Fakredeen and the Rose of Sharon
BEFORE Tancred could recover from his surprise, the kiosk was invaded by a crowd of little grinning negro pages, dressed in white tunics, with red caps and slippers. They bore a number of diminutive trays of ebony inlaid with tortoiseshell, and the mother-o'-pearl of Joppa, and covered with a great variety of dishes. It was in vain that he would have signified to them that he had no wish to partake of the banquet, and that he attempted to rise from his mat. They understood nothing that he said, but always grinning and moving about him with wonderful quickness, they fastened a napkin of the finest linen, fringed with gold, round his neck, covered the mats and the border of the fountain with their dishes and vases of differently-coloured sherbets, and proceeded, notwithstanding all his attempts at refusal, to hand him their dainties in due order. Notwithstanding his present tone of mind, which was ill-adapted to any carnal gratification, Tancred had nevertheless been an unusual number of hours without food. He had made during the period no inconsiderable exertion, and was still some distance from the city. Though he resigned himself perforce to the care of his little attendants, their solicitude therefore was not inappropriate. He partook of some of their dishes, and when he had at length succeeded in conveying to them his resolution to taste no more, they cleared the kiosk with as marvellous a celerity as they had stored it, and then two of them advanced with a nargileh and a chibouque, to offer their choice to their guest. Tan-cred placed the latter for a moment to his mouth, and then rising, and making signs to the pages that he would now return, they danced before him in the path till he had reached the other side of the area of roses, and then, with a hundred bows, bending, they took their leave of him.
The sun had just sunk as Tancred quitted the garden: a crimson glow, shifting, as he proceeded, into rich tints of purple and of gold, suffused the stern Judæan hills, and lent an almost supernatural lustre to the landscape; lighting up the wild gorges, gilding the distant glens, and still kindling the superior elevations with its living blaze. The air, yet fervid, was freshened by a slight breeze that came over the wilderness from the Jordan, and the big round stars that were already floating in the skies were the brilliant heralds of the splendour of a Syrian night. The beauteous hour and the sacred scene were alike in unison with the heart of Tancred, softened and serious. He mused in fascinated reverie over the dazzling incident of the day. Who was this lady of Bethany, who seemed not unworthy to have followed Him who had made her abiding place so memorable? Her beauty might have baffled the most ideal painter of the fair Hebrew saints. Raffaelle himself could not have designed a brow of more delicate supremacy. Her lofty but gracious bearing, the vigour of her clear, frank mind, her earnestness, free from all ecstasy and flimsy enthusiasm, but founded in knowledge and deep thought, and ever sustained by exact expression and ready argument, her sweet witty voice, the great and all-engaging theme on which she was so content to discourse, and which seemed by right to belong to her: all these were circumstances which wonderfully affected the imagination of Tancred.
He was lost in the empyrean of high abstraction, his gaze apparently fixed on the purple mountains, and the golden skies, and the glittering orbs of coming night, which yet in truth he never saw, when a repeated shout at length roused him. It bade him stand aside on the narrow path that winds round the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem to Bethany, and let a coming horseman pass. The horseman was the young Emir who was a guest the night before in the divan of Besso. Though habited in the Mamlouk dress, as if only the attendant of some great man, huge trousers and jacket of crimson cloth, a white turban, a shawl round his waist holding his pistols and sabre, the horse he rode was a Kochlani of the highest breed., By him was a running footman, holding his nargileh, to which the Emir frequently applied his mouth as he rode along. He shot a keen glance at Tancred as he passed by, and then throwing his tube to his attendant, he bounded on.
In the meantime, we must not forget the lady of Bethany after she so suddenly disappeared from the kiosk. Proceeding up her mountain garden, which narrowed as she advanced, and attended by two female slaves, who had been in waiting without the kiosk, she was soon in that hilly chink in which she had built her nest; a long, low pavilion, with a shelving roof, and surrounded by a Saracenic arcade; the whole painted in fresco; a golden pattern of flowing fancy on a white ground. If there were door or window, they were entirely concealed by the blinds which appeared to cover the whole surface of the building. Stepping into the arcade, the lady entered the pavilion by a side portal, which opened by a secret spring, and which conducted her into a small corridor, and this again through two chambers, in both of which were many females, who mutely saluted her without rising from their employments.
