Chapter 21 | A Grand Surprise | The Young Castellan

Chapter Twenty One.

Roy had to go the whole round of the ramparts that night before he found Ben, who had always been visiting the parts he reached a few minutes before. But he came upon him at length, just at the door-way of the south-east tower, where it opened upon the southern rampart between that place and the great gate-way.

“Ladyship says I’m to have the garden to turn back to a proper court-yard?” said Ben, after hearing his master’s report.


“And Master Pawson is turning out of his chamber, but he is to keep the lower place?”

“Yes; that is the arrangement, Ben; and you can have the upper chamber for use at once.”

“Well, that’s a good thing for the men who’ll be up there, sir; but what does Master Pawson want with that lower room? I meant to have three firelock men there.”

“Be content with what you can have, Ben. My mother did not want to be too hard upon Master Pawson.”

“No, sir; she wouldn’t be. But you’ve come all round the ramparts?”


“Kep’ looking out of course, sir? What did you hear?”

“I? Nothing.”

“Then you didn’t try.”

“Yes, I did; twice on each rampart. There was nothing to hear.”

Ben chuckled.

“Ears aren’t so sharp for night-work as they will be, sir, before you’ve done. I heard them on the move every time I stopped.”

“What! the enemy?”

“Yes, sir; they’re padrolling the place round and round. You listen.”

Roy reached over the battlement, and gazed across the black moat, trying to pierce the transparent darkness of the dull soft night. The dew that was refreshing the herbage and flowers of field, common, and copse sent up a deliciously moist scent, and every now and then came the call of a moor-hen paddling about in the moat, the soft piping and croaking of the frogs, and the distant hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! of an owl, but he could make out nothing else, and said so.

“No; they’re pretty quiet now, sir; don’t hear nothing myself.—Yes; there!”

“Yes, I heard that,” said Roy; “it was a horse champing his bit; and there again, that must have been the jingle of a spur.”

“Right, sir, right. You’ll hear plenty of that sort of thing if you keep on listening. There, hear that?”

“Yes, plainly. A horse stumbled and plunged to save itself.”

“Enough to make it,” said Ben, gruffly; “going to sleep, and him on it jigged the spurs into its flanks to rouse it up. There, you can hear ’em on the move again, going to and fro.”

“Yes, quite plainly,” whispered Roy; “why, they must have come in much nearer.”

“No, sir. Everything’s so quiet that the sounds seem close. They won’t come in nigher for fear of a shot.”

“But they must know we could not see them.”

“Not yet, sir; but the moon’ll be up in a couple of hours, and they know it’ll rise before long, and won’t run any risks after what they’ve seen of my gunners—I mean your—sir. Ah! it’s a bad job about those ten poor lads. They would have been able to shoot. Master Raynes is in a fine taking about ’em.”

“Can’t be helped, Ben; we must do our best without them.”

“Ay, sir, we must, even if it’s bad.”

They remained silent for a few minutes, gazing outward, hearing the jingle of harness, and the soft trampling of hoofs, all of which sounded wonderfully near.

The pause was broken by Ben, who whispered suddenly:

“You’re right, Master Roy, after all; they are coming in a bit closer and no mistake. Mind coming round with me?”

“No. What are you going to do?”

“Have a word with the lads all round to be on the lookout. I don’t want to make a noise, and get blazing away powder and shot for nothing; but they must be taught their distance, sir.”

“With the cannon?”

“No; I think a few firelock shots might do it to-night, sir; and that wouldn’t be so wasteful. Do our boys good too. They haven’t fired their pieces yet in earnest.”

Roy’s heart began to beat a little faster, for this was exciting; and silently passing on with his lieutenant, post after post was visited, the men challenging, receiving the word, and then a sharp warning to be on the alert; while, after this, Ben and Roy passed on to listen again and again.

“Yes, sir,” whispered the former; “there’s no mistake they’re a good hundred yards closer in. I almost fancied I could see one of ’em moving against that lighter bit of sky.”

“I can, Ben,” whispered Roy. “There, just to the left of where the ruins must lie—between it and the tower we just passed. Stay, though; why didn’t we go up and see how they’re getting on with clearing Master Pawson’s chamber? There is a light up there.”

“’Cause we’ve got something more serious on the way, sir.”

“Halt! stand, or I fire!” came from the top of the north-west tower, and Roy was about to call out—

“Don’t, you idiot; we gave you the word just now,” when a voice from beyond the moat uttered a low “Whist!”

“Stand, or I fire!”

“If you do, Dick Davis, I’ll punch your head, as sure as you stand there,” came from across the moat. “Can’t you see we’re friends?”

“Give the word.”

“Stop! Who’s there?” cried Roy.

“That you, sir? Please speak to Dick Davis, or he’ll be shooting somebody with that gun of hisn.”

“Is that Brian Wiggins?”

“Yes, sir, and the rest on us, sir. But pst! The enemy’s close behind.”

“Quick! round to the bridge!”

“No, sir; there’s a whole lot of ’em come close in. They nearly had us an hour ago, and we’ve had a fine job to creep through all in a line one arter t’other.”

“Hist! cease talking,” whispered Roy, “or you’ll be heard.”

The warning came too late, for an order delivered in a low tone a short distance away was followed by a tramping as if a line of horses was approaching cautiously.

“How many of you can swim? Now, as many as can, come across.”

But no one stirred, and the trampling came on.

“Do you hear?” said Roy, in an angry whisper; “are you afraid?”

