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Charlotte M. Yonge. The Herd Boy and His Hermit

This Etext of The Herdboy and His Hermit was prepared by Sandra Laythorpe, laythorpe@tiscali.co.uk. A web page for Charlotte M Yonge may be found at www.menorot.com/cmyonge.htm

Henry, thou of holy birth,

Thou, to whom thy Windsor gave

Nativity and name and grave

Heavily upon his head

Ancestral crimes were visited.

Meek in heart and undefiled,

Patiently his soul resigned,

Blessing, while he kissed the rod,

His Redeemer and his God.

SOUTHEY

CHAPTER I. IN THE MOSS

I can conduct you, lady, to a low

But loyal cottage where you may be safe

Till further quest.-MILTON.

On a moorland slope where sheep and goats were dispersed among the rocks, there lay a young lad on his back, in a stout canvas cassock over his leathern coat, and stout leathern leggings over wooden shoes. Twilight was fast coming on; only a gleam of purple light rested on the top of the eastern hills, but was gradually fading away, though the sky to the westward still preserved a little pale golden light by the help of the descending crescent moon.

'Go away, horned moon,' murmured the boy. 'I want to see my stars come out before Hob comes to call me home, and the goats are getting up already. Moon, moon, thou mayst go quicker. Thou wilt have longer time to- morrow-and be higher in the sky, as well as bigger, and thou mightst let me see my star to-night! Ah! there is one high in the sunset, pale and fair, but not mine! That's the evening star-one of the wanderers. Is it the same as comes in the morning betimes, when we do not have it at night? Like that it shines with steady light and twinkles not. I would that I knew! There! there's mine, my own star, far up, only paling while the sun glaring blazes in the sky; mine own, he that from afar drives the stars in Charles's Wain. There they come, the good old twinkling team of three, and the four of the Wain! Old Billy Goat knows them too! Up he gets, and all in his wake 'Ha-ha-ha' he calls, and the Nannies answer. Ay, and the sheep are rising up too! How white they look in the moonshine! Piers- deaf as he is-waking at their music. Ba, they call the lambs! Nay, that's no call of sheep or goat! 'Tis some child crying, all astray! Ha! Hilloa, where beest thou? Tarry till I come! Move not, or thou mayst be in the bogs and mosses! Come, Watch'-to a great unwieldy collie puppy-'let us find her.'

A feeble piteous sound answered him, and following the direction of the reply, he strode along, between the rocks and thorn-bushes that guarded the slope of the hill, to a valley covered with thick moss, veiling treacherously marshy ground in which it was easy to sink.

The cry came from the further side, where a mountain stream had force enough to struggle through the swamp. There were stepping-stones across the brook, which the boy knew, and he made his way from one to the other, calling out cheerily to the little figure that he began to discern in the fading light, and who answered him with tones evidently girlish, 'O come, come, shepherd! Here I am! I am lost and lorn! They will reward thee! Oh, come fast!'

'All in good time, lassie! Haste is no good here! I must look to my footing.'

Presently he was by the side of the wanderer, and could see that it was a maiden of ten or twelve years old, who somehow, even in the darkness, had not the air of one of the few inhabitants of that wild mountain district.

'Lost art thou, maiden,' he said, as he stood beside her; 'where is thine home?'

'I am at Greystone Priory,' replied the girl. 'I went out hawking to-day with the Mother Prioress and the rest. My pony fell with me when we were riding after a heron. No one saw me or heard me, and my pony galloped home. I saw none of them, and I have been wandering miles and miles! Oh take me back, good lad; the Mother Prioress will give thee-'

''Tis too far to take thee back to-night,' he said. 'Thou must come with me to Hob Hogward, where Doll will give thee supper and bed, and we will have thee home in the morning.'

'I never lay in a hogward's house,' she said primly.

'Belike, but there be worse spots to be harboured in. Here, I must carry thee over the burn, it gets wider below! Nay, 'tis no use trying to leap it in the dark, thou wouldst only sink in. There!'

And as he raised her in his arms, the touch of her garment was delicate, and she on her side felt that his speech, gestures and touch were not those of a rustic shepherd boy; but nothing was said till he had waded through the little narrow stream, and set her down on a fairly firm clump of grass on the other side. Then she asked, 'What art thou, lad?-Who art thou?'

'They call me Hal,' was the answer; 'but this is no time for questions. Look to thy feet, maid, or thou wilt be in a swamp-hole whence I may hardly drag thee out.'

He held her hand, for he could hardly carry her farther, since she was almost as tall as himself, and more plump; and the rest of the conversation for some little time consisted of, 'There!' 'Where?' 'Oh, I was almost down!' 'Take heed; give me thy other hand! Thou must leap this!' 'Oh! what a place! Is there much more of it?' 'Not much! Come bravely on! There's a good maid.' 'Oh, I must get my breath.' 'Don't stand still. That means sinking. Leap! Leap! That's right. No, not that way, turn to the big stair.' 'Oh-h!' 'That's my brave wench! Not far now.' 'I'm down, I'm down!' 'Up! Here, this is safe! On that white stone! Now, here's sound ground! Hark!' Wherewith he emitted a strange wild whoop, and added, 'That's Hob come out to call me!' He holloaed again. 'We shall soon be at home now. There's Mother Doll's light! Her light below, the star above,' he added to himself.

By this time it was too dark for the two young people to see more than dim shapes of one another, but the boy knew that the hand he still held was a soft and delicate one, and the girl that those which had grasped and lifted her were rough with country labours. She began to assert her dignity and say again, 'Who art thou, lad? We will guerdon thee well for aiding me. The Lord St. John is my father. And who art thou?'

'I? Oh, I am Hob Hogward's lad,' he answered in an odd off-hand tone, before whooping again his answer to the shouts of Hob, which were coming nearer.

'I am so hungry!' said the little lady, in a weak, famished tone. 'Hast aught to eat?'

'I have finished my wallet, more's the pity!' said the boy, 'but never fear! Hold out but a few steps more, and Mother Doll will give thee bite and sup and bed.'

'Alack! Is it much further! My feet! they are so sore and weary-'

'Poor maiden, let me bear thee on!'

Hal took her up again, but they went more slowly, and were glad to see a tall figure before them, and hear the cry, 'How now, Hal boy, where hast been? What hast thou there?'

'A sorely weary little lady, Daddy Hob, lost from the hawking folk from the Priory,' responded Hal, panting a little as he set his burthen down, and Hob's stronger arms received her.

Hal next asked whether the flock had come back under charge of Piers, and was answered that all were safely at home, and after 'telling the tale' Hob had set out to find him. 'Thou shouldst not stray so far,' he said.

'I heard the maid cry, and went after her,' said Hal, 'all the way to the Blackreed Moss, and the springs, and 'twas hard getting over the swamp.'

'Well indeed ye were not both swallowed in it,' said Hob; 'God be praised for bringing you through! Poor wee bairn! Thou hast come far! From whence didst say?'

'From Greystone Priory,' wearily said the girl, who had her head down on Hob's shoulder, and seemed ready to fall asleep there.

'Her horse fell with her, and they were too bent on their sport to heed her,' explained the boy, as he trudged along beside Hob and his charge,' so she wandered on foot till by good hap I heard her moan.'

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