Tancred : Or, The New Crusade, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 9.

Tancred, the New Crusader

‘MISERABLE mother that I am!’ exclaimed the duchess, and she clasped her hands in anguish.

‘My dearest Katherine!’ said the duke, ‘calm yourself.’

‘You ought to have prevented this, George; you ought never to have let things come to this pass.’

‘But, my dearest Katherine, the blow was as unlooked-for by me as by yourself. I had not, how could I have, a remote suspicion of what was passing through his mind?’

‘What, then, is the use of your boasted confidence with your child, which you tell me you have always cultivated? Had I been his father, I would have discovered his secret thoughts.’

‘Very possibly, my dear Katherine; but you are at least his mother, tenderly loving him, and tenderly loved by him. The intercourse between you has ever been of an extreme intimacy, and especially on the subjects connected with this fancy of his, and yet, you see, even you are completely taken by surprise.’ ‘I once had a suspicion he was inclined to the Puseyite heresy, and I spoke to Mr. Bernard on the subject, and afterwards to him, but I was convinced that I was in error. I am sure,’ added the duchess, in a mournful tone, ‘I have lost no opportunity of instilling into him the principles of religious truth. It was only last year, on his birthday, that I sent him a complete set of the publications of the Parker Society, my own copy of Jewel, full of notes, and my grandfather, the primate’s, manuscript commentary on Chillingworth; a copy made purposely by myself.’

‘I well know,’ said the duke, ‘that you have done everything for his spiritual welfare which ability and affection combined could suggest.’

‘And it ends in this!’ exclaimed the duchess. ‘The Holy Land! Why, if he even reach it, the climate is certain death. The curse of the Almighty, for more than eighteen centuries, has been on that land. Every year it has become more sterile, more savage, more unwholesome, and more unearthly. It is the abomination of desolation. And now my son is to go there! Oh! he is lost to us for ever!’

‘But, my dear Katherine, let us consult a little.’ ‘Consult! Why should I consult? You have settled everything, you have agreed to everything. You do not come here to consult me; I understand all that; you come here to break a foregone conclusion to a weak and miserable woman.’

‘Do not say such things, Katherine!’ ‘What should I say? What can I say?’ ‘Anything but that. I hope that nothing will be ever done in this family without your full sanction.’ I Rest assured, then, that I will never sanction the departure of Tancred on this crusade.’

‘Then he will never go, at least, with my consent,’ said the duke; ‘but Katherine, assist me, my dear wife. All shall be, shall ever be, as you wish; but I shrink from being placed, from our being placed, in collision with our child. The mere exercise of parental authority is a last resource; I would appeal first, rather to his reason, to his heart; your arguments, his affection for us, may yet influence him.’ ‘You tell me you have argued with him,’ said the duchess in a melancholy tone.

‘Yes, but you know so much more on these subjects than I do, indeed, upon all subjects; you are so clever, that I do not despair, my dear Katherine, of your producing an impression on him.’

‘I would tell him at once,’ said the duchess, firmly, ‘that the proposition cannot be listened to.’

The duke looked very distressed. After a momentary pause, he said, ‘If, indeed, you think that the best; but let us consult before we take that step, because it would seem to terminate all discussion, and discussion may yet do good. Besides, I cannot conceal from myself that Tancred in this affair is acting under the influence of very powerful motives; his feelings are highly strung; you have no idea, you can have no idea from what we have seen of him hitherto, how excited he is. I had no idea of his being capable of such excitement. I always thought him so very calm, and of such a quiet turn. And so, in short, my dear Katherine, were we to be abrupt at this moment, peremptory, you understand, I— I should not be surprised, were Tancred to go without our permission.’

‘Impossible!’ exclaimed the duchess, starting in her chair, but with as much consternation as confidence in her countenance. ‘Throughout his life he has never disobeyed us.’

‘And that is an additional reason,’ said the duke, quietly, but in his sweetest tone, ‘why we should not treat as a light ebullition this first instance of his preferring his own will to that of his father and mother.’

‘He has been so much away from us these last three years,’ said the duchess in a tone of great depression, ‘and they are such important years in the formation of character! But Mr. Bernard, he ought to have been aware of all this; he ought to have known what was passing through his pupil’s mind; he ought to have warned us. Let us speak to him; let us speak to him at once. Ring, my dear George, and request the attendance of Mr. Bernard.’

That gentleman, who was in the library, kept them waiting but a few minutes. As he entered the room, he perceived, by the countenances of his noble patrons, that something remarkable, and probably not agreeable, had occurred. The duke opened the case to Mr. Bernard with calmness; he gave an outline of the great catastrophe; the duchess filled up the parts, and invested the whole with a rich and even terrible colouring.

