The Crusader Receives a Shock
TANCRED passed a night of great disquiet. His mind was agitated, his purposes indefinite; his confidence in himself seemed to falter. Where was that strong will that had always sustained him? that faculty of instant decision which had given such vigour to his imaginary deeds? A shadowy haze had suffused his heroic idol, duty, and he could not clearly distinguish either its form or its proportions. Did he wish to go to the Holy Land or not? What a question? Had it come to that? Was it possible that he could whisper such an enquiry, even to his midnight soul? He did wish to go to the Holy Land; his purpose was not in the least faltering; he most decidedly wished to go to the Holy Land, but he wished also to go thither in the company of Lady Bertie and Bellair.
Tancred could not bring himself to desert the only being perhaps in England, excepting himself, whose heart was at Jerusalem; and that being a woman! There seemed something about it unknightly, unkind and cowardly, almost base. Lady Bertie was a heroine worthy of ancient Christendom rather than of enlightened Europe. In the old days, truly the good old days, when the magnetic power of Western Asia on the Gothic races had been more puissant, her noble yet delicate spirit might have been found beneath the walls of Ascalon or by the purple waters of Tyre. When Tancred first met her, she was dreaming of Palestine amid her frequent sadness; he could not, utterly void of all self-conceit as he was, be insensible to the fact that his sympathy, founded on such a divine congeniality, had often chased the cloud from her brow and lightened the burthen of her drooping spirit. If she were sad before, what would she be now, deprived of the society of the only being to whom she could unfold the spiritual mysteries of her romantic soul? Was such a character to be left alone in this world of slang and scrip; of coarse motives and coarser words? Then, too, she was so intelligent and so gentle; the only person who understood him, and never grated for an instant on his high ideal. Her temper also was the sweetest in the world, eminent as her generous spirit. She spoke of others with so much kindness, and never indulged in that spirit of detraction or that love of personal gossip which Tancred had frankly told her he abhorred. Somehow or other it seemed that their tastes agreed on everything.
The agitated Tancred rose from the bed where the hope of slumber was vain. The fire in his dressing-room was nearly extinguished; wrapped in his chamber robe, he threw himself into a chair, which he drew near the expiring embers, and sighed.
Unhappy youth! For you commences that great hallucination, which all must prove, but which fortunately can never be repeated, and which, in mockery, we call first love. The physical frame has its infantile disorders; the cough which it must not escape, the burning skin which it must encounter. The heart has also its childish and cradle malady, which may be fatal, but which, if once surmounted, enables the patient to meet with becoming power all the real convulsions and fevers of passion that are the heirloom of our after-life. They, too, may bring destruction; but, in their case, the cause and the effect are more proportioned. The heroine is real, the sympathy is wild but at least genuine, the catastrophe is that of a ship at sea which sinks with a rich cargo in a noble venture.
In our relations with the softer sex it cannot be maintained that ignorance is bliss. On the contrary, experience is the best security for enduring love. Love at first sight is often a genial and genuine sentiment, but first love at first sight is ever eventually branded as spurious. Still more so is that first love which suffuses less rapidly the spirit of the ecstatic votary, when he finds that by degrees his feelings, as the phrase runs, have become engaged. Fondness is so new to him that he has repaid it with exaggerated idolatry, and become intoxicated by the novel gratification of his vanity. Little does he suspect that all this time his seventh heaven is but the crapulence of self-love. In these cases, it is not merely that everything is exaggerated, but everything is factitious. Simultaneously, the imaginary attributes of the idol disappearing, and vanity being satiated, all ends in a crash of iconoclastic surfeit.
The embers became black, the night air had cooled the turbulent blood of Lord Montacute, he shivered, returned to his couch, and found a deep and invigorating repose.
The next morning, about two hours after noon, Tancred called on Lady Bertie. As he drove up to the door, there came forth from it the foreigner who was her companion in the city fray when Tancred first saw her and went to her rescue. He recognised Lord Montacute, and bowed with much ceremony, though with a certain grace and bearing. He was a man whose wrinkled visage strangely contrasted with his still gallant figure, scrupulously attired; a blue frock-coat with a ribboned button-hole, a well-turned boot, hat a little too hidalgoish, but quite new. There was something respectable and substantial about him, notwithstanding his moustaches, and a carriage a degree too debonair for his years. He did not look like a carbonaro or a refugee. Who could he be?
