Chapter 13 | The Coming of Recruits | The Young Castellan

Chapter Thirteen.

The next morning the carpenter was there with the capstan bars soon after the bridge was lowered; and upon these being tried, after the capstans and pulleys had been well greased, the portcullis was lowered and raised several times with the greatest facility, each time becoming more easy to move, while old Ben’s eyes glistened, and he worked as if all these preparations for the defence of the place, with the possible shedding of blood and loss of life, had suddenly added a delightful zest to his existence.

But he was not alone in this, for Roy found a strange exhilaration in his new position. There was something so novel in everything, and try how he would, it was hard to keep down a feeling of vanity, especially when he came upon his mother busily preparing a scarf for him to wear.

“For me?” he said. “Oh, mother! it’s too fine.”

“Not at all,” she said, quietly. “Your men will like to see their leader look striking.”

“Ah, well,” he replied, “I can’t wear it while there is so much dirty work to do.”

“That will be done by the men. Roy, my boy, you must rise to your position, and give orders more for things to be done.”

“That’s what old Ben says, and I am trying; but it’s hard work while everything is so new, and—”

“And what?”

“It seems as if Master—Oh, no; it’s too paltry to be talked about.”

“Tell me what it is, and I will be the judge.”

“Well, you know how poor Master Pawson was upset with the firing?”

“Yes; and he ought to be very grateful to you for saving his life. Has he not thanked you?”

“No; unless looking sneeringly at everything I do is thanking me. That makes it seem so hard to put on a showy thing like that. He’ll only laugh at it.”

“Master Pawson is not behaving well,” said Lady Royland, coldly. “He actually had the impertinence to speak to me last night about the preparations, and objected to the men being taken from their work.”

“Said it was absurd?”

“Yes; those were his words, Roy, and I was compelled to silence him. He told me he was sure that if Sir Granby knew how utterly unlikely it was for any of the disaffected people to come into this neighbourhood he would immediately cancel the orders, and, under the circumstances, he could not refrain from advising me to act according to his advice.”

“And what was his advice, mother?”

“To put a stop to the foolish preparations, which could only bring ridicule upon all here.”

“He said something of the kind to me; more than I told you.”

“Why did you not tell me all?”

“Because it seemed so paltry.”

“Nothing is too paltry when we have so much at stake, Roy.”

“And was that the end of it?”

“No, my boy; he made me indignant by his presumption, and I told him to remember who he was.”

“What did he say to that?”

“Begged my pardon humbly, and said that perhaps I was right, and that he would do everything he could to help me in this painful situation. I am glad he has spoken out and forced me to be plain. Now he will keep his place.”

“Yes, he will now,” said Roy. “I know what he felt; of course he was annoyed at my taking the lead, after his going out leaving me only his pupil, and coming back to find me seeming to do exactly as I pleased. But I must go, mother, for there is such a lot to do. Don’t ask me to begin wearing silk and gold and feathers yet, though, please.”

Lady Royland smiled proudly as she kissed her son, and Roy hurried back to his lieutenant, who was anxiously expecting him.

“Farmer Raynes has come over, sir, to see you. Wanted to know what the guns were fired for.”

“Where is he?”

“Yonder, sir, watching the corporal drill the men.”

Roy went to the gate-way, where the trooper was busy at work drilling the men in the use of their firelocks, adding to his verbal instructions the examples of the two soldiers who came with him, these falling in just in front, and executing every order in the carriage of the piece, loading and firing, so that the servants could more easily understand.

“Morning, Master Roy,” said the farmer, stepping out of the guard-room door-way. “Heard the guns last night, and couldn’t make out where the noise come from. Found out this morning, though, and run over. Mean fighting, then, if they come here?”

“Certainly,” said Roy. “My father sent word for us to be prepared. I was going to send for you this morning. I want your men and you to come in, and be ready in case you are wanted.”

“Parson Meldew came and had a long talk with me day before yesterday, sir, and he told me that whatever I did I was to stay peacefully at home, mind my crops, and not interfere at all. But if I did, I was not to side with the king.”

“He dared to tell you that?” cried Roy.

“Not quite in those words, sir, but he meant it.”

“Oh, if he wasn’t a clerk, I’d say something,” cried Roy; “but what did you say?”

“Nothing, sir; I only laughed.”

“And do you mean to stay at home and do what he told you?”

“Of course, sir, unless there’s some fighting comes on, and then I suppose we shall have to begin.”

“Against the king?”

