Tancred/Chapter XXXIX



THREE or four days had elapsed since the departure of Fakredeen, and during each of them Tancred saw Eva; indeed, his hours were much passed in the pavilion of the great Sheikh, and, though he was never alone with the daughter of Besso, the language which they spoke, unknown to those about them, permitted them to confer without restraint on those subjects in which they were interested. Tancred opened his mind without reserve to Eva, for he liked to test the soundness of his conclusions by her clear intelligence. Her lofty spirit harmonised with his own high-toned soul. He found both sympathy and inspiration in her heroic purposes. Her passionate love of her race, her deep faith in the destiny and genius of her Asian land, greatly interested him. To his present position she referred occasionally, but with reluctance; it seemed as if she thought it unkind entirely to pass it over, yet that to be reminded of it was not satisfactory. Of Fakredeen she spoke much and frequently. She expressed with frankness, even with warmth, her natural and deep regard for him, the interest she took in his career, and the high opinion she entertained of his powers; but she lamented his inventive restlessness, which often arrested action, and intimated how much he might profit by the counsels of a friend more distinguished for consistency and sternness of purpose.

In the midst of all this, Fakredeen returned. He came in the early morning, and immediately repaired to the pavilion of the great Sheikh, with whom he was long closeted. Baroni first brought the news to Tancred, and subsequently told him that the quantity of nargilehs smoked by the young Emir indicated not only a prolonged, but a difficult, controversy. Some time after this, Tancred, lounging in front of his tent, and watching the shadows as they stole over the mountain tombs, observed Fakredeen issue from the pavilion of Amalek. His flushed and radiant countenance would seem to indicate good news. As he recognised Tancred, he saluted him in the Eastern fashion, hastily touching his heart, his lip, and his brow. When he had reached Tancred, Fakredeen threw himself in his arms, and, embracing him, whispered in an agitated voice on the breast of Lord Montacute, 'Friend of my heart, you are free!'

In the meantime, Amalek announced to his tribe that at sunset the encampment would break up, and they would commence their return to the Syrian wilderness, through the regions eastward of the Dead Sea. The Lady Eva would accompany them, and the children of Rechab were to have the honour of escorting her and her attendants to the gates of Damascus. A detachment of five-and-twenty Beni-Rechab were to accompany Fakredeen and Tancred, Hassan and his Jellaheens, in a contrary direction of the desert, until they arrived at Gaza, where they were to await further orders from the young Emir.

No sooner was this intelligence circulated than the silence which had pervaded the desert ruins at once ceased. Men came out of every tent and tomb. All was bustle and noise. They chattered, they sang, they talked to their horses, they apprised their camels of the intended expedition. They declared that the camels had consented to go; they anticipated a prosperous journey; they speculated on what tribes they might encounter.

It required all the consciousness of great duties, all the inspiration of a great purpose, to sustain Tancred under this sudden separation from Eva. Much he regretted that it was not also his lot to traverse the Syrian wilderness, but it was not for him to interfere with arrangements which he could neither control nor comprehend. All that passed amid the ruins of this desert city was as incoherent and restless as the incidents of a dream; yet not without the bright passages of strange fascination which form part of the mosaic of our slumbering reveries. At dawn a prisoner, at noon a free man, yet still, from his position, unable to move without succour, and without guides; why he was captured, how he was enfranchised, alike mysteries; Tancred yielded without a struggle to the management of that individual who was clearly master of the situation. Fakredeen decided upon everything, and no one was inclined to impugn the decrees of him whose rule commenced by conferring freedom.

It was only half an hour to sunset. The advanced guard of the children of Rechab, mounted on their dromedaries, and armed with lances, had some hours ago quitted the ruins. The camels, laden with the tents and baggage, attended by a large body of footmen with matchlocks, and who, on occasion, could add their own weight to the burden of their charge, were filing through the mountains; some horsemen were galloping about the plain and throwing the jereed; a considerable body, most of them dismounted, but prepared for the seat, were collected by the river side; about a dozen steeds of the purest race, one or two of them caparisoned, and a couple of dromedaries, were picketed before the pavilion of the great Sheikh, which was not yet struck, and about which some grooms were squatted, drinking coffee, and every now and then turning to the horses, and addressing them in tones of the greatest affection and respect.

Suddenly one of the grooms jumped up and said, 'He comes;' and then going up to a bright bay mare, whose dark prominent eye equalled in brilliancy, and far exceeded in intelligence, the splendid orbs of the antelope, he addressed her, and said, 'O Diamond of Derayeh, the Princess of the desert can alone ride on thee!'

There came forth from his pavilion the great Amalek, accompanied by some of his Sheikhs; there came forth from the pavilion Eva, attended by her gigantic Nubian and her maidens; there came forth from the pavilion the Emir Fakredeen and Lord Mon-tacute.

'There is but one God,' said the great Sheikh as he pressed his hand to his heart, and bade farewell to the Emir and his late prisoner. 'May he guard over us all!'

'Truly there is but one God,' echoed the attendant Sheikhs. 'May you find many springs!'

The maidens were placed on their dromedaries; the grooms, as if by magic, had already struck the pavilion of their Sheikh, and were stowing it away on the back of a camel; Eva, first imprinting on the neck of the mare a gentle embrace, vaulted into the seat of the Diamond of Derayeh, which she rode in the fashion of Zenobia. To Tancred, with her inspired brow, her cheek slightly flushed, her undulating figure, her eye proud of its dominion over the beautiful animal which moved its head with haughty satisfaction at its destiny, Eva seemed the impersonation of some young classic hero going forth to conquer a world.

Striving to throw into her countenance and the tones of her voice a cheerfulness which was really at this moment strange to them, she said, 'Farewell, Fakredeen!' and then, after a moment's hesitation, and looking at Tancred with a faltering glance which yet made his heart tremble, she added, 'Farewell, Pilgrim of Sinai.'