William Morris: The Well at the World’s End

The Well at the World’s End

„W. M. Rossetti from S. C. Cockerell 1897“

William Morris:

The Well at the World’s End.

Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896.

Quarto. ca. 287 × 205 mm. [8], 496 Seiten. Mit vier großen Holzschnitten nach Sir Edward Burne-Jones, diese mit breiten Umrahmungen. Zahlreiche kleinere und spaltenhohe Randleisten, Initialen sowie die Druckermarke Nr. 2.

Handgefertigter flexibler Original-Pergamenteinband mit sechs hellgrauen Seidenbindebändern, goldgeprägter Rückentitel in Golden type, fast unbeschnitten, gebunden von J. & J. Leighton.

Eins von nur 350 Exemplaren auf handgeschöpftem Bütten; Gesamtauflage 358 Exx. Zweispaltiger Satz in Chaucer type mit rot gedruckten Kapitelüberschriften; der erste Titel in Troy type. Dies ist das erste Buch, das zweispaltig in Chaucer type gesetzt wurde mit Ornamenten zwischen den Spalten, auch sind die Initialen hier erstmals zu Initialwörtern geworden, was später beim „Chaucer“ wiederholt wurde. „The Well at the World’s End“, der Titel geht auf eine alte schottische Ballade zurück, brauchte zu seiner Fertigstellung länger als irgendein anderes Buch der Kelmscott Press. Ursprünglich hatte Morris den Graphiker Arthur J. Gaskin gebeten, die Illustrationen zu zeichnen, doch entschied er sich schließlich gegen diese und bat wieder Burne-Jones darum, dessen Zeichnungen wie gewohnt von Harcourt Hooper, Morris’ Nachbarn in Hammersmith, in Holz gestochen wurden.
 „This book, delayed for various reasons, was longer on hand than any other book. It appears in no less than twelve lists, from that of Dec. 1892, to that of Nov 26, 1895, as ‚in the press‘. Trial pages, including one in a single column, were ready as early as September 1892, and the printing began on Dec. 16 of that year. The edition of ‚The Well at the World’s End‘ published by Longmans was then being printed from the author’s manuscript at the Chiswick Press, and the Kelmscott Press edition was set up from the sheets of that edition, which, though not issued until October 1896, was finished in 1894. The eight borders and the six different ornaments between the columns appear here for the first time, but are used again in ‚The Water of the Wondrous Isles‘, with the exception of two borders.“ (Cockerell). „... [‚The Well at the World’s End‘] stands out as the crowning prose masterpiece of his creative life ... [a] level of which even Morris himself could attain more than once in a lifetime“. (Sparling: The KP & WM, pp. 106 & 107; cf. Vallance, p. 371 sqq. mit ausführlicher Besprechung).

Aus der Bibliothek von William Michael Rossetti, mit seinem Eintrag auf dem vorderen fliegenden Blatt: „W. M. Roſsetti | from S. C. Cockerell | 1897“, etwas tiefer: „See the note in Sidonia the Sorcereſs | (Kelmscott Preſs) | W.M.S. | 1904“. Die Bemerkung in ‚Sidonia‘ lautet: „W. M. Rossetti, from S. C. Cockerell, 1897 - After my Brother’s [D. G. R.] death a painting by Wm. Morris, named Queen Genevere, remained in my hands - my Brother’s property. Then it got mislaid for a long while - On its recovery I assented to the request of M’s Trustees that it might be handed over to them - they then, thro’ Mr. Cockerell, presented me with this Kelmscott Press Book, and 2 others. W. M. R. 1904“. Cf. Catalogue Henry Sotheran & Co: From William Michael Rossetti’s Library. N°° 1478 (Recuyell ... Troye), 1479 (Sidonia) & 1480 (Well). Gestochenes Exlibris auf vorderem Spiegel: „Ex libris James Stewart Geikie, M.D.“. Einbandrücken stellenweise leicht berieben bzw. angestaubt. Innen sehr frisch.

One of 350 copies on paper of an edition of 358. Printed in Chaucer type in black and red. Four woodcuts by Sir Edward Burne-Jones; woodcut title and facing page with full woodcut page-borders, numerous woodcut initials. The gothic lettering of the engraved titles was designed by Morris. Original limp vellum, gilt title on spine, uncut. Spine slightly rubbed, otherwise a very good copy. From the library of William Michael Rossetti, with the following inscription in his own hand: “W. M. Roſsetti | from S. C. Cockerell | 1897”, and: “See the note in Sidonia the Sorcereſs | (Kelmscott Preſs) | W. M. S. | 1904”. The inscription refers to the miniature saga over the ownership of what is often described als Morris’s only completed oil painting “La Belle Iseult”, also sometimes known as “Queen Guenevere”. “It is likely that the painting hung in Red House though not in Queen Square. In 1874 it was claimed as his own by Madox Brown’s son Oliver and in that year Rossetti offered him £20 for it as ‘an early portrait of its original, of whom I have made so many studies myself’. The painting then came into the hands of William Michael Rossetti who, on the death of his wife Lucy (Oliver Madox Brown’s half sister), ‘found it in a cupboard in her room’. It was returned to Jane Morris in exchange for three Kelmscott Press books.” Ray Watkinson in the V & A William Morris exhibition catalogue (G.10, p 103).

Peterson A39 – Scott 105 – Forman 164 – Latham 43 – Cockerell 39 – Tomkinson 117,39 – Ransom 329,39 – Walsdorf 39 – Coupe 20.1 – Bibliographiender Textelektronisches Faksimile.


Für mich eines der schönsten Werke dieser Presse, nicht so überladen wie der Chaucer, die Illustrationen erhalten durch die einfache Seitenumrahmung optisches Gewicht. Nebenher bemerkt, selbst das Lesen dieses leicht mystischen Abenteuerromans verschafft Vergnügen.

