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בס"ד

Mordecai,
A Tale of the English Jews in the Thirteenth Century.

(Concluded from issue #8)

Written For The Occident, by Miss Celia Moss, One of the Authoresses of the “Romance of Jewish History,” “Early Efforts,” etc.

Chapter 5.

The Rabbi, under the influence of the kinder treatment he had experienced since the visit of the Prior to his dungeon, had slowly recovered his strength; but his burden of care was becoming daily more intolerable, for his heart yearned for tidings of his beloved family and people. But he vainly sought to gain any intelligence from the monks who visited his cell. At length the Prior himself entered his apartment, and briefly recounted to him the edict which condemned his unhappy brethren to expatriation.

“My wife and children!” he exclaimed, wildly; “what will become of them, if this unjust decree is carried into effect, and my people!—oh! my unhappy brethren!—despoiled, cast out, like poisonous reptiles. Ye have no hope, no comfort, save in your God. And is He not all-powerful?” he continued, solemnly. “Sinful being that I am, to distrust His goodness. He who fed your fathers with manna in the wilderness will not forsake ye in your sorrow.”

The Rabbi leaned his head upon his hand and was silent, while the Prior seized this moment of sorrow to impress on the mind of the Rabbi the arguments he had before used to urge him to abandon his faith.

“Forbear, man,” said the Rabbi, sternly, “to oppress one who hath already a burden as heavy as he can bear. Thy arguments are vain; I die as I lived—a Jew.”

“Rash man,” said the Prior, “why wilt thou provoke thy fate? Seize the chance of safety offered thee, while there is yet time. To-morrow it may be too late.”

“Be it so,” answered the Rabbi. “I am weary of life, and care not how soon I am called to resign it.”

Farther attempts to gain an answer from Mordecai were vain, and wearied out with his firmness, the Prior at length left him to his solitude. When the Prior returned to his own apartment he found his kinsman awaiting him.

The first greeting over, De Harcourt went at once into the purport of his mission, which was to offer to the Prior an abbacy which he lad long coveted, in return for the release of Mordecai.

“I would that I could accept thy terms, Arthur,” said the Prior, “for I will not conceal from thee that this Jew is so obstinate in his unbelief that every means have been tried in vain to make him a convert; but bethink thee of the scandal which must accrue to our brethren, if it be known that, after our boast that we could convert these accursed Jews, if they were compelled to listen to us, we have had a Jew so long in our power and at last released him voluntarily, unconverted.”

“Let me see the Jew, holy father. Doubtless, means of release may be devised without scandal to the brotherhood. Cannot he escape without your knowledge? Surely these people, who are supposed to hold communion with beings who can aid them when in necessity, can find means of extricating themselves; and none but ourselves, good kinsman, if we keep our own counsel, can know that the Abbot of Saint James’s owes his mitre to his share in this miraculous escape.”

“Thou hast more wisdom than I gave thee merit for, Arthur,” said the Prior, smiling. “Go to the Jew. I leave the management of the affair in thy hands; but save the credit of the convent.”

The Prior himself conducted the young Earl to the prison of Mordecai, and left them together.

Mordecai gazed with surprise upon his young visitor, the richness of whose garb, and the stateliness of whose bearing, at once announced his high rank.

“Jew,” said Harcourt, abruptly, addressing the Rabbi, “ I come to thee on behalf of one who has pledged his honour to insure sure thy safety. To-night thou wilt find the dress of a monk in thy cell; put it on, and ask no questions, but follow the guide who will be here whithersoever he may choose to lead thee, and be assured that powerful friends protect thee. Farewell;” and ere the astonished Hebrew could find words to reply, he was alone.

Mordecai’s first impulse was to return thanks to the heavenly Father who had raised him up a deliverer so unexpectedly. This duty performed, he could not forbear endeavouring to discover who could thus be interested in his fate; but all conjectures on this point were vain.

With a beating heart Mordecai watched the shades of night descend upon the convent; and as hour after hour passed by, he began to fear that he had been deceived, and strove to prepare his mind for disappointment. While thus engaged, the door of his cell was softly opened, and a friar entered, with his face closely muffled in his cowl.

He drew from the folds of his loose robe, the dress of a monk, and bade the Jew don it quickly.

Mordecai did as he was desired; but his heart misgave him where the monk bound a kerchief tightly round his eyes, and taking his hand, bade him accompany him silently. Breathing an inward prayer to his heavenly Protector, the Rabbi proceeded until he heard his conductor unloose a door, and felt the fresh air blowing upon his face.

A feeling of exquisite delight pervaded Mordecai’s heart when the bandage was withdrawn from his eyes, and he found himself without the walls of the convent, with the blue skies about him, and the blessed consciousness of recovered freedom in his heart.

While indulging this blessed feeling, the Rabbi felt someone touch his arm, and, turning quickly, beheld a man beside him. “Follow me quickly and silently,” he said, “to the river side, where a boat waits to carry you to a place of safety. Thou art feeble, lean on me,” said the man as the Rabbi followed him with faltering footsteps. “Courage, we are near the water side.”

Without incident the Rabbi reached the water side, and, in a few moments, he was gliding over the bosom of the river towards his place of refuge.

