The Well at the World’s End



The Maiden of Bourton Abbas

“What is thy need then?” said Ralph, “if perchance I might amend it.” And as he looked on her he deemed her yet fairer than he had done at first. But she stayed her weeping and sobbing and said:  “Sir, I fear me that I have lost a dear friend.”  “How then,” said he, “why fearest thou, and knowest not? doth thy friend lie sick between life and death?” “O Sir,” she said, “it is the Wood which is the evil and disease.”

“What wood is that?” said he.

She said:  “The Wood Perilous, that lieth betwixt us and the Burg of the Four Friths, and all about the Burg.  And, Sir, if ye be minded to ride to the Burg to-day, do it not, for through the wood must thou wend thereto; and ye are young and lovely. Therefore take my rede, and abide till the Chapmen wend thither from Higham, who ride many in company.  For, look you, fair lord, ye have asked of my grief, and this it is and nought else; that my very earthly love and speech-friend rode five days ago toward the Burg of the Four Friths all alone through the Wood Perilous, and he has not come back, though we looked to see him in three days’ wearing:  but his horse has come back, and the reins and the saddle all bloody.”

And she fell a-weeping with the telling of the tale.  But Ralph said (for he knew not what to say): “Keep a good heart, maiden; maybe he is safe and sound; oft are young men fond to wander wide, even as I myself.”

She looked at him hard and said:  “If thou hast stolen thyself away from them that love thee, thou hast done amiss. Though thou art a lord, and so fair as I see thee, yet will I tell thee so much.”

Ralph reddened and answered nought; but deemed the maiden both fair and sweet.  But she said:  “Whether thou hast done well or ill, do no worse; but abide till the Chapmen come from Higham, on their way to the Burg of the Four Friths.  Here mayst thou lodge well and safely if thou wilt. Or if our hall be not dainty enough for thee, then go back to Higham: I warrant me the monks will give thee good guesting as long as thou wilt.”

“Thou art kind, maiden,” said Ralph, “but why should I tarry for an host? and what should I fear in the Wood, as evil as it may be? One man journeying with little wealth, and unknown, and he no weakling, but bearing good weapons, hath nought to dread of strong-thieves, who ever rob where it is easiest and gainfullest.  And what worse may I meet than strong-thieves?”

“But thou mayest meet worse,” she said; and therewith fell a-weeping again, and said amidst her tears:  “O weary on my life!  And why should I heed thee when nought heedeth me, neither the Saints of God’s House, nor the Master of it; nor the father and the mother that were once so piteous kind to me? O if I might but drink a draught from the WELL AT THE WORLD’S END!”

He turned about on her hastily at that word; for he had risen to depart; being grieved at her grief and wishful to be away from it, since he might not amend it.  But now he said eagerly:

“Where then is that Well?  Know ye of it in this land?”

“At least I know the hearsay thereof,” she said; “but as now thou shalt know no more from me thereof; lest thou wander the wider in seeking it. I would not have thy life spilt.”

 the well at the world's end - sacred texts


The Leechcraft of the Lady

Now Ralph sat up and looked about him, and when he saw the Lady he first blushed red, and then turned very pale; for the full life was in him again, and he knew her, and love drew strongly at his heart-strings. But she looked on him kindly and said to him:  “How fares it with thee? I am sorry of thy hurt which thou hast had for me.”  He said: “Forsooth, Lady, a chance knock or two is no great matter for a lad of Upmeads.  But oh!  I have seen thee before.” “Yea,” she said, “twice before, fair knight.”  “How is that?” he said; “once I saw thee, the fairest thing in the world, and evil men would have led thee to slaughter; but not twice.”

She smiled on him still more kindly, as if he were a dear friend, and said simply:  “I was that lad in the cloak that ye saw in the Flower de Luce; and afterwards when ye, thou and Roger, fled away from the Burg of the Four Friths. I had come into the Burg with my captain of war at the peril of our lives to deliver four faithful friends of mine who were else doomed to an evil death.”

