And now, at last, had come the day of days for Myles Falworth; the day when he was to put to the test all that he had acquired in the three years of his training, the day that was to disclose what promise of future greatness there was in his strong young body. And it was a noble day; one of those of late September, when the air seems sweeter and fresher than at other times; the sun bright and as yellow as gold, the wind lusty and strong, before which the great white clouds go sailing majestically across the bright blueness of the sky above, while their dusky shadows skim across the brown face of the rusty earth beneath.
As was said before, the lists had been set up in the great quadrangle of the castle, than which, level and smooth as a floor, no more fitting place could be chosen. The course was of the usual size --sixty paces long--and separated along its whole length by a barrier about five feet high. Upon the west side of the course and about twenty paces distant from it, a scaffolding had been built facing towards the east so as to avoid the glare of the afternoon sun. In the centre was a raised dais, hung round with cloth of blue embroidered with lions rampant. Upon the dais stood a cushioned throne for the King, and upon the steps below, ranged in the order of their dignity, were seats for the Earl, his guests, the family, the ladies, knights, and gentlemen of the castle. In front, the scaffolding was covered with the gayest tapestries and brightest-colored hangings that the castle could afford. And above, parti-colored pennants and streamers, surmounted by the royal ensign of England, waved and fluttered in the brisk wind.
At either end of the lists stood the pavilions of the knights. That of Myles was at the southern extremity and was hung, by the Earl's desire, with cloth of the Beaumont colors (black and yellow), while a wooden shield bearing three goshawks spread (the crest of the house) was nailed to the roof, and a long streamer of black and yellow trailed out in the wind from the staff above. Myles, partly armed, stood at the door-way of the pavilion, watching the folk gathering at the scaffolding. The ladies of the house were already seated, and the ushers were bustling hither and thither, assigning the others their places. A considerable crowd of common folk and burghers from the town had already gathered at the barriers opposite, and as he looked at the restless and growing multitude he felt his heart beat quickly and his flesh grow cold with a nervous trepidation --just such as the lad of to-day feels when he sees the auditorium filling with friends and strangers who are to listen by-and-by to the reading of his prize poem.
Suddenly there came a loud blast of trumpets. A great gate at the farther extremity of the lists was thrown open, and the King appeared, riding upon a white horse, preceded by the King-at-arms and the heralds, attended by the Earl and the Comte de Vermoise, and followed by a crowd of attendants. Just then Gascoyne, who, with Wilkes, was busied lacing some of the armor plates with new thongs, called Myles, and he turned and entered the pavilion.
As the two squires were adjusting these last pieces, strapping them in place and tying the thongs, Lord George and Sir James Lee entered the pavilion. Lord George took the young man by the hand, and with a pleasant smile wished him success in the coming encounter.
Sir James seemed anxious and disturbed. He said nothing, and after Gascoyne had placed the open bascinet that supports the tilting helm in its place, he came forward and examined the armor piece by piece, carefully and critically, testing the various straps and leather points and thongs to make sure of their strength.
"Sir," said Gascoyne, who stood by watching him anxiously, "I do trust that I have done all meetly and well."
"I see nothing amiss, sirrah," said the old knight, half grudgingly. "So far as I may know, he is ready to mount."
Just then a messenger entered, saying that the King was seated, and Lord George bade Myles make haste to meet the challenger.
"Francis," said Myles, "prithee give me my pouch yonder."
Gascoyne handed him the velvet bag, and he opened it, and took out the necklace that the Lady Alice had given him the day before.
"Tie me this around my arm," said he. He looked down, keeping his eyes studiously fixed on Gascoyne's fingers, as they twined the thin golden chain around the iron plates of his right arm, knowing that Lord George's eyes were upon him, and blushing fiery red at the knowledge.
Sir James was at that moment examining the great tilting helm, and Lord George watched him, smiling amusedly. "And hast thou then already chosen thee a lady?" he said, presently.
"Aye, my Lord," answered Myles, simply.
