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- The Herd Boy and His Hermit - 10/27 -
interested! They did not quite dare to beat him for it--that was one use of being a baron. Indeed, one day when Simon Bunce struck him sharply and hard over the shoulders for dragging home a great piece of sea-weed with numerous curious creatures upon it, Goodwife Dolly rushed out and made such an outcry that the esquire was fain to excuse himself by declaring that it was time that my lord should know how to bide a buffet, and answer it. He was ready and glad to meet the stroke in return! 'Come on, sir!'
And Hob put a stout headless lance in the boy's hand, while Simon stood up straight before him. Hob adjusted the weapon in his inert hand, and told him how and where to strike. But 'It is not in sooth. I don't want to hurt Master Simon,' said the child, as they laughed, and yet with displeasure as his blow fell weak and uncertain.
'Is it a mouse's tail?' cried Simon in derision.
'Come, sir, try again,' said Hob. 'Strike as you did when the black bull came down. Why cannot you do the like now, when you are tingling from Bunce's stroke?'
'Ah! then I thought the bull would fall on Piers,' said Hal.
'Come on, think so now, sir. One blow to do my heart good, and show you have the arm of your forebears.'
Thus incited, with Hob calling out to him to take heart of grace, while Simon made a feint of trying to beat Mother Dolly, Hal started forward and dealt a blow sufficient to make Simon cry out, 'Ha, well struck, sir, if you had had a better grip of your lance! I even feel it through my buff coat.'
He spoke as though it had been a kiss; but oh! and alack! why were these rough and dreary exercises all that these guardians--yea, and even Sir Lancelot and his mother--thought worth his learning, when there was so much more that awoke his delight and interest? Was it really childish to heed these things? Yet even to his young, undeveloped brain it seemed as if there must be mysteries in sky and sea, the unravelling of which would make life more worth having than the giving and taking of blows, which was all they heeded.
CHAPTER VIII. THE HERMIT
No hermit e'er so welcome crost A child's lone path in woodland lost.--KEBLE.
Hal had wandered farther than his wont, rather hoping to be out of call if Simon arrived to give him a lesson in chivalrous sports. He found himself on the slope of one of the gorges down which smaller streams rushed in wet weather to join the Derwent. There was a sound of tinkling water, and leaning forward, Hal saw that a tiny thread of water dropped between the ferns and the stones. Therewith a low, soft chant in a manly voice, mingling with the drip of the water.
The words were strange to him--
Lucis Creator optime, Lucem dierum proferens--
but they were very sweet, and in leaning forward to look between the rowan branches and hear and see more, his foot slipped, and with Watch barking round him, he rolled helplessly down the rock, and found himself before a tall light-haired man, in a dark dress, who gave a hand to raise him, asking kindly, 'Art hurt, my child?'
'Oh, no, sir! Off, off, Watch!' as the dog was about to resent anyone's touching his master. 'Holy sir, thanks, great thanks,' as a long fair hand helped him to his feet, and brushed his soiled garment.
'Unhurt, I see,' said that sweet voice. 'Hast thou lost thy way? Good dog, thou lovest thy master! Art thou astray?'
'No, sir, thank you, I know my way home.'
'Thou art the boy who lives with the shepherd at Derwentside, on Bunce's ground?'
'Ay, Hob Hogward's herd boy,' said Hal. 'Oh, sir, are you the holy hermit of the Derwent vale?'
'A hermit for the nonce I am,' was the answer, with something of a smile responsive to the eager face.
'Oh, sir, if you be not too holy to look at me or speak to me! If you would help me to some better knowledge--not only of sword and single-stick!'
'Better knowledge, my child! Of thy God?' said the hermit, a sweet look of joy spreading over his face.
