Chapter 34 | The Use of a Powder-Magazine | The Young Castellan

Chapter Thirty Four.

Roy found, as the time glided on in his monotonous life, that Ben’s news was correct. General Hepburn was determined not to be surprised by any party of the Royalists who had learned from the fugitives that such a passage existed; and to make assurance doubly sure, he was about to build up the tunnel in three different places; but on second thoughts he did otherwise, setting his men to work to carry kegs of powder to some distance from the castle, placing them in a suitable position in the tunnel, and then, after making a fuse of several yards in length, having a tremendously strong wall built up across the place, leaving a hole just big enough for the fuse to pass through.

This was all done very quietly, Roy supposing that the men were merely building. Then a few days were allowed to pass for the cement to settle and harden before the fuse was fired.

The fact was known one morning at breakfast, when a terrific roar made Roy rush from the table and up to the ramparts, in full expectation of seeing a battery of guns just opening fire on the castle.

“Yes, it is,” he panted to himself as he looked over towards the chapel hill, and saw the smoke rising from a mound of earth.

But in a few minutes he knew the truth from one of the officers who challenged him for coming there, and went back to breakfast with his appetite gone, for he felt that one of the means of escape was completely sealed up, and the night would never come when he could, with the help of his friends, lead Lady Royland through the passage on their way to liberty.

“And a good thing, too,” he said bitterly to the old sergeant, for the grapes seemed to be very sour. “I don’t want to escape. I wouldn’t go if the way were open, and I’m sure my mother would not leave our own old home. Why, it would be like giving it all to Pawson, and I’ll die before he shall have it in peace.”

“’Ray, ’ray, ’ray, ’ray!” cried Ben, softly. “Can’t shout it out as I should like to, Master Roy. That’s the right sperit, sir. We won’t never give up, come what may.”

Old Jenk passed them just then, muttering to himself as he tottered by, and paying no heed when spoken to, while the various sentries treated him as a kind of amiable old madman, who was licenced to go about as he pleased, being perfectly harmless.

Another day passed, and Roy was walking up and down in his favourite part of the court-yard thinking of when he should ask General Hepburn for a written permission to go about on the ramparts, for the officer had spoken rather sharply to him after he had run up on the occasion of the blowing up of the tunnel.

But he did not ask the general, for the events that followed came one upon another so quickly that the matter passed out of his mind.

For all at once, just as Ben was coming slowly up to him, one of the sentinels shouted to the officer of the guard below, and word was passed to the general that a dragoon was galloping up along the road as fast as he could hurry his horse along.

A few minutes later, in the midst of a little excitement, the man drew rein at the outer gate-way, held up a packet in answer to a challenge, and as soon as the drawbridge was lowered, he dismounted and walked his horse over, for the poor beast was terribly distressed, and the rider appeared exhausted.

Roy stood eagerly watching, for this evidently meant something important, otherwise the messenger would not have nearly ridden his horse to death, the poor beast standing drooping in the middle of the court-yard; while the man, whose face was blackened with dust and sweat, and disfigured by a broad strip of plaster which extended from high up among the roots of his closely-cropped hair on the left temple down to his right eyebrow, leaned heavily on the sun-dial and asked for water.

The general read his despatch carefully twice, and then turned to the messenger to question him in a low voice, looking at him searchingly the while.

“Did General Braxley give you this despatch to bring?”

The man straightened himself up, but reeled and snatched at the sun-dial again from weakness.

“No, sir; to my comrade. We met a vedette of the enemy, and had to make a running fight for it till he went down, and I snatched up the despatch and came on.”

“How far from here are the enemy?”

“About five-and-twenty miles, sir, I should say.”

“In what direction?”

“Towards Exeter, sir. I did hear say that the king was with them.”

“Hah! And how strong are they, do you suppose?”

“’Bout four hundred horsemen, I heard say, sir; but it was only what my comrade told me.”

“Go into the guard-room and get some refreshment,” said the general, after reading his despatch carefully again.

The man turned to go, and just then his horse fell heavily, the blood gushed from its nostrils as it gave a few convulsive struggles, and then lay dead.

The messenger went to its head, sank upon one knee, as Roy joined the group around, bent lower, kissed the poor animal’s brow. Then he drew his sword, cut off a piece of its forelock, thrust it into his wallet, and amidst perfect silence, followed one of the men to the guard-room, hanging his head, while Roy longed to go and shake him by the hand.

The next moment the silence was broken by the loud blare of a trumpet, and a gun was fired from the gate tower.

Roy had directly after a specimen of the general’s military capacity, for by the time the court was filling with armed men, one of the sentinels on the north-west tower announced the coming of the squadron of horse that had been camping by and in the ruined chapel; while, within half an hour, the troop in the castle rode out, each bearing a foot-soldier upon the crupper of his saddle,—the squadron without waiting to take on an equal number themselves. The general meanwhile sat upon his charger conversing in a low tone with the officer he was about to leave in command.

Just then, looking very weak and ill, the messenger came hurrying out of the guard-room, putting on his steel cap.