Just as the first beams of morning broke over the water, the conductor of the Rabbi moored the boat to a bank, close to a feudal castle, and Hubert, so was the man named, gave his hand to the Rabbi, and assisted him to land.

“Yonder is the place of our destination,” said he, pointing to the castle, “another instant and thou wilt be safe from pursuit.”

“To whom, then, am I indebted for my safety?” demanded the Rabbi.

“One moment more and thou wilt know,” answered Hubert. Even while he spake the Rabbi heard a bounding step behind him, and Albert flung himself into his arms, exclaiming, “Father! my more than father!”

“Thou here?” exclaimed the wondering Mordecai; “and my wife and children, where are they?”

“Here, all here,” answered Albert, eagerly, “under the roof of my father, Reginald de Lacy.”

The meeting of the Rabbi and his family, and the explanation that followed, although of a joyful character, was mingled with much sorrow. The home where they had hoped to pass the remnant of their days was destroyed. To the land of their nativity they could not return, and they knew not whither to direct their footsteps.

When De Lacy had allowed what he considered sufficient time for the interchange of feeling, he sent for the Rabbi. “Jew,” he said, when Mordecai entered, “I am thy debtor to a heavy amount; thou halt restored to me the chid whom I have long mourned as lost; restored him to me pure and noble, and worthy to be the descendant of heroes: moreover, thou hast taught me a lesson, alas! too rarely practised, that of religious toleration, and shown me that the highest social virtues may be practised without the pale of the Christian Church. Noble-hearted man, how shall I requite thy generosity?”

“Thou hast already requited me, Earl de Lacy,” answered the Jew. “Hast thou not rescued me from worse than death? hast thou not done what none of thy creed have ever done, spoken to me as man should speak unto man? And is it not a rich reward to rescue a heart like thine from the trammels of prejudice? When I and my people are far away from thee, it will be a consolation to know that one Christian, at least, will think with sympathy of the wrongs of the Jew.”

De Lacy pressed the Rabbi’s hand. “Noble, true-hearted man,” he said, “why art not thou a Christian?”

“Rather,” replied the Rabbi, “why cannot the Jew and Christian live in amity together, each pursuing the path he deems the right one? To that end we all hope to attain!”

De Lacy shook his head. “I fear, Rabbi,” he said, “thy bones and mine will long be whitening in the tomb, and our very memories be forgotten, ere such a state of things shall come to pass. But thou art going into exile,” he continued, “and the iniquitous decree of the King deprives thee of the means of gaining a livelihood in a foreign country. Let De Lacy be thy purse­holder. Nay,” seeing the Rabbi was about to speak, “if thou forgettest thine own wants, remember thou hast a helpless and dependent family.”

“I cannot gainsay thee,” answered the Rabbi, mournfully, “for, alas! I have no longer any means of providing for the wants of those who depend upon me.”

“To-day thou remainest with me,” said the Earl, “and within these walls thou art safe from all pursuit; by to-morrow a vessel will be prepared to bear thee whithersoever thou hast fixed for thy abiding-place; and, rest assured, if it be in De Lacy’s power to protect thy people from insult or wrong, he will not forget how much he owes to one of them.”

When the Rabbi returned to his family, after the interview with the Earl, he found Estella in tears, while a mingled expression of joy and sorrow showed itself on the face of his grandson. “We shall go back, father, we shall go back to our own dear country,” sobbed Estella as she threw herself on her father’s neck; “the unhappy man who hath caused us so many years of sorrow is dead. Moreover, he died in the faith of his fathers, after months of penitence and sorrow.”

“How knowest thou this, my child?” said the Rabbi, eagerly.

“I received a letter yesterday, but had no heart to open it until now; for, while thy safety was uncertain, how could I think of aught beside? But now we can return to a land where we can worship our God in peace and safety, and I can no longer reproach myself as the cause of suffering to my aged parents.”

“We have not trusted in vain, my child,” said the Rabbi; “the God whom we served has rewarded us. Oh! would that the same happy fortune awaited all our brethren.”

De Lacy kept his promise to the Rabbi; on the morrow he found a vessel prepared to take him and his family, with a number of their co-religionists, from the inhospitable shores of England. After a prosperous voyage, they gained the land of Spain, and the Rabbi was quickly reinstated in his former opulence.

The remainder of the English Jews were not so fortunate. What little property the King left them to defray the expenses of their forced journey they were robbed of by the people of the various towns they had to pass through on their way to the seashore.

One wretch, the captain of a vessel, engaged to take a number on board of his ship, but first obtained possession of their goods, and then he sailed away, and left the unhappy victims to their fate.

De Lacy, agreeably to the promise he had made to the Rabbi, rescued them from their misery, and provided them with the means of quitting the kingdom; nor was he satisfied until he saw justice performed on the base illain who had taken advantage of their helpless situation.

But it would be useless to harrow up the feelings of the reader by details of suffering already too well known. These scenes were reacted throughout every Christian land of Europe, until, at length, the progress of civilization opened the eyes of the potentates of Europe to their true interest, while the introduction of the art of printing, and the consequent dissemination of education, combined with other causes, brought into action the principles of religious toleration, and paved the way for an improvement of the social condition of the Jews, and the acknowledgment of those rights which had so long and unjustly been withheld from them.