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Lancelot and Elaine: A Play in Five Acts
Lancelot and Elaine: A Play in Five Acts
SIR LAVAINE, son to Sir Bernard.
SIR TIRRE, son to Sir Bernard.
SIR GOREU, Lord High Chamberlain.
LORENZO, dumb servant to Sir Bernard.
SIR BAUDWIN, a hermit.
THE COUNTESS OF GARLOT.
FREDA, Maid attending on the Queen.
SIBYL, Maid attending on the Queen.
Knights, Ladies, Soldiers, Guests, Musicians, etc.
SYNOPSIS OF SCENERY
Scene.—Hall in King Arthur's Palace at Caerleon-upon-Usk.
Scene.—Hall in Sir Bernard's Castle at Astolat.
Scene 1.—A Road-side at Camelot with the Hermit's Cave in the Distance.
Scene 2.—A Garden at Astolat.
Scene 3.—A Garden at Caerleon.
Scene.—Hall in Sir Bernard's Castle.
Scene.—The Terrace before the Palace at Caerleon-upon-Usk.
SCENE: Hall in KING ARTHUR'S palace at Caerleon-upon-Usk. Corridor entrance, C. Dais L. C. SIBYL has her arms full of roses and is arranging some of them in a down L. DAGONET in his cap and bells, is standing watching her. He strolls up stage as the curtain rises.
Sibyl. Sir Dagonet!
Dagonet. (Turning.) Well, what is it?
Sibyl. Don't go.
The queen is coming: I would have you here
To help me cheer her.
Dagonet. (Returning.) Well, what can I do?
Sibyl. Do? why, turn your avocation to some use!
Her Majesty is sad—prescribe for her.
Out of your wits concoct a remedy.
Dagonet. Out of my wits concoct a remedy?
Sibyl. Yes: wit breeds laughter, laughter merriment,
And merriment's an antidote for grief.
Therefore with wit outwit her malady;
Meet tears with smiles, sighs with hilarity.
Dose her with jests, dispense her epigrams,
Let paradox run wild; and do not pause,
As is your wont of late, for subtleties
Which need so much explaining that their gist
Is often wholly lost; but dress your wit
In homely garb, 'twill serve our purpose best.
Dagonet. I'm naught if not original. But there,
I'll do my best. You may rely on me.
Sibyl. If you can bring the smile back to her face,
Drive from her memory those bitter hours
When she stood charged with treason—then, good sir,
I'll say King Arthur's jester is no fool.
Dagonet. No fool, indeed! An ill-turned compliment!
Have I then misinterpreted the Fates,
Or misapplied a rare intelligence?
No fool, indeed! What! would you have it said
That Wisdom masquerades in Folly's garb?
No fool, indeed! Should Dagonet have been
A joyless savant, ransacking his brains
To find perpetual motion, or to prove
If fowl or egg came first? No fool, indeed!
Was I then destined for a monastery?
Should a monk's cowl replace my cap and bells?
Should these mad lips, renowned for quips and cranks,
Go mumbling maledictions on mankind?
No fool, indeed!
Sibyl. Oh, peace! you are a fool!
The very very veriest fool extant!
Dagonet. Now, by my bauble—
Sibyl. Hush! here comes the queen!
Enter GUENEVERE followed by FREDA.
Dagonet. Now if the face be any index to the mood, the mood to the mind, and the mind to the heart, here comes a heart-sick woman. Had the Queen of Carthage no gayer countenance to show Æneas, I acquit that hero of heartlessness.
[The QUEEN walks listlessly to the dais, and sits down with a long-drawn sigh. FREDA fans her. DAGONET goes up stage.
What a world of trouble in a single sigh!
[SIBYL selects some roses and offers them to the QUEEN, who shakes her head wearily and turns away.
Sibyl. (Again offering roses and shaking the dew from them.)
They are fresh gathered from the orchard walls,
And though 'tis now past noon, Aurora's tears
Are clinging to them still.
[The QUEEN shakes her head irritably. SIBYL selects a single rose and again offers it.
I would not seem discourteous, but sure
No sweeter blossom ever grew than this.
The queen of flowers for the queen of queens.
I tell you, Sibyl, I will none of them!
Their perfume is too strong, or else 'tis I
Who am too weak.
Sibyl. (Dropping her roses one by one.)
Guenevere. Take them hence!
And if you seek to please me with your gifts,
Then bring me rather poppies than a rose,
Or else an offspring of Cleopatra's asp
Hid in a basket of Sir Pinel's fruit.
Freda. (Stepping back in horror.)
Sibyl. What is this?
Freda. Why this despair?
Guenevere. For I am sick and weary: even death
Were better than this ever-present fear!
[Rising and pacing up and down.
What serves it to be queen if every hour
Sees some fresh scandal added to my name!
Perchance I speak with Lancelot; at once
Mordred and Agravain are watching us
And misinterpreting each word and deed.
Sir Pinel would revenge his kinsman's death
With poisoned fruit—Sir Patrise dies—straightway
'Tis I who am the culprit—I! their queen!
And out of all our host of noble knights
Whose boast it is redressing women's wrongs,
But one is found who dare uphold my cause—
Sibyl. True, his courage saved you.
Guenevere. My lord, the king, stands by and hears them call
Me traitress!—me! his queen! Dear heaven, that I,
Of royal blood, Princess of Cameliard,
Should live to hear the very lackeys cry
Sibyl. No, no!
Freda. The king was so deceived!
Guenevere. "Let there be justice!" These were the king's words.
Had I been king I would have thrown the lie
Back in their faces! Had I loved my queen,
No knight of mine should dare to breathe her name
Except with reverence.
Sibyl. He did not mean—
Guenevere. "Let there be justice!" I have yet to learn
That might is right, and skill in horsemanship
Can arbitrate 'twixt guilt and innocence.
For had Sir Mador thrown my champion,
No power on earth had saved me from the flames,
Or my good name from lasting infamy.
Freda. But now your name is spotless.
Sibyl. And the king
Seeks ever to redress the wrongs you bore.
Guenevere. A kingly occupation! 'Tis too late.
We women love only where we trust.
Though I had railed against Sir Lancelot,
And in my passion soiled his princely name,
Yet still I trusted him, for well I knew
That I should not be lost unless he first
Had died a knightly death on my behalf.
Sibyl. True, madam, Lancelot has ever been
Guenevere. (Sitting.) And where's my champion now?
These two days we've not seen him. Is he gone
Championing some other woman's cause?
Freda. At break of day I heard him call his squire.
Then some hours later he, with twenty knights,
Took horse to meet King Anguish.
Guenevere. And yesterday?
We did not see him. Has he wearied of us?
[DAGONET draws near.
Sibyl. Till noon he kept his chamber, giving it out
That his old wound had opened; but, anon,
A lady came in tears and begged his aid.
Two knights had killed her husband, so she said,
And had not paused to do her shameful wrong.
A score of knights stepped forward proffering aid;
But she would none of them: no, he must come.
Her wrongs, she held, could only be redressed
By Lancelot, the Flower of Chivalry.
Guenevere. And what said he?
Sibyl. I did not catch his words.
[Turning to DAGONET.
Sir Dagonet was there . . .
Guenevere. Well, Dagonet,
How did the Flower of Chivalry reply?
Dagonet. Madam, straightway he lightly armed himself,
Saying that his old wound would never heal
Except in the companionship of wounds.
"That's true," quoth I, "a wounded heart best loves
Grief's company." At this he called his horse,
Which, pleased to quit a stable too long kept,
Neighed shrill and joyfully. "Nay, nay," quoth I,
"This joy is unbecoming, out of place!
Should you not rather whimper and step low
To see your master starting out in search
Of that which he would lose?"
Guenevere. (Wearily.) Nay, Dagonet,
Be brief. My mood is not a merry one.
Dagonet. That is the moment, queen, when fools like me
Spread out their wares to tempt the passer-by.
For us the business of the day begins
When Sorrow has invaded Joy's domain,
And Grief usurped the realm of Happiness.
With us a merry face engenders grief;
Grief's victims make us merry. My queen's sad face
Stirs up compunctious pleasure in my heart.
I pray you be revenged—look you but gay . . .
Guenevere. Nay, good Sir Dagonet! sweet Sir Dagonet!
If thou hast any pity in that heart
So overburdened with facetiousness,
Leave me to my unhappiness; or else
Be your own self—discard this trickery.
Grief's antidote is sympathy, not farce.
Your wit should tell you that an ill-timed jest
Wounds where it seeks to heal. Be your good self,
The gentle, ever-patient, Dagonet.
We know you well: beneath that motley garb
There beats the kindest heart in Christendom.
[FREDA, hearing footsteps, has gone up, C. She comes running back to the QUEEN.
Freda. The king!
Guenevere. The king! Is he alone?
Freda. (Running to look again.) No, madam.
He is preceded by his bodyguard,
And one, a stranger knight, walks by his side.
Guenevere. I had not looked for this! (To SIBYL.) Pick up your roses, girl, and come and
stand behind here. (To DAGONET, who is retiring.) Nay, do not go, Sir Dagonet; I would have you here. (To FREDA as she lies back in the cushions.) Fan me, child.
Enter ARTHUR, ANGUISH, MORDRED, AGRAVAIN, BORS, GAWAIN, GOREU, and KAY, preceded by Soldiers. Knights and Ladies bring up the rear.
Arthur. My queen, King Anguish, with a hundred knights
Picked from the flower of his nobility,
Has come to tilt with us at Camelot.
Anguish. (Bending low and touching the QUEEN'S hand with his lips.)
Not to tilt only, but to see a queen
Whose fame has reached even our distant homes.
Ostensibly we come to try our force
In friendly tournament; but to speak true—
And you will pardon my temerity—
Your famous beauty is the siderite
That draws my hundred lances to these jousts.
Guenevere. You are most welcome. Would that my poor charms
Were worthier of your praise; but much I fear
My reputation has outrun my worth.
Anguish. That is because it dreads comparison.
Guenevere. Nay, nay, you flatter me. Would it were so.
Anguish. Then has your fame, proud of its origin,
Assumed your coat of arms and run ahead
To vaunt its noble ancestry.
Guenevere. I see
King Anguish is a gallant courtier.
Arthur. And chivalrous in tournament. You know
He, like a gallant gentleman, did choose
The weaker side, casting his lot with us
Who number less. Thus we two match our skill
Against three kings and all their strength in knights.
Guenevere. A noble company!
Arthur. There shall we meet
My sister, Queen Margawse, with all her court,
The Duchess of Calleva, the Duke of Gore,
[Turning to GOREU.
Am I right? You have the list.
Goreu. (Glancing at scroll he is carrying.)
Her name is here. She promises to bring
Two hundred of her knights.
Arthur. Who else have we?
Goreu. There are the Earls of Cumberland and York,
Each with a hundred knights. Then Grastian
And Ladinas, French counts, will bring with them
The flower of France's knights to test our skill.
Guenevere. A goodly fellowship. Much I regret
This sickness that must keep me here at court.
Anguish. I had not heard Queen Guenevere was ill!
Arthur. I must confess myself as ill-informed.
Mordred. This is bad news!
Agravain. The very worst of news!
Guenevere. My late misfortune has impaired my health.
Arthur. Your face belies your words.
Mordred. An invalid
Would blush to own the colour in your cheeks.
Guenevere. The outward wound has healed, but there still lurks
Some venom in the blood.
Arthur. An antidote!
We'll find an antidote! Were Morgan here
She'd diagnose, prescribe, and cure ensemble!
What! tilt at Camelot without our queen?
What say you, Gawain?—eh, Sir Agravain?
Nay, Guenevere, I would not have you miss
The noblest concourse that has met for years—
No, not for half my kingdom in the north!
Unless my queen be with us, by my side,
Our knights will lack incentive: your esteem
Has ever been the goal of their ambition.
Hast thou forgotten Lancelot's great deeds,
And how he won the diamonds from your hands?
See, here is the last gem: this one completes
The crown of diamonds found at Lyonness,
And dedicated to these tournaments.
Should Lancelot win this, and you not there—
The Queen of Beauty to bestow the prize
On Lancelot, the Flower of Chivalry—
Then were our triumph robbed of half its charm,
And this, the choicest diamond, least esteemed.
Guenevere. Your sister, Queen Margawse, will take my place.
Arthur. Margawse! Margawse!—'tis Guenevere we want!
Agravain. What serve a thousand queens if Guenevere
Gawain. Will you not try to come,
Even though ill, to grace our festival?
Anguish. The welcome we should give you would dispel
All memory of pain.
