“Ay, Jew,” said Prior Aymer; “kneel to God, as represented in the servant of his altar, and who knows, with thy sincere repentance and due gifts to the shrine of Saint Robert, what grace thou mayst acquire for thyself and thy daughter Rebecca? I grieve for the maiden, for she is of fair and comely countenance,—I beheld her in the lists of Ashby. Also Brian de Bois-Guilbert is one with whom I may do much—bethink thee how thou mayst deserve my good word with him.”
“Alas! alas!” said the Jew, “on every hand the spoilers arise against me—I am given as a prey unto the Assyrian, and a prey unto him of Egypt.”
“And what else should be the lot of thy accursed race?” answered the Prior; “for what saith holy writ, ‘verbum Domini projecerunt, et sapientia est nulla in eis’—they have cast forth the word of the Lord, and there is no wisdom in them; ‘propterea dabo mulieres eorum exteris’—I will give their women to strangers, that is to the Templar, as in the present matter; ‘et thesauros eorum haeredibus alienis’, and their treasures to others—as in the present case to these honest gentlemen.”
Isaac groaned deeply, and began to wring his hands, and to relapse into his state of desolation and despair. But the leader of the yeomen led him aside.
“Advise thee well, Isaac,” said Locksley, “what thou wilt do in this matter; my counsel to thee is to make a friend of this churchman. He is vain, Isaac, and he is covetous; at least he needs money to supply his profusion. Thou canst easily gratify his greed; for think not that I am blinded by thy pretexts of poverty. I am intimately acquainted, Isaac, with the very iron chest in which thou dost keep thy money-bags—What! know I not the great stone beneath the apple-tree, that leads into the vaulted chamber under thy garden at York?” The Jew grew as pale as death—“But fear nothing from me,” continued the yeoman, “for we are of old acquainted. Dost thou not remember the sick yeoman whom thy fair daughter Rebecca redeemed from the gyves at York, and kept him in thy house till his health was restored, when thou didst dismiss him recovered, and with a piece of money?—Usurer as thou art, thou didst never place coin at better interest than that poor silver mark, for it has this day saved thee five hundred crowns.”
“And thou art he whom we called Diccon Bend-the-Bow?” said Isaac; “I thought ever I knew the accent of thy voice.”
“I am Bend-the-Bow,” said the Captain, “and Locksley, and have a good name besides all these.”
“But thou art mistaken, good Bend-the-Bow, concerning that same vaulted apartment. So help me Heaven, as there is nought in it but some merchandises which I will gladly part with to you—one hundred yards of Lincoln green to make doublets to thy men, and a hundred staves of Spanish yew to make bows, and a hundred silken bowstrings, tough, round, and sound—these will I send thee for thy good-will, honest Diccon, an thou wilt keep silence about the vault, my good Diccon.”
“Silent as a dormouse,” said the Outlaw; “and never trust me but I am grieved for thy daughter. But I may not help it—The Templars lances are too strong for my archery in the open field—they would scatter us like dust. Had I but known it was Rebecca when she was borne off, something might have been done; but now thou must needs proceed by policy. Come, shall I treat for thee with the Prior?”
“In God’s name, Diccon, an thou canst, aid me to recover the child of my bosom!”
“Do not thou interrupt me with thine ill-timed avarice,” said the Outlaw, “and I will deal with him in thy behalf.”
He then turned from the Jew, who followed him, however, as closely as his shadow.
“Prior Aymer,” said the Captain, “come apart with me under this tree. Men say thou dost love wine, and a lady’s smile, better than beseems thy Order, Sir Priest; but with that I have nought to do. I have heard, too, thou dost love a brace of good dogs and a fleet horse, and it may well be that, loving things which are costly to come by, thou hatest not a purse of gold. But I have never heard that thou didst love oppression or cruelty.—Now, here is Isaac willing to give thee the means of pleasure and pastime in a bag containing one hundred marks of silver, if thy intercession with thine ally the Templar shall avail to procure the freedom of his daughter.”
“In safety and honour, as when taken from me,” said the Jew, “otherwise it is no bargain.”
“Peace, Isaac,” said the Outlaw, “or I give up thine interest.—What say you to this my purpose, Prior Aymer?”
“The matter,” quoth the Prior, “is of a mixed condition; for, if I do a good deal on the one hand, yet, on the other, it goeth to the vantage of a Jew, and in so much is against my conscience. Yet, if the Israelite will advantage the Church by giving me somewhat over to the building of our dortour, 45 I will take it on my conscience to aid him in the matter of his daughter.”
