“But by the Holy Temple! the zeal which hath devoured my substance and my life, yea, the very nerves and marrow of my bones; by that very Holy Temple I swear to thee, that save thyself and some few that still retain the ancient severity of our Order, I look upon no brethren whom I can bring my soul to embrace under that holy name. What say our statutes, and how do our brethren observe them? They should wear no vain or worldly ornament, no crest upon their helmet, no gold upon stirrup or bridle-bit; yet who now go pranked out so proudly and so gaily as the poor soldiers of the Temple? They are forbidden by our statutes to take one bird by means of another, to shoot beasts with bow or arblast, to halloo to a hunting-horn, or to spur the horse after game. But now, at hunting and hawking, and each idle sport of wood and river, who so prompt as the Templars in all these fond vanities? They are forbidden to read, save what their Superior permitted, or listen to what is read, save such holy things as may be recited aloud during the hours of refaction; but lo! their ears are at the command of idle minstrels, and their eyes study empty romaunts. They were commanded to extirpate magic and heresy. Lo! they are charged with studying the accursed cabalistical secrets of the Jews, and the magic of the Paynim Saracens. Simpleness of diet was prescribed to them, roots, pottage, gruels, eating flesh but thrice a-week, because the accustomed feeding on flesh is a dishonourable corruption of the body; and behold, their tables groan under delicate fare! Their drink was to be water, and now, to drink like a Templar, is the boast of each jolly boon companion! This very garden, filled as it is with curious herbs and trees sent from the Eastern climes, better becomes the harem of an unbelieving Emir, than the plot which Christian Monks should devote to raise their homely pot-herbs.—And O, Conrade! well it were that the relaxation of discipline stopped even here!—Well thou knowest that we were forbidden to receive those devout women, who at the beginning were associated as sisters of our Order, because, saith the forty-sixth chapter, the Ancient Enemy hath, by female society, withdrawn many from the right path to paradise. Nay, in the last capital, being, as it were, the cope-stone which our blessed founder placed on the pure and undefiled doctrine which he had enjoined, we are prohibited from offering, even to our sisters and our mothers, the kiss of affection—’ut omnium mulierum fugiantur oscula’.—I shame to speak—I shame to think—of the corruptions which have rushed in upon us even like a flood. The souls of our pure founders, the spirits of Hugh de Payen and Godfrey de Saint Omer, and of the blessed Seven who first joined in dedicating their lives to the service of the Temple, are disturbed even in the enjoyment of paradise itself. I have seen them, Conrade, in the visions of the night—their sainted eyes shed tears for the sins and follies of their brethren, and for the foul and shameful luxury in which they wallow. Beaumanoir, they say, thou slumberest—awake! There is a stain in the fabric of the Temple, deep and foul as that left by the streaks of leprosy on the walls of the infected houses of old. 50
50.See the 13th chapter of Leviticus.
“The soldiers of the Cross, who should shun the glance of a woman as the eye of a basilisk, live in open sin, not with the females of their own race only, but with the daughters of the accursed heathen, and more accursed Jew. Beaumanoir, thou sleepest; up, and avenge our cause!—Slay the sinners, male and female!—Take to thee the brand of Phineas!—The vision fled, Conrade, but as I awaked I could still hear the clank of their mail, and see the waving of their white mantles.—And I will do according to their word, I WILL purify the fabric of the Temple! and the unclean stones in which the plague is, I will remove and cast out of the building.”
“Yet bethink thee, reverend father,” said Mont-Fitchet, “the stain hath become engrained by time and consuetude; let thy reformation be cautious, as it is just and wise.”
“No, Mont-Fitchet,” answered the stern old man—“it must be sharp and sudden—the Order is on the crisis of its fate. The sobriety, self-devotion, and piety of our predecessors, made us powerful friends—our presumption, our wealth, our luxury, have raised up against us mighty enemies.—We must cast away these riches, which are a temptation to princes—we must lay down that presumption, which is an offence to them—we must reform that license of manners, which is a scandal to the whole Christian world! Or—mark my words—the Order of the Temple will be utterly demolished—and the Place thereof shall no more be known among the nations.”
“Now may God avert such a calamity!” said the Preceptor.
“Amen,” said the Grand Master, with solemnity, “but we must deserve his aid. I tell thee, Conrade, that neither the powers in Heaven, nor the powers on earth, will longer endure the wickedness of this generation—My intelligence is sure—the ground on which our fabric is reared is already undermined, and each addition we make to the structure of our greatness will only sink it the sooner in the abyss. We must retrace our steps, and show ourselves the faithful Champions of the Cross, sacrificing to our calling, not alone our blood and our lives—not alone our lusts and our vices—but our ease, our comforts, and our natural affections, and act as men convinced that many a pleasure which may be lawful to others, is forbidden to the vowed soldier of the Temple.”
At this moment a squire, clothed in a threadbare vestment, (for the aspirants after this holy Order wore during their noviciate the cast-off garments of the knights,) entered the garden, and, bowing profoundly before the Grand Master, stood silent, awaiting his permission ere he presumed to tell his errand.
