"Yea; and who should be there but they two ladies, biding my coming, who, seeing me, made as though they had expected me not, and gave me greatest rebuke for adventuring so moughtily. Yet, methinks, were they right well pleasured that I should so aventure, which indeed I might not otherwise do, seeing as I have telled to thee, that one of them is mine own true lady for to serven, and so was the only way that I might come to speech with her."
Such was Myles's own quaint way of telling how he accomplished his aim of visiting the forbidden garden, and no doubt the smack of adventure and the savor of danger in the undertaking recommended him not a little to the favor of the young ladies.
After this first acquaintance perhaps a month passed, during which Myles had climbed the wall some half a dozen times (for the Lady Anne would not permit of too frequent visits), and during which the first acquaintance of the three ripened rapidly to an honest, pleasant friendship. More than once Myles, when in Lord George's train, caught a covert smile or half nod from one or both of the girls, not a little delightful in its very secret friendliness.
As was said, perhaps a month passed; then Myles's visits came to an abrupt termination, and with it ended, in a certain sense, a chapter of his life.
One Saturday afternoon he climbed the garden wall, and skirting behind a long row of rosebushes that screened him from the Countess's terrace, came to a little summer-house where the two young ladies had appointed to meet him that day.
A pleasant half-hour or so was passed, and then it was time for Myles to go. He lingered for a while before he took his final leave, leaning against the door-post, and laughingly telling how he and some of his brother squires had made a figure of straw dressed in men's clothes, and had played a trick with it one night upon a watchman against whom they bore a grudge.
The young ladies were listening with laughing faces, when suddenly, as Myles looked, he saw the smile vanish from Lady Alice's eyes and a wide terror take its place. She gave a half-articulate cry, and rose abruptly from the bench upon which she was sitting.
Myles turned sharply, and then his very heart seemed to stand still within him; for there, standing in the broad sunlight without, and glaring in upon the party with baleful eyes, was the Earl of Mackworth himself.
How long was the breathless silence that followed, Myles could never tell. He knew that the Lady Anne had also risen, and that she and her cousin were standing as still as statues. Presently the Earl pointed to the house with his staff, and Myles noted stupidly how it trembled in his hand.
"Ye wenches," said he at last, in a hard, harsh voice—"ye wenches, what meaneth this? Would ye deceive me so, and hold parlance thus secretly with this fellow? I will settle with him anon. Meantime get ye straightway to the house and to your rooms, and there abide until I give ye leave to come forth again. Go, I say!"
"Father," said Lady Anne, in a breathless voice—she was as white as death, and moistened her lips with her tongue before she spoke—"father, thou wilt not do harm to this young man. Spare him, I do beseech thee, for truly it was I who bade him come hither. I know that he would not have come but at our bidding."
The Earl stamped his foot upon the gravel. "Did ye not hear me?" said he, still pointing towards the house with his trembling staff. "I bade ye go to your rooms. I will settle with this fellow, I say, as I deem fitting."
"Father," began Lady Anne again; but the Earl made such a savage gesture that poor Lady Alice uttered a faint shriek, and Lady Anne stopped abruptly, trembling. Then she turned and passed out the farther door of the summerhouse, poor little Lady Alice following, holding her tight by the skirts, and trembling and shuddering as though with a fit of the ague.
The Earl stood looking grimly after them from under his shaggy eyebrows, until they passed away behind the yew-trees, appeared again upon the terrace behind, entered the open doors of the women's house, and were gone. Myles heard their footsteps growing fainter and fainter, but he never raised his eyes. Upon the ground at his feet were four pebbles, and he noticed how they almost made a square, and would do so if he pushed one of them with his toe, and then it seemed strange to him that he should think of such a little foolish thing at that dreadful time.
He knew that the Earl was looking gloomily at him, and that his face must be very pale. Suddenly Lord Mackworth spoke. "What hast thou to say?" said he, harshly.
Then Myles raised his eyes, and the Earl smiled grimly as he looked his victim over. "I have naught to say," said the lad, huskily.
"Didst thou not hear what my daughter spake but now?" said the Earl. "She said that thou came not of thy own free-will; what sayst thou to that, sirrah—is it true?"
Myles hesitated for a moment or two; his throat was tight and dry. "Nay," said he at last, "she belieth herself. It was I who first came into the garden. I fell by chance from the tree yonder—I was seeking a ball—then I asked those two if I might not come hither again, and so have done some several times in all. But as for her—nay; it was not at her bidding that I came, but through mine own asking."
The Earl gave a little grunt in his throat. "And how often hast thou been here?" said he, presently.
Myles thought a moment or two. "This maketh the seventh time," said he.
Another pause of silence followed, and Myles began to pluck up some heart that maybe all would yet be well. The Earl's next speech dashed that hope into a thousand fragments. "Well thou knowest," said he, "that it is forbid for any to come here. Well thou knowest that twice have men been punished for this thing that thou hast done, and yet thou camest in spite of all. Now dost thou know what thou wilt suffer?"
Myles picked with nervous fingers at a crack in the oaken post against which he leaned. "Mayhap thou wilt kill me," said he at last, in a dull, choking voice.
Again the Earl smiled a grim smile. "Nay," said he, "I would not slay thee, for thou hast gentle blood. But what sayest thou should I shear thine ears from thine head, or perchance have thee scourged in the great court?"
The sting of the words sent the blood flying back to Myles's face again, and he looked quickly up. "Nay," said he, with a boldness that surprised himself; "thou shalt do no such unlordly thing upon me as that. I be thy peer, sir, in blood; and though thou mayst kill me, thou hast no right to shame me."
Lord Mackworth bowed with a mocking courtesy. "Marry!" said he. "Methought it was one of mine own saucy popinjay squires that I caught sneaking here and talking to those two foolish young lasses, and lo! it is a young Lord—or mayhap thou art a young Prince—and commandeth me that I shall not do this and I shall not do that. I crave your Lordship's honorable pardon, if I have said aught that may have galled you."
The fear Myles had felt was now beginning to dissolve in rising wrath. "Nay," said he, stoutly, "I be no Lord and I be no Prince, but I be as good as thou. For am I not the son of thy onetime very true comrade and thy kinsman—to wit, the Lord Falworth, whom, as thou knowest, is poor and broken, and blind, and helpless, and outlawed, and banned? Yet," cried he, grinding his teeth, as the thought of it all rushed in upon him, "I would rather be in his place than in yours; for though he be ruined, you—"
He had just sense enough to stop there.
The Earl, gripping his staff behind his back, and with his head a little bent, was looking keenly at the lad from under his shaggy gray brows. "Well," said he, as Myles stopped, "thou hast gone too far now to draw back. Say thy say to the end. Why wouldst thou rather be in thy father's stead than in mine?"
Myles did not answer.
"Thou shalt finish thy speech, or else show thyself a coward. Though thy father is ruined, thou didst say I am—what?"
Myles keyed himself up to the effort, and then blurted out, "Thou art attainted with shame."
A long breathless silence followed.
"Myles Falworth," said the Earl at last (and even in the whirling of his wits Myles wondered that he had the name so pat)—"Myles Falworth, of all the bold, mad, hare-brained fools, thou art the most foolish. How dost thou dare say such words to me? Dost thou not know that thou makest thy coming punishment ten times more bitter by such a speech?"
"Aye!" cried Myles, desperately; "but what else could I do? An I did not say the words, thou callest me coward, and coward I am not."
"By 'r Lady!" said the Earl, "I do believe thee. Thou art a bold, impudent varlet as ever lived—to beard me so, forsooth! Hark'ee; thou sayst I think naught of mine old comrade. I will show thee that thou dost belie me. I will suffer what thou hast said to me for his sake, and for his sake will forgive thee thy coming hither—which I would not do in another case to any other man. Now get thee gone straightway, and come hither no more. Yonder is the postern-gate; mayhap thou knowest the way. But stay! How camest thou hither?"
Myles told him of the spikes he had driven in the wall, and the Earl listened, stroking his beard. When the lad had ended, he fixed a sharp look upon him. "But thou drove not those spikes alone," said he; "who helped thee do it?"
"That I may not tell," said Myles, firmly.
"So be it," said the Earl. "I will not ask thee to tell his name. Now get thee gone! And as for those spikes, thou mayst e'en knock them out of the wall, sin thou drave them in. Play no more pranks an thou wouldst keep thy skin whole. And now go, I say!"
Myles needed no further bidding, but turned and left the Earl without another word. As he went out the postern-gate he looked over his shoulder, and saw the tall figure, in its long fur-trimmed gown, still standing in the middle of the path, looking after him from under the shaggy eyebrows.
As he ran across the quadrangle, his heart still fluttering in his breast, he muttered to himself, "The old grizzle-beard; an I had not faced him a bold front, mayhap he would have put such shame upon me as he said. I wonder why he stood so staring after me as I left the garden."
Then for the time the matter slipped from his mind, saving only that part that smacked of adventure.
So for a little while Myles was disposed to congratulate himself upon having come off so well from his adventure with the Earl. But after a day or two had passed, and he had time for second thought, he began to misdoubt whether, after all, he might not have carried it with a better air if he had shown more chivalrous boldness in the presence of his true lady; whether it would not have redounded more to his credit if he had in some way asserted his rights as the young dame's knight-errant and defender. Was it not ignominious to resign his rights and privileges so easily and tamely at a signal from the Earl?
"For, in sooth," said he to Gascoyne, as the two talked the matter over, "she hath, in a certain way, accepted me for her knight, and yet I stood me there without saying so much as one single word in her behalf."
"Nay," said Gascoyne, "I would not trouble me on that score. Methinks that thou didst come off wondrous well out of the business. I would not have thought it possible that my Lord could ha' been so patient with thee as he showed himself. Methinks, forsooth, he must hold thee privily in right high esteem."
"Truly," said Myles, after a little pause of meditative silence, "I know not of any esteem, yet I do think he was passing patient with me in this matter. But ne'theless, Francis, that changeth not my stand in the case. Yea, I did shamefully, so to resign my lady without speaking one word; nor will I so resign her even yet. I have bethought me much of this matter of late, Francis, and now I come to thee to help me from my evil case. I would have thee act the part of a true friend to me—like that one I have told thee of in the story of the Emperor Justinian. I would have thee, when next thou servest in the house, to so contrive that my Lady Alice shall get a letter which I shall presently write, and wherein I may set all that is crooked straight again."
"Heaven forbid," said Gascoyne, hastily, "that I should be such a fool as to burn my fingers in drawing thy nuts from the fire! Deliver thy letter thyself, good fellow!"
So spoke Gascoyne, yet after all he ended, as he usually did, by yielding to Myles's superior will and persistence. So the letter was written and one day the good-natured Gascoyne carried it with him to the house, and the opportunity offering, gave it to one of the young ladies attendant upon the Countess's family—a lass with whom he had friendly intimacy—to be delivered to Lady Alice.
But if Myles congratulated himself upon the success of this new adventure, it was not for long. That night, as the crowd of pages and squires were making themselves ready for bed, the call came through the uproar for "Myles Falworth! Myles Falworth!"
"Here I be," cried Myles, standing up on his cot. "Who calleth me?"
It was the groom of the Earl's bedchamber, and seeing Myles standing thus raised above the others, he came walking down the length of the room towards him, the wonted hubbub gradually silencing as he advanced and the youngsters turning, staring, and wondering.
"My Lord would speak with thee, Myles Falworth," said the groom, when he had come close enough to where Myles stood. "Busk thee and make ready; he is at livery even now."
The groom's words fell upon Myles like a blow. He stood for a while staring wide-eyed. "My Lord speak with me, sayst thou!" he ejaculated at last.
"Aye," said the other, impatiently; "get thee ready quickly. I must return anon."
Myles's head was in a whirl as he hastily changed his clothes for a better suit, Gascoyne helping him. What could the Earl want with him at this hour? He knew in his heart what it was; the interview could concern nothing but the letter that he had sent to Lady Alice that day. As he followed the groom through the now dark and silent courts, and across the corner of the great quadrangle, and so to the Earl's house, he tried to brace his failing courage to meet the coming interview. Nevertheless, his heart beat tumultuously as he followed the other down the long corridor, lit only by a flaring link set in a wrought-iron bracket. Then his conductor lifted the arras at the door of the bedchamber, whence came the murmuring sound of many voices, and holding it aside, beckoned him to enter, and Myles passed within. At the first, he was conscious of nothing but a crowd of people, and of the brightness of many lighted candles; then he saw that he stood in a great airy room spread with a woven mat of rushes. On three sides the walls were hung with tapestry representing hunting and battle scenes, at the farther end, where the bed stood, the stone wall of the fourth side was covered with cloth of blue, embroidered with silver goshawks. Even now, in the ripe springtime of May, the room was still chilly, and a great fire roared and crackled in the huge gaping mouth of the stone fireplace. Not far from the blaze were clustered the greater part of those present, buzzing in talk, now and then swelled by murmuring laughter. Some of those who knew Myles nodded to him, and two or three spoke to him as he stood waiting, whilst the groom went forward to speak to the Earl; though what they said and what he answered, Myles, in his bewilderment and trepidation, hardly knew.
As was said before, the livery was the last meal of the day, and was taken in bed. It was a simple repast—a manchette, or small loaf of bread of pure white flour, a loaf of household bread, sometimes a lump of cheese, and either a great flagon of ale or of sweet wine, warm and spiced. The Earl was sitting upright in bed, dressed in a furred dressing-gown, and propped up by two cylindrical bolsters of crimson satin. Upon the coverlet, and spread over his knees, was a large wide napkin of linen fringed with silver thread, and on it rested a silver tray containing the bread and some cheese. Two pages and three gentlemen were waiting upon him, and Mad Noll, the jester, stood at the head of the bed, now and then jingling his bawble and passing some quaint jest upon the chance of making his master smile. Upon a table near by were some dozen or so waxen tapers struck upon as many spiked candlesticks of silver-gilt, and illuminating that end of the room with their bright twinkling flames. One of the gentlemen was in the act of serving the Earl with a goblet of wine, poured from a silver ewer by one of the squires, as the groom of the chamber came forward and spoke. The Earl, taking the goblet, turned his head, and as Myles looked, their eyes met. Then the Earl turned away again and raised the cup to his lips, while Myles felt his heart beat more rapidly than ever.
But at last the meal was ended, and the Earl washed his hands and his mouth and his beard from a silver basin of scented water held by another one of the squires. Then, leaning back against the pillows, he beckoned to Myles.
In answer Myles walked forward the length of the room, conscious that all eyes were fixed upon him. The Earl said something, and those who stood near drew back as he came forward. Then Myles found himself standing beside the bed, looking down upon the quilted counterpane, feeling that the other was gazing fixedly at him.
"I sent for thee," said the Earl at last, still looking steadily at him, "because this afternoon came a letter to my hand which thou hadst written to my niece, the Lady Alice. I have it here," said he, thrusting his hand under the bolster, "and have just now finished reading it." Then, after a moment's pause, whilst he opened the parchment and scanned it again, "I find no matter of harm in it, but hereafter write no more such." He spoke entirely without anger, and Myles looked up in wonder. "Here, take it," said the Earl, folding the letter and tossing it to Myles, who instinctively caught it, "and henceforth trouble thou my niece no more either by letter or any other way. I thought haply thou wouldst be at some such saucy trick, and I made Alice promise to let me know when it happed. Now, I say, let this be an end of the matter. Dost thou not know thou mayst injure her by such witless folly as that of meeting her privily, and privily writing to her?"
"I meant no harm," said Myles.
"I believe thee," said the Earl. "That will do now; thou mayst go."
"What wouldst thou say?" said Lord Mackworth.
"Only this," said Myles, "an I have thy leave so to do, that the Lady Alice hath chosen me to be her knight, and so, whether I may see her or speak with her or no, the laws of chivalry give me, who am gentle born, the right to serve her as a true knight may."
"As a true fool may," said the Earl, dryly. "Why, how now, thou art not a knight yet, nor anything but a raw lump of a boy. What rights do the laws of chivalry give thee, sirrah? Thou art a fool!"
Had the Earl been ever so angry, his words would have been less bitter to Myles than his cool, unmoved patience; it mortified his pride and galled it to the quick.
"I know that thou dost hold me in contempt," he mumbled.
"Out upon thee!" said the Earl, testily. "Thou dost tease me beyond patience. I hold thee in contempt, forsooth! Why, look thee, hadst thou been other than thou art, I would have had thee whipped out of my house long since. Thinkest thou I would have borne so patiently with another one of ye squires had such an one held secret meeting with my daughter and niece, and tampered, as thou hast done, with my household, sending through one of my people that letter? Go to; thou art a fool, Myles Falworth!"
Myles stood staring at the Earl without making an effort to speak. The words that he had heard suddenly flashed, as it were, a new light into his mind. In that flash he fully recognized, and for the first time, the strange and wonderful forbearance the great Earl had shown to him, a poor obscure boy. What did it mean? Was Lord Mackworth his secret friend, after all, as Gascoyne had more than once asserted? So Myles stood silent, thinking many things.
Meantime the other lay back upon the cylindrical bolsters, looking thoughtfully at him. "How old art thou?" said he at last.
"Seventeen last April," answered Myles.
"Then thou art old enough to have some of the thoughts of a man, and to lay aside those of a boy. Haply thou hast had foolish things in thy head this short time past; it is time that thou put them away. Harkee, sirrah! the Lady Alice is a great heiress in her own right, and mayst command the best alliance in England—an Earl—a Duke. She groweth apace to a woman, and then her kind lieth in Courts and great houses. As for thee, thou art but a poor lad, penniless and without friends to aid thee to open advancement. Thy father is attainted, and one whisper of where he lieth hid would bring him thence to the Tower, and haply to the block. Besides that, he hath an enemy, as Sir James Lee hath already told thee—an enemy perhaps more great and powerful than myself. That enemy watcheth for thy father and for thee; shouldst thou dare raise thy head or thy fortune ever so little, he would haply crop them both, and that parlously quick. Myles Falworth, how dost thou dare to lift thine eyes to the Lady Alice de Mowbray?"
Poor Myles stood silent and motionless. "Sir," said he at last, in a dry choking voice, "thou art right, and I have been a fool. Sir, I will never raise mine eyes to look upon the Lady Alice more."
"I say not that either, boy," said the Earl; "but ere thou dost so dare, thou must first place thyself and thy family whence ye fell. Till then, as thou art an honest man, trouble her not. Now get thee gone."
As Myles crossed the dark and silent courtyards, and looked up at the clear, still twinkle of the stars, he felt a kind of dull wonder that they and the night and the world should seem so much the same, and he be so different.
