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Men of Iron by  Howard Pyle

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A VISIT HOME

[266] IT WAS not until more than three weeks after the King had left Devlen Castle that Lord George and his company of knights and archers were ready for the expedition to France. Two weeks of that time Myles spent at Crosbey-Dale with his father and mother. It was the first time that he had seen them since, four years ago, he had quitted the low, narrow, white-walled farmhouse for the castle of the great Earl of Mackworth. He had never appreciated before how low and narrow and poor the farm-house was. Now, with his eyes trained to the bigness of Devlen Castle, he looked around him with wonder and pity at his father's humble surroundings. He realized as he never else could have realized how great was the fall in fortune that had cast the house of Falworth down from its [267] rightful station to such a level as that upon which it now rested. And at the same time that he thus recognized how poor was their lot, how dependent upon the charity of others, he also recognized how generous was the friendship of Prior Edward, who perilled his own safety so greatly in affording the family of the attainted Lord an asylum in its bitter hour of need and peril.


[Illustration]

PRIOR EDWARD AND MYLES IN THE PRIORY GARDEN.

Myles paid many visits to the gentle old priest during those two weeks' visit, and had many long and serious talks with him. One warm bright afternoon, as he and the old man walked together in the priory garden, after a game or two of draughts, the young knight talked more freely and openly of his plans, his hopes, his ambitions, than perhaps he had ever done. He told the old man all that the Earl had disclosed to him concerning the fallen fortunes of his father's house, and of how all who knew those circumstances looked to him to set the family in its old place once more. Prior Edward added many things to those which Myles already knew—things of which the Earl either did not know, or did not choose to speak. He told the young man, among other matters, the reason of the bitter and lasting enmity that the King felt for the blind nobleman: that Lord Falworth had been one of King Richard's council in times past; that it [268] was not a little owing to him that King Henry, when Earl of Derby, had been banished from England, and that though he was then living in the retirement of private life, he bitterly and steadfastly opposed King Richard's abdication. He told Myles that at the time when Sir John Dale found shelter at Falworth Castle, vengeance was ready to fall upon his father at any moment, and it needed only such a pretext as that of sheltering so prominent a conspirator as Sir John to complete his ruin.

Myles, as he listened intently, could not but confess in his own mind that the King had many rational, perhaps just, grounds for grievance against such an ardent opponent as the blind Lord had shown himself to be. "But, sir," said he, after a little space of silence, when Prior Edward had ended, "to hold enmity and to breed treason are very different matters. Haply my father was Bolingbroke's enemy, but, sure, thou dost not believe he is justly and rightfully tainted with treason?"

"Nay," answered the priest, "how canst thou ask me such a thing? Did I believe thy father a traitor, thinkest thou I would thus tell his son thereof? Nay, Myles, I do know thy father well, and have known him for many years, and this of him, that few men are so honorable in heart and soul as he. [269] But I have told thee all these things to show that the King is not without some reason to be thy father's unfriend. Neither, haply, is the Earl of Alban without cause of enmity against him. So thou, upon thy part, shouldst not feel bitter rancor against the King for what hath happed to thy house, nor even against William Brookhurst—I mean the Earl of Alban—for, I tell thee, the worst of our enemies and the worst of men believe themselves always to have right and justice upon their side, even when they most wish evil to others."

So spoke the gentle old priest, who looked from his peaceful haven with dreamy eyes upon the sweat and tussle of the world's battle. Had he instead been in the thick of the fight, it might have been harder for him to believe that his enemies ever had right upon their side.

"But tell me this," said Myles, presently, "dost thou, then, think that I do evil in seeking to do a battle of life or death with this wicked Earl of Alban, who hath so ruined my father in body and fortune?"

"Nay," said Prior Edward, thoughtfully, "I say not that thou doest evil. War and bloodshed seem hard and cruel matters to me; but God hath given that they be in the world, and may He forbid that such a poor worm as I should say that they be [270] all wrong and evil. Meseems even an evil thing is sometimes passing good when rightfully used."

Myles did not fully understand what the old man meant, but this much he gathered, that his spiritual father did not think ill of his fighting the Earl of Alban for his temporal father's sake.

So Myles went to France in Lord George's company, a soldier of fortune, as his Captain was. He was there for only six months, but those six months wrought a great change in his life. In the fierce factional battles that raged around the walls of Paris; in the evil life which he saw at the Burgundian court in Paris itself after the truce—a court brilliant and wicked, witty and cruel—the wonderful liquor of youth had evaporated rapidly, and his character had crystallized as rapidly into the hardness of manhood. The warfare, the blood, the evil pleasures which he had seen had been a fiery, crucible test to his soul, and I love my hero that he should have come forth from it so well. He was no longer the innocent Sir Galahad who had walked in pure white up the Long Hall to be knighted by the King, but his soul was of that grim, sterling, rugged sort that looked out calmly from his gray eyes upon the wickedness and debauchery around him, and loved it not.

Then one day a courier came, bringing a packet. [271] It was a letter from the Earl, bidding Myles return straightway to England and to Mackworth House upon the Strand, nigh to London, without delay, and Myles knew that his time had come.

It was a bright day in April when he and Gascoyne rode clattering out through Temple Bar, leaving behind them quaint old London town, its blank stone wall, its crooked, dirty streets, its high-gabled wooden houses, over which rose the sharp spire of St. Paul's, towering high into the golden air. Before them stretched the straight, broad highway of the Strand, on one side the great houses and palaces of princely priests and powerful nobles; on the other the Covent Garden, (or the Convent Garden, as it was then called), and the rolling country, where great stone windmills swung their slow-moving arms in the damp, soft April breeze, and away in the distance the Scottish Palace, the White Hall, and Westminster.

