The Young Castellan, by George Manville Fenn.
A Castellan is a person in charge of a castle, and that is what young Roy Royland has become, while his father, Sir Granby, is away defending his king. For the time is about 1640, and there is a move afoot in the country of England to do away with the monarchy. In the castle most of its old defences have not been used for many years, perhaps centuries, and old Ben Martlet sets about restoring them, cleaning up the armour, teaching young Roy the arts of self-defence, by putting him through a course of fencing, by restoring the portcullis and draw-bridge, and by training the men from the neighbouring farms to be soldiers.
But eventually, through treachery, the Roundheads, as those who oppose the monarchy, are called, manage to take the castle, and to make Roy and his mother, along with old Ben Martlet and the other defenders, prisoner. This can't do the management of the tenant farms much good.
Eventually Sir Granby, Roy's father, appears on the scene, and the Roundheads are chased away. As we know from our history books, the Monarchy was restored, and peace spreads again through the land of England.
THE YOUNG CASTELLAN, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
IN THE OLD ARMOURY.
"See these here spots o' red rust, Master Roy?"
"I should be blind as poor old Jenkin if I couldn't, Ben."
"Ay, that you would, sir. Poor old Jenk, close upon ninety he be; and that's another thing."
"What do you mean?" said the boy addressed.
"What do I mean, sir? Why, I mean as that's another thing as shows as old England's wore out, and rustin' and moulderin' away."
"Is this Dutch or English, Ben?" said the manly-looking boy, who had just arrived at the age when dark lads get teased about not having properly washed the sides of their faces and their upper lips, which begin to show traces of something "coming up." "I don't understand."
"English, sir," said the weather-beaten speaker, a decidedly ugly man of about sixty, grizzly of hair and beard, deeply-lined of countenance, and with a peculiar cicatrice extending from the upper part of his left cheek-bone diagonally down to the right corner of his lips, and making in its passage a deep notch across his nose. "English, sir; good old honest English."
"You're always grumbling, Ben, and you won't get the rust off that morion with that."
"That I shan't, sir; and if I uses elber grease and sand, it'll only come again. But it's all a sign of poor old England rustin' and moulderin' away. The idea! And at a place like this. Old Jenk, as watch at the gate tower, and not got eyes enough to see across the moat, and even that's getting full o' mud!"
"Well, you wouldn't have father turn the poor old man away because he's blind and worn-out."
"Not I, sir," said the man, moistening a piece of flannel with oil, dipping it into some fine white sand, and then proceeding to scrub away at the rust spots upon the old helmet, which he now held between his knees; while several figures in armour, ranged down one side of the low, dark room in which the work was being carried on, seemed to be looking on and waiting to have their rust removed in turn.
"Then what do you mean?" said the boy.
"I mean, Master Roy, as it's a pity to see the old towers going down hill as they are."
"But they're not," cried the boy.
"Not, sir? Well, if you'll excuse me for saying as you're wrong, I'll say it. Where's your garrison? where's your horses? and where's your guns, and powder, and shot, and stores?"
"Fudge, then! We don't want any garrison nowadays, and as for horses, why, it was a sin to keep 'em in those old underground stables that used to be their lodging. Any one would think you expected to have some one come and lay siege to the place."
"More unlikely things than that, Master Roy. We live in strange times, and the king may get the worst of it any day."
"Oh, you old croaker!" cried Roy. "I believe you'd like to have a lot more men in the place, and mount guard, and go on drilling and practising with the big guns."
"Ay, sir, I should; and with a place like this, it's what ought to be done."
"Well, it wouldn't be bad fun, Ben," said the boy, thoughtfully.
"Fun, sir? Don't you get calling serious work like that fun.—But look ye there. Soon chevy these spots off, don't I?"
"Yes, it's getting nice and bright," said Roy, gazing down at the steel headpiece.
"And it's going to get brighter and better before I've done. I'm going to let Sir Granby see when he comes back that I haven't neglected nothing. I'm a-going to polish up all on 'em in turn, beginning with old Sir Murray Royland. Let me see: he was your greatest grandfather, wasn't he?"
"Yes, he lived in 1480," said the boy, as the old man rose, set down the morion, and followed him to where the farthest suit of mail stood against the wall. "I say, Ben, this must have been very heavy to wear."
"Ay, sir, tidy; but, my word, it was fine for a gentleman in those days to mount his horse, shining in the sun, and looking as noble as a man could look. He's a bit spotty, though, it's been so damp. But I'll begin with Sir Murray and go right down 'em all, doing the steeliest ones first, and getting by degrees to the last on 'em as is only steel half-way down, and the rest being boots. Ah! it's a dolesome change from Sir Murray to Sir Brian yonder at the end, and worse still, to your father, as wouldn't put nothing on but a breast-piece and back-piece and a steel cap."
"Why, it's best," said the boy; "steel armour isn't wanted so much now they've got cannon and guns."
"Ay, that's a sad come-down too, sir. Why, even when I was out under your grandfather, things were better and fighting fairer. People tried to see who was best man then with their swords. Now men goes to hide behind hedges and haystacks, to try and shoot you like they would a hare."
"Why, they did the same sort of thing with their bows and arrows, Ben, and their cross-bows and bolts."
"Well, maybe, sir; but that was a clean kind o' fighting, and none of your sulphur and brimstone, and charcoal and smoke."
"I say, Ben, it'll take you some time to get things straight. Mean to polish up the old swords and spears, too?"
"Every man jack of 'em, sir. I mean to have this armoury so as your father, when he comes back from scattering all that rabble, will look round and give me a bit of encouragement."
"Ha, ha!" laughed the boy; "so that's what makes you so industrious."
"Nay it aren't, sir," said the man, with a reproachful shake of his head. "I didn't mean money, Master Roy, but good words, and a sort o' disposition to make the towers what they should be again. He's a fine soldier is your father, and I hear as the king puts a lot o' trust in him; but it always seems to me as he thinks more about farming when he's down here than he does about keeping up the old place as a good cavalier should."
"Don't you talk a lot of nonsense," said Roy, hotly; "if my father likes to live here as country gentlemen do, and enjoy sport and gardening and farming, who has a better right to, I should like to know?"
"Oh, nobody, sir, nobody," said the man, scouring away at the rusted steel.
"And besides, times are altered. When this castle was built, gentlemen used to have to protect themselves, and kept their retainers to fight for them. Now there's a regular army, and the king does all that."
