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God Wills It! by William Stearns Davis

And she the captive of Iftikhar


Richard

cried aloud in his agony; and the black woods rang, and birds flew screaming from their haunts, as though the hawk were on them; echo and reecho, then the woods were still. Richard roused himself by a painful effort. The tree trunks were darkening; the patch of blue above waxed dim; night was approaching.

"St. Michael!" he muttered, "I must get away quickly, or sleep under the trees."

But a native of the region might well have wandered in that dusky maze, and where were Richard's wits for woodcraft? He plunged heedlessly onward, forcing aside saplings by brute strength, his mind on anything but his path. One thing alone he knew and cared for,--never on earth, never in heaven, would he see his mother again, or his father, or Stephen, the brother at whose learning he had mocked, but in secret revered. And his sister? Well for Iftikhar Eddauleh five hundred leagues lay betwixt him and Richard Longsword, or the emir might have found his proof-panoply become his shroud!

Still Richard wandered. It darkened fast. He began to find himself peering askance into every shadow. He lengthened his stride, for the forest was proving too dense for running. His speed led nowhere--trees, and ever trees, and still the light was failing. Richard raised his voice for a great halloo. Echoes again, but out of the gloom came more,--a low, deep growl; and the Norman knew its meaning well. There was

a little break in the forest; the gloaming was a trifle stronger. Richard saw before him two eyes, bright in the twilight as coals of fire, and the vague outlines of a huge, dark form. All the battle instinct of the Norman leaped into life.

"Good," cried he to the woods, "a bear!"

He snatched at his side, no sword--unbuckled at the castle, just before he read the letter. But he laughed in very delight at what might master his chief enemy--conscience. "Good!" cried he again, and he plucked up a great stone. At the moment he felt as if he could grapple the brute in bare hands and come off victor; and if otherwise--what matter?

With all his might he dashed the stone between those gleaming eyes. A mighty snarl. Richard tore the bough from a tree with giant grip, and sprang to the battle. Another snarl and growl, and behold! the brute instead of rearing and showing teeth, shambled away, and was lost in the shadows of the forest. Doubtless it had just been feeding, and would not fight unless at bay. But Richard cried out, cut by his pain:--

"Dear God, even the beasts turn from me, I am so accursed!"

He sat again upon a log; it was very dark. He could just see the tall columns of the trees. The patches of sky were a violet-black now. He stared and stared; he could go no farther; to wander on were madness. There were deep ravines on the mountain side. Richard remained still a long time. As the darkness grew, his sight of things past increased. His boyhood; his life in South Italy and Sicily; his first meeting with Mary; his duel with Louis; his parting with Mary; the storming of Valmont; his mother, ever his mother. She had nursed him herself--rare mark of devotion for a seigneur's lady. She had been proudest of the proud, when he had won his honors. She had whispered to him an hundred sweet admonitions that dear, bright night he was last at Cefalu. Did he love her more than Mary? Praises be to God, there are loves that never war; and such were these! Oh, had he but been at Cefalu, with his good right arm, and Musa, and Herbert, and Nasr--how different, how much better! And now all were dead save Eleanor, his bright-haired sister, and she--the captive of Iftikhar. Why, if God had been so wroth with him, had He not stricken him, and let the innocent go free? He was strong; his will was adamant as the blade of Trenchefer; to save those dear ones a single pang--what would he not suffer! Were they not--all save his sister--happy now? Surely the saints had taken joy to welcome his mother and brother; and within, his father's soul was white, if some little seared without.


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