“I’m going to fight for my good old landlord, Master Roy, the best man I know. He always stood my friend in hard times, and if he sends word I am to, why, here I be with ten stout fellows, only you’ll have to drill us all, same as you’re doing with these here, unless pitchforks and flails will do; we can handle them.”

“Shake hands, Master Raynes,” cried Roy; “I want you and the men to come and drill every day in the mornings, and I want you to bring us in as much wheat, oats, and flour as we can store up. You must buy when you have not plenty, for we must be ready in case we are attacked.”

“What do you say to me going round and buying up all the ham and bacon and salt pork I can get, sir?”

“Yes, certainly,” cried Roy. “My mother will supply the money.”

“Oh, that’s all right enough, sir,” said the farmer. “But of course you don’t want us to come and live in the place until there’s real trouble.”

“Certainly not. Give half your time to getting ready for troubles, and the other half to the farm.”

“I see, sir. Ah, morning, Master Pawson. Wild times these.”

“Terrible, Master Raynes, terrible,” said the secretary, coming up. “Are you going to be drilled too?”

Roy glanced sharply round, but the secretary spoke earnestly, and with no suggestion of a sneer.

“Yes, sir, me and my men must come and support my landlord, spite of all that Parson Meldew may say.”

“Does he object?”

“Yes, sir; and pretty strongly, too. If I was him, I don’t think I should say quite so much, for he may be hearing of it again.”

“But I hope all we hear is but exaggerated rumour, Master Raynes, for everybody’s sake. If it were half so bad as you all say, I don’t know what would happen.”

“Ah well, sir, nothing shall happen here if me and my lads can prevent it. There, I won’t waste time. The lads shall be over here in a couple of hours, Master Roy, and I’ll be getting off to market.”

The farmer went away, and Roy felt comparatively happy with his tutor, for Master Pawson seemed to have put aside the petty feeling of annoyance, and to wish to let the trouble over the firing be quite forgotten, so careful was he about avoiding any allusion to the guns.

“I can’t help,” he said, smiling; “only to look on. I was never meant for a fighting man. What a change, though, you seem to be producing, Roy.”

This was sufficient to make Roy, with his natural boyish frankness, begin talking freely about his plans, for he was growing enthusiastic, and he even began to ask the secretary’s opinion about two or three minor matters.

“Oh, don’t ask me,” said his companion, laughing, and with an air of protest; “you might just as well expect me to begin wearing armour. No. You must do all the defending if trouble does come, and I beg you will give particular orders to your men-at-arms to take the greatest care of the secretary, for you must not have him hurt. I suppose, then, that there will be no more studies for the present?”

“No, not for the present,” said Roy, rather importantly; “I have so much to do.”

“Very well, man o’ war; the man o’ peace will go back to his music and his books, but if you want me to do anything that I can do, send for me at once.”

Master Pawson put his hands behind him and walked thoughtfully through the garden towards the door-way leading to the ramparts, and from thence to the north-west tower, by the green grass and flowers seeming to him a more attractive way than through the long corridor and past the occupied rooms; while Roy made for the armoury, which seemed to be his study now. Ben was there, busy, and he looked up and nodded. “Master Pawson’s soon settled down then, sir?” he said.

“Oh, yes, Ben; he’s good-tempered enough now.”

“Good job for him, sir. Can’t have quarrelling in a garrison. I began to think he was going to mutiny outright, and if he’d shown his teeth any more, I suppose I should have had to remind him that there were some deep, dark dungeons underground as a first dose, and the stone gallows up at the far corner of the ramparts for the very worst cases.”

“But do you think that stone bar thing was ever used for executing people?”

“Sure of it, sir; and there’s the opening underneath leading down to that square patch beneath the walls.”

“But it may have been to hoist food or other things up during a siege.”

“Ah, it may have been, sir,” said Ben, grimly; “but I don’t quite see why they should have chosen to make it just over the bit of a patch of ground between the walls and the moat where you couldn’t get the forage to without a boat, and when there were a gate-way and bridge. ’Sides, too, why should they pick the old burying-place of the castle?”

“But that was not the old burying-place, surely, Ben?”

“You ask Dick Grey, gardener, what he found when her ladyship wanted the ivy planted there to cover that bit o’ wall. It was full of ’em.”

Roy shuddered.

“That’s so, sir. I expect in the old fighting days they used to bury ’em there; and as it’s just under that there gallows, why, of course, it was used for traitors or spies as well. That reminds me, sir, as a lot of that ivy ought to be cut away. We don’t want any one to make a ladder of it for getting into the place.”

