صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني


“I'll woo her as the lion woos his bride."


[ocr errors]

7 HILE the scenes we have described were passing in other parts

of the castle, the Jewess Rebecca awaited her fate in a distant and sequestered turret. Hither she had been led by two of her

disguised ravishers, and on being thrust into the little cell, she found herself in the presence of an old sibyl, who kept murmuring to herself a Saxon rhyme, as if to beat time to the revolving dance which her spindle was performing upon the floor. The hag raised her head as Rebecca entered, and scowled at the fair Jewess with the malignant envy with which old age and ugliness, when united with evil conditions, are apt to look upon youth and beauty.

“Thou must up and away, old house-cricket,” said one of the men ; our noble master commands it-thou must leave this chamber to a fairer guest."

Ay,”. grumbled the hag, even thus is service requited. I have known when my bare word would have cast the best man-at-arms among ye out of saddle and out of service ; and now must I up and away at the command of every groom such as thou."

“Good Dame Ŭrfried,” said the other man, “stand not to reason on it, but up and away. Lord's 'hests must be listened to with a quick ear. Thou hast had thy day, old dame, but thy sun has long been set. Thou art now the very emblem of an old war-horse turned out on the barren heath—thou hast had thy paces in thy time, but now a broken amble is the best of them—come, amble off with thee."

“ Ill omens dog ye both !” said the old woman, "and a kennel be your burying-place ! May the evil demon Zernebock tear me limb from limb, if I leave my own cell ere I have spun out the hemp on my distaff !”

“ Answer it to our lord, then, old house-fiend,” said the man, aud retired ; leaving Rebecca in company with the old woman, upon whose presence she had been thus unwillingly forced.

“What devil's deed have they now in the wind ?" said the old hag, murmuring to herself, yet from time to time casting a sidelong and malignant glance at Rebecca ; " but it is easy to guess—Bright eyes, black locks, and a skin like paper, ere the priest stains it with his black unguent -Ay, it is easy to guess why they send her to this lone turret, whence a shriek could no more be heard than at the depth of five hundred fathoms beneath the earth.–Thou wilt have owls for thy neighbours, fair one ; and their screams will be heard as far, and as much regarded as thine own. Outlandish, too,” she said, marking the dress and turban of Rebecca"What country art thou of Ka Saracen ? or an Egyptian 4-Why dost not answer ?—thou canst weep, canst thou not speak ?"

“Be not angry, good mother,” said Rebecca.

"Thou needst say no more," replied Urfried ; " men know a fox by the train, and a Jewess by her tongue.

“ For the sake of mercy,” said Rebecca, " tell me what I am to expect as the conclusion of the violence which hath dragged me hither? Is it my life they seek, to atone for my religion? I will lay it down cheerfully.”

“ Thy life, minion?” answered the sibyl ; "what would taking thy life pleasure them !—Trust me thy life is in no peril. Such usage shalt thou have as was once thought good enough for à noble Saxon maiden. And shall a Jewess like thee repine because she hath no better? Look at meI was as young and twice as fair as thou, when Front-de-Bæuf, father of this Reginald, and his Normans, stormed this castle. My father and his seven sons defended their inheritance from storey to storey, from chamber to chamber-There was not a room, not a step of the stair, that was not slippery with their blood. They died-they died every man; and ere their blood was dried, I had become the prey and the scorn of the con

queror !”

Mary, “

. Is there no help!-Are there no means of escape ?” said Rebecca“Richly, richly, would I requite thine aid."

“ Think not of it,” said the hag ; "from hence there is no escape but through the gates of death ; and it is late, late” she added, shaking her grey head, “ere these open to us- -Yet it is comfort to think that we leave behind us on earth those who shall be wretched as ourselves. Fare thee well, Jewess !Jew or Gentile, thy fate would be the same ; for thou hast to do with them that have neither scruple nor pity. Fare thee well, I say. My thread is spun out-thy task is yet to begin.'

Stay! stay! for Heaven's sake!” said Rebecca ; "stay, though it be to curse and to revile me—thy presence is yet some protection.”

“The presence of the mother of God were no protection," answered the old woman. “There she stands,” pointing to a rude image of the Virgin

see if she can avert the fate that awaits thee." She left the room as she spoke, her features writhed into a sort of sncering laugh, which made them seem even more hideous than their habitual frown. She locked the door behind her, and Rebecca might hear her curse every step for its steepness, as slowly and with difficulty she descended the turret-stair.

