this isle of Antekirtta. Here, Pierre, I am sovereign, absolute master, king without subjects, but with a people devoted to me body and soul, with means of defense that will be very formidable when I have finished them, with means of communication that link me to different points of the Mediterranean border, with a flotilla of such speed that I may almost say I have made this sea my dominion!”
“Where is Antekirtta situated?” asked Pierre.
“In the neighborhood of the Syrtis Major, which has had an evil reputation from the remotest antiquity, in the south of the sea which the north wind makes so dangerous even to modern ships, in the deepest bend of the Gulf of Sidra, which cuts back into the African coast between Tripoli and Barca.”
There at the north of the group of the Syrtic Islands, is the island of Antekirtta. A few years before the doctor had traveled through the Tripolitan coasts, and visited Souza, the old port of Cyrene, the Barca country, the towns that have replaced the old Ptolemais, Berenice, Adrianapolis, and in a word, that old Pentapolis, formerly Greek, Macedonian, Roman, Persian, Saracenic, and now Arabian, and belonging to the Pachalik of Tripoli. The chances of his voyage—for he went to a certain extent where he was called took him among the numerous archipelagoes off the Lybian sea-board, Pharos and Anthiroda, the Plinthine twins, Eucripte, and the Tyndaric rocks, Pyrgos, Platea, Ilos, the Hyphales, the Pontiaris, the White Islands, and last of all the Syrtics.
In the Gulf of Sidra, about thirty miles south-west of the vilayet of Ben Ghazi, the nearest point on the mainland, he found the isle of Antekirtta. It was large enough—eighteen miles in circumference—to accommodate all those he thought necessary for his plans; sufficiently elevated, consisting chiefly of a conical hill, towering up some eight hundred feet from the sea, and commanding the whole sweep of the gulf; and sufficiently varied in its productions, and watered by its streams, to satisfy the wants of several thousand inhabitants. Besides, it was in that sea, terrible on account of its storms, which, in prehistoric times, had been fatal to the Argonauts, whose perils were sung by Apollonius of Rhodes, Horace, Virgil, Propertius, Valerius Flaccus, Lucan, and so many others who were more geographers than poets, such as Polybius, Sallust, Strabo, Mela, Pliny and Procopius.
The doctor was the island's absolute owner. He had obtained the freehold for a consideration, clear of every feudal and other obligation, and the deed of cession which made him sovereign proprietor had been fully ratified by the sultan.
For three years the doctor had lived in this island. About 300 European and Arabic families, attracted by his offers and the guarantee of a happy life, formed a small colony of some 2,000 souls. They were not slaves, nor were they subjects; they were companions devoted to their chief, and none the less so because that small corner of the terrestrial globe had become their new home.
Gradually a regular administration had been organized, with a militia for the defense of the island, and a magistrate chosen from among the notables, who very seldom found his services required. Then, according to plans sent by the doctor to the leading builders of England, France, and America, he had constructed his wonderful fleet of steamers, steam yachts, schooners and “Electrics” for his rapid passages across the Mediterranean. At the same time fortifications began to be thrown up round Antekirtta, but they were not yet finished, although the doctor for serious reasons was urging on the works.
Had then Antekirtta some enemy to fear in the vicinity of the Gulf of Sidra? Yes. A formidable sect, or rather a society of pirates, who had not seen without envy and hatred a foreigner founding a colony off the Lybian coast.
This sect was the Mussulman Brotherhood of Sidi Mohammed Ben Ali Es Senoussi. In this year (1300 of the Hegira) it had become much more menacing than formerly, and its geographical dominion embraced some 3,000,000 of adherents. His zaouiyas, his vilayets, his centers of activity established in Egypt, in the Turkish Empire, in Europe and Asia, in Eastern Nigritia, Tunis, Algeria, Morocco and the independent Sahara up to the frontiers of Western Nigritia, existed in still greater numbers in Barca and Tripoli. This was a source of serious danger to the European establishments of Northern Africa, including Algeria, destined to become hereafter the richest country in the world, and specially to Antekirtta, and hence the doctor was only acting with ordinary prudence in availing himself of every modern means of protection and defense.
So Pierre learned from the conversation which followed, and which taught him many other things as well. It was to the isle of Antekirtta that he had been brought, to the midst of the Syrtic Sea, as to one of the most forsaken corners of the ancient world, many hundred miles from Ragusa, where he had left behind two whose memory would never leave him—his mother and Sava Toronthal.
In a few words the doctor completed the details concerning the second half of his existence. While he was making his arrangements for the security of his island, while he was developing the riches of the soil and providing for the material and mental wants of the little colony, he had kept himself acquainted with all that was going on respecting his former friends, of whom he had never lost sight, and among whom were Mme. Bathory, her son, and Borik.
