‘WHERE is Besso?’ said Barizy of the Tower, as the Consul Pasqualigo entered the divan of the merchant, about ten days after the departure of Tancred from Jerusalem for Mount Sinai.
‘Where is Besso? I have already smoked two chibouques, and no one has entered except yourself. I suppose you have heard the news?’
‘Who has not? It is in every one’s mouth.’ ‘What have you heard?’ asked Barizy of the Tower, with an air of malicious curiosity.
‘Some things that everybody knows,’ replied Pasqualigo, ‘and some things that nobody knows.’
‘Hah, hah!’ said Barizy of the Tower, pricking up his ears, and preparing for one of those diplomatic encounters of mutual pumping, in which he and his rival were practised. ‘I suppose you have seen somebody, eh?’
‘Somebody has been seen,’ replied Pasqualigo, and then he busied himself with his pipe just arrived.
‘But nobody has seen somebody who was on the spot?’ said Barizy.
‘It depends upon what you mean by the spot,’ replied Pasqualigo.
‘Your information is second-hand,’ observed Barizy.
‘But you acknowledge it is correct?’ said Pasqualigo, more eagerly.
‘It depends upon whether your friend was present ——’ and here Barizy hesitated.
‘It does,’ said Pasqualigo.
‘Then he was present?’ said Barizy.
‘Then he knows,’ said Barizy, eagerly, ‘whether the young English prince was murdered intentionally or by hazard.’
‘A— h,’ said Pasqualigo, whom not the slightest rumour of the affair had yet reached, ‘that is a great question.’
‘But everything depends upon it,’ said Barizy. ‘If he was killed accidentally, there will be negotiations, but the business will be compromised; the English want Cyprus, and they will take it as compensation. If it is an affair of malice prepense, there will be war, for the laws of England require war if blood royal be spilt.’
The Consul Pasqualigo looked very grave; then, withdrawing his lips for a moment from his amber mouthpiece, he observed, ‘It is a crisis.’
‘It will be a crisis,’ said Barizy of the Tower, excited by finding his rival a listener, ‘but not for a long time. The crisis has not commenced. The first question is: to whom does the desert belong; to the Porte, or to the Viceroy?’
‘It depends upon what part of the desert is in question,’ said Pasqualigo.
‘Of course the part where it took place. I say the Arabian desert belongs to the Viceroy; my cousin, Barizy of the Gate, says “No, it belongs to the Porte.” Raphael Tafna says it belongs to neither. The Bedouins are independent.’
‘But they are not recognised,’ said the Consul Pasqualigo. ‘Without a diplomatic existence, they are nullities. England will hold all the recognise powers in the vicinity responsible. You will see! The murder of an English prince, under such circumstances too, will not pass unavenged. The whole of the Turkish garrison of the city will march out directly into the desert.’
‘The Arabs care shroff for your Turkish garrison of the city,’ said Barizy, with great derision.
‘They are eight hundred strong,’ said Pasqualigo.
‘Eight hundred weak, you mean. No, as Raphael Tafna was saying, when Mehemet. Ali was master, the tribes were quiet enough. But the Turks could never manage the Arabs, even in their best days. If the Pasha of Damascus were to go himself, the Bedouins would unveil his harem while he was smoking his nargileh.’
‘Then England will call upon the Egyptians,’ said the Consul.
‘Hah!’ said Barizy of the Tower, ‘have I got you at last? Now comes your crisis, I grant you. The English will send a ship of war with a protocol, and one of their lords who is a sailor: that is the way. They will call upon the pasha to exterminate the tribe who have murdered the brother of their queen; the pasha will reply, that when he was in Syria the brothers of queens were never murdered, and put the protocol in his turban. This will never satisfy Palmerston; he will order ——’
‘Palmerston has nothing to do with it,’ screamed out Pasqualigo; ‘he is no longer Reis Effendi; he is in exile; he is governor of the Isle of Wight.’