That patch of rust must have been a little lighter on, for the man uttered a low grunt of satisfaction.
"It would be absurd to make the towers just as they used to be, and shut out the light and cover the narrow slits with iron bars."
"Maybe, Master Roy; but Sir Granby might have the moat cleared of mud, and kept quite full."
"What! I just hope it won't be touched. Why, that would mean draining it, and then what would become of my carp and tench?"
"Ketch 'em and put 'em in tubs, sir, and put some little uns back."
"Yes, and then it would take years for them to grow, and all the beautiful white and yellow water-lilies would be destroyed."
"Yes; but see what a lot of fine, fat eels we should get, sir. There's some thumpers there. I caught a four-pounder on a night-line last week."
"Ah, you did, did you?" cried the lad; "then don't you do it again without asking for leave."
"All right, sir, I won't; but you don't grudge an old servant like me one eel?"
"Of course I don't, Ben," said the lad, importantly; "but the moat is mine. Father gave it to me as my own special fishing-place before he went away, and I don't allow any one to fish there without my leave."
"I'll remember, sir," said the man, beginning to whistle softly.
"I don't grudge you a few eels, Ben, and you shall have plenty; but next time you want to fish, you ask."
"Yes, sir, I will."
"And what you say is all nonsense: the place is beautiful as it is. Why, I believe if you could do as you liked, you'd turn my mother's pleasaunce and the kitchen-garden into drill-grounds."
"That I would, sir," said the man, flushing up. "The idea of a beautiful square of ground, where the men might be drilled, and practise with sword and gun, being used to grow cabbages in. Er! it's horrid!"
"You're a rum fellow, Ben," he cried. "I believe you think that people were meant to do nothing else but fight and kill one another."
"Deal better than spending all their time over books, sir," said the man; "and you take my advice. You said something to me about being a statesman some day, and serving the king that way. Now, I s'pose I don't know exactly what a statesman is, but I expect it's something o' the same sort o' thing as Master Pawson is, and—You won't go and tell him what I says, sir?"
"Do you want me to kick you, Ben?" said the boy, indignantly.
"Oh, I don't know, sir," said the man, with a good-humoured smile lighting up his rugged features; "can, if you like. Wouldn't be the first time by many a hundred."
"What! When did I kick you?"
"Lots o' times when you was a little un, and I wouldn't let you drown yourself in the moat, or break your neck walking along the worsest parts o' the ramparts, or get yourself trod upon by the horses. Why, I've known you kick, and squeal, and fight, and punch me as hard as ever you could."
"And did it hurt you, Ben?"
"Hurt me, sir? Not it. I liked it. Showed you was made o' good stuff, same good breed as your father; and I used to say to myself, 'That young cub'll turn out as fine a soldier as his father some day, and I shall have the job o' training him.' But deary me, deary me, old England's a-wasting all away! You aren't got the sperrit you had, my lad; and instead o' coming to me cheery-like, and saying, 'Now, Ben, get out the swords and let's have a good fence, or a bit o' back-sword or broad-sword-play, or a turn with the singlestick or staves,' you're always a-sticking your nose into musty old parchments, or dusty books, along o' Master Palgrave Pawson. Brrr!"
The latter was a low growl, following a loud smack given to the side of the helmet, after which, as the lad stood fretting and fuming, the old servant scrubbed away at the steel furiously.
"It isn't true, Ben," the boy cried at last, indignantly; "and perhaps I'm going to be a soldier after all, especially if this trouble goes on."
"Tchaw! trouble goes on!" said the man, changing the steel headpiece for a cuirass. "There won't be no trouble. First time your father gets a sight of the mob of tailors, and shoemakers, and tinkers, with an old patch-work counterpane atop of a clothes-prop for their flag, he'll ride along the front of his ridgement of cavaliers, and he'll shout to 'em in that big voice of his as I've followed many's the time; and 'Don't draw, gentlemen,' he'll say; 'ride the scum down, and make the rest run;' and then they'll all roar with laughing loud enough to drown the trumpet charge. My word, I'd a gi'n something to ha' been there to see the rebels fly like dead leaves before a wind in November. But it were a mean and a cruel thing, Master Roy. Look at that arm, look at these legs! I'm a better and a stronger man than ever I was, and could sit any horse they'd put me on. But to leave an old soldier, as had followed him as I have, at home here to rust like the rest o' things, when there was a chance for a bit o' fun, it went right to my 'art, sir, and it seemed to me as if it warn't the master as I used to sit with in the ranks."
The old fellow was bending now over the breastplate and rubbing hard, while as Roy listened to his excited words, wondering at the way in which he seemed to resent what he looked upon as a slight, something dropped upon the polished steel with a pat, and spread out; and Roy thought to himself that if that drop of hot salt water stayed there, it would make a deeper rust spot than anything.
But it did not stay, for the man hastily rubbed it away, and began with a rough show of indifference to hum over an old Devon song, something about "A morn in May, to hear birds whistle and see lambkins play."
But he ceased as the boy laid a hand upon his shoulder, and bent over the breastplate and rubbed at it very slowly, listening intently the while.
"Don't you get thinking that, Ben Martlet," said the boy, gently; "father wanted to take you, and he said you were not too old."
"Nay, nay, nay, sir; don't you get trying to ile me over. I know."
"But you don't know," said the boy, hotly; "he said he should take you, but my mother asked him not to."
"Ay, she would, sir. She won't let you be a soldier, and she comes over your father as I was too old and helpless to be any good."
"You're a stupid, pig-headed, old chump," cried Roy, angrily.
"Yes, sir; that's it; now you're at me too. Rusty, and worn-out, and good for nothing; but it'll soon be over. I used to think it must be very horrid to have to die, but I know better now, and I shan't be sorry when my turn comes."
"Will—you—listen to—what—I have—to say?" cried the boy.
"Oh, ay, sir, I'll listen. You're my master, now Sir Granby's away, and nobody shan't say as Ben Martlet didn't do his dooty as a soldier to the end, even if he is set to dig in a garden as was once a castle court-yard."
"Oh, you obstinate old mule!" cried Roy, gripping the man's shoulders, as he stood behind him, sawing him to and fro, and driving his knee softly into the broad strong back. "Will you listen?"
"Yes, sir, I'll listen; but that's only your knee. Kick the old worn-out mule with your boot-toe, and—"
"I've a good mind to," cried Roy. "Now listen: my mother begged of father to leave you here."
