They entered the cave, and found the doer of all that evil seated on the floor, his eyes as the eyes of a dead man, and his body well nigh as much a skeleton as any of his victims. On the grass beneath him lay a body that was still warm, and in its bleeding wound a rusty knife still stood. The sight stirred the blood in the knight's veins, and he challenged the murderer to fight where he stood.
'Are you distraught, you foolish man,' was all his answer, 'that you should talk in this wild way? It was his own guilt which drove him to his end. He loathed his life, why should he then prolong it? Is it not the part of a friend to free his feet when they stick fast in the mud, and to point to the door that leads to rest, even if some little pain must be suffered in the passage? Is not short pain well borne that brings long ease—sleep after toil, port after stormy seas?'
The Red Cross Knight listened wonderingly. Then he answered:
'The soldier may not cease to watch nor leave his stand until his captain bid.'
But the cursed wight replied boldly, 'The longer life, I wot, the greater sin. The greater sin, the greater punishment. Therefore, I pray you go no further, but lie down and betake you to your rest. A longer life means old age and sickness, and every kind of sorrow. So lay it down while things are yet well with you.'
In spite of Sir Trevisan's warning, the fair-sounding words found an echo in the heart of the Red Cross Knight, as they had done in the hearts of many men before him. The miscreant saw that his courage was wavering, and forthwith he brought forth a store of swords, ropes, poisons, and a brazier of fire, and bade him choose what manner of death he would prefer. The knight gazed at them all, like one who walks in sleep, but touched none of them, and the miscreant, beholding this, chose out a dagger bright and new, and thrust it in his shaking hand. The young man looked at it, his face reddened and then grew pale again, and slowly, as if against his will, he lifted the dagger.
A shriek from Una, who had only just reached the cave, caused him to drop his arm again, and in an instant she had snatched it from his limp fingers, and had flung it on the ground.
'Come away, come away,' she cried, 'let no vain words bewitch you! What have you to do with despair, after all the brave deeds you have done? Arise, Sir knight, arise and leave this cursed place. Have you forgotten that other work awaits you?'
The voice of Una broke the spell which had possessed him. Once more his eye grew bright and his arm strong. He mounted his horse and rode away by Una's side without ever looking behind him. If he had, he would have seen that the miscreant had placed a rope round his own neck, and hanged himself on a tree. But even so he could not die; the death to which he drove others remained far from him.