Thus, like the sad presaging raven, that tolls The sick man's passport in her hollow beak, And in the shadow of the silent night Doth shake contagion from her sable wings; Vex'd and tormented, runs poor Barrabas, With fatal curses towards these Christians. — Jew of Malta.
The Disinherited Knight had no sooner reached his pavilion, than squires and pages in abundance tendered their services to disarm him, to bring fresh attire, and to offer him the refreshment of the bath. Their zeal on this occasion was perhaps sharpened by curiosity, since every one desired to know who the knight was that had gained so many laurels, yet had refused, even at the command of Prince John, to lift his visor or to name his name. But their officious inquisitiveness was not gratified. The Disinherited Knight refused all other assistance save that of his own squire, or rather yeoman—a clownish-looking man, who, wrapt in a cloak of dark-coloured felt, and having his head and face half-buried in a Norman bonnet made of black fur, seemed to affect the incognito as much as his master. All others being excluded from the tent, this attendant relieved his master from the more burdensome parts of his armour, and placed food and wine before him, which the exertions of the day rendered very acceptable.
The Knight had scarcely finished a hasty meal, ere his menial announced to him that five men, each leading a barbed steed, desired to speak with him. The Disinherited Knight had exchanged his armour for the long robe usually worn by those of his condition, which, being furnished with a hood, concealed the features, when such was the pleasure of the wearer, almost as completely as the visor of the helmet itself, but the twilight, which was now fast darkening, would of itself have rendered a disguise unnecessary, unless to persons to whom the face of an individual chanced to be particularly well known.
The Disinherited Knight, therefore, stept boldly forth to the front of his tent, and found in attendance the squires of the challengers, whom he easily knew by their russet and black dresses, each of whom led his master's charger, loaded with the armour in which he had that day fought.
“According to the laws of chivalry,” said the foremost of these men, “I, Baldwin de Oyley, squire to the redoubted Knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert, make offer to you, styling yourself, for the present, the Disinherited Knight, of the horse and armour used by the said Brian de Bois-Guilbert in this day's Passage of Arms, leaving it with your nobleness to retain or to ransom the same, according to your pleasure; for such is the law of arms.”
The other squires repeated nearly the same formula, and then stood to await the decision of the Disinherited Knight.
“To you four, sirs,” replied the Knight, addressing those who had last spoken, “and to your honourable and valiant masters, I have one common reply. Commend me to the noble knights, your masters, and say, I should do ill to deprive them of steeds and arms which can never be used by braver cavaliers.—I would I could here end my message to these gallant knights; but being, as I term myself, in truth and earnest, the Disinherited, I must be thus far bound to your masters, that they will, of their courtesy, be pleased to ransom their steeds and armour, since that which I wear I can hardly term mine own.”
“We stand commissioned, each of us,” answered the squire of Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, “to offer a hundred zecchins in ransom of these horses and suits of armour.”
“It is sufficient,” said the Disinherited Knight. “Half the sum my present necessities compel me to accept; of the remaining half, distribute one moiety among yourselves, sir squires, and divide the other half betwixt the heralds and the pursuivants, and minstrels, and attendants.”
The squires, with cap in hand, and low reverences, expressed their deep sense of a courtesy and generosity not often practised, at least upon a scale so extensive. The Disinherited Knight then addressed his discourse to Baldwin, the squire of Brian de Bois-Guilbert. “From your master,” said he, “I will accept neither arms nor ransom. Say to him in my name, that our strife is not ended—no, not till we have fought as well with swords as with lances—as well on foot as on horseback. To this mortal quarrel he has himself defied me, and I shall not forget the challenge.—Meantime, let him be assured, that I hold him not as one of his companions, with whom I can with pleasure exchange courtesies; but rather as one with whom I stand upon terms of mortal defiance.”
