FictionForest

CHAPTER XXXIII-1

Sir Walter ScottMar 06, 2020'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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   —-Flower of warriors,

     How is’t with Titus Lartius?

     MARCIUS.—As with a man busied about decrees,

     Condemning some to death and some to exile,

     Ransoming him or pitying, threatening the other.

     —Coriolanus

The captive Abbot’s features and manners exhibited a whimsical mixture of offended pride, and deranged foppery and bodily terror.

“Why, how now, my masters?” said he, with a voice in which all three emotions were blended. “What order is this among ye? Be ye Turks or Christians, that handle a churchman?—Know ye what it is, ‘manus imponere in servos Domini’? Ye have plundered my mails—torn my cope of curious cut lace, which might have served a cardinal!—Another in my place would have been at his ‘excommunicabo vos’; but I am placible, and if ye order forth my palfreys, release my brethren, and restore my mails, tell down with all speed an hundred crowns to be expended in masses at the high altar of Jorvaulx Abbey, and make your vow to eat no venison until next Pentecost, it may be you shall hear little more of this mad frolic.”

“Holy Father,” said the chief Outlaw, “it grieves me to think that you have met with such usage from any of my followers, as calls for your fatherly reprehension.”

“Usage!” echoed the priest, encouraged by the mild tone of the silvan leader; “it were usage fit for no hound of good race—much less for a Christian—far less for a priest—and least of all for the Prior of the holy community of Jorvaulx. Here is a profane and drunken minstrel, called Allan-a-Dale—’nebulo quidam’—who has menaced me with corporal punishment—nay, with death itself, an I pay not down four hundred crowns of ransom, to the boot of all the treasure he hath already robbed me of—gold chains and gymmal rings to an unknown value; besides what is broken and spoiled among their rude hands, such as my pouncer-box and silver crisping-tongs.”

“It is impossible that Allan-a-Dale can have thus treated a man of your reverend bearing,” replied the Captain.

“It is true as the gospel of Saint Nicodemus,” said the Prior; “he swore, with many a cruel north-country oath, that he would hang me up on the highest tree in the greenwood.”

“Did he so in very deed? Nay, then, reverend father, I think you had better comply with his demands—for Allan-a-Dale is the very man to abide by his word when he has so pledged it.” 43

“You do but jest with me,” said the astounded Prior, with a forced laugh; “and I love a good jest with all my heart. But, ha! ha! ha! when the mirth has lasted the livelong night, it is time to be grave in the morning.”

“And I am as grave as a father confessor,” replied the Outlaw; “you must pay a round ransom, Sir Prior, or your convent is likely to be called to a new election; for your place will know you no more.”

“Are ye Christians,” said the Prior, “and hold this language to a churchman?”

“Christians! ay, marry are we, and have divinity among us to boot,” answered the Outlaw. “Let our buxom chaplain stand forth, and expound to this reverend father the texts which concern this matter.”

The Friar, half-drunk, half-sober, had huddled a friar’s frock over his green cassock, and now summoning together whatever scraps of learning he had acquired by rote in former days, “Holy father,” said he, “’Deus faciat salvam benignitatem vestram’—You are welcome to the greenwood.”

“What profane mummery is this?” said the Prior. “Friend, if thou be’st indeed of the church, it were a better deed to show me how I may escape from these men’s hands, than to stand ducking and grinning here like a morris-dancer.”

“Truly, reverend father,” said the Friar, “I know but one mode in which thou mayst escape. This is Saint Andrew’s day with us, we are taking our tithes.”

“But not of the church, then, I trust, my good brother?” said the Prior.

“Of church and lay,” said the Friar; “and therefore, Sir Prior ‘facite vobis amicos de Mammone iniquitatis’—make yourselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness, for no other friendship is like to serve your turn.”

“I love a jolly woodsman at heart,” said the Prior, softening his tone; “come, ye must not deal too hard with me—I can well of woodcraft, and can wind a horn clear and lustily, and hollo till every oak rings again—Come, ye must not deal too hard with me.”

“Give him a horn,” said the Outlaw; “we will prove the skill he boasts of.”

The Prior Aymer winded a blast accordingly. The Captain shook his head.

“Sir Prior,” he said, “thou blowest a merry note, but it may not ransom thee—we cannot afford, as the legend on a good knight’s shield hath it, to set thee free for a blast. Moreover, I have found thee—thou art one of those, who, with new French graces and Tra-li-ras, disturb the ancient English bugle notes.—Prior, that last flourish on the recheat hath added fifty crowns to thy ransom, for corrupting the true old manly blasts of venerie.”

“Well, friend,” said the Abbot, peevishly, “thou art ill to please with thy woodcraft. I pray thee be more conformable in this matter of my ransom. At a word—since I must needs, for once, hold a candle to the devil—what ransom am I to pay for walking on Watling-street, without having fifty men at my back?”

“Were it not well,” said the Lieutenant of the gang apart to the Captain, “that the Prior should name the Jew’s ransom, and the Jew name the Prior’s?”

“Thou art a mad knave,” said the Captain, “but thy plan transcends!—Here, Jew, step forth—Look at that holy Father Aymer, Prior of the rich Abbey of Jorvaulx, and tell us at what ransom we should hold him?—Thou knowest the income of his convent, I warrant thee.”

“O, assuredly,” said Isaac. “I have trafficked with the good fathers, and bought wheat and barley, and fruits of the earth, and also much wool. O, it is a rich abbey-stede, and they do live upon the fat, and drink the sweet wines upon the lees, these good fathers of Jorvaulx. Ah, if an outcast like me had such a home to go to, and such incomings by the year and by the month, I would pay much gold and silver to redeem my captivity.”

“Hound of a Jew!” exclaimed the Prior, “no one knows better than thy own cursed self, that our holy house of God is indebted for the finishing of our chancel—”

“And for the storing of your cellars in the last season with the due allowance of Gascon wine,” interrupted the Jew; “but that—that is small matters.”

“Hear the infidel dog!” said the churchman; “he jangles as if our holy community did come under debts for the wines we have a license to drink, ‘propter necessitatem, et ad frigus depellendum’. The circumcised villain blasphemeth the holy church, and Christian men listen and rebuke him not!”

“All this helps nothing,” said the leader.—“Isaac, pronounce what he may pay, without flaying both hide and hair.”

“An six hundred crowns,” said Isaac, “the good Prior might well pay to your honoured valours, and never sit less soft in his stall.”

“Six hundred crowns,” said the leader, gravely; “I am contented—thou hast well spoken, Isaac—six hundred crowns.—It is a sentence, Sir Prior.”

“A sentence!—a sentence!” exclaimed the band; “Solomon had not done it better.”

“Thou hearest thy doom, Prior,” said the leader.

“Ye are mad, my masters,” said the Prior; “where am I to find such a sum? If I sell the very pyx and candlesticks on the altar at Jorvaulx, I shall scarce raise the half; and it will be necessary for that purpose that I go to Jorvaulx myself; ye may retain as borrows 44 my two priests.”

44.Borghs, or borrows, signifies pledges. Hence our word to borrow, because we pledge ourselves to restore what is lent.

“That will be but blind trust,” said the Outlaw; “we will retain thee, Prior, and send them to fetch thy ransom. Thou shalt not want a cup of wine and a collop of venison the while; and if thou lovest woodcraft, thou shalt see such as your north country never witnessed.”

“Or, if so please you,” said Isaac, willing to curry favour with the outlaws, “I can send to York for the six hundred crowns, out of certain monies in my hands, if so be that the most reverend Prior present will grant me a quittance.”

“He shall grant thee whatever thou dost list, Isaac,” said the Captain; “and thou shalt lay down the redemption money for Prior Aymer as well as for thyself.”

“For myself! ah, courageous sirs,” said the Jew, “I am a broken and impoverished man; a beggar’s staff must be my portion through life, supposing I were to pay you fifty crowns.”

“The Prior shall judge of that matter,” replied the Captain.—“How say you, Father Aymer? Can the Jew afford a good ransom?”

“Can he afford a ransom?” answered the Prior “Is he not Isaac of York, rich enough to redeem the captivity of the ten tribes of Israel, who were led into Assyrian bondage?—I have seen but little of him myself, but our cellarer and treasurer have dealt largely with him, and report says that his house at York is so full of gold and silver as is a shame in any Christian land. Marvel it is to all living Christian hearts that such gnawing adders should be suffered to eat into the bowels of the state, and even of the holy church herself, with foul usuries and extortions.”

“Hold, father,” said the Jew, “mitigate and assuage your choler. I pray of your reverence to remember that I force my monies upon no one. But when churchman and layman, prince and prior, knight and priest, come knocking to Isaac’s door, they borrow not his shekels with these uncivil terms. It is then, Friend Isaac, will you pleasure us in this matter, and our day shall be truly kept, so God sa’ me?—and Kind Isaac, if ever you served man, show yourself a friend in this need! And when the day comes, and I ask my own, then what hear I but Damned Jew, and The curse of Egypt on your tribe, and all that may stir up the rude and uncivil populace against poor strangers!”

“Prior,” said the Captain, “Jew though he be, he hath in this spoken well. Do thou, therefore, name his ransom, as he named thine, without farther rude terms.”

“None but ‘latro famosus’—the interpretation whereof,” said the Prior, “will I give at some other time and tide—would place a Christian prelate and an unbaptized Jew upon the same bench. But since ye require me to put a price upon this caitiff, I tell you openly that ye will wrong yourselves if you take from him a penny under a thousand crowns.”

“A sentence!—a sentence!” exclaimed the chief Outlaw.

“A sentence!—a sentence!” shouted his assessors; “the Christian has shown his good nurture, and dealt with us more generously than the Jew.”

“The God of my fathers help me!” said the Jew; “will ye bear to the ground an impoverished creature?—I am this day childless, and will ye deprive me of the means of livelihood?”

“Thou wilt have the less to provide for, Jew, if thou art childless,” said Aymer.

“Alas! my lord,” said Isaac, “your law permits you not to know how the child of our bosom is entwined with the strings of our heart—O Rebecca! laughter of my beloved Rachel! were each leaf on that tree a zecchin, and each zecchin mine own, all that mass of wealth would I give to know whether thou art alive, and escaped the hands of the Nazarene!”

“Was not thy daughter dark-haired?” said one of the outlaws; “and wore she not a veil of twisted sendal, broidered with silver?”

“She did!—she did!” said the old man, trembling with eagerness, as formerly with fear. “The blessing of Jacob be upon thee! canst thou tell me aught of her safety?”

“It was she, then,” said the yeoman, “who was carried off by the proud Templar, when he broke through our ranks on yester-even. I had drawn my bow to send a shaft after him, but spared him even for the sake of the damsel, who I feared might take harm from the arrow.”

“Oh!” answered the Jew, “I would to God thou hadst shot, though the arrow had pierced her bosom!—Better the tomb of her fathers than the dishonourable couch of the licentious and savage Templar. Ichabod! Ichabod! the glory hath departed from my house!”

“Friends,” said the Chief, looking round, “the old man is but a Jew, natheless his grief touches me.—Deal uprightly with us, Isaac—will paying this ransom of a thousand crowns leave thee altogether penniless?”

Isaac, recalled to think of his worldly goods, the love of which, by dint of inveterate habit, contended even with his parental affection, grew pale, stammered, and could not deny there might be some small surplus.

“Well—go to—what though there be,” said the Outlaw, “we will not reckon with thee too closely. Without treasure thou mayst as well hope to redeem thy child from the clutches of Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, as to shoot a stag-royal with a headless shaft.—We will take thee at the same ransom with Prior Aymer, or rather at one hundred crowns lower, which hundred crowns shall be mine own peculiar loss, and not light upon this worshipful community; and so we shall avoid the heinous offence of rating a Jew merchant as high as a Christian prelate, and thou wilt have six hundred crowns remaining to treat for thy daughter’s ransom. Templars love the glitter of silver shekels as well as the sparkle of black eyes.—Hasten to make thy crowns chink in the ear of De Bois-Guilbert, ere worse comes of it. Thou wilt find him, as our scouts have brought notice, at the next Preceptory house of his Order.—Said I well, my merry mates?”

The yeomen expressed their wonted acquiescence in their leader’s opinion; and Isaac, relieved of one half of his apprehensions, by learning that his daughter lived, and might possibly be ransomed, threw himself at the feet of the generous Outlaw, and, rubbing his beard against his buskins, sought to kiss the hem of his green cassock. The Captain drew himself back, and extricated himself from the Jew’s grasp, not without some marks of contempt.

“Nay, beshrew thee, man, up with thee! I am English born, and love no such Eastern prostrations—Kneel to God, and not to a poor sinner, like me.”

 

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