Then the mistress entered a more capacious and ornate apartment. Its ceiling, which described the horseshoe arch of the Saracens, was encrusted with that honeycomb work which is peculiar to them, and which, in the present instance, was of rose colour and silver. Mirrors were inserted in the cedar panels of the walls; a divan of rose-coloured silk surrounded the chamber, and on the thick soft carpet of many colours, which nearly covered the floor, were several cushions surrounding an antique marble tripod of wreathed serpents. The lady, disembarrassing herself of her slippers, seated herself on the divan in the fashion of her country; one of her attendants brought a large silver lamp, which diffused a delicious odour as well as a brilliant light, and placed it on the tripod; the other clapped her hands, and a band of beautiful girls entered the room, bearing dishes of confectionery, plates of choice fruits, and vases of delicious sherbets. The lady, partaking of some of these, directed, after a short time, that they should be offered to her immediate attendants, who thereupon kissed their hands with a grave face, and pressed them to their hearts. Then one of the girls, leaving the apartment for a moment, returned with a nargileh of crystal, set by the most cunning artists of Damascus in a framework of golden filigree crusted with precious stones. She presented the flexible silver tube, tipped with amber, to the lady, who, waving her hand that the room should be cleared, smoked a confection of roses and rare nuts, while she listened to a volume read by one of her maidens, who was seated by the silver lamp.
While they were thus employed, an opposite curtain to that by which they had entered was drawn aside, and a woman advanced, and whispered some words to the lady, who seemed to signify her assent. Immediately, a tall negro of Dongola, richly habited in a flowing crimson vest, and with a large silver collar round his neck, entered the hall, and, after the usual salutations of reverence to the lady, spoke earnestly in a low voice. The lady listened with great attention, and then, taking out her tablets from her girdle, she wrote a few words and gave a leaf to the tall negro, who bowed and retired. Then she waved her hand, and the maiden who was reading closed her book, rose, and, pressing her hand to her heart, retired.
It seemed that the young Emir had arrived at the pavilion, and prayed that, without a moment's delay, he might speak with the Lady of Bethany.
The curtain was again withdrawn, a light step was heard, the young man who had recently passed Tancred on the road to Jerusalem bounded into the room.
'How is the Rose of Sharon?' he exclaimed. He threw himself at her feet, and pressed the hem of her garment to his lips with an ecstasy which it would have been difficult for a bystander to decide whether it were mockery or enthusiasm, or genuine feeling, which took a sportive air to veil a devotion which it could not conceal, and which it cared not too gravely to intimate.
'Ah, Fakredeen!' said the lady, 'and when did you leave the Mountain?'
'I arrived at Jerusalem yesterday by sunset; never did I want to see you so much. The foreign consuls have stopped my civil war, which cost me a hundred thousand piastres. We went down to Beiroot and signed articles of peace; I thought it best to attend to escape suspicion. However, there is more stirring than you can conceive: never had I such combinations! First, let me shortly tell you what I have done, then what I wish you to do. I have made immense hits, but I am also in a scrape.'
'That I think you always are,' said the lady.
'But you will get me out of it, Rose of Sharon! You always do, brightest and sweetest of friends! What an alliance is ours! My invention, your judgment; my combinations, your criticism. It must carry everything before it.'
'I do not see that it has effected much hitherto,' said the lady.' However, give me your mountain news. What have you done?'
'In the first place,' said Fakredeen, 'until this accursed peace intrigue of the foreign consuls, which will not last as long as the carnival, the Mountain was more troubled than ever, and the Porte, backed up by Sir Canning, is obstinate against any prince of our house exercising the rule.'
'Do you call that good news?'
'It serves. In the first place it keeps my good uncle, the Emir Bescheer and his sons, prisoners at the Seven Towers. Now, I will tell you what I have done. I have sent to my uncle and offered him two hundred thousand piastres a year for his life and that of his sons, if they will represent to the Porte that none but a prince of the house of Shehaab can possibly pacify and administer Lebanon, and that, to obtain this necessary end, they are ready to resign their rights in favour of any other member of the family.'
'What then?' said the Lady of Bethany, taking her nargileh from her mouth.
'Why, then,' said Fakredeen, 'I am by another agent working upon Riza Pasha to this effect, that of all the princes of the great house of Shehaab, there is none so well adapted to support the interests of the Porte as the Emir Fakredeen, and for these three principal reasons: in the first place, because he is a prince of great qualities——'
'Your proof of them to the vizir would be better than your assertion.'
'Exactly,' said Fakredeen. 'I prove them by my second reason, which is a guaranty to his excellency of the whole revenue of the first year of my princedom, provided I receive the berat.'