The first stroke had been given that was to break in pieces his boyhood life—the second was soon to follow.
There are now and then times in the life of every one when new and strange things occur with such rapidity that one has hardly time to catch one's breath between the happenings. It is as though the old were crumbling away—breaking in pieces—to give place to the new that is soon to take its place.
So it was with Myles Falworth about this time. The very next day after this interview in the bed-chamber, word came to him that Sir James Lee wished to speak with him in the office. He found the lean, grizzled old knight alone, sitting at the heavy oaken table with a tankard of spiced ale at his elbow, and a dish of wafers and some fragments of cheese on a pewter platter before him. He pointed to his clerk's seat—a joint stool somewhat like a camp-chair, but made of heavy oaken braces and with a seat of hog-skin—and bade Myles be seated.
It was the first time that Myles had ever heard of such courtesy being extended to one of the company of squires, and, much wondering, he obeyed the invitation, or rather command, and took the seat.
The old knight sat regarding him for a while in silence, his one eye, as bright and as steady as that of a hawk, looking keenly from under the penthouse of its bushy brows, the while he slowly twirled and twisted his bristling wiry mustaches, as was his wont when in meditation. At last he broke the silence. "How old art thou?" said he, abruptly.
"I be turned seventeen last April," Myles answered, as he had the evening before to Lord Mackworth.
"Humph!" said Sir James; "thou be'st big of bone and frame for thine age. I would that thy heart were more that of a man likewise, and less that of a giddy, hare-brained boy, thinking continually of naught but mischief."
Again he fell silent, and Myles sat quite still, wondering if it was on account of any special one of his latest escapades that he had been summoned to the office—the breaking of the window in the Long Hall by the stone he had flung at the rook, or the climbing of the South Tower for the jackdaw's nest.
"Thou hast a friend," said Sir James, suddenly breaking into his speculations, "of such a kind that few in this world possess. Almost ever since thou hast been here he hath been watching over thee. Canst thou guess of whom I speak?"
"Haply it is Lord George Beaumont," said Myles; "he hath always been passing kind to me.
"Nay," said Sir James, "it is not of him that I speak, though methinks he liketh thee well enow. Canst thou keep a secret, boy?" he asked, suddenly.
"Yea," answered Myles.
"And wilt thou do so in this case if I tell thee who it is that is thy best friend here?"
"Then it is my Lord who is that friend—the Earl himself; but see that thou breathe not a word of it."
Myles sat staring at the old knight in utter and profound amazement, and presently Sir James continued: "Yea, almost ever since thou hast come here my Lord hath kept oversight upon all thy doings, upon all thy mad pranks and thy quarrels and thy fights, thy goings out and comings in. What thinkest thou of that, Myles Falworth?"
Again the old knight stopped and regarded the lad, who sat silent, finding no words to answer. He seemed to find a grim pleasure in the youngster's bewilderment and wonder. Then a sudden thought came to Myles.
"Sir," said he, "did my Lord know that I went to the privy garden as I did?"
"Nay," said Sir James; "of that he knew naught at first until thy father bade thy mother write and tell him."
"My father!" ejaculated Myles.
"Aye," said Sir James, twisting his mustaches more vigorously than ever. "So soon as thy father heard of that prank, he wrote straightway to my Lord that he should put a stop to what might in time have bred mischief."
"Sir," said Myles, in an almost breathless voice, "I know not how to believe all these things, or whether I be awake or a-dreaming."
"Thou be'st surely enough awake," answered the old man; "but there are other matters yet to be told. My Lord thinketh, as others of us do—Lord George and myself—that it is now time for thee to put away thy boyish follies, and learn those things appertaining to manhood. Thou hast been here a year now, and hast had freedom to do as thou might list; but, boy,"—and the old warrior spoke seriously, almost solemnly—"upon thee doth rest matters of such great import that did I tell them to thee thou couldst not grasp them. My Lord deems that thou hast, mayhap, promise beyond the common of men; ne'theless it remaineth yet to be seen an he be right; it is yet to test whether that promise may be fulfilled. Next Monday I and Sir Everard Willoughby take thee in hand to begin training thee in the knowledge and the use of the jousting lance, of arms, and of horsemanship. Thou art to go to Ralph Smith, and have him fit a suit of plain armor to thee which he hath been charged to make for thee against this time. So get thee gone, think well over all these matters, and prepare thyself by next Monday. But stay, sirrah," he added, as Myles, dazed and bewildered, turned to obey; "breathe to no living soul what I ha' told thee—that my Lord is thy friend—neither speak of anything concerning him. Such is his own heavy command laid upon thee."
Then Myles turned again without a word to leave the room. But as he reached the door Sir James stopped him a second time.
"Stay!" he called. "I had nigh missed telling thee somewhat else. My Lord hath made thee a present this morning that thou wottest not of. It is"—then he stopped for a few moments, perhaps to enjoy the full flavor of what he had to say—"it is a great Flemish horse of true breed and right mettle; a horse such as a knight of the noblest strain might be proud to call his own. Myles Falworth, thou wert born upon a lucky day!"
"Sir," cried Myles, and then stopped short. Then, "Sir," he cried again, "didst thou say it—the horse—was to be mine?"
"Aye, it is to be thine."
"My very own?"
"Thy very own."
How Myles Falworth left that place he never knew. He was like one in some strange, some wonderful dream. He walked upon air, and his heart was so full of joy and wonder and amazement that it thrilled almost to agony. Of course his first thought was of Gascoyne. How he ever found him he never could tell, but find him he did.
"Come, Francis!" he cried, "I have that to tell thee so marvellous that had it come upon me from paradise it could not be more strange."
Then he dragged him away to their Eyry—it had been many a long day since they had been there—and to all his friend's speeches, to all his wondering questions, he answered never a word until they had climbed the stairs, and so come to their old haunt. Then he spoke.
"Sit thee down, Francis," said he, "till I tell thee that which passeth wonder." As Gascoyne obeyed, he himself stood looking about him. "This is the last time I shall ever come hither," said he. And thereupon he poured out his heart to his listening friend in the murmuring solitude of the airy height. He did not speak of the Earl, but of the wonderful new life that had thus suddenly opened before him, with its golden future of limitless hopes, of dazzling possibilities, of heroic ambitions. He told everything, walking up and down the while—for he could not remain quiet—his cheeks glowing and his eyes sparkling.
Gascoyne sat quite still, staring straight before him. He knew that his friend was ruffling eagle pinions for a flight in which he could never hope to follow, and somehow his heart ached, for he knew that this must be the beginning of the end of the dear, delightful friendship of the year past.
And so ended Myles Falworth's boyhood. Three years followed, during which he passed through that state which immediately follows boyhood in all men's lives—a time when they are neither lads nor grown men, but youths passing from the one to the other period through what is often an uncouth and uncomfortable age.
He had fancied, when he talked with Gascoyne in the Eyry that time, that he was to become a man all at once; he felt just then that he had forever done with boyish things. But that is not the way it happens in men's lives. Changes do not come so suddenly and swiftly as that, but by little and little. For three or four days, maybe, he went his new way of life big with the great change that had come upon him, and then, now in this and now in that, he drifted back very much into his old ways of boyish doings. As was said, one's young days do not end all at once, even when they be so suddenly and sharply shaken, and Myles was not different from others. He had been stirred to the core by that first wonderful sight of the great and glorious life of manhood opening before him, but he had yet many a sport to enjoy, many a game to play, many a boisterous romp to riot in the dormitory, many an expedition to make to copse and spinney and river on days when he was off duty, and when permission had been granted.
Nevertheless, there was a great and vital change in his life; a change which he hardly felt or realized. Even in resuming his old life there was no longer the same vitality, the same zest, the same enjoyment in all these things. It seemed as though they were no longer a part of himself. The savor had gone from them, and by-and-by it was pleasanter to sit looking on at the sports and the games of the younger lads than to take active part in them.
These three years of his life that had thus passed had been very full; full mostly of work, grinding and monotonous; of training dull, dry, laborious. For Sir James Lee was a taskmaster as hard as iron and seemingly as cold as a stone. For two, perhaps for three, weeks Myles entered into his new exercises with all the enthusiasm that novelty brings; but these exercises hardly varied a tittle from day to day, and soon became a duty, and finally a hard and grinding task. He used, in the earlier days of his castle life, to hate the dull monotony of the tri-weekly hacking at the pels with a heavy broadsword as he hated nothing else; but now, though he still had that exercise to perform, it was almost a relief from the heavy dulness of riding, riding, riding in the tilt-yard with shield and lance—couch—recover—en passant.
But though he had nowadays but little time for boyish plays and escapades, his life was not altogether without relaxation. Now and then he was permitted to drive in mock battle with other of the younger knights and bachelors in the paddock near the outer walls. It was a still more welcome change in the routine of his life when, occasionally, he would break a light lance in the tilting-court with Sir Everard Willoughby; Lord George, perhaps, and maybe one or two others of the Hall folk, looking on.
Then one gilded day, when Lord Dudleigh was visiting at Devlen, Myles ran a course with a heavier lance in the presence of the Earl, who came down to the tilt-yard with his guest to see the young novitiate ride against Sir Everard. He did his best, and did it well. Lord Dudleigh praised his poise and carriage, and Lord George, who was present, gave him an approving smile and nod. But the Earl of Mackworth only sat stroking his beard impassively, as was his custom. Myles would have given much to know his thoughts.
