Chapter 1 | In the Old Armoury | The Young Castellan

Chapter One.

“See these here spots o’ red rust, Master Roy?”

“I should be blind as poor old Jenkin if I couldn’t, Ben.”

“Ay, that you would, sir. Poor old Jenk, close upon ninety he be; and that’s another thing.”

“What do you mean?” said the boy addressed.

“What do I mean, sir? Why, I mean as that’s another thing as shows as old England’s wore out, and rustin’ and moulderin’ away.”

“Is this Dutch or English, Ben?” said the manly-looking boy, who had just arrived at the age when dark lads get teased about not having properly washed the sides of their faces and their upper lips, which begin to show traces of something “coming up.” “I don’t understand.”

“English, sir,” said the weather-beaten speaker, a decidedly ugly man of about sixty, grizzly of hair and beard, deeply-lined of countenance, and with a peculiar cicatrice extending from the upper part of his left cheek-bone diagonally down to the right corner of his lips, and making in its passage a deep notch across his nose. “English, sir; good old honest English.”

“You’re always grumbling, Ben, and you won’t get the rust off that morion with that.”

“That I shan’t, sir; and if I uses elber grease and sand, it’ll only come again. But it’s all a sign of poor old England rustin’ and moulderin’ away. The idea! And at a place like this. Old Jenk, as watch at the gate tower, and not got eyes enough to see across the moat, and even that’s getting full o’ mud!”

“Well, you wouldn’t have father turn the poor old man away because he’s blind and worn-out.”

“Not I, sir,” said the man, moistening a piece of flannel with oil, dipping it into some fine white sand, and then proceeding to scrub away at the rust spots upon the old helmet, which he now held between his knees; while several figures in armour, ranged down one side of the low, dark room in which the work was being carried on, seemed to be looking on and waiting to have their rust removed in turn.

“Then what do you mean?” said the boy.

“I mean, Master Roy, as it’s a pity to see the old towers going down hill as they are.”

“But they’re not,” cried the boy.

“Not, sir? Well, if you’ll excuse me for saying as you’re wrong, I’ll say it. Where’s your garrison? where’s your horses? and where’s your guns, and powder, and shot, and stores?”

“Fudge, then! We don’t want any garrison nowadays, and as for horses, why, it was a sin to keep ’em in those old underground stables that used to be their lodging. Any one would think you expected to have some one come and lay siege to the place.”

“More unlikely things than that, Master Roy. We live in strange times, and the king may get the worst of it any day.”

“Oh, you old croaker!” cried Roy. “I believe you’d like to have a lot more men in the place, and mount guard, and go on drilling and practising with the big guns.”

“Ay, sir, I should; and with a place like this, it’s what ought to be done.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be bad fun, Ben,” said the boy, thoughtfully.

“Fun, sir? Don’t you get calling serious work like that fun.—But look ye there. Soon chevy these spots off, don’t I?”

“Yes, it’s getting nice and bright,” said Roy, gazing down at the steel headpiece.

“And it’s going to get brighter and better before I’ve done. I’m going to let Sir Granby see when he comes back that I haven’t neglected nothing. I’m a-going to polish up all on ’em in turn, beginning with old Sir Murray Royland. Let me see: he was your greatest grandfather, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he lived in 1480,” said the boy, as the old man rose, set down the morion, and followed him to where the farthest suit of mail stood against the wall. “I say, Ben, this must have been very heavy to wear.”

“Ay, sir, tidy; but, my word, it was fine for a gentleman in those days to mount his horse, shining in the sun, and looking as noble as a man could look. He’s a bit spotty, though, it’s been so damp. But I’ll begin with Sir Murray and go right down ’em all, doing the steeliest ones first, and getting by degrees to the last on ’em as is only steel half-way down, and the rest being boots. Ah! it’s a dolesome change from Sir Murray to Sir Brian yonder at the end, and worse still, to your father, as wouldn’t put nothing on but a breast-piece and back-piece and a steel cap.”

“Why, it’s best,” said the boy; “steel armour isn’t wanted so much now they’ve got cannon and guns.”

“Ay, that’s a sad come-down too, sir. Why, even when I was out under your grandfather, things were better and fighting fairer. People tried to see who was best man then with their swords. Now men goes to hide behind hedges and haystacks, to try and shoot you like they would a hare.”

