| Men of Iron|
|by Howard Pyle|
|The thrilling story, set in England in the time of Henry IV, of how Myles Falworth advances to knighthood and through 'trial by battle' restores the fallen fortunes of his family. With breathless excitement, the reader follows the adventures of the hero, sympathizing with him in his troubles, fighting in his battles, and rejoicing in his good fortunes. Numerous illustrations by the author add to the attractiveness of the volume. Ages 10-14 |
HAND TO HAND
 AFTER THE first excitement of meeting, discussing, and deciding had passed, Myles began to feel the weight of the load
he had so boldly taken upon himself. He began to reckon what a serious thing it was for him to stand as a
single champion against the tyranny that had grown so strong through years of custom. Had he let himself do
so, he might almost have repented, but it was too late now for repentance. He had laid his hand to the plough,
and he must drive the furrow.
Somehow the news of impending battle had leaked out among the rest of the body of squires, and a buzz of
suppressed excitement hummed through the dormitory that evening. The bachelors, to whom, no doubt, vague
rumors had been blown, looked lowering, and talked together in
 low voices, standing apart in a group. Some of them made a rather marked show of secreting knives in the straw
of their beds, and no doubt it had its effect upon more than one young heart that secretly thrilled at the
sight of the shining blades. However, all was undisturbed that evening. The lights were put out, and the lads
retired with more than usual quietness, only for the murmur of whispering.
All night Myles's sleep was more or less disturbed by dreams in which he was now conquering, now being
conquered, and before the day had fairly broken he was awake. He lay upon his cot, keying himself up for the
encounter which he had set upon himself to face, and it would not be the truth to say that the sight of those
knives hidden in the straw the night before had made no impression upon him. By-and-by he knew the others were
beginning to awake, for he heard them softly stirring, and as the light grew broad and strong, saw them arise,
one by one, and begin dressing in the gray morning. Then he himself arose and put on his doublet and hose,
strapping his belt tightly about his waist; then he sat down on the side of his cot.
Presently that happened for which he was waiting; two of the younger squires started to
 bring the bachelors' morning supply of water. As they crossed the room Myles called to them in a loud
voice—a little uneven, perhaps: "Stop! We draw no more water for any one in this house, saving only for
ourselves. Set ye down those buckets, and go back to your places!"
The two lads stopped, half turned, and then stood still, holding the three buckets undecidedly.
In a moment all was uproar and confusion, for by this time every one of the lads had arisen, some sitting on
the edge of their beds, some nearly, others quite dressed. A half-dozen of the Knights of the Rose came over
to where Myles stood, gathering in a body behind him and the others followed, one after another.
The bachelors were hardly prepared for such prompt and vigorous action.
"What is to do?" cried one of them, who stood near the two lads with the buckets. "Why fetch ye not the
"Falworth says we shall not fetch it," answered one of the lads, a boy by the name of Gosse.
"What mean ye by that, Falworth?" the young man called to Myles.
Myles's heart was beating thickly and heavily within him, but nevertheless he spoke up boldly enough. "I
mean," said he, "that from henceforth
 ye shall fetch and carry for yourselves."
"Look'ee, Blunt," called the bachelor; "here is Falworth says they squires will fetch no more water for us."
The head bachelor had heard all that had passed, and was even then hastily slipping on his doublet and hose.
"Now, then, Falworth," said he at last, striding forward, "what is to do? Ye will fetch no more water, eh? By
'r Lady, I will know the reason why."
He was still advancing towards Myles, with two or three of the older bachelors at his heels, when Gascoyne
"Thou hadst best stand back, Blunt," said he, "else thou mayst be hurt. We will not have ye bang Falworth
again as ye once did, so stand thou back!"
Blunt stopped short and looked upon the lads standing behind Myles, some of them with faces a trifle pale
perhaps, but all grim and determined looking enough. Then he turned upon his heel suddenly, and walked back to
the far end of the dormitory, where the bachelors were presently clustered together. A few words passed
between them, and then the thirteen began at once arming themselves, some with wooden clogs, and some with the
knives which they had so openly
con-  cealed the night before. At the sign of imminent battle, all those not actively interested scuttled away to
right and left, climbing up on the benches and cots, and leaving a free field to the combatants. The next
moment would have brought bloodshed.
Now Myles, thanks to the training of the Crosbey-Dale smith, felt tolerably sure that in a wrestling bout he
was a match—perhaps more than a match—for any one of the body of squires, and he had determined,
if possible, to bring the battle to a single-handed encounter upon that footing. Accordingly he suddenly
stepped forward before the others.
"Look'ee, fellow," he called to Blunt, "thou art he who struck me whilst I was down some while since. Wilt
thou let this quarrel stand between thee and me, and meet me man to man without weapon? See, I throw me down
mine own, and will meet thee with bare hands." And as he spoke, he tossed the clog he held in his hand back
upon the cot.
"So be it," said Blunt, with great readiness, tossing down a similar weapon which he himself held.