In all these years Sir James Lee almost never gave any expression either of approbation or disapproval—excepting when Myles exhibited some carelessness or oversight. Then his words were sharp and harsh enough. More than once Myles's heart failed him, and bitter discouragement took possession of him; then nothing but his bull-dog tenacity and stubbornness brought him out from the despondency of the dark hours.
"Sir," he burst out one day, when his heart was heavy with some failure, "tell me, I beseech thee, do I get me any of skill at all? Is it in me ever to make a worthy knight, fit to hold lance and sword with other men, or am I only soothly a dull heavy block, worth naught of any good?"
"Thou art a fool, sirrah!" answered Sir James, in his grimmest tones. "Thinkest thou to learn all of knightly prowess in a year and a half? Wait until thou art ripe, and then I will tell thee if thou art fit to couch a lance or ride a course with a right knight."
"Thou art an old bear!" muttered Myles to himself, as the old one-eyed knight turned on his heel and strode away. "Beshrew me! an I show thee not that I am as worthy to couch a lance as thou one of these fine days!"
However, during the last of the three years the grinding routine of his training had not been quite so severe as at first. His exercises took him more often out into the fields, and it was during this time of his knightly education that he sometimes rode against some of the castle knights in friendly battle with sword or lance or wooden mace. In these encounters he always held his own; and held it more than well, though, in his boyish simplicity, he was altogether unconscious of his own skill, address, and strength. Perhaps it was his very honest modesty that made him so popular and so heartily liked by all.
He had by this time risen to the place of head squire or chief bachelor, holding the same position that Walter Blunt had occupied when he himself had first come, a raw country boy, to Devlen. The lesser squires and pages fairly worshipped him as a hero, albeit imposing upon his good-nature. All took a pride in his practice in knightly exercises, and fabulous tales were current among the young fry concerning his strength and skill.
Yet, although Myles was now at the head of his class, he did not, as other chief bachelors had done, take a leading position among the squires in the Earl's household service. Lord Mackworth, for his own good reasons, relegated him to the position of Lord George's especial attendant. Nevertheless, the Earl always distinguished him from the other esquires, giving him a cool nod whenever they met; and Myles, upon his part—now that he had learned better to appreciate how much his Lord had done for him—would have shed the last drop of blood in his veins for the head of the house of Beaumont.
As for the two young ladies, he often saw them, and sometimes, even in the presence of the Earl, exchanged a few words with them, and Lord Mackworth neither forbade it nor seemed to notice it.
Towards the Lady Anne he felt the steady friendly regard of a lad for a girl older than himself; towards the Lady Alice, now budding into ripe young womanhood, there lay deep in his heart the resolve to be some day her true knight in earnest as he had been her knight in pretence in that time of boyhood when he had so perilously climbed into the privy garden.
In body and form he was now a man, and in thought and heart was quickly ripening to manhood, for, as was said before, men matured quickly in those days. He was a right comely youth, for the promise of his boyish body had been fulfilled in a tall, powerful, well-knit frame. His face was still round and boyish, but on cheek and chin and lip was the curl of adolescent beard—soft, yellow, and silky. His eyes were as blue as steel, and quick and sharp in glance as those of a hawk; and as he walked, his arms swung from his broad, square shoulders, and his body swayed with pent-up strength ready for action at any moment.
If little Lady Alice, hearing much talk of his doings and of his promise in these latter times, thought of him now and then it is a matter not altogether to be wondered at.
Such were the changes that three years had wrought. And from now the story of his manhood really begins.
Perhaps in all the history of Devlen Castle, even at this, the high tide of pride and greatness of the house of Beaumont, the most notable time was in the early autumn of the year 1411, when for five days King Henry IV was entertained by the Earl of Mackworth. The King was at that time making a progress through certain of the midland counties, and with him travelled the Comte de Vermoise. The Count was the secret emissary of the Dauphin's faction in France, at that time in the very bitterest intensity of the struggle with the Duke of Burgundy, and had come to England seeking aid for his master in his quarrel.
It was not the first time that royalty had visited Devlen. Once, in Earl Robert's day, King Edward II had spent a week at the castle during the period of the Scottish wars. But at that time it was little else than a military post, and was used by the King as such. Now the Beaumonts were in the very flower of their prosperity, and preparations were made for the coming visit of royalty upon a scale of such magnificence and splendor as Earl Robert, or perhaps even King Edward himself, had never dreamed.
For weeks the whole castle had been alive with folk hurrying hither and thither; and with the daily and almost hourly coming of pack-horses, laden with bales and boxes, from London. From morning to night one heard the ceaseless chip-chipping of the masons' hammers, and saw carriers of stones and mortar ascending and descending the ladders of the scaffolding that covered the face of the great North Hall. Within, that part of the building was alive with the scraping of the carpenters' saws, the clattering of lumber, and the rapping and banging of hammers.
The North Hall had been assigned as the lodging place for the King and his court, and St. George's Hall (as the older building adjoining it was called) had been set apart as the lodging of the Comte de Vermoise and the knights and gentlemen attendant upon him.
The great North Hall had been very much altered and changed for the accommodation of the King and his people; a beautiful gallery of carved wood-work had been built within and across the south end of the room for the use of the ladies who were to look down upon the ceremonies below. Two additional windows had been cut through the wall and glazed, and passage-ways had been opened connecting with the royal apartments beyond. In the bedchamber a bed of carved wood and silver had been built into the wall, and had been draped with hangings of pale blue and silver, and a magnificent screen of wrought-iron and carved wood had been erected around the couch; rich and beautiful tapestries brought from Italy and Flanders were hung upon the walls; cushions of velvets and silks stuffed with down covered benches and chairs. The floor of the hall was spread with mats of rushes stained in various colors, woven into curious patterns, and in the smaller rooms precious carpets of arras were laid on the cold stones.
All of the cadets of the House had been assembled; all of the gentlemen in waiting, retainers and clients. The castle seemed full to overflowing; even the dormitory of the squires was used as a lodging place for many of the lesser gentry.
So at last, in the midst of all this bustle of preparation, came the day of days when the King was to arrive. The day before a courier had come bringing the news that he was lodging at Donaster Abbey overnight, and would make progress the next day to Devlen.
That morning, as Myles was marshalling the pages and squires, and, with the list of names in his hand, was striving to evolve some order out of the confusion, assigning the various individuals their special duties—these to attend in the household, those to ride in the escort—one of the gentlemen of Lord George's household came with an order for him to come immediately to the young nobleman's apartments. Myles hastily turned over his duties to Gascoyne and Wilkes, and then hurried after the messenger. He found Lord George in the antechamber, three gentlemen squires arming him in a magnificent suit of ribbed Milan.
He greeted Myles with a nod and a smile as the lad entered. "Sirrah," said he, "I have had a talk with Mackworth this morn concerning thee, and have a mind to do thee an honor in my poor way. How wouldst thou like to ride to-day as my special squire of escort?"
Myles flushed to the roots of his hair. "Oh, sir!" he cried, eagerly, "an I be not too ungainly for thy purpose, no honor in all the world could be such joy to me as that!"
Lord George laughed. "A little matter pleases thee hugely," said he; "but as to being ungainly, who so sayeth that of thee belieth thee, Myles; thou art not ungainly, sirrah. But that is not to the point. I have chosen thee for my equerry to-day; so make thou haste and don thine armor, and then come hither again, and Hollingwood will fit thee with a wreathed bascinet I have within, and a juppon embroidered with my arms and colors."
When Myles had made his bow and left his patron, he flew across the quadrangle, and burst into the armory upon Gascoyne, whom he found still lingering there, chatting with one or two of the older bachelors.
"What thinkest thou, Francis?" he cried, wild with excitement. "An honor hath been done me this day I could never have hoped to enjoy. Out of all this household, Lord George hath chose me his equerry for the day to ride to meet the King. Come, hasten to help me to arm! Art thou not glad of this thing for my sake, Francis?"
"Aye, glad am I indeed!" cried Gascoyne, that generous friend; "rather almost would I have this befall thee than myself!" And indeed he was hardly less jubilant than Myles over the honor.
Five minutes later he was busy arming him in the little room at the end of the dormitory which had been lately set apart for the use of the head bachelor. "And to think," he said, looking up as he kneeled, strapping the thigh-plates to his friend's legs, "that he should have chosen thee before all others of the fine knights and lords and gentlemen of quality that are here!"
"Yea," said Myles, "it passeth wonder. I know not why he should so single me out for such an honor. It is strangely marvellous."
"Nay," said Gascoyne, "there is no marvel in it, and I know right well why he chooseth thee. It is because he sees, as we all see, that thou art the stoutest and the best-skilled in arms, and most easy of carriage of any man in all this place."
Myles laughed. "An thou make sport of me," said he, "I'll rap thy head with this dagger hilt. Thou art a silly fellow, Francis, to talk so. But tell me, hast thou heard who rides with my Lord?"
"Yea, I heard Wilkes say anon that it was Sir James Lee."
"I am right glad of that," said Myles; "for then he will show me what to do and how to bear myself. It frights me to think what would hap should I make some mistake in my awkwardness. Methinks Lord George would never have me with him more should I do amiss this day."
"Never fear," said Gascoyne; "thou wilt not do amiss."
