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God Wills It! by William Stearns Davis

Were Gilbert de Valmont to stand forth with breath


As

he ran, he prayed; prayed aloud, and knew not what he prayed. "Holy Mary, pray for me! Holy Mother of God, pray for me! Holy Virgin of Virgins, pray for me! Mother of divine grace, pray for me!"

And still on! Would the fire in his brain never quench? He stumbled over a fallen tree, and knew he was in the forest. He rose, glanced back; he could see at last,--the tower of St. Julien was still in sight. And in the tower were men and maids who could laugh, and chatter, and love the sunshine. Away from them! Richard broke in among the crowding trees, and ran yet faster. Presently, though his pain grew not the less, it ceased to be one aching blur of feelings. Forms, faces, were darting before his eyes; now among the trees; now peering from the thickets; now flitting along some grassy mead on the mountain side. They were not real. He knew it well. When he fastened his gaze on them, they were nowhere. But still he ran. His feet flew like those of the hunted roe. And was he not hunted? Was he not fleeing? From what?

Richard had known his Latin, cavalier that he was. The words of the service were ringing in his ears--who uttered them? "Whither shall I go from Thy spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there." The words sounded and sounded again. Richard clapped his fingers to his ears. Still he heard them. And he must run,

run as never before, if he would escape from his pursuer.

Presently he stumbled over a second log; fell headlong beneath a pine tree upon a slipping carpet of dead needles. The fall was heavy; he felt his head thrill with a new pain. For a moment he lay still; and a cool fern pressed comfortingly against his cheek. It was good to rest quietly and look upward into the dark tracery far overhead. He could just see a little patch of the blue shimmering through the pine boughs, a very blue bit of sky. If heaven lay beyond that azure, how fair a land it must be! Richard pressed his hands to his brow, and held them there for long. The throbbing had a little abated. He sat up; looked around. Not a sound except the drone of a mountain honey-bee hanging over some blossom. Trees, trees, before, behind. His eye lost itself in the ranges and mazes of gray-black trunks. There was no path; he had no recollection of the way. He called aloud--only echoes from far-off glens.

Richard rose and sat upon the log; and his fingers tore at the wood's soft mould. Would God his mind had been in His hands! The Cefalu folk--they were all before him--father, mother, sister, brother. He should never see them more in this world--and in the next? Oh, horror! what part could his sainted mother have with her unholy, murderous son! His father had sinned after his kind, yet to him little had been given of holy teaching, and little would be required. But he, Richard Longsword, had he not been brought up gently by his mother, as became a high-born Christian cavalier? Were not her prayers still in his ears? Had there not been at his side for guide and counsellor Sebastian, who was one of the elect of God? Had he not given his mother a pious and holy kiss when he fared away to Auvergne? and did she not send him forth with his virgin knightly honor, to do great deeds for the love of Christ? and how had he kept that honor? He had slain Raoul, and there was never a stain upon his conscience; but Gilbert the lad, the innocent boy who had poured out his blood at the very altar--was it for the love of Christ that he had slain _him_? And that vaunt he had flung to heaven when the keep of Valmont burned: "Let God Himself undo the deed!" Lo, it was made good--not even God, were Gilbert de Valmont to stand forth with breath, could take back that sinful stroke of Trenchefer!


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