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- The Herd Boy and His Hermit - 5/27 -
'Don't let those folk hear you say so!' laughed Lady Anne. 'They would think nothing of hauling thee off for a black traitor, or hanging thee up on the first tree stout enough to bear thee.'
She said it half mischievously, but the only effect was a grunt, and a stolid shrug of his shoulders, nor did he vouchsafe another word for the rest of the way before they came through the valley, and through the low brushwood on the bank, and were in sight of the search party, who set up a joyful halloo of welcome on perceiving her.
A young man, the best mounted and armed, evidently an esquire, rode forward, exclaiming, 'Well met, fair Lady Anne! Great have been the Mother Prioress's fears for you, and she has called up half the country side, lest you should be fallen into the hands of Robin of Redesdale, or some other Lancastrian rogue.'
'Much she heeded me in comparison with hawk and heron!' responded Anne. 'Thanks for your heed, Master Bertram.'
'I must part from thee and thy sturdy pony. Thanks for the use of it,' added she, as the squire proceeded to take her from the pony. He would have lifted her down, but she only touched his hand lightly and sprang to the ground, then stood patting its neck. 'Thanks again, good pony. I am much beholden to thee, Gaffer Hob! Stay a moment.'
'Nay, lady, it would be well to mount you behind Archie. His beast is best to carry a lady.'
Archie was an elderly man, stout but active, attached to the service of the convent. He had leapt down, and was putting on a belt, and arranging a pad for the damsel, observing, 'Ill hap we lost you, damsel! I saw you not fall.'
'Ay,' returned Anne, 'your merlin charmed you far more. Master Bertram, the loan of your purse. I would reward the honest man who housed me.'
Bertram laughed and said, tossing up the little bag that hung to his girdle, 'Do you think, fair damsel, that a poor Border squire carries about largesse in gold and silver? Let your clown come with us to Greystone, and thence have what meed the Prioress may bestow on him, for a find that your poor servant would have given worlds to make.'
'Hearest thou, Hob?' said Anne. 'Come with us to the convent, and thou shalt have thy guerdon.'
Hob, however, scratched his head, with a more boorish air than he had before manifested, and muttered something about a cow that needed his attention, and that he could not spare the time from his herd for all that the Prioress was like to give him.
'Take this, then,' said Anne, disengaging a gold clasp from her neck, and giving it to him. 'Bear it to the goodwife and bid her recollect me in her prayers.'
'I shall come and redeem it from thee, sulky carle as thou art,' said Bertram. 'Such jewels are not for greasy porridge-fed housewives. Hark thee, have it ready for me! I shall be at thy hovel ere long'-- as Anne waved to Hob when she was lifted to her seat.
But Hob had already turned away, and Anne, as she held on by Archie's leathern belt, in her gay tone was beginning to defend him by declaring that porridge and grease did not go together, so the nickname was not rightly bestowed on the kindly goodwife.
'Ay! Greasy from his lord's red deer,' said Bertram, 'or his tainted mutton. Trust one of these herds, and a sheep is tainted whenever he wants a good supper. Beshrew me but that stout fellow looks lusty and hearty enough, as if he lived well.'
'They were good and kind, and treated me well,' said Anne. 'I should be dead if they had not succoured me.'
'The marvel is you are not dead with the stench of their hovel, and the foulness of their food.'
'It was very good food--milk, meat, and oaten porridge,' replied Anne.
'Marvellous, I say!' cried Bertram with a sudden thought. 'Was it not said that there were some of those traitorous Lancastrian folk lurking about the mountains and fells? That rogue had the bearing of a man-at-arms, far more than of a mere herd. Deemedst thou not so, Archie?' to the elderly man who rode before the young damsel.
'Herdsmen here are good with the quarter-staff. They know how to stand against the Scots, and do not get bowed like our Midland serfs,' put in Anne, before Archie could answer, which he did with something of a snarl, as Bertram laughed somewhat jeeringly, and declared that the Lady Anne had become soft-hearted. She looked down at her roses, but in the dismounting and mounting again the petals of the red rose had floated away, and nothing was left of it save a slender pink bud enclosed within a dark calyx.
