A Friend in High Places
T HERE are now and then times in the life of every one when new and strange things occur with such rapidity that one has hardly time to catch one's breath between the happenings. It is as though the old were crumbling away—breaking in pieces—to give place to the new that is soon to take its place.
So it was with Myles Falworth about this time. The very next day after this interview in the bed-chamber, word came to him that Sir James Lee wished to speak with him in the office. He found the lean, grizzled old knight alone, sitting at the heavy oaken table with a tankard of spiced ale at his elbow, and a dish of wafers and some fragments of cheese on a pewter platter before him. He pointed to his clerk's seat—a joint stool somewhat like a camp-chair, but made of heavy oaken braces and with a seat of hog-skin—and bade Myles be seated.
It was the first time that Myles had ever heard of such courtesy being extended to one of the company of squires, and, much wondering, he obeyed the invitation, or rather command, and took the seat.
The old knight sat regarding him for a while in silence, his one eye, as bright and as steady as that of a hawk, looking keenly from under the penthouse of its bushy brows, the while he slowly twirled and twisted his bristling wiry mustaches, as was his wont when in meditation. At last he broke the silence. "How old art thou?" said he, abruptly.
"I be turned seventeen last April," Myles answered, as he had the evening before to Lord Mackworth.
"Humph!" said Sir James; "thou be'st big of bone and frame for thine age. I would that thy heart were more that of a man likewise, and less that of a giddy, hare-brained boy, thinking continually of naught but mischief."
Again he fell silent, and Myles sat quite still, wondering if it was on account of any special one of his latest escapades that he had been summoned to the office—the breaking of the window in the Long Hall by the stone he had flung at the rook, or the climbing of the South Tower for the jackdaw's nest.
"Thou hast a friend," said Sir James, suddenly breaking into his speculations, "of such a kind that few in this world possess. Almost ever since thou hast been here he hath been watching over thee. Canst thou guess of whom I speak?"
"Haply it is Lord George Beaumont," said Myles; "he hath always been passing kind to me."
"Nay," said Sir James, "it is not of him that I speak, though methinks he liketh thee well enow. Canst thou keep a secret, boy?" he asked, suddenly.
"Yea," answered Myles.
"And wilt thou do so in this case if I tell thee who it is that is thy best friend here?"
"Then it is my Lord who is that friend—the Earl himself; but see that thou breathe not a word of it."
Myles sat staring at the old knight in utter and profound amazement, and presently Sir James continued:
"Yea, almost ever since thou hast come here my Lord hath kept oversight upon all thy doings, upon all thy mad pranks and thy quarrels and thy fights, thy goings out and comings in. What thinkest thou of that, Myles Falworth?"
Again the old knight stopped and regarded the lad, who sat silent, finding no words to answer. He seemed to find a grim pleasure in the youngster's bewilderment and wonder. Then a sudden thought came to Myles.
"Sir," said he, "did my Lord know that I went to the privy garden as I did?"
"Nay," said Sir James; "of that he knew naught at first until thy father bade thy mother write and tell him."
"My father!" ejaculated Myles.
"Aye," said Sir James, twisting his mustaches more vigorously than ever. "So soon as thy father heard of that prank, he wrote straightway to my Lord that he should put a stop to what might in time have bred mischief."
"Sir," said Myles, in an almost breathless voice, "I know not how to believe all these things, or whether I be awake or a-dreaming."
"Thou be'st surely enough awake," answered the old man; "but there are other matters yet to be told. My Lord thinketh, as others of us do—Lord George and myself—that it is now time for thee to put away thy boyish follies, and learn those things appertaining to manhood. Thou hast been here a year now, and hast had freedom to do as thou might list; but, boy,"—and the old warrior spoke seriously, almost solemnly—"upon thee doth rest matters of such great import that did I tell them to thee thou couldst not grasp them. My Lord deems that thou hast, mayhap, promise beyond the common of men; ne'theless it remaineth yet to be seen an he be right; it is yet to test whether that promise may be fulfilled. Next Monday I and Sir Everard Willoughby take thee in hand to begin training thee in the knowledge and the use of the jousting lance, of arms, and of horsemanship. Thou art to go to Ralph Smith, and have him fit a suit of plain armor to thee which he hath been charged to make for thee against this time. So get thee gone, think well over all these matters, and prepare thyself by next Monday. But stay, sirrah," he added, as Myles, dazed and bewildered, turned to obey; "breathe to no living soul what I ha' told thee—that my Lord is thy friend—neither speak of anything concerning him. Such is his own heavy command laid upon thee."
Then Myles turned again without a word to leave the room. But as he reached the door Sir James stopped him a second time.
"Stay!" he called. "I had nigh missed telling thee somewhat else. My Lord hath made thee a present this morning that thou wottest not of. It is"—then he stopped for a few moments, perhaps to enjoy the full flavor of what he had to say—"it is a great Flemish horse of true breed and right mettle; a horse such as a knight of the noblest strain might be proud to call his own. Myles Falworth, thou wert born upon a lucky day!"
"Sir," cried Myles, and then stopped short. Then, "Sir," he cried again, "didst thou say it—the horse—was to be mine?"
"Aye, it is to be thine."
"My very own?"
"Thy very own."
How Myles Falworth left that place he never knew. He was like one in some strange, some wonderful dream. He walked upon air, and his heart was so full of joy and wonder and amazement that it thrilled almost to agony. Of course his first thought was of Gascoyne. How he ever found him he never could tell, but find him he did.
"Come, Francis!" he cried, "I have that to tell thee so marvellous that had it come upon me from paradise it could not be more strange."
Then he dragged him away to their Eyry—it had been many a long day since they had been there—and to all his friend's speeches, to all his wondering questions, he answered never a word until they had climbed the stairs, and so come to their old haunt. Then he spoke.
"Sit thee down, Francis," said he, "till I tell thee that which passeth wonder." As Gascoyne obeyed, he himself stood looking about him. "This is the last time I shall ever come hither," said he. And thereupon he poured out his heart to his listening friend in the murmuring solitude of the airy height. He did not speak of the Earl, but of the wonderful new life that had thus suddenly opened before him, with its golden future of limitless hopes, of dazzling possibilities, of heroic ambitions. He told everything, walking up and down the while—for he could not remain quiet—his cheeks glowing and his eyes sparkling.
Gascoyne sat quite still, staring straight before him. He knew that his friend was ruffling eagle pinions for a flight in which he could never hope to follow, and somehow his heart ached, for he knew that this must be the beginning of the end of the dear, delightful friendship of the year past.