Chapter 17 | Farmer Raynes Brings News | The Young Castellan

Chapter Seventeen.

It was the loud blast of a trumpet which roused Roy from his slumbers to find that it was a gloriously clear morning, and that the call was bringing the little garrison together for the early parade.

The trumpeter was the youngest of the three men from his father’s regiment, and consequently the call rang out in the true martial style, echoing through the garden court, and sounding exhilarating to the boy as he sprang off his bed and began to dress.

It roused the jackdaws, too, from their resting-places, and sent them sailing about in the clear sunny air, their black forms reflected from the moat, and their sharp, petulant cries sounding like protests against this disturbance.

For they had had a hard time of it lately. Under Ben’s superintendence every loop-hole had been cleared, every collection of nesting ruins carefully removed, and they had no other married quarters but the holes in the walls, half-shaded by the green pellitory which rooted and flourished in company with the moss, that acted as sponges to retain enough moisture for its sustenance.

Roy was not long in dressing, buckling on his sword, and hurrying down to the tiny parade ground, for in his character of castellan he liked to be present every morning when the men who were to relieve the garrison assembled at the gate-way, across the moat, and waited for permission to march in.

All this was rigorously carried out in true military style by the old sergeant’s management; and as Roy descended, it was to find the little garrison drawn up fully armed under Ben’s command, he and the three troopers forming the regular staff who never left the castle.

Ben looked as fresh as if he had not made a night’s rest out of two hours on a form in the guard-room; and giving the word as Roy appeared, there was the twinkling and glittering of headpiece and weapon as the men presented arms, and then stood again at attention as it was carried out some two hundred and fifty years ago.

Then a short inspection by the castellan followed, orders were given, and four men marched to the door-way, tramped up the staircase, and a few minutes later the ponderous drawbridge began to descend, till it spanned the moat; and at a word the men fresh from their homes marched across, to halt by the portcullis, which then began to rise slowly, the capstans creaking and cracking, till the row of spikes alone was visible as they hung like iron stalactites overhead.

Another sharp order rang out, and the new-comers filed into the guard-room, from whence came the clashing of metal and the buzzing of voices as the men assumed their arms and came out one by one to fall in opposite to those whose places they were to take, and who would, in a few minutes, go into the guard-room to deposit their arms in the racks, and then be free till their short term of service recommenced, but of course ready to hurry to the castle at the first summons should a necessity arise.

Everything went on according to the regular routine; the fresh men were all drawn up now, armed, the order given, and the relieved tramped into the guard-room and soon began to straggle out again, eager to troop over to a kind of buttery-hatch by the great kitchen, where a mug of milk and a hunch of bread for a refresher would be waiting for distribution, by Lady Royland’s orders, for every man.

All this went on then as usual, and the old warder Jenkin had just come tottering out of the guard-room, to go and take up his customary post at the gate, the trumpeter had raised his instrument to his lips to blow a blast, and the new-comers were ready to march off to their several duties of mounting guard, drilling at the guns, and cleaning accoutrements, when there was the sound of hoofs rapidly beating the road across the moat, and directly after a figure, mounted upon a heavy cart-horse, came into sight, thundering along at full gallop. At the first glimpse it seemed as if the horse had run away with his bareheaded rider; but directly after it became plain that, though only riding saddleless, and with no rein but a halter, the big man was urging the horse forward with all his might.

“Why, it must mean news!” said Roy, excitedly, as he advanced towards the drawbridge.

“Ay, there’s something wrong, sir,” said Ben, gravely. “That we shall soon hear.”

The armed men stood fast on one side, and those disarmed in a group on the other, waiting excitedly to see what this new thing meant.

“It’s Farmer Raynes!” cried Roy.

“Ay, sir, that’s who it be. He was coming with a wainload of oats this morning, and he wants help, for he has broken down, I should say.”

The next minute the rider dashed up to the far gate, but did not draw rein, for he sent his horse thundering across the drawbridge before he checked the panting beast with a loud “woho!” and then threw himself off.

“What’s the matter, Master Raynes?” cried Roy.

“They’re here, sir,” whispered the bluff farmer, excitedly. “I’d got a wagon loaded with oats last night, and was taking ’em from Dendry Town to the farm ready for bringing on here i’ morning, when at a turn of the lane I come upon a troop of horse who surrounded the wagon at once, and a couple of ’em led me, whip and all, up to their officer, a lank-looking, yellow-faced fellow, who was sitting on his horse just under a tree.

“‘Where are you taking that grain?’ says he.

“‘On the king’s service,’ says I. ‘To Royland Castle.’

“His yellow wrinkly face grinned all over, and he turned and gave orders to an officer by him; and then I knew I’d made a mistake. For they were all well-mounted, and in a regular trooper’s uniform, and I thought I’d happened upon one of the king’s regiments, instead of which they were a pack of Roundhead rabble; and I had to drive the team back with the oats to their headquarters at Dendry Town. There they made me open a sack to feed their horses; and after that I was told I was a prisoner, and that my wagon and team was taken for the use of the state.”

“Dendry Town—ten miles away,” said Roy, thoughtfully.

“Many on ’em?” said Ben, sourly.

“There was about fifty as took me,” said the farmer; “and I should say there were seven or eight hundred in the town swarming all over the place.”

“But how did you get away, Raynes?”

“Left it till this morning, sir, when I was feeding my horses, after emptying a couple of sacks for theirs. Waited till there was a chance, and then I jumped on old Ball here, who can go like fun when he gets warm, and galloped off. They shot at me, and I heard the bullets whistle, and then about a dozen came in pursuit, galloping after me till we got within sight of the towers; and then they drew back, and here I am. I thought you ought to know somehow that the enemy was so near.”

“Then they’re not a mere rabble of men?”

“Not they, sir. Reg’lar soldiers, and they’ve got big guns in the market-place. Quite a little army.”

“Thank you, Raynes,” said Roy, gravely. “It was very good and brave of you to bring the news like this. Halt there, men. Take your arms again. We shall perhaps have some work to do.” Then briefly giving his orders, which had long enough before been arranged between him and Ben, the latter led one little party to the south-west tower, and the corporal took another to the north-west, while Roy himself mounted with a party into the gate tower, where at his word of command the portcullis dropped with a loud clang, and directly after the drawbridge began to rise till it was back in the position it always occupied by night.

This part of the business of preparation for unwelcome visitors being accomplished, Roy mounted to the leads, where he placed a sentry to keep a good lookout, and then turned to see if his men were ready.

They stood in a group on each tower waiting, Ben and the corporal swinging a port-fire from time to time to keep it well in a glow; and then standing on the breastwork above the machicolations, Roy looked out as far as he could see in search of enemies, where, however, all looked beautiful and at peace.

But it could be no false alarm. The time for action had come; and, turning to the right, he waved his hands, turned to the left, and did likewise; and directly after a puff of grey smoke darted out from the top of each tower, followed by two rapidly succeeding peals like thunder, which echoed through the castle, making the jackdaws fly out of their resting-places to wheel round, crying vociferously.

“Now,” said Roy to himself, “the staff is ready. It’s time to raise the king’s flag.”

But the flag was still in Lady Royland’s hands, and the boy descended to cross to her private apartments and fetch it away.

But half-way across the pleasaunce he encountered Master Pawson, looking wild-eyed, pale, and strange.

“What is the matter?” he cried. “What is that firing for?”

“The enemy are near, Master Pawson,” said Roy, quietly; “and I suppose that before long they will pay us a visit.”

“But the guns—why were the guns fired?”

“As a signal, of course, for our men to gather, and for such of the village people as like to take refuge here. I thought you knew.”

“I? No. I did not know. But the people will not come,” said the secretary, with undue excitement; and he now looked very pale indeed.

“It will be rather hard, though, if they do not, after all this drilling and teaching.”

“Oh! those men may,” said the secretary, hastily. “I meant the people from the village.”

“Well, we shall see,” said Roy.

“But what makes you say that the enemy are near?” said the secretary, giving him a searching look.

“The messenger who brought the news. Farmer Raynes.”

“Farmer Raynes?”

“Yes; he was taken and escaped.”

At that moment Ben came up with a grim look of satisfaction upon his countenance.

“Morning, sir,” he said to the secretary. “You see the enemy have found us out. Ready for them?”

“I? What do you mean?”

“Ready to doctor some of us as gets our heads and legs knocked off by cannon-balls. I beg pardon, Master Roy, sir, her ladyship’s a-signalling to you yonder. What does she say to the enemy coming?”

“My mother!” said Roy, excitedly, as he caught sight of her at one of the corridor windows. “I have not seen her yet.”