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בס"ד

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

(Continued from issue #7)

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

Chapter 4.

Rachel returned one evening to the dwelling of the Rabbi with a lighter heart than usual. The robe was finished, and the delighted Maude had bidden her to name her reward on the morrow for the execution of her task.

Rachel’s gay mood was quickly turned into mourning when she entered the dwelling of the Rabbi.

Estella was weeping bitterly, while her son, the betrothed husband of the maiden, was pacing the apartment with rapid strides, while broken ejaculations and half-stifled sobs broke from his lips at intervals.

Rachel sprang to the side of Estella, exclaiming: “The Rabbi?”

“We have heard naught of my father,” answered Estella; “but alas! ours are not the only sorrowful hearts amongst our people—the king—”

“What of him?” said the alarmed maiden.

“He hath issued an order,” replied Estella, “that in three weeks from this day every Jew shall leave the kingdom; all property, save sufficient to defray the passage to another country, is to be forfeited to the king; and thus stripped of even the means to support life, our people must seek in the wide world another home. Those who remain beyond the time named in the edict, are to become the slaves of whatever tyrant shall have strength to seize them.”

“And will my people bear this wrong? will they submit without a struggle?” asked the terrified maiden. “Will they not strive to force better terms from a tyrant who forgets the claims of justice and humanity?”

“Alas! my child,” said Estella, “if our brethren, urged to despair, had recourse to the sword; what chance would men, whose whole lives have been devoted to the arts of peace, have against these hard-hearted barons, whose trade is blood, and whose frames, like their hearts, are of iron? No, no, Rachel; it is on the Guardian of Israel only that we can rely; earthly help will avail us nothing. Let us pray, my beloved children, to the Lord of hosts for strength to endure his will, and bow in submission to his decree.”

On the morrow, Rachel, accompanied by Estella, once more returned to the dwelling of the Earl de Lacy. It was now more than ever necessary to procure the release of the Rabbi if possible; for to leave the country while his fate remained uncertain, was worse than death itself.

Lady Maude was indisposed; but she gave instant orders for the admission of the Jewesses.

Maude was reclining on a couch, and her fond father sat be­side her, gazing into her face with an intensity of affection which only those who have been compelled by the hard hand of adverse fortune to cast all their affections on one dear object can imagine. Lady Lacy smiled kindly on the young Jewess as she advanced nearer in obedience to the motion of her hand.

“And so, Rachel,” she said, “thou art come to name the well-earned reward of thy labour for the last month. Well, thou shalt not find Maude de Lacy a niggard. But how is this? Thine eyes are heavy, as with weeping; thy cheek is pale, too, and marked with traces of tears. If I can do aught which a Christian maiden may do to relieve thy distress, ask fearlessly and fear no denial.”

“Lady,” replied the young Hebrew, “hast thou not heard that sentence of banishment is passed against my people? that they will have to seek a new home on a foreign shore, without being even allowed to take with them the means of subsistence in another land? Is this not sufficient cause for mourning?”

“And thou, too, my poor girl,” said Maude, sorrowfully, “must thou also follow thy people in exile and poverty? Oh! rather cast off the errors of unbelief, and Maude de Lacy will protect thy fortunes. Shall it not be so, my father?” she continued, turning to De Lacy, “shall we not give this desolate outcast a home?”

“As thou wilt, Maude,” replied the fond father; “and if this Jewess be willing to renounce her errors she will not lack friends.”

“I thank thee, noble lady,” answered Rachel with dignity, “but I will live and die with my people and in my faith; yet I will ask a boon of thee as the reward of my humble services, and in granting my request thou wilt bestow more than life or wealth upon thy supplicant.”

“And what may this petition be, damsel,” said Maude, “which thou dost beg so earnestly? Gold, I well know, is what thy tribe hunger most commonly after; but thy words seem to imply more pressing need. Speak, what can I do for thee?”

Rachel’s face became ghastly, and her whole frame trembled, while Estella, even more agitated, clung to the orphan for support; for each felt that the decisive moment was come which was in a great measure to decide the fate of the Rabbi; and when Rachel at length spoke, her voice was almost inaudible from strong emotion.

“Lady,” she said, “of gold I have no need, for that which thou wouldst bestow would but go to fill the treasury of King Edward; but there is an aged man, a teacher in Israel, at present a prisoner in the Dominican Convent in Whitechapel, and it is his release I would procure as the reward of my labour. Oh! do not deny me,” she added imploringly, “thou knowest not how much misery thy refusal would bring upon me.”

Maude shook her head sorrowfully. “Poor maiden,” she said, “thou demandest that which it is beyond my power to grant. Ask some other boon.”

“Alas! alas! none other has value in my eyes. That aged man, when my parents’ death left me a helpless and destitute orphan, took me into his dwelling, and from that hour until his unhappy captivity he treated me as if I were indeed his child. In poverty and affliction I yet shared his bounty; then oh, if thine handmaid hath found favour in thy sight, save him, save my more than father.”

As Rachel spoke she flung herself at the feet of Maude, and with clasped hands and streaming eyes awaited her answer.

