Mathias Sandorf/Page 30
The steam yacht went out a little before noon. Her passengers were the doctor, Pierre, and Maria, who had come to take care of Mme. Bathory in the event of its being impossible to take her back immediately from Carthage to Antekirtta.
There is no need to say much about what Pierre felt when be knew be was on his way to meet his mother. But why had Borik taken her away so precipitately from Ragusa to this out-of-the-way spot in Tunis? In what state of misery would they be found? To the anxieties Pierre confided to her Maria did not cease to respond with words of sympathy and hope.
The “Ferrato” was driven at her utmost speed, and attained a mean of at least fifteen knots. The distance between the Gulf of Sidra and Cape Bon, the north-east point of Tunis, is about 620 miles; from Cape Bon to La Goulette, which is the port of Tunis, is only about an hour and a half's run for a steamer. In thirty hours, therefore, barring accidents, the “Ferrato” would reach her destination.
The sea was smooth outside the gulf, but the wind blew from the north-west with no signs of increasing, however. Captain Kostrik steered for a little below Cape Bon, so as to get the shelter of the land, in case the breeze freshened. He did not, therefore, sight the island of Zantellaria half way between Cape Bon and Malta, for he intended to round the cape as close as possible.
As it bends out of the Gulf of Sidra the shore line is much cut into toward the west, and describes a wide curve. This is the coast of Tripoli, running up to the Gulf of Gabes, between the Island of Dscherba and the town of Sfax, then the line trends a little to the east, toward Cape Dimias, to form the Gulf of Hammamet, and it thence develops south and north to Cape Bon. It was toward the Gulf of Hammamet that the “Ferrato” was headed. There it was she would make the land, and hug it till she got to La Goulette.
During the 3d of November and the following night, the size of the waves increased considerably. It takes but little wind to raise the Syrtic Sea, and through it flow the most capricious currents in the Mediterranean. In the morning at eight o'clock land was sighted at Cape Dimias, and under the shelter of the high shore the progress became rapid and easy.
The “Ferrato” ran along two miles away from the shore. Beyond the Gulf of Hammamet, in the latitude of Kelibia, there lies the little creek of Sidi Yussuf, sheltered on the north by a long ridge of rocks. Round the curve is a magnificent sandy beach with a background of low hills, covered with stunted bushes that grow in a soil far richer in stones than in vegetable mold. This range of hills joins on to the “djebels,” which form the mountains in the interior. Here and there, like white spots in the distant verdure, are a few abandoned marabouts. In front is a small ruined fort, and higher up there is one in better repair, built on the hill that shuts in the creek toward the north.
The place was not deserted. Close to the rocks were several Levantine vessels, xebecs and polaccas, anchored in about five or six fathoms; but such was the transparency of the green water that the black rocks and streaked sand beneath them on which the anchors lay, and to which refraction gave the most fantastic forms, could be plainly seen.
Along the beach at the foot of the small sand hills with their lentisks and tamarinds, a “douar,” composed of some twenty huts, displayed its yellow striped roofs, and looked like a large Arab mantle thrown in a heap on the shore. Outside the folds of the mantle were a few sheep and goats, seeming at the distance like large black crows, that a gunshot would frighten into noisy flight. A dozen camels, some stretched on the sand, others motionless as if turned to stone, ruminated near a narrow strip of rock that served as a landing-stage.
As the “Ferrato” steamed past Sidi Yussuf the doctor noticed that arms, ammunition, and a few field-pieces were being taken ashore, and owing to its remote position on the confines of Tunis, the creek is well fitted for such contraband trade. Luigi pointed out to the doctor what was going on.
“Yes, Luigi,” he said, “and if I am not mistaken, the Arabs are the destined owners of those weapons. If they are, are they for the use of the mountaineers against the French troops, who have been landing at Tunis? I do not think so, somehow. I think they must be for the Senvinists or land and water pirates now gathering in the Cyrenaic. I fancy those Arabs are more of the type of those in the interior than in the Tunisian province!”
