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בס"ד

The Martyrs of Worms

(Continued from Issue 4)

A German Tale.

By Celia Moss

Chapter II.

Count Elric left the abode of the Jew with every bad passion of his heart fully aroused, and determined on vengeance.

An orphan from his boyhood, he had been suffered by his guardians to grow up in the unlimited indulgence of his passions. A feudal lord, possessing powers of life and death on his own estates, his will had been unquestioned. Literature at that time formed no part of a young noble’s education; for although printing had now been for some time introduced, books were yet rare, and read by few, save men whose profession rendered study necessary. Consequently, when not engaged in a career of arms, gaming was the usual resource of men who found the time hang heavily on their hands from want of better employment. Elric, following the example of his young compeers, became early a gamester. While yet a minor the Count had wedded the daughter of his guardian, a beautiful, but haughty and pleasure-loving woman. The wealth of the Count was soon expended, and  he became a borrower, until, as we have seen, a bankrupt even in credit.

Then, instead of blaming his own evil course, he determined on wreaking his disappointment on his unfortunate creditor.

“What is to be done,” muttered the Count to himself as he strode along the busy streets, “from Hallevy nothing is to be extorted. Three days hence the grand tournament comes off at Elsheim. Adelaide is named Queen of Beauty, and I have promised to run a tilt with Maurice of Elsheim. I have neither horse nor arms in which I can appear, and I promised my wife to redeem her jewels from this cursed Jew, but his obstinacy could neither be overcome by threats nor promises. By my knighthood! I would rather face a score of men-at-arms than brave my fair dame’s reproaches, when she hears the ill success of my mission.” While thus soliloquizing the Count had quitted the Jewry, and turned into one of the principal streets of the town. It was a fair day, and booths in which the most tempting wares were displayed were erected; sparkling jewels and splendid suits of armour arrested Elric’s attention at every step, and excited still more forcibly the painful reflections on his poverty which had previously occupied him.

He had stopped before a booth richly ornamented with foreign stuffs, when his attention was suddenly attracted by the sound of a woman’s voice speaking in a slightly foreign accent, but so soft and musical were the tones that he involuntarily turned towards the speaker. Two females and a young lad were standing in front of the booth. The boy’s dress and features at once proclaimed his nation, but the women were plainly habited, and looked like daughters of a substantial citizen, save that they wore long, thick veils. The veil of the one that had spoken was raised, so that the Count was enabled to obtain a good view of her countenance, and never before had he seen one so lovely. How tame did the fair skin, blue eyes, and flaxen hair of his Adelaide appear when compared with the rich olive tint, the speaking eyes, the jetty hair and dimpled cheek of the bright daughter of the East, and when the maiden, abashed by the gaze of the stranger, suddenly drew down her veil, Elric dashed it aside, and seizing the terrified Jewess in his arms, attempted to kiss her ruby lips; but scarcely was the outrage perpetrated, when the boy, aroused by his sister’s shrieks and struggles to free herself, struck the Count such a violent blow on the face that he let go his hold, and staggered backward nearly senseless from pain. In a moment, however, he recovered himself, and seizing the boy, who with his sisters was attempting to escape from the crowds which lead already gathered, exclaimed, “The dog, the vile Jew, has dared to strike a noble of the empire. By every saint in heaven his blood alone, spilt drop by drop, shall atone for his deed.”

“Fly, sister, fly,” shouted the brave boy, regardless of Elric’s threats, “fear not for me;” but, the one who had not yet spoken threw herself on her knees, exclaiming,

“Oh! my lord, have mercy; he is but a child—he knows not what he has done.”

“A child, forsooth,” said the count, scornfully, “methinks for one of his tender years his blows fall right heavily.”

“Nay, my lord, he is but a boy, and knew not that he committed wrong in protecting his sister.”

“Remove thy veil that I may look capon thy face,” answered Elric, “I love not replying to veiled pleaders.”

