Chapter 29 | A Dark Night's Deeds | The Young Castellan

Chapter Twenty Nine.

At that moment, when Roy would have surrendered his life to have rung out an alarm, the signal of danger, treachery, and hopeless disaster rang out in the form of a shot from the battlements overhead, and this was followed by another and another. But as the prisoner was hurried into the open air, armed men seemed to be gliding out of the darkness on all sides, their source, as far as he could make out in those agitated moments, being the bases of the towers. Then, as the trumpet rang out, fighting began all around the castle at once, not from the outside, but from within. Men had evidently crept silently up to the four towers, and gathered there from the corridors to which they had been admitted; and at the sound of the trumpet, a simultaneous attack was made, which, coming from the unguarded rear, and in tremendous, constantly increasing force, could not fail of being successful.

Roy stood there in the midst of his mother’s once pleasant garden, with the stars glinting over his head, and guarded by half-a-dozen troopers, listening to the clash of steel, and the firing going on all round where the little garrison made desperate efforts to maintain themselves. But they could not even grow stronger by joining, for the occupants of each tower were isolated and driven back as they tried to communicate with their officers, who, at the first alarm, tried to lead the men in the guard-room to the gathering point selected in case of emergency. Ben had just lit his lantern, expecting the coming of Roy at twelve, when the first shot came; and, shouting an alarm, he drew his sword to dash out, but only to be hurled back, the door-way of the guard-room being blocked by men; while, when the occupants of the chambers beneath the platforms of each tower tried to descend, they, too, in spite of desperate efforts, were driven upward by the constantly arriving enemies, who forced them on to the leads by the now useless guns.

Here, in each case, a desperate encounter went on, which Roy, with his blood running cold, was able to mentally picture, as he stood there listening to the wild shouts of the attacking party, the defiant cries of the garrison—the mere handfuls of men who tried to hold their own.

There was no more firing: all was being done with the keen-edged naked blade for a few minutes; and this was followed by a wild despairing cry from the gate tower, and directly after there was a dull, sickening crash which told that a man had been hurled from the parapet into the court-yard, where he lay never to move again.

The shock of this was succeeded by others nearly as terrible, as the struggle went on at the tops of the different towers; and cry after cry arose, followed by heavy splash after splash, which, Roy interpreted rightly, meant that the victors were driving the defenders over the battlements into the moat, to sink or swim for life as they could.

A mad feeling of rage and despair seized upon the boy as he heard all this, and he struggled desperately with his captors in his endeavours to escape, and try to aid the poor fellows fighting to the death in their vain efforts to defend the place.

Vain, too, were his efforts; for a couple of men held him while others wrenched his arms behind his back, and tearing off his gay scarf, bound his elbows so tightly together that he could not stir, but had to listen helplessly to the yells and despairing cries that arose towards the silent vault of heaven.

It seemed to Roy like an hour of horror, during which he was listening to what seemed to be the massacre of the men, every one of whom he looked upon as a friend. But it was only a matter of a few minutes at the most, before a shout rang out from the top of the gate tower, to be answered with a burst of wild “hurrahs” from the four corners, and the ramparts as well; for the clashing of swords, the yells of rage, and the sounds of fierce and desperate struggles going on had ceased.

Roy’s despair was at its height; he knew that the castle was taken, and its defenders killed, hurled into the moat, or captive.

But the boy’s sinking heart gave one leap, for he knew that the flickering fire of defence blazed up in one spot, and that was in the guard-room, where he calculated that there must be twelve or fourteen men, with Ben Martlet, Farmer Raynes, and the corporal.

He was nearly right to a man. There were, including their officers, twelve men penned up in the big stone chamber, where they had plenty of arms and ammunition. The others had their quarters in the five chambers in the towers, and were stationed as sentinels. All these had been accounted for, save the wounded men in hospital.

And as Roy listened to the hurrying tramp of feet, there was gathering silence on the ramparts, while around him, in the court-yard, hundreds of men were united and drawn up in line.

Then, in the darkness beneath the gate-way, Roy heard a commanding voice call upon the men in the guard-room to surrender.

“What?” came out clearly in a harsh, snarling voice, which Roy hardly knew as Ben’s. “Do what?”

“Surrender, my man! The place is taken.”

“Yes, by cowardly treachery, Ben,” yelled Roy, desperately. “Don’t give in. Fight to the last.”

A man came hurrying up, and the secretary, fierce with passion, stood before him.

“If this boy dares to speak another word, ram a gag in his mouth.—No, not yet.—Here, bring him up to the gate.”

Roy was half pushed and dragged to the great archway, and, as he reached it, the clock chimed the quarter after midnight.

“Now, general,” cried Pawson, “we’ll have them out. It’s not worth while to waste good men’s lives to tear a set of mad rats out of their hole.”

