Men of Iron - Howard Pyle


I have no intention to describe the fight between Myles Falworth and Walter Blunt. Fisticuffs of nowadays are brutal and debasing enough, but a fight with a sharp-edged broadsword was not only brutal and debasing, but cruel and bloody as well.

From the very first of the fight Myles Falworth was palpably and obviously overmatched. After fifteen minutes had passed, Blunt stood hale and sound as at first; but poor Myles had more than one red stain of warm blood upon doublet and hose, and more than one bandage had been wrapped by Gascoyne and Wilkes about sore wounds.

He had received no serious injury as yet, for not only was his body protected by a buckler, or small oblong shield, which he carried upon his left arm, and his head by a bascinet, or light helmet of steel, but perhaps, after all, Blunt was not over-anxious to do him any dangerous harm. Nevertheless, there could be but one opinion as to how the fight tended, and Myles's friends were gloomy and downcast; the bachelors proportionately exultant, shouting with laughter, and taunting Myles at every unsuccessful stroke.

Once, as he drew back panting, leaning upon Gascoyne's shoulder, the faithful friend whispered, with trembling lips: "Oh, dear Myles, carry it no further. Thou hurtest him not, and he will slay thee ere he have done with thee."

Thereupon Blunt, who caught the drift of the speech, put in a word. "Thou art sore hurt, Myles Falworth," said he, "and I would do thee no grievous harm. Yield thee and own thyself beaten, and I will forgive thee. Thou hast fought a good fight, and there is no shame in yielding now."

"Never!" cried Myles, hoarsely—"never will I yield me! Thou mayst slay me, Walter Blunt, and I reck not if thou dost do so, but never else wilt thou conquer me."

There was a tone of desperation in his voice that made all look serious.

"Nay," said Blunt; "I will fight thee no more, Myles Falworth; thou hast had enough."

"By heavens!" cried Myles, grinding his teeth, "thou shalt fight me, thou coward! Thou hast brought this fight upon us, and either thou or I get our quittance here. Let go, Gascoyne!" he cried, shaking loose his friend's hold; "I tell thee he shall fight me!"

From that moment Blunt began to lose his head. No doubt he had not thought of such a serious fight as this when he had given his challenge, and there was a savage bull-dog tenacity about Myles that could not but have had a somewhat demoralizing effect upon him.

A few blows were given and taken, and then Myles's friends gave a shout. Blunt drew back, and placed his hand to his shoulder. When he drew it away again it was stained with red, and another red stain grew and spread rapidly down the sleeve of his jacket. He stared at his hand for a moment with a half-dazed look, and then glanced quickly to right and left.

"I will fight no more," said he, sullenly.

"Then yield thee!" cried Myles, exultantly.

The triumphant shouts of the Knights of the Rose stung Blunt like a lash, and the battle began again. Perhaps some of the older lads were of a mind to interfere at this point, certainly some looked very serious, but before they interposed, the fight was ended.

Blunt, grinding his teeth, struck one undercut at his opponent—the same undercut that Myles had that time struck at Sir James Lee at the knight's bidding when he first practised at the Devlen pels. Myles met the blow as Sir James had met the blow that he had given, and then struck in return as Sir James had struck—full and true. The bascinet that Blunt wore glanced the blow partly, but not entirely. Myles felt his sword bite through the light steel cap, and Blunt dropped his own blade clattering upon the floor. It was all over in an instant, but in that instant what he saw was stamped upon Myles's mind with an indelible imprint. He saw the young man stagger backward; he saw the eyes roll upward; and a red streak shoot out from under the cap and run down across the cheek.

Blunt reeled half around, and then fell prostrate upon his face; and Myles stood staring at him with the delirious turmoil of his battle dissolving rapidly into a dumb fear at that which he had done.

Once again he had won the victory—but what a victory! "Is he dead?" he whispered to Gascoyne.

"I know not," said Gascoyne, with a very pale face. "But come away, Myles." And he led his friend out of the room.

[Illustration] from Men of Iron by Howard Pyle


Some little while later one of the bachelors came to the dormitory where Myles, his wounds smarting and aching and throbbing, lay stretched upon his cot, and with a very serious face bade him to go presently to Sir James, who had just come from dinner, and was then in his office.

By this time Myles knew that he had not slain his enemy, and his heart was light in spite of the coming interview. There was no one in the office but Sir James and himself, and Myles, without concealing anything, told, point by point, the whole trouble. Sir James sat looking steadily at him for a while after he had ended.

"Never," said he, presently, "did I know any one of ye squires, in all the time that I have been here, get himself into so many broils as thou, Myles Falworth. Belike thou sought to take this lad's life."

"Nay," said Myles, earnestly; "God forbid!"

"Ne'theless," said Sir James, "thou fetched him a main shrewd blow; and it is by good hap, and no fault of thine, that he will live to do more mischief yet. This is thy second venture at him; the third time, haply, thou wilt end him for good." Then suddenly assuming his grimmest and sternest manner: "Now, sirrah, do I put a stop to this, and no more shall ye fight with edged tools. Get thee to the dormitory, and abide there a full week without coming forth. Michael shall bring thee bread and water twice a day for that time. That is all the food thou shalt have, and we will see if that fare will not cool thy hot humors withal."

Myles had expected a punishment so much more severe than that which was thus meted to him, that in the sudden relief he broke into a convulsive laugh, and then, with a hasty sweep, wiped a brimming moisture from his eyes.

Sir James looked keenly at him for a moment. "Thou art white i' the face," said he. "Art thou wounded very sorely?"

"Nay" said Myles, "it is not much; but I be sick in my stomach."

"Aye, aye," said Sir James; "I know that feeling well. It is thus that one always feeleth in coming out from a sore battle when one hath suffered wounds and lost blood. An thou wouldst keep thyself hale, keep thyself from needless fighting. Now go thou to the dormitory, and, as I said, come thou not forth again for a week. Stay, sirrah!" he added; "I will send Georgebarber to thee to look to thy sores. Green wounds are best drawn and salved ere they grow cold."

I wonder what Myles would have thought had he known that so soon as he had left the office, Sir James had gone straight to the Earl and recounted the whole matter to him, with a deal of dry gusto, and that the Earl listened laughing.

"Aye," said he, when Sir James had done, "the boy hath mettle, sure. Nevertheless, we must transplant this fellow Blunt to the office of gentleman-in-waiting. He must be old enough now, and gin he stayeth in his present place, either he will do the boy a harm, or the boy will do him a harm."

So Blunt never came again to trouble the squires' quarters; and thereafter the youngsters rendered no more service to the elders.

Myles's first great fight in life was won.