‘Do you think I do not know that?’ said Barizy of the Tower; ‘but he will be recalled for this purpose. The English will not go to war in Syria without Palmerston. Palmerston will have the command of the fleet as well as of the army, that no one shall say “No” when he says “Yes.” The English will not do the business of the Turks again for nothing. They will take this city; they will keep it. They want a new market for their cottons. Mark me: England will never be satisfied till the people of Jerusalem wear calico turbans.’
Let us inquire also with Barizy of the Tower, where was Besso? Alone in his private chamber, agitated and troubled, awaiting the return of his daughter from the bath; and even now, the arrival may be heard of herself and her attendants in the inner court.
‘You want me, my father?’ said Eva, as she entered. ‘Ah! you are disturbed. What has happened?’
‘The tenth plague of Pharaoh, my child,’ replied Besso, in a tone of great vexation. ‘Since the expulsion of Ibrahim, there has been nothing which has crossed me so much.’
‘No, no; ’tis nothing to do with him, poor boy; but of one as young, and whose interests, though I know him not, scarcely less concern me.’
‘You know him not; ’tis not then my cousin. You perplex me, my father. Tell me at once.’
‘It is the most vexatious of all conceivable occurrences,’ replied Besso, ‘and yet it is about a person of whom you never heard, and whom I never saw; and yet there are circumstances connected with him. Alas! alas! you must know, my Eva, there is a young Englishman here, and a young English lord, of one of their princely families ——’
‘Yes!’ said Eva, in a subdued but earnest tone.
‘He brought me a letter from the best and greatest of men,’ said Besso, with much emotion, ‘to whom I, to whom we, owe everything: our fortunes, our presence here, perhaps our lives. There was nothing which I was not bound to do for him, which I was not ready and prepared to do. I ought to have guarded over him; to have forced my services on his acceptance; I blame myself now when it is too late. But he sent me his letter by the Intendant of his household, whom I knew. I was fearful to obtrude myself. I learnt he was fanatically Christian, and thought perhaps he might shrink from my acquaintance.’
‘And what has happened?’ inquired Eva, with an agitation which proved her sympathy with her father’s sorrow.
‘He left the city some days ago to visit Sinai; well armed and properly escorted. He has been waylaid in the wilderness and captured after a bloody struggle.’
‘A bloody struggle?’
‘Yes; they of course would gladly not have fought, but, though entrapped into an ambush, the young Englishman would not yield, but fought with desperation. His assailants have suffered considerably; his own party comparatively little, for they were so placed; surrounded, you understand, in a mountain defile, that they might have been all massacred, but the fear of destroying their prize restrained at first the marksmen on the heights; and, by a daring and violent charge, the young Englishman and his followers forced the pass, but they were overpowered by numbers.’
‘And he wounded?’
‘I hope not severely. But you have heard nothing. They have sent his Intendant to Jerusalem with a guard of Arabs to bring back his ransom. What do you think they want?’
Eva signified her inability to conjecture.
‘Two millions of piastres!’
‘Two millions of piastres! Did you say two? ’Tis a great sum; but we might negotiate. They would accept less, perhaps much less, than two millions of piastres.’
‘If it were four millions of piastres, I must pay it,’ said Besso. ”Tis not the sum alone that so crosses me. The father of this young noble is a great prince, and could doubtless pay, without serious injury to himself, two millions of piastres for the ransom of his son; but that’s not it. He comes here; he is sent to me. I was to care for him, think for him, guard over him: I have never even seen him; and he is wounded, plundered, and a prisoner!’
‘But if he avoided you, my father?’ murmured Eva, with her eyes fixed upon the ground.
‘Avoided me!’ said Besso; ‘he never thought of me but as of a Jew banker, to whom he would send his servant for money when he needed it. Was I to stand on punctilios with a great Christian noble? I ought to have waited at his gate every day when he came forth, and bowed to the earth, until it pleased him to notice me; I ought ——’
‘No, no, no, my father! you are bitter. This youth is not such as you think; at least, in all probability is not,’ said Eva. ‘You hear he is fanatically Christian; he may be but deeply religious, and his thoughts at this moment may rest on other things than the business of the world. He who makes pilgrimage to Sinai can scarcely think us so vile as you would intimate.’
