Chapter 12 | Guns and No Powder? | The Young Castellan

Chapter Twelve.

Very little more was done with the men that day, for, in spite of Roy’s spirited behaviour, he felt afterwards that Master Pawson had cast a damp upon the proceedings. Still, he knew that something must be done to counteract that sneering smile distributed among the men by the tutor; and upon his return to the rank he walked to and fro, and expressed his satisfaction at the promptitude they had displayed, and, after ordering them to assemble at nine the next morning, he dismissed them. For the messenger had returned with the village carpenter, who took one of the old capstan-bars for a pattern, and undertook to have half a dozen new ones of the strongest oak made by the next morning.

Then there was the greasing of the drawbridge chains and rollers to see to, and, when this was successfully done, Roy found to his satisfaction that the men could raise or lower it with, if not ease, at all events without much difficulty.

To the boy’s great delight, he found that the three troopers dropped into their places in the most easy manner, obeying his every order with alacrity and displaying all the readiness of well-drilled men. They began by assisting at once with the cleaning and easing of the drawbridge chains, one of them, after stripping off his coat, gorget, and cap, climbing the supports to apply the lubricant to the rollers from outside, where they needed it most; and when, that evening, Ben suggested that one of the guns standing in the pleasaunce should be examined, they made the servants stare by the deft way in which they helped him to handle the ponderous mass of metal, hitching on ropes and dragging it out from where it had lain half-covered with ivy to where it was now planted, so that it could be made to sweep the road-way approaching the bridge; the other one in the garden being afterwards treated in the same way.

“Well, yes, sir, they’re pretty heavy,” said the corporal, in answer to a compliment passed by Roy upon the ease with which the work had been done; “but it isn’t all strength that does it. It’s knack—the way of handling a thing and all putting your muscle into it together.”

“Ay, that’s it,” said Ben. “That’s what you see in a good charge. If it’s delivered in a scattering sort o’ way it may do good, but the chance is it won’t. But if the men ride on shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee, and then give point altogether—”

“Yes, as Sir Granby Royland’s regiment can,” said the corporal, proudly.

“Ay, and always did,” cried Ben, excitedly. “It takes something to stand against ’em.”

There was a dead silence then, and Roy’s heart beat fast, for the war spirit was getting hold of him tightly, for his eyes flashed, and his eagerness to go on with the preparations grew stronger every hour.

“Now, about these guns, sergeant?” he said.

Ben’s eyes twinkled as his rank was mentioned, and he gave his young master a grateful look.

“Well, sir,” he said, “they’ve been fast asleep in that garden all these years, with enough ivy over ’em to keep ’em warm in winter and the sun off ’em in summer; but, now they’ve been woke up, I believe they’ll bark as loudly and bite as well as any dogs of their size. If they’d been cast iron, I should have been for putting a very light charge in ’em and standing a good way off when they were fired, but, seeing as they’re regular good brass guns and not a bit worn, all they want is a good cleaning up, and then they’ll be fit to do their work like—like—well, sir, like guns. What do you say, corporal?”

“I say they’re a fine and sound pair o’ guns, sergeant, as’ll do their work. We should like a night’s rest first, but in the morning my two lads and me will give ’em a good scour up, and you won’t know ’em again.”

“Right! If the captain says yes, you shall; but I want to be with you—I’m armourer here.”

“Oh, of course, sergeant,” said the trooper. “Don’t you think we want to take your place.”

“I don’t, my lad,” said the old soldier, warmly; “and I’m only too glad to have three comrades out of the reg’lars to stand by me and help me to lick the recruits into shape.”

“Thank ye, sergeant,” said the man. “We four can soon do that. They’re the right stuff, and only want a bit o’ training.” Then, turning and saluting Roy respectfully, he went on: “Sir Granby give us all a talking-to, sir, and said he’d picked us out because we—I mean t’others—was the handiest fellows he knew in the regiment, and he hoped we’d do our best to get things in a good state of defence. And, of course, sir, we shall.”

