Fond wretch! and what canst thou relate,
But deeds of sorrow, shame, and sin?
Thy deeds are proved — thou know'st thy fate;
But come, thy tale — begin — begin.
* * * * *
But I have griefs of other kind,
Troubles and sorrows more severe;
Give me to ease my tortured mind,
Lend to my woes a patient ear;
And let me, if I may not find
A friend to help — find one to hear.
— Crabbe's Hall of Justice
When Urfried had with clamours and menaces driven Rebecca back to the apartment from which she had sallied, she proceeded to conduct the unwilling Cedric into a small apartment, the door of which she heedfully secured. Then fetching from a cupboard a stoup of wine and two flagons, she placed them on the table, and said in a tone rather asserting a fact than asking a question, "Thou art Saxon, father — Deny it not," she continued, observing that Cedric hastened not to reply; "the sounds of my native language are sweet to mine ears, though seldom heard save from the tongues of the wretched and degraded serfs on whom the proud Normans impose the meanest drudgery of this dwelling. Thou art a Saxon, father — a Saxon, and, save as thou art a servant of God, a freeman. — Thine accents are sweet in mine ear."
"Do not Saxon priests visit this castle, then?" replied Cedric; "it were, methinks, their duty to comfort the outcast and oppressed children of the soil."
"They come not — or if they come, they better love to revel at the boards of their conquerors," answered Urfried, "than to hear the groans of their countrymen — so, at least, report speaks of them — of myself I can say little. This castle, for ten years, has opened to no priest save the debauched Norman chaplain who partook the nightly revels of Front-de-Boeuf, and he has been long gone to render an account of his stewardship. — But thou art a Saxon — a Saxon priest, and I have one question to ask of thee."
"I am a Saxon," answered Cedric, "but unworthy, surely, of the name of priest. Let me begone on my way — I swear I will return, or send one of our fathers more worthy to hear your confession."
"Stay yet a while," said Urfried; "the accents of the voice which thou hearest now will soon be choked with the cold earth, and I would not descend to it like the beast I have lived. But wine must give me strength to tell the horrors of my tale." She poured out a cup, and drank it with a frightful avidity, which seemed desirous of draining the last drop in the goblet. "It stupifies," she said, looking upwards as she finished her drought, "but it cannot cheer — Partake it, father, if you would hear my tale without sinking down upon the pavement." Cedric would have avoided pledging her in this ominous conviviality, but the sign which she made to him expressed impatience and despair. He complied with her request, and answered her challenge in a large wine-cup; she then proceeded with her story, as if appeased by his complaisance.
"I was not born," she said, "father, the wretch that thou now seest me. I was free, was happy, was honoured, loved, and was beloved. I am now a slave, miserable and degraded — the sport of my masters' passions while I had yet beauty — the object of their contempt, scorn, and hatred, since it has passed away. Dost thou wonder, father, that I should hate mankind, and, above all, the race that has wrought this change in me? Can the wrinkled decrepit hag before thee, whose wrath must vent itself in impotent curses, forget she was once the daughter of the noble Thane of Torquilstone, before whose frown a thousand vassals trembled?"
"Thou the daughter of Torquil Wolfganger!" said Cedric, receding as he spoke; "thou — thou — the daughter of that noble Saxon, my father's friend and companion in arms!"
"Thy father's friend!" echoed Urfried; "then Cedric called the Saxon stands before me, for the noble Hereward of Rotherwood had but one son, whose name is well known among his countrymen. But if thou art Cedric of Rotherwood, why this religious dress? — hast thou too despaired of saving thy country, and sought refuge from oppression in the shade of the convent?"
"It matters not who I am," said Cedric; "proceed, unhappy woman, with thy tale of horror and guilt! — Guilt there must be — there is guilt even in thy living to tell it."
