He was a tall man, taller even than Myles's father. He had a thin face, deep-set bushy eyebrows, and a hawk nose. His upper lip was clean shaven, but from his chin a flowing beard of iron- gray hung nearly to his waist. He was clad in a riding-gown of black velvet that hung a little lower than the knee, trimmed with otter fur and embroidered with silver goshawks--the crest of the family of Beaumont.
A light shirt of link mail showed beneath the gown as he walked, and a pair of soft undressed leather riding-boots were laced as high as the knee, protecting his scarlet hose from mud and dirt. Over his shoulders he wore a collar of enamelled gold, from which hung a magnificent jewelled pendant, and upon his fist he carried a beautiful Iceland falcon.
As Myles stood staring, he suddenly heard Gascoyne's voice whisper in his ear, "Yon is my Lord; go forward and give him thy letter."
Scarcely knowing what he did, he walked towards the Earl like a machine, his heart pounding within him and a great humming in his ears. As he drew near, the nobleman stopped for a moment and stared at him, and Myles, as in a dream, kneeled, and presented the letter. The Earl took it in his hand, turned it this way and that, looked first at the bearer, then at the packet, and then at the bearer again.
"Who art thou?" said he; "and what is the matter thou wouldst have of me?"
"I am Myles Falworth," said the lad, in a low voice; "and I come seeking service with you."
The Earl drew his thick eyebrows quickly together, and shot a keen look at the lad. "Falworth?" said he, sharply--"Falworth? I know no Falworth!"
"The letter will tell you," said Myles. "It is from one once dear to you."
The Earl took the letter, and handing it to a gentleman who stood near, bade him break the seal. "Thou mayst stand," said he to Myles; "needst not kneel there forever." Then, taking the opened parchment again, he glanced first at the face and then at the back, and, seeing its length, looked vexed. Then he read for an earnest moment or two, skipping from line to line. Presently he folded the letter and thrust it into the pouch at his side. "So it is, your Grace," said he to the lordly prelate, "that we who have luck to rise in the world must ever suffer by being plagued at all times and seasons. Here is one I chanced to know a dozen years ago, who thinks he hath a claim upon me, and saddles me with his son. I must e'en take the lad, too, for the sake of peace and quietness." He glanced around, and seeing Gascoyne, who had drawn near, beckoned to him. "Take me this fellow," said he, "to the buttery, and see him fed; and then to Sir James Lee, and have his name entered in the castle books. And stay, sirrah," he added; "bid me Sir James, if it may be so done, to enter him as a squire-at-arms. Methinks he will be better serving so than in the household, for he appeareth a soothly rough cub for a page."
Myles did look rustic enough, standing clad in frieze in the midst of that gay company, and a murmur of laughter sounded around, though he was too bewildered to fully understand that he was the cause of the merriment. Then some hand drew him back--it was Gascoyne's--there was a bustle of people passing, and the next minute they were gone, and Myles and old Diccon Bowman and the young squire were left alone in the anteroom.
Gascoyne looked very sour and put out. "Murrain upon it!" said he; "here is good sport spoiled for me to see thee fed. I wish no ill to thee, friend, but I would thou hadst come this afternoon or to-morrow."
"Methinks I bring trouble and dole to every one," said Myles, somewhat bitterly. "It would have been better had I never come to this place, methinks."
His words and tone softened Gascoyne a little. "Ne'er mind," said the squire; "it was not thy fault, and is past mending now. So come and fill thy stomach, in Heaven's name."
Perhaps not the least hard part of the whole trying day for Myles was his parting with Diccon. Gascoyne and he had accompanied the old retainer to the outer gate, in the archway of which they now stood; for without a permit they could go no farther. The old bowman led by the bridle- rein the horse upon which Myles had ridden that morning. His own nag, a vicious brute, was restive to be gone, but Diccon held him in with tight rein. He reached down, and took Myles's sturdy brown hand in his crooked, knotted grasp.
"Farewell, young master," he croaked, tremulously, with a watery glimmer in his pale eyes. "Thou wilt not forget me when I am gone?"
"Nay," said Myles; "I will not forget thee."
"Aye, aye," said the old man, looking down at him, and shaking his head slowly from side to side; "thou art a great tall sturdy fellow now, yet have I held thee on my knee many and many's the time, and dandled thee when thou wert only a little weeny babe. Be still, thou devil's limb!" he suddenly broke off, reining back his restive raw- boned steed, which began again to caper and prance. Myles was not sorry for the interruption; he felt awkward and abashed at the parting, and at the old man's reminiscences, knowing that Gascoyne's eyes were resting amusedly upon the scene, and that the men-at-arms were looking on. Certainly old Diccon did look droll as he struggled vainly with his vicious high-necked nag. "Nay, a murrain on thee! an' thou wilt go, go!" cried he at last, with a savage dig of his heels into the animal's ribs, and away they clattered, the led-horse kicking up its heels as a final parting, setting Gascoyne fairly alaughing. At the bend of the road the old man turned and nodded his head; the next moment he had disappeared around the angle of the wall, and it seemed to Myles, as he stood looking after him, as though the last thread that bound him to his old life had snapped and broken. As he turned he saw that Gascoyne was looking at him.
"Dost feel downhearted?" said the young squire, curiously.
"Nay," said Myles, brusquely. Nevertheless his throat was tight and dry, and the word came huskily in spite of himself.