Tancred had asked himself this question before. This was not the first time that he had encountered this distinguished foreigner since their first meeting. Tancred had seen him before this, quitting the door of Lord Bertie and Bellair; had stumbled over him before this, more than once, on the staircase; once, to his surprise, had met him as he entered the personal saloon of Lady Bertie. As it was evident, on that occasion, that his visit had been to the lady, it was thought necessary to say something, and he had been called the Baron, and described, though in a somewhat flurried and excited manner, as a particular friend, a person in whom they had the most entire confidence, who had been most kind to them at Paris, putting them in the way of buying the rarest china for nothing, and who was now over here on some private business of his own, of great importance. The Bertie and Bellairs felt immense interest in his exertions, and wished him every success; Lord Bertie particularly. It was not at all surprising, considering the innumerable kindnesses they had experienced at his hands, was it?
'Nothing more natural,' replied Tancred; and he turned the conversation.
Lady Bertie was much depressed this morning, so much so that it was impossible for Tancred not to notice her unequal demeanour. Her hand trembled as he touched it; her face, flushed when he entered, became deadly pale.
'You are not well,' he said. 'I fear the open carriage last night has made you already repent our expedition.'
She shook her head. It was not the open carriage, which was delightful, nor the expedition, which was enchanting, that had affected her. Would that life consisted only of such incidents, of barouches and whitebait banquets! Alas! no, it was not these. But she was nervous, her slumbers had been disquieted, she had encountered alarming dreams; she had a profound conviction that something terrible was impending over her. And Tancred took her hand, to prevent, if possible, what appeared to be inevitable hysterics. But Lady Bertie and Bellair was a strong-minded woman, and she commanded herself.
'I can bear anything,' said Tancred, in a trembling voice, 'but to see you unhappy.' And he drew his chair nearer to hers.
Her face was hid, her beautiful face in her beautiful hand. There was silence and then a sigh.
'Dear lady,' said Lord Montacute.
'What is it?' murmured Lady Bertie and Bellair.
'Why do you sigh?'
'Because I am miserable.'
'No, no, no, don't use such words,' said the distracted Tancred. 'You must not be miserable; you shall not be.'
'Can I help it? Are we not about to part?'
'We need not part,' he said, in a low voice.
'Then you will remain?' she said, looking up, and her dark brown eyes were fixed with all their fascination on the tortured Tancred.
'Till we all go,' he said, in a soothing voice.
'That can never be,' said Lady Bertie; 'Augustus will never hear of it; he never could be absent more than six weeks from London, he misses his clubs so. If Jerusalem were only a place one could get at, something might be done; if there were a railroad to it for example.'
'A railroad!' exclaimed Tancred, with a look of horror. 'A railroad to Jerusalem!'
'No, I suppose there never can be one,' continued Lady Bertie, in a musing tone. 'There is no traffic. And I am the victim,' she added, in a thrilling voice; I am left here among people who do not comprehend me, and among circumstances with which I can have no sympathy. But go, Lord Montacute, go, and be happy, alone. I ought to have been prepared for all this; you have not deceived me. You told me from the first you were a pilgrim, but I indulged in a dream. I believe that I should not only visit Palestine, but even visit it with you.' And she leant back in her chair and covered her face with her hands.
Tancred rose from his seat, and paced the chamber. His heart seemed to burst.
'What is all this?' he thought. 'How came all this to occur? How has arisen this singular combination of unforeseen causes and undreamed-of circumstances, which baffles all my plans and resolutions, and seems, as it were, without my sanction and my agency, to be taking possession of my destiny and life? I am bewildered, confounded, incapable of thought or deed.'
His tumultuous reverie was broken by the sobs of Lady Bertie.
'By heaven, I cannot endure this!' said Tancred, advancing. 'Death seems to me preferable to her un-happiness. Dearest of women!'
'Do not call me that,' she murmured. 'I can bear anything from your lips but words of fondness. And pardon all this; I am not myself to-day. I had thought that I had steeled myself to all, to our inevitable separation; but I have mistaken myself, at least miscalculated my strength. It is weak; it is very weak and very foolish, but you must pardon it. I am too much interested in your career to wish you to delay your departure a moment for my sake. I can bear our separation, at least I think I can. I shall quit the world, for ever. I should have done so had we not met. I was on the point of doing so when we did meet, when, when my dream was at length realised. Go, go; do not stay. Bless you, and write to me, if I be alive to receive your letters.'