With a trembling hand the Hebrew cast aside her veil, and displayed to view features less bright and sparkling than her sister’s, but bearing the impress of a lofty mind in every line, while her every movement, even in that moment of anguish, showed her a true descendant of Judah’s stately maidens. But Count Elric, even in his better moods, was not a being to appreciate the intellectual loveliness displayed in the countenance of the Jewess, and chafed and angered as he had been that morning, there was no chance of his foregoing his vengeance on one of Hallevy’s tribe for a woman’s pleading, though he little knew how complete was the revenge fortune had afforded him. “Rise,” he said sullenly, “thy pleadings are vain.”

While the events of which we have just spoken had taken place, some of the Count’s armed retainers had joined him, and to these he had committed the charge of the young Jew, and turning from the suppliant at his feet, he now gave orders, in a loud voice, that they should bear their captive to his castle of Eberhard, six miles distant from Worms.

“Forbear, forbear yet a little while,” said the maiden whose sweet voice had first attracted the attention of the Count. “Let my father, Judah Hallevy, be summoned. He is wealthy, he will perchance prevail on thee to spare his child.”

“Judah Hallevy thy father,” exclaimed the count exultingly. “Ha, ha, ha! fortune has indeed been propitious beyond my hopes. Come,  maiden, thou shalt accompany thy brother, and a noble ransom,” he added to himself, “shall the Jew pay for his children.” So saying, he laid his lawless hand on the trembling girl. She uttered a piercing shriek for aid, and her sister flew to her side, and attempted to undo the clasp of the Count, who laughed scornfully at her fruitless efforts. What, however, of her own a strength she could not have accomplished, was effected by the aid of others. Two young men, who had joined the crowd at the beginning of the fray, but had hitherto remained silent but observant spectators, now suddenly rushed through the throng of people, dashed the Count’s arm aside, and seizing each a maiden in his vigorous arms, rushed past the surprised spectators, and ere any one had presence of mind enough to pursue, were lost to sight in one of the dark openings that branched off from the principal street. Satisfied of the fruitlessness of any search after the fugitives, the Count, muttering curses on the rescued and rescuers, secured his remaining prisoner, and set out with a lighter heart for Eberhard, secure in the gratification of his avarice and revenge.

CHAPTER III.

Long and anxiously did Hallevy and his wife await the return of their children. They had gone back to the upper part of the house, and every sound, every step in the street made their hearts beat violently, and Judith had requested her husband to go forth in search of them: when a loud and hurried knocking at the house door increased their alarm, which was, however, for the moment, dissipated by the entrance of Zillah and Esther, with their pro­tectors. Esther threw herself into her mother’s arms, and biding her face in her bosom, wept bitterly, while Zillah, more calm and collected, from a habit of controlling her feelings, related to her father the misfortunes that had befallen her brother, and their own delivery from the same danger by the two strangers who had accompanied them, and who she had learned were Hebrews, but lately arrived in Worms.

For a minute of two, Hallevy stood stunned by the intelligence of the heavy calamity which had so suddenly overwhelmed him. At length he advanced to the strangers, and gratefully thanking them for their opportune aid, begged them earnestly to remain under his roof during the remainder of their stay in Worms. “You owe us no gratitude,” said the elder of the strangers; “we look upon Jews, throughout the world, as our brethren, and as sisters we have rescued your fair daughters from outrage. We thank you for your hospitable offer,” he continued, “but fear in your present sorrow we should be but intruders upon you.”

But of a refusal Hallevy would not hear. “Ye are my brethren,” he said, “and as such shall not quit my roof; and you, dearest,” he added, turning to his weeping wife, “let not sorrow blind you to the duties of hospitality. Our boy’s life is in no danger; the Count’s need is greater than his cruelty, and although it is hard to be robbed of the fruits of many years’ toil, still gold is better lost than life. But do thou, in case of danger, go with our children and guests to the hidden chambers. I will to the Count Elric at Eberhard.” Then bidding farewell to his wife, children, and guests, Judah Hallevy set out for the abode of the Count, whither we shall follow him.

Night had fallen when Hallevy reached the castle of Eberhard, a gloomy feudal fortress, standing on the bank of the Rhine, close to the shore. It was not till after much delay that Hallevy gained admittance to the hall of this building, and then he was obliged to remain amid the gibes and scorn of the brutal retainers of Count Elric, till it pleased that haughty noble to admit him to his presence. As the time passed heavily on, Hallevy began to entertain doubts of the prudence of the step he had taken, in putting his own person, as well as his child’s, into the power of the Lord of Eberhard. Then he thought too of the anxious watchers in his sad home, when, just as his feelings were excited to the utmost, he received a summons to the Count.

