Although Wayland Smith used the utmost dispatch which he could make, yet this mode of travelling was so slow, that when morning began to dawn through the eastern mist, he found himself no farther than about ten miles distant from Cumnor. “Now, a plague upon all smooth-spoken hosts!” said Wayland, unable longer to suppress his mortification and uneasiness. “Had the false loon, Giles Gosling, but told me plainly two days since that I was to reckon nought upon him, I had shifted better for myself. But your hosts have such a custom of promising whatever is called for that it is not till the steed is to be shod you find they are out of iron. Had I but known, I could have made twenty shifts; nay, for that matter, and in so good a cause, I would have thought little to have prigged a prancer from the next common—it had but been sending back the brute to the headborough. The farcy and the founders confound every horse in the stables of the Black Bear!”
The lady endeavoured to comfort her guide, observing that the dawn would enable him to make more speed.
“True, madam,” he replied; “but then it will enable other folk to take note of us, and that may prove an ill beginning of our journey. I had not cared a spark from anvil about the matter had we been further advanced on our way. But this Berkshire has been notoriously haunted, ever since I knew the country, with that sort of malicious elves who sit up late and rise early for no other purpose than to pry into other folk’s affairs. I have been endangered by them ere now. But do not fear,” he added, “good madam; for wit, meeting with opportunity, will not miss to find a salve for every sore.”
The alarms of her guide made more impression on the Countess’s mind than the comfort which he judged fit to administer along with it. She looked anxiously around her, and as the shadows withdrew from the landscape, and the heightening glow of the eastern sky promised the speedy rise of the sun, expected at every turn that the increasing light would expose them to the view of the vengeful pursuers, or present some dangerous and insurmountable obstacle to the prosecution of their journey. Wayland Smith perceived her uneasiness, and, displeased with himself for having given her cause of alarm, strode on with affected alacrity, now talking to the horse as one expert in the language of the stable, now whistling to himself low and interrupted snatches of tunes, and now assuring the lady there was no danger, while at the same time he looked sharply around to see that there was nothing in sight which might give the lie to his words while they were issuing from his mouth. Thus did they journey on, until an unexpected incident gave them the means of continuing their pilgrimage with more speed and convenience.