Launcelot of the Lake: A Tragedy, in Five Acts

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Launcelot of the Lake: A Tragedy, in Five Acts

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Noi leggiavamo un giorno, per diletto,
Di Lancilotto, come amor lo strinse.
                                                         DANTE, Inferno, V.

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TO

THOMAS HOVELL, ESQ.
OF THE FIVE HOUSES, CLAPTON,
TO WHOSE CARE AND SKILL
(UNDER THE BLESSING OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE)
THE AUTHOR IS INDEBTED
FOR THE LIFE OF A BELOVED PARENT,
THIS TRAGEDY
IS GRATEFULLY INSCRIBED.
1st JULY, 1843.

ADVERTISEMENT.
    The following Tragedy, founded upon a celebrated Romance of the Middle Ages, was offered to the late management of Drury Lane Theatre, and reserved by Mr. SERLE (from whom the Author received the utmost politeness and attention) for the perusal of Mr. MACREADY. But before it could be submitted to the last-named gentleman, the season was brought to a close, and our greatest living actor retired from the directon of that stage, which he had laboured with so much earnestness to exalt and purify. Under these circumstances, with the gloomy prospects of the drama in general, any attempt to procure the representaton of this play seemed for the present hopeless. The Author was therefore advised to run the risk of publishing; and it now only remains for him to return his sincere thanks, both to his friends, and to many before unknown to him, who have kindly sent him their names to be placed on his list of subscribers. In the difficult career of the drama, he is fully aware of the hazard of a first step: and, if he do not trouble the reader with any lengthened preface, it is because he feels, that the success or failure of a work of this kind, must depend after all on the text, and cannot be influenced by the commentary.
  DRAMATIS PERSONÆ

ARTHUR -- King of Britain.
MORDRED -- his illegitimate son.
SIR LAUNCELOT OF THE LAKE.
THE HERMIT OF GLASTONBURY.

SIR GAWIN,        }
SIR GARETH,      } . . . the king's nephews.
SIR GAHERIS,     }

SIR BORS DE GANIS,      } kinsmen to Sir Launcelot.
SIR HECTOR DE MARIS,}
DAGONET -- the king's jester.
SIR KAY -- the seneschal.
SIR LUCAN -- the butler.
SIR BEDIVERE -- brother to Sir Lucan.

GWENEVER -- wife to King Arthur.
MORGAN LE FAY -- a sorceress, formerly beloved by Arthur, and mother to Mordred. Knights, Ladies, Guards, Attendants, &c.
SCENE -- BRITAIN.

PROEM.

    Gone is the antique age of knightly deeds,
    The glory of the minstrel's day is past;
    Now that in Beauty's cause no champion bleeds,
    The visions of Romance are fading fast:
    Yet dear to man, howe'er his lot be cast,
    The old, heroic constancy of mind --
    The courage unsubdued by fortune's blast,
    And faithful love to every doom resigned;
And for their sake this tale may still acceptance find.

    Or should thick shades of human guilt and woe
    Blend with the brightness of the poet's dream,
    Shall we forbid the pitying tear to flow,
    Because a thrice-told fiction is the theme?
    O priceless are those little stars, which gleam
    Through the black night of time! -- for they impart
    Some faint reflection of the morning's beam;
    And simple tones, beyond the reach of art,
Speak from long-vanished years the language of the heart!

    This was the tale, which DANTE loved so well,
    That, when sad exile bowed his awful head,
    And 'mid the ghastly phantoms of deep hell,
    He could recall its pleasant image fled:
    For this it was, which poor Francesca read,
    With Paulo by her side, as bending o'er
    The open volume on her lap, and led
    By witchery of that sweet, entrancing lore,
Their lips all trembling met -- that day, they read no more!

    Then if I dare to sound this note again,
    O mighty Master of the Tuscan line!
    Forgive the boldness, that would thus profane
    Aught thou hast loved by numbers weak as mine:
    No rash presumption, deathless Florentine!
    Prompts me; but with due reverence I engage
    In this my task. What moved thy soul divine
    May yet have power to warm a sluggish age,
And live a second life on SHAKSPERE's noble stage.

    Haply such hope will fail -- but, come what may,
    Through many a sleepless hour, when all went wrong,
    And harsh realities upon me lay
    With leaden weight, and the dawn tarried long --
    These bright creations of romantic song
    Cheered me; and still I see them beckoning stand,
    With rainbow wings outspread (a glittering throng!)
    To bear me from the present's gloomy strand,
Back to King Arthur's court, and scenes of Fairy-land! ACT I.
SCENE I. -- The Interior of a Gloomy Cavern in the Welsh Mountains, with various cabalistic figures dimly visible on the walls. MORGAN LE FAY seated at a low table, with a lamp burning by her side, and a roll of parchment half unwound before her.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

It comes at last -- the day so long desired --
The day of vengeance. O ye righteous fates!
I thank you, that the memory of my wrong
Hath borne my spirit up through years of woe,
Till, from your dead abodes, the hour draws nigh
Of a just retribution. Speed its coming!
And then -- do with me as you will!
                               (She rises from the table.)
Arthur! thy life has been a summer's morn,
All bright, all glorious -- neither mist nor cloud.
Hero and king! thy fame hath filled the world,
And thou hast gone from victory to victory,
War thy purveyor, Conquest for thy minion,
Sceptres and crowns for spoil -- whilst I (lost wretch!)
Who, born a princess, for thy sake resigned
Virtue and peace -- have dwelt apart from men,
Neglected and forgotten. Still I watched,
With jealous eye, the progress of thy star;
And still it shone, mocking me with its beams.
But now, if art be true, and nature fixed,
And this, thy horoscope, be cast aright,
Thy planet soon will enter on a house
Of darkest doom. O that my spells might aid
The consummation -- that my curse might help
To drag thee from thy state -- and when, at length,
Thou liest in agony, that I might stand
Before thee, and shriek out in thy vext ear:
Behold! this was the hand that dealt the blow!
                               (MORDRED appears at the entrance of the cave.)
Ha! who art thou, that stealest, like a thief,
Upon my solitude? -- Rash stranger! learn,
That none have ever yet unpunished sought
To pierce the secrets of these awful shades,
Where I am queen.

                   MORDRED (advancing.)

                        Dost thou not know me, mother?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Thou here! -- I should have doubted even the stars,
If they had told me this: it mocks all augury.
Nay, never bend thy knee -- nor fawn -- nor shape
Thy lips to utter falsehood. Thou art here;
But neither love, nor duty brought thee hither.
Thou hast need of my assistance.

                            MORDRED.

                    Good my mother!
I would not have thee wrong thyself and me
By vain suspicions. If the powers of chance
(Which are the gods of earth) kept us apart,
Believe me, 'twas no wish or fault of mine;
And if they now unite us, I will take
No praise for that in which I most rejoice.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Subtle and smooth, as thou hast ever been,
And, like thy father, false! -- When thou wast born
(The child of guilt and shame) great Merlin's art
Saw in thy life a peril to his lord,
And doomed thee to destruction: thou hadst died,
Hadst thou been left to these same powers of chance
To save or slay. But, no! a mother's love,
Stronger than chance, watched o'er thee day and night,
Bore thee to woods and caves, guarded thee round
With magic spells -- until the enchanter's death,
And Arthur's late remorse, gave thee a passport
Back to thy father. What was my reward?
Such cold neglect as stings far worse than hate,
And turns affection into madness. Go!
The son is worthy of the sire!


                            MORDRED.

                                        Madam!
I will not seek to banish a delusion,
Which time has strengthened. Yet, if not for love,
Then hear me for my news. King Arthur weds!

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Art sure of this?

                            MORDRED.

                     I know it to my cost.
But yesterday I was the heir of kingdoms;
To-morrow I am nothing.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                    So! he weds.
He, who in youth denied me that poor justice,
Bends to the yoke in age. This explains all;
Thy coming now has pith and purpose in it.
Whom does he wed?

                            MORDRED.

                        A maiden young and fair!

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Alas for such an one! She thinks (poor fool!)
To mount a bed of roses, and will find
Nothing but thorns and briars. Now tell me, Mordred!
Hast thou the courage of a man?

                            MORDRED.

                                        To thee,
I answer yes: to the best knight on earth,
I'd answer with my sword.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                        Waste not thy breath,
Where none will tremble at thy vaunt; but hear me!
I am a woman -- yet I dare do as much,
To enforce a right, or to avenge a wrong,
As thou or any man. Before us lies
A difficult path, which thou and I must tread,
If ever thou wouldst wear thy father's crown,
Or I achieve my vengeance. Wilt thou be governed
By me in this?

                            MORDRED.

                        Why else did I come hither?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Then by the eternal stars I prophesy,
No genial fruit shall from this marriage spring!
When is the bridal-day?

                            MORDRED.

                        Perchance, even now.
When I left Camelot, the general voice
Already hailed with shouts the festive time,
As at the very gate.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                         Would I had known it!
But was the court assembled? Were the knights
Of the round table present?

                            MORDRED.

                        All -- save three,
Who, to fulfil their vow, had gone in quest
Of that mysterious vessel, sent from heaven,
The holy Sancgreal. Ere it touch their lips,
May it be drugged with poison!

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                             What brave enemies
Can thus have stirred the venom of thy spleen?

                            MORDRED.

Knights, whom the world admires, and I abhor.
Sir Percival, the tamer of the lion;
Sir Bors de Ganis, terrible in arms;
The greatest comes the last -- a matchless name --
Sir Launcelot of the Lake!

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                    Well, what of these?
Why dost thou wish them dead?

                            MORDRED.

                    Because, my mother,
From youth they stood betwixt me and the sun.
Never, in tilt or tourney, could I win
The prize from either -- no, nor do a deed,
That was not shamed by their superior prowess:
And, whilst they live, King Arthur will have room,
To wed or not to wed, set up, pluck down,
Just as he listeth; for those champions three
Are as a wall of brass about his throne.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Brass melts in fire. Not all their chivalry,
Not all the gathered might of Albion's isle,
Can shake my purpose. But we lose in talk
The precious hours of action: at this wedding,
I fain would be a guest.

                            MORDRED.
                If they should know thee . . .

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Hast thou no faith in the powers of magic art,
To seal men's eyes? And, even if art should fail,
Have years and sorrows dealt so kindly with me,
That I retain one feature of my youth,
Or my youth's beauty? But away with doubts!
The time for action is arrived!
                               (She fetches her magic wand.)
                             Ye Spirits,
That dwell in the air, and in the womb of earth,
And in the elemental fire -- attend!
Ye, whose invisible presence girds me round
With a more subtle life -- whose voices fill
My ears with inarticulate music, soft
As night-gales dying on the strings of harps --
Ye, that still owe me true and loyal service,
Acknowledging the sovereign potency
Of this enchanted rod -- hear and obey!
                               (A strain of soft music.)
Ye answer to my summons -- it is well!
This be your charge: prepare some present means
Of sure conveyance, more than lightning swift,
To bear me with the uttermost speed of thought
From Wales to Camelot.
                               (Music. A Car, drawn by dragons, appears at the entrance of the cavern.)
See, Mordred, how my spirits do my bidding!
Stand not thus foolishly amazed -- but come
Where yonder fiery coursers chafe and fret,
Impatient of a moment's dull repose!
                               (They ascend the car.)
Be thou my charioteer, and grasp the reins
With fearless hand! My staff shall point the way
Through realms of air. And ye, my dragon-steeds!
Terrific harbingers of wrath and woe!
Spread to the breeze your thunder-cleaving wings,
Strong as my hate, and swift as my revenge!
                               (The scene closes upon them, as the car rises from the ground.)
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SCENE II. -- The Country near Camelot.

                               Enter SIR LAUNCELOT and SIR BORS.

                            SIR BORS.

At length, dear cousin, after all our pains,
Behold the welcome towers of Camelot!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Welcome in truth -- since there we hope to meet
Our friends and brother-knights -- yet not so welcome,
As if we brought our valiant comrade with us,
And had not failed in our mission.

                            SIR BORS.

                       All regret
On such a theme may well be counted vain.
Sir Percival has played a warrior's part,
And sleeps in glory: peace be with his soul!
And, if we failed, we have but failed in that,
Which none have yet accomplished. For myself,
I scarcely hoped a sinful man like me
Would be vouchsafed the privilege, to drink
Of that most hallowed cup: my only trust
Was built upon thy purity of life
(Unchallenged even by slander's faintest breath)
As worthy of such grace.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

             My flattering cousin!
Let no man talk of purity. Here on earth,
The best of us might shun the angels' gaze;
Nor, till the hour of trial, can we know
How deep within us lie the seeds of sin!

                               Enter the HERMIT of GLASTONBURY.

                             HERMIT.

Heaven save you, gentle sons!

                            SIR BORS.

                   And thee, my father!
To journey thus alone might have been spared
Thy reverend age.

                             HERMIT.

                   When love and duty call,
The load of years sits lightly -- thanks to Him,
Who suits the back to its burden! -- I was summoned
From the poor cell, which holy Joseph reared
On Glastonbury's consecrated ground,
To bless the vows of a new-married pair:
That done, I may not bide the festive hour,
But straight return again.

                            SIR BORS.

                    'Twere a good world,
If all thus toiled for love!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     Who weds at Camelot?

                             HERMIT.

The highest of the land -- your king and mine.

                            SIR BORS.

King Arthur sayest thou?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     All sweet saints befriend him,
And crown his bed with a most royal issue!
But who the bride?

                             HERMIT.

                     The beauteous Gwenever,
The king of Cameliard's unrivalled daughter.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Old man - 'tis false!

                             HERMIT.

                    Be not so rash, my son!
These aged lips were never stained with lies.

                            SIR BORS.

What ails thee, Launcelot?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                       Forgive me, father!
I scarce knew what I said. Yet speak again:
Tell me, it is not true!

                             HERMIT.

                     The truth lives on,
Though all the world deny it for a truth.
King Arthur weds the peerless Gwenever;
The fact remains, let me say what I will:
But are these tidings then so full of horror,
That they can drive the warm blood from thy cheek,
And make thy firm knees tremble?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                    Oh, 'tis nothing!
A passing spasm. I should laugh, methinks,
To hear thy news, good hermit. I am glad;
Yes, very glad. I wish King Arthur joy,
And his fair bride. Before, I did but jest.

                             HERMIT.

My son, I will not strive to penetrate
The secrets of thy bosom. Thou art moved
By some strong passion. Heaven support and guide thee!
But shouldst thou ever need the ghostly counsel
Of one, who, by his own experience taught,
Judges not harshly of his fellow-men,
Come to me without fear; and I will pour
Sweet balm into thy wounds. Till then -- farewell!     (Exit.)

                            SIR BORS.

A wise and holy priest! But how now, cousin?
What mean those looks?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                             There is no faith in woman!
None! She may be as pure as virgin snow,
Or crystal dew, that gems the morning-flowers --
Bright as the sun-beams -- beauteous as the stars --
But never trust her faith!

                            SIR BORS.

                 Why, who has wronged thee?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

O that a warrior should be thus o'ercome
By his soul's weakness! -- Cousin, dearest cousin,
We have been friends these many years together,
And thou shalt know the truth. This fair inconstancy --
This Gwenever -- whom the king takes to wife --
She was my first, last love -- my hope -- my heaven --
My own, affianced bride!

                            SIR BORS.