The great, manly fellow spoke with a simple modesty that made Ben’s eyes sparkle, and he nodded his head and remained silent when the man had ended, but gave vent to his satisfaction by bringing his hand down heavily upon the trooper’s shoulder.

“We’ll see to the other guns now then,” said Roy.

“Yes, sir,” said Ben, promptly. “Forward there to the sou’-east tower.”

The three men marched off at once in the direction pointed out, and Ben stopped back for a moment or two to whisper to Roy, in a quick, vexed manner—

“Don’t go on saying we’ll do this next, or we’ll do that next, sir, as if you was asking a favour of us. You’re captain and castellan, as they calls him. You’re governor and everything, and you’ve got to order us to do things sharp, short, and strong.”

“But I don’t want to bully you all, Ben,” cried Roy.

“Nobody wants you to, sir. You can’t be bullying a man when you’re ordering him sharply to do what’s right. Of course, if you ask us in your civil way to do a thing, we shall do it, but it aren’t correct.”

“I’ll try differently, Ben.”

“Sergeant, sir!”

“Ser-geant,” said Roy. “But it’s all so new yet, I can’t quite realise it. And, of course, I’m so young to be ordering big men about.”

“You’ve the right to do it, sir, and that’s everything. Now, just suppose the enemy was in front playing up ruination and destruction, and your father was going to charge ’em with his regiment of tough dragoons, do you think he’d say, ‘Now, my men, I want you to—or I’d like you to attack those rapscallions yonder’? Not he. He’d just say a word to the trumpeter, there’d be a note or two blown, and away we’d go at a walk; another blast, and we should trot; then another, and away we should be at ’em like a whirlwind, and scatter ’em like leaves. You must learn to order us, sir, sharply. Mind, sir, it’s must!”

“Very well,” said Roy.

“Don’t you be afraid, sir; let us have your order sharp, whatever it is, and we’ll do it.”

“Then don’t stand chattering there, sir!” cried Roy, fiercely. “Can’t you see those three men are waiting for you at the bottom of the tower? Forward!”


It was an unspeakable ejaculation which came from the old soldier’s throat as he turned sharply and marched off to the men, chuckling to himself and shaking his shoulders as he went.

“He’ll do,” he muttered; and then aloud, “Up with you, my lads!”

Ben followed the men, and Roy came last, and, as he entered the door-way, he thought of the journey down to the powder-magazine, and felt a little shame at his nervousness.

Then up and up past the two floors and on towards the roof. As he reached the door-way leading out on to the battlements, he stood in the gloomy interior, and looked along the roof of the untenanted portion towards the north-west tower, wondering what Master Pawson was doing.

He was not left in doubt, for he could just see the secretary standing back from one of the narrow windows scanning the tower he was in, evidently having seen them enter, and watching to see what they were about to do.

A bit of boyishness entered into Roy just then, brought about by the business he was upon and the work he had been engaged in.

“I should like to startle him,” he said to himself, as he gave his mischievous thought play. “One might load and train one of the guns, and fire the blank charge aimed just over his head. It would startle him.”

The thought passed away directly, and he went up to the roof, where the four men were together upon the platform examining the two guns facing the embrasures.

These were not quite so big as the two standing now beneath the gate-way, but, for the date, they were of a pretty good size, and having the wood-work of the mounting in excellent condition.

“Well, how do they look?” Roy asked.

“Better than I thought, sir. They’ll do. Only want a good cleaning. If you think a charge or two ought to be fired, sir, as was talked about, shall it be with one of these?”

“If—yes; fire them both,” said Roy; and then he felt astonished at the fact that what he had imagined in mischief was really to be carried out.

“Next order, sir?” said Ben, gazing in his captain’s face.

“See to the other guns on the north-east and south-west towers.”

“Yes, sir. What’s to be done with the two as was slung down when Master Pawson’s rooms was furnished?”

“Sling them up again,” cried Roy, promptly. “It is necessary now.”

Ben gave his leg a slap and looked his satisfaction.

“Wouldn’t like the two big guns hoisted over the gate-way, sir, I s’pose?”

