Chapter 7 | News From the War | The Young Castellan

Chapter Seven.

Roy and the old soldier hurried to a slit which gave on the road, and the latter began to breathe hard with excitement as his eyes rested upon three dusty-looking horsemen, well-mounted, and from whose round-topped, spiked steel caps the sun flashed from time to time.

“Why, they’re dragoons!” cried the old fellow, excitedly. “Enemies, perhaps, and we’re without a drawbridge as’ll pull up. Here, quick, take a sword, Master Roy. Here’s mine. Let’s make a show. They won’t know but what there’s dozens of us.”

Roy followed the old soldier’s commands, and, buckling on the sword, hurried with him down to the outer gate, just as the venerable old retainer slammed it to with a heavy, jarring sound, and challenged the horsemen, whom he could hardly see, to halt.

“Well done, old man!” muttered Ben. “The right stuff, Master Roy, though he is ninety-four.”

“What is it?” cried Roy, as he reached the gate, where the men were dismounting and patting their weary troop-horses.

“Despatches for Lady Royland,” said one, who seemed to be the leader. “Are you Master Roy, Sir Granby’s son?”

“Yes. Have you come from my father?”

“Yes, sir, and made all the haste we could; but we’ve left two brave lads on the road.”

“What! their horses broke down?”

“No, sir,” said the man, significantly; “but they did.”

He took off his cap as he spoke, and displayed a bandage round his forehead.

“My mate there’s got his shoulder ploughed, too, by a bullet.”

“Open the gates, Jenks,” cried Roy.

“One moment, sir,” whispered Ben. “Get the despatches and see if they’re in your father’s writing.”

“Right,” whispered back Roy. “Here!—your despatches.”

“No, sir,” said the man, firmly. “That’s what they asked who barred the way. Sir Granby’s orders were to place ’em in his lady’s hands.”

“Quite right,” said Roy. “But show them to me and let me see my father’s hand and seal.”

“Yes, that’s right enough, sir,” said the man. “We might be enemies;” and he unstrapped a wallet slung from his right shoulder, took out a great letter tied with silk and sealed, and held it out, first on one side, then upon the other, for the boy to see.

“Yes,” cried Roy, eagerly, “that’s my father’s writing, and it is his seal. Open the gate, Jenkin, and let them in. Why, my lads, you look worn-out.”

“Not quite, sir; but we’ve had a rough time of it. The country’s full of crop-ears, and we’ve had our work cut out to get here safe.”

“Full of what?” said Roy, staring, as the troopers led in their horses, and he walked beside the man who bore the despatches.

“Crop-ears, sir,—Parliamentary men.”

“Is it so bad as that?”

“Bad? Yes, sir.”

“But my father—how is he?”

“Well and hearty when he sent us off, sir.”

“Come quickly then,” cried Roy, hurrying the men along to the great drawbridge, over which the horses’ hoofs began to rattle loudly. But they had not gone half-way across the moat before there was the rustle of a dress in front, and, looking ghastly pale and her eyes wild with excitement, Lady Royland came hurrying to meet them.

Roy sprang to her, crying—

“Letters from father, and he is quite well!”

He caught his mother in his arms, for her eyes closed and she reeled and would have fallen; but the next minute she had recovered her composure, and held out her hand for the packet the trooper had taken from his wallet.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling. “Martlet, take these poor tired fellows into the hall at once, and see that they have every attention. Set some one to feed their horses.”

“Thank you, my lady,” said the man, with rough courtesy, as he took off his steel cap.

“Ah, you are wounded,” cried Lady Royland, with a look of horror.

“Only a scratch, my lady. My comrade here is worse than I.”

“Your wounds shall be seen to at once.”

“If I might speak, my lady, a place to sit down for an hour or two, and something to eat and drink, would do us more good than a doctor. We haven’t had a good meal since we rode away from Whitehall and along the western road a week ago.”

“Eight days and a harf, comrad’,” growled one of his companions.

“Is it? Well, I haven’t kept count.”

“See to them at once, Martlet,” said Lady Royland; and the horses were led off, while, clinging to her son’s arm, the anxious wife and mother hurried into the library, threw herself into a chair, tore open the great letter, and began, wild-eyed and excited, to read, while Roy walked up and down the room with his eyes fixed longingly upon the despatch till he could bear it no longer.

“Oh, mother!” he cried, “do, do, do pray give me a little bit of the news.”

“My poor boy! yes. How selfish of me. Roy, dear, there is something terribly wrong! Your dear father says he has been half-mad with anxiety, for he has sent letter after letter, and has had no news from us. So at last he determined to send his own messengers, and despatched five men to guard this letter to us—but I saw only three.”

“No,” said Roy, solemnly; “the roads are in the hands of the enemy, mother, and two of the poor fellows were killed on the way. Two of these three are wounded.”

“Yes, yes! Horrible! I could not have thought matters were so bad as this.”

“But father is quite well?”

“Yes, yes, my dear; but he says the king’s state is getting desperate, and that he will have to take the field at once. But the letters I sent—that he sent, my boy?”

“They must have all fallen into the enemy’s hands, mother. How bad everything must be! But pray, pray, go on. What does he say?”