'I can tell you something,' said the lady, 'Riza shakes a little. He is too fond of first-fruits. His nomination will not be popular.'
'Yes it will, when the divan takes into consideration the third reason for my appointment,' said the prince. 'Namely, that the Emir Fakredeen is the only prince of the great house of Shehaab who is a good Mussulman.'
'You a good Mussulman! Why, I thought you had sent two months ago Archbishop Murad to Paris, urging King Louis to support you, because, amongst other reasons, being a Christian prince, you would defend the faith and privileges of the Maronites.'
'And devote myself to France,' said Fakredeen. 'It is very true, and an excellent combination it is, if we could only bring it to bear, which I do not despair of, though affairs, which looked promising at Paris, have taken an unfortunate turn of late.'
'I am sorry for that,' said the lady, 'for really, Fakredeen, of all your innumerable combinations, that did seem to me to be the most practical. I think it might have been worked. The Maronites are powerful; the French nation is interested in them; they are the link between France and Syria; and you, being a Christian prince as well as an emir of the most illustrious house, with your intelligence and such aid as we might give you, I think your prospects were, to say the least, fair.'
'Why, as to being a Christian prince, Eva, you must remember I aspire to a dominion where I have to govern the Maronites who are Christians, the Metoualis who are Mahometans, the Ansareys who are Pagans, and the Druses who are nothing. As for-myself, my house, as you well know, is more ancient even than that of Othman. We are literally descended from the standard-bearer of the Prophet, and my own estates, as well as those of the Emir Bes-cheer, have been in our registered possession for nearly eight hundred years. Our ancestors became Christians to conciliate the Maronites. Now tell me: in Europe, an English or French prince who wants a throne never hesitates to change his religion, why should I be more nice? I am of that religion which gives me a sceptre; and if a Frank prince adopts a new creed when he quits London or Paris, I cannot understand why mine may not change according to the part of the mountain through which I am passing. What is the use of belonging to an old family unless to have the authority of an ancestor ready for any prejudice, religious or political, which your combinations may require?'
'Ah! Fakredeen,' said the lady, shaking her head, 'you have no self-respect.'
'No Syrian has; it won't do for us. You are an Arabian; it will do for the desert. Self-respect, too, is a superstition of past centuries, an affair of the Crusades. It is not suited to these times; it is much too arrogant, too self-conceited, too egotistical. No one is important enough to have self-respect. Don't you see?'
'You boast of being a prince inferior to none in the antiquity of your lineage, and, as far as the mere fact is concerned, you are justified in your boast. I cannot comprehend how one who feels this pride should deign to do anything that is not princely.'
'A prince!' exclaimed Fakredeen. 'Princes go for nothing now, without a loan. Get me a loan, and then you turn the prince into a government. That's the thing.'
'You will never get a loan till you are Emir of Lebanon,' said the lady. 'And you have shown me to-day that the only chance you have is failing you, for, after all, Paris was your hope. What has crossed you?'
'In the first place,' said Fakredeen, 'what can the French do? After having let the Egyptians be driven out, fortunately for me, for their expulsion ruined my uncle, the French will never take the initiative in Syria. All that I wanted of them was, that they should not oppose Riza Pasha in his nomination of me. But to secure his success a finer move was necessary. So I instructed Archbishop Murad, whom they received very well at Paris, to open secret communications over the water with the English. He did so, and offered to cross and explain in detail to their ministers. I wished to assure them in London that I was devoted to their interests; and I meant to offer to let the Protestant missionaries establish themselves in the mountain, so that Sir Canning should have received instructions to support my nomination by Riza. Then you see, I should have had the Porte, England, and France. The game was won. Can you believe it? Lord Aberdeen enclosed my agent's letter to Guizot. I was crushed.'
'And disgraced. You deserved it. You never will succeed. Intrigue will be your ruin, Fakredeen.'
'Intrigue!' exclaimed the prince, starting from the cushion near the tripod, on which he sat, speaking with great animation and using, as was his custom, a superfluity of expression, both of voice and hands and eyes, 'intrigue! It is life! It is the only thing! How do you think Guizot and Aberdeen got to be ministers without intrigue? Or Riza Pasha himself? How do you think Mehemet Ali got on? Do you believe Sir Canning never intrigues? He would be recalled in a week if he did not. Why, I have got one of his spies in my castle at this moment, and I make him write home for the English all that I wish them not to believe. Intrigue! Why, England won India by intrigue. Do you think they are not intriguing in the Punjaub at this moment? Intrigue has gained half the thrones of Europe: Greece, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Russia. If you wish to produce a result, you must make combinations; and you call combinations, Eva, intrigue!'