Maude glanced imploringly towards her father, and De Lacy, moved by the earnest pleading of the poor girl, advanced a step towards her and said: “It is dangerous to interfere with those whom Mother Church claims as her own; had thine adversary been other than the holy Church itself, thou shouldst not lack aid of Reginald de Lacy.”

“Reginald de Lacy!” shrieked Estella, who had not hitherto spoken. “The noble Earl whom King Edward banished seven years since, and whose cousin Walter obtained possession of his lands and estates?”

“In the name of all the saints, woman,” exclaimed the Earl, much agitated, “what has this to do with thee?”

“Much! much! it concerneth both me and thee,” answered Estella. “Did not thy wife die while thou wert in exile, leaving behind her a boy whose fate is unknown to thee, and thou wouldst give all the broad lands in thy possession once more to press him to thine heart?”

“Woman! devil! sorceress! from whom knowest thou this?” shouted De Lacy. “Speak; tell me of my boy, my noble boy; is he living? is he in safety?”

The wildness of the Earl’s tone and the excitement of his manner at once convinced Estella that she beheld in him the father of the child whom the Rabbi had so generously protected, and fervently did she thank the all-wise Disposer of events for the knowledge so strangely acquired, and which she trusted would assure the safety of her beloved father.

These thoughts passed rapidly through her mind, while De Lacy waited her answer as if the award of life or death rested on her words.

“Earl de Lacy,” said the Jewess, “thy son is alive and in safety; he is all that a fond father can desire in the heir to his proud titles; but tortures shall not force farther intelligence from me until thy knightly word is passed that thou wilt do all that rests in the power of man to obtain the release of my father; and his safe departure from this kingdom. That done, insures the restoration of De Lacy’s heir.”

“I swear to thee by every saint in heaven!”

“Nay, I need not oaths, for I well know that thy priests will absolve thee from all blame in breaking faith with a Jewess; but pledge me thy honour as a knight and noble—a pledge you Christians prize above faith, religion, mercy, or justice—and all thy doubts shall be satisfied.”

“Then I promise thee upon my knightly honour to risk land and life in thy service; but if thou deceivest me, and for thine own hellish purposes triflest with the feelings of a father, dread the vengeance of De Lacy.”

“Knowest thou this writing?”—demanded Estella, drawing from the folds of her robe the letter and jewels which she had carried about her person from the day of her father’s imprisonment.

Eagerly the earl snatched the parchment from the hand of the Jewess, and severing with his dagger the silken band that bound it, eagerly perused its contents. It was the farewell of one whom Reginald de Lacy had fondly loved—his ill-fated wife; and tears, scalding tears, ran down the sunburnt cheek of the stern warrior, as, after so long a separation, he read the last words she lad ever written, full of tenderness to him, and earnestly recommending her orphan boy to his care.

When De Lacy’s emotion had somewhat subsided, he examined the jewels, which were those of his lamented lady, and then demanded of Estella the manner in which she had become possessed of these relics of his departed Beatrice. Estella simply recounted to the Earl the history confided to her by her father the eve before his imprisonment.

“Woman!” said the Earl, his countenance becoming livid with fear, “my boy hath been under thy roof, and amongst thy people; halt thou dared to trifle with his faith? hast thou taken advantage of his helplessness to destroy the soul of my boy?”

“Christian!” answered Estella calmly, “my people make not converts by fraud or force; thy son hath learned naught among my people that De Lacy’s heir may blush for; we poison not the benefits we confer by tempting to the commission of crime. No! no! thy son hath shared our scanty pittance, and been the child of our love; but his foot hath never entered a Jewish house of prayer.”

De Lacy felt the blush of honest shame tinge his cheek, as he compared the noble conduct of the Rabbi with that of the proud peers of England and their hard-hearted king, and even he, blinded as he was by education and prejudice, could not but feel how differently he should have acted to the child of a Jew.

The eager anxiety to behold his lost boy, however, quickly banished every other thought from the mind of De Lacy. But, as it was necessary to use some caution, he consented, though with difficulty, that Estella should bring Albert to his father’s arms, leaving Rachel with Lady Maude until her return.

During the progress of the discovery which had restored to her a brother, Maude had remained a silent, but not an uninterested observer; and on Estella’s departure, she threw herself on her father’s neck, and murmured forth her congratulations.

“And thou wilt receive this little wanderer, and love him as a sister should love a brother, my own Maude?”

“Father! can I fail to love one who is dear to thee?” asked the weeping girl. “No, no; I will love him as a brother, and watch over him as a tender and affectionate mother.”

De Lacy pressed her fondly to his heart, while Rachel, who had arisen, and stood at some little distance, could not but hope that hearts so full of affection would care for his safety who had preserved one so dear to them.

With a light step Estella hastened to her own dwelling, but one thought occupying her mind—that her father’s safety would be insured by the restoration of Albert to his father. But a pang shot across her heart when she remembered that the parting with the boy, whom they so fondly loved, would in all human probability be eternal.

Albert was seated by the side of Esther, striving to awaken in her mind some knowledge of the events passing around; for she had sunk into a state of imbecility; and when Estella bade him resign his task to her son, who was seated dejectedly by the window, with a religious book in his hand, Albert arose and followed her mechanically, little dreaming of the important change about to take place in his existence.

