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In the Cave of Despair

Sir Trevisan and the Red Cross Knight soon came to the place where Despair had his dwelling. It was in a hollow cave, far underneath a craggy cliff, dark and dreary. On the top always perched a melancholy owl, shrieking his dismal note, which drove all cheerful birds far away. All around were dead and withered trees, on which no fruit nor leaf ever grew.

When they arrived, Sir Trevisan would have fled in terror, not daring to go near, but the Red Cross Knight forced him to stay, and soothed his fears.

They entered the gloomy cave, where they found a miserable man sitting on the ground, musing sullenly. He had greasy, unkempt locks, and dull and hollow eyes, and his cheeks were thin and shrunken, as if he never got enough to eat. His garment was nothing but rags, all patched, and pinned together with thorns. At his side lay the dead body of Sir Terwin, just as Sir Trevisan had told.

When the Red Cross Knight saw this sad sight, all

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''Ere long they come where that same wicked wight<BR>
Has dwelling has, low in a hollow cave,<BR>
For underneath a craggy cliff ypight,<BR>
Dark, doleful, dreary, like a greedy grave,<BR>
That still for carrion carcases doth crave.''
Click to enlarge

''Ere long they come where that same wicked wight
Has dwelling has, low in a hollow cave,
For underneath a craggy cliff ypight,
Dark, doleful, dreary, like a greedy grave,
That still for carrion carcases doth crave.''

his courage blazed up in the desire to avenge him, and he said to Despair, "Wretched man! you are the cause of this man's death. It is only just that you should pay the price of his life with your own."

"Why do you speak so rashly?" said Despair. "Does not justice teach that he should die who does not deserve to live? This man killed himself by his own wish. Is it unjust to give to each man his due? Or to let him die who hates to live longer? Or to let him die in peace who lives here in trouble? If a man travels by a weary, wandering way, and comes to a great flood between him and his wished--for home, is it not a gracious act to help him to pass over it? Foolish man! would you riot help him to gain rest, who has long dwelt here in woe?"

Thus spoke Despair, and he said many beautiful and persuasive words concerning Death. And as the Red Cross Knight listened, all his courage and all his anger melted away, and it seemed to him that there would be no sweeter thing in the whole world than to lie down and be at rest.

"What is the good of living?" said Despair. "The longer you live the more sins you commit. All those great battles that you are so proud of winning, all this strife and bloodshed and revenge, which are praised now, hereafter you will be sorry for. Has not your evil life lasted long enough? He that hath once missed the right way, the farther he goes, the farther he goes wrong. Go no farther, then--stray no farther. Lie down here and take your rest. What has life to make men love it so? Fear, sickness, age, loss, labour,

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sorrow, strife, pain, hunger, cold, and fickle fortune, all these, and a thousand more ills make life to be hated rather than loved. Wretched man! you indeed have the greatest need of death if you will truly judge your own conduct. Never did knight who dared warlike deeds meet with more luckless adventures. Think of the deep dungeon, wherein you were lately shut up; how often then did you wish for death! Though by good luck you escaped from there, yet death would prevent any further mischance into which you may happen to fall."

Then Despair went on to speak to the Red Cross Knight of all his sins. He pointed out the many wrong things he had done, and said that he had been so faithless and wicked that there was no hope for him of any mercy or forgiveness. Rather than live longer and add to his sins, it would be better for him to die at once, and put an end to all.

The Knight was greatly moved by this speech, which pierced his heart like a sword. Too well he knew that it was all true. There came to his conscience such a vivid memory of all his wrongdoings that all his strength melted away, as if a spell had bewitched him. When Despair saw him waver and grow weak, and that his soul was deeply troubled, he tried all the harder to drive him to utter misery.

"Think of all your sins," he said. "God is very angry with you. You are not worthy to live. It is only just that you should die. Better kill yourself at once."

"Then Despair went and fetched a dagger, sharp and keen, and gave it to the Red Cross Knight. Trembling

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like an aspen-leaf, the Knight took it, and lifted up his hand to slay himself.

When Una saw this, she grew cold with horror, but, starting forward, she snatched the knife from his hand, and threw it to the ground, greatly enraged.

"Fie, fie, faint-hearted Knight!" she cried. "What is the meaning of this shameful strife? Is this the battle which you boasted you would fight with the horrible fiery Dragon? Come, come away, feeble and faithless man! Let no vain words deceive your manly heart, nor wicked thoughts dismay your brave spirit. Have you not a share in heavenly mercy? Why should you then despair who have been chosen to fight the good fight? If there is Justice, there is also Forgiveness, which soothes the anguish of remorse and blots out the record of sin. Arise, Sir Knight, arise and leave this evil place."

So up he rose, and straightway left the cave. When Despair saw this, and that his guest would safely depart in spite of all his beguiling words, he took a rope and tried to hang himself. But though he had tried to kill himself a thousand times, he could never do so, until the last day comes when all evil things shall perish for ever.

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