Chapter 28 | By a Traitor's Hand | The Young Castellan

Chapter Twenty Eight.

The last words were spoken as he hurried across to the door-way in the gate tower; and before he reached the platform at the top, he could hear Ben Martlet storming and shouting at the men, who were very silent; but from the noise of footsteps it was evident that they were running to and fro.

As Roy reached the top of the stairs, it was to find his exit on to the platform blocked by Ben and the corporal, the former being decked with the flag hanging over his shoulder like a mantle. They were evidently busy with the halyards at the little opening, down beside which the flag-pole butt was fixed in iron loops, and through which window the flag was hoisted and the halyards secured.

“What’s the meaning of this?” cried Roy, breathlessly. “The enemy will think we have surrendered.”

“Let ’em come, then, sir, and we’ll show ’em we haven’t,” roared Ben, fiercely.

“But why was the flag hauled down?”

“Wasn’t hauled down, sir. Come down with a run right on to the leads.”

“What! Did the line break?”

“I wish it had broke, sir. You just look at that!” And he held out an end of the thin, strong hempen cord which ran through a pulley at the top of the pole, and to which the flag was always attached.

“Cut?” cried Roy.

“Yes, sir; cut. Some one has sawed through it with a sharp knife; and I want to know who it was.”

“Some one up here on the platform?”

“No, sir; I’ll answer for that,” said the corporal.

“Some one then in the ammunition chamber?”

“Nay; I don’t believe any one there would do it, sir,” growled Ben, who was now busy splicing the line, which came swinging down by the window.

“How’s that?” said Roy, eagerly.

“What—that rope, sir? One of the lads has swarmed up the flag-staff, and run it over the wheel again,” cried Ben, who now re-attached the flag, well above the splice, and began to haul it up again, the folds gliding from his shoulder, and out of the window, to rise into sight from the platform, where the men greeted it with a hearty cheer.

“Ha!” ejaculated Ben, as the colours reached the top, and he fastened the line. “That don’t look like surrendering, sir.”

“No, Ben; but I want to know who dared to cut it. Who has been here?”

“No one but old Jenk, sir. He came and stopped some time, standing in the door-way, looking on and chattering to us a bit before he went down.”

“Oh, but surely he wouldn’t have done such a thing as that, Ben!”

“So I say, sir. If he did, it’s quite time he was taken over to the church, and buried, for he must be out of his wits.”

“Oh, impossible! He couldn’t have done it. Are you sure it was cut?”

“Well, sir, you see the end.”

“It must have been frayed by rubbing against the edge of the parapet.”

“Didn’t look like it sir; that’s all that I can say.”

“Has any one else been here?”

“Not as I know of, sir; but we’ve been too busy to see, keeping our faces to the enemy. I thought I heard some one run down.”

“Well, it was an unfortunate accident, Ben; but you’ve soon repaired it,” said Roy. And he stepped out on to the platform to look aloft at the flag, which was once more fluttering and flapping in the breeze; and then he stepped upon a stone to gaze over towards the enemy’s battery to see if the lowering of the flag had had any effect there.

But all was quiet. They had evidently ceased firing for the evening, and the shades of night were descending so quickly, that the figures in the rear of the earthwork were beginning to look dim and indistinct. Away to the right, though, was a shadowy body which seemed to be moving along towards where the enemy’s camp lay, behind the wooded patch of country; and Roy was not long in coming to the conclusion that it was a troop of horse, returning from the neighbourhood of the battery.

He took a long sweep round, gazing hard at the beautiful wooded landscape, and the soft calm of the hour, with the sweet moist odours of evening which were wafted to him by the breeze, had a depressing effect. He found himself thinking of what a sad business it all was, that the peaceful district should become the scene of war and bloodshed—little enough of the latter; but who could tell how soon a terrible assault might be made upon the place, and their guns would have to be directed so as to mow down the advancing enemy like the hay fell before the mower’s scythe.

Away to the west a bright planet was seen blinking in the dark grey sky, but that evening it did not seem to Roy like a star of hope; and when, a few minutes later, there came the faintly heard, mournful cry of an owl, he turned away to descend to the ramparts and walk round so as to visit, according to his custom, each tower in turn, where he was respectfully questioned by the men as to the lowering of the flag, and whether it had any meaning.

Roy laughed it off; but the fact of this incident impressing the men so strongly had a bad effect upon him, and he found himself forced to make an effort to fight it back before he joined his mother for the quiet hour or so he always spent with her before going on duty or retiring to rest.

