F ROM the long, narrow stone-paved Armory Court, and connecting it with the inner Buttery Court, ran a narrow arched passage-way, in which was a picket-gate, closed at night and locked from within. It was in this arched passage-way that, according to little Robin Ingoldsby's report, the bachelors were lying in wait for Myles. Gascoyne's plan was that Myles should enter the court alone, the Knights of the Rose lying ambushed behind the angle of the armory building until the bachelors should show themselves.
It was not without trepidation that Myles walked alone into the court, which happened then to be silent and empty. His heart beat more quickly than it was wont, and he gripped his cudgel behind his back, looking sharply this way and that, so as not to be taken unawares by a flank movement of his enemies. Midway in the court he stopped and hesitated for a moment; then he turned as though to enter the armory. The next moment he saw the bachelors come pouring out from the archway.
Instantly he turned and rushed back towards where his friends lay hidden, shouting: "To the rescue! To the rescue!"
"Stone him!" roared Blunt. "The villain escapes!"
He stopped and picked up a cobble-stone as he spoke, flinging it after his escaping prey. It narrowly missed Myles's head; had it struck him, there might have been no more of this story to tell.
"To the rescue! To the rescue!" shouted Myles's friends in answer, and the next moment he was surrounded by them. Then he turned, and swinging his cudgel, rushed back upon his foes.
The bachelors stopped short at the unexpected sight of the lads with their cudgels. For a moment they rallied and drew their knives; then they turned and fled towards their former place of hiding.
One of them turned for a moment, and flung his knife at Myles with a deadly aim; but Myles, quick as a cat, ducked his body, and the weapon flew clattering across the stony court. Then he who had flung it turned again to fly, but in his attempt he had delayed one instant too long. Myles reached him with a long-arm stroke of his cudgel just as he entered the passage-way, knocking him over like a bottle, stunned and senseless.
The next moment the picket-gate was banged in their faces and the bolt shot in the staples, and the Knights of the Rose were left shouting and battering with their cudgels against the palings.
By this time the uproar of fight had aroused those in the rooms and offices fronting upon the Armory Court; heads were thrust from many of the windows with the eager interest that a fight always evokes.
"Beware!" shouted Myles. "Here they come again!" He bore back towards the entrance of the alley-way as he spoke, those behind him scattering to right and left, for the bachelors had rallied, and were coming again to the attack, shouting.
They were not a moment too soon in this retreat, either, for the next instant the pickets flew open, and a volley of stones flew after the retreating Knights of the Rose. One smote Wilkes upon the head, knocking him down headlong. Another struck Myles upon his left shoulder, benumbing his arm from the finger-tips to the armpit, so that he thought at first the limb was broken.
"Get ye behind the buttresses!" shouted those who looked down upon the fight from the windows—"get ye behind the buttresses!" And in answer the lads, scattering like a newly-flushed covey of partridges, fled to and crouched in the sheltering angles of masonry to escape from the flying stones.
And now followed a lull in the battle, the bachelors fearing to leave the protection of the arched passage-way lest their retreat should be cut off, and the Knights of the Rose not daring to quit the shelter of the buttresses and angles of the wall lest they should be knocked down by the stones.
The bachelor whom Myles had struck down with his cudgel was sitting up rubbing the back of his head, and Wilkes had gathered his wits enough to crawl to the shelter of the nearest buttress. Myles, peeping around the corner behind which he stood, could see that the bachelors were gathered into a little group consulting together. Suddenly it broke asunder, and Blunt turned around.
"Ho, Falworth!" he cried. "Wilt thou hold truce whiles we parley with ye?"
"Aye," answered Myles.
"Wilt thou give me thine honor that ye will hold your hands from harming us whiles we talk together?"
"Yea," said Myles, "I will pledge thee mine honor."
"I accept thy pledge. See! here we throw aside our stones and lay down our knives. Lay ye by your clubs, and meet us in parley at the horse-block yonder."
"So be it," said Myles, and thereupon, standing his cudgel in the angle of the wall, he stepped boldly out into the open court-yard. Those of his party came scatteringly from right and left, gathering about him; and the bachelors advanced in a body, led by the head squire.
"Now what is it thou wouldst have, Walter Blunt?" said Myles, when both parties had met at the horse-block.
"It is to say this to thee, Myles Falworth," said the other. "One time, not long sin, thou didst challenge me
to meet thee hand to hand in the dormitory. Then thou didst put a vile affront upon me, for the which I ha'
brought on this battle
"But thou hadst thy knife, and would have stabbed him couldst thou ha' done so," said Gascoyne.
"Thou liest!" said Blunt. "I had no knife." And then, without giving time to answer, "Thou canst not deny that I met thee then at thy bidding, canst thou, Falworth?"
"Nay," said Myles, "nor haply canst thou deny it either." And at this covert reminder of his defeat Myles's followers laughed scoffingly and Blunt bit his lip.
"Thou hast said it," said he. "Then sin I met thee at thy bidding, I dare to thee to meet me now at mine, and to fight this battle out between our two selves, with sword and buckler and bascinet as gentles should, and not in a wrestling match like two country hodges."
"Thou art a coward caitiff, Walter Blunt!" burst out Wilkes, who stood by with a swelling lump upon his head, already as big as a walnut. "Well thou knowest that Falworth is no match for thee at broadsword play. Is he not four years younger than thou, and hast thou not had three times the practice in arms that he hath had? I say thou art a coward to seek to fight with cutting weapons."
Blunt made no answer to Wilkes's speech, but gazed steadfastly at Myles, with a scornful smile curling the corners of his lips. Myles stood looking upon the ground without once lifting his eyes, not knowing what to answer, for he was well aware that he was no match for Blunt with the broadsword.
"Thou art afraid to fight me, Myles Falworth," said Blunt, tauntingly, and the bachelors gave a jeering laugh in echo.
Then Myles looked up, and I cannot say that his face was not a trifle whiter than usual. "Nay," said he, "I am not afraid, and I will fight thee, Blunt."
"So be it," said Blunt. "Then let us go at it straightway in the armory yonder, for they be at dinner in the Great Hall, and just now there be'st no one by to stay us."
"Thou shalt not fight him, Myles!" burst out Gascoyne. "He will murther thee! Thou shalt not fight him, I say!"
Myles turned away without answering him.
"What is to do?" called one of those who were still looking out of the windows as the crowd of boys passed beneath.
"Blunt and Falworth are going to fight it out hand to hand in the armory," answered one of the bachelors, looking up.
The brawling of the squires was a jest to all the adjoining part of the house. So the heads were withdrawn again, some laughing at the "sparring of the cockerels."
But it was no jesting matter to poor Myles.