"Oh, ay, of course."
"Quiet!" roared Roy, "or I will really kick—hard; because she said she would feel safer, and that, if any trouble did arise with some of the men, Martlet would put it down at once, and everything would go right."
The cuirass went down on the dark oaken boards with a loud clang, and the old soldier sprang to his feet panting heavily.
"Her ladyship said that?" he cried.
"Say it again, sir; say it again!" he cried, in a husky voice.
Roy repeated the words.
"Yes, yes, sir; and what—what did Sir Granby say to that?"
"Said he was very sorry and very glad."
"Sorry to leave you, because it didn't seem natural to go back to the regiment without his right-hand man."
"Yes; but he was glad my mother felt so about you, for he could go away more contented now, and satisfied that all would be right. For though— ahem!—he had the fullest confidence in me, I was too young to have the management of men."
"Wrong, wrong, sir—wrong. On'y want a bit o' training, and you'd make as good a captain as ever stepped.—Then it was her ladyship's doing, and she said all that?"
"God bless her! my dear mistress. Here, don't you take no notice o' this here," cried the rough fellow, changing his tone, and undisguisedly wiping the salt tears from his face. "I don't work so much as I ought, sir, and this here's only what you calls presperashum, sir, as collects, and will come out somewheres. And so her ladyship says that, did her?"
"Then why haven't I knowed this afore? Here's three months gone by since the master went to take command of his ridgement, and I see him off. Ay, I did send him off looking fine, and here have I been eating my heart out ever since. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Oh, I don't know. Yes, I do. Of course, I wasn't going to tattle about what my father and mother said, but when I heard you talk as you did, and seem so cut up and unjust, why, I did."
"Here, let me have it, my lad! Kick away! Jump on me for an old fool. Why, I'm as blind as old Jenk. Worse.—She'd feel safer if there was any trouble. Bless her! Oh, what an old fool I've been. No wonder I've got so weak and thin."
"Ha, ha, ha!"
"What are you laughing at, sir?"
"You weak and thin! Why, you're as strong as a horse."
"Well, I am, Master Roy," said the man, with a grim smile of pride. "But I have got a bit thin, sir."
"Not a bit thinner."
"Well, I aren't enjoyed my vittles since the master went, sir. You can't contradick that."
"No, and don't want to; but you did eat a four or five pound eel that you'd no right to catch."
"That I didn't, sir. I give it to poor old Jenk to make a pie. I never tasted it."
"Then you may catch as many as you like, Ben, without asking."
"Thank you, sir; but I don't want to go eeling now. Here, let's have all this fighting-tackle so as you can see your face in it. But I say, my lad, do 'ee, now do 'ee, alter your mind; leave being statesman to them soft, smooth kind o' fellows like Master Pawson."
"I don't see why one couldn't be a statesman and a soldier too," said the boy.
"I don't know nothing about that sort, sir; but I do know how to handle a sword or to load a gun. I do say, though, as you're going wrong instead of right."
"How, sir? Just look at your hands."
"Well, what's the matter with them?" said the boy, holding them out.
Ben Martlet uttered a low, chuckling laugh.
"I'll tell you, sir. S'pose any one's badly, and the doctor comes; what does he do first?"
"Feels his pulse."
"Looks at his tongue."
"That's it, my lad; and he knows directly from his tongue what's the matter with him. Now, you see, Master Roy, I aren't a doctor."
"Not you, Ben; doctors cure people; soldiers kill 'em."
"Not always, Master Roy," said the old fellow, whose face during the last few minutes had lit up till he seemed in the highest of glee. "Aren't it sometimes t'other way on? But look here: doctors look at people's tongues to see whether they wants to be physicked, or to have their arms or legs cut off. I don't. I looks at a man's hand to see what's the matter with him, and if I see as he's got a soft, white hand like a gal's, I know directly he's got no muscles in his arms, no spring in his back, and no legs to nip a horse's ribs or to march fifty mile in a day. Now, just look at yours."
"Oh, I can't help what my hands are like," said the boy, impatiently.
"Oh, yes, you can, sir. You've been a-neglecting of 'em, sir, horrible; so just you come to me a little more and let me harden you up a bit. If you've got to be a statesman, you won't be none the worse for being able to fight, and ride, and run. Now, will you? and—There's some one a-calling you, my lad."
"Yes, coming!" cried Roy; and he hurried out of the armoury into a long, dark passage, at the end of which a window full of stained glass admitted the sunbeams in a golden, scarlet, blue, and orange sheaf of rays which lit up the tall, stately figure of a lady, to whom the boy ran with a cry of—
ROY'S MOTHER AND TUTOR.
"I had missed you, Roy," said the lady, smiling proudly on the boy; and he looked with eyes full of pride at the beautiful woman, who now rested her arm upon his shoulder and walked by his side into the more homelike part of the old fortalice, whose grim interior had been transformed by wainscoting, hangings, carpets, stained glass, and massive oak furniture into the handsome mansion of the middle of the seventeenth century.
They passed down a broad staircase into a noble hall, and from thence into a library whose broad, low, mullioned stone window opened into what had been the inner court of the castle, whose ramparts and flanking corner towers were still there; but the echoing stones that had once paved it had given place to verdant lawn, trim flower-beds ablaze with bloom, quaintly-cut shrubs, and creepers which beautified the walls once so bare and grim.
"I want to talk to you, Roy," said Lady Royland, sinking into a great formal chair. "Bring your stool and sit down."
"Got too big for the stool, mother," said the boy; "I can't double up my legs close enough. I'll sit here."
He threw himself upon the thick carpet at her feet, and rested his arms upon her lap.
"Want to talk to me? I'd rather hear you read."
"Not now, my dear."
"Why, what's the matter, mother?" said the boy, anxiously. "You're as white as can be. Got one of your headaches?"
"No, my boy,—at least, my head does ache. But it is my heart, Roy,—my heart."
"Then you've heard bad news," cried the boy. "Oh, mother, tell me; what is it? Not about father?"
"No, no; Heaven forbid, my dear," cried Lady Royland, wildly. "It is the absence of news that troubles me so."
"I ought to say us," said Roy, angrily; "but I'm so selfish and thoughtless."
"Don't think that, my boy. You are very young yet, but I do wish you would give more thought to your studies with Master Pawson."