“But,” asked Luigi, “why do not the authorities of the Regency or the French authorities stop that landing of arms and ammunition?”
“At Tunis they hardly know what passes on the other side of Cape Bon, and when the French become masters of Tunisia it will take them a long time to reduce the coast to the east of the djebels into order! At any rate that landing looks very suspicious, and if it were not that the speed of the ‘Ferrato’ prevents their making an attempt, I expect that flotilla would have come out to attack us.”
If the Arabs had any notion of doing so, there was nothing to fear from them. In less than half an hour the yacht had passed Sidi Yussuf. Then, having reached the extremity of Cape Bon, standing out so boldly from the Tunisian range, she swiftly steamed by the light-house at its point with the superbly rugged pile of rocks at its base.
The “Ferrato,” then at full speed, shot across the Gulf of Tunis between Cape Bon and Cape Carthage. On the left runs the series of escarpments of the djebels, Bon Karnin, Rossas, and Zaghouan, with a few villages half hidden in their gorges. On the right, in all the splendor of the Arab Kasbar, in the full glare of the sun, shone the sacred city of Sibi-Bou-Said, which was perhaps one of the suburbs of the ancient Carthage. In the background Tunis lay, as a mass of white, not far from Lake Bahira, a little behind the arm with which La Goulette welcomes its visitors from Europe. Two or three miles from the port lay a squadron of French vessels; then, more in the offing, a few merchant ships were riding at anchor, and with their fluttering flags gave life to the roadstead.
In an hour the “Ferrato” had dropped anchor at about three cable-lengths from the harbor. As soon as the necessary formalities were complied with, pratique was given to her passengers, and the doctor, Pierre, Luigi, and his sister took their places in the gig, which immediately took them ashore. After rounding the mole she glided into that narrow canal, crowded with vessels ranged along both wharves, and reached that irregular square planted with trees and bordered with villas, shops, and cafés, swarming with Maltese Jews, Arabs, and French and native soldiers, into which runs the main street of La Goulette.
Borik's letter was dated from Carthage, and the name, with a few ruins scattered on the ground, is about all that remains of the old city of Hannibal.
To reach the shore of Cartluige there is no need to take the little Italian railway that runs between La Goulette and Tunis, skirting the lake of Bahira. The hard, fine sand affords excellent walking, or the dusty road across the plain a little behind it gives easy access to the base of the hill on which stand the Chapel of Saint Louis and the convent of the Algerian missionaries.
At the time the doctor and his companions landed, several carriages, drawn by pigmy horses, were waiting in the square. To hail one and order it to drive rapidly to Carthage was the work of a minute. The carriage, after traversing the main road of La Goulette at a trot, passed by the sumptuous villas that the rich Tunisians inhabit during the hot season, and the palaces of Keredin and Mustapha that rise on the shore close to the outskirts of the Carthaginian city. Two thousand years ago the rival of Rome covered the whole extent between the point of La Goulette and the cape that still bears its name.
The chapel of St. Louis is built upon a knoll about 200 feet high, on which the King of France died in 1270. It occupies the middle of a small inclosure containing many more remains of ancient architecture and broken statuary, vases, columns, capitals and stezse, than trees or shrubs, Behind it, is the missionary convent, of which Pere Delathe, the archæologist, is now the prior. The top of this inclosure commands the stretch of sand from Cape Carthage up to the first houses of La Goulette.
At the foot of the hill are a few houses of Arab design, with piers in the English style, which run out into the sea for the vessels of the roadstead to unload alongside. Beyond is the superb gulf, of which every promontory, point, and mountain has historic interest.
But if there are palaces and villas on the site of the old harbors, there are on the slopes of the hill among the ruins a few wretched houses inhabited by the poor of the place. Most of these have no other trade beyond searching for more or less precious Carthaginian relics—bronzes, stones, pottery, medals, and coins, which the convent buys for its archæological museum; rather for pity's sake, than because they are wanted.
