"Peace, unbeliever! — not a word in our presence, save in answer to our questions. — What is thy business with our brother Brian de Bois-Guilbert?"
Isaac gasped with terror and uncertainty. To tell his tale might be interpreted into scandalizing the Order; yet, unless he told it, what hope could he have of achieving his daughter's deliverance? Beaumanoir saw his mortal apprehension, and condescended to give him some assurance.
"Fear nothing," he said, "for thy wretched person, Jew, so thou dealest uprightly in this matter. I demand again to know from thee thy business with Brian de Bois-Guilbert?"
"I am bearer of a letter," stammered out the Jew, "so please your reverend valour, to that good knight, from Prior Aymer of the Abbey of Jorvaulx."
"Said I not these were evil times, Conrade?" said the Master. "A Cistertian Prior sends a letter to a soldier of the Temple, and can find no more fitting messenger than an unbelieving Jew. — Give me the letter."
The Jew, with trembling hands, undid the folds of his Armenian cap, in which he had deposited the Prior's tablets for the greater security, and was about to approach, with hand extended and body crouched, to place it within the reach of his grim interrogator.
"Back, dog!" said the Grand Master; "I touch not misbelievers, save with the sword. — Conrade, take thou the letter from the Jew, and give it to me."
Beaumanoir, being thus possessed of the tablets, inspected the outside carefully, and then proceeded to undo the packthread which secured its folds. "Reverend father," said Conrade, interposing, though with much deference, "wilt thou break the seal?"
"And will I not?" said Beaumanoir, with a frown. "Is it not written in the forty-second capital, 'De Lectione Literarum' that a Templar shall not receive a letter, no not from his father, without communicating the same to the Grand Master, and reading it in his presence?"
He then perused the letter in haste, with an expression of surprise and horror; read it over again more slowly; then holding it out to Conrade with one hand, and slightly striking it with the other, exclaimed — "Here is goodly stuff for one Christian man to write to another, and both members, and no inconsiderable members, of religious professions! When," said he solemnly, and looking upward, "wilt thou come with thy fanners to purge the thrashing-floor?"
Mont-Fitchet took the letter from his Superior, and was about to peruse it.
"Read it aloud, Conrade," said the Grand Master, — "and do thou" (to Isaac) "attend to the purport of it, for we will question thee concerning it."
Conrade read the letter, which was in these words: "Aymer, by divine grace, Prior of the Cistertian house of Saint Mary's of Jorvaulx, to Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a Knight of the holy Order of the Temple, wisheth health, with the bounties of King Bacchus and of my Lady Venus. Touching our present condition, dear Brother, we are a captive in the hands of certain lawless and godless men, who have not feared to detain our person, and put us to ransom; whereby we have also learned of Front-de-Boeuf's misfortune, and that thou hast escaped with that fair Jewish sorceress, whose black eyes have bewitched thee. We are heartily rejoiced of thy safety; nevertheless, we pray thee to be on thy guard in the matter of this second Witch of Endor; for we are privately assured that your Great Master, who careth not a bean for cherry cheeks and black eyes, comes from Normandy to diminish your mirth, and amend your misdoings. Wherefore we pray you heartily to beware, and to be found watching, even as the Holy Text hath it, 'Invenientur vigilantes'. And the wealthy Jew her father, Isaac of York, having prayed of me letters in his behalf, I gave him these, earnestly advising, and in a sort entreating, that you do hold the damsel to ransom, seeing he will pay you from his bags as much as may find fifty damsels upon safer terms, whereof I trust to have my part when we make merry together, as true brothers, not forgetting the wine-cup. For what saith the text, 'Vinum laetificat cor hominis'; and again, 'Rex delectabitur pulchritudine tua'.
"Till which merry meeting, we wish you farewell. Given from this den of thieves, about the hour of matins,
"Aymer Pr. S. M. Jorvolciencis.
"'Postscriptum.' Truly your golden chain hath not long abidden with me, and will now sustain, around the neck of an outlaw deer-stealer, the whistle wherewith he calleth on his hounds."
"What sayest thou to this, Conrade?" said the Grand Master — "Den of thieves! and a fit residence is a den of thieves for such a Prior. No wonder that the hand of God is upon us, and that in the Holy Land we lose place by place, foot by foot, before the infidels, when we have such churchmen as this Aymer. — And what meaneth he, I trow, by this second Witch of Endor?" said he to his confident, something apart. Conrade was better acquainted (perhaps by practice) with the jargon of gallantry, than was his Superior; and he expounded the passage which embarrassed the Grand Master, to be a sort of language used by worldly men towards those whom they loved 'par amours'; but the explanation did not satisfy the bigoted Beaumanoir.
"There is more in it than thou dost guess, Conrade; thy simplicity is no match for this deep abyss of wickedness. This Rebecca of York was a pupil of that Miriam of whom thou hast heard. Thou shalt hear the Jew own it even now." Then turning to Isaac, he said aloud, "Thy daughter, then, is prisoner with Brian de Bois-Guilbert?"
"Ay, reverend valorous sir," stammered poor Isaac, "and whatsoever ransom a poor man may pay for her deliverance — -"
"Peace!" said the Grand Master. "This thy daughter hath practised the art of healing, hath she not?"
"Ay, gracious sir," answered the Jew, with more confidence; "and knight and yeoman, squire and vassal, may bless the goodly gift which Heaven hath assigned to her. Many a one can testify that she hath recovered them by her art, when every other human aid hath proved vain; but the blessing of the God of Jacob was upon her."
Beaumanoir turned to Mont-Fitchet with a grim smile. "See, brother," he said, "the deceptions of the devouring Enemy! Behold the baits with which he fishes for souls, giving a poor space of earthly life in exchange for eternal happiness hereafter. Well said our blessed rule, 'Semper percutiatur leo vorans'. — Up on the lion! Down with the destroyer!" said he, shaking aloft his mystic abacus, as if in defiance of the powers of darkness — "Thy daughter worketh the cures, I doubt not," thus he went on to address the Jew, "by words and sighs, and periapts, and other cabalistical mysteries."
"Nay, reverend and brave Knight," answered Isaac, "but in chief measure by a balsam of marvellous virtue."
"Where had she that secret?" said Beaumanoir.
"It was delivered to her," answered Isaac, reluctantly, "by Miriam, a sage matron of our tribe."
"Ah, false Jew!" said the Grand Master; "was it not from that same witch Miriam, the abomination of whose enchantments have been heard of throughout every Christian land?" exclaimed the Grand Master, crossing himself. "Her body was burnt at a stake, and her ashes were scattered to the four winds; and so be it with me and mine Order, if I do not as much to her pupil, and more also! I will teach her to throw spell and incantation over the soldiers of the blessed Temple. — There, Damian, spurn this Jew from the gate — shoot him dead if he oppose or turn again. With his daughter we will deal as the Christian law and our own high office warrant."
Poor Isaac was hurried off accordingly, and expelled from the preceptory; all his entreaties, and even his offers, unheard and disregarded. He could do not better than return to the house of the Rabbi, and endeavour, through his means, to learn how his daughter was to be disposed of. He had hitherto feared for her honour, he was now to tremble for her life. Meanwhile, the Grand Master ordered to his presence the Preceptor of Templestowe.