“Why, they did the same sort of thing with their bows and arrows, Ben, and their cross-bows and bolts.”

“Well, maybe, sir; but that was a clean kind o’ fighting, and none of your sulphur and brimstone, and charcoal and smoke.”

“I say, Ben, it’ll take you some time to get things straight. Mean to polish up the old swords and spears, too?”

“Every man jack of ’em, sir. I mean to have this armoury so as your father, when he comes back from scattering all that rabble, will look round and give me a bit of encouragement.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed the boy; “so that’s what makes you so industrious.”

“Nay it aren’t, sir,” said the man, with a reproachful shake of his head. “I didn’t mean money, Master Roy, but good words, and a sort o’ disposition to make the towers what they should be again. He’s a fine soldier is your father, and I hear as the king puts a lot o’ trust in him; but it always seems to me as he thinks more about farming when he’s down here than he does about keeping up the old place as a good cavalier should.”

“Don’t you talk a lot of nonsense,” said Roy, hotly; “if my father likes to live here as country gentlemen do, and enjoy sport and gardening and farming, who has a better right to, I should like to know?”

“Oh, nobody, sir, nobody,” said the man, scouring away at the rusted steel.

“And besides, times are altered. When this castle was built, gentlemen used to have to protect themselves, and kept their retainers to fight for them. Now there’s a regular army, and the king does all that.”

That patch of rust must have been a little lighter on, for the man uttered a low grunt of satisfaction.

“It would be absurd to make the towers just as they used to be, and shut out the light and cover the narrow slits with iron bars.”

“Maybe, Master Roy; but Sir Granby might have the moat cleared of mud, and kept quite full.”

“What! I just hope it won’t be touched. Why, that would mean draining it, and then what would become of my carp and tench?”

“Ketch ’em and put ’em in tubs, sir, and put some little uns back.”

“Yes, and then it would take years for them to grow, and all the beautiful white and yellow water-lilies would be destroyed.”

“Yes; but see what a lot of fine, fat eels we should get, sir. There’s some thumpers there. I caught a four-pounder on a night-line last week.”

“Ah, you did, did you?” cried the lad; “then don’t you do it again without asking for leave.”

“All right, sir, I won’t; but you don’t grudge an old servant like me one eel?”

“Of course I don’t, Ben,” said the lad, importantly; “but the moat is mine. Father gave it to me as my own special fishing-place before he went away, and I don’t allow any one to fish there without my leave.”

“I’ll remember, sir,” said the man, beginning to whistle softly.

“I don’t grudge you a few eels, Ben, and you shall have plenty; but next time you want to fish, you ask.”

“Yes, sir, I will.”

“And what you say is all nonsense: the place is beautiful as it is. Why, I believe if you could do as you liked, you’d turn my mother’s pleasaunce and the kitchen-garden into drill-grounds.”

“That I would, sir,” said the man, flushing up. “The idea of a beautiful square of ground, where the men might be drilled, and practise with sword and gun, being used to grow cabbages in. Er! it’s horrid!”

Roy laughed.

“You’re a rum fellow, Ben,” he cried. “I believe you think that people were meant to do nothing else but fight and kill one another.”

“Deal better than spending all their time over books, sir,” said the man; “and you take my advice. You said something to me about being a statesman some day, and serving the king that way. Now, I s’pose I don’t know exactly what a statesman is, but I expect it’s something o’ the same sort o’ thing as Master Pawson is, and—You won’t go and tell him what I says, sir?”

“Do you want me to kick you, Ben?” said the boy, indignantly.

“Oh, I don’t know, sir,” said the man, with a good-humoured smile lighting up his rugged features; “can, if you like. Wouldn’t be the first time by many a hundred.”

“What! When did I kick you?”

“Lots o’ times when you was a little un, and I wouldn’t let you drown yourself in the moat, or break your neck walking along the worsest parts o’ the ramparts, or get yourself trod upon by the horses. Why, I’ve known you kick, and squeal, and fight, and punch me as hard as ever you could.”

“And did it hurt you, Ben?”

