As the hand that Hal was fervently kissing was withdrawn from him he sank upon his face, weeping as one heartbroken. He scarce heard the sounds of mounting and the trampling of feet, and when he raised his head he was alone, the woods and rocks were forsaken.
He sprang up and ran along at his utmost speed on the trampled path, but when he emerged from it he could only see a dark party, containing a horseman or two, so far on the way that it was hopeless to overtake them.
He turned back slowly to the deserted hut, and again threw himself on the ground, weeping bitterly. He knew now that his friend and master had been none other than the fugitive King, Henry of Windsor.
Not in proud pomp nor courtly state;
Him his own thoughts did elevate,
Most happy in the shy recess.—Wordsworth.
The departure of King Henry was the closing of the whole intellectual and religious world that had been opened to the young Lord Clifford. To the men of his own court, practical men of the world, there were times when poor Henry seemed almost imbecile, and no doubt his attack of melancholy insanity, the saddest of his ancestral inheritances, had shattered his powers of decision and action; but he was one who ‘saw far on holy ground,’ and he was a well-read man in human learning, besides having the ordinary experience of having lived in the outer world, so that in every way his companionship was delightful to a thoughtful boy, wakening to the instincts of his race.
To think of being left to the society of the sheep, of dumb Piers and his peasant parents was dreariness in the extreme to one who had begun to know something like conversation, and to have his countless questions answered, or at any rate attended to. Add to this, he had a deep personal love and reverence for his saint, long before the knowing him as his persecuted King, and thus his sorrow might well be profound, as well as rendered more acute by the terror lest his even unconscious description to his mother might have been treason!
He wept till he could weep no longer, and lay on the ground in his despair till darkness was coming on, and Piers came and pulled him up, indicating by gestures and uncouth sounds that he must go home. Goodwife Dolly was anxiously looking out for him.
’Laddie, there thou beest at last! I had begun to fear me whether the robber gang had got a hold of thee. Only Hob said he saw Master Simon with them. Have they mishandled thee, mine own lad nurse’s darling? Thou lookest quite distraught.’
All Hal’s answer was to hide his head in her lap and weep like a babe, though she could, with all her caresses, elicit nothing from him but that his hermit was gone. No, no, the outlaws had not hurt him, but they had taken him away, and he would never come back.
’Ay, ay, thou didst love him and he was a holy man, no doubt, but one of these days thou shalt have a true knight, and that is better for a young baron to look to than a saint fitter for Heaven than for earth! Come now, stand up and eat thy supper. Don’t let Hob come in and find thee crying like a swaddled babe.’