At first the smith grinned, thinking it all a jest; but he soon saw that Myles was serious enough, and when the seventeen shillings were produced and counted down upon the anvil, he took off his cap and made Myles a low bow as he swept them into his pouch. "Now, by my faith and troth," quoth he, "that I do call a true lordly gift. Is it not so, Master Gascoyne?"
"Aye," said Gascoyne, with a gulp, "it is, in soothly earnest." And thereupon, to Myles's great wonderment, he suddenly flung his arms about his neck, and, giving him a great hug, kissed him upon the cheek. "Dear Myles," said he, "I tell thee truly and of a verity I did feel warm towards thee from the very first time I saw thee sitting like a poor oaf upon the bench up yonder in the anteroom, and now of a sooth I give thee assurance that I do love thee as my own brother. Yea, I will take the dagger, and will stand by thee as a true friend from this time forth. Mayhap thou mayst need a true friend in this place ere thou livest long with us, for some of us esquires be soothly rough, and knocks are more plenty here than broad pennies, so that one new come is like to have a hard time gaining a footing."
"I thank thee," said Myles, "for thy offer of love and friendship, and do tell thee, upon my part, that I also of all the world would like best to have thee for my friend."
Such was the manner In which Myles formed the first great friendship of his life, a friendship that was destined to last him through many years to come. As the two walked back across the great quadrangle, upon which fronted the main buildings of the castle, their arms were wound across one another's shoulders, after the manner, as a certain great writer says, of boys and lovers.
A boy's life is of a very flexible sort. It takes but a little while for it to shape itself to any new surroundings in which it may be thrown, to make itself new friends, to settle itself to new habits; and so it was that Myles fell directly into the ways of the lads of Devlen. On his first morning, as he washed his face and hands with the other squires and pages in a great tank of water in the armory court-yard, he presently found himself splashing and dashing with the others, laughing and shouting as loud as any, and calling some by their Christian names as though he had known them for years instead of overnight. During chapel he watched with sympathetic delight the covert pranks of the youngsters during the half-hour that Father Emmanuel droned his Latin, and with his dagger point he carved his own name among the many cut deep into the back of the bench before him. When, after breakfast, the squires poured like school-boys into the great armory to answer to the roll-call for daily exercise, he came storming in with the rest, beating the lad in front of him with his cap.
Boys are very keen to feel the influence of a forceful character. A lad with a strong will is quick to reach his proper level as a greater or lesser leader among the others, and Myles was of just the masterful nature to make his individuality felt among the Devlen squires. He was quick enough to yield obedience upon all occasions to proper authority, but would never bend an inch to the usurpation of tyranny. In the school at St. Mary's Priory at Crosbey-Dale he would submit without a murmur or offer of resistance to chastisement by old Father Ambrose, the regular teacher; but once, when the fat old monk was sick, and a great long-legged strapping young friar, who had temporarily taken his place, undertook to administer punishment, Myles, with a wrestling trip, flung him sprawling backward over a bench into the midst of a shoal of small boys amid a hubbub of riotous confusion. He had been flogged soundly for it under the supervision of Prior Edward himself; but so soon as his punishment was over, he assured the prior very seriously that should like occasion again happen he would act in the same manner, flogging or no flogging.
It was this bold, outspoken spirit that gained him at once friends and enemies at Devlen, and though it first showed itself in what was but a little matter, nevertheless it set a mark upon him that singled him out from the rest, and, although he did not suspect it at the time, called to him the attention of Sir James Lee himself, who regarded him as a lad of free and frank spirit.
The first morning after the roll-call in the armory, as Walter Blunt, the head bachelor, rolled up the slip of parchment, and the temporary silence burst forth into redoubled noise and confusion, each lad arming himself from a row of racks that stood along the wall, he beckoned Myles to him.
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