Gawain. The prayers of those
Who come from far to see you would of themselves
Bors. Would not the delight
Your presence gives reflect upon its source?
Guenevere. Would not my grief reflect on your delight?
Anguish. Let us persuade you.
Enter LANCELOT, C. All respectfully make way for him. MORDRED and AGRAVAIN draw apart and watch him suspiciously.
Arthur. Surely all our hopes
Should count for something! No? you still refuse?
Then much I fear our case is past all hope.—
Stay, here comes Sir Lancelot. Let us see
How he will take the news.—Sir Lancelot,
Our queen is ailing.
Lancelot. (Starting, then restraining himself.)
Arthur. So indisposed
That she'll not go with us to Camelot.
Not go with us!
[GUENEVERE shakes her head wearily.
Arthur. No. What are we to do?
Must we, disconsolate, start off alone,
And like a pack of discontented bees
Swarm there without our queen?
Gawain. Heaven forbid!
Guenevere. Those sick are best at home; they have no heart
Arthur. You hear, Sir Lancelot?
Come now, if your persuasive powers can serve,
Let's have them to the test: 'tis our last hope.
Should you fail—well, then we must go alone.
Lancelot. And leave our queen unguarded! In that case
I will remain. In truth, Sir Mador's steel
Has left me ill-conditioned for the tilts.
I scarce may sit a horse. This very morn
A sudden faintness let me fall.
Mordred. (Apart to AGRAVAIN.) He lies!
This is some plot of theirs.
Arthur. No, Lancelot,
We could not spare you! Though you should not tilt,
Your presence means success; your name alone
Ensures us victory. Come, will you not go?
Sir Kay shall stay with twenty trusty knights
As our queen's guard.
Kay. (Strutting forward.) Right gladly will I stay!
Lancelot. Gently, Sir Kay; I claim a prior right.
Kay. Obedience is the right due to a king.
The king commands, I am obedient.
Our seneschal has turned philosopher.
Kay. (Furious.) Philosopher or not—
Arthur. Stay, good Sir Kay;
Sir Lancelot shall tell us why he thus
Should claim precedence.
Kay. I would gladly know!
Lancelot. My Lord, the day you knighted me I swore
Allegiance to my king, and to my queen
Fidelity. As her appointed knight—
'Twas you who raised me to this dignity—
My place is by her side. Have I not fought
In all her quarrels? Have I ever failed
In time of need? Must I enumerate
Each plot against her honour that I've crushed?
Each battle that I've won on her behalf?
I must admit I would more moderately
Have spoken of my services; but since
My cherished privilege is questioned . . .
Credentials proved, we must withdraw our claim.
Stay, Lancelot, if 'tis your wish. We rest
Your debtors still. Yet had you known how much
I counted on you for this tournament,
How much I hoped to hear your name once more
Proclaimed the victor, maybe you had found
Allegiance has its claims sacred as those
[Turning to the others.
We'll have a friendly contest on the lawns
With lance and sword.
You'll come with us?
Guenevere. Not now.
I am too weary. Presently I'll come.
[Exit ARTHUR, followed by the others. MORDRED and AGRAVAIN linger for a moment up stage watching LANCELOT, who remains near the QUEEN.
Mordred. Let them stay! They fancy that if we two are away at Camelot there will be no
longer any danger of surprise. We will see. One of these days they will be caught like rats in a trap.
Agravain. I would give half my heritage to catch them!
Mordred. (Leading him away.) It shall cost less than that. A little toasted cheese will suffice.
[Exeunt MORDRED and AGRAVAIN. LANCELOT watches them out of sight, then returns to the QUEEN.
Lancelot. My queen, have I done well?
Guenevere. Done well, indeed!
If to encourage those who seek our ruin
Is to do well—why, then, you have done well!
What do you think Sir Agravain will say?
And what will Mordred think? Our enemies
Have waited long for such a chance as this.
Because the king's away with all the court
We two must stay behind. The same excuse
Serves for us both. The one complains of sickness,
The other of a wound that a schoolboy
Would blush to speak about!
Lancelot. (Hotly.) Gods! had I thought
You'd take it thus, I would—
Guenevere. (Going to him.) Nay, Lancelot,
I did but feign just now to test your love,
To see if you would sacrifice these tilts
For love of me. All stratagems are fair
In love and war; and I do think our love
May claim war's privileges, if not love's,
So hostile is it to all interests.
Lancelot. Had I but known—
Guenevere. You will forgive me, love,
If I have dared to prove you once again.
This sweet assurance is more dear to me
Than public acclamations at these tilts,
Or the bright homage of a hundred kings.
What care I now for tournaments! Your love
Is more to me than diamonds. I would give
The fairest of my jewels, even those
In my own crown—ay, and the crown itself
With all that a crown means, to be assured
That in your loyal heart I reigned supreme.
Lancelot. If I am loyal, 'tis to you alone;
Yet you alone have doubted me. The king
Has never doubted. His great love for me
Would scorn suspicion; yet I lied to him,
And this to prove my loyalty to one
Who questions it.
Guenevere. Had I loved less, my faith
Might have been greater. Men say love is blind;
And were it not, who knows but that my eyes,
Which now can see no fault in Lancelot,
Would have discovered blemishes, have found
That, for true harmony of line and form,
His shoulders were too broad, his massive chest
Too well developed—though I fail to see,
If it were smaller, how it could contain
So great a heart.
Lancelot. Or hold a love which now
Exceeds all measurement. Ah, Guenevere,
My love, my life! surely a love like ours
Should know no doubts! The gods made you for me,
And me for you; but some malignant fate,
Jealous that such a pair should meet on earth,
Misled our footsteps: you to Arthur's court—
The loveliest girl on earth to be the wife
Of the earth's greatest king—and I, a lad,
To live apart, hidden from all the world,
With Vivien, the Lady of the Lake.
Guenevere. Still have we met.
Lancelot. And meeting we have loved
With a fine love which surely sets us free
From all law save Love's law. Should not such love
Guenevere. Dear, if that were so,
Then were I free to love you as I would.
And if I sin—may heaven pardon me!
What woman born of woman would not sin
For such a man as you!
Lancelot. Whate'er I am
I owe all to your love. Thus is your love
Born of its own sweet self. You love your love
Since I am your love's fruit. Ah, Guenevere!
Had we not met—
Guenevere. We never should have learnt
Love's litany, or known what a kiss means
When such a pair embrace.—There, now 'tis time
You harnessed for this tournament.
Lancelot. What! I?
Guenevere. Yes, you! I would not have you miss these tilts,
Now that I know my love is all to you,
And that my arms outrival Fame itself.
'Twas but a ruse, and now the ruse has served,
You must away to Camelot to win
The last and fairest diamond for your queen.
Lancelot. But then my wounds? . . . My claim to be your guard?. . .
The king? . . .
Guenevere. Wounds, claims, and kings—what count are these
When Guenevere commands! Yes, you must go
Unknown to all, disguised as some good knight
Who seeks adventure at the tournament.
Men say it is your name, not your worth,
That proves victorious—that the bravest knights
Are all undone when Lancelot is seen.
Prove that this is not so, that, though disguised,
And without badge or favour, you can wield
A heavier lance—ay, and a truer one,
Than any living knight!
Lancelot. If 'tis your wish,
You know I must obey. Adieu.
[Clinging to him.
And yet, dear heart, I would not have you gone
Further than I can see, or that my voice
Could call you back again. In truth, I think
I am grown childlike: I for ever fear
Some evil is at hand, some hateful plot
To rob me of your love.
Lancelot. 'Tis not like you
To harbour fears!
Guenevere. And yet—would you believe?—
Of late the slightest noise, a stranger's step,
Some unfamiliar voice—and my poor heart
Grows sick with apprehension. Then, again,
The merest fancy will attain such growth,
Such monstrous disproportion to its birth,
That to my eyes imagination looks
More real than fact itself.
Lancelot. Then will I stay
To chase away these fantasies.
Guenevere. No, no!
You shall not stay! Are not your triumphs mine?
Your loss mine also? . . .
There, take no notice of my foolish fears,
I blush to own to them!
[Passing her hand across her eyes
See! they are passed,
And I'm your queen again. Go quickly, though,
Before my new-found courage hesitates
And calls you back again.
Lancelot. Farewell, my queen.
Guenevere. (Clinging to him.)
But one word more: be careful in the field.
I have no fear of the best knights on earth
So that they meet you fairly. No, what I dread
Lancelot. What! fears again?
Guenevere. Ah, no!
But see your armour closes at the back:
'Tis there that Mordred strikes.
Lancelot. I fear him not!
Guenevere. A brave man's courage is a coward's chance.
Once more, take care. And should you be hard pressed
By any of our men, think of this kiss:
It will encourage you.
[LANCELOT breaks away. The curtain falls as he turns to glance back once more at the QUEEN.
SCENE: Hall in SIR BERNARD'S castle. Folding doors, up L. Door, R. I E. Window, R. 3 E. Chiffonier with a vase of lilies on it, C. Helmets, shields, lances, suits of armour, and instruments of the chase, are hung about the hall. BERNARD, TIRRE, and ELAINE are at table, R. C. DAME MARGERY is waiting on them.
Elaine. (To TIRRE, who reaches across the table for a basket.)
No, no! they're not for you!
Tirre. Not for me?
Tirre. Well, just a few?
Elaine. No, they are for Lavaine.
I gathered them especially for him.
Tirre. (Taking one.) Then just this one.
A kiss for just this one.
Enter LAVAINE, L. Disconsolately he throws down his bow and arrows and a partridge on the floor.
Tirre. Here comes Lavaine.
Margery. Disconsolate again!
Bernard. I like him better in his gayer moods
Elaine. (Going to LAVAINE and leading him to a chair.)
You are tired. Come and sit down here with me, and I will show you what I have captured for you. You can't guess what they are? Well, they are quite wild, climbing up trees and over walls, and yet they have neither legs nor arms. The birds are on bad terms with them, and the fairies are afraid of them because they defend themselves so valiantly with their sharp-pointed spears. You can't guess? Then I must tell you. They are blackberries, and were gathered specially for you.
Lavaine. Take them away, I have no appetite.
Elaine. You will not taste my fruit! You do not see
How my poor hands are wounded with the thorns,
And how my dress is torn? And yet you say:
"Take them away, I have no appetite!"
Tirre. No appetite? That shows a troubled mind.
Bernard. A very discontented frame of mind!
Margery. A very very discontented mind!
Lavaine. (Rising suddenly and pacing up and down the room.)
'Tis true, I have a discontented mind
That frets and fumes in this imprisonment!
Margery. (Horrified.) Imprisonment!
Bernard. What's this?
Lavaine. I hear the king and all his Table Round
Are on their way to tilt at Camelot;
Whilst I, instead of joining in the throng,
And maybe winning laurels in the field,
Must be content to pass my life at home,
Tracking wild stags, and baiting traps for bears!
And this, forsooth, because an unkind fate
Has dropped me like an acorn in this wood!
Here must I sprout, since that we live apart,
Hidden from all the commerce of the earth!
What ails the lad! I ne'er before have known
Him speak like this!
Bernard. (Leaning forward and listening intently.)
Lavaine. Some men are happiest thus: their narrow world
Extends no further than the eye can see.
Nor are their minds more practised than their eyes,
So stagnant are their lives!
I am not one of these! For me the world
Begins, not ends, in these environments.
You tell me, father, that 'twas in these tilts
You learnt the use of weapons, that your fame
[BERNARD rises slowly, his eyes riveted on LAVAINE.
Was built by knightly deeds. If this be so,
Should I not seek to emulate such deeds,
And win a name like yours?
Bernard. (Enthusiastically.) Well said, my boy!
Well said indeed! Now have I found a son
After my own heart. I love you for these words!
They make my sluggish blood run warm again:
They are an echo of those bygone days
When I was young and lusty.
Had I my youth again, had this right arm
The force to wield a lance, or swing a sword,
I'd with you to these tilts, and on my helm
Bind some fair maiden's favour.
[Sitting, and taking ELAINE'S hand in his
It was thus
I won your mother's love: no fairer girl
E'er bound a token on her lover's helm.
Her favour was a red, embroidered sleeve,
Fantastically trimmed with many pearls;
And as I fought, these pearls, but loosely sewn,
And rudely tossed and shaken with our strife,
Came tumbling down my face. Then laughed my man:
"What! tears! " he cried, "and pale ones too!
I would they had some colour!"
[Rising with excitement.