He waited till the general approached, and Roy was near enough to hear what was now said, the man speaking in a husky voice.

“Beg pardon, general; will you give orders for me to be supplied with a fresh horse?”

“What for?” said General Hepburn, turning on him sharply.

“To go with you and join my regiment.”

“No; stay here. Captain Ramsay, if there is any ruse being practised, as soon as you hear that disaster has come to nay party, place that man against the wall and have him shot.”

The dragoon raised his hand to his cap in salute; and as soon as the general had ridden out, he staggered more than walked to where the dead horse lay, and took its head into his lap, to sit gazing sorrowfully into its reproachful-looking, glazing eyes.

“I’m a tough old chap, Master Roy,” whispered Ben, “but my eyes are so watery I can hardly see; and if that orderly warn’t an enemy, I’d just go and shake him by the fist.”

Unconsciously the old sergeant had exactly expressed Roy’s own feelings; but the next minute all show of weakness and sentiment had passed away. The trooper turned from the lookers-on, giving the horse’s neck three or four pats, and then began to unbuckle headstall, and take off bridle and bit before unbuckling the girths, rising and taking hold of the saddle, giving it a sharp snatch to drag it free. But he had to put his heavily-booted foot against the horse’s back, and tug several times before he could get the girths from beneath the heavy weight.

Then, throwing the saddle across his arm, and picking up the bridle, he turned to the nearest sentinel, asked a question, had the low archway pointed out which led into the basement used for stabling, and disappeared down the slope.

“Oh, my lad, my lad,” said Ben, softly; “what a chance if we’d got anything ready!”

“What—to surprise?” said Roy, as he watched the portcullis re-descending, and saw the drawbridge begin to glide up directly after.

“That’s it, sir. They’re as weak as weak here now, with all them gone, and we’re nine strong men, for Sam Donny could fight in spite of his twissen foot.”

“There’s nothing the matter with Sam’s foot, Ben; it’s all sham; I’ve known it from the first.”

“What?—So much the better, then.”

“So much the worse, because we can do nothing. They are still a hundred strong.”

“Nay, sir—not above eighty.”

“Ten to one, Ben. I’d do anything, but we have no arms.”

“Take ’em from them, sir.”

“Rash folly, Ben. I’m soldier enough now to know that it would be like throwing away your lives.”

“Humph!” growled Ben; and the officer now in command came up and said, firmly—

“Now, Master Royland, I am sorry to seem harsh with you, but, saving at meal-times, when I shall be glad to see you, I must ask you to keep your chamber till General Hepburn returns, and hold no communication whatever with your fellow-prisoners.”

“Very well, sir,” said Roy, majestically.

“And you, sergeant, go to your fellows and keep with them. You can have an hour in the court-yard every day under guard. March!”

Ben saluted and went to where the corporal, Sam Donny, and the rest were seated on the stone bench in the sun, spoke to them, and they all rose and went through the door-way close at hand; while Roy bowed to the captain stiffly and went through to the private apartments, and thence to his own room, where he shut himself in, and soon after heard a sentry placed at his door, a piece of routine that had for some time been discontinued.

“How suspicious!” muttered Roy. “But no wonder! He doesn’t mean to be caught napping. More didn’t I, but I was. No chance of him having the same luck.”

He went to the window, and the first thing he saw was the dead horse being dragged towards the gate-way, where it was left to wait till the bridge should be lowered again.

“Poor thing! How roughly they are using it!” he thought. “Can’t feel, though, now.”

Then his attention was taken up by seeing old Jenk with his white hair and beard streaming, as he tottered here and there in the sunshine, looking excited and without his weapon.

“Why, they’ve taken the sword away from the poor old fellow,” thought Roy. “How absurd! It will make him half-mad, if it hasn’t done so already.”

But in a few moments the old man sat down on the pedestal of the sun-dial, and his head drooped on his breast.

Beyond him, just visible at the foot of the slope and outside the stables, Roy could see the Roundhead trooper, bareheaded and stripped to his breeches and shirt, rolling up his shirt-sleeves and beginning to clean his horse’s harness. But something which seemed to be more important took the boy’s attention the next moment, and that was the figure of Master Pawson upon the ramparts, walking up and down in the sunshine, this being the first time he had been visible by daylight since the general’s stern words.

“Taking advantage of his being away,” thought Roy; and he was about to shrink back to avoid being seen, but his pride forbade that, and he leaned out and amused himself by parting the thick growth of old ivy, and thinking how easily he could get down into the court if he liked.

“And that wretch could climb up while I’m asleep and kill me if he liked,” he thought, with a slight shudder, which he laughed off the next moment as folly.

Dinner was announced in due time, and he was half-disposed not to go; but he joined the officers, and obtained permission from the captain to visit his mother’s room to tea.

“Oh, yes,” said that officer, quietly. “I do not wish to be too hard upon you, Royland, only I cannot have you conspiring with your men to retake the castle now we seem weak.”

