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The Water of the Wondrous Isles, by William Morris, [1897], at


On swam Birdalone, not as one who had a mind to drown her for the forgetting of troubles, but both strongly and wisely; and she turned over on to her back, and looked on the stars above her, and steered herself by them thitherward whereas she deemed was the land under the wood.  When she had been gone from the evil isle for an hour or so, there rose a fair little wind behind her, which helped her forward, but scarce raised the water more than a little ripple.

Still she swam on, and it was some three hours she began to weary, and then she floated on her back and let the wind and water have its way with her; and now the night was as dark as it would be ere dawn.

Thus it went for another hour, that whiles she swam on and whiles she floated; and now her heart began to fail her, and the great water was no longer unto her a wet highway, but a terrible gulf over which she hung fainting.

Nevertheless she did not give up doing what she might:  she floated supine a long while, and then, when she had gathered a little strength, turned over again and struck out, still steering her by the stars.  But she had scarce made three strokes ere her arms met something hard and rough; and at first in her forlornness she deemed she had happened on some dread water monster, and for terror of it she sank down into the deep, but came up presently blinded and breathless, and spread abroad her arms, and again they came on the thing aforesaid, and this time found that it was nought alive, but the bole of a tree sitting high out of the water.  So she clomb up on to it with what might she had left, and sat her down, and saw in the dim light that it was big, and that there was a fork betwixt two limbs reaching up into the air, and she thrust herself in between these two limbs and embraced one of them, so that she might scarce tumble off; and a great content and happiness came over her that she had thus escaped from the death of the deep; but therewithal weariness overcame her, and she slept, whether she would or not; and the bole went on over the waters no slower than might have been looked for, whether it were by the pushing on of the south wind, or by the hand of Weird that would not have her die.

Long she slumbered, for when she awoke it was broad day and the sun was shining high in the heavens, and she cleared her eyes and looked around, and saw before her the land, but yet blue in the offing.  And the tree-bole was yet speeding on towards the shore, as if it were being drawn there by some bidding of might.

Now indeed grew Birdalone happy, and she thought if any had helped her it must have been the wood-mother once again; and she said to herself that she should soon meet with that helper; nor heeded she that she was naked and unfurnished of any goods, whereas she deemed indeed that it was but to ask and have of her friend.

For a while indeed she knew not whither she was wending, and if her face were verily turned toward the land under the wood; but as the morning wore the blue distance began to grow green, and then she saw that a great wood was indeed before her, and thereafter, as it cleared yet more, she knew the land she was nearing for the meadows of the House under the Wood, and it was not long thence ere she saw clear and close Green Eyot and Rocky Eyot, though the house was yet hidden from her by the green shores of the first of those two isles.

Shortly to tell it, her tree-bole floated with her past the outer ness of Green Eyot, and came ashore in that same sandy bight where erst she was wonted to make her body ready for the water.  She stepped ashore all glad to feel the firm warm sand underneath her foot-soles, and as one drunk with joy she was when the tall flowery grass of the latter May was caressing her legs as they shook the seed-dust off the bents, and smote the fragrance out of the blossoms; and she might scarce at first lift her eyes from their familiar loveliness.  Glad she was indeed, but exceeding worn and weary with the long voyage, and all the longing and fear and hope which had encompassed her that while.  She lifted up her eyes but once, and saw the witch's house standing where it was wont, but no shape of man moving about it; then she turned aside to a little brake of thorn and eglantine in the meadow hard by, and laid her down on the grass in the shade thereof, and almost before her head touched the ground she fell asleep, and slept there long and peacefully.


Next: Chapter XVI. Birdalone Findeth Her Witch-Mistress Dead