Chapter 6 | Ben Martlet Feels Rusty | The Young Castellan

Chapter Six.

“Come to me in half an hour, Roy,” said Master Pawson, as they rose from the table, the boy hurrying away to the armoury to find Ben busy as ever, and engaged now in seeing to the straps and fittings of the Italian suit of bronzed steel.

“Thought I’d do it, sir,” he said, “in case you ever asked for it; but I s’pose it’s all over with your learning to be a man now.”

“Indeed it is not,” said Roy, sharply. “I’m sure my father would not object to my learning fencing.”

“Sword-play, sir.”

“Very well—sword-play,” said Roy, pettishly; “so long as I do not neglect any studies I have to go through with Master Pawson.”

“And I s’pose you’ve been a-neglecting of ’em, sir, eh?” said the old man, drily.

“That I’ve not. Perhaps I have not got on so well as I ought, but that’s because I’m stupid, I suppose.”

“Nay, nay, nay! That won’t do, Master Roy. There’s lots o’ things I can do as you can’t; but that’s because you’ve never learnt.”

“Master Pawson’s cross because I don’t do what he wants.”

“Why, what does he want you to do, sir?”

“Learn to play the big fiddle.”

“What!” cried the man, indignantly. “Then don’t you do it, my lad.”

“I don’t mean to,” said Roy; “and I don’t want to hurt my mother’s feelings; and so I won’t make a lot of show over learning sword-play with you, but I shall go on with it, Ben, and you shall take the swords or sticks down in the hollow in the wood, and I’ll meet you there every morning at six.”

“Mean it, sir?”

“Yes, of course; and now I must be off. I was to be with Master Pawson in half an hour.”

“Off you go, then, my lad. Always keep to your time.”

Roy ran off, and was going straight to Master Pawson’s room in the corner tower, but on the way he met Lady Royland, who took his arm and walked with him out into the square garden.

“Why, mother, you’ve been crying,” said the boy, tenderly.

“Can you see that, my dear?”

“Yes; what is the matter? I know, though. You’re fretting about not hearing from father.”

“Well, is it not enough to make me fret, my boy?” she said, reproachfully.

“Of course! And I’m so thoughtless.”

“Yes, Roy,” said Lady Royland, with a sad smile; “I am afraid you are.”

“I try not to be, mother; I do indeed,” cried Roy; “but tell me—is there anything fresh? Yes; you’ve had some bad news! Then you’ve heard from father.”

“No, my boy, no; the bad news comes through Master Pawson. He has heard again from his friends in London.”

“Look here, mother,” cried the boy, hotly, “I want to know why he should get letters easily, and we get none.”

Lady Royland sighed.

“Father must be too busy to write.”

“I am afraid so, my dear.”

“But what is the bad news he has told you this morning?”

They were close up to the foot of the corner tower as Roy asked this question; and, as Lady Royland replied, a few notes of some air being played upon the violoncello high up came floating down to their ears.

“He tells me that there is no doubt about a terrible revolution having broken out, my boy; that the Parliament is raising an army to fight against the king, and that his friends feel sure that his majesty’s cause is lost.”

“Then he doesn’t know anything about it, mother,” cried the boy, indignantly. “The king has too many brave officers like father who will fight for him, and take care that his cause is not lost. Oh, I say, hark to that!”

“That” was another strain floating down to them.

“Yes,” said Lady Royland, sadly; “it is Master Pawson playing. He is waiting for you, Roy.”

“Yes, playing,” said the boy, hotly. “It makes me think of what I read with him one day about that Roman emperor—what was his name?—playing while Rome was burning. But don’t you fret, mother; London won’t be burnt while father’s there.”

“You do not realise what it may mean, my boy.”

“Oh, yes, I think I do, mother; but you don’t think fairly. You are too anxious. But there! I must go up to him now.”

“Yes, go, my boy; and you will not cause me any more anxiety than you can help?”