               How could this be,
And I not know it?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     I will tell thee all.
Long years ago, in boyhood's early morn,
Whilst yet the gentle Lady of the Lake
Watched my young steps -- I used to shadow forth
My future life; and these two dreams were mine.
First, I would be a warrior, and my sword
Should cut my way to glory's topmost height,
And make my name immortal: next (vain hope!)
I thought to win the heart of some fair maid,
Who, knowing nothing of my worldly state,
Should prize and love me for myself alone.
'Twas a boy's folly!

                            SIR BORS.

                     Yet thy first dream came true.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Yes! I have had my share of blood-stained wreaths,
And glory bought with blows -- and, for a time,
This did suffice me -- till, one luckless day,
I chanced to hear, that a great tournament
Was held in Cameliard. Some busy devil
(That loves to sport with men) gave me the wish,
To break a lance at this same festival --
Not like myself -- but coarsely armed and clad,
Meanly caparisoned, with unblazoned shield
Like a poor bachelor. Thus, unknown to all,
I fought and conquered -- but myself received
A mortal wound; for, when I left the lists,
Where none withstood my charger's rapid shock,
'Twas the king's daughter that unlaced my helm,
And brought me food and wine. What need of more?
Love springs up in the heart we know not how,
A wild-flower in the desert. So I loved,
And, loving, lingered near my charmer's home
Till the sweet dream of youth seemed realized,
And the fair princess pledged her faith to one,
Whom she believed a poor and nameless knight.

                            SIR BORS.

But did her father sanction this?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     He sanctioned
All that he knew -- my presence at his court,
And humble service; for I deemed it vain
To avow a suit, which must have galled his pride
As coming from a low-born bachelor,
But which hereafter Launcelot of the Lake
Might urge without offence.

                            SIR BORS.

                      Why didst thou leave
The place that held thy treasure?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                    Absent long
From Camelot, my duty called me thither:
And so I parted from my love -- with sighs,
And eloquent looks, and vows of lasting faith.
O perjured woman! that such looks should lie,
And such fond vows be broken!

                            SIR BORS.

                      Since that hour,
Have you not met?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                      Alas! we could not meet.
The adventure of the Sancgreal drew me forth
To lands remote -- whence I return at last,
To find my hopes all withered!

                            SIR BORS.

                     Yet be calm!
Let not a woman's frailty shake thy soul,
And triumph o'er thy manhood! -- Rather deem,
That such a loss may well be counted gain:
Ere long, thou wilt be sure of it. Meanwhile,
If thou do lack the mastery o'er thyself,
Which the case needs -- go not unto the court!
Avoid this false one's presence!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                    No, by heaven!
I will not shun the gaze of her who wronged me,
As though I were the wronger. I will join
This bridal-feast -- and no incautious word --
Not e'en a glance of the eye, or change of colour,
Or tremulous tone -- shall rob me of my secret.
I will keep down the pangs that gnaw my heart;
Nor shall the inward struggle, though it rend
My nerves with agony, force me to forget
That which I owe my king -- myself -- and her!
                               (Exeunt.)
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SCENE III. -- A Magnificent Hall in the Palace of Camelot. The shields and banners of the knights of the round table suspended from the walls. In the midst of a sumptuous banquet. KING ARTHUR on his throne, with GWENEVER seated beside him, whilst young pages, arrayed like Cupids, kneel before them, and serve them with various dainties. On the steps below, SIR KAY with his staff of office, and DAGONET with his cap and bells. SIR GAWIN, SIR GARETH, SIR GAHERIS, SIR HECTOR, SIR LUCAN, SIR BEDIVERE, with knights, ladies, and attendants, form groups at the different tables.

                         KING ARTHUR.

Pass round the wassail-bowl! Let every cup
O'erflow with wine! Who does not drink to-day,
He is my enemy. Out upon the knave,
That would be sullen at a feast like this!
And, ladies, you must pledge me to the bride;
Sir Lucan, thou art butler.

                           SIR LUCAN.

                               Good my lord!
I ne'er saw better cheer.


                            DAGONET.

                                Yet I'll be sworn,
Sir Lucan has seen double oft ere now.

                           SIR GARETH.

Thou dost belie him, fool!

                            DAGONET.

                            Not half so much
As I should thee, were I to tell the world,
Sir Gareth is a wit.

                              SIR KAY.

                            Say something new!
I cannot laugh at old and threadbare jests.

                            DAGONET.

Beshrew thy beard, good master gravity!
Did any bid thee laugh? -- Well! truth is old.
Were I to say, that those grave looks of thine
Betoken wisdom -- or that Sir Gawin there
Can rule his house, and keep his wife at home --
Or that I see one knight amongst you all,
Worthy to hold the stirrup for Sir Launcelot --
Why, this were new -- and false!

                            SIR GAWIN.

                            Let him bark on!
'Tis the cur's privilege.

                           SIR HECTOR.

                              Each comes in for a gibe.
Not e'en Sir Launcelot would have fared so well,
Had he been present.

                            DAGONET.

                             There's the difference
Betwixt you knights and me: I (being a fool)
Speak well of the absent, who ne'er give me thanks;
You keep your flattery for the lady's ear
That sits beside you, and her blushes tell,
That she will pay the debt.

                           SIR HECTOR.

                              In current coin?

                            DAGONET.

Why, yes! if kisses pass for such in the dark.

                         KING ARTHUR.

My Gwenever! thy brow is not so glad
As fits a bride. Thou join'st not in our mirth,
And my poor jester scarce can raise a smile.

                           GWENEVER.

O pardon me, my lord! I yet am strange
To this land's customs.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                   We will mend them, sweetheart,
If they displease thee.

                           GWENEVER.

                    Nay -- not so, my lord!
I do but crave indulgence for the manners
Of one just fresh from home.


                         KING ARTHUR.

                   Now blessings on thee!
I would not have thee change that bashful grace
For any other charm that decks a queen.

                            DAGONET.

Shall I sing a song, my lord?

                         KING ARTHUR.

                  What song, sir knave?

                            DAGONET.

How that an old man married a young wife,
And let her have her way. 'Tis a good moral,
And prettily set to music.

                              SIR KAY.

                   Peace, thou jackanapes!
What new arrival makes the people throng
About yon door?

                           SIR LUCAN.

                    It is the prince!

                            SIR GAWIN.

                   'Tis Mordred!

                               Enter Mordred with Morgan Le Fay (disguised)

                   MORDRED (kneeling.)

All hail, my king and father!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                     Welcome, son!
Thou shouldst have been, methinks, an earlier guest
At this solemnity.

                            MORDRED.

                          See my excuse!
I found this lady, captive in the grasp
Of a huge giant, who had slain her husband,
A prince of Scottish blood. I could not leave her
In that extremity, but, from my steed
Descending, met the giant hand to hand,
Fought with him through the space of half a day,
And strewed his limbs upon a green hill-side
To feed the carrion-crow. Then let her presence,
Whom I have rescued, plead on my behalf,
And save me from harsh thoughts.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                           Now doubly welcome,
Since thou hast proved thyself a worthy knight!
Receive him well, my Gwenever! and give
This gentle dame assurance of our friendship,
Which much she needs.

                           GWENEVER.

                   Prince! I rejoice to greet thee,
Both for thy father's sake, and thy own virtue.
Lady! we know, that kings have little power
To comfort in affliction such as thine;
Yet may we hope in time to assuage thy sorrows
By love and patience.

              MORGAN LE FAY, (kneeling.)

                     How shall I thank thee, madam?
I have no words.

                           GWENEVER.

                     Not so, in any case!
I must entreat thee -- rise! -- Nay, I will have it!
                               (She raises her from the ground. They converse apart.)

                            DAGONET.

Tell me, magnanimous hero! . . .

                              SIR KAY.

                      What stuff's this?

                            DAGONET.

I speak to Jack-the-giant-killer yonder,
Not unto thee! -- Tell me, magnanimous hero!
Where thou hast laid the carcass of thy foe,
That we may give it burial!

                            MORDRED.

                          My good Dagonet,
The fowls of the air have done that office for me.

                            DAGONET.

Ay, but the bones! -- I fain would have a club,
Made of a giant's thigh. Is't far from here?

                            MORDRED.
Too far, methinks, for thee to reach the place
In a long summer's day.

                            DAGONET.

                          And hast thou brought
No warlike trophy home -- not even a tooth,
Or nail, or handful of his bristly beard?
How much did he measure from the tip to the toe?

                            MORDRED.

Pshaw! these are idle questions.

                            DAGONET.

                         Well, I know not:
I am a fool! but, had I slain a giant,
I would go fetch some token of my conquest,
Ere men should doubt my word.

                            MORDRED.

                          Who dares to doubt it?

                         KING ARTHUR.

Tush, Mordred! be not angry with a fool!
The hour is one of licensed revelry
To all my subjects. May this day be hallowed!
For in it I have drunk of the wine of joy,
Till my brain reels. What more can life bestow
Than I possess? The world's most honoured throne --
Wealth in abundance -- fame beyond my hopes,
Or my deserving -- peace, by victory sealed --
A bride, the loveliest of the flowers of earth --
A gentle son -- the kindest, truest friends --
And warriors matchless in the strife. O Fortune!
Thou hast no more to give!

                              SIR KAY.

                          Bethink thee, sire,
If nothing yet be wanting! -- 'Tis not safe
For human eyes to scan the boundless future,
And see no wish unsatisfied.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                               Now, in truth,
I scarcely know what more I could desire,
Unless it were to greet my faithful Launcelot
And his brave fellow-pilgrims.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                           In that wish
We all participate. Were Launcelot here,
'Twould add new lustre even to scenes like this!
                               (A great shout.)

                         KING ARTHUR.

What means that loud acclaim? Go forth, sir seneschal,
And learn the cause!
                                (Exit SIR KAY.)

                            DAGONET.

                             Oh, 'tis another giant,
Come to revenge his brother's death upon us!
Draw thy sword, Jack!

                            MORDED.

                            Beware thy coxcomb, fool!

                            DAGONET.

I'll give it thee, for thou canst crow the loudest.
Clap thy wings, cock! 'twill frighten away the ghost
Of that same giant. Should he chance to clutch thee,
I would not be in thy skin for twentypence.

                     SIR KAY, (returning.)

Thou hast thy wish, my liege! -- Launcelot is come.

                         KING ARTHUR.

I did not bargain for news half so good.
But is he close at hand?

                              SIR KAY.

                              He will be here,
As soon as he can cleave the mighty press
Of shouting people.

                   KING ARTHUR (rising.)

                                I will go and meet him.
To pay such honour to his noblest vassal
Doth well beseem a king. Keep your seats, gentlemen!
I shall return anon.

                              SIR KAY.

                               Make way for his highness!
(KING ARTHUR descends from the throne, and exit, preceded by SIR KAY, and followed by some of the attendants. DAGONET steals after them.)


                           GWENEVER.

I long to see this peerless Launcelot,
Of whom I have heard so much.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                             Believe me, madam!
He is the bravest knight in Christendom,
And perfect in the arts of peace and war.

                           SIR HECTOR.

And the most loving friend.

                           SIR LUCAN.

                      And best companion.

                           SIR GARETH.

Nor has the king a more devoted subject.

                           GWENEVER.

What says Prince Mordred?

                            MORDRED.

                          I am silent, madam:
These gentlemen have left me nought to say.

                           GWENEVER.

Well, silence gives consent.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                    See where they come!
They scarce can move for the crowd. The king walks with them.
Yet stay! there are but two.

                            MORDRED.

                    Which then is wanting?

                            SIR GAWIN.

Alas! it is the good Sir Percival.
Pray heaven, he be not slain!

                           GWENEVER.

                  The crowd so wavers,
I cannot catch a glimpse of either face.
(Re-enter KING ARTHUR and his train, with SIR LAUNCELOT and SIR BORS. All rise to receive them.)


                         KING ARTHUR.

I'd give the brightest jewel of my crown
To have him back; but death will take no ransom,
And we must bear our loss. My gentle friends!
I will present you to my lovely bride,
And she shall bid you welcome for us all.
My Gwenever! this is that famous Launcelot,
Of whom men say . . .

                           GWENEVER.

                      O heavens! it cannot be!
'Tis all a dream -- a wild and terrible dream!

                         KING ARTHUR.

What ails thee, love?

                           GWENEVER.

                            Indeed I am not well.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Lean upon me! I will support thee, madam.

                         KING ARTHUR.

Why, Gwenever!

                            SIR BORS.

                       Be not alarmed, my liege!
The hall is crowded, and the heat o'erpowering:
A sudden faintness . . .

                           GWENEVER.

                      It will pass anon.
Loosen my girdle -- give me room to breathe!
I am sick at heart!
                               (She swoons.)

                         KING ARTHUR.

                      Look to the queen there, ladies!
Break up the banquet!
                               (All disperse in confusion.)

           SIR BORS (to SIR LAUNCELOT.)

                        Come away with me!
Too many wakeful, curious eyes are on us.
Let's keep our secret, friend!

           SIR LAUNCELOT (as he is led off.)

                     She loves me still!
What care I for the world, or the world's gaze?
I only know and feel -- she loves me still!

END OF THE FIRST ACT.

-----------

ACT II.

SCENE I. -- The Gardens of the Palace.

Enter GWENEVER and MORGAN LE FAY.

                           GWENEVER.

Now have I told thee all, and laid my sorrows
Bare to thy friendship. Now canst thou understand,
Why thus I seek to shun Sir Launcelot's presence.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

I can feel with, and for thee. Yet methinks,
I would not treat him with such studied coldness
As to excite suspicion. All here favour him,
And it must needs look strange, that thou alone
Shouldst be his foe. Besides, men are so wayward!
They build their hopes upon a lady's frown,
As surely as her smile.

                           GWENEVER.

                    What can he hope?
I am King Arthur's wife.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                        And yet Sir Launcelot
May have his dreams. Perchance, he argues thus:
We only fly, when we have cause to fear,
And if she love me not, she need not shun me.
Would that be wrong?

                           GWENEVER.

                      Heaven guard me from such thoughts!

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Ay, but Sir Launcelot . . .

                           GWENEVER.

                     Is the pearl of honour!
I must not have him so deceive himself,
And slander me.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                     Why then refuse to speak?
It is the silence and the mystery,
That make the danger. Meet him face to face,
And let the future as the past be clear
In the broad light of the sun!

                           GWENEVER.

                       Would it be safe?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Dost fear him still? -- but look! yonder he comes,
Just in the nick of time. With brow deprest,
And eyes bent on the ground (how like a lover!)
He sees not where we stand. Let's wait, and mark him!

                               Enter SIR LAUNCELOT.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

What, if it were -- she never can be mine.
Reason itself disowns the idle thought;
Yet, spite of reason, it will oft return,
To haunt me with its brightness. O my heart!
Hast thou forgotten all thy many wrongs?
Was she not false?
                      Ha! -- ladies -- pardon me!
I knew not, that I strayed so near your walk.
Permit me to withdraw!                                 (going.)

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                       Not so, Sir Launcelot!
The queen has sent me with a message yonder,
And till I come again, desires thy company. (To GWENEVER.)
Now is the time! -- Speak -- or be silent ever!                     (exit.)

          SIR LAUNCELOT (after a pause.)

If there be aught, which thou wouldst tell me, madam,
I wait upon thy pleasure.                                (a long silence.)
                     Heaven is my witness,
I did not seek this interview. Many days
Have I gone wandering up and down these gardens,
Like a poor, troubled ghost -- but never once
Did I attempt to cast my gloomy shadow
Across thy sun-lit path.
                       Why should I do so?
Art thou not happy?

