Tancred/Chapter LIII


Fakredeen's Plots

AND when did men cease from worshipping them?' asked Fakredeen of Tancred; 'before the Prophet?' 'When truth descended from Heaven in the person of Christ Jesus.'

'But truth had descended from Heaven before Jesus,' replied Fakredeen; 'since, as you tell me, God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, and since then to many of the prophets and the princes of Israel.'

'Of whom Jesus was one,' said Tancred; 'the descendant of King David as well as the Son of God. But through this last and greatest of their princes it was ordained that the inspired Hebrew mind should mould and govern the world. Through Jesus God spoke to the Gentiles, and not to the tribes of Israel only. That is the great worldly difference between Jesus and his inspired predecessors. Christianity is Judaism for the multitude, but still it is Judaism, and its development was the death-blow of the Pagan idolatry.'

'Gentiles,' murmured Fakredeen; 'Gentiles! you are a Gentile, Tancred?'

'Alas! I am,' he answered, 'sprung from a horde of Baltic pirates, who never were heard of during the greater annals of the world, a descent which I have been educated to believe was the greatest of honours. What we should have become, had not the Syro-Arabian creeds formed our minds, I dare not contemplate. Probably we should have perished in mutual destruction. However, though rude and modern Gentiles, unknown to the Apostles, we also were in time touched with the sacred symbol, and originally endowed with an organisation of a high class, for our ancestors wandered from Caucasus; we have become kings and princes.'

'What a droll thing is history,' said Fakredeen. 'Ah! if I were only acquainted with it, my education would be complete. Should you call me a Gentile?'

'I have great doubts whether such an appellation could be extended to the descendants of Ishmael. I always look upon you as a member of the sacred race. It is a great thing for any man; for you it may tend to empire.'

'Was Julius Cæsar a Gentile?'


'And Iskander?' (Alexander of Macedon.)

'No doubt; the two most illustrious Gentiles that ever existed, and representing the two great races on the shores of the Mediterranean, to which the apostolic views were first directed.'

'Well, their blood, though Gentile, led to empire,' said Fakredeen.

'But what are their conquests to those of Jesus Christ?' said Tancred, with great animation. 'Where are their dynasties? where their subjects? They were both deified: who burns incense to them now? Their descendants, both Greek and Roman, bow before the altars of the house of David. The house of David is worshipped at Rome itself, at every seat of great and growing empire in the world, at London, at St. Petersburg, at New York. Asia alone is faithless to the Asian; but Asia has been overrun by Turks and Tatars. For nearly five hundred years the true Oriental mind has been enthralled. Arabia alone has remained free and faithful to the divine tradition. From its bosom we shall go forth and sweep away the moulding remnants of the Tataric system; and then, when the East has resumed its indigenous intelligence, when angels and prophets again mingle with humanity, the sacred quarter of the globe will recover its primeval and divine supremacy; it will act upon the modern empires, and the faint-hearted faith of Europe, which is but the shadow of a shade, will become as vigorous as befits men who are in sustained communication with the Creator.'

'But suppose,' said Fakredeen, in a captious tone that was unusual with him, 'suppose, when the Tataric system is swept away, Asia reverts to those beautiful divinities that we beheld this morning?'

More than once, since they quitted the presence of Astarte, had Fakredeen harped upon this idea. From that interview the companions had returned moody and unusually silent. Strange to say, there seemed a tacit understanding between them to converse little on that subject which mainly engrossed their minds. Their mutual remarks on Astarte were few and constrained; a little more diffused upon the visit to the temple; but they chiefly kept up the conventional chat of companionship by rather commonplace observations on Keferinis and other incidents and persons comparatively of little interest and importance.

After their audience, they dined with the minister, not exactly in the manner of Downing Street, nor even with the comparative luxury of Canobia; but the meal was an incident, and therefore agreeable. A good pilaff was more acceptable than some partridges dressed with oil and honey: but all Easterns are temperate, and travel teaches abstinence to the Franks. Neither Fakredeen nor Tancred were men who criticised a meal: bread, rice, and coffee, a bird or a fish, easily satisfied them. The Emir affected the Moslem when the minister offered him the wine of the mountains, which was harsh and rough after the delicious Vino d'Oro of Lebanon; but Tancred contrived to drink the health of Queen Astarte without any wry expression of countenance.

'I believe,' said Keferinis, 'that the English, in their island of London, drink only to women; the other natives of Franguestan chiefly pledge men; we look upon both as barbarous.'

'At any rate, you worship the god of wine,' remarked Tancred, who never attempted to correct the self-complacent minister. 'I observed to-day the statue of Bacchus.'

'Bacchus!' said Keferinis, with a smile, half of inquiry, half of commiseration. 'Bacchus: an English name, I apprehend! All our gods came from the ancient Antakia before either the Turks or the English were heard of. Their real names are in every respect sacred; nor will they be uttered, even to the Ansarey, until after the divine initiation has been performed in the perfectly admirable and inexpressibly delightful mysteries,' which meant, in simpler tongue, that Keferinis was entirely ignorant of the subject on which he was talking.

After their meal, Keferinis, proposing that in the course of the day they should fly one of the Queen's hawks, left them, when the conversation, of which we have given a snatch, occurred. Yet, as we have observed, they were on the whole moody and unusually silent. Fakredeen in particular was wrapped in reverie, and when he spoke, it was always in reference to the singular spectacle of the morning. His musing forced him to inquiry, having never before heard of the Olympian hierarchy, nor of the woods of Daphne, nor of the bright lord of the silver bow.

Why were they moody and silent?

