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Rowena was refused even the comfort she might have derived from the attendance of her handmaiden Elgitha.
The apartment in which the Saxon chiefs were confined,--for to them we turn our first attention,-although at present used as a sort of guard-room, had formerly been the great hall of the castle. It was now abandoned to meaner purposes, because the present lord, among other additions to the convenience, security, and beauty of his baronial residence, had erected a new and noble hall, whose vaulted roof was supported by lighter and more elegant pillars, and fitted up with that higher degree of ornament which the Normans had already introduced into architecture.
Cedric paced the apartment, filled with indignant reflections on the past and on the present, while the apathy of his companion served, instead of patience and philosophy, to defend him against everything save the inconvenience of the present moment; and so little did he feel even this last, that he was only from time to time roused to a reply by Cedric's animated and impassioned appeal to him.
“Yes,” said Cedric, half speaking to himself, and half addressing him. self to Athelstane, “it was in this very hall that my father feasted with Torquil Wolfganger, when he entertained the valiant and unfortunate Harold, then advancing against the Norwegians, who had united themselves to the rebel Tosti. It was in this hall that Harold returned the magnanimous answer to the ambassador of his rebel brother. Oft have I heard my father kindle as he told the tale. The envoy of Tosti was admitted when this ample room could scarce contain the crowd of noble Saxons who were quaffing the blood-red wine around their monarch."
“I hope,” said Athelstane, somewhat moved by this part of his friend's discourse, they will not forget to send us some wine and refections at noon—we had scarce a breathing-space allowed to break our fast, and I never have the benefit of my food when I eat immediately after dismounting from horseback, though the leeches recommend that practice.'
Cedric went on with his story without noticing this interjectional observation of his friend.
“The envoy of Tosti,” he said, “moved up the hall, undismayed by the frowning countenances of all around him, until he made his obeisance before the throne of King Harold.
"What terms,' he said, 'Lord King, hath thy brother Tosti to hope, if he should lay down his arms and crave peace at thy hands ?'
A brother's love,' cried the generous Harold, and the fair earldom of Northumberland.'
"But should Tosti accept these terms, continued the envoy, 'what lands shall be assigned to his faithful ally, Hardrada, King of Norway?'
“Seven feet of English ground,' answered Harold more fiercely; 'or, as Hardrada is said to be a giant, perhaps we may allow him twelve inches.'
“The hall rung with acclamations, and cup and horn were filled to the Norwegian, who should be speedily in possession of his English territory.'
“I could have pledged him with all my soul,” said Athelstane, " for my tongue cleaves to my palate.
“The baffled envoy," continued Cedric, pursuing with animation his tale, though it interested not the listener, “retreated to carry Tosti and his ally the ominous answer of his injured brother. It was then that the distant towers of York, and the bloody streams of the Derwent, * beheld
* See Note E. Battle of Stamford.
that direful conflict, in which, after displaying the most undaunted valour, the King of Norway and Tosti both fell, with ten thousand of their bravest followers. Who would have thought that upon the proud day when this battle was won, the very gale which waved the Saxon banners in triumph was filling the Norman sails, and impelling them to the fatal shores of Sussex ?-Who would have thought that Harold, within a few brief days, would himself possess no more of his kingdom than the share which he allotted in his wrath to the Norwegian invader :—Who would have thought that you, noble Athelstane—that you, descended of Harold's blood, and that I, whose father was not the worst defender of the Saxon crown, should be prisoners to a vile Norman, in the very hall in which our ancestors held such high festival ?”
“It is sad enough." replied Athelstane ; “but I trust they will hold us to a moderate ransom-At anyrate, it cannot be their purpose to starve us outright; and yet, although it is high noon, I see no preparations for serving dinner. Look up at the window, noble Cedric, and judge by the sunbeams if it is not on the verge of noon.'
“It may be so," answered Cedric; “but I cannot look on that stained lattice without its awakening other reflections than those which concern the passing moment, or its privations. When that window was wrought, my noble friend, our hardy fathers knew not the art of making glass, or of staining it—The pride of Wolfganger's father brought an artist from Normandy to adorn his hall with this new species of emblazonment, that breaks the golden light of God's blessed day into so many fantastic hues. The foreigner came here poor, beggarly, cringing, and subservient, ready to doff his cap to the meanest native of the household. He returned pampered and proud, to tell his rapacious countrymen of the wealth and the simplicity of the Saxon nobles—a folly, o Athelstane, foreboded of old, as well as foreseen, by those descendants of Hengist and his hardy tribes, who retained the simplicity of their manners, We made these strangers our bosom friends, our confidential servants; we borrowed their artists and their arts, and despised the honest simplicity and hardihood with which our brave ancestors supported themselves, and we became enervated by Norman arts long ere we fell under Norman arms. Far better was our homely diet, eaten in peace and liberty, than the luxurious dainties, the love of which has delivered us as bondsmen to the conqueror !"