“My master,” answered Baldwin, “knows how to requite scorn with scorn, and blows with blows, as well as courtesy with courtesy. Since you disdain to accept from him any share of the ransom at which you have rated the arms of the other knights, I must leave his armour and his horse here, being well assured that he will never deign to mount the one nor wear the other.”
“You have spoken well, good squire,” said the Disinherited Knight, “well and boldly, as it beseemeth him to speak who answers for an absent master. Leave not, however, the horse and armour here. Restore them to thy master; or, if he scorns to accept them, retain them, good friend, for thine own use. So far as they are mine, I bestow them upon you freely.”
Baldwin made a deep obeisance, and retired with his companions; and the Disinherited Knight entered the pavilion.
“Thus far, Gurth,” said he, addressing his attendant, “the reputation of English chivalry hath not suffered in my hands.”
“And I,” said Gurth, “for a Saxon swineherd, have not ill played the personage of a Norman squire-at-arms.”
“Yea, but,” answered the Disinherited Knight, “thou hast ever kept me in anxiety lest thy clownish bearing should discover thee.”
“Tush!” said Gurth, “I fear discovery from none, saving my playfellow, Wamba the Jester, of whom I could never discover whether he were most knave or fool. Yet I could scarce choose but laugh, when my old master passed so near to me, dreaming all the while that Gurth was keeping his porkers many a mile off, in the thickets and swamps of Rotherwood. If I am discovered—-”
“Enough,” said the Disinherited Knight, “thou knowest my promise.”
“Nay, for that matter,” said Gurth, “I will never fail my friend for fear of my skin-cutting. I have a tough hide, that will bear knife or scourge as well as any boar's hide in my herd.”
“Trust me, I will requite the risk you run for my love, Gurth,” said the Knight. “Meanwhile, I pray you to accept these ten pieces of gold.”
“I am richer,” said Gurth, putting them into his pouch, “than ever was swineherd or bondsman.”
“Take this bag of gold to Ashby,” continued his master, “and find out Isaac the Jew of York, and let him pay himself for the horse and arms with which his credit supplied me.”
“Nay, by St Dunstan,” replied Gurth, “that I will not do.”
“How, knave,” replied his master, “wilt thou not obey my commands?”
“So they be honest, reasonable, and Christian commands,” replied Gurth; “but this is none of these. To suffer the Jew to pay himself would be dishonest, for it would be cheating my master; and unreasonable, for it were the part of a fool; and unchristian, since it would be plundering a believer to enrich an infidel.”
“See him contented, however, thou stubborn varlet,” said the Disinherited Knight.
“I will do so,” said Gurth, taking the bag under his cloak, and leaving the apartment; “and it will go hard,” he muttered, “but I content him with one-half of his own asking.” So saying, he departed, and left the Disinherited Knight to his own perplexed ruminations; which, upon more accounts than it is now possible to communicate to the reader, were of a nature peculiarly agitating and painful.
We must now change the scene to the village of Ashby, or rather to a country house in its vicinity belonging to a wealthy Israelite, with whom Isaac, his daughter, and retinue, had taken up their quarters; the Jews, it is well known, being as liberal in exercising the duties of hospitality and charity among their own people, as they were alleged to be reluctant and churlish in extending them to those whom they termed Gentiles, and whose treatment of them certainly merited little hospitality at their hand.
In an apartment, small indeed, but richly furnished with decorations of an Oriental taste, Rebecca was seated on a heap of embroidered cushions, which, piled along a low platform that surrounded the chamber, served, like the estrada of the Spaniards, instead of chairs and stools. She was watching the motions of her father with a look of anxious and filial affection, while he paced the apartment with a dejected mien and disordered step; sometimes clasping his hands together—sometimes casting his eyes to the roof of the apartment, as one who laboured under great mental tribulation. “O, Jacob!” he exclaimed—“O, all ye twelve Holy Fathers of our tribe! what a losing venture is this for one who hath duly kept every jot and tittle of the law of Moses—Fifty zecchins wrenched from me at one clutch, and by the talons of a tyrant!”
