She looked at him and smiled, as though she had a guess of his thought, and at last she said to him: “Thy tongue is tied to-day. Hast thou, after all, seen something strange in the wood?” He shook his head for naysay. Said she: “Why, then, dost thou not ask more concerning the Well at the World’s End?”
He laughed, and said: “Maybe because I think that thou canst not tell me thereof.” “Well,” she said, “if I cannot, yet the book may, and this evening, when the sun is down, thou shalt have it.”
“I thank thee, mother,” said he; “but this is now the last day that Roger bade me wait. Dost thou think that he will come back to-night?” and he reddened therewith. “Nay,” she said, “I know not, and thou carest not whether he will come or not. Yet I know that thou wilt abide here till some one else come, whether that be early or late.” Again he reddened, and said, in a coaxing way: “And wilt thou give me guesting, mother, for a few more summer days?”
“Yea,” she said, “and till summer is over, if need be, and the corn is cut and carried, and till the winter is come and the latter end of winter is gone.” He smiled faintly, though his heart fell, and he said: “Nay, mother, and can it by any chance be so long a-coming?”
“O, fair boy,” she said, “thou wilt make it long, howsoever short it be. And now I will give thee a rede, lest thou vex thyself sick and fret thy very heart. To-morrow go see if thou canst meet thy fate instead of abiding it. Do on thy war-gear and take thy sword and try the adventure of the wildwood; but go not over deep into it.” Said he: “But how if the Lady come while I am away from this house?”
“Sooth to say,” said the carline, “I deem not that she will, for the way is long betwixt us and her.”
“Dost thou mean,” said Ralph, standing up from the board, “that she will not come ever? I adjure thee not to beguile me with soft words, but tell me the very sooth.” “There, there!” said she, “sit down, king’s son; eat thy meat and drink thy wine; for to-morrow is a new day. She will come soon or late, if she be yet in the world. And now I will say no more to thee concerning this matter.”
Therewith she went her ways from the hall, and when she came back with hand-basin and towel, she said no word to him, but only smiled kindly. He went out presently into the meadow (for it was yet but early afternoon) and came among the haymaking folk and spake with them, hoping that perchance some of them might speak again of the Lady of Abundance; but none of them did so, though the old carle he had spoken with was there, and there also were the two maidens whom he had seen fishing; and as for him, he was over faint-hearted to ask them any more questions concerning her.
Yet he abode with them long, and ate and drank amidst the hay with them till the moon shone brightly. Then he went back to the castle and found the carline in the hall, and she had the book with her and gave it to him, and he sat down in the shot-window under the waxlights and fell to reading of it.