But he was not to go straight to her; for on descending to the sadly trampled garden, he found the secretary slowly walking up and down the least-injured patch of grass, with his head bent, shoulders rounded, and his hands behind him, clasped together as if they were manacled.

He started sharply as Roy came near, actually wincing, and looking deadly pale.

“I wasn’t going to hit you, Master Pawson,” said Roy, with a smile.

“No, of course not; but all this firing has made me nervous. I am afraid I am not at all brave, Roy, and my head is so bad to-night, it makes me worse. I started just as if you were some enemy, and it sent a shock right through me.”

“Better now?” said Roy, mockingly.

“Oh, yes, better now; but I’m very glad I do not go on duty to-night. I think I shall go to bed very soon, and sleep it off.”

“Best thing; but you’ll come with me to have some supper?”

“No, not to-night. Please make my excuses to my lady. It’s a sad thing to be so weak of health, Roy. Sadder still to see this lovely garden spoiled by the trampling of armed men.”

“Yes, it’s a great pity,” replied Roy; “but we’ll soon set it straight again as soon as the enemy’s sent to the right-about; and who would not sacrifice a few flowers for the sake of king and country?”

“Ah, who, indeed!” cried the secretary, with a slight flush coming into his cheeks. “Going?”

“Yes; I must join my mother now.”

“And—er—are you on duty to-night?”

“Not till twelve o’clock,” said Roy, frankly. “Then I have to go my rounds, and again at four. I hope the enemy will not disturb us.”

“How can they?” said the secretary. “They cannot deliver an assault without rafts and ladders, or with boats; and we should see their preparations long before they could attack us.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Roy, thoughtfully. “The only thing I dread is a surprise.”

“Surprise!” cried the secretary, starting violently. “Don’t say that.”

“Sorry I did say it,” replied Roy, smiling; “for it made you jump as if you had been shot.”

“Yes, Roy; sieges do not agree with me. But whatever made you say that?”

“Only because I think it possible, in spite of all our precautions, that the enemy might find a way to get into the place; that’s all.”

“What a horrible idea!” faltered the secretary.

“Well, I suppose it is,” said Roy; “but don’t let it keep you awake to-night, Master Pawson. Perhaps it is impossible.”

“Impossible? Of course it is. There, good-night. I must go and lie down.”

“And I am late in going to my mother,” said Roy.

“Then good—good-night. Make your men keep the strictest of watches for all our sakes, my brave young castellan!”

“I will,” said Roy; and each went his way.

“Now, if I didn’t begin to know that Master Pawson really liked me, I should have thought he was sneering,” said the lad to himself. “I’m always fancying people look down upon me because I’m such a mere boy. But he’s trusty enough, as he has shown us. I wish he hadn’t called me ‘my brave young castellan,’ though. It sounds so sugary and oily. Surprise—surprise?” he thought. “No, they couldn’t surprise us, unless they got in by a secret passage; and if there were one, they would never find it out. If we couldn’t, it isn’t likely that strangers would. I wish Ben and I had had another big search. All this put it out of our heads. I’ll ask mother if she thinks it possible there is one. No, I will not,” he said to himself, as he reached the door. “It would frighten her into fits. She’d be too nervous to go to sleep, and want me to let all the men search the dungeons, and make them nervous, too. Bah! It’s only an old woman’s tale. I don’t believe in such things.”

He opened the door, to be welcomed by Lady Royland, who sprang from her chair, and proudly monopolised the task of taking off her son’s helmet, cuirass, and back-piece, after unbuckling his sword.

“My duty, Roy,” she said. “The one I was proud to perform for your father. Ah, my boy, if he were only here that I might assist him now! But no news, Roy; no news. It is cruel work.”

“No news is good news, mother,” cried Roy, cheerily. “Come and feed me, for I’m terribly hungry again.”

An attractive meal was waiting; and to have seen mother and son soon after at the table, no one would have imagined that they were in a beleaguered castle with a strong body of the enemy close at hand.

Roy sat till the clock struck nine, and then rose.

“Then you will get no proper sleep to-night, my boy?” said Lady Royland, as she helped her son to resume his arms.

“Oh, yes; I shall lie down as I am, and jump up at twelve to take the round. I shall be back in my room in a quarter of an hour if the enemy is quiet, and sleep again till four, when I go my round again. I say, isn’t it wonderful how one wakes at the right time when one has had a little practice.”