He said nought, but gazed at her face, wondering at her valiancy and goodness.  She took him by the hand now, and held it without speaking for a little while, and he sat there still looking up into her face, wondering at her sweetness and his happiness. Then she said, as she drew her hand away and spake in such a voice, and so looking at him, that every word was as a caress to him: “Thy soul is coming back to thee, my friend, and thou art well at ease: is it not so?”

“O yea,” he said, “and I woke up happily e’en now; for me-dreamed that my gossip came to me and kissed me kindly; and she is a fair woman, but not a young woman.”

As he spoke the knight, who had come nearly noiselessly over the grass, stood by them, holding his helm full of water, and looking grimly upon them; but the Lady looked up at him with wide eyes wonderingly, and Ralph, beholding her, deemed that all he had heard of her goodness was but the very sooth. But the knight spake:  “Young man, thou hast fought with me, thou knowest not wherefore, and grim was my mood when thou madest thine onset, and still is, so that never but once wilt thou be nigher thy death than thou hast been this hour. But now I have given thee life because of the asking of this lady; and therewith I give thee leave to come thy ways with us: nay, rather I command thee to come, for thou art my prisoner, to be kept or ransomed, or set free as I will.  But my will is that thou shalt not have thine armour and weapons; and there is a cause for this, which mayhappen I will tell thee hereafter. But now I bid thee drink of this water, and then do off thine helm and hauberk and give me thy sword and dagger, and go with us peaceably; and be not overmuch ashamed, for I have overcome men who boasted themselves to be great warriors.

So Ralph drank of the water, and did off his helm, and cast water on his face, and arose, and said smiling:  “Nay, my master, I am nought ashamed of my mishaps:  and as to my going with thee and the Lady, thou hast heard me say under thy dagger that I would not forbear to follow her; so I scarce need thy command thereto.”  The knight scowled on him and said: “Hold thy peace, fool!  Thou wert best not stir my wrath again.” “Nay,” said Ralph, “thou hast my sword, and mayst slay me if thou wilt; therefore be not word-valiant with me.”



Ralph Dreams a Dream Or Sees a Vision

Then he knew not if he awoke, or if it were a change in his dream; but the chamber became dark about him, and he lay there thinking of her, till, as it seemed, day began to dawn, and there was some little stir in the world without, and the new wind moved the casement. And again the door opened, and someone entered as before; and this also was a woman:  green-clad she was and barefoot, yet he knew at once that it was not his love that was dead, but the damsel of the ale-house of Bourton, whom he had last seen by the wantways of the Wood Perilous, and he thought her wondrous fair, fairer than he had deemed. And the word came from her:  “I am a sending of the woman whom thou hast loved, and I should not have been here save she had sent me.” Then the words ended, while he looked at her and wondered if she also had died on the way to the Well at the World’s End.  And it came into his mind that he had never known her name upon the earth. Then again came the word:  “So it is that I am not dead but alive in the world, though I am far away from this land; and it is good that thou shouldst go seek the Well at the World’s End not all alone: and the seeker may find me:  and whereas thou wouldst know my name, I hight Dorothea.”



Now They Drink of the Well at the World’s End

Ralph stood still a moment, and then stretched abroad his arms, and with a great sob cast them round about the body of his beloved, and strained her to his bosom as he murmured about her, THE WELL AT THE WORLD’S END.  But she wept for joy as she fawned upon him, and let her hands beat upon his body.

But when they were somewhat calmed of their ecstasy of joy, they made ready to go down by that rocky stair.  And first they did off their armour and other gear, and when they were naked they did on the hallowed raiment which they had out of the ark in the House of the Sorceress; and so clad gat them down the rock-hewn stair, Ralph going first, lest there should be any broken place; but naught was amiss with those hard black stones, and they came safely to a level place of the rock, whence they could see the face of the cliff, and how the waters of the Well came gushing forth from a hollow therein in a great swelling wave as clear as glass; and the sun glistened in it and made a foam-bow about its edges. But above the issue of the waters the black rock had been smoothed by man’s art, and thereon was graven the Sword and the Bough, and above it these words, to wit:


So they looked long and wondered; and Ursula said:  “Deemest thou, my friend, that any have come thus far and forborne to drink?”