And now, at last, the Earl, Lord George, and all their escort were ready; then the orders were given to horse, the bugle sounded, and away they all rode, with clashing of iron hoofs and ringing and jingling of armor, out into the dewy freshness of the early morning, the slant yellow sun of autumn blazing and flaming upon polished helmets and shields, and twinkling like sparks of fire upon spear points. Myles's heart thrilled within him for pure joy, and he swelled out his sturdy young breast with great draughts of the sweet fresh air that came singing across the sunny hill-tops. Sir James Lee, who acted as the Earl's equerry for the day, rode at a little distance, and there was an almost pathetic contrast between the grim, steadfast impassiveness of the tough old warrior and Myles's passionate exuberance of youth.
At the head of the party rode the Earl and his brother side by side, each clad cap-a-pie in a suit of Milan armor, the cuirass of each covered with a velvet juppon embroidered in silver with the arms and quarterings of the Beaumonts. The Earl wore around his neck an "S S" collar, with a jewelled St. George hanging from it, and upon his head a vizored bascinet, ornamented with a wreath covered with black and yellow velvet and glistening with jewels.
Lord George, as was said before, was clad in a beautiful suit of ribbed Milan armor. It was rimmed with a thin thread of gold, and, like his brother, he wore a bascinet wreathed with black and yellow velvet.
Behind the two brothers and their equerries rode the rest in their proper order—knights, gentlemen, esquires, men-at-arms—to the number, perhaps, of two hundred and fifty; spears and lances aslant, and banners, permons, and pencels of black and yellow fluttering in the warm September air.
From the castle to the town they rode, and then across the bridge, and thence clattering up through the stony streets, where the folk looked down upon them from the windows above, or crowded the fronts of the shops of the tradesmen. Lusty cheers were shouted for the Earl, but the great Lord rode staring ever straight before him, as unmoved as a stone. Then out of the town they clattered, and away in a sweeping cloud of dust across the country-side.
It was not until they had reached the windy top of Willoughby Croft, ten miles away, that they met the King and his company. As the two parties approached to within forty or fifty yards of one another they stopped.
As they came to a halt, Myles observed that a gentleman dressed in a plain blue-gray riding-habit, and sitting upon a beautiful white gelding, stood a little in advance of the rest of the party, and he knew that that must be the King. Then Sir James nodded to Myles, and leaping from his horse, flung the reins to one of the attendants. Myles did the like; and then, still following Sir James's lead as he served Lord Mackworth, went forward and held Lord George's stirrup while he dismounted. The two noblemen quickly removed each his bascinet, and Myles, holding the bridle-rein of Lord George's horse with his left hand, took the helmet in his right, resting it upon his hip.
Then the two brothers walked forward bare-headed, the Earl, a little in advance. Reaching the King he stopped, and then bent his knee—stiffly in the armored plates—until it touched the ground. Thereupon the King reached him his hand, and he, rising again, took it, and set it to his lips.
Then Lord George, advancing, kneeled as his brother had kneeled, and to him also the King gave his hand.
Myles could hear nothing, but he could see that a few words of greeting passed between the three, and then the King, turning, beckoned to a knight who stood just behind him and a little in advance of the others of the troop. In answer, the knight rode forward; the King spoke a few words of introduction, and the stranger, ceremoniously drawing off his right gauntlet, clasped the hand, first of the Earl, and then of Lord George. Myles knew that he must be the great Comte de Vermoise, of whom he had heard so much of late.
A few moments of conversation followed, and then the King bowed slightly. The French nobleman instantly reined back his horse, an order was given, and then the whole company moved forward, the two brothers walking upon either side of the King, the Earl lightly touching the bridle-rein with his bare hand.
Whilst all this was passing, the Earl of Mackworth's company had been drawn up in a double line along the road-side, leaving the way open to the other party. As the King reached the head of the troop, another halt followed while he spoke a few courteous words of greeting to some of the lesser nobles attendant upon the Earl whom he knew.
In that little time he was within a few paces of Myles, who stood motionless as a statue, holding the bascinet and the bridle-rein of Lord George's horse.
What Myles saw was a plain, rather stout man, with a face fat, smooth, and waxy, with pale-blue eyes, and baggy in the lids; clean shaven, except for a mustache and tuft covering lips and chin. Somehow he felt a deep disappointment. He had expected to see something lion-like, something regal, and, after all, the great King Henry was commonplace, fat, unwholesome-looking. It came to him with a sort of a shock that, after all, a King was in nowise different from other men.
Meanwhile the Earl and his brother replaced their bascinets, and presently the whole party moved forward upon the way to Mackworth.
That same afternoon the squires' quarters were thrown into such a ferment of excitement as had, perhaps, never before stirred them. About one o'clock in the afternoon the Earl himself and Lord George came walking slowly across the Armory Court wrapped in deep conversation, and entered Sir James Lee's office.
All the usual hubbub of noise that surrounded the neighborhood of the dormitory and the armory was stilled at their coming, and when the two noblemen had entered Sir James's office, the lads and young men gathered in knots discussing with an almost awesome interest what that visit might portend.
After some time Sir James Lee came to the door at the head of the long flight of stone steps, and whistling, beckoned one of the smaller pages to him. He gave a short order that sent the little fellow flying on some mission. In the course of a few minutes he returned, hurrying across the stony court with Myles Falworth, who presently entered Sir James's office. It was then and at this sight that the intense half-suppressed excitement reached its height of fever-heat. What did it all mean? The air was filled with a thousand vague, wild rumors—but the very wildest surmises fell short of the real truth.
Perhaps Myles was somewhat pale when he entered the office; certainly his nerves were in a tremor, for his heart told him that something very portentous was about to befall him. The Earl sat at the table, and in the seat that Sir James Lee usually occupied; Lord George half sat, half leaned in the window-place. Sir James stood with his back to the empty fireplace, and his hands clasped behind him. All three were very serious.
"Give thee good den, Myles Falworth," said the Earl, as Myles bowed first to him and then to the others; "and I would have thee prepare thyself for a great happening." Then, continuing directly to the point: "Thou knowest, sirrah, why we have been training thee so closely these three years gone; it is that thou shouldst be able to hold thine own in the world. Nay, not only hold thine own, but to show thyself to be a knight of prowess shouldst it come to a battle between thee and thy father's enemy; for there lieth no half-way place for thee, and thou must be either great or else nothing. Well, sir, the time hath now come for thee to show thy mettle. I would rather have chosen that thou hadst labored a twelvemonth longer; but now, as I said, hath come a chance to prove thyself that may never come again. Sir James tells me that thou art passably ripe in skill. Thou must now show whether that be so or no. Hast thou ever heard of the Sieur de la Montaigne?"
"Yea, my Lord. I have heard of him often," answered Myles. "It was he who won the prize at the great tourney at Rochelle last year."
"I see that thou hast his fame pat to thy tongue's end," said the Earl; "he is the chevalier of whom I speak, and he is reckoned the best knight of Dauphiny. That one of which thou spokest was the third great tourney in which he was adjudged the victor. I am glad that thou holdest his prowess highly. Knowest thou that he is in the train of the Comte de Vermoise?"
"Nay," said Myles, flushing; "I did hear news he was in England, but knew not that he was in this place."
"Yea," said Lord Mackworth; "he is here." He paused for a moment; then said, suddenly. "Tell me, Myles Falworth, an thou wert a knight and of rank fit to run a joust with the Sieur de la Montaigne, wouldst thou dare encounter him in the lists?"
The Earl's question fell upon Myles so suddenly and unexpectedly that for a moment or so he stood staring at the speaker with mouth agape. Meanwhile the Earl sat looking calmly back at him, slowly stroking his beard the while.
It was Sir James Lee's voice that broke the silence. "Thou heardst thy Lord speak," said he, harshly. "Hast thou no tongue to answer, sirrah?"
"Be silent, Lee," said Lord Mackworth, quietly. "Let the lad have time to think before he speaketh."
The sound of the words aroused Myles. He advanced to the table, and rested his hand upon it. "My Lord—my Lord," said he, "I know not what to say, I—I am amazed and afeard."
"How! how!" cried Sir James Lee, harshly. "Afeard, sayst thou? An thou art afeard, thou knave, thou needst never look upon my face or speak to me more! I have done with thee forever an thou art afeard even were the champion a Sir Alisander."
"Peace, peace, Lee," said the Earl, holding up his hand. "Thou art too hasty. The lad shall have his will in this matter, and thou and no one shall constrain him. Methinks, also, thou dost not understand him. Speak from thy heart, Myles; why art thou afraid?"
"Because," said Myles, "I am so young, sir; I am but a raw boy. How should I dare be so hardy as to venture to set lance against such an one as the Sieur de la Montaigne? What would I be but a laughing-stock for all the world who would see me so foolish as to venture me against one of such prowess and skill?"
"Nay, Myles," said Lord George, "thou thinkest not well enough of thine own skill and prowess. Thinkest thou we would undertake to set thee against him, an we did not think that thou couldst hold thine own fairly well?"
"Hold mine own?" cried Myles, turning to Lord George. "Sir; thou dost not mean—thou canst not mean, that I may hope or dream to hold mine own against the Sieur de la Montaigne."
"Aye," said Lord George, "that was what I did mean."
"Come, Myles," said the Earl; "now tell me: wilt thou fight the Sieur de la Montaigne?"
"Yea," said Myles, drawing himself to his full height and throwing out his chest. "Yea," and his cheeks and forehead flushed red; "an thou bid me do so, I will fight him."
"There spake my brave lad!" cried Lord George heartily.