                           GWENEVER.

                     Happy!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     Other women
Regard thy lot with envy. No advancement
Could raise thee higher than thou art. A queen
Of earthly queens -- a hero-monarch's bride --
Loved, honoured, almost worshipped -- what is wanting
To make thee happy?

                           GWENEVER.

                    Cruel! thou sayest this!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

And wherefore not? Is it for me to dwell
Upon the past? Did I first break the charm,
That clothed our life in beauty, and adorned
This common world with radiance not its own?
Did I tear down the temples of old faith,
Turning to mockery all things sacred else
By that one profanation? -- 'Twas thy choice --
Thy free, unfettered choice -- to barter love
For gems and gewgaws of imperial state.
If it were wise (and who shall doubt its wisdom?)
Thou shouldst be happy now!

                           GWENEVER.

                     Hold! I will answer thee.
Not that I would recall the past -- the dead --
But that hereafter thou mayst think of me
Without reproach or bitterness. Let's be frank
With one another! Both perchance have erred.
When first thou camest to my father's court,
I was a very foolish, innocent girl,
Who ne'er suspected harm; in thee I saw
The young, bright hero of a maiden's dream,
And trusted thee, and gave thee all my heart.
Nor did I stay to question, if such love
For an unknown adventurer, without sanction
Of friends or parents, could be counted wise,
Or blest of heaven.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     This then is all thy grief --
That thou didst love unworthily.

                           GWENEVER.

                      No -- ah, no!
My instincts did not err: I had chosen well.
But was it prudent -- was it kind -- to shroud
Thy ways in mystery, and thus leave me dubious
Of my own fate? Has lordly man the right
To ask a woman's fealty, yet keep back
His perfect confidence? Hadst thou but spoken
The simple truth -- hadst thou declared thy name --
My father would have pledged his kingly word,
And we should now be . . .

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     Can this justify
A breach of faith?

                           GWENEVER.

                     I seek not to defend,
But to extenuate. Hear me -- and then judge!
Dost thou remember when we parted last?
Month after month I waited thy return,
Still hoped, and still believed; yet time rolled on,
And brought no tidings. What though my cheek grew pale,
I kept our secret in my aching breast,
And stifled my despair. At length it chanced,
That Erin's mighty chief assailed our coast
With such a force as made resistance vain,
Escape impossible: in his great need,
My father sent to beg King Arthur's help,
And like a thunder-bolt the monarch flew
To crush our haughty foes. The land was saved!
How could we ever hope to pay the debt
We owed the generous victor? All our gold
Would have been light, when weighed with such a service.
He was content with less: he only asked
For this one little hand.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     And I not there!

                           GWENEVER.

What could I do? I sought on every side
Excuses for delay, and still postponed
The fatal moment -- but my father urged
Obedience to his will, and all men prayed,
That I would grant their great deliverer's suit.
Could I have spoken out, I might have trusted
To the king's honour; but, even for maiden shame,
I durst not plead a rash, unauthorised love
For one, who (judging by his lengthened silence)
Had ceased to think of me.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                      No more! no more!
Thy words are like swift arrows to my soul.
Leave all recrimination! What is done
Is done. Eternity will not undo it.
                               (MORGAN LE FAY appears in the background, listening.)
And is it then a crime to love thee, Gwenever?
And shall the past be void of memories,
The future without hope? Will it be sin,
To bear thy image ever as of old
In my heart's core, to worship thy sweet looks,
Wait on thy footsteps, kiss the hallowed ground
Where thou hast lingered, dream of thee in sleep,
And wake to bless thy name? O dearest love!
I'd freely shed my life-blood, drop by drop,
To save thee from a pang -- but never think,
That I can gaze on thee as I do now,
And yet feel nothing here!

                           GWENEVER.

                            Alas for me!
Alas for both of us! I will not feign
To marvel at these words. I too am weak;
And, being a woman, it were doubly strange,
If I could wish thee to forget so soon
All that once made us happy. 'Twas the hope
Of living in thy memory some few years,
That led me to explain the doubtful past:
But for the future -- Launcelot! -- gentle friend!
I am a wife -- the king, thy master's wife --
And may not, must not hear of love.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

              O misery!

                           GWENEVER.

If thou couldst do me a great service, Launcelot,
Wouldst thou refuse me for the dread of toil,
Or sacrifice, or danger?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                              I refuse thee?
Not if it cost a world!

                           GWENEVER.

                            I ask not much;
Yet more than I have any right to claim,
Save from thy pity. Leave us for awhile --
Quit Arthur's court -- get thee to thy own lands,
Or seek adventures on a foreign shore --
But come not here again, till time has healed
The wounds that now bleed fresh!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            Mine must bleed on!

                           GWENEVER.

Not always -- for the peace of a good conscience
Will be thy balm. Let's bear our destiny
With patience: we shall have no guilt to bear.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

I will obey thee. Though the strife be hard,
The victory shall be won. To-morrow sees me
Far from this palace -- far from these haunted bowers --
Far from the dangerous witchcraft of thy presence.
This interview . . . .

                           GWENEVER.

                            Shall be our last.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            Thou hast said it.
Farewell! farewell! May blessings fall like dew
Upon thy head; may heaven's bright angels guard thee,
And holiest thoughts make music in thy soul!
Reach me the hand I ne'er may clasp again;
Let me for one brief moment hold it fast,
And press it thus to my love-fevered lips!
Here, on the brink of parting, this at least
May be permitted me!
(DAGONET leaps over some bushes, and comes dancing up the stage. MORGAN LE FAY stops him, and points to GWENEVER and SIR LAUNCELOT. He makes various grimaces, and retires with marks of astonishment.)


           GWENEVER (disengaging herself.)

Enough, dear friend! The worst is over now.
Depart while it is time! As thou art merciful,
Prolong not this dread anguish!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            I have done.
But who shall say, that we have seen the worst?
A black foreboding weighs upon my spirits,
And will not thence. O 'tis most horrible,
If life have keener agonies yet in store
To pierce our souls withal!

                           GWENEVER.

                            Do what is right;
And, for the rest, leave it to heaven's high wisdom!
Go -- I conjure thee, go!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            Farewell to love!
And, love being gone, farewell to hope and fear!
When I have passed yon portals, think of me
As of the dead! -- Henceforth my heart is stone.        (Exit.)

                           GWENEVER.

Would I were sleeping at my mother's side
In that low bed where none feel grief or pain!
Is he not lost for ever?

               MORGAN LE FAY (advancing.)

                            How now, madam?
I thought to find Sir Launcelot here.

                           GWENEVER.

                                                      Anon,
Thou shalt know all; but leave me for an hour
To my sad self! -- Let me go in, and weep!        (Exit.)

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

I know enough already for my purpose --
Too much for thee, thou fond and credulous fair,
Whom I could pity, had I space to think
Of aught save vengeance! -- Now, within my brain,
The nets are spun, that shall enmesh my foes,
And make all sure. What though some blood be shed,
Some frail hearts broken -- I have sworn to do it,
And will not turn aside for that poor weakness
Which drivellers call humanity!

                       Enter MORDRED.

                                    Ha, Mordred!
Thou couldst not find me at a better time,
For I have much to tell.

                            MORDRED.

                                          What then has happened?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Walk with me to the palace! I will teach thee
All that thou hast to do. Mark well my words --
See thou observe them duly, point by point,
Even to the letter -- and the day is ours!        (Exeunt.)

----------

SCENE II. -- The King's Closet.

Enter KING ARTHUR, SIR GAWIN, SIR GARETH, and SIR GAHERIS.

         KING ARTHUR. (delivering a scroll.)

These are the plans, which I have new-devised
For Britain's peace; and to your long-tried faith,
My gallant nephews, I commit the charge
Of seeing my will obeyed when I am gone.
If the loved partner of my crown and state
Bring me no children, Mordred will succeed
To all my honours; but if haply fortune
Should bless me with an heir in my old age,
I still make such provision for my first-born
As doth beseem his rank.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                                 A generous policy!

                         KING ARTHUR.

Bare justice, Gawin! Is he not my son?
Besides, I owe him payment for the wrong
I did his mother, and for his own rough usage,
While yet a child. Most men have erred at some time;
But well, methinks, it fits our riper years
To cancel debts contracted long ago,
And, where we can, to offer an atonement
For the wild sins of youth.        (A loud knocking at the door.)
                            What means that noise?

              SIR GARETH (going to the door.)

Who dares intrude on the king's privacy?

                     DAGONET (entering.)

One that is privileged by ancient custom.
What were a council of state without a fool?

                         KING ARTHUR.

Nay, counsellors should be wise.

                            DAGONET.

                             In fairy-land:
But, in this world, a fool is worth the hearing,
For he has many brethren.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                              Well, sage Dagonet!
What counsel wouldst thou give?

                            DAGONET.

                              Doubt your own eyes,
And ne'er believe the eyes of other men!

                         KING ARTHUR.

Why should we so?

                            DAGONET.

                      Because you then may sleep
Free from the nightmare, and enjoy sweet dreams.

                         KING ARTHUR.

Now, by Saint Paul, thy riddles are too profound
For us to fathom.

                            DAGONET.

                     Shallow -- exceeding shallow!
As, for example, should any tell your highness,
That our coy queen (the pattern of her sex,
Demure and shamefaced as a cloistered nun)
Who blushes at the cuckoo's idle talk,
And chides the breeze, for being over-bold
To wanton with her drapery -- that even she
Has known the hour, when all her bosom's ice,
Thawing beneath a youthful lover's glance,
Would hardly cool a kiss -- that some have seen her
(The delicate princess, too refined for earth!)
Listening with downcast eye, and burning cheek,
To such avowals, as Joan the pretty milkmaid
Might hear from Hodge the miller -- take my counsel,
And ne'er believe the tale!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                      In faith, I would not
For twice my kingdom's worth. And mark me, sirrah!
I have given thy tongue some licence, and must bear
With the dull trifling, that becomes thy office;
But henceforth learn to vent thy ribaldry
On fitter subjects than the stainless honour
Of Arthur's wedded wife!

                            DAGONET.

                     My Lord, I am dumb.
Shall I go doff this motley coat, and buy
A courtier's mask?

                         KING ARTHUR.

                     No, keep thy coxcomb, fool;
But wear it with discretion!

                       Enter MORDRED.

                                                   What brings Mordred
In such apparent haste?

                            MORDRED.

                       I have to entreat
A private audience of my royal father.
You will forgive me, gentlemen? My business
Admits of no delay.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                     We do but wait
For the king's pleasure.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                     It is well, my friends!
You may retire. When I've despatched this youngster,
I'll send for you again.
                               (Exeunt all but KING ARTHUR and MORDRED.)
                     Now for thy suit!

                            MORDRED.

Alas, my lord! the suit regards thyself.
Prepare for heavy tidings, my dread liege!
If that which I must speak (woe worth the day!)
Did not concern thy safety, honour, peace,
My tongue should rather cleave unto my mouth
Than I would utter it.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                     A black beginning!
But I am too old a warrior, to be scared
By sound of trumpet. Leave all flourishes,
And to the point!

                            MORDRED.

                     Treason is ever hateful;
But even this hath its degrees of foulness.
Bad in a common subject, 'tis more vile
In one of noble breeding -- baser yet
In servants we have trusted -- but most hideous
In friends we have dearly loved!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                     What dost thou mean?
Tell me forthwith, and let me know the worst!

                            MORDRED.

Recall to memory, how the queen did swoon
Upon her wedding-day: canst guess the cause?

                         KING ARTHUR.

Simple enough, methinks. A natural weakness,
Born of sweet maiden-fears.

                            MORDRED.

                     No, my good lord!
It was the sight of Launcelot of the Lake,
That brought her pale and drooping to the ground,
Like a crushed lily.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                     What was he to her?

                            MORDRED.

What? -- why, the chosen idol of her youth --
Her own betrothed.



                         KING ARTHUR.

                      That is impossible!
They ne'er had met.

                            MORDRED.

              Too often they had met.
Under a borrowed name, the knight had sojourned
Many a long month in her old father's court.

                         KING ARTHUR.

It cannot be -- and yet -- this would explain,
Why she has since appeared to shun the presence
Of him, who is admired and sought by all.

                            MORDRED.

It would explain a marvel yet more strange --
Why they have met in secret.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                       Mordred! Mordred!
Beware thou speak not false!

                            MORDRED.

                      In this I speak
What even thy jester would confirm, who saw them
Alone in the garden, not an hour ago.

                         KING ARTHUR.

Ha! it was then no mad buffoonery?
He had a meaning in his words.

                            MORDRED.

                     My father!
I have not told the worst. Now, whilst we talk,
A plot is hatching, dark as hell itself,
Against thy happiness. Ere another dawn,
The trusty Launcelot flies from this abode,
And the queen with him.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                      I will not believe it!
I know thee, Mordred! Thou dost envy virtues,
That soar above thy reach; wouldst pluck their wings,
And rob them of their glory. But beware!
Thou treadest upon hot steel.

                            MORDRED.

                     Mine be the risk!
I do not ask thee to confide in me,
But in thy proper sense. If I should fail,
This very night, to prove whate'er I've said,
Let thy just vengeance blot me from the earth
As a convicted slanderer!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                      Be it so!
And by the splendours of my crown I swear,
That, if thou lose in this most perilous game,
Thou shalt not draw the stake. Woe unto thee,
If thou have played me false! -- If thou speak truth,
Woe unto all the house!

                            MORDRED.

                     I am content
To run the hazard both of fame and life,
To guard thee from foul treason; but, my lord,
I have a right, methinks, to challenge help
In probing this deep wound. Order thy horse,
Take with thee but a few of thy best friends,
And be it known to all who eat thy bread,
That thou wilt not come back from a long ride
Till far in the night: when thou hast left the town,
Return as quickly and as secretly
As darkness creeps on day. Watch close by the palace,
And mark what passes: I will do the rest.

                         KING ARTHUR.

Mordred! thou art my son. Pause, ere thou strike
A dagger to my heart!

                            MORDRED.

                     To save thy honour
Is a son's duty. What wouldst thou have more?        (Exeunt.)

----------

SCENE III. -- A Street in Camelot. Evening.

Enter SIR LAUNCELOT and SIR BORS.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

No, cousin! I have neither strength nor calmness
To bid the king farewell. Thine be the charge,
To give some fitting reason for my absence.
At midnight, when all eyes are closed in sleep,
I shall depart alone.

                            SIR BORS.

                                     To Joyous Gard?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Ah, no! my castle now would seem too sad.
I go beyond the sea.

                            SIR BORS.

                           Then hear me, Launcelot!
It may be long before we meet again:
We must not sever thus. Ride forth alone,
If so thy humour lead; but, ere thou sail
Upon the bosom of the salt sea-wave,
Let me, and others who have loved thee well,
Be privileged to grasp thy hand once more
In token of old friendship!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                      Yes! I promise thee.
Name thou the place, dear cousin!

                            SIR BORS.

                      Dost remember
The oak-tree in the forest, where so oft
We have stretched our limbs beneath the ample shade,
When weary from the chase? At noon to-morrow,
I will be there with our most valued friends,
To pledge thee in a parting cup.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                           Agreed!
I will not fail thee.

                            SIR BORS.

