"Scarce the device itself at this distance," replied Rebecca; "but when the sun glances fair upon his shield, it shows as I tell you."
"Seem there no other leaders?" exclaimed the anxious enquirer.
"None of mark and distinction that I can behold from this station," said Rebecca; "but, doubtless, the other side of the castle is also assailed. They appear even now preparing to advance — God of Zion, protect us! — What a dreadful sight! — Those who advance first bear huge shields and defences made of plank; the others follow, bending their bows as they come on. — They raise their bows! — God of Moses, forgive the creatures thou hast made!"
Her description was here suddenly interrupted by the signal for assault, which was given by the blast of a shrill bugle, and at once answered by a flourish of the Norman trumpets from the battlements, which, mingled with the deep and hollow clang of the nakers, (a species of kettle-drum,) retorted in notes of defiance the challenge of the enemy. The shouts of both parties augmented the fearful din, the assailants crying, "Saint George for merry England!" and the Normans answering them with loud cries of "En avant De Bracy! — Beau-seant! Beau-seant! — Front-de-Boeuf a la rescousse!" according to the war-cries of their different commanders.
It was not, however, by clamour that the contest was to be decided, and the desperate efforts of the assailants were met by an equally vigorous defence on the part of the besieged. The archers, trained by their woodland pastimes to the most effective use of the long-bow, shot, to use the appropriate phrase of the time, so "wholly together," that no point at which a defender could show the least part of his person, escaped their cloth-yard shafts. By this heavy discharge, which continued as thick and sharp as hail, while, notwithstanding, every arrow had its individual aim, and flew by scores together against each embrasure and opening in the parapets, as well as at every window where a defender either occasionally had post, or might be suspected to be stationed, — by this sustained discharge, two or three of the garrison were slain, and several others wounded. But, confident in their armour of proof, and in the cover which their situation afforded, the followers of Front-de-Boeuf, and his allies, showed an obstinacy in defence proportioned to the fury of the attack and replied with the discharge of their large cross-bows, as well as with their long-bows, slings, and other missile weapons, to the close and continued shower of arrows; and, as the assailants were necessarily but indifferently protected, did considerably more damage than they received at their hand. The whizzing of shafts and of missiles, on both sides, was only interrupted by the shouts which arose when either side inflicted or sustained some notable loss.
"And I must lie here like a bedridden monk," exclaimed Ivanhoe, "while the game that gives me freedom or death is played out by the hand of others! — Look from the window once again, kind maiden, but beware that you are not marked by the archers beneath — Look out once more, and tell me if they yet advance to the storm."
With patient courage, strengthened by the interval which she had employed in mental devotion, Rebecca again took post at the lattice, sheltering herself, however, so as not to be visible from beneath.
"What dost thou see, Rebecca?" again demanded the wounded knight.
"Nothing but the cloud of arrows flying so thick as to dazzle mine eyes, and to hide the bowmen who shoot them."
"That cannot endure," said Ivanhoe; "if they press not right on to carry the castle by pure force of arms, the archery may avail but little against stone walls and bulwarks. Look for the Knight of the Fetterlock, fair Rebecca, and see how he bears himself; for as the leader is, so will his followers be."
"I see him not," said Rebecca.
"Foul craven!" exclaimed Ivanhoe; "does he blench from the helm when the wind blows highest?"
"He blenches not! he blenches not!" said Rebecca, "I see him now; he leads a body of men close under the outer barrier of the barbican. — They pull down the piles and palisades; they hew down the barriers with axes. — His high black plume floats abroad over the throng, like a raven over the field of the slain. — They have made a breach in the barriers — they rush in — they are thrust back! — Front-de-Boeuf heads the defenders; I see his gigantic form above the press. They throng again to the breach, and the pass is disputed hand to hand, and man to man. God of Jacob! it is the meeting of two fierce tides — the conflict of two oceans moved by adverse winds!"
She turned her head from the lattice, as if unable longer to endure a sight so terrible.
"Look forth again, Rebecca," said Ivanhoe, mistaking the cause of her retiring; "the archery must in some degree have ceased, since they are now fighting hand to hand. — Look again, there is now less danger."
Rebecca again looked forth, and almost immediately exclaimed, "Holy prophets of the law! Front-de-Boeuf and the Black Knight fight hand to hand on the breach, amid the roar of their followers, who watch the progress of the strife — Heaven strike with the cause of the oppressed and of the captive!" She then uttered a loud shriek, and exclaimed, "He is down! — he is down!"
"Who is down?" cried Ivanhoe; "for our dear Lady's sake, tell me which has fallen?"
"The Black Knight," answered Rebecca, faintly; then instantly again shouted with joyful eagerness — "But no — but no! — the name of the Lord of Hosts be blessed! — he is on foot again, and fights as if there were twenty men's strength in his single arm — His sword is broken — he snatches an axe from a yeoman — he presses Front-de-Boeuf with blow on blow — The giant stoops and totters like an oak under the steel of the woodman — he falls — he falls!"
"Front-de-Boeuf?" exclaimed Ivanhoe.
"Front-de-Boeuf!" answered the Jewess; "his men rush to the rescue, headed by the haughty Templar — their united force compels the champion to pause — They drag Front-de-Boeuf within the walls."
"The assailants have won the barriers, have they not?" said Ivanhoe.
"They have — they have!" exclaimed Rebecca — "and they press the besieged hard upon the outer wall; some plant ladders, some swarm like bees, and endeavour to ascend upon the shoulders of each other — down go stones, beams, and trunks of trees upon their heads, and as fast as they bear the wounded to the rear, fresh men supply their places in the assault — Great God! hast thou given men thine own image, that it should be thus cruelly defaced by the hands of their brethren!"
"Think not of that," said Ivanhoe; "this is no time for such thoughts — Who yield? — who push their way?"
"The ladders are thrown down," replied Rebecca, shuddering; "the soldiers lie grovelling under them like crushed reptiles — The besieged have the better."
"Saint George strike for us!" exclaimed the knight; "do the false yeomen give way?"
"No!" exclaimed Rebecca, "they bear themselves right yeomanly — the Black Knight approaches the postern with his huge axe — the thundering blows which he deals, you may hear them above all the din and shouts of the battle — Stones and beams are hailed down on the bold champion — he regards them no more than if they were thistle-down or feathers!"
"By Saint John of Acre," said Ivanhoe, raising himself joyfully on his couch, "methought there was but one man in England that might do such a deed!"
"The postern gate shakes," continued Rebecca; "it crashes — it is splintered by his blows — they rush in — the outwork is won — Oh, God! — they hurl the defenders from the battlements — they throw them into the moat — O men, if ye be indeed men, spare them that can resist no longer!"
"The bridge — the bridge which communicates with the castle — have they won that pass?" exclaimed Ivanhoe.
"No," replied Rebecca, "The Templar has destroyed the plank on which they crossed — few of the defenders escaped with him into the castle — the shrieks and cries which you hear tell the fate of the others — Alas! — I see it is still more difficult to look upon victory than upon battle."
"What do they now, maiden?" said Ivanhoe; "look forth yet again — this is no time to faint at bloodshed."