So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do. — Benjamin Franklin

Ivanhoe Told to the Children - Ethel Lindsay




At Front-de-Boeuf's Castle

While these measures were being taken on behalf of Cedric and his companions, the armed men hurried the latter along through the wood towards Front-de-Boeuf's castle. As soon as Cedric saw the turrets of the castle he understood who was the author of his misfortunes.

"I did injustice," he said, "to the thieves and outlaws of these woods. Tell me, dogs," he said, turning to those who guarded him, "is it my life or my lands that your master wants? If the Saxon Cedric cannot rescue England from the oppressor, he is willing to die for her. I do only beseech him send the Lady Rowena home in safety."

To this the attendants remained mute, for they were already before the gates of the castle. The noble, de Bracy, with the Templar at his side, rode up to the gates and winded his horn three times, and the men-at-arms and cross-bow men who had manned the walls at the approach of the party, hastened to lower the drawbridge and admit them.

Arrived inside the castle, the prisoners were compelled by their guards to alight, and were conducted to an apartment, where a hasty meal was offered them, after which they were informed that they were to be imprisoned in an apartment apart from the Lady Rowena. Resistance was in vain, and they were obliged to follow to another large apartment, while the Lady Rowena was also led away to another part of the castle. Rebecca also, in spite of her father's entreaties, was confined by herself.

"Base Jew," said the attendants; "when thou hast seen the dungeon prepared for you, you will not want to take your daughter there too."

"Tell your master, Front-de-Beouf," said Cedric, "that we know no reason that he can have for withholding our liberty except to enrich himself. He can, therefore, name the ransom at which he rates our liberty and it shall be paid."

To this the attendant made no answer, but bowed his head.

"And tell Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf," said Athelstane, "that I send him challenge to mortal combat, either on foot or horseback, which if he be a true knight he will not refuse."

"I shall deliver to the knight your defiance," said the attendant; "meanwhile I leave you to your food."

The captives had not long enjoyed their refreshment, however, ere their attention was disturbed by the blast of a horn winded before the gate. It was repeated three times. The Saxons started from the table and hastened to the window. But their curiosity was disappointed, for those outlets looked only into the court of the castle. However, the summons seemed to be of importance, for they immediately heard sounds of bustle and moving men in the castle.

And now, as the horn continued to be sounded defiantly without the castle, the Templar and de Bracy hurried to the hall of the castle. Here they were soon joined by Front-de-Boeuf, who had been engaged in trying to extort a large sum of money from the Jew by threats of cruel torture, while de Bracy had been to the apartment where the Lady Rowena was confined, trying in vain to persuade her to agree to marry him. To all his entreaties she, however, turned a deaf ear, for she secretly loved the Knight of Ivanhoe. As he entered the hall, a letter was brought in by his squire, who announced that it had been delivered by a messenger who was waiting for an answer outside the gate.

"Give the letter to me," said the Templar, for neither Front-de-Boeuf nor de Bracy could read.

"It is a letter of defiance," he said as he read it through, "and is signed by Gurth, the swineherd of Cedric, by the Black Knight and by the yeoman Locksley, and they demand that our prisoners, with their goods and horses, should be delivered up in an hour."

At this two of the knights laughed aloud, but Front-de-Boeuf took a more serious view of the threat.

"How many are there outside?" he asked an attendant.

"Two hundred," replied the man.

"This comes of lending my castle for your enterprise," said Front-de-Boeuf, "that I now have this hornet's nest about my ears."

"For shame!" said the Templar. "Let us summon our people and sally forth. One knight or man-at-arms is worth twenty peasants."

"How can we sally forth," said Front-de-Boeuf, "when we have scarce enough men to defend the castle? All my other men-at-arms are at York."

"Then send a message to York and recall our people," said de Bracy.

"I will send you writing materials, then," said Front-de-Boeuf, "and you shall return an answer to this bold challenge, Sir Templar."

The Templar sat down accordingly and wrote a reply to the challenge, adding a request for a priest to be sent to the castle to comfort Cedric and his companions, whom he intended to execute that morning before noon as a warning to those who came to rescue them.

This letter, when ready, was delivered to the squire, and by him to the messenger who waited outside the gates. With this the messenger hurried back to the place where he had left Locksley and the Black Knight. Around them had now gathered more than two hundred bold yeomen, and these were still arriving in answer to the summons of their leader, Locksley. Besides these, there were bands of Saxon peasants and servants from Cedric's estates, who had hastily answered the summons to help in the rescue.

