Now he passed through thickets at whiles not very great, and betwixt them rode hilly land grassed mostly with long coarse grass, and with whin and thorn-trees scattered about. Thence he saw again from time to time the huge wall of the mountains rising up into the air like a great black cloud that would swallow up the sky, and though the sight was terrible, yet it gladdened him, since he knew that he was on the right way. So far he rode, going on the whole up-hill, till at last there was a great pine-wood before him, so that he could see no ending to it either north or south.
It was now late in the afternoon, and Ralph pondered whether he should abide the night where he was and sleep the night there, or whether he should press on in hope of winning to some clear place before dark. So whereas he was in a place both rough and waterless, he deemed it better to go on, after he had rested his horse and let him bite the herbage a while. Then he rode his ways, and entered the wood and made the most of the way.
Ralph Meeteth With Another Adventure in the Wood Under the Mountain
Soon the wood grew very thick of pine-trees, though there was no undergrowth, so that when the sun sank it grew dark very speedily; but he still rode on in the dusk, and there were but few wild things, and those mostly voiceless, in the wood, and it was without wind and very still. Now he thought he heard the sound of a horse going behind him or on one side, and he wondered whether the chace were up, and hastened what he might, till at last it grew black night, and he was constrained to abide. So he got off his horse, and leaned his back against a tree, and had the beast’s reins over his arm; and now he listened again carefully, and was quite sure that he could hear the footsteps of some hard-footed beast going nowise far from him. He laughed inwardly, and said to himself: “If the chacer were to pass but three feet from my nose he should be none the wiser but if he hear me or my horse.” And therewith he cast a lap of his cloak over the horse’s head, lest he should whinny if he became aware of the other beast; and so there he stood abiding, and the noise grew greater till he could hear clearly the horse-hoofs drawing nigh, till they came very nigh, and then stopped.
Then came a man’s voice that said: “Is there a man anigh in the wood?”
Ralph held his peace till he should know more; and the voice spake again in a little while: “If there be a man anigh let him be sure that I will do him no hurt; nay, I may do him good, for I have meat with me.” Clear was the voice, and as sweet as the April blackbird sings. It spake again: “Naught answereth, yet meseemeth I know surely that a man is anigh; and I am aweary of the waste, and long for fellowship.”
Ralph hearkened, and called to mind tales of way-farers entrapped by wood-wives and evil things; but he thought: “At least this is no sending of the Lord of Utterbol, and, St. Nicholas to aid, I have little fear of wood-wights. Withal I shall be but a dastard if I answer not one man, for fear of I know not what.” So he spake in a loud and cheerful voice: “Yea, there is a man anigh, and I desire thy fellowship, if we might but meet. But how shall we see each other in the blackness of the wildwood night?”