“I should,” replied Athelstane, “hold very humble diet a luxury at present; and it astonishes me, noble Cedric, that you can bear so truly in mind the memory of past deeds, when it appeareth you forget the very hour of dinner."
“ It is time lost," muttered Cedric, apart and impatiently, " to speak to him of aught else but that which concerns his appetite! The soul of Hardicanute hath taken possession of him, and he hath no pleasure save to fill, to swill, and to call for more. Alas !” said he, looking at Athelstane with compassion, “that so dull a spirit should be lodged in so goodly a form! Alas ! that such an enterprise as the regeneration of England should turn on a hinge so imperfect! Wedded to Rowena, indeed, her nobler and more generous soul may yet awake the better nature which is torpid within him. Yet how should this be, while Rowena, Athelstane, and I myself remain the prisoners of this brutal marauder, and have been made so perhaps from a sense of the dangers which our liberty might bring to the usurped power of his nation?”
While the Saxon was plunged in these painful reflections, the door of their prison opened, and gave entrance to a sewer, holding his white rod of office. This important person advanced into the chamber with a grave pace, followed by four attendants, bearing in a table covered with dishes, the sight and smell of which seemed to be an instant compensation to Athelstane for all the inconvenience he had undergone. The persons who attended on the feast were masked and cloaked.
“What mummery is this?” said Cedric ; "think you that we are ignorant whose prisoners we are when we are in the castle of your master ? Tell him," he continued, willing to use this opportunity to open a negotiation for his freedom,“ tell your master, Reginald Front-de-Beuf, that we know no reason he can have for withholding our liberty, excepting his unlawful desire to enrich himself at our expense. Tell him that we yield to his rapacity, as in similar circumstances we should do to that of a literal robber. Let him name the ransom at which he rates our liberty, and it shall be paid, providing the exaction is suited to our means.”
The sewer made no answer, but bowed his head.
“And tell Sir Reginald Front-de-Bouf,” said Athelstane, “that I send him my mortal defiance, and challenge him to combat with me, on foot or horseback, at any secure place, within eight days after our liberation ; which, if he be a true knight, he will not, under these circumstances, venture to refuse or to delay."
“I shall deliver to the knight your defiance," answered the sewer ; “meanwhile, I leave you to your food."
The challenge of Athelstane was delivered with no good grace; for a large mouthful, which required the exercise of both jaws at once, added to a natural hesitation, considerably damped the effect of the bold defiance it contained. Still, however, his speech was hailed by Cedric as an incontestable token of reviving spirit in his companion, whose previous indifference had begun, notwithstanding his respect for Athelstane's descent, to wear out his patience. But he now cordially shook hands with him in token of his approbation, and was somewhat grieved when Athelstane observed, “that he would fight a dozen such men as Front-de-Boeuf, if, by so doing, he could hasten his departure from a dungeon where they put so much garlic into their pottage. Notwithstanding this intimation of a relapse into the apathy of sensuality, Cedric placed himself opposite to Athelstane, and soon shewed, that if the distresses of his country could banish the recollection of food while the table was uncovered, yet no sooner were the victuals put there, than he proved that the appetite of his Saxon ancestors had descended to him along with their other qualities.
The captives had not long enjoyed their refreshment, however, ere their attention was disturbed, even from this most serious occupation, by the blast of a horn winded before the gate. It was repeated three times, with as much violence as if it had been blown before an enchanted castle by the destined knight, at whose summons halls and towers, barbican and battle. ment, were to roll off like a morning vapour. The Saxons started from the table, and hastened to the window. But their curiosity was disappointed ; for these outlets only looked upon the court of the castle, and the sound came from beyond its precincts. The summons, however, seemed of importance, for a considerable degree of bustle instantly took place in the astle.
My daughter-O my ducats–O my daughter !
O my Christian ducats !
- Merchant of Venice.
SEAVING the Saxon chiefs to return to their banquet as soon as
their ungratified curiosity should permit them to attend to the calls of their half-satiated appetite, we have to look in upon the
yet more severe imprisonment of Isaac of York. The poor Jew had been hastily thrust into a dungeon-vault of the castle, the floor of which was deep beneath the level of the ground, and very damp, being lower than even the moat itself. The only light was received through one or two loop-holes far above the read of the captive's hand. These apertures admitted, even at mid-day, only a dim and uncertain light, which was changed for utter darkness long before the rest of the castle had lost the blessing of day. Chains and shackles, which had been the portion of former captives, from whom active exertions to escape had been apprehended, hung rusted and empty on the walls of the prison, and in the rings of one of those sets of fetters there remained two mouldering bones, which seemed to have been once those of the human leg, as if the prisoner had been left not only to perish there, but to be consumed to a skeleton.