“Fear’d to leave our comrades as can’t swim, sir,” said the man who had first spoken.

“What’s to be done,” exclaimed Roy, excitedly.

But there was no response, for he was standing there upon the rampart alone.

The boy was in an agony of doubt and dread, for the right thing to do in such an emergency would not come to his inexperienced brain. He divined that Ben had gone for assistance, but he felt that before he could be back, the brave fellows who were trying to come to their aid would be surrounded by the enemy and taken prisoners.

To add to his horror and excitement, he plainly heard from the enemy’s line the word given to dismount. This was followed by the jingle of accoutrements as the men sprang from their horses, and a loud bang—evidently of a steel headpiece falling to the ground.

To speak to the unarmed men from the farm was to obtain an answer and proclaim their whereabouts to the enemy; so Roy was baffled there; and, at his wit’s end, he was about to order them to make their way to the bridge, when the man on the tower above challenged again:

“Stand, or I fire!”

“Draw swords! Forward, quick!” came from out of the darkness.

The sharp rattle and noise told that the party must be large, and like a call just then a horse uttered a tremendous neigh.

Involuntarily, at the first order from beyond the moat, Roy had half drawn his own sword, but thrust it angrily back as he realised his impotence, and reached forward to try and make out what was going on below him; for there was a loud splashing noise in the water as if the men were lowering themselves into the moat, the reeds and rushes crackled and whispered, and there was a panting sound and a low ejaculation or two.

“Now, every one his man,” said some one, sharply.

Bang, bang! and a couple of flashes of light from the top of the tower just above Roy’s head; and as the splashing went on, there was a loud trampling of feet.

“On with you!” roared the same voice. “They’ll be an hour loading, and it’s too dark to hit.”

At that moment, from some distance along the rampart to the right, came flash after flash, and the reports of ten or a dozen muskets, followed by the rush of feet; and Ben’s voice said, in a low stern tone—

“Steady, steady! No hurry. Reload!”

There was the rustling and rattling of bandoleer and ramrod, and the twinkling of sparks of light, as the reloading went on; while from the angry orders being given, some distance back in the darkness, it was evident that the volley had sent the enemy off in a scare, which was made worse by the plunging, snorting, and galloping of horses which had evidently dashed off, escaping from the men who held their reins.

“How many are you above there?” cried Roy.

“Three, sir.”

“Only two fired.”

“No. My piece wouldn’t go.”

“Are you reloaded?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Be ready.”

“They’re coming on again, sir. He’s rallied ’em,” growled Ben; “but we shall be ready for ’em when they come.”

Meanwhile, the sound of splashing and swimming came up from the moat, accompanied by a good many spluttering and choking noises, and now heads were dimly made out approaching the bank of the moat below.

“How many are there of you across?” said Roy.

“Eight of us, sir,” came up in a panting voice; “we’re going back for the other two.”

“Who are—how many?”

“Four on us, sir,” said one man; “they’re hiding in the reeds. Can’t swim.”

“Can you bring them across?”

“Yes, sir. We did bring three as couldn’t take a stroke, and they’re down here half drowned.”

“That’s a loy,” said a gruff voice; “I aren’t: on’y full o’ water.”

The men lowered themselves into the moat again, and began to swim back, but just as they were nearly across, there came the thudding sound of horses passing along at a trot, and a rush of men towards the edge of the moat.

“Fire!” shouted Roy; and over the swimmers’ heads a ragged volley tore, the flashes cutting the darkness, and once more, in spite of angry curses and yelled-out orders, horse and man were driven to the right-about, all save about a dozen, who came right on to the edge of the moat.

“Surrender!” roared a voice, as there was a quick splashing among the reeds below the bank. Then a shot was fired from a pistol, followed by another; but the men summoned to surrender had done so to their comrades, who whispered to them to trust themselves to their strong arms, two of the swimmers taking a non-swimmer between them, and bringing him across in safety to the rest, crouching upon the narrow strip of bank beneath the walls.

Another volley sent the attacking party back into the darkness, and a brief colloquy took place.

“All safe?” cried Roy.

“Yes, sir, and as wet as wet,” came up in answer.

“Fall in, then, and quick march for the sally-port,” cried Roy; and the men tramped round by the north-west tower, along beneath the western rampart, turned the southern corner, and were admitted by the little sally-port beside the portcullis, where, bedraggled as they were, they received a tremendous hand-shaking and a roar of cheers.

In half an hour the missing men were in dry clothes, ready to recount their adventures. The enemy had retired to a distance to continue their night patrol of the place; while the men upon the ramparts were reduced to the regular watch, and those off duty were being addressed by Ben, who sarcastically lectured them upon what he called their modesty.

“When the captain gives the order to fire,” he said, “you’re all to pull trigger together, and every man not to let his comrade fire first for good manners.”

But here Roy interposed.

“No more to-night, sergeant,” he said, firmly. “We are all fresh to our work. But I thank you all for the brave and manly way in which you have shown what you can do. This has been a grand night’s work: your ten comrades safely brought in, and the enemy sent to the right-about. The sergeant has been finding fault, but he is as proud of you all as I am. Come, Martlet, what do you say?”

“Might ha’ done better, captain,” replied the old fellow, gruffly. “But it warn’t so bad. Wait a few days, though, and we’ll show you something better than that.—What do you say, lads?”

The answer was a hearty cheer, which was repeated, and was still echoing through the place, when Roy, thrilling still with the excitement of the past hour, made his way towards his mother’s room to fully set her mind at rest with his last good news.