Tancred/Chapter XVIII

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An Interesting Rencontre

WHEN Tancred returned home, musing, from a visit to Sidonia, he found the following note:

'Lady Bertie and Bellair returns Lord Montacute his carriage with a thousand compliments and thanks. She fears she greatly incommoded Lord Montacute, but begs to assure him how very sensible she is of his considerate courtesy.

'Upper Brook Street, Wednesday.'

The handwriting was of that form of scripture which attracts; refined yet energetic; full of character. Tancred recognised the titles of Bertie and Bellair as those of two not inconsiderable earldoms, now centred in the same individual. Lady Bertie and Bellair was herself a lady of the high nobility; a daughter of the present Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine; the son of that duke who was the father-in-law of Lord de Mowbray, and whom Lady Firebrace, the present Lady Bardolf, and Tadpole, had dexterously converted to conservatism by persuading him that he was to be Sir Robert's Irish viceroy. Lady Bertie and Bellair, therefore, was first-cousin to Lady Joan Mountchesney, and her sister, who is still Lady Maud Fitz-Warene. Tancred was surprised that he never recollected to have met before one so distinguished and so beautiful. His conversation with Sidonia, however, had driven the little adventure of the morning from his memory, and now that it was thus recalled to him, he did not dwell upon it. His being was absorbed in his paramount purpose. The sympathy of Sidonia, so complete, and as instructive as it was animating, was a sustaining power which we often need when we are meditating great deeds. How often, when all seems dark, and hopeless, and spiritless, and tame, when slight obstacles figure in the cloudy landscape as Alps, and the rushing cataracts of our invention have subsided into drizzle, a single phrase of a great man instantaneously flings sunshine on the intellectual landscape, and the habitual features of power and beauty, over which we have so long mused in secret confidence and love, resume all their energy and lustre.

The haunting thought that occasionally, notwithstanding his strong will, would perplex the soul and agitate the heart of Tancred; the haunting thought that, all this time, he was perhaps the dupe of boyish fantasies, was laid to-day. Sometimes he had felt, Why does no one sympathise with my views; why, though they treat them with conventional respect, is it clear that all I have addressed hold them to be absurd? My parents are pious and instructed; they are predisposed to view everything I say, or do, or think, with an even excessive favour. They think me moonstruck. Lord Eskdale is a perfect man of the world; proverbially shrewd, and celebrated for his judgment; he looks upon me as a raw boy, and believes that, if my father had kept me at Eton and sent me to Paris, I should by this time have exhausted my crudities. The bishop is what the world calls a great scholar; he is a statesman who, aloof from faction, ought to be accustomed to take just and comprehensive views; and a priest who ought to be under the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit. He says I am a visionary. All this might well be disheartening; but now comes one whom no circumstances impel to judge my project with indulgence; who would, at the first glance, appear to have many prejudices arrayed against it, who knows more of the world than Lord Eskdale, and who appears to me to be more learned than the whole bench of bishops, and he welcomes my ideas, approves my conclusions, sympathises with my suggestions; develops, illustrates, enforces them; plainly intimates that I am only on the threshold of initiation, and would aid me to advance to the innermost mysteries.

There was this night a great ball at Lady Bardolfs, in Belgrave Square. One should generally mention localities, because very often they indicate character. Lady Bardolf lived next door to Mrs. Guy Flouncey. Both had risen in the world, though it requires some esoteric knowledge to recognise the patrician par-venue; and both had finally settled themselves down in the only quarter which Lady Bardolf thought worthy of her new coronet, and Mrs. Guy Flouncey of her new visiting list.

Lady Bardolf had given up the old family mansion of the Firebraces in Hanover Square, at the same time that she had resigned their old title. Politics being dead, in consequence of the majority of 1841, who, after a little kicking for the million, satisfactorily assured the minister that there was no vice in them.

Lady Bardolf had chalked out a new career, and one of a still more eminent and exciting character than her previous pursuit. Lady Bardolf was one of those ladies—there are several—who entertain the curious idea that they need only to be known in certain high quarters to be immediately selected as the principal objects of court favour. Lady Bardolf was always putting herself in the way of it; she never lost an opportunity; she never missed a drawing-room, contrived to be at all the court balls, plotted to be invited to a costume fête, and expended the tactics of a campaign to get asked to some grand château honoured by august presence. Still Her Majesty had not yet sent for Lady Bardolf. She was still very good friends with Lord Masque, for he had social influence, and could assist her; but as for poor Tadpole, she had sadly neglected him, his sphere being merely political, and that being no longer interesting. The honest gentleman still occasionally buzzed about her, slavering portentous stories about malcontent country gentlemen, mumbling Maynooth, and shaking his head at Young England. Tadpole was wont to say in confidence, that for his part he wished Sir Robert had left alone religion and commerce, and confined himself to finance, which was his forte as long as he had a majority to carry the projects which he found in the pigeon-holes of the Treasury, and which are always at the service of every minister.

Well, it was at Lady Bardolfs ball, close upon midnight, that Tancred, who had not long entered, and had not very far advanced in the crowded saloons, turning his head, recognised his heroine of the morning, his still more recent correspondent, Lady Bertie and Bellair. She was speaking to Lord Valentine. It was impossible to mistake her; rapid as had been his former observation of her face, it was too remarkable to be forgotten, though the captivating details were only the result of his present more advantageous inspection. A small head and large dark eyes, dark as her rich hair which was quite unadorned, a pale but delicate complexion, small pearly teeth, were charms that crowned a figure rather too much above the middle height, yet undulating and not without grace. Her countenance was calm without being grave; she smiled with her eyes.