"I give thee joy, Myles," said the Earl, reaching him his hand, which Myles took and kissed. "And I give thee double joy. I have talked with the King concerning thee this morning, and he hath consented to knight thee—yea, to knight thee with all honors of the Bath—provided thou wilt match thee against the Sieur de la Montaigne for the honor of England and Mackworth. Just now the King lieth to sleep for a little while after his dinner; have thyself in readiness when he cometh forth, and I will have thee presented."
Then the Earl turned to Sir James Lee, and questioned him as to how the bachelors were fitted with clothes. Myles listened, only half hearing the words through the tumbling of his thoughts. He had dreamed in his day-dreams that some time he might be knighted, but that time always seemed very, very distant. To be knighted now, in his boyhood, by the King, with the honors of the Bath, and under the patronage of the Earl of Mackworth; to joust—to actually joust—with the Sieur de la Montaigne, one of the most famous chevaliers of France! No wonder he only half heard the words; half heard the Earl's questions concerning his clothes and the discussion which followed; half heard Lord George volunteer to array him in fitting garments from his own wardrobe.
"Thou mayst go now," said the Earl, at last turning to him. "But be thou at George's apartments by two of the clock to be dressed fittingly for the occasion."
Then Myles went out stupefied, dazed, bewildered. He looked around, but he did not see Gascoyne. He said not a word to any of the others in answer to the eager questions poured upon him by his fellow-squires, but walked straight away. He hardly knew where he went, but by-and-by he found himself in a grassy angle below the end of the south stable; a spot overlooking the outer wall and the river beyond. He looked around; no one was near, and he flung himself at length, burying his face in his arms. How long he lay there he did not know, but suddenly some one touched him upon the shoulder, and he sprang up quickly. It was Gascoyne.
"What is to do, Myles?" said his friend, anxiously. "What is all this talk I hear concerning thee up yonder at the armory?"
"Oh, Francis!" cried Myles, with a husky choking voice: "I am to be knighted—by the King—by the King himself; and I—I am to fight the Sieur de la Montaigne."
He reached out his hand, and Gascoyne took it. They stood for a while quite silent, and when at last the stillness was broken, it was Gascoyne who spoke, in a choking voice.
"Thou art going to be great, Myles," said he. "I always knew that it must be so with thee, and now the time hath come. Yea, thou wilt be great, and live at court amongst noble folk, and Kings haply. Presently thou wilt not be with me any more, and wilt forget me by-and-by."
"Nay, Francis, never will I forget thee!" answered Myles, pressing his friend's hand. "I will always love thee better than any one in the world, saving only my father and my mother."
Gascoyne shook his head and looked away, swallowing at the dry lump in his throat. Suddenly he turned to Myles. "Wilt thou grant me a boon?"
"Yea," answered Myles. "What is it?"
"That thou wilt choose me for thy squire."
"Nay," said Myles; "how canst thou think to serve me as squire? Thou wilt be a knight thyself some day, Francis, and why dost thou wish now to be my squire?"
"Because," said Gascoyne, with a short laugh, "I would rather be in thy company as a squire than in mine own as a knight, even if I might be banneret."
Myles flung his arm around his friend's neck, and kissed him upon the cheek. "Thou shalt have thy will," said he; "but whether knight or squire, thou art ever mine own true friend."
Then they went slowly back together, hand in hand, to the castle world again.
At two o'clock Myles went to Lord George's apartments, and there his friend and patron dressed him out in a costume better fitted for the ceremony of presentation—a fur-trimmed jacket of green brocaded velvet embroidered with golden thread, a black velvet hood-cap rolled like a turban and with a jewel in the front, a pair of crimson hose, and a pair of black velvet shoes trimmed and stitched with gold-thread. Myles had never worn such splendid clothes in his life before, and he could not but feel that they became him well.
"Sir," said he, as he looked down at himself, "sure it is not lawful for me to wear such clothes as these."
In those days there was a law, known as a sumptuary law, which regulated by statute the clothes that each class of people were privileged to wear. It was, as Myles said, against the law for him to wear such garments as those in which he was clad—either velvet, crimson stuff, fur or silver or gold embroidery—nevertheless such a solemn ceremony as presentation to the King excused the temporary overstepping of the law, and so Lord George told him. As he laid his hand upon the lad's shoulder and held him off at arm's-length, he added, "And I pledge thee my word, Myles, that thou art as lusty and handsome a lad as ever mine eyes beheld."
"Thou art very kind to me, sir," said Myles, in answer.
Lord George laughed; and then giving him a shake, let go his shoulder.
It was about three o'clock when little Edmond de Montefort, Lord Mackworth's favorite page, came with word that the King was then walking in the Earl's pleasance.
"Come, Myles," said Lord George, and then Myles arose from the seat where he had been sitting, his heart palpitating and throbbing tumultuously.
At the wicket-gate of the pleasance two gentlemen-at-arms stood guard in half-armor; they saluted Lord George, and permitted him to pass with his protege. As he laid his hand upon the latch of the wicket he paused for a moment and turned.
"Myles," said he, in a low voice, "thou art a thoughtful and cautious lad; for thy father's sake be thoughtful and cautious now. Do not speak his name or betray that thou art his son." Then he opened the wicket-gate and entered.
Any lad of Myles's age, even one far more used to the world than he, would perhaps have felt all the oppression that he experienced under the weight of such a presentation. He hardly knew what he was doing as Lord George led him to where the King stood, a little apart from the attendants, with the Earl and the Comte de Vermoise. Even in his confusion he knew enough to kneel, and somehow his honest, modest diffidence became the young fellow very well. He was not awkward, for one so healthful in mind and body as he could not bear himself very ill, and he felt the assurance that in Lord George he had a kind friend at his side, and one well used to court ceremonies to lend him countenance. Then there is something always pleasing in frank, modest manliness such as was stamped on Myles's handsome, sturdy face. No doubt the King's heart warmed towards the fledgling warrior kneeling in the pathway before him. He smiled very kindly as he gave the lad his hand to kiss, and that ceremony done, held fast to the hard, brown, sinewy fist of the young man with his soft white hand, and raised him to his feet.
"By the mass!" said he, looking Myles over with smiling eyes, "thou art a right champion in good sooth. Such as thou art haply was Sir Galahad when he came to Arthur's court. And so they tell me, thou hast stomach to brook the Sieur de la Montaigne, that tough old boar of Dauphiny. Hast thou in good sooth the courage to face him? Knowest thou what a great thing it is that thou hast set upon thyself—to do battle, even in sport, with him?"
"Yea, your Majesty," answered Myles, "well I wot it is a task haply beyond me. But gladly would I take upon me even a greater venture, and one more dangerous, to do your Majesty's pleasure!"
The King looked pleased. "Now that was right well said, young man," said he, "and I like it better that it came from such young and honest lips. Dost thou speak French?"
"Yea, your Majesty," answered Myles. "In some small measure do I so."
"I am glad of that," said the King; "for so I may make thee acquainted with Sieur de la Montaigne."
He turned as he ended speaking, and beckoned to a heavy, thick-set, black-browed chevalier who stood with the other gentlemen attendants at a little distance. He came instantly forward in answer to the summons, and the King introduced the two to one another. As each took the other formally by the hand, he measured his opponent hastily, body and limb, and perhaps each thought that he had never seen a stronger, stouter, better-knit man than the one upon whom he looked. But nevertheless the contrast betwixt the two was very great—Myles, young, boyish, fresh-faced; the other, bronzed, weather beaten, and seamed with a great white scar that ran across his forehead and cheek; the one a novice, the other a warrior seasoned in twoscore battles.
A few polite phrases passed between the two, the King listening smiling, but with an absent and far-away look gradually stealing upon his face. As they ended speaking, a little pause of silence followed, and then the King suddenly aroused himself.
"So," said he, "I am glad that ye two are acquainted. And now we will leave our youthful champion in thy charge, Beaumont—and in thine, Mon Sieur, as well—and so soon as the proper ceremonies are ended, we will dub him knight with our own hands. And now, Mackworth, and thou my Lord Count, let us walk a little; I have bethought me further concerning these threescore extra men for Dauphiny."
Then Myles withdrew, under the charge of Lord George and the Sieur de la Montaigne and while the King and the two nobles walked slowly up and down the gravel path between the tall rose-bushes, Myles stood talking with the gentlemen attendants, finding himself, with a certain triumphant exultation, the peer of any and the hero of the hour.
That night was the last that Myles and Gascoyne spent lodging in the dormitory in their squirehood service. The next day they were assigned apartments in Lord George's part of the house, and thither they transported themselves and their belongings, amid the awestruck wonder and admiration of their fellow-squires.
In Myles Falworth's day one of the greatest ceremonies of courtly life was that of the bestowal of knighthood by the King, with the honors of the Bath. By far the greater number of knights were at that time created by other knights, or by nobles, or by officers of the crown. To be knighted by the King in person distinguished the recipient for life. It was this signal honor that the Earl, for his own purposes, wished Myles to enjoy, and for this end he had laid not a few plans.
The accolade was the term used for the creation of a knight upon the field of battle. It was a reward of valor or of meritorious service, and was generally bestowed in a more or less off-hand way; but the ceremony of the Bath was an occasion of the greatest courtly moment, and it was thus that Myles Falworth was to be knighted in addition to the honor of a royal belting.
