Chapter 12

Thus it was that Myles, with an eye to open war with the bachelors, gathered a following to his support. It was some little while before matters were brought to a crisis--a week or ten days. Perhaps even Myles had no great desire to hasten matters. He knew that whenever war was declared, he himself would have to bear the brunt of the battle, and even the bravest man hesitates before deliberately thrusting himself into a fight.

One morning Myles and Gascoyne and Wilkes sat under the shade of two trees, between which was a board nailed to the trunks, making a rude bench--always a favorite lounging-place for the lads in idle moments. Myles was polishing his bascinet with lard and wood-ashes, rubbing the metal with a piece of leather, and wiping it clean with a fustian rag. The other two, who had just been relieved from household duty, lay at length idly looking on.

Just then one of the smaller pages, a boy of twelve or thirteen, by name Robin Ingoldsby, crossed the court. He had been crying; his face was red and blubbered, and his body was still shaken with convulsive sniffs.

Myles looked up. "Come hither, Robin," he called from where he sat. "What is to do?"

The little fellow came slowly up to where the three rested in the shade. "Mowbray beat me with a strap," said he, rubbing his sleeve across his eyes, and catching his breath at the recollection.

"Beat thee, didst say?" said Myles, drawing his brows together. "Why did he beat thee?"

"Because," said Robin, "I tarried overlong in fetching a pot of beer from the buttery for him and Wyatt." Then, with a boy's sudden and easy quickness in forgetting past troubles, "Tell me, Falworth," said he, "when wilt thou give me that knife thou promised me--the one thou break the blade of yesterday?"

"I know not," said Myles, bluntly, vexed that the boy did not take the disgrace of his beating more to heart. "Some time soon, mayhap. Me thinks thou shouldst think more of thy beating than of a broken knife. Now get thee gone to thy business."

The youngster lingered for a moment or two watching Myles at his work. "What is that on the leather scrap, Falworth?" said he, curiously.

"Lard and ashes," said Myles, testily. "Get thee gone, I say, or I will crack thy head for thee;" and he picked up a block of wood, with a threatening gesture.

The youngster made a hideous grimace, and then scurried away, ducking his head, lest in spite of Myles's well-known good-nature the block should come whizzing after him.

"Hear ye that now!" cried Myles, flinging down the block again and turning to his two friends. "Beaten with straps because, forsooth, he would not fetch and carry quickly enough to please the haste of these bachelors. Oh, this passeth patience, and I for one will bear it no longer."

"Nay, Myles," said Gascoyne, soothingly, "the little imp is as lazy as a dormouse and as mischievous as a monkey. I'll warrant the hiding was his due, and that more of the like would do him good."

"Why, how dost thou talk, Francis!" said Myles, turning upon him indignantly. "Thou knowest that thou likest to see the boy beaten no more than I." Then, after a meditative pause, "How many, think ye, we muster of our company of the Rose today?"

Wilkes looked doubtfully at Gascoyne. "There be only seventeen of us here now," said he at last. "Brinton and Lambourne are away to Roby Castle in Lord George's train, and will not be back till Saturday next. And Watt Newton is in the infirmary.

"Seventeen be'st enou," said Myles, grimly. "Let us get together this afternoon, such as may, in the Brutus Tower, for I, as I did say, will no longer suffer these vile bachelors."

Gascoyne and Wilkes exchanged looks, and then the former blew a long whistle.

So that afternoon a gloomy set of young faces were gathered together in the Eyry--fifteen of the Knights of the Rose--and all knew why they were assembled. The talk which followed was conducted mostly by Myles. He addressed the others with a straightforward vim and earnestness, but the response was only half-hearted, and when at last, having heated himself up with his own fire, he sat down, puffing out his red cheeks and glaring round, a space of silence followed, the lads looked doubtfully at one another. Myles felt the chill of their silence strike coldly on his enthusiasm, and it vexed him.

"What wouldst thou do, Falworth?" said one of the knights, at last. "Wouldst have us open a quarrel with the bachelors?"

"Nay," said Myles, gruffly. "I had thought that ye would all lend me a hand in a pitched battle but now I see that ye ha' no stomach for that. Ne'theless, I tell ye plainly I will not submit longer to the bachelors. So now I will ask ye not to take any venture upon yourselves, but only this: that ye will stand by me when I do my fighting, and not let five or seven of them fall upon me at once.

"There is Walter Blunt; he is parlous strong, said one of the others, after a time of silence. "Methinks he could conquer any two of us."

"Nay," said Myles; "ye do fear him too greatly. I tell ye I fear not to stand up to try battle with him and will do so, too, if the need arise. Only say ye that ye will stand by my back."

"Marry," said Gascoyne, quaintly, "an thou wilt dare take the heavy end upon thee, I for one am willing to stand by and see that thou have thy fill of fighting."

"I too will stand thee by, Myles," said Edmund Wilkes.

"And I, and I, and I," said others, chiming in.

Those who would still have held back were carried along by the stream, and so it was settled that if the need should arise for Myles to do a bit of fighting, the others should stand by to see that he had fair play.

"When thinkest thou that thou wilt take thy stand against them, Myles?" asked Wilkes.

Myles hesitated a moment. "To-morrow," said he, grimly.

Several of the lads whistled softly.

Gascoyne was prepared for an early opening of the war, but perhaps not for such an early opening as this. "By 'r Lady, Myles, thou art hungry for brawling," said he.