Chapter 27 | A Startling Portent | The Young Castellan

Chapter Twenty Seven.

That same night the proceedings at the earthwork were repeated under cover of a strong guard, the greater portion of the little garrison being engaged in repairing and strengthening the great earthen bank from the inner side; and this was carried out till dawn without the slightest interruption.

When the day broke, the reason for this was plain, for the enemy’s battery had been carefully repaired; and just at sunrise a troop of horse was seen coming from the encampment of the main body of the force, half a mile away. As they came nearer, it was made out why they approached. For the troop was the escort of a couple of guns, each drawn by six horses; and an hour later a fresh embrasure was unmasked, and there were three guns ready to try and solve the problem unsolved on the previous day.

“Shall we hoist up another gun, Ben?” said Roy; but the old fellow shook his head.

“No, sir; I don’t see any good in it. You know it’s just a chance about hitting, and though they keep touching us, what good do they do? They may hammer away at the gate tower till they’ve half knocked it down, and it’ll take ’em about a month to do it. And what better will they be then? They won’t stand an inch nearer to getting in than they do to-day. Let ’em fire. You give ’em a shot now and then to tell ’em you’re at home. Don’t you waste more good ammunition than you can help.”

Roy took his lieutenant’s advice; and for a week the siege went on with the accompaniment of demonstrations of cavalry round the castle, and approaches by night, all of which kept the little garrison well on the alert, but did not advance the reduction of the stronghold in the least.

Sam Donny’s wound progressed favourably; but the hospital-room was occupied as well by three more men, all suffering from cuts and contusions, caused by the flying chips of stones when a ball struck the edges of the crenelles.

The routine of the defenders was becoming monotonous, mounting guard, firing a little, and drilling a great deal; for Ben gave the men no rest in the way of practising them in the management of their weapons.

The result was that the condition of the garrison improved day by day, while Lady Royland grew more hopeful as she listened to her son’s words.

“It can’t last much longer, mother. Either they’ll get tired of trying to drive us out, or some of the king’s forces will come and relieve us.”

Lady Royland shook her head the first time, but the second, Roy added—

“Look here, mother; the news is sure to reach London that we are being besieged. Then father will hear it; and do you suppose he will stand still? Either he will come himself, or see that help is sent.”

Roy repeated his encouraging words one day at dinner, in the presence of the secretary, a full three weeks after the enemy had sat down before the castle, and Master Pawson laughed and rubbed his hands.

“They must give in,” he said. “They’ll never take the place.”

“Never!” said Roy, triumphantly; “But I say, Master Pawson, I’m going to ask a favour of you.”

“What is it?” said the secretary, eagerly.

“I want you to take a turn at the watch-keeping now and then.”

“Keep watch?” said the secretary, staring.

“Yes, just now and then, so as to relieve a man and give the poor fellow a good sleep.”

“Master Pawson will, I am sure,” said Lady Royland, gravely. “He has said that he would do anything he could to help us in our time of need.”

“Of course, Lady Royland, of course,” he replied, hastily. “I only hesitated because I am so helpless—such a poor creature over matters like this.”

“It doesn’t want anything but to keep awake, and a sharp lookout. You ought to be able to do that, sir. You’ve had plenty of sleep lately, going to bed at nine, and sometimes at eight.”

“Yes, I—I often go to bed very soon, Roy. My head seems to require a great deal of sleep. I suppose it’s from studying so much. But I’ll come and keep watch—after to-night. You will not want me to-night?”

“Why not to-night?”

“I don’t feel prepared for it. My head is bad, and I fear that I should not be of much use. To-morrow night, if you want me, I will gladly come and take any duty you wish me to perform.”

“Very well, Master Pawson,” said Roy. “To-morrow night, then. I say, though,” he added, merrily, “you had better come to the armoury with me.”

Bangbang! in rapid succession went the guns from the battery, followed a moment or two later by the third.

“That’s right!” cried Roy. “Hammer away; only you might let us have our dinner in peace.”

“Yes,” said the secretary, with a forced laugh; “they might let her ladyship have her dinner in peace.”

“Oh, mother!” cried Roy, “don’t look so white and anxious. You ought to be used to the firing by now.”

Lady Royland gave him a wistful look, and smiled faintly.

“They are only powdering down the stone; and I daresay the king will pay for it all being done up again.”