“But, father,” said Rebecca, “you seemed to give the gold to Prince John willingly.”
“Willingly? the blotch of Egypt upon him!—Willingly, saidst thou?—Ay, as willingly as when, in the Gulf of Lyons, I flung over my merchandise to lighten the ship, while she laboured in the tempest—robed the seething billows in my choice silks—perfumed their briny foam with myrrh and aloes—enriched their caverns with gold and silver work! And was not that an hour of unutterable misery, though my own hands made the sacrifice?”
“But it was a sacrifice which Heaven exacted to save our lives,” answered Rebecca, “and the God of our fathers has since blessed your store and your gettings.”
“Ay,” answered Isaac, “but if the tyrant lays hold on them as he did to-day, and compels me to smile while he is robbing me?—O, daughter, disinherited and wandering as we are, the worst evil which befalls our race is, that when we are wronged and plundered, all the world laughs around, and we are compelled to suppress our sense of injury, and to smile tamely, when we would revenge bravely.”
“Think not thus of it, my father,” said Rebecca; “we also have advantages. These Gentiles, cruel and oppressive as they are, are in some sort dependent on the dispersed children of Zion, whom they despise and persecute. Without the aid of our wealth, they could neither furnish forth their hosts in war, nor their triumphs in peace, and the gold which we lend them returns with increase to our coffers. We are like the herb which flourisheth most when it is most trampled on. Even this day's pageant had not proceeded without the consent of the despised Jew, who furnished the means.”
“Daughter,” said Isaac, “thou hast harped upon another string of sorrow. The goodly steed and the rich armour, equal to the full profit of my adventure with our Kirjath Jairam of Leicester—there is a dead loss too—ay, a loss which swallows up the gains of a week; ay, of the space between two Sabbaths—and yet it may end better than I now think, for 'tis a good youth.”
“Assuredly,” said Rebecca, “you shall not repent you of requiting the good deed received of the stranger knight.”
“I trust so, daughter,” said Isaac, “and I trust too in the rebuilding of Zion; but as well do I hope with my own bodily eyes to see the walls and battlements of the new Temple, as to see a Christian, yea, the very best of Christians, repay a debt to a Jew, unless under the awe of the judge and jailor.”
So saying, he resumed his discontented walk through the apartment; and Rebecca, perceiving that her attempts at consolation only served to awaken new subjects of complaint, wisely desisted from her unavailing efforts—a prudential line of conduct, and we recommend to all who set up for comforters and advisers, to follow it in the like circumstances.
The evening was now becoming dark, when a Jewish servant entered the apartment, and placed upon the table two silver lamps, fed with perfumed oil; the richest wines, and the most delicate refreshments, were at the same time displayed by another Israelitish domestic on a small ebony table, inlaid with silver; for, in the interior of their houses, the Jews refused themselves no expensive indulgences. At the same time the servant informed Isaac, that a Nazarene (so they termed Christians, while conversing among themselves) desired to speak with him. He that would live by traffic, must hold himself at the disposal of every one claiming business with him. Isaac at once replaced on the table the untasted glass of Greek wine which he had just raised to his lips, and saying hastily to his daughter, “Rebecca, veil thyself,” commanded the stranger to be admitted.
Just as Rebecca had dropped over her fine features a screen of silver gauze which reached to her feet, the door opened, and Gurth entered, wrapt in the ample folds of his Norman mantle. His appearance was rather suspicious than prepossessing, especially as, instead of doffing his bonnet, he pulled it still deeper over his rugged brow.
“Art thou Isaac the Jew of York?” said Gurth, in Saxon.
“I am,” replied Isaac, in the same language, (for his traffic had rendered every tongue spoken in Britain familiar to him)—“and who art thou?”
“That is not to the purpose,” answered Gurth.
“As much as my name is to thee,” replied Isaac; “for without knowing thine, how can I hold intercourse with thee?”
