With the Prince
T HAT night Myles lodged at Mackworth House. The next morning, as soon as he had broken his fast, which he did in the privacy of his own apartments, the Earl bade him and Gascoyne to make ready for the barge, which was then waiting at the river stairs to take them to Scotland Yard.
The Earl himself accompanied them, and as the heavy snub-nosed boat, rowed by the six oarsmen in Mackworth livery, slid slowly and heavily up against the stream, the Earl, leaning back in his cushioned seat, pointed out the various inns of the great priests or nobles; palatial town residences standing mostly a little distance back from the water behind terraced high-walled gardens and lawns. Yon was the Bishop of Exeter's Close; yon was the Bishop of Bath's; that was York House; and that Chester Inn. So passing by gardens and lawns and palaces, they came at last to Scotland Yard stairs, a broad flight of marble steps that led upward to a stone platform above, upon which opened the gate-way of the garden beyond.
The Scotland Yard of Myles Falworth's day was one of the more pretentious and commodious of the palaces of the Strand. It took its name from having been from ancient times the London inn which the tributary Kings of Scotland occupied when on their periodical visits of homage to England. Now, during this time of Scotland's independence, the Prince of Wales had taken up his lodging in the old palace, and made it noisy with the mad, boisterous mirth of his court.
As the watermen drew the barge close to the landing-place of the stairs, the Earl stepped ashore, and followed by Myles and Gascoyne, ascended to the broad gate-way of the river wall of the garden. Three men-at-arms who lounged upon a bench under the shade of the little pent-roof of a guard-house beside the wall, arose and saluted as the well-known figure of the Earl mounted the steps. The Earl nodded a cool answer, and passing unchallenged through the gate, led the way up a pleached walk, beyond which, as Myles could see, there stretched a little grassy lawn and a stone-paved terrace. As the Earl and the two young men approached the end of the walk, they were met by the sound of voices and laughter, the clinking of glasses and the rattle of dishes. Turning a corner, they came suddenly upon a party of young gentlemen, who sat at a late breakfast under the shade of a wide-spreading lime-tree. They had evidently just left the tilt-yard, for two of the guests—sturdy, thick-set young knights—yet wore a part of their tilting armor.
Behind the merry scene stood the gray, hoary old palace, a steep flight of stone steps, and a long, open, stone-arched gallery, which evidently led to the kitchen beyond, for along it hurried serving-men, running up and down the tall flight of steps, and bearing trays and dishes and cups and flagons. It was a merry sight and a pleasant one. The day was warm and balmy, and the yellow sunlight fell in waving uncertain patches of light, dappling the table-cloth, and twinkling and sparkling upon the dishes, cups, and flagons.
At the head of the table sat a young man some three or four years older than Myles, dressed in a full suit of rich blue brocaded velvet, embroidered with gold-thread and trimmed with black fur. His face, which was turned towards them as they mounted from the lawn to the little stone-flagged terrace, was frank and open; the cheeks smooth and fair; the eyes dark and blue. He was tall and rather slight, and wore his thick yellow hair hanging to his shoulders, where it was cut square across, after the manner of the times. Myles did not need to be told that it was the Prince of Wales.
"Ho, Gaffer Fox!" he cried, as soon as he caught sight of the Earl of Mackworth, "what wind blows thee hither among us wild mallard drakes? I warrant it is not for love of us, but only to fill thine own larder after the manner of Sir Fox among the drakes. Whom hast thou with thee? Some gosling thou art about to pluck?"
A sudden hush fell upon the company, and all faces were turned towards the visitors.
The Earl bowed with a soft smile. "Your Highness," said he, smoothly, "is pleased to be pleasant. Sir, I bring you the young knight of whom I spoke to you some time since—Sir Myles Falworth. You may be pleased to bring to mind that you so condescended as to promise to take him into your train until the fitting time arrived for that certain matter of which we spoke."
"Sir Myles," said the Prince of Wales, with a frank, pleasant smile, "I have heard great reports of thy skill and prowess in France, both from Mackworth and from others. It will pleasure me greatly to have thee in my household; more especially," he added, "as it will get thee, callow as thou art, out of my Lord Fox's clutches. Our faction cannot do without the Earl of Mackworth's cunning wits, Sir Myles; ne'theless I would not like to put all my fate and fortune into his hands without bond. I hope that thou dost not rest thy fortunes entirely upon his aid and countenance."
All who were present felt the discomfort of the Prince's speech. It was evident that one of his mad, wild humors was upon him. In another case the hare-brained young courtiers around might have taken their cue from him, but the Earl of Mackworth was no subject for their gibes and witticisms. A constrained silence fell, in which the Earl alone maintained a perfect ease of manner.
Myles bowed to hide his own embarrassment. "Your Highness," said he, evasively, "I rest my fortune, first of all, upon God, His strength and justice."
"Thou wilt find safer dependence there than upon the Lord of Mackworth," said the Prince, dryly. "But come," he added, with a sudden change of voice and manner, "these be jests that border too closely upon bitter earnest for a merry breakfast. It is ill to idle with edged tools. Wilt thou not stay and break thy fast with us, my Lord?"
