But Arthur, on his kingly dais-seat,
Felt nothing of the passion and the heat
That fire young blood. He raised his warlike head
And glancing moodily around him, said:
“So have ye feasted well, my knights, this day,
And filled your hearts with revel and with play.
But to my mind that day is basely spent
Which passes by without accomplishment
Of some bright deed of arms or chivalry.
We rust in indolence. As well not be,
As be the minions of an idle court
Where all is gallantry and girlish sport!
Some bold adventure let our thoughts devise,
To stir our courage and to cheer our eyes.”
And lo! while yet he spoke, from far away
In the thick shroud of the departed day,
Upon the frosty air of evening borne,
Came the faint challenge of a fairy horn!
King Arthur started up in mild surprise,
While knights and dames looked round with questioning eyes,
And each to other spoke some hurried word,
As, “Did you hear it?”—“What was that I heard?”
But well they knew; for you must understand
That Camelot lay close to Fairyland,
And the wild blast of fairy horns, once known,
Is straightway recognized as soon as blown,
Being a sound unique, unearthly, shrill,—
Between a screech-owl and a whip-poor-will.
The mischief is, that no one e’er can tell
Whether such heralding bodes ill or well!
The ladies of the palace looked faint fear,
Dreading some perilous adventure near;
For peril can the bravest spirits move,
When threatening not ourselves, but those we love;
But Lady Elfinhart clapped hands in glee,—
In sooth, no sentimentalist seemed she,—
And cried: “Now, brave Sir Gawayne,—O what fun!
Succor us, save us, else we are undone;
Show us the prowess of your arm this night;
I never saw a tilt by candle-light!”
Gaily she spoke, and seemed all unconcerned;
And yet a curious watcher might have learned
From a slight quaver in her laughter free
To doubt the frankness of her flippancy.
Gawayne, bewildered, looked the other way,
And wondered what she meant; for in that day
The ready wit of man was under muzzle,
And woman’s heart was still an unsolved puzzle;
And Gawayne, though in valor next to none,
Wished that her heart had been a tenderer one.
His sword was out for any foe on earth,
And yet to face death for a lady’s mirth
Seemed scarce worth while. What honor bade, he’ld do,
But would have liked to see a tear or two.
While thus he pondered, came a sudden burst
Of high-pitched fairy horn-calls, like the first,
But nearer, clearer, deadlier than before,
Blown seemingly from just outside the door.
The casements shook, the taper lights all trembled;
The bravest knight’s dismay was ill-dissembled;
And as all sprang with one accord to win
Their swords and shields, stern combat to begin,
The great doors shot their bolts, and opened slowly in.