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HOME > Classical Novels > The Well at the World's End > CHAPTER 3 The Lady Telleth Ralph of the Past Days of Her Life
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CHAPTER 3 The Lady Telleth Ralph of the Past Days of Her Life
 "Now shalt thou hear of me somewhat more than the arras and the book could tell thee; and yet not all, for time would fail us therefor—and moreover my heart would fail me. I cannot tell where I was born nor of what lineage, nor of who were my father and mother; for this I have known not of myself, nor has any told me. But when I first remember anything, I was playing about a garden, wherein was a little house built of timber and thatched with reed, and the great trees of the forest were all about the garden save for a little croft which was grown over with high grass and another somewhat bigger, wherein were goats. There was a woman at the door of the house and she spinning, yet clad in glittering raiment, and with jewels on her neck and fingers; this was the first thing that I remember, but all as it were a matter of every day, and use and wont, as it goes with the memories of children. Of such matters I will not tell thee at large, for thou knowest how it will be. Now the woman, who as I came to know was neither old nor young in those days, but of middle age, I called mother; but now I know that she was not my mother. She was hard and stern with me, but never beat me in those days, save to make me do what I would not have done unbeaten; and as to meat I ate and drank what I could get, as she did, and indeed was well-fed with simple meats as thou mayest suppose from the aspect of me to-day. But as she was not fierce but rather sour to me in her daily wont in my youngest days so also she was never tender, or ever kissed me or caressed me, for as little as I was. And I loved her naught, nor did it ever come into my mind that I should love her, though I loved a white goat of ours and deemed it dear and lovely; and afterwards other things also that came to me from time to time, as a squirrel that I saved from a weasel, and a jackdaw that fell from a tall ash-tree nigh our house before he had learned how to fly, and a house-mouse that would run up and down my hand and arm, and other such-like things; and shortly I may say that the wild things, even to the conies and fawns loved me, and had but little fear of me, and made me happy, and I loved them.  
"Further, as I grew up, the woman set me to do such work as I had strength for as needs was; for there was no man dwelt anigh us and seldom did I ever see man or woman there, and held no converse with any, save as I shall tell thee presently: though now and again a man or a woman passed by; what they were I knew not, nor their whence and whither, but by seeing them I came to know that there were other folk in the world besides us two. Nought else I knew save how to spin, and to tend our goats and milk them, and to set snares for birds and small deer: though when I had caught them, it irked me sore to kill them, and I had let them go again had I not feared the carline. Every day early I was put forth from the house and garth, and forbidden to go back thither till dusk. While the days were long and the grass was growing, I had to lead our goats to pasture in the wood-lawns, and must take with me rock and spindle, and spin so much of flax or hair as the woman gave me, or be beaten. But when the winter came and the snow was on the ground, then that watching and snaring of wild things was my business.
"At last one day of late summer when I, now of some fifteen summers, was pasturing the goats not far from the house, the sky darkened, and there came up so great a storm of thunder and lightning, and huge drift of rain, that I was afraid, and being so near to the house, I hastened thither, driving the goats, and when I had tethered them in the shed of the croft, I crept trembling up to the house, and when I was at the door, heard the clack of the loom in the weaving-chamber, and deemed that the woman was weaving there, but when I looked, behold there was no one on the bench, though the shuttle was flying from side to side, and the shed opening and changing, and the sley coming home in due order. Therewithal I heard a sound as of one singing a song in a low voice, but the words I could not understand: then terror seized on my heart, but I stepped over the threshold, and as the door of the chamber was open, I looked aside and saw therein the woman sitting stark naked on the floor with a great open book before her, and it was from her mouth that the song was coming: grim she looked, and awful, for she was a big woman, black-haired and stern of aspect in her daily wont, speaking to me as few words as might be, and those harsh enough, yea harsher than when I was but little. I stood for one moment afraid beyond measure, though the woman did not look at me, and I hoped she had not seen me; then I ran back into the storm, though it was now wilder than ever, and ran and hid myself in the thicket of the wood, half-dead with fear, and wondering what would become of me. But finding that no one followed after me, I grew calmer, and the storm also drew off, and the sun shone out a little before his setting: so I sat and spun, with fear in my heart, till I had finished my tale of thread, and when dusk came, stole back again to the house, though my legs would scarce bear me over the threshold into the chamber.
"There sat the woman in her rich attire no otherwise than her wont, nor did she say aught to me; but looked at the yarn that I had spun, to see that I had done my task, and nodded sternly to me as her wont was, and I went to bed amongst my goats as I was used to do, but slept not till towards morning, and then images of dreadful things, and of miseries that I may not tell thee of, mingled with my sleep for long.
"So I awoke and ate my meat and drank of the goats' milk with a heavy heart, and then went into the house; and when I came into the chamber the woman looked at me, and contrary to her wont spoke to me, and I shook with terror at her voice; though she said naught but this: 'Go fetch thy white goat and come back to me therewith.' I did so, and followed after her, sick with fear; and she led me through the wood into a lawn which I knew well, round which was a wall, as it were, of great yew trees, and amidst, a table of stone, made of four uprights and a great stone plank on the top of them; and this was the only thing in all the wood wherein I was used to wander which was of man's handiwork, save and except our house, and the sheds and fences about it.
"The woman stayed and leaned against this stonework and said to me: 'Go about now and gather dry sticks for a fire.' I durst do naught else, and said to myself that I should be whipped if I were tardy, though, forsooth, I thought she was going to kill me; and I brought her a bundle, and she said, 'Fetch more.' And when I had brought her seven bundles, she said: 'It is enough: stand over against me and hearken.' So I stood there quakin............
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