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HOME > Classical Novels > Men of Iron > CHAPTER 17
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 The summer passed away, and the bleak fall came. Myles had long since accepted his position as one set apart from the others of his kind, and had resigned himself to the evident fact that he was never to serve in the household in waiting upon the Earl. I cannot say that it never troubled him, but in time there came a compensation of which I shall have presently to speak.  
And then he had so much the more time to himself. The other lads were sometimes occupied by their household duties when sports were afoot in which they would liked to have taken part. Myles was always free to enter into any matter of the kind after his daily exercise had been performed at the pels, the butts, or the tilting-court.
But even though he was never called to do service in “my Lord's house,” he was not long in gaining a sort of second-hand knowledge of all the family. My Lady, a thin, sallow, faded dame, not yet past middle age, but looking ten years older. The Lady Anne, the daughter of the house; a tall, thin, dark-eyed, dark-haired, handsome young dame of twenty or twenty-one years of age, hawk-nosed like her father, and silent, proud, and haughty, Myles heard the squires say. Lady Alice, the Earl of Mackworth's niece and ward, a great heiress in her own right, a strikingly pretty black-eyed girl of fourteen or fifteen.
These composed the Earl's personal family; but besides them was Lord George Beaumont, his Earl's brother, and him Myles soon came to know better than any of the chief people of the castle excepting Sir James Lee.
For since Myles's great battle in the armory, Lord George had taken a laughing sort of liking to the lad, encouraging him at times to talk of his adventures, and of his hopes and aspirations.
Perhaps the Earl's younger brother—who was himself somewhat a soldier of fortune, having fought in Spain, France, and Germany—felt a certain kinship in spirit with the adventurous youngster who had his unfriended way to make in the world. However that might have been, Lord George was very kind and friendly to the lad, and the willing service that Myles rendered him reconciled him not a little to the Earl's obvious neglect.
Besides these of the more immediate family of the Earl were a number of knights, ladies, and gentlemen, some of them cadets, some of them retainers, of the house of Beaumont, for the princely nobles of those days lived in state little less royal than royalty itself.
Most of the knights and gentlemen Myles soon came to know by sight, meeting them in Lord George's apartments in the south wing of the great house, and some of them, following the lead of Lord George, singled him out for friendly notice, giving him a nod or a word in passing.
Every season has its pleasures for boys, and the constant change that they bring is one of the greatest delights of boyhood's days.
All of us, as we grow older, have in our memory pictures of by-gone times that are somehow more than usually vivid, the colors of some not blurring by time as others do. One of which, in remembering, always filled Myles's heart in after-years with an indefinable pleasure, was the recollection of standing with others of his fellow squires in the crisp brown autumn grass of the paddock, and shooting with the long-bow at wildfowl, which, when the east wind was straining, flew low overhead to pitch to the lake in the forbidden precincts of the deer park beyond the brow of the hill. More than once a brace or two of these wildfowl, shot in their southward flight by the lads and cooked by fat, good-natured Mother Joan, graced the rude mess-table of the squires in the long hall, and even the toughest and fishiest drake, so the fruit of their skill, had a savor that, somehow or other, the daintiest fare lacked in after-years.
Then fall passed and winter came, bleak, cold, and dreary—not winter as we know it nowadays, with warm fires and bright lights to make the long nights sweet and cheerful with comfort, but winter with all its grimness and sternness. In the great cold stone-walled castles of those days the only fire and almost the only light were those from the huge blazing logs that roared and crackled in the great open stone fireplace, around which the folks gathered, sheltering their faces as best they could from the scorching heat, and cloaking their shoulders from the biting cold, for at the farther end of the room, where giant shadows swayed and bowed and danced huge and black against the high walls, the white frost glistened in the moonlight on the stone pavements, and the breath went up like smoke.
In those days were no books to read, but at the best only rude stories and jests, recited by some strolling mummer or minstrel to the listening circle, gathered around the blaze and welcoming the coarse, gross jests, and coarser, grosser songs with roars of boisterous laughter.
Yet bleak and dreary as was the winter in those days, and cold and biting as was the frost in the cheerless, windy halls and corridors of the castle, it was not without its joys to the young lads; for then, as now, boys could find pleasure even in slushy weather, when the sodden snow is fit for nothing but to make snowballs of.
Thrice that bitter winter the moat was frozen over, and the lads, making themselves skates of marrow-bones, which they bought from the hall cook at a groat a pair, went skimming over the smooth surface, red-checked and shouting, while the crows and the jackdaws looked down at them from the top of the bleak gray walls.
Then at Yule-tide, which was somewhat of a rude semblance to the Merry Christmas season of our day, a great feast was held in the hall, and all the castle folk were fed in the presence of the Earl and the Countess. Oxen and sheep were roasted whole; huge suet puddings, made of barley meal sweetened with honey and stuffed with plums, were boiled in great caldrons in the open courtyard; whole barrels of ale and malmsey were broached, and all the folk, gentle and simple, were bidden to the feast. Afterwards the minstrels danced and played a rude play, and in the evening a miracle show was performed on a raised platform ............
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