It was the first time that Myles had seen famous London town. In that dim and distant time of his boyhood, six months before, he would have been wild with delight and enthusiasm. Now he jogged along with Gascoyne, gazing about him with calm interest at open shops and booths and tall, gabled houses; at the busy throng of merchants and craftsmen, jostling and elbowing one another; at [272] townsfolk—men and dames—picking their way along the muddy kennel of a sidewalk. He had seen so much of the world that he had lost somewhat of interest in new things. So he did not care to tarry, but rode, with a mind heavy with graver matters, through the streets and out through the Temple Bar direct for Mackworth House, near the Savoy Palace.

It was with a great deal of interest that Myles and his patron regarded one another when they met for the first time after that half-year which the young soldier had spent in France. To Myles it seemed somehow very strange that his Lordship's familiar face and figure should look so exactly the same. To Lord Mackworth, perhaps, it seemed even more strange that six short months should have wrought so great a change in the young man. The rugged exposure in camp and field during the hard winter that had passed had roughened the smooth bloom of his boyish complexion and bronzed his fair skin almost as much as a midsummer's sun could have done. His beard and mustache had grown again, (now heavier and more mannish from having been shaved), and the white seam of a scar over the right temple gave, if not a stern, at least a determined look to the strong, square-jawed young face. So the two stood [273] for a while regarding one another. Myles was the first to break the silence.

"My Lord," said he, "thou didst send for me to come back to England; behold, here am I."

"When didst thou land, Sir Myles?" said the Earl.

"I and my squire landed at Dover upon Tuesday last," answered the young man.

The Earl of Mackworth stroked his beard softly. "Thou art marvellous changed," said he. "I would not have thought it possible."

Myles smiled somewhat grimly. "I have seen such things, my Lord, in France and in Paris," said he, quietly, "as, mayhap, may make a lad a man before his time."

"From which I gather," said the Earl, "that many adventures have befallen thee. Methought thou wouldst find troublesome times in the Dauphin's camp, else I would not have sent thee to France."

A little space of silence followed, during which the Earl sat musingly, half absently, regarding the tall, erect, powerful young figure standing before him, awaiting his pleasure in motionless, patient, almost dogged silence. The strong, sinewy hands were clasped and rested upon the long heavy sword, around the scabbard of which the belt was [274] loosely wrapped, and the plates of mail caught and reflected in flashing, broken pieces, the bright sunlight from the window behind.

"Sir Myles," said the Earl, suddenly, breaking the silence at last, "dost thou know why I sent for thee hither?"

"Aye," said Myles, calmly, "how can I else? Thou wouldst not have called me from Paris but for one thing. Methinks thou hast sent for me to fight the Earl of Alban, and lo! I am here."

"Thou speakest very boldly," said the Earl. "I do hope that thy deeds be as bold as thy words."

"That," said Myles, "thou must ask other men. Methinks no one may justly call me coward."

"By my troth!" said the Earl, smiling, "looking upon thee—limbs and girth, bone and sinew—I would not like to be the he that would dare accuse thee of such a thing. As for thy surmise, I may tell thee plain that thou art right, and that it was to fight the Earl of Alban I sent for thee hither. The time is now nearly ripe, and I will straightway send for thy father to come to London. Meantime it would not be safe either for thee or for me to keep thee in my service. I have spoken to his Highness the Prince of Wales, who, with other of the Princes, is upon our side in this quarrel. He hath promised to take thee into his service until [275] the fitting time comes to bring thee and thine enemy together, and to-morrow I shall take thee to Scotland Yard, where his Highness is now lodging."

As the Earl ended his speech, Myles bowed, but did not speak. The Earl waited for a little while, as though to give him the opportunity to answer.

"Well, sirrah," said he at last, with a shade of impatience, "hast thou naught to say? Meseems thou takest all this with marvellous coolness."

"Have I then my Lord's permission to speak my mind?"

"Aye," said the Earl, "say thy say."

"Sir," said Myles, "I have thought and pondered this matter much while abroad, and would now ask thee a plain question in all honest an I ha' thy leave."

The Earl nodded his head.

"Sir, am I not right in believing that thou hast certain weighty purposes and aims of thine own to gain an I win this battle against the Earl of Alban?"

"Has my brother George been telling thee aught to such a purpose?" said the Earl, after a moment or two of silence.

Myles did not answer.

"No matter," added Lord Mackworth. "I will [276] not ask thee who told thee such a thing. As for thy question—well, sin thou ask it frankly, I will be frank with thee. Yea, I have certain ends to gain in having the Earl of Alban overthrown."

Myles bowed. "Sir," said he, "haply thine ends are as much beyond aught that I can comprehend as though I were a little child; only this I know, that they must be very great. Thou knowest well that in any case I would fight me this battle for my father's sake and for the honor of my house; nevertheless, in return for all that it will so greatly advantage thee, wilt thou not grant me a boon in return should I overcome mine enemy?"

"What is thy boon, Sir Myles?"

"That thou wilt grant me thy favor to seek the Lady Alice de Mowbray for my wife."

The Earl of Mackworth started up from his seat. "Sir Myles Falworth"—he began, violently, and then stopped short, drawing his bushy eyebrows together into a frown stern, if not sinister.

Myles withstood his look calmly and impassively, and presently the Earl turned on his heel, and strode to the open window. A long time passed in silence while he stood there, gazing out of the window into the garden beyond with his back to the young man.

Suddenly he swung around again. "Sir Myles," [277] said he, "the family of Falworth is as good as any in Derbyshire. Just now it is poor and fallen in estate, but if it is again placed in credit and honor, thou, who art the son of the house, shalt have thy suit weighed with as much respect and consideration as though thou wert my peer in all things, Such is my answer. Art thou satisfied?"

"I could ask no more," answered Myles.


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