The Lord of Eberhard and his lady sat on a platform, on a seat slightly raised. Both were richly dressed, and surrounded by attendants, who at a motion from the Count, removed out of earshot, as the Jew advanced to within a little distance of where he and the lady sat.

“Well, Jew,” said the Count, sternly, as Hallevy humbly saluted him, “what seek ye at the castle of Eberhard?”

With difficulty mastering his emotion, so as to speak calmly. Hallevy replied,

“My son, a mere boy, has, I have been told, offended my lord in a tumult to-day, and behaved insolently, for which offence he is at present in your dwelling, and I came, noble Count, to entreat that thou wouldst pardon the child.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed the Count; “so thou thinkest a dog of a Jew is to raise His hand against a noble of the empire, and then, forsooth, because another of his vile race, his father, asks it, he is to win pardon as easily as if he had spurned a beggar’s brat. Jew,” continued the Count, vehemently, “dost thou remember our conversation of this morning, and what I then told thee?”

“I do, noble count, and I am now ready to grant the loan I then denied, so thou wilt give me the boy’s liberty.”

“Nay,” said the Count, “his life, Jew, his life I want; for, by the graves of my ancestors! he dies a death of lingering torture, unless it suit my purpose better to ransom him; and thinkest thou I am such a fool as for a paltry loan of three thousand crowns, to give up the hold I have over thee? But I will tell thee what I will do,” he added, after a pause; “I will drive a Jew-like bargain with thee. Thy son’s life against ten thousand crowns of gold and the jewels of the Lady Adelaide, now in thy possession; the gems and gold once in my hands, the boy is free; otherwise he starves to death in the dungeons of the castle. Do the terms suit thee?”

“Ten thousand crowns!” echoed Hallevy, sadly; “why, my lord asks a prince’s ransom for the son of a poor Jew; but,” he continued, “I will give you half the sum you have named, noble Count, with the jewels and bonds I have in my possession; more I have not.”

“It were a cheap bargain,” said Elric. “Those bonds are useless as empty parchments to thee.”

“Not so,” answered Hallevy, “since the honour of a German noble is pledged to their repayment.”

“Honour to a Jew,” replied the Count; and then he added haughtily, “I trifle not; I will prove to thee, Hallevy, that I am in earnest; the ransom, or the boy’s life.”

“I have it not,” groaned Hallevy; “I tell the Count Elric that unless I coin my heart’s blood l cannot produce so large a sum.”

For answer, the Count stamped with his foot on the floor; a door opened at the farther end of the room, and Aaron Hallevy was dragged into the presence of the noble upon the breath of whose lips, according to human calculation, hung his life. The boy was deadly pale, and his clothes hung about him in tatters. Marks of heavy blows and traces of blood were on his cheeks and forehead, while, as he moved, the clanking of chains smote painfully on his father’s ear. Aaron uttered a loud cry when he perceived his father, and sprung towards him; Hallevy caught him in his arms. Elric signed to his men not to interfere, as he knew, with his son in his arms, Hallevy would be less capable of resisting his exactions.

“Hallevy,” said Count Elric, when he had suffered some seconds to elapse, “you have power to decide your son’s destiny: starvation in a dungeon, or the ransom I have named.”

“Lady, noble lady, plead for us,” and Hallevy threw himself at the feet of the Countess, and caught hold of her robe. But with a gesture of abhorrence, as if she would have trodden on a loathsome reptile, the haughty woman tore away her robe from his polluting touch, and deigned no reply. The wretched man rose to his feet, and catching his son once more in his arms he said, “It is so, if I beggar myself, to-morrow at noon the money and jewels shall be delivered; but grant me at least a few moments’ speech vvith my child ere I return to his sorrowing mother.”

“Ay,” said the Count, “it is thy turn to beg favours now; go into that room,” he continued, pointing to an open door that led into a room beyond, “and see that thy conference be brief.” Attended by the poor boy, who could scarcely drag his heavy chains after him, Hallevy entered the room and closed the door.