At that taunt
I spurred upon him, and our horses met
With noise like thunder. Gods! what strokes we gave!—
For you must know my blood was lusty then,
And this right arm could deal a heavy blow.—
Again we met, and parted as before.
Then, as we closed once more, 'twas I who cried:
"What! tears! and red ones too!"
Thus lost I many pearls whilst winning one
Above all price. And when I lost that too
(Fighting this time against our common foe),
There still was left one pearl for my old age;
[Sitting, and putting his arm round ELAINE.
A pearl that, were I now a younger man,
I would prove spotless and unparalleled.
Tirre. Who knows but some brave knight of Arthur's court
May find us even in this hidden spot,
Accept our hospitality, and then
Appropriate our one remaining pearl.
Margery. Now see the roses blooming in her cheeks!
Tirre. Elaine the Blank? 'tis now Elaine the Rouge!
Bernard. They do but jest, my child, they do but jest.
Elaine. (Putting her arm round her father's neck.)
Even in jest I would not have it said
That I had thoughts of any home but this.
You say I am your pearl; then will I stay
Where you have set me, here, by your side.
Lavaine. Here you shall stay; and you shall need no knight
Whilst I can sit a horse and wield a lance.
Elaine. (Laughing.) A knight for me! Ah! fancy me in love!
Me, pining like Œnone for a youth!
Ah, no! I love my father and my home;
I love my brothers and dear Margery;
I love our faithful servitor who lost
His voice and near his life in our employ;
But no knight have I ever loved, nor will
I ever let my heart stray from my home.
[She runs up stage, and sings softly to herself while arranging the lilies on the chiffonier.
"Once a maiden, merry as the lark at sunrise, sweet and artless,
Fairer than an April blossom jewelled with Aurora's tears,
Gave her heart with all its secrets, all its treasures, all its chasteness,
To a knight who did not love her. Now this foolish maiden fears—"
Enter LORENZO, L., followed by LANCELOT and DAGONET. LORENZO gesticulates. ELAINE abruptly stops singing on seeing LANCELOT looking at her, and lets some lilies fall on the ground. She keeps her eyes riveted on LANCELOT as though fascinated. The others rise.
Lancelot. (Coming forward.)
Fair sir, if we by thus intruding here
Do overstep the bounds of courtesy,
We pray you of your goodness pardon us
For stern necessity has dulled the edge
Of our urbanity. Hunger and thirst
Have robbed us of our manners. Adversity
Has shorn us of those nicer attributes
That etiquette demands. Therefore as knights
Who have but their misfortune as excuse,
We beg your hospitality.
Bernard. Fair sirs,
If I can be of service, or my home
Can make you welcome, you are welcome here.
Lancelot. We rest your debtors.
Bernard. Nay, sir, it is we
Who are indebted to the happy chance
That led your footsteps here.
Dagonet. We missed our way
In yonder forest. I had never thought
This little world contained so many trees!
A day and night we wandered in a circle,
Ever returning to the self-same spot
From where we started. Thus you see we proved
The roundness of the earth, which some still hold
Is pancake shape.
Bernard. (Laughing.) Some proofs are hardly won!
Lancelot. Haply we met your servant who, though dumb,
Soon won our confidence.
Bernard. I know the rest.
He led you to my gates where he well knew
You would be welcomed. Now I trust you'll stay
As long as you would wish.
Lancelot. Our time is short,
For we ere this should be at Camelot.
Tirre. At Camelot!
Lavaine. (Excitedly.) You go to Camelot!
Lancelot. Where else should knights be bound for when the king
Is holding a great tournament? 'Tis said
That Camelot has never looked so gay,
Nor held so fair a company before.
Lavaine. Oh, that I might be there!
Bernard. What knights will tilt?
[They crowd round LANCELOT. He turns helplessly from one to the other as they badger him with questions.
Lavaine. Will Sir Lancelot tilt?
Tirre. And Queen Guenevere,
Will she be there?
Margery. And does Sir Gawain meet
Sir Mador de la Porte again?
Bernard. Tell us,
What is the prize?
Lavaine. A diamond.
Tirre. No, a pearl!
Lavaine. I tell you 'tis a diamond!—one the king
Has dedicated to these tournaments.
Margery. Come you from court?
Lavaine. May we not learn your names?
Lancelot. Nay, gentlemen, we may not answer you
Touching our names, or from what parts we come,
As we intend to tilt as knights disguised,
Maybe against our very kith and kin.
Therefore, if, for this time, you will forgive
Our seeming want of courtesy, we will—
When tilts are won, and masks are thrown aside—
Disclose our names.
Bernard. Sir, in these lawless parts,
A noble bearing and a courteous voice
Are surer passports than the greatest name
Built up by force, and reverenced through fear.
Lancelot. Your kindness makes me bold. As I have said,
We tilt disguised. If, then, you have a shield
That you would lend me, plain, or with device
That could not be mistaken for my own,
I should be doubly grateful. These two lions
Would certainly betray me.
Bernard. Let me see:
What shields have we at present? There's my own—
A shield once famous, now, alas! unknown—
'Twould serve perhaps. If not, why then my son,
Sir Tirre, shall lend you his.
Tirre. Most willingly.
Bernard. Untimely was he hurt in his first tilt,
And therefore will not need nor shield nor lance.
Tirre. I'll go and fetch it.
Bernard. Stay, the shield can wait.
First let us to the table. I am sure
Our travellers are hungry.—Come, Elaine,
Let's see what cheer we have. Not every day
Our board is honoured thus.—By all the saints
What ails the child! Dear heaven how she stares!
Look at her face! The shadows come and go
As on a landscape under fleeting clouds.
What, child! hast thou ne'er seen a knight before,
That thou must gaze upon his face like that!
Come, take this shield from us—a goodly one!—
By Ryon's beards a goodly one!—a shield
That the great Lancelot himself might bear!
Come, take it, child, and have it in thy care.
It is a maiden's special privilege.
Lancelot. (Giving shield to ELAINE.)
If there be any privilege, 'tis mine
To have so fair a guardian for my shield.
Full often has it left me, but till now
It never had such sweet companionship.
Elaine. (Taking shield.)
Yet must it still be loath to leave your hands.
Lancelot. A pretty compliment!
Tirre. (Awed.) Is this Elaine!
Lavaine. (Staring in astonishment.)
Is this the bashful maid of Astolat?
Margery. (Stopping abruptly with her hands full of plates.)
Now heaven be praised! I almost feared the child
Would ever stay a child; but her reply—
Coming so readily upon his words—
Shows me the woman budding from the girl
More surely than the letting out of gowns,
Or hours of pensiveness.
Bernard. (Going to the table.) Now, Margery,
What have you for these gentlemen? What's this?
Bernard. And this?
Margery. My lady's blackberries.
Bernard. Picked for a thankless youth.
Lavaine. (To ELAINE.) Forgive me, dear!
Bernard. Now come, Elaine, and help our guests. Be sure
They want for nothing.—Lorenzo, bring us wine.
Dagonet. (Eating ravenously.) Most welcome meal!
Lancelot. In yonder barren wood
We found nor food nor drink.
Dagonet. I do believe,
Had happy chance not led us here, we should
Have quarrelled for a mushroom, or have fought
Over a dewdrop clinging to a leaf!
Bernard. (To LORENZO, who is bringing wine.)
You hear, Lorenzo? Quick now with the wine!
Dagonet. Past miseries are lost in present cheer.
Lancelot. Remember we have many leagues to ride
Dagonet. Nay, rather let me forget,
For I am loath to quit so good a board.
Bernard. Must you be gone so soon, good sirs?
Lancelot. This night
We hope to pass within a hermit's cave
Not far from Camelot.
Dagonet. (Dolefully.) 'Tis far from here!
Bernard. What is this hermit's name? 'Tis like enough
I know the man.
Lancelot. Sir Baudwin of Brittany.
Bernard. Sir Baudwin! the merry Sir Baudwin! Why,
I knew him well! He was my closest friend.
And say you he's turned hermit?
I had thought
He better loved to whisper dainty things
In ladies' ears.
Dagonet. Believe me, so he does:
So do we all; but this Sir Baudwin
Carried his whisperings to such excess
That he was conscience-stricken; so he went
To see if he could live a saintly life
Where there was no temptation, to abstain
From wine and doubtful liquids in a wood
Where only water ran, to starve himself
Where food could not be found, to seek for—
Lancelot. (Laughing.) Nay,
You do belie the man!
Bernard. Turned hermit! He,
Sir Baudwin, hermit! This is news indeed!
You see, we hear so little in these parts.
Sometimes my sons, in search of rarer game,
Will wander far afield; and then, perchance,
They meet with some stray knight of Arthur's court,
Who tells them all the history of the day:
How this duke hath rebelled, and how the king
First humbled then forgave him; how the queen
Hath been accused of treason; then, again,
How guiltily she loves Sir Lancelot.
Bernard. 'Tis news to us, for in these parts
We learn but little. Quite by chance we heard
Of this great tournament at Camelot.
My son, Lavaine, was wishing he could join
So fair a company. Would that he might!
But then, you see, his name not being known,
He has no right to enter such great lists.
Lancelot. Then let him come with me. I'll undertake
To post him in his principles.
Bernard. The lad
Will need no second offer. Look at his face!
If that's a truthful index to his mind,
He sees himself already at these jousts,
And winner of the prize.
Lavaine. (To LANCELOT.) I'll be your squire
If you will take me. I have ever wished
To serve a knight like you.
Lancelot. Then you shall come.
Put on your harness, for our time is short.
We must not stay too long if we would pass
This night beneath a roof.
Bernard. Where is your mail?
Lavaine. I have it here.—Come, help me, Elaine.
Lancelot. And look to your horse. Select it carefully.
There'll be some jolting at this tournament,
Or I am much at fault.
Lavaine. I will, my lord.
[ELAINE helps LAVAINE to take down his armour from the wall; then she helps him to put it on, kneeling on the floor to fasten his greaves and spurs.
Bernard. How can I thank you, sir! I trust the lad
Will be of use to you. He sits a horse
And wields a lance with an uncommon skill.
Lancelot. He'll need do both if he would hold his own
With Arthur's knights.—And now where is this shield?
The one you are to lend me? Let me see
If it will turn a lance.
Bernard. Fetch your shield, Tirre.
[TIRRE goes for his shield—a red one—which is hanging on the wall, dusting it with his handkerchief as he returns.
The lad had the misfortune to be thrown
In his first tilt, and badly was he hurt.
But then—between us two—I think his taste
Is rather for the Muses than for Mars.
Tirre. This is my shield, sir.
Bernard. Virgin, as you see.
Lancelot. (Testing shield.) 'Tis wondrous light!
Bernard. (Laughing.) 'Twas heavy for Sir Tirre!
Tirre. Since I have failed to use it as a shield,
Preferring blows upon my head—
Bernard. Sir Tirre!
Tirre. This knight is welcome to its use.
Lancelot. Nay, sir,
You must not let a fall discourage you!
Few knights have been victorious at first.
When I first tilted I was often thrown;
But now my seat is firmer, and my arm
Made stronger by continued exercise.
If I am any critic of a man,
You yet will learn to use your shield aright,
And hold your own as well.
Tirre. I thank you, sir.
For your sake will I try; and should I fail,
Will try again, remembering your fair words.
Bernard. Well said, my boy! If I should live to see
You throw knights as Lavaine has done—
Lavaine. (Coming down, armed.) Father!
Bernard. Then shall I be indebted to our guest
And the good fortune that has brought him here.
Lancelot. Now that your son is armed, and that our time
Is all too short, we will, with your consent,
Look to our horses.
Dagonet. (Draining a flagon as he rises.)
I would gladly stay
A little longer; but, as we must go,
'Tis useless sorrowing.
Bernard. As you wish, good sirs.
Come, Tirre, we two must see our travellers
Have all they need. Lorenzo, go and bring
The horses to the gates.—Come, gentlemen.
[Exeunt all save ELAINE, who goes to chiffonier and takes out a crimson sleeve—i.e., the light band of silk which hung en écharpe from the arms of ladies of high rank.
Elaine. He has no favour. Were I bold enough
I'd ask him to wear mine. Why should I fear?
He could but say me nay . . . Yet still I fear . . .
Oh! how my heart beats!. . .What can all this mean?
Why should a stranger's voice so trouble me?
[She goes R.C., then taking up LANCELOT'S shield, looks at herself in its polished surface.
Is it that mine old mirror flatters me,
Or that this shield, like him who gave it me,
Is faultless and would blush to tell untruths?
