Gurth, whose occupation, though now held so mean, gave him as much consequence in Saxon England as that of Eumaeus in Ithaca, was offended at the familiar and commanding tone assumed by the Palmer. “The Jew leaving Rotherwood,” said he, raising himself on his elbow, and looking superciliously at him without quitting his pallet, “and travelling in company with the Palmer to boot—”
“I should as soon have dreamt,” said Wamba, who entered the apartment at the instant, “of his stealing away with a gammon of bacon.”
“Nevertheless,” said Gurth, again laying down his head on the wooden log which served him for a pillow, “both Jew and Gentile must be content to abide the opening of the great gate—we suffer no visitors to depart by stealth at these unseasonable hours.”
“Nevertheless,” said the Pilgrim, in a commanding tone, “you will not, I think, refuse me that favour.”
So saying, he stooped over the bed of the recumbent swineherd, and whispered something in his ear in Saxon. Gurth started up as if electrified. The Pilgrim, raising his finger in an attitude as if to express caution, added, “Gurth, beware—thou are wont to be prudent. I say, undo the postern—thou shalt know more anon.”
With hasty alacrity Gurth obeyed him, while Wamba and the Jew followed, both wondering at the sudden change in the swineherd’s demeanour. “My mule, my mule!” said the Jew, as soon as they stood without the postern.
“Fetch him his mule,” said the Pilgrim; “and, hearest thou,—let me have another, that I may bear him company till he is beyond these parts—I will return it safely to some of Cedric’s train at Ashby. And do thou”—he whispered the rest in Gurth’s ear.
“Willingly, most willingly shall it be done,” said Gurth, and instantly departed to execute the commission.
“I wish I knew,” said Wamba, when his comrade’s back was turned, “what you Palmers learn in the Holy Land.”
“To say our orisons, fool,” answered the Pilgrim, “to repent our sins, and to mortify ourselves with fastings, vigils, and long prayers.”
“Something more potent than that,” answered the Jester; “for when would repentance or prayer make Gurth do a courtesy, or fasting or vigil persuade him to lend you a mule?—I trow you might as well have told his favourite black boar of thy vigils and penance, and wouldst have gotten as civil an answer.”
“Go to,” said the Pilgrim, “thou art but a Saxon fool.”
“Thou sayst well,” said the Jester; “had I been born a Norman, as I think thou art, I would have had luck on my side, and been next door to a wise man.”
At this moment Gurth appeared on the opposite side of the moat with the mules. The travellers crossed the ditch upon a drawbridge of only two planks breadth, the narrowness of which was matched with the straitness of the postern, and with a little wicket in the exterior palisade, which gave access to the forest. No sooner had they reached the mules, than the Jew, with hasty and trembling hands, secured behind the saddle a small bag of blue buckram, which he took from under his cloak, containing, as he muttered, “a change of raiment—only a change of raiment.” Then getting upon the animal with more alacrity and haste than could have been anticipated from his years, he lost no time in so disposing of the skirts of his gabardine as to conceal completely from observation the burden which he had thus deposited “en croupe”.
The Pilgrim mounted with more deliberation, reaching, as he departed, his hand to Gurth, who kissed it with the utmost possible veneration. The swineherd stood gazing after the travellers until they were lost under the boughs of the forest path, when he was disturbed from his reverie by the voice of Wamba.
“Knowest thou,” said the Jester, “my good friend Gurth, that thou art strangely courteous and most unwontedly pious on this summer morning? I would I were a black Prior or a barefoot Palmer, to avail myself of thy unwonted zeal and courtesy—certes, I would make more out of it than a kiss of the hand.”
“Thou art no fool thus far, Wamba,” answered Gurth, “though thou arguest from appearances, and the wisest of us can do no more—But it is time to look after my charge.”
So saying, he turned back to the mansion, attended by the Jester.
Meanwhile the travellers continued to press on their journey with a dispatch which argued the extremity of the Jew’s fears, since persons at his age are seldom fond of rapid motion. The Palmer, to whom every path and outlet in the wood appeared to be familiar, led the way through the most devious paths, and more than once excited anew the suspicion of the Israelite, that he intended to betray him into some ambuscade of his enemies.
