Tancred : Or, The New Crusade, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 32.

Suspense

‘I WOULD not mention it to your lordship last night,’ said Baroni; ‘I thought enough had happened for one day.’

‘But now you think I am sufficiently fresh for new troubles.’ ‘He spoke it in Hebrew, that myself and Sheikh Hassan should not understand him, but I know something of that dialect.’

‘In Hebrew! And why in Hebrew?’ ‘They follow the laws of Moses, this tribe.’ ‘Do you mean that they are Jews?’ ‘The Arabs are only Jews upon horseback,’ said Baroni. ‘This tribe, I find, call themselves Rechabites.’

‘Ah!’ exclaimed Tancred, and he began to muse. ‘I have heard of that name before. Is it possible,’ thought he, ‘that my visit to Bethany should have led to this captivity?’

‘This affair must have been planned at Jerusalem,’ said Baroni; ‘I saw from the first it was not a common foray. These people know everything. They will send immediately to Besso; they know he is your banker, and that if you want to build the Temple, he must pay for it, and unless a most immoderate ransom is given, they will carry us all into the interior of the desert.’

‘And what do you counsel?’

‘In this, as in all things, to gain time; and principally because I am without resource, but with time expedients develop themselves. Naturally, what is wanted will come; expediency is a law of nature. The camel is a wonderful animal, but the desert made the camel. I have already impressed upon the great Sheikh that you are not a prince of the blood; that your father is ruined, that there has been a murrain for three years among his herds and flocks; and that, though you appear to be travelling for amusement, you are, in fact, a political exile. All these are grounds for a reduced ransom. At present he believes nothing that I say, because his mind has been previously impressed with contrary and more cogent representations, but what I say will begin to work when he has experienced some disappointment, and the period of reaction arrives. Re-action is the law of society; it is inevitable. All success depends upon seizing it.’

‘It appears to me that you are a great philosopher, Baroni,’ said Tancred.

‘I travelled five years with M. de Sidonia,’ said Baroni. ‘We were in perpetual scrapes, often worse than this, and my master moralised upon every one of them. I shared his adventures, and I imbibed some of his wisdom; and the consequence is, that I always ought to know what to say, and generally what to do.’

‘Well, here at least is some theatre for your practice; though, as far as I can form an opinion, our course is simple, though ignominious. We must redeem ourselves from captivity. If it were only the end of my crusade, one might submit to it, like Coeur de Lion, after due suffering; but occurring at the commencement, the catastrophe is mortifying, and I doubt whether I shall have heart enough to pursue my way. Were I alone, I certainly would not submit to ransom. I would look upon captivity as one of those trials that await me, and I would endeavour to extricate myself from it by courage and address, relying ever on Divine aid; but I am not alone. I have involved you in this mischance, and these poor Englishmen, and, it would seem, the brave Hassan and his tribe. I can hardly ask you to make the sacrifice which I would cheerfully endure; and therefore it seems to me that we have only one course — to march under the forks.’

‘With submission,’ said Baroni, ‘I cannot agree with any of your lordship’s propositions. You take an extreme view of our case. Extreme views are never just; something always turns up which disturbs the calculations formed upon their decided data. This something is circumstance. Circumstance has decided every crisis which I have experienced, and not the primitive facts on which we have consulted. Rest assured that circumstance will clear us now.’

‘I see no room, in our situation, for the accidents on which you rely,’ said Tancred. ‘Circumstance, as you call it, is the creature of cities, where the action of a multitude, influenced by different motives, produces innumerable and ever-changing combinations; but we are in the desert. The great Sheikh will never change his mind any more than his habits of life, which are the same as his ancestors pursued thousands of years ago; and, for an identical reason, he is isolated and superior to all influences.’

‘Something always turns up,’ said Baroni.

‘It seems to me that we are in a cul-desac,’ said Tancred.

‘There is always an outlet; one can escape from a cul-desac by a window.’

‘Do you think it would be advisable to consult the master of this tent?’ said Tancred, in a lower tone. ‘He is very friendly.’

‘The Emir Fakredeen,’ said Baroni.

‘Is that his name?’

‘So I learnt last night. He is a prince of the house of Shehaab; a great house, but fallen.’

‘He is a Christian,’ said Tancred, earnestly.

‘Is he?’ said Baroni carelessly; ‘I have known a good many Shehaabs, and if you will tell me their company, I will tell you their creed.’

