At the conclusion of the royal address, the procession headed by Nicholas immediately dispersed, and such as meant to join the chase set off in quest of steeds. Foremost amongst these was the squire himself, and on approaching the stables, he was glad to find Richard and Sherborne already mounted, the former holding his horse by the bridle, so that he had nothing to do but vault upon his back. There was an impatience about Richard, very different from his ordinary manner, that surprised and startled him, and the expression of the young man’s countenance long afterwards haunted him. The face was deathly pale, except that on either cheek burned a red feverish spot, and the eyes blazed with unnatural light. So much was the squire struck by his cousin’s looks, that he would have dissuaded him from going forth; but he saw from his manner that the attempt would fail, while a significant gesture from his brother-in-law told him he was equally uneasy.
Scarcely had the principal nobles passed through the gateway, than, in spite of all efforts to detain him, Richard struck spurs into his horse, and dashed amidst the cavalcade, creating great disorder, and rousing the ire of the Earl of Pembroke, to whom the marshalling of the train was entrusted. But Richard paid little heed to his wrath, and perhaps did not hear the angry expressions addressed to him; for no sooner was he outside the gate, than instead of pursuing the road down which the King was proceeding, and which has been described as hewn out of the rock, he struck into a thicket on the right, and, in defiance of all attempts to stop him, and at the imminent risk of breaking his neck, rode down the precipitous sides of the hill, and reaching the bottom in safety, long before the royal cavalcade had attained the same point, took the direction of the park.
His friends watched him commence this perilous descent in dismay; but, though much alarmed, they were unable to follow him.
“Poor lad! I am fearful he has lost his senses,” said Sherborne.
“He is what the King would call ‘fey,’ and not long for this world,” replied Nicholas, shaking his head.
Galloping on fast and furiously, Richard tracked a narrow path of greensward, lying between the tall trees composing the right line of the avenue and the adjoining wood. Within it grew many fine old thorns, diverting him now and then from his course, but he still held on until he came within a short distance of the chase, when his attention was caught by a very singular figure. It was an old man, clad in a robe of coarse brown serge, with a cowl drawn partly over his head, a rope girdle like that used by a cordelier, sandal shoon, and a venerable white beard descending to his waist. The features of the hermit, for such he seemed, were majestic and benevolent. Seated on a bank overgrown with wild thyme, beneath the shade of a broad-armed elm, he appeared so intently engaged in the perusal of a large open volume laid on his knee, that he did not notice Richard’s approach. Deeply interested, however, by his appearance, the young man determined to address him, and, reining in his horse, said respectfully, “Save you, father!”