The boy frowned.
"I wish you'd let me read with you, mother," he said. "I understand everything then, and I don't forget it; but when that old—"
"Master Palgrave Pawson," said Lady Royland, reprovingly, but with a smile.
"Oh, well, Master Palgrave Pawson. P.P., P.P. What a mouthful it seems to be!"
"I've tried, mother; but I do get on so badly with him. I can't help it; I don't like him, and he doesn't like me, and it will always be the same."
"But why? Why do you not like him?"
"Because—because—well, he always smiles at me so."
"That does not seem as if he disliked you. Rather the reverse."
"He's so smooth and oily."
"It is only his manner, my dear. He seems to be very sincere, and to have your welfare at heart."
"Yes, that's it, mother; he won't let me alone."
"But he is your tutor, my dear. You know perfectly well that he came to be your father's secretary and your tutor combined."
"Yes, I know, mother," said the boy, impatiently; "but somehow he doesn't seem to teach me."
"But he is very studious, and tries hard."
"Yes, I know. But he seems to think I'm about seven instead of nearly seventeen, and talks to me as if I were a very little boy, and—and—and we don't get on."
"This sounds very sad, Roy, and I cannot bear to have a fresh trouble now. Your studies are so important to us."
Roy reached up to get his arms round his mother's neck, drew her head down, and kissed her lovingly.
"And she shan't have any more trouble," he cried. "I'll get wonderfully fond of old Paw."
"Master Palgrave Pawson, then; and I'll work at my lessons and classics like a slave. But you will read with me, too, mother?"
"As much as you like, my son. Thank you. That has taken away part of my load."
"I wish I could take away the rest; but I know you're fidgeting because father hasn't written, and think that something has happened to him. But don't you get fancying that, because there can't be anything. They've only gone after a mob of shoemakers and tailors with a counterpane for flag, and father will scatter them all like dead leaves."
"Roy! My boy, these are not your words?"
"No, mother; old Ben Martlet said something of that kind to me this morning."
"Does he not know, then, how serious it is?"
"Serious? What do you mean by serious?"
Lady Royland drew a deep breath, and laid her hand upon her side as if in pain.
"Why, mother," repeated the boy, "what do you mean by serious?"
"This trouble—this rising, my dear. We have had no news, but Master Pawson has had letters from London, and he tells me that what was supposed to be a little petty discontent has grown into a serious revolution."
Roy gazed in his mother's troubled face as if he did not quite comprehend the full extent of her words.
"Well, and if it has, mother, what then?"
"What then, my boy?"
"Yes. You've nothing to fidget about. Father is there with his men, and he'll soon put a stop to it all. You know how stern he can be when people misbehave."
"My dear Roy, this, I am afraid, is going to be no little trouble that your father can put down with his men. Master Pawson tells me that there is every prospect of its being a civil war."
"What! Englishmen fighting against Englishmen?"
"Yes; a terrible fratricidal war."
"But who has quarrelled, mother? Oh, the king will soon stop it."
"Roy, my boy, we have kept you so shut up here in this retired place for home study, instead of parting with you to send you to one of the great schools, that in some things you are as ignorant as I."
"Oh, mother!" cried the boy, laughing. "You ignorant! I only wish I were half as learned and clever. Why, father said—"
"Yes, yes, dear; but that is only book-learning. We have been so happy here that the jarring troubles of politics and the court have not reached our ears; and I, for one, never gave them a thought till, after all these years of peacefulness, your father found himself compelled to obey the call of duty, and left us. We both thought that it was only for a week or two, and then the disturbance would be at an end; but every letter he has sent me has contained worse news, till now it is nearly a month since I have heard from him."
"Then it is because he is putting down the rioters," said Roy, quickly.
"Rioters, my boy! Rebels you should say, for I fear that a great attempt is to be made to overthrow the monarchy. Master Pawson's informants assure him that this is the case, and before long, he says, there must be an encounter between the Royal and the Parliamentary troops."
"Is Master Pawson right, mother? Royal troops—Parliamentary troops? Why, they're all the same."
"No, Roy; there is a division—a great division, I fear, and discontented people are taking the side against the king."
"Then I'm sorry for them," said the boy, flushing. "They'll get a most terrible beating, these discontented folks."
"Let us hope so, my boy, so that there may be an end to this terrible anxiety. To those who have friends whom they love in the army, a foreign war is dreadful enough; but when I think of the possibility of a war here at home, with Englishmen striving against Englishmen, I shudder, and my heart seems to sink."
"Look here," cried the boy, as he rose and stood with his hand resting upon his mother's shoulder, "you've been fidgeting and fancying all sorts of things, because you haven't heard from father."
"Yes, yes," said Lady Royland, faintly.
"Then you mustn't, mother. 'Tis as I say; he is too busy to write, or else he hasn't found it easy to send you a letter. I'll take the pony and ride over to Sidecombe and see when the Exeter wagon comes in. There are sure to be letters for you, and even if there are not, it will make you more easy for me to have been to see, and I can bring you back what news there is. I'll go at once."
Lady Royland took hold of her son's hand and held it fast.
"No," she said, making an effort to be firm. "We will wait another day. I have been fidgeting, dear, as you say, and it has made me nervous and low-spirited; but I'm better now for talking to you, my boy, and letting you share my trouble. I dare say I have been exaggerating."
"But I should like to ride over, mother."
"You shall go to-morrow, Roy; but even then I shall be loath to let you. There, you see I am quite cheerful again. You are perfectly right; your father is perhaps away with his men, and he may have sent, and the letter has miscarried in these troublous times."
"I shouldn't like to be the man who took it, if it has miscarried," said the boy, laughing.
"Poor fellow! it may have been an accident. There, go to Master Pawson now; and Roy, my dear, don't talk about our trouble to any one for the present."
"Not to old Pawson?"
"Not to Master Pawson?" said Roy, smiling.
"Not unless he speaks to you about it; then, of course, you can."
"But he won't, mother. He only talks to me about the Greek and Latin poets and about music. I say, you don't want to see me squeezing a big fiddle between my knees and sawing at it with a bow as if I wanted to cut all the strings, do you, mother?"
"My dear boy, not unless you wished to learn the violoncello."
"Well, I don't," said Roy, pettishly; "but old Master Pawson is always bringing his out of its great green-baize bag and talking to me about it. He says that he will instruct me, and he is sure that my father would have one sent to me from London if I asked him. Just as if there are not noises enough in the west tower now without two of us sawing together. Thrrum, thrrum, throomp, throomp, throomp!"