Said Ralph:  “Surely not even the exceeding wise might remember the bitterness of his wisdom as he stood here.”

Then he looked on her and his face grew bright beyond measure, and cried out: “O love, love! why tarry we?  For yet I fear lest we be come too late, and thou die before mine eyes ere yet thou hast drunken.”

“Yea,” she said, “and I also fear for thee, though thy face is ruddy and thine eyes sparkle, and thou art as lovely as the Captain of the Lord’s hosts.”

Then she laughed, and her laughter was as silver bells rung tunably, and she said:  “But where is the cup for the drinking?”

But Ralph looked on the face of the wall, and about the height of his hand saw square marks thereon, as though there were an ambrye; and amidst the square was a knop of latten, all green with the weather and the salt spray. So Ralph set his hand to the knop and drew strongly, and lo it was a door made of a squared stone hung on brazen hinges, and it opened easily to him, and within was a cup of goldsmith’s work, with the sword and the bough done thereon; and round about the rim writ this posey: “THE STRONG OF HEART SHALL DRINK FROM ME.”  So Ralph took it and held it aloft so that its pure metal flashed in the sun, and he said: “This is for thee, Sweetling.”


“Yea, and for thee,” she said.

Now that level place, or bench-table went up to the very gushing and green bow of the water, so Ralph took Ursula’s hand and led her along, she going a little after him, till he was close to the Well, and stood amidst the spray-bow thereof, so that he looked verily like one of the painted angels on the choir wall of St. Laurence of Upmeads. Then he reached forth his hand and thrust the cup into the water, holding it stoutly because the gush of the stream was strong, so that the water of the Well splashed all over him, wetting Ursula’s face and breast withal: and he felt that the water was sweet without any saltness of the sea. But he turned to Ursula and reached out the full cup to her, and said: “Sweetling, call a health over the cup!”

She took it and said:  “To thy life, beloved!” and drank withal, and her eyes looked out of the cup the while, like a child’s when he drinketh.  Then she gave him the cup again and said: “Drink, and tarry not, lest thou die and I live.”

Then Ralph plunged the cup into the waters again, and he held the cup aloft, and cried out:  “To the Earth, and the World of Manfolk!” and therewith he drank.

For a minute then they clung together within the spray-bow of the Well, and then she took his hand and led him back to the midst of the bench-table, and he put the cup into the ambrye, and shut it up again, and then they sat them down on the widest of the platform under the shadow of a jutting rock; for the sun was hot; and therewithal a sweet weariness began to steal over them, though there was speech betwixt them for a little, and Ralph said: “How is it with thee, beloved?”

“O well indeed,” she said.

Quoth he:  “And how tasteth to thee the water of the Well?”

Slowly she spake and sleepily:  “It tasted good, and as if thy love were blended with it.”

And she smiled in his face; but he said:  “One thing I wonder over: how shall we wot if we have drunk aright?  For whereas if we were sick or old and failing, or ill-liking, and were now presently healed of all this, and become strong and fair to look on, then should we know it for sure— but now, though, as I look on thee, I behold thee the fairest of all women, and on thy face is no token of toil and travail, and the weariness of the way; and though the heart-ache of loneliness and captivity, and the shame of Utterbol has left no mark upon thee—yet hast thou not always been sweet to my eyes, and as sweet as might be?  And how then?”…But he broke off and looked on her and she smiled upon the love in his eyes, and his head fell back and he slept with a calm and smiling face. And she leaned over him to kiss his face but even therewith her own eyes closed and she laid her head upon his breast, and slept as peacefully as he.


the moon and the morning star

sacred texts :  extracrs from – the well at the world’s end by william morris

~ by meanderingsofthemuse on January 10, 2013.

2 Responses to “The Well at the World’s End”

  1. Oh such wondrous ‘imagery’ you have inspired me with , thank you , FFF Isa

  2. After reading this, Ralph and Ursula do persist in my thoughts. Thank you for creating a mine of knowledge and wisdom, and sharing ❤

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