She was for a moment alone; she looked round, and recognised Tancred; she bowed to him with a beaming glance. Instantly he was at her side.

'Our second meeting to-day,' she said, in a low, sweet voice.

'How came it that we never met before?' he replied.

'I have just returned from Paris; the first time I have been out; and, had it not been for you,' she added, 'I should not have been here to-night. I think they would have put me in prison.'

'Lady Bardolf ought to be very much obliged to me, and so ought the world.'

'I am,' said Lady Bertie and Bellair.

'That is worth everything else,' said Tancred.

'What a pretty carriage you have! I do not think I shall ever get into mine again. I am almost glad they have destroyed my chariot. I am sure I shall never be able to drive in anything else now except a brougham.'

'Why did you not keep mine?'

'You are magnificent; too gorgeous and oriental for these cold climes. You shower your presents as if you were in the East, which Lord Valentine tells me you are about to visit. When do you leave us?'

'I think of going immediately.'

'Indeed!' said Lady Bertie and Bellair, and her countenance changed. There was a pause, and then she continued playfully, yet as it were half in sadness, 'I almost wish you had not come to my rescue this morning.'

'And why?' 'Because I do not like to make agreeable acquaintances only to lose them.'

'I think that I am most to be pitied,' said Tancred.

'You are wearied of the world very soon. Before you can know us, you leave us.'

'I am not wearied of the world, for indeed, as you say, I know nothing of it. I am here by accident, as you were in the stoppage to-day. It will disperse, and then I shall get on.'

'Lord Valentine tells me that you are going to realise my dream of dreams, that you are going to Jerusalem.'

'Ah!' said Tancred, kindling, 'you too have felt that want?'

'But I never can pardon myself for not having satisfied it,' said Lady Bertie and Bellair in a mournful tone, and looking in his face with her beautiful dark eyes. 'It is the mistake of my life, and now can never be remedied. But I have no energy. I ought, as a girl, when they opposed my purpose, to have taken up my palmer's staff, and never have rested content till I had gathered my shell on the strand of Joppa.'

'It is the right feeling' said Tancred. 'I am persuaded we ought all to go.'

'But we remain here,' said the lady, in a tone of suppressed and elegant anguish; 'here, where we all complain of our hopeless lives; with not a thought beyond the passing hour, yet all bewailing its wearisome and insipid moments.'

'Our lot is cast in a material age,' said Tancred.

'The spiritual can alone satisfy me,' said Lady Bertie and Bellair.

'Because you have a soul,' continued Tancred, with animation, 'still of a celestial hue. They are rare in the nineteenth century. Nobody now thinks about heaven. They never dream of angels. All their existence is concentrated in steamboats and railways.'

'You are right,' said the lady, earnestly; 'and you fly from it.'

'I go for other purposes; I would say even higher ones,' said Tancred.

'I can understand you; your feelings are my own. Jerusalem has been the dream of my life. I have always been endeavouring to reach it, but somehow or other I never got further than Paris.'

'And yet it is very easy now to get to Jerusalem,' said Tancred; 'the great difficulty, as a very remarkable man said to me this morning, is to know what to do when you are there.'

'Who said that to you?' inquired Lady Bertie and Bellair, bending her head.

'It was the person I was going to call upon when I met you; Monsieur de Sidonia.'

'Monsieur de Sidonia!' said the lady, with animation. 'Ah! you know him?'

'Not as much as I could wish. I saw him to-day for the first time. My cousin, Lord Eskdale, gave me a letter of introduction to him, for his advice and assistance about my journey. Sidonia has been a great traveller.'

'There is no person I wish to know so much as M. de Sidonia,' said Lady Bertie and Bellair. 'He is a great friend of Lord Eskdale, I think? I must get Lord Eskdale,' she added, musingly, 'to give me a little dinner, and ask M. de Sidonia to meet me.'

'He never goes anywhere; at least I have heard so,' said Tancred.

'He once used to do, and to give us great fêtes. I remember hearing of them before I was out. We must make him resume them. He is immensely rich.'

'I dare say he may be,' said Tancred. 'I wonder how a man with his intellect and ideas can think of the accumulation of wealth.'

''Tis his destiny,' said Lady Bertie and Bellair. 'He can no more disembarrass himself of his hereditary millions than a dynasty of the cares of empire. I wonder if he will get the Great Northern. They talked of nothing else at Paris.'

'Of what?' said Tancred.

'Oh! let us talk of Jerusalem!' said Lady Bertie and Bellair. 'Ah, here is Augustus! Let me make you and my husband acquainted.'

Tancred almost expected to see the moustached companion of the morning, but it was not so. Lord Bertie and Bellair was a tall, thin, distinguished, withered-looking young man, who thanked Tancred for his courtesy of the morning with a sort of gracious negligence, and, after some easy talk, asked Tancred to dine with them on the morrow. He was engaged, but he promised to call on Lady Bertie and Bellair immediately, and see some drawings of the Holy Land.