"I swear to you, noble knight," said the Jew "by all which I believe, and by all which we believe in common — -"
"Perjure not thyself," said the Norman, interrupting him, "and let not thine obstinacy seal thy doom, until thou hast seen and well considered the fate that awaits thee. Think not I speak to thee only to excite thy terror, and practise on the base cowardice thou hast derived from thy tribe. I swear to thee by that which thou dost NOT believe, by the gospel which our church teaches, and by the keys which are given her to bind and to loose, that my purpose is deep and peremptory. This dungeon is no place for trifling. Prisoners ten thousand times more distinguished than thou have died within these walls, and their fate hath never been known! But for thee is reserved a long and lingering death, to which theirs were luxury."
He again made a signal for the slaves to approach, and spoke to them apart, in their own language; for he also had been in Palestine, where perhaps, he had learnt his lesson of cruelty. The Saracens produced from their baskets a quantity of charcoal, a pair of bellows, and a flask of oil. While the one struck a light with a flint and steel, the other disposed the charcoal in the large rusty grate which we have already mentioned, and exercised the bellows until the fuel came to a red glow.
"Seest thou, Isaac," said Front-de-Boeuf, "the range of iron bars above the glowing charcoal? — on that warm couch thou shalt lie, stripped of thy clothes as if thou wert to rest on a bed of down. One of these slaves shall maintain the fire beneath thee, while the other shall anoint thy wretched limbs with oil, lest the roast should burn. — Now, choose betwixt such a scorching bed and the payment of a thousand pounds of silver; for, by the head of my father, thou hast no other option."
"It is impossible," exclaimed the miserable Jew — "it is impossible that your purpose can be real! The good God of nature never made a heart capable of exercising such cruelty!"
"Trust not to that, Isaac," said Front-de-Boeuf, "it were a fatal error. Dost thou think that I, who have seen a town sacked, in which thousands of my Christian countrymen perished by sword, by flood, and by fire, will blench from my purpose for the outcries or screams of one single wretched Jew? — or thinkest thou that these swarthy slaves, who have neither law, country, nor conscience, but their master's will — who use the poison, or the stake, or the poniard, or the cord, at his slightest wink — thinkest thou that THEY will have mercy, who do not even understand the language in which it is asked? — Be wise, old man; discharge thyself of a portion of thy superfluous wealth; repay to the hands of a Christian a part of what thou hast acquired by the usury thou hast practised on those of his religion. Thy cunning may soon swell out once more thy shrivelled purse, but neither leech nor medicine can restore thy scorched hide and flesh wert thou once stretched on these bars. Tell down thy ransom, I say, and rejoice that at such rate thou canst redeem thee from a dungeon, the secrets of which few have returned to tell. I waste no more words with thee — choose between thy dross and thy flesh and blood, and as thou choosest, so shall it be."
"So may Abraham, Jacob, and all the fathers of our people assist me," said Isaac, "I cannot make the choice, because I have not the means of satisfying your exorbitant demand!"
"Seize him and strip him, slaves," said the knight, "and let the fathers of his race assist him if they can."
The assistants, taking their directions more from the Baron's eye and his hand than his tongue, once more stepped forward, laid hands on the unfortunate Isaac, plucked him up from the ground, and, holding him between them, waited the hard-hearted Baron's farther signal. The unhappy Jew eyed their countenances and that of Front-de-Boeuf, in hope of discovering some symptoms of relenting; but that of the Baron exhibited the same cold, half-sullen, half-sarcastic smile which had been the prelude to his cruelty; and the savage eyes of the Saracens, rolling gloomily under their dark brows, acquiring a yet more sinister expression by the whiteness of the circle which surrounds the pupil, evinced rather the secret pleasure which they expected from the approaching scene, than any reluctance to be its directors or agents. The Jew then looked at the glowing furnace, over which he was presently to be stretched, and seeing no chance of his tormentor's relenting, his resolution gave way.
"I will pay," he said, "the thousand pounds of silver — That is," he added, after a moment's pause, "I will pay it with the help of my brethren; for I must beg as a mendicant at the door of our synagogue ere I make up so unheard-of a sum. — When and where must it be delivered?"
"Here," replied Front-de-Boeuf, "here it must be delivered — weighed it must be — weighed and told down on this very dungeon floor. — Thinkest thou I will part with thee until thy ransom is secure?"
"And what is to be my surety," said the Jew, "that I shall be at liberty after this ransom is paid?"
"The word of a Norman noble, thou pawn-broking slave," answered Front-de-Boeuf; "the faith of a Norman nobleman, more pure than the gold and silver of thee and all thy tribe."
"I crave pardon, noble lord," said Isaac timidly, "but wherefore should I rely wholly on the word of one who will trust nothing to mine?"
"Because thou canst not help it, Jew," said the knight, sternly. "Wert thou now in thy treasure-chamber at York, and were I craving a loan of thy shekels, it would be thine to dictate the time of payment, and the pledge of security. This is MY treasure-chamber. Here I have thee at advantage, nor will I again deign to repeat the terms on which I grant thee liberty."
The Jew groaned deeply. — "Grant me," he said, "at least with my own liberty, that of the companions with whom I travel. They scorned me as a Jew, yet they pitied my desolation, and because they tarried to aid me by the way, a share of my evil hath come upon them; moreover, they may contribute in some sort to my ransom."
"If thou meanest yonder Saxon churls," said Front-de-Boeuf, "their ransom will depend upon other terms than thine. Mind thine own concerns, Jew, I warn thee, and meddle not with those of others."
"I am, then," said Isaac, "only to be set at liberty, together with mine wounded friend?"
"Shall I twice recommend it," said Front-de-Boeuf, "to a son of Israel, to meddle with his own concerns, and leave those of others alone? — Since thou hast made thy choice, it remains but that thou payest down thy ransom, and that at a short day."
"Yet hear me," said the Jew — "for the sake of that very wealth which thou wouldst obtain at the expense of thy — -" Here he stopt short, afraid of irritating the savage Norman. But Front-de-Boeuf only laughed, and himself filled up the blank at which the Jew had hesitated.
"At the expense of my conscience, thou wouldst say, Isaac; speak it out — I tell thee, I am reasonable. I can bear the reproaches of a loser, even when that loser is a Jew. Thou wert not so patient, Isaac, when thou didst invoke justice against Jacques Fitzdotterel, for calling thee a usurious blood-sucker, when thy exactions had devoured his patrimony."
"I swear by the Talmud," said the Jew, "that your valour has been misled in that matter. Fitzdotterel drew his poniard upon me in mine own chamber, because I craved him for mine own silver. The term of payment was due at the Passover."
"I care not what he did," said Front-de-Boeuf; "the question is, when shall I have mine own? — when shall I have the shekels, Isaac?"
"Let my daughter Rebecca go forth to York," answered Isaac, "with your safe conduct, noble knight, and so soon as man and horse can return, the treasure — -" Here he groaned deeply, but added, after the pause of a few seconds, — "The treasure shall be told down on this very floor."
"Thy daughter!" said Front-de-Boeuf, as if surprised, — "By heavens, Isaac, I would I had known of this. I deemed that yonder black-browed girl had been thy concubine, and I gave her to be a handmaiden to Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, after the fashion of patriarchs and heroes of the days of old, who set us in these matters a wholesome example."