'I cannot leave her,' thought the harrowed Tancred. 'It never shall be said of me that I could blight a woman's life, or break her heart.' But, just as he was advancing, the door opened, and a servant brought in a note, and, without looking at Tancred, who had turned to the window, disappeared. The desolation and despair which had been impressed on the countenance of Lady Bertie and Bellair vanished in an instant, as she recognised the handwriting of her correspondent. They were succeeded by an expression of singular excitement. She tore open the note; a stupor seemed to spread over her features, and, giving a faint shriek, she fell into a swoon.
Tancred rushed to her side; she was quite insensible, and pale as alabaster. The note, which was only two lines, was open and extended in her hands. It was from no idle curiosity, but it was impossible for Tancred not to read it. He had one of those eagle visions that nothing could escape, and, himself extremely alarmed, it was the first object at which he unconsciously glanced in his agitation to discover the cause and the remedy for this crisis. The note ran thus:
'Is it possible?' echoed Tancred, as, entrusting Lady Bertie to her maid, he rapidly descended the staircase of her mansion. He almost ran to Davies Street, where he jumped into a cab, not permitting the driver to descend to let him in.
'Where to?' asked the driver.
'Never mind; near the Bank.'
Alighting from the cab, Tancred hurried to Sequin Court and sent in his card to Sidonia, who in a few moments received him. As he entered the great financier's room, there came out of it the man called in Brook Street the Baron.
'Well, how did your dinner go off?' said Sidonia, looking with some surprise at the disturbed countenance of Tancred.
'It seems very ridiculous, very impertinent I fear you will think it,' said Tancred, in a hesitating confused manner, 'but that person, that person who has just left the room; I have a particular reason, I have the greatest desire, to know who that person is.'
'That is a French capitalist,' replied Sidonia, with a slight smile, 'an eminent French capitalist, the Baron Villebecque de Château Neuf. He wants me to support him in a great railroad enterprise in his country: a new line to Strasbourg, and looks to a great traffic, I suppose, in pasties. But this cannot much interest you. What do you want really to know about him? I can tell you everything. I have been acquainted with him for years. He was the intendant of Lord Monmouth, who left him thirty thousand pounds, and he set up upon this at Paris as a millionaire. He is in the way of becoming one, has bought lands, is a deputy and a baron. He is rather a favourite of mine,' added Sidonia, 'and I have been able, perhaps, to assist him, for I knew him long before Lord Monmouth did, in a very different position from that which he now fills, though not one for which I have less respect. He was a fine comic actor in the courtly parts, and the most celebrated manager in Europe; always a fearful speculator, but he is an honest fellow, and has a good heart.'
'He is a great friend of Lady Bertie and Bellair,' said Tancred, rather hesitatingly.
'Naturally,' said Sidonia.
'She also,' said Tancred, with a becalmed countenance, but a palpitating heart, 'is, I believe, much interested in railroads?'
'She is the most inveterate female gambler in Europe,' said Sidonia, 'whatever shape her speculations take. Villebecque is a great ally of hers. He always had a weakness for the English aristocracy, and remembers that he owed his fortune to one of them. Lady Bertie was in great tribulation this year at Paris: that was the reason she did not come over before Easter; and Villebecque extricated her from a scrape. He would assist her now if he could. By-the-bye, the day that I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, she was here with Villebecque, an hour at my door, but I could not see her; she pesters me, too, with her letters. But I do not like feminine finance. I hope the worthy baron will be discreet in his alliance with her, for her affairs, which I know, as I am obliged to know every one's, happen to be at this moment most critical.'
'I am trespassing on you,' said Tancred, after a painful pause, 'but I am about to set sail.'
'To-morrow; to-day, if I could; and you were so kind as to promise me——'
'A letter of introduction and a letter of credit. I have not forgotten, and I will write them for you at once.' And Sidonia took up his pen and wrote:
A Letter of Introduction.
To Alonzo Lara, Spanish Prior, at the Convent of Terra Santa at Jerusalem.
'You can read Spanish,' said Sidonia, giving him the letter. 'The other I shall write in Hebrew, which you will soon read.'
A Letter of Credit.
To Adam Besso at Jerusalem.