Chapter 18 | Royland Castle After Its Growl | The Young Castellan

Chapter Eighteen.

Lady Royland received the news calmly enough, and was the first to allude to the flag, which she said would be, though unfinished, suitable enough to hoist whenever her son thought it right to do so.

“The sooner, then, the better, I should say, mother,” cried Roy. “Let them see it waving when they come near.”

“By all means, my boy. I am glad to find that you have everything in so good a state of preparation. The guns startled me a little, but I expected to hear them some time. Do you think the men will prove true and come in?”

“True, mother? Yes, of course.”

A few minutes later Roy came out with the silken flag hanging in folds across his arm like a cloak, and hurried to where Ben and the three troopers were busy loading the two guns, run out now into the gate-way so as to command the road from each side of the raised bridge.

The men were all armed, and a look of excitement was in every face, notably in that of Farmer Raynes, who was fidgeting about and looking anxious.

Roy handed the flag to Ben, who took it proudly, and nodded his satisfaction.

“You’ll come up and be there at the hoisting, sir?” he said.

“Of course. Yes—what is it?”

“Master Pawson, sir,” whispered the old soldier, with a laugh; “we managed to wake him up at last.”

Roy smiled and went to where the farmer stood, watching him anxiously, and finally making a sign to him to come.

“Want to speak to me, Master Raynes?” he said.

“Yes, sir; I’m in agonies about my men. They’ll be coming along soon and falling into a trap, for some of those troopers will be hanging about the road.”

“Yes, this is serious,” said Roy, who grasped the difficulties of the reinforcements he hoped soon to receive.

Ben was called into counsel, and his suggestion was that the guns on the four towers should be manned ready to cover the advance of the friends, and keep back the enemy.

“Mounted men’s orders are to keep clear of cannon-shot all they can, sir; and now, if you please, I should like you to arm all the people necessary, while I see to the ammunition.”

This order was carried out, and the flag taken up into the furnace-chamber, just below where the new flag-staff with halyard had been erected against the staircase turret.

In a very short time all was ready, so far as so small a force was available, and four men kept ready in the chamber prepared to lower the bridge as soon as any friends approached, when it was to be kept down till the coming of strangers rendered it necessary that it should be raised again.

Ten minutes had not elapsed before a shout from the north-east tower was heard, and Roy turned in the direction pointed out by one of the men, to see a little party of four men who, in obedience to the signal, were advancing at a trot from the direction of the village.

The bridge was lowered, the portcullis raised, and, as the men came hurrying across, they were received with a hearty cheer from the tiny garrison.

The bridge being down and the portcullis raised, the state of preparation was deemed sufficient to warrant their remaining so, as no enemy was in sight; but the precaution was taken of having the port-fires ready and each gun in the gate-way manned so as to sweep the approach.

Another shout announced fresh arrivals, men coming up in twos and threes, every arrival sending a thrill of satisfaction through the young castellan’s breast as he felt his strength increase, till only two parties were not accounted for,—six men from the mill and the ten from the farm.

“A terrible loss they would be, Ben,” said Roy, as he swept the country from the highest point of the tower, and without effect. “Raynes wants to go in search of them.”

“Then don’t let him, sir. We can’t spare him. Mightn’t be able to come back. Wait a bit; they’ve all got some distance to come. Give ’em time.”

“But they might have been here by now.”

“Ay, they might, sir,” said Ben, drily.

“Ha! you think they are afraid, now it comes to the pinch.”

“Nay, sir, not yet. They may have a good way round to go to ’scape the enemy, for I dare say they’re beginning to occupy the roads. I’m most anxious about the farm lads, for they’re nighest to where the enemy are.—Hi! there! Look! look!”

Ben had turned his head in a different direction to that in which the men from the mill might have been expected to come; and there, altogether, running in a group, six figures could be seen evidently making for the castle, while a party of a dozen horsemen suddenly rode into sight from behind a copse about a quarter of a mile away, and cantered across as if to head the men off.

“Now, sir, quick! Tell ’em yonder to make ready and wait. The corporal’s there, and he’ll know what to do.”

Roy shouted the orders to the south-west tower, and the trooper-corporal answered loudly, and they saw him blow his port-fire.