Der oben erwähnte Tausch betraf dieses Gemälde. “This is the only completed easel painting that William Morris produced. It is a portrait in medieval dress of Jane Burden, whom Morris married in April 1859. The picture has been identified in the past as Queen Guenevere, partly owing to the fact that Morris published his first volume of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere, in March 1858. However, recent research has established convincingly that the picture is intended to represent Iseult mourning Tristram’s exile from the court of King Mark.” (Frances Fowle)

The Sundering of the Ways

William Morris: The Well at the World’s End

Long ago there was a little land, over which ruled a regulus or kinglet, who was called King Peter, though his kingdom was but little. He had four sons whose names were Blaise, Hugh, Gregory and Ralph: of these Ralph was the youngest, whereas he was but of twenty winters and one; and Blaise was the oldest and had seen thirty winters.

Now it came to this at last, that to these young men the kingdom of their father seemed strait; and they longed to see the ways of other men, and to strive for life. For though they were king’s sons, they had but little world’s wealth; save and except good meat and drink, and enough or too much thereof; house-room of the best; friends to be merry with, and maidens to kiss, and these also as good as might be; freedom withal to come and go as they would; the heavens above them, the earth to bear them up, and the meadows and acres, the woods and fair streams, and the little hills of Upmeads, for that was the name of their country and the kingdom of King Peter.

So having nought but this little they longed for much; and that the more because, king’s sons as they were, they had but scant dominion save over their horses and dogs: for the men of that country were stubborn and sturdy vavassors, and might not away with masterful doings, but were like to pay back a blow with a blow, and a foul word with a buffet. So that, all things considered, it was little wonder if King Peter’s sons found themselves straitened in their little land: wherein was no great merchant city; no mighty castle, or noble abbey of monks: nought but fair little halls of yeomen, with here and there a franklin’s court or a shield-knight’s manor-house; with many a goodly church, and whiles a house of good canons, who knew not the road to Rome, nor how to find the door of the Chancellor’s house.

So these young men wearied their father and mother a long while with telling them of their weariness, and their longing to be gone: till at last on a fair and hot afternoon of June King Peter rose up from the carpet which the Prior of St. John’s by the Bridge had given him (for he had been sleeping thereon amidst the grass of his orchard after his dinner) and he went into the hall of his house, which was called the High House of Upmeads, and sent for his four sons to come to him. And they came and stood before his high-seat and he said:

“Sons, ye have long wearied me with words concerning your longing for travel on the roads; now if ye verily wish to be gone, tell me when would ye take your departure if ye had your choice?”

They looked at one another, and the three younger ones nodded at Blaise the eldest: so he began, and said: “Saving the love and honour that we have for thee, and also for our mother, we would be gone at once, even with the noon’s meat still in our bellies. But thou art the lord in this land, and thou must rule. Have I said well, brethren?” And they all said “Yea, yea.” Then said the king; “Good! now is the sun high and hot; yet if ye ride softly ye may come to some good harbour before nightfall without foundering your horses. So come ye in an hour’s space to the Four-want-way, and there and then will I order your departure.”

The young men were full of joy when they heard his word; and they departed and went this way and that, gathering such small matters as each deemed that he needed, and which he might lightly carry with him; then they armed themselves, and would bid the squires bring them their horses; but men told them that the said squires had gone their ways already to the Want-way by the king’s commandment: so thither they went at once a-foot all four in company, laughing and talking together merrily.

It must be told that this Want-way aforesaid was but four furlongs from the House, which lay in an ingle of the river called Upmeads Water amongst very fair meadows at the end of the upland tillage; and the land sloped gently up toward the hill-country and the unseen mountains on the north; but to the south was a low ridge which ran along the water, as it wound along from west to east. Beyond the said ridge, at a place whence you could see the higher hills to the south, that stretched mainly east and west also, there was presently an end of the Kingdom of Upmeads, though the neighbours on that side were peaceable and friendly, and were wont to send gifts to King Peter. But toward the north beyond the Want-way King Peter was lord over a good stretch of land, and that of the best; yet was he never a rich man, for he had no freedom to tax and tail his folk, nor forsooth would he have used it if he had; for he was no ill man, but kindly and of measure. On these northern marches there was war at whiles, whereas they ended in a great forest well furnished of trees; and this wood was debateable, and King Peter and his sons rode therein at their peril: but great plenty was therein of all wild deer, as hart, and buck, and roe, and swine, and bears and wolves withal. The lord on the other side thereof was a mightier man than King Peter, albeit he was a bishop, and a baron of Holy Church. To say sooth he was a close-fist and a manslayer; though he did his manslaying through his vicars, the knights and men-at-arms who held their manors of him, or whom he waged.

In that forest had King Peter’s father died in battle, and his eldest son also; therefore, being a man of peace, he rode therein but seldom, though his sons, the three eldest of them, had both ridden therein and ran therefrom valiantly. As for Ralph the youngest, his father would not have him ride the Wood Debateable as yet.

So came those young men to the Want-ways, and found their father sitting there on a heap of stones, and over against him eight horses, four destriers, and four hackneys, and four squires withal. So they came and stood before their father, waiting for his word, and wondering what it would be.

Now spake King Peter: “Fair sons, ye would go on all adventure to seek a wider land, and a more stirring life than ye may get of me at home: so be it! But I have bethought me, that, since I am growing old and past the age of getting children, one of you, my sons, must abide at home to cherish me and your mother, and to lead our carles in war if trouble falleth upon us. Now I know not how to choose by mine own wit which of you shall ride and which abide. For so it is that ye are diverse of your conditions; but the evil conditions which one of you lacks the other hath, and the valiancy which one hath, the other lacks. Blaise is wise and prudent, but no great man of his hands. Hugh is a stout rider and lifter, but headstrong and foolhardy, and over bounteous a skinker; and Gregory is courteous and many worded, but sluggish in deed; though I will not call him a dastard. As for Ralph, he is fair to look on, and peradventure he may be as wise as Blaise, as valiant as Hugh, and as smooth-tongued as Gregory; but of all this we know little or nothing, whereas he is but young and untried. Yet may he do better than you others, and I deem that he will do so. All things considered, then, I say, I know not how to choose between you, my sons; so let luck choose for me, and ye shall draw cuts for your roads; and he that draweth longest shall go north, and the next longest shall go east, and the third straw shall send the drawer west; but as to him who draweth the shortest cut, he shall go no whither but back again to my house, there to abide with me the chances and changes of life; and it is most like that this one shall sit in my chair when I am gone, and be called King of Upmeads.

