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The Martyrs of Worms

By Celia Moss.

Chapter I.

Between four and five hundred years ago there stood in one of the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter in Worms, a large, strongly-built house, inhabited by a man named Judah Hallevy, who held the then dangerous pre-eminence of Warden of the Synagogue. Hallevy was a man of great reputed wealth, and undoubted probity; benevolent, pious, and intelligent, and esteemed by all his brethren. In happier times for his people he was precisely the man to have gained honourable distinction. But among the fanatic and ignorant populace of Worms all his good qualities availed nothing to shield him from the universal contempt and hatred under which his brethren suffered.

According to the custom of his people Judah had wedded early, but within the first year his wife died after giving birth to a son. The parents of the lost one took charge of the motherless babe, and when, after the lapse of a few years, they went to reside in Palestine, the child accompanied them. In course of time Hallevy wedded again, and his second wife was a widow with one daughter, who, with a brother and sister, the offspring of the second marriage, resided under the roof of her step-father.

In a small dark room in the house of Hallevy, the furniture of which was scant and mean, sat two persons, on the day our narrative commences. One of them was a young man of three or four and twenty. His figure was slight, and his pale, delicate features, blue eyes and flaxen hair, at once marked him as not of the Hebrew race. His countenance had been handsome, but the wearying effects of early and constant dissipation were distinctly marked on it. He was well but plainly dressed, and unarmed, with the exception of the jewel-hilted dagger in his belt, yet so marked were the distinctions of rank in that age that no one would have hesitated to pronounce him of noble birth. His companion was in every respect dissimilar. Without the flowing robes of Eastern fashion, the high conical cap and badge on the breast, any beholder would have recognised him as one of the noblest specimens of the Hebrew race. His figure was stately, and his stature above the middle height; but alas! he was of a despised and degraded race, and although yet in the prime and vigour of life, the bowed head and stooping body of him who stood before the haughty noble showed a consciousness of humiliation and self-debasement. The Count, for such was the rank of Hallevy’s visiter, was the first to break silence. “So you think to deceive me with the pretence of poverty,” he said, casting a contemptuous glance around the miserable room in which they were seated, “but do I not know that all your tribe lie, cozen and client, that they fatten upon the usury they wring from thoughtless spendthrifts like thyself? And do I not also know that you, Judah Hallevy, are the richest amongst these vampyres, and yet you pretend, forsooth, that you cannot afford to lend me a paltry thousand crowns. Go to, thou art a liar, like all thine  accursed race.”

An angry reply rose to the lips of Hallevy, but he remembered that he was a Jew, and consequently had no right to resent insult, and checking himself he replied calmly, “You forget, noble Count, that during the whole of the past year you continually borrowed large sums of me, which you promised speedily to repay, but up to the present time I have received nothing; and when did promises satisfy your princes and magistrates when they wished to wring money from a Jew?”

“Well,” replied the Count Elric scornfully, “for what other purpose think you they consent to breathe the same air, or to dwell in the same city polluted by your presence? Were it not that ye possess a faculty for accumulating gold unknown to others, think ye that the nobles and princes of the land would not long since have utterly extirpated you?”

“Israel has a mightier Protector than king or noble,” answered Hallevy, forgetting for an instant all prudential considerations, while his eye flashed, and his stately form was erect as he added reverently, “the Lord of Hosts is His name.”

“Miserable Jew,” laughed the Count, “thinkest thou indeed that thy blaspheming race is under the protection of Heaven?”

“That belief is part of the heritage I received from my forefathers,” said Hallevy; then, remembering that he might be provoked into a discussion that could easily lead to dangerous results, he added, “In what can I serve you, my Lord?”

“In naught save in granting the loan I have asked thee,” answered the Count, sullenly.

“Which loan I grieve it is not in the power of thy servant to grant,” was the reply. “Can I do aught besides to serve you?”