“Now, sir, wait a bit, till they get nigher. That’s it. Now, fire!”

The race had been growing exciting, for the horsemen were increasing their pace as they came on with their weapons glittering in the sun, and it was plain enough that the runners must be cut off and taken prisoners, when just at the right moment Roy’s order rang out. There was a white puff from the tower, a heavy boom, the ball went whistling just over the heads of the horsemen, and a shout of triumphant derision arose from the towers, as, moved by the same spirit, the little troop wheeled round and went off at full gallop to get out of gunshot.

“Another shot, men!”

“Nay, sir, certainly not. That’s the young soldier speaking. What for? You might bowl over a horse or two, but what good would that do? You’ve done what you wanted, and sent ’em to the right-about, saved six of our lads, and at the same time showed those fellows that we’re on the lookout and don’t mean to stand any nonsense. That’s enough for one bullet, sir, eh?”

“Splendid! my lads,” cried Roy, who leaned over the battlements, waving his hand to the panting and nearly exhausted men from the mill, who came at a steady trot now across the bridge, cheered loudly by all who could see them.

Roy’s next thought was to go and tell Lady Royland all about the incident; but he felt that he must live up to his position, and be busy there in sight of his men; so, after watching the enemy’s horse till quite out of sight, he bade Ben keep a sharp lookout, and descended to hear the report of the party who had just come in.

He found them in the guard-room, scarlet with exertion, and still panting from their long race, but evidently in high glee, Sam Donny, their spokesman, the young man who was put first to the front when they came to him, being full of their adventures,—how the troopers had passed the mill three times that morning, and stopped twice to demand corn for their steeds and water, their leader watching the miller’s men curiously as if suspicious of them.

“But they went off at last, sir. Let’s see: they come agen, though, twice after we’d heard the guns, and that kep’ us back. Last of all, I says to t’others, ‘Now for it, lads, or young Captin Roy’ll be thinking we’re feared to come.’ They says, ‘That’s so,’ and off we starts; but we hadn’t gone far ’fore we finds they’re on the road, and we had to run back and make for Water Lane. Hadn’t gone far ’long Water Lane, when we finds a couple of ’em there. Back we goes again, and creeps along aside one of the fields, and there they was again, and dozens of ’em on the watch, as if some one had told ’em we was likely to come over here. Then we all goes back to the mill and talks it over, and some on us says as we’d better stop till night; but I says, ‘Nay! They’ll think we’re all cowards, and get shooting at us if we comes in the dark,’ and at last we said we’d go two miles round by the common. And so we did, sir, crawling on our stummicks in and out among the furze bushes, and every now and then seeing the sun shine on one of their caps as they rode here and there.

“Last of all, sir, they seemed to have gone away, and I lifts up my head and looks about. ‘All clear, mates!’ I says, and up we gets, keeping as far off as we could, so as to work round. ‘We’ve done ’em this time,’ I says, as we went on, and we was coming along splendid, till Bob Herries happens to look back, and, ‘Run, lads,’ he says; ‘here they come arter us!’ I was for hiding, sir, but there was no chance, so we all run our best, with the castle here seeming a long way off; but we got nigher and nigher, and so did they; and they’d ha’ cut us off if it hadn’t been for that gun—though we all thought the next shot might hit us.”

“You did bravely, my lads,” cried Roy. “But tell me, what about the men from the farm?”

“What! aren’t they here, sir?” said the man.

“No; we’ve seen nothing of them.”

“Well, I am glad, then, that we aren’t the last,” said the man, with a grin of satisfaction; but his face was serious directly. “I don’t quite mean that, sir. I mean I’m sorry they’re not here. Then some of those fellows must have took them. But what I want to know is, how could they tell we was a-coming to the castle?”

“They must have noticed that you all had a military bearing, my lad. You are all very different to what you were when you came to join.”

A look of pride beamed in the man’s face and was reflected in those of his companions, but he spoke out directly.

“Well, we have tried to get to be soldiers, sir, hard; haven’t us, mates?”

“Ay!” was growled in chorus.

“Yes, you have done well,” cried Roy, “and I’m heartily glad to see you safely here.”