“Leave it for the present. It could be torn down in an hour if there was any need.”

“Ay, sir, that’s the way you take it over such things. That there garden ought to be turned into a drilling-ground; you know it ought.”

“If there does come any need for it, the garden can go,” said Roy, “but not until the very last.”

“That’s right, sir. Only, if we’re besieged, it will have to go. Now, let me see—that makes nine buff coats, and one more’s ten, for Farmer Raynes’s lot. Ought to give the farmer something a bit smarter, oughtn’t I, as he’ll expect to be a sergeant, won’t he?”

“He’ll like to be over his men.”

“But, you see, he’s a big one, and there’s a buff coat would suit him exact. I’ll tell you what, sir, if he has the same as the others, and a scarf, and a feather in his cap, he’ll be satisfied.”

“I should say so, Ben.”

“Then scarf and feather it shall be, sir. I’ll have all their arms and things ready for to-night; then they can have ’em in the morning when they come, and it’ll put all them straw-whopping fellows in a good temper, and make ’em easy to drill. I want to pick out so many fellows for the big guns that we must have some more in soon. But it’s better to go gently. Saves a lot of confusion.”

“What’s the next thing to do, Ben?”

“Everything, sir. Powder-bags to fill. Stores to get in. We must have a new flag. Place cleared out for garrison quarters. Something done to the two old guard-rooms on each side of the gate. We’ve months of work to do, sir, try how we may, but we’re going to do it, Master Roy, and—Oh,” continued the old fellow, pausing for a few moments in his task of taking down belts and swords to lay one on each buff coat below the steel caps just set out ready, “there’s that other thing I wanted to talk to you about.”

“What other thing, Ben?”

“I was up atop of the great tower this morning.”

“I know. I saw you there.”

“I was looking at the furnace and thinking that must be touched up a bit, and a good supply of wood and charcoal carried to it. There is plenty of lead at the foot of the north-east tower.”

“Ugh! We don’t want to do any of those barbarous things, Ben; they’re too horrible. Fancy pouring molten lead down on people’s heads.”

“We don’t want to pour no molten lead down on people’s heads, sir,” protested the old soldier. “All we says to ’em is, we’ve got a whole lot of hot silver soup up here, and we shall pour it down on you if you come hanging about our place, and trying to get in. Let ’em stop away, and then they won’t be hurt.”

“But it’s too horrible, Ben. I will not have that got ready.”

“Very well, sir. I don’t know that it much matters, for they’ve got to cross the moat first, and I don’t think we’ll let ’em do that. The only way the enemy will get in here will be through traitors in the camp.”

“And we shall not have any of them, Ben.”

“Hope not, sir.”

“So if we are to fight, let it be in a fair, manly, chivalrous way.”

“Yes, sir, and hang all spies and traitors.”

“Don’t let’s imagine that such people are possible,” said Roy. “But was that what you wanted to talk about, sergeant?”

“No, captain, it wasn’t. I got thinking this morning, as I was looking round for weak points in our defences, that there’s the old tale about that there underground passage; the little chapel on the hill made me think of it first.”

“But do you believe it’s possible, Ben?”

“Not knowing, sir, can’t say. But I tell you what I do say: there’s nothing like taking care. Don’t do to leave a hole in a sand-bag if it’s ever so small. So as soon as we’ve got a little more ship-shape and our garrison beginning to grow, let’s you and me get a lantern some night, and have a good look to see if there is such a rat’s hole.”

“Of course; yes.”

“Keep it quiet, sir, except to her ladyship. There may be such a place, for in the good old times there were a great many curious doings, and it would be a fine one to have a way in and out when the enemy thought they’d got people shut up closely, and was going to starve ’em out; and them able to bring in more men, and sacks of corn, and pigs and ducks and geese and chickens, and laughing at the enemy all the time.”

“We must see, Ben; and I want you, as soon as the farmer’s party are settling down, to go and try about more men.”

“I say, sir, aren’t it strange as none of the gentry hasn’t been over?”

“Too soon, perhaps, Ben.”

“Perhaps so, sir; but I can’t help fancying everybody about here don’t think quite the same as we do.”

“Not on the king’s side? Oh, nonsense!”

“Hope it is, sir,” said the old fellow, thoughtfully inspecting and drawing one of the swords; “but there, we shall see. Bad for some of ’em if they are agen us, or I’m much mistook.”