“Now, my sons, doth this ordinance please you? For if so be it doth not, then may ye all abide at home, and eat of my meat, and drink of my cup, but little chided either for sloth or misdoing, even as it hath been aforetime.”

The young men looked at one another, and Blaise answered and said: “Sir, as for me I say we will do after your commandment, to take what road luck may show us, or to turn back home again.” They all yeasaid this one after the other; and then King Peter said: “Now before I draw the cuts, I shall tell you that I have appointed the squires to go with each one of you. Richard the Red shall go with Blaise; for though he be somewhat stricken in years, and wise, yet is he a fierce carle and a doughty, and knoweth well all feats of arms.

“Lancelot Longtongue shall be squire to Hugh; for he is good of seeming and can compass all courtesy, and knoweth logic (though it be of the law and not of the schools), yet is he a proper man of his hands; as needs must he be who followeth Hugh; for where is Hugh, there is trouble and debate.

“Clement the Black shall serve Gregory: for he is a careful carle, and speaketh one word to every ten deeds that he doeth; whether they be done with point and edge, or with the hammer in the smithy.

“Lastly, I have none left to follow thee, Ralph, save Nicholas Longshanks; but though he hath more words than I have, yet hath he more wisdom, and is a man lettered and far-travelled, and loveth our house right well.

“How say ye, sons, is this to your liking?”

They all said “yea.” Then quoth the king; “Nicholas, bring hither the straws ready dight, and I will give them my sons to draw.”

So each young man came up in turn and drew; and King Peter laid the straws together and looked at them, and said:

“Thus it is, Hugh goeth north with Lancelot, Gregory westward with Clement.” He stayed a moment and then said: “Blaise fareth eastward and Richard with him. As for thee, Ralph my dear son, thou shalt back with me and abide in my house and I shall see thee day by day; and thou shalt help me to live my last years happily in all honour; and thy love shall be my hope, and thy valiancy my stay.”

Therewith he arose and threw his arm about the young man’s neck; but he shrank away a little from his father, and his face grew troubled; and King Peter noted that, and his countenance fell, and he said:

“Nay nay, my son; grudge not thy brethren the chances of the road, and the ill-hap of the battle. Here at least for thee is the bounteous board and the full cup, and the love of kindred and well-willers, and the fellowship of the folk. O well is thee, my son, and happy shalt thou be!”

But the young man knit his brows and said no word in answer.

Then came forward those three brethren who were to fare at all adventure, and they stood before the old man saying nought. Then he laughed and said: “O ho, my sons! Here in Upmeads have ye all ye need without money, but when ye fare in the outlands ye need money; is it not a lack of yours that your pouches be bare? Abide, for I have seen to it.”

Therewith he drew out of his pouch three little bags, and said; “Take ye each one of these; for therein is all that my treasury may shed as now. In each of these is there coined money, both white and red, and some deal of gold uncoined, and of rings and brooches a few, and by estimation there is in each bag the same value reckoned in lawful silver of Upmeads and the Wolds and the Overhill-Countries. Take up each what there is, and do the best ye may therewith.”

Then each took his bag, and kissed and embraced his father; and they kissed Ralph and each other, and so got to horse and departed with their squires, going softly because of the hot sun. But Nicholas slowly mounted his hackney and led Ralph’s war-horse with him home again to King Peter’s House.

Ralph Cometh to the Wood Perilous. An Adventure Therein

Now when he was clear of the Thorp the road took him out of the dale; and when he was on the hill’s brow he saw that the land was of other fashion from that which lay behind him. For the road went straight through a rough waste, no pasture, save for mountain sheep or goats, with a few bushes scattered about it; and beyond this the land rose into a long ridge; and on the ridge was a wood thick with trees, and no break in them. So on he rode, and soon passed that waste, which was dry and parched, and the afternoon sun was hot on it; so he deemed it good to come under the shadow of the thick trees (which at the first were wholly beech trees), for it was now the hottest of the day. There was still a beaten way between the tree-boles, though not overwide, albeit, a highway, since it pierced the wood. So thereby he went at a soft pace for the saving of his horse, and thought but little of all he had been told of the perils of the way, and not a little of the fair maid whom he had left behind at the Thorp.

After a while the thick beech-wood gave out, and he came into a place where great oaks grew, fair and stately, as though some lord’s wood-reeve had taken care that they should not grow over close together, and betwixt them the greensward was fine, unbroken, and flowery. Thereby as he rode he beheld deer, both buck and hart and roe, and other wild things, but for a long while no man.

The afternoon wore and still he rode the oak wood, and deemed it a goodly forest for the greatest king on earth. At last he came to where another road crossed the way he followed, and about the crossway was the ground clearer of trees, while beyond it the trees grew thicker, and there was some underwood of holly and thorn as the ground fell off as towards a little dale.

There Ralph drew rein, because he doubted in his mind which was his right road toward the Burg of the Four Friths; so he got off his horse and abode a little, if perchance any might come by; he looked about him, and noted on the road that crossed his, and the sward about it, the sign of many horses having gone by, and deemed that they had passed but a little while. So he lay on the ground to rest him and let his horse stray about and bite the grass; for the beast loved him and would come at his call or his whistle.

Ralph was drowsy when he lay down, and though he said to himself that he would nowise go to sleep, yet as oft happens, he had no defence to make against sleepiness, and presently his hands relaxed, his head fell aside, and he slept quietly. When he woke up in a little space of time, he knew at once that something had awaked him and that he had not had his sleep out; for in his ears was the trampling of horse-hoofs and the clashing of weapons and loud speech of men. So he leapt up hastily, and while he was yet scarce awake, took to whistling on his horse; but even therewith those men were upon him, and two came up to him and laid hold of him; and when he asked them what they would, they bade him hold his peace.

