Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1861–1889
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889
 
Scenes from “Pendragon”
By William Young (1847–1920)
 
[Born in Monmouth, Ill., 1847. Died, 1920. Pendragon. A Tragedy in Five Acts. First performed at McVicker’s Theatre, Chicago, 5 December, 1881, with Lawrence Barrett as King Arthur. Reproduced, February, 1882, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York.]

ACT III. SCENE: The Queen’s Closet.

[Stage discovered, dark and waiting. Lightning, thunder. The door C. is thrown violently open, and enter GUINEVERE, breathless from her flight. A blaze of lightning, through window, halts and dazzles her.]

GUINEVERE.  [Falling to her knees.]  Shield and preserve me! Have I here a shelter?
Am I outcast? Doth Nature too condemn me,
Adding her voice to this yet wilder storm,
Here, here, within?  [Rising.]  Alack! and what is this
That I have wrought? But, sure, he dare not follow,        5
Or if he should!—What do I fear? What then?
Ay, if he should! Is it so much I ask?
Only to know, for the last time— O friend!—
Is it so much? Or, measured but by thine,
O faultless King, is then my guilt so great        10
That thou should’st rise from every darkened corner
To haunt me thus? Art thou so faultless, truly?
That which I am hast thou not served to make me?
Hast thou not glory to thy mistress?—Nay
To wedded wife! For what am I to thee?        15
When hast thou looked upon me save with eyes that pass
Through and beyond, to her, my hated rival?
As well were I the beggar of the lanes!
Wilt thou have all?—both this world, and the next?—
Be served and feared, and yet drag after thee        20
Love, as a captive, but to dally with,
When grown aweary of the greater sport
Of crowns and sceptres? Nay, but if thou wilt,
Dwell with thy phantoms! Lights, there! Vivien!
I will not see him.  [At door C.]  Vivien!—How now?        25
Not yet returned! But have I then so far
Out-speeded her? Or hath some evil hap—
That scarce could be.—So! so!—What’s this I think on?—
But yester-eve with Modred did she walk,
In the long corridor—nor seemed at ease,        30
But when I faced them——
[A reverberating clang without.]
                Hark! The thunder? No—
The great portcullis falling in its grooves!
And all without the sound of trumpet blown!
And now—the tramp— Hark! Ay—the tramp of horse!
[The clatter of a cavalcade without, R.]
Within the gates—Nor one alone, but many,
        35
And at full speed! O, am I then the dupe,
The very plaything of mine enemies?
A plot! a plot! Yet if he be not crazed,
Hath he not heard? Hath he, too, not been warned?
[Springing to door R. F., she throws the bar across it, and turns toward door C. At the same instant, enter, door C., LAUNCELOT.]
Ah,—Launcelot! What dost thou here? Fly! Fly!
        40
  LAUN.  My Queen——
  GUIN.            O, fly!
  LAUN.                    But am I not expected?  [Advancing.]
  GUIN.  Approach me not!
  LAUN.                Or dost thou now repent?
Nay, but too late.
  GUIN.  Thou art entrapped.
  LAUN.                        Entrapped?
  GUIN.  Quick! while thou canst!
[The secret door L. F. opens. Enter VIVIEN.]
  VIV.                    Then let me be thy guide,
Or else too late most truly shalt thou find it,        45
Forevermore.
  GUIN.  [To VIVIEN.]  O, traitress!
  VIV.                    Even so!
But not to thee I answer.  [To LAUNCELOT.]  Good my lord,
Sir Launcelot of the Lake, ’tis like my words
May seem to thee not over-maidenly;
But I have such a little time for choice,        50
And needs must say my say—and thou must hear.
Sir, I have loved thee—though without return,
As well I know—and thou hast chosen, Sir,
To seem to know it not. And now I come,
To prove to thee what woman’s love may do,        55
Even when scorned; for know there is but one
Can save thee from these toils, and that is I.
  GUIN.  O, vile!
  LAUN.  [At her side.]  Peace! peace!
  VIV.                    I speak all truth, or none.
Before, behind, they lie in wait for thee—
Twelve oath-bound men, of Arthur’s trustiest,        60
And thou with nothing but thy naked sword.
And still, because I will not have it so—
Because I rather choose to lay on thee
The burden of a debt thou canst not pay,
Nor yet forget, one door is left unguarded.        65
This have I done for thee.—Ask me not how—
Thou know’st the why.  [Points to door through which she has come.]