“Why, of course I won’t, mother. But if it is going to be a war, don’t you think I ought to learn all I can about being a soldier?”

“Roy! No, no!” cried Lady Royland, wildly. “Do I not suffer enough on your father’s account?”

“There, I won’t say any more, mother dear,” said Roy, clinging to her arm; “and now I’ll confess something.”

“You have something to confess?” said Lady Royland, excitedly, as she stopped where they were, just beneath the corner tower, and quite unconscious of the fact that a head was cautiously thrust out of one of the upper windows and then drawn back, so that only the tip of an ear and a few curls were left visible. “Then, tell me quickly, Roy; you have been keeping back some news.”

“No, no, mother, not a bit; just as if I would when I know how anxious you are! It was only this. Old Ben is always grumbling about the place going to ruin, as he calls it, and I told him, to please him, that he might clean up some of the big guns.”

“But you should not have done this, my dear.”

“No; I’ll tell him not to, mother. And I’d made an arrangement with him to meet him every morning out in the primrose dell to practise sword-cutting. I was going to-morrow morning, but I won’t go now.”

Lady Royland pressed her lips to the boy’s forehead, and smiled in his face.

“Thank you, my dear,” she said, softly. “Recollect you are everything to me now! And I want your help and comfort now I am so terribly alone. Master Pawson is profuse in his offers of assistance to relieve me of the management here, but I want that assistance to come from my son.”

“Of course!” said Roy, haughtily. “He’s only the secretary, and if any one is to take father’s place, it ought to be me.”

“Yes; and you shall, Roy, my dear. You are very young, but now this trouble has come upon us, you must try to be a man and my counsellor so that when your father returns—”

She ceased speaking, and Roy pressed her hands encouragingly as he saw her lips trembling and that she had turned ghastly white.

“When your father returns,” she said, now firmly, “we must let him see that we have managed everything well.”

“Then why not, as it’s war time, let Ben do what he wanted, and we’ll put the place in a regular state of defence?”

“No, no, no, my dear,” said Lady Royland, with a shudder. “Why should you give our peaceful happy home even the faintest semblance of war, when it can by no possibility come into this calm, quiet, retired nook. No, my boy, not that, please.”

“Very well, mother. Then I’ll go riding round to see the tenants, and look after the things at home just as you wish me to. Will that do?”

Lady Royland smiled, and then pressed her son’s arm.

“Go up now, then, to Master Pawson’s room,” she said; “and recollect that one of the things I wish you to do is to be more studious than you would be if your father were at home.”

Roy nodded and hurried up into the corridor, thinking to himself that Master Pawson would not like his being so much in his mother’s confidence.

“Then he’ll have to dislike it. He has been a bit too forward lately, speaking to the servants as if he were master here. I heard him quite bully poor old Jenk one day. But, of course, I don’t want to quarrel with him.”

Roy ascended the staircase and entered the room, to find the secretary bending over a big volume in the Greek character; and, as he looked up smiling, the boy felt that his tutor was about the least quarrelsome-looking personage he had ever seen.

“Rather a long half-hour, Roy, is it not?” he said.

“Yes, sir; I’m very sorry. My mother met me as I was coming across the garden, and talked to me, and I could not leave her in such trouble.”

“Trouble? Trouble?” said the secretary, raising his eyebrows.

“Of course, sir, about the bad news you told her this morning.”

“Indeed! And did Lady Royland confide in you?”

“Why, of course!” said Roy, quickly.

“Oh, yes,—of course! Her ladyship would do what is for the best. Well, let us to our reading. We have lost half an hour, and I am going to make it a little shorter this morning, for I thought of going across as far as the vicarage.”

“To see Master Meldew, sir?”

“Yes; of course. He has not been here lately. Now, then, where we left off,—it was about the Punic War, was it not?”

“Yes, sir; but don’t let’s have anything about war this morning.”

“Very well,” said the secretary; “let it be something about peace.”