A quaint old book treating of knighthood and chivalry gives a full and detailed account of all the circumstances of the ceremony of a creation of a Knight of the Bath. It tells us that the candidate was first placed under the care of two squires of honor, "grave and well seen in courtship and nurture, and also in feats of chivalry," which same were likewise to be governors in all things relating to the coming honors.
First of all, the barber shaved him, and cut his hair in a certain peculiar fashion ordained for the occasion, the squires of honor supervising the operation. This being concluded, the candidate was solemnly conducted to the chamber where the bath of tepid water was prepared, "hung within and without with linen, and likewise covered with rich cloths and embroidered linen." While in the bath two "ancient, grave, and reverend knights" attended the bachelor, giving him "meet instructions in the order and feats of chivalry." The candidate was then examined as to his knowledge and acquirements, and then, all questions being answered to the satisfaction of his examiners, the elder of the two dipped a handful of water out from the bath, and poured it upon his head, at the same time signing his left shoulder with the sign of the cross.
As soon as this ceremony was concluded, the two squires of honor helped their charge from the bath, and conducted him to a plain bed without hangings, where they let him rest until his body was warm and dry. Then they clad him in a white linen shirt, and over it a plain robe of russet, "girdled about the loins with a rope, and having a hood like unto a hermit."
As soon as the candidate had arisen, the two "ancient knights" returned, and all being in readiness he was escorted to the chapel, the two walking, one upon either side of him, his squires of honor marching before, and the whole party preceded by "sundry minstrels making a loud noise of music."
When they came to the chapel, the two knights who escorted him took leave of the candidate, each saluting him with a kiss upon the cheek. No one remained with him but his squires of honor, the priest, and the chandler.
In the mean time the novitiate's armor, sword, lance, and helmet had been laid in readiness before the altar. These he watched and guarded while the others slept, keeping vigil until sunrise, during which time "he shall," says the ancient authority, "pass the night in orisons, prayers, and meditation." At daylight he confessed to the priest, heard matins, and communicated in mass, and then presented a lighted candle at the altar, with a piece of money stuck in it as close to the flame as could be done, the candle being offered to the honor of God, and the money to the honor of that person who was to make him a knight.
So concluded the sacred ceremony, which being ended his squires conducted the candidate to his chamber, and there made him comfortable, and left him to repose for a while before the second and final part of the ordinance.
Such is a shortened account of the preparatory stages of the ceremonies through which Myles Falworth passed.
Matters had come upon him so suddenly one after the other, and had come with such bewildering rapidity that all that week was to him like some strange, wonderful, mysterious vision. He went through it all like one in a dream. Lord George Beaumont was one of his squires of honor; the other, by way of a fitting complement to the courage of the chivalrous lad, was the Sieur de la Montaigne, his opponent soon to be. They were well versed in everything relating to knightcraft, and Myles followed all their directions with passive obedience. Then Sir James Lee and the Comte de Vermoise administered the ceremony of the Bath, the old knight examining him in the laws of chivalry.
It occurs perhaps once or twice in one's lifetime that one passes through great happenings—sometimes of joy, sometimes of dreadful bitterness—in just such a dazed state as Myles passed through this. It is only afterwards that all comes back to one so sharply and keenly that the heart thrills almost in agony in living it over again. But perhaps of all the memory of that time, when it afterwards came back piece by piece, none was so clear to Myles's back-turned vision as the long night spent in the chapel, watching his armor, thinking such wonderful thoughts, and dreaming such wonderful wide-eyed dreams. At such times Myles saw again the dark mystery of the castle chapel; he saw again the half-moon gleaming white and silvery through the tall, narrow window, and throwing a broad form of still whiteness across stone floor, empty seats, and still, motionless figures of stone effigies. At such times he stood again in front of the twinkling tapers that lit the altar where his armor lay piled in a heap, heard again the deep breathing of his companions of the watch sleeping in some empty stall, wrapped each in his cloak, and saw the old chandler bestir himself, and rise and come forward to snuff the candles. At such times he saw again the day growing clearer and clearer through the tall, glazed windows, saw it change to a rosy pink, and then to a broad, ruddy glow that threw a halo of light around Father Thomas's bald head bowed in sleep, and lit up the banners and trophies hanging motionless against the stony face of the west wall; heard again the stirring of life without and the sound of his companions arousing themselves; saw them come forward, and heard them wish him joy that his long watch was ended.
It was nearly noon when Myles was awakened from a fitful sleep by Gascoyne bringing in his dinner, but, as might be supposed, he had but little hunger, and ate sparingly. He had hardly ended his frugal meal before his two squires of honor came in, followed by a servant carrying the garments for the coming ceremony. He saluted them gravely, and then arising, washed his face and hands in a basin which Gascoyne held; then kneeled in prayer, the others standing silent at a little distance. As he arose, Lord George came forward.
"The King and the company come presently to the Great Hall, Myles," said he; "it is needful for thee to make all the haste that thou art able."
Perhaps never had Devlen Castle seen a more brilliant and goodly company gathered in the great hall than that which came to witness King Henry create Myles Falworth a knight bachelor.
At the upper end of the hall was a raised dais, upon which stood a throne covered with crimson satin and embroidered with lions and flower-deluces; it was the King's seat. He and his personal attendants had not yet come, but the rest of the company were gathered. The day being warm and sultry, the balcony was all aflutter with the feather fans of the ladies of the family and their attendants, who from this high place looked down upon the hall below. Up the centre of the hall was laid a carpet of arras, and the passage was protected by wooden railings. Upon the one side were tiers of seats for the castle gentlefolks and the guests. Upon the other stood the burghers from the town, clad in sober dun and russet, and yeomanry in green and brown. The whole of the great vaulted hall was full of the dull hum of many people waiting, and a ceaseless restlessness stirred the crowded throng. But at last a whisper went around that the King was coming. A momentary hush fell, and through it was heard the noisy clatter of horses' feet coming nearer and nearer, and then stopping before the door. The sudden blare of trumpets broke through the hush; another pause, and then in through the great door-way of the hall came the royal procession.
First of all marched, in the order of their rank, and to the number of a score or more, certain gentlemen, esquires and knights, chosen mostly from the King's attendants. Behind these came two pursuivants-at-arms in tabards, and following them a party of a dozen more bannerets and barons. Behind these again, a little space intervening, came two heralds, also in tabards, a group of the greater nobles attendant upon the King following in the order of their rank. Next came the King-at-arms and, at a little distance and walking with sober slowness, the King himself, with the Earl and the Count directly attendant upon him—the one marching upon the right hand and the other upon the left. A breathless silence filled the whole space as the royal procession advanced slowly up the hall. Through the stillness could be heard the muffled sound of the footsteps on the carpet, the dry rustling of silk and satin garments, and the clear clink and jingle of chains and jewelled ornaments, but not the sound of a single voice.
After the moment or two of bustle and confusion of the King taking his place had passed, another little space of expectant silence fell. At last there suddenly came the noise of acclamation of those who stood without the door—cheering and the clapping of hands—sounds heralding the immediate advent of Myles and his attendants. The next moment the little party entered the hall.
First of all, Gascoyne, bearing Myles's sword in both hands, the hilt resting against his breast, the point elevated at an angle of forty-five degrees. It was sheathed in a crimson scabbard, and the belt of Spanish leather studded with silver bosses was wound crosswise around it. From the hilt of the sword dangled the gilt spurs of his coming knighthood. At a little distance behind his squire followed Myles, the centre of all observation. He was clad in a novitiate dress, arranged under Lord George's personal supervision. It had been made somewhat differently from the fashion usual at such times, and was intended to indicate in a manner the candidate's extreme youthfulness and virginity in arms. The outer garment was a tabard robe of white wool, embroidered at the hem with fine lines of silver, and gathered loosely at the waist with a belt of lavender leather stitched with thread of silver. Beneath he was clad in armor (a present from the Earl), new and polished till it shone with dazzling brightness, the breastplate covered with a juppon of white satin, embroidered with silver. Behind Myles, and upon either hand, came his squires of honor, sponsors, and friends—a little company of some half-dozen in all. As they advanced slowly up the great, dim, high-vaulted room, the whole multitude broke forth into a humming buzz of applause. Then a sudden clapping of hands began near the door-way, ran down through the length of the room, and was taken up by all with noisy clatter.
"Saw I never youth so comely," whispered one of the Lady Anne's attendant gentlewomen. "Sure he looketh as Sir Galahad looked when he came first to King Arthur's court."
Myles knew that he was very pale; he felt rather than saw the restless crowd of faces upon either side, for his eyes were fixed directly before him, upon the dais whereon sat the King, with the Earl of Mackworth standing at his right hand, the Comte de Vermoise upon the left, and the others ranged around and behind the throne. It was with the same tense feeling of dreamy unreality that Myles walked slowly up the length of the hall, measuring his steps by those of Gascoyne. Suddenly he felt Lord George Beaumont touch him lightly upon the arm, and almost instinctively he stopped short—he was standing just before the covered steps of the throne.
He saw Gascoyne mount to the third step, stop short, kneel, and offer the sword and the spurs he carried to the King, who took the weapon and laid it across his knees. Then the squire bowed low, and walking backward withdrew to one side, leaving Myles standing alone facing the throne. The King unlocked the spur chains from the sword-hilt, and then, holding the gilt spurs in his hand for a moment, he looked Myles straight in the eyes and smiled. Then he turned, and gave one of the spurs to the Earl of Mackworth.
