Tancred/Chapter LX


The Road to Bethany

BESSO is better,' said the Consul Pasqualigo to Barizy of the Tower, as he met him on a December morning in the Via Dolorosa.

'Yes, but he is by no means well,' quickly rejoined Barizy. 'The physician of the English prince told me——'

'He has not seen the physician of the English prince!' screamed Pasqualigo, triumphantly.

'I know that,' said Barizy, rallying; 'but the physician of the English prince says for flesh-wounds——'

'There are no flesh-wounds,' said the Consul Pasqualigo. 'They have all healed; 'tis an internal shock.'

'For internal shocks,' said Barizy of the Tower, 'there is nothing like rosemary stewed with salt, and so keep on till it simmers.'

'That is very well for a bruise,' said the Consul Pasqualigo.

'A bruise is a shock,' said Barizy of the Tower.

'Besso should have remained at Aleppo,' said the Consul.

'Besso always comes to Jerusalem when he is indisposed,' said Barizy; 'as he well says, 'tis the only air that can cure him; and, if he cannot be cured, why, at least, he can be buried in the Valley of Je-hoshaphat.'

'He is not at Jerusalem,' said the Consul Pasqualigo, maliciously.

'How do you mean?' said Barizy, somewhat confused. 'I am now going to inquire after him, and smoke some of his Latakia.'

'He is at Bethany,' said the Consul.

'Hem!' said Barizy, mysteriously. 'Bethany! Will that marriage come off now, think you? I always fancy, when, eh?——'

'She will not marry till her father has recovered,' said the Consul.

'This is a curious story,' said Barizy. 'The regular troops beaten by the Kurds.'

'They were not Kurds,' said the Consul Pasqualigo. 'They were Russians in disguise. Some cannon have been taken, which were cast at St. Petersburg; and, besides, there is a portfolio of state papers found on a Cossack, habited as a Turkman, which betrays all. The documents are to be published in numbers, with explanatory commentaries. Consul-General Laurella writes from Damascus that the Eastern question is more alive than ever. We are on the eve of great events.'

'You don't say so?' said Barizy of the Tower, losing his presence of mind from this overwhelming superiority of information. 'I always thought so. Palmerston will never rest till he gets Jerusalem.'

'The English must have markets,' said the Consul Pasqualigo.

'Very just,' said Barizy of the Tower. 'There will be a great opening here. I think of doing a little myself in cottons; but the house of Besso will monopolise everything.'

'I don't think the English can do much here,' said the Consul, shaking his head. 'What have we to give them in exchange? The people here had better look to Austria, if they wish to thrive. The Austrians also have cottons, and they are Christians. They will give you their cottons, and take your crucifixes.'

'I don't think I can deal in crucifixes,' said Barizy of the Tower.

'I tell you what, if you won't, your cousin Barizy of the Gate will. I know he has given a great order to Bethlehem.'

'The traitor!' exclaimed Barizy of the Tower. 'Well, if people will purchase crucifixes and nothing else, they must be supplied. Commerce civilises man.'

'Who is this?' exclaimed the Consul Pasqualigo.

A couple of horsemen, well mounted, but travel-worn, and followed by a guard of Bedouins, were coming up the Via Dolorosa, and stopped at the house of Hassan Nejid.

' 'Tis the English prince,' said Barizy of the Tower. 'He has been absent six months; he has been in Egypt.'

'To see the temples of the fire-worshippers, and to shoot crocodiles. They all do that,' said the Consul Pasqualigo.

'How glad he must be to get back to Jerusalem,' said Barizy of the Tower. 'There may be larger cities, but there are certainly none so beautiful.'

'The most beautiful city in the world is the city of Venice,' said Pasqualigo.

'You have never been there,' said Barizy.

'But it was built principally by my ancestors,' said the Consul, 'and I have a print of it in my hall.'

'I never heard that Venice was comparable to Jerusalem,' said Barizy.

'Jerusalem is, in every respect, an abode fit for swine, compared with Venice,' said Pasqualigo.

'I would have you to know, Monsieur Pasqualigo, who call yourself consul, that the city of Jerusalem is not only the city of God, but has ever been the delight and pride of man.'

'Pish!' said Pasqualigo.

'Poh!' said Barizy.

'I am not at all surprised that Besso got out of it as soon as he possibly could.'

'You would not dare to say these things in his presence,' said Barizy.

'Who says "dare" to the representative of a European Power!'

'I say "dare" to the son of the janissary of the Austrian Vice-Consul at Sidon.'

'You will hear more of this,' said Pasqualigo, fiercely. 'I shall make a representation to the Inter-nonce at Stamboul.'

'You had better go there yourself, as you are tired of El Khuds.'

Pasqualigo, not having a repartee ready, shot at his habitual comrade a glance of withering contempt, and stalked away.

