Legend of the Holy Well Haw, Leicestershire

by Anon.

The oaks of the Forest were Autumn-tinged,

     And the winds were at sport with their leaves,

When a Maiden traversed the rugged rocks

     That frown over WOODHOUSE EAVES.

The rain fell fast – she heeded it not –

     Though no hut or home appears:

She scarcely knew if the falling drops

     Were rain drops or her tears.

Onward she hied through the OUTWOODS dark –

     (And the OUTWOODS were darker then:)

She feared not the Forest’s deep’ning gloom –

     She feared unholy men.

Lord Comyn’s scouts were in close pursuit,

     For Lord Comyn the Maid had seen,

And had marked her mother’s only child

     For his paramour, I ween.

A whistle, a whoop, from the BUYK HYLLS’ side,

     Told Agnes her foes were nigh:

And, screened by the cleft of an aged oak,

     She heard quick steps pass by.

Dark and dread fell that Autumn night:

     The wind-gusts fitful blew:

The thunder rattled: – the lightning’s glare

     Showed BEACON’S crags to view.

The thunder neared – the lightning played

     Around that sheltering oak;

But Agnes, of men, not God afraid,

     Shrank not at the lightning’s stroke!

The thunder passed – the silvery moon

     Burst forth from her cave of cloud,

And showed in the glen “red Comyn’s’ men,

     And she breathed a prayer aloud: –

‘Maiden mother of God! look down –

     List to a maiden’s prayer:

Keep undefiled my mother’s sole child –

     The spotless are thy care.’

The sun had not glinted on BEACON HILL

     Ere the Hermit of Holy Well

Went forth to pray, as his wont each day,

     At the Cross in Fayre-oke dell.

Ten steps had he gone from the green grassy mound

     Still hemming the Holy Well Haw,

When, stretched on the grass – by the path he must pass –

     A statue-like form he saw!

He crossed himself once, he crossed himself twice,

     And he knelt by the corse in prayer:

‘Jesu Maria! cold as ice –

     Cold – cold – but still how fair!’

The Hermit upraised the stiffened form,

     And he bore to the Holy Well:

Three Paters or more he muttered o’er,

     And he filled his scallop shell.

He sprinkled the lymph on the Maiden’s face,

     And he knelt and he prayed a her side –

Not a minute’s space had he gazed on her face

     Ere signs of life he spied.

Spring had invested the CHARNWOOD oaks

     With their robe of glist’ning green,

When on palfreys borne, one smiling morn,

     At the Holy Well Haw were seen

A youth and a Lady, passing fair,

     Who asked for the scallop shell:

A sparkling draught each freely quaffed,

     And they blessed the Holy Well.

They blessed that Well, and they fervently blessed

     The holy Hermit too;

To that and to him they filled to the brim

     The scallop, and drank anew.

‘Thanks, Father! thanks! – To this Well and thee,’

     Said the youth, ‘but to Heav’n most,

I owe the life of the fairest wife

     That CHARNWOOD’S bounds can boast.

The blushing bride thou seest at my side,

     (Three hours ago made mine)

Is she who from death was restored to breath

     By Heav’n’s own hand and thine.

The Prior of ULVESCROFT made us one,

     And we hastened here to tell

How much we owe to kind Heav’n and thee,

     For the gift of the Holy Well.

In proof of which – to the Holy Well Haw

     I give, as a votive gift,

From year to year three fallow deer,

     And the right of the Challenge drift.

I give, besides, of land two hides,

     To be marked from the Breedon Brand:

To he held while men draw from the Well in this Haw

     A draught with the hollow hand.’

The Hermit knelt, and the Hermit rose,

     And breathed ‘Benedicite’ –

‘And tell me,’ he said, with a hand on each head,

     ‘What Heav’n sent pair I see?’

‘This is the lost de Ferrars’ child,

     Who dwelt at the Steward’s Hay;

And, Father, my name – yet unknown to fame –

     Is simply EDWARD GREY.’

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