Chapter 4 | The Use of a Sword | The Young Castellan

Chapter Four.

Several days passed away, but Lady Royland always put off sending in search of news, and seemed to be more cheerful, so that Roy soon forgot his anxiety in the many things he had to think about,—amusements, studies, and the like. But he had a few words with his father’s old follower on the subject of the absence of news, one day, when Ben was busy, as usual, in the armoury.

“Not heard lately from the master, sir? Pish, that’s nothing; soldiers have got their swords and pistols to think about, not their pens. Best soldiers I ever knew couldn’t write at all. Enough for them to do to fight. You’ll hear from him some day, and when you do, you’ll know as he has been pretty busy putting the people straight,—more straight than some on ’em’ll like to be, I know. Sarve ’em right; nobody’s a right to fight agen the king.—Looks right, don’t it?”

He held up an old sword which he had rubbed and polished till it flashed in the light.

“Splendid!” said Roy. “Is it sharp?”

“Sharp enough to take your head off at one sweep.”

“Nonsense!” said the boy, laughing.

“Oh, it’s true enough, Master Roy. Here, you stand all quite stiff and straight, and I’ll show you.”

“No, thank you, Ben. Suppose I try it on you.”

“There you are, then,” said the man; “but I must have one, too, for a guard.”

He handed the boy the sword, and took up another waiting to be cleaned from galling rust, and, throwing himself on guard, he cried—

“Now then, cut!”

“No; too dangerous,” said Roy.

“Not a bit, my lad, because you couldn’t touch me.”

“I could,” said Roy, “where I liked.”

“Try, then.”

“Not with this sharp sword.”

“Very well, then, take one of those; they’ve no more edge than a wooden one. It’s time you did know how to use a sword, sir.”

Ben exchanged his glittering blade, too, and once more stood on guard.

“I won’t bother you now about how you ought to stand, sir,” he said; “that’ll come when I begin to give you some lessons. You go just as you like, and hit where you can.”

“No, no,” said the boy. “I don’t want to hurt you, Ben.”

“Won’t hurt me, sir; more likely to hurt yourself. But do you know you’re standing just as badly as you possibly could? and if I was your enemy, I could take off your head, either of your ears, or your legs, as easily as look at you.”

Roy laughed, but he did not seem to believe the old soldier’s assertion, and, giving his blunt sword a whirl through the air, he cried—

“Now, then, Ben; which leg shall I cut off?”

“Which you like, sir.”

Roy made a feint at the right leg, and, quickly changing the direction of his weapon, struck with it softly at the old soldier’s left.

“Tchah!” cried the old man, as blade met blade, his sword, in the most effortless way, being edge outward exactly where Roy struck. “Why, do you know, sir, if I’d been in arnest with you, that you would have been spitted like a cockchafer on a pin before you got your blade round to cut?”

“Not I,” said the boy, contemptuously.

“Very well, sir; you’ll see. Now, try again, and cut hard. Don’t let your blade stop to get a bit of hay and a drop of water on the way, but give it me quick.”

“But I don’t want to hurt you, Ben.”

“Well, I don’t, either; and, what’s more, I don’t mean to let you.”

“But I shall, I’m sure, if I strike hard.”

“You think so, my lad; but do you know what a good sword is?”

“A sword.”

“Yes, and a lot more. When a man can use it properly, it’s a shield, and a breastplate, helmet, brasses, and everything else. Now, I’ll just show you. Helmet, say. Now, you cut straight down at my head, just as if you were going to cut me in two pieces.”

“Put on one of the old helmets, then.”

“Tchah! I don’t want any helmets. You cut.”

“And suppose I hurt you?”

“S’pose you can’t.”

“Well, I don’t want to,” said Roy; “so look out.”

“Right, sir; chop away.”

Roy raised his sword slowly, and the old soldier dropped the point of his and began to laugh.

“That won’t do, my lad; lift your blade as if you were going to bring it down again, not as if you meant to hang it up for an ornament on a peg.”

“Oh, very well,” said Roy. “Now, then, I’m going to cut at you sharp.”

“Oh, are you, sir?” said Ben. “Now, if ever you’re a soldier, and meet a man who means to kill you, shall you tell him you’re going to cut at him sharply? because, if you do, you’ll have his blade through you before you’ve half said it.”

“You are precious fond of your banter,” cried Roy, who was a little put out now. “Serve you right if I do hurt you. But this blade won’t cut, will it?”

“Cut through the air if you move it sharp; that’s about all, my lad.”

“Then take that,” cried the boy.


Roy stared, for his sword had come in contact with that of the old soldier, and then was twisted out of his grasp and went rattling along the floor, Ben going after it to fetch it back.

“Try again, sir.”

Roy was on his mettle now, and, grasping the hilt more firmly, he essayed to deliver a few blows at his opponent’s legs, sides, and arms. But Ben’s sword was always there first, and held at such an angle that his weapon glided off violently, as if from his own strength in delivering the blow; and, try hard as he could, he could not get near enough to make one touch.

“Arms and head, my lad; sharp.”

