Tancred/Chapter XXXV

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The New Crusader in Peril

NOTWITHSTANDING all the prescient care of the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont, it was destined that the stout arm of Colonel Brace should not wave by the side of their son when he was first attacked by the enemy, and now that he was afflicted by a most severe if not fatal illness, the practised skill of the Doctor Roby was also absent. Fresh exemplification of what all of us so frequently experience, that the most sagacious and matured arrangements are of little avail; that no one is present when he is wanted, and that nothing occurs as it was foreseen. Nor should we forget that the principal cause of all these mischances might perhaps be recognised in the inefficiency of the third person whom the parents of Tancred had, with so much solicitude and at so great an expense, secured to him as a companion and counsellor in his travels. It cannot be denied that if the theological attainments of the Rev. Mr. Bernard had been of a more profound and comprehensive character, it is possible that Lord Montacute might have deemed it necessary to embark upon this new crusade, and ultimately to find himself in the deserts of Mount Sinai. However this may be, one thing was certain, that Tancred had been wounded without a single sabre of the Bellamont yeomanry being brandished in his defence; was now lying dangerously ill in an Arabian tent, without the slightest medical assistance; and perhaps was destined to quit this world, not only without the consolation of a priest of his holy Church, but surrounded by heretics and infidels.

'We have never let any of the savages come near my lord,' said Freeman to Baroni, on his, return.

'Except the fair young gentleman,' added True-man, 'and he is a Christian, or as good.'

'He is a prince,' said Freeman, reproachfully. 'Have I not told you so twenty times? He is what they call in this country a Hameer, and lives in a castle, where he wanted my lord to visit him. I only wish he had gone with my lord to Mount Siny; I think it would have come to more good.'

'He has been very attentive to my lord all the time,' said Trueman; 'indeed, he has never quitted my lord night or day; and only left his side when we heard the caravan had returned.'

'I have seen him,' said Baroni; 'and now let us enter the tent.'

Upon the divan, his head supported by many cushions, clad in a Syrian robe of the young Emir, and partly covered with a Bedouin cloak, lay Tancred, deadly pale, his eyes open and fixed, and apparently unconscious of their presence. He was lying on his back, gazing on the roof of the tent, and was motionless. Fakredeen had raised his wounded arm, which had fallen from the couch, and had supported it with a pile made of cloaks and pillows. The countenance of Tancred was much changed since Baroni last beheld him; it was greatly attenuated, but the eyes glittered with an unearthly fire.

'We don't think he has ever slept,' said Freeman, in a whisper.

'He did nothing but talk to himself the first two days,' said Trueman; 'but yesterday he has been more quiet.'

Baroni advanced to the divan behind the head of Tancred, so that he might not be observed, and then, letting himself fall noiselessly on the carpet, he touched with a light finger the pulse of Lord Montacute.

'There is not too much blood here,' he said, shaking his head.

'You don't think it is hopeless?' said Freeman, beginning to blubber.

'And all the great doings of my lord's coming of age to end in this!' said Trueman. 'They sat down only two less than a hundred at the steward's table for more than a week!'

Baroni made a sign to them to leave the tent. 'God of my fathers!' he said, still seated on the ground, his arms folded, and watching Tancred earnestly with his bright black eyes; 'this is a bad business. This is death or madness, perhaps both. What will M. de Sidonia say? He loves not men who fail. All will be visited on me. I shall be shelved. In Europe they would bleed him, and they would kill him; here they will not bleed him, and he may die. Such is medicine, and such is life! Now, if I only had as much opium as would fill the pipe of a mandarin, that would be something. God of my fathers! this is a bad business.'

He rose softly; he approached nearer to Tancred, and examined his countenance more closely; there was a slight foam upon the lip, which he gently wiped away.

'The brain has worked too much,' said Baroni to himself. 'Often have I watched him pacing the deck during our voyage; never have I witnessed an abstraction so prolonged and so profound. He thinks as much as M. de Sidonia, and feels more. There is his weakness. The strength of my master is his superiority to all sentiment. No affections and a great brain; these are the men to command the world. No affections and a little brain; such is the stuff of which they make petty villains. And a great brain and a great heart, what do they make? Ah! I do not know. The last, perhaps, wears off with time; and yet I wish I could save this youth, for he ever attracts me to him.'