Pierre then learned why the “Savarena” had arrived at Gravosa under conditions that so greatly excited the curiosity of the public, why the doctor had visited Mme. Bathory, how and why her son had not been informed of his visit, how the money put at his mother's disposal had been refused by her, and how the doctor had arrived in time to snatch Pierre from the tomb to which he had been carried when in his magnetic sleep.
“Yes, my son,” he added. “Yes! You lost your head entirely and did not recoil from suicide—”
At this word Pierre in a movement of anger found strength enough to sit up.
“Suicide!” he exclaimed. “Do you then think I stabbed myself?”
“Pierre—in a moment of despair—”
“Despair? Yes! I was! I thought I had been abandoned even by you, my father's friend, after the promises you had made! In despair? Yes! and I am now! But Heaven does not give death to those in despair! It says live—and be avenged!”
“No—punish!” answered the doctor. “But, Pierre who stabbed you then?”
“A man that I hate;” replied Pierre; “a man that on that night I met by chance in a deserted road by the side of the walls of Ragusa! Perhaps he thought I was going to quarrel with him! But he prevented me! He stabbed me! This man, this Sarcany is—”
Pierre could not finish the sentence. At the thought of the wretch in whom he saw the husband of Sava his brain seemed to fail him, his eyes closed and life seemed to leave him as if his wound had been reopened.
In a moment the doctor had restored him to consciousness, and looking at him fixedly—
“Sarcany! Sarcany!” he whispered to himself.
It was advisable for Pierre to take some rest after the shock he had just received. He declined to do so.
“No,” said he. “You told me to begin with—and now for the story of Dr. Antekirtt from the moment when Count Mathias Sandorf precipitated himself into the waves of the Adriatic—”
“Then there is something else I ought to know about Count Mathias Sandorf.”
“Are you strong enough to hear it?”
“Be it so,” replied the doctor. “It is better to finish with the secrets that you have a right to know, with all the terrible past that will never return. Pierre, you thought I had abandoned you because I had left Gravosa! Listen, then, and judge for yourself.
“You know, Pierre, that on the evening of the day fixed for our execution my companions and I attempted to escape from the fortress of Pisino. But Ladislas Zathmar was caught by the warders just as he was going to join us at the foot of the donjon. Your father and I, swept away by the torrent of the Buco, were already out of their reach.
“After miraculously escaping from the whirlpools of the Foiba, when we set foot on the Leme Canal we were perceived by a scoundrel who did not hesitate to sell our heads to the Government, who had just put a price on them. Discovered in the house of a Rovigno fisherman, just as he was about to take us across the Adriatic, your father was arrested and returned to Pisino. I was more fortunate, and escaped! You know that? But this you do not know:
“Before the information given to the police by this Spaniard named Carpena—information which cost Ferrato, the fisherman, his liberty, and, a few months afterward, his life—two men had sold the secret of the conspirators of Trieste—”
“Their names?” interrupted Pierre.
“First of all ask me how their treachery was discovered,” said the doctor.
And he hurriedly told what had passed in the cell of the donjon, and explained the acoustic phenomenon which had revealed the names of the traitors.
“Their names, doctor!” exclaimed Pierre. “You will not refuse to give me their names?”
“I will tell you.”
“Who were they?”
“One of them was the accountant who had introduced himself as a spy into Zathmar's house! The man who tried to assassinate you! Sarcany!”
“Sarcany!” exclaimed Pierre, who found sufficient strength to rise and walk toward the doctor. “Sarcany! that scoundrel. And you knew it! And you, the companion of Stephen Bathory; you, who offered his son your protection; you, to whom I had intrusted the secret of my love; you, who had encouraged me—you allowed him to introduce himself into Silas Toronthal's house when you could have kept him out with a word! And by your silence you have authorized this crime—yes, this crime—which has delivered over that unfortunate girl to Sarcany!”
“Yes, Pierre; I did all that!”
“Because she can never be your wife!”
“She can never be my wife!”
“Because if Pierre Bathory marries Miss Toronthal he will be guilty of a still more abominable crime!”
“But why? Why?” asked Pierre in a paroxysm of anguish.
“Because Sarcany had an accomplice! Yes, an accomplice in the horrible scheme which sent your father to his death! And that accomplice—it is necessary that you should know it—was the banker of Trieste, Silas Toronthal!”
Pierre heard and understood! He could make no reply A spasm contracted his lips. He sunk, crushed to the earth, and horror completely paralyzed him. His pupils dilated and his look seemed to be plunged into unfathomable darkness.
The paroxysm lasted but a few seconds, during which the doctor asked himself if the patient were about to succumb under the dreadful operation to which he had submitted him.
But Pierre's nature was as energetic as his own He gained the mastery over his tortured feelings. Tears welled up m his eyes. Then he fell back into his chair and held out his hand to the doctor.
“Pierre,” said he to him in a gentle, serious voice, “to the whole world you and I are dead ! Now I am alone in the world with no friend, no child. Will you be my son?”
“Yes, father,” answered Pierre.
And the father and son sat clasped in each other's arms.