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- The Herd Boy and His Hermit - 3/27 -

deportment; and her face was delicately tinted on an olive skin, with fine marked eyebrows, and dark bright eyes, and her little hunting dress of green, and the hood, set on far back, became the dark locks that curled in rings beneath.

She saw a slender lad, dark-haired and dark-eyed, ruddy and embrowned by mountain sun and air; and the bow with which he bent before her had something of the rustic lout, and there was a certain shyness over him that hindered him from addressing her.

'So, shepherd,' she said, 'when wilt thou take me back to Greystone?'

'Father will fix that,' interposed the housewife; 'meanwhile, ye had best eat your porridge. Here is Father, in good time with the cows' milk.'

The rugged broad-shouldered shepherd made his salutation duly to the young lady, and uttered the information that there was a black cloud, like snow, coming up over the fells to the south-west.

'But I must fare back to Greystone!' said the damsel. 'They will be in a mighty coil what has become of me.'

'They would be in a worse coil if they found your bones under a snow wreath.'

Hal went to the door and spied out, as if the tidings were rather pleasant to him than otherwise. The goodwife shivered, and reached out to close the shutter, and there being no glass to the windows, all the light that came in was through the chinks.

'It would serve them right for not minding me better,' said the maiden composedly. 'Nay, it is as merry here as at Greystone, with Sister Margaret picking out one's broidery, and Father Cuthbert making one pore over his crabbed parchments.'

'Oh, does this Father teach Latin?' exclaimed Hal with eager interest.

'Of course he doth! The Mother at York promised I should learn whatever became a damsel of high degree,' said the girl, drawing herself up.

'I would he would teach me!' sighed the boy.

'Better break thy fast and mind thy sheep,' said the old woman, as if she feared his getting on dangerous ground; and placing the bowl of porridge on the rough table, she added, 'Say the Benedicite, lad, and fall to.' Then, as he uttered the blessing, she asked the guest whether she preferred ewes' milk or cows' milk, a luxury no one else was allowed, all eating their porridge contentedly with a pinch of salt, Hob showing scant courtesy, the less since his guest's rank had been made known.

By the time they had finished, snowflakes--an early autumn storm-- were drifting against the shutter, and a black cloud was lowering over the hills. Hob foretold a heavy fall of snow, and called on Hal to help him and Piers fold the flock more securely, sleepy Watch and his old long-haired collie mother rising at the same call. Lady Anne sprang up at the same time, insisting that she must go and help to feed the poor sheep, but she was withheld, much against her will, by Mother Dolly, though she persisted that snow was nothing to her, and it was a fine jest to be out of the reach of the Sisters, who mewed her up in a cell, like a messan dog. However, she was much amused by watching, and thinking she assisted in, Mother Dolly's preparations for ewe milk cheese-making; and by-and-by Hal came in, shaking the snow off the sheepskin he had worn over his leathern coat. Hob had sent him in, as the weather was too bad for him, and he and Anne crouched on opposite sides of the wide hearth as he dried and warmed himself, and cosseted the cat which Anne had tried to caress, but which showed a decided preference for the older friend.

'Our Baudrons at Greystone loves me better than that,' said Anne. 'She will come to me sooner than even to Sister Scholastica!'

'My Tib came with us when we came here. Ay, Tib! purr thy best!' as he held his fingers over her, and she rubbed her smooth head against him.

'Can she leap? Baudrons leaps like a horse in the tilt-yard.'

'Cannot she! There, my lady pussy, show what thou canst do to please the demoiselle,' and he held his arms forward with clasped hands, so that the grey cat might spring over them, and Lady Anne cried out with delight.

Again and again the performance was repeated, and pussy was induced to dance after a string dangled before her, to roll over and play in apparent ecstasy with a flake of wool, as if it were a mouse, and Watch joined in the game in full amity. Mother Dolly, busy with her distaff, looked on, not displeased, except when she had to guard her spindle from the kitten's pranks, but she was less happy when the children began to talk.

'You have seen a tilt-yard?'