                              Until then, adieu!
I see thou wouldst prefer a silent walk,
And will not fret thee with my company.                   (Exit.)

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

O thou! stern mother of all heroic deeds,
Imperious Duty! thou, who canst teach proud man
To bend submissive to thy changeless law,
And, in the spirit of self-sacrifice,
Renounce even life itself -- do thou sustain
My fainting steps, and guide me in the path,
Which, rugged though it be as mountain-crags,
Painful, and steep, and narrow -- yet, in the end,
Leads to the starry mansions of the blest,
Where thou sit'st crowned!

                               Enter MORGAN LE FAY.

                              But, for the false god Love,
What can he give save wreaths of poisoned flowers,
Which fill the brain with an effeminate languor,
And perish in their prime?

             MORGAN LE FAY (approaching.)

                              Sir Launcelot! hist!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Who calls? What wouldst thou?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                            We have met before,
And thou shouldst know my voice. I come from the queen.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

From her! -- That word makes me a helpless child,
And I could weep for longing. Bear with me!

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

She fain would learn if thou depart to-night.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

So have I purposed.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                              Then she bids me say,
That she has yet a parting boon to ask,
Which she forgot erewhile.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                              Speak! it is granted.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

She will reveal it to thyself alone.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

O heavens! I shall again behold her face!
But when and where?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                      Presently, in her chamber.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

How can this be?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                              Follow me to the palace!
I'll show thee a safe nook, where thou mayst lie
Hid from the telltale moon. When all is hushed,
Wait for the signal of a white rose falling;
Then boldly issue forth. A tiny ladder
(Such as the sailor climbs the mast withal)
Will be hung ready for thy use: mount quickly
Unto the open casement just above thee,
And take thy fortune!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                        Have I heard aright?
Can she have ventured on so rash a course?
Yet wherefore rash? Innocence guards her round
By night as day, and in her private chamber
As in the court. Besides, she may well trust
A subject's fealty, and a soldier's honour.
Why do I pause? Whether as queen or woman,
She claims the tribute of my utmost service,
And may command me as she will. I am ready.
Which is the nearest way?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                              Come! we lose time. (Exeunt.)

----------

SCENE IV. -- The Queen's Bed-Chamber. Moonlight.

               Enter GWENEVER and LADIES.

                           GWENEVER.

Has the king left the town?

                                LADY.

                             I think so, madam:
He rode forth about sunset.

                           GWENEVER.

                            Gentle girls!
You may go laugh and chatter by yourselves.
I shall not need your help.

                                LADY.

                             Permit us, madam,
If not to disrobe, at least to bear thee company,
And, when thou hast laid thy head upon the pillow,
To read or sing thee into sleep.

                           GWENEVER.

                              I thank you:
But I would rather be alone. Good night!

                                LADY.

Shall we fetch tapers?

                           GWENEVER.

                             No! the lamp of heaven
Is burning up above. Good night to all!

                                LADY.

May pleasant dreams attend upon the slumbers
Of our dear mistress!                               (Exeunt LADIES.)

                           GWENEVER.

                              Dreams! I have done with dreams.
Too long I followed in their shadowy track,
And saw them still escape my outstretched hands:
Now the dull truth is ever at my side,
In all its huge monotony of gloom,
And leaves no space for fancy.

                               Enter MORGAN LE FAY.

                               Ha! is it thou?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

I met thy troop of damsels on the stair,
Retiring from the presence of their queen;
So came to say good night.

                           GWENEVER.

                            Good night, sweet friend!
I have no heart to talk.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                          Thy room feels warm.
I will set wide yon casement, that the breath
Of Zephyr, laden with odours and bright dew,
May haply fan thy pale cheek into freshness,
And make it bloom again.
                               (She goes to the window, opens it, and drops out a white rose.)
                            Thou wouldst have me gone?
'Tis well! -- To-morrow we can talk at leisure.
Why should I keep thee form that needful rest,
Which is the medicine of the soul?
             (Aside.)             Poor dupe!
Thou art in the snare -- thou art limed!                        (Exit.)

                           GWENEVER.

                              Have I grown selfish?
Or lacked I power to thank this lady's kindness?
Well! sorrow best agrees with solitude;
I will make fast my door -- and then to bed!
Silence at least is there -- and sleep may come.
(As she goes to the door, SIR LAUNCELOT appears at the open window. In returning she perceives him, and utters a faint shriek.)


                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Hush! it is I.

                           GWENEVER.

                            O madness!

               SIR LAUNCELOT (entering.)

                               Be not frightened!
Have I not answered to my true love's call?
Bid me draw near!

                           GWENEVER.

                             What dreadful mockery's this?

               SIR LAUNCELOT (advancing.)

Nay, shrink not from me with so wild a gaze!
See! I am at thy feet!

                           GWENEVER.

                            Imprudent! Cruel!
Was this thy promised faith?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                         What have I done?

                           GWENEVER.

What! -- is it nothing then to put in jeopardy
A woman's honour -- nothing, at dead of night,
To break upon her privacy, and give
Her name to every slanderous, ribald tongue,
To bruise and mangle?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                           Didst thou not send for me?

                           GWENEVER.

Send for thee!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                      Yes! and leave thy casement open,
Place the rope-ladder ready for my steps,
Fling down the rose?

                           GWENEVER.

                           Alas! we are both beguiled.
I never sent for thee. O gentle Launcelot!
Some wicked plot is laid against our lives.
If thou didst ever love me, prove it now!
Fly! Save thyself and me!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                    Dearest and best!
Forgive me, if I wronged thee for a moment
Even by a thought!

                           GWENEVER.

                                     All is forgiven -- all:
But from delay worse mischief may ensue.
Haste to the window! Fly!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                        The ladder's gone!

                           GWENEVER.

Then we are lost!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                    No! I may yet leap down.

                           GWENEVER.

Thou wouldst be dashed to pieces: and see there!
Dark figures glide across the silvery lawn,
To hem the fugitive.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                      Once on the ground,
My sword should cleave a passage.

                           GWENEVER.

                                    No, in heaven's name!
It were to add the crimson hue of blood
To the foul scandal. Rather try the door!
It is our only chance.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                     Be not dismayed!
No power on earth shall harm thee.

                           GWENEVER.

                                                 Save thyself!
It is thy presence, which endangers all.
Lose not another instant!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                     Now for the proof!
(He unfastens the door, which immediately flies open; and, as SIR LAUNCELOT steps back, enter KING ARTHUR, SIR GAWIN, SIR GARETH, and SIR GAHERIS, with knights and attendants, bearing drawn swords and torches. They range themselves in silence, KING ARTHUR and SIR LAUNCELOT confronting each other.)


                         KING ARTHUR.

We are well met.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                 Well it may be, or ill,
As thou shalt judge the cause. To thee, O king!
I look for righteous dealing. A base trap
Has here been laid -- a base and cowardly trap --
To insnare a soldier's unsuspecting frankness,
And, by the same vile means, to impeach the virtue
Of a most innocent lady.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                Leave this tone!
It will not serve thy purpose. All is clear --
Too clear and palpable. But, O false traitor!
Thou, whom I loved and trusted as a son --
What words can speak thy guilt?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                    I am no traitor:
Did any but your highness call me so,
Back to his throat I'd fling the atrocious lie,
To choke the slave withal!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                     Enough of this;
What boots vain talk, where evil deeds abound?
Seize on that wretched woman and her paramour!
Away with them to prison!

                SIR LAUNCELOT (drawing.)

                             Stand back, all of you!
He, that holds dear his life, come not too nigh!
It might be dangerous.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                       Does he dare resist?
Cut down the rebel!

                            SIR GAWIN.

                                 Good my lord, be ruled!
Sir Launcelot may have fair and honest reasons,
To justify his boldness.
            (Aside.)         And remember,
That he stands foremost in the ranks of knighthood,
Has powerful friends, lives in the people's heart,
And that to slay him rashly were to kindle
The flames of civil war.

                           SIR GARETH.

                                    I'll be his bond,
That, if we let him now depart in peace,
He will be ready, upon lawful summons,
To answer all accusers.

                           SIR GAHERIS.

                                 In that pledge
I too will join.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                               How can you trust this man?
He has betrayed his sovereign: why not you,
That never showed him such fond marks of love?
But be it as you will! -- Let him go forth,
And rid our halls of his infectious presence,
Until the day of trial.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                              What! and leave
The queen to be your victim? Kill me first!
I have but one man's arm; yet, ere you lay
A feather's weight upon that royal head,
Some blood will flow.

                           GWENEVER.

                                   Sir Launcelot of the Lake!
I have not stooped to vindicate my virtue
In the sight of grooms and pages; yet be sure,
I feel no touch of fear. My innocence
Will be my best protection. Sheathe thy sword!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Not till I know thee safe.

                           GWENEVER.

                                 Safe I must be,
When the dark threads of this nefarious plot
Shall be unravelled; but for thee to fight
In my behalf, would straight confirm suspicions,
That are most false. If thou regard my honour,
My present freedom, or my future peace,
I charge thee once again, put up thy sword
And go! -- Here is my judge and my defender,
My king and husband!
                               (She crosses to KING ARTHUR.)

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                Since thou wilt have it so,
Back to the scabbard I return my steel;
And, with unwilling heart, I leave thee now
Where pits are dug for the unwary feet
Of goodness, that walks blindfold. If the truth
Can make itself be heard, all will be well:
But, should injustice weigh the balance down,
Blame me not, if I throw this iron argument
Into the scale -- and may heaven guard the right!       (Exit.)

                         KING ARTHUR.

Methinks, we have borne with an ignoble meekness
To be outbraved and bearded in our palace;
But patience now gives way. See it proclaimed,
That Launcelot of the Lake henceforth is banished
On pain of death: he shall not come to challenge
Impunity for his crimes by deeds of arms.
For thee, thou false one . . .

                   GWENEVER (kneeling.)

                          Hear me, gracious lord!
If thus I kneel, 'tis not to beg for mercy:
Innocence begs no mercy save of heaven,
Against whom all have sinned. At mortal hands,
I do but ask for justice!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                             Thou shalt have it.
To-morrow let the knights of the round table,
Convened in solemn chapter, try this cause,
And (at the peril of their sacred honour)
Absolve thee or condemn. Freed by their voice,
I will receive thee back into my bosom:
Found guilty -- by the virtue of each oath,
That binds the conscience of a king -- thou diest!

END OF THE SECOND ACT.

----------

ACT III.


SCENE I. -- A Gallery in the Palace, with folding doors.

Enter DAGONET.

                            DAGONET.

Heigh-ho! methinks, that fooling's out of fashion.
Loyalty now is proved by length of visage,
To laugh is treason, and it were as safe
To plan a murder as devise a jest.
Well! we have had enough to spoil our mirth:
Sir Lancelot banished -- all his kin departed
In mighty dudgeon -- the queen brought to trial,
And like to be condemned -- why, here is matter,
That would draw tears from a millstone. As for me,
I could turn chorister, and sing psalms for spite.
O what a mooncalf's man! -- Here's an old king,
Who weds a maid just fitted for his daughter,
Wondering, that she should go the way of her sex!
And every wanton, eager for the sin,
Lifts up her hands in scorn of such a sinner;
And every bearded, filthy, goatish villain
Cries: Out upon her! shame! she ought to die.
Poor queen! I fain would save her -- and so cross
The scent of that dull, misbegotten whelp,
Mordred, who never smiled at my best stories,
And now, forgetful of his mother's doings,
Rails at his father's wife. So runs the world!
So knaves conspire -- but, when they dream it not,
A fool steps in, and haply mars the lot!                   (Exit.)

                               Enter KING ARTHUR and attendants.

                         KING ARTHUR.

Place me a seat!

                                 PAGE.

                             Within the hall, my lord?

                         KING ARTHUR.

No, here in the open gallery. Come what may,
I will not trouble the smooth stream of justice,
Even by a look. Here will I wait the issue
Of this high cause.                                        (Page fetches a chair.)
                          Would that I knew the sentence!
Yet how can it avail me? Human judgments
Will not bring back our vanished peace and love.
The goodly fellowship of the round table
Is gone for ever -- the old, trusting faith
In knightly virtue. Henceforth we shall be
Suspicious men -- suspicious of ourselves,
And of all others -- cautious, cold, unhappy;
For, to the generous nature, doubt is pain!
                               (As the king seats himself, enter MORGAN LE FAY by the folding-doors.)
Who is yon lady?

                                 PAGE.

                                'Tis the Scottish dame,
That waited on the queen.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                              Go! call her hither!

                                 PAGE.

Madam, the king has sent for thee.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                             I come.
What wills my lord?

                         KING ARTHUR.

                              Art thou not from the hall?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

I have been there as witness, to perform
A stern, harsh duty -- to speak fatal truth
Of one, that sheltered me in my distress,
And loved me well.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                    Why, then the worst is told!
Thou hast confirmed the story of her guilt.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Alas, my lord! women were ever frail.

                         KING ARTHUR.

Heaven help her! -- she must die.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                                  So says the law:
And custom has decreed, that once to fall --
But once -- is for a woman to be lost
Beyond the reach of hope, beyond redemption,
Like the rebellious angels.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                  That is true.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

But man, my lord, is not so strictly bound.
He may sin often, boldly -- take his fill
Of lawless love -- trample on broken vows,
And broken hearts -- yet bear his head as high
As though he were a god. They taught me this,
When I was young: was it not so, my lord,
In thy rank days of youth?

                         KING ARTHUR.

                           What may this mean?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Simply, that men are strong, and women weak;
No more. Yet time, and fate, and circumstance
Are stronger still: and so it doth betide,
That he, who whilom fleshed his ravenous tooth
On maiden-hearts, from a light, female hand
Receives the death-wound of his household peace.
Oft does the wife avenge the virgin's wrong,
And the false lover find as false a spouse.
But I offend . . . Forgive me, gracious king!
I draw my bow at random; if the shaft
Should haply graze thy bosom . . .

                         KING ARTHUR.

                               Stop there, lady!
We may not brook this trifling with a sorrow,
Which should at least command respect. Enough!
Thou mayst retire till sent for.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                                          I obey --
But never did I trifle less than now!                   (Exit.)

                         KING ARTHUR.

There was a covert sense in her strange words;
And, as I listened, time rolled back its course,
To make me feel most like a truant boy,
That hangs his head for shame. How may this be?
Who is the woman, that could o'erbear me thus?
But no! it is the weakness of my spirits,
Born of grief, that has done more to shake
My bodily strength, than all the toil and care
Of kingdoms ruled, or battles fought and won!
(Enter, from the hall, the queen guarded as a prisoner, with MORDRED following. She reamins standing at the further end of the gallery, whilst MORDRED approaches the king.)


                            MORDRED.

Yet a few moments, my much-honoured father,
And all will be decided. There within,
The accuser and the culprit both being gone,
The judges now deliberate. I have given
Such heed to the business, and sustained my charge
With such variety and weight of proof,
That no man doubts the issue.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                      But the queen
Made some defence?

                            MORDRED.

                               She stood as she stands there --
Pale, calm, and proud -- to stubborn facts opposing
The solemn protest of her innocence:
And all at first were moved in her behalf,
And still Sir Gawin urged her to demand
The trial by combat. Firmly she replied,
That, in her quarrel, blood should not be shed,
And that she trusted to the force of truth.
By such devices she had almost won
The judges to her side -- when there appeared
A witness, that confounded her deep guile.
This was a lady . . . But hark! the stifled murmur
Of many voices -- they have pronounced her doom!
(The doors fly open, discovering the hall of the round table, with the knights sitting in judgment. SIR KAY advances into the gallery, followed by SIR GAWIN, SIR GARETH, and SIR GAHERIS.)


