Tancred : Or, The New Crusade, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 54.

Astarte is Jealous

WHEN Fakredeen bade Tancred as usual good-night, his voice was different from its accustomed tones; he had replied to Tancred with asperity several times during the evening; and when he was separated from his companion, he felt relieved. All unconscious of these changes and symptoms was the heir of Bellamont.

Though grave, one indeed who never laughed and seldom smiled, Tancred was blessed with the rarest of all virtues, a singularly sweet temper. He was grave, because he was always thinking, and thinking of great deeds. But his heart was soft, and his nature most kind, and remarkably regardful of the feelings of others. To wound them, however unintentionally, would occasion him painful disturbance. Though naturally rapid in the perception of character, his inexperience of life, and the self-examination in which he was so frequently absorbed, tended to blunt a little his observation of others. With a generous failing, which is not uncommon, he was prepared to give those whom he loved credit for the virtues which he himself possessed, and the sentiments which he himself extended to them. Being profound, steadfast, and most loyal in his feelings, he was incapable of suspecting that his elected friend could entertain sentiments towards him less deep, less earnest, and less faithful. The change in the demeanour of the Emir was, therefore, unnoticed by him. And what might be called the sullen irritability of Fakredeen was encountered with the usual gentleness and total disregard of self which always distinguished the behaviour of Lord Montacute.

The next morning they were invited by Astarte to a hawking party, and, leaving the rugged ravines, they descended into a softer and more cultivated country, where they found good sport. Fakredeen was an accomplished falconer, and loved to display his skill before the Queen. Tancred was quite unpractised, but Astarte seemed resolved that he should become experienced in the craft among her mountains, which did not please the Emir, as he caracoled in sumptuous dress on a splendid steed, with the superb falcon resting on his wrist.

The princes dined again with Keferinis; that, indeed, was to be their custom during their stay; afterwards, accompanied by the minister, they repaired to the royal divan, where they had received a general invitation. Here they found Astarte alone, with the exception of Cypros and her companions, who worked with their spindles apart; and here, on the pretext of discussing the high topics on which they had repaired to Gindarics, there was much conversation on many subjects. Thus passed one, two, and even three days; thus, in general, would their hours be occupied at Gindarics. In the morning the hawks, or a visit to some green valley, which was blessed with a stream and beds of oleander, and groves of acacia or sycamore. Fakredeen had no cause to complain of the demeanour of Astarte towards him, for it was most gracious and encouraging. Indeed, he pleased her; and she was taken, as many had been, by the ingenuous modesty, the unaffected humility, the tender and touching deference of his manner; he seemed to watch her every glance, and hang upon her every accent: his sympathy with her was perfect; he agreed with every sentiment and observation that escaped her. Blushing, boyish, unsophisticated, yet full of native grace, and evidently gifted with the most amiable disposition, it was impossible not to view with interest, and even regard, one so young and so innocent.

But while the Emir had no cause to be dissatisfied with the demeanour of Astarte to himself, he could not be unaware that her carriage to Tancred was different, and he doubted whether the difference was in his favour. He hung on the accents of Astarte, but he remarked that the Queen hung upon the accents of Tancred, who, engrossed with great ideas, and full of a great purpose, was unconscious of what did not escape the lynx-like glance of his companion. However, Fakredeen was not, under any circumstances, easily disheartened; in the present case, there were many circumstances to encourage him. This was a great situation; there was room for combinations. He felt that he was not unfavoured by Astarte; he had confidence, and a just confidence, in his power of fascination. He had to combat a rival, who was, perhaps, not thinking of conquest; at any rate, who was unconscious of success. Even had he the advantage, which Fakredeen was not now disposed to admit, he might surely be baffled by a competitor with a purpose, devoting his whole intelligence to his object, and hesitating at no means to accomplish it.

Fakredeen became great friends with Keferinis. He gave up his time and attentions much to that great personage; anointed him with the most delicious flattery, most dexterously applied; consulted him on great affairs which had no existence; took his advice on conjunctures which never could occur; assured Keferinis that, in his youth, the Emir Bescheer had impressed on him the importance of cultivating the friendly feelings and obtaining the support of the distinguished minister of the Ansarey; gave him some jewels, and made him enormous promises.

On the fourth day of the visit, Fakredeen found himself alone with Astarte, at least, without the presence of Tancred, whom Keferinis had detained in his progress to the royal apartment. The young Emir had pushed on, and gained an opportunity which he had long desired.