Some of these refuges are merely two or three fragments of wall, such as the ruins of the marabouts which lie whitening in the broiling sun.
The doctor and his companions journeyed from one to the other in search of Mme. Bathory, hardly believing she could have been reduced to such misery. Suddenly the carriage stopped before a dilapidated building, with a door that was merely a hole in a wall overgrown with bushes.
An old woman with a black cloak was seated before this door.
Pierre had recognized her. He uttered a cry! It was his mother! He rushed toward her, he knelt to her, he clasped her in his arms! But she replied not to his caresses, and did not even seem to recognize him.
“My mother! my mother!” he exclaimed, while the doctor, Luigi, and his sister crowded round her.
At the same moment an old man appeared at the angle of the ruin.
It was Borik.
At first sight he recognized Dr. Antekirtt, and his knees shook. Then he caught sight of Pierre—Pierre whose body he had followed to the cemetery of Ragusa! The shock was too much for him. He fell motionless to the ground, and as he did so these words escaped from his lips:
“She has lost her reason!”
And so, when the son recovered his mother, all that was left to him was an inert body. And the sudden appearance of her son, whom she thought to be dead, had not been enough to restore her to any recollection of the past
Mme. Bathory rose, her eyes were haggard, but still there was in them the light of life. Then, without seeing anything, without uttering a single word, she entered the marabout, and Maria, at a sign from the doctor, followed her in.
Pierre remained at the door without daring to move—without being able to do so.
With the doctor's help Borik began to regain his consciousness.
“You, Mr. Pierre! You! Alive!”
“Yes!” answered Pierre. “Yes! Alive! Though it would be better if I were dead!”
In a few words the doctor informed Borik of what had taken place at Ragusa. Then the old servant told him the story of those two months of misery.
“But,” asked the doctor at the outset, “was it her son's death that caused Mme. Bathory to lose her reason?”
“No, sir, no!” answered Borik.
And this is what he told them:
Mme. Bathory, being alone in the world, had left Ragusa and gone to live at the little village of Vinticello, where she had a few relatives. While there she had been planning how to dispose of her house, as she had no further intention of inhabiting it.
Six weeks afterward, accompanied by Borik, she had returned to Ragusa to arrange all these matters, and when she reached the house in the Rue Marinella, she found that a letter had been dropped into the box.
“Having read the letter—and the reading seemed to have given her mind its first shock—Mme. Bathory screamed and ran into the road and down into the Stradone, and knocked at Toronthal's door, which opened immediately.”
“Toronthal's?” exclaimed Pierre.
“Yes,” answered Borik; “and when I came up to Mme. Bathory she did not recognize me. She was—”
“But why did my mother go to Toronthal's? Yes! Why?” asked Pierre, looking at the old servant as if he was quite mystified.
“She probably desired to speak with Mr. Toronthal,” answered Borik, “and two days before Mr. Toronthal had left his house with his daughter, and no one knew where he had gone.”
“And this letter—this letter?”
“I have not been able to find it, Mr. Pierre,” answered the old man. “Mme. Bathory must have lost it or destroyed it, or had it taken from her, and I do not know what it was about.”
There was some mystery here. The doctor, who had listened without saying a word, could see no reason for this act of Mme. Bathory's. What imperious motive had urged her to the house in the Stradone, which everything would have made her avoid; and why, when she learned that Toronthal had disappeared, had she received so violent a shock as to drive her mad?
Borik's story only took a few minutes. He succeeded in keeping Mme. Bathory's mental state secret, and busied himself in realizing her property. The calm, gentle mania of the unhappy widow allowed him to act without suspicion. His only object, then, was to leave Ragusa and obtain shelter in some distant town, it mattered not where, provided it was far away from that accursed place. A few days afterward he took Mme. Bathory on board one of the steamers that trade with the Mediterranean coast, and arrived at Tunis, or rather La Goulette. There he resolved to stop.
