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- Via Crucis - 55/55 -

and when he felt that his head was not clear, he let the wine alone, and walked up and down a long time talking to himself and warning himself to keep sober. This being accomplished, he swallowed another draught, wisely sipping it by half mouthfuls, and then walked again; and so all night, and in the dawn he was as fresh and rosy and sober as ever, but the big leathern bottle lay quite flat and disconsolate on the pavement; for he came of the old English archers, who were good men at a bowl, and steady on their legs.

In the morning Gilbert awoke and sat up, on the pavement, and as Alric came near he made a sign that he should not wake Dunstan, but let him rest. He looked at the sleeper's face, and thought how much this servant of his had suffered, being quite half as gentle by birth as he himself; and he remembered how the man had fought ever bravely, and had shed his blood, and had never taken gifts of money from his master, save for great necessity, and had asked for a sword rather than for a tunic when he had raised the riot to save Beatrix and the Queen in Nicaea; and Gilbert was ashamed that such a man, who was in truth the eldest born of a great house, should be a starving servant. So when Dunstan opened his eyes and started up at seeing his master awake, Gilbert spoke to him.

"You have fought with me," he said, "you have endured with me, we have fasted together on the march, and we have drunk of the same spring in battle while the arrows fell about us, and now, God willing, we are to be brothers, when I wed the Lady Beatrix, and but for you I should be mourning by her grave to-day. It is not meet that we should be any longer master and man, for you have gentle blood in you, of a great house."

"Sir Gilbert," murmured Dunstan, flushing darkly, "you are very kind to me, but I will not have gentlehood of a father who was a murderer and a thief."

"You prove yourself gentle by that speech," answered Gilbert. "Had he no other blood to give you than his own? Then the Lady Beatrix is also the daughter of a thief and a murderer."

"And of a lady of great lineage. That is different. I am no peer of my lady sister. But if so be that I may have a name, and be called gentle, then, sir, I pray you, beg of our sovereign in England that I may be called by a new name of my own, that my ill birth may be forgotten."

"And so I will," said Gilbert, "for it is better thus."

Afterwards he kept his word, and when she had her own again, Beatrix gave him a third share of her broad lands, to hold in fief to Gilbert Warde, though he had no rightful claim; and because he had saved her life, he was called Dunstan Le Sauveur, because he had saved her and many; and he had favour of King Henry and fought bravely, and was made a knight, and raised up an honourable race.

But on that morning in Jerusalem, in the little court, Beatrix came out, still weak and weary, and sat beside Gilbert in the shade of the wall, with her hand between his, and the light in her face.

"Gilbert," she said, when she had told him what had happened to her until then, "when I was angry and unbelieving in the Queen's chamber in Antioch, why did you turn and leave me, seeing that I was in the wrong?"

"I was angry, too," he answered simply.

But womanlike, she answered him again.

"That was foolish. You should have taken me roughly in your arms and kissed me, as you did by the river long ago. Then I should have believed you, as I do now."

"But you would not believe my words, nor the Queen's," he said, "nor even when she gave herself up to the King, to prove herself true, would you believe her."

"If men only knew!" Beatrix laughed softly her little bird laugh that had the music of a spring day.

"If men knew--what?"

"If men knew--" She paused, and blushed, and laughed again. "If men knew how women love sweet words when they are happy, and sharp deeds when they are angry! That is what I mean. I would have given my blood and the Queen's kingdom for a kiss when you left me standing there."

"I wish I had known!" exclaimed Gilbert, happy but half perplexed.

"You ought to have known," answered the girl.

Her eyebrows were raised a little with the half-pathetic look he loved, while her mouth smiled.

"I shall never understand," he said, but he began to laugh too.

"I will tell you. In the first place, I shall never be angry with you again--never! Do you believe me, Gilbert?"

"Of course I do," he answered, having nothing else to say.

"Very well. But if I ever should be--"

"But you just said that you never would be!"

"I know; but if I should--just once--then take me in your arms, and say nothing, but kiss me as you did that day by the river."

"I understand," he said. "Are you angry now?" But he was laughing.

"Almost," she answered, glancing sideways in a smile.

"Not quite?"

"Yes, quite!" And her eyes darkened under the drooping lids.

Then he held her so close to him that she was half breathless, and kissed her till it hurt, and she turned pale again, and her eyes were closed.

[Illustration: THE WAY OF THE CROSS]

"You see," she said very faintly, "I believe you now!"

Here ends the story of Gilbert Warde's crusading; for he had reached the end of his Via Crucis in the Holy City, and had at last found peace for his soul, and light and rest for his heart, after many troubles and temptations, and after much brave fighting for the good cause of the Faith against unbelievers.

After that he fought again with the army at Damascus, and saw how the princes betrayed one another, when the Emperor Conrad had come again, so that the siege of the strong town came to naught, and the armies were scattered among the rich gardens to gather fruit and drink strong wine, while their leaders wrangled. Also at Ascalon he drew sword again, and again he saw failure hanging over all, like an evil shadow, and chilling the courage in men, so that there was murmuring, and clamouring for the homeward path. There he saw how the great armies went to ruin and fell to pieces, because, as the holy Bernard had known, there was not the faith of other days, and also because there was no great leader, as Eleanor had told the abbot himself at Vezelay; and it was a sad sight, and one to sicken the souls of good men.

But though he fought with all his might when swords were out, there was no sadness in him for all these things, for life and hope were bright before him. Little by little, too, he had heard how all the poor pilgrims left at Attalia had perished; but he knew that if he had led them, Beatrix would have died there in the court of the little house in Jerusalem, and he held her life more dear than the lives of many, whom his own could hardly have saved.

Moreover, and last of all, he had learned and understood that the cause of God lies not buried among stones in any city, not even in the most holy city of all; for the place of Christ's suffering is in men's sinful hearts, and the glory of his resurrection is the saving of a soul from death to everlasting life, in refreshment and light and peace.

Via Crucis - 55/55

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