Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 26

  • > The hottest horse will oft be cool,
  • >
  • > The dullest will show fire;
  • >
  • > The friar will often play the fool,
  • >
  • > The fool will play the friar.
  • >
  • > Old Song
  • When the Jester, arrayed in the cowl and frock of the hermit, and having hi_notted cord twisted round his middle, stood before the portal of the castl_f Front-de-Boeuf, the warder demanded of him his name and errand.
  • "Pax vobiscum," answered the Jester, "I am a poor brother of the Order of S_rancis, who come hither to do my office to certain unhappy prisoners no_ecured within this castle."
  • "Thou art a bold friar," said the warder, "to come hither, where, saving ou_wn drunken confessor, a cock of thy feather hath not crowed these twent_ears."
  • "Yet I pray thee, do mine errand to the lord of the castle," answered th_retended friar; "trust me it will find good acceptance with him, and the coc_hall crow, that the whole castle shall hear him."
  • "Gramercy," said the warder; "but if I come to shame for leaving my post upo_hine errand, I will try whether a friar's grey gown be proof against a grey- goose shaft."
  • With this threat he left his turret, and carried to the hall of the castle hi_nwonted intelligence, that a holy friar stood before the gate and demande_nstant admission. With no small wonder he received his master's commands t_dmit the holy man immediately; and, having previously manned the entrance t_uard against surprise, he obeyed, without further scruple, the commands whic_e had received. The harebrained self-conceit which had emboldened Wamba t_ndertake this dangerous office, was scarce sufficient to support him when h_ound himself in the presence of a man so dreadful, and so much dreaded, a_eginald Front-de-Boeuf, and he brought out his "pax vobiscum", to which he, in a good measure, trusted for supporting his character, with more anxiety an_esitation than had hitherto accompanied it. But Front-de-Boeuf was accustome_o see men of all ranks tremble in his presence, so that the timidity of th_upposed father did not give him any cause of suspicion.
  • "Who and whence art thou, priest?" said he.
  • "'Pax vobiscum'," reiterated the Jester, "I am a poor servant of St Francis, who, travelling through this wilderness, have fallen among thieves, (a_cripture hath it,) 'quidam viator incidit in latrones', which thieves hav_ent me unto this castle in order to do my ghostly office on two person_ondemned by your honourable justice."
  • "Ay, right," answered Front-de-Boeuf; "and canst thou tell me, holy father, the number of those banditti?"
  • "Gallant sir," answered the Jester, "'nomen illis legio', their name i_egion."
  • "Tell me in plain terms what numbers there are, or, priest, thy cloak and cor_ill ill protect thee."
  • "Alas!" said the supposed friar, "'cor meum eructavit', that is to say, I wa_ike to burst with fear! but I conceive they may be —what of yeomen —what o_ommons, at least five hundred men."
  • "What!" said the Templar, who came into the hall that moment, "muster th_asps so thick here? it is time to stifle such a mischievous brood." The_aking Front-de-Boeuf aside "Knowest thou the priest?"
  • "He is a stranger from a distant convent," said Front-de-Boeuf; "I know hi_ot."
  • "Then trust him not with thy purpose in words," answered the Templar. "Let hi_arry a written order to De Bracy's company of Free Companions, to repai_nstantly to their master's aid. In the meantime, and that the shaveling ma_uspect nothing, permit him to go freely about his task of preparing thes_axon hogs for the slaughter-house."
  • "It shall be so," said Front-de-Boeuf. And he forthwith appointed a domesti_o conduct Wamba to the apartment where Cedric and Athelstane were confined.
  • The impatience of Cedric had been rather enhanced than diminished by hi_onfinement. He walked from one end of the hall to the other, with th_ttitude of one who advances to charge an enemy, or to storm the breach of _eleaguered place, sometimes ejaculating to himself, sometimes addressin_thelstane, who stoutly and stoically awaited the issue of the adventure, digesting, in the meantime, with great composure, the liberal meal which h_ad made at noon, and not greatly interesting himself about the duration o_is captivity, which he concluded, would, like all earthly evils, find an en_n Heaven's good time.
  • "'Pax vobiscum'," said the Jester, entering the apartment; "the blessing of S_unstan, St Dennis, St Duthoc, and all other saints whatsoever, be upon ye an_bout ye."
  • "Enter freely," answered Cedric to the supposed friar; "with what intent ar_hou come hither?"
  • "To bid you prepare yourselves for death," answered the Jester.
  • "It is impossible!" replied Cedric, starting. "Fearless and wicked as the_re, they dare not attempt such open and gratuitous cruelty!"
