Chapter 3 | Coming Events Cast Their Shadows Before | The Young Castellan

Chapter Three.

The wail on one string went on, and naturally sounded louder as Roy Royland opened a door to stand gazing in at the quaint octagonal room, lit by windows splayed to admit more light to the snug quarters hung with old tapestry, and made cosy with thick carpet and easy-chair, and intellectual with dwarf book-cases filled with choice works. These had overflowed upon the floor, others being piled upon the tops of chairs and stacked in corners wherever room could be found, while some were even ranged upon the narrow steps of the corkscrew stone staircase which led to the floor above, occupied by Master Palgrave Pawson for a bedchamber, the staircase being continued up to the leads, where it ended in a tiny turret.

“I wonder what father will say, my fine fellow, when he finds what a lot of his books you’ve brought up out of the library,” said Roy to himself, as he stood watching the plump, smooth-faced youngish man, who, with an oblong music-book open before him on the table, was seated upon a stool, with a ’cello between his legs, gravely sawing away at the strings, and frowning severely whenever, through bad stopping with his fingers—and that was pretty often—he produced notes “out of tune and harsh.” The musician was dressed, according to the fashion of the day, in dark velvet with a lace collar, and wore his hair long, so that it inconvenienced him; the oily curls, hanging down on either side of his fat face like the valance over an old-fashioned four-post bedstead, swaying to and fro with the motion of the man’s body, and needing, from time to time, a vigorous shake to force them back when they encroached too far forward and interfered with his view of the music.

The slow, solemn, dirge-like air went on, but the player did not turn his head, playing away with grave importance, and giving himself a gentle inclination now and then to make up for the sharp twitches caused by the tickling hair.

“You saw me,” said Roy, speaking to himself, but at the musician, “for one of your eyes turned this way; but you won’t speak till you’ve got to the end of that bit of noise. Oh, how I should like to shear off those long greasy curls! They make you look worse even than you do when they’re all twisted up in pieces of paper. It doesn’t suit your round, fat face. You don’t look a bit like a cavalier, Master P.P.; but I suppose you’re a very good sort of fellow, or else father would not have had you here.”

Just then the music ended with an awkwardly performed run up an octave and four scrapes across the first and second strings.

“Come in, boy,” said the player, taking up a piece of resin to apply to the hair of the bow, “and shut the door.”

He spoke in a highly-pitched girlish voice, which somehow always tickled Roy and made him inclined to laugh, and the desire increased upon this occasion as he said, solemnly—


“Oh! Who’s she?” said the boy, wonderingly.

The secretary threw his head back, shaking his curls over his broad turn-down collar, and smiled pityingly.

“Ah,” he said, “now this is another proof of your folly, Roy, in preferring the society of the servants to that of the noble works with which your father has stored his library. What ignorance! A saraband is a piece of dance music, Italian in origin; and that was a very beautiful composition.”

“Dance?” cried the boy. “People couldn’t dance to a tune like that. I thought it was an old dirge.”

“Want of taste and appreciation, boy. But I see you would prefer something light and sparkling. I will—sit down—play you a coranto.”

It was on Roy’s lips to say, “Oh, please don’t,” but he contented himself with crossing the room, lifting some books off an oaken window-seat, his tutor watching him keenly the while, and putting them on the floor; while, with his head still thrown back on one side, Master Palgrave Pawson slowly turned over the leaves of his music-book with the point of his bow.

Roy seated himself, with a sigh, after a glance down through the open window at the glistening moat dotted with the great silver blossoms and dark flat leaves of the water-lilies, seeing even from there the shadowy forms of the great fish which glided slowly among the slimy stalks.

“Ready?” said the musician, giving his hand a flourish.

“Yes, sir,” said Roy, aloud; and then to himself, “Oh, what an awful fib.” Then he wrinkled up his brows dismally, and began to think of old Ben polishing the armour and swords; but the next moment his face smoothed out stiffly, and he grew red in his efforts to keep from laughing aloud, for Master Pawson commenced jerking and snatching from the strings a remarkable series of notes, which followed one another in a jigging kind of fairly rapid sequence, running up and down the gamut and in and out, as if the notes of the composer had suddenly become animated, and, like some kind of tiny, big-headed, long-tailed goblins, were chasing one another in and out of the five lines of the stave, leaping from bar to bar, never stopping for a rest, making fun of the flats and sharps, and finally pausing, breathless and tired, as the player now finally laid down the bow, took out a fine laced handkerchief, and began to wipe his fingers and mop his brow.