                There, at the turret’s foot,
Thou’lt find my palfrey saddled. Mount, and ride,
I care not whither—Only take this with thee,
That unto Vivien thou ow’st thy life,        70
And unto her thy shame. And so, my lord,
Thanks, or no thanks, I am thy creditor,
Till death shall make us quits.
  LAUN.                Go! Christ forgive thee!
[Exit VIVIEN, door C., her gaze fixed triumphantly upon the QUEEN. The latter reels. LAUNCELOT supports her.]
  GUIN.  [Covering her face.]  O, hath she gone?
  LAUN.                        O, Guinevere! My Queen!
  GUIN.  Queen? Queen no more! Let me not look upon her!        75
But hath she gone?
  LAUN.    Nay, rouse thee.  [Extricates himself from her grasp, hurries up stage,
throws bar across door C.]
  GUIN.              O, my friend,
What wilt thou do? What, now, are bolts or bars?
But fly! She loves thee. Trust her, Launcelot.
O, save thyself!
  LAUN.  [Returning to her side, his hand upon her lips.]  Wilt thou be silent? Hist!
        80
Mark now my words—nor answer, but obey,
Without a question. True it is, I think,
That she doth love me. Therefore will I trust her;
And therefore, through this door which she hath opened,
’Tis thou shalt fly.
  GUIN.        I——
  LAUN.                Thou! Dost understand?
        85
Then hear me well, and let each syllable
Of what I speak be graven on thy brain.
’Tis but three little leagues, by beaten ways,
Which well thou knowest, to a sanctuary,
But once beneath the shadow of whose towers,        90
Not all the violence of maddened men
Or kings can harm thee. Hast thou not, ere now,
O’er thrice that distance ridden to the death
Of fox or stag? So ride to-night, for life,
And never doubt we’ll smile at this hereafter.        95
To Almesbury!
  GUIN.        To Almesbury?
  LAUN.                Ay! Courage!
There trust the abbess only with thy secret,
And bide until I come.
  GUIN.            Until thou comest?
  LAUN.  Have I not said? Delay, and thou art lost.
Here will I tarry but a little space,        100
To turn aside the currents of pursuit.
  GUIN.  “A little space”?—Ah, tell me not, my friend—
Thou—all unarmed——
  LAUN.            Unarmed? With this?  [Hand to sword.]  Unarmed?
  GUIN.  Beset with odds thou knowest not!
  LAUN.                    What then?
Hast thou forgot the fords of Celidon?        105
Or pass of the White Horse? And dost thou think
In such a cause, free-armed, and unencumbered—
But O, what wait we for? One only kiss,
To seal my strength.
  GUIN.            Ah, no, no, no! I dare not.
I dare not.
  LAUN.    Dare not?
  GUIN.            Ah, my God! the darkness!
        110
The long, long, dreary way!
  LAUN.                What! thou, afeard?
  GUIN.  And thus to part with thee—O, cease, my friend.
Though thou art Launcelot, art thou not mortal?
In vain! in vain! Why wilt thou trouble me?
Here let me die.  [Sinks to floor.]
  LAUN.        And do I hear aright?
        115
Is this that Guinevere whom once I loved?—
  GUIN.  O, pity me!
  LAUN.            That once proud peerless Queen,
Who with her eyes first taught me scorn of peril?
  GUIN.  O, pity me!
  LAUN.            I do. I pity thee.
And thus I prove it. Since thou durst not choose        120
To win this certain safety for us both,
Why then, bide here; and here, too, will I bide,
And here be hewn in pieces at thy feet.
I swear it. Hark! They come!
  GUIN.  [Springing to her feet.]  Enough—Farewell!
Take, then, thy kiss!  [They embrace.]
  LAUN.            Dear love!
  GUIN.                    The last!
  LAUN.                            Not so!
        125
  GUIN.  The kiss of death; and O, condemn me not
That I have given it thee.
  LAUN.            What words are these?
Thus do I answer them—May Heaven defend thee!
  GUIN.  And thee! and thee! O, God protect thee, Love!
Was it for this?
  LAUN.        Yet though we die to-night,
        130
This have we known.
  GUIN.            And canst thou, Love, forget?
  LAUN.  And wilt thou, Love, remember? Haste!
  GUIN.                            Yet stay!
  LAUN.  But for thy sake!
  GUIN.                One little moment more!
O, Launcelot, and wilt thou let me go?
And was it but for this? No more than this?        135
  LAUN.  O, haste! No more!
  GUIN.                No more, forever, then!
  LAUN.  I tell thee nay.
  GUIN.            Forever!
  LAUN.  [Urging the QUEEN through the secret door L. F., closes it behind her, and throws his back against it.]  And forever!
 
