Rebecca and Rowena; a romance upon romance, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter VI.

Ivanhoe the Widower.

Having placed young Cedric at school at the hall of Dotheboyes, in Yorkshire, and arranged his family affairs, Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe quitted a country which had no longer any charms for him, and in which his stay was rendered the less agreeable by the notion that King John would hang him, if ever he could lay hands on the faithful follower of King Richard and Prince Arthur.

But there was always in those days a home and occupation for a brave and pious knight. A saddle on a gallant war-horse, a pitched field against the Moors, a lance wherewith to spit a turbaned infidel, or a road to Paradise carved out by his scimitar — these were the height of the ambition of good and religious warriors; and so renowned a champion as Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe was sure to be well received wherever blows were stricken for the cause of Christendom. Even among the dark Templars, he who had twice overcome the most famous lance of their Order was a respected though not a welcome guest: but among the opposition company of the Knights of St. John, he was admired and courted beyond measure; and always affectioning that Order, which offered him, indeed, its first rank and commanderies, he did much good service; fighting in their ranks for the glory of heaven and St. Waltheof, and slaying many thousands of the heathen in Prussia, Poland, and those savage Northern countries. The only fault that the great and gallant, though severe and ascetic Folko of Heydenbraten, the chief of the Order of St. John, found with the melancholy warrior, whose lance did such good service to the cause, was, that he did not persecute the Jews as so religious a knight should. He let off sundry captives of that persuasion whom he had taken with his sword and his spear, saved others from torture, and actually ransomed the two last grinders of a venerable rabbi (that Roger de Cartright, an English knight of the Order, was about to extort from the elderly Israelite,) with a hundred crowns and a gimmal ring, which were all the property he possessed. Whenever he so ransomed or benefited one of this religion, he would moreover give them a little token or a message (were the good knight out of money), saying, “Take this token, and remember this deed was done by Wilfrid the Disinherited, for the services whilome rendered to him by Rebecca, the daughter of Isaac of York!” So among themselves, and in their meetings and synagogues, and in their restless travels from land to land, when they of Jewry cursed and reviled all Christians, as such abominable heathens will, they nevertheless excepted the name of the Desdichado, or the doubly-disinherited as he now was, the Desdichado-Doblado.

The account of all the battles, storms, and scaladoes in which Sir Wilfrid took part, would only weary the reader; for the chopping off one heathen’s head with an axe must be very like the decapitation of any other unbeliever. Suffice it to say, that wherever this kind of work was to be done, and Sir Wilfrid was in the way, he was the man to perform it. It would astonish you were you to see the account that Wamba kept of his master’s achievements, and of the Bulgarians, Bohemians, Croatians, slain or maimed by his hand. And as, in those days, a reputation for valor had an immense effect upon the soft hearts of women, and even the ugliest man, were he a stout warrior, was looked upon with favor by Beauty: so Ivanhoe, who was by no means ill-favored, though now becoming rather elderly, made conquests over female breasts as well as over Saracens, and had more than one direct offer of marriage made to him by princesses, countesses, and noble ladies possessing both charms and money, which they were anxious to place at the disposal of a champion so renowned. It is related that the Duchess Regent of Kartoffelberg offered him her hand, and the ducal crown of Kartoffelberg, which he had rescued from the unbelieving Prussians; but Ivanhoe evaded the Duchess’s offer, by riding away from her capital secretly at midnight and hiding himself in a convent of Knights Hospitallers on the borders of Poland. And it is a fact that the Princess Rosalia Seraphina of Pumpernickel, the most lovely woman of her time, became so frantically attached to him, that she followed him on a campaign, and was discovered with his baggage disguised as a horse-boy. But no princess, no beauty, no female blandishments had any charms for Ivanhoe: no hermit practised a more austere celibacy. The severity of his morals contrasted so remarkably with the lax and dissolute manner of the young lords and nobles in the courts which he frequented, that these young springalds would sometimes sneer and call him Monk and Milksop; but his courage in the day of battle was so terrible and admirable, that I promise you the youthful libertines did not sneer THEN; and the most reckless of them often turned pale when they couched their lances to follow Ivanhoe. Holy Waltheof! it was an awful sight to see him with his pale calm face, his shield upon his breast, his heavy lance before him, charging a squadron of heathen Bohemians, or a regiment of Cossacks! Wherever he saw the enemy, Ivanhoe assaulted him: and when people remonstrated with him, and said if he attacked such and such a post, breach, castle, or army, he would be slain, “And suppose I be?” he answered, giving them to understand that he would as lief the Battle of Life were over altogether.