                              SIR KAY.

Gwenever, queen of Britain! late accused
Of secret, black, and most flagitious reason
Against thy royal husband -- in the name
Of our august assembly, unto thee,
And all whom it concerns, I come to speak
Our final sentence.

                           GWENEVER.

                                  Noble seneschal,
Do as thy duty bids! -- I am prepared.

                              SIR KAY.

Methinks, that one is present, who might choose
To make void our proceedings.

                  KING ARTHUR. (rising.)

                                     No, Sir Kay!
Being myself a party in the cause,
I have committed all things to the judgment
Of thee and thy brave peers. Be it life or death,
Whatever you decree, that I confirm,
So help me heaven!

                              SIR KAY.

                                      Worse woe to us and thee!
For, in discharge of this our sacred trust,
We do pronounce the lady Gwenever
Guilty of treason; and, as wills the law,
We sentence her to perish at the stake
By torturing fire; and further we ordain,
That these three noble brethren (as of rank
Nearest approaching to the criminal)
See execution done. There ends my office!
May ne'er again such mournful task be mine!
                               (He retires into the hall, and the doors close upon him.)

                           GWENEVER.

Why do ye pause? why bend your eyes on the earth?
Have ye not listened to the words of doom,
That sounded like a mockery of heaven's justice?
Or does your manhood shrink from the bare thought
Of what a feeble woman must yet endure?
It is indeed a horrible thing, to die
In lengthened agony -- to gasp out vain prayers
Amid the serpent-writhings of hot flames,
Sharp as the whips of hell -- but there, even there,
Methinks, my innocence will uphold me still,
To the last mortal pang!
                                     My honoured lord!
My much-deceived, but not less honoured lord!
Though thou mayst now avert thy face from me
In silent scorn, as from a wretch accurst --
The day will come, when thy repentant tears,
Blotting the record of my hapless fate,
Shall give me back my fame. O then remember,
That I did ne'er reproach thee, knowing well
Thou wast thyself betrayed!
                                   For thee, Prince Mordred!
When thou shalt think of her, who never wronged thee,
But whom thou didst pursue with fiendish malice,
Even to the death -- believe, that she forgave thee,
And spare at least her memory!

                            MORDRED.

                                  If to speak
Only the truth . . .

                         KING ARTHUR.

                             Nay, Mordred -- not a word!
Why should we add to this hour's bitterness
By vain reiteration of the past?
Come thou with me, my son -- my dear, dear son!
I have none other to console me now.
                               (Exeunt KING ARTHUR, MORDRED, and Attendants.)

                           GWENEVER.

He's gone -- without a look or sign of mercy --
And all is over. Nothing is left for me,
But speedy death. Why do we linger, gentlemen?

                            SIR GAWIN.

Whate'er my brothers do, I am resolved,
That I will be no party to this business.

                           SIR GARETH.

Remember thy allegiance!

                            SIR GAWIN.

                                     Out upon it!
I am a soldier, and no executioner.
Were I to aid in this most bloody butchery,
I ne'er should know a quiet moment more:
But they shall hack the gold spurs from my heel,
And bid the common hangman break my sword,
Ere I will do it. I may not help thee, madam;
But neither will I harm thee, for the favour
Of any prince on earth!                          (Exit.)

                           SIR GAHERIS.

                                        What shall we do?

                           SIR GARETH.

Brother! we cannot choose but keep our oath
Of fealty and obedience. Though sore-tempted,
We may not, like Sir Gawin, set aside
All obligations both as knights and subjects,
Out of a tender pity. Pardon us, madam!
We must fulfil our mission.

                           GWENEVER.

                                  It is well!
What more remains?

                           SIR GARETH.

                                Upon ourselves we take,
To give thee some brief span of needful time
For solemn shrift, and ghostly comforting,
That, houselled and absolved, thy rescued soul
May wing its upward flight.

                           GWENEVER.

                             Yes! to heaven's throne,
Seeking the justice men denied me here.

                           SIR GARETH.

Think of repentance! -- Guards, attend your prisoner!
We will go fetch a priest.

                           GWENEVER.

                                 I shall be ready.
How soon I care not!                (Exeunt.)

----------

SCENE II. -- A Forest Glade.

Enter SIR LAUNCELOT.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Here is the place -- here is the spreading oak;
High noon is past. Will my friends fail me now?
They would have come thus far to say farewell,
If but an idle jaunt, or summer pilgrimage,
Or knightly feat of arms, had called me hence:
But will they do this kindness for an outlaw --
A banished man, black with the stain of treason?
Alas! that one dark rumour should efface
The memory of a life, cancelling whole years
Of bright, unblemished honour; that false tongues,
Aided by circumstance, should have the power
To rend the glorious panoply of truth,
And stab the faithful bosom! -- O 'tis hard,
To have struggled with the tempter, and subdued
Temptation -- yet to bear as deep a brand,
As that, which marked the first-born murderer's guilt,
Here, on this burning brow! -- Still -- better thus,
Than to be guilty of the imputed crime,
And so deserve my fate!
                                  But where is Gwenever?
May she not be exposed to bitter wrongs,
Harsh usage, open shame, or violent death --
And all through my impudence, my credulity --
And I in the far, green wood, where not a sound
Can reach me from the court? O dread uncertainty!
O torture of suspense! -- But no! they dare not --
They dare not, for the wealth of Arthur's kingdom,
Lay hands upon her beauty!          (A horn sounded.)
                                  Hark to the horn!
That is my cousin's cheerful hunting-note,
Which often I have heard, at break of day,
Ringing melodious through the startled trees.
My brave Sir Bors! methought, he would not fail me!
What ho! hilloa! I am here.

                               Enter SIR BORS, SIR HECTOR, and other knights.

                            SIR BORS.

                                     Well met, old comrade!
See! I have brought a goodly company,
To taste thy forest-fare.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                      Now welcome all!
Welcome to these green shades, where honest men
May still draw breath in freedom! -- But first tell me --
What news of the queen?

                            SIR BORS.

                                  She was to take her trial
Before us knights: but we refused to sanction
A process, which involved thy dearest honour,
Thou being absent.

                           SIR HECTOR.

                                      So we left our fellows
To play the part assigned them in the chapter,
And came to thee in the wood.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                     Thanks for the choice!
Ye do not then believe that monstrous tale,
Which they have forged against me?

                            SIR BORS.

                                  We do not!
But, if we did, is this a time to weigh
Questions of right and wrong, with judgment cool,
Or nice discrimination? Here is he,
Whom we all know and love -- our friend and kinsman --
Our chosen leader in a hundred fights --
Whose faith we have proved -- accused, reviled, and banished,
On mere suspicion. Shall we desert him now,
And, like base hirelings, leave our fallen chief
'Mid the hot strife, for foes to trample on?
Or shall we, like true liegemen, gather round,
Venturing our bodies, our blood, and our fair name,
In his defence? What would your answer be
To such a doubt?

                           SIR HECTOR.

                                 We'd answer with cold steel!
How say you, friends?

                                 ALL.

                                 We'll live and die with Lancelot!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Some love I looked for at your gentle hands,
But this devotion doth exceed all hope.
Take my poor thanks! -- I have nought else to give,
And must remain your debtor.

                           SIR HECTOR.

                                    Thou shalt thank us,
When we have planted thy victorious banner
Upon the walls of Camelot!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                   No, my friend!
It were a grievous and a frightful curse
To raise rebellion in a peaceful land,
Sweeping the golden harvests from the soil,
And watering our own fields with native blood.
I will not be the first to move a step
In such a war. My only aim is justice,
Not black revenge -- defence, not victory.
The queen will doubtless challenge her accuser;
And, when the heralds call her champion forth,
Am I not privileged to uphold her cause
In mortal combat? Then will I ask your aid,
To keep the lists, and guard me from all treachery.
That is a lawful service!

                            SIR BORS.

                                  Count upon us!
In triumph or in death, we shall be thine.
But who comes here?

                               Enter DAGONET.

                            DAGONET.

                                 One, that is tired of chasing
A herd of gentlemen through brake and briar,
With little hope of payment for his pains.
But that I chanced to light upon a troop
Of horses, tethered by the forest-side,
With squires and pages sleeping in the sun,
I ne'er had found you.

                            SIR BORS.

                                Wherefore seek us, fool?

                            DAGONET.

Because I am a fool, and serve my friends.
Ye, that are wise, have left your queen to perish,
Without a helping hand.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                    Ha! Speak! what meanst thou?
Did she not claim the combat?

                            DAGONET.

                                   She refused it --
Is judged, and is condemned.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                   Condemned already!
And what the sentence?

                            DAGONET.

                                 A drier fate than drowning,
Though not the gibbet -- a grim and fiery death.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

When? Where?

                            DAGONET.

                                At Camelot -- and, perchance, this hour.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

O fatal error, to have delayed so long!
To horse! to horse! Mount quickly! Mount and ride!
Away with every scruple, every fear
Of what may come! -- No doubt, no choice remains.
He, that best loves me, will be foremost now,
When life hangs on our speed!             (Exit.)

                            SIR BORS.

                                 Let's follow him, gentlemen!
Ply well the spur -- no matter for the rein --
And foul befall the caitiff, that would stop
Short of the destined goal!                 (Exeunt knights.)

                            DAGONET.

                                    Yes! there they go!
As pretty a headstrong crew of martial mould
As ever made monarch's throne too hot to hold!
Ride, gallants, ride! and you shall see some sport:
But after this, methinks, King Arthur's court
Will be no place for me. What need I care?
Light hearts grow lighter in a change of air.
Is there not room enough beneath the sky
For me to thrive, whilst others kill and die?
Let warriors bleed, let knigdoms rise or fall,
The fool laughs on -- and so outlives them all!           (Exit.)

----------

SCENE III. -- An Open Space, without the walls of Camelot. A stake fixed in the ground, and a pile of fagots. Enter SIR GARETH and SIR GAHERIS, leading the queen to the pile, with priest, executioners, guards and people.

                           SIR GARETH.

Time presses, madam: hast thou no more to say?

                           GWENEVER.

Would that both thou and all the world might hear
My full confession to this reverend priest!
Then wouldst thou clearly see, how a weak woman
May err in many things, and yet be innocent
Of that for which she suffers. When the news
Of my sad fate shall come to my poor father,
O let him know, that I in death maintained
The honour of his blood! -- More than aught else,
I do repent me of my broken faith
To one, who loved me and deserved my love
In other days. There was my great offence!
For this I am justly doomed!

                           SIR GARETH.

                                    Dost thou forgive
The judges, who condemned thee to the stake?

                           SIR GAHERIS.

And us, the unhappy instruments of pain?

                           GWENEVER.

I forgive all. May heaven forgive us too,
And make the laws of each succeeding age
More wise and mild! Methinks a time will come,
When this harsh judgment, and this cruel death,
Will seem too horrid for belief.

                           SIR GARETH.

                                  So be it!
Meanwhile, we must perform our duty.
(Makes a sign to the executioners, who advance, and throw themselves at the feet of GWENEVER. Then rising, they bind her to the stake. The people murmur, and press forward.)


                           SIR GAHERIS.

Guards, keep a circle clear about the pile!
Drive back the throng!

                           GWENEVER.

                          O hurt not these good people!
They do but show their love.

                              PRIEST.

                       In this dread hour,
Withdraw thy mind from every human passion!
Think only of thy soul!
                               (Offers the crucifix. Executioners fetch torches.)

                           GWENEVER.

                            O stay! Not yet!
I am unprepared! I am all unfit to die!
The torches blind me with their wildering glare,
So that I cannot see the saving cross!
It is too fearful, to be hurried thus
From the bright earth. My courage fails me now.
I do revoke the past. I am wronged -- I am guiltless --
I claim the combat!

                           SIR GARETH.
                                
                           Madam, it is too late!

                              PEOPLE.

O shame! O pity!

                           SIR GARETH.

                           Silence the mob there, soldiers!
Let's finish our sad work!

                           GWENEVER.

                            Then am I murdered!
All justice is denied me. Launcelot! Launcelot!
Where art thou in this moment?
(SIR GARETH waves his hand, and averts his face from the pile. The executioners stoop forward with their flaming torches.)


                  PEOPLE (tumultuously.)

                             Hold on your lives! --
Rescue! -- Look there! -- See how they scour the plain! --
Hark to the thunder of their horses' tread! --
They come! they come!

               SIR GAHERIS (to SIR GARETH.)

                            A troop of mounted knights.
They are close at hand.

                           SIR GARETH.

                            There's one before the rest.
How madly does he urge that panting steed!
It falls! He is down!

                           SIR GAHERIS.

                             Yes, but his friends are nigh.
They reach the spot -- light vaulting from their saddles,
They raise their comrade -- he is up again --
He springs away on foot -- they follow fast,
But he outstrips them all. It must be Launcelot,
Or else the devil!

                           GWENEVER.

                            O true and faithful knight!
Thou hast not left me in my need.

                              PEOPLE.

                              Make way for him!
Make way for the champion!

             SIR LAUNCELOT (rushing on.)

                            Where's the queen? Where is she?
I am in time -- thank heaven, I am in time!
(SIR BORS, SIR HECTOR, and the knights, appear on the skirts of the crowd.)


                  SIR GARETH (advancing.)

What would Sir Launcelot here?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            Canst thou dare ask?
What dost thou here -- here, at this work of hell?
Methought, I knew thee for a valiant prince;
Not for a tyrant's minister, to wreak
His vengeance on the best and fairest creature,
That e'er came fresh from paradise, to grace
And beautify the earth. Shame on thee, man!
Hast thou a human heart?

                           SIR GARETH.

                                   I have done my duty.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

And I do mine! -- Here I fling down my glove,
Bidding defiance to thee and all thy kin!
If any say, that yon much-injured lady
Is in aught worthy of disgrace or death,
He is a liar, and on his perjured brow
With his own blood I will inscribe the word,
That damns his fame for ever!

                           SIR GARETH.

                                    No, sir knight!
None will accept thy pledge. Some hours ago,
We had not failed to answer even thee,
Great as thou art in every deed of arms:
But now the time is past for such a trial,
And we have only to fulfil the sentence,
Which the just law pronounced.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                    Talk not of justice!
'Tis to profane heaven's glorious attribute,
To make it thus a cloak for human wrong!
If thou refuse to fight this quarrel out,
Release thy captive -- or let me release her
From those vile bonds!

                 SIR GARETH (opposing him.)

                                    Stand back -- I charge thee, stand!
And, brother -- do thy office!

           SIR GAHERIS (to the executioners.)

                                       Fire the pile!
                               (They set light to the fagots.)

                           GWENEVER.

O mercy! mercy!

               SIR LAUNCELOT (drawing.)

                            Get thee from my path!
Obstinate fool! take then thy merited fate!
                               (Kills him. SIR GAHERIS advances to his aid.)
Thou too! -- Go, join thy brother!
(Kills him also, and springs upon the burning pile. A general tumult. The knights and people cry RESCUE! RESCUE! and fall upon the guards and executioners, whom they drive out. SIR LAUNCELOT cuts the bands, by which GWENEVER is fastened to the stake, and bears her from the midst of the fire.)


