Chapter 14 | Master Pawson Shows His Colours | The Young Castellan

Chapter Fourteen.

As the time glided on, no further communication arrived from Sir Granby, and Lady Royland and her son began to realise more and more that they were shut off in a part of England where the king’s friends were few and far between, while those who remained true felt themselves so outnumbered by their neighbours that they dared not display their principles.

Letters had been sent round by Lady Royland to several of the gentry residing at different places, asking for help if it were needed, and at the same time offering the castle as a sanctuary and rallying-point.

One answer which was received will suffice to show the general feeling of the district.

The letter was brought in while Lady Royland and her son were seated at breakfast, and the servant-maid stated that it had been left with old Jenkin, at the gate, by a messenger the old man did not know, but who said that there was no reply needed.

A letter was sufficient to throw Roy’s mother into a state of agitation, eager as she was for news from her lord, and she eagerly tore it open, read it with a sigh, and passed it on to her son.

Roy took it as eagerly and began reading it aloud.

It was very brief, and was written in a peculiar hand that was not familiar.

“Take counsel with yourself as to what you are doing. A great change is coming over the country, for the king’s cause is undoubtedly lost. Many who respect the old family of Royland, and would help if they dared, feel that it is unwise to fly in the face of the new power, and to go in opposition to the people, who in all directions are declaring against the king. All who respect Dame Royland join in advising her to cease the show of resistance she is making, and to settle down quietly, ready to accept the fresh position, for resistance must mean destruction. Pause before it is too late.—From an old friend.”

“Well,” said Lady Royland, as her son read the letter through twice, “what do you think of that, Roy?”

“That the man who wrote it must be a coward.”

“It explains why we have not had more offers of help, my boy. I have felt for days past that there must be something very wrong. We are, it seems, becoming isolated in an enemy’s country, and so as to secure our safety, I am advised to lay down my arms, and turn over my allegiance to the new government, whatever it may be. That is what the letter advises.”

“Yes, but who wrote it?” cried Roy.

“It is evidently written by one person acting for others, and explains why my letters to gentlemen who I should have thought would have been ready to help me have remained unanswered.”

“Then we are to have no more help?”

“None, save that which we have secured from the village, and of course from the tenants on our estate. What do you think, Roy? If I resist, we shall, from our weakness, in all probability be beaten, and the new government will confiscate your father’s property here; while, if we settle down to an ignoble peace—”

“They’ll perhaps seize upon the estate all the same.”

“Then you would resist, my boy?” said Lady Royland, watching her son’s face closely.

“Resist, mother?” he cried, indignantly; “why, of course. After what father said, it is our duty to shut ourselves up here, hoist the king’s flag, and show the cowards who sent that letter that we’re going to fight as long as there’s a tower left in the old place.”

“Then you would advise me to go against everything that is said in that letter?”

“Pah!” cried the boy, with a look of disgust. “I wonder you can ask me such a question, mother.”

Roy had risen from the table, and with his face scarlet was walking up and down the room.

“I asked you because I wanted to see what your real feelings were, my boy,” said Lady Royland, going to him to lay her hands on his shoulder and look proudly in his face. “Roy, my boy, if I followed the advice of that contemptible time-serving letter, I should feel that I was proving false to the brave men who have gathered round us at my call, to my husband, and my king; lastly, my boy, to you. Give up? You know how I shuddered at the thought of war; how it was my prayer that you should not follow your father’s career; but when duty called, Roy, I cast all my fears behind, and stood forward ready to do or die. No, Roy! not while we have a shot left to fire, a strong hand to raise! Let those who will seek for safety in this base submission to the rebel powers: we will show them that a woman and a boy can be faithful to the end. That for the letter and its cowardly advice,” she cried, tearing it disdainfully to pieces. “We have but one thought here, Roy, and the old walls shall echo it as long as the stones will stand—God save the king!”

Roy leaped upon one of the chairs, drew his sword and waved it round his head, roaring out, with all his might, “God save the king!” And directly after there was a hurried step at the door, which was thrown open, and the electric excitement in the lad’s breast was discharged as if he had received a touch from a rod.

For the maid-servant appeared, looked at him in astonishment, and said, “Did you call, Master Roy?”

The boy got down, and sheathed his sword, babbling out something, and his mother smilingly said—

“No; you were not called.”

“I beg pardon, my lady,” said the woman, and she retired.

“Oh, I say, mother!” faltered Roy; “how stupid I must have seemed!”

“I did not think so,” said Lady Royland, smiling.

“But it looked as if I were acting.”

“Go on acting so, then, my son,” said his mother, proudly; “we need not study what people think.”

“Here’s Master Pawson,” whispered Roy, quickly. “Go back to your chair, mother.”

Roy went to his own, and Lady Royland slowly followed his example, as the secretary, after passing the window, entered the room.

“I beg pardon,” he said, “for being so late. Good-morning, Lady Royland; good-morning, Roy. I slept so dreadfully soundly.”

“You need not apologise, Master Pawson,” said the lady, gravely; and she noted that his quick eyes had rested upon the fragments of the torn-up letter scattered about the room, where she had tossed them contemptuously. “You are looking at the letter I received this morning.”

“A letter?” he cried, eagerly; “from Sir Granby?”

“No,” said Lady Royland, with a sigh which she could not restrain; “it is from close at hand—from some of our neighbours. I wish I had kept it for you to see.”

“Not bad news, I hope,” he said, looking pale.

“Yes; very bad news,” said Lady Royland. “I have been waiting for days—it is right that you should know—hoping to get promises of help from the different friends we have round, but till now the answer to my appeal has been silence. This morning they gave me their reason for not replying.”

“May I ask from whom you have heard?”