'And this is the scrape that you are in,' said the lady. 'I do not see how I can help you out of it.'
'Pardon; this is not the scrape: and here comes the point on which I need your aid, daughter of a thousand sheikhs! I can extricate myself from the Paris disaster, even turn it to account. I have made an alliance with the patriarch of the Lebanon, who manages affairs for the Emir Bescheer. The patriarch hates Murad, whom you see I was to have made patriarch. I am to declare the Archbishop an unauthorised agent, an adventurer, and my letter to be a forgery. The patriarch is to go to Stamboul, with his long white beard, and put me right with France, through De Bourqueney, with whom he has relations in favour of the Emir Bescheer; my uncle is to be thrown over; all the Maronite chiefs are to sign a declaration supplicating the Porte to institute me; nay, the declaration is signed——'
'And the Druses? Will not this Maronite manifestation put you wrong with the Druses?'
'I live among the Druses, you see,' said Fakredeen, shaking his head, and looking with his glittering eye a thousand meanings. 'The Druses love me. They know that I am one of themselves. They will only think that I have made the Maronites eat sand.'
'And what have you really done for the Maronites to gain all this?' asked the lady, quietly.
'There it is,' said Fakredeen, speaking in an affected whisper, 'the greatest stroke of state that ever entered the mind of a king without a kingdom, for I am resolved that the mountain shall be a royalty I You remember when Ibrahim Pasha laid his plans for disarming the Lebanon, the Maronites, urged by their priests, fell into the snare, while the Druses wisely went with their muskets and scimitars, and lived awhile with the eagle and the antelope. This has been sand to the Maronites ever since. The Druses put their tongues in their cheek whenever they meet, and treat them as so many women. The Porte, of course, will do nothing for the Maronites; they even take back the muskets which they lent them for the insurrection. Well, as the Porte will not arm them, I have agreed to do it.'
' 'Tis done; at least the caravan is laden; we only want a guide. And this is why I am at Jerusalem. Scheriff Effendi, who met me here yesterday, has got me five thousand English muskets, and I have arranged with the Bedouin of Zoalia to carry them to the mountain.'
'You have indeed Solomon's signet, my dear Fakredeen.'
'Would that I had; for then I could pay two hundred thousand piastres to that Egyptian camel, Scheriff Effendi, and he would give me up my muskets, which now, like a true son of Eblis, he obstinately retains.'
'And this is your scrape, Fakredeen. And how much have you towards the sum?'
'Not a piastre; nor do I suppose I shall ever see, until I make a great financial stroke, so much of the sultan's gold as is on one of the gilt balls of roses in your nargileh. My crops are sold for next year, my jewels are gone, my studs are to be broken up. There is not a cur in the streets of Beiroot of whom I have not borrowed money. Riza Pasha is a sponge that would dry the sea of Galilee.'
'It is a great thing to have gained the Patriarch of Lebanon,' said the lady; 'I always felt that, as long as that man was against you, the Maronites never could be depended on. And yet these arms; after all, they are of no use, for you would not think of insurrection!'
'No; but they can quarrel with the Druses, and cut each other's throats, and this will make the mountain more unmanageable than ever, and the English will have no customers for their calicoes, don't you see? Lord Palmerston will arraign the minister in the council. I shall pay off Aberdeen for enclosing the Archbishop's letter to Guizot. Combination upon combination! The calico merchants will call out for a prince of the house of Shehaab! Riza will propose me; Bourqueney will not murmur, and Sir Canning, finding he is in a mess, will sign a fine note of words about the peace of Europe and the prosperity of Lebanon, and 'tis finished.'
'And my father, you have seen him?'
'I have seen him,' said the young Emir, and he cast his eyes on the ground.
'He has done so much,' said Eva.
'Ask him to do more, Rose of Sharon,' said Fakredeen, like a child about to cry for a toy, and he threw himself on his knees before Eva, and kept kissing her robe. 'Ask him to do more,' he repeated, in a suppressed tone of heart-rending cajolery; 'he can refuse you nothing. Ask him, ask him, Eva! I have no friend in the world but you; I am so desolate. You have always been my friend, my counsellor, my darling, my ruby, my pearl, my rose of Rocnabad! Ask him, Eva; never mind my faults; you know me by heart; only ask him!'