“No doubt he will,” said the secretary. “But you were saying something about the armoury. Shall I have to see to the men’s weapons being served out?”

“No,” said Roy, merrily. “I want you to select a helmet, breastplate, and back-piece to fit you, and a good sword.”

“Oh, no, no!” said the secretary, quickly. “I am not a man of war.”

“But you’ll have to be, while you are on guard.”

“Not like that. I might wear a good sharp sword; in fact, I did pick out one, and I have it in my room.”

“Well done!” cried Roy, clapping his hands. “There, mother, who’s ever going to think of surrendering when Master Pawson makes preparations like that.—I say, don’t be too hard on the enemy, sir. Try and wound; don’t cut off heads.”

“Ah, you are making fun of me, Roy! But never mind. Don’t you forget that by-and-by, when the fighting’s over, I shall take my revenge.”

“What—over lessons? Very well. I’m having a capital holiday from the old Latin.”

The bent of the conversation turned, and the dinner ended in a very cheerful manner, for as time went on, Lady Royland could not help feeling hopeful. For want of the necessary war-material, the enemy seemed to be able to do no more in the way of a regular siege, and their efforts with the battery were becoming somewhat relaxed. No more men had been injured, and the sufferers in hospital were doing well. In fact, the general opinion in the castle was that before very long the enemy would, if they found they could not starve the defenders out, give up the attack, the castle being too hard a nut to crack.

That evening, while the firing was going on in a desultory way, Roy visited the hospital, meeting the secretary on the way.

“You’ve been to see the poor fellows?” said Roy, smiling.

“Yes—yes—they look white and ill. It is very sad, Roy. Such fine strong men, too. But what do you think of my going to read to them for an hour or two every day?”

“Not Latin?” said Roy, laughing.

“No, no, of course not. Something about the old wars.”

“Capital!” cried Roy. “Do!”

“And I might take my viol over, and play to them a little.”

“No, no; I say, don’t do that,” cried Roy.

“Eh? Why not? It would be so soothing.”

“No; it wouldn’t. Only make them miserable. They don’t understand sarabands and corantos; and you can’t play jigs.”

“No,” said the secretary, grandly, but with a peculiar look. “Perhaps they would not appreciate good music. And you are right; I do not understand jigs.”

He nodded and crossed to the door-way leading up to his room, and Roy directly after encountered old Jenk.

“Hallo! where are you going?”

“Eh, eh? Master Roy? Oh, only up on to the platform to see the firing for a bit!”

“I say, don’t you get shot.”

“Me? Me? No, sir; they won’t hit me. Look—look!” he cried, pointing upward. “Flag—ladyship’s flag! Blows out bravely. See—we’ll never surrender.”

“Yes. Never surrender, Jenk. Too good soldiers for that.”

“Ay, ay, ay!” cried the old man. “Too good soldiers for that. Brave boy! Your father’s son. But you’ll have my little gate-house built up again, Master Roy, when they’ve gone, eh? They’ve knocked it about a deal. But old soldiers don’t mind scars.”

“Oh, yes; we’ll have it put right when we’ve made the enemy run.”

“Yes, yes, make ’em run, Master Roy; and I’ll tell your father what a brave soldier Ben Martlet and I have made you.”

The old man chuckled and went in at the door-way to mount the spiral stairs, while Roy turned and looked up at the flag, well blown out by the evening breeze.

“Poor old fellow! Helped to make me a soldier, has he? Well, it pleases him to think so.”

The lad ran his eye along the side of the court-yard, sadly trampled now, and fancied he saw a head quickly withdrawn at one of the narrow windows of the north-west tower; but he was not sure, and it did not impress him then as he went on to the hospital-room, where the wounded men received him eagerly, Sam Donny being the most demonstrative, and ending by begging that he might be ordered on duty again.

“Another week at least, first,” said Roy. “Only too glad to have you all back.”

Roy stayed till it was dark, and he was descending to the court-yard when a loud shouting below took his attention, and upon running out he found a knot of men eagerly talking and looking up at the gate tower.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” said the boy, excitedly.

“The flag, sir,” cried Farmer Raynes. “Did you order it to be pulled down?”

“I? No!” cried Roy, excitedly. “I said it was to be kept up night and day. Who has dared to do this?”