“I cannot tell you,” said Lady Royland; “the letter is signed ‘a friend,’ and it advocates total surrender to the rebellious power of which we hear so much.”

“But you will not surrender, Lady Royland?”

“Surrender? No!” cried Roy. “Never!”

“That is right,” said the secretary, flushing a little.

“No; I shall not surrender,” said Lady Royland, firmly; “but as it means that we are becoming isolated, and are doomed to stand alone, I feel it my duty to speak plainly to you, Master Pawson.”

He turned very pale again, and his eyes glanced restlessly from one to the other.

“I hope—I trust,” he faltered, “that I have not done anything more to incur your displeasure, Lady Royland.”

“No, Master Pawson, nothing; on the other hand, I have to thank you for the brave way in which for some days past you have mastered your dislike to the proceedings here, and helped my son to advance my objects.”

“I—I have only tried to do my duty,” he said, flushing again.

“Still, I cannot disguise from myself, Master Pawson, that dangers are gathering around us fast, and that it is my duty to relieve you of a position which must be growing intolerable.”

“I—I do not understand your ladyship,” he said, looking at her wonderingly.

“Let me explain, then. I feel that I have no right, Master Pawson, to keep you here. I think, then, that while there is the opportunity, and before you are compromised in any way, you should sever your connection here and go.”

“Ah! I see what your ladyship means now,” he said, drawing a deep breath as if of relief, and looking firmly in Roy’s searching eyes. “Go away before any one of importance comes and makes a demand for the surrender of the castle.”

“That is what I do mean.”

“Yes, exactly,” said the secretary, thoughtfully; “and when the troubles are over, and the king has chastised all these insolent people who have risen against him, and, lastly, when I meet Sir Granby Royland, and he asks me why I deserted his wife and son in their emergency, what can I say?”

Lady Royland was silent for a few moments, and her eyes rested in a softened manner upon the secretary’s face.

“Say,” she said at last, and her voice sounded a little husky, “that it was my wish that you should go, for I did not desire that any one but I should be compromised.”

“Thank you, Lady Royland,” said the secretary, quietly; and as he spoke, Roy felt his dislike to the man increasing moment by moment up to a certain point. “And, of course,” he said, “I must require money for travelling and to make my way back to London.”

“That you shall be properly supplied with, of course, Master Pawson.”

“Thank you again, Lady Royland,” he said, as he went on calmly with his breakfast; “it is very good of you, and when I require it, I will ask.”

“Better that it should be done at once, sir,” Lady Royland said, firmly, “and that you should go.”

“And leave you and Master Roy here to your fate!”

“We can protect ourselves, sir.”

“You must forgive me for being so slow over my breakfast, Master Roy,” said the secretary, smiling in the lad’s disgust-filled face. “I see you are impatient to go, but I am talking so much.”

“Oh, eat a good breakfast,” said Roy, now he was thus appealed to, “for the last—”

“Oh, no! not by a great many,” said Master Pawson, smiling. “I like the dear old castle far too well, and I hope to have many a long year of happy days in it. It is very good of you, Lady Royland; but I hope I can do my duty to Sir Granby like a man. You judge me by what I said at the beginning of these preparations. I thought then that I was right. I did not believe we should be interfered with here; but I see now that I was wrong, and I am ready to help you heart and soul. Do you think I could go away at a time like this? Why, I should never forgive myself—never. It is impossible, Lady Royland; now isn’t it, Roy? I’m not a fighting man; nature never meant me for anything but music and books, but I’m not such a contemptible coward as all that. When the enemy comes and begins firing, I may be induced to go somewhere that I think is safe; but go away? No, I could never hold up my head again.”

“Master Pawson,” cried Roy, excitedly, springing from his seat, “do you mean this?”

“Mean it, Roy?” said the secretary. “Why, of course. I promised Sir Granby to do my duty by his dame and his son, and according to the best of my powers. I’m going to do it, and—Well, that’s a very nice raised pie.”

“Here, I want to beg your pardon, Master Pawson, for all kinds of unpleasant thoughts about you,” cried Roy, going round to the secretary and holding out his hand, which the other took and held.

“Do you?” he said, laughing. “Oh, no, there’s no need. Boys generally quarrel mentally with their teachers just out of want of knowledge. I know. You’ve called me old Pawson many a time—now, haven’t you?—and said I was fat and soft and stupid, eh?”

The lad did not answer, but looked scarlet.

“That’s all right, Roy. I’m old enough to understand a little about human nature. Don’t you think I mind what a boy says or does in a fit of spleen. We shall understand one another better as time goes on.”

Then turning to Lady Royland, who stood there flushed and with her eyes humid, he said, with grave respect, “I thank you, madam. It is only what I should have expected from one of your good, considerate nature, and I shall never forget it.—There, Roy,” he said, “I am going back to my room, and shall always be there when you want me. I stay there because I fear to be in the way, but I’ll come and do anything you wish if I can be useful. But, please,” he added, with a comical look of appeal, “don’t ask me to buckle on a sword, to come and fight, nor yet to fire guns. I should be sure to shut my eyes when I pulled the trigger, and waste the charge. Good-morning; I’m sorry I was so late.”

He made as if to go, but paused as Lady Royland took a step or two forward and held out her hand, which he took and kissed respectfully.

“Thank you, Master Pawson,” she said, with her voice low from emotion; “you have made everything seem brighter to us than it has looked for days. I feel now that the world is not so cowardly and cruel as this letter makes out that it was. I thank you. Sir Granby shall know of your noble conduct, and—”

“No, no! please don’t say any more now,” cried the secretary, hurriedly; and he hastened to quit the room.

“I am glad,” cried Roy, as the door was closed.

“Glad!” exclaimed Lady Royland; “and I am sorry, Roy, that we should have been so ready to misjudge.”