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HOME > Classical Novels > Men of Iron > CHAPTER 23
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 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?”
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