“Roy, my boy, it is wearing you out. Let me go and see if the men are doing their duty to-night.”

“What nonsense, mother!” cried the lad, merrily. “Just as if this was going to wear me out. To-morrow night old Ben will make the round, and I shall be snoring in my bed. There, good-night.”

“Good-night, my darling,” cried Lady Royland, pressing him to her breast.

“I say, what a hard-hearted creature I must feel with this on,” said Roy, laughing merrily.

“I never notice the cuirass,” said Lady Royland, embracing her son again. “I only feel my boy’s warm, true heart beating against mine.”

She followed him to the door, and he turned and kissed her again, and then hurried away, depressing his sword-hilt to keep the steel end of the scabbard from clinking on the pavement.

“Why did I do that?” said Roy to himself. “It was not as if—as if—Oh, what nonsense! It’s the weather makes me feel low; and she feels low too. I was obliged to try and cheer her up.”

He mounted to the battlements, whence he entered the room over the guard-chamber where, according to custom now, Ben was waiting with his lighted lantern, and wearing his long cloak, one side of which he threw over the light when he took it up.

“All well, Ben?”

“All’s well, sir. Enemy as still as mice. I’m beginning to think that one of these mornings we shall get up and find they’ve gone without saying good-bye.”

“Hope you’re right, Ben. Ready?”

“Ready, sir.”

“Then march.”

They ascended to the top of the gate tower, where they were challenged, and then descended to the rampart to be challenged by the sentinel posted half-way between the towers, and again by the sentry on each tower in turn. It was everywhere the same. The men were well upon the lookout, and they had all the same report to give, that everything was still and nothing had been seen.

“You’ll have Master Pawson on duty to-morrow night, so as to relieve one man, Ben,” said Roy, as he completed his round.

“Won’t relieve no man, sir,” said Ben, sourly. “I shall want one to watch that chap to see that he don’t do nothing foolish.”

“Ah, you’re prejudiced. But I say, Ben, suppose we were surprised, how long would it take us to man the walls?”

“Couldn’t surprise us, sir,” growled the old soldier. “First alarm, the men would be out of the rooms and up atop of the leads at the guns; and all the rest would make for the ramparts, ready to run to any spot that was attacked. We’re all right, sir, ’cept one thing.”

“What’s that?” cried Roy, anxiously.

“Old Jenk is worrying me, sir. He’s been wandering about the ramparts to-night in a curious, crazy way, speaking to nobody, and acting silly-like. I’m pretty sure it was him as cut that line and let down the flag.”

“I’ll talk to him to-morrow. Good-night till twelve, Ben. I’m tired, and shall be glad of my rest.”

“Good-night till twelve, captain,” said the old soldier; and Roy went to his room, took off helmet and sword-belt, and threw himself upon a couch, to forget all his low spirits and troubles in less than a minute, falling at once into a deep sleep, from which he started at the first chime of the tower clock.

The little lamp was burning dimly now on the mantelpiece, but it gave him light enough to buckle on his sword; and as he did so, the chiming and striking of the midnight hour went on in the midst of what seemed an unnatural silence, which impressed him. The next moment his helmet was on, and he stepped quickly out into the corridor, to find it full of armed men, four of whom dashed at him as his hand flew to his side, and he drew his sword.

It was a vain effort; his arms were roughly grasped, and the cry he tried to raise was smothered by a hand pressed upon his mouth; while, by the light of a lantern raised on high, he saw the figure of the secretary, who stepped forward and took the sword wrenched from his hand.

“Thanks, my brave young castellan,” he said, mockingly. “We will take off your steel toys and gewgaws by-and-by. One word, though,” he said, in a fierce whisper: “make the slightest sound, and you will be thrown into the moat. Be silent, and we will recollect that you are only a boy, and treat you as one.”

For answer, Roy threw all his strength into one desperate effort, wrenched his head round so that it was clear of the hand pressed upon it, and shrieked out the one word—


The word seemed to cut into the wretched traitor’s brain; and, raising the boy’s sword, he struck at him; but the blade glanced from the perfectly tempered helmet, and the next moment one who seemed to be an officer interposed.

“Prisoners are not treated like that, sir,” he said, sternly. “Which way now?”

“This,” said the secretary; and he led the way along the corridor, towards the door opening upon the court-yard.