“Is it not more seemly,” said the Grand Master, “to see this Damian, clothed in the garments of Christian humility, thus appear with reverend silence before his Superior, than but two days since, when the fond fool was decked in a painted coat, and jangling as pert and as proud as any popinjay?—Speak, Damian, we permit thee—What is thine errand?”
“A Jew stands without the gate, noble and reverend father,” said the Squire, “who prays to speak with brother Brian de Bois-Guilbert.”
“Thou wert right to give me knowledge of it,” said the Grand Master; “in our presence a Preceptor is but as a common compeer of our Order, who may not walk according to his own will, but to that of his Master—even according to the text, ‘In the hearing of the ear he hath obeyed me.’—It imports us especially to know of this Bois-Guilbert’s proceedings,” said he, turning to his companion.
“Report speaks him brave and valiant,” said Conrade.
“And truly is he so spoken of,” said the Grand Master; “in our valour only we are not degenerated from our predecessors, the heroes of the Cross. But brother Brian came into our Order a moody and disappointed man, stirred, I doubt me, to take our vows and to renounce the world, not in sincerity of soul, but as one whom some touch of light discontent had driven into penitence. Since then, he hath become an active and earnest agitator, a murmurer, and a machinator, and a leader amongst those who impugn our authority; not considering that the rule is given to the Master even by the symbol of the staff and the rod—the staff to support the infirmities of the weak—the rod to correct the faults of delinquents.—Damian,” he continued, “lead the Jew to our presence.”
The squire departed with a profound reverence, and in a few minutes returned, marshalling in Isaac of York. No naked slave, ushered into the presence of some mighty prince, could approach his judgment-seat with more profound reverence and terror than that with which the Jew drew near to the presence of the Grand Master. When he had approached within the distance of three yards, Beaumanoir made a sign with his staff that he should come no farther. The Jew kneeled down on the earth which he kissed in token of reverence; then rising, stood before the Templars, his hands folded on his bosom, his head bowed on his breast, in all the submission of Oriental slavery.
“Damian,” said the Grand Master, “retire, and have a guard ready to await our sudden call; and suffer no one to enter the garden until we shall leave it.”—The squire bowed and retreated.—“Jew,” continued the haughty old man, “mark me. It suits not our condition to hold with thee long communication, nor do we waste words or time upon any one. Wherefore be brief in thy answers to what questions I shall ask thee, and let thy words be of truth; for if thy tongue doubles with me, I will have it torn from thy misbelieving jaws.”
The Jew was about to reply, but the Grand Master went on.
“Peace, unbeliever!—not a word in our presence, save in answer to our questions.—What is thy business with our brother Brian de Bois-Guilbert?”
Isaac gasped with terror and uncertainty. To tell his tale might be interpreted into scandalizing the Order; yet, unless he told it, what hope could he have of achieving his daughter’s deliverance? Beaumanoir saw his mortal apprehension, and condescended to give him some assurance.
“Fear nothing,” he said, “for thy wretched person, Jew, so thou dealest uprightly in this matter. I demand again to know from thee thy business with Brian de Bois-Guilbert?”
“I am bearer of a letter,” stammered out the Jew, “so please your reverend valour, to that good knight, from Prior Aymer of the Abbey of Jorvaulx.”
“Said I not these were evil times, Conrade?” said the Master. “A Cistertian Prior sends a letter to a soldier of the Temple, and can find no more fitting messenger than an unbelieving Jew.—Give me the letter.”
The Jew, with trembling hands, undid the folds of his Armenian cap, in which he had deposited the Prior’s tablets for the greater security, and was about to approach, with hand extended and body crouched, to place it within the reach of his grim interrogator.
“Back, dog!” said the Grand Master; “I touch not misbelievers, save with the sword.—Conrade, take thou the letter from the Jew, and give it to me.”
Beaumanoir, being thus possessed of the tablets, inspected the outside carefully, and then proceeded to undo the packthread which secured its folds. “Reverend father,” said Conrade, interposing, though with much deference, “wilt thou break the seal?”
“And will I not?” said Beaumanoir, with a frown. “Is it not written in the forty-second capital, ‘De Lectione Literarum’ that a Templar shall not receive a letter, no not from his father, without communicating the same to the Grand Master, and reading it in his presence?”
He then perused the letter in haste, with an expression of surprise and horror; read it over again more slowly; then holding it out to Conrade with one hand, and slightly striking it with the other, exclaimed—“Here is goodly stuff for one Christian man to write to another, and both members, and no inconsiderable members, of religious professions! When,” said he solemnly, and looking upward, “wilt thou come with thy fanners to purge the thrashing-floor?”
Mont-Fitchet took the letter from his Superior, and was about to peruse it.
“Read it aloud, Conrade,” said the Grand Master,—“and do thou” (to Isaac) “attend to the purport of it, for we will question thee concerning it.”