With regard to Lord Montacute, the events of the morning might sufficiently account for the gravity of his demeanour, for he was naturally of a thoughtful and brooding temperament. This unexpected introduction to Olympus was suggestive of many reflections to one so habituated to muse over divine influences. Nor need it be denied that the character of the Queen greatly interested him. Her mind was already attuned to heavenly thoughts. She already believed that she was fulfilling a sacred mission. Tancred could not be blind to the importance of such a personage as Astarte in the great drama of divine regeneration, which was constantly present to his consideration. Her conversion might be as weighty as ten victories. He was not insensible to the efficacy of feminine influence in the dissemination of religious truth, nor unaware how much the greatest development of the Arabian creeds, in which the Almighty himself deigned to become a personal actor, was assisted by the sacred spell of woman. It is not the Empress Hélène alone who has rivalled, or rather surpassed, the exploits of the most illustrious apostles. The three great empires of the age, France, England, and Russia, are indebted for their Christianity to female lips. We all remember the salutary influence of Clotilde and Bertha which bore the traditions of the Jordan to the Seine and the Thames: it should not be forgotten that to the fortunate alliance of Waldimir, the Duke of Moscovy, with the sister of the Greek Emperor Basil, is to be ascribed the remarkable circumstance, that the intellectual development of all the Russias has been conducted on Arabian principles. It was the fair Giselle, worthy successor of the softhearted women of Galilee, herself the sister of the Emperor Henry the Second, who opened the mind of her husband, the King of Hungary, to the deep wisdom of the Hebrews, to the laws of Moses and the precepts of Jesus. Poland also found an apostle and a queen in the sister of the Duke of Bohemia, and who revealed to the Sarmatian Micislas the ennobling mysteries of Sinai and of Calvary.

Sons of Israel, when you recollect that you created Christendom, you may pardon the Christians even their autos da fè!

Fakredeen Shehaab, Emir of Canobia, and lineal descendant of the standard-bearer of the Prophet, had not such faith in Arabian principles as to dream of converting the Queen of the Ansarey. Quite the reverse; the Queen of the Ansarey had converted him. From the first moment he beheld Astarte, she had exercised over him that magnetic influence of which he was peculiarly susceptible, and by which Tancred at once attracted and controlled him. But Astarte added to this influence a power to which the Easterns in general do not very easily bow: the influence of sex. With the exception of Eva, woman had never guided the spirit or moulded the career of Fakredeen; and, in her instance, the sovereignty had been somewhat impaired by that acquaintance of the cradle, which has a tendency to enfeeble the ideal, though it may strengthen the affections. But Astarte rose upon him commanding and complete, a star whose gradual formation he had not watched, and whose unexpected brilliancy might therefore be more striking even than the superior splendour which he had habitually contemplated. Young, beautiful, queenly, impassioned, and eloquent, surrounded by the accessories that influence the imagination, and invested with fascinating mystery, Fakredeen, silent and enchanted, had yielded his spirit to Astarte, even before she revealed to his unaccustomed and astonished mind the godlike forms of her antique theogony. Eva and Tancred had talked to him of gods; Astarte had shown them to him. All visible images of their boasted divinities of Sinai and of Calvary with which he was acquainted were enshrined over the altars of the convents of Lebanon. He contrasted those representations without beauty or grace, so mean, and mournful, and spiritless, or if endued with attributes of power, more menacing than majestic, and morose rather than sublime, with those shapes of symmetry, those visages of immortal beauty, serene yet full of sentiment, on which he had gazed that morning with a holy rapture. The Queen had said that, besides Mount Sinai and Mount Calvary, there was also Mount Olympus. It was true; even Tancred had not challenged her assertion. And the legends of Olympus were as old as, nay, older than, those of the convent or the mosques.

This was no mythic fantasy of the beautiful Astarte; the fond tradition of a family, a race, even a nation. These were not the gods merely of the mountains: they had been, as they deserved to be, the gods of a great world, of great nations, and of great men. They were the gods of Alexander and of Caius Julius; they were the gods under whose divine administration Asia had been powerful, rich, luxurious and happy. They were the gods who had covered the coasts and plains with magnificent cities, crowded the midland ocean with golden galleys, and filled the provinces that were now a chain of wilderness and desert with teeming and thriving millions. No wonder the Ansarey were faithful to such deities. The marvel was why men should ever have deserted them. But man had deserted them, and man was unhappy. All, Eva, Tancred, his own consciousness, the surrounding spectacles of his life, assured him that man was unhappy, degraded, or discontented; at all events, miserable. He was not surprised that a Syrian should be unhappy, even a Syrian prince, for he had no career; he was not surprised that the Jews were unhappy, because they were the most persecuted of the human race, and in all probability, very justly so, for such an exception as Eva proved nothing; but here was an Englishman, young, noble, very rich, with every advantage of nature and fortune, and he had come out to Syria to tell them that all Europe was as miserable as themselves. What if their misery had been caused by their deserting those divinities who had once made them so happy?

A great question; Fakredeen indulged in endless combinations while he smoked countless nargilehs. If religion were to cure the world, suppose they tried this ancient and once popular faith, so very popular in Syria. The Queen of the Ansarey could command five-and-twenty thousand approved warriors, and the Emir of the Lebanon could summon a host, if not as disciplined, far more numerous. Fakredeen, in a frenzy of reverie, became each moment more practical. Asian supremacy, cosmopolitan regeneration, and theocratic equality, all gradually disappeared. An independent Syrian kingdom, framed and guarded by a hundred thousand sabres, rose up before him; an established Olympian religion, which the Druses, at his instigation, would embrace, and toleration for the Maronites till he could bribe Bishop Nicodemus to arrange a general conformity, and convert his great principal from the Patriarch into the Pontiff of Antioch. The Jews might remain, provided they negotiated a loan which should consolidate the Olympian institutions and establish the Gentile dynasty of Fakredeen and Astarte.