Now his eyes cleared, and he saw that those men were in goodly war-gear, and bore coats of plate, and cuir-bouilly, or of bright steel; they held long spears and were girt with good swords; there was a pennon with them, green, whereon was done a golden tower, embattled, amidst of four white ways; and the same token bore many of the men on their coats and sleeves. Unto this same pennon he was brought by the two men who had taken him, and under it, on a white horse, sat a Knight bravely armed at all points with the Tower and Four Ways on his green surcoat; and beside him was an ancient man-at-arms, with nought but an oak wreath on his bare head, and his white beard falling low over his coat: but behind these twain a tall young man, also on a white horse and very gaily clad, upheld the pennon. On one side of these three were five men, unarmed, clad in green coats, with a leafless tree done on them in gold: they were stout carles, bearded and fierce-faced: their hands were bound behind their backs and their feet tied together under their horses’ bellies. The company of those about the Knight, Ralph deemed, would number ten score men.

So when those twain stayed Ralph before the Knight, he turned to the old man and said:

“It is of no avail asking this lither lad if he be of them or no: for no will be his answer. But what sayest thou, Oliver?”

The ancient man drew closer to Ralph and looked at him up and down and all about; for those two turned him about as if he had been a joint of flesh on the roasting-jack; and at last he said:

“His beard is sprouting, else might ye have taken him for a maid of theirs, one of those of whom we wot. But to say sooth I seem to know the fashion of his gear, even as Duke Jacob knew Joseph’s tabard. So ask him whence he is, lord, and if he lie, then I bid bind him and lead him away, that we may have a true tale out of him; otherwise let him go and take his chance; for we will not waste the bread of the Good Town on him.”

The Knight looked hard on Ralph, and spake to him somewhat courteously:

“Whence art thou, fair Sir, and what is thy name? for we have many foes in the wildwood.”

Ralph reddened as he answered: “I am of Upmeads beyond the down country; and I pray thee let me be gone on mine errands. It is meet that thou deal with thine own robbers and reivers, but not with me.”

Then cried out one of the bounden men: “Thou liest, lad, we be no robbers.” But he of the Knight’s company who stood by him smote the man on the mouth and said: “Hold thy peace, runagate! Thou shalt give tongue to-morrow when the hangman hath thee under his hands.”

The Knight took no heed of this; but turned to the ancient warrior and said: “Hath he spoken truth so far?”

“Yea, Sir Aymer,” quoth Oliver; “And now meseems I know him better than he knoweth me.”

Therewith he turned to Ralph and said: “How fareth Long Nicholas, my lord?”

Ralph reddened again: “He is well,” said he.

Then said the Knight: “Is the young man of a worthy house, Oliver?”

But ere the elder could speak, Ralph brake in and said: “Old warrior, I bid thee not to tell out my name, as thou lovest Nicholas.”

Old Oliver laughed and said: “Well, Nicholas and I have been friends in a way, as well as foes; and for the sake of the old days his name shall help thee, young lord.” Then he said to his Knight: “Yea, Sir Aymer, he is of a goodly house and an ancient; but thou hearest how he adjureth me. Ye shall let his name alone.”

The Knight looked silently on Ralph for a while; then he said: “Wilt thou wend with us to the Burg of the Four Friths, fair Sir? Wert thou not faring thither? Or what else dost thou in the Wood Perilous?”

Ralph turned it over in his mind; and though he saw no cause why he should not join himself to their company, yet something in his heart forbade him to rise to the fly too eagerly; so he did but say: “I am seeking adventures, fair lord.”

The Knight smiled: “Then mayst thou fill thy budget with them if thou goest with us,” quoth he. Now Ralph did not know how he might gainsay so many men at arms in the long run, though he were scarce willing to go; so he made no haste to answer; and even therewith came a man running, through the wood up from the dale; a long, lean carle, meet for running, with brogues on his feet, and nought else but a shirt; the company parted before him to right and left to let him come to the Knight, as though he had been looked for; and when he was beside him, the Knight leaned down while the carle spake softly to him and all men drew out of ear-shot. And when the carle had given his message the Knight drew himself straight up in his saddle again and lifted up his hand and cried out:

“Oliver! Oliver! lead on the way thou wottest! Spur! spur, all men!”

Therewith he blew one blast from a horn which hung at his saddle-bow; the runner leapt up behind old Oliver, and the whole company went off at a smart trot somewhat south-east, slantwise of the cross-roads, where the wood was nought cumbered with undergrowth; and presently they were all gone to the last horse-tail, and no man took any more note of Ralph.


Ralph Meets With Love in the Wilderness

William Morris: The Well at the World’s End

He woke up while it was yet night, and knew that he had been awakened by a touch; but, like a good hunter and warrior, he forebore to start up or cry out till sleep had so much run off him that he could tell somewhat of what was toward. So now he saw the Lady bending over him, and she said in a kind and very low voice: “Rise up, young man, rise up, Ralph, and say no word, but come with me a little way into the wood ere dawn come, for I have a word for thee.”

So he stood up and was ready to go with her, his heart beating hard for joy and wonder. “Nay,” she whispered, “take thy sword and war-gear lest ill befall: do on thine hauberk; I will be thy squire.” And she held his war-coat out for him to do on. “Now,” she said, still softly, “hide thy curly hair with the helm, gird thy sword to thee, and come without a word.”

Even so he did, and therewithal felt her hand take his (for it was dark as they stepped amidst the trees), and she led him into the Seventh Heaven, for he heard her voice, though it were but a whisper, as it were a caress and a laugh of joy in each word.

She led him along swiftly, fumbling nought with the paths betwixt the pine-tree boles, where it was as dark as dark might be. Every minute he looked to hear her say a word of why she had brought him thither, and that then she would depart from him; so he prayed that the silence and the holding of his hand might last a long while--for he might think of naught save her--and long it lasted forsooth, and still she spake no word, though whiles a little sweet chuckle, as of the garden warbler at his softest, came from her lips, and the ripple of her raiment as her swift feet drave it, sounded loud to his eager ears in the dark, windless wood.