"There is — there is," answered the wretched woman, "deep, black, damning guilt, — guilt, that lies like a load at my breast — guilt, that all the penitential fires of hereafter cannot cleanse. — Yes, in these halls, stained with the noble and pure blood of my father and my brethren — in these very halls, to have lived the paramour of their murderer, the slave at once and the partaker of his pleasures, was to render every breath which I drew of vital air, a crime and a curse."
"Wretched woman!" exclaimed Cedric. "And while the friends of thy father — while each true Saxon heart, as it breathed a requiem for his soul, and those of his valiant sons, forgot not in their prayers the murdered Ulrica — while all mourned and honoured the dead, thou hast lived to merit our hate and execration — lived to unite thyself with the vile tyrant who murdered thy nearest and dearest — who shed the blood of infancy, rather than a male of the noble house of Torquil Wolfganger should survive — with him hast thou lived to unite thyself, and in the hands of lawless love!"
"In lawless hands, indeed, but not in those of love!" answered the hag; "love will sooner visit the regions of eternal doom, than those unhallowed vaults. — No, with that at least I cannot reproach myself — hatred to Front-de-Boeuf and his race governed my soul most deeply, even in the hour of his guilty endearments."
"You hated him, and yet you lived," replied Cedric; "wretch! was there no poniard — no knife — no bodkin! — Well was it for thee, since thou didst prize such an existence, that the secrets of a Norman castle are like those of the grave. For had I but dreamed of the daughter of Torquil living in foul communion with the murderer of her father, the sword of a true Saxon had found thee out even in the arms of thy paramour!"
"Wouldst thou indeed have done this justice to the name of Torquil?" said Ulrica, for we may now lay aside her assumed name of Urfried; "thou art then the true Saxon report speaks thee! for even within these accursed walls, where, as thou well sayest, guilt shrouds itself in inscrutable mystery, even there has the name of Cedric been sounded — and I, wretched and degraded, have rejoiced to think that there yet breathed an avenger of our unhappy nation. — I also have had my hours of vengeance — I have fomented the quarrels of our foes, and heated drunken revelry into murderous broil — I have seen their blood flow — I have heard their dying groans! — Look on me, Cedric — are there not still left on this foul and faded face some traces of the features of Torquil?"
"Ask me not of them, Ulrica," replied Cedric, in a tone of grief mixed with abhorrence; "these traces form such a resemblance as arises from the graves of the dead, when a fiend has animated the lifeless corpse."
"Be it so," answered Ulrica; "yet wore these fiendish features the mask of a spirit of light when they were able to set at variance the elder Front-de-Boeuf and his son Reginald! The darkness of hell should hide what followed, but revenge must lift the veil, and darkly intimate what it would raise the dead to speak aloud. Long had the smouldering fire of discord glowed between the tyrant father and his savage son — long had I nursed, in secret, the unnatural hatred — it blazed forth in an hour of drunken wassail, and at his own board fell my oppressor by the hand of his own son — such are the secrets these vaults conceal! — Rend asunder, ye accursed arches," she added, looking up towards the roof, "and bury in your fall all who are conscious of the hideous mystery!"
"And thou, creature of guilt and misery," said Cedric, "what became thy lot on the death of thy ravisher?"
"Guess it, but ask it not. — Here — here I dwelt, till age, premature age, has stamped its ghastly features on my countenance — scorned and insulted where I was once obeyed, and compelled to bound the revenge which had once such ample scope, to the efforts of petty malice of a discontented menial, or the vain or unheeded curses of an impotent hag — condemned to hear from my lonely turret the sounds of revelry in which I once partook, or the shrieks and groans of new victims of oppression."
"Ulrica," said Cedric, "with a heart which still, I fear, regrets the lost reward of thy crimes, as much as the deeds by which thou didst acquire that meed, how didst thou dare to address thee to one who wears this robe? Consider, unhappy woman, what could the sainted Edward himself do for thee, were he here in bodily presence? The royal Confessor was endowed by heaven with power to cleanse the ulcers of the body, but only God himself can cure the leprosy of the soul."