My face seems changed! If then the saw be true,
That hearts reflect their colours on the face,
Then has my heart changed too, and all may see
That I, Elaine, have lost my heart. No, no!
This must not be!
Lancelot. I come to take my leave
Of our sweet hostess. My most grateful thanks
Are due to you and to your father's care.
My shield I leave with you: pray keep it well
Till I return.
[Touching her fingers with his lips.
Adieu, sweet maid!
Lancelot. (Turning back.)
Elaine. You have no favour: will you wear
My sleeve? It was my mother's. These same pearls
Shone on my father's helmet when he fought
With King Pendragon's knights.
Lancelot. Nay, gentle maid,
That is the one thing that I may not do.
Ask me some other favour. If you will,
I'll bring you back a trophy from the field—
A heathen shield maybe, or some fair sword
Richly beset with jewels. Or, if by chance
You should prefer—
Elaine. (Reproachfully.) You will not wear my sleeve!
Lancelot. It pains me to refuse you; but, in truth,
I never yet wore favour of a maid.
'Tis not my custom.
Elaine. Therefore should you don
Some token since you seek to tilt unknown.
'Twould be a more reliable disguise
Than change of shield.
Lancelot. (Smiling.) The argument is good,
And worthy of a maiden!
A token would deceive the king himself;
And Bors would never know me.
[After a moment's hesitation.
Well, as you wish.
[Giving her his helmet.
There, fix it firmly so that thrust and cut
Will not displace it.
Elaine. (Fixing sleeve on helmet.)
It shall be secure.
Lancelot. And know, my lady, that I do for you
What I have never done for maid before.
Elaine. If you have never granted, I, in turn,
Have ne'er before asked favour of a knight.
Lancelot. Then am I doubly favoured; and, in truth,
I was discourteous. Pardon me.
Tirre. (Within.) Elaine!
Elaine. I hear them call.
Tirre. (Within.) Elaine! Elaine!
Elaine. (Calling.) We come!
[Giving back helmet.
There is my token, sir. Pray guard it well,
As you would have me careful of your shield.
Lancelot. I promise you—
Tirre. (Within.) Elaine!
Elaine. (Calling.) Yes, yes, we come!
Enter LORENZO. He gesticulates furiously.
Elaine. They wait for you. I hear them call. Farewell.
God-speed: My thoughts will be with you.
Lancelot. (Going.) Farewell.
[Exit LANCELOT followed by LORENZO. ELAINE runs to window, throws open the casement, and looks down. The sound of horses' hoofs and the clinking of armour is heard in the courtyard below.
SCENE I. A roadside with a hermit's cave seen in the distance.
Enter LANCELOT, wounded. He is leaning on DAGONET and LAVAINE. He sinks down on a bank of flowers, L.
Dagonet. Just one step more!
Lavaine. Here is the hermit's cave!
Lancelot. The hermit's cave! What can a hermit serve,
Or twenty score of prattling anchorites,
With this accursèd lancehead sticking here,
And half my blood run waste!
Lavaine. Do not despair!
'Tis said this hermit's skill—
Lancelot. I tell you, lad,
I am beyond a hermit's remedies!
Were that enchantress Morgan here, perchance
I might be saved; but now my time has come.
No man can bleed as I have bled, and live
To boast of it.
Dagonet. Nay, you must not despair!
Lancelot. (To LAVAINE.)
'Twas that red shield of yours that played me false!
No wonder that your brother got his hurt
With such a pasteboard toy!—Ah! even now
I hear their laughter ringing in my ears,—
Their maddening laughter, as each man rode by
To see me grovelling in the dust!
[Raising himself on his arm.
For my own shield once more, a trusty lance,
And that wide field to meet them all again!
For this! for this! . . .
[Falls back with a groan.
Dagonet. Now, gently!
Lavaine. He will die!
Give me but half a moment! I will run
And see what help there lives in yonder cave.
Dagonet. Go quickly then!
[Exit LAVAINE, running, R.
Lancelot. Loosen this belt of mine.
There: now I breathe more freely. Leave it thus.
I'll die in harness, here, as I lie,
Not in a bed, propped up with pillows,
And half my body swathed in bandages!
Here one has room to breathe, to send a prayer
To heaven on the sweet incense of these flowers . . .
Dagonet. My lord?
Lancelot. Tell her from me
My last thoughts were of her. You know our love
Is not church-hallowed, yet there lives in it
All that has made life beautiful to me.
Therefore, if, when I die—
Dagonet. Die? You shall die
When your time comes, not now! Help is at hand.
Pluck up your courage! Don't let it be said
That one lancehead extinguished Lancelot!
Why, I should blush myself to quit this world
On such a poor pretext! Hark! even now
I hear a distant footstep. Let me go
And see what help is near. Gloomy despair
Is not for Lancelot. Courage! courage!
[Going to look, R., then soliloquising.
All is but vanity. Ambition makes
Fools of us all. Myself, I fondly thought
That an adventure with Sir Lancelot
Could end but in renown for both of us.
What do we see? My lord stretched on the ground
In an outlandish, bear-infested wood,
With prospects of a dozen weary weeks
Dragged out in yonder cave! Gods! had I thought
This fatal fad for freaks incognito,
This antique-armour, crimson-sleeve caprice,
Would damn me to oblivion in this way!
Shutting me up in prehistoric holes,
With naught to do but dwell upon my sins
And grumble at my fate—had I known this,
I would have stayed behind—yes, though all the court
Had labelled me a coward!—Now heaven be praised,
They come at last!
Enter Hermit and LAVAINE, R.
Hermit. Where is this wounded knight?
Dagonet. 'Twixt heaven and earth. Whether he go above
Or stay below, depends upon your skill.
Hermit. Then let us lose no time. Where is he?
This way. We laid him down upon a bank.—
A friend, my lord.
Lancelot. A friend?
Hermit. Yes, one who comes
To help you if he can.—Now let us see
What we can do for you. Where is the wound?
Lancelot. 'Tis found without a compass or a chart.
Dagonet. Here, in his side.
Lancelot. A foot or so of steel
Betrays the spot.
Hermit. Ah? a lancehead broken in
An ugly wound—a very ugly wound!
Yet not so dangerous. Has it bled much?
Lancelot. More than enough. I shall not need a leech.
Pray leave me here in peace.
Hermit. What! leave you here
To let your wound grow cold and stiff? No, no!
You shall be put to bed. A little care,
A week or so of rest, and we shall see
You well enough again. With limbs like these
Strength soon returns.
Lavaine. (Anxiously.) But then, the loss of blood?. . .
Hermit. That's but a little thing.
[Aside to LAVAINE.
In truth I think
If men were oftener bled, this wicked world
Would be a safer place.—Come, help me here.
[The three of them raise LANCELOT. The Hermit on one side and LAVAINE on the other support him.
Lavaine. It is not far.
Lancelot. 'Tis far enough for me!
Hermit. Now, gently. When we've got this harness off
He'll have a better chance.
Lavaine. How now, my lord?
[Exeunt Hermit, LAVAINE, and LANCELOT, R. DAGONET returns for his sword and shield, and picks up LANCELOT'S helmet, from which the sleeve is now hanging in shreds. He stands looking thoughtfully at it.
Dagonet. All through a woman's sleeve! Well, 'tis tattered enough now, and half the pearls have gone. Indeed, after such rough handling I wonder there is one left! Here are a dozen dents, any one of which would be enough to knock a good knight from his saddle. Phoebus Apollo! but how he cleared a space around us! Did ever man empty so many saddles in so short a time! I helped him, though. He will not forget that. But for me he must have fallen sooner. If I am not greatly mistaken there must be some ugly gashes in my own headpiece. (Taking of his helmet and looking at its polished surface.) No! I don't see one! This is strange! I must have taken them on my shield; and, indeed, what is a shield for if not to take blows? (Looks at his shield.) Not a scratch! And yet I swear I was in the thick of that fatal scuffle for a good quarter of an hour! . . . Can our men have known me for Dagonet? Does my personality refuse to be hid under a disguise? Do I owe a sound skull to some distinctive idiosyncrasies which cannot be dissociated from a court fool? . . . Well, I pray heaven it may never be said of me that I failed Sir Lancelot; for I would sooner be spitted with a lance than stung with ridicule. Oh, for a wound to speak for my valour! Oh, for a scratch to justify my existence!
SCENE 2. A garden at Astolat. ELAINE is seated, R. D., embroidering a handkerchief. GAWAIN is sitting gazing at her.
Gawain. Surely one of those goddesses, the Fates,
Has led my footsteps here. Had I not come
In search of him who won the diamond,
I ne'er had seen your beauty, nor have heard
The music of your voice. Believe me, child,
In all the queen's gay court, where may be found
The noblest and the loveliest of this realm,
I have not seen a maiden half so fair
As your sweet self.
Elaine. Nor have I seen a knight
So far forget his duty to his king
And to himself as to neglect a quest!
Would it not be more praiseworthy of you—
Instead of idly dallying on the way,
And whispering dainty things to me—to go
And follow up this quest, to find this knight,
To show yourself more worthy of this trust?
Gawain. 'Tis true I have forgotten
My duty to myself as to my king;
But 'tis the subtle sweetness of your eyes
That has bewitched me. How, then, can I go
When all my senses hold me to this spot,
And your sweet voice—was ever voice so sweet!—
Rings ever in my ears? I cannot go!
An hour of your companionship is worth
A thousand royal quests. . . . I love you!
Listen to me first, sweet child. My love is not
The careless fancy of an idle hour,
That seeks distraction in a maiden's sighs;
Nor is it the caprice of artless youth
Untutored in young Cupid's stratagems.
If it were so, I had not lingered here
When duty called me. No, I am sincere;
And if you will consent to be my wife,
The queen herself shall welcome you to court.
What say you to my suit, sweet maid? If free,
As it would seem you are, there being no ring
On guard upon your finger, nor a—
There is your error. Though my hand is free,
My poor heart was never so enslaved
As it is now. How may I listen, then,
To any words of love, unless they come
From him who holds my heart?
Gawain. And who is this
Who, master, dares not show his ownership?
Elaine. Alas, I cannot tell you! This I know,
That he is noble. No ignoble knight
E'er spoke like him. He left his shield with me,
And took my brother, Sir Lavaine, with him
To Camelot. But as he wished to tilt
In the great tournament as one unknown,
We did not learn his name. Still am I sure
That he is noble.
Gawain. So, then, I'm forestalled,
And by an unknown gallant! You cannot tell
Whether he comes from court? You do not know
His name or station?
Gawain. Well, this is strange!
Was he alone? What favour did he wear?
Elaine. He wore no favour till, with riotous heart,
I asked him to wear mine.
Gawain. What did he say?
Did he accept it?
Gawain. What was it then?
Maybe I saw this token at the tilts.
Elaine. A crimson sleeve.
Gawain. Trimmed with small pearls?
Elaine. (Excitedly.) Yes!
You saw it?
Elaine. Fared he ill or well?
Gawain. By all the gods, till now I thought full ill!
But since you love—
Elaine. (Anxiously.) Speak quickly! Is it he
You seek? Is he the wounded knight?
Gawain. Fair maid—
Elaine. Oh, fair maid me no longer! How can you sit
And bandy compliments when such a man
As he lies wounded!—for I see 'tis he.
Oh, sir, give me the diamond. I, at least,
Will prove more faithful in this quest than you.
I'll go and seek the hermit to whose skill
He doubtless will have gone.—Stay, where is Tirre?
Tirre!—I pray you pardon me.—Tirre!
Gawain. Thus this blind hazard sports with all of us.
Had I come first, and to this virgin heart
Whispered my novel tale of love, no knight
In Christendom could have displanted me!
Now 'tis too late. The hazard of a day,
A score or so of hours, and this fair city
Has closed its gates to me.
Enter BERNARD, TIRRE, and ELAINE.
Elaine. (Excitedly.) Yes, yes, 'tis he
Who was our guest!
Bernard. Art sure?
Tirre. How do you know?
Elaine. Because he wore my favour, my red sleeve,
Bound to his helm. And now to think that he
Lies wounded—maybe to his death!—Come, Tirre!
We two will find him. The ambassador
Has wearied of the quest.
Bernard. My wayward child,
How could you go? You surely do not think . . .
I have no time to think! All that I know
Is that this knight lies wounded.
Let me go!
If, as you say, I am a wilful child,
Then let me have my way. My heart is set
On this adventure.
Bernard. But, my child, you know. . . .
Elaine. Nay, do not thwart me! Surely we may go
To help a wounded knight! And I can take
The prize to him—the diamond he has won
[With her arms about his neck.
