The Well At The World's End, by William Morris

Chapter 21

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

Ralph awoke from some foolish morning dream of Upmeads, wondering where he was, or what familiar voice had cried out his name: then he raised himself on his elbow, and saw Ursula standing before him with flushed face and sparkling eyes, and she was looking out seaward, while she called on his name. So he sprang up and strove with the slumber that still hung about him, and as his eyes cleared he looked down, and saw that the sea, which last night had washed the face of the cliff, had now ebbed far out, and left bare betwixt the billows and the cliff some half mile of black sand, with rocks of the like hue rising out of it here and there. But just below the place where they stood, right up against the cliff, was builded by man’s hand of huge stones a garth of pound, the wall whereof was some seven feet high, and the pound within the wall of forty feet space endlong and overthwart; and the said pound was filled with the waters of a spring that came forth from the face of the cliff as they deemed, though from above they might not see the issue thereof; but the water ran seaward from the pound by some way unseen, and made a wide stream through the black sand of the foreshore: but ever the great basin filled somewhat faster than it voided, so that it ran over the lip on all sides, making a thin veil over the huge ashlar-stones of the garth. The day was bright and fair with no wind, save light airs playing about from the westward ort, and all things gleamed and glittered in the sun.

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:

YE WHO HAVE COME A LONG WAY TO LOOK UPON ME, DRINK OF ME, IF YE DEEM THAT YE BE STRONG ENOUGH IN DESIRE TO BEAR LENGTH OF DAYS: OR ELSE DRINK NOT; BUT TELL YOUR FRIENDS AND THE KINDREDS OF THE EARTH HOW YE HAVE SEEN A GREAT MARVEL.

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.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07