‘What will he think of those whom he is among? Here is the wound, Eva! Guess, then, child, who has shot this arrow. ’Tis my father!’
‘O traitor! traitor!’ said Eva, quickly covering her face with her hands. ‘My terror was prophetic! There is none so base!’
‘Nay, nay,’ said Besso; ‘these, indeed, are women’s words. The great Sheikh in this has touched me nearly, but I see no baseness in it. He could not know the intimate relation that should subsist between me and this young Englishman. He has captured him in the desert, according to the custom of his tribe. Much as Amalek may injure me, I must acquit him of treason and of baseness.’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Eva, with an abstracted air. ‘You misconceive me. I was thinking of others; and what do you purpose, my father?’
‘First, to clear myself of the deep stain that I now feel upon my life,’ said Besso. ‘This Englishman comes to Jerusalem with an unbounded credit on my house: he visits the wilderness, and is made prisoner by my father-in-law, who is in ambush in a part of the desert which his tribe never frequents, and who sends to me for a princely ransom for his captive.
These are the apparent circumstances. These are the facts. There is but one inference from them. I dare say ’tis drawn already by all the gossips of the city: they are hard at it, I doubt not, at this moment, in my own divan, winking their eyes and shrugging their shoulders, while they are smoking my choice tobacco, and drinking my sherbet of pomegranate. And can I blame them?’
‘A pure conscience may defy city gossips.’
‘A pure conscience must pay the ransom out of my own coffers. I am not over fond of paying two millions of piastres, or even half, for one whose shadow never fell upon my threshold. And yet I must do it: do it for my father-in-law, the Sheikh of the Recha-bites, whose peace I made with Mehemet Ali, for whom I gained the guardianship of the Mecca caravan through the Syrian desert for five years, who has twelve thousand camels which he made by that office. Oh, were it not for you, my daughter, I would curse the hour that I ever mixed my blood with the children of Jethro. After all, if the truth were known, they are sons of Ishmael.’
‘No, no, dear father, say not such things. You will send to the great Sheikh; he will listen ——’
‘I send to the great Sheikh! You know not your grandfather, and you know not me. The truth is, the Sheikh and myself mutually despise each other, and we have never met without parting in bitterness. No, no; I would rather pay the ransom myself than ask a favour of the great Sheikh. But how can I pay the ransom, even if I chose? This young Englishman is a fiery youth: he will not yield even to an ambush and countless odds. Do you think a man who charges through a defile crowned with matchlocks, and shoots men through the head, as I am told he did, in the name of Christ, will owe his freedom to my Jewish charity? He will burn the Temple first. This young man has the sword of Gideon. You know little of the world, Eva, and nothing of young Englishmen. There is not a race so proud, so wilful, so rash, and so obstinate. They live in a misty clime, on raw meats, and wines of fire. They laugh at their fathers, and never say a prayer. They pass their days in the chase, gaming, and all violent courses. They have all the power of the State, and all its wealth; and when they can wring no more from their peasants, they plunder the kings of India.’ ‘But this young Englishman, you say, is pious?’ said Eva.
Ah! this young Englishman; why did he come here? What is Jerusalem to him, or he to Jerusalem? His Intendant, himself a prisoner, waits here. I must see him; he is one of the people of my patron, which proves our great friend’s interest in this youth. O day thrice cursed! day of a thousand evil eyes! day of a new captivity ——’
‘My father, my dear father, these bursts of grief do not become your fame for wisdom. We must inquire, we must hold counsel. Let me see the Intendant of this English youth, and hear more than I have yet learnt. I cannot think that affairs are so hopeless as you paint them: I will believe that there is a spring near.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53