  • "Alas!" said the Jester, "to restrain them by their sense of humanity, is th_ame as to stop a runaway horse with a bridle of silk thread. Bethink thee, therefore, noble Cedric, and you also, gallant Athelstane, what crimes yo_ave committed in the flesh; for this very day will ye be called to answer a_ higher tribunal."
  • "Hearest thou this, Athelstane?" said Cedric; "we must rouse up our hearts t_his last action, since better it is we should die like men, than live lik_laves."
  • "I am ready," answered Athelstane, "to stand the worst of their malice, an_hall walk to my death with as much composure as ever I did to my dinner."
  • "Let us then unto our holy gear, father," said Cedric.
  • "Wait yet a moment, good uncle," said the Jester, in his natural tone; "bette_ook long before you leap in the dark."
  • "By my faith," said Cedric, "I should know that voice!"
  • "It is that of your trusty slave and jester," answered Wamba, throwing bac_is cowl. "Had you taken a fool's advice formerly, you would not have bee_ere at all. Take a fool's advice now, and you will not be here long."
  • "How mean'st thou, knave?" answered the Saxon.
  • "Even thus," replied Wamba; "take thou this frock and cord, which are all th_rders I ever had, and march quietly out of the castle, leaving me your cloa_nd girdle to take the long leap in thy stead."
  • "Leave thee in my stead!" said Cedric, astonished at the proposal; "why, the_ould hang thee, my poor knave."
  • "E'en let them do as they are permitted," said Wamba; "I trust —n_isparagement to your birth—that the son of Witless may hang in a chain wit_s much gravity as the chain hung upon his ancestor the alderman."
  • "Well, Wamba," answered Cedric, "for one thing will I grant thy request. An_hat is, if thou wilt make the exchange of garments with Lord Athelstan_nstead of me."
  • "No, by St Dunstan," answered Wamba; "there were little reason in that. Goo_ight there is, that the son of Witless should suffer to save the son o_ereward; but little wisdom there were in his dying for the benefit of on_hose fathers were strangers to his."
  • "Villain," said Cedric, "the fathers of Athelstane were monarchs of England!"
  • "They might be whomsoever they pleased," replied Wamba; "but my neck stand_oo straight upon my shoulders to have it twisted for their sake. Wherefore, good my master, either take my proffer yourself, or suffer me to leave thi_ungeon as free as I entered."
  • "Let the old tree wither," continued Cedric, "so the stately hope of th_orest be preserved. Save the noble Athelstane, my trusty Wamba! it is th_uty of each who has Saxon blood in his veins. Thou and I will abide togethe_he utmost rage of our injurious oppressors, while he, free and safe, shal_rouse the awakened spirits of our countrymen to avenge us."
  • "Not so, father Cedric," said Athelstane, grasping his hand, —for, when rouse_o think or act, his deeds and sentiments were not unbecoming his hig_ace—"Not so," he continued; "I would rather remain in this hall a wee_ithout food save the prisoner's stinted loaf, or drink save the prisoner'_easure of water, than embrace the opportunity to escape which the slave'_ntaught kindness has purveyed for his master."
  • "You are called wise men, sirs," said the Jester, "and I a crazed fool; but, uncle Cedric, and cousin Athelstane, the fool shall decide this controvers_or ye, and save ye the trouble of straining courtesies any farther. I am lik_ohn-a-Duck's mare, that will let no man mount her but John-a-Duck. I came t_ave my master, and if he will not consent—basta—I can but go away home again.
  • Kind service cannot be chucked from hand to hand like a shuttlecock or stool- ball. I'll hang for no man but my own born master."
  • "Go, then, noble Cedric," said Athelstane, "neglect not this opportunity. You_resence without may encourage friends to our rescue—your remaining here woul_uin us all."
  • "And is there any prospect, then, of rescue from without?" said Cedric, looking to the Jester.
  • "Prospect, indeed!" echoed Wamba; "let me tell you, when you fill my cloak, you are wrapped in a general's cassock. Five hundred men are there without, and I was this morning one of the chief leaders. My fool's cap was a casque, and my bauble a truncheon. Well, we shall see what good they will make b_xchanging a fool for a wise man. Truly, I fear they will lose in valour wha_hey may gain in discretion. And so farewell, master, and be kind to poo_urth and his dog Fangs; and let my cockscomb hang in the hall at Rotherwood, in memory that I flung away my life for my master, like a faithful———fool."
  • The last word came out with a sort of double expression, betwixt jest an_arnest. The tears stood in Cedric's eyes.
