« السابقةمتابعة »
of bravery, he founded the brotherhood of the Knights of the Round Table, and any man who wished to join it had first to prove his worth in tournament or fight. They had also to take this oath : —
"To reverence the King as if he were
The fame of the Table Round was spread far and wide, and the secret ambition of many a young man was that some day he might be found worthy to join it.
There was a youth named Gareth, who lived at home with his mother, who was Queen of Orkney. He was much the youngest of all the boys, and his mother clung to him and wanted to keep him with her as long as she could, especially as her husband, old King Lot, was childish and paralyzed, and could not help her in any way.
But the boy's one idea was to go to the Court, win great fame for himself, and be one of the splendid Table Round. He was always begging his mother to let him go, and she always had some good reason why he should stay at home. Sometimes she said he was too young, at others that it was cruel to leave her a. <ne. Still, day after day he persisted, and she began to see that he was growing moody and discontented.
So, poor woman, she hit on a plan which she hoped would settle it once for all. She would tell him he might go, but on one condition — that condition should be an impossible one; and so the next time Gareth began to beg and implore her not to keep him wasting his youth at home, she said:
"' Ay, go then, an ye must: only one proof,
Thy mother— I demand.'
Nay ! — quick — the proof to prove me to the quick !'"
And what do you think the test was? That he was to go in disguise to the Court and ask leave to serve in the kitchen, in return for his food; not to tell his name, however much he might be pressed, and to stay in that position for twelve months and a day. Truly a hard condition for any young man of spirit.
Gareth thought for awhile, and then accepted the condition. "For," said he, "the thrall in person may be free in soul. And I shall see the jousts." The Queen was very sorry she had yielded so far as to make a condition; she had hoped that Gareth would refuse indignantly; but the mischief was done.
Early one morning Gareth left the castle, with two men who had waited on him since his birth, and set out on his journey. They were all three disguised as peasants, with rough, poor clothes, and met with no notice or adventures on their way. They knew the King was holding his Court at Camelot this year. He always kept the festival of Whitsuntide with great splendor, but not always in the same place. Camelot was the town we now call Winchester, and it was the capital of Arthur's kingdom.
As they neared the city, the serving-men were struck with amazement at the beauty and grandeur of the towers and roofs as they glistened in the sunshine. It seemed to them an enchanted city, and as they called to mind the strange stories of Merlin and his doings, they grew afraid and begged Gareth to turn back. But he only laughed at them, and so they came on to the great gate, which was a perfect marvel of carving. High up in the centre there was the statue of the Lady of the Lake, imposing and beautiful, and in one hand there was a sword, and in the other a censer, while on her breast was the sacred fish, the symbol of Christianity. To right and left of this central figure were carved scenes showing Arthur's victories in battle. They passed under this wonderful gateway, and asked the way to the great hall.
Now it was Arthur's custom not to sit down to dinner till he had seen some adventure.
As Sir Gawaine, one of the knights, was gazing idly out of the window, he saw the three men approaching, and he went to the King and said: "Sire, go now to your dinner, for here comes the adventure."
It was rather clever of Gawaine, for it could have been nothing very uncommon, as strangers were constantly coming to the Court on some pretext or other.
Then the great Table Round was filled with a splendid company of brave and handsome knights, and the King sat in the midst.
The three men came into the hall. Gareth was in the middle, and though he was so tall and well grown, he leaned on the shoulders of the others, as if he were weak and ill. The company made way for them, though they stared a great deal, and they went straight up to the King.
Then Gareth stepped in front of the others, made a low reverence, and said: "God bless you, and all your fair fellowship, and especially the fellowship of the Round Table. And I have come hither, sire, to ask of you three things. I will ask the first now, and leave the other two until this day twelve months, when you are again holding the feast at Pentecost."
"Well," said the King, " and what is your petition?"
"This," said Gareth, plucking up heart, as he noticed the King's kind and frank expression. "This — that you will give me meat and drink in your kitchen for a year and a day."
"That is a very small matter," said the King; "if you had asked for horse and harness I would have given it, but as for food, that I have never refused to friend or foe — I give it you gladly. But now tell me your name and degree."
Gareth longed to tell the truth, but his promise to his mother held him fast, and so he answered respectfully:
"That I may not tell, Sire, and I entreat you of your kindness not to desire it of me."
"You shall have your way," said the King; and then he called Sir Kaye, the Seneschal, and charged him to provide all that was necessary for the stranger, and added that he should be treated as one of noble birth," for I am quite sure," said he, " though he refuses to tell his name, he is noble."
"Indeed," said Sir Kaye, who was a very sour, sarcastic person, " that will not be needed, for if he had been noble he would have asked for horse and armor, and not for food alone. I will take care he has all he can eat, but he shall live in the kitchen, and help the serving-men, and that will be good enough for him. I warrant he has been brought up in some monastery, and they can feed him no longer, so he comes to us. As for a name, I shall call him Beaumains — that is to say,' Fair Hands.'"
This was said in derision, for Launcelot had pointed out that, poorly as the youth was dressed, and as humble as was his petition, yet he was undoubtedly of noble birth, for his broad, open brow, fair hair, and wellformed hands were proof of it. Launcelot went so far as to say that although the Seneschal might know a horse or a hound when he saw one, he evidently did not know a man; and that he would do well to treat the stranger properly, or some day he might be ashamed of his conduct.
But Sir Kaye put aside Launcelot's kindly-meant advice, and had his own way. The two serving-men departed, and Gareth, or Beaumains, as we must now call him, was put among the kitchen-folk.
It was a very rough place for a lad of his breeding, and much rude joking went on at his expense; but he bore it all pleasantly, and did not even resent being set to wash the dishes. His whole heart and mind being set to go through the adventure, he remained firm and good-tempered through all.
There was one ray of brightness in Beaumain's hard life, and that was the kindness shown him by Gawaine,