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Men of Iron by  Howard Pyle

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AMBUSH

[117] IF MYLES fancied that one single victory over his enemy would cure the evil against which he fought, he was grievously mistaken; wrongs are not righted so easily as that. It was only the beginning. Other and far more bitter battles lay before him ere he could look around him and say, "I have won the victory."

For a day—for two days—the bachelors were demoralized at the fall of their leader, and the Knights of the Rose were proportionately uplifted.

The day that Blunt met his fall, the wooden tank in which the water had been poured every morning was found to have been taken away. The bachelors made a great show of indignation and inquiry. Who was it stole their tank? If they did but know, he should smart for it.

"Ho! ho!" roared Edmund Wilkes, so that the [118] whole dormitory heard him, "smoke ye not their tricks, lads? See ye not that they have stolen their own water-tank, so that they might have no need for another fight over the carrying of the water?"

The bachelors made an obvious show of not having heard what he said, and a general laugh went around. No one doubted that Wilkes had spoken the truth in his taunt, and that the bachelors had indeed stolen their own tank. So no more water was ever carried for the head squires, but it was plain to see that the war for the upperhand was not yet over.

Even if Myles had entertained comforting thoughts to the contrary, he was speedily undeceived. One morning, about a week after the fight, as he and Gascoyne were crossing the armory court, they were hailed by a group of the bachelors standing at the stone steps of the great building.

"Holloa, Falworth!" they cried. "Knowest thou that Blunt is nigh well again?"

"Nay," said Myles, "I knew it not. But I am right glad to hear it."

"Thou wilt sing a different song anon," said one of the bachelors. "I tell thee he is hot against thee, and swears when he cometh again he will carve thee soothly."

[119] "Aye, marry!" said another. "I would not be in thy skin a week hence for a ducat! Only this morning he told Philip Mowbray that he would have thy blood for the fall thou gavest him. Look to thyself, Falworth; he cometh again Wednesday or Thursday next; thou standest in a parlous state."

"Myles," said Gascoyne, as they entered the great quadrangle, "I do indeed fear me that he meaneth to do thee evil."

"I know not," said Myles, boldly; "but I fear him not." Nevertheless his heart was heavy with the weight of impending ill.

One evening the bachelors were more than usually noisy in their end of the dormitory, laughing and talking and shouting to one another.

"Holloa, you sirrah, Falworth!" called one of them along the length of the room. "Blunt cometh again to-morrow day."

Myles saw Gascoyne direct a sharp glance at him; but he answered nothing either to his enemy's words or his friend's look.

As the bachelor had said, Blunt came the next morning. It was just after chapel, and the whole body of squires was gathered in the armory waiting for the orders of the day and the calling of the roll of those chosen for household duty. Myles was sitting on a bench along the wall, talking and jest- [120] ing with some who stood by, when of a sudden his heart gave a great leap within him.

It was Walter Blunt. He came walking in at the door as if nothing had passed, and at his unexpected coming the hubbub of talk and laughter was suddenly checked. Even Myles stopped in his speech for a moment, and then continued with a beating heart and a carelessness of manner that was altogether assumed. In his hand Blunt carried the house orders for the day, and without seeming to notice Myles, he opened it and read the list of those called upon for household service.

Myles had risen, and was now standing listening with the others. When Blunt had ended reading the list of names, he rolled up the parchment, and thrust it into his belt; then swinging suddenly on his heel, he strode straight up to Myles, facing him front to front. A moment or two of deep silence followed; not a sound broke the stillness. When Blunt spoke every one in the armory heard his words.

"Sirrah!" said he, "thou didst put foul shame upon me some time sin. Never will I forget or forgive that offence, and will have a reckoning with thee right soon that thou wilt not forget to the last day of thy life."

When Myles had seen his enemy turn upon him, [121] he did not know at first what to expect; he would not have been surprised had they come to blows there and then, and he held himself prepared for any event. He faced the other pluckily enough and without flinching, and spoke up boldly in answer. "So be it, Walter Blunt; I fear thee not in whatever way thou mayst encounter me."

"Dost thou not?" said Blunt. "By'r Lady, thou'lt have cause to fear me ere I am through with thee." He smiled a baleful, lingering smile, and then turned slowly and walked away.

"What thinkest thou, Myles?" said Gascoyne, as the two left the armory together.

"I think naught," said Myles gruffly. "He will not dare to touch me to harm me. I fear him not." Nevertheless, he did not speak the full feelings of his heart.

"I know not, Myles," said Gascoyne, shaking his head doubtfully. "Walter Blunt is a parlous evil-minded knave, and methinks will do whatever evil he promiseth."

"I fear him not," said Myles again; but his heart foreboded trouble.

The coming of the head squire made a very great change in the condition of affairs. Even before that coming the bachelors had somewhat recovered from their demoralization, and now [122] again they began to pluck up their confidence and to order the younger squires and pages upon this personal service or upon that.

"See ye not," said Myles one day, when the Knights of the Rose were gathered in the Brutus Tower—"see ye not that they grow as bad as ever? An we put not a stop to this overmastery now, it will never stop."

"Best let it be, Myles," said Wilkes. "They will kill thee an thou cease not troubling them. Thou hast bred mischief enow for thyself already."