45. “Dortour”, or dormitory.
“For a score of marks to the dortour,” said the Outlaw,—“Be still, I say, Isaac!—or for a brace of silver candlesticks to the altar, we will not stand with you.”
“Nay, but, good Diccon Bend-the-Bow”—said Isaac, endeavouring to interpose.
“Good Jew—good beast—good earthworm!” said the yeoman, losing patience; “an thou dost go on to put thy filthy lucre in the balance with thy daughter’s life and honour, by Heaven, I will strip thee of every maravedi thou hast in the world, before three days are out!”
Isaac shrunk together, and was silent.
“And what pledge am I to have for all this?” said the Prior.
“When Isaac returns successful through your mediation,” said the Outlaw, “I swear by Saint Hubert, I will see that he pays thee the money in good silver, or I will reckon with him for it in such sort, he had better have paid twenty such sums.”
“Well then, Jew,” said Aymer, “since I must needs meddle in this matter, let me have the use of thy writing-tablets—though, hold—rather than use thy pen, I would fast for twenty-four hours, and where shall I find one?”
“If your holy scruples can dispense with using the Jew’s tablets, for the pen I can find a remedy,” said the yeoman; and, bending his bow, he aimed his shaft at a wild-goose which was soaring over their heads, the advanced-guard of a phalanx of his tribe, which were winging their way to the distant and solitary fens of Holderness. The bird came fluttering down, transfixed with the arrow.
“There, Prior,” said the Captain, “are quills enow to supply all the monks of Jorvaulx for the next hundred years, an they take not to writing chronicles.”
The Prior sat down, and at great leisure indited an epistle to Brian de Bois-Guilbert, and having carefully sealed up the tablets, delivered them to the Jew, saying, “This will be thy safe-conduct to the Preceptory of Templestowe, and, as I think, is most likely to accomplish the delivery of thy daughter, if it be well backed with proffers of advantage and commodity at thine own hand; for, trust me well, the good Knight Bois-Guilbert is of their confraternity that do nought for nought.”
“Well, Prior,” said the Outlaw, “I will detain thee no longer here than to give the Jew a quittance for the six hundred crowns at which thy ransom is fixed—I accept of him for my pay-master; and if I hear that ye boggle at allowing him in his accompts the sum so paid by him, Saint Mary refuse me, an I burn not the abbey over thine head, though I hang ten years the sooner!”
With a much worse grace than that wherewith he had penned the letter to Bois-Guilbert, the Prior wrote an acquittance, discharging Isaac of York of six hundred crowns, advanced to him in his need for acquittal of his ransom, and faithfully promising to hold true compt with him for that sum.
“And now,” said Prior Aymer, “I will pray you of restitution of my mules and palfreys, and the freedom of the reverend brethren attending upon me, and also of the gymmal rings, jewels, and fair vestures, of which I have been despoiled, having now satisfied you for my ransom as a true prisoner.”
“Touching your brethren, Sir Prior,” said Locksley, “they shall have present freedom, it were unjust to detain them; touching your horses and mules, they shall also be restored, with such spending-money as may enable you to reach York, for it were cruel to deprive you of the means of journeying.—But as concerning rings, jewels, chains, and what else, you must understand that we are men of tender consciences, and will not yield to a venerable man like yourself, who should be dead to the vanities of this life, the strong temptation to break the rule of his foundation, by wearing rings, chains, or other vain gauds.”
“Think what you do, my masters,” said the Prior, “ere you put your hand on the Church’s patrimony—These things are ‘inter res sacras’, and I wot not what judgment might ensue were they to be handled by laical hands.”
“I will take care of that, reverend Prior,” said the Hermit of Copmanhurst; “for I will wear them myself.”
“Friend, or brother,” said the Prior, in answer to this solution of his doubts, “if thou hast really taken religious orders, I pray thee to look how thou wilt answer to thine official for the share thou hast taken in this day’s work.”
“Friend Prior,” returned the Hermit, “you are to know that I belong to a little diocese, where I am my own diocesan, and care as little for the Bishop of York as I do for the Abbot of Jorvaulx, the Prior, and all the convent.”
“Thou art utterly irregular,” said the Prior; “one of those disorderly men, who, taking on them the sacred character without due cause, profane the holy rites, and endanger the souls of those who take counsel at their hands; ‘lapides pro pane condonantes iis’, giving them stones instead of bread as the Vulgate hath it.”