Lady Royland read on in silence for a few moments, and, as she read, the pallor in her face gave way to a warm flush of excitement, while Roy, in spite of his eagerness to hear more, could not help wondering at the firmness and decision his mother displayed, an aspect which was supported by her words as she turned to her son.

“Roy,” she cried, “I was obliged to read first, but you shall know everything. While we have been here in peace, it seems that a terrible revolution has broken out, and your father says that it will only be by desperate efforts on the part of his friends that the king’s position can be preserved. He says that these efforts will be made, and that the king shall be saved.”

“Hurrah!” shouted the boy, wildly. “God save the king!”

“God save the king!” murmured Lady Royland, softly, with her eyes closed; and her words sounded like a prayerful echo of her son’s utterance.

There was a pause for a few moments, and then Lady Royland went on.

“Your father says that we lie right out of the track of the trouble here, and that he prays that nothing may disturb us; but as the country grows more unsettled with the war, evil men will arise everywhere, ready to treat the laws of the country with contempt, and that it is our duty in his absence to be prepared.”

“Prepared! Yes, mother,” cried Roy, excitedly; and he flung himself upon his knees, rested his elbows on his mother’s lap, and seized her hands. “Go on, go on!”

“He says that you have grown a great fellow now, and that the time has come for you to play the man, and fill his place in helping me in every way possible.”

“Father says that, mother?” cried the boy, flushing scarlet.

“Yes; and that he looks to you to be my counsellor, and, with the help of his faithful old servant Martlet, to do everything you can to put the place in a state of defence.”

“Why, mother,” said Roy, “old Ben will go mad with delight.”

Lady Royland suppressed a sigh, and went on firmly.

“He bids me use my discretion to decide whom among the tenants and people of the village I can—we can—trust, Roy, and to call upon them to be ready, in case of an emergency, to come in here and help to protect the place and their own belongings; but to be very careful whom I do trust, for an enemy within the gates is a terrible danger.”

“Yes, of course,” cried Roy, whose head seemed once more in a whirl.

“He goes on to say that there may not be the slightest necessity for all this, but the very fact of our being prepared will overawe people who might be likely to prove disaffected, and will keep wandering bands of marauders at a distance.”

“Of course—yes; I see,” cried Roy, eagerly. “Yes, mother, I’ll go to work at once.”

“You will do nothing foolish, I know, my boy,” said the mother, laying one hand upon his head and gazing proudly in his eyes.

“Nothing if I can help it,” he cried; “and I’ll consult you in everything, but—but—”

“Yes, my boy, speak out.”

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, dear, and yet if I speak of a sword or a gun—”

Lady Royland shivered slightly, but she drew a long, deep breath, and raised herself up proudly.

“Roy,” she said, “that was in times of peace, before this terrible emergency had arisen. As a woman, I shrink from bloodshed and everything that suggests it. It has been my constant dread that you, my boy, should follow your father’s profession. ‘My boy a soldier!’ I said, as I lay sleepless of a night, and I felt that I could not bear the thought. But Heaven’s will be done, my son. The time has come when my weak, womanly fears must be crushed down, and I must fulfil my duty as your dear father’s wife. We cannot question his wisdom. A terrible crisis has come upon our land, and we must protect ourselves and those who will look to us for help. Then, too, your father calls upon us to try to save his estate here from pillage and the ruthless wrecking of wicked men. Roy, my boy, I hope I shall not be such a weak woman now, but your help and strengthener, as you will be mine. You will not hurt my feelings, dear, in what you do. You see,” she continued, smiling, as she laid her hand upon the hilt of the sword the lad had so hastily buckled on, “I do not wince and shudder now. Fate has decided upon your career, Roy, young as you are, and I know that my son’s sword, like his father’s, will never be drawn unless it is to protect the weak and maintain the right.”

“Never, mother,” cried the boy, enthusiastically; and as Lady Royland tried to raise him, he sprang to his feet. “Oh,” he cried, “I wish I were not such a boy!”

“I do not,” said his mother, smiling. “You are young, and I am only a woman, but our cause will make us strong, Roy. There,” she continued, embracing him lovingly, “the time has come to act. You will consult with Martlet what to do about the defences at once, while I write back to your father. When do you think the men will be fit to go back?”

“They’d go to-night, mother; they seem to be just the fellows; but their horses want two or three days’ rest.”


“Yes, mother. It’s a long journey, and they’ll have to go by out-of-the-way roads to avoid attack.”

“But we have horses.”

“Yes, mother, but they would sooner trust their own.”

Lady Royland bowed her head.

“The letters must go back by them,” she said, “and they must start at the earliest minute they can. But there is another thing. It is right that Master Pawson should be taken into our counsels.”

“Master Pawson, mother?”

“Yes, my boy. He is your father’s trusted servant, and I must not slight any friends. Go and ask him to come here.”

“Can’t,” said Roy, shortly. “He went out this morning, and said he didn’t think he would be back to dinner.”


“Gone over to see the vicar.”

“Gone to Mr Meldew,” said Lady Royland, whose face looked very grave. “Then it must be deferred till his return. Now, Roy, what will you do first?”

“See to the gates, mother, and that no one goes out or comes in without leave.”

“Quite right, Captain Roy,” said Lady Royland, smiling.

The boy looked at her wonderingly.

“My heart is more at rest, dear,” she said, gently, “and that aching anxiety is at an end. Roy, we know the worst, and we must act for the best.”