The Countess allowed the necessity of the case, and when they resumed their journey, endeavoured to comply with her guide’s advice, by addressing herself to a female near her, and expressing her concern for the woman whom they were thus obliged to leave behind them.
“Oh, she is well attended, madam,” replied the dame whom she addressed, who, from her jolly and laughter-loving demeanour, might have been the very emblem of the Wife of Bath; “and my gossip Laneham thinks as little of these matters as any one. By the ninth day, an the revels last so long, we shall have her with us at Kenilworth, even if she should travel with her bantling on her back.”
There was something in this speech which took away all desire on the Countess of Leicester’s part to continue the conversation. But having broken the charm by speaking to her fellow-traveller first, the good dame, who was to play Rare Gillian of Croydon in one of the interludes, took care that silence did not again settle on the journey, but entertained her mute companion with a thousand anecdotes of revels, from the days of King Harry downwards, with the reception given them by the great folk, and all the names of those who played the principal characters; but ever concluding with “they would be nothing to the princely pleasures of Kenilworth.”
“And when shall we reach Kenilworth? said the Countess, with an agitation which she in vain attempted to conceal.
“We that have horses may, with late riding, get to Warwick to-night, and Kenilworth may be distant some four or five miles. But then we must wait till the foot-people come up; although it is like my good Lord of Leicester will have horses or light carriages to meet them, and bring them up without being travel-toiled, which last is no good preparation, as you may suppose, for dancing before your betters. And yet, Lord help me, I have seen the day I would have tramped five leagues of lea-land, and turned an my toe the whole evening after, as a juggler spins a pewter platter on the point of a needle. But age has clawed me somewhat in his clutch, as the song says; though, if I like the tune and like my partner, I’ll dance the hays yet with any merry lass in Warwickshire that writes that unhappy figure four with a round O after it.”
If the Countess was overwhelmed with the garrulity of this good dame, Wayland Smith, on his part, had enough to do to sustain and parry the constant attacks made upon him by the indefatigable curiosity of his old acquaintance Richard Sludge. Nature had given that arch youngster a prying cast of disposition, which matched admirably with his sharp wit; the former inducing him to plant himself as a spy on other people’s affairs, and the latter quality leading him perpetually to interfere, after he had made himself master of that which concerned him not. He spent the livelong day in attempting to peer under the Countess’s muffler, and apparently what he could there discern greatly sharpened his curiosity.