“Well, get them out,” said the same commanding voice, and in the officer a short distance from him, Roy recognised the one he had met with the flag of truce.

“Now, then, if you value your life,” snarled Pawson in the boy’s ear, “order those fools to come out before we blow them to pieces with a keg of powder. Do you hear? Come forward and speak!”

Roy felt a fierce desire to spit in the traitor’s face, but he mastered himself and stepped forward.

“Ah, you’ve come to your senses, then,” said Pawson. “Lucky for you, my popinjay. Now, then, tell them to surrender.”

“Why?” said Roy, spitefully. “They don’t know what it means.”

“Speak!” cried Pawson; and he pricked the lad with the point of his sword.

Roy in those terrible moments had to fight hard to be dignified, as he felt he ought to be, before the enemy; but the desire was strong upon him, when he felt a slight prick in the side from the keen point of the sword, to turn round and kick his aggressor with all his might.

Then he spoke.

“Sergeant Martlet, corporal, Farmer Raynes, all of you, I’m a prisoner, and can’t help myself. There are two or three hundred men here. Can you hear me?”

“Ay, ay, sir; go on,” cried Ben.

“They bid me tell you to surrender. What do you say?”

“Let ’em come and make us. God save her ladyship and the king!”

“Hurrah!” came rolling back from nearly a dozen lusty throats, and was followed by a shout from Ben.

“Get back, Master Roy; we’re going to fire.”

“Then fire,” cried Roy. “Never mind me now.”

Another cheer followed this; and there was a rattling noise which Roy interpreted, for he knew that the men in the guard-room had seized the pikes from the rack, and that a bristling hedge of steel was being formed in the door-way.

Just then the officer in command stepped forward.

“Silence there!” he cried, in a loud clear voice. “Listen to me, my men. The castle is taken, and I have four hundred men here. You are the only defenders left.—Sergeant Martlet, I suppose you are an old soldier, and if so, you know this boy’s words are madness. Enough men have perished, and I should be sorry to add your party to those who have made so brave a defence. Come, you have all done your duty, and your case is hopeless; surrender, and you shall suffer no harm.”

“When my captain tells me—not before.”

“Well spoken, and like a brave man,” said the officer; and he turned to Roy.

“Now, captain,” he said, and there was a touch of sarcasm in his voice, “you don’t want those stout fellows shot down, or smothered like rats in their holes. Tell them to give up their arms and come out.”

“To a set of cowards who attacked us as you did with the help of that treacherous dog!” cried Roy, passionately. “No!”

“Hurrah!” was shouted from the guard-room door and Farmer Raynes roared out:

“Well said, Master Roy; we’ll beat ’em yet.”

“Take that boy away,” cried the officer; and Roy was dragged to one side, where he heard the speaker again bid the party surrender; but only received a shout of defiance in reply.

A few short, sharp orders followed; and Roy quivered with passion as he saw from the brightening sparks that a party of men who tramped forward were blowing the matches of their firelocks.

An order followed, and a ragged volley was fired in at the door, which was answered by a cheer, and directly after by half-a-dozen shots and some confusion among the attacking party, for two men staggered back and fell groaning upon the stones.

The officer stamped his foot.

“Pikes and swords,” he cried; and in obedience to his orders a little column of a score of men dashed forward and tried to enter, thrusting in their pikes; and as many as could get to the door striving desperately, but only to be beaten back, and their discomfiture increased by a few more shots.

The attack was resumed with fresh men again and again, but the defenders fought desperately, and in every case the attacking party were driven back with several men badly wounded.

“Block the place up and starve them out,” said Pawson.

“No,” said the officer sternly. “The work must be done at once. Powder,” he cried to a couple of men near him, and a party marched off.

After a short delay, during which Roy looked vainly round for the secretary, the latter appeared again with the men, one of whom bore a keg. To this a piece of fuse was attached ready for lighting, and the officer walked to Roy’s side.

“Look here, youngster,” he said. “I shall stand at nothing to complete the reduction of this nest. You see that keg of powder. If these men do not surrender at once, I shall treat them as desperate vermin and blast them out or bury them, with perhaps half the tower upon their heads. It rests with you whether I shall kill a dozen or so of brave men or spare them. Which is it to be?”

Roy was silent.

“Come,” said the officer, “I want to be merciful now. You are Sir Granby Royland’s son. He is a brave soldier, though mistaken in defending a tyrant. I tell you that when a cause is hopeless he would act as I ask you to do. Now you have well proved your courage, and you spoke before in the rage of defeat. Speak now as a brave officer who would not willingly sacrifice his men. What do you say?”

Roy said nothing, for his heart swelled with emotion, and the words would not come. The officer came closer, so that none other could hear.

“In God’s name, boy,” he whispered, “don’t force me to do this brutal act; I ask you as the son of a brave soldier. Tell them to surrender now.”