“Easily,” answered Gurth; “I, being to pay money, must know that I deliver it to the right person; thou, who are to receive it, will not, I think, care very greatly by whose hands it is delivered.”
“O,” said the Jew, “you are come to pay moneys?—Holy Father Abraham! that altereth our relation to each other. And from whom dost thou bring it?”
“From the Disinherited Knight,” said Gurth, “victor in this day's tournament. It is the price of the armour supplied to him by Kirjath Jairam of Leicester, on thy recommendation. The steed is restored to thy stable. I desire to know the amount of the sum which I am to pay for the armour.”
“I said he was a good youth!” exclaimed Isaac with joyful exultation. “A cup of wine will do thee no harm,” he added, filling and handing to the swineherd a richer drought than Gurth had ever before tasted. “And how much money,” continued Isaac, “has thou brought with thee?”
“Holy Virgin!” said Gurth, setting down the cup, “what nectar these unbelieving dogs drink, while true Christians are fain to quaff ale as muddy and thick as the draff we give to hogs!—What money have I brought with me?” continued the Saxon, when he had finished this uncivil ejaculation, “even but a small sum; something in hand the whilst. What, Isaac! thou must bear a conscience, though it be a Jewish one.”
“Nay, but,” said Isaac, “thy master has won goodly steeds and rich armours with the strength of his lance, and of his right hand—but 'tis a good youth—the Jew will take these in present payment, and render him back the surplus.”
“My master has disposed of them already,” said Gurth.
“Ah! that was wrong,” said the Jew, “that was the part of a fool. No Christians here could buy so many horses and armour—no Jew except myself would give him half the values. But thou hast a hundred zecchins with thee in that bag,” said Isaac, prying under Gurth's cloak, “it is a heavy one.”
“I have heads for cross-bow bolts in it,” said Gurth, readily.
“Well, then”—said Isaac, panting and hesitating between habitual love of gain and a new-born desire to be liberal in the present instance, “if I should say that I would take eighty zecchins for the good steed and the rich armour, which leaves me not a guilder's profit, have you money to pay me?”
“Barely,” said Gurth, though the sum demanded was more reasonable than he expected, “and it will leave my master nigh penniless. Nevertheless, if such be your least offer, I must be content.”
“Fill thyself another goblet of wine,” said the Jew. “Ah! eighty zecchins is too little. It leaveth no profit for the usages of the moneys; and, besides, the good horse may have suffered wrong in this day's encounter. O, it was a hard and a dangerous meeting! man and steed rushing on each other like wild bulls of Bashan! The horse cannot but have had wrong.”
“And I say,” replied Gurth, “he is sound, wind and limb; and you may see him now, in your stable. And I say, over and above, that seventy zecchins is enough for the armour, and I hope a Christian's word is as good as a Jew's. If you will not take seventy, I will carry this bag” (and he shook it till the contents jingled) “back to my master.”
“Nay, nay!” said Isaac; “lay down the talents—the shekels—the eighty zecchins, and thou shalt see I will consider thee liberally.”
Gurth at length complied; and telling out eighty zecchins upon the table, the Jew delivered out to him an acquittance for the horse and suit of armour. The Jew's hand trembled for joy as he wrapped up the first seventy pieces of gold. The last ten he told over with much deliberation, pausing, and saying something as he took each piece from the table, and dropt it into his purse. It seemed as if his avarice were struggling with his better nature, and compelling him to pouch zecchin after zecchin while his generosity urged him to restore some part at least to his benefactor, or as a donation to his agent. His whole speech ran nearly thus:
“Seventy-one—seventy-two; thy master is a good youth—seventy-three, an excellent youth—seventy-four—that piece hath been clipt within the ring—seventy-five—and that looketh light of weight—seventy-six—when thy master wants money, let him come to Isaac of York—seventy-seven—that is, with reasonable security.” Here he made a considerable pause, and Gurth had good hope that the last three pieces might escape the fate of their comrades; but the enumeration proceeded.—“Seventy-eight—thou art a good fellow—seventy-nine—and deservest something for thyself—-”
Here the Jew paused again, and looked at the last zecchin, intending, doubtless, to bestow it upon Gurth. He weighed it upon the tip of his finger, and made it ring by dropping it upon the table. Had it rung too flat, or had it felt a hair's breadth too light, generosity had carried the day; but, unhappily for Gurth, the chime was full and true, the zecchin plump, newly coined, and a grain above weight. Isaac could not find in his heart to part with it, so dropt it into his purse as if in absence of mind, with the words, “Eighty completes the tale, and I trust thy master will reward thee handsomely.—Surely,” he added, looking earnestly at the bag, “thou hast more coins in that pouch?”
