The Well at World's End 3-22
CHAPTER 22: NOW THEY HAVE DRUNK AND ARE GLAD
Long they slept till the shadows were falling from the west, and the sea was flowing fast again over the sands beneath them, though there was still a great space bare betwixt the cliff and the sea. Then spake Ursula as if Ralph had but just left speaking; and she said: “Yea, dear lord, and I also say, that, lovely as thou art now, never hast thou been aught else but lovely to me. But tell me, hast thou had any scar of a hurt upon thy body? For if now that were gone, surely it should be a token of the renewal of thy life. But if it be not gone, then there may yet be another token.”
Then he stood upon his feet, and she cried out: “O but thou art fair and mighty, who now shall dare gainsay thee? Who shall not long for thee?”
Said Ralph: “Look, love! how the sea comes over the sand like the creeping of a sly wood-snake! Shall we go hence and turn from the ocean-sea without wetting our bodies in its waters?”
“Let us go,” she said.
So they went down on to the level sands, and along the edges of the sweet-water stream that flowed from the Well; and Ralph said: “Beloved, I will tell thee of that which thou hast asked me: when I was but a lad of sixteen winters there rode men a-lifting into Upmeads, and Nicholas Longshanks, who is a wise man of war, gathered force and went against them, and I must needs ride beside him. Now we came to our above, and put the thieves to the road; but in the hurly I got a claw from the war-beast, for the stroke of a sword sheared me off somewhat from my shoulder: belike thou hast seen the scar and loathed it.”
“It is naught loathsome,” she said, “for a lad to be a bold warrior, nor for a grown man to think lightly of the memory of death drawn near for the first time. Yea, I have noted it but let me see now what has befallen with it.”
As she spoke they were come to a salt pool in a rocky bight on their right hand, which the tide was filling speedily; and Ralph spake: “See now, this is the bath of the water of the ocean sea.” So they were speedily naked and playing in the water: and Ursula took Ralph by the arm and looked to his shoulder and said: “O my lad of the pale edges, where is gone thy glory? There is no mark of the sword’s pilgrimage on thy shoulder.” “Nay, none?” quoth he.
“None, none!” she said, “Didst thou say the very sooth of thy hurt in the battle, O poor lad of mine?” “Yea, the sooth,” said he. Then she laughed sweetly and merrily like the chuckle of a flute over the rippling waters, that rose higher and higher about them, and she turned her eyes askance and looked adown to her own sleek side, and laid her hand on it and laughed again. Then said Ralph: “What is toward, beloved? For thy laugh is rather of joy that of mirth alone.”
She said: “O smooth-skinned warrior, O Lily and Rose of battle; here on my side yesterday was the token of the hart’s tyne that gored me when I was a young maiden five years ago: look now and pity the maiden that lay on the grass of the forest, and the woodman a-passing by deemed her dead five years ago.”
Ralph stooped down as the ripple washed away from her, then said: “In sooth here is no mark nor blemish, but the best handiwork of God, as when he first made a woman from the side of the Ancient Father of the field of Damask. But lo you love, how swift the tide cometh up, and I long to see thy feet on the green grass, and I fear the sea, lest it stir the joy over strongly in our hearts and we be not able to escape from its waves.”
So they went up from out of the water, and did on the hallowed raiment fragrant with strange herbs, and passed joyfully up the sand towards the cliff and its stair; and speedily withal, for so soon as they were clad again, the little ripple of the sea was nigh touching their feet. As they went, they noted that the waters of the Well flowed seaward from the black-walled pound by three arched openings in its outer face, and they beheld the mason’s work, how goodly it was; for it was as if it had been cut out of the foot of a mountain, so well jointed were its stones, and its walls solid against any storm that might drive against it.
They climbed the stair, and sat them down on the green grass awhile watching the ocean coming in over the sand and the rocks, and Ralph said: “I will tell thee, sweetling, that I am grown eager for the road; though true it is that whiles I was down yonder amidst the ripple of the sea I longed for naught but thee, though thou wert beside me, and thy joyous words were as fire to the heart of my love. But now that I am on the green grass of the earth I called to mind a dream that came to me when we slept after the precious draught of the Well: for methought that I was standing before the porch of the Feast-hall of Upmeads and holding thine hand, and the ancient House spake to me with the voice of a man, greeting both thee and me, and praising thy goodliness and valiancy. Surely then it is calling me to deeds, and if it were but morning, as it is now drawing towards sunset, we would mount and be gone straightway.”
“Surely,” she said, “thou hast drunk of the Well, and the fear of thee has already entered into the hearts of thy foemen far away, even as the love of thee constraineth me as I lie by thy side; but since it is evening and sunset, let it be evening, and let the morning see to its own matters. So now let us be pilgrims again, and eat the meal of pilgrims, and see to our horses, and then wander about this lovely wilderness and its green meads, where no son of man heedeth the wild things, till the night come, bringing to us the rest and the sleep of them that have prevailed over many troubles.”
Even so they did, and broke bread above the sea, and looked to their horses, and then went hand in hand about the goodly green bents betwixt the sea and the rough of the mountain; and it was the fairest and softest of summer evenings; and the deer of that place, both little and great, had no fear of man, but the hart and hind came to Ursula’s hand; and the thrushes perched upon her shoulder, and the hares gambolled together close to the feet of the twain; so that it seemed to them that they had come into the very Garden of God; and they forgat all the many miles of the waste and the mountain that lay before them, and they had no thought for the strife of foemen and the thwarting of kindred, that belike awaited them in their own land, but they thought of the love and happiness of the hour that was passing. So sweetly they wore through the last minutes of the day, and when it was as dark as it would be in that fair season, they lay down by the green knoll at the ending of the land, and were lulled to sleep by the bubbling of the Well at the World’s End.