Better satisfied now that he would not hurt his adversary, Roy struck down at the near shoulder, but his sword glanced away. Then at the head, the legs, everywhere that seemed to offer for a blow, but always for his blade to glance off with a harsh grating sound.

“There, it’s of no use; you can’t get near me, my lad,” said Ben, at last.

“Oh, yes, I can. I was afraid of hurting you. I shall hit hard as hard,” cried Roy, who felt nettled. “But I don’t want to hurt you. Let’s have sticks.”

“I’ll get sticks directly, sir. You hit me first with the sword.”

“Oh, very well; if you will have it, you shall,” cried Roy, and, without giving any warning now, he delivered a horizontal blow at the old soldier’s side; but it was turned off just as the dozen or so which followed were thrown aside, and then, with a quiet laugh, the old fellow said—

“Now, every time you hit at me, I could have run you through.”

“No, you couldn’t,” said Roy, sharply.

“Well, we’ll see, sir. Put that down, and use this; or, no, keep your sword; the hilt will protect your hand in case I come down upon it.”

He took up a stout ash stick and threw himself on guard again, waiting for Roy’s blow, which he turned off, but before the next could descend, the boy’s aim was disordered by a sharp dig in the chest from the end of the ash stick; and so it was as he went on: before he could strike he always received a prod in the chest, ribs, arms, or shoulders.

“Oh, I say, Ben,” he cried at last; “I didn’t know you could use a stick like that.”

“Suppose not, my lad; but I knew you couldn’t use a sword like that. Now, I tell you what: you’d better come to me for an hour every morning before breakfast, and I’ll begin to make such a man of you as your father would like to see when he comes back.”

“Well, I will come, Ben,” said the lad; “but my arm does not ache so much now, and I don’t feel quite beaten. Let’s have another try.”

“Oh, I’ll try all day with you, if you like, sir,” said the old soldier; “only, suppose now you stand on guard and let me attack.”

“With swords?” said Roy, blankly.

“No, no,” said Ben, laughing; “I don’t want to hurt you. We’ll keep to sticks. Better still: I want you to get used to handling a sword, so I’ll have the stick and you shall defend yourself with a blade.”

“But that wouldn’t be fair to you,” cried Roy. “I might hurt you, while you couldn’t hurt me.”

“Couldn’t I?” said the old fellow, drily. “I’m afraid I could, and more than you could me. Now, then, take that blade.”

He took one from the wall, a handsome-looking sword, upon which the armourer who made it had bestowed a good deal of ingenious labour, carving the sides, and ornamenting the hilt with a couple of beautifully fluted representations in steel of the scallop shell, so placed that they formed as complete a protection to the hand of the user as that provided in the basket-hilted Scottish claymore.

“Find that too heavy for you, sir?”

“It is heavy,” said Roy; “but one seems to be able to handle it easily.”

“Yes, sir; you’ll find that will move lightly. You see it’s so well balanced by the hilt being made heavy. The blade comes up lightly, and, with a fair chance, I believe I could cut a man in two with it after a few touches on a grindstone.”

“Ugh!” ejaculated Roy; “horrid!”

“Oh, I don’t know, sir. Much more horrid if he cut you in two. It’s of no use to be thin-skinned over fighting in earnest. Man’s got to defend himself. Now, then, let’s give you a word or two of advice to begin with. A good swordsman makes his blade move so sharply that you can hardly see it go through the air. You must make it fly about like lightning. Now then, ready?”

“Yes; but you won’t mind if I hurt you?”

“Don’t you be afraid of doing that, sir. If you hurt me, it’ll serve me right for being such a bungler. En garde!”

Roy threw himself into position, and the old soldier attacked him very slowly, cutting at his neck on either side, then down straight at his head, next at his arms and legs; and in every case, though in a bungling way, Roy interposed his blade after the fashion shown by his adversary.

Then the old fellow drew back and rested the point of his ash stick upon his toe, while Roy panted a little, and smiled with satisfaction.

“Come,” he said; “I wasn’t so bad there.”

“Oh, no, you weren’t so bad there, because you showed that you’d got some idea of what a sword’s for; but when you’re ready we’ll begin again. May as well have something to think about till to-morrow morning. First man you fight with won’t stop to ask whether you’re ready, you know.”

“I suppose not; but wait a minute.”

“Hour, if you like, sir; but your arms’ll soon get hard. Seems a pity, though, that they’re not harder now. I often asked the master to let me teach you how to use a sword.”

“Yes, I know; but my mother always objected. She doesn’t like swords. I do.”

“Of course you do, sir. It’s a lad’s nature to like one. Ready?”

“Yes,” cried Roy, standing on his guard; “but look out this time, Ben, because I mean you to have something.”

“That’s right, sir; but mind this: I’m not going to let my stick travel like a snail after a cabbage-leaf this time. I’m going to cut as I should with a sword, only I’m going to hit as if you were made of glass, so as not to break you. Now!”

