Chapter 33 | Roy Hears the Simple Truth | The Young Castellan

Chapter Thirty Three.

A month had passed, and the prisoners knew nothing of what was going on in the outer world. Now and then rumours floated to Roy’s ears through different channels of how matters progressed in the country, but they were rumours which, Lady Royland pointed out, could not be trustworthy. One day it would be that the king was carrying everything before him, and that the rebellion was nearly stamped out; while on another they heard that the Parliamentarians held the whole country, and the king hardly had a follower left.

The moat embraced the world of the prisoners during their captivity, and they knew what went on within its enclosure,—little else.

“We must wait patiently, Roy,” said Lady Royland.

“Yes, mother,” he replied, with a smile full of annoyance; “we must wait, but I can’t do it patiently. In the old days I could fish and climb after the jackdaws’ nests, and make excursions, and read; but I can’t do any of those things now. I only seem able to think about escaping.”

“Well, my boy,” said Lady Royland, sadly—one day when Roy said this for perhaps the twentieth time, and she looked at him with a pained expression in her eyes—“I know how hard it must be for a young bird to beat its wings, shut in by a cage. Escape, then. You may be able to find your father. But at the least you will be free.”

Roy thought of Pawson’s words about his father’s death, but mentally declared it was a lie like the other assertion, and burst out into a mocking laugh, which made his mother look at him wonderingly.

“Escape?” he said. “I say, mother, do you know I’ve often thought how easily I could get on to the ramparts, slide down a rope, and swim across the moat.”

“Yes, I am sure you could,” she said, eagerly, but with the pain in her eyes growing plainer. “Well, it would be bitter for me to part with you, but go.”

Roy laughed outright once more.

“Why, you dear, darling, silly old mother!” he cried, flinging his arms about her neck, and kissing her; “just as if I could go away and leave you here. I should look a nice young cavalier when I met my father—shouldn’t I?—and he asked where I had left you. No! I’m only grumbling like old Ben does about being shut up, though General Hepburn does treat us very well.”

“Yes; no gentleman could behave to us with more consideration, my boy.”

“But why doesn’t father or the king, or some one of his officers, come and attack this place? All this time gone by, and the general here seems to hold the country for miles round, and all the gentry are friendly to him. Do you know Parson Meldew was here yesterday to see the beast?”

Lady Royland looked at him wonderingly.

“Well, I can’t help calling him that. He is a beast, and he lives in a den. No one seems to associate with him. I believe he hates the general, but the general told me one day that Pawson was not good enough to hate.”

“Don’t mention his name in my presence,” said Lady Royland, sternly.

The conversation came to an end, Roy walking off into the court-yard, a garden no longer, to see a squadron of horse drawn up before starting upon some reconnoissance.

They rode out to the sound of the trumpet; and as the horses’ hoofs echoed on the lowered bridge, and mingled with their snorting and the jingle of the accoutrements, Roy felt his heart burn within him, and the longing to be free grew almost unbearable.

As the drawbridge was raised again, a grunt behind him made the boy turn sharply, to face the old sergeant, who had come up, his step unheard amidst the tramping of the horses as they passed over the planks.

“Sets one longing, sir, don’t it?” said Ben.

“Ay, it does,” said Roy, sighing.

“’Tick’larly at your age, sir. Why, I almost wish my wound hadn’t got well. It did give me something to think about. If I go on with nothing to do much longer, they’ll have to dig a hole to bury me.”

“Nonsense, Ben!”

“No, it aren’t nonsense, sir; for you see I always was a busy man. Now there’s no armour to polish, no guns to look after, no powder-magazine to work at, and no one to drill. I’m just getting rusty, right through to the heart.”

“But you’ve been weak and ill, Ben, and a rest does you good.”

“No, it don’t, sir. Does t’others good; and thanks to my lady and the doctor, every one’s got well ’cept Sam Donny, whose leg is reg’lar twissen up like, and as if it would never come straight again. Seems queer, too, as a wound uppards should affect him so downards.”

“Oh, he’ll be right when the war’s over.”

“When it’s over, sir? But when will that be?”

“Ah! I don’t know, Ben,” said Roy, with a sigh. “But there, don’t fret. Take it easy for a bit, and grow strong.”

“I am strong, sir. Strong as a horse—but do I look like the sort of man to take it easy? I’ve sat on that bench in the sun warming one side, and turning and warming the other side, till I’ve felt as if I hated myself. It aren’t as if I could read. Begin to wish I could now, not as I ever knowed much good come out o’ books.”

“Why, Ben!”

“Ah, you may say ‘Why, Ben!’ sir, but look what books’ll bring a man to! Look at that there Fiddler Pawson. Shuts hisself up even now, doing nothing but read, and only comes out o’ nights, and goes prowling round the ramparts like an old black tom-cat. You can often hear the sentries challenging him.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?” said Roy. “I’ve heard them challenge some one when I’ve been watching the stars.”

“What business have you watching the stars o’ nights, sir?” said Ben, sourly.

“Can’t always sleep, Ben, for thinking.”

“Humph!” growled the man. “Howsoever, sir, I do live in hopes.”

“Yes; so do I.”

“Ah, not same as me, sir. I lives in hopes o’ one o’ the sentries making a mistake some night.”