ACT IV. SCENE: A paved court-yard surrounded by massive and gloomy walls and towers. In wall C., at back, gates swinging inward, and revealing when open a passage, at the further extremity of which a grated portcullis is arranged to fall. In tower, R., oblique, great doors, approached by steps. Chime of bells, and chant heard within, at curtain.

[GUINEVERE discovered, descending steps R., clad in the robe of a nun, with a breviary in her hand.]

  GUIN.  [Reads.]
Ave, Regina cœlorum!
Ave, Domina angelorum!
        140
Over and under tolls the convent bell,
Like a gray shuttle through the woof of sound—
Under and over, and the flying web
Tangles and ties itself about my heart—
Tangles and lifts me heavenward, and snaps;        145
And through the silence, down from gloom to gloom,
I fall to utmost hell. O sisterhood
Of Almesbury, your prayers were made for saints,
Not sinners. What a fool of fools am I,
To breathe my supplications in a tongue        150
I know not, to a Heaven that knows not me!
“Queen among angels!” Ay, by so much more
Hath she forgot the little frets of earth
And all its voices. O conceit most vain!
That my poor plaint, of all the woful many,        155
Least heeded here, shall so on high prevail,
Above the clamor of the universe!
Why, e’en the daws about the turret-tops
Outshriek me; and doth not all nature go
Wrangling from dawn till even with one cry:        160
“Help! Save!”—And who shall answer? Who shall lay
The all-forgiving hand upon my head?
Shall ye, my sisters? Deftly though ye lift
Your skirts above the drabble of the ways,
Do I not know the plague-spots in your hearts?        165
The small self-righteousness, the lust, the greed,
And spite of your small station? Had ye worn
My purple, and my limbs been clad upon
With your dull hodden gray—who knows?—Or thou,
Dubric—High Saint of Britain—with thy flock        170
Of aping acolytes, wilt thou assure
My soul’s salvation—thou, that art not sure
Whether thine own soul yet shall pass the gates—
Dismiss my great temptation, with a waft
Of thy sleek hand, and bid me sin no more?        175
  O, thou, the Highest, Ruler over all,
To whom alike the cowl’d and crownèd dead
Must answer on that day, desert us not,
Whate’er thy gracious purposes may be,
Unto each other’s pity! That were woe        180
More to be dreaded than the doom of fire.
Behold how all these myriad pygmy tribes,
That swell the mingled hum from holt and glebe,
Do mock thy greatness! Whether we be clad
In serge or samite, each doth vaunt himself        185
The vilest of God’s creatures—save his neighbor—
Sins while ’tis summer—pranks about the fields,
And ere the winter of his life doth learn
His proper “Miserere,” which he chirps
Like a belated cricket i’ the sedge,        190
And dreams that straightway from the gates of bliss,
Above the desert spaces of the wind,
The whirlwind, and the thunder, and the storm
Of prayers and curses blown about the world,
All Heaven stoops to listen.—Nay, but this        195
Is heresy. Come, scoffer, to thy task!  [Reads.]
Salve radix,
Salve porta,
Ex qua mundo
Lux est orta!
        200
Gaude, Virgo gloriosa!
 
 
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