Roy struck an attitude as if playing, running his left hand up and down imaginary strings while he scraped with his right, and produced no bad imitation of the vibrating strings with his mouth.
"I should not dislike for you to play some instrument to accompany my clavichord, Roy," said Lady Royland, smiling at the boy's antics.
"Very well, then; I'll learn the trumpet," cried the lad. "I'm off now to learn—not music."
"One moment, Roy, my dear," said Lady Royland, earnestly. "Don't let your high spirits get the better of your discretion."
"Of course not, mother."
"You do not understand me, my dear. I am speaking very seriously now. I mean, do not let Master Pawson think that you ridicule his love of music. It would be very weak and foolish, and lower you in his eyes."
"Oh, I'll mind, mother."
"Recollect that he is a scholar and a gentleman, and in your father's confidence."
Roy nodded, and his lips parted as if to speak, but he closed them again.
"What were you going to say, Roy?"
"Oh, nothing, mother."
"Well, only—that—I was going to say, do you like Master Pawson?"
"As your tutor and your father's secretary, yes. He is a very clever man, I know."
"Yes, he's a very clever man," said Roy, as, after kissing his mother affectionately, he went off towards the west tower, which had been specially fitted up as study and bedchamber for the gentleman who had come straight from Oxford to reside at Sir Granby Royland's seat a couple of years before this time. "Yes, he's a very clever man," said Roy to himself; "but I thought I shouldn't like him the first day he came, and I've gone on thinking so ever since. I don't know why, but— Oh, yes, I do," cried the boy, screwing up his face with a look of disgust: "it's because, as he says, I've no soul for music."
For just at that moment a peculiar long-drawn wailing sound came from the open window of the west tower, and a dog lying curled up on the grass in the sun sprang up and began to bark, finishing off with a long, low howl, as it stretched out its neck towards the open window.
"Poor old Nibbs! he has no soul for it, either," said the boy to himself, as his face lit up with a mirthful expression. "It woke him up, and he thought it was cats. Wonder what tune that is? He won't want me to interrupt him now. Better see, though, and speak to him first, and then I'll go and see old Ben polish the armour."
COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE.
The wail on one string went on, and naturally sounded louder as Roy Royland opened a door to stand gazing in at the quaint octagonal room, lit by windows splayed to admit more light to the snug quarters hung with old tapestry, and made cosy with thick carpet and easy-chair, and intellectual with dwarf book-cases filled with choice works. These had overflowed upon the floor, others being piled upon the tops of chairs and stacked in corners wherever room could be found, while some were even ranged upon the narrow steps of the corkscrew stone staircase which led to the floor above, occupied by Master Palgrave Pawson for a bedchamber, the staircase being continued up to the leads, where it ended in a tiny turret.
"I wonder what father will say, my fine fellow, when he finds what a lot of his books you've brought up out of the library," said Roy to himself, as he stood watching the plump, smooth-faced youngish man, who, with an oblong music-book open before him on the table, was seated upon a stool, with a 'cello between his legs, gravely sawing away at the strings, and frowning severely whenever, through bad stopping with his fingers—and that was pretty often—he produced notes "out of tune and harsh." The musician was dressed, according to the fashion of the day, in dark velvet with a lace collar, and wore his hair long, so that it inconvenienced him; the oily curls, hanging down on either side of his fat face like the valance over an old-fashioned four-post bedstead, swaying to and fro with the motion of the man's body, and needing, from time to time, a vigorous shake to force them back when they encroached too far forward and interfered with his view of the music.
The slow, solemn, dirge-like air went on, but the player did not turn his head, playing away with grave importance, and giving himself a gentle inclination now and then to make up for the sharp twitches caused by the tickling hair.
"You saw me," said Roy, speaking to himself, but at the musician, "for one of your eyes turned this way; but you won't speak till you've got to the end of that bit of noise. Oh, how I should like to shear off those long greasy curls! They make you look worse even than you do when they're all twisted up in pieces of paper. It doesn't suit your round, fat face. You don't look a bit like a cavalier, Master P.P.; but I suppose you're a very good sort of fellow, or else father would not have had you here."
Just then the music ended with an awkwardly performed run up an octave and four scrapes across the first and second strings.
"Come in, boy," said the player, taking up a piece of resin to apply to the hair of the bow, "and shut the door."
He spoke in a highly-pitched girlish voice, which somehow always tickled Roy and made him inclined to laugh, and the desire increased upon this occasion as he said, solemnly—
"Oh! Who's she?" said the boy, wonderingly.
The secretary threw his head back, shaking his curls over his broad turn-down collar, and smiled pityingly.
"Ah," he said, "now this is another proof of your folly, Roy, in preferring the society of the servants to that of the noble works with which your father has stored his library. What ignorance! A saraband is a piece of dance music, Italian in origin; and that was a very beautiful composition."
"Dance?" cried the boy. "People couldn't dance to a tune like that. I thought it was an old dirge."
"Want of taste and appreciation, boy. But I see you would prefer something light and sparkling. I will—sit down—play you a coranto."
It was on Roy's lips to say, "Oh, please don't," but he contented himself with crossing the room, lifting some books off an oaken window-seat, his tutor watching him keenly the while, and putting them on the floor; while, with his head still thrown back on one side, Master Palgrave Pawson slowly turned over the leaves of his music-book with the point of his bow.
Roy seated himself, with a sigh, after a glance down through the open window at the glistening moat dotted with the great silver blossoms and dark flat leaves of the water-lilies, seeing even from there the shadowy forms of the great fish which glided slowly among the slimy stalks.
"Ready?" said the musician, giving his hand a flourish.
"Yes, sir," said Roy, aloud; and then to himself, "Oh, what an awful fib." Then he wrinkled up his brows dismally, and began to think of old Ben polishing the armour and swords; but the next moment his face smoothed out stiffly, and he grew red in his efforts to keep from laughing aloud, for Master Pawson commenced jerking and snatching from the strings a remarkable series of notes, which followed one another in a jigging kind of fairly rapid sequence, running up and down the gamut and in and out, as if the notes of the composer had suddenly become animated, and, like some kind of tiny, big-headed, long-tailed goblins, were chasing one another in and out of the five lines of the stave, leaping from bar to bar, never stopping for a rest, making fun of the flats and sharps, and finally pausing, breathless and tired, as the player now finally laid down the bow, took out a fine laced handkerchief, and began to wipe his fingers and mop his brow.