                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Look up, dear love! -- Thou art safe -- thou art all unhurt.
See! Launcelot's arm is round thee -- Launcelot's sword
Is drawn in thy defence. They shall not part us!
No law of man shall tear thee from this bosom!
King Arthur did divorce thee, when he gave
Thy body to the flames: now art thou mine --
Mine, rescued from the fire to life and love!
For thee have I shed royal blood -- for thee
I break all ties, treading out ancient memories,
Even as I trampled on those burning brands,
Which did so fright thee! -- Stay! she hears me not --
Her head droops on my shoulder. Come from this place!
The nearest fount will bring the colour back
To this wan cheek -- and then for Joyous Gard,
With the best speed we may!
                               (Exit, with GWENEVER in his arms, followed by the knights.)

END OF THE THIRD ACT.

----------

ACT IV.


SCENE I. -- The Fore-Court of the Palace.

Enter KING ARTHUR, MORDRED, SIR KAY, SIR LUCAN, and SIR BEDIVERE, with knights and soldiers, marching in battle-array.

             KING ARTHUR. (to MORDRED.)

Here must we part, my son! -- Thou goest no further.
To thee I leave the sceptre of my rule,
And bid thee, in my absence, wield it so,
That my poor people may have cause to bless thee.

                            MORDRED.

Would I might rather go with thee, my liege,
To drag the traitor Launcelot from his hold,
And bring him forth to justice!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                    No, my son!
It is a perilous war, on which we enter;
And I will not expose my faithful realm
To the rude chances of a vacant throne.
Has any seen my nephew?

                              SIR KAY.

                                    Since the day,
On which his brothers died, he dwells in solitude,
Nursing a silent grief.

                           SIR LUCAN.

                                   None care to rouse him;
And with good cause, methinks.

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                                    With cause enough!
It were as safe to rouse a wounded lion
From his last refuge.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                Doubtless, he feels remorse.
Had he been present at the fatal spot,
He might have rescued his brave kinsmen. Mordred,
We charge thee to convey to the sad penitent
Our blessing and forgiveness.

                            MORDRED.

                            Nay, my lord!
He'll answer for himself. See where he comes,
Not clad in sackcloth, but arrayed in steel,
And glittering with bright arms!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                            Well, well -- that's better!

                               Enter SIR GAWIN.

Thou art come in time, fair nephew!

                            SIR GAWIN.

                         Royal uncle!
Thou didst not think so harshly of thy blood,
As to believe, that I would fail to join thee,
However I may once have erred! -- Thy quarrel
Is now my own. My brothers' pallid ghosts
Point to their gaping wounds, and shriek for vengeance;
Nor will they rest, till I have found this Launcelot,
And he or I be slain!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                         He was thy friend.
'Tis a hard fortune, which can sever thus
The good, old bonds of love. But death pays all!
Mordred, I bid thee once again farewell
In this embrace. Now let the trumpets sound!
Move onward with your banners! -- Follow me, Gawin!
We have far to go ere night.
                               (Exeunt KING ARTHUR, &c. marching.)

                       MORDRED (alone.)

                            What would I give
To say, that ye should never more return!
Then would a brilliant future rise before me,
And all the past fade like a worthless dream.
Now that I am so near the crown -- so near,
That on the golden circle rests my hand --
I tremble with impatience, and my soul
Sickens at the mere image of delay.
Yet Arthur stands betwixt me and my hope
In the green winter of a vigorous age,
And though, of late, sorrow has touched his heart,
The poison works too slowly for my ends.

                               Enter MORGAN LE FAY.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Hail, king of Britain!

                            MORDRED.

                       Ha! what sayest thou, mother?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

I hailed thee king. Art thou not such, my son?

                            MORDRED.

Thou knowest I am not.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                            Oh, I cry thee mercy!
Methought, thou wast supreme in Camelot.

                            MORDRED.

Ay, till the king returns.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                            And then, belike,
Thou wilt resign all honours without a sigh,
And show thy meek obedience, by attending
Thy father's second bridal; or thou wilt wait
For him to make his testament, and share
The realm with his nephew, or some other friends,
That he shall name!

                            MORDRED.

                            What wouldst thou have me do?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Seize, and hold fast! -- The crown's within thy reach:
Place it upon thy head, and keep it there,
In spite of Arthur and his host!

                            MORDRED.

                                  But how
Can this be done?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                       By strength, by craft, by courage!
Dost thou not know, that Launcelot's banishment,
The queen's late danger, and this civil war,
Have stirred the people up against the king;
And that they only need a prince for leader,
To cast off their allegiance?

                            MORDRED.

                             But those acts,
Which have provoked the rabble to such wrath,
Were chiefly caused by me.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                              Art thou a child?
Or hast thou yet to learn, that popular rage
Strikes at the gilded puppet, and ne'er sees
The hand which pulled the strings? Flatter them, Mordred;
And they'll believe thy innocence!

                            MORDRED.

                            Wilt thou aid me?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

For what else do I live? Is the debt paid?
King Arthur and myself are still uneven.
I have robbed him of his bride, his marriage-honour,
Some of his dearest friends, and many followers --
But these are nothing! -- Short of his crown and life
I may not pause -- for thus I swore of old,
And I have tarried long for my revenge,
Which must be full. Yes, Mordred -- thou art king!
                                                                    (Exeunt.)

----------

SCENE II. -- A Room in the Castle of Joyous Gard.

Enter SIR LAUNCELOT and GWENEVER.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Nay, smile again, sweet love -- or I shall think,
These castle-walls oppress thee with their gloom,
Saddening thy spirit.

                           GWENEVER.

                            How can I be sad?
Art thou not with me?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            There's some truth in that:
We should be all in all to one another --
And yet -- 'twas spoken with a sigh!

                           GWENEVER.

                               Dear Launcelot,
Let not my wayward humour make thee grave!
Shall we have music? Shall I sing to thee,
Or read some old romance?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            If it can cheer thee;
But, for myself -- to sit whole hours in silence,
Gazing into the depths of thy soft eyes --
To hold thy tremulous hand in mine -- to draw thee
Closer and closer, till thy warm breath steals
Over my cheek -- to rest upon that bosom,
And feel each movement of thy throbbing heart --
Is more than all the music in the world,
Sweeter than song, and doth beget such happiness,
That, could it last, earth would be changed to heaven,
And nothing left to wish for!

                           GWENEVER.

                               Could it last!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Why wilt thou echo those unlucky words,
Pronounced without design? Let the to-morrow
Care for itself: we will enjoy to-day!
Does not our converse oft remind thee, dearest,
Of the old times, when first we met in secret,
And ne'er could talk enough?

                           GWENEVER.

                             Yes -- in a manner!
But, ah! the difference is more striking still:
For, in those days, where was the human love
So innocent as ours?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                             True, true, my girl!
We have fallen from that pure state -- we have deeply sinned.
Worse woe to the cruel fiends, that tempted us
Beyond our strength! -- What we must pay hereafter
For joy's brief term, I know not -- only this --
That, for thy sake, I'd gladly bear it all!

                           GWENEVER.

O thou hast borne too much for me already!
Am I not most ungrateful, to disturb thee
With my regrets?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                             I'd wish to see thee happy:
But, if that cannot be, I'd have a share
In all thy sorrows. 'Tis my privilege,
And I will not forego it!

                               Enter SERVANT.

                              What news, good fellow?

                            SERVANT.

A messenger has just arrived from Cameliard,
With letters for my lady.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                          Take them, Gwenever!
And, fellow, see thou entertain this post
In the hall below!                                          (Exit Servant.)
                             There's something in those lines,
That makes thee grow white as the paper. Tell me!
What has befallen?

                           GWENEVER.

                     Alas! my poor, old father!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Not dead?

                           GWENEVER.

                            Yes, dead -- and all through me!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                             Nay, dearest;
Do not reproach thyself with time's slow work!
He was an aged man.

                           GWENEVER.

                            Yet might have lived
These many years -- was hale as the fresh autumn --
But hearing of a daughter's infamy
Broke his strong heart!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                     We'll hope, it was not so:
And, at worst, we rather need to envy
Than mourn for those who die. He's safe in port,
Whilst we are tost upon a stormy sea
Of grief and passion. Still, my love, weep on,
If tears can soothe thee!

                           GWENEVER.

                            In a little while,
I shall again be mistress of myself;
But, for the present, spare me! -- I would commune
With my own thoughts.                                     (going.)

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                             May every pitying spirit,
And all kind nature's healing influences,
Be with thee in thy trouble! -- Yet one kiss,
Before thou goest.

                 GWENEVER (shuddering.)

                            Dost thou not fear and hate
The guilty parricide?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            Hate thee -- O heaven!
Were thy least touch infection, I would clasp thee,
And joy to perish thus.                              (Kissing her.)

                           GWENEVER.

                            Dear, generous Launcelot!
And I have only tears to thank thy love.
Ah, would that we had never met!                     (Exit.)

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            Amen!
Methinks, it had been better for us both;
But the wish comes too late. How vain my efforts
To save her from this woe! Let no man say,
That he will shield the woman he has loved
From the sharp penalties which wait on sin!
He may do much -- may sacrifice to her
Friendship, and peace, and honour -- can he drown
The voice of conscience, stifle the soul's remorse,
And give her back the sweet and innocent sleep
That once was hers? Ah, no! never again --
Never on this side of the grave!

                               Enter SIR BORS.

                            SIR BORS.

                             My cousin!
I must arouse thee from this idle mood,
And bid thee, for a season, leave all dalliance.
The foe is at the gate. Arm thyself quickly!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

What foe?

                            SIR BORS.

                             King Arthur, with a mighty host.
Already do their pennons gird us round,
A many-coloured circle of attack
With glittering spears between, whilst martial music,
Rising and swelling o'er their lengthened files,
Reverberates from our battlements.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                    Well, cousin;
We must defend ourselves. There was a time,
When the first note of battle sent the blood
Dancing through all my veins. Now I shrink back
From this unnatural war, chilled and half daunted.
But we have no choice left. Come to the walls!
                                                                (Exeunt.)

----------

SCENE III. -- Before the Castle.

Enter KING ARTHUR, SIR GAWIN, SIR KAY, SIR LUCAN, SIR BEDIVERE, knights, and soldiers.

                         KING ARTHUR.

'Tis a strong castle, which, methinks, would stand
A perilous siege; and, were his quarrel just,
Sir Launcelot, in his hold, might bid defiance
To more than regal power. But a bad cause
Opens a breach in walls of adamant,
As he will soon discover. Take a trumpet,
And summon him to a parley!

                              SIR KAY.

                                 Where's the herald?
Let him step forth, and do his office bravely!
(A herald advances from the ranks to the foot of the castle-wall, and sounds his trumpet. After a short pause, he is answered from within. SIR LAUNCELOT, SIR BORS, SIR HECTOR, and the other knights, appear on the ramparts.)


                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

What is thy message?

                              HERALD.

                             In King Arthur's name,
I summon thee, Launcelot of the Lake, to hear
The pleasure of thy sovereign!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                          I attend.
What more?

              KING ARTHUR (advancing.)

                            O thou -- false knight! disloyal subject!
Thou, whose ingratitude makes worse thy treason!
Where is the queen? Where hast thou hid from view
The doomed accomplice of thy perfidy?
Wilt thou resign her, and submit thyself
To law and right -- or must I use compulsion,
To drag thee from the shelter of this fortress,
Which then will reek with blood?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            My lord the king!
If my poor life alone were on the hazard,
I'd lay it down as freely as an alms,
For the land's peace. But others claim the sanctuary
Of this inviolate roof; and, whilst I breathe,
I will defend it against all aggressors,
Though armed with might imperial.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                            Proudly answered!
But since thou art so frank in thy rebellion,
Descend, I pray thee, from that lofty wall,
And meet us on the plain! -- Or is thy courage
Weak as thy virtue?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                              It may not be, my lord!
I would but keep my sacred hearth from wrong;
Not turn my sword against the noble prince,
Who dubbed me knight.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                           Thou shouldst have thought of this,
Ere 'twas too late.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                            Dear uncle, let me speak!
I war not only in my sovereign's cause,
But in my own. Blood cries to heaven for blood,
And I have yet my brothers to avenge!
Why then, Sir Lancelot, should we leave this quarrel
To hireling champions? Let us spare the lives
Of innocent men, and thou and I together
Fight to the death -- here, in a neutral space,
Marked out betwixt the armies!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                           No, Sir Gawin!
I have brought too black a mischief on thy house,
To strike another blow at thee or thine.
I do repent me, that I slew thy brothers,
For well I loved them both -- but I was urged
Past all endurance.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                             Foully didst thou slay them!
And now thou wouldst appease me with soft speech,
Because thou art afeard!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            Because, Sir Gawin,
I would not make thy fair, young wife a widow,
Thy children fatherless.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                             Insolent boaster!
Thy actions turned all friendship into hate,
But now thy words fill me with deepest scorn!
I do proclaim thee a false, recreant knight --
A murderer, and a coward!

                            SIR BORS.

                           That is too much!
I will be held no longer. Let my cousin
Do as he will: I am for this proud challenger!

                           SIR HECTOR.

And I come next!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                            Nay, if it must be, gentlemen,
No weapon stirs before my own. King Arthur,
Let there be truce between us, till this combat
Shall be decided!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                           I must consent, perforce;
Though most unwilling thus to risk the life
Of my last nephew.

                            SIR GAWIN.

                             Uncle, heaven is just,
And fights upon our side against a traitor!
(SIR LAUNCELOT and his party descend from the wall. Immediately after, they issue from the gates of the castle, and range themselves opposite to the king's forces.)


                    SIR LAUNCELOT (advancing.)

Sir Gawin, I am here to answer thee,
Though not in hate or malice. Thou and thy brethren
Were my good friends. Much I lament their death;
And my esteem is with thee as of old.
Then, ere we cross our blades in mortal strife,
Give me once more thy hand!

                            SIR GAWIN.

                           Never again!
I owe thee nothing but a soldier's greeting,
A foeman's courtesy. Draw, and defend thyself!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

I am ready. Would my enemy were less noble!
                                                        (They fight.)

                            SIR GAWIN.

Thou dost not use me well. Put forth thy strength!
Why dost thou spare thy blows? I ask no favour,
And will accept none.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                    Yet pause, and breathe awhile!

                            SIR GAWIN.

My hatred knows no pause, save in the tomb,
Where one of us will soon be laid. Remember,
I do not thank thee for thy meek forbearance,
But scorn thee all the more. Strike home, and spare not!
I would not spare thee!
                                (They fight again. SIR GAWIN falls.)

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                   A most unlucky stroke!
Art thou much hurt?

                            SIR GAWIN.

                         Ay, Launcelot -- that was earnest!
                                                                      (Dies.)

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Ah me unhappy! doomed to destroy my friends,
And murder those I love! Deep is the curse,
That rests upon me, and my cup of msiery
Is full to the brim. How silent he lies there --
He, that was late so loud! -- All hushed! all motionless!
I have slain my old companion.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                            Where's the sorrow
To match with mine? He was my sister's son --
The last and bravest of a valiant race.
And yet, Sir Lancelot, I will do thee justice,
Albeit my foe. 'Twas a fair passage of arms,
And thou didst slay him knightly.

                           SIR LUCAN.

                                O my liege!
Might we not here accord this fatal quarrel,
And, o'er the body of thy too rash kinsman,
Once more join hands in peace?