Yes—father dear—let me go!
But are you sure Sir Gawain will consent
To trust you with this precious gem?
Elaine. I'm sure
He will not say me nay if 'tis my wish.
What can I say now! How could I refuse
To grant a favour to a maid who shows
Herself to be more zealous in this quest
Than I have proved to be?
[Giving the diamond to ELAINE.
Here, take the gem.
And I am sure, coming from your fair hands,
It will be even more acceptable
Than from a king's ambassador. The quest
Is henceforth yours.
Elaine. I thank you, sir.—Come, Tirre!
I'll ride my palfrey; you, as my good knight,
Must mount a charger.
Gawain. Stay. Have you the shield
This knight left in your charge? Perchance his name
Might be translated from its blazonry.
Bernard. I'll send for it.
Elaine. No, I will go myself.
This shield is in my keeping.
Bernard. (Looking after her.) Wilful maid!
One cannot say you nay!
[Turning to GAWAIN.
Would you believe,
She keeps this shield close guarded in her room.
And there she sits, sometimes from morn till eve,
Interpreting quaint stories from its arms,
And woeful tragedies from dent and scratch;
And some of these so full of life, so real
To her imaginative temperament,
That we have heard her call out in her sleep
For help in some extremity. She lives
But in these fantasies.
Tirre. And in spare hours
She worked a silken covering for the shield,
And reproduced in pretty, quaint designs
Some of these fantasies.
Gawain. It seems to me
Her friendship for this knight is something more
Than a mere fantasy. I would I held
As real a place as he in her esteem.
Bernard. 'Tis but a passing whim, and maidens' whims
Are shorter lived than blossoms in the Spring.
Gawain. Yet from these short-lived blossoms springs the fruit.
When there have been no frosts.—But here she comes,
The shield held lovingly in both her arms
As though it were a babe.
Enter ELAINE, somewhat out of breath. She carries the shield which is covered with a worked case.
Gawain. Now let us see
If this mysterious knight can be explained.
Elaine. (Carefully taking off the case.)
If we can learn his name.
Tirre . Or rank—
Gawain. (Starting back.) The gods!
Is this the shield?—the one you say this knight
Left in your care?
Gawain. And yet
You do not know that field? this coat of arms?
These famous lions?
Bernard. Good sir, how should we know?
Gawain. (Pacing up and down and muttering to himself.)
We might have known 'twas he! No other man
Could cut a way as he did through our ranks!
Ay, but this is a sad hour! When Bors learns
That his own spear has wounded Lancelot!
Bernard. (Going to him.)
Your pardon, sir, but did I overhear
The name of Lancelot?
Elaine. Sir Lancelot!
Tirre. Sir Lancelot!
Gawain. Would that I might say no! But yonder lions
Tell me too truly that this wounded knight
Bernard. The famous Lancelot!
[BERNARD and TIRRE talk apart. GAWAIN paces thoughtfully up and down. ELAINE holds out the shield before her and gazes at it as though absorbed in thought.
Elaine. (To herself.)
I knew that he was noble! I was sure
I loved a noble knight. Oh, would that I
Were worthier, so that he might love me too!
'Tis true he wore my favour; but 'twas I,
Not love, that bound it to his helm. Ah, me!
His thoughts are not for me. . . .
Gawain. Your pardon, child,
If I have spoken words of love to you;
But I ne'er thought your shield was Lancelot's,
Nor that 'twas he who wore upon his helm
Your crimson sleeve. Ah, child! if he loves you,
Then are you the most favoured of your sex;
For never until now has Lancelot
Worn favour of a maid. If you love him,
You love the greatest knight in all the world!
[ELAINE appears unconscious that GAWAIN is speaking to her. She still continues to gaze at the shield.
Elaine. (To herself.)
I knew that he was noble!
Gawain. Yes, in truth,
None living nobler! . . . Elaine, let us be friends;
For come what may I never could forget
So sweet a maid.
Elaine. (As before.) The greatest in the world! . . .
Gawain. Who knows but that before the autumn tilts
We two may meet at court. Then shall we tell
Of this adventure: how you kept the shield,
Not knowing whose it was; and how the lions
At length betrayed him. Then will Queen Guenevere—
For much is she beholden to your knight—
Deck you in orange flowers as she herself
Was decked when brought to court.
Elaine. (As before.) This is his shield . . .
Gawain. Which you must take to him. And now I know
I safely may entrust this quest to you,
I'll post me back to court. The king must know
That he who won the day so gloriously
Was Lancelot himself.
Tirre. (Coming down.) And Lancelot
Must have the prize at once!—Elaine, to horse!
Elaine. (As before.)
The greatest knight—
Tirre. (Taking ELAINE by the arm.)
Elaine! Elaine! to horse!
SCENE 3. A garden at Caerleon.
Enter GUENEVERE, DINADAN, and FREDA.
Guenevere. Nay, Dinadan, you shall not leave us yet.
As poet laureate we look to you
To while away the hours.
Have you no verse,
No dainty lines to charm a weary queen?
Dinadan. I have an ode entitled "Arthur's Horn."
Guenevere. Odes do not suit my mood. What else have you?
Dinadan . Some verses on Excalibur—
Guenevere. Ah, no!
Excalibur is worried to the death,
Hilt, blade, and scabbard!—Have you nothing new?
Alas! I came too late! Our ancestors
Plucked all the choicest fruit.
Guenevere. (Laughing.) And left no plums
For poor Sir Dinadan! Come now, I am sure
You do exaggerate. Our ancestors
But plucked the fruit that grew in their own day.
Have we not ours?
Dinadan. Nature's a plagiarist.
Guenevere. Then copy Nature—plagiarise like her;
But have a care to reproduce as well
Her infinite variety of form.
Give us the peach with this year's bloom on it,
And we shall rest content.
Dinadan. (Unfolding a scroll.) Here are some lines,
Ancient, yet modernised as you would wish.
"In the illustrious annals of—"
Enter SIBYL, hurriedly.
Guenevere. (Anxiously to SIBYL.) What news?
I pray you pardon me. To-morrow eve
We'll hear your tale. I will not keep you now.
[Exeunt DINADAN and FREDA.
Has Sir Gawain returned?
Sibyl. Yes, madam. He is now with the king.
Guenevere. What news? Is the knight found?
Sibyl. No, madam, but his shield has been found at the castle of Astolat; and now all the court knows that it was Sir Lancelot who won the prize, and who was wounded by Sir Bors.
Guenevere. And what says Sir Bors?
Sibyl. Madam, he's inconsolable.
Guenevere. And the king? . . .
Sibyl. The king blames Sir Lancelot for thus lightly endangering his life.
Guenevere. Go, tell Sir Gawain I would speak with him.—Stay, here he comes.
What news, Sir Gawain?
Gawain. News both bad and good.
Guenevere. Then let me hear the bad news first, the good
Gawain. The knight we seek is Lancelot.
Guenevere. I knew it.
Gawain. You knew it?
Guenevere. Did not his deeds
Proclaim him Lancelot? Dull-witted knights!
Who but a Lancelot could have withstood
The onset of a score of practised knights,
All furious to see him keep his seat
Whilst they were thrown to earth? And yet he sat
Jerking them from their saddles one by one
As he alone could do. I cannot think
How Bors himself could have been so dull-brained
As not to see, in spite of all disguise,
That it was Lancelot. It seems to me
The carriage of the man, his horsemanship,
His grace to young and inexperienced knights—
These, and a thousand other things, should show
That it was Lancelot.
Gawain. But you must know
He was disguised completely,—all encased
In antique mail that might have once belonged
To a barbaric chieftain! Then his shield—
Well, you should have seen his shield! It would have been
More suitable for some fair Amazon!
Then from his helmet—strangest thing of all—
There fluttered a red sleeve!
Guenevere. (Starting, then rising.) A sleeve!
Gawain. Yes, a sleeve,
A pearl-embroidered sleeve. Now, who ever knew
Sir Lancelot wear favour at the tilt!
Guenevere. (Trying to conceal her emotion.)
A sleeve?. . . Are you quite sure?. . . Whose sleeve?
Gawain. Ah, there,
My queen, we come to the good news. This sleeve,
Which almost was his death, may prove to be
The dawn of a new life for Lancelot.
He loves and is beloved of a fair maid,
The sweetest, chastest—Ah! what ails my queen?
Guenevere. (Recovering herself.)
'Tis nothing . . . pray continue . . . Do you know
This maiden's name and station?
Gawain. She is called
Elaine, the Lily maid of Astolat.
Guenevere. Elaine? . . . the Lily maid?. . . I never heard
Of any Lily maid of Astolat!
Pray, who is she?
Gawain. Her father is the lord
Of Astolat, a courtly gentleman,
But somewhat out of date. He lives apart
In an old castle buried in a wood.
Here Lancelot and Dagonet were lodged,
They having lost their way. Here first was seen
The baron's daughter; and it would appear—
Judging from what I heard from her own lips—
That Cupid hoodwinked both of them. Indeed,
He might be an Adonis, and the maid,
Venus herself, so does she dote on him!
Hers was the sleeve he wore; and this will show
How dear she is to him.—But you are ill!
Guenevere. (Recovering herself.)
'Tis nothing. Since I have not been so well
This faintness is most common. Leave me now.
So much good news has overpowered me.
[Exit GAWAIN. Sinking down on to seat and covering her face with her hands.
[SIBYL goes timidly towards her.
SCENE: The hall in SIR BERNARD'S castle. The room has been cleared for a dance, and Servants are lighting candles in different parts of it. LORENZO is arranging a wooden bench in a recess for the Musicians.
Enter MARGERY, R.
Margery. Come, lackeys, haste you there! The hour grows late, the guests have finished supper, and the musicians are drinking in the kitchen for want of better employment. (To LORENZO.) How all this will end, the gods alone know! Not since my sweet young lady was born—eighteen years come Candlemas—has the quiet of these old halls been so rudely disturbed. (Glancing round.) Dear heaven, what a waste of tallow! Had I burnt but a tenth part as much to the Blessed Virgin, I should feel less scared about the future. And all this, forsooth, because my lord, Sir Lancelot, has been pleased to recover from his wounds. (LORENZO gesticulates.)Yes, yes, you would say his recovery is due to my mistress. True, her care has saved his life, but I fear at the loss of her own happiness. God's mercy, how she dotes on the man! True, he is the most courteous knight that ever bore shield, the kindest that ever struck with sword, and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies; but I would that you had never let him through our gates, or that my dear mistress had never seen him. Well, heaven be thanked, this is the last night of the revels! At dawn half these knights will be gone, and at noon Sir Lancelot should be with the queen. (LORENZO looks scandalised.) Well, why those contortions? What have I said amiss? Would you make me a gossip, a tattler, a newsmonger? Dost know aught against Sir Lancelot and the queen? Save me if there is not more scandal written on that withered visage of yours than on all the parchments ever prepared! Oh, you would-be tale-bearer! You—you incapacitated babbler! God in his mercy has bereft you of a tongue, else had you lost your head for slander. (To Servants.) Now, now, bestir yourselves there!
Enter Musicians, R.
Well, you bacchanals, have you had your fill? If not, return to the pot. A full tone cannot be got out of empty vessels.
First Musician. Nay, empty vessels make the greater noise!
Margery. (Sharply.) Knave, I said tone, not noise! Were noise all that was needed, we should want but your skull and the drum-sticks. Come, your wits are below pitch! see that your instrument be not in the same plight, or we shall have your notes as flat as your words. (To the others.) Come here with me! This is your place. Here you may perspire to your liking.
Second Musician. Nay, to our disliking!
Margery. Knave, I said liking! for did you perspire less freely you would drink less freely, thus curtailing a musician's chief enjoyment. (To Musician with flute.) And you, you puck-nosed descendant of Pan! come here to the back, and blow less lustily, or else pray the god for more skill in your art. And you, my pretty boy, have a care to your time. Thus: one two three four five six, one two three four five six. Play to your count, not count to your play, or you will ever remain a slave to your instrument, and your brains will but dance attendance on your fingers. (To Servants.) Come, come, I say! Bestir yourselves there, or we shall have daylight here putting both you and your candles to shame!
Enter TIRRE, R. He stands gazing sadly on the scene.
Margery. Well, well, Sir Tirre, why thus disconsolate?
Tirre. Would that this night were past! that Lancelot
Were gone! Alas, my sister's happiness!
Margery. Are you not over-anxious? It is true
She dotes upon him, but the child must see
Her passion finds no echo in his heart.
Tirre. And will she be the happier to learn
That her true love is held in light esteem?