"I wish," said the Black Knight, after he had read the reply, "that there was someone among us who could obtain admission to the castle in disguise."

"I will go," said Wamba the jester, and it was decided that he should be disguised as a priest and sent to the castle that he might find out the state of the defenses of the castle and how many men there were to defend it. With the help of the hermit's cowl and cloak he was soon disguised, and approached the gates of the castle.

"Who are you?" said the warder.

"I'm a poor priest," said Wamba, "come to comfort the prisoners secured in the castle."

"Thou art a bold friar," said the warder, "to come hither;" saying which, he left the turret and went to acquaint his master.

It needed all Wamba's courage to support him when he found himself in the presence of a man so dreaded as Front-de-Boeuf.

"Canst thou tell me, holy father," said he, "how many men there are outside?"

"At least five hundred, gallant sir," answered the supposed friar.

"What!" cried the Templar, who stood by; "muster the wasps so quickly? It's time to stifle such a mischievous brood." Then taking Front-de-Boeuf aside, he said, "Knowest thou the priest?"

"He is a stranger from a distant convent," said Front-de-Boeuf.

"Then write a message to de Bracy's men, ordering them to come to our aid, and let the priest deliver it. In the meantime, that he suspect nothing, send him to the prisoners." So forthwith Wamba was conducted to the apartment where Cedric and Athelstane were.

"The blessing of St. Dunstan be with you!" said Wamba as he entered the room.

"Enter freely," said Cedric. "With what intent art thou come hither?"

"To bid you prepare for death," answered the jester.

"It is impossible!" replied Cedric, starting. "They dare not kill us."

"Alas!" said Wamba, "they will. You must prepare for death, noble Cedric, and you, gallant Athelstane."

"I am ready," answered Athelstane.

"Wait yet a moment, good uncle," said Wamba in his natural voice.

"By my faith," said Cedric, "I know that voice!"

"It is that of your trusty slave and jester," answered Wamba, throwing back his cowl. "Take a fool's advice and you will not be here long."

"How mean'st thou?" said Cedric.

"Take this frock and disguise thyself and march out quietly," answered Wamba.

"Leave thee in my stead!" said Cedric; "why, they would hang thee. No," said Cedric. "But I will agree to your changing places with Lord Athelstane."

"No," said Wamba, "I'll die for my born master, the son of Hereward, but not for a stranger."

"Villain," said Cedric, "the fathers of Athelstane were Kings of England. And if I go, then," he added, "is there any prospect of rescue from without?"

"Prospect!" echoed Wamba; "there are five hundred men. Go and farewell, master, and let my cap hang at Rotherwood in memory that I flung away my life for my master like a faithful—fool."

As he spoke these words, the tears stood in Cedric's eyes.

"Thy memory shall be preserved," he said, "and I trust that I shall find means to save the Lady Rowena and thee, noble Athelstane, and thee also, my poor Wamba."

The exchange of dresses was quickly accomplished and Cedric left the apartment. As he hurried through the castle he was suddenly confronted by Reginald Front-de-Boeuf. It was with difficulty he compelled himself to make obeisance to the haughty Baron.

"Hast thou prepared thy penitents for death, father?" he said.

"I found them," said Cedric, in such French as he knew, "prepared for death since they knew into whose hands they had fallen."

"How now, Sir Friar," replied Front-de-Boeuf; "thy speech, methinks, sounds Saxon."

"I was bred at the convent of a Saxon," said Cedric.

"It will soon be," said Front-de-Boeuf, "that a monk's cloak will protect a Saxon as little as a coat of mail."

"God's will be done," answered Cedric in a voice trembling with anger and which the knight put down to fear.

"Do me one service," he said, "and whatever happens, you shall be safe."

"Speak your commands," said Cedric.

"Follow me through this passage, then, that I may send thee out by the postern gate," and as he strode before him he schooled Cedric in the service he was to do.

"Thou seest the Saxon swine outside; do all you can to keep them from attacking the castle for twenty-four hours, then take this letter to the castle of Philip de Malvoisin and ask him to send to York for help." As the knight opened the postern for Cedric, he said: "Remember, if thou failest in thy errand, I'll flay off thy cowl and skin too."