‘He might give us some advice.’

‘No doubt of it, my lord; if advice could break our chains, we should soon be free; but in these countries my only confidant is my camel. Assuming that this affair is to end in a ransom, what we want now is to change the impressions of the great Sheikh respecting your wealth. This can only be done from the same spot where the original ideas emanated. I must induce him to permit me to accompany his messenger to Besso. This mission will take time, and he who gains time gains everything, as M. de Sidonia said to me when the savages were going to burn us alive, and there came on a thunder-storm which extinguished their fagots.’

‘You must really tell me your history some day, Baroni,’ said Tancred.

‘When my mission has failed. It will perhaps relieve your imprisonment; at present, I repeat, we must work for a moderate ransom, instead of the millions of which they talk, and during the negotiation take the chance of some incident which will more agreeably free us.’

‘Ah! I despair of that.’

‘I do not, for it is presumptuous to believe that man can foresee the future, which will be your lordship’s case, if you owe your freedom only to your piastres.’

‘But they say that everything is calculation, Baroni.’

‘No,’ said Baroni, with energy, ‘everything is adventure.’

In the meantime the Emir Fakredeen was the prey of contending emotions. Tancred had from the first, and in an instant, exercised over his susceptible temperament that magnetic influence to which he was so strangely subject. In the heart of the wilderness and in the person of his victim, the young Emir suddenly recognised the heroic character which he had himself so vaguely and, as it now seemed to him, so vainly attempted to realise. The appearance and the courage of Tancred, the thoughtful repose of his manner, his high bearing amid the distressful circumstances in which he was involved, and the large views which the few words that had escaped from him on the preceding evening would intimate that he took of public transactions, completely captivated Fakredeen, who seemed at length to have found the friend for whom he had often sighed; the steadfast and commanding spirit, whose control, he felt conscious, was often required by his quick but whimsical temperament. And in what relation did he stand to this being whom he longed to press to his heart, and then go forth with him and conquer the world? It would not bear contemplation. The arming of the Maronites became quite a secondary object in comparison with obtaining the friendship of Tancred. Would that he had not involved himself in this conspiracy! and yet, but for this conspiracy, Tancred and himself might never have met. It was impossible to grapple with the question; circumstances must be watched, and some new combination formed to extricate both of them from their present perplexed position.

Fakredeen sent one of his attendants in the morning to offer Tancred horses, should his guest, as is the custom of Englishmen, care to explore the neighbouring ruins which were celebrated; but Tancred’s wound kept him confined to his tent. Then the Emir begged permission to pay him a visit, which was to have lasted only a quarter of an hour; but when Fakredeen had once established himself in the divan with his nargileh, he never quitted it. It would have been difficult for Tancred to have found a more interesting companion; impossible to have made an acquaintance more singularly unreserved. His frankness was startling. Tancred had no experience of such self-revelations; such a jumble of sublime aspirations and equivocal conduct; such a total disregard of means, such complicated plots, such a fertility of perplexed and tenebrous intrigue! The animated manner and the picturesque phrase, too, in which all this was communicated, heightened the interest and effect. Fakredeen sketched a character in a sentence, and you knew instantly the individual whom he described without any personal knowledge. Unlike the Orientals in general, his gestures were as vivid as his words. He acted the interviews, he achieved the adventures before you. His voice could take every tone and his countenance every form. In the midst of all this, bursts of plaintive melancholy; sometimes the anguish of a sensibility too exquisite, alternating with a devilish mockery and a fatal absence of all self-respect.

‘It appears to me,’ said Tancred, when the young Emir had declared his star accursed, since, after the ceaseless exertions of years, he was still as distant as ever from the accomplishment of his purpose, ‘it appears to me that your system is essentially erroneous. I do not believe that anything great is ever effected by management. All this intrigue, in which you seem such an adept, might be of some service in a court or in an exclusive senate; but to free a nation you require something more vigorous and more simple. This system of intrigue in Europe is quite old-fashioned. It is one of the superstitions left us by the wretched eighteenth century, a period when aristocracy was rampant throughout Christendom; and what were the consequences? All faith in God or man, all grandeur of purpose, all nobility of thought, and all beauty of sentiment, withered and shrivelled up. Then the dexterous management of a few individuals, base or dull, was the only means of success. But we live in a different age: there are popular sympathies, however imperfect, to appeal to; we must recur to the high primeval practice, and address nations now as the heroes, and prophets, and legislators of antiquity. If you wish to free your country, and make the Syrians a nation, it is not to be done by sending secret envoys to Paris or London, cities themselves which are perhaps both doomed to fall; you must act like Moses and Mahomet.’

