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- The Herd Boy and His Hermit - 4/27 -
and go by it when you are lost.'
'What good would finding the North Star do? It would not have helped me home if you had not found me!'
'Look here, Lady Anne! Which way does Greystone lie?'
'How should I tell?'
'Which way did the sun lie when you crossed the moor?'
Anne could not remember at first, but by-and-by recollected that it dazzled her eyes just as she was looking for the runaway pony; and Hal declared that it proved that the convent must have been to the south of the spot of her fall; but his astronomy, though eagerly demonstrated, was not likely to have brought her back to Greystone. Still Doll was thankful for the safe subject, as he went on to mark out what he promised that she should see in the winter--the swarm of glow-worms, as he called the Pleiades; and 'Our Lady's Rock,' namely, distaff, the northern name for Orion; and then he talked of the stars that so perplexed him, namely, the planets, that never stayed in their places.
By-and-by, when Mother Dolly's work was over the kettle was on the fire, and she was able to take out her own spinning, she essayed to fill up the time by telling them lengthily the old stories and ballads handed down from minstrel to minstrel, from nurse to nurse, and they sat entranced, listening to the stories, more than even Hal knew she possessed, and holding one another by the hand as they listened.
Meantime the snow had ceased--it was but a scud of early autumn on the mountains--the sun came out with bright slanting beams before his setting, there was a soft south wind; and Hob, when he came in, growled out that the thaw had set in, and he should be able to take the maid back in the morning. He sat scowling and silent during supper, and ordered Hal about with sharp sternness, sending him out to attend to the litter of the cattle, before all had finished, and manifestly treated him as the shepherd's boy, the drudge of the house, and threatening him with a staff if he lingered, soon following himself. Mother Dolly insisted on putting the little lady to bed before they should return, and convent-bred Anne had sufficient respect for proprieties to see that it was becoming. She heard no more that night.
CHAPTER III. OVER THE MOOR
In humblest, simplest habit clad, But these were all to me.--GOLDSMITH.
'Hal! What is your name?'
She stood at the door of the hovel, the rising sun lighting up her bright dark eyes, and smiling in the curly rings of her hair while Hal stood by, and Watch bounded round them.
'You have heard,' he said, half smiling, and half embarrassed.
'Hal! That's no name.'
'Harry, an it like you better.'
'Harry what?' with a little stamp of her foot.
'Harry Hogward, as you see, or Shepherd, so please you.'
'You are no Hogward, nor shepherd! These folk be no kin to you, I can see. Come, an you love me, tell me true! I told you true who I am, Red Rose though I see you be! Why not trust me the same?'
'Lady, I verily ken no name save Harry. I would trust you, verily I would, but I know not myself.'
'I guess! I guess!' she cried, clapping her hands, but at the moment Dolly laid a hand on her shoulder.
'Do not guess, maiden,' she said. 'If thou wouldst not bring evil on the lad that found thee, and the roof that sheltered thee, guess not, yea, and utter not a word save that thou hast lain in a shepherd's hut. Forget all, as though thou hadst slept in the castle on the hill that fades away with the day.'
She ended hastily, for her husband was coming up with a rough pony's halter in his hand. He was in haste to be off, lest a search for the lost child might extend to his abode, and his gloomy displeasure and ill-masked uneasiness reduced every-one to silence in his presence.
'Up and away, lady wench!' he said. 'No time to lose if you are to be at Greystone ere night! Thou Hal, thou lazy lubber, go with Piers and the sheep--'
'I shall go with you,' replied Hal, in a grave tone of resolution. 'I will only go within view of the convent, but go with you I will.'
He spoke with a decided tone of authority, and Hob Hogward muttered a little to himself, but yielded.
Hal assisted the young lady to mount, and they set off along the track of the moss, driving the cows, sheep, and goats before them-- not a very considerable number--till they came to another hut, much smaller and more rude than that where they had left Mother Doll.
