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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!'
'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.
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