They were speaking of the Lebanon; Fakredeen had been giving Astarte, at her request, a sketch of Canobia, and intimating his inexpressible gratification were she to honour his castle with a visit; when, somewhat abruptly, in a suppressed voice, and in a manner not wholly free from embarrassment, Astarte said, ‘What ever surprises me is, that Darkush, who is my servant at Damascus, should have communicated, by the faithful messenger, that one of the princes seeking to visit Gindarics was of our beautiful and ancient faith; for the Prince of England has assured me that nothing was more unfounded or indeed impossible; that the faith, ancient and beautiful, never prevailed in the land of his fathers; and that the reason why he was acquainted with the god-like forms is, that in his country it is the custom (custom to me most singular, and indeed incomprehensible) to educate the youth by teaching them the ancient poems of the Greeks, poems quite lost to us, but in which are embalmed the sacred legends.’

‘We ought never to be surprised at anything that is done by the English,’ observed Fakredeen; ‘who are, after all, in a certain sense, savages. Their country produces nothing; it is an island, a mere rock, larger than Malta, but not so well fortified. Everything they require is imported from other countries; they get their corn from Odessa, and their wine from the ports of Spain. I have been assured at Beiroot that they do not grow even their own cotton, but that I can hardly believe. Even their religion is an exotic; and as they are indebted for that to Syria, it is not surprising that they should import their education from Greece.’

‘Poor people!’ exclaimed the Queen; ‘and yet they travel; they wish to improve themselves?’

‘Darkush, however,’ continued Fakredeen, without noticing the last observation of Astarte, ‘was not wrongly informed.’

‘Not wrongly informed?’

‘No: one of the princes who wished to visit Gindarics was, in a certain sense, of the ancient and beautiful faith, but it was not the Prince of the English.’

‘What are these pigeons that you are flying without letters!’ exclaimed Astarte, looking very perplexed.

‘Ah! beautiful Astarte,’ said Fakredeen, with a sigh; ‘you did not know my mother.’

‘How should I know your mother, Emir of the castles of Lebanon? Have I ever left these mountains, which are dearer to me than the pyramids of Egypt to the great Pasha? Have I ever looked upon your women, Maronite or Druse, walking in white sheets, as if they were the children of ten thousand ghouls; with horns on their heads, as if they were the wild horses of the desert?’

‘Ask Keferinis,’ said Fakredeen, still sighing; ‘he has been at Bteddeen, the court of the Emir Bescheer. He knew my mother, at least by memory. My mother, beautiful Astarte, was an Ansarey.’

‘Your mother was an Ansarey!’ repeated Astarte, in a tone of infinite surprise; ‘your mother an Ansarey? Of what family was she a child?’

‘Ah!’ replied Fakredeen, ‘there it is; that is the secret sorrow of my life. A mystery hangs over my mother, for I lost both my parents in extreme childhood; I was at her heart,’ he added, in a broken voice, ‘and amid outrage, tumult, and war. Of whom was my mother the child? I am here to discover that, if possible. Her race and her beautiful religion have been the dream of my life. All I have prayed for has been to recognise her kindred and to behold her gods.’

‘It is very interesting,’ murmured the Queen.

‘It is more than interesting,’ sighed Fakredeen. ‘Ah! beautiful Astarte! if you knew all, if you could form even the most remote idea of what I have suffered for this unknown faith;’ and a passionate tear quivered on the radiant cheek of the young prince.

‘And yet you came here to preach the doctrines of another,’ said Astarte.

‘I came here to preach the doctrines of another!’ replied Fakredeen, with an expression of contempt; his nostril dilated, his lip curled with scorn. ‘This mad Englishman came here to preach the doctrines of another creed, and one with which it seems to me, he has as little connection as his frigid soil has with palm trees. They produce them, I am told, in houses of glass, and they force their foreign faith in the same manner; but, though they have temples, and churches, and mosques, they confess they have no miracles; they admit that they never produced a prophet; they own that no God ever spoke to their people, or visited their land; and yet this race, so peculiarly favoured by celestial communication, aspire to be missionaries!’

‘I have much misapprehended you,’ said Astarte; ‘I thought you were both embarked in a great cause.’

‘Ah, you learnt that from Darkush!’ quickly replied Fakredeen. ‘You see, beautiful Astarte, that I have no personal acquaintance with Darkush. It was the intendant of my companion who was his friend; and it is through him that Darkush has learnt anything that he has communicated. The mission, the project, was not mine; but when I found my comrade had the means, which had hitherto evaded me, of reaching Gindarics, I threw no obstacles in his crotchety course. On the contrary, I embraced the opportunity even with fervour, and far from discouraging my friend from views to which I know he is fatally, even ridiculously, wedded, I looked forward to this expedition as the possible means of diverting his mind from some opinions, and, I might add, some influences, which I am persuaded can eventually entail upon him nothing but disappointment and disgrace.’ And here Fakredeen shook his head, with that air of confidential mystery which so cleverly piques curiosity.