She shook her head.
'Tell him that you are my sister, that I am his son, that I love you so, that I love him so; tell him anything. Say that he ought to do it because I am a Hebrew.'
'A what?' said Eva.
'A Hebrew; yes, a Hebrew. I am a Hebrew by blood, and we all are by faith.'
'Thou son of a slave!' exclaimed the lady, 'thou masquerade of humanity! Christian or Mussulman, Pagan or Druse, thou mayest figure as; but spare my race, Fakredeen, they are fallen——'
'But not so base as I am. It may be true, but I love you, Eva, and you love me; and if I had as many virtues as yourself, you could not love me more; perhaps less. Women like to feel their superiority; you are as clever as I am, and have more judgment; you are generous, and I am selfish; honourable, and I am a villain; brave, and I am a coward; rich, and I am poor. Let that satisfy you, and do not trample on the fallen;' and Fakredeen took her hand and bedewed it with his tears.
'Dear Fakredeen,' said Eva, 'I thought you spoke in jest, as I did.'
'How can a man jest, who has to go through what I endure!' said the young Emir, in a desponding tone, and still lying at her feet. 'O, my more than sister, 'tis hell! The object I propose to myself would, with the greatest resources, be difficult; and now I have none.'
'When I am young and ruined! When I have the two greatest stimulants in the world to action, Youth and Debt! No; such a combination is never to be thrown away. Any young prince ought to win the Lebanon, but a young prince in debt ought to conquer the world!' and the Emir sprang from the floor, and began walking about the apartment.
'I think, Eva,' he said, after a moment's pause, and speaking in his usual tone, 'I think you really might do something with your father; I look upon myself as his son; he saved my life. And I am a Hebrew; I was nourished by your mother's breast, her being flows in my veins; and independent of all that, my ancestor was the standard-bearer of the Prophet, and the Prophet was the descendant of Ishmael, and Ishmael and Israel were brothers. I really think, between my undoubted Arabian origin and being your foster-brother, that I may be looked upon as a Jew, and that your father might do something for me.'
'Whatever my father will do, you and he must decide together,' said Eva; 'after the result of my last interference, I promised my father that I never would speak to him on your affairs again; and you know, therefore, that I cannot. You ought not to urge me, Fakredeen.'
'Ah! you are angry with me,' he exclaimed, and again seated himself at her feet. 'You were saying in your heart, he is the most selfish of beings. It is true, I am. But I have glorious aspirations at least. I am not content to live like my fathers in a beautiful palace, amid my woods and mountains, with Kochlani steeds, falcons that would pull down an eagle, and nargilehs of rubies and emeralds. I want something more than troops of beautiful slaves, music and dances. I want Europe to talk of me. I am wearied of hearing nothing but Ibrahim Pasha, Louis Philippe, and Palmerston. I, too, can make combinations; and I am of a better family than all three, for Ibrahim is a child of mud, a Bourbon is not equal to a Shehaab, and Lord Palmerston only sits in the Queen's second chamber of council, as I well know from an Englishman who was at Beiroot, and with whom I have formed some political relations, of which perhaps some day you will hear.'
'Well, we have arrived at a stage of your career, Fakredeen, in which no combination presents itself; I am powerless to assist you; my resources, never very great, are quite exhausted.'
'No,' said the Emir, 'the game is yet to be won. Listen, Rose of Sharon, for this is really the point on which I came to hold counsel. A young English lord has arrived at Jerusalem this week or ten days past; he is of the highest dignity, and rich enough to buy the grand bazaar of Damascus; he has letters of credit on your father's house without any limit. No one can discover the object of his mission. I have some suspicions; there is also a French officer here who never speaks; I watch them both. The Englishman, I learnt this morning, is going to Mount Sinai. It is not a pilgrimage, because the English are really neither Jews nor Christians, but follow a sort of religion of their own, which is made every year by their bishops, one of whom they have sent to Jerusalem, in what they call a parliament, a college of muftis; you understand. Now lend me that ear that is like an almond of Aleppo! I propose that one of the tribes that obey your grandfather shall make this Englishman prisoner as he traverses the desert. You see? Ah! Rose of Sharon, I am not yet beat; your Fakredeen is not the baffled boy that, a few minutes ago, you looked as if you thought him. I defy Ibrahim, or the King of France, or Palmerston himself, to make a combination superior to this. What a ransom! The English lord will pay Scheriff Effendi for his five thousand muskets, and for their conveyance to the mountain besides.'