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."
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.