“ No,” said the Count, abruptly, as he strode haughtily to the door, “but, Jew, thou mayest ere long repent having disobliged Elric Eberhard!”

With the last words he turned, and fixed his blue eyes on Judah with such an expression of wrath and  hate as to make him, though not a coward, turn sick with undefined dread; but before he had time to utter a deprecatory word the Count was gone.

For a few moments after the departure of the Count, Hallevy stood wrapt in painful thought, and then exclaimed, “The foolish spendthrift must think I coin money to support his, extravagance.” He then advanced to the farther end of the little room, and turning a spring, a portion of the oak paneling opened noiselessly. Within was a door close to the wainscotting to prevent its giving a hollow sound when struck. Passing into a long dark passage Hallevy took a lamp that was burning in a recess, and proceeded onward until he reached what appeared to be a solid wall; he paused, removed a stone fitted with such exactness as to defy scrutiny, and fixing it again on the other side, entered a second passage, and descending a flight of broad stone steps stopped at the open door of a large apartment through which a soft light was diffused from a seven-branched lamp that hung suspended from the ceiling. The room was richly furnished, and looked like a fairy palace by the light of the lamp. A middle-aged but still beautiful woman was reading by a table,  but at the sound of the Hebrew’s step she  rose to greet him. Hallevy’s wife wore the dress of the East, for so great was the cruelty the Jews at that time endured from the Christians of Europe, that they neither adopted the dress nor the manners of their oppressors. According to the fashion of Jewish matrons her hair was entirely concealed beneath her turban, and this gave an older appearance to her countenance than it would otherwise have worn. Subterranean abodes, such as Hallevy and his family then inhabited, were common among the Jews of that period, and I have been told are yet to be found among the concealed Jews of Spain. Exposed at any moment to the violence of a fanatic mob, whose passions, easily excited, were never quenched save in the blood of the defenceless, and receiving only nominal protection from the princes and nobles, as Count Elric had said, on account of their wealth, whenever any of these latter wished to propitiate their people, the Jews were the parties to be sacrificed as alike hateful to all.

In the free cities of Germany especially this was often the case. The inhabitants, just emerging from the state of feudal slaves, had begun to discover some of the advantage to be derived from commerce. The nobles and clergy, although still holding aloof from the trading communities, and scorning every profession but those of arms and religion as unsuited to gentle blood, were yet glad to receive the gold of the burghers in return for privileges and protection afforded them. To these trading communities the Jews, active, intelligent and industrious, were formidable opponents. The common tie of religion that bound them together, and enabled them to know all that was passing throughout the civilized world, also conferred on them immense advantages, and thus they were more obnoxious to the burghers than even to the clergy and nobility. It was no uncommon thing for this hapless race to seek protection in the palaces of the bishops from the outrages of the people. In the free cities then the Jews were forced to avoid any outward display of great wealth.

Thus these underground dwellings became at once places of refuge and safe depositaries of the riches and splendour, a taste for which they derived from their Eastern origin.

But to return to Hallevy and his wife. Judith had noted, on  her husband’s entrance, that his cheeks were flushed, and he appeared greatly excited, and she inquired anxiously if anything unpleasant had occurred to him. In a few words Hallevy related his interview with Count Elric, and its results.

“And you fear this man, Hallevy?” demanded his wife, sadly.

“I do, for, alas! I am like a man who has made his dwelling near a volcano, and knows not at what hour its fires may burst forth, and destroy his dearest treasures. But where are our children, wife?” he added, “why are they not with thee?”

“The fair commenced to-day,” replied Judith, “and Aaron and Esther wished to purchase some trifles therein. Zillah accompanied them, as I feared to trust them without her, as I know her prudence and judgment may be relied upon.”

“I would they were returned,” said Hallevy gravely; then noting his wife’s look of alarm he added, “yet why should I fear? All has gone on quietly of late,—no doubt they will come back in safety.”

(To be continued.)