"No matter for that," said Myles; "it is not to be borne that they order others of us about as they do. I mean to speak to them to-night, and tell them it shall not be."

He was as good as his word. That night, as the youngsters were shouting and romping and skylarking, as they always did before turning in, he stood upon his cot and shouted: "Silence! List to me a little!" And then, in the hush that followed—"I want those bachelors to hear this: that we squires serve them no longer, and if they would ha' some to wait upon them, they must get them otherwheres than here. There be twenty of us to stand against them and haply more, and we mean that they shall ha' service of us no more."

Then he jumped down again from his elevated [123] stand, and an uproar of confusion instantly filled the place. What was the effect of his words upon the bachelors he could not see. What was the result he was not slow in discovering.

The next day Myles and Gascoyne were throwing their daggers for a wager at a wooden target against the wall back of the armorer's smithy. Wilkes, Gosse, and one or two others of the squires were sitting on a bench looking on, and now and then applauding a more than usually well-aimed cast of the knife. Suddenly that impish little page spoken of before, Robin Ingoldsby, thrust his shock head around the corner of the smithy, and said: "Ho, Falworth! Blunt is going to serve thee out to-day, and I myself heard him say so. He says he is going to slit thine ears." And then he was gone as suddenly as he had appeared.

Myles darted after him, caught him midway in the quadrangle, and brought him back by the scuff of the neck, squalling and struggling.

"There!" said he, still panting from the chase and seating the boy by no means gently upon the bench beside Wilkes. "Sit thou there, thou imp of evil! And now tell me what thou didst mean by thy words anon—an thou stop not thine outcry, I will cut thy throat for thee," and he made a ferocious gesture with his dagger.


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"BUT TELL ME, ROBIN INGOLDSBY, DOST KNOW AUGHT MORE OF THIS MATTER?"

[124] It was by no means easy to worm the story from the mischievous little monkey; he knew Myles too well to be in the least afraid of his threats. But at last, by dint of bribing and coaxing, Myles and his friends managed to get at the facts. The youngster had been sent to clean the riding-boots of one of the bachelors, instead of which he had lolled idly on a cot in the dormitory, until he had at last fallen asleep. He had been awakened by the opening of the dormitory door and by the sound of voices—among them was that of his taskmaster. Fearing punishment for his neglected duty, he had slipped out of the cot, and hidden himself beneath it.

Those who had entered were Walter Blunt and three of the older bachelors. Blunt's companions were trying to persuade him against something, but without avail. It was—Myles's heart thrilled and his blood boiled—to lie in wait for him, to overpower him by numbers, and to mutilate him by slitting his ears—a disgraceful punishment administered, as a rule, only for thieving and poaching.

"He would not dare to do such a thing!" cried Myles, with heaving breast and flashing eyes.

"Aye, but he would," said Gascoyne. "His father, Lord Reginald Blunt, is a great man over [125] Nottingham way, and my Lord would not dare to punish him even for such a matter as that. But tell me, Robin Ingoldsby, dost know aught more of this matter? Prithee tell it me, Robin. Where do they propose to lie in wait for Falworth?"

"In the gate-way of the Buttery Court, so as to catch him when he passes by to the armory," answered the boy.

"Are they there now?" said Wilkes.

"Aye, nine of them," said Robin. "I heard Blunt tell Mowbray to go and gather the others. He heard thee tell Gosse, Falworth, that thou wert going thither for thy arbalist this morn to shoot at the rooks withal."

"That will do, Robin," said Myles. "Thou mayst go."

And therewith the little imp scurried off, pulling the lobes of his ears suggestively as he darted around the corner.

The others looked at one another for a while in silence.

"So, comrades," said Myles at last, "what shall we do now?"

"Go, and tell Sir James," said Gascoyne, promptly.

"Nay," said Myles, "I take no such coward's part as that. I say an they hunger to fight, give them their stomachful."

[126] The others were very reluctant for such extreme measures, but Myles, as usual, carried his way, and so a pitched battle was decided upon. It was Gascoyne who suggested the plan which they afterwards followed.

Then Wilkes started away to gather together those of the Knights of the Rose not upon household duty, and Myles, with the others, went to the armor smith to have him make for them a set of knives with which to meet their enemies—knives with blades a foot long, pointed and double-edged.

The smith, leaning with his hammer upon the anvil, listened to them as they described the weapons.

"Nay, nay, Master Myles," said he, when Myles had ended by telling the use to which he intended putting them. "Thou art going all wrong in this matter. With such blades, ere this battle is ended, some one would be slain, and so murder done. Then the family of him who was killed would haply have ye cited, and mayhap it might e'en come to the hanging, for some of they boys ha' great folkeys behind them. Go ye to Tom Fletcher, Master Myles, and buy of him good yew staves, such as one might break a head withal, and with them, gin ye keep your wits, ye may hold your own against knives or short swords. I tell thee, e'en [127] though my trade be making of blades, rather would I ha' a good stout cudgel in my hand than the best dagger that ever was forged."

Myles stood thoughtfully for a moment or two; then, looking up, "Methinks thou speaketh truly, Robin," said he; "and it were ill done to have blood upon our hands."


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