Well was it for them perhaps that the early winter night was closing in when they reached the wonderful bridge of St. Benezet, now quite unguarded, since a worse foe reigned in Avignon than any that it could fear from without. They crossed it, unnoted, for here none lingered in the gloom and rain save one poor woman, who called out to them that all she loved were dead and that she went to seek them. Then, before they could interfere, she scrambled to the parapet of the bridge and with a wild cry leapt into the foaming waters that rushed beneath.
“God forgive and rest her!” muttered Hugh, crossing himself. The others only shrugged their shoulders. Such dreadful sights fed their eyes daily till they learned to take little note of them.
In a deserted place on the farther side of the bridge they halted, and Hugh said to the Jewish widow:
“Woman, here is Avignon, where you tell us there are those who will befriend you, so now let us part. We have done what we can for you and it is not safe either for you or for us that we should be seen together in this Christian city.”
“Sir, you speak well,” she answered. “Be pleased ere we separate, to meet no more perchance, to tell me your names that I may remember them and hand them down among my people from generation to generation.”
So he told her, and thrust into her hand a gift of money and the most of such food as remained to them. Then the poor woman lifted up her arms and said:
“I, Rebecca, daughter of Onias and wife of Nathan, call down on you, Hugh de Cressi, Richard Archer and David Day, and on your children forever, the blessings of Jehovah, because you have rescued the widow and her children from the fire and avenged the murder of the husband and the father. O God of my people, as Thou didst save Lot and his house from the flames of Sodom, so save these true-hearted and merciful men! Turn from them the sword of Thy wrath when it smites the sinful cities! Cast the cloak of Thy protection about them and all they love! Prosper their handiwork in peace and in war, fulfil their desire upon their enemies, and at last let them die full of years and honour and so be gathered into Thy eternal bosom! Thus prayeth Rebecca, the daughter of Onias, and thus shall it be.”
Then, leading her children, she turned and vanished into the darkness.
“Now,” said Dick when she had gone, “although they were spoken by a Jew whom men call accursed because their forefathers, fulfilling prophecy, or some few of them, wrought a great crime when the world was young and thereby brought about the salvation of mankind, as we believe, those are among the most comfortable words to which my ears have listened, especially such of them as dealt with the fulfilling of our desire upon our enemies in war. Well, they are spoken, and I doubt not registered in a book which will not be lost. So, master, let us seek a lodging in this city of Avignon, which, for my part, I do with a light heart.”
Hugh nodded, and his heart also was lightened by those words of blessing and good omen. Mounting their horses, they took a street that led them past the great Roches des Doms, on the crest of which stood the mighty palace of the Popes, as yet unfinished, but still one of the vastest buildings they had ever seen. Here on the battlements and in front of the gateway burned great fires, lit by order of his Holiness to purify the air and protect him and his Court from the plague.
Leaving this place on their right they rode slowly along one of the principal streets of the town, seeking an inn. Soon they found one, a large place that had a sign on which three shepherds were painted, and turned to enter its gateway. But, when they saw them, out of that gateway rushed a mob of frantic people waving swords and cudgels, and saying that they would have no strangers there to bring the Death among them.
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