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Lavaine! help!" he feebly cried. "I am come to my end."

As he spoke he fell from his horse to the earth, and lay there like a
corpse.

The two knights hurried up, full of fearful concern, and when Elaine,
who had heard the pitiful call, came flying to the spot, she threw
herself on the prostrate form, weeping like one beside herself with
grief, and kissing the insensible knight as if she hoped thus to recall
him to life.

"Traitors you are!" she cried wildly to her brother and Sir Bors. "Why
did you let him leave his bed? I hold you guilty of his death."

At this moment the hermit Baldwin appeared. When he saw Lancelot in that
plight he grew angry at heart, though he checked the reproachful words
that rose to his lips.

"Let us have him in," he said, briefly.

Lancelot was thereupon carried to the hermitage, his armor removed, and
the bleeding stanched, but it was long before he could be brought out of
his death-like swoon.

"Why did you put your life thus in jeopardy?" asked the hermit,
reproachfully, when the knight was again in his senses.

"I was too eager to attend the tournament, now near at hand," he said.

"Ah, Sir Lancelot, you have more courage than wisdom, I fear. As for the
tournament, let Sir Bors attend it and do what he may. By the time it is
over and he returned, I hope that you may be well once more, if you will
but be governed by my advice."

This advice was taken and Bors went to the tournament, where he bore
himself so valorously that the prize was divided between him and
Gawaine. Gareth and Palamides also did noble deeds, but they departed
suddenly before the prize was declared, as if called away by some
adventure.

All this Lancelot heard with great pleasure from Bors on his return, his
only regret being that he had not been able to take part in that
knightly sport. But the remedies of the hermit and the care of Elaine
had meanwhile done him wonderful service, and he was soon able again to
mount his horse and wear his armor in safety.

A day, therefore, quickly came when the knight felt himself in condition
for a journey, and when he and his companions took the road to Astolat,
escorting the fair Elaine back to her father's home. Here they were
gladly received by the old baron Bernard, and his son Tirre, who had now
recovered.

But when the time approached which Lancelot had set for his departure,
Elaine grew pale and drooping. At length, with the boldness of speech of
that period, she came to him and said,--

"My lord Sir Lancelot, clear and courteous sir, will you then depart,
and leave me alone with my love and sorrow? Have mercy on me, I pray
you, and suffer me not to die of grief."

"What would you have me do?" asked Lancelot.

"I brought you back to life; give me your love in return; make me your
wedded wife, and I will love you as never woman loved."

"That can I never do," said Lancelot, gravely. "I shall never wed."

"Then shall I die for your love."

"Think not of death, Elaine. If I could marry woman it would be you,
for I could love you dearly were my heart free. For your gentleness and
kindness thus only can I repay you. If you can set your heart upon some
worthy knight who is free to wed you, I shall give to you and your heirs
a thousand pounds yearly, as some small payment of the debt I owe you."

"You speak idly and coldly, Sir Lancelot. Your money I will have none
of; and as for wedding, I have but the choice to wed you or wed my
death."

"You rend my heart, fair Elaine. Would that it could be as you wish.
Alas! that can never be."

At this, with a cry of heart-pain, the distressed maiden fell swooning
at his feet. Thence she was borne by women to her chamber, where she
lay, lamenting like one whose heart is broken.

Sir Bernard now came to Lancelot, who was preparing to depart, and
said,--

"Dear sir, it grieves me to find my daughter Elaine in such a
distressful state. I fear she may die for your sake."

"It grieves me as deeply," said Lancelot. "But what can I do? That she
loves me so deeply I am sorry to learn, for I have done nothing to
encourage it, as your son can testify. I know that she is a true and
noble maiden, and will do all that I can for her as an honest knight;
but love her as she loves me I cannot, and to wed I am forbidden. Yet
her distress wounds me sorely."

"Father," said Lavaine, "I dare avow that she is as pure and good as my
lord Sir Lancelot has said. In loving him she does but what I do, for
since I first saw him I could never depart from him; nor shall I leave
him so long as he will bear my company."

Then Lancelot took his leave, and he and Lavaine rode together to
Camelot, where Arthur and the whole court received the errant knight
with the utmost joy and warmest welcome. Queen Guenever alone failed to
greet him kindly, her jealous anger continuing so bitter that she would
not give him a word or a look, seek as he would.

But the joy and brightness at Camelot were replaced by darkness at
Astolat, for the fair Elaine was in such sorrow day and night that she
neither ate, drank, nor slept; and ever she sadly moaned and bewailed
the cruelty of Sir Lancelot.