“No, certainly not,” cried Roy; “they will be of more value to sweep the approach of the castle. I’ll have them kept there. Plenty of room to fire on each side of the drawbridge if it’s up, and the muzzles would run through the square openings in the portcullis.”

Old Ben stared at him round eyed, and shook his head; then he chuckled softly, and, muttering to himself his former words, “He’ll do,” he led the men to the south-west tower, upon whose platform three brass guns were mounted, and then to the north-east, where there were three more.

Twelve guns in all for the defence of the castle; but the question was, would the ammunition be of any use? Balls there were in abundance, for, in addition to piles standing pyramidally at the foot of each tower, half-covered now by flowers and shrubs, there were similar piles close to the carriage of each gun. But the vital force of the gun, the energy that should set the ball whizzing through the air, was the question, and to prove this, Ben asked for an order, and then walked with his young captain to the armoury, where he opened the great closet. One of the kegs was brought out and set down upon the broad oak table.

“I’ve been thinking, sir, that perhaps it would be best to fire the big guns under the gate-way to-night.”

“Why?” asked Roy.

“Because we know their carriages are right, and I’m a bit doubtful about those upon the tower.”

“Very well; try the powder in those.”

“Yes, I hope I shall,” said Ben; “but I’m a bit scared, sir.”

“What! about the danger of opening the keg?”

“Tchah! no, sir. I can open that safely enough. It only means loosening the two hoops at the end, and then the heading will slip out. I mean this—the barrels have been down there no one knows how long, and what I want to know is, will it be powder after all?”

“Not powder after all!” cried Roy in astonishment, as his active mind began to question what liquor it could be there that was stored up so carefully as if it were a treasure indeed.

“I’m afraid it won’t be, sir—very much afraid.”

“Then what do you think it is?”

“Solid blocks o’ stony stuff, sir, I should say.”

“But they don’t put stony stuff in kegs like these.”

“No, sir, powder; but perhaps it has got damp with time and hardened so as it won’t be of any use.”

“Not if it’s dried and ground up again.”

“Don’t know, sir; can’t say; but we’ll soon see.” There was no hesitation shown. Ben tapped the two top hoops a little, and they soon grew loose and were worked up the staves; the top one withdrawn, and the next brought up into its place, having the wooden disc which formed the head free to be lifted out.

“I thought so, sir,” said Ben with a sigh, as he looked in. “Just solid black, and nothing else.”

He thumped the top of the contents with his knuckles, and then tapping the lower hoops they glided down and the staves fell apart, leaving a black block standing upon the table.

“Oh, this is bad luck, sir! horribly bad luck!” groaned Ben. “We shall have to get some powder from somewhere, Plymouth or—yes, Bristol’s the most likely place.”

“Fetch out the other keg, and open that, Ben,” said Roy. “To be sure, sir,” said Ben, and he turned to the closet and bore the second keg to the table. “If this is all right,” he went on, “there’s some hope for us, because we may find some more; but if it has gone bad from both sides it’s all over with us: we can only stand well on the towers and throw stones down at whoever comes.”

Ben’s fingers were as busy as his tongue, and in a few minutes he had the head out of the second keg, looked in, and tapped it with his knuckles.

“Just the same, sir, just the same.”

“Look here, Ben! I’ll have one of these blocks chopped up, and then ground up fine, and we’ll try it with a musket.”

“Good, sir! that’s the right thing to do; but after being wet once, I’m afraid it’ll fizz off now like a firework.”

“You don’t know till you’ve tried, man. Now, let’s see: get an axe, sergeant.”

“If I might ask your pardon, captain, axes aren’t the proper thing to break up a block of gunpowder. I should say a beetle or a mall was the thing.”

“Well, get a mallet, then,” said Roy; and the old man went to his tools used for repairing the armour, carpentering, or any other odd jobs, and brought out a mallet, with which he was about to strike a tremendous blow in the middle of the block, when Roy checked him.

“No, no!” he cried; “give it to me. I’ll knock a piece off the top edge.”