Archie, hard pressed, declared, 'There are poor fellows lurking about here and there, but bad blood is over among us. No need to ferret about for them.'
'Eh! Not when there may be a lad among them for whose head the king and his brothers would give the weight of it in gold nobles?'
Anne shivered a little at this, but she cried out, 'Shame on you, Master Bertram Selby, if you would take a price for the head of a brave foe! You, to aspire to be a knight!'
'Nay, lady, I was but pointing out to Archie and the other grooms here, how they might fill their pouches if they would. I verily believe thou knowst of some lurking-place, thou art so prompt to argue! Did I not see another with thee, who made off when we came in view? Say! Was he a blood-stained Clifford? I heard of the mother having married in these parts.'
'He was Hob Hogward's herd boy,' answered Anne, as composedly as she could. 'He hied him back to mind his sheep.'
Nor would Anne allow another word to be extracted from her ere the grey walls of the Priory of Greystone rose before her, and the lay Sister at the gate shrieked for joy at seeing her riding behind Archie.
CHAPTER IV. A SPORTING PRIORESS
Yet nothing stern was she in cell, And the nuns loved their abbess well.--SCOTT.
The days of the Wars of the Roses were evil times for the discipline of convents, which, together with the entire Western Church, suffered from the feuds of the Popes with the Italian princes.
Small remote houses, used as daughters or auxiliaries to the large convents, were especially apt to fall into a lax state, and in truth the little priory of Greystone, with its half-dozen of Sisters, had been placed under the care of the Lady Agnes Selby because she was too highly connected to be dealt with sharply, and too turbulent and unmanageable for the soberminded house at York. So there she was sent, with the deeply devout and strict Sister Scholastica, to keep the establishment in order, and deal with the younger nuns and lay Sisters. Being not entirely out of reach of a raid from the Scottish border, it was hardly a place for the timid, although the better sort of moss troopers generally spared monastic houses. Anne St. John had been sent thither at the time when Queen Margaret was making her attempt in the north, where the city of York was Lancastrian, as the Mother Abbess feared that her presence might bring vengeance upon the Sisterhood.
There was no great harm in the Mother Agnes, only she was a maiden whom nothing but family difficulties could have forced into a monastic life--a lively, high-spirited, out-of-door creature, whom the close conventionalities of castle life and even whipping could not tame, and who had been the despair of her mother and of the discreet dames to whom her first childhood had been committed, to say nothing of a Lady Abbess or two. Indeed, from the Mother of Sopwell, Dame Julian Berners, she had imbibed nothing but a vehement taste for hawk, horse, and hound. The recluses of St. Mary, York, after being heartily scandalised by her habits, were far from sorry to have a good excuse for despatching her to their outlying cell, where, as they observed, she would know how to show a good face in case the Armstrongs came over the Border.
She came flying down on the first rumour of Lady Anne's return, her veil turned back, her pace not at all accordant with the solemn gait of a Prioress, her arms outstretched, her face, not young nor handsome, but sunburnt, weather-beaten and healthy, and full of delight. 'My child, my Nan, here thou art! I was just mounting to seek for thee to the west, while Bertram sought again over the mosses where we sent yester morn. Where hast thou been in the snow?'
'A shepherd took me to his hut, Lady Mother,' answered Anne rather coldly.
'Little didst thou think of our woe and grief when thy palfrey was found standing riderless at the stable door, and Sister Scholastica told us that there he had been since nones! And she had none to send in quest but Cuddie, the neatherd.'
'My palfrey fell with me when you were in full chase of hawk and heron, 'and none ever turned a head towards me nor heard me call.'
'Poor maid! But it was such a chase as never you did watch. On and on went the heron, the falcon ever mounting higher and higher, till she was but a speck in the clouds, and Tam Falconer shouting and galloping, mad lest she should go down the wind. Methought she would have been back to Norroway, the foul jade!'
'Did you capture her, Mother?' asked Anne.
'Ay, she pounced at last, and well-nigh staked herself on the heron's beak! But we had a long ride, and were well-nigh at the Tyne before we had caught her. Full of pranks, but a noble hawk, as I shall write to my brother by the next messenger that comes our way. I call it a hawk worth her meat that leads one such a gallop.'
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