                         KING ARTHUR.

                             Ask of Sir Launcelot,
If he will yield him to us, and surrender
The cause of all this strife?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                 Give up the queen
To the law's tender mercy? No, my lord;
I have already answered!

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                                   Yet be advised!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Not to my own disgrace, Sir Bedivere;
Nor wouldst thou in my place.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                 Well then, our truce
Is at an end. The sword must judge between us.

                              SIR KAY.

If such be our appeal, what boots delay?
Sound, trumpets, to the onset!

                            SIR BORS.

                                     Friends of Sir Launcelot,
Stand to your arms!

                              SIR KAY.

                                 On -- for King Arthur's right!
(Flourish of trumpets. All the knights on both sides draw their swords. At this instant, the Hermit of Glastonbury appears in the midst of them.)


                             HERMIT.

In the great name of God, I bid you hold!
King Arthur and Sir Launcelot, stay your followers
From this mad work -- or dread the wrath of heaven!

                              SIR KAY.

Who's he, that speaks thus boldly to the king?

                             HERMIT.

A loyal servant of the King of kings,
Duly commissioned. I am (as you may see)
A very poor, feeble, diseased old man,
With scarcely strength to crawl unto this place,
And all unarmed: yet high above me roll
The thunders of the everlasting church,
Ready, if I but raise this withered hand,
To fall upon your heads!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                       Say, reverend hermit!
What is thy will?

                             HERMIT.

                            I speak but as empowered
By him, who sits in holy Peter's chair,
And bears the keys. Much doth it grieve his heart
(As in his letters fully is set forth)
To think, that this most noble, Christian realm
Should thus be rent in twain by civil war:
And he commands, that all from discord cease,
On pain of interdict.
                               For thee, Sir Launcelot,
He bids thee, as becomes a faithful knight,
Restore the wife to the husband, and submit thyself
To thy liege lord.
                             But he would also counsel
King Arthur, who was ever deemed a prince
Generous and wise, to pardon what is past,
And let oblivion, like the shades of even,
Cool down these fiery heats.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                             Through all my days,
The church has found me an obedient son.
I did respect her in the pride of youth;
Nor would I prove a rebel, now that years
Lie thick upon me. Grief has bowed my spirit,
And I do pant for peace. But what thou askest
Is more than king or man may grant!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                           O father!
It cannot be. Say, that the king would pardon --
Say, that he would not burn the queen with fire,
Nor bind her limbs with chains, but take her back
Into his house: could he so take her back
Into his heart? Wilt thou here pledge thy word,
That she shall never know the bitterness
Of long neglect, and silent scorn -- the chastisement
Of the cold eye -- the dreary, frozen waste
Of woman's slighted feelings -- the slow torture,
That, like a deadly poison, works in secret,
And kills at last? -- Thou canst not give this pledge:
And I will not resign her to a doom,
Worse than the flames, from which I rescued her
At peril of my life!

                             HERMIT.

                                     Beware, my son,
Lest thou advance such specious arguments,
To cloak a selfish passion!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                  Selfish, father!
Let the priest think it so! He never loved!

                             HERMIT.

I have not always been a priest, and once
I too was young -- and this, alas! I know --
That love is madness!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                               Ay, but a noble frenzy!
Not base, not selfish!

                               Enter GWENEVER from the Castle, with ladies following hastily.

                           GWENEVER.

                           Right amongst them all!
Tell me no more of shame or womanly fear --
For I must speak to him!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                              Gwenever! O heaven!
Here is no place for thee.

                           GWENEVER.

                               My only place!
Did not the cry of battle come to me
In my sad chamber? Was I not plainly told,
That half a kingdom's chivalry must bleed
For one lost woman? O quench these flames of war!
Earth groans for peace. Hide those grim weapons, Launcelot!
We have had enough, methinks, of hate and slaughter,
Of guilt and woe.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                          Not mine, not mine the choice!

                         KING ARTHUR.

Was it then mine?

                           GWENEVER.

                          Ah me! it is the king!
                               (She sinks at KING ARTHUR'S feet, and covers her face with her hands.)

                         KING ARTHUR.

Yes, veil thy brow, unhappy wife! nor dare
To meet my gaze! -- Father, I feel this moment,
There is a gulf betwixt my queen and me,
Which neither will have power to pass.

                             HERMIT.

                                      My daughter,
Look up! -- Dost thou not know the voice of him,
Who blessed thee at the altar, when the angels
Witnessed thy marriage-vow? I speak to thee,
Not in reproach, but pity. Thou hast prayed
For peace: I tell thee, there can be no peace,
Whilst thou art with Sir Launcelot!

                           GWENEVER.

                                       O my father!
Where should I go?

                             HERMIT.

                                 Thou hast a place of refuge.

                           GWENEVER.

Yes -- in the grave!

                             HERMIT.

                           No -- upon earth, my child!
A place of penitence, where solemn thoughts,
And sweet devotion's daily exercise,
Will cleanse the foulest bosom, and the breath
Of prayer be as a cloud to shelter thee
From heaven's just wrath.

                     GWENEVER (rising).

                                       I understand thee well;
And, ere my courage fail, it shall be done.
I was the hapless author of this strife,
And I will end it. Father, I do entreat
The sure protection of most holy church,
And bid thee, as her minister, convey me
To some true sisterhood of pious nuns,
That will receive me in their cloister.

                             HERMIT.

                                 Trust me,
I could not wish a better task.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                                And I --
If so the church decree -- dare not say no.
It is the only base, on which obedience
May tally yet with honour.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                  And the weakest
Be still the victim! -- Gwenever, hast thou pondered
On what a stern, irrevocable fate
Lies in that future?

                           GWENEVER.

                           I have, and am resolved!
Why, friend, the parting-hour must come at last,
Sooner or later, and, for thee and me,
Had best come soon. If I could but make peace
Betwixt my lord King Arthur and thyself,
I should renounce the world and its dull vanities
Without a sigh. Yet, Launcelot, when I think
Of all, that thou hast suffered for my sake,
I fain would have thy sanction -- that this too
May seem a willing sacrifice, and worthy
Of thy past kindness.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                          I must needs obey thee,
Though with a heavy heart. Against such weapons
I can do nothing. Yet I tell thee, priest!
Were it not her own will -- her own, free will --
Nor king, nor church should have her! -- For myself,
The sun of life is set; and I go hence
Into a distant land. My royal lord!
Peace be with thee, and with thy court and realm,
Though harshly thou hast judged. For thy slain nephews,
I will do penance, and say many prayers,
And found religious houses, where the choristers
Shall aye sing requiem. Bless thee, Gwenever!
I dare not look upon that face again.
Bless thee, and so farewell! I can no more!         (Exit.)

                             HERMIT.

Come, daughter!

                            SIR BORS.

                           Shall we not attend thee, madam,
Far as the convent-gates?

                             HERMIT.

                           No, my dear son!
A woman and a priest require no escort
To travel in a Christian land. Besides,
We have the king's safeconduct -- have we not?

                         KING ARTHUR.

You have.

                             HERMIT.

             Then come! -- Nay, daughter, I am old,
But not quite helpless. I will direct thy steps.
                                               (Exit with GWENEVER.)

                         KING ARTHUR.

So ends this feud! -- We leave Sir Launcelot
To his own conscience; and, for his gallant friends,
They have our full permission to return
To their old place, where nothing that is past
Will be remembered to their injury.

                            SIR BORS.

We humbly thank your highness; but, for a time,
We must abide with our unhappy comrade.

                         KING ARTHUR.

Well, as you will.
(SIR BORS, SIR HECTOR, and the rest of SIR LAUNCELOT'S knights, do homage to KING ARHTUR, and exeunt. During this interval, a messenger comes to SIR KAY, and talks with him part.)


                              SIR KAY.

                         Now may the curse of treason
Cling to the villain Mordred!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                  Art thou mad?

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

Sir Kay was ever rough and sour of speech,
But these strange words . . .

                              SIR KAY.

                                 Need no apology!
This man brings news from Camelot. The people
Are in revolt. King Arthur is deposed,
And Mordred claims the crown.

                         KING ARTHUR.

                               It is impossible!
What? my own son! No, that would be too monstrous!
Thou art deluded by some hellish fraud:
But we shall quickly know the truth. Give orders,
To march upon the instant, bearing with us
The corpse of him we have lost!
             (To the messenger.)    Follow me, sirrah!
I'll question thee by the way. See thou prove honest!
                               (Exeunt marching, with the dead body of SIR GAWIN carried by soldiers.)

END OF THE FOURTH ACT.

----------

ACT V.


SCENE I. -- A Mountain-Pass. The troops of MORDRED cross over, marching in file.

Enter MORDRED and MORGAN LE FAY.

                            MORDRED.

So thou wouldst have me stay, and fight him here?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Unless, like a whipt schoolboy, thou ask pardon
For thy offence, and basely yield the crown,
Without more strife.

                            MORDRED.

                             Two battles have I lost!
May not the third prove fatal?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                                             No, I tell thee!
Arthur has conquered twice, but those two victories
Have spent the better portion of his strength,
Whilst thou hast raised new levies; and to-day
Thou hast the choice of ground. But, above all,
The stars promise thee triumph, and thy fortune
Is at the flood.

                            MORDRED.

                          In these rude mountain-gorges,
I will await him.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                           Do so! -- Farewell, my son!

                            MORDRED.

Why, mother! wouldst thou leave me?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                                        Wherefore not?
The proud, young victor-monarch will despise
A woman's help. I have given thee much: and now
That there's no need of me, I but anticipate
By a few weeks -- it may be a few days --
The ingratitude of man.

                            MORDRED.

                         But whither goest thou?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Where I shall not reproach thee with my presence,
If thou forget my service. O thou art glad
Of this at heart! -- Prithee, no whining, Mordred!
We have scanned each other well, and all profession
Is but a waste of time. Go, join thy troops!
Secure those heights, and every narrow pass,
That leads beyond. Arthur will soon be here;
And, if ye act like men, he and his host
Will perish 'mid these mountains.

                            MORDRED.

                                Farewell, madam!
I go to consummate thy vengeance.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                                            Say,
To serve thy own ambition! -- But no matter!
If we ne'er meet again, I am content
To hold thee quit, for this day's work of blood.

                            MORDRED.

But we shall meet again?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                        Why, yes -- I think so.
                                                          (Exit MORDRED.)
We shall indeed, if holy saws come true,
Though not on earth. In the untried hereafter,
The lot is cast for both of us. Well, well!
As I have done, so I can bear the worst
And need no sympathy. Let the poor instruments,
That broke to pieces in my hand, be pitied;
I, who can neither tremble nor repent,
Ask not a single tear!
                              But hark! the clang
Of armour, and the tramp of martial feet!
Up yonder path they wind, a stately train
Of heroes -- victims destined for the slaughter;
Whilst, high above, the vultures whet their beaks,
And spread their pinions for the swoop of death.
It is a royal quarry, and I will banquet
With those wild birds -- feasting on my revenge!
(She ascends the mountain, and stands upon a ledge of rock. Enter KING ARTHUR, SIR KAY, SIR LUCAN, SIR BEDIVERE, knights, and soldiers.)


                         KING ARTHUR.

You see, my friends, that these twice-beaten rebels
Dare not abide our coming. They have fled
Before us, from the city to the plain,
The plain to the mountains -- yet they make no stand.

                              SIR KAY.

Like unclean beasts, they hide in the holes of the earth;
But we shall find them.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                              Doubtless, you will find them!

                         KING ARTHUR.

Ha! what is that?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                          A woman's voice, sir king!
A voice thou knowest!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                 I should recall its tone!
Who art thou?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                           One, that with the joy of hate
Welcomes thee to thy ruin! -- Dost remember
The witness, whose reluctant lips confirmed
The tale of thy queen's guilt, and brought her judges
All to one mind?

                              SIR KAY.

                           It is the same, my lord!
I know her now.

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                          Well then, sagacious king!
The tale was false, and the reluctance feigned:
Thy queen was innocent!
                                     Why dost thou start,
And look aghast? I tell thee, she was innocent,
She never sent for Launcelot, never lured him
Unto her chamber -- nor did he come thither
On any warrant of unlawful love:
'Twas I, who planned their meeting -- laid the snare,
In which they both were tangled -- first deceived,
And then betrayed them!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                         Woman, thy words are madness!
What motive couldst thou have for such a crime?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

Hatred of thee! -- Seek for no other cause;
But wing thy memory back to by-gone years,
Think of the woman that should loathe thee most,
And thou wilt know me! I am indeed much changed:
But, could I call from the dull grave of time
The phantom of my former self, thine eyes
Would gaze upon a shape once counted fair.
I was a princess, near allied to thee
In birth and blood; and thou didst win my heart
By falsehood, and didst rob me of my peace,
With all my hopes, whether in earth or heaven;
And thou didst crush, and leave me. Therefore my hate
Is boundless and immortal!

                           SIR LUCAN.

                               Who may this be?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

My good Sir Lucan, trouble not thyself!
King Arthur knows me. He remembers well,
How he did blast the promise of my youth,
And turn to winter all my May of life;
And now, that I have brought the misery home
To his own cheerless hearth -- he must confess,
That such revenge is just!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                                No, sorceress -- no!
My sins were of the young, hot blood: but thine
Are from the depths of a corrupted nature,
Stagnant, and black, and cold as frozen seas
Where sun-light never comes; and, for thy vengeance,
It is most devilish!

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                                 Ha! canst thou feel it, hero?
And sorceress too -- why sorceress? -- If, of old,
My magic did protect me from the wiles
Of Merlin, thy arch-counsellor -- against thee,
My weapons have been only human passions,
Laid bare by human weakness. I have done!
The work is finished, or it will be soon.
I leave the consummation to the hands
Of Mordred and his soldiers. Ye, that hear me,
Will not survive to tell what I have said;
For 'tis the hour of fate, and I shall triumph
In your destruction!

                              SIR KAY.

                                     Will none ascend the rock,
And silence this foul witch?

                      MORGAN LE FAY.

                                Ye have no power
Upon me. I am doomed -- but not to fall
By such as you. A wondrous destiny
Has linked me with your king, and both will perish
In the same moment. So have the stars decreed!
But mortal eye shall not behold the pangs
Of my departing soul: the debt is paid,
Which was my only business upon earth;
And I will die as I have loved -- alone!
      (She strikes the rock, which opens to receive, and then closes upon her with a low peal of thunder.)

                              SIR KAY.

By all the saints, 'tis strange!

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                                 O it is fearful!

                           SIR LUCAN.

Such apparitions bode no good -- but, gentlemen!
See how the king stands rapt!

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                          My gracious lord!
Rouse thyself from this trance, and speak, I pray thee,
To us, thy faithful servants!

                         KING ARTHUR.

                               Yes, I will rouse myself!
Arthur is yet unconquered! I do defy
This fiend of malice, and will repair the mischief
That she has done. Launcelot shall be recalled,
And my poor queen . . . but first, to quell these traitors!
Did she not speak of Mordred and his crew,
As though they were at hand? Go forth, Sir Kay:
Take a few soldiers, and explore yon pass,
That lies before us!

                              SIR KAY.

                          If they be there, my lord,
We soon will hunt the vermin from their covert.
                                             (Exit with soldiers.)

                         KING ARTHUR.

