William Morris Archive


Soon she had covered up the house from her, for on that eastern end, both a tongue of the woodland shoved out west into the meadow, and, withal, the whole body of the wood there drew down to the water, and presently cut off all the greensward save a narrow strip along by the lake, off the narrowest whereof lay the rocky eyot aforesaid, nigher unto the shore than lay Green Eyot.

Now never had Birdalone gone so far east as to be over against Rock Eyot. In her childish days the witch had let her know that she might go where she would, but therewith had told her a tale of a huge serpent which dwelt in the dark wood over against Rock Eyot, whose wont it was to lap his folds round and round living things that went there, and devour them; and many an evil dream had that evil serpent brought to Birdalone. In after days belike she scarce trowed in the tale, yet the terror of it abode with her. Moreover the wildwood toward that side, as it drew toward the water, was dark and dreary and forbidding, running into black thickets standing amidst quagmires, all unlike to the sweet, clean upland ridges, oak begrown and greenswarded, of the parts which lay toward the north, and which she mostly haunted.

But this summer day, which was so bright and hot, Birdalone deemed she might harden her heart to try the adventure; and she had a mind to enter the wood thereby, and win her way up into the oakland whereas she had met Habundia, and perchance she might happen on her; for she would not dare to summon her so soon after their first meeting. And if she met her, there would be the holiday worthily brought to an end!

On went Birdalone, and was soon at the narrowest of the greensward, and had the wood black on her left hand, for the trees of it were mostly alder. But when she was come just over against Rock Eyot, she found a straight creek or inlet of the water across her way; and the said creek ran right up into the alder thicket; and, indeed, was much overhung by huge ancient alders, gnarled, riven, mossy, and falling low over the water. But close on the mouth of the creek, on Birdalone’s side thereof, lay a thing floating on the dull water, which she knew not how to call a boat, for such had she never seen, nor heard of, but which was indeed a boat, oarless and sailless.

She looked on it all about, and wondered; yet she saw at once that it was for wending the water, and she thought, might she but have a long pole, she might push it about the shallow parts of the lake, and belike take much fish. She tried to shove it somewhat toward the lake, but with her little might could make nothing of the work; for the craft was heavy, like a barge, if there were nothing else that withstood her.

About this new thing she hung a long while, wondering that she had never heard thereof, or been set to toil therewith. She noted that it was mostly pale grey of hue, as if it had been bleached by sun and water, but at the stem and stern were smears of darker colour, as though someone had been trying the tints of staining there.

Now so much did this new matter take up all her mind, that she thought no more of going up into the wood; but though she had fain abided there long to see whatever might be seen, she deemed it would go ill with her did the witch happen on her there; wherefore she turned about, and went back the way she had come, going very slowly and pondering the tidings. And ever she called to mind what Habundia had said to her, that it was by water she must flee, and wondered if she had sent her this thing that she might escape therein; so different as her going would be thereby to swimming the lake with her wet body. Then again she thought, that before she might let herself hope this, it were best, if she might, to find out from the witch what was the thing, and if she knew thereof. Yet at last she called to mind how little patient of questions was her mistress, and that if she were unheedful she might come to raise an evil storm about her. Wherefore she took this rede at the last, that she would keep all hidden in her own breast till she should see Habundia again; and meanwhile she might steal down thither from time to time to see if the thing still abode there; which she might the easier do by swimming if she chose her time heedfully, and go thither from Rock Eyot, which now and again she visited.

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