‘But you forget the religions,’ said Fakredeen. ‘I have so many religions to deal with. If my fellows were all Christians, or all Moslemin, or all Jews, or all Pagans, I grant you, something might be effected: the cross, the crescent, the ark, or an old stone, anything would do: I would plant it on the highest range in the centre of the country, and I would carry Damascus and Aleppo both in one campaign; but I am debarred from this immense support; I could only preach nationality, and, as they all hate each other worse almost than they do the Turks, that would not be very inviting; nationality, without race as a plea, is like the smoke of this nargileh, a fragrant puff. Well, then, there remains only personal influence: ancient family, vast possessions, and traditionary power: mere personal influence can only be maintained by management, by what you stigmatise as intrigue; and the most dexterous member of the Shehaab family will be, in the long run, Prince of Lebanon.’

‘And if you wish only to be Prince of Lebanon, I dare say you may succeed,’ said Tancred, ‘and perhaps with much less pains than you at present give yourself. But what becomes of all your great plans of an hour ago, when you were to conquer the East, and establish the independence of the Oriental races?’

‘Ah!’ exclaimed Fakredeen with a sigh, ‘these are the only ideas for which it is worth while to live.’

‘The world was never conquered by intrigue: it was conquered by faith. Now, I do not see that you have faith in anything.’

‘Faith,’ said Fakredeen, musingly, as if his ear had caught the word for the first time, ‘faith! that is a grand idea. If one could only have faith in something and conquer the world!’

‘See now,’ said Tancred, with unusual animation, ‘I find no charm in conquering the world to establish a dynasty: a dynasty, like everything else, wears out; indeed, it does not last as long as most things; it has a precipitate tendency to decay. There are reasons; we will not now dwell on them. One should conquer the world not to enthrone a man, but an idea, for ideas exist for ever. But what idea? There is the touchstone of all philosophy! Amid the wreck of creeds, the crash of empires, French revolutions, English reforms, Catholicism in agony, and Protestantism in convulsions, discordant Europe demands the keynote, which none can sound. If Asia be in decay, Europe is in confusion. Your repose may be death, but our life is anarchy.’

‘I am thinking,’ said Fakredeen, thoughtfully, ‘how we in Syria could possibly manage to have faith in anything; I had faith in Mehemet Ali, but he is a Turk, and that upset him. If, instead of being merely a rebellious Pasha, he had placed himself at the head of the Arabs, and revived the Caliphate, you would have seen something. Head the desert and you may do anything. But it is so difficult. If you can once get the tribes out of it, they will go anywhere. See what they did when they last came forth. It is a simoom, a kamsin, fatal, irresistible. They are as fresh, too, as ever. The Arabs are always young; it is the only race that never withers. I am an Arab myself; from my ancestor who was the standard-bearer of the Prophet, the consciousness of race is the only circumstance that sometimes keeps up my spirit.’

‘I am an Arab only in religion,’ said Tancred, ‘but the consciousness of creed sustains me. I know well, though born in a distant and northern isle, that the Creator of the world speaks with man only in this land; and that is why I am here.’

The young Emir threw an earnest glance at his companion, whose countenance, though grave, was calm. ‘Then you have faith?’ said Fakredeen, inquiringly.

‘I have passive faith,’ said Tancred. ‘I know that there is a Deity who has revealed his will at intervals during different ages; but of his present purpose I feel ignorant, and therefore I have not active faith; I know not what to do, and should be reduced to a mere spiritual slothfulness, had I not resolved to struggle with this fearful necessity, and so embarked in this great pilgrimage which has so strangely brought us together.’

‘But you have your sacred books to consult?’ said Fakredeen.

‘There were sacred books when Jehovah conferred with Solomon; there was a still greater number of sacred books when Jehovah inspired the prophets; the sacred writings were yet more voluminous when the Creator ordained that there should be for human edification a completely new series of inspired literature. Nearly two thousand years have passed since the last of those works appeared. It is a greater interval than elapsed between the writings of Malachi and the writings of Matthew.’