Ben handed the mallet respectfully enough, but he shook his head as if he did not consider that handling mallets was correct for the castellan of the place; while raising the implement not without some shade of doubt as to whether an explosion might follow the blow, but reassuring himself as he remembered that the mallet was only wood, Roy brought it down on the top with a sharp rap, and then started back in dismay, for a piece like a fragment of black potsherd fell upon the table with a bang, and a stream of fine grains came flowing out of the great hole he had made, covering the hardened piece and running on like black sand.

“Hurrah!” shouted Ben, excitedly; “they’re all right, sir. Just formed a cake outside, and the inside’s all safe and good. Twelve good brass guns, and plenty of powder. We’re ready for all the enemies the king has got in this part of the world. Now we’ll see for a couple of cartridges for the guns.”

He fetched a couple of small bags, which he filled with the powder, and then, after putting back the unbroken keg-shaped block, as carefully cleared all the loose powder from the table, and placed that and the shape from which it had come in the oak closet, which he locked.

“Powder’s powder, sir; so one has to take care,” he said. “Now for a touch port-fire, and we’ll try what sort of stuff it is.”

Ben gave Roy a knowing look, and then from a drawer in the table he took a piece of prepared oakum such as was used for lowering into the pan of a freshly primed gun, stepped to a case in which were some old rammers, and declared himself ready to start, but hesitated and went to his tool-drawer again, out of which he routed a long thin spike.

“Now I think we’re ready, sir,” he said, and they went out to where the men were waiting, and prepared to load the two guns under the gate tower.

“These are only makeshifts,” said Ben, apologetically, as he indicated his rough cartridges; “but they’ll do to clear out the guns,” and he set them down in the door-way leading into the old guard-room.

Then the long thin pin was tried in the touch-holes of both guns, and after a good deal of poking and drilling the orifices were cleared. Meanwhile, one of the troopers took the rammer Ben had brought out, inserted it at the muzzle, and found that it would only go in half-way. So a ragged stick was fetched, run in, twisted round and round, and withdrawn, dragging after it a wad of horsehair, cotton, hay, and feathers, while a succession of trials brought out more and more, the twisting round having a cleansing effect upon the bore of the gun as well.

“Ah!” said Ben, solemnly, “them tomtits have had the guns all to themselves for a fine time. I shall have to make some tompions to keep them out.”

Quite a heap of nest-building material was drawn out of the two guns, the first obtained being evidently of that season, while farther in it was old and decayed to a mere mouldy powder that might have been carried in by the industrious little birds a score of years before.

At last all was declared clear. The bags of powder were thrust in, a wad of the cleanest hay from the heap followed, and one of the troopers rammed the charges home, with the result that the powder rose well in the touch-holes, and nothing remained to be done but to insert the lightly twisted pieces of touch-string and apply a light.

“Better way than doing it with a red-hot poker, as some of us might like to stand back till the guns are proved,” said the old soldier, grimly. “One of you take that there to the kitchen and get a light,” he said, “to do for a port-fire.”

He handed a piece of the prepared oakum to one of the men, who ran off with it, and directly after Roy stepped back quickly and hurried into the house.

Ben said nothing, but he glanced after the boy with a fierce look, pursing up his lips, and then muttering to himself, his expression indicating the most profound disgust.

Meanwhile, Roy ran into the private apartments of the castle, and made his way to the library; but Lady Royland was not there.

Uttering an ejaculation full of impatience, the boy hurried into the withdrawing-room, where he had better fortune, for he found his mother waiting there as if she expected him.

“You, my dear?” she said. “I was waiting here to see Master Pawson; he sent me a message to ask if I would see him on matters of importance. Do you know what he wishes to say?”

“Well, I almost think I do, mother,” replied the boy.

“Then you have come to meet him?”

“No,” said the boy; “I didn’t know he had sent. I came to warn you not to be alarmed, for we are just going to fire.”


A report like thunder made the casements rattle as if they were being dashed in. This was followed by an echoing roar, and then came a yelling cry as of some one in agony.

“Oh, my boy, what has happened?” cried Lady Royland, starting from her chair, clapping her hands to her ears, and then sinking back palpitating in the nearest chair. “Run and see; something terrible must have occurred.”