Thus he remained for some time seated on the carpet by the side of the divan, revolving in his mind every possible expedient that might benefit Tancred, and finally being convinced that none was in his power. What roused him from his watchful reverie was a voice that called his name very softly, and, looking round, he beheld the Emir Fakredeen on tiptoe, with his finger on his mouth. Baroni rose, and Fakredeen inviting him with a gesture to leave the tent, he found without the lady of the caravan.

'I want the Rose of Sharon to see your lord,' said the young Emir, very anxiously, 'for she is a great hakeem among our people.'

'Perhaps in the desert, where there is none to be useful, I might not be useless,' said Eva, with some reluctance and reserve.

'Hope has only one arrow left,' said Baroni, mournfully.

'Is it indeed so bad?'

'Oh! save him, Eva, save him!' exclaimed Fakredeen, distractedly.

She placed her finger on her lip.

'Or I shall die,' continued Fakredeen; 'nor indeed have I any wish to live, if he depart from us.'

Eva conversed apart for a few minutes with Baroni, in a low voice, and then drawing aside the curtain of the tent, they entered.

There was no change in the appearance of Tancred, but as they approached him he spoke. Baroni dropped into his former position, Fakredeen fell upon his knees, Eva alone was visible when the eyes of Tancred met hers. His vision was not unconscious of her presence; he stared at her with intentness. The change in her dress, however, would, in all probability, have prevented his recognising her even under indifferent circumstances. She was habited as a Bedouin girl; a leathern girdle encircled her blue robe, a few gold coins were braided in her hair, and her head was covered with a fringed kefia.

Whatever was the impression made upon Tancred by this unusual apparition, it appeared to be only transient. His glance withdrawn, his voice again broke into incoherent but violent exclamations. Suddenly he said, with more moderation, but with firmness and distinctness, 'I am guarded by angels.'

Fakredeen shot a glance at Eva and Baroni, as if to remind them of the tenor of the discourse for which he had prepared them.

After a pause he became somewhat violent, and seemed as if he would have waved his wounded arm; but Baroni, whose eye, though himself unobserved, never quitted his charge, laid his finger upon the arm, and Tancred did not struggle. Again he spoke of angels, but in a milder and mournful tone.

'Methinks you look like one,' thought Eva, as she beheld his spiritual countenance lit up by a superhuman fire.

After a few minutes, she glanced at Baroni, to signify her wish to leave the tent, and he rose and accompanied her. Fakredeen also rose, with streaming eyes, and making the sign of the cross.

'Forgive me,' he said to Eva, 'but I cannot help it. Whenever I am in affliction I cannot help remembering that I am a Christian.'

'I wish you would remember it at all times,' said Eva, 'and then, perhaps, none of us need have been here;' and then not waiting for his reply, she addressed herself to Baroni. 'I agree with you,' she said. 'If we cannot give him sleep, he will soon sleep for ever.'

'Oh, give him sleep, Eva,' said Fakredeen, wringing his hands; 'you can do anything.'

'I suppose,' said Baroni, 'it is hopeless to think of finding any opium here.'

'Utterly,' said Eva; 'its practice is quite unknown among them.'

'Send for some from El Khuds,' said Fakredeen. 'Idle!' said Baroni; 'this is an affair of hours, not of days.'

'Oh, but I will go,' exclaimed Fakredeen; 'you do not know what I can do on one of my dromedaries! I will——'

Eva placed her hand on his arm without looking at him, and then continued to address Baroni.

'Through the pass I several times observed a small white and yellow flower in patches. I lost it as we advanced, and yet I should think it must have followed the stream. If it be, as I think, but I did not observe it with much attention, the flower of the mountain arnica, I know a preparation from that shrub which has a marvellous action on the nervous system.'

'I am sure it is the mountain arnica, and I am sure it will cure him,' said Fakredeen.

'Time presses,' said Eva to Baroni. 'Call my I maidens to our aid; and first of all let us examine the borders of the stream.'

While his friends departed to exert themselves, Fakredeen remained behind, and passed his time partly in watching Tancred, partly in weeping, and partly in calculating the amount of his debts. This latter was a frequent, and to him inexhaustible, source of interest and excitement. His creative brain was soon lost in reverie. He conjured up Tancred restored to health, a devoted friendship between them, immense plans, not inferior achievements, and inexhaustible resources. Then, when he remembered that he was himself the cause of the peril of that precious life on which all his future happiness and success were to depend, he cursed himself. Involved as were the circumstances in which he habitually found himself entangled, the present complication was certainly not inferior to any of the perplexities which he had hitherto experienced.