And then, in this deserted marabout, he devoted himself entirely to the care of Mme. Bathory, who seemed to have lost her speech as well as her senses. But his resources were so slight that he could see the time coming when they would both be reduced to the last misery.
It was then that the old servant thought of Dr. Antekirtt, of the interest he had always taken in the Bathory family. But Borik did not know his usual residence. He, however, wrote, and the letter he trusted, in despair to Providence, and it appeared that Providence had brought the letter into the doctor's hands.
There could be no doubt what was next to be done. Mme. Bathory, without any resistance on her part, was placed m the carriage with Borik, and Pierre and Maria. And then the doctor and Luigi walked back by way of the beach, while the carriage returned along the road to La Goulette.
An hour afterward they all embarked on the yacht, which was under steam. The anchor was immediately weighed, and as soon as she bad doubled Cape Bon, the “Ferrato” steered so as to sight the lights of Pantellaria. The day after the next, in the early morning, she ran into harbor at Antekirtta.
Mme. Bathory was taken ashore at once, led to Artenak and installed in one of the rooms at the Stadthaus.
Another sorrow for Pierre Bathory! His mother, deprived of reason, become mad under circumstances which would probably remain inexplicable! If the cause of this madness could be ascertained, some salutary reaction might have been provoked, but nothing about it was known and nothing could be known.
“She must be cured! Yes! she must!” said the doctor, who devoted himself to the task.
And the task was a difficult one, for Mme. Bathory remained quite unconscious of her actions, and not a remembrance of her past life did she display.
Could the power of suggestion that the doctor possessed in so high a degree be employed to change the mental state of the patient? Could she by magnetic influence be recalled to reason and kept in that state till the reaction took place?
Pierre adjured the doctor to try even the impossible to cure his mother.
“No!” answered the doctor. “That would not do. Mad people are the most refractory subjects for the purpose! For the influence to act, your mother must have a will of her own, for which I can substitute mine! And I assure you I should have no influence over her.”
“No! I will not admit it,” said Pierre, who would not be convinced. “I will not admit that we shall not see the day when my mother will recognize me—her son whom she believes to be dead.”
“Yes! That she believes to be dead!” answered the doctor. “But perhaps if she believed you to be alive or if she saw you coming out of the grave—if she saw you appear—”
The doctor paused at the thought. Why should not a sudden shock, provoked under favorable conditions, have some effect on Mme. Bathory?
“I will try it!” he exclaimed.
And when he explained the experiment on which he based his hope of curing his mother, Pierre threw himself into the doctor's arms.
From that day the scenery and surroundings, to bring about the success of the attempt, were the object of anxious care. The idea was to revive in Mme. Bathory the effects of memory, of which her derangement had deprived her, and to revive it under such striking circumstances that a reaction would be caused in her brain.
The doctor appealed to Borik, to Point Pescade, so as to reproduce with sufficient exactness the appearance of the cemetery at Ragusa and the monument which served as the tomb of the Bathory family. And in the cemetery of the island, about a mile from Artenak, under a group of trees they built a small chapel as much as possible like that at Ragusa. Everything was done to produce the most striking resemblance between the two monuments; and on the wall there was placed a slab of black marble bearing the name of Stephen Bathory, with the date of his death, 1867.
On the 13th of November the time seemed come for beginning the preparatory attempt to revive Mme. Bathory's reason.
About seven o'clock in the evening Maria and Borik took the widow's arm, and leading her from the Stadthaus walked out to the cemetery. There Mme. Bathory remained before the threshold of the little chapel motionless and silent as always, although, by the light of the lamp which burned within, she could read the name of Stephen Bathory engraved on the marble slab. Only when Maria and the old man knelt as they went along did she have a faint look of intelligence in her eyes which almost instantly vanished.
An hour afterward she was taken back to the Stadthaus followed by a crowd who had come to join the procession at this first experiment.