Roy had already dashed to the door, and he ran out and along to the great gate-way, where his mother’s words seemed to be verified, for, on reaching the spot where the gun which had been fired had run back a short distance, there was the knot of men half hidden by the smoke that was slowly rising, and in front of them, just below the portcullis, lay, apparently lifeless, the figure of Master Pawson, face downward upon the flags.

“What have you done, Ben?” cried the boy.

“Done? I never done it,” growled the man, fiercely. “You runned away; so I put the light to the gun myself, and then we all stood and waited, till all at wunst Master Pawson comes round the corner like. I dunno how he come there; and off goes the gun and down goes he.”

Roy was already upon one knee, turning the secretary over on his back and examining him for the terrible injury he felt must have been received. But as Roy was proceeding to open his collar, he opened his eyes, sprang up into a sitting position, and then began to abuse the boy fiercely.

“You did it on purpose,” he cried; “and it’s a mercy it did not kill me.”

“Then you are not killed?” said Roy, dryly.

“No; but I might have been. It was a cowardly thing to do.”

“Ay, it were, Master Roy!” whispered Ben, turning upon him. “I thought you’d ha’ had heart enough to ha’ stood by us.”

“What do you mean?” cried Roy, rising angrily.

“Oh, you know, sir; sets such a bad example to the men.”

“I don’t understand you; nor you neither, Master Pawson.”

“It’s disgraceful; and Lady Royland shall put a stop to such monkey tricks.”

“Powder-monkey tricks,” growled Ben.

“Why, you don’t think I fired that gun on purpose, sir?”

“No, I don’t think so,” cried Master Pawson, in his high-pitched, scolding tone; “I am quite sure, sir; and it is disgraceful.”

“But I wasn’t here!”

“You were there. I saw you with the men, pretending to clean the gun, while I was yonder watching the sunset and waiting for an answer to a message I had sent in to your mother, sir, when, as you saw me come round the corner, you fired.”

“I did not, sir; for I was not there.”

“Ay, that’s true enough, sir,” said Ben, bitterly; “he warn’t here.”

“I don’t believe it,” cried Master Pawson, angrily, and his voice sounded like that of some angry woman. “It was a trick; and all this nonsense shall be put a stop to.”

“You can believe it or not, sir,” said Roy, growing calmer as the secretary waxed more angry.

“I shall speak to Lady Royland at once.”

“Do, sir. She is waiting to see you; she was telling me so when the gun went off.”

“Gun went off! And what business has a gun to go off here in this place?” cried the secretary, as he stood, now feeling himself all over and brushing the dust from off his velvet coat.

“Only got the wind of the gun, sir,” said the corporal, quietly.

“I was not speaking to you, my good man,” cried the secretary.

“Bad plan to stand nigh the muzzle of a big gun when she’s going to be fired,” growled Ben, in a sententious voice, and the secretary turned upon him sharply.

“And you, sir,” he cried; “how dare you let a boy play such antics? Do you know I heard the shot go by my face.”

“Nay, sir; that I’ll say you didn’t,” growled Ben.

“But I say I did, sir, with a fierce rush.”

“One of the tomtits’ eggs, perhaps, sergeant,” said Roy, dryly. “I know I caught sight of one or two when the nest was rammed in.”

The men all burst out laughing, and Master Pawson grew preternaturally calm.

“Was that meant as an insult, Master Roy?” he said, turning towards him and speaking slowly, with his eyes half shut and an unpleasant, sneering smile upon his lips.

“No, sir; as a joke,” replied Roy, gravely.

“I thank you; but keep your jokes for the servants; try them upon the menials. Recollect that I am a gentleman, placed in authority over you by Sir Granby Royland as tutor and master, and, as I am in authority over you, I am in authority over all here. Have the goodness to recollect that.”

He turned upon his heel and walked away, with the back of his doublet covered with scraps of hay from the tomtits’ nest, and Roy’s first inclination was to run after him to begin brushing him down.

