Thus incited, with Hob calling out to him to take heart of grace, while Simon made a feint of trying to beat Mother Dolly, Hal started forward and dealt a blow sufficient to make Simon cry out, ’Ha, well struck, sir, if you had had a better grip of your lance! I even feel it through my buff coat.’
He spoke as though it had been a kiss; but oh! and alack! why were these rough and dreary exercises all that these guardians—yea, and even Sir Lancelot and his mother—thought worth his learning, when there was so much more that awoke his delight and interest? Was it really childish to heed these things? Yet even to his young, undeveloped brain it seemed as if there must be mysteries in sky and sea, the unravelling of which would make life more worth having than the giving and taking of blows, which was all they heeded.
No hermit e’er so welcome crost
A child’s lone path in woodland lost.—Keble.
Hal had wandered farther than his wont, rather hoping to be out of call if Simon arrived to give him a lesson in chivalrous sports. He found himself on the slope of one of the gorges down which smaller streams rushed in wet weather to join the Derwent. There was a sound of tinkling water, and leaning forward, Hal saw that a tiny thread of water dropped between the ferns and the stones. Therewith a low, soft chant in a manly voice, mingling with the drip of the water.
The words were strange to him—
Lucem dierum proferens—
but they were very sweet, and in leaning forward to look between the rowan branches and hear and see more, his foot slipped, and with Watch barking round him, he rolled helplessly down the rock, and found himself before a tall light-haired man, in a dark dress, who gave a hand to raise him, asking kindly, ‘Art hurt, my child?’
‘Oh, no, sir! Off, off, Watch!’ as the dog was about to resent anyone’s touching his master. ‘Holy sir, thanks, great thanks,’ as a long fair hand helped him to his feet, and brushed his soiled garment.
‘Unhurt, I see,’ said that sweet voice. ’Hast thou lost thy way? Good dog, thou lovest thy master! Art thou astray?’
‘No, sir, thank you, I know my way home.’
’Thou art the boy who lives with the shepherd at Derwentside, on Bunce’s ground?’
‘Ay, Hob Hogward’s herd boy,’ said Hal. ’Oh, sir, are you the holy hermit of the Derwent vale?’
‘A hermit for the nonce I am,’ was the answer, with something of a smile responsive to the eager face.
’Oh, sir, if you be not too holy to look at me or speak to me! If you would help me to some better knowledge—not only of sword and single-stick!’
‘Better knowledge, my child! Of thy God?’ said the hermit, a sweet look of joy spreading over his face.