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A PRUDENT RECEPTION
So doth my heart misgive me in these conflicts, What may befall him to his harm and ours.--SHAKESPEARE.
Through the woods the party went to the fortified house of Threlkeld, where the gateway was evidently prepared to resist any passing attack, by stout gates and a little watch-tower.
Sir Giles blew a long blast on his bugle-horn, and had to repeat it twice before a porter looked cautiously out at a wicket opening in the heavy door, and demanded 'Who comes?'
'Open, porter, open in the name of King Harry, to the Lords of Clifford and of Peelholm.'
The porter fell back, observing, 'Sir, pardon, while I have speech with my master, Sir Lancelot Threlkeld.'
Some delay and some sounds of conversation were heard, then, on a renewed and impatient blast on Sir Giles's horn, Sir Lancelot Threlkeld himself came to the wicket, and his thin anxious voice might be heard demanding, 'What madness is this?'
'The madness is past, soundness is come,' responded Sir Giles. 'King Harry is on his throne, the traitors are fled, and your own fair son comes forth in his proper person to uphold the lawful sovereign; but he would fain first see his lady mother, and take her blessing with him.'
'And by his impatience destroy himself, after all the burthen of care and peril he hath been to me all these years,' lamented Sir Lancelot. 'But come in, fair lad. Open the gates, porter. I give you welcome, Lord Musgrave of Peelholm. But who are these?' he added, looking at the troop of buff-coated archers in the rear.
'They are bold champions of the Red Rose, returned Sir Giles, 'who have lived with me in the wolds, and now are on the way to maintain our King's quarrel.''
Sir Lancelot, however, would not hear of admitting the outlaws. Young Clifford and the Lord of Peelholm should be welcome, or more truly he could not help receiving them, but the archers must stay outside, their entertainment in beef and ale being committed to Bunce and the chief warder, while the two noblemen were conducted to the castle hall. For the first time in his life Clifford was received in his mother's home, and accepted openly, as he knelt before her to ask her blessing. A fine, active, handsome youth was he, with bright, keen eyes, close-curled black locks and hardy complexion, telling of his out-of-door life, and a free use of his limbs, and upright carriage, though still with more of the grace of the free mountain than of the training of pagedom and squiredom.
Nor could he speak openly and freely to her, not knowing how much he might say of his past intercourse with King Henry, and of her endeavour to discover it; and he sat beside her, neither of them greatly at ease, at the long table, which, by the array of silver cups, of glasses and the tall salt cellar separating the nobility and their followers, recalled to him dim recollections of the scenes of his youth.
He asked for his sister--he knew his little brother had died in the Netherlands--and he heard that she had been in the Priory of St. Helen's, and was now in the household of my Lady of Hungerford, who had promised to find a good match for her. There was but one son of the union with the knight of Threlkeld, and him Hal had never seen; nor was he at home, being a page in the household of the Earl of Westmoreland, according to the prevailing fashion of the castles of the great feudal nobles becoming schools of arms, courtesy and learning for the young gentlemen around. Indeed, Lady Clifford surveyed her eldest son with a sigh that such breeding was denied him, as she observed one or two little deficiencies in what would be called his table manners--not very important, but revealing that he had grown up in the byre instead of the castle, where there was a very strict and punctilious code, which figured in catechisms for the young.
She longed to keep him, and train him for his station, but in the first place, Sir Lancelot still held that it could not safely be permitted, since he had little confidence in the adherence of the House of Nevil to the Red Rose; and moreover Hal himself utterly refused to remain concealed in Cumberland instead of carrying his service to the King he loved.
In fact, when he heard the proposal of leaving him in the north, he stood up, and, with far more energy than had been expected from him, said, 'Go I must, to my lawful King's banner, and my father's cause. To King Harry I carry my homage and whatever my hand can do!'
Such an expression of energy lighted his hitherto dreamy eyes, that all beholders turned their glances on his face with a look of wonder. Sir Lancelot again objected that he would be rushing to his ruin.
'Be it so,' replied Hal. 'It is my duty.'
'The time seems to me to be come,' added Musgrave, 'that my young lord should put himself forward, though it may be only in a losing cause. Not so much for the sake of success, as to make himself a man and a noble.'
'But what can he do?' persisted Threlkeld; 'he has none of the training of a knight. How can you tilt in plate armour, you who have never bestridden a charger? These are not the days of Du Guesclin, when a lad came in from the byre and bore down all foes before him.'
The objection was of force, for the defensive armour of the fifteenth century had reached a pitch of cumbrousness that required long practice for a man to be capable of moving under it.
'So please you, sir,' said Hal, 'I am not wholly unskilled. The good Sir Giles and Simon Bunce have taught me enough to strike a blow with a good will for a good cause.'
'With horse and arms as befits him,' began Musgrave.
'I know not that a horse is here that could be depended on,' began Threlkeld. 'Armour too requires to be fitted and proved.'
He spoke in a hesitating voice that showed his unwillingness, and Hal exclaimed, 'My longbow is mine own, and so are my feet. Sir Giles, will you own me as an archer in your troop, where I will strive not to disgrace you or my name?'
'Bravely spoken, young lord,' said Sir Giles heartily; 'right willingly will I be your godfather in chivalry, since you find not one nigher home.'
'So may it best be,' observed his mother, 'since he is bent on going. Thus his name and rank may be kept back till it be plain whether the enmity of my Lords of Warwick and Montagu still remain against our poor house.'
There was no desire on either side to object when the Lord Musgrave of Peelholm decided on departing early on the morrow. Their host was evidently not sorry to speed them on their way, and his reluctant hospitality made them anxious to cumber him no longer than needful; and his mind was relieved when it was decided that the heir of the De Vescis and Cliffords should be known as Harry of Derwentdale.
Only, when all was preparation in the morning, and a hearty service had been said in the chapel, the lady called her son aside, and looking up into his dark eyes, said in a low voice, 'Be not angered with my lord husband's prudence, my son. Remember it is only by caution that he has saved thine head, or mine, or thy sister's!'
'Ay, ay, mother, I know,' he said, more impatiently than perhaps he knew.
'It was by the same care that he preserved us all when Edgecotefield was fought. Chafe not at him. Thou mayst be thankful even now, mayhap, to find a shelter preserved, while that rogue and robber Nevil holds our lands.'
'I am more like to have to protect thee, lady mother, and bring thee to thy true home again!' said Hal.
'Meantime, my child, take this purse and equip thyself at York or whenever thou canst. Nay, thou needst not shrug and refuse! How like thy father the gesture, though I would it were more gracious and seemly. But this is mine, mine own, none of my husband's, though he would be willing. It comes from the De Vesci lands, and those will be thine after me, and thine if thou winnest not back thy Clifford inheritance. And oh! my son, crave of Sir Giles to teach thee how to demean thyself that they may not say thou art but a churl.'
'I trust to be no churl in heart, if I be in manners,' said Hal, looking down on his small clinging mother.
'Only be cautious, my son. Remember that you are the last of the name, and it is your part to bring it to honour.'
'Which I shall scarce do by being cautious,' he said, with something of a smile. 'That was not my father's way.'
'Ah me! You have his spirit in you, and how did it end?'
'My Lord of Clifford,' said a voice from the court, 'you are waited for!'
'And remember,' cried his mother, with a last embrace, 'there will be safety here whenever thou shalt need it.'
'With God's grace, I am more like to protect you and your husband,' said the lad, bending for another kiss and hurrying away.
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