‘No one save the King knows who I am,’ said Hal, ’and he forgets from day to day all save that I am the herd boy, and I think it cheers him to have me with him. I will stay beside him even as a varlet.’
’Nay, my lord, that may not be. ’Tis true he loves thee, but he will forget anon, and I may not suffer the risk. Too many know or guess.’
Harry Clifford repeated that he recked not of the risk when he could serve and comfort his beloved King, and, indeed, his mind was made up on the subject. He had taken measures for remaining as one of the men-at-arms of the garrison; but King Henry himself surprised him by saying, ’My young Lord of Clifford, fare thee well. Thou goest forth to-morrow with the Constable of Oxford. Take my blessing with thee, my child. Thou hast been granted to me to make life very sweet to me of late, and I thank God for it, but the time is come that thou must part from me.’
’Oh, sir, never! None was ever so dear to me! For weal or woe I will be with you! Suffer me to be your meanest varlet, and serve you as none other can do.’
Henry shook his head. ’It may not be, my child, let not thy blood also be on my head! Go with Oxford and his men. Thou hast learnt to draw sword and use lance. Thou wilt be serving me still if again there be, which Heaven forefend, stricken fields in my cause or my son’s.’
’Sir, if I must fight, let no less holy hand than thine lay knighthood on my shoulder,’ sobbed Hal, kneeling.
Henry smiled. ’I have well-nigh forgotten the fashion. But if it will please thee, my son, give me thy sword, Oxford. In the name of God and St. George of England I dub thee knight. For the Church, for the honour of God, for a good cause, fight. Arise, Sir Henry Clifford!’
CHAPTER XIX. A STRANGE EASTER EVE
And spare, O spare
The meek usurper’s holy head.—Gray.
Once more, at the close of morning service, while it was still dark, did Harry Clifford, the new-made knight, kneel before King Henry and feel his hand in blessing on his head. Then he went forth to join Musgrave and the troop that the Earl of Oxford was leading from the Tower to raise the counties of East Anglia and watch the coast against a descent of King Edward from the Low Countries.
As they passed the walls enclosing the Minories Convent, and Hal gazed at it wistfully, the wide gateway was opened and out came a party of black-hooded nuns, mounted on ponies and mules, evidently waiting till Oxford’s band had gone by. Harry drew Sir Giles’s attention, and they lingered, as they became certain that they beheld the Prioress Selby of Greystone, hawk, hound and all, riding forth, nearly smothered in her hood, and not so upright as of old.
‘Ay, here I am!’ she said, as he reined up and bowed his greeting. ’Here I am on my pilgrimage! I got Father Ridley, the Benedictine head, to order me forth. Methinks he was glad, being a north countryman, to send me out before I either died on the Poor Clares’ hands, or gave them a fuller store of tales against us of St. Bennet’s! Not but that they are good women, too godly and devout for a poor wild north country Selby like me, who cannot live without air.