Must she, like Echo, pine away and die
Because this proud Narcissus spurns her love?
Margery. Nay, Sir Lancelot is ever courteous.
Margery. He would not wound her wittingly.
Tirre. You call him courteous?
Margery. If fault there be,
He is too courteous. But then, God knows,
He owes his life to her sweet care!
Tirre. And yet
He would discharge a heavy score like this
With gifts in land, and knightly servitude.
Last eve he asked her how he might repay
So great a debt of gratitude.
Sadly she turned to him, and glancing up
Into his callous face, saw that her love
Would never be returned. She spoke no word;
But with a piteous, heart-rending sigh,
Fled to her chamber, there to weep unseen.
Gods! but it makes me mad that one so fair
Should feel her sweet soul wounded! A love like hers
Would be a priceless treasure for a king:
Still this man spurns it! Is this courtesy?
And yet you tell me he is courteous.
He knows full well she loves him: her true eyes
Have never practised cunning, nor her face
Been other than the index to her heart;
Yet is he callous. Is this courtesy?
And still you tell me he is courteous.
What mean you by this word? It seems to me
I have but poorly grasped its subtleness.
If to be callous, proud, indifferent;
False to one's king, false to one's friends, false to
The sacred laws of hospitality—
If this indeed be courtesy—why, then,
I'll be discourteous!—yes, and meeting him,
Will tell him—though he be Sir Lancelot!—
That he's unworthy of my sister's love.
There will I tax him with ingratitude,
With heartlessness and treachery. I'll say
His lawless passion for the queen—
Margery. Hush! hush!
That very lawless passion is our hope.
Should the poor child be inconsolable,
Or prove rebellious to an unkind fate,
We'll so arrange that she shall overhear
How guiltily her idol loves the queen.
We'll fill her ears with libel, we'll prescribe
A slanderous antidote for her complaint.
Love is soon killed, illusions quickly lost;
Ideals have a sweet but transient life.
Leave her to me. This night I'll so arrange—
But more of this anon. Here comes the guests.
Hey there! a bar or so.
[The band strikes up a minuet. SIR BERNARD and the COUNTESS OF GARLOT, an elderly lady, enter, L., stepping slowly to the music. LAVAINE and DAGONET with Partners. Knights and Ladies follow. All join in the dance. MARGERY and TIRRE go, R. D.
Margery. His lordship's gay.
Tirre. Gay moods are shorter lived than sadder ones.
Margery. Were that not so, gay moods would die of grief.
Tirre. Where is Elaine?
Margery. Look for Sir Lancelot.
Bernard. (Leading his partner to a seat, R.)
Though in the white December of my days,
When winter has usurped fair summer's realm,
There still are moments when the lyre's soft notes,
A flower's perfume, or a lady's smile,
Will send the old blood coursing through my veins.
Countess. 'Tis true the flowers smell sweet, and that yon boy
Plays with a dainty, sympathetic touch.
Bernard. And that a lady's smile is sweeter still
Than either flowers or melody.
Countess. Nay, nay,
You flatter us!
Bernard. I flatter, Countess? No!
My words are the true echo of a heart
O'erflowing with a grateful happiness.
To-night my years sit lightly: this would seem
An hour borrowed from a bygone day
When I was young and lusty.
Countess. When your sins
Were called the indiscretions of your youth.
Bernard. My youth? my sins? I have atoned for all
By twenty years of dull respectability!
Countess. Nay, nay, 'tis not so long since you were seen
At Winchester with Lady . . .
[She whispers in his ear.
Bernard. The Countess? (She nods.) Oh, a pure Platonic love!
Mutual esteem, reciprocal regard.
A kindred sympathy.
Countess. And Lady—
Was that Platonic too?
Bernard. (Laughing.) Ah, 'tis not fair
To go back quite so far! And then you know
She was the loveliest woman of her day,
Countess. The most impressionable youth
In all the land!
[They laugh heartily.
Enter LANCELOT and ELAINE, L. They stand talking up stage. TIRRE moves uneasily about the room watching them.
A Partner. (To LAVAINE, in passing D.C.)
Now that you go to court
You will forget your friends at Astolat.
Lavaine. Nay, God forbid I should!
[To DAGONET, in passing.
We start at dawn.
Lavaine. Yes. Sir Lancelot is called
Back to the court.
Dagonet. There is no peace for me!
Partner. (To DAGONET.)
What! going at dawn? Nonsense! Why so much haste?
Is Astolat so dull? Are country maids
So poor a substitute for courtly dames?
Dagonet. Nay, I would gladly stay, for at the court
I must be always gay. (Sighing.) I am a fool.
Partner. A what!
Dagonet. A fool,—the jester of the court.
Are jesters, then, all fools?
Dagonet. All wise ones are.
Partner. I do not understand.
[Guests draw near and listen.
Dagonet. I will explain.
'Tis my profession to be light of heart
When all around are sorrowful, to laugh
When I am sad myself. Here I'm allowed
To frown and fret and fume just as I please.
At court I must be merry: here I'm free
To revel in the luxury of grief.
Partner. You are too happy, therefore stay
And cultivate unhappiness with us.
We could not spare you.
First Guest. Jesters should be gay,
Second Guest. (Passing him a bauble.)
Here is your bauble. Let us see
If you can make us laugh.
First Guest. Yes, make us laugh!
Dagonet. Nay, gentlemen, this setting traps to catch
A wary laughter is a sorry game!
You must be bolder,—give your own wits play,
Then will I tilt with you in pleasantries.
Wit answers wit, and often all we need
Is some one to reveal us to ourselves,
To wake the dormant faculties, and show,
As in a glass, our own fair thoughts to us.
Thus may the fool prove doctor to the dolt.
Second Guest. (Impertinently.)
Then, doctor-fool, I'll be your patient-dolt.
Dagonet. Nay, rather be impatient, dolt, for then
Is there some hope for you. 'Tis when we grow
Impatient of our folly that reform
Second Guest. True, doctor-philosophe. For see,
I've grown impatient of your chattering.
[Turning on his heel.
Adieu, good philosophic doctor-fool.
Dagonet. Adieu, my good impatient patient-dolt.
[Turning to the others.
Now, friends, I too must go.
Third Guest. (Overhearing.) Who must be gone?
Who is it dares to hint at going yet?
Partner. (Indicating DAGONET.)
Third Guest. No guest shall leave us yet!
[Guests surround DAGONET, remonstrating with him.
Bernard. (With the COUNTESS on his arm.)
Now, gentlemen! now, ladies! take your stand.
Our time is short, the night grows on apace.
[Sees TIRRE standing apart, sad.
Come, come, Sir Tirre! where is your partner?
Which is the lady?—What! you will not dance?
Then I shall say the gay Terpsichore
No longer favours youth. Ah! ah! 'tis said
Old age is merry: youth alone is sad.
'Twould seem the saw is true.—Now lads! now lads!
Some music.—You will favour me, countess?
[The band strikes up again. SIR BERNARD and his Partner lead the dance.
Margery. (R. D., to TIRRE who has just joined her.)
See, there she stands, close to Sir Lancelot.
Her eyes are strangely bright!
Tirre. Too bright, I fear.
Does she not realise that he will go
Back to his queen without a thought of her?
Does she not know that even now his thoughts
Are with her royal rival? Oh, Elaine!
Is it for this that we have cherished you!
[LANCELOT and ELAINE join in the dance.
Margery. See, there she dances with a modest step.
All eyes are turned on her. Were I a man
I could not choose but love her!
Tirre. No, unless,
Like him, you were besotted with a queen,
And blind to every face save hers. 'Tis said
That Guenevere's great beauty now has passed
The midday splendour of its sovereignty.
Margery. True, she's no longer young.
Tirre. Whereas Elaine
Is in the early morning of her prime.
May's earliest blossom, bred of an April shower,
Is not more chaste, more delicately formed,
Than this fair child of ours. If, then, to me—
Who see her with a brother's lukewarm eye—
She thus outrivals all competitors,
What should she seem when passion guides the eye,
And magnifies each grace a thousandfold!
A century ago—ay, less than that,
Our heathen Romans would have worshipped her,
Called her a goddess, strewn her path with flowers:
Her name would have been chronicled in verse,
Her limbs in stone; and every wandering bard
Had sung her praises—told their listeners that
There lived a maiden in the British Isles
As fair as Helen, chaste as Hestia;
Yet this cold Christian stands impassible
And sees her droop unmoved!
Margery. (Moving up stage with TIRRE.)
Do not despair.
Some other prince, shrewder than Lancelot,
Will pluck this flower.
[The dance stops. Couples stroll about. Exeunt MARGERY and TIRRE, L .
Elaine. (Coming down with LANCELOT.)
Must you be gone so soon?
Lancelot. In truth I must. Already have I stayed
Much longer than I should. Had I not hoped
That you would speak your wish, that you would ask
Some favour at my hands, I had not dared
Trespass so long on your good father's cheer.
Come, won't you ask your boon? Indeed, you must
Give me some means to prove my gratitude
Before I go.
Elaine. Let us not speak of that;
But tell me rather, now that we are friends,
When we shall meet again. You must not go,
And in the brighter pleasures of the court
Lancelot. You surely do not think. . . .
Elaine. I do but hope. Here all things speak of you—
This hall where first we met, and where you since
Have told me all the stories of the court;
Your vacant chair, the echo of your voice
Still calling in the courtyard for your horse—
The very air is full of memories.
But what is there at court to speak of us,
Or call me to your mind?
Lancelot. In truth, not much;
For the court flowers quickly lose their bloom.
Yet should I see a maiden wholly chaste,
Find gentleness and goodness hand in hand
With grace and beauty—then, Elaine, my thoughts
Will turn to you—ay, though a score of years
Had parted us.
Elaine. Now am I happier.
And if I thought—if I could be assured . . .
Lancelot. Of what?
Elaine. That we should meet again.
Lancelot. Why, then,
I promise you—
Elaine. You promise . . .?
Lancelot. To return
Before the autumn tilts. Lavaine and I
Will take you by surprise some early morn
When you expect us least.
Bernard. (Coming down with the COUNTESS on his arm.)
Where is Elaine?
Where is the child?
Countess. Here, with Sir Lancelot.
Bernard. Ah, here she is!—Come, Elaine! if this light
Do not deceive my eyes, those cheeks of yours
Are paler than their wont.
Countess. (To ELAINE.) The room is hot.
A breath of air would bring your roses back.
Bernard. Yes, let us to the towers: we shall find
'Tis cooler on the battlements than here.
There may we listen to the nightingale
Who sings each evening in an ancient tree
That Cæsar planted when he rested here.
Each year the tree grows feebler, and of late
Rests half its weary years against a tower;
Yet the bird's song is just as fresh and sweet
As when those Roman lords were masters here.
Countess. Yes, let us go. I love the nightingale.—
You will come, Elaine?
Bernard. No? you will not come?
Then we must go alone.—You see, countess,
How wayward the girl is. Was ever child
More spoilt! I'm sure Sir Lancelot will think
The fault is ours, that we have been too kind,
Too lenient with our wilful maid.
Elaine. I'll come
If you do wish it.
Bernard. (Shaking his head at her.)
[Turning to the others.
We'll leave this music for the nightingale's.
[Exeunt BERNARD and the COUNTESS, R., followed by LANCELOT and ELAINE. The Guests follow in twos and threes, laughing and chatting as they go.
Enter MARGERY and LORENZO, L.
Margery. (Unceremoniously to Musicians.) You may go now, for it is near morn. Those who would dance again must whistle their own music. Come, Lorenzo, let us save what candles we can; for though we are not likely for many a day to need them for a similar purpose, who knows but that they may serve to keep watch over a coffin. [LORENZO starts.] Well, you remnant of heathenism! have you led such an ungodly life that the mere mention of a coffin affrights you? Come, man, steady your nerves, or we shall spill more tallow than we save.
[They put out the candles. The room is now illuminated solely by the moonlight which is streaming through the window, R.
Third Musician. (Stretching and yawning.) "You may go now!" This is the thanks a musician gets for his pains. You may go now—to the devil if you like; I care not, so that you go! For what is a musician? He is but a string-plucker, a reed-blower, a knave, a bacchanal—a puck-nosed descendant of Pan!
First Musician. Ay, she called you puck-nosed!
Second Musician. She called us bacchanals; that is to say, drunkards. (Imitating MARGERY in voice and gesture.) "Have you had your fill?" says she. "If not, return to the pot. A full tone cannot be got out of empty vessels." Drunkards, indeed! I am no drunkard. (Pointing at First Musician.) Flip is the only drunkard amongst us.