Piers was a wild, shaggy-haired lad, with a sheepskin over his shoulders, and legs bare below the knee, and to him the charge of the flock was committed, with signs which he evidently understood and replied to with a gruff 'Ay, ay!' The three went on the way, over the slope of a hill, partly clothed with heather, holly and birch trees, as it rose above the moss. Hob led the pony, and there was something in his grim air and manner that hindered any conversation between the two young people. Only Hal from time to time gathered a flower for the young lady, scabious and globe flowers, and once a very pink wild rose, mingled with white ones. Lady Anne took them with a meaning smile, and a merry gesture, as though she were going to brush Hal's face with the petals. Hal laughed, and said, 'You will make them shed.'
'Well and good, so the disputes be shed,' said Anne, with more meaning than perhaps Hal understood. 'And the white overcomes the red.'
'May be the red will have its way with spring--'
But there Hob looked round on them, and growled out, 'Have done with that folly! What has a herd boy like thee to do with roses and frippery? Come away from the lady's rein. Thou art over-held to thrust thyself upon her.'
Nevertheless, as Hal fell back, the dark eyes shot a meaning glance at him, and the party went on in silence, except that now and then Hob launched at Hal an order that he endeavoured to render savagely contemptuous and harsh, so that Lady Anne interfered to say, 'Nay, the poor lad is doing no harm.'
'Scathe enough,' answered Hob. 'He always will be doing ill if he can. Heed him not, lady, it only makes him the more malapert.'
'Malapert,' repeated Anne, not able to resist a little teasing of the grim escort; 'that's scarce a word of the dales. 'Tis more like a man-at-arms.'
This Hob would not hear, and if he did, it produced a rough imprecation on the pony, and a sharp cut with his switch.
They had crossed another burn, travelled through the moss, and mounted to the brow of another hill, when, far away against the sky, on the top of yet another height, were to be seen moving figures, not cattle, but Anne recognised them at once. 'Men-at-arms! archers! lances! A search party for me! The Prioress must have sent to the Warden's tower.'
'Off with thee, lad!' said Hob, at once turning round upon Hal. 'I'll not have thee lingering to gape at the men-at-arms! Off I say, or--'
He raised his stout staff as though to beat the boy, who looked up in his face with a laugh, as if in very little alarm at his threat, smiled up in the young lady's face, and as she held out her hand with 'Farewell, Hal; I'll keep your rose-leaves in my breviary,' he bent over and kissed the fingers.
'How now! This impudence passes! As if thou wert of the same blood as the damsel!' exclaimed Hob in considerable anger, bringing down his stick. 'Away with thee, ill-bred lubber! Back to thy sheep, thou lazy loiterer! Get thee gone and thy whelp with thee!'
Hal obeyed, though not without a parting grin at Anne, and had sped away down the side of the hill, among the hollies and birches, which entirely concealed him and the bounding puppy.
Hob went on in a gruff tone: 'The insolence of these loutish lads! See you, lady, he is a stripling that I took up off the roadside out of mere charity, and for the love of Heaven--a mere foundling as you may say, and this is the way he presumes!'
'A foundling, sayest thou?' said Anne, unable to resist teasing him a little, and trying to gratify her own curiosity.
'Ay, you may say so! There's a whole sort of these orphans, after all the bad luck to the land, to be picked up on every wayside.'
'On Towton Moor, mayhap,' said Anne demurely, as she saw her surly guide start. But he was equal to the occasion, and answered:
'Ay, ay, Towton Moor; 'twas shame to see such bloody work; and there were motherless and fatherless children, stray lambs, to be met with, weeping their little hearts out, and starving all around unless some good Christian took pity on them.'
'Was Hal one of these?' asked Lady Anne.
'I tell you, lady, I looked into a church that was full of weeping and wailing folk, women and children in deadly fear of the cruel, bloody-minded York folk, and the Lord of March that is himself King Edward now, a murrain on him!'
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