So Roy spent a pleasant evening with his mother, and in good time returned to his own room, heard the sentry placed outside, and then sat in the summer evening, trying to see the men stationed opposite, and upon the towers, from his open window.

It was a very dark night, hot and promising a thunderstorm, the air feeling so close that, when at last Roy retired, he left the large window wide open.

“No fear of Master Pawson playing any tricks,” he said to himself with a laugh as he undressed and lay down, wondering whether the general was going to attack some place, being in perfect ignorance of everything but the fact that he had gone on some expedition.

He fell asleep directly, and lay breathing hard till, in the midst of an uneasy dream, he was awakened suddenly by feeling a hand pressed upon his mouth.

Like a flash through the darkness he saw everything: Master Pawson had climbed up to his window from the court, entered silently, and was about to strangle him as he lay.

But before he could attempt to resist, a pair of warm lips were pressed upon his brow, and then glided to his ear to whisper—

“Roy, my boy, not a sound! Don’t speak! It is I—your father.”

The lad’s breast rose as a great sob of joy struggled to his lips, while his hands seized that upon his mouth, pressed it closer, kissed the palm, and were then passed round the neck of him who knelt by his bed.

They did not stay there a moment; for one began to feel the face, and the other was passed over the head.

No moustache and pointed beard, no long flowing curls, only stubble and short hair, and a long patch of plaster extending from the hair about the left temple to the right eyebrow.

Roy’s mental eyes were opened; he saw it all now. At last! His gallant father had risked his life to come to them in the disguise of a Roundhead trooper, and the general must have been sent on a fool’s errand so that the castle could be captured again.

Thump, thump, thump! went Roy’s heart as these thoughts rushed through his brain. Then the lips at his ear said, and it sounded strangely incongruous—almost mocking:

“Go on snoring as you were, so that the sentry at your door may hear.”

Roy obeyed, and imitated the real thing as well as he could.

“Your mother? If safe and well press my hand.”

The pressure was given, and the whisper went on through the snoring.

“Roy, I have come at great risk through the accident of the capture of a messenger with a despatch. The general has gone where he was desired, but we have had time to take our men in another direction. To-night two hundred Cavaliers will have ridden in as near as they dare, and then one hundred and fifty will have dismounted and marched silently under cover of the darkness opposite the gates.—Snore, boy, snore!”

Roy had ceased his hard breathing, but his heart worked harder than ever, and he snored again; while Sir Granby went on:

“Tell me how many of our men you have here; where they are; whether the guard in the gate tower can be mastered while the bridge is lowered and the portcullis raised. Tell me everything you can, with your lips to my ear. My men must be waiting by now.”

Roy went on snoring, for the sound of the sentry pacing to and fro came plainly through the door. But Sir Granby took up the hard breathing, and Roy placed his lips to his father’s ear and whispered—

“Nine good brave fellows, but they are in the lower hall, and sentries are placed over them.—They are all unarmed.—Guard-chamber and turret-stair are carefully guarded.—At least ten men in the portcullis-room and furnace-chamber.—Impossible to get in that way!”

Sir Granby’s lips were at his son’s ear directly, and he said—

“I heard a legend when I was a boy, that there was a secret way into the castle, but it made no impression, and I never recalled it till I heard that the place was taken. Don’t tell me that the enemy surprised you through that?”

“Must,” whispered Roy; and anticipating that his father would suggest using the same means, he continued: “Can’t use it now; all blown up. Is there no other way? Can’t you scale the ramparts?”

“Impossible, boy. I must leave you, then. My life will be forfeit when the colonel returns, and it is too valuable to my king, my men, to you and your mother, to be thrown away.”

“But how can you escape, father?”

“By reaching the ramparts and plunging into the moat. Good-bye, boy. Tell your mother I will return soon with as great a force as I can; for this place must be retaken. There—Heaven be with you! I dare not stay, for it may be hours before I can reach the ramparts.”

“But is there no other way, father? A hundred and fifty men, and no way of getting them in!”

“Unless the drawbridge can be lowered and portcullis raised—none!”

A deep silence, only broken by the pacing of the sentry outside, and Roy dreaded now lest the change of men should take place, and the door be opened to see whether the prisoner was safe. He tried all he could to think out some plan, but every one seemed mad; and it was horrible to be so near success, and yet to fail.

“It is of no use, boy; we are wasting time,” said Sir Granby, as Roy clung to him. “It would be mad to try any other way, and spilling precious blood. Good-bye!”

Roy tried to say the words in return, but they would not come; and, thoroughly unnerved in his despair, he clung to his father’s neck till he felt himself repelled; and then the way of escape from their dilemma came.

In one instant a flash which vividly lit up the whole chamber darted in through the open window, and a deafening roar followed.

But it was not the breaking of the storm, for the next moment they realised that the magazine below the opposite range of buildings had been blown up, and the crumbling down of masonry, and the roar and crash of falling stones, endorsed the idea.

“Hah!” cried Sir Granby, excitedly; “then there is a way!” And hardly had the words passed his lips when a distant huzzaing was heard, and without a moment’s hesitation he sprang to the window and lowered himself down.