FictionForest

CHAPTER V-1

Sir Walter ScottMar 04, 2020'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,

senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with

the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the

same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as

a Christian is?

—Merchant of Venice

Oswald, returning, whispered into the ear of his master, “It is a Jew, who calls himself Isaac of York; is it fit I should marshall him into the hall?”

“Let Gurth do thine office, Oswald,” said Wamba with his usual effrontery; “the swineherd will be a fit usher to the Jew.”

“St Mary,” said the Abbot, crossing himself, “an unbelieving Jew, and admitted into this presence!”

“A dog Jew,” echoed the Templar, “to approach a defender of the Holy Sepulchre?”

“By my faith,” said Wamba, “it would seem the Templars love the Jews’ inheritance better than they do their company.”

“Peace, my worthy guests,” said Cedric; “my hospitality must not be bounded by your dislikes. If Heaven bore with the whole nation of stiff-necked unbelievers for more years than a layman can number, we may endure the presence of one Jew for a few hours. But I constrain no man to converse or to feed with him.—Let him have a board and a morsel apart,—unless,” he said smiling, “these turban’d strangers will admit his society.”

“Sir Franklin,” answered the Templar, “my Saracen slaves are true Moslems, and scorn as much as any Christian to hold intercourse with a Jew.”

“Now, in faith,” said Wamba, “I cannot see that the worshippers of Mahound and Termagaunt have so greatly the advantage over the people once chosen of Heaven.”

“He shall sit with thee, Wamba,” said Cedric; “the fool and the knave will be well met.”

“The fool,” answered Wamba, raising the relics of a gammon of bacon, “will take care to erect a bulwark against the knave.”

“Hush,” said Cedric, “for here he comes.”

Introduced with little ceremony, and advancing with fear and hesitation, and many a bow of deep humility, a tall thin old man, who, however, had lost by the habit of stooping much of his actual height, approached the lower end of the board. His features, keen and regular, with an aquiline nose, and piercing black eyes; his high and wrinkled forehead, and long grey hair and beard, would have been considered as handsome, had they not been the marks of a physiognomy peculiar to a race, which, during those dark ages, was alike detested by the credulous and prejudiced vulgar, and persecuted by the greedy and rapacious nobility, and who, perhaps, owing to that very hatred and persecution, had adopted a national character, in which there was much, to say the least, mean and unamiable.

The Jew’s dress, which appeared to have suffered considerably from the storm, was a plain russet cloak of many folds, covering a dark purple tunic. He had large boots lined with fur, and a belt around his waist, which sustained a small knife, together with a case for writing materials, but no weapon. He wore a high square yellow cap of a peculiar fashion, assigned to his nation to distinguish them from Christians, and which he doffed with great humility at the door of the hall.

The reception of this person in the hall of Cedric the Saxon, was such as might have satisfied the most prejudiced enemy of the tribes of Israel. Cedric himself coldly nodded in answer to the Jew’s repeated salutations, and signed to him to take place at the lower end of the table, where, however, no one offered to make room for him. On the contrary, as he passed along the file, casting a timid supplicating glance, and turning towards each of those who occupied the lower end of the board, the Saxon domestics squared their shoulders, and continued to devour their supper with great perseverance, paying not the least attention to the wants of the new guest. The attendants of the Abbot crossed themselves, with looks of pious horror, and the very heathen Saracens, as Isaac drew near them, curled up their whiskers with indignation, and laid their hands on their poniards, as if ready to rid themselves by the most desperate means from the apprehended contamination of his nearer approach.

Probably the same motives which induced Cedric to open his hall to this son of a rejected people, would have made him insist on his attendants receiving Isaac with more courtesy. But the Abbot had, at this moment, engaged him in a most interesting discussion on the breed and character of his favourite hounds, which he would not have interrupted for matters of much greater importance than that of a Jew going to bed supperless. While Isaac thus stood an outcast in the present society, like his people among the nations, looking in vain for welcome or resting place, the pilgrim who sat by the chimney took compassion upon him, and resigned his seat, saying briefly, “Old man, my garments are dried, my hunger is appeased, thou art both wet and fasting.” So saying, he gathered together, and brought to a flame, the decaying brands which lay scattered on the ample hearth; took from the larger board a mess of pottage and seethed kid, placed it upon the small table at which he had himself supped, and, without waiting the Jew’s thanks, went to the other side of the hall;—whether from unwillingness to hold more close communication with the object of his benevolence, or from a wish to draw near to the upper end of the table, seemed uncertain.