His doubts might have been indeed pardoned; for, except perhaps the flying fish, there was no race existing on the earth, in the air, or the waters, who were the object of such an unintermitting, general, and relentless persecution as the Jews of this period. Upon the slightest and most unreasonable pretences, as well as upon accusations the most absurd and groundless, their persons and property were exposed to every turn of popular fury; for Norman, Saxon, Dane, and Briton, however adverse these races were to each other, contended which should look with greatest detestation upon a people, whom it was accounted a point of religion to hate, to revile, to despise, to plunder, and to persecute. The kings of the Norman race, and the independent nobles, who followed their example in all acts of tyranny, maintained against this devoted people a persecution of a more regular, calculated, and self-interested kind. It is a well-known story of King John, that he confined a wealthy Jew in one of the royal castles, and daily caused one of his teeth to be torn out, until, when the jaw of the unhappy Israelite was half disfurnished, he consented to pay a large sum, which it was the tyrant’s object to extort from him. The little ready money which was in the country was chiefly in possession of this persecuted people, and the nobility hesitated not to follow the example of their sovereign, in wringing it from them by every species of oppression, and even personal torture. Yet the passive courage inspired by the love of gain, induced the Jews to dare the various evils to which they were subjected, in consideration of the immense profits which they were enabled to realize in a country naturally so wealthy as England. In spite of every kind of discouragement, and even of the special court of taxations already mentioned, called the Jews’ Exchequer, erected for the very purpose of despoiling and distressing them, the Jews increased, multiplied, and accumulated huge sums, which they transferred from one hand to another by means of bills of exchange—an invention for which commerce is said to be indebted to them, and which enabled them to transfer their wealth from land to land, that when threatened with oppression in one country, their treasure might be secured in another.
The obstinacy and avarice of the Jews being thus in a measure placed in opposition to the fanaticism that tyranny of those under whom they lived, seemed to increase in proportion to the persecution with which they were visited; and the immense wealth they usually acquired in commerce, while it frequently placed them in danger, was at other times used to extend their influence, and to secure to them a certain degree of protection. On these terms they lived; and their character, influenced accordingly, was watchful, suspicious, and timid—yet obstinate, uncomplying, and skilful in evading the dangers to which they were exposed.
When the travellers had pushed on at a rapid rate through many devious paths, the Palmer at length broke silence.
“That large decayed oak,” he said, “marks the boundaries over which Front-de-Boeuf claims authority—we are long since far from those of Malvoisin. There is now no fear of pursuit.”
“May the wheels of their chariots be taken off,” said the Jew, “like those of the host of Pharaoh, that they may drive heavily!—But leave me not, good Pilgrim—Think but of that fierce and savage Templar, with his Saracen slaves—they will regard neither territory, nor manor, nor lordship.”
“Our road,” said the Palmer, “should here separate; for it beseems not men of my character and thine to travel together longer than needs must be. Besides, what succour couldst thou have from me, a peaceful Pilgrim, against two armed heathens?”
“O good youth,” answered the Jew, “thou canst defend me, and I know thou wouldst. Poor as I am, I will requite it—not with money, for money, so help me my Father Abraham, I have none—but—-”
“Money and recompense,” said the Palmer, interrupting him, “I have already said I require not of thee. Guide thee I can; and, it may be, even in some sort defend thee; since to protect a Jew against a Saracen, can scarce be accounted unworthy of a Christian. Therefore, Jew, I will see thee safe under some fitting escort. We are now not far from the town of Sheffield, where thou mayest easily find many of thy tribe with whom to take refuge.”
“The blessing of Jacob be upon thee, good youth!” said the Jew; “in Sheffield I can harbour with my kinsman Zareth, and find some means of travelling forth with safety.”
“Be it so,” said the Palmer; “at Sheffield then we part, and half-an-hour’s riding will bring us in sight of that town.”
The half hour was spent in perfect silence on both parts; the Pilgrim perhaps disdaining to address the Jew, except in case of absolute necessity, and the Jew not presuming to force a conversation with a person whose journey to the Holy Sepulchre gave a sort of sanctity to his character. They paused on the top of a gently rising bank, and the Pilgrim, pointing to the town of Sheffield, which lay beneath them, repeated the words, “Here, then, we part.”
