"Thou liest, Jew, and thou knowest thou dost." said the Friar; "I will remind thee of but one word of our conference — thou didst promise to give all thy substance to our holy Order."
"So help me the Promise, fair sirs," said Isaac, even more alarmed than before, "as no such sounds ever crossed my lips! Alas! I am an aged beggar'd man — I fear me a childless — have ruth on me, and let me go!"
"Nay," said the Friar, "if thou dost retract vows made in favour of holy Church, thou must do penance."
Accordingly, he raised his halberd, and would have laid the staff of it lustily on the Jew's shoulders, had not the Black Knight stopped the blow, and thereby transferred the Holy Clerk's resentment to himself.
"By Saint Thomas of Kent," said he, "an I buckle to my gear, I will teach thee, sir lazy lover, to mell with thine own matters, maugre thine iron case there!"
"Nay, be not wroth with me," said the Knight; "thou knowest I am thy sworn friend and comrade."
"I know no such thing," answered the Friar; "and defy thee for a meddling coxcomb!"
"Nay, but," said the Knight, who seemed to take a pleasure in provoking his quondam host, "hast thou forgotten how, that for my sake (for I say nothing of the temptation of the flagon and the pasty) thou didst break thy vow of fast and vigil?"
"Truly, friend," said the Friar, clenching his huge fist, "I will bestow a buffet on thee."
"I accept of no such presents," said the Knight; "I am content to take thy cuff as a loan, but I will repay thee with usury as deep as ever thy prisoner there exacted in his traffic."
"I will prove that presently," said the Friar.
"Hola!" cried the Captain, "what art thou after, mad Friar? brawling beneath our Trysting-tree?"
"No brawling," said the Knight, "it is but a friendly interchange of courtesy. — Friar, strike an thou darest — I will stand thy blow, if thou wilt stand mine."
"Thou hast the advantage with that iron pot on thy head," said the churchman; "but have at thee — Down thou goest, an thou wert Goliath of Gath in his brazen helmet."
The Friar bared his brawny arm up to the elbow, and putting his full strength to the blow, gave the Knight a buffet that might have felled an ox. But his adversary stood firm as a rock. A loud shout was uttered by all the yeomen around; for the Clerk's cuff was proverbial amongst them, and there were few who, in jest or earnest, had not had the occasion to know its vigour.
"Now, Priest," said, the Knight, pulling off his gauntlet, "if I had vantage on my head, I will have none on my hand — stand fast as a true man."
"'Genam meam dedi vapulatori' — I have given my cheek to the smiter," said the Priest; "an thou canst stir me from the spot, fellow, I will freely bestow on thee the Jew's ransom."
So spoke the burly Priest, assuming, on his part, high defiance. But who may resist his fate? The buffet of the Knight was given with such strength and good-will, that the Friar rolled head over heels upon the plain, to the great amazement of all the spectators. But he arose neither angry nor crestfallen.
"Brother," said he to the Knight, "thou shouldst have used thy strength with more discretion. I had mumbled but a lame mass an thou hadst broken my jaw, for the piper plays ill that wants the nether chops. Nevertheless, there is my hand, in friendly witness, that I will exchange no more cuffs with thee, having been a loser by the barter. End now all unkindness. Let us put the Jew to ransom, since the leopard will not change his spots, and a Jew he will continue to be."
"The Priest," said Clement, "is not half so confident of the Jew's conversion, since he received that buffet on the ear."
"Go to, knave, what pratest thou of conversions? — what, is there no respect? — all masters and no men? — I tell thee, fellow, I was somewhat totty when I received the good knight's blow, or I had kept my ground under it. But an thou gibest more of it, thou shalt learn I can give as well as take."
"Peace all!" said the Captain. "And thou, Jew, think of thy ransom; thou needest not to be told that thy race are held to be accursed in all Christian communities, and trust me that we cannot endure thy presence among us. Think, therefore, of an offer, while I examine a prisoner of another cast."
"Were many of Front-de-Boeuf's men taken?" demanded the Black Knight.
"None of note enough to be put to ransom," answered the Captain; "a set of hilding fellows there were, whom we dismissed to find them a new master — enough had been done for revenge and profit; the bunch of them were not worth a cardecu. The prisoner I speak of is better booty — a jolly monk riding to visit his leman, an I may judge by his horse-gear and wearing apparel. — Here cometh the worthy prelate, as pert as a pyet." And, between two yeomen, was brought before the silvan throne of the outlaw Chief, our old friend, Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx.