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God Wills It! by William Stearns Davis

Vicegerent of God I stand to lay bare to Hildebrand


Then

in a silence so tense that Richard felt his very eyeballs beating, Gregory dipped in the chalice, and bent over the roll. The lad heard the tip of the pen touch the vellum,--but the words were never written....

Darkening the doorway was a figure, leaning upon a crooked staff; in the right hand a withered palm branch,--the gaze fixed straight upon the Vicegerent of God. And Gregory, as he glanced upward, saw,--gave a cry and sigh in one breath; then every eye fastened upon the newcomer, who without a word advanced with soft gliding step to the foot of the bed, and looked upon the Pope.

None addressed him, for he was as it were a prophet, a Samuel called up from his long rest to disclose the mysteries hid to human ken. The strange visitor was of no great height; fasting and hardship had worn him almost to a skeleton. From under his dust-soiled pilgrim's coat could be seen the long arms, with the skin sun-dried, shrivelled. Over his breast and broad shoulders streamed the snow-white hair and beard. Beneath the shaggy brows, within deep sockets, were eyes, large, dark, fiery, that held the onlooker captive against his will. The pilgrim's nose seemed like the beak of a hawk, his fingers like dry talons. And all looked and grew afraid, for he was as one who had wrestled with the glamour and sin of the world for long, and had been more than victor.

Pope and pilgrim gazed upon each

other: first spoke Hildebrand:--

"Sebastian, my brother-monk!"

"Hildebrand, my fellow at St. Mary's!"

Then the apparition fell on his knees, saying humbly:--

"And will not the Pope bless Sebastian the palmer from Jerusalem?"

What the pontiff replied was lost to all about; then louder he spoke:--

"And has Sebastian the palmer forgotten his love for Hildebrand the monk, when he reverences the Vicar of Christ?"

But the stranger arose.

"I kneel, adoring Gregory, Vicegerent of God: I stand to lay bare to Hildebrand, the man, his mortal sin."

A thrill of horror ran through all the churchmen, and the archbishop whispered darkly to Desidarius, but the Pope reproved:--

"And I implore the prayers of Sebastian, a more righteous man than I; let him speak, and all Christians honor him."

So they stood. The palmer drew close to the bedside, pointing into the pontiff's face a finger bare as that of one long in the grave.

"Listen, Hildebrand of Saona! I am come from my pilgrimage to the tomb of our dear Lord. I have come hither to fall at your feet, to bid you remember the captivity of the city of Christ, and His sorrow at the wrong done Him through His little ones. I come to find the Vicar of Christ like the meanest of humankind, nigh to death, and preparing to stand naked at God's tribunal. I find him not forgiving his enemies, but devoting to hell. I find him going before God, his last breath a curse--"

But the Pope was writhing in agony.

"Not this, my brother, my brother," rang his plea. "O Sebastian, holier man than I," and he strove to turn from the palmer's terrible gaze, but could not. "Not in my own wrath and hatred do I this. Henry and Guibert blaspheme Christ and His church, not me. Did I not freely forgive Censius the brigand, who sought my life? Have I ever been a worldly prelate, whose cellars are full of wines, whose castles abound with plate and falcons and chargers? Has simony or uncleanness ever justly been laid at my door? Not so, not so,--I am innocent."


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