"Not so, father Cedric," said Athelstane, grasping his hand, — for, when roused to think or act, his deeds and sentiments were not unbecoming his high race — "Not so," he continued; "I would rather remain in this hall a week without food save the prisoner's stinted loaf, or drink save the prisoner's measure of water, than embrace the opportunity to escape which the slave's untaught 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 controversy for ye, and save ye the trouble of straining courtesies any farther. I am like John-a-Duck's mare, that will let no man mount her but John-a-Duck. I came to save 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. Your presence without may encourage friends to our rescue — your remaining here would ruin 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 by exchanging a fool for a wise man. Truly, I fear they will lose in valour what they may gain in discretion. And so farewell, master, and be kind to poor Gurth 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 and earnest. The tears stood in Cedric's eyes.
"Thy memory shall be preserved," he said, "while fidelity and affection have honour 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 not overbear 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 mincing Norman. How shall I bear myself like a reverend brother?"
"The spell lies in two words," replied Wamba — "'Pax vobiscum' will answer all queries. If you go or come, eat or drink, bless or ban, 'Pax vobiscum' carries you through it all. It is as useful to a friar as a broomstick to a witch, or a wand to a conjurer. Speak it but thus, in a deep grave tone, — 'Pax vobiscum!' — it is irresistible — Watch and ward, knight and squire, foot and horse, it acts as a charm upon them all. I think, if they bring me out to be hanged to-morrow, as is much to be doubted they may, I will try its weight upon the finisher of the sentence."
"If such prove the case," said the master, "my religious orders are soon taken — 'Pax vobiscum'. I trust I shall remember the pass-word. — Noble Athelstane, farewell; and farewell, my poor boy, whose heart might make amends for a weaker head — I will save you, or return and die with you. The royal blood of our Saxon kings shall not be spilt while mine beats in my veins; nor shall one hair fall from the head of the kind knave who risked himself for his master, if Cedric's peril can prevent it. — Farewell."
"Farewell, noble Cedric," said Athelstane; "remember it is the true part of a friar 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 long ere he had occasion to try the force of that spell which his Jester had recommended as omnipotent. In a low-arched and dusky passage, by which he endeavoured to work his way to the hall of the castle, he was interrupted by a female form.
"'Pax vobiscum!'" said the pseudo friar, and was endeavouring to hurry past, when a soft voice replied, "'Et vobis — quaso, domine reverendissime, pro misericordia vestra'."
"I am somewhat deaf," replied Cedric, in good Saxon, and at the same time muttered to himself, "A curse on the fool and his 'Pax vobiscum!' I have lost my javelin at the first cast."
It was, however, no unusual thing for a priest of those days to be deaf of his Latin 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 of this castle, and have such compassion upon him and us as thy holy office teaches — Never shall good deed so highly advantage thy convent."
"Daughter," answered Cedric, much embarrassed, "my time in this castle will not permit me to exercise the duties of mine office — I must presently forth — there is life and death upon my speed."
"Yet, father, let me entreat you by the vow you have taken on you," replied the suppliant, "not to leave the oppressed and endangered without counsel or succour."
"May the fiend fly away with me, and leave me in Ifrin with the souls of Odin and of Thor!" answered Cedric impatiently, and would probably have proceeded in the same tone of total departure from his spiritual character, when the colloquy was interrupted by the harsh voice of Urfried, the old crone of the turret.
"How, minion," said she to the female speaker, "is this the manner in which you requite the kindness which permitted thee to leave thy prison-cell yonder? — Puttest thou the reverend man to use ungracious language to free himself from the importunities of a Jewess?"
"A Jewess!" said Cedric, availing himself of the information to get clear of their interruption, — "Let me pass, woman! stop me not at your peril. I am fresh from my holy office, and would avoid pollution."
"Come this way, father," said the old hag, "thou art a stranger in this castle, and canst not leave it without a guide. Come hither, for I would speak with thee. — And you, daughter of an accursed race, go to the sick man's chamber, and tend him until my return; and woe betide you if you again quit it without my permission!"
Rebecca retreated. Her importunities had prevailed upon Urfried to suffer her to quit the turret, and Urfried had employed her services where she herself would most gladly have paid them, by the bedside of the wounded Ivanhoe. With an understanding awake to their dangerous situation, and prompt to avail herself of each means of safety which occurred, Rebecca had hoped something from the presence of a man of religion, who, she learned from Urfried, had penetrated into this godless castle. She watched the return of the supposed ecclesiastic, with the purpose of addressing him, and interesting him in favour of the prisoners; with what imperfect success the reader has been just acquainted.