William Morris Archive


Four days they wended the wood, and nought befell to tell of. The witch-wife (for even such was she) fed the stolen child well and duly, and whiles caressed her and spake sweetly unto her; whiles also she would take her out of the pannier, and set her on the ass’s back and hold her thereon heedfully; or, otherwhiles, when they came upon grassy and flowery places, she would set her down on the ground and let her roam about, and pluck the flowers and the strawberries. And whoso might be sorry, the child was glad, so many things new and fair as she came upon.

At last, when the fifth day was waning, and they had been a long while wending a wood set thick with trees, it began to grow grey betwixt the distant boles, and then from grey to white, and it was as if a new world of light lay before them. Thitherward went they, and in a little, and before the sun was set, came they to the shore of a great water, and thence was no more land to be seen before them than if it had been the main sea itself, though this was a sweet water. Albeit, less than a half mile from the shore lay two eyots, as it might have been on the salt sea; but one of these sat low down on the water, and was green and well bushed, but the other, which lay east of it, and was nigher to the shore, was high, rocky, and barren.

Now the ending of the wood left a fair green plain betwixt it and the water, whiles more than a furlong across, whiles much less; and whiles the trees came down close to the water-side. But the place whereas they came from out the wood was of the widest, and there it was a broad bight of greensward of the fashion of the moon seven nights old, and a close hedge of thicket there was at the back of it; and the lake lay south, and the wood north. Some deal of this greensward was broken by closes of acre-land, and the tall green wheat stood blossoming therein; but the most was sweet meadow, and there as now was a gallant flock of goats feeding down it; five kine withal, and a tethered bull. Through the widest of this meadow ran a clear stream winding down to the lake, and on a little knoll beside a lap of the said stream, two bow-shots from the water, was a knoll, whereon stood, amidst of a potherb garden, a little house strongly framed of timber. Before it the steep bank of the lake broke down into a slowly-shelving beach, whose honey-coloured sand thrust up a tongue in amongst the grass of the mead.

Went the witch-wife straight to the door of the said house as if she were at home, as was sooth indeed. She threw the door open, and unladed the ass of all his wares, and first of the youngling, whom she shook awake, and bore into the house, and laid safely on the floor of the chamber; nor did she wait on her wailing, but set about what was to be done to kindle fire, and milk a she-goat, and get meat upon the board. That did she, and fed both herself and the child plenteously: neither did she stint her of meat ever, from that time forward, however else she dealt with her.

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