“Not till you have had the poor Jew’s thanks,” said Isaac; “for I presume not to ask you to go with me to my kinsman Zareth’s, who might aid me with some means of repaying your good offices.”
“I have already said,” answered the Pilgrim, “that I desire no recompense. If among the huge list of thy debtors, thou wilt, for my sake, spare the gyves and the dungeon to some unhappy Christian who stands in thy danger, I shall hold this morning’s service to thee well bestowed.”
“Stay, stay,” said the Jew, laying hold of his garment; “something would I do more than this, something for thyself.—God knows the Jew is poor—yes, Isaac is the beggar of his tribe—but forgive me should I guess what thou most lackest at this moment.”
“If thou wert to guess truly,” said the Palmer, “it is what thou canst not supply, wert thou as wealthy as thou sayst thou art poor.”
“As I say?” echoed the Jew; “O! believe it, I say but the truth; I am a plundered, indebted, distressed man. Hard hands have wrung from me my goods, my money, my ships, and all that I possessed—Yet I can tell thee what thou lackest, and, it may be, supply it too. Thy wish even now is for a horse and armour.”
The Palmer started, and turned suddenly towards the Jew:—“What fiend prompted that guess?” said he, hastily.
“No matter,” said the Jew, smiling, “so that it be a true one—and, as I can guess thy want, so I can supply it.”
“But consider,” said the Palmer, “my character, my dress, my vow.”
“I know you Christians,” replied the Jew, “and that the noblest of you will take the staff and sandal in superstitious penance, and walk afoot to visit the graves of dead men.”
“Blaspheme not, Jew,” said the Pilgrim, sternly.
“Forgive me,” said the Jew; “I spoke rashly. But there dropt words from you last night and this morning, that, like sparks from flint, showed the metal within; and in the bosom of that Palmer’s gown, is hidden a knight’s chain and spurs of gold. They glanced as you stooped over my bed in the morning.”
The Pilgrim could not forbear smiling. “Were thy garments searched by as curious an eye, Isaac,” said he, “what discoveries might not be made?”
“No more of that,” said the Jew, changing colour; and drawing forth his writing materials in haste, as if to stop the conversation, he began to write upon a piece of paper which he supported on the top of his yellow cap, without dismounting from his mule. When he had finished, he delivered the scroll, which was in the Hebrew character, to the Pilgrim, saying, “In the town of Leicester all men know the rich Jew, Kirjath Jairam of Lombardy; give him this scroll—he hath on sale six Milan harnesses, the worst would suit a crowned head—ten goodly steeds, the worst might mount a king, were he to do battle for his throne. Of these he will give thee thy choice, with every thing else that can furnish thee forth for the tournament: when it is over, thou wilt return them safely—unless thou shouldst have wherewith to pay their value to the owner.”
“But, Isaac,” said the Pilgrim, smiling, “dost thou know that in these sports, the arms and steed of the knight who is unhorsed are forfeit to his victor? Now I may be unfortunate, and so lose what I cannot replace or repay.”
The Jew looked somewhat astounded at this possibility; but collecting his courage, he replied hastily. “No—no—no—It is impossible—I will not think so. The blessing of Our Father will be upon thee. Thy lance will be powerful as the rod of Moses.”
So saying, he was turning his mule’s head away, when the Palmer, in his turn, took hold of his gaberdine. “Nay, but Isaac, thou knowest not all the risk. The steed may be slain, the armour injured—for I will spare neither horse nor man. Besides, those of thy tribe give nothing for nothing; something there must be paid for their use.”
The Jew twisted himself in the saddle, like a man in a fit of the colic; but his better feelings predominated over those which were most familiar to him. “I care not,” he said, “I care not—let me go. If there is damage, it will cost you nothing—if there is usage money, Kirjath Jairam will forgive it for the sake of his kinsman Isaac. Fare thee well!—Yet hark thee, good youth,” said he, turning about, “thrust thyself not too forward into this vain hurly-burly—I speak not for endangering the steed, and coat of armour, but for the sake of thine own life and limbs.”
“Gramercy for thy caution,” said the Palmer, again smiling; “I will use thy courtesy frankly, and it will go hard with me but I will requite it.”
They parted, and took different roads for the town of Sheffield.