First Musician. (Rushing furiously at him.) I, a drunkard! I will teach you to call me a drunkard!
Margery. Hey! what's this? Do you dare to fight here? Out with you, I say!
[Exeunt Musicians in terror, R.
Enter BERNARD, L. He is looking for some one.
Bernard. Where is Elaine?
Margery. Is she not in the tower?
Bernard. I cannot find her anywhere.
She's in her room.
Bernard. I'll go and see.
Margery. Stay, sir.
I think I know where we shall find her. Come.
[Exeunt MARGERY, BERNARD, and LORENZO, L.
Enter LANCELOT and ELAINE, R. The moonlight falls upon them.
Lancelot. The time draws short, still you withhold your wish.
I cannot go like this, Elaine. Tell me,
What may I do to show my gratitude?
Have you not saved my life? Do I not owe
More to your care than to a hermit's skill?
Whate'er you ask, no boon could ever pay
So great a debt as mine. Nor do I seek
To lessen my indebtedness; and yet
I would my gratitude for your dear care
Were put to some rude test. If in your heart
There lives a secret wish, a cherished hope,
Some service that you hesitate to ask,
Delay no longer, ask your boon.
Elaine. My boon?
Elaine. I love you!
Lancelot. But my child . . .!
Elaine. I know not if 'tis wrong thus to confess my love,
Or that a maiden bashfulness should seek
To hide my secret longer. This I know,
That my one wish, my hope, my joy—
Elaine. Is to be near to you, to hear your voice,
To live in the sweet sunshine of your love.
Lancelot. Ah, what is this, Elaine? You have misread
My words of friendship. I had fondly hoped
Your boon would be within my power to give.
Prince am I in my land, and if you ask
For half my heritage it shall be yours.
Naught have I that I would not gladly give
To one so fair.
Elaine. I do not ask for gifts,
Unless the priceless treasure of your love
Come as a gift—
Lancelot. (Distressed.) Elaine!
Elaine. Nay, hear me out!
Since I have thrown discretion to the winds,
And boldly told the secret of my heart,
What more have I to fear?
Lancelot. This: that your love
Should meet with no return. Oh, my sweet child,
A love like yours must not be trifled with!
If I were free—
Elaine. 'Tis said you have no wife—
Lancelot. There never will be wife of mine.
Elaine. Why, then,
I care not to be wife. All that I ask
Is to be near to you, to see your face,
To follow in your footsteps.
Lancelot. But, Elaine! . . .
[He turns away and covers his eyes with his hand as though he would shut out her beauty.
Elaine. Why do you turn from me, and hide your face?
Am I not fair?
Lancelot. Ay, child!
Elaine. Sir Gawain said
He had not seen,—no, not in the queen's court,—
So fair a maid as I. He even said
(O shame on me to praise myself like this!)
That Guenevere herself was not more beautiful.
Yet still you turn from me.
Lancelot. Nay, my sweet child! . . .
Elaine. If I may not be first in your dear love,
Then let me be the second, or the third;
Or even as the hundredth I will prove
More faithful than Penelope herself
So that you will but love me!
Lancelot. Nay, Elaine,
It cannot be! I could but ill return
A love like yours. Sir Gawain spoke but true.
You are the loveliest creature on this earth!
And if I turn from you it is to hide
your beauty from my heart.
Elaine. (Sinking on to her knees and clasping him round the waist.)
Then turn no more;
But look on her who loves you more than life!
Lancelot. (Trying gently to release himself.)
Elaine. My love is now my life!
I cannot live without it! Let me be
Your servant, or your slave, or—
Lancelot. Nay, my child!
Elaine. I care not so that I may be near you.
Pity me, Lancelot! Oh, I know 'tis wrong
Thus to importune you; but my deep love
Is stronger than myself—it knows no bounds!
Lancelot. (Gently raising her and taking her hand in his.)
'Tis you who should have pity, sweet Elaine.
You must not kneel to me! Believe me, child,
I am unworthy of a love like yours.
And even were I worthy, were I free
To answer as you would, I still should hesitate
To link my bitter fate with yours. No, child,
I am not free. A deeply rooted passion
Has closed my heart to all—yes, even to you,
The sweetest of God's creatures.
Therefore, dear child, forget: let us be friends.
And for this love you bear me I will be
Your knight henceforth. Your honour shall be mine
As long as I may live to guard it. Then,
Should you wed one more worthy of your love,
One who would cherish you as you deserve,
I will endow you with the fairest land
In my own realm. You shall be as my child.
A wish—ay, half a wish—and you shall have
All that is mine to give. Indeed—ah! child!
[ELAINE clasps her hands to her face, and sinks to the floor, sobbing like a child.
Enter BERNARD, L. He glances round as though seeking for some one; then, seeing ELAINE, he runs to her.
Bernard. Ah! what is this, my child, my lady-bird?
What! tears and sobs? Come, come, this will not do!
You must not cry like this!
It ill becomes
A daughter of our race to stoop so low,
Even to a king's son. There, now I'm sure
You will be wiser. Come, now, dry your eyes
Like a brave girl! There, run and fetch your shield.
Sir Lancelot is waiting to be gone.
[ELAINE, still sobbing, goes for the shield, leaving the stage, L.
I fear my daughter has misunderstood
Your friendship for her, Sir Lancelot. True,
She's but a child as yet who has not learnt
To hide her feelings: still, 'twould be unwise
To count on her simplicity. If, then,
The child has misinterpreted your words,
Misread your courtesy, or built up hopes
Which have no root but in her fantasies,
She must be disillusioned at once.
Lancelot. What I can do I will.
Bernard. (After a moment's reflection.)
Our plan is this:
When she returns to give you back you shield,
Accept it coldly—barely give her thanks,
As though you were displeased. Then, I pray you, go
Without so much as wishing her farewell.
Lancelot. But, sir, you know that—
Bernard. Yes, I know full well
That Lancelot and courtesy are one.
Yet still it must be done. Discourtesy
Must cancel courtesy. Indifference
Leaves her no hope.
Lancelot. It shall be as you wish,
Though I had sooner died a shameful death
Than wound her!
Bernard. Hush, I hear her coming.
Do as I wish. I'll answer for my child.
[BERNARD hides behind a curtain, L. ELAINE enters with shield; and, after taking off the case, gives it to LANCELOT. He takes it coldly; then, without a word, slowly leaves the stage, R.
Elaine. (First with surprise, then with anguish.)
Good-bye . . . good bye . . .good-bye!
[She bursts into tears; then, turning, sees her father, who has come up softly behind her. She runs into his arms and buries her face on his breast.
SCENE: The Terrace before the palace at Caerleon-upon-Usk. The river runs in the foreground. A gaily-dressed crowd of Knights and Ladies, interspersed with Musicians, Bards, and others, are crossing the back of the stage. A fanfare is heard in the distance.
Enter DAGONET, in his cap and bells, with LAVAINE, who is armed for the tournament, R. They stand L.D., watching the people pass by. KAY struts by haughtily.
Lavaine. And who is this?
Dagonet. That is our seneschal, Sir Kay, foster-brother to our good king himself. The gods forbid that he should win the tournament!
Dagonet. Because the composition of the man is such, that if he do but unhorse the youngest and least practised knight amongst us, he will boast like a Saxon pirate, and out-crow every cock in his own poultry yard. I wish him defeat in his own interests.
[DINADAN passes across. He is surrounded by a troupe of laughing Girls.
Lavaine. And who may this be?
Dagonet. A bard, sir, a juggler of words, a breeder of verse; and yet, if you will believe me, an honest gentleman. Never was child so spoilt as this Sir Dinadan. He is loved more for his faults than for his virtues, more for his intentions than for his deeds, and less for his bravery of heart, nobleness of character, and sweetness of disposition, than for his bad verse. He will make the king laugh by the very audacity of his rhymes; and he has lately achieved a world-wide reputation as the author of the worst lay extant. I would as soon he won as another.
[AGRAVAIN and MORDRED pass across.
Lavaine. Who are these?
Dagonet. Men who have no great love for your master, Sir Lancelot. 'Tis said that he who walks first, Sir Mordred, means to win this day's tournament, now that Sir Lancelot holds aloof.
Lavaine. He shall not win it whilst I can keep a seat!
Dagonet. What! would you match your skill with that of Sir Mordred? Nay, I would not discourage you; but have a care. This wily knight would not hesitate to take you unawares, or trade on your lack of experience. I would as soon trust a heathen pirate as him.
Lavaine. Then how comes it that such a man can be one of the high order of the Table Round?
Dagonet. Because the blood of the king himself runs in his veins, and never was good blood so badly invested. Oh, 'tis a sorry story, and best left untold. Have a care, my boy, and God be with you.
[DAGONET strolls L.
Enter FELELOLIE, a pretty girl, daintily dressed, in company of a Duenna. She hesitates on seeing LAVAINE, then stops.
Felelolie. Does Sir Lavaine tilt in this tournament?
Lavaine. If 'tis my lady's pleasure.
Felelolie. Do you wear
No token in your helmet?
Lavaine. None, unless
I have one from your hands. Yours will I wear
If you will favour me.
Felelolie. (Aside to Duenna.)
What shall I say?
Duenna. Say yes, since you so dote upon the youth!
Though much I doubt if he gain aught save bruises
With Arthur's knights. Remember, you refused
Mordred himself; yet shall I be surprised
If Mordred do not win the tournament.
Lavaine. What is your token?
Felelolie. A worked handkerchief.
Lavaine. Have you it here?
Lavaine. Won't you give it me?
Felelolie. (Aside to Duenna.)
What shall I say?
Duenna. (Shrugging her shoulders.)
Since he's to have the thing,
Then give it him at once! Why tease the lad?
Felelolie. (To LAVAINE.)
'Twill be the first time that my handkerchief
Has fluttered from a helmet.
Lavaine. (Giving her his helmet.) If I live
It shall not be the last. And if I win
'Twill be to lay my trophy at the feet
Of her who holds my heart.
Duenna. (Moving off.) Come, we must go,
Or we shall see but little of the sport!
[They leave the stage together, FELELOLIE fixing her handkerchief in the helmet as they go.
Enter ARTHUR and GUENEVERE, L. GUENEVERE sighs disconsolately as she sits in a garden seat, L.
Arthur. Come, Guenevere! this ever present grief
But ill becomes a queen! You should not show
That you are less a mistress of yourself
Than of your subjects. Though disconsolate,
A queen should feign repose: such sweet deceit
Would take precedence of this bitter truth.
Indeed, unless you check this grief, I fear
'Twill cast its shadow on our tournament.
I do beseech you—for the sake of those
Who are our guests—throw off this sorrow. See,
There stands your ever-faithful Dagonet,
Balancing retorts upon his tongue.
No sorrow clouds his face, and yet I know
That even now his heart has greater need
Of tears than mirth.
Guenevere. What! Dagonet sad too?
Then shall he stay with me whilst you are gone
To watch this tournament. If he is sad,
Then will he be good company for me,
And I for him.
Arthur. You will not see these tilts!
Why? Is it because Lancelot's new squire,
This young Lavaine, is going to take his place?
Guenevere. Master or squire, what matters it to me!
It seems, however, that the squire must go
Now that the master is so deep in love,
So hopelessly enamoured of a girl,
That even tournaments have lost their charm!
Arthur. What has embittered you? If this maid has won,
As rumour goes, the love of Lancelot,
Then should you be the first to welcome her
And keep her by your side. 'Twould be a sin
If such a man left no posterity!
I trust he weds the maid—and 'tis full time
He took a wife if he would leave to sons
The rich inheritance of such a name.
[LANCELOT and BORS cross the stage slowly. They are conversing.
Guenevere. Twould be a thousand pities should he tire
Too quickly of his whim. See! there he goes
With languid gait, head bent, and doleful air,
As though young Cupid's arrows were too sharp.
Did ever Venus' son play such mad tricks
Upon a Christian knight! I pray you go
And sympathise with him. (Calling.) Sir Dagonet!
Dagonet. (Hastening forward.)
Guenevere. Come, bear me company. My mood,
Like yours, is not for tournaments. We'll stay
Beside the river whilst the others go
To watch the tilts.
Arthur. Then must I go alone.
A moment: if Lavaine should win the day
I'll send him here to you. Give him this gem.
Coming from you it will be doubly prized.
Guenevere. (Taking gem.)
I trust he wins.
Dagonet. Just now I spoke with him.
He's full of hope and confidence. It seemed
The pupil had caught something of the air
Of his great master.
