The witch’s cottage.
Richard was met on the threshold by mistress Rees, in the same old-fashioned dress, all but the hat, which I have already described. On her head she wore a widow’s cap, with large crown, thick frill, and black ribbon encircling it between them. She welcomed him with the kindness almost of an old nurse, and led the way to the one chair in the room—beside the hearth, where a fire of peat was smouldering rather than burning beneath the griddle, on which she was cooking oat-cake. The cottage was clean and tidy. From the smoky rafters hung many bunches of dried herbs, which she used partly for medicines, partly for charms.
To herself, the line dividing these uses was not very clearly discernible.
‘I am in trouble, mistress Rees,’ said Richard, as he seated himself.
‘Most men do be in trouble most times, master Heywood,’ returned the old woman. ’Dost find thou hast taken the wrong part, eh?—There be no need to tell what aileth thee. ’Tis a bit easier to cast off a maiden than to forget her—eh?’
’No, mistress Rees. I came not to trouble thee concerning what is past and gone,’ said Richard with a sigh. ’It is a taste of thy knowledge I want rather than of thy skill.’
‘What skill I have is honest,’ said the old woman.
’Far be it from thee to say otherwise, mother Rees. But I need it not now. Tell me, hast thou not been once and again within the great gates of Raglan castle?’
‘Yes, my son—oftener than I can tell thee,’ answered the old woman. ’It is but a se’night agone that I sat a talking with my son Thomas Rees in the chimney corner of Raglan kitchen, after the supper was served and the cook at rest. It was there my lad was turnspit once upon a time, for as great a man as he is now with my lord and all the household. Those were hard times after my good man left me, master Heywood. But the cream will to the top, and there is my son now—who but he in kitchen and hall? Well, of all places in the mortal world, that Raglan passes!’
’They tell strange things of the stables there, mistress Rees: know you aught of them?’
’Strange things, master? They tell nought but good of the stables that tell the truth. As to the armoury, now—well it is not for such as mother Rees to tell tales out of school.’
’What I heard, and wanted to ask thee about, mother, was that they are under ground. Thinkest thou horses can fare well under ground? Thou knowest a horse as well as a dog, mother.’
Ere she replied, the old woman took her cake from the griddle, and laid it on a wooden platter, then caught up a three-legged stool, set it down by Richard, seated herself at his knee, and assumed the look of mystery wherewith she was in the habit of garnishing every bit of knowledge, real or fancied, which it pleased her to communicate.