At last, and it was more than half-an-hour of their walking thus, it grew lighter, and he could see the shape of her alongside of him; and still she held his hand and glided on swifter and swifter, as he thought; and soon he knew that outside the wood dawn was giving place to day, and even there, in the wood, it was scarce darker than twilight.

Yet a little further, and it grew lighter still, and he heard the throstles singing a little way off, and knew that they were on the edge of the pine-wood, and still her swift feet sped on till they came to a little grassy wood-lawn, with nought anear it on the side away from the wood save maples and thorn-bushes: it was broad daylight there, though the sun had not yet arisen.

There she let fall his hand and turned about to him and faced him flushed and eager, with her eyes exceeding bright and her lips half open and quivering. He stood beholding her, trembling, what for eagerness, what for fear of her words when he had told her of his desire. For he had now made up his mind to do no less. He put his helm from off his head and laid it down on the grass, and he noted therewith that she had come in her green gown only, and had left mantle and cote hardie behind.

Now he stood up again and was just going to speak, when lo! she put both her palms to her face, and her bosom heaved, and her shoulders were shaken with sobs, and she burst out a weeping, so that the tears ran through her fingers. Then he cast himself on the ground before her, and kissed her feet, and clasped her about the knees, and laid his cheek to her raiment, and fawned upon her, and cried out many an idle word of love, and still she wept a while and spake not. At last she reached her hand down to his face and fondled it, and he let his lips lie on the hand, and she suffered it a while, and then took him by the arm and raised him up and led him on swiftly as before; and he knew not what to do or say, and durst by no means stay her, and could frame no word to ask her wherefore.

So they sped across a waste not much beset with trees, he silent, she never wearying or slacking her pace or faltering as to the way, till they came into the thick wood again, and ever when he would have spoken she hushed him, with “Not yet! Not yet!” Until at last when the sun had been up for some three hours, she led him through a hazel copse, like a deep hedge, into a cleared grassy place where were great grey stones lying about, as if it had been the broken doom-ring of a forgotten folk. There she threw herself down on the grass and buried her face amidst the flowers, and was weeping and sobbing again and he bending over her, till she turned to him and drew him down to her and put her hands to his face, and laid her cheeks all wet with tears to his, and fell to kissing him long and sweetly, so that in his turn he was like to weep for the very sweetness of love.

Then at last she spake: “This is the first word, that now I have brought thee away from death; and so sweet it is to me that I can scarce bear it.”

“Oh, sweet to me,” he said, “for I have waited for thee many days.” And he fell to kissing and clipping her, as one who might not be satisfied. At last she drew herself from him a little, and, turning on him a face smiling with love, she said: “Forbear it a little, till we talk together.” “Yea,” quoth he, “but may I hold thine hand awhile?” “No harm in that,” she said, laughing, and she gave him her hand and spake:

“I spake it that I have brought thee from death, and thou hast asked me no word concerning what and how.” “I will ask it now, then,” said he, “since thou wilt have it so.” She said: “Dost thou think that he would have let thee live?”

“Who,” said he, “since thou lettest me live?”

“He, thy foeman, the Knight of the Sun,” she said. “Why didst thou not flee from him before? For he did not so much desire to slay thee, but that he would have had thee depart; but if thou wert once at his house, he would thrust a sword through thee, or at the least cast thee into his prison and let thee lie there till thy youth be gone--or so it seemed to me,” she said, faltering as she looked on him.

Said Ralph: “How could I depart when thou wert with him? Didst thou not see me there? I was deeming that thou wouldst have me abide.”

She looked upon him with such tender love that he made as if he would cast himself upon her; but she refrained him, and smiled and said: “Ah, yes, I saw thee, and thought not that thou wouldst sunder thyself from me; therefore had I care of thee.” And she touched his cheek with her other hand; and he sighed and knit his brows somewhat, and said: “But who is this man that he should slay me? And why is he thy tyrant, that thou must flee from him?”

She laughed and said: “Fair creature, he is my husband.”

Then Ralph flushed red, and his visage clouded, and he opened his mouth to speak; but she stayed him and said: “Yet is he not so much my husband but that or ever we were bedded he must needs curse me and drive me away from his house.” And she smiled, but her face reddened so deeply that her grey eyes looked strange and light therein.

But Ralph leapt up, and half drew his sword, and cried out loud: “Would God I had slain him! Wherefore could I not slay him?” And he strode up and down the sward before her in his wrath. But she leaned forward to him and laughed and said: “Yet, O Champion, we will not go back to him, for he is stronger than thou, and hath vanquished thee. This is a desert place, but thou art loud, and maybe over loud. Come rest by me.”

So he came and sat down by her, and took her hand again and kissed the wrist thereof and fondled it and said: “Yea, but he desireth thee sorely; that was easy to see. It was my ill-luck that I slew him not.”

She stroked his face again and said: “Long were the tale if I told thee all. After he had driven me out, and I had fled from him, he fell in with me again divers times, as was like to be; for his brother is the Captain of the Dry Tree; the tall man whom thou hast seen with me: and every time this baron hath come on me he has prayed my love, as one who would die despaired if I granted it not, but O my love with the bright sword” (and she kissed his cheek therewith, and fondled his hand with both her hands), “each time I said him nay, I said him nay.” And again her face burned with blushes.

“And his brother,” said Ralph, “the big captain that I have come across these four times, doth he desire thee also?” She laughed and said: “But as others have, no more: he will not slay any man for my sake.”

Said Ralph: “Didst thou wot that I was abiding thy coming at the Castle of Abundance?” “Yea,” she said, “have I not told thee that I bade Roger lead thee thither?” Then she said softly: “That was after that first time we met; after I had ridden away on the horse of that butcher whom thou slayedst.”

“But why camest thou so late?” said he; “Wouldst thou have come if I had abided there yet?” She said: “What else did I desire but to be with thee? But I set out alone looking not for any peril, since our riders had gone to the north against them of the Burg: but as I drew near to the Water of the Oak, I fell in with my husband and that other man; and this time all my naysays were of no avail, and whatsoever I might say he constrained me to go with them; but straightway they fell out together, and fought, even as thou sawest.” And she looked at him sweetly, and as frankly as if he had been naught but her dearest brother.

