The Well at the World's End: a tale eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 674 pages of information about The Well at the World's End.

CHAPTER 6

Ralph Goeth His Ways From the Abbey of St. Mary at Higham

It was the monk who had been his guide the day before who had now waked him, and he stood by the bedside holding a great bowl of milk in his hand, and as Ralph sat up, and rubbed his eyes, with all his youthful sloth upon him, the monk laughed and said: 

“That is well, lord, that is well!  I love to see a young man so sleepy in the morning; it is a sign of thriving; and I see thou art thriving heartily for the time when thou shalt come back to us to lead my lord’s host in battle.”

“Where be the bale-fires?” said Ralph, not yet fully awake.

“Where be they!” said the brother, “where be they!  They be sunken to cold coals long ago, like many a man’s desires and hopes, who hath not yet laid his head on the bosom of the mother, that is Holy Church.  Come, my lord, arise, and drink the monk’s wine of morning, and then if ye must need ride, ride betimes, and ride hard; for the Wood Perilous beginneth presently as ye wend your ways; and it were well for thee to reach the Burg of the Four Friths ere thou be benighted.  For, son, there be untoward things in the wood; and though some of them be of those for whom Christ’s Cross was shapen, yet have they forgotten hell, and hope not for heaven, and their by-word is, ‘Thou shalt lack ere I lack.’  Furthermore there are worse wights in the wood than they be—­ God save us!—­but against them have I a good hauberk, a neck-guard which I will give thee, son, in token that I look to see thee again at the lovely house of Mary our Mother.”

Ralph had taken the bowl and was drinking, but he looked over the brim, and saw how the monk drew from his frock a pair of beads, as like to Dame Katherine’s gift as one pea to another, save that at the end thereof was a little box shapen crosswise.  Ralph emptied the bowl hastily, got out of bed, and sat on the bed naked, save that on his neck was Dame Katherine’s gift.  He reached out his hand and took the beads from the monk and reddened therewith, as was his wont when he had to begin a contest in words:  but he said: 

“I thank thee, father; yet God wot if these beads will lie sweetly alongside the collar which I bear on my neck as now, which is the gift of a dear friend.”

The monk made up a solemn countenance and said:  “Thou sayest sooth, my son; it is most like that my chaplet, which hath been blessed time was by the holy Richard, is no meet fellow for the gift of some light love of thine:  or even,” quoth he, noting Ralph’s flush deepen, and his brow knit, “or even if it were the gift of a well-willer, yet belike it is a worldly gift; therefore, since thy journey is with peril, thou wert best do it off and let me keep it for thee till thou comest again.”

Now as he spake he looked anxiously, nay, it may be said greedily, at the young man.  But Ralph said nought; for in his heart he was determined not to chaffer away his gossip’s gift for any shaveling’s token.  Yet he knew not how to set his youthful words against the father’s wisdom; so he stood up, and got his shirt into his hand, and as he did it over his head he fell to singing to himself a song of eventide of the High House of Upmeads, the words whereof were somewhat like to these: 

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The Well at the World's End: a tale from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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