Guenevere. (Laughing.) Is he then love-sick too?
[A bugle is herd in the distance.
Arthur. There is the second summons! I will go.
[GUENEVERE watches ARTHUR out of sight, then she turns hurriedly to DAGONET. Her manner now betrays her anxiety.
Guenevere. Sir Dagonet!
Dagonet. My queen?
Guenevere. Go, tell Sir Bors
That I would speak with him.
Stay, here he comes!
I pray you leave me with him.
Well, Sir Bors?
Bors. Madam, I questioned him as you desired,
Touching the wearing of the sleeve, and why
He had not made it public that he loved
This maid of Astolat.
Guenevere. Well, what said he?
Bors. He answered, as I told you, that the sleeve
Served as a mere disguise, and that the maid—
Though he is much beholden to her care—
Is no more than a friend to him.
Guenevere. 'Tis false!
Must I believe that he who never yet
Wore favour of a woman wears a sleeve
Merely to serve as a disguise? No, no!
'Tis clear he loves the maiden. Gawain says
'Tis marvellous to see the love there is
Bors. Madam, it is not for me
To controvert Sir Gawain, yet I know
That he has no authority for this.
True, he has seen the maid, and from her lips
Learnt that she loves Sir Lancelot; but then,
It does not follow, just because a maid
Has grown enamoured of Sir Lancelot,
That he must necessarily have been
Enamoured of her too.
Guenevere. Enough, Sir Bors!
How can you plead his cause when his deceit
Is now so clear?
Bors. This have you said before;
Yet has he always proved—
Guenevere. You still persist?
Bors. I would but show you that his faith—
Guenevere. (Angrily.) His faith!
I tell you he's a traitor doubly proved!
A second Judas—
Bors. (Protesting.) Madam!
Guenevere. Who but he
Would dare to slight a queen? You know our love:
'Twould have been idle to attempt to hide,
From one so near, a passion such as ours.
You know his promises, you know his vows,
And how he swore that never whilst I lived
Should there be wife of his. You know all this,
And yet you would exonerate him!
My queen, I do but try—
Guenevere. Alas that I
Should have been so deceived! Alas that I
Should be without defence! As Arthur's queen
I may not claim redress. I have no right—
Unless my faith to his unfaithfulness
Gives me a right—even to censure him.
Thus is this wrong so cowardly to one
Having no weapons to defend herself,
No armour to put on!
I should have thought my own defencelessness
Would plead more eloquently in my cause
Than any show of power.
Bors. Your friends—
Guenevere. My friends?
I have no friends!
Bors. My queen!
Guenevere. I am alone—
More terribly alone in this gay court
Than any castaway! I may be feared,
As all who rule are feared; but where fear lives
There love can never dwell.
Bors. You wrong us all!
You do me an injustice! I, at least,
Would sacrifice my life on your behalf!
Guenevere. Then prove your words: revenge me of this wrong.
Bors. But then—
Guenevere. You hesitate?
Bors. If it be shown
That Lancelot has failed in aught towards you,
Then will I challenge him—ay, though he is
The nearest of my kin.
Guenevere. That shall be proved
Quickly enough, and then—
Bors. See, here he comes.
Let him speak for himself. Do not condemn,
Unheard, a knight who more than once has proved
His faithfulness to you.
Guenevere. He would not dare
Speak to me now!
Bors. (Moving off.) I will not hinder him.
Guenevere. (Calling after him.)
Sir Bors! Sir Bors! I pray you leave me not!
[BORS hurries away. LANCELOT advances. GUENEVERE turns her back upon him, feigning interest in a flower, which she nervously pulls to pieces, petal by petal.
Lancelot. Why does my queen turn from me? Have I done
Aught that should merit such a punishment?
Long have I waited for a chance to put
This diamond in your hand, and now 'tis come,
Will you not take it? It was won for you.
This gem completes the necklace that I swore
No other woman but my queen should wear.
Guenevere. (Holding out her hand for the diamond.)
Then would you be forsworn a second time
Should I refuse to take it. I had hoped
You still retained enough of courtliness
To spare me this affront—to spare, as well,
This maid of Astolat, whose sleeve you wore
So gallantly! Hers is the prize, not mine.
She has a greater right than Guenevere
To Lancelot's success.
Lancelot. Ah, what is this?
Is it then true that you have doubted me?
Has Bors not told you that this maiden's sleeve
Was worn merely as a disguise?
Bors has been tutored in his messages;
Or maybe he is being deceived as well.
Who would have thought that Lancelot would look
Lower than a princess?—he whom queens have loved!
Who would have thought that the first pretty face
Would capture such a man! Who would believe,
Unless convinced by proof, that he would go—
On the pretence of seeking a disguise—
To court a country lass, to win her love,
To vaunt her colours in a tournament!
'Tis past belief! yet good authorities
Assure us it is true.
Indeed, so famous has this maid become,
That our own laureate already sings
Her praises in his verse. Her face, he says,
"Is like a rose." The simile is poor,
Since she is called the "Lily maid." Perchance
You could depict her better. Won't you try
To paint this maiden's beauty so that I
May judge if Gawain's praise was also just?
He tells me she is fairer than the dawn,
And that he thinks Aurora must have come,
With rose-red lips, and kissed her when a child.
Is this not pretty? I have never heard
Sir Gawain half so eloquent before!
But he can better even this. He says
She's chaste as any Vestal, that her voice
Is as a Siren's voice, so pure, so sweet,
That, like Ulysses' men, he stopped his ears
For fear of it!
Poor Gawain! It would seem he too was caught—
Ay, and would have wed the maid, had he not found
That he was rivalling Lancelot himself!
So scandal has proved weightier than your faith!
The idle gossip of an idle court
Counts more with you than aught that I say. Well,
I had not thought the service of a lifetime
Could have been held so lightly! I had hoped
My loyalty to you would have ensured
Its own reward,—that even to the death
Your faith in me would hold. I was deceived;
And here I stand, the labour of my love
In ruins at my feet. Ah, yes, indeed,
I have good cause to bitterly regret
All that has happened! To keep true to you
I had to slight another,—this fair child
Who loved me with a sweeter, truer, trust
Than I have known in women. Love of you
Has blinded me to others. I can see
No beauty now in beauty, save 'tis yours,
No virtue now in virtue. This sweet girl
Might have made life another thing for me
Had I not worshipped you.
Would that I could have loved her! but your face
Thrust out her pleading beauty from my heart.
I turned from her—yes, though she knelt to me
As never maiden knelt to knight before—
I turned from her, your beauty ever there
To blot out hers.
And when she begged me, if she could not be
The first in my affection, that she might,
Be second, or the hundredth from my heart,
So that I would but countenance her love,
I told her no—that a deep-rooted passion
Had closed my heart to all. I told her this,
And this is my reward!
[A murmur of voices, growing louder and louder, is heard to the left.
Guenevere. A just one too!
Oh, think not to deceive me! If, as you say,
This maid is naught to you, why did you stay
So long at Astolat? Why have you not
Told me this earlier? No, it is too late.
The proofs are too convincing. It is clear
You thought, with care, to keep both maid and queen;
That when you tired of me you could return
To rustic joys. No, not even Lancelot
Can share his love with me! . . .
Go back to your new mistress. Say the court
Has closed its doors on you, and that its queen
No longer counts you in her retinue.
Give her your prize: tell her that Guenevere
Dares not compete with such a paragon.—
Nay, by every heathen god, and Christian too,
She shall not have it!
[Throws diamond in the river.
There! if she can find
Her diamond in the river—
[Starts back on seeing the barge approaching.
What is this?
[LANCELOT, who does not see the barge, turns away in disgust and slowly leaves the stage. The barge slowly approaches in the foreground. LORENZO is standing in the stern with an oar in his hand. ELAINE, dressed in white and covered with lilies, is lying on a bier. At this moment LAVAINE, crowned with a wreath of bay leaves, and followed by a cheering crowd of Knights and Ladies, enters, R. He is about to kneel to the QUEEN when he sees ELAINE. At first he stares incredulously, then he runs to the barge.
Lavaine. Elaine! Elaine!
Guenevere. Elaine? What can this mean?
Lavaine. Ah, sister, what is this?
Her hands are cold!
[Glancing wildly round, then turning to LORENZO.
What does this mean? Oh, though you cannot speak
Show me some sign! Why have you brought her thus?
[LORENZO gesticulates furiously, pointing first away to the left, then at the crowd surrounding the QUEEN.
First Lady. It is a fairy!
Second Lady. See how pale she looks!
Third Lady. Maybe she comes to take our king away
As Merlin prophesied.
First Lady. True, Merlin said
That Arthur could not die as others die,
But that he would return to reign again.
Second Lady. Nay, is it not the Lady of the Lake
Come back for Lancelot? She brought him here,
And thus but claims her own.
A Voice. (From the back.) Way for the king!
[The crowd makes way for ARTHUR and GAWAIN.
Arthur. (To GUENEVERE.)
What does this mean?
Guenevere. I too would gladly know.
As I stood here, this barge came drifting by
In ghostly silence. At that moment came
Lavaine to claim his prize; but when he saw
The white face of the maid he gave a cry,
And running to her side called out, "Elaine!
Arthur. 'Tis very strange indeed!—Gawain.
Gawain. My lord?
Arthur. Go, ask Lavaine who the maid is,
And why she comes in this strange guise to us.—
Where is Sir Lancelot?
A Voice. He comes, my lord.
[Way is made for LANCELOT. When he sees ELAINE he looks curiously at her, then starts back on recognising who it is. GUENEVERE watches him closely. ARTHUR converses with him, pointing from time to time at the barge.
Lavaine. (Kneeling and kissing ELAINE.)
Elaine! Elaine! . . . No, no! it cannot be
That these dear lips will never speak again! . . .
Elaine! . . . It is Lavaine who calls to you!
Lavaine! your brother!—Speak! . . . no sound?—why then
'Tis Death, not I, who is triumphant here!
[Taking the wreath from his head and crowning her with it.
Death will I crown!
Gawain. (To LAVAINE.) Come, sir, she cannot speak,
Yet may we learn what her sweet lips would say;
For see, she clasps a letter in her hand.
This should explain. I'll take it to the king.
Lavaine. Do as you will. For me, I can translate
Her message from her face. She comes to tell
How Love and Death have mutually conspired
[Turning to the bier again.
Ah, dear sister! sweet Elaine!
Had I but known you were so hard beset
I would have saved you—yes, or Death had fought
A bitter fight with me ere he had won
So loved a prize!
Gawain. (Giving letter to the KING.)
She brings this letter, sire.
Arthur. (Reading amidst breathless silence.)
"To the most noble knight, Sir Lancelot.—
You left me taking no farewell, so I,
Elaine, the maid of Astolat, have come
To take my last and sad farewell of you.
I loved you, Lancelot; but as my love
Had no return, I could not choose but die.
Pray for my soul, as I have prayed for yours,
And yield me Christian burial.—Farewell."
[Turning to LANCELOT.
How is this, Lancelot?
Lancelot. Alas! my lord,
I scarce may tell you. This am I sure,
That I was never wittingly the cause
Of this maid's death, nor of the fatal love
That led to it. It was her father's wish
That I, by some discourtesy, should try
To break her passion. Thus I came away
Without so much as wishing her farewell.
God knows I am full heavy for her death!
Arthur. Surely you might have saved her from herself!
Guenevere. A little tact—
Lancelot. Queen, if I had but thought
Her life lay in my hands; had I but known
All that I know this hour, I would have stayed:
Yes, and for so sweet a maid, so true a love,
Have feigned a love myself; until, maybe,
Deceit had later lost itself in truth,
And I had loved as faithfully as she.
Arthur. (To those about him.)
Come, take her up.
[Four Knights take up the bier. ARTHUR stops them, C, to look more closely at ELAINE.
Ah, Lancelot, God made
This girl for you! Surely until this hour
I never looked upon so sweet a face!
Would that you could have loved her! she had made
This earth a heaven for you.
Now take her up.
She shall be buried here, in holy ground;
And on a costly tomb there shall be carved
Her image and the story of her love.—
Come, follow me.
[Exit ARTHUR, followed by Bearers. All the others, with the exception of LANCELOT and GUENEVERE, follow slowly. Many are seen to be weeping. LANCELOT stands looking sorrowfully after the bier. GUENEVERE goes softly and hesitatingly to him.
Guenevere. Forgive me, Lancelot!
Play first performed at London's Bijous Theatre on April 8, 1904.
Play first performed at London's Bijous Theatre on April 8, 1904.