The Earl took it with a low bow, turned, and came slowly down the steps to where Myles stood. Kneeling upon one knee, and placing Myles's foot upon the other, Lord Mackworth set the spur in its place and latched the chain over the instep. He drew the sign of the cross upon Myles's bended knee, set the foot back upon the ground, rose with slow dignity, and bowing to the King, drew a little to one side.
As soon as the Earl had fulfilled his office the King gave the second spur to the Comte de Vermoise, who set it to Myles's other foot with the same ceremony that the Earl had observed, withdrawing as he had done to one side.
An instant pause of motionless silence followed, and then the King slowly arose, and began deliberately to unwind the belt from around the scabbard of the sword he held. As soon as he stood, the Earl and the Count advanced, and taking Myles by either hand, led him forward and up the steps of the dais to the platform above. As they drew a little to one side, the King stooped and buckled the sword-belt around Myles's waist, then, rising again, lifted his hand and struck him upon the shoulder, crying, in a loud voice.
"Be thou a good knight!"
Instantly a loud sound of applause and the clapping of hands filled the whole hall, in the midst of which the King laid both hands upon Myles's shoulders and kissed him upon the right cheek. So the ceremony ended; Myles was no longer Myles Falworth, but Sir Myles Falworth, Knight by Order of the Bath and by grace of the King!
It was the custom to conclude the ceremonies of the bestowal of knighthood by a grand feast given in honor of the newly-created knight. But in Myles's instance the feast was dispensed with. The Earl of Mackworth had planned that Myles might be created a Knight of the Bath with all possible pomp and ceremony; that his personality might be most favorably impressed upon the King; that he might be so honorably knighted as to make him the peer of any who wore spurs in all England; and, finally, that he might celebrate his new honors by jousting with some knight of high fame and approved valor. All these desiderata chance had fulfilled in the visit of the King to Devlen.
As the Earl had said to Myles, he would rather have waited a little while longer until the lad was riper in years and experience, but the opportunity was not to be lost. Young as he was, Myles must take his chances against the years and grim experience of the Sieur de la Montaigne. But it was also a part of the Earl's purpose that the King and Myles should not be brought too intimately together just at that time. Though every particular of circumstance should be fulfilled in the ceremony, it would have been ruination to the Earl's plans to have the knowledge come prematurely to the King that Myles was the son of the attainted Lord Falworth. The Earl knew that Myles was a shrewd, coolheaded lad; but the King had already hinted that the name was familiar to his ears, and a single hasty answer or unguarded speech upon the young knight's part might awaken him to a full knowledge. Such a mishap was, of all things, to be avoided just then, for, thanks to the machinations of that enemy of his father of whom Myles had heard so much, and was soon to hear more, the King had always retained and still held a bitter and rancorous enmity against the unfortunate nobleman.
It was no very difficult matter for the Earl to divert the King's attention from the matter of the feast. His Majesty was very intent just then upon supplying a quota of troops to the Dauphin, and the chief object of his visit to Devlen was to open negotiations with the Earl looking to that end. He was interested—much interested in Myles and in the coming jousting in which the young warrior was to prove himself, but he was interested in it by way of a relaxation from the other and more engrossing matter. So, though he made some passing and half preoccupied inquiry about the feast he was easily satisfied with the Earl's reasons for not holding it: which were that he had arranged a consultation for that morning in regard to the troops for the Dauphin, to which meeting he had summoned a number of his own more important dependent nobles, that the King himself needed repose and the hour or so of rest that his barber-surgeon had ordered him to take after his mid-day meal; that Father Thomas had laid upon Myles a petty penance—that for the first three days of his knighthood he should eat his meals without meat and in his own apartment—and various other reasons equally good and sufficient. So the King was satisfied, and the feast was dispensed with.
The next morning had been set for the jousting, and all that day the workmen were busy erecting the lists in the great quadrangle upon which, as was said before, looked the main buildings of the castle. The windows of Myles's apartment opened directly upon the bustling scene—the carpenters hammering and sawing, the upholsterers snipping, cutting, and tacking. Myles and Gascoyne stood gazing out from the open casement, with their arms lying across one another's shoulders in the old boyhood fashion, and Myles felt his heart shrink with a sudden tight pang as the realization came sharply and vividly upon him that all these preparations were being made for him, and that the next day he should, with almost the certainty of death, meet either glory or failure under the eyes not only of all the greater and lesser castle folk, but of the King himself and noble strangers critically used to deeds of chivalry and prowess. Perhaps he had never fully realized the magnitude of the reality before. In that tight pang at his heart he drew a deep breath, almost a sigh. Gascoyne turned his head abruptly, and looked at his friend, but he did not ask the cause of the sigh. No doubt the same thoughts that were in Myles's mind were in his also.
It was towards the latter part of the afternoon that a message came from the Earl, bidding Myles attend him in his private closet. After Myles had bowed and kissed his lordship's hand, the Earl motioned him to take a seat, telling him that he had some final words to say that might occupy a considerable time. He talked to the young man for about half an hour in his quiet, measured voice, only now and then showing a little agitation by rising and walking up and down the room for a turn or two. Very many things were disclosed in that talk that had caused Myles long hours of brooding thought, for the Earl spoke freely, and without concealment to him concerning his father and the fortunes of the house of Falworth.
Myles had surmised many things, but it was not until then that he knew for a certainty who was his father's malignant and powerful enemy—that it was the great Earl of Alban, the rival and bitter enemy of the Earl of Mackworth. It was not until then that he knew that the present Earl of Alban was the Lord Brookhurst, who had killed Sir John Dale in the anteroom at Falworth Castle that morning so long ago in his early childhood. It was not until then that he knew all the circumstances of his father's blindness; that he had been overthrown in the melee at the great tournament at York, and that that same Lord Brookhurst had ridden his iron-shod war-horse twice over his enemy's prostrate body before his squire could draw him from the press, and had then and there given him the wound from which he afterwards went blind. The Earl swore to Myles that Lord Brookhurst had done what he did wilfully, and had afterwards boasted of it. Then, with some hesitation, he told Myles the reason of Lord Brookhurst's enmity, and that it had arisen on account of Lady Falworth, whom he had one time sought in marriage, and that he had sworn vengeance against the man who had won her.
Piece by piece the Earl of Mackworth recounted every circumstance and detail of the revenge that the blind man's enemy had afterwards wreaked upon him. He told Myles how, when his father was attainted of high-treason, and his estates forfeited to the crown, the King had granted the barony of Easterbridge to the then newly-created Earl of Alban in spite of all the efforts of Lord Falworth's friends to the contrary; that when he himself had come out from an audience with the King, with others of his father's friends, the Earl of Alban had boasted in the anteroom, in a loud voice, evidently intended for them all to hear, that now that he had Falworth's fat lands, he would never rest till he had hunted the blind man out from his hiding, and brought his head to the block.
"Ever since then," said the Earl of Mackworth "he hath been striving by every means to discover thy father's place of concealment. Some time, haply, he may find it, and then—"
Myles had felt for a long time that he was being moulded and shaped, and that the Earl of Mackworth's was the hand that was making him what he was growing to be; but he had never realized how great were the things expected of him should he pass the first great test, and show himself what his friends hoped to see him. Now he knew that all were looking upon him to act, sometime, as his father's champion, and when that time should come, to challenge the Earl of Alban to the ordeal of single combat, to purge his father's name of treason, to restore him to his rank, and to set the house of Falworth where it stood before misfortune fell upon it.
But it was not alone concerning his and his father's affairs that the Earl of Mackworth talked to Myles. He told him that the Earl of Alban was the Earl of Mackworth's enemy also; that in his younger days he had helped Lord Falworth, who was his kinsman, to win his wife, and that then, Lord Brookhurst had sworn to compass his ruin as he had sworn to compass the ruin of his friend. He told Myles how, now that Lord Brookhurst was grown to be Earl of Alban, and great and powerful, he was forever plotting against him, and showed Myles how, if Lord Falworth were discovered and arrested for treason, he also would be likely to suffer for aiding and abetting him. Then it dawned upon Myles that the Earl looked to him to champion the house of Beaumont as well as that of Falworth.
"Mayhap," said the Earl, "thou didst think that it was all for the pleasant sport of the matter that I have taken upon me this toil and endeavor to have thee knighted with honor that thou mightst fight the Dauphiny knight. Nay, nay, Myles Falworth, I have not labored so hard for such a small matter as that. I have had the King, unknown to himself, so knight thee that thou mayst be the peer of Alban himself, and now I would have thee to hold thine own with the Sieur de la Montaigne, to try whether thou be'st Alban's match, and to approve thyself worthy of the honor of thy knighthood. I am sorry, ne'theless," he added, after a moment's pause, "that this could not have been put off for a while longer, for my plans for bringing thee to battle with that vile Alban are not yet ripe. But such a chance of the King coming hither haps not often. And then I am glad of this much—that a good occasion offers to get thee presently away from England. I would have thee out of the King's sight so soon as may be after this jousting. He taketh a liking to thee, and I fear me lest he should inquire more nearly concerning thee and so all be discovered and spoiled. My brother George goeth upon the first of next month to France to take service with the Dauphin, having under his command a company of tenscore men—knights and archers; thou shalt go with him, and there stay till I send for thee to return."
With this, the protracted interview concluded, the Earl charging Myles to say nothing further about the French expedition for the present—even to his friend—for it was as yet a matter of secrecy, known only to the King and a few nobles closely concerned in the venture.