"Do not go, Myles," cried Gascoyne, "he is a villain and a traitor, and would betray thee to thy
 death. I saw him when he first gat from bed hide a knife in his doublet."
"Thou liest!" said Blunt. "I swear, by my faith, I be barehanded as ye see me! Thy friend accuses me, Myles
Falworth, because he knoweth thou art afraid of me."
"There thou liest most vilely!" exclaimed Myles. "Swear that thou hast no knife, and I will meet thee."
"Hast thou not heard me say that I have no knife?" said Blunt. "What more wouldst thou have?"
"Then I will meet thee halfway," said Myles.
Gascoyne caught him by the sleeve, and would have withheld him, assuring him that he had seen the bachelor
conceal a knife. But Myles, hot for the fight, broke away from his friend without listening to him.
As the two advanced steadily towards one another a breathless silence fell upon the dormitory in sharp
contrast to the uproar and confusion that had filled it a moment before. The lads, standing some upon benches,
some upon beds, all watched with breathless interest the meeting of the two champions.
As they approached one another they stopped and stood for a moment a little apart, glaring the
 one upon the other. They seemed ill enough matched; Blunt was fully half a head taller than Myles, and was
thick-set and close-knit in young manhood. Nothing but Myles's undaunted pluck could have led him to dare to
face an enemy so much older and stouter than himself.
The pause was only for a moment. They who looked saw Blunt slide his hand furtively towards his bosom. Myles
saw too, and in the flash of an instant knew what the gesture meant, and sprang upon the other before the hand
could grasp what it sought. As he clutched his enemy he felt what he had in that instant expected to
feel—the handle of a dagger. The next moment he cried, in a loud voice: "Oh, thou villain! Help,
Gascoyne! He hath a knife under his doublet!"
In answer to his cry for help, Myles's friends started to his aid. But the bachelors shouted, "Stand back and
let them fight it out alone, else we will knife ye too." And as they spoke, some of them leaped from the
benches whereon they stood, drawing their knives and flourishing them.
For just a few seconds Myles's friends stood cowed, and in those few seconds the fight came to an end with a
suddenness unexpected to all.
A struggle fierce and silent followed between the two; Blunt striving to draw his knife, and
 Myles, with the energy of despair, holding him tightly by the wrist. It was in vain the elder lad writhed and
twisted; he was strong enough to overbear Myles, but still was not able to clutch the haft of his knife.
"Thou shalt not draw it!" gasped Myles at last. "Thou shalt not stab me!"
Then again some of his friends started forward to his aid, but they were not needed, for before they came, the
fight was over.
Blunt, finding that he was not able to draw the weapon, suddenly ceased his endeavors, and flung his arms
around Myles, trying to bear him down upon the ground, and in that moment his battle was lost.
In an instant—so quick, so sudden, so unexpected that no one could see how it happened—his feet
were whirled away from under him, he spun with flying arms across Myles's loins, and pitched with a thud upon
the stone pavement, where he lay still, motionless, while Myles, his face white with passion and his eyes
gleaming, stood glaring around like a young wild-boar beset by the dogs.
The next moment the silence was broken, and the uproar broke forth with redoubled violence. The bachelors,
leaping from the benches, came
 hurrying forward on one side, and Myles's friends from the other.
"Thou shalt smart for this, Falworth," said one of the older lads. "Belike thou hast slain him!"
Myles turned upon the speaker like a flash, and with such a passion of fury in his face that the other, a
fellow nearly a head taller than he, shrank back, cowed in spite of himself. Then Gascoyne came and laid his
hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Who touches me?" cried Myles, hoarsely, turning sharply upon him; and then, seeing who it was, "Oh, Francis,
they would ha' killed me!"
"Come away, Myles," said Gascoyne; "thou knowest not what thou doest; thou art mad; come away. What if thou
hadst killed him?"
The words called Myles somewhat to himself. "I care not!" said he, but sullenly and not passionately, and then
he suffered Gascoyne and Wilkes to lead him away.
THEY BORE HIM AWAY TO A BENCH AT THE FAR END OF THE ROOM.
Meantime Blunt's friends had turned him over, and, after feeling his temples, his wrist, and his heart, bore
him away to a bench at the far end of the room. There they fell to chafing his hands and sprinkling water in
his face, a crowd of the others gathering about. Blunt was hidden from Myles by those who stood around, and
the lad listened to the broken talk that filled the room with its
con-  fusion, his anxiety growing keener as he became cooler. But at last, with a heartfelt joy, he gathered from
the confused buzz of words that the other lad had opened his eyes and, after a while, he saw him sit up,
leaning his head upon the shoulder of one of his fellow-bachelors, white and faint and sick as death.
"Thank Heaven that thou didst not kill him!" said Edmund Wilkes, who had been standing with the crowd looking
on at the efforts of Blunt's friends to revive him, and who had now come and sat down upon the bed not far
"Aye," said Myles, gruffly, "I do thank Heaven for that."
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics