Chapter 15 | Ben Martlet Proposes a Search | The Young Castellan

Chapter Fifteen.

The coming in of Farmer Raynes and his ten men had a capital effect upon the people round. It was an example which soon bore fruit. After the first two or three attendances at the castle, they marched there together, with the farmer by them, in thorough military fashion, and were followed by the people from the village, who would have gladly come across the moat had not the gate been clanged-to by the sentry of the day on duty, and then they had to content themselves with standing gazing across at the drilling and martial exercises which went on. The firing of the big guns—for all were tried in turn so as to see that they were serviceable—was a grand portion of the entertainment, and, in spite of secret adverse influences at work, the tenants on the estate soon began to present themselves for enrolment in the little body, eager to a man to don the castle uniform and bear arms; while the fact that the officer in command was a mere boy sent the lads of the neighbourhood half-mad. In fact, day after day they came in pairs to offer themselves for enlistment, but only to go disappointed away; those who showed the most surprise at the refusal to accept their services being the very young.

“Why, bless my heart!” Farmer Raynes would say, with his broad, deep chuckle, “it would be like putting a ’stinguisher on a rush-light to stick a steel cap on some of those boys’ heads. You’d be putting them out, Ben Martlet.”

“Ay,” said the old fellow, showing his teeth; “but a few would be useful to go down the guns with a brush to clean them out. But there, I’m not going to laugh at the boys. Shows a good sperrit, Master Raynes, that I wish more of the older folk would follow.”

“Ay, so do I,” said the farmer, frowning; “but they’re some of ’em ashamed and some afraid. Parson Meldew has a lot to do with it; and do you know why?”

“Nay, not I; perhaps it’s because her ladyship has been such a good friend to him.”

“Like enough. That sort’s always the worst. He has such a poor living that it’s my belief he’s glad of the chance of a change. He thinks he must be the better for it if it does come. I never much liked him; old parson was the man. Why, if he’d been alive, he’d ha’ been up here every day talking to the lads, and encouraging them to get on as well as they could to fight for church and state like good men and true. But you’ll have six more here to-day, good strong fellows from Marlow Mill.”

“Eh? You don’t mean that?”

“Oh, yes, I do,” said the farmer. “I was over there with the wagon last night to get that load o’ flour that I brought in this morning, and I give them all a talking-to about how things are, and my lads showing up so in their coats and steel caps. It’s of no use to bully ’em into coming. They want coaxing, not driving. I hadn’t been talking to ’em long, ’fore they did exactly what I wanted, asking questions, and I answered ’em so that they wanted to know about sword-play, and loading and firing the big guns; and then they wanted to know whether there were buff coats and steel caps for all as liked to come and drill. When I told ’em there was, lo and behold! they all found out that they wanted to do a bit of soldiering, and they’ll be over soon.”

Farmer Raynes was quite right, for soon after, six sturdy young fellows came slouching up in a sheepish way to stand watching the drilling with open mouths, laughing and nudging one another as they recognised old acquaintances, and were apparently ready to joke and sneer. That passed off, however, in a few minutes, as they saw the goodly figure cut by the farmer’s men, and Raynes himself, no longer in the rough, flour-soiled attire, as they had seen him when fetching the meal-bags over-night, but a fine, bluff, gallant-looking fellow now, in buff coat, breastplate, headpiece, and glittering steel cap which flashed in the sunshine as he marched half a dozen armed men into the gate-way, then through the guard-room and up to the ramparts, along which they were seen to have to go through a certain amount of practice with the big guns.

Within an hour the martial ardour that was glowing in the would-be recruits’ breasts was red-hot, and they asked leave to pass over the bridge.

The sentry shook his head, but sent a messenger across to state the men’s business, and they stood waiting, doubly impressed now, till the man returned with the order that they were to wait. This they did till, a few minutes later, sharp words of command were heard in the gate-way; and then, closely followed by Roy, gallant in bearing and in his Italian half-armour, gold and white scarf, gauntlets, and feathered felt hat, Sergeant Martlet came with the three troopers at a smart, elastic march across the drawbridge, which rattled and quivered to their tread, till they reached the outer gate, where, at the word of command, they were halted, and stood at attention.

Roy was on his mettle; his eyes glistening at the sight of the six awkward-looking fellows, knowing as he did what a change a few days in the hands of Ben and the troopers would effect; but he was growing strong enough now to begin adopting the policy of making it a favour to admit men to his chosen band. So he ruffled up like a young game-cock, to stand there glittering in the bright sunshine, with one gauntleted hand resting upon his hip, the other pressing down the hilt of his long sword.

“Want to see me, my lads?” he said.

There was a general whispering among the men as to who should speak, and at last one of them was shouldered forward with, “Go on, Sam; you say it.”

Sam, the most sheepish of all, being thus thrust into prominence, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, took off his hat, made an awkward bow, and thus delivered himself, with a smile:

“Morning, sir. You know me, Master Roy?”

“Eh? Oh, yes; Sam Donny, from the mill. What is it, my lad?”

“Only, sir, as me and my mates want to come and take sarvice here to fight for the king.”

“Eh? You? Well, I don’t know, my lad; we only want good men and true here, who will learn their duty, and do it.”

“Oh, that’s just what we are, sir,” said the man, smoothing down his hair; “not one on us as’d go to sleep o’ nights when the wind’s blowing.”

“Ah, but I don’t want fellows to grind corn. I want men who will be ready to fight,—yes, and like men.”

“Well, sir, ask all on ’em. I can fight, and lick any of the lot here. Oh, I can fight, and so can they.”

“Hum—ha,” said Roy, marching slowly round them, while the men drew themselves up and seemed to grow a couple of inches taller each under the inspection of the young captain. “What do you think, sergeant?” he continued; “think you can make artillerymen of ’em?”

Ben saluted, and took a few steps forward to march up and down the party, slapping their chests, feeling their arms, and pounding them heavily.

“Got some bone and muscle in ’em, sir,” he said, respectfully, as his report. “Might try if they mean it.”

“Take them across then to the armoury, measure them, and their names can be enrolled.”

The men drew deep breaths of relief, and then grew nervous, for there was a short command or two given, a couple of the troopers stepped to their head, Ben and the corporal came up behind, and the little group of sturdy fellows was marched across into the guard-room, and afterwards into the armoury, to stand gaping at the weapons of war.

“Did I do that right?” said Roy, afterwards.

“Right, sir. The very thing. Those sort judge by what they see. They came to us half ready to laugh, but they soon saw how serious it all was; and they’ll go away back to the mill to-night, and I’ll be bound to say, Master Roy, if you followed ’em, you’d find they’d got a dozen other fellows about ’em, talking to ’em and boasting and bragging about how grand everything is, and showing ’em their uniforms and steel caps. This has about done it. You’ll see we shall get as many men as we want now.”

“But I felt all the time as if I were acting,” said Roy.

“What? Look here, Master Roy, don’t you go and say such a thing as that again. You weren’t acting, and so I tell you; only doing your duty to your king and country, and your father and mother into the bargain. You can’t do fighting without a bit of show along with it to brighten it up. You ask a man whether he’d like to wear a feather in his cap, and a bit o’ scarlet and gold on his back, he’ll laugh at you and say that such things are only for women. But don’t you believe him, my lad; he won’t own it, but he likes it all the same.”

Ben was right. For the next week men from the village and the surrounding farms came up to the castle looking very serious and important, to be enrolled for its defence; and at the end of a fortnight there were fifty defenders, of whom fully forty looked as if they could be depended upon, while the rest would serve to make a show.

Meanwhile, Farmer Raynes attended the drilling and gun practice every morning with his men, the whole gathering rapidly picking up the rudiments of the military art under their four good teachers; while at noon all, save about a fourth, went back to their peaceful vocations, but ready at the arranged-for signal of two guns fired from the castle to hurry back, every man to his post, to stay in garrison continuously, instead of doing so one day in four.

Farmer Raynes devoted the rest of his time to going round and gathering stores,—provender and forage of every kind that would be necessary,—and his wagons seemed to be always coming or going across the drawbridge; while vaults and chambers in the castle which had remained unused for generations were now packed as store-rooms and granaries.

“Never mind the farm, Master Roy,” said the bluff fellow, one day; “it isn’t quite going backward.”

“But the crops?” said Master Pawson, anxiously, for he was present.

“Well, Master Pawson, they won’t be so good as they should be, of course, but they’ll grow whether I’m there or no, and Sir Granby won’t mind. He’s a rich gentleman with a beautiful estate.”

“Yes, yes,” said Master Pawson; “it is a beautiful estate.”

He looked quickly from the farmer to Roy, and back, as if he thought he had said too much.

“Ay, sir, it is a fine estate, and he’s a lucky man who holds it. He won’t mind a few things going wrong, so long as we take care to save it from some of the crop-eared rascals who’ll be on the lookout to try and take possession. I’ll be bound to say that there’s some of ’em smelling about already, and making up their minds to make a grab at it if the king’s crown goes down.”

“Surely—surely not, Master Raynes,” cried the secretary.

“That’s what I think, sir. There’s them here wouldn’t be above taking possession of a pig, or a sack of my oats or barley; and there’s bigger rogues who like bigger things, and would give their ears to get Sir Granby’s fine estate. You mark my words, Master Roy; you’ll see.”

Roy did mark those words, thinking deeply of them during the following busy month, by which time the castle was in a fine state of defence, its little garrison of twelve or fourteen men, who kept watch and ward in regular military style, being relieved every day; while at the first bad news of danger, Roy was ready to summon his whole force from farm and mill, hoist the drawbridge, drop the portcullis, and with his stores of provisions set any beleaguering force at defiance, whether large or small.

“There, sir,” said Ben one morning, “I begin to feel now as if I could breathe. There’s a lot as wants doing yet, and I should dearly like to do away with that garden as spoils the court-yard, so as I could have a proper march round; but they won’t come and catch us quite asleep.”

“No, Ben; you’ve done splendidly. It’s wonderful to see what smart fellows you have made of the men.”

“Ay, and don’t they know it too, sir?” said Ben, chuckling. “See the way they all marched past her ladyship this morning? There wasn’t a man as didn’t feel as if he was twice as big as he was a month or two ago. And see those big lads looking on?”

“Yes; there were forty or fifty across the moat.”

“Ay, looking on as hungry as could be. Look here, Master Roy, I’m thinking a deal of getting say forty of ’em together—picked ones—as soon as I’ve more time, and knocking them into shape.”

“I think it would be wise, Ben. They’d do well to work the guns.”

“They would, sir; but we’ll see. Any more news?”

“No, Ben; only rumours.”

“Master Pawson heard anything?”

“No, not for a long time past. But look here, Ben, we have got the place in good order now, yet nothing has been done to see if there is any truth in the story about the secret passage leading into the old chapel.”

Ben gave his head a punch.

“No, sir; and yet I think of it every night just before I go off to sleep. It ought to be done, for it’s of no use to keep polishing up a pot that’s got a big hole somewhere in the bottom.”

“Of course it is not,” said Roy. “Look here; when will you begin to search?”

“Let’s hit while the iron’s hot; sir, eh? You and I will go round and visit all the sentinels to-night, and then, as we shall have a lantern, we’ll begin.”


“Down under the north-west tower, sir.”

“And ask Master Pawson to go with us?”

“Nay, sir; we’ll keep it all to ourselves.”

“But he will hear us about the steps, and opening and shutting doors.”

“But he mustn’t, sir. I’ll oil all the locks and the keys I have, and we must smuggle our light under a big cloak. No, sir, we don’t want Master Pawson with us; let him study his chirurgery and sewing of cuts, and stopping up bullet-holes. That’ll do for him. This is a job for the castellan and his head-sergeant, sir; and, if you’ll take my advice, that’s the order for the night.”

“Very well, Ben; that is the order for the night.”

“One word, sir. How is my lady getting on with the flag? That old one is so tender like, I’m afraid it’ll blow to pieces first time it’s hoisted.”

“Getting on splendidly.”

“Big as the old one, sir?”

“Half as big again, Ben.”

“That’ll do, sir. I believe in a big flag. It gives the men courage, and bullies the enemy. Now I really do begin to feel as if I could breathe.”