While he was thus making war against the Northern infidels news was carried all over Christendom of a catastrophe which had befallen the good cause in the South of Europe, where the Spanish Christians had met with such a defeat and massacre at the hands of the Moors as had never been known in the proudest day of Saladin.

Thursday, the 9th of Shaban, in the 605th year of the Hejira, is known all over the West as the amun-al-ark, the year of the battle of Alarcos, gained over the Christians by the Moslems of Andaluz, on which fatal day Christendom suffered a defeat so signal, that it was feared the Spanish peninsula would be entirely wrested away from the dominion of the Cross. On that day the Franks lost 150,000 men and 30,000 prisoners. A man-slave sold among the unbelievers for a dirhem; a donkey for the same; a sword, half a dirhem; a horse, five dirhems. Hundreds of thousands of these various sorts of booty were in the possession of the triumphant followers of Yakoobal-Mansoor. Curses on his head! But he was a brave warrior, and the Christians before him seemed to forget that they were the descendants of the brave Cid, the Kanbitoor, as the Moorish hounds (in their jargon) denominated the famous Campeador.

A general move for the rescue of the faithful in Spain — a crusade against the infidels triumphing there, was preached throughout Europe by all the most eloquent clergy; and thousands and thousands of valorous knights and nobles, accompanied by well-meaning varlets and vassals of the lower sort, trooped from all sides to the rescue. The Straits of Gibel-al-Tariff, at which spot the Moor, passing from Barbary, first planted his accursed foot on the Christian soil, were crowded with the galleys of the Templars and the Knights of St. John, who flung succors into the menaced kingdoms of the peninsula; the inland sea swarmed with their ships hasting from their forts and islands, from Rhodes and Byzantium, from Jaffa and Ascalon. The Pyrenean peaks beheld the pennons and glittered with the armor of the knights marching out of France into Spain; and, finally, in a ship that set sail direct from Bohemia, where Sir Wilfrid happened to be quartered at the time when the news of the defeat of Alarcos came and alarmed all good Christians, Ivanhoe landed at Barcelona, and proceeded to slaughter the Moors forthwith.

He brought letters of introduction from his friend Folko of Heydenbraten, the Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, to the venerable Baldomero de Garbanzos, Grand Master of the renowned order of Saint Jago. The chief of Saint Jago’s knights paid the greatest respect to a warrior whose fame was already so widely known in Christendom; and Ivanhoe had the pleasure of being appointed to all the posts of danger and forlorn hopes that could be devised in his honor. He would be called up twice or thrice in a night to fight the Moors: he led ambushes, scaled breaches, was blown up by mines; was wounded many hundred times (recovering, thanks to the elixir, of which Wamba always carried a supply); he was the terror of the Saracens, and the admiration and wonder of the Christians.

To describe his deeds, would, I say, be tedious; one day’s battle was like that of another. I am not writing in ten volumes like Monsieur Alexandre Dumas, or even in three like other great authors. We have no room for the recounting of Sir Wilfrid’s deeds of valor. Whenever he took a Moorish town, it was remarked, that he went anxiously into the Jewish quarter, and inquired amongst the Hebrews, who were in great numbers in Spain, for Rebecca, the daughter of Isaac. Many Jews, according to his wont, he ransomed, and created so much scandal by this proceeding, and by the manifest favor which he showed to the people of that nation, that the Master of Saint Jago remonstrated with him, and it is probable he would have been cast into the Inquisition and roasted, but that his prodigious valor and success against the Moors counterbalanced his heretical partiality for the children of Jacob.