Nothing could exceed the astonishment of the late private tutor of Lord Montacute. He was fairly overcome; the communication itself was startling, the accessories overwhelmed him. The unspoken reproaches that beamed from the duke’s mild eye; the withering glance of maternal desolation that met him from the duchess; the rapidity of her anxious and agitated questions; all were too much for the simple, though correct, mind of one unused to those passionate developments which are commonly called scenes. All that Mr. Bernard for some time could do was to sit with his eyes staring and mouth open, and repeat, with a bewildered air, ‘The Holy Land, the Holy Sepulchre!’ No, most certainly not; most assuredly; never in any way, by any word or deed, had Lord Montacute ever given him reason to suppose or imagine that his lordship intended to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, or that he was influenced by any of those views and opinions which he had so strangely and so uncompromisingly expressed to his father.

‘But, Mr. Bernard, you have been his companion, his instructor, for many years,’ continued the duchess, ‘for the last three years especially, years so important in the formation of character. You have seen much more of Montacute than we have. Surely you must have had some idea of what was passing in his mind; you could not help knowing it; you ought to have known it; you ought to have warned, to have prepared us.’

‘Madam,’ at length said Mr. Bernard, more collected, and feeling the necessity and excitement of self-vindication, ‘Madam, your noble son, under my poor tuition, has taken the highest honours of his university; his moral behaviour during that period has been immaculate; and as for his religious sentiments, even this strange scheme proves that they are, at any rate, of no light and equivocal character.’

‘To lose such a son!’ exclaimed the duchess, in a tone of anguish, and with streaming eyes.

The duke took her hand, and would have soothed her; and then, turning to Mr. Bernard, he said, in a lowered tone, ‘We are very sensible how much we owe you; the duchess equally with myself. All we regret is, that some of us had not obtained a more intimate acquaintance with the character of my son than it appears we have acquired.’

‘My lord duke,’ said Mr. Bernard, ‘had yourself or her Grace ever spoken to me on this subject, I would have taken the liberty of expressing what I say now. I have ever found Lord Montacute inscrutable. He has formed himself in solitude, and has ever repelled any advance to intimacy, either from those who were his inferiors or his equals in station. He has never had a companion. As for myself, during the ten years that I have had the honour of being connected with him, I cannot recall a word or a deed on his part which towards me has not been courteous and considerate; but as a child he was shy and silent, and as a man, for I have looked upon him as a man in mind for these four or even five years, he has employed me as his machine to obtain knowledge. It is not very flattering to oneself to make these confessions, but at Oxford he had the opportunity of communicating with some of the most eminent men of our time, and I have always learnt from them the same result. Lord Montacute never disburthened. His passion for study has been ardent; his power of application is very great; his attention unwearied as long as there is anything to acquire; but he never seeks your opinions, and never offers his own. The interview of yesterday with your Grace is the only exception with which I am acquainted, and at length throws some light on the mysteries of his mind.’

The duke looked sad; his wife seemed plunged in profound thought; there was a silence of many moments. At length the duchess looked up, and said, in a calmer tone, and with an air of great seriousness, ‘It seems that we have mistaken the character of our son. Thank you very much for coming to us so quickly in our trouble, Mr. Bernard. It was very kind, as you always are.’ Mr. Bernard took the hint, rose, bowed, and retired.

The moment that he had quitted the room, the eyes of the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont met. Who was to speak first? The duke had nothing to say, and therefore he had the advantage: the duchess wished her husband to break the silence, but, having something to say herself, she could not refrain from interrupting it. So she said, with a tearful eye, ‘Well, George, what do you think we ought to do?’ The duke had a great mind to propose his plan of sending Tancred to Jerusalem, with Colonel Brace, Mr. Bernard, and Mr. Roby, to take care of him, but he hardly thought the occasion was ripe enough for that; and so he suggested that the duchess should speak to Tancred herself.

‘No,’ said her Grace, shaking her head, ‘I think it better for me to be silent; at least at present. It is necessary, however, that the most energetic means should be adopted to save him, nor is there a moment to be lost. We must shrink from nothing for such an object. I have a plan. We will put the whole matter in the hands of our friend, the bishop. We will get him to speak to Tancred. I entertain not a doubt that the bishop will put his mind all right; clear all his doubts; remove all his scruples. The bishop is the only person, because, you see, it is a case political as well as theological, and the bishop is a great statesman as well as the first theologian of the age. Depend upon it, my dear George, that this is the wisest course, and, with the blessing of Providence, will effect our purpose. It is, perhaps, asking a good deal of the bishop, considering his important and multifarious duties, to undertake this office, but we must not be delicate when everything is at stake; and, considering he christened and confirmed Tancred, and our long friendship, it is quite out of the question that he can refuse. However, there is no time to be lost. We must get to town as soon as possible; tomorrow, if we can. I shall advance affairs by writing to the bishop on the subject, and giving him an outline of the case, so that he may be prepared to see Tancred at once on our arrival. What think you, George, of my plan?’

‘I think it quite admirable,’ replied his Grace, only too happy that there was at least the prospect of a lull of a few days in this great embarrassment.

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