Tancred/Chapter LVIII


Three Letters of Cabala

IS THERE any news?' asked Adam Besso of Issachar, the son of Selim, the most cunning leech at Aleppo, and who by day and by night watched the couch which bore the suffering form of the pride and mainstay of the Syrian Hebrews.

'There is news, but it has not yet arrived,' replied Issachar, the son of Selim, a man advanced in life, but hale, with a white beard, a bright eye, and a benignant visage.

'There are pearls in the sea, but what are they worth?' murmured Besso.

'I have taken a Cabala,' said Issachar, the son of Selim, 'and three times that I opened the sacred book, there were three words, and the initial letter of each word is the name of a person who will enter this room this day, and every person will bring news.'

'But what news?' sighed Besso. 'The news of Tophet and of ten thousand demons?'

'I have taken a Cabala,' said Issachar, the son of Selim, 'and the news will be good.'

'To whom and from whom? Good to the Pasha, but not to me! good to the people of Haleb, but not, perhaps, to the family of Besso.'

'God will guard over his own. In the meanwhile, I must replace this bandage, noble Besso. Let me rest your arm upon this cushion and you will endure less pain.'

'Alas! worthy Issachar, I have wounds deeper than any you can probe.'

The resignation peculiar to the Orientals had sustained Besso under his overwhelming calamity. He neither wailed nor moaned. Absorbed in a brooding silence, he awaited the result of the measures which had been taken for the release of Eva, sustained by the chance of success, and caring not to survive if encountering failure. The Pasha of Aleppo, long irritated by the Ansarey, and meditating for some time an invasion of their country, had been fired by the all-influential representations of the family of Besso instantly to undertake a step which, although it had been for some time contemplated, might yet, according to Turkish custom, have been indefinitely postponed. Three regiments of the line, disciplined in the manner of Europe, some artillery, and a strong detachment of cavalry, had been ordered at once to invade the contiguous territory of the Ansarey. Hillel Besso had accompanied the troops, leaving his uncle under his paternal roof, disabled by his late conflict, but suffering from wounds which in themselves were serious rather than perilous.

Four days had elapsed since the troops had quitted Aleppo. It was the part of Hillel, before they had recourse to hostile movements, to obtain, if possible, the restoration of the prisoners by fair means; nor were any resources wanting to effect this purpose. A courier had arrived at Aleppo from Hillel, apprising Adam Besso that the Queen of the Ansarey had not only refused to give up the prisoners, but even declared that Eva had been already released; but Hillel concluded that this was merely trifling. This parleying had taken place on the border; the troops were about to force the passes on the following day.

About an hour before sunset, on the very same day that Issachar, the son of Selim, had taken more than one Cabala, some horsemen, in disorder, were observed from the walls by the inhabitants of Aleppo, galloping over the plain. They were soon recognised as the cavalry of the Pasha, the irregular heralds, it was presumed, of a triumph achieved. Hillel Besso, covered with sweat and dust, was among those who thus early arrived. He hastened at a rapid pace through the suburb of the city, scattering random phrases to those who inquired after intelligence as he passed, until he reached the courtyard of his own house.

' 'Tis well,' he observed, as he closed the gate. 'A battle is a fine thing, but, for my part, I am not sorry to find myself at home.'

'What is that?' inquired Adam Besso, as a noise reached his ear.

' 'Tis the letter of the first Cabala,' replied Issachar, the son of Selim.

'Uncle, it is I,' said Hillel, advancing.

'Speak,' said Adam Besso, in an agitated voice; 'my sight is dark.'

'Alas, I am alone!' said Hillel.

'Bury me in Jehoshaphat,' murmured Besso, as he sank back.

'But, my uncle, there is hope.'

'Speak, then, of hope,' replied Besso, with sudden vehemence, and starting from his pillow.

'Truly I have seen a child of the mountains, who persists in the tale that our Eva has escaped.'

'An enemy's device! Are the mountains ours? Where are the troops?'

'Were the mountains ours, I should not be here, my uncle. Look from the ramparts, and you will soon see the plain covered with the troops, at least with all of them who have escaped the matchlocks and the lances of the Ansarey.'

'Are they such sons of fire?'