Gurth grinned, which was his nearest approach to a laugh, as he replied, “About the same quantity which thou hast just told over so carefully.” He then folded the quittance, and put it under his cap, adding,—“Peril of thy beard, Jew, see that this be full and ample!” He filled himself unbidden, a third goblet of wine, and left the apartment without ceremony.
“Rebecca,” said the Jew, “that Ishmaelite hath gone somewhat beyond me. Nevertheless his master is a good youth—ay, and I am well pleased that he hath gained shekels of gold and shekels of silver, even by the speed of his horse and by the strength of his lance, which, like that of Goliath the Philistine, might vie with a weaver's beam.”
As he turned to receive Rebecca's answer, he observed, that during his chattering with Gurth, she had left the apartment unperceived.
In the meanwhile, Gurth had descended the stair, and, having reached the dark antechamber or hall, was puzzling about to discover the entrance, when a figure in white, shown by a small silver lamp which she held in her hand, beckoned him into a side apartment. Gurth had some reluctance to obey the summons. Rough and impetuous as a wild boar, where only earthly force was to be apprehended, he had all the characteristic terrors of a Saxon respecting fawns, forest-fiends, white women, and the whole of the superstitions which his ancestors had brought with them from the wilds of Germany. He remembered, moreover, that he was in the house of a Jew, a people who, besides the other unamiable qualities which popular report ascribed to them, were supposed to be profound necromancers and cabalists. Nevertheless, after a moment's pause, he obeyed the beckoning summons of the apparition, and followed her into the apartment which she indicated, where he found to his joyful surprise that his fair guide was the beautiful Jewess whom he had seen at the tournament, and a short time in her father's apartment.
She asked him the particulars of his transaction with Isaac, which he detailed accurately.
“My father did but jest with thee, good fellow,” said Rebecca; “he owes thy master deeper kindness than these arms and steed could pay, were their value tenfold. What sum didst thou pay my father even now?”
“Eighty zecchins,” said Gurth, surprised at the question.
“In this purse,” said Rebecca, “thou wilt find a hundred. Restore to thy master that which is his due, and enrich thyself with the remainder. Haste—begone—stay not to render thanks! and beware how you pass through this crowded town, where thou mayst easily lose both thy burden and thy life.—Reuben,” she added, clapping her hands together, “light forth this stranger, and fail not to draw lock and bar behind him.” Reuben, a dark-brow'd and black-bearded Israelite, obeyed her summons, with a torch in his hand; undid the outward door of the house, and conducting Gurth across a paved court, let him out through a wicket in the entrance-gate, which he closed behind him with such bolts and chains as would well have become that of a prison.
“By St Dunstan,” said Gurth, as he stumbled up the dark avenue, “this is no Jewess, but an angel from heaven! Ten zecchins from my brave young master—twenty from this pearl of Zion—Oh, happy day!—Such another, Gurth, will redeem thy bondage, and make thee a brother as free of thy guild as the best. And then do I lay down my swineherd's horn and staff, and take the freeman's sword and buckler, and follow my young master to the death, without hiding either my face or my name.”