"There," he said, smiling; "you like that bright, sparkling composition better?"
"No," said Roy, decisively; "no, I don't think I do."
"I am glad of it; very glad of it. I was afraid that you preferred the light and trivial coranto to the graceful saraband."
"But, I say. Master Pawson, the Italians surely don't dance to such music as that?"
"I have never been in Italy, my dear pupil, but I believe they do. Going?"
Roy had risen from his chair.
"Yes, sir; I thought, as you were practising, you would not want me to stop and read to-day, and you are writing a letter, too."
"Letter?" said the secretary, hurriedly reaching towards an open sheet upon the table and turning it over with the point of his bow. "Oh, that? Yes, some notes—some notes. Well, it is a fine day, and exercise is good, and perhaps I shall run through a few more compositions. So you can go, and we will study a little in the evening, for we must not neglect our work, Roy, my dear pupil; we must not neglect our work."
"No, sir. Thank you, sir," said the boy; and, for fear of a change of decision, he hurried from the room and made his way out upon the old ramparts, to begin walking leisurely round the enclosed garden, and looking outward from the eminence upon which the castle was built across the moat at the foot, and away over the sunny forest towards the village and little church, whose spire rose about two miles away.
"I wish he wouldn't always call me 'my dear pupil,' and smile at me as if he looked down from ever so high up. I don't know how it is, but I always feel as if I don't like him. I suppose it's because he's so plump and smooth.
"Seems hard," mused the boy, seating himself in one of the crenellations of the rampart, and thinking deeply, "that he should get letters with news from London, and poor mother not have a line. That was a letter on the table, though he pretended it was not, for I could see it began like one. I didn't want to read it. Perhaps he was ashamed of being always writing letters. Don't matter to me. Afraid, perhaps, that he'll be told that he ought to attend more to teaching me. Wish he'd be always writing letters. I can learn twice as much reading with mother."
It was very beautiful in that sunny niche in the mouldering stones close to the tower farthest away from that occupied by the secretary, and a spot much favoured by the boy, for from there he could look right over the square gate-way with its flanking towers, and the drawbridge which was never drawn, and the portcullis which was never lowered.
"Can't hear him playing here," thought Roy that day; and he congratulated himself upon the fact, without pausing to think that the distance was so short that the notes should have been audible.
Roy had been successful in getting off his reading with the tutor, but he was very undecided what to do next, for there were so many things to tempt him, and his mind kept on running in different directions. One minute he was dwelling on his mother's troubles and the want of news from his father, and from this it was a natural transition to thinking of how grand it would be if he could prevail upon her to let him go up to that far-away mysterious city, which it took days to reach on horseback, and then he could take her letter and find where his father was lying with his regiment, and see the army,—maybe see the king and queen, and perhaps his father might let him stay there,—at all events for a time.
Then he was off to thinking about the great moat, for twice over a splash rose to his ears, and he could see the rings of water which spread out and made the lily-leaves rise and fall.
"That was the big tench," he said to himself. "Must catch that fellow some day. He must weigh six or seven pounds. It ought to be a good time now. Want a strong line, though, and a big hook, for he'd run in and out among the lily-stems and break mine. Now, if I knew where father was, I could write and ask him to buy me one and send it down by his next letter. No: he wouldn't want to be bothered to buy me fishing-lines when he's with his regiment. I know," he said to himself, after a pause; "old Ben has got the one he caught the big eel with. I'll make him lend me that. Poor old Ben! who'd ever have thought that he could cry. For it was crying just as a little boy would. Seems funny, because he has been a brave soldier, and saved father's life once. Shouldn't have thought a man like that could cry."
Roy began to whistle softly, and then picked up a little cushion-like patch of velvety green moss and pitched it down towards a jackdaw that was sitting on a projecting stone just below a hole, watching him intently, first with one eye and then with the other, as if puzzled to know what he was doing so near to his private residence, where his wife was sitting upon a late batch of eggs, an accident connected with rats having happened to the first.
It did not occur to the bird that it was quite impossible for its nesting-place to be reached without a swing down from above by a rope; but, being still puzzled, it tried to sharpen its intellectual faculties by standing on one leg and scratching its grey poll with the claws of the other, a feat which made it unsteady and nearly topple over towards the deep moat below.
"Tah!" it cried, in resentment of the insult when the little green moss cushion was thrown; and, as the bird sailed away, Roy rose and walked slowly along the rampart, through the corner tower, and then on towards the front, where that over the outer gate-way stood tall, massive, and square. Here the boy left the rampart, entered through a low arched door, and stood in the great chamber over the main gate-way, where the rusty chains were wound round the two capstans, held fast now by their checks, and suspending the huge grated portcullis, with its spikes high enough to be clear of a coachman driving a carriage.
"Wonder whether we could let that down?" thought Roy.
He had often had the same thought, but it came very strongly now, and he began to calculate how many men it would take to lower the portcullis, and whether he, Ben, and a couple more could manage it.
"Looks as if everything must be set fast with rust," he thought, and he was about to turn and descend; but as he reached the corner where the spiral steps led down, he stood where they also led up to another chamber in the massive stone-work, and again higher to the leads.
The result was that in his idle mood Roy began to ascend, to find half-way up, by the slit which gave light, that the jackdaws had been busy there too, coming in and out by the loop-hole, and building a nest which was supported upon a scaffolding of sticks which curved up from the stone step on which it rested, and from that to the splay and sill by the loop-hole.
"Only an old one," said the boy to himself, and he brought the great edifice down with a sharp kick or two, thinking that it must be about a year since any one had come up that way.
"What a lot of the old place seems no use!" he said to himself, as, with the dry sticks crackling beneath his feet, he climbed up the dark stairway and entered the next chamber through its low arched door.
"Why, what a jolly private room this would make!" he said to himself; "only wants a casement in and some furniture. I'll ask father to let me have it for my play—I mean study; no, I don't—I mean odds and ends place."
He paused—after glancing out at the beautiful view over the woodland country dotted with meadow-like pastures in which the ruddy cattle of the county grazed—by the open fireplace with the arms of the Roylands cut in stone beneath the narrow shelf, and the sight of this opening, with the narrow, well-made chimney and some projecting stone blocks from the fire-back, set him thinking.