The old soldier’s eyes flashed as he threw one foot forward, Roy doing the same; but it was his newly polished sword that flashed as he prepared to guard the cuts, taking care, or meaning to take care, to hold his blade at such an angle that the stick would glance off. The encounter ended in a few seconds. Whizz, whirr, pat, pat, pat, and the elastic ash sapling came down smartly upon the boy’s arms, legs, sides, shoulders, and finished off with a rap on the head, with the result that Roy angrily threw the sword jangling upon the floor, and stood rubbing his arms and sides viciously.

“You said you were going to hit at me as if I were made of glass,” cried the boy.

“So I did. Don’t mean to say those taps hurt you?”

“Hurt? They sting horribly.”

“Why, those cuts would hardly have killed flies, sir. But why didn’t you guard?”

“Guard? I did guard,” cried Roy, angrily, as he rubbed away; “but you were so quick.”

“Oh, I can cut quicker than that, sir. You see I got in before you did every time. I’d cut, and was on my way to give another before you were ready for the first. Come, they don’t tingle now, do they?”

“Tingle? Yes. Here, I want a stick. I’m not going to leave off without showing you how it does hurt.”

“Better leave off now, sir,” said the man, grinning.

“But I don’t want to,” cried Roy; and picking up the sword which he had handled with a feeling of pride, he took the other stick, and, crying “Ready!” attacked in his turn, striking hard and as swiftly as he could, but crack, crack, crack, wherever he struck, there was the defensive sapling; and at last, with his arm and shoulder aching, the boy lowered his point and stood panting, with his brow moist with beads of perspiration.

“Well done!” cried Ben. “Now that’s something like a first lesson. Why, those last were twice as good as any you gave before.”

“Yes,” said Roy, proudly; “I thought I could make you feel. Some of those went home.”

“Not one of them, my lad,” said Ben, smiling; “you didn’t touch me once.”

“Not once?”

“No, sir; not once.”

“Is that the truth, Ben?”

“Every word of it, sir. But never you mind that; you did fine; and if you’ll come to me every morning, I’ll make you so that in three months I shall have to look out for myself.”

“I don’t seem to have done any good at all,” said Roy, pettishly.

“Not done no good, sir? Why, you’ve done wonders; you’ve taken all the conceit out of yourself, and learned in one lesson that you don’t know anything whatever about a sword, except that it has a blade and a hilt and a scabbard. And all the time you’d been thinking that all you had to do was to chop and stab with it as easy as could be, and that there was nothing more to learn. Now didn’t you?”

“Something like it,” said Roy, who was now cooling down; “but, of course, I knew that you had to parry.”

“But you didn’t know how to, my lad; and look here, you haven’t tried to thrust yet. Here, give me a sharp one now.”

“No, I can’t do any more,” said Roy, sulkily. “I don’t know how.”

“That’s a true word, sir; but you’re going to try?”

“No, I’m not,” said Roy, whom a sharp sting in one leg from the worst cut made a little vicious again.

“Come, come, come,” said the old soldier, reproachfully. “That aren’t like my master’s son talking; that’s like a foolish boy without anything in his head.”

“Look here, Ben; don’t you be insolent.”

“Not I, Master Roy. I wouldn’t be to you. Only I speak out because I’m proud of you, my lad, and I want to see you grow up into a man like your father. I tried hard not to hurt you, sir, but I suppose I did. But I can’t say I’m sorry.”

“Then you ought to be, for you cut at me like a brute.”

The old soldier shook his head sadly.

“You don’t mean that, Master Roy,” he said; “and it’s only because you’re tingling a bit; that’s all.”

The man’s words disarmed Roy, and the angry frown passed away, as he said, frankly—

“No, I don’t mean it now, Ben. The places don’t tingle so; but I say, there’ll be black marks wherever you cut at me.”

“Never mind, sir; they’ll soon come white again, and you’ll know next time that you’ve got to have your weapon ready to save yourself. Well, I dunno. I meant it right, but you’ve had enough of it. Some day Sir Granby’ll let you go to a big fencing-master as never faced a bit o’ steel drawn in anger in his life, and he’ll put you on leather pads and things, and tap you soft like, and show you how to bow, s’loot, and cut capers like a Frenchman, and when he’s done with you I could cut you up into mincemeat without you being able to give me a scratch.”

“Get out!” cried Roy. “You don’t think anything of the sort. What time shall I come to-morrow morning—six?”

“No, sir, no. Bed’s very nice at six o’clock in the morning. You stop there, and then you won’t be hurt.”

“Five, then?” said Roy, sharply.

“Nay, sir; you wait for the big fencing-master.”

“Five o’clock, I said,” cried Roy.

The old soldier took the sword Roy had held, and fetching a piece of leather from a drawer began to polish off the finger-marks left upon the steel.

“I said five o’clock, Ben,” cried the boy, very decisively.

“Nay, Master Roy, you give it up, sir. I’m too rough an old chap for you.”

“Sorry I was so disagreeable, Ben,” said the boy, offering his hand.

“Mean it, sir?”

“Why, of course, Ben.”

The hand was eagerly seized, and, it being understood that the sword practice was to begin punctually at six next morning, they separated.