“But he’ll only think I want to insult him again,” said the boy to himself. “I wish I hadn’t said anything about the tomtits’ eggs, though.”

“Shall I run after him, sir, and ask if I shall give him a brush down?” whispered Ben.

“No; let him find it out. One of the maids will tell him, I dare say.”

“But you should ha’ stopped by us when the gun was fired, Master Roy,” protested Ben. “I see them three chaps wink at each other, as much as to say, ‘He won’t stand fire,’ and it hurt me, sir, and seemed to be undoing all I did afore. I didn’t think it of you.”

“I should like to kick you for thinking me such a coward,” cried Roy, fiercely, for his encounter with the secretary had set his temper on edge. “How dare you! You had no business to fire till I came back. I did not want my mother to hear the report without some warning.—Here, corporal, give me that light.”

The man stepped up with it, and Roy took it out of his hand.

“Going to fire this one, sir?” said Ben, eagerly.

“Of course. Stand aside!” And Roy applied the sparkling port-fire to the bit of prepared oakum standing out of the touch-hole, with the result that it, too, began to sparkle and fume.

“There,” he said; “I hope Master Pawson won’t come back and be frightened by this one.”

He had hardly uttered the words when the secretary reappeared.

“Where are all the servants?” he cried, angrily. “I want some one to come and brush my clothes.”

“Stand aside!” shouted Ben. “She’ll run right back.”

But the secretary did not understand what was meant, and turned haughtily upon the speaker, totally unconscious of the fact that he was exactly behind the breech of the piece, whose recoil might have produced fatal results.

It was no time for uttering warnings, and Roy knew it. He glanced once at the tiny sparkling going on at the touch-hole of the gun, and sprang right at the secretary, driving him backward and falling heavily with him to the ground.

It was none too soon, for the gun went off with a tremendous roar, leaping up from the paving and running back on its low wheels right over the spot where the secretary had just stood.

“Guns is guns, and always was,” said Ben, very grimly; “and them as has to do with ’em wants to know all their little ways. I have know’d a man’s arm took off by the recoil, and, if you don’t take care, their breeches is as dangerous to them as fires ’em as is their muzzles.”

“Hurt, sir?” cried Roy, offering his hand after gaining his own feet, ready to help the tutor to rise.

Master Pawson made no reply, neither did he take the extended hand, but rose and walked away limping, going right down through the pleasaunce so as to reach his own room without having to pass through the corridor.

“Bit rusty, I s’pose, sir,” said Ben, quietly.

“I am afraid so, Ben,” was the reply. “But I don’t think there’s much doubt about the powder.”

“Doubt, sir; why, it’s stronger than they makes now, or else it has got riper and better for keeping. We’re all right there.”

“Yes, capital! but that report rings in my ears still.”

“Ay, sir, a brass gun can ring as well as roar; but you won’t mind it after a few times.”

“I don’t feel to mind it now,” said Roy, coolly.

“Not you, sir,” whispered the old fellow. “And I beg your pardon, Master Roy, and you’ve done me, and yourself too, a lot of good. It would ha’ been horrid for the men to think you was scared. I never thought of frightening my lady with the row. Tell the lads to sponge the guns out with a bit o’ rag, and then we’ll run ’em back to their places again.”

Roy gave the order, and then had the sentry changed at the gate, after which there was another duty to have performed,—that of raising the drawbridge.

“No fear of any one forgetting and walking into the moat at night, is there, Ben?”

“Well, no, sir; I think not,” said the old soldier, seriously. “You see, the bridge shuts up all the middle when it’s raised, and that makes it sure, while at those sides nobody could tumble in without trying to; so I don’t see no fear of that. Shall we haul her up, sir?”

“Yes.” And giving the order, as soon as the guns were in place, he led the way up into the furnace-chamber, where two men seized each chain, and the ponderous structure slowly rose as the huge weights descended the stone-work tubes in which they hung, the difficulty of hoisting the bridge proving to be much lighter than at the former trial.

“Come, sir, that’s safe. You won’t set sentries to-night?”

“No, of course not,” said Roy; “that will be unnecessary till there is news of some enemy being near.”