But he said: “It was concerning thee that they fought: hast thou known the Black Knight for long?”

“Yea,” she said, “I may not hide that he hath loved me: but he hath also betrayed me. It was through him that the Knight of the Sun drave me from him. Hearken, for this concerneth thee: he made a tale of me of true and false mingled, that I was a wise-wife and an enchantress, and my lord trowed in him, so that I was put to shame before all the house, and driven forth wrung with anguish, barefoot and bleeding.”

He looked and saw pain and grief in her face, as it had been the shadow of that past time, and the fierceness of love in him so changed his face, that she arose and drew a little way from him, and stood there gazing at him. But he also rose and knelt before her, and reached up for her hands and took them in his and said: “Tell me truly, and beguile me not; for I am a young man, and without guile, and I love thee, and would have thee for my speech-friend, what woman soever may be in the world. Whatever thou hast been, what art thou now? Art thou good or evil? Wilt thou bless me or ban me? For it is the truth that I have heard tales and tales of thee: many were good, though it maybe strange; but some, they seemed to warn me of evil in thee. O look at me, and see if I love thee or not! and I may not help it. Say once for all, shall that be for my ruin or my bliss? If thou hast been evil, then be good this one time and tell me.”

She neither reddened now, nor paled at his words, but her eyes filled with tears, and ran over, and she looked down on him as a woman looks on a man that she loves from the heart’s root, and she said: “O my lord and love, may it be that thou shalt find me no worse to thee than the best of all those tales. Forsooth how shall I tell thee of myself, when, whatever I say, thou shalt believe every word I tell thee? But O my heart, how shouldest thou, so sweet and fair and good, be taken with the love of an evil thing? At the least I will say this, that whatsoever I have been, I am good to thee--I am good to thee, and will be true to thee.”

He drew her down to him as he knelt there, and took his arms about her, and though she yet shrank from him a little and the eager flame of his love, he might not be gainsayed, and she gave herself to him and let her body glide into his arms, and loved him no less than he loved her. And there between them in the wilderness was all the joy of love that might be.


An Adventure in the Wood Under the Mountains

William Morris: The Well at the World’s End

Now was the night worn to the time appointed, for it was two hours after midnight, so he stepped out of his tent clad in all his war gear, and went straight to the doddered oak, and found Redhead there with but one horse, whereby Ralph knew that he held to his purpose of going his ways to Utterbol: so he took him by the shoulders and embraced him, rough carle as he was, and Redhead kneeled to him one moment of time and then arose and went off into the night. But Ralph got a-horseback without delay and rode his ways warily across the highway and into the wood, and there was none to hinder him. Though it was dark but for the starlight, there was a path, which the horse, and not Ralph, found, so that he made some way even before the first glimmer of dawn, all the more as the wood was not very thick after the first mile, and there were clearings here and there.

So rode Ralph till the sun was at point to rise, and he was about the midst of one of those clearings or wood-lawns, on the further side whereof there was more thicket, as he deemed, then he had yet come to; so he drew rein and looked about him for a minute. Even therewith he deemed he heard a sound less harsh than the cry of the jay in the beech-trees, and shriller than the moaning of the morning breeze in the wood. So he falls to listening with both ears, and this time deems that he hears the voice of a woman: and therewith came into his mind that old and dear adventure of the Wood Perilous; for he was dreamy with the past eagerness of his deeds, and the long and lonely night. But yet he doubted somewhat of the voice when it had passed his ears, so he shook his rein, for he thought it not good to tarry.

Scarce then had his horse stepped out, ere there came a woman running out of the thicket before him and made toward him over the lawn. So he gat off his horse at once and went to meet her, leading his horse; and as he drew nigh he could see that she was in a sorry plight; she had gathered up her skirts to run the better, and her legs and feet were naked: the coif was gone from her head and her black hair streamed out behind her: her gown was rent about the shoulders and bosom, so that one sleeve hung tattered, as if by the handling of some one.

So she ran up to him crying out: “Help, knight, help us!” and sank down therewith at his feet panting and sobbing. He stooped down to her, and raised her up, and said in a kind voice: “What is amiss, fair damsel, that thou art in such a plight; and what may I for thine avail? Doth any pursue thee, that thou fleest thus?”

She stood sobbing awhile, and then took hold of his two hands and said: “O fair lord, come now and help my lady! for as for me, since I am with thee, I am safe.”

“Yea,” said he, “Shall I get to horse at once?” And therewith he made as if he would move away from her; but she still held his hands, and seemed to think it good so to do, and she spake not for a while but gazed earnestly into his face. She was a fair woman, dark and sleek and lithe...for in good sooth she was none other than Agatha, who is afore told of.

Now Ralph is somewhat abashed by her eagerness, and lets his eyes fall before hers; and he cannot but note that despite the brambles and briars of the wood that she had run through, there were no scratches on her bare legs, and that her arm was unbruised where the sleeve had been rent off.

At last she spake, but somewhat slowly, as if she were thinking of what she had to say: “O knight, by thy knightly oath I charge thee come to my lady and help and rescue her: she and I have been taken by evil men, and I fear that they will put her to shame, and torment her, ere they carry her off; for they were about tying her to a tree when I escaped: for they heeded not me who am but the maid, when they had the mistress in their hands.” “Yea,” said he, “and who is thy mistress?” Said the damsel: “She is the Lady of the Burnt Rock; and I fear me that these men are of the Riders of Utterbol; and then will it go hard with her; for there is naught but hatred betwixt my lord her husband and the tyrant of Utterbol.” Said Ralph: “And how many were they?” “O but three, fair sir, but three,” she said; “and thou so fair and strong, like the war-god himself.”

Ralph laughed: “Three to one is long odds,” quoth he, “but I will come with thee when thou hast let go my hands so that I may mount my horse. But wilt thou not ride behind me, fair damsel; so wearied and spent as thou wilt be by thy night.”