It chanced that the good knight was present at the siege of Xixona in Andalusia, entering the breach first, according to his wont, and slaying, with his own hand, the Moorish lieutenant of the town, and several hundred more of its unbelieving defenders. He had very nearly done for the Alfaqui, or governor — a veteran warrior with a crooked scimitar and a beard as white as snow — but a couple of hundred of the Alfaqui’s bodyguard flung themselves between Ivanhoe and their chief, and the old fellow escaped with his life, leaving a handful of his beard in the grasp of the English knight. The strictly military business being done, and such of the garrison as did not escape put, as by right, to the sword, the good knight, Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, took no further part in the proceedings of the conquerors of that ill-fated place. A scene of horrible massacre and frightful reprisals ensued, and the Christian warriors, hot with victory and flushed with slaughter, were, it is to be feared, as savage in their hour of triumph as ever their heathen enemies had been.

Among the most violent and least scrupulous was the ferocious Knight of Saint Jago, Don Beltran de Cuchilla y Trabuco y Espada y Espelon. Raging through the vanquished city like a demon, he slaughtered indiscriminately all those infidels of both sexes whose wealth did not tempt him to a ransom, or whose beauty did not reserve them for more frightful calamities than death. The slaughter over, Don Beltran took up his quarters in the Albaycen, where the Alfaqui had lived who had so narrowly escaped the sword of Ivanhoe; but the wealth, the treasure, the slaves, and the family of the fugitive chieftain, were left in possession of the conqueror of Xixona. Among the treasures, Don Beltran recognized with a savage joy the coat-armors and ornaments of many brave and unfortunate companions-inarms who had fallen in the fatal battle of Alarcos. The sight of those bloody relics added fury to his cruel disposition, and served to steel a heart already but little disposed to sentiments of mercy.

Three days after the sack and plunder of the place, Don Beltran was seated in the hall-court lately occupied by the proud Alfaqui, lying in his divan, dressed in his rich robes, the fountains playing in the centre, the slaves of the Moor ministering to his scarred and rugged Christian conqueror. Some fanned him with peacocks’ pinions, some danced before him, some sang Moor’s melodies to the plaintive notes of a guzla, one — it was the only daughter of the Moor’s old age, the young Zutulbe, a rosebud of beauty — sat weeping in a corner of the gilded hall: weeping for her slain brethren, the pride of Moslem chivalry, whose heads were blackening in the blazing sunshine on the portals without, and for her father, whose home had been thus made desolate.

He and his guest, the English knight Sir Wilfrid, were playing at chess, a favorite amusement with the chivalry of the period, when a messenger was announced from Valencia, to treat, if possible, for the ransom of the remaining part of the Alfaqui’s family. A grim smile lighted up Don Beltran’s features as he bade the black slave admit the messenger. He entered. By his costume it was at once seen that the bearer of the flag of truce was a Jew — the people were employed continually then as ambassadors between the two races at war in Spain.

“I come,” said the old Jew (in a voice which made Sir Wilfrid start), “from my lord the Alfaqui to my noble senor, the invincible Don Beltran de Cuchilla, to treat for the ransom of the Moor’s only daughter, the child of his old age and the pearl of his affection.”

“A pearl is a valuable jewel, Hebrew. What does the Moorish dog bid for her?” asked Don Beltran, still smiling grimly.

“The Alfaqui offers 100,000 dinars, twenty-four horses with their caparisons, twenty-four suits of plate-armor, and diamonds and rubies to the amount of 1,000,000 dinars.”