"Pardon me, your Highness," said the Earl, bowing, and smiling the same smooth smile his lips had worn from the first—such a smile as Myles had never thought to have seen upon his haughty face; "I crave your good leave to decline. I must return home presently, for even now, haply, your uncle, his Grace of Winchester, is awaiting my coming upon the business you wot of. Haply your Highness will find more joyance in a lusty young knight like Sir Myles than in an old fox like myself. So I leave him with you, in your good care."
Such was Myles's introduction to the wild young madcap Prince of Wales, afterwards the famous Henry V., the conqueror of France.
For a month or more thereafter he was a member of the princely household, and, after a little while, a trusted and honored member. Perhaps it was the calm sturdy strength, the courage of the young knight, that first appealed to the Prince's royal heart; perhaps afterwards it was the more sterling qualities that underlaid that courage that drew him to the young man; certain it was that in two weeks Myles was the acknowledged favorite. He made no protestation of virtue; he always accompanied the Prince in those madcap ventures to London, where he beheld all manner of wild revelry; he never held himself aloof from his gay comrades, but he looked upon all their mad sports with the same calm gaze that had carried him without taint through the courts of Burgundy and the Dauphin. The gay, roistering young lords and gentlemen dubbed him Saint Myles, and jested with him about hair-cloth shirts and flagellations, but witticism and jest alike failed to move Myles's patient virtue; he went his own gait in the habits of his life, and in so going knew as little as the others of the mad court that the Prince's growing liking for him was, perhaps, more than all else, on account of that very temperance.
Then, by-and-by, the Prince began to confide in him as he did in none of the others. There was no great love betwixt the King and his son; it has happened very often that the Kings of England have felt bitter jealousy towards the heirs-apparent as they have grown in power, and such was the case with the great King Henry IV. The Prince often spoke to Myles of the clashing and jarring between himself and his father, and the thought began to come to Myles's mind by degrees that maybe the King's jealousy accounted not a little for the Prince's reckless intemperance.
Once, for instance, as the Prince leaned upon his shoulder waiting, whilst the attendants made ready the barge that was to carry them down the river to the city, he said, abruptly: "Myles, what thinkest thou of us all? Doth not thy honesty hold us in contempt?"
"Nay, Highness," said Myles. "How could I hold contempt?"
"Marry," said the Prince, "I myself hold contempt, and am not as honest a man as thou. But, prithee, have patience with me, Myles. Some day, perhaps, I too will live a clean life. Now, an I live seriously, the King will be more jealous of me than ever, and that is not a little. Maybe I live thus so that he may not know what I really am in soothly earnest."
The Prince also often talked to Myles concerning his own affairs; of the battle he was to fight for his father's honor, of how the Earl of Mackworth had plotted and planned to bring him face to face with the Earl of Alban. He spoke to Myles more than once of the many great changes of state and party that hung upon the downfall of the enemy of the house of Falworth, and showed him how no hand but his own could strike that enemy down; if he fell, it must be through the son of Falworth. Sometimes it seemed to Myles as though he and his blind father were the centre of a great web of plot and intrigue, stretching far and wide, that included not only the greatest houses of England, but royalty and the political balance of the country as well, and even before the greatness of it all he did not flinch.
Then, at last, came the beginning of the time for action. It was in the early part of May, and Myles had been a member of the Prince's household for a little over a month. One morning he was ordered to attend the Prince in his privy cabinet, and, obeying the summons, he found the Prince, his younger brother, the Duke of Bedford, and his uncle, the Bishop of Winchester, seated at a table, where they had just been refreshing themselves with a flagon of wine and a plate of wafers.
"My poor Myles," said the Prince, smiling, as the young knight bowed to the three, and then stood erect, as though on duty. "It shames my heart, brother—and thou, uncle—it shames my heart to be one privy to this thing which we are set upon to do. Here be we, the greatest Lords of England, making a cat's-paw of this lad—for he is only yet a boy—and of his blind father, for to achieve our ends against Alban's faction. It seemeth not over-honorable to my mind."
"Pardon me, your Highness," said Myles, blushing to the roots of his hair; "but, an I may be so bold as to speak, I reck nothing of what your aims may be; I only look to restoring my father's honor and the honor of our house."
"Truly," said the Prince, smiling, "that is the only matter that maketh me willing to lay my hands to this business. Dost thou know why I have sent for thee? It is because this day thou must challenge the Duke of Alban before the King. The Earl of Mackworth has laid all his plans and the time is now ripe. Knowest that thy father is at Mackworth House?"
"Nay," said Myles; "I knew it not."
"He hath been there for nearly two days," said the Prince. "Just now the Earl hath sent for us to come first to Mackworth House. Then to go to the palace, for he hath gained audience with the King, and hath so arranged it that the Earl of Alban is to be there as well. We all go straightway; so get thyself ready as soon as may be."
Perhaps Myles's heart began beating more quickly within him at the nearness of that great happening which he had looked forward to for so long. If it did, he made no sign of his emotion, but only asked, "How must I clothe myself, your Highness?"
"Wear thy light armor," said the Prince, "but no helmet, a juppon bearing the arms and colors that the Earl gave thee when thou wert knighted, and carry thy right-hand gauntlet under thy belt for thy challenge. Now make haste, for time passes."