He was to become the bosom friend of a being whom he had successfully plotted to make a prisoner and plunder, and whose life was consequently endangered; he had to prevail on Amalek to relinquish the ransom which had induced the great Sheikh to quit his Syrian pastures, and had cost the lives of some of his most valuable followers; while, on the other hand, the new moon was rapidly approaching, when the young Emir had appointed to meet Scheriff Effendi at Gaza, to receive the arms and munitions which were to raise him to empire, and for which he had purposed to pay by a portion of his share in the great plunder which he had himself projected. His baffled brain whirled with wild and impracticable combinations, till, at length, frightened and exhausted, he called for his nargileh, and sought, as was his custom, serenity from its magic tube. In this wise more than three hours had elapsed, the young Emir was himself again, and was calculating the average of the various rates of interest in every town in Syria, from Gaza to Aleppo, when Baroni returned, bearing in his hand an Egyptian vase.

'You have found the magic flowers?' asked Fakredeen, eagerly.

'The flowers of arnica, noble Emir, of which the Lady Eva spoke. I wish the potion had been made in the new moon; however, it has been blessed. Two things alone now are wanting, that my lord should drink it, and that it should cure him.'

It was not yet noon when Tancred quaffed the potion. He took it without difficulty, though apparently unconscious of the act. As the sun reached its meridian height, Tancred sank into a profound slumber. Fakredeen rushed away to tell Eva, who had now retired into the innermost apartments of the pavilion of Amalek; Baroni never quitted the tent of his lord. The sun set; the same beautiful rosy tint suffused the tombs and temples of the city as on the evening of their first forced arrival: still Tancred slept. The camels returned from the river, the lights began to sparkle in the circle of black tents: still Tancred slept. He slept during the day, and he slept during the twilight, and, when the night came, still Tancred slept. The silver lamp, fed by the oil of the palm tree, threw its delicate white light over the couch on which he rested. Mute, but ever vigilant, Fakredeen and Baroni gazed on their friend and master: still Tancred slept.

It seemed a night that would never end, and, when the first beam of the morning came, the Emir and his companion mutually recognised on their respective countenances an expression of distrust, even of terror. Still Tancred slept; in the same posture and with the same expression, unmoved and pale. Was it, indeed, sleep? Baroni touched his wrist, but could find no pulse; Fakredeen held his bright dagger over the mouth, yet its brilliancy was not for a moment clouded. But he was not cold.

The brow of Baroni was knit with deep thought, and his searching eye fixed upon the recumbent form; Fakredeen, frightened, ran away to Eva.

'I am frightened, because you are frightened,' said Fakredeen, 'whom nothing ever alarms. O Rose of Sharon! why are you so pale?'

'It is a stain upon our tents if this youth be lost,' said Eva in a low voice, yet attempting to speak with calmness.

'But what is it on me!' exclaimed Fakredeen, distractedly. 'A stain! I shall be branded like Cain. No, I will never enter Damascus again, or any of the cities of the coast. I will give up all my castles to my cousin Francis El Kazin, on condition that he does not pay my creditors. I will retire to Mar Hanna. I will look upon man no more.'

'Be calm, my Fakredeen; there is yet hope; my responsibility at this moment is surely not lighter than yours.'

'Ah! you did not know him, Eva!' exclaimed Fakredeen, passionately; 'you never listened to him! He cannot be to you what he is to me. I loved him!'

She pressed her finger to her lips, for they had arrived at the tent of Tancred. The young Emir, drying his streaming eyes, entered first, and then came back and ushered in Eva. They stood together by the couch of Tancred. The expression of distress, of suffering, of extreme tension, which had not marred, but which, at least, had mingled with the spiritual character of his countenance the previous day, had disappeared. If it were death, it was at least beautiful. Softness and repose suffused his features, and his brow looked as if it had been the temple of an immortal spirit.

Eva gazed upon the form with a fond, deep melancholy; Fakredeen and Baroni exchanged glances. Suddenly Tancred moved, heaved a deep sigh, and opened his dark eyes. The unnatural fire which had yesterday lit them up had fled. Calmly and thoughtfully he surveyed those around him, and then he said, 'The Lady of Bethany!'