At one end of this ghastly apartment was a large fire-grate, over the top of which were stretched some transverse iron bars, half devoured with rust.
The whole appearance of the dungeon might have appalled a stouter heart than that of Isaac, who, nevertheless, was more composed under the imminent pressure of danger than he had seemed to be while affected by terrors, of which the cause was as yet remote and contingent. The lovers of the chase say that the hare feels more agony during the pursuit of the greyhounds than when she is struggling in their fangs. * And thus it is probable, that the Jews, by the very frequency of their fear on all occasions, had their minds in some degree prepared for every effort or tyranny which could be practised upon them ; so that no aggression, when it had taken place, could bring with it that surprise which is the most disabling quality of terror. Neither was it the first time that Isaac had been placed in circumstances so dangerous. He had, therefore, experience to guide him, as well as hope, that he might again, as formerly, be delivered as a prey from the fowler. Above all,
he had upon his side the unyielding obstinacy of his nation, and that unbending resolution, with which the Israelites have been frequently known to submit to the uttermost evils which power and violence can inflict upon them, rather than gratify their oppressors by granting their demands.
In this humour of passive resistance, and with his garment collected * Nota Bene.-We by no means warrant the accuracy of this piece of natural history, which we give on the authority of the Wardour M.S.-L.T.
beneath him to keep his limbs from the wet pavement, Isaac sat in the corner of his dungeon, where his folded hands, his dishevelled head and beard, his furred cloak and high cap, seen by the wiry and broken light, would have afforded a study for Rembrandt, had that celebrated painter existed at the period. The Jew remained without altering his position for nearly three hours, at the expiry of which steps were heard on the stair. The bolts screamed as they were withdrawn—the hinges creaked as the wicket opened, and Riginald Front-de-Beuf, followed by the two Saracen slaves of the Templar, entered the prison.
Front-de-Bouf, a tall and strong man, whose life had been spent in public war or in private feuds and broils, and who had hesitated at no means of extending his feudal power, had features corresponding to his character, and which strongly expressed the fiercer and more malignant passions of the mind. The scars with which his visage was seamed, would, on features of a different cast, have excited the sympathy and veneration due to the marks of honourable valour ; but, in the peculiar case of Frontde-Breuf, they only added to the ferocity of his countenance, and to the dread which his presence inspired. This formidable baron was clad in a leathern doublet, fitted close to his body, which was frayed and soiled with the stains of his armour. He had no weapon, excepting a poniard at his belt, which served to counterbalance the weight of the bunch of rusty keys that hung at his right side.
The black slaves who attended Front-de-Beuf were stripped of their gorgeous apparel, and attired in jerkins and trousers of coarse linen, their sleeves being tucked up above the elbow, like those of butchers when about to exercise their function in the slaughter-house. Each had in his hand a small pannier; and when they entered the dungeon, they stopt at the door until Front-de-Bæuf himself carefully locked and double-locked it. Having taken this precaution, he advanced slowly up the apartment towards the Jew, upon whom he kept his eye fixed, as if he wished to paralyse him with his glance, as some animals are said to fascinate their prey. It seemed, indeed, as if the sullen and malignant eye of Front-deBoeuf possessed some portion of that supposed power over his unfortunate prisoner. The Jew sate with his mouth agape, and his eyes fixed on the savage baron with such earnestness of terror, that his frame seemed literally to shrink together, and to diminish in size, while encountering the fierce Norman's fixed and baleful gaze. The unhappy Isaac was deprived not only of the power of rising to make the obeisance which his terror dictated, but he could not even doff his cap, or utter any word of supplication ; so strongly was he agitated by the conviction that tortures and death were impending over him.
On the other hand, the stately form of the Norman appeared to dilate in magnitude, like that of the eagle, which ruffles up its plumage when about to pounce on its defenceless prey. He paused within three steps of the corner in which the unfortunate Jew had now, as it were, coiled himself up into the smallest possible space, and made a sign for one of the slaves to approach. The black satellite came forward accordingly, and producing from his basket a large pair of scales and several weights, he laid them at the feet of Front-de-Boeuf, and again retired to the respectful distance at which his companion had already
taken his station. The motions of these men were slow and solemn, as if there impended