“Hurt me, sir? Not it. I liked it. Showed you was made o’ good stuff, same good breed as your father; and I used to say to myself, ‘That young cub’ll turn out as fine a soldier as his father some day, and I shall have the job o’ training him.’ But deary me, deary me, old England’s a-wasting all away! You aren’t got the sperrit you had, my lad; and instead o’ coming to me cheery-like, and saying, ‘Now, Ben, get out the swords and let’s have a good fence, or a bit o’ back-sword or broad-sword-play, or a turn with the singlestick or staves,’ you’re always a-sticking your nose into musty old parchments, or dusty books, along o’ Master Palgrave Pawson. Brrr!”

The latter was a low growl, following a loud smack given to the side of the helmet, after which, as the lad stood fretting and fuming, the old servant scrubbed away at the steel furiously.

“It isn’t true, Ben,” the boy cried at last, indignantly; “and perhaps I’m going to be a soldier after all, especially if this trouble goes on.”

“Tchaw! trouble goes on!” said the man, changing the steel headpiece for a cuirass. “There won’t be no trouble. First time your father gets a sight of the mob of tailors, and shoemakers, and tinkers, with an old patch-work counterpane atop of a clothes-prop for their flag, he’ll ride along the front of his ridgement of cavaliers, and he’ll shout to ’em in that big voice of his as I’ve followed many’s the time; and ‘Don’t draw, gentlemen,’ he’ll say; ‘ride the scum down, and make the rest run;’ and then they’ll all roar with laughing loud enough to drown the trumpet charge. My word, I’d a gi’n something to ha’ been there to see the rebels fly like dead leaves before a wind in November. But it were a mean and a cruel thing, Master Roy. Look at that arm, look at these legs! I’m a better and a stronger man than ever I was, and could sit any horse they’d put me on. But to leave an old soldier, as had followed him as I have, at home here to rust like the rest o’ things, when there was a chance for a bit o’ fun, it went right to my ’art, sir, and it seemed to me as if it warn’t the master as I used to sit with in the ranks.”

The old fellow was bending now over the breastplate and rubbing hard, while as Roy listened to his excited words, wondering at the way in which he seemed to resent what he looked upon as a slight, something dropped upon the polished steel with a pat, and spread out; and Roy thought to himself that if that drop of hot salt water stayed there, it would make a deeper rust spot than anything.

But it did not stay, for the man hastily rubbed it away, and began with a rough show of indifference to hum over an old Devon song, something about “A morn in May, to hear birds whistle and see lambkins play.”

But he ceased as the boy laid a hand upon his shoulder, and bent over the breastplate and rubbed at it very slowly, listening intently the while.

“Don’t you get thinking that, Ben Martlet,” said the boy, gently; “father wanted to take you, and he said you were not too old.”

“Nay, nay, nay, sir; don’t you get trying to ile me over. I know.”

“But you don’t know,” said the boy, hotly; “he said he should take you, but my mother asked him not to.”

“Ay, she would, sir. She won’t let you be a soldier, and she comes over your father as I was too old and helpless to be any good.”

“You’re a stupid, pig-headed, old chump,” cried Roy, angrily.

“Yes, sir; that’s it; now you’re at me too. Rusty, and worn-out, and good for nothing; but it’ll soon be over. I used to think it must be very horrid to have to die, but I know better now, and I shan’t be sorry when my turn comes.”

“Will—you—listen to—what—I have—to say?” cried the boy.

“Oh, ay, sir, I’ll listen. You’re my master, now Sir Granby’s away, and nobody shan’t say as Ben Martlet didn’t do his dooty as a soldier to the end, even if he is set to dig in a garden as was once a castle court-yard.”

“Oh, you obstinate old mule!” cried Roy, gripping the man’s shoulders, as he stood behind him, sawing him to and fro, and driving his knee softly into the broad strong back. “Will you listen?”

“Yes, sir, I’ll listen; but that’s only your knee. Kick the old worn-out mule with your boot-toe, and—”

“I’ve a good mind to,” cried Roy. “Now listen: my mother begged of father to leave you here.”

“Oh, ay, of course.”

“Quiet!” roared Roy, “or I will really kick—hard; because she said she would feel safer, and that, if any trouble did arise with some of the men, Martlet would put it down at once, and everything would go right.”

The cuirass went down on the dark oaken boards with a loud clang, and the old soldier sprang to his feet panting heavily.

“Her ladyship said that?” he cried.


“Say it again, sir; say it again!” he cried, in a husky voice.

Roy repeated the words.

“Yes, yes, sir; and what—what did Sir Granby say to that?”