The way in which these words came to Roy’s ear achieved that which no threats or insult would have done. It was an enemy speaking, but something told him that he was a brave soldier too; and without another word Roy stepped up to the door-way, from whence a mistaken shot might have laid him low.

The officer grasped this, and shouted loudly—

“Within there! Don’t fire!”

It was only just in time, for half-a-dozen muskets were presented.

The next moment Roy’s voice rang out clearly:

“Sergeant Martlet, corporal, Raynes, all of you, we have done our duty, and it is hopeless to fight longer. You are the only men left. To resist is to give all your lives for nothing. March out and throw down your arms.”

A groan rose from within, and a figure came to the door-way.

“Don’t say that, Master Roy,” cried Ben, hoarsely. “Couldn’t we do it if we held out?”

“No; they will blow the place up. The powder is waiting. I am your captain; I order you to surrender now.”

“Master Roy! Master Roy!” cried the old soldier in a piteous voice; “it was no doing of mine. I was on the alert. Don’t think it was any fault of mine.”

“Fault of yours, Ben?” cried Roy. “No, nor mine neither.”

“But how did they get in, sir?”

“By the secret passage that we could not find.”

“But how? Where can it be?”

“I’ve been thinking, Ben. I don’t know for certain; but it must open into Master Pawson’s room.”

“And he let ’em through?”

“Yes; filling the corridors silently with troops while I slept.”

“The traitor! Then that was the signal, boy. Oh, my lad, my lad, why didn’t I kill him when I thought it must be he? What about repairing the stone gallows now?”

“I—don’t understand you.”

“The lowering of the flag, sir—the lowering of the flag.”

“Yes,” said the officer, who had advanced to them unobserved in the gloom of the archway; “that was the signal, sergeant. You were betrayed from within. Step out now with your men, like the brave fellow you are. Give me your hand; and let me tell you that I don’t believe I could have taken the place without.”

“Am I to surrender, Master Roy?” said the old fellow, bitterly.

“Yes, Ben; it is all over now.”

The hilt of a sword was thrust out as the old soldier held it to the officer by the blade.

“Shake hands with that, sir,” he said, bitterly. “I’m a king’s man still.—Forward!”

This to his brave companions; and as they marched slowly out and gave up their arms, a tremendous roar arose from all assembled in the court-yard.

It was no derisive cry, no jeer at the conquered, but a full-throated cheer of admiration for the brave little party, blood-stained, bandaged roughly, three of them hardly able to keep their feet; and Roy’s heart once more swelled within him in spite of his despair, for he noticed in the gloom that the officer in command took off his helmet as the men marched by into the court; and then, as he replaced it, he said quietly to Roy—

“All this is not necessary, sir.—Quick, one of you; untie this gentleman’s hands.”

For the first time that night, Roy felt giddy and sick with pain. But he roused himself directly, for Master Pawson came up, and spoke quickly in a low voice to the officer, who replied coldly, and with a ring of contempt in all as he said, loudly—

“Of course, sir,” he said, “in some things, by the terms of your bargain, you are master here of the place and the estate. All that the Parliament desires is the destruction of the castle as a stronghold; but as to the garrison, that is another thing. We shall hold the place for a time, and while I await further orders the prisoners will be my charge.”

He turned to give some orders, and the secretary turned to Roy.

“Yes,” he said, “I am master here now of everything; so go and take off all that tawdry rubbish. You will never make a soldier, and I shall tame down all this bullying haughtiness. You never thought my day would come when I was forced to put up with the insults and jeers of a miserable cub of a boy. But every man has his day. Your party has gone down at last, and mine is in power. Ah, you may pretend not to hear me, and that you treat everything I say with contempt! Judas, am I, because I saved bloodshed by a diplomatic stroke? Well, we shall see. You’ll come cringing to me soon.”

“When my father returns, and, if you have not already been hung for a traitor, he punishes you as you deserve. Shall I cringe to you, then?”

“Your father,” said Pawson, mockingly. “Your proud swashbuckling father is dead,—killed as he deserved, with scores of his fighting bullies. You may look to me as your father now. Your mother and I thought it better to end this sham defence at once. Hah! does that sting you? I thought I should manage it at last. Yes, she thought with me. A fine, handsome woman still, Roy, and a clever one, though she did pet and spoil her idiotic cub of a son. But there, I forgive her, and we understand each other fully now. Ha, ha! I thought that would touch you home!”

Roy nearly staggered as he heard these words, and the next moment he would have flung himself at the traitor’s throat; but just then a friendly hand was laid upon his shoulder, and the officer said—

“I have given orders for your wounded men to be seen by our doctor. Meanwhile, you had better come with me.”

He passed his arm through Roy’s, and turned his back on Pawson, marching the lad towards the private apartments of the castle; while the traitor stood gazing after them, stung as deeply as his victim now in turn.