(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Isaac, a Jew, found himself in the royal gardens of Toledo with his two daughters, Rachel and Esther. Realizing that the king was about to visit the gardens and that no Jews should be there during the royal outing, he urged his daughters to hurry from the gardens. Rachel laughingly refused, declaring that she would stay and see if the king was as young and handsome as she had heard. Isaac answered that Rachel was like her mother, for his second wife had found the Christians charming and had had eyes for nothing but fine clothing, jewels, and banquets. Esther, on the other hand, was like her mother, Isaac’s first wife, who had been as good as she was poor.

Rachel sang and danced about while waiting for the king. She told her father that perhaps the monarch would find her charming, would pinch her cheek, and make the queen jealous. Isaac, frightened more than ever, hastened to leave the gardens with Esther.

When King Alfonso appeared, he invited the crowds to draw near him. He explained that the people had made him king while he had been still a child, that they had rallied around him in order to depose his uncle, a tyrant, and that they had then taught him the duties of one who would be just and good. Count Manrique turned to Queen Eleanor and told her of the people’s affection for their ruler. The count declared that the present king was the noblest of all who ever ruled in Spain, turning aside petty criticism with wisdom and justice. The king, half jesting, replied that he might be an even better king if he were forced to overcome some fault. He suggested that the protection of the people might have kept him from developing the moral strength a ruler should have.

The king also urged everyone to enjoy the respite between wars, for the Moors were about to start another attempt to invade Spain. He called his wife’s attention to the English-type garden he had ordered; he was disappointed that she had not noticed it.

A messenger, Don Garceran, the son of Count Manrique, brought news of the military preparations being made by Jussuf, the ruler of Morocco. Don Garceran was making his first appearance before the king since being assigned to a frontier post for having stolen into the women’s quarters of the palace to view Dona Clara, his betrothed.

When the king suggested that the peasants pray to God for victory, Don Garceran replied that the churches were crowded, such was the religious zeal of the people. One sign of mistaken zeal, however, was the rough treatment sometimes given the Jews.

As the king was vowing to protect the Jews and all other of his subjects, he received word that a Jew and two girls were being pursued by the guards. Rachel came running to the group for protection. When Queen Eleanor refused to take her hands, she threw down her bracelet and necklace as ransom and clasped the king’s knees. King Alfonso asked Esther, who had joined them, whether Rachel was always timid, and Esther replied that her sister was often too bold, too much the clown. The king, attracted by Rachel, ordered Don Garceran to shelter her in one of the garden houses until night, when there would be no danger of mob action.

After Don Garceran had escorted Isaac and his daughters to a shelter in the garden, the king accosted Don Garceran, questioning him about the family, praising the Jews for their long history, and begging for information...

(The entire section is 1396 words.)