"Fight differently now," he said, as he recalled the object of the furnace before him, and how he had heard or read that it was used on purpose to melt lead ready for pouring down upon the besiegers who might have forced their way across the drawbridge to the portcullis. "Fancy melting lead here to pour down upon men's heads! What wretches we must have been in the old days."
He altered his mind, though, directly, as he went back to the stairway.
"Perhaps we never did pour any down, for I don't think anybody ever did attack the castle."
Thinking he might as well go a little higher, he mounted the spiral instead of descending, the dry elm twigs brought in by the jackdaws which made the untenanted corners their home crackling again beneath his feet.
Passing out of the corner turret, which supported a stout, new flag-pole, he was now on the leaded roof of the great square tower, which frowned down upon the drawbridge and gazed over the outer gate-way, in whose tower old Jenkin Bray, the porter, dwelt, and whom Roy could now see sitting beside the modern iron gate sunning himself, his long white hair and beard glistening in the light.
There were openings for heavy guns in front here, and a broad, level, projecting parapet with a place where the defenders could kneel, and which looked like a broad seat at the first glance, while at its foot was a series of longish, narrow, funnel-shaped openings, over which the boy stood, gazing down through them at the entrance to the main gate-way, noting how thoroughly they commanded the front of where the portcullis would stand when dropped, and where any enemies attacking and trying to break through would be exposed to a terrible shower of molten lead, brought up from the furnace in the chamber below to pour down upon the besiegers, while those who assailed them were in perfect safety.
"Horrid!" muttered Roy; "but I don't know; the enemy should stop away and leave the people in the castle alone. But hot lead! Boiling water wouldn't seem so bad. But surely Master Pawson's friend is wrong; we can't be going to have war here in England. Well, if we do, there's nothing to bring them here."
Roy left the machicolations and knelt upon the broad stone seat-like place to stretch himself across the parapet, and look down, over the narrow patch of stone paving, down into the deep moat, whose waters were lit up by the sunshine, so that the boy could see the lily and other water-plant stems and clumps of reed mace; at the farther edge the great water-docks and plantains, with the pink-blossomed rush. But his attention was wholly riveted by the fish which swarmed in the sunny depths, and for a time he lay there upon his breast, kicking up his heels and studying the broad-backed carp, some of which old age had decked with patches of greyish mould. There were fat tench, too, walloping about among the lilies, and appearing to enjoy the pleasure of forcing their way in and out among the leaves and stems; while the carp sailed about in the open water, basking in the sunshine, and seemed to find their satisfaction in leaping bodily out of the water to fall back with a splash.
There were roach, too, in shoals, and what seemed remarkable was that they kept swimming close up to where a great pike of nearly three feet long lay motionless, close to a patch of weed.
"Must be asleep," thought Roy, "or not hungry, and they all know it, because he would soon snap up half a dozen of them."
Then, as he lay lazily watching the fish in the drowsy sunshine which had warmed the stones, the political troubles of the nation and the great cloud of war, with its lightnings, destruction, and death, were unseen. He was surrounded by peace in the happiest days of boyhood, and trouble seemed as if it could not exist. But the trumpet-blast had rung out the call to arms, and men were flocking to that standard and to this, and the flash and thunder of guns had begun.
But not there down to that sleepy, retired part of Devon. There was the castle built for defence, and existing now as Sir Granby Royland's happy country home, surrounded by its great estate with many tenants, while its heir was stretched out there in the sunshine upon his chest, kicking up his heels, and thinking at that moment that it would not be a bad amusement to bring up a very long line with a plummet at the end, to bait it, and then swing it to and fro till he could drop it right out where the great pike lay, ten or a dozen feet from the drawbridge.
"I will some day," said the boy, half aloud; "but it's too much trouble now."
He swung himself round and lay there, looking back over the top of the spacious building, on whose roof he was, right across the now floral old court-yard, and between the two angle towers, to the wide-spreading acres of the farms and woodlands which formed his father's estate.
The jackdaws flew about, and began to settle at the corners as he lay so still and languidly said to himself—
"Need to lie still; it wouldn't do to slip over backward. I shouldn't even go into the moat, for I should come down on those stones."
"Stupid to be in dangerous places," he said to himself directly after, and, rolling over, he let himself down upon the broad seat-like place, where he could lie and watch the prospect just as well.
"Rather stupid of me not to come up here oftener," he thought. "It's a capital place. I will ask father to let me have all this old empty tower to myself. What's that? A fight?"
For there was a sudden rush upward of jackdaws from where they had blackened the farthest corner tower to the left, and, looking in that direction as he lay, he saw the reason of the sudden whirr of wings and outburst of sharp, harsh cries, for there upon the leads, and holding on by the little turret which covered the door-way of the spiral staircase, stood Master Pawson.
"Feels like I do, I suppose," thought Roy, as the secretary cast his eyes round the old building, particularly watchful of the pleasaunce, but keeping right back by the outer crenelles as if not wishing to be seen.
At first Roy felt that the secretary saw him, and as his eyes roved on and he made no sign, the boy's hand went to his pocket in search of his handkerchief to wave to him. He did not withdraw it, but lay lazily watching while the secretary now turned his back and stood gazing right away.
"Never saw him do anything of that kind before," thought Roy. "What's he looking after? I shouldn't have thought he had ever been up there in his life."
Roy lay quite still, with his eyes half closed, and all at once the secretary drew out his white laced handkerchief, wiped his forehead three times with a good deal of flourish, and returned it, after which he slowly stepped into the turret opening and backed out of sight.
"Mind you don't slip," said Roy, tauntingly, but quite conscious of the fact that his words could not be heard. "Why, he has gone down like a bear—backward. I could run down those stairs as fast as I came up."
Perhaps it was the warm sunshine, perhaps it was from laziness, but, whatever the cause, Roy Royland went off fast asleep, and remained so for quite a couple of hours, when, starting up wonderingly, and not quite conscious of the reason why he was there, he looked about him, and finally over the great parapet, to see the secretary beyond the farther end of the drawbridge, talking in a very benign way to the old porter, who stood with bent head listening to his words.
"Why, it seems only a few moments ago that I saw him on the leads over his chamber staring out across country, and he must have been down since, and had a walk.—How time does go when you're snoozing," thought Roy, "and how stupid it is to go to sleep in the daytime! I won't do it again."