Had there been painters in those days capable to execute such a subject, the Jew, as he bent his withered form, and expanded his chilled and trembling hands over the fire, would have formed no bad emblematical personification of the Winter season. Having dispelled the cold, he turned eagerly to the smoking mess which was placed before him, and ate with a haste and an apparent relish, that seemed to betoken long abstinence from food.

Meanwhile the Abbot and Cedric continued their discourse upon hunting; the Lady Rowena seemed engaged in conversation with one of her attendant females; and the haughty Templar, whose eye wandered from the Jew to the Saxon beauty, revolved in his mind thoughts which appeared deeply to interest him.

“I marvel, worthy Cedric,” said the Abbot, as their discourse proceeded, “that, great as your predilection is for your own manly language, you do not receive the Norman-French into your favour, so far at least as the mystery of wood-craft and hunting is concerned. Surely no tongue is so rich in the various phrases which the field-sports demand, or furnishes means to the experienced woodman so well to express his jovial art.”

“Good Father Aymer,” said the Saxon, “be it known to you, I care not for those over-sea refinements, without which I can well enough take my pleasure in the woods. I can wind my horn, though I call not the blast either a ‘recheate’ or a ‘morte’—I can cheer my dogs on the prey, and I can flay and quarter the animal when it is brought down, without using the newfangled jargon of ‘curee, arbor, nombles’, and all the babble of the fabulous Sir Tristrem.” 14

14.There was no language which the Normans more formally separated from that of common life than the terms of the chase. The objects of their pursuit, whether bird or animal, changed their name each year, and there were a hundred conventional terms, to be ignorant of which was to be without one of the distinguishing marks of a gentleman. The reader may consult Dame Juliana Berners’ book on the subject. The origin of this science was imputed to the celebrated Sir Tristrem, famous for his tragic intrigue with the beautiful Ysolte. As the Normans reserved the amusement of hunting strictly to themselves, the terms of this formal jargon were all taken from the French language.

“The French,” said the Templar, raising his voice with the presumptuous and authoritative tone which he used upon all occasions, “is not only the natural language of the chase, but that of love and of war, in which ladies should be won and enemies defied.”

“Pledge me in a cup of wine, Sir Templar,” said Cedric, “and fill another to the Abbot, while I look back some thirty years to tell you another tale. As Cedric the Saxon then was, his plain English tale needed no garnish from French troubadours, when it was told in the ear of beauty; and the field of Northallerton, upon the day of the Holy Standard, could tell whether the Saxon war-cry was not heard as far within the ranks of the Scottish host as the ‘cri de guerre’ of the boldest Norman baron. To the memory of the brave who fought there!—Pledge me, my guests.” He drank deep, and went on with increasing warmth. “Ay, that was a day of cleaving of shields, when a hundred banners were bent forwards over the heads of the valiant, and blood flowed round like water, and death was held better than flight. A Saxon bard had called it a feast of the swords—a gathering of the eagles to the prey—the clashing of bills upon shield and helmet, the shouting of battle more joyful than the clamour of a bridal. But our bards are no more,” he said; “our deeds are lost in those of another race—our language—our very name—is hastening to decay, and none mourns for it save one solitary old man—Cupbearer! knave, fill the goblets—To the strong in arms, Sir Templar, be their race or language what it will, who now bear them best in Palestine among the champions of the Cross!”

“It becomes not one wearing this badge to answer,” said Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert; “yet to whom, besides the sworn Champions of the Holy Sepulchre, can the palm be assigned among the champions of the Cross?”

“To the Knights Hospitallers,” said the Abbot; “I have a brother of their order.”

“I impeach not their fame,” said the Templar; “nevertheless—-”

“I think, friend Cedric,” said Wamba, interfering, “that had Richard of the Lion’s Heart been wise enough to have taken a fool’s advice, he might have staid at home with his merry Englishmen, and left the recovery of Jerusalem to those same Knights who had most to do with the loss of it.”

“Were there, then, none in the English army,” said the Lady Rowena, “whose names are worthy to be mentioned with the Knights of the Temple, and of St John?”

“Forgive me, lady,” replied De Bois-Guilbert; “the English monarch did, indeed, bring to Palestine a host of gallant warriors, second only to those whose breasts have been the unceasing bulwark of that blessed land.”

“Second to NONE,” said the Pilgrim, who had stood near enough to hear, and had listened to this conversation with marked impatience. All turned toward the spot from whence this unexpected asseveration was heard.

 

 

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