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God Wills It! by William Stearns Davis

De Valmont had no peer unless it were Iftikhar


"You

are a noble cavalier, Sir Musa," said the lady, now all dignity; "I thank you."

So the days went by, and it was the evening before the tourney. All around Palermo spread the tents, bright pavilions of silk with broad pennons above, whipping the slow south wind. The gardens of the Golden Shell buzzed with the clatter and hum of a thousand busy squires. In the city, every house--Christian, Moslem, or Jewish--was thrown open to guests. There were flags at every door and window; and within pealed the laughter of feasters, the note of viol and psaltery and tabor at the dance. All the house walls without and within were decked in tapestries, cloth of gold, and priceless _pail_e and _cendal_ silk, some from the looms of Thebes or Corinth, some from the farthest Ind. Mixed with these Orient stuffs, the storied Poitou tapestry shook to the breeze in long folds, displaying kings and emperors and the legion of the saints. Much wagering there was with knight and villain on the issues of the day. Many cavaliers of the baser sort had entered, merely in hopes to fill their purses by the ransom of defeated combatants; most of all, men chaffered over the coming duel between Richard and Louis. "Longsword would never stand one round," ran the vulgar tongue; "De Valmont had no peer unless it were Iftikhar. The saints have mercy on the younger knight in Purgatory!"

As for Mary, she had spent the afternoon in no common vexation.

Her father was worse, and could not go to the tourney. Countess Adelaide had bidden the princess sit with her, but Mary had little joy in the prospect.

That evening as she sat with a taper at her reading-desk, the purple vellum leaves of George of Pisidia's learned epic brought little forgetfulness. While she was staring at the words, Bardas, the serving-man, startled her: "The emir Iftikhar to see the gracious princess." And without awaiting permission the Egyptian entered. He was in his splendid panoply,--gold on the rings of his cuirass, two broad eagle wings on his helmet, between them burned a great ruby. Under the mail-shirt hung the green silk trousers with their pearl embroidery, gems again on the buckles of the high shoes, more gems on the gilded sword hilt.

"You are come in state, my lord," said the Greek, while he made profound obeisance. "What may I do for you?"

"O lady of excellent beauty," he began abruptly, "will you indeed give your hand to him who conquers to-morrow?"

The wandering eye, the flushed cheek, the mad fire of his words--all these were a warning. Mary drew herself up.

"You ask what you have no right, my lord," answered she; "I am in no way pledged."

Unlucky admission: in a twinkling the emir had moved a step toward her and stretched out his arms.

"Oh, happy mortal that I am! O lady with the wisdom of Sukman, nephew of Job, the beauty of Jacob, the sweet voice of David, the purity of Mary the Virgin! Listen! Favor me!"

"Sir!" cried the Greek, recoiling as he advanced, "what is this speech? No more of it. I am Christian, you a Moslem. Friends we have been, perhaps to our cost. More than that, never; we part, if you think to make otherwise!"

Iftikhar fell on his knees. All the flame of a terrible passion was kindling his eyes. Even as she trembled, Mary could admire his Oriental splendor. But she did not forget herself.


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