"Marry, I trust we be so honored that she is one of our castle folk," said the Earl's brother.
For a moment Myles did not reply; then he looked up. "My Lord," said he, "the favor was given to me by the Lady Alice."
Lord George looked grave for the moment; then he laughed. "Marry, thou art a bold archer to shoot for such high game."
Myles did not answer, and at that moment two grooms led his horse up to the door of the pavilion. Gascoyne and Wilkes helped him to his saddle, and then, Gascoyne holding his horse by the bridle-rein, he rode slowly across the lists to the little open space in front of the scaffolding and the King's seat just as the Sieur de la Montaigne approached from the opposite direction.
As soon as the two knights champion had reached each his appointed station in front of the scaffolding, the Marshal bade the speaker read the challenge, which, unrolling the parchment, he began to do in a loud, clear voice, so that all might hear. It was a quaint document, wrapped up in the tangled heraldic verbiage of the time.
The pith of the matter was that the Sieur Brian Philip Francis de la Montaigne proclaimed before all men the greater chivalry and skill at arms of the knights of France and of Dauphiny, and likewise the greater fairness of the ladies of France and Dauphiny, and would there defend those sayings with his body without fear or attaint as to the truth of the same. As soon as the speaker had ended, the Marshal bade him call the defendant of the other side.
Then Myles spoke his part, with a voice trembling somewhat with the excitement of the moment, but loudly and clearly enough: "I, Myles Edward Falworth, knight, so created by the hand and by the grace of his Majesty King Henry IV of England, do take upon me the gage of this battle, and will defend with my body the chivalry of the knights of England and the fairness of the ladies thereof!"
Then, after the speaker ended his proclamation and had retired to his place, the ceremony of claiming and redeeming the helmet, to which all young knights were subjected upon first entering the lists, was performed.
One of the heralds cried in a loud voice, "I, Gilles Hamerton, herald to the most noble Clarencieux King-at-arms, do claim the helm of Sir Myles Edward Falworth by this reason, that he hath never yet entered joust or tourney."
To which Myles answered, "I do acknowledge the right of that claim, and herewith proffer thee in ransom for the same this purse of one hundred marks in gold."
As he spoke, Gascoyne stepped forward and delivered the purse, with the money, to the Herald. It was a more than usually considerable ransom, and had been made up by the Earl and Lord George that morning.
"Right nobly hast thou redeemed thy helm," said the Herald, "and hereafter be thou free to enter any jousting whatsoever, and in whatever place."
So, all being ended, both knights bowed to the King, and then, escorted each by his squire, returned to his pavilion, saluted by the spectators with a loud clapping of hands.
Sir James Lee met Myles in front of his tent. Coming up to the side of the horse, the old man laid his hand upon the saddle, looking up into the young man's face.
"Thou wilt not fail in this venture and bring shame upon me?" said he.
"Nay, my dear master," said Myles; "I will do my best."
"I doubt it not," said the old man; "and I believe me thou wilt come off right well. From what he did say this morning, methinks the Sieur de la Montaigne meaneth only to break three lances with thee, and will content himself therewith, without seeking to unhorse thee. Ne'theless, be thou bold and watchful, and if thou find that he endeavor to cast thee, do thy best to unhorse him. Remember also those things which I have told thee ten thousand times before: hold thy toes well down and grip the stirrup hard, more especially at the moment of meeting; bend thy body forward, and keep thine elbow close to thy side. Bear thy lance point one foot above thine adversary's helm until within two lengths of meeting, and strike thou in the very middle of his shield. So, Myles, thou mayst hold thine own, and come off with glory."
As he ended speaking he drew back, and Gascoyne, mounting upon a stool, covered his friend's head and bascinet with the great jousting helm, making fast the leathern points that held it to the iron collar.
As he was tying the last thong a messenger came from the Herald, saying that the challenger was ready, and then Myles knew the time had come, and reaching down and giving Sir James a grip of the hand, he drew on his gauntlet, took the jousting lance that Wilkes handed him, and turned his horse's head towards his end of the lists.