Go, brave old man! thou art not to be shaken
By fears of witchcraft, nor by solemn threats,
And dark, mysterious warnings. Why should we?
If we have sinned, heaven is our only judge --
Not sinners like ourselves. The mighty issues
Of life and death belong to One above
(Without whose will not even a sparrow falls)
Nor can the powers of earth and hell, united
In monstrous league, alter the fated minute,
Or cheat us of a breath.                (A great shout.)

                           SIR LUCAN.

                          Hark! 'tis the enemy!
Sir Kay has found them.

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                          Shall we advance, my liege?

                         KING ARTHUR.

Above, below, the mountain swarms with men,
And good Sir Kay is lost without our help.
Come then, my trusty sword Excalibur!
Thou ne'er wast brandished in a better cause.
Follow me, soldiers! your king will be your leader;
On them, like dragons! Cry: Arthur to the rescue!
(Exeunt charging. Then the noise of a battle among mountains, which gradually grows fainter, and at length dies away in the distance.)


----------

SCENE II. -- A Room in a Nunnery. GWENEVER on a couch, sick, and attended by nuns.

                           GWENEVER.

Didst send for the good father?

                                 NUN.

                                               O yes, madam!
Some hours ago; but all the roads are thronged
By stragglers from the armies, and our messenger
May have miscarried.

                           GWENEVER.

                             True! I had forgotten.
Thanks, gentle sister!

                                 NUN.

                                 Madam, thou hast slept;
And with a quiet slumber, undisturbed
By fitful starts, or wild, half-muttered fancies.
How fares it with thee now?

                           GWENEVER.

                               Like a tired traveller,
That soon will be at rest. Weak as a babe,
But free from pain. I had a lovely vision
Of angels, who looked down with pitying faces
Upon my couch, and of bright, sainted women,
That once were frail, and now plead for the frail ones.
Is it ominous?

                                 NUN.

                             Full of hope, dear lady;
Full of sweet comfort.

                           GWENEVER.

                          Would the priest were come!
What noise was that?

                                 NUN.

                         The opening of our gates.
Doubtless, the hermit is arrived.

                           GWENEVER.

                          O fetch him!
Fetch him to his poor penitent! I shall die
In peace, when I have seen him.             (Exit Nun.)
                           Pray forgive me
For all this trouble, sisters! I do fear --
Indeed I feel -- that I have been to you
A very tedious guest.

                       SEVERAL NUNS.

                         We think not so.

                           GWENEVER.

Well, heaven reward your kindness to a sinner,
And save you, in your cloistered innocence,
From grief and agony such as I have suffered! (Re-enter the Nun, with the Hermit of Glastonbury, and SIR LAUNCELOT in the dress of a pilgrim.)

                             HERMIT.

Peace to this house, and all that dwell therein!

                           GWENEVER.

O father! welcome!

                             HERMIT.

                         I did not think, my daughter,
To have found thee thus. What ails thee? Hast thou sought
The aid of some physician?

                           GWENEVER.

                                    There are maladies,
Which no physician's art can reach, and mine
Is of the number. Father, I am dying.

                             HERMIT.

Not yet, I hope.

                           GWENEVER.

                                          Father, I know and feel it;
And, to say the truth, I do not much lament,
That it should be so. I did send for thee
To hear my last confession. Who is yon stranger?

                             HERMIT.

A pilgrim, that I met by chance. But tell me --
Hast thou no wish to live?

                           GWENEVER.

                                       Were it heaven's will,
I could submit -- but, if thou ask my choice,
Believe me, 'tis less difficult to die!

                             HERMIT.

So young, my child?

                           GWENEVER.

                                    O measure not the years!
I have lived an age of sorrow, which has weaned me
From the world's business. Yet, before I go,
I fain would talk with thee of my lost friends.
Where is the king?

                             HERMIT.

                                        He wages deadly war
Against his rebel son.

                           GWENEVER.

                                  May victory crown him!
Would that the traitor had thrown off his mask
A little sooner!

                             HERMIT.

                                     'Twould have spared much evil;
But all his plans were built upon thy ruin.

                           GWENEVER.

May such of them as menace throne or state
Be brought to nought! The rest I can forgive him,
Knowing, alas! how much I need forgiveness!
But where is . . . father, do not frown! -- my questions
Are cold and hollow whispers from the grave --
Where is Sir Launcelot?

                             HERMIT.

                             He has bestowed his lands,
In part to recompense his valiant followers,
In part for pious uses; and he goes,
A lonely pilgrim, to that distant sepulchre
Which is the holiest upon earth.

                           GWENEVER.

                                       And buried
In that blest tomb be all his passionate woe!
Could my voice reach him from his couch of sickness,
I'd bid him lay aside the unmanly grief,
Which rends my weaker soul. What if on me
The sentence pass -- one victim is enough;
And he has yet a glorious life before him,
With nobler conquests, and more prosperous loves.
When I am in my shroud, some gentle fair
Will be to him . . .

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                               O never, never think it!
Life of my life! Gwenever! my adored!
I shall not stay behind thee.

                             HERMIT.

                                        Madman, hold!
Was this thy bond?

                     GWENEVER (wildly.)

                                  Where is he? Let me see him!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Here, at thy feet! -- Father, I am not marble;
And my full heart will burst, unless I speak
To her, who was the polestar of my course,
And without whom I perish.

                           GWENEVER.

                         It is Launcelot,
And yet another. O what has changed thee thus?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Vigil and fast it may be, and remorse,
And the worn heart's despair: yet look on me
With those mild eyes, nor deem the sight will blast thee!

                           GWENEVER.

Ah, wherefore art thou come, to place thy form
Betwixt my soul and heaven?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                          I did but wish,
Ere I went forth upon my pilgrimage,
Once to behold the walls, that, like a casket,
Held my lost treasure. But, when I chanced to meet
This holy hermit on his way, my bosom
Was filled with such deep longing, that, in spite
Of all remonstrance, I would follow him
Into thy presence.

                             HERMIT.

                         After thou hadst promised,
Not to reveal thyself.

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                       O father, spare me!
I am not myself. The pride of knightly honour,
The strength of will, the boasted firmness -- all
Have left me. I am now a poor, weak wretch,
Shifting with every wind -- the slave of passion,
Helpless for good!

                             HERMIT.

                           But not for evil, Launcelot!
Thy presence here disturbs the sacred peace,
Which best becomes a death-bed.

                           GWENEVER.

                          Lift me up, sisters!
And let me speak to him, whilst I have breath
To do so! -- Launcelot, be a man! -- Our wrongs
May have been great; our sins are greater still:
Live to repent them, and repair the injuries
That sin has caused! Be generous to the last;
And, whilst the selfish feebleness of woman
Sinks to repose, do thou endure and strive,
Hoping that we may one day meet again,
Where guilty creatures even as we have been
(Chastened by suffering, by repentance saved,
And purified from stains of this gross earth)
Dwell with the saints above!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                             Speak on, dear angel!
Thy words to me are like celestial voices,
Calming the soul. Speak! I will do thy bidding.

                           GWENEVER.

Thus would I cousel: Hie thee from this place --
Go, seek King Arthur -- he is girt around
By foes, and needs each faithful servant's aid --
Whether he will or no, be thou to him
A champion as of old -- rescue the land
From civil war -- as much as in thee lies,
Make sure the future, and redeem the past --
Then, with good hope, pursue thy pilgrimage,
And, when thou kneelest at the hallowed shrine,
Ask mercy for thyself and me!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                          O Gwenever!
It is enough. I cannot answer thee --
But let these tears -- this choking utterance -- tell,
That thou hast conquered! -- I will depart -- will do
As thou wouldst have me. Father, I never thought,
That I should weep again!

                             HERMIT.

                          Such drops, my son,
Will not disgrace a soldier's cheek. But go,
Whilst yet thy heart is softened, and the passions
Obey thy better genius! -- There -- let me guide thee
From this sad chamber!
(As he is leading out SIR LAUNCELOT, GWENEVER gazes intently after them, and then, with a deep sob, sinks back suddenly on the couch.)


                                 NUN.

                           It was too much. Poor lady!
Speak to us, madam! -- O heaven! she stirs not -- breathes not --
And see! the dark blood gushes from her lips.
Father, come back! -- the queen -- the queen . . .

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                             Is dead!
I know it by your faces!
      (Breaks from the hermit.)    Leave me, old man!
I will hear nothing. Stand from her, all of you,
And give me place! -- O this was wanting yet!
Gwenever! Gwenever!           (Throws himself on the body.)

                    HERMIT (to the nuns.)

                                  It is even so.
The struggle was above her strength, and life
Fled with that final effort. She is gone!

                               Enter SIR BEDIVERE.

But who is yonder warrior, clad in mail?
What would such guest?

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                              If I have forced admittance
Within these sacred precincts, pardon me!
My business, which excuses all intrusion,
Chiefly concerns the queen. Where is she!

              HERMIT (pointing to the couch.)

                                                     There!

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

O fatal hour! O piteous spectacle!
I bring death's tidings to the house of death!
It was my hope to save her from the clutches
Of the proud conqueror; but a mightier arm
Has wafted her beyond his reach.

                             HERMIT.

                                 What conqueror?
Whom dost thou mean?

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                                   Look at me, reverend hermit!
I am the last of all King Arthur's knights.
The rest have perished bravely, one by one,
Fighting around their lord. 'Neath mountain-crags,
Through narrow passes hedged with bristling spears,
Slippery with blood, and heaped with slaughtered foes,
We hewed our way; but, ere we trod the plain,
Our noblest heroes, faint with many gashes,
Began to droop exhausted, and, once there,
Fell overpowered by numbers. I alone
Bore from that purple field my wounded king,
Unto a little chapel near the sea,
Where we found refuge. Then, with dying hand,
He gave to me the sword Excalibur,
And charged me, on my life, straightway to fling it
Into the dark, deep water. I, much wondering,
Twice disobeyed; but, the third time, he urged me
With such great instance, that my heart refused
To anger him by any further doubt:
So I went down, close to the water's edge,
And bound the girdle round about the hilt,
And flung it from me.

                             HERMIT.

                                       What ensued thereon?

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

A marvellous thing! Just ere it touched the wave,
An arm rose from the water, clad in white,
Grasped the rich-jewelled haft, brandished the steel,
And then sank with it. Long amazed I stood;
When, as I turned to where King Arthur lay,
I saw a little barge draw near the land,
With ladies all in sable hoods, who wept
As at a funeral, and did make sore wail;
And took the king, and placed him in the barge,
And so departed. Then I called after him
With bitter cry, to leave me not alone.
But he replied: "Comfort thyself, dear friend!
I go unto the valley of Avilion,
To heal me of my wound, if it may be.
Should I ne'er come again, pray for my soul!"
And therewith, in the distance, all grew dim.
Alas! I never shall behold him more!

               HERMIT (going to the couch.)

Has not this tale had power to wake thee, Launcelot,
From thy long stupor?

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                                   What! is yon prostrate figure,
Motionless, buried in a pilgrim's weed,
The first of Christian knights?

                             HERMIT.

                                             He, who lies there,
Is Launcelot of the Lake.

                         SIR BEDIVERE.

                                      Ah, would to heaven
He had been with us in the narrow pass!
Backed by his kinsmen, he would soon have changed
The fortune of the day.

                             HERMIT.

                                  'Twas not to be!
But hark! some new intruders. Even religion
Seems to have lost her privilege, to conceal
From the rude eyes of men a sacred woe.
                               Enter MORDRED as king, with guards and attendants.
Ha! is it thou? Respect this holy place!
Respect the dead!

                            MORDRED.

                             We come not to be schooled
By thee, old man! But we would have thee give
Assurance to the lady Gwenever
Of our protection.

             SIR LAUNCELOT (starting up.)

                                I should know that voice!
What does he here? He, with the bloody hands,
Murderer and parricide! -- Art come to trample
Upon thy victims? Didst thou say protection?
Didst thou dare name her in my presence? God!
It is too much, too much for man to bear,
And not go mad! -- Look! triumph in thy work!
See where she lies!



                            MORDRED.

                                 No! I did not do this.


                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Give that fool's answer at the bar of heaven,
And how the fiends will laugh! Thou didst not do it!
Who then? A fearful price hadst thou to pay
For the vain bauble on thy brow, and hell
Would take no cheaper terms. 'Twas not enough
To sacrifice upon that Moloch's pile,
Father, and friends, and country; but the best
Of all bright things -- a fair, young, innocent woman --
Must crown the holocaust. Thou didst not do it!
Why, thou wouldst have consigned her to the flames,
But for my sword; and failing that grim purpose,
The slow and subtle venom of thy slander
Was no less mortal.

                            MORDRED.

                                 Insolent! have a care
To whom thou speakest!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                               O thou wouldst threaten me!
Ha! ha! the imperial tone becomes a king:
But I can tell thee, that despair is bold,
And will not so be silenced. Thou hast thy wish;
By guilt thou hast achieved a crown. Dost think,
That thou wilt wear it long? If the earth gape not
To swallow such a criminal, nor the thunder
Leap from the skies to blast thee -- yet the weight
Of thy own vileness will be all-sufficient
To drag thee to perdition! Never believe,
That, where King Arthur reigned, and his brave knights
Lived glorious to the last, men will endure
A wretch like thee -- a base, cold, crawling reptile --
To rot upon a throne! This very people,
Whom thou hast made thy instruments, will rise
Against thee, and, inflamed by just revenge,
Tear thee to pieces!

                     MORDRED (drawing a dagger.)

                          Thou shalt not live to see it!
Here end thy screechowl-prophecy!               (Stabs him.)

               SIR LAUNCELOT (closing with Mordred.)

                          That is well!
Though all unarmed, I am yet a match for thee,
Coward and traitor!
                               (Wrenches the dagger from him, and kills him. All rush forward.)
                          Stand back! what would you have?
My foot is on the body of your king,
His dagger in my hand -- but I must follow --
For I too have my death-wound.                           (Falls.)

            Enter SIR BORS, SIR HECTOR, and Knights.

                            SIR BORS.

What bloody sight is here? Can it be Launcelot?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

Ha! my old friend!

                            SIR BORS.

                          Too late -- once more too late!
We came to help King Arthur, but we found,
That he and all his host were slain before;
And now we find thee dying!

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                          Well, my cousin!
Is that a cause for grief? What should I do
In this new world? All those we loved and prized
Are gone for ever, and of the great ROUND TABLE
Scarce one poor wreck remains. The heroic age
Itself is on the wane, for craft and treachery
Now take the place of valour. O believe me!
I have no business here!

                            SIR BORS.

                          And we -- thy friends!
What shall we do, when thou art gone?

                       SIR LAUNCELOT.

                                       Submit
To heaven's high will, and bear a little while
This load of life! Haply, ye may preserve
Some relics of the noble past, and leave them
As legacies of honour. Then . . . I forget
What I would say! How dark it grows! Thy hand --
Thy hand, dear cousin! -- Help me to yonder couch!
Is she not there? -- O this, I feel, is death --
Cold -- icy-cold -- and very dark! -- My Gwenever!
It is no crime to love thee now!                      (Dies.)

                            SIR BORS.

                                  Let Britain
Weep for her champion! And let Christendom
Take up the mournful cry! Not only we
Have lost our friend, but all the brave their model,
The oppressed their hope, the innocent their defence,
Our times their boast and glory. LAUNCELOT IS DEAD!
                                          (The curtain falls.)

 

                       END OF THE TRAGEDY.