“There,” he said, smiling; “you like that bright, sparkling composition better?”

“No,” said Roy, decisively; “no, I don’t think I do.”

“I am glad of it; very glad of it. I was afraid that you preferred the light and trivial coranto to the graceful saraband.”

“But, I say. Master Pawson, the Italians surely don’t dance to such music as that?”

“I have never been in Italy, my dear pupil, but I believe they do. Going?”

Roy had risen from his chair.

“Yes, sir; I thought, as you were practising, you would not want me to stop and read to-day, and you are writing a letter, too.”

“Letter?” said the secretary, hurriedly reaching towards an open sheet upon the table and turning it over with the point of his bow. “Oh, that? Yes, some notes—some notes. Well, it is a fine day, and exercise is good, and perhaps I shall run through a few more compositions. So you can go, and we will study a little in the evening, for we must not neglect our work, Roy, my dear pupil; we must not neglect our work.”

“No, sir. Thank you, sir,” said the boy; and, for fear of a change of decision, he hurried from the room and made his way out upon the old ramparts, to begin walking leisurely round the enclosed garden, and looking outward from the eminence upon which the castle was built across the moat at the foot, and away over the sunny forest towards the village and little church, whose spire rose about two miles away.

“I wish he wouldn’t always call me ‘my dear pupil,’ and smile at me as if he looked down from ever so high up. I don’t know how it is, but I always feel as if I don’t like him. I suppose it’s because he’s so plump and smooth.

“Seems hard,” mused the boy, seating himself in one of the crenellations of the rampart, and thinking deeply, “that he should get letters with news from London, and poor mother not have a line. That was a letter on the table, though he pretended it was not, for I could see it began like one. I didn’t want to read it. Perhaps he was ashamed of being always writing letters. Don’t matter to me. Afraid, perhaps, that he’ll be told that he ought to attend more to teaching me. Wish he’d be always writing letters. I can learn twice as much reading with mother.”

It was very beautiful in that sunny niche in the mouldering stones close to the tower farthest away from that occupied by the secretary, and a spot much favoured by the boy, for from there he could look right over the square gate-way with its flanking towers, and the drawbridge which was never drawn, and the portcullis which was never lowered.

“Can’t hear him playing here,” thought Roy that day; and he congratulated himself upon the fact, without pausing to think that the distance was so short that the notes should have been audible.

Roy had been successful in getting off his reading with the tutor, but he was very undecided what to do next, for there were so many things to tempt him, and his mind kept on running in different directions. One minute he was dwelling on his mother’s troubles and the want of news from his father, and from this it was a natural transition to thinking of how grand it would be if he could prevail upon her to let him go up to that far-away mysterious city, which it took days to reach on horseback, and then he could take her letter and find where his father was lying with his regiment, and see the army,—maybe see the king and queen, and perhaps his father might let him stay there,—at all events for a time.

Then he was off to thinking about the great moat, for twice over a splash rose to his ears, and he could see the rings of water which spread out and made the lily-leaves rise and fall.

“That was the big tench,” he said to himself. “Must catch that fellow some day. He must weigh six or seven pounds. It ought to be a good time now. Want a strong line, though, and a big hook, for he’d run in and out among the lily-stems and break mine. Now, if I knew where father was, I could write and ask him to buy me one and send it down by his next letter. No: he wouldn’t want to be bothered to buy me fishing-lines when he’s with his regiment. I know,” he said to himself, after a pause; “old Ben has got the one he caught the big eel with. I’ll make him lend me that. Poor old Ben! who’d ever have thought that he could cry. For it was crying just as a little boy would. Seems funny, because he has been a brave soldier, and saved father’s life once. Shouldn’t have thought a man like that could cry.”

Roy began to whistle softly, and then picked up a little cushion-like patch of velvety green moss and pitched it down towards a jackdaw that was sitting on a projecting stone just below a hole, watching him intently, first with one eye and then with the other, as if puzzled to know what he was doing so near to his private residence, where his wife was sitting upon a late batch of eggs, an accident connected with rats having happened to the first.