“Nay,” said the Friar, “an my brain-pan could have been broken by Latin, it had not held so long together.—I say, that easing a world of such misproud priests as thou art of their jewels and their gimcracks, is a lawful spoiling of the Egyptians.”
“Thou be’st a hedge-priest,” 46 said the Prior, in great wrath, “’excommunicabo vos’.”
“Thou be’st thyself more like a thief and a heretic,” said the Friar, equally indignant; “I will pouch up no such affront before my parishioners, as thou thinkest it not shame to put upon me, although I be a reverend brother to thee. ‘Ossa ejus perfringam’, I will break your bones, as the Vulgate hath it.”
46. Note I. Hedge-Priests.
“Hola!” cried the Captain, “come the reverend brethren to such terms?—Keep thine assurance of peace, Friar.—Prior, an thou hast not made thy peace perfect with God, provoke the Friar no further.—Hermit, let the reverend father depart in peace, as a ransomed man.”
The yeomen separated the incensed priests, who continued to raise their voices, vituperating each other in bad Latin, which the Prior delivered the more fluently, and the Hermit with the greater vehemence. The Prior at length recollected himself sufficiently to be aware that he was compromising his dignity, by squabbling with such a hedge-priest as the Outlaw’s chaplain, and being joined by his attendants, rode off with considerably less pomp, and in a much more apostolical condition, so far as worldly matters were concerned, than he had exhibited before this rencounter.
It remained that the Jew should produce some security for the ransom which he was to pay on the Prior’s account, as well as upon his own. He gave, accordingly, an order sealed with his signet, to a brother of his tribe at York, requiring him to pay to the bearer the sum of a thousand crowns, and to deliver certain merchandises specified in the note.
“My brother Sheva,” he said, groaning deeply, “hath the key of my warehouses.”
“And of the vaulted chamber,” whispered Locksley.
“No, no—may Heaven forefend!” said Isaac; “evil is the hour that let any one whomsoever into that secret!”
“It is safe with me,” said the Outlaw, “so be that this thy scroll produce the sum therein nominated and set down.—But what now, Isaac? art dead? art stupefied? hath the payment of a thousand crowns put thy daughter’s peril out of thy mind?”
The Jew started to his feet—“No, Diccon, no—I will presently set forth.—Farewell, thou whom I may not call good, and dare not and will not call evil.”
Yet ere Isaac departed, the Outlaw Chief bestowed on him this parting advice:—“Be liberal of thine offers, Isaac, and spare not thy purse for thy daughter’s safety. Credit me, that the gold thou shalt spare in her cause, will hereafter give thee as much agony as if it were poured molten down thy throat.”
Isaac acquiesced with a deep groan, and set forth on his journey, accompanied by two tall foresters, who were to be his guides, and at the same time his guards, through the wood.
The Black Knight, who had seen with no small interest these various proceedings, now took his leave of the Outlaw in turn; nor could he avoid expressing his surprise at having witnessed so much of civil policy amongst persons cast out from all the ordinary protection and influence of the laws.
“Good fruit, Sir Knight,” said the yeoman, “will sometimes grow on a sorry tree; and evil times are not always productive of evil alone and unmixed. Amongst those who are drawn into this lawless state, there are, doubtless, numbers who wish to exercise its license with some moderation, and some who regret, it may be, that they are obliged to follow such a trade at all.”
“And to one of those,” said the Knight, “I am now, I presume, speaking?”
“Sir Knight,” said the Outlaw, “we have each our secret. You are welcome to form your judgment of me, and I may use my conjectures touching you, though neither of our shafts may hit the mark they are shot at. But as I do not pray to be admitted into your mystery, be not offended that I preserve my own.”
“I crave pardon, brave Outlaw,” said the Knight, “your reproof is just. But it may be we shall meet hereafter with less of concealment on either side.—Meanwhile we part friends, do we not?”
“There is my hand upon it,” said Locksley; “and I will call it the hand of a true Englishman, though an outlaw for the present.”
“And there is mine in return,” said the Knight, “and I hold it honoured by being clasped with yours. For he that does good, having the unlimited power to do evil, deserves praise not only for the good which he performs, but for the evil which he forbears. Fare thee well, gallant Outlaw!” Thus parted that fair fellowship; and He of the Fetterlock, mounting upon his strong war-horse, rode off through the forest.