‘The prior of the Maronite convent, at Mar Hanna, has often urged on me, as conclusive evidence of the falseness of Mahomet’s mission, that our Lord Jesus declared that after him “many false prophets should arise,” and warned his followers.’

‘There spoke the Prince of Israel,’ said Tancred, ‘not the universal Redeemer. He warned his tribe against the advent of false Messiahs, no more. Far from terminating by his coming the direct communication between God and man, his appearance was only the herald of a relation between the Creator and his creatures more fine, more permanent, and more express. The inspiring and consoling influence of the Paraclete only commenced with the ascension of the Divine Son. In this fact, perhaps, may be found a sufficient reason why no written expression of the celestial will has subsequently appeared. But, instead of foreclosing my desire for express communication, it would, on the contrary, be a circumstance to authorise it.’

‘Then how do you know that Mahomet was not inspired?’ said Fakredeen.

‘Far be it from me to impugn the divine commission of any of the seed of Abraham,’ replied Tancred. ‘There are doctors of our church who recognise the sacred office of Mahomet, though they hold it to be, what divine commissions, with the great exception, have ever been, limited and local.’

‘God has never spoken to a European?’ said Fakredeen, inquiringly.

‘Never.’

‘But you are a European?’

‘And your inference is just,’ said Tancred, in an agitated voice, and with a changing countenance. ‘It is one that has for some time haunted my soul. In England, when I prayed in vain for enlightenment, I at last induced myself to believe that the Supreme Being would not deign to reveal His will unless in the land which his presence had rendered holy; but since I have been a dweller within its borders, and poured forth my passionate prayers at all its holy places, and received no sign, the desolating thought has sometimes come over my spirit, that there is a qualification of blood as well as of locality necessary for this communion, and that the favoured votary must not only kneel in the Holy Land but be of the holy race.’

‘I am an Arab,’ said Fakredeen. ‘It is something.’

‘If I were an Arab in race as well as in religion,’ said Tancred, ‘I would not pass my life in schemes to govern some mountain tribes.’

‘I’ll tell you,’ said the Emir, springing from his divan, and flinging the tube of his nargileh to the other end of the tent: ‘the game is in our hands, if we have energy. There is a combination which would entirely change the whole ‘face of the world, and bring back empire to the East. Though you are not the brother of the Queen of the English, you are nevertheless a great English prince, and the Queen will listen to what you say; especially if you talk to her as you talk to me, and say such fine things in such a beautiful voice. Nobody ever opened my mind like you. You will magnetise the Queen as you have magnetised me. Go back to England and arrange this. You see, gloze it over as they may, one thing is clear, it is finished with England. There are three things which alone must destroy it. Primo, O’Connell appropriating to himself the revenues of half of Her Majesty’s dominions. Secondo, the cottons; the world begins to get a little disgusted with those cottons; naturally everybody prefers silk; I am sure that the Lebanon in time could supply the whole world with silk, if it were properly administered. Thirdly, steam; with this steam your great ships have become a respectable Noah’s ark. The game is up; Louis Philippe can take Windsor Castle whenever he pleases, as you took Acre, with the wind in his teeth. It is all over, then. Now, see a coup d’état that saves all. You must perform the Portuguese scheme on a great scale; quit a petty and exhausted position for a vast and prolific empire. Let the Queen of the English collect a great fleet, let her stow away all her treasure, bullion, gold plate, and precious arms; be accompanied by all her court and chief people, and transfer the seat of her empire from London to Delhi. There she will find an immense empire ready made, a firstrate army, and a large revenue. In the meantime I will arrange with Mehemet Ali.

He shall have Bagdad and Mesopotamia, and pour the Bedouin cavalry into Persia. I will take care of Syria and Asia Minor. The only way to manage the Afghans is by Persia and by the Arabs. We will acknowledge the Empress of India as our suzerain, and secure for her the Levantine coast. If she like, she shall have Alexandria as she now has Malta: it could be arranged. Your Queen is young; she has an avenir. Aberdeen and Sir Peel will never give her this advice; their habits are formed. They are too old, too rusés. But, you see! the greatest empire that ever existed; besides which she gets rid of the embarrassment of her Chambers! And quite practicable; for the only difficult part, the conquest of India, which baffled Alexander, is all done!’

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19