It did not occur to the bird that it was quite impossible for its nesting-place to be reached without a swing down from above by a rope; but, being still puzzled, it tried to sharpen its intellectual faculties by standing on one leg and scratching its grey poll with the claws of the other, a feat which made it unsteady and nearly topple over towards the deep moat below.

Tah!” it cried, in resentment of the insult when the little green moss cushion was thrown; and, as the bird sailed away, Roy rose and walked slowly along the rampart, through the corner tower, and then on towards the front, where that over the outer gate-way stood tall, massive, and square. Here the boy left the rampart, entered through a low arched door, and stood in the great chamber over the main gate-way, where the rusty chains were wound round the two capstans, held fast now by their checks, and suspending the huge grated portcullis, with its spikes high enough to be clear of a coachman driving a carriage.

“Wonder whether we could let that down?” thought Roy.

He had often had the same thought, but it came very strongly now, and he began to calculate how many men it would take to lower the portcullis, and whether he, Ben, and a couple more could manage it.

“Looks as if everything must be set fast with rust,” he thought, and he was about to turn and descend; but as he reached the corner where the spiral steps led down, he stood where they also led up to another chamber in the massive stone-work, and again higher to the leads.

The result was that in his idle mood Roy began to ascend, to find half-way up, by the slit which gave light, that the jackdaws had been busy there too, coming in and out by the loop-hole, and building a nest which was supported upon a scaffolding of sticks which curved up from the stone step on which it rested, and from that to the splay and sill by the loop-hole.

“Only an old one,” said the boy to himself, and he brought the great edifice down with a sharp kick or two, thinking that it must be about a year since any one had come up that way.

“What a lot of the old place seems no use!” he said to himself, as, with the dry sticks crackling beneath his feet, he climbed up the dark stairway and entered the next chamber through its low arched door.

“Why, what a jolly private room this would make!” he said to himself; “only wants a casement in and some furniture. I’ll ask father to let me have it for my play—I mean study; no, I don’t—I mean odds and ends place.”

He paused—after glancing out at the beautiful view over the woodland country dotted with meadow-like pastures in which the ruddy cattle of the county grazed—by the open fireplace with the arms of the Roylands cut in stone beneath the narrow shelf, and the sight of this opening, with the narrow, well-made chimney and some projecting stone blocks from the fire-back, set him thinking.

“Fight differently now,” he said, as he recalled the object of the furnace before him, and how he had heard or read that it was used on purpose to melt lead ready for pouring down upon the besiegers who might have forced their way across the drawbridge to the portcullis. “Fancy melting lead here to pour down upon men’s heads! What wretches we must have been in the old days.”

He altered his mind, though, directly, as he went back to the stairway.

“Perhaps we never did pour any down, for I don’t think anybody ever did attack the castle.”

Thinking he might as well go a little higher, he mounted the spiral instead of descending, the dry elm twigs brought in by the jackdaws which made the untenanted corners their home crackling again beneath his feet.

Passing out of the corner turret, which supported a stout, new flag-pole, he was now on the leaded roof of the great square tower, which frowned down upon the drawbridge and gazed over the outer gate-way, in whose tower old Jenkin Bray, the porter, dwelt, and whom Roy could now see sitting beside the modern iron gate sunning himself, his long white hair and beard glistening in the light.

There were openings for heavy guns in front here, and a broad, level, projecting parapet with a place where the defenders could kneel, and which looked like a broad seat at the first glance, while at its foot was a series of longish, narrow, funnel-shaped openings, over which the boy stood, gazing down through them at the entrance to the main gate-way, noting how thoroughly they commanded the front of where the portcullis would stand when dropped, and where any enemies attacking and trying to break through would be exposed to a terrible shower of molten lead, brought up from the furnace in the chamber below to pour down upon the besiegers, while those who assailed them were in perfect safety.

“Horrid!” muttered Roy; “but I don’t know; the enemy should stop away and leave the people in the castle alone. But hot lead! Boiling water wouldn’t seem so bad. But surely Master Pawson’s friend is wrong; we can’t be going to have war here in England. Well, if we do, there’s nothing to bring them here.”