Ten days of this brought her so near her end, that her old father, with
sad heart, sent for the priest to give her the last sacraments. But even
then she made her plaints of Lancelot's coldness so mournfully, that the
ghostly father bade her cease such thoughts.

"Why should I?" she cried. "Am I not a woman, with a woman's heart and
feelings? While the breath is in my body I must lament my fate; for I
hold it no offence to love, and take God to witness that I never have
and never can love other than Lancelot du Lake. Since it is God's will
that I must die from unrequited love of so noble a knight, I pray for
his mercy and forgiveness of all my sins. Never did I offend deeply
against God's laws; but it was not in my nature to withstand the fervent
love that is bringing me to my death."

Then she sent for her father and brother, and prayed them to write a
letter as she might dictate. This they did, writing down the mournful
words which she spoke.

"Now," she said, "this more I command you to do. When I am dead, put
this letter in my right hand before my body grows cold. Then see that I
be richly dressed and laid in a fair bed, and take me in a chariot to
the river Thames. There lay my body in a barge, covered with black
samite, and with but one man to steer the barge down the river to
Camelot."

All this they, weeping sadly, agreed to do, and soon afterwards the
maiden died, slain by her love. Her sad old father then had all done as
she had requested.

Meanwhile, in Camelot the world moved merrily. But one morning, by
fortune, as King Arthur and Queen Guenever stood talking at a window,
they espied a black barge drifting slowly down the river. Wondering much
what it meant, the king called Sir Kay and two other knights, and sent
them to the river, bidding them to bring him speedy word of what the
barge contained.

This they did. On reaching the river-side they found that the barge had
been turned inward, and lay beside the bank, and to their surprise they
saw in it a rich bed, on which lay the corpse of as fair a woman as they
had ever beheld. In the stern of the barge sat, with oar in hand, a poor
man who seemed dumb, for no word would he speak.

"That corpse must I see," said the king, when word of this event was
brought him. "Surely this betokens something strange."

He took the queen by the hand and went to the river-side with her. Here
the barge had been made fast, and they stepped from the shore to its
deck. There they saw the corpse of a beautiful maiden, dressed in costly
attire, and lying in a bed which was richly covered with cloth of gold.
And as she lay she seemed to smile.

The queen now espied a letter clasped closely in her right hand, and
showed it to the king.

"That will surely tell us who she is, and why she has come hither," he
said.

He thereupon took the letter and returned with the queen to the palace.
Here, surrounded by many knights, he broke the seal, and gave the
epistle to a clerk to read. This was its purport,--

"Most noble knight, Sir Lancelot, now hath death made us two at debate
for your love. I was your lover, she whom men called the Fair Maid of
Astolat; therefore unto all ladies I make my moan, and I beg you to pray
for my soul, and at the least to bury me, and offer my mass-penny. This
is my last request. God is my witness that I die a pure maiden. Pray for
my soul, Sir Lancelot, as thou art peerless."

When this pitiful letter had been read, all who heard it shed tears, for
never had they heard aught so moving. Then Lancelot was sent for and the
letter read to him.

"A sorrowful thing is this," he said, in grievous tones. "Then she is
dead, the fair Elaine, and thus, with silent lips, makes her last
prayer. Truly it wounds me to the heart. Yet, my lord Arthur, God knows
I had no just share in the death of this maiden, as her brother here,
Sir Lavaine, can testify. She was fair and good, and I owed her much,
but she loved me beyond measure, and her love I could not return."

"You might have shown her," said the queen, reprovingly, "some bounty
and gentleness, and thus have preserved her life."

"Madam," said Lancelot, "naught would she have but my love, and my hand
in marriage. I offered to endow her with a thousand pounds yearly, if
she should love and wed any other, but to this she would not listen. As
for me, I had no other comfort to give her, for love cannot be
constrained, but must rise of itself from the heart."

"Truly must it," said the king. "Love is free in itself, and will not be
bound, for if bonds be placed upon it, it looseth itself perforce. As
for this unhappy maiden, nothing is left for you but to obey her last
pitiful request."

"That shall I to the utmost of my power," said Lancelot.

Then many knights and ladies went to behold the fair maiden, who had
come thither in such moving wise. And in the morning she was richly
interred, and with all due honor, at Lancelot's command; and he offered
her mass-penny, as did all the knights who were there present.

Then the poor dumb servitor returned again with the barge, rowing it
slowly and sadly back to Astolat.

Afterwards the queen sent for Lancelot, and begged his pardon humbly for
her causeless anger.

[Illustration: ELAINE.]

"This is not the first time," said Lancelot, "that you have been
displeased with me without cause.



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