It was something about peace, but what Roy did not know half an hour later, for his head was in a whirl, and his reading became quite mechanical. For there was the trouble his mother was in, her wishes as to his conduct, and his secret interview with Ben, to keep on buzzing in his brain, so that it was with a sigh of relief that he heard the secretary’s command to close his book, and he gazed at him wonderingly, asking himself whether the words were sarcastic, for Master Pawson said—

“I compliment you, Roy; you have done remarkably well, and been very attentive this morning. By the way, if her ladyship makes any remark about my absence, you can say that you expect Master Meldew has asked me to stay and partake of dinner with him.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not unless she asks,” continued the secretary. “In all probability she will not notice my absence.”

Roy descended with his books; then felt that he should like to be alone and think, and to this end he made his way to the gloomy old guard-room on the right of the great gate-way, ran up the winding stair, and soon reached the roof, where he lay down on the breastwork over the machicolations, and had not been there long before he heard steps, and, looking over, saw Master Pawson cross the drawbridge and go out of the farther gate-way, watching him unseen till he turned off by the pathway leading through the village and entering the main road.

Then it occurred to Roy that, as he had an unpleasant communication to make, he could not do better than get it over at once. So he descended, and began to search for the old soldier; but it was some time before he could find him out.

Yet it seemed to be quite soon enough, for the old fellow looked very grim and sour as he listened to the communication.

“Very well, Master Roy,” he said; “the mistress is master now, and it’s your dooty to obey her; but it do seem like playing at fast and loose with a man. There, I’ve got no more to say,—only that I was beginning to feel a bit bright and chirpy; but now I’m all going back’ard again, and feel as rusty as everything else about the place.”

“I’m very sorry, Ben, for I really did want to learn,” said Roy, apologetically.

“Yes, sir, I s’pose you did; and this here’s a world o’ trouble, and the longer you lives in it the more you finds out as you can’t do what you like, so you grins and bears it; but the grinning’s about the hardest part o’ the job. You’re ’bliged to bear it, but you aren’t ’bliged to grin; and, when the grins do come, you never has a looking-glass afore you, but you allus feels as if you never looked so ugly afore in your life.”

“But you’ll have to help me in other things, Ben.”

“Shall I, sir? Don’t seem to me as there’s anything else as I can help you over.”

“Oh, but there is,—while the war keeps my father away.”

“War, sir? Nonsense! You don’t call a bit of a riot got up by some ragged Jacks war.”

“No; but this is getting to be a very serious affair, according to what Master Pawson told my mother this morning.”

“Master Pawson, sir! Why, what does he know about it?”

“A good deal, it seems. Some friends of his in London send him news, and they said it is going to be a terrible civil war.”

“And me not up there with Sir Granby!” groaned the man. “Oh, dear! oh, dear! it’s a wicked, rusty old world!”

“But I’ve promised to help my mother all I can, Ben, and you must promise to help me.”

“Of course, sir; that you know. But say, sir, war breaking out, and we all rusted up like this! We ought to be ready for anything.”

“So I thought, Ben; but my mother says there’s not likely to be trouble in this out-of-the-way place.”

“Then bless my dear lady’s innocence! says Ben Martlet, and that’s me, sir. Why, you never knows where a spark may drop and the fire begin to run.”

“No, Ben.”

“And if this is sure to be such a peaceful spot, why did the old Roylands build the castle and make a moat and drawbridge, and all the rest of it? They didn’t mean the moat for nothing else, sir, but carp, tench, and eels.”

“And pike, Ben.”

“No, sir. They thought of very different kind of pikes, sir, I can tell you,—same as they I’ve got on the walls yonder in sheaves. But there; her ladyship gives the word to you, and you gives it to me, and I shouldn’t be worth calling a soldier if I didn’t do as I was ordered, and directly, too, and—Hark!”

The old soldier held up his hand.

“Horses!” cried Roy, excitedly. “Why, who’s coming here?”