She looked on him curiously, and laid a hand on his breast, and the hauberk rings tinkled beneath the broidered surcoat; then she said: “Nay, I had best go afoot before thee, so disarrayed as I am.”

Then she let him go, but followed him still with her eyes as he gat him into the saddle. She walked on beside his horse’s head; and Ralph marvelled of her that for all her haste she had been in, she went somewhat leisurely, picking her way daintily so as to tread the smooth, and keep her feet from the rough.

Thus they went on, into the thicket and through it, and the damsel put the thorns and briars aside daintily as she stepped, and went slower still till they came to a pleasant place of oak-trees with greensward beneath them; and then she stopped, and turning, faced Ralph, and spoke with another voice than heretofore, whereas there was naught rueful or whining therein, but somewhat both of glee and of mocking as it seemed. “Sir knight,” she said, “I have a word or two for thy ears; and this is a pleasant place, and good for us to talk together, whereas it is neither too near to her, nor too far from her, so that I can easily find my way back to her. Now, lord, I pray thee light down and listen to me.” And therewith she sat down on the grass by the bole of a great oak.

“But thy lady,” said Ralph, “thy lady?” “O sir,” she said; “My lady shall do well enough: she is not tied so fast, but she might loose herself if the need were pressing. Light down, dear lord, light down!”

But Ralph sat still on his horse, and knit his brows, and said: “What is this, damsel? hast thou been playing a play with me? Where is thy lady whom thou wouldst have me deliver? If this be but game and play, let me go my ways; for time presses, and I have a weighty errand on hand.”

She rose up and came close to him, and laid a hand on his knee and looked wistfully into his face as she said: “Nay then, I can tell thee all the tale as thou sittest in thy saddle; for meseems short will be thy farewell when I have told it.” And she sighed withal.

Then Ralph was ashamed to gainsay her, and she now become gentle and sweet and enticing, and sad withal; so he got off his horse and tied him to a tree, and went and stood by the damsel as she lay upon the grass, and said: “I prithee tell thy tale and let me depart if there be naught for me to do.”

Then she said: “This is the first word, that as to the Red Rock, I lied; and my lady is the Queen of Utterbol, and I am her thrall, and it is I who have drawn thee hither from the camp.”

The blood mounted to Ralph’s brow for anger; when he called to mind how he had been led hither and thither on other folk’s errands ever since he left Upmeads. But he said naught, and Agatha looked on him timidly and said: “I say I am her thrall, and I did it to serve her and because she bade me.” Said Ralph roughly: “And Redhead, him whom I saved from torments and death; dost thou know him? didst thou know him?”

“Yea,” she said, “I had from him what he had learned concerning thee from the sergeants and others, and then I put words into his mouth.” “Yea then,” quoth Ralph, “then he also is a traitor!” “Nay, nay,” she said, “he is a true man and loveth thee, and whatever he hath said to thee he troweth himself. Moreover, I tell thee here and now that all that he told thee of the affairs of Utterbol, and thine outlook there, is true and overtrue.”

She sprang to her feet therewith, and stood before him and clasped her hands before him and said: “I know that thou seekest the Well at the World’s End and the deliverance of the damsel whom the Lord ravished from the wild man: now I swear it by thy mouth, that if thou go to Utterbol thou art undone and shalt come to the foulest pass there, and moreover that so going thou shalt bring the uttermost shame and torments on the damsel.”

Said Ralph: “Yea, but what is her case as now? tell me.”

Quoth Agatha: “She is in no such evil case; for my lady hateth her not as yet, or but little; and, which is far more, my lord loveth her after his fashion, and withal as I deem feareth her; for though she hath utterly gainsaid his desire, he hath scarce so much as threatened her. A thing unheard of. Had it been another woman she had by this time known all the bitterness that leadeth unto death at Utterbol.” Ralph paled and he scowled on her, then he said: “And how knowest thou all the privity of the Lord of Utterbol? who telleth thee of all this?” She smiled and spake daintily: “Many folk tell me that which I would know; and that is because whiles I conquer the tidings with my wits, and whiles buy it with my body. Anyhow what I tell thee is the very sooth concerning this damsel, and this it is: that whereas she is but in peril, she shall be in deadly peril, yea and that instant, if thou go to Utterbol, thou, who art her lover...” “Nay,” said Ralph angrily, “I am not her lover, I am but her well-willer.” “Well,” quoth Agatha looking down and knitting her brows, “when thy good will towards her has become known, then shall she be thrown at once into the pit of my lord’s cruelty. Yea, to speak sooth, even as it is, for thy sake (for her I heed naught) I would that the lord might find her gone when he cometh back to Utterbol.”

“Yea,” said Ralph, reddening, “and is there any hope for her getting clear off?” “So I deem,” said Agatha. She was silent awhile and then spake in a low voice: “It is said that each man that seeth her loveth her; yea, and will befriend her, even though she consent not to his desire. Maybe she hath fled from Utterbol.”

Ralph stood silent awhile with a troubled face; and then he said: “Yet thou hast not told me the why and wherefore of this play of thine, and the beguiling me into fleeing from the camp. Tell it me that I may pardon thee and pass on.”

She said: “By thine eyes I swear that this is sooth, and that there is naught else in it than this: My lady set her love, when first she set her eyes upon thee--as forsooth all women must: as for me, I had not seen thee (though I told my lady that I had) till within this hour that we met in the wood.”

