William Morris Archive


This little one, who is henceforth called Birdalone, though the witch called her but seldom so, nor indeed by any name, dwelt there betwixt the water and the wood, and saw none save the said witch-wife, who, as aforesaid, fed her well, but scarce meddled with her else for a long while; so she wandered well-nigh as she had will, and much in the wood; for she had no fear thereof, nor indeed of aught else save of the dame. She learned of the ways and the wont of all the creatures round about her, and the very grass and flowers were friends to her, and she made tales of them in her mind; and the wild things feared her in no wise, and the fowl would come to her hand, and play with her and love her. A lovely child she was, rosy and strong, and as merry as the birds on the bough; and had she trouble, for whiles she came across some ugly mood of the witch-wife, she bore it all as lightly as they.

Wore the years thus, till now she was grown tall and thin, and had seen twelve winters, and was far stronger and handier than at first sight she looked to be. That found her mistress, and would not forego the using of her deftness. For indeed the maiden knew all matters of wood and field full well, and somewhat of the water also (though no boat had she ever seen there), for she learned herself swimming, as the ducks do belike.

But now her mistress would learn her swinking, and hard was the lesson, for with twiggen rods and switches was she learned, and was somewhat stubborn with this woman, who she deemed loved her not; and, however it were, there began to grow in her an inkling that all was not well with the dame, and howsoever she might fear her, she trusted her not, nor worshipped her; otherwise she had learned her lesson speedily; for she was not slack nor a sluggard, and hated not the toil, even when it pained and wearied her, but against the anger and malice she hardened her heart.

It is to be said, that though there she dwelt alone with the witch-wife, she had somehow got to know that they two were not alone in the world, and she knew of male and female, and young and old. Thereof doubtless the witch herself had learned her, would she, would she not; for though she were mostly few-spoken, yet whiles the tongue of her would loosen, and she would tell Birdalone tales of men and women, and kings and warriors and thralls, and the folk of the world beyond them, if it were but to scare the child. Yea, and when she rated Birdalone, or girded at her, words would come forth which the maiden stored up, and by laying two and two together gat wisdom howso it were. Moreover, she was of the race of Adam, and her heart conceived of diverse matters from her mother’s milk and her father’s blood, and her heart and her mind grew up along with her body. Herein also was she wise, to wit, how to give wrath the go-by, so that she oft found the wood a better home than the house: for now she knew that the witch-wife would enter it never; wherefore she loved it much, and haunted it daily if she might.

Amidst all this she lived not unmerrily; for the earth was her friend, and solaced her when she had suffered aught: withal she was soon grown hardy as well as strong; and evil she could thole, nor let it burden her with misery.

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