Rebecca was now to expect a fate even more dreadful than that of Rowena ; for what probability was there that either softness or ceremony would be used towards one of her oppressed race, whatever shadow of these might be preserved towards a Saxon heiress ? Yet had the Jewess this advantage, that she was better prepared by habits of thought, and by natural strength of mind, to encounter the dangers to which she was exposed. Of a strong and observing character, even from her earliest years, the pomp and wealth which her father displayed within his walls, or which she witnessed in the houses of other wealthy Hebrews, had not been able to blind her to the precarious circumstances under which they were enjoyed. Like Damocles at his celebrated banquet, Rebecca perpetually beheld, amid that gorgeous display, the sword which was suspended over the heads of her people by a single hair. These reflections had tamed and brought down to a pitch of sounder judgment a temper, which, uncler other circumstances, might have waxed haughty, supercilious, and obstinate.

From her father's example and injunctions, Rebecca had learnt to bca" herself courteously towards all who approached her. She could not, indeed, imitate his excess of subservience, because she was a stranger to the meanness of mind, and to the constant state of timid apprehension, by which it was dictated; but she bore herself with a proud humility, as if submitting to the evil circumstances in which she was placed as the daughter of a despised race, while she felt in her mind the consciousness that she was entitled to hold a higher rank from her merit than the arbitrary despotism of religious prejudice perinitted her to aspire to.

Thus prepared to expect adverse circumstances, she had acquired the firmness necessary for acting under them. Her present situation required all her presence of mind, and she summoned it up accordingly.

Her first care was to inspect the apartment; but it afforded few hopes either of escape or protection. It contained neither passage nor trap-door, and unless where the door by which she had entered joined the main building, seemed to be circumscribed by the round exterior wall of the turret. The door had no inside bolt or bar. The single window opened upon an embattled space surmounting the turret, which gave Rebecca, at first sight, some hopes of escaping ; but she soon found it had no communi. cation with any other part of the battlements, being an isolated bartisan, or balcony, secured, as usual, by a parapet with embrasures, at which a few archers might be stationed, for defending the turret, and flanking with their shot the wall of the castle on that side.

There was, therefore, no hope but in passive fortitude, and in that strong reliance in Heaven natural to great and generous characters. Rebecca, however, erroneously taught to interpret the promises of Scripture to the chosen people of Heaven, did not err in supposing the present to be their hour of trial, or in trusting that the children of Zion would be one day called in with the fullness of the Gentiles. In the meanwhile, all around her showed that their present state was that of punishment and probation, and it was their especial duty to suffer without sinning. Thus prepared to consider herself as the victim of misfortune, Rebecca had early reflected upon her own state, and schooled her mind to meet the dangers which she had probably to encounter.

The prisoner trembled, however, and changed colour, when a step was heard on the stair, and the door of the turret chamber slowly opened, and a tall man, dressed as one of those banditti to whom they owed their misfortune, slowly entered, and shut the door behind him; his cap, pulled down upon his brows, concealed the upper part of his face, and he held his mantle in such a manner as to muffle the rest. In this guise, as if prepared for the execution of some deed, at the thought of which he was himself ashamed, he stood before the affrighted prisoner; yet, ruffian as his dress bespoke him, he seemed at a loss to express what purpose had brought him thither, so that Rebecca, making an effort upon herself, had time to anticipate his explanation. She had already unclasped two costly bracelets and a collar, which she hastened to proffer to the supposed outlaw, concluding naturally that to gratify his avarice was to bespeak his favour.

" Take these," she said, “good friend, and for God's sake be merciful to me and my aged father ! These ornaments are of value, yet are they trifling to what he would bestow to obtain our dismissal from this castle, free and uninjured."

“Fair flower of Palestine,” replicd thic outlaw, " these pearls are orient,

but they yield in whiteness to your teeth : the diamonds are brilliant, but they cannot match your eyes : and ever since I have taken up this wild trade, I have made a vow to prefer beauty to wealth.”

Do not do yourself such wrong,” said Rebecca ; "take ransom and have mercy !-Gold will purchase you pleasure,—to misuse us could only bring thee remorse. My father will willingly satiate thy utmost wishes; and if thou wilt act wisely, thou mayest purchase with our spoils thy restoration to civil society--mayest obtain pardon for past errors, and be placed beyond the necessity of committing more."

" It is well spoken,” replied the outlaw in French, finding it difficult, probably, to sustain in Saxon a conversation which Rebecca had opened in that language ; "but know, bright lily of the vale of Baca ! that thy father is already in the hands of a powerful alchemist, who knows how to convert into gold and silver even the rusty bars of a dungeon grate. The venerable Isaac is subjected to an alembic, which will distil from him all he holds dear, without any assistance from my requests or thy entreaty. Thy ransom must be paid by love and beauty, and in no other coin will I accept it.”

“Thou art no outlaw,” said Rebecca, in the same language in which he addressed her; “no outlaw had refused such offers. No outlaw in this land uses the dialect in which thou hast spoken. Thou art no outlaw, but a Norman—a Norman, noble perhaps in birth-Oh, be so in thy actions, and cast off this fearful mask of outrage and violence !”.

