CHAPTER VI. A CAUTIOUS STEPFATHER
Thou tree of covert and of rest
For this young bird that was distrest.—Wordsworth.
A baron—bound to be a good knight, and to avenge my father’s death! What does it all mean?’ murmured Hal to himself as he lay on his back in the morning sunshine, on the hill-side, the wood behind him, and before him a distance of undulating ground, ending in the straight mysterious blue-grey line that Hob Hogward had told him was the sea.
’Baron! Lord Clifford, like my father! He was a man in steel armour; I remember how it rang, and how his gorget—yes, that was the thing round his throat—how it hurt me when he lifted me up to kiss me, and how they blamed me for crying out. Ay, and he lived in a castle with dark, dull, narrow chambers, all save the hall, where there was ever a tramping and a clamouring, and smells of hot burning meat, and horses, and all sorts of things, and they sat and sat over their meat and wine, and drank health to King Harry and the Red Rose. I mind now how they shouted and roared, and how I wanted to go and hide on the stairs, and my father would have me shout with them, and drink confusion to York out of his cup, and shook me and cuffed me when I cried. Oh! must one be like that to be a knight? I had rather live on these free green hills with the clear blue sky above me, and my good old ewe for my comrade’—and he fell to caressing the face of an old sheep which had come up to him, a white, mountain-bleached sheep with fine and delicate limbs. ’Yes, I love thee, good, gentle, little ewe, and thee, faithful Watch,’ as a young collie pressed up to him, thrusting a long nose into his hand, ’far better than those great baying hounds, or the fierce-eyed hawks that only want to kill. If I be a baron, must it be in that sort? Avenge! avenge! what does that mean? Is it, as in Goodwife Dolly’s ballads, going forth to kill? Why should I? I had rather let them be! Hark! Yea, Watch,’ as the dog pricked his ears and raised his graceful head, then sprang up and uttered a deep-mouthed bark. The sheep darted away to her companions, and Hal rose to his feet, as the dog began to wave his tail, and Hob came forward accompanied by a tall, grave-looking gentleman. ’Here he be, sir. Hal, come thou and ask the blessing of thy knightly stepfather.’
Hal obeyed the summons, and coming forward put a knee to the ground, while Sir Lancelot Threlkeld uttered the conventional blessing, adding, ’Fair son, I am glad to see thee. Would that we might be better acquainted, but I fear it is not safe for thee to come and be trained for knighthood in my poor house. Thou art a well grown lad, I rejoice to see, and strong and hearty I have no doubt.’
‘Ay, sir, he is strong enow, I wis; we have done our best for him,’ responded Hob, while Hal stood shy and shamefaced; but there was something about his bearing that made Sir Lancelot observe, ’Ay, ay, he shows what he comes of more than his mother made me fear. Only thou must not slouch, my fair son. Raise thy head more. Put thy shoulders back. So! so! Nay.’