The horses were brought out as soon as we were seen coming, and we were on the road again in a few minutes.
It had set in snowing at daybreak, and it now snowed hard. The air was so thick with the darkness of the day and the density of the fall that we could see but a very little way in any direction. Although it was extremely cold, the snow was but partially frozen, and it churned--with a sound as if it were a beach of small shells --under the hoofs of the horses into mire and water. They sometimes slipped and floundered for a mile together, and we were obliged to come to a standstill to rest them. One horse fell three times in this first stage, and trembled so and was so shaken that the driver had to dismount from his saddle and lead him at last.
I could eat nothing and could not sleep, and I grew so nervous under those delays and the slow pace at which we travelled that I had an unreasonable desire upon me to get out and walk. Yielding to my companion's better sense, however, I remained where I was. All this time, kept fresh by a certain enjoyment of the work in which he was engaged, he was up and down at every house we came to, addressing people whom he had never beheld before as old acquaintances, running in to warm himself at every fire he saw, talking and drinking and shaking hands at every bar and tap, friendly with every waggoner, wheelwright, blacksmith, and toll- taker, yet never seeming to lose time, and always mounting to the box again with his watchful, steady face and his business-like "Get on, my lad!"
When we were changing horses the next time, he came from the stable-yard, with the wet snow encrusted upon him and dropping off him--plashing and crashing through it to his wet knees as he had been doing frequently since we left Saint Albans--and spoke to me at the carriage side.
"Keep up your spirits. It's certainly true that she came on here, Miss Summerson. There's not a doubt of the dress by this time, and the dress has been seen here."
"Still on foot?" said I.
"Still on foot. I think the gentleman you mentioned must be the point she's aiming at, and yet I don't like his living down in her own part of the country neither."
"I know so little," said I. "There may be some one else nearer here, of whom I never heard."
"That's true. But whatever you do, don't you fall a-crying, my dear; and don't you worry yourself no more than you can help. Get on, my lad!"
The sleet fell all that day unceasingly, a thick mist came on early, and it never rose or lightened for a moment. Such roads I had never seen. I sometimes feared we had missed the way and got into the ploughed grounds or the marshes. If I ever thought of the time I had been out, it presented itself as an indefinite period of great duration, and I seemed, in a strange way, never to have been free from the anxiety under which I then laboured.
As we advanced, I began to feel misgivings that my companion lost confidence. He was the same as before with all the roadside people, but he looked graver when he sat by himself on the box. I saw his finger uneasily going across and across his mouth during the whole of one long weary stage. I overheard that he began to ask the drivers of coaches and other vehicles coming towards us what passengers they had seen in other coaches and vehicles that were in advance. Their replies did not encourage him. He always gave me a reassuring beck of his finger and lift of his eyelid as he got upon the box again, but he seemed perplexed now when he said, "Get on, my lad!"
At last, when we were changing, he told me that he had lost the track of the dress so long that he began to be surprised. It was nothing, he said, to lose such a track for one while, and to take it up for another while, and so on; but it had disappeared here in an unaccountable manner, and we had not come upon it since. This corroborated the apprehensions I had formed, when he began to look at direction-posts, and to leave the carriage at cross roads for a quarter of an hour at a time while he explored them.