'When the Queen of the Ansarey refused to deliver up the prisoners, and declared that Eva was not in her power, the Pasha resolved to penetrate the passes, in two detachments, on the following morning. The enemy was drawn up in array to meet us, but fled after a feeble struggle. Our artillery seemed to carry all before it. But,' continued Hillel, shrugging his shoulders, 'war is not by any means a commercial transaction. It seemed that, when we were on the point of victory, we were in fact entirely defeated. The enemy had truly made a feigned defence, and had only allured us into the passes, where they fired on us from the heights, and rolled down upon our confused masses huge fragments of rock. Our strength, our numbers, and our cannon, only embarrassed us; there arose a confusion; the troops turned and retreated. And, when everything was in the greatest perplexity, and we were regaining the plain, our rear was pursued by crowds of cavalry, Kurds, and other Giaours, who destroyed our men with their long lances, uttering horrible shouts. For my own part, I thought all was over, but a good horse is not a bad thing, and I am here, my uncle, having ridden for twenty hours, nearly, without a pause.'

'And when did you see this child of the mountains who spoke of the lost one?' asked Besso, in a low and broken voice.

'On the eve of the engagement,' said Hillel. 'He had been sent to me with a letter, but, alas! had been plundered on his way by our troops, and the letter had been destroyed or lost. Nevertheless, he induced them to permit him to reach my tent, and brought these words, that the ever adorable had truly quitted the mountains, and that the lost letter had been written to that effect by the chieftain of the Ansarey.'

'Is there yet hope! What sound is that?'

' 'Tis the letter of the second Cabala,' said Issachar, the son of Selim.

And at this moment entered the chamber a faithful slave, who made signs to the physician, upon which Issachar rose, and was soon engaged in earnest conversation with him who had entered, Hillel tending the side of Besso. After a few minutes, Issachar approached the couch of his patient, and said, 'Here is one, my lord and friend, who brings good tidings of your daughter.'

'God of my fathers!' exclaimed Besso, passionately, and springing up.

'Still, we must be calm,' said Issachar; 'still, we must be calm.'

'Let me see him,' said Besso.

'It is one you know, and know well,' said Issachar. 'It is the Emir Fakredeen.'

'The son of my heart,' said Besso, 'who brings me news that is honey in my mouth.'

'I am here, my father of fathers,' said Fakredeen, gliding to the side of the couch.

Besso grasped his hand, and looked at him earnestly in the face. 'Speak of Eva,' he at length said, in a voice of choking agitation.

'She is well, she is safe. Yes, I have saved her,' said Fakredeen, burying his face in the pillow, exhausted by emotion. 'Yes, I have not lived in vain.' 'Your flag shall wave on a thousand castles,' said Besso. 'My child is saved, and she is saved by the brother of her heart. Entirely has the God of our fathers guarded over us. Henceforth, my Fakredeen, you have only to wish: we are the same.' And Besso sank down almost insensible; then he made a vain effort to rise again, murmuring 'Eva!'

'She will soon be here,' said Fakredeen; 'she only rests awhile after many hardships.'

'Will the noble Emir refresh himself after his long journey?' said Hillel.

'My heart is too elate for the body to need relief,' said the Emir.

'That may be very true,' said Hillel. 'At the same time, for my part, I have always thought that the body should be maintained as well as the spirit.' 'Withdraw from the side of the couch,' said Issachar, the son of Selim, to his companions. 'My lord and friend has swooned.'

Gradually the tide of life returned to Besso, gradually the heart beat, the hand grew warm. At length he slowly opened his eyes, and said, 'I have been dreaming of my child, even now I see her.'

Yes, so vivid had been the vision that even now, restored entirely to himself, perfectly conscious of the locality and the circumstances that surrounded him, knowing full well that he was in his brother's house at Aleppo, suffering and disabled, keenly recalling his recent interview with Fakredeen, notwithstanding all these tests of inward and outward perception, still before his entranced and agitated vision hovered the lovely visage of his daughter, a little paler than usual, and an uncommon anxiety blended with its soft expression, but the same rich eyes and fine contour of countenance that her father had so often gazed on with pride, and recalled in her absence with brooding fondness. 'Even now I see her,' said Besso.

He could say no more, for the sweetest form in the world had locked him in her arms.

' 'Tis the letter of the third Cabala,' said Issachar, the son of Selim.