'Yea, indeed,' he answered dreamily. 'The poor squire was hurt--I did not like it! It is gruesome.'

'Oh, no! It is a noble sport! I loved our tilt-yard at Bletso. Two knights could gallop at one another in the lists, as if they were out hunting. Oh! to hear the lances ring against the shields made one's heart leap up! Where was yours?'

Here Dolly interrupted hastily, 'Hal, lad, gang out to the shed and bring in some more sods of turf. The fire is getting low.'

'Here's a store, mother--I need not go out,' said Hal, passing to a pile in the corner. 'It is too dark for thee to see it.'

'But where was your castle?' continued the girl. 'I am sure you have lived in a castle.'

Insensibly the two children had in addressing one another changed the homely singular pronoun to the more polite, if less grammatical, second person plural. The boy laughed, nodded his head, and said, 'You are a little witch.'

'No great witchcraft to hear that you speak as we do at home in Bedfordshire, not like these northern boors, that might as well be Scots!'

'I am not from Bedfordshire,' said the lad, looking much amused at her perplexity.

'Who art thou then?' she cried peremptorily.

'I? I am Hal the shepherd boy, as I told thee before.'

'No shepherd boy are you! Come, tell me true.'

Dolly thought it time to interfere. She heard an imaginary bleat, and ordered Hal out to see what was the matter, hindering the girl by force from running after him, for the snow was coming down in larger flakes than ever. Nevertheless, when her husband was heard outside she threw a cloak over her head and hurried out to speak with him. 'That maid will make our lad betray himself ere another hour is over their heads!'

'Doth she do it wittingly?' asked the shepherd gravely.

'Nay, 'tis no guile, but each child sees that the other is of gentle blood, and women's wits be sharp and prying, and the maid will never rest till she has wormed out who he is.'

'He promised me never to say, nor doth he know.'

'Thee! Much do the hests of an old hogherd weigh against the wiles of a young maid!'

'Lord Hal is a lad of his word. Peace with thy lords and ladies, woman, thou'lt have the archers after him at once.'

'She makes no secret of being of gentle blood--a St. John of Bletso.'

'A pestilent White Rose lot! We shall have them on the scent ere many days are over our head! An unlucky chance this same snow, or I should have had the wench off to Greystone ere they could exchange a word.'

'Thou wouldst have been caught in the storm. Ill for the maid to have fallen into a drift!'

'Well for the lad if she never came out of it!' muttered the gruff old shepherd. 'Then were her tongue stilled, and those of the clacking wenches at York--Yorkists every one of them.'

Mother Dolly's eyes grew round. 'Mind thee, Hob!' she said; 'I ken thy bark is worse than thy bite, but I would have thee to know that if aught befall the maid between this and Greystone, I shall hold thee--and so will my Lady--guilty of a foul deed.'

'No fouler than was done on the stripling's father,' muttered the shepherd. 'Get thee in, wife! Who knows what folly those two may be after while thou art away? Mind thee, if the maid gets an inkling of who the boy is, it will be the worse for her.'

'Oh!' murmured the goodwife, 'I moaned once that our Piers there should be deaf and well-nigh dumb, but I thank God for it now! No fear of perilous word going out through him, or I durst not have kept my poor sister's son!'

Mother Doll trusted that her husband would never have the heart to leave the pretty dark-haired girl in the snow, but she was relieved to find Hal marking down on the wide flat hearth-stone, with a bit of charcoal, all the stars he had observed. 'Hob calls that the Plough-- those seven!' he said; 'I call it Charles's Wain!'

'Methinks I have seen that!' she said, 'winter and summer both.'

'Ay, he is a meuseful husbandman, that Charles! And see here! This middle mare of the team has a little foal running beside her'--he made a small spot beside the mark that stood for the central star of what we call the Bear's Tail.

'I never saw that!'

'No, 'tis only to be seen on a clear bright night. I have seen it, but Hob mocks at it. He thinks the only use of the Wain is to find the North Star, up beyond there, pointing by the back of the Plough,

The Herd Boy and His Hermit - 3/27

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