“Ho, slaves!” roared Don Beltran, “show the Jew my treasury of gold. How many hundred thousand pieces are there?” And ten enormous chests were produced in which the accountant counted 1,000 bags of 1,000 dirhems each, and displayed several caskets of jewels containing such a treasure of rubies, smaragds, diamonds, and jacinths, as made the eyes of the aged ambassador twinkle with avarice.

“How many horses are there in my stable?” continued Don Beltran; and Muley, the master of the horse, numbered three hundred fully caparisoned; and there was, likewise, armor of the richest sort for as many cavaliers, who followed the banner of this doughty captain.

“I want neither money nor armor,” said the ferocious knight; “tell this to the Alfaqui, Jew. And I will keep the child, his daughter, to serve the messes for my dogs, and clean the platters for my scullions.”

“Deprive not the old man of his child,” here interposed the Knight of Ivanhoe; “bethink thee, brave Don Beltran, she is but an infant in years.”

“She is my captive, Sir Knight,” replied the surly Don Beltran; “I will do with my own as becomes me.”

“Take 200,000 dirhems,” cried the Jew; “more! — anything! The Alfaqui will give his life for his child!”

“Come hither, Zutulbe! — come hither, thou Moorish pearl!” yelled the ferocious warrior; “come closer, my pretty black-eyed houri of heathenesse! Hast heard the name of Beltran de Espada y Trabuco?”

“There were three brothers of that name at Alarcos, and my brothers slew the Christian dogs!” said the proud young girl, looking boldly at Don Beltran, who foamed with rage.

“The Moors butchered my mother and her little ones, at midnight, in our castle of Murcia,” Beltran said.

“Thy father fled like a craven, as thou didst, Don Beltran!” cried the high-spirited girl.

“By Saint Jago, this is too much!” screamed the infuriated nobleman; and the next moment there was a shriek, and the maiden fell to the ground with Don Beltran’s dagger in her side.

“Death is better than dishonor!” cried the child, rolling on the blood-stained marble pavement. “I— I spit upon thee, dog of a Christian!” and with this, and with a savage laugh, she fell back and died.

“Bear back this news, Jew, to the Alfaqui,” howled the Don, spurning the beauteous corpse with his foot. “I would not have ransomed her for all the gold in Barbary!” And shuddering, the old Jew left the apartment, which Ivanhoe quitted likewise.

When they were in the outer court, the knight said to the Jew, “Isaac of York, dost thou not know me?” and threw back his hood, and looked at the old man.

The old Jew stared wildly, rushed forward as if to seize his hand, then started back, trembling convulsively, and clutching his withered hands over his face, said, with a burst of grief, “Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe! — no, no! — I do not know thee!”

“Holy mother! what has chanced?” said Ivanhoe, in his turn becoming ghastly pale; “where is thy daughter — where is Rebecca?”

“Away from me!” said the old Jew, tottering. “Away Rebecca is — dead!”

***

When the Disinherited Knight heard that fatal announcement, he fell to the ground senseless, and was for some days as one perfectly distraught with grief. He took no nourishment and uttered no word. For weeks he did not relapse out of his moody silence, and when he came partially to himself again, it was to bid his people to horse, in a hollow voice, and to make a foray against the Moors. Day after day he issued out against these infidels, and did nought but slay and slay. He took no plunder as other knights did, but left that to his followers; he uttered no war-cry, as was the manner of chivalry, and he gave no quarter, insomuch that the “silent knight” became the dread of all the Paynims of Granada and Andalusia, and more fell by his lance than by that of any the most clamorous captains of the troops in arms against them. Thus the tide of battle turned, and the Arab historian, El Makary, recounts how, at the great battle of Al Akab, called by the Spaniards Las Navas, the Christians retrieved their defeat at Alarcos, and absolutely killed half a milllion of Mahometans. Fifty thousand of these, of course, Don Wilfrid took to his own lance; and it was remarked that the melancholy warrior seemed somewhat more easy in spirits after that famous feat of arms.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07