‘Whatever may be his fate,’ said Astarte, in a tone of seriousness, ‘the English prince does not seem to me to be a person who could ever experience disgrace.’

‘No, no,’ quickly replied his faithful friend; ‘of course I did not speak of personal dishonour. He is extremely proud and rash, and not in any way a practical man; but he is not a person who ever would do anything to be sent to the bagnio or the galleys. What I mean by disgrace is, that he is mixed up with transactions, and connected with persons who will damage, cheapen, in a worldly sense dishonour him, destroy all his sources of power and influence. For instance, now, in his country, in England, a Jew is never permitted to enter England; they may settle in Gibraltar, but in England, no. Well, it is perfectly well known among all those who care about these affairs, that this enterprise of his, this religious-politico-military adventure, is merely undertaken because he happens to be desperately enamoured of a Jewess at Damascus, whom he cannot carry home as his bride.’

‘Enamoured of a Jewess at Damascus!’ said Astarte, turning pale.

‘To folly, to frenzy; she is at the bottom of the whole of this affair; she talks Cabala to him, and he Nazareny to her; and so, between them, they have invented this grand scheme, the conquest of Asia, perhaps the world, with our Syrian sabres, and we are to be rewarded for our pains by eating passover cakes.’

‘What are they?’

‘Festival bread of the Hebrews, made in the new moon, with the milk of he-goats.’

‘What horrors!’

‘What a reward for conquest!’

‘Will the Queen of the English let one of her princes marry a Jewess?’

‘Never; he will be beheaded, and she will be burnt alive, eventually; but, in the meantime, a great deal of mischief may occur, unless we stop it.’

‘It certainly should be stopped.’

‘What amuses me most in this affair,’ continued Fakredeen, ‘is the cool way in which this Englishman comes to us for our assistance. First, he is at Canobia, then at Gindarics; we are to do the business, and Syria is spoken of as if it were nothing. Now the fact is, Syria is the only practical feature of the case. There is no doubt that, if we were all agreed, if Lebanon and the Ansarey were to unite, we could clear Syria of the Turks, conquer the plain, and carry the whole coast in a campaign, and no one would ever interfere to disturb us. Why should they? The Turks could not, and the natives of Fran-guestan would not. Leave me to manage them. There is nothing in the world I so revel in as hocus-sing Guizot and Aberdeen. You never heard of Guizot and Aberdeen? They are the two Reis Effendis of the King of the French and the Queen of the English. I sent them an archbishop last year, one of my fellows, Archbishop Murad, who led them a pretty dance. They nearly made me King of the Lebanon, to put an end to disturbances which never existed except in the venerable Murad’s representations.’

‘These are strange things! Has she charms, this Jewess? Very beautiful, I suppose?’

‘The Englishman vows so; he is always raving of her; talks of her in his sleep.’

‘As you say, it would indeed be strange to draw our sabres for a Jewess. Is she dark or fair?’

‘I think, when he writes verses to her, he always calls her a moon or a star; that smacks nocturnal and somewhat sombre.’

‘I detest the Jews; but I have heard their women are beautiful.’

‘We will banish them all from our kingdom of Syria,’ said Fakredeen, looking at Astarte earnestly.

‘Why, if we are to make a struggle, it should be for something. There have been Syrian kingdoms.’

‘And shall be, beauteous Queen, and you shall rule them. I believe now the dream of my life will be realised.’

‘Why, what’s that?’

‘My mother’s last aspiration, the dying legacy of her passionate soul, known only to me, and never breathed to human being until this moment.’

‘Then you recollect your mother?’

‘It was my nurse, long since dead, who was the depositary of the injunction, and in due time conveyed it to me.’

‘And what was it?’

‘To raise, at Deir el Kamar, the capital of our district, a marble temple to the Syrian goddess.’

‘Beautiful idea!’

‘It would have drawn back the mountain to the ancient faith; the Druses are half-prepared, and wait only my word.’

‘But the Nazareny bishops,’ said the Queen, ‘whom you find so useful, what will they say?’

‘What did the priests and priestesses of the Syrian goddess say, when Syria became Christian? They turned into bishops and nuns. Let them turn back again.’

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