She sighed therewith, and with her right hand played with the rent raiment about her bosom. Then she said: “She deemed that if thou camest a mere thrall to Utterbol, though she might command thy body, yet she would not gain thy love; but that if perchance thou mightest see her in hard need, and evilly mishandled, and mightest deliver her, there might at least grow up pity in thee for her, and that love might come thereof, as oft hath happed aforetime; for my lady is a fair woman. Therefore I, who am my lady’s servant and thrall, and who, I bid thee remember, had not seen thee, took upon me to make this adventure, like to a minstrel’s tale done in the flesh. Also I spake to my lord and told him thereof; and though he jeered at my lady to me, he was content, because he would have her set her heart on thee utterly; since he feared her jealousy, and would fain be delivered of it, lest she should play some turn to his newly beloved damsel and do her a mischief. Therefore did he set thee free (in words) meaning, when he had thee safe at Utterbol again (as he nowise doubted to have thee) to do as he would with thee, according as occasion might serve. For at heart he hateth thee, as I could see well. So a little before thou didst leave the camp, we, the Queen and I, went privily into a place of the woods but a little way hence. There I disarrayed both my lady and myself so far as was needful for the playing out the play which was to have seemed to thee a real adventure. Then came I to thee as if by chance hap, that I might bring thee to her; and if thou hadst come, we had a story for thee, whereby thou mightest not for very knighthood forbear to succour her and bring her whither she would, which in the long run had been Utterbol, but for the present time was to have been a certain strong-house appertaining to Utterbol, and nigh unto it. This is all the tale, and now if thou wilt, thou mayst pardon me; or if thou wilt, thou mayst draw out thy sword and smite off my head. And forsooth I deem that were the better deed.”

She knelt down before him and put her palms together, and looked up at him beseechingly. His face darkened as he beheld her thus, but it cleared at last, and he said: “Damsel, thou wouldst turn out but a sorry maker, and thy play is naught. For seest thou not that I should have found out all the guile at Utterbol, and owed thy lady hatred rather than love thereafter.”

“Yea,” she said, “but my lady might have had enough of thy love by then, and would belike have let thee alone to fall into the hands of the Lord. Lo now! I have delivered thee from this, so that thou art quit both of the Lord and the lady and me: and again I say that thou couldst scarce have missed, both thou and thy damsel, of a miserable ending at Utterbol.”

“Yea,” said Ralph, softly, and as if speaking to himself, “yet am I lonely and unholpen.” Then he turned to Agatha and said: “The end of all this is that I pardon thee, and must depart forthwith; for when ye two come back to the camp, then presently will the hunt be up.”

She rose from her knees, and stood before him humbly and said: “Nay, I shall requite thee thy pardon thus far, that I will fashion some tale for my lady which will keep us in the woods two days or three; for we have provided victual for our adventure.”

Said Ralph: “I may at least thank thee for that, and will trust in thee to do so much.” Quoth she: “Then might I ask a reward of thee: since forsooth other reward awaiteth me at Utterbol.”

“Thou shalt have it,” said Ralph. She said: “The reward is that thou kiss me ere we part.”

“It must needs be according to my word,” said Ralph, “yet I must tell thee that my kiss will bear but little love with it.”

She answered naught but laid her hands on his breast and put up her face to him, and he kissed her lips. Then she said: “Knight, thou hast kissed a thrall and a guileful woman, yet one that shall smart for thee; therefore grudge not the kiss nor repent thee of thy kindness.”

“How shalt thou suffer?” said he. She looked on him steadfastly a moment, and said: “Farewell! may all good go with thee.” Therewith she turned away and walked off slowly through the wood, and somewhat he pitied her, and sighed as he got into his saddle; but he said to himself: “How might I help her? Yet true it is that she may well be in an evil case: I may not help everyone.” Then he shook his rein and rode his ways.


Ralph and Ursula Come Back Again Through the Great Mountains

William Morris: The Well at the World’s End

On the morrow morning they armed them and took to their horses and departed from that pleasant place and climbed the mountain without weariness, and made provision of meat and drink for the Dry Desert, and so entered it, and journeyed happily with naught evil befalling them till they came back to the House of the Sorceress; and of the Desert they made little, and the wood was pleasant to them after the drought of the Desert.

But at the said House they saw those kind people, and they saw in their eager eyes as in a glass how they had been bettered by their drinking of the Well, and the Elder said to them: “Dear friends, there is no need to ask you whether ye have achieved your quest; for ye, who before were lovely, are now become as the very Gods who rule the world. And now methinks we have to pray you but one thing, to wit that ye will not be overmuch of Gods, but will be kind and lowly with them that needs must worship you.”

They laughed on him for kindness' sake, and kissed and embraced the old man, and they thanked them all for their helping, and they abode with them for a whole day in good-will and love, and thereafter the carle, who was the son of the Elder, with his wife, bade farewell to his kinsmen, and led Ralph and Ursula back through the wood and over the desert to the town of the Innocent Folk. The said Folk received them in all joy and triumph, and would have them abide there the winter over. But they prayed leave to depart, because their hearts were sore for their own land and their kindred. So they abode there but two days, and on the third day were led away by a half score of men gaily apparelled after their manner, and having with them many sumpter-beasts with provision for the road. With this fellowship they came safely and with little pain unto Chestnut Vale, where they abode but one night, though to Ralph and Ursula the place was sweet for the memory of their loving sojourn there.

They would have taken leave of the Innocent Folk in the said vale, but those others must needs go with them a little further, and would not leave them till they were come to the jaws of the pass which led to the Rock of the Fighting Man. Further than that indeed they would not, or durst not go; and those huge mountains they called the Wall of Strife, even as they on the other side called them the Wall of the World.

So the twain took leave of their friends there, and howbeit that they had drunk of the Well at the World's End, yet were their hearts grieved at the parting. The kind folk left with them abundant provision for the remnant of the road, and a sumpter-ox to bear it; so they were in no doubt of their livelihood. Moreover, though the turn of autumn was come again and winter was at hand, yet the weather was fair and calm, and their journey through the dreary pass was as light as it might be to any men.


Als Zugabe zur Beschreibung die Abbildung eines Schreibens von William Michael Rossetti:
Autograph letter von William Michael Rossetti

William Michael Rossetti:
Autograph letter signed “W. M. Rossetti”, to Mrs. Conway. 56 Euston Sq[uare], 19 July, no year.

183 × 114 mm. [1], [2 blank], [1] pp.
Folded leaf.

William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), writer, editor and critic, accepts an invitation: “I think I shall be able to come on Friday - & shall do so with much pleasure.“
Remains of mount at left margin, not touching the text; owner’s entry on last page: some words about Rossetti.