Roy left the machicolations and knelt upon the broad stone seat-like place to stretch himself across the parapet, and look down, over the narrow patch of stone paving, down into the deep moat, whose waters were lit up by the sunshine, so that the boy could see the lily and other water-plant stems and clumps of reed mace; at the farther edge the great water-docks and plantains, with the pink-blossomed rush. But his attention was wholly riveted by the fish which swarmed in the sunny depths, and for a time he lay there upon his breast, kicking up his heels and studying the broad-backed carp, some of which old age had decked with patches of greyish mould. There were fat tench, too, walloping about among the lilies, and appearing to enjoy the pleasure of forcing their way in and out among the leaves and stems; while the carp sailed about in the open water, basking in the sunshine, and seemed to find their satisfaction in leaping bodily out of the water to fall back with a splash.

There were roach, too, in shoals, and what seemed remarkable was that they kept swimming close up to where a great pike of nearly three feet long lay motionless, close to a patch of weed.

“Must be asleep,” thought Roy, “or not hungry, and they all know it, because he would soon snap up half a dozen of them.”

Then, as he lay lazily watching the fish in the drowsy sunshine which had warmed the stones, the political troubles of the nation and the great cloud of war, with its lightnings, destruction, and death, were unseen. He was surrounded by peace in the happiest days of boyhood, and trouble seemed as if it could not exist. But the trumpet-blast had rung out the call to arms, and men were flocking to that standard and to this, and the flash and thunder of guns had begun.

But not there down to that sleepy, retired part of Devon. There was the castle built for defence, and existing now as Sir Granby Royland’s happy country home, surrounded by its great estate with many tenants, while its heir was stretched out there in the sunshine upon his chest, kicking up his heels, and thinking at that moment that it would not be a bad amusement to bring up a very long line with a plummet at the end, to bait it, and then swing it to and fro till he could drop it right out where the great pike lay, ten or a dozen feet from the drawbridge.

“I will some day,” said the boy, half aloud; “but it’s too much trouble now.”

He swung himself round and lay there, looking back over the top of the spacious building, on whose roof he was, right across the now floral old court-yard, and between the two angle towers, to the wide-spreading acres of the farms and woodlands which formed his father’s estate.

The jackdaws flew about, and began to settle at the corners as he lay so still and languidly said to himself—

“Need to lie still; it wouldn’t do to slip over backward. I shouldn’t even go into the moat, for I should come down on those stones.”

“Stupid to be in dangerous places,” he said to himself directly after, and, rolling over, he let himself down upon the broad seat-like place, where he could lie and watch the prospect just as well.

“Rather stupid of me not to come up here oftener,” he thought. “It’s a capital place. I will ask father to let me have all this old empty tower to myself. What’s that? A fight?”

For there was a sudden rush upward of jackdaws from where they had blackened the farthest corner tower to the left, and, looking in that direction as he lay, he saw the reason of the sudden whirr of wings and outburst of sharp, harsh cries, for there upon the leads, and holding on by the little turret which covered the door-way of the spiral staircase, stood Master Pawson.

“Feels like I do, I suppose,” thought Roy, as the secretary cast his eyes round the old building, particularly watchful of the pleasaunce, but keeping right back by the outer crenelles as if not wishing to be seen.

At first Roy felt that the secretary saw him, and as his eyes roved on and he made no sign, the boy’s hand went to his pocket in search of his handkerchief to wave to him. He did not withdraw it, but lay lazily watching while the secretary now turned his back and stood gazing right away.

“Never saw him do anything of that kind before,” thought Roy. “What’s he looking after? I shouldn’t have thought he had ever been up there in his life.”

Roy lay quite still, with his eyes half closed, and all at once the secretary drew out his white laced handkerchief, wiped his forehead three times with a good deal of flourish, and returned it, after which he slowly stepped into the turret opening and backed out of sight.

“Mind you don’t slip,” said Roy, tauntingly, but quite conscious of the fact that his words could not be heard. “Why, he has gone down like a bear—backward. I could run down those stairs as fast as I came up.”

Perhaps it was the warm sunshine, perhaps it was from laziness, but, whatever the cause, Roy Royland went off fast asleep, and remained so for quite a couple of hours, when, starting up wonderingly, and not quite conscious of the reason why he was there, he looked about him, and finally over the great parapet, to see the secretary beyond the farther end of the drawbridge, talking in a very benign way to the old porter, who stood with bent head listening to his words.

“Why, it seems only a few moments ago that I saw him on the leads over his chamber staring out across country, and he must have been down since, and had a walk.—How time does go when you’re snoozing,” thought Roy, “and how stupid it is to go to sleep in the daytime! I won’t do it again.”