  • "Thy memory shall be preserved," he said, "while fidelity and affection hav_onour upon earth! But that I trust I shall find the means of saving Rowena, and thee, Athelstane, and thee, also, my poor Wamba, thou shouldst no_verbear me in this matter."
  • The exchange of dress was now accomplished, when a sudden doubt struck Cedric.
  • "I know no language," he said, "but my own, and a few words of their mincin_orman. How shall I bear myself like a reverend brother?"
  • "The spell lies in two words," replied Wamba— "'Pax vobiscum' will answer al_ueries. If you go or come, eat or drink, bless or ban, 'Pax vobiscum' carrie_ou through it all. It is as useful to a friar as a broomstick to a witch, o_ wand to a conjurer. Speak it but thus, in a deep grave tone,—'Pa_obiscum!'—it is irresistible—Watch and ward, knight and squire, foot an_orse, it acts as a charm upon them all. I think, if they bring me out to b_anged to-morrow, as is much to be doubted they may, I will try its weigh_pon the finisher of the sentence."
  • "If such prove the case," said the master, "my religious orders are soo_aken—'Pax vobiscum'. I trust I shall remember the pass-word.—Nobl_thelstane, farewell; and farewell, my poor boy, whose heart might make amend_or a weaker head—I will save you, or return and die with you. The royal bloo_f our Saxon kings shall not be spilt while mine beats in my veins; nor shal_ne hair fall from the head of the kind knave who risked himself for hi_aster, if Cedric's peril can prevent it. —Farewell."
  • "Farewell, noble Cedric," said Athelstane; "remember it is the true part of _riar to accept refreshment, if you are offered any."
  • "Farewell, uncle," added Wamba; "and remember 'Pax vobiscum'."
  • Thus exhorted, Cedric sallied forth upon his expedition; and it was not lon_re he had occasion to try the force of that spell which his Jester ha_ecommended as omnipotent. In a low-arched and dusky passage, by which h_ndeavoured to work his way to the hall of the castle, he was interrupted by _emale form.
  • "'Pax vobiscum!'" said the pseudo friar, and was endeavouring to hurry past, when a soft voice replied, "'Et vobis—quaso, domine reverendissime, pr_isericordia vestra'."
  • "I am somewhat deaf," replied Cedric, in good Saxon, and at the same tim_uttered to himself, "A curse on the fool and his 'Pax vobiscum!' I have los_y javelin at the first cast."
  • It was, however, no unusual thing for a priest of those days to be deaf of hi_atin ear, and this the person who now addressed Cedric knew full well.
  • "I pray you of dear love, reverend father," she replied in his own language,
  • "that you will deign to visit with your ghostly comfort a wounded prisoner o_his castle, and have such compassion upon him and us as thy holy offic_eaches—Never shall good deed so highly advantage thy convent."
  • "Daughter," answered Cedric, much embarrassed, "my time in this castle wil_ot permit me to exercise the duties of mine office —I must presentl_orth—there is life and death upon my speed."
  • "Yet, father, let me entreat you by the vow you have taken on you," replie_he suppliant, "not to leave the oppressed and endangered without counsel o_uccour."
  • "May the fiend fly away with me, and leave me in Ifrin with the souls of Odi_nd of Thor!" answered Cedric impatiently, and would probably have proceede_n the same tone of total departure from his spiritual character, when th_olloquy was interrupted by the harsh voice of Urfried, the old crone of th_urret.
  • "How, minion," said she to the female speaker, "is this the manner in whic_ou requite the kindness which permitted thee to leave thy prison-cel_onder?—Puttest thou the reverend man to use ungracious language to fre_imself from the importunities of a Jewess?"
  • "A Jewess!" said Cedric, availing himself of the information to get clear o_heir interruption,—"Let me pass, woman! stop me not at your peril. I am fres_rom my holy office, and would avoid pollution."
  • "Come this way, father," said the old hag, "thou art a stranger in thi_astle, and canst not leave it without a guide. Come hither, for I would spea_ith thee.—And you, daughter of an accursed race, go to the sick man'_hamber, and tend him until my return; and woe betide you if you again quit i_ithout my permission!"
  • Rebecca retreated. Her importunities had prevailed upon Urfried to suffer he_o quit the turret, and Urfried had employed her services where she hersel_ould most gladly have paid them, by the bedside of the wounded Ivanhoe. Wit_n understanding awake to their dangerous situation, and prompt to avai_erself of each means of safety which occurred, Rebecca had hoped somethin_rom the presence of a man of religion, who, she learned from Urfried, ha_enetrated into this godless castle. She watched the return of the suppose_cclesiastic, with the purpose of addressing him, and interesting him i_avour of the prisoners; with what imperfect success the reader has been jus_cquainted.