“Would I had died ere I had exposed thee to this trouble,” said Aaron, in his own beautiful language; “and yet,” he continued, his eyes flashing fire at the recollection, “he insulted my sister; he dared to pollute her lips with his unholy kisses; could I stand by and see this?”

“Thy action was natural,” answered Hallevy, with a deep sigh, “but, alas, my brave boy, thou must learn, nay, the fault is mine, that I taught thee not the lesson earlier. A Jew in this Christian land must have no feelings, no affections; wrong, insult, and blows are our portion. We are but suffered to accumulate wealth for these proud Christians to wring from us by torture and suffering. How long, O Lord, how long,” he continued, “shall the blood of thy servants be shed?”

The entrance of the Count prevented farther conversation, and straining his son once more to his heart, Hallevy bade him trust in his father’s love, and blessing him fondly and fervently, departed in sadness.

“To-morrow at noon, then,” said the Count, as Hallevy bade him good night, “I will bring the boy to Worms, and see that the ransom be prepared.”

Anxiously had Judith and her daughters awaited Hallevy’s return. They had been joined by Esther’s betrothed husband, a wealthy merchant, to whom they had related the unfortunate events of the day. He remained with the watchers, whose fears had become almost insupportable, when hour after hour passed, and Hallevy returned not. Night passed and morning came, and when at last Hallevy’s step sounded on the stairs, every one flew to meet him; but who can describe the mother’s feelings when she found he was alone? Hallevy had been detained all night at the city gates, which he found closed on his return from Eberhard, and, overcome by fatigue and anxiety, he threw himself into the nearest seat, and covering his lace with his hands, wept bitterly, and with such agony as alone can wring tears from the strong heart of man.

“He is dead, my child is murdered!” cried Judith; “Judah, husband, speak to me! my boy, oh, my boy!”

“Our child lives, he is safe,” replied Hallevy, and in a few words he related his interview with the Count, and its results.

“Bless my Judah, bless thee,” said his wife earnestly; “our child’s life is indeed more precious than gold, yet it is much that this greedy noble demands.”

“It is indeed a heavy sum,” replied Hallevy, “and although I have promised, I know not where to find half the sum. My wealth, as you know, is scattered abroad in various ventures, and this sum must be paid to-day at noon.”

“Father,” cried Zillah, coming forward and speaking in a tone of impassioned earnestness, and with an emotion she rarely suffered to appear, “thou hast carefully treasured for my use the wreck which thou didst save from my deceased father’s property; it amounts, as thou knowest, to half the ransom: take it for my brother.”

“And as for me,” said Esther, “on my account did my brother incur this danger; therefore, take for his rescue the sum thou hast purposed for my dowry: and if Phineas loves me not well enough to take a portionless bride, I will remain for ever unwedded.”

“He does love thee, my Esther, a thousand times better for thy affection to thy kindred;” and leading the blushing girl forward, he added, “Hallevy, give me thy child, and let the gold be paid for the brother who incurred for her so much.”

“Bless you both; my child!” exclaimed Hallevy, fervently, “I accept thy generous offer. But for thee, my Zillah, God forbid I should wrong the orphan. Why should I despoil thee to spare my own property? I would rather sell all I possess than take one coin from thee.”

Zillah threw herself into Hallevy’s arms, and wept. “Am I not also thy child?” she said. “When the cruel people of Frankfort slew my father, didst thou not protect my mother and myself from their murderous fury? and when I wept and called for my father, didst thou not say, ‘I will be thy father, poor orphan?’ and since that day have I not been as a child to thee?—have not I looked upon thee with the love and reverence I should have paid to the dead?”

“Thou hast, my Zillah! my beloved!” replied Hallevy, moved by the emotion of one whose feelings were usually so controlled by her judgment as to make her appear cold and wanting in affection to a common observer. “And since my refusal has pained thee, thou and Esther shall lend me sufficient to redeem thy brother; but, with the blessing of Heaven, both shall be repaid.”

The two strangers had not been unmoved by the scene. The elder one had  more than once brushed the tears from his eyes, which were riveted on Zillah’s beautiful and impassioned countenance with an expression full of admiration.

(To be continued.)