“Marry, these are questions I cannot answer,” replied the host. “But look you, sir, you have brought me a token from worthy Master Tressilian—a pretty stone it is.” He took out the ring, and looked at it, adding, as he put it into his purse again, that it was too rich a guerdon for anything he could do for the worthy donor. He was, he said, in the public line, and it ill became him to be too inquisitive into other folk’s concerns. He had already said that he could hear nothing but that the lady lived still at Cumnor Place in the closest seclusion, and, to such as by chance had a view of her, seemed pensive and discontented with her solitude. “But here,” he said, “if you are desirous to gratify your master, is the rarest chance that hath occurred for this many a day. Tony Foster is coming down hither, and it is but letting Mike Lambourne smell another wine-flask, and the Queen’s command would not move him from the ale-bench. So they are fast for an hour or so. Now, if you will don your pack, which will be your best excuse, you may, perchance, win the ear of the old servant, being assured of the master’s absence, to let you try to get some custom of the lady; and then you may learn more of her condition than I or any other can tell you.”
“True—very true,” answered Wayland, for he it was; “an excellent device, but methinks something dangerous—for, say Foster should return?”
“Very possible indeed,” replied the host.
“Or say,” continued Wayland, “the lady should render me cold thanks for my exertions?”
“As is not unlikely,” replied Giles Gosling. “I marvel Master Tressilian will take such heed of her that cares not for him.”
“In either case I were foully sped,” said Wayland, “and therefore I do not, on the whole, much relish your device.”
“Nay, but take me with you, good master serving-man,” replied mine host. “This is your master’s business, and not mine, you best know the risk to be encountered, or how far you are willing to brave it. But that which you will not yourself hazard, you cannot expect others to risk.”
“Hold, hold,” said Wayland; “tell me but one thing—goes yonder old man up to Cumnor?”
“Surely, I think so?” said the landlord; “their servant said he was to take their baggage thither. But the ale-tap has been as potent for him as the sack-spigot has been for Michael.”
“It is enough,” said Wayland, assuming an air of resolution. “I will thwart that old villain’s projects; my affright at his baleful aspect begins to abate, and my hatred to arise. Help me on with my pack, good mine host.—And look to thyself, old Albumazar; there is a malignant influence in thy horoscope, and it gleams from the constellation Ursa Major.”
So saying, he assumed his burden, and, guided by the landlord through the postern gate of the Black Bear, took the most private way from thence up to Cumnor Place.