“Said he was very sorry and very glad.”


“Sorry to leave you, because it didn’t seem natural to go back to the regiment without his right-hand man.”

“Right-hand man?”

“Yes; but he was glad my mother felt so about you, for he could go away more contented now, and satisfied that all would be right. For though—ahem!—he had the fullest confidence in me, I was too young to have the management of men.”

“Wrong, wrong, sir—wrong. On’y want a bit o’ training, and you’d make as good a captain as ever stepped.—Then it was her ladyship’s doing, and she said all that?”


“God bless her! my dear mistress. Here, don’t you take no notice o’ this here,” cried the rough fellow, changing his tone, and undisguisedly wiping the salt tears from his face. “I don’t work so much as I ought, sir, and this here’s only what you calls presperashum, sir, as collects, and will come out somewheres. And so her ladyship says that, did her?”

“Yes, Ben.”

“Then why haven’t I knowed this afore? Here’s three months gone by since the master went to take command of his ridgement, and I see him off. Ay, I did send him off looking fine, and here have I been eating my heart out ever since. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Yes, I do. Of course, I wasn’t going to tattle about what my father and mother said, but when I heard you talk as you did, and seem so cut up and unjust, why, I did.”

“Here, let me have it, my lad! Kick away! Jump on me for an old fool. Why, I’m as blind as old Jenk. Worse.—She’d feel safer if there was any trouble. Bless her! Oh, what an old fool I’ve been. No wonder I’ve got so weak and thin.”

“Ha, ha, ha!”

“What are you laughing at, sir?”

“You weak and thin! Why, you’re as strong as a horse.”

“Well, I am, Master Roy,” said the man, with a grim smile of pride. “But I have got a bit thin, sir.”

“Not a bit thinner.”

“Well, I aren’t enjoyed my vittles since the master went, sir. You can’t contradick that.”

“No, and don’t want to; but you did eat a four or five pound eel that you’d no right to catch.”

“That I didn’t, sir. I give it to poor old Jenk to make a pie. I never tasted it.”

“Then you may catch as many as you like, Ben, without asking.”

“Thank you, sir; but I don’t want to go eeling now. Here, let’s have all this fighting-tackle so as you can see your face in it. But I say, my lad, do ’ee, now do ’ee, alter your mind; leave being statesman to them soft, smooth kind o’ fellows like Master Pawson.”

“I don’t see why one couldn’t be a statesman and a soldier too,” said the boy.

“I don’t know nothing about that sort, sir; but I do know how to handle a sword or to load a gun. I do say, though, as you’re going wrong instead of right.”


“How, sir? Just look at your hands.”

“Well, what’s the matter with them?” said the boy, holding them out.

Ben Martlet uttered a low, chuckling laugh.

“I’ll tell you, sir. S’pose any one’s badly, and the doctor comes; what does he do first?”

“Feels his pulse.”

“What else?”

“Looks at his tongue.”

“That’s it, my lad; and he knows directly from his tongue what’s the matter with him. Now, you see, Master Roy, I aren’t a doctor.”

“Not you, Ben; doctors cure people; soldiers kill ’em.”

“Not always, Master Roy,” said the old fellow, whose face during the last few minutes had lit up till he seemed in the highest of glee. “Aren’t it sometimes t’other way on? But look here: doctors look at people’s tongues to see whether they wants to be physicked, or to have their arms or legs cut off. I don’t. I looks at a man’s hand to see what’s the matter with him, and if I see as he’s got a soft, white hand like a gal’s, I know directly he’s got no muscles in his arms, no spring in his back, and no legs to nip a horse’s ribs or to march fifty mile in a day. Now, just look at yours.”

“Oh, I can’t help what my hands are like,” said the boy, impatiently.

“Oh, yes, you can, sir. You’ve been a-neglecting of ’em, sir, horrible; so just you come to me a little more and let me harden you up a bit. If you’ve got to be a statesman, you won’t be none the worse for being able to fight, and ride, and run. Now, will you? and—There’s some one a-calling you, my lad.”

“Yes, coming!” cried Roy; and he hurried out of the armoury into a long, dark passage, at the end of which a window full of stained glass admitted the sunbeams in a golden, scarlet, blue, and orange sheaf of rays which lit up the tall, stately figure of a lady, to whom the boy ran with a cry of—

“Yes, mother!”