“And shooting him, Ben?”

The sergeant winked, nodded, and rubbed his hands.

“Only wish they’d put me on duty, sir.”

“You wouldn’t shoot him, Ben, if they did.”

“Then I’d save the powder and bullet, sir, and pitch him into the moat, same as the enemy did a lot of our chaps—all them as didn’t jump—but they all got safe over, I suppose.”

Roy began to walk up and down with his companion, passing the other prisoners from time to time on the wide bench in the corner; while old Jenk sat on the mossy stone steps at the foot of the sun-dial in the middle of the court, one arm nursing his sword upon his knees, the other embracing the lichen-covered pedestal against which he rested his head—no bad representation of old Father Time taking a nap.

“Wish I could sleep like he does,” growled Ben. “Nothing to do. Won’t let me help any way. Tried to have a go in the armoury, but that sergeant as went through the rat’s hole with us grinned at me and turned me out. Pah! I hate him! He’s reg’lar took my job out o’ my hands.”

“Patience, patience, Ben,” said Roy.

“Don’t believe there’s any o’ that stuff left in the castle, Master Roy. What do you think they’re doing?”

“I don’t know. What?”

“Got big stones and mortar down in the hole in three places, ready to build it up. Done it by now, perhaps.”

“How do you know?”

“Sergeant told me. Grinned at me and said they didn’t mean to have any one go out that way, nor yet come in at twelve o’ clock at night.”

“Indeed!” said Roy, to whom this news was troublous, interfering as it did with sundry misty notions in which he had indulged about retaking the castle, or all making their escape.

“Yes, sir; that general aren’t a bit of a fool. Wouldn’t be at all a bad officer, if he was on the right side. That other chap wouldn’t be a bad sort o’ sergeant either, if he knowed his duty to his king and country. But there’s going to be a fight some day ’twix’ him and me.”

“Nonsense! While we are prisoners we must behave ourselves, Ben.”

“Oh, must we, sir? What call’s he got to get grinning at me? I’ll make him grin the wrong side of his mouth if he don’t look out.”

“Yes; you are getting rusty, Ben,” said Roy, merrily.

“Then why don’t you make some plan, sir?” whispered the old sergeant in an earnest whisper. “Let’s make a bold stroke for it, and retake the castle. Think of what your father would say if you did. Why, if the king was to hear of it, he’d be that pleased, he’d send for you to the palace and make a knight of you at once.”

“Poor king!” said Roy, sadly. “Perhaps by this time he has no palace to call his own.”

“And he won’t have, unless some of us shows we’ve got the right stuff left in us.”

At that moment they were passing the sun-dial, and old Jenk started into wakefulness, rose, shaded his eyes, and stared at Roy.

“That you, sir?”

“Yes, Jenk.”

“So it be. How are you, Master Roy—how are you? I’ve been thinking a deal about you, sir. Don’t you be downhearted; just wait a bit, and you’ll see.”

“See—see what, Jenk?”

The old man shook his head and smiled in a cunning fashion.

“You wait, sir, and you’ll see,” he said; and he sank down again, laid his head against the pedestal, and went off fast asleep.

“Yes, Master Roy, you’ll see, and before many months have gone by,” said Ben, solemnly. “Poor old Jenk! He’s been a fine old soldier, and a true follower of the house of Royland.”

“He has, Ben.”

“And he’s going to be the first prisoner set free.”

He gave Roy a meaning look, and they separated, the lad to pass the other prisoners on the bench, and return their salutes as he went on to the private apartments and made his way to his own room, to sit down by the open window to try to think out some way of ending their captivity by turning the tables on the enemy.

The day was warm, the thinking hard, and at last his brain refused to work any longer at the task of trying to do an impossible thing, the result being that Roy suddenly opened his eyes after dreaming that some people were talking angrily in his room while he slept.

But as he lay back, staring, and seeing that the room was empty, a familiar and very stern voice came in through the window with these words, uttered in a perfectly unimpassioned voice, but one which suggested that against it there was no appeal:

“I have listened to all you had to say, Master Pawson, and all your complaints. Now, hear me: and you had better take my advice, with which I shall conclude. In the first place, in accordance with my instructions, I concluded that iniquitous bargain with you.”

“Iniquitous, sir?” cried Pawson, in his highly-pitched voice, which now sounded quite a squeak.

“Yes, iniquitous. What else do you call it to sell your honour for the sake of gain? Iniquitous, treacherous; it is all that, but war made it a stern necessity that we should listen to your proposals. You kept to your terms; the new government will keep to its bargain. You will retain the castle and estate, but there was no question of time. I shall hold this place as a centre as long as we find it necessary. You can stay here or go till we have left. If you stay, take the advice I gave you. Go to your room, and stay there always, save when, like some unclean beast of prey, you come out to prowl at night. For, though your life is safe, I tell you that there is not a soldier in my force who does not look upon you with contempt. In future, sir, if you wish to make any communication to me, be good enough to write.”

Roy would have shrunk away, so as not to listen, but these words filled the room in the silence of that afternoon, and the general’s retiring steps were plainly heard, followed by a low hissing sound, as of some one expiring his pent-up breath.

Then a soft, cat-like step was heard, and Roy said to himself—

“It seems as if Master Pawson’s punishment has begun.”