They reached the house of De Lacy, but as they advanced to the gate Albert wildly grasped the arm of his conductress, while a terrible fear thrilled his heart. “Not there, Estella! not there!” he exclaimed; “unless thou wouldst buy thy father’s safety by a deed he would scorn; the betrayal of a helpless orphan, who has no friend but thee and thine.”

“Boy!” answered Estella, “how have I deserved this suspicion of thee? thou at least shouldst not doubt the good faith of thy protectors.”

“Forgive me, Estella, and blame me not,” answered Albert; “for, though years have flown since I last beheld it, I can never forget the abode of my bitterest enemy, my father’s kinsman, Walter de Lacy.”

“From him, Albert,” answered Estella, “thou canst have nothing more to fear; he is dead, and the present heritor of the estates will gladly embrace the lost heir of De Lacy.”

Albert was about eagerly to question the Jewess respecting the present possessor of his father’s rights; but ere he could command his emotion sufficiently to speak, he found himself in the entrance of the mansion, and another instant brought him into the presence of the Earl. At the sound of footsteps De Lacy, who had passed the time of Estella’s absence in a state of terrible agitation, sprang eagerly forward. One wild and searching glance he cast upon the features of his long-lost child, then, with a cry of thankfulness, he pressed him to his breast, exclaiming, “It is my own child! the living likeness of my sainted Beatrice, whom I once more, after so many weary years, press in my arms!”

Estella and Rachel stood apart, watching with tearful eyes the meeting of father and son after so long a separation, while Maude eagerly claimed her share in the embraces of a brother whom she had never ceased to regret.

And Albert—who can describe his feelings as he felt the embrace of a parent whom he had never hoped to behold again, and heard the voice of his father, and felt his tears and kisses on his cheek? It seemed so like a happy dream, that the poor boy feared to raise his eyes and gaze on the faces of his father and sister, lest he should find the whole sweet illusion dispelled.

“Father! father!” he murmured at length, “is this real? am I indeed in thine arms? once more in our own dear home? or is it but a mocking vision sent to cheat away the memory of sorrow for awhile, only to render its after pangs more hard to endure?”

“It is no dream, child of my Beatrice,” answered the Earl; “thou art folded in thy father’s arms.”

“God of Jews and Christians, I thank thee!” and Albert clasped his hands together as he spoke; “now at least I can show gratitude to my preserver, for surely in his sore extremity De Lacy must protect the generous preserver and restorer of his child.”

The Earl glanced toward the spot where Estella and Rachel stood, and said: “Fear not! trust De Lacy; but at present I would be alone with my children;” and summoning Maude’s most trusty attendant, he confided the Hebrews to her charge, bidding them remain in the castle until after his conference with his recovered son.

During the happy hours that followed, De Lacy gained from his son an account of all that had chanced to him since their separation.

And when the boy recounted, with all the warmth of an affectionate heart, all which the Rabbi had done for him; how he had enlightened his mind without attempting to destroy his religion; how he had watched over his safety, and shared with him the few comforts his poverty allowed: De Lacy felt the mists of prejudice disappear like the shades of night before the sunlight, and it needed not Albert’s passionate pleading, to determine the Earl to risk every thing for one who had acted so nobly to him and his. To attempt, however, to interfere with one on whom the Church had set her mark was, De Lacy well knew, a dangerous task; still there was no time to be lost, and he determined that very day to see the prior of the convent in which Mordecai was confined.

“Let me go with thee, father!” exclaimed Albert eagerly, “and I will so plead to the prior for the safety of my second parent that he shall not be enabled to resist my fervent prayers.”

“Alas! my son,” said the Earl, “thy earnestness will but expose thyself to dangers and suspicion of heresy, as one who hath so long dwelt with unbelievers. The churchman will look with suspicion upon thy words. Trust to me, Albert, and tarry with thy sister. Surely, the protector of his child need not fear a cold advocate in De Lacy,” he continued; and then addressing his daughter: “Maude, what wouldst thou say? methinks thou wert about to speak.”

“Gilbert de Harcourt, the prior of the convent, is a near relation of my betrothed husband,” said Maude, “and in good time, behold, here he is himself; admit him to a part in our counsel.”

In a few moments De Harcourt was made acquainted with the happy providence which had bestowed a dear relative to his betrothed; and probably his congratulations were the more sincere, because De Lacy’s earldom being a male-fief, Maude was deprived of no advantage by the restoration of her brother.

“Leave this affair to me,” said Harcourt, after a few moments’ deliberation. “The prior is my near kinsman, and doubtless, for my sake, backed with a handsome present to the convent, the liberation of the Jew will be effected on the morning.”

“If it be so, De Harcourt, thou wilt indeed confer a boon on me and my children, which Maude,” he added, gazing fondly on his daughter, “shall repay.”

Estella and Rachel, after fondly embracing Albert, returned to their own dwelling, with hearts lightened somewhat of their fears for the Rabbi, and, with a gladness to which they had for many years been strangers, they recounted to Jacob the events of the morning.

(To be continued.)