'Goodwife Dolly has told me of Him, and taught me my Pater and Credo, but we have lived far off, and she has not been able to go to church for weeks and years. But what I long after is to tell me what means all this--yonder sea, and all the stars up above. And they will call me a simpleton for marking such as these, and only want me to heed how to shoot an arrow, or give a stroke hard enough to hurt another. Do such rude doings alone, fit for a bull or a ram as meseems, go to the making of a knight, fair sir?'
'They go to the knight's keeping of his own, for others whom he ought to defend,' said the hermit sadly; 'I would have thee learn and practise them. But for the rest, thou knowest, sure, who made the stars?'
'Oh yes! Nurse Dolly told me. She saw it all in a mystery play long long ago--when a Hand came out, and put in the stars and sun and moon.'
'Knowest thou whose Hand was figured there, my child?'
'The Hand of God,' said Hal, removing his cap. 'They be sparks to show His glory! But why do some move about among the others--one big one moves from the Bull's face one winter to half-way beyond it. And is the morning star the evening one?'
'Ah! thou shouldst know Ptolemy and the Almagest,' said the hermit smiling, 'to understand the circuits of those wandering stars--Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei.'
'That is Latin,' said the boy, startled. 'Are you a priest, sir?'
'No, not I--I am not worthy,' was the answer, 'but in some things I may aid thee, and I shall be blessed in so doing. Canst say thy prayers?'
'Oh, yes! nurse makes me say them when I lie down and when I get up-- Credo and Pater. She says the old parson used to teach them our own tongue for them, but she has well-nigh forgot. Can you tell me, holy man?'
'That will I, with all my heart,' responded the hermit, laying his long delicate hand on Hal's head. 'Blessed be He who has sent thee to me!'
The boy sat at the hermit's feet, listening with the eagerness of one whose soul and mind had alike been under starvation, and how time went neither knew till there was a rustling and a step. Watch sprang up, but in another moment Simon Bunce, cap in hand, stood before the hut, beginning with 'How now, sir?'
The hermit raised his hand, as if to make a sign, saying, 'Thou seest I have a guest, good friend.'
Bunce started back with 'Oh! the young Lord! Sworn to silence, I trust! I bade him not meddle with you, sir.'
'It was against his will, I trow,' said the hermit. 'He fell over the rock by the waterfall, but since he is here, I will answer for him that he does no hurt by word or deed!'
'Never, holy sir!' eagerly exclaimed Hal. 'Hob Hogward knows that I can keep my mouth shut. And may I come again?'
Simon was shaking his head, but the hermit took on him to say, 'Gladly will I welcome thee, my fair child, whensoever thou canst find thy way to the weary old anchoret! Go thy way now! Or hast thou lost it?'
'No, sir; I ken the woodland and can soon be at home,' replied Hal; then, putting a knee to the ground, 'May I have your blessing, holy man?'
'Alack, I told thee I am no priest,' said the hermit; 'but for such as I am, I bless thee with all my soul, thou fatherless lad,' and he laid his hand on the young lad's wondering brow, then bade him begone, since Simon and himself had much to say to one another.
Hal summoned Watch, and turned to a path through the wood, leading towards the coast, wondering as he walked how the hermit seemed to know him--him whose presence had been so sedulously concealed. Could it be that so very holy a man had something of the spirit of prophecy?
He kept his promise of silence, and indeed his guardians were so much accustomed to his long wanderings that he encountered no questions, only one of Hob's growls that he should always steal away whenever there was a chance of Master Bunce's coming to try to make a man of him.
However, Bunce himself arrived shortly after, and informed Hob that since young folks always pried where they were least wanted, and my lord had stumbled incontinently on the anchoret's den, it was the holy man's will that he might come there whenever he chose. A pity and shame it was, but it would make him more than ever a mere priestling, ever hankering after books and trash!
'Were it not better to ask my lady and Sir Lancelot if they would have it so? I could walk over to Threlkeld!'
'No, no, no, on your life not,' exclaimed Simon, striking his staff on the ground in his vehemence. 'Never a word to the Threlkeld or
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