In the meantime, Tancred dismounted and entered for the first time his house at Jerusalem, of which he had been the nominal tenant for half a year. Baroni was quite at home, as he knew the house in old days, and had also several times visited, on this latter occasion, the suite of Tancred. Freeman and True-man, who had been forwarded on by the British Consul at Beiroot, like bales of goods, were at their post, bowing as if their master had just returned from a club. But none of the important members of the body were at this moment at hand. Colonel Brace was dining with the English Consul on an experimental plum-pudding, preliminary to the authentic compound, which was to appear in a few days. It was supposed to be the first time that a Christmas pudding had been concocted at Jerusalem, and the excitement in the circle was considerable. The Colonel had undertaken to supervise the preparation, and had been for several days instilling the due instructions into a Syrian cook, who had hitherto only succeeded in producing a result which combined the specific gravity of lead with the general flavour and appearance of a mass of kneaded dates, in a state of fermentation after a lengthy voyage. The Rev. Mr. Bernard was at Bethlehem, assisting the Bishop in catechising some converts who had passed themselves off as true children of Israel, but who were in fact, older Christians than either of their examinants, being descendants of some Nestorian families, who had settled in the south of Palestine in the earlier ages of Christianity. As for Dr. Roby, he was culling simples in the valley of the Jordan; and thus it happened that, when Tancred at length did evince some disposition to settle down quietly under his own roof, and avail himself of the services and society of his friends, not one of them was present to receive and greet him. Tancred roamed about the house, surveyed his court and garden, sighed, while Baroni rewarded and dismissed their escort. 'I know not how it is,' he at length said to his intendant, 'but I never could have supposed that I could have felt so sad and spiritless at Jerusalem.'

'It is the reaction, my lord, after a month's wandering in the desert. It is always so: the world seems tame.'

'I am disappointed that Besso is not here. I am most anxious to see him.'

'Shall I send for the Colonel, my lord?' said Baroni, shaking Tancred's Arabian cloak.

'Well, I think I should let him return naturally,' said Tancred; 'sending for him is a scene; and I do not know why, Baroni, but I feel—I feel unstrung. I am surprised that there are no letters from England; and yet I am rather glad too, for a letter——'

'Received some months after its date,' said Baroni, 'is like the visit of a spectre. I shudder at the sight of it.'

'Heigho!' said Tancred, stretching his arm, and half-speaking to himself, 'I wish the battle of Gindarics had never ceased, but that, like some hero of enchantment, I had gone on for ever fighting.'

'Ah! there is nothing like action,' said Baroni, unscrewing his pistols.

'But what action is there in this world?' said Tancred. 'The most energetic men in Europe are mere busybodies. Empires are now governed like parishes, and a great statesman is only a select vestryman. And they are right: unless we bring man nearer to heaven, unless government become again divine, the insignificance of the human scheme must paralyse all effort.'

'Hem!' said Baroni, kneeling down and opening Tancred's rifle-case. The subject was getting a little too deep for him. 'I perceive,' he said to himself, 'that my lord is very restless. There is something at the bottom of his mind which, perhaps, he does not quite comprehend himself; but it will come out.' Tancred passed the day alone in reading, or walking about his room with an agitated and moody step. Often when his eye rested on the page, his mind wandered from the subject, and he was frequently lost in profound and protracted reverie. The evening drew on; he retired early to his room, and gave orders that he was not to be disturbed. At a later hour, Colonel Brace returned, having succeeded in his principal enterprise, and having also sung the national anthem. He was greatly surprised to hear that Lord Montacute had returned; but Baroni succeeded in postponing the interview until the morrow. An hour after the Colonel, the Rev. Mr. Bernard returned from Bethlehem. He was in great tribulation, as he had been pursued by some of the vagabonds of that ruffianly district; a shot had even been fired after him; but this was only to frighten him. The fact is, the leader of the band was his principal catechumen, who was extremely desirous of appropriating a very splendid copy of the Holy Writings, richly bound, and adorned with massy golden clasps, which the Duchess of Bellamont had presented to the Rev. Mr. Bernard before his departure, and which he always, as a sort of homage to one whom he sincerely respected, displayed on any eminent instance of conversion.

The gates of the city were closed when Dr. Roby returned, laden with many rare balsams. The consequence was, he was obliged to find quarters in a tomb in the valley of Jehoshaphat. As his attendant was without food, when his employer had sunk into philosophic repose, he supped off the precious herbs and roots, and slaked his thirst with a draught from the fountain of Siloah.

Tancred passed a night of agitating dreams. Sometimes he was in the starry desert, sometimes in the caverned dungeons of Gindarics. Then, again, the scene changed to Bellamont Castle, but it would seem that Fakredeen was its lord; and when Tancred rushed forward to embrace his mother, she assumed the form of the Syrian goddess, and yet the face was the face of Eva. Though disturbed, he slept, and when he woke, he was for a moment quite unconscious of being at Jerusalem. Although within a week of Christmas, no sensible difference had yet occurred in the climate. The golden sun succeeded the silver moon, and both reigned in a clear blue sky. You may dine at night on the terrace of your house at Jerusalem in January, and find a serene and benignant atmosphere.

Tancred rose early; no one was stirring in the house except the native servants, and Mr. Freeman, who was making a great disturbance about hot water. Tancred left a message with this gentleman for the Colonel and his companions, begging that they might all meet at breakfast, and adding that he was about to stroll for half an hour. Saying this, he quitted the house, and took his way by the gate of Stephen to the Mount of Olives.

It was a delicious morn, wonderfully clear, and soft, and fresh. It seemed a happy and a thriving city, that forlorn Jerusalem, as Tancred, from the heights of Olivet, gazed upon its noble buildings, and its cupolaed houses of freestone, and its battlemented walls and lofty gates. Nature was fair, and the sense of existence was delightful. It seemed to Tancred that a spicy gale came up the ravines of the wilderness, from the farthest Arabia.

Lost in prolonged reverie, the hours flew on. The sun was mounting in the heavens when Tancred turned his step, but, instead of approaching the city, he pursued a winding path in an opposite direction. That path led to Bethany.