Page:The Coming Race, etc - 1888.djvu/164

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"My presence, my son, will not, I trust, disturb your conference with the infidel—since you deem that worldly policy demands your parley with the men of Belial?"

"Doubtless not doubtless not," returned the king, quickly: then, muttering to himself, "how wondrously doth this holy man penetrate into all our movements and designs!" he added, aloud,

"Let the messenger enter."

Perez bowed, and withdrew.

During this time, the young prince reclined in listless silence on his seat; and on his delicate features was an expression of weariness which augured but ill of his fitness for the stern business to which the lessons of his wise father were intended to educate his mind. His, indeed, was the age, and his the soul, for pleasure; the tumult of the camp was to him but a holiday exhibition—the march of an army, the exhilaration of a spectacle; the court was a banquet the throne, the best seat at the entertainment. The life of the heir-apparent, to the life of the king-possessive, is as the distinction between enchanting hope and tiresome satiety.

The small gray eyes of the friar wandered over each of his royal companions with a keen and penetrating glance, and then settled in the aspect of humility on the rich carpets that bespread the floor; nor did he again lift them till Perez, re-appearing, admitted to the tent the Israelite, Almamen, accompanied by a female figure, whose long veil, extending from head to foot, could conceal neither the beautiful proportions nor the trembling agitation of her frame.

"When last, great king, I was admitted to thy presence," said Almamen, "thou didst make question of the sincerity and faith of thy servant; thou didst ask me for a surety of my faith; thou didst demand a hostage; and didst refuse further parley without such pledge were yielded to thee. Lo! I place under thy kingly care this maiden the sole child of my house as surety of my truth; I intrust to thee a life dearer than my own."

"You have kept faith with us, stranger," said the king, in that soft and musical voice which well disguised his deep craft and his unrelenting will; and the maiden whom you intrust to our charge shall be ranked with the ladies of our royal consort."

"Sire," replied Almamen, with touching earnestness, "you now hold the power of life and death over all for whom this heart can breathe a prayer or cherish a hope, save for my countrymen and my religion. This solemn pledge between thee and me I render up without scruple, without fear. To thee I give a hostage, from thee I have but a promise."

"But it is the promise of a king, a Christian, and a knight," said