The next and succeeding mornings the experiments were continued, but without result. Pierre looked on with poignant emotion and despaired of their success, although the doctor told him that time would be his most useful auxiliary. He did not intend to strike his last blow until Mme. Bathory had been sufficiently prepared to feel its full force.
Each time she visited the cemetery a slight but unmistakable change took place in her; and one evening when Borik and Maria were kneeling at the chapel door she had slowly come forward, put her hand on the iron grating, looked at the wall beyond, brightly illuminated by the lamp, and hurriedly ran back.
Maria, returning to her, heard her murmur a name several times.
It was the first time for mouths that her lips had opened to speak!
But what was the astonishment—more than astonishment—the stupefaction of those who heard her?
The name was not that of her son, of Pierre—it was the name of Sava!
If we can understand what Pierre felt, who can describe what passed in the doctor's soul when he heard this unexpected invocation of Sava Toronthal? But he made no observation; he gave no sign of what he felt.
Another evening the experiment was repeated. This time, as if she had been led by an invisible hand, Mme. Bathory went and knelt on the chapel step. She bowed her head, a sigh escaped her, and tears fell from her eyes. But that evening not a name escaped her lips, and it seemed as though she had forgotten Sava.
She was taken back to the Stadthaus and there showed herself a prey to unusual nervous agitation. The calm hitherto characteristic of her mental state gave place to singular exaltation. Some work of vitality was evidently going on in her brain, and this looked hopeful.
The night proved troubled and restless. She several times muttered vague words which Maria could scarcely hear, but it was evident she was dreaming. And if she dreamed, reason was coming back, and she might be cured if her reason would only stay with her till she woke.
Then the doctor decided to make a fresh attempt on the morrow, of which the surroundings should be more striking.
During the whole of the 18th she continued under violent mental excitement. Maria was much struck with her state, and Pierre, who spent nearly all his time with his mother, felt a presentiment of happy augury.
The night arrived—a night dark and gloomy, without a breath of wind, after a day that had been very warm in this low latitude of Antekirtta.
About half past eight, the patient, accompanied by Maria and Borik, left the Stadthaus. The doctor, with Luigi and Point Pescade, followed a few steps behind.
The whole of the little colony was anxiously expectant of the success of what was going to happen. A few torches beneath the trees threw a runginous light on the chapel and its surroundings. Afar, at regular intervals, the bell in Artenak church sounded a funeral knell.
Pierre was the only one absent from the procession which advanced slowly toward the cemetery. But, if he was not there, it was because he was to appear in the closing scene of this final experiment.
It was about nine o'clock when Mme. Bathory reached the cemetery. Suddenly she shook, herself free from Maria's arm, and walked toward the little chapel. She was allowed to do as she pleased, under the influence of this new feeling, which seemed to have entire possession of her.
Amid a profound silence, broken only by the tolling of the bell, Mme. Bathory stopped, and remained motionless. Then she knelt on the first step, and bent down, and then they heard her weep.
At this moment the railing of the chapel slowly opened. Wrapped in a white shroud, as if he had risen from his grave, Pierre appeared in the light.
“My son! my son!” exclaimed Mme. Bathory, who stretched out her arms and fell senseless.
It mattered little. Memory and thought had returned to her! The mother was awakened! She had recognized her son!
The doctor soon revived her, and when she had recovered her consciousness, when her eyes rested on her son—
“Alive! My Pierre! Alive!” she exclaimed.
“Yes! Living for your sake, mother, living to love you.”
“And to love her—her also!”
“Sava Toronthal?” exclaimed the doctor.
“No! Sava Sandorf!”
And Mme. Bathory took from her pocket the crumpled letter which contained the last lines written by the hand of the dying Mme. Toronthal, and held it out to the doctor.
The letter left no doubt as to Sava's birth! Sava was the child that had been carried away from the Castle of Artenak! Sava was the daughter of Count Mathias Sandorf.