Conrade read the letter, which was in these words: “Aymer, by divine grace, Prior of the Cistertian house of Saint Mary’s of Jorvaulx, to Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a Knight of the holy Order of the Temple, wisheth health, with the bounties of King Bacchus and of my Lady Venus. Touching our present condition, dear Brother, we are a captive in the hands of certain lawless and godless men, who have not feared to detain our person, and put us to ransom; whereby we have also learned of Front-de-Boeuf’s misfortune, and that thou hast escaped with that fair Jewish sorceress, whose black eyes have bewitched thee. We are heartily rejoiced of thy safety; nevertheless, we pray thee to be on thy guard in the matter of this second Witch of Endor; for we are privately assured that your Great Master, who careth not a bean for cherry cheeks and black eyes, comes from Normandy to diminish your mirth, and amend your misdoings. Wherefore we pray you heartily to beware, and to be found watching, even as the Holy Text hath it, ‘Invenientur vigilantes’. And the wealthy Jew her father, Isaac of York, having prayed of me letters in his behalf, I gave him these, earnestly advising, and in a sort entreating, that you do hold the damsel to ransom, seeing he will pay you from his bags as much as may find fifty damsels upon safer terms, whereof I trust to have my part when we make merry together, as true brothers, not forgetting the wine-cup. For what saith the text, ‘Vinum laetificat cor hominis’; and again, ‘Rex delectabitur pulchritudine tua’.
“Till which merry meeting, we wish you farewell. Given from this den of thieves, about the hour of matins,
“Aymer Pr. S. M. Jorvolciencis.
“’Postscriptum.’ Truly your golden chain hath not long abidden with me, and will now sustain, around the neck of an outlaw deer-stealer, the whistle wherewith he calleth on his hounds.”
“What sayest thou to this, Conrade?” said the Grand Master—“Den of thieves! and a fit residence is a den of thieves for such a Prior. No wonder that the hand of God is upon us, and that in the Holy Land we lose place by place, foot by foot, before the infidels, when we have such churchmen as this Aymer.—And what meaneth he, I trow, by this second Witch of Endor?” said he to his confident, something apart. Conrade was better acquainted (perhaps by practice) with the jargon of gallantry, than was his Superior; and he expounded the passage which embarrassed the Grand Master, to be a sort of language used by worldly men towards those whom they loved ‘par amours’; but the explanation did not satisfy the bigoted Beaumanoir.
“There is more in it than thou dost guess, Conrade; thy simplicity is no match for this deep abyss of wickedness. This Rebecca of York was a pupil of that Miriam of whom thou hast heard. Thou shalt hear the Jew own it even now.” Then turning to Isaac, he said aloud, “Thy daughter, then, is prisoner with Brian de Bois-Guilbert?”
“Ay, reverend valorous sir,” stammered poor Isaac, “and whatsoever ransom a poor man may pay for her deliverance—-”
“Peace!” said the Grand Master. “This thy daughter hath practised the art of healing, hath she not?”
“Ay, gracious sir,” answered the Jew, with more confidence; “and knight and yeoman, squire and vassal, may bless the goodly gift which Heaven hath assigned to her. Many a one can testify that she hath recovered them by her art, when every other human aid hath proved vain; but the blessing of the God of Jacob was upon her.”
Beaumanoir turned to Mont-Fitchet with a grim smile. “See, brother,” he said, “the deceptions of the devouring Enemy! Behold the baits with which he fishes for souls, giving a poor space of earthly life in exchange for eternal happiness hereafter. Well said our blessed rule, ‘Semper percutiatur leo vorans’.—Up on the lion! Down with the destroyer!” said he, shaking aloft his mystic abacus, as if in defiance of the powers of darkness—“Thy daughter worketh the cures, I doubt not,” thus he went on to address the Jew, “by words and sighs, and periapts, and other cabalistical mysteries.”
“Nay, reverend and brave Knight,” answered Isaac, “but in chief measure by a balsam of marvellous virtue.”
“Where had she that secret?” said Beaumanoir.
“It was delivered to her,” answered Isaac, reluctantly, “by Miriam, a sage matron of our tribe.”
“Ah, false Jew!” said the Grand Master; “was it not from that same witch Miriam, the abomination of whose enchantments have been heard of throughout every Christian land?” exclaimed the Grand Master, crossing himself. “Her body was burnt at a stake, and her ashes were scattered to the four winds; and so be it with me and mine Order, if I do not as much to her pupil, and more also! I will teach her to throw spell and incantation over the soldiers of the blessed Temple.—There, Damian, spurn this Jew from the gate—shoot him dead if he oppose or turn again. With his daughter we will deal as the Christian law and our own high office warrant.”
Poor Isaac was hurried off accordingly, and expelled from the preceptory; all his entreaties, and even his offers, unheard and disregarded. He could do not better than return to the house of the Rabbi, and endeavour, through his means, to learn how his daughter was to be disposed of. He had hitherto feared for her honour, he was now to tremble for her life. Meanwhile, the Grand Master ordered to his presence the Preceptor of Templestowe.