"And thou, who canst guess so truly,” said Brian de Bois-Guilbert, dropping the mantle from his face, "art no true daughter of Israel, but in all, save youth and beauty, a very witch of Endor. I am not an outlaw, then, fair rose of Sharon. And I am one who will be more prompt to hang thy neck and arms with pearls and diamonds, which so well become them, than to deprive thee of these ornaments.”

"What wouldst thou have of me,” said Rebecca, "if not my wealth ?We can have nought in common between us—you are a Christian-I am a Jewess. Our union were contrary to the laws, alike of the church and the synagogue.”

It were so, indeed," replied the Templar, laughing; "wed with a Jewess ? Despardicux —Not if she were the Queen of Sheba. And know, besides, sweet daughter of Zion, that were the most Christian King to offer me his most Christian daughter, with Languedoc for a dowry, I could not wed her. It is against my vow to love any maiden, otherwise than par amours, as I will love thee. I am a Templar. Behold the cross of my holy Order."

" Darest thou appeal to it," said Rebecca, "on an occasion like the present?"

And if I do so," said the Templar, “it concerns not thee, who art no believer in the blessed sign of our salvation."

“I believe as my fathers taught,” said Rebecca, "and may God forgive my belief if erroneous ! But you, Sir Knight, what is yours, when you appeal without scruple to that which you deem most holy, even while you are about to transgress the most solemn of your vows as a knight, and as a man of religion ?"

“ It is gravely and well preached, O daughter of Sirach !” answered the Templar; "but, gentle Ecclesiastica, thy narrow Jewish prejudices make thee blind to our high privilege. Marriage were an enduring crime on the part of a Tomplar: but what lesser lolly I may practice, I shall speedily be absolved from at the next Preceptory of our Order. Not the wisest of monarchs, not his father, whose examples you must needs allow are weighty, claimed wider privileges than we poor soldiers of the Temple of Zion have won by our zeal in its defence. The protectors of Solomon's Temple may claim license by the example of Solomon.”

If thou readest the Scripture," said the Jewess, "and the lives of the saints, only to justify thine own license and profligacy, thy crime is like that of him who extracts poison from the most healthful and necessary herbs."

The eyes of the Templar flashed fire at this reproof.—"Hearken,” he said, "Řebecca ; I have hitherto spoken mildly to thee, but now my language shall be that of a conqueror. Thou art the captive of my bow and spear-subject to my will by the laws of all nations ; nor will I abate an inch of my right, or abstain from taking by violence what thou refusest to entreaty or necessity.”

“Stand back," said Rebecca—"stand back, and hear me ere thou offerest to commit a sin so deadly! My strength thou mayest indeed overpower, for God made women weak, and trusted their defence to man's generosity. But I will proclaim thy villainy, Templar, from one end of Europe to the other. I will owe to the superstition of thy brethren what their compassion might refuse me. Each Preceptory_each Chapter of thy Order, shall learn that, like a heretic, thou hast sinned with a Jewess. Those who tremble not at thy crime will hold thee accursed for having so far dishonoured the cross thou wearest, as to follow a daughter of my people.”

“Thou art keen-witted, Jewess,” replied the Templar, well aware of the truth of what she spoke, and that the rules of his Order condemned in the most positive manner, and under high penalties, such intrigues as he now prosecuted, and that, in some instances, even degradation had followed upon it," thou art sharp-witted,” he said ; " but loud must be thy voice of complaint, if it is heard beyond the iron walls of this castle; within these, murmurs, laments, appeals to justice, and screams for help, die alike silent away. One thing only can save thee, Rebecca. Submit to thy fate-embrace our religion, and thou shalt go forth in such state, that many a Norman lady shall yield as well in pomp as in beauty to the favourite of the best lance among the defenders of the Temple.

"Submit to my fate !” said Rebecca-"and, sacred heaven! to what fate ?-embrace thy religion ! and what religion can it be that harbours such a villain ?—thou the best lance of the Templars !-craven knight forsworn priest ! I spit at thee, and I defy thee.—The God of Abraham's promise hath opened an escape to his daughter-even from this abyss of infamy?

As she spoke, she threw open the latticed window which led to the bartisan, and in an instant after, stood on the very verge of the parapet, with not the slightest screen between her and the tremendous depth below. Unprepared for such a desperate effort, for she had hitherto stood perfectly motionless, Bois-Guilbert had neither time to intercept nor to stop her. As he offered to advance, she exclaimed, “Remain where thou art, proud Templar, or at thy choice advance ?-one foot nearer, and I plunge myself from the precipice ; my body shall be crushed out of the very form of

« السابقةمتابعة »