THE USE OF A SWORD.
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."
"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?"
"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."
"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.
ROY TAKES HIS NEXT LESSON.
The clock in the little turret which stood out over the gate-way facing Lady Royland's garden had not done striking six when Roy entered the armoury next morning, to find Ben hard at work fitting the interior of a light helmet with a small leather cap which was apparently well stuffed with wool.
"Morning, Ben," said the boy. "What's that for?"
"Of course. Just as well to take care of your face and head when you're handling swords. You can use it with the visor up or down, 'cording to what we're doing. You see, I want to learn you how to use a sword like a soldier, and not like a gentleman who never expects to see trouble."
"Yes, sir, quite; and first thing 's morning we'll begin where we left off, and you shall try to learn that you don't know how to thrust. Nothing like finding out how bad you are. Then you can begin to see better what you have to learn."
"Very well," said Roy, eagerly. "You'll have to look out now then, Ben, for I mean to learn, and pretty quickly."
"Oh, yes; you'll learn quickly enough," said Ben, placing the helmet upon the table and taking the pair of sticks up from where he had placed them. "But say, Master Roy, I have been working here. Don't you think the place looks better?"
"I think my father would be proud of the armoury if he could see the weapons," said Roy, as he looked round. "Everything is splendid."
The old soldier smiled as he walked from suit to suit of armour, some of which were obsolete, and could only be looked upon as curiosities of the day; but, in addition, there were modern pieces of defensive armour, beautifully made, with carefully cleaned and inlaid headpieces of the newest kind, and of those the old soldier seemed to be especially proud. Then he led the way on to the stands of offensive weapons, which numbered quaint, massive swords of great age, battle-axes, and maces, and so on to modern weapons of the finest steel, with, guns, petronels, and horse-pistols of clumsy construction, but considered perfect then.
"Yes, sir, I'm proud of our weepuns," said Ben; "but I aren't a bit proud of the old castle, which seems to be going right away to ruin."
"That it isn't," cried Roy, indignantly. "It has been repaired and repaired, whenever it wanted doing up, again and again."
"Ah! you're thinking about roofs and tiles and plaster, my lad. I was thinking about the defences. Such a place as this used to be. Look at the gun-carriages,—haven't been painted for years, nor the guns cleaned."
"Well, mix up some paint and brush it on," said Roy, "and clean up the guns. They can't be rusty, because they're brass."
"Well, not brass exactly, sir," said the man, thoughtfully. "It's more of a mixtur' like; but to a man like me, sir, it's heart-breaking."
"What! to see them turn green and like bronze?"
"Oh, I don't mind that so much, sir; it's seeing of 'em come down so much, like. Why, there's them there big guns as stands in the court-yard behind the breastwork."
"Well, garden, sir. Why, there's actooally ivy and other 'nockshus weeds growing all over 'em."
"Well, it looks peaceful and nice."
"Bah! A gun can't look peaceful and nice. But that aren't the worst of it, sir. I was along by 'em a bit ago, and, if you'll believe me, when I put my hand in one, if there warn't a sharp, hissing noise!"
"A snake? Got in there?"
"Snake, sir? No! I wouldn't ha' minded a snake; but there's no snakes here."
"There was one, Ben, for I brought it up out of the woods, and kept it in a box for months, till it got away. Then that's where it is."
"Nay. It were no snake, sir. It were one of them little blue and yaller tomtit chaps as lays such lots o' eggs. I fetches a stick, and I was going to shove it in and twist it in the hay and stuff o' the nest and draw it out."
"But you didn't?"
"No, sir, I didn't; for I says to myself, if Sir Granby and her ladyship like the place to go to ruin, they may let it; and if the two little birds—there was a cock and hen—didn't bring up twelve of the rummiest little, tiny young uns I ever did see. There they was, all a-sitting in a row along the gun, and it seemed to me so comic for 'em to be there that I bust out a-laughing quite loud."
"And they all flew away?"
"Nay, sir, they didn't; they stopped there a-twittering. But if that gun had been loaded, and I'd touched it off with a fire-stick, it would have warmed their toes, eh? But would you clean up the old guns?"
"I don't see why you shouldn't, Ben. They're valuable."
"Vallerble? I should think they are, sir. And, do you know, I will; for who knows what might happen? They tell me down in the village that there's trouble uppards, and people gets talking agen the king. Ah! I'd talk 'em if I had my way, and make some of 'em squirm.—Yes, I will tidy things up a bit. Startle some on 'em if we was to fire off a gun or two over the village."
"They'd burst, Ben. Haven't been fired for a hundred years, I should say. Those brass guns were made in Queen Elizabeth's time."
"Oh, they wouldn't burst, sir; I shouldn't be afraid of that.—But this is not learning to thrust, is it?"
"No. Come on," cried Roy, and he took one of the stout ash rods. "Here, hadn't I better put on this helmet?"
"Not yet, sir. You can practise thrusting without that. Now then, here I am, sir. All ready for you on my guard. Now, thrust."
Ben dropped into an easy position, with his legs a little bent, one foot advanced, his left hand behind him, and his stick held diagonally across his breast.
Roy imitated him, dropping into the same position.
"Where shall I stab you?" he cried.
"Just wherever you like, sir,—if you can."
The boy made a quick dart forward with his stick, and it passed by his teacher, who parried with the slightest movement of his wrist.
"I said thrust, sir."
"Well, I did thrust."
"That wasn't a thrust, sir; that was only a poke. It wouldn't have gone through a man's coat, let alone his skin. Now, again!"
The boy made another push forward with his stick, which was also parried.
"Nay, that won't do, my lad; so let's get to something better. Now, I'm going to thrust at you right in the chest. Enemies don't tell you where they're going to hit you, but I'm going to tell you. Now, look out!"
Roy prepared to guard the thrust, but the point of the old man's stick struck him sharply in the chest, and he winced a little, but smiled.
"Now, sir, you do that, but harder."
Roy obeyed, but failed dismally.
"Of course," said Ben. "Now that's because you didn't try the right way, sir. Don't poke at a man, but throw your arm right back till you get your hand level with your shoulder, and sword and arm just in a line. Then thrust right out, and let your body follow your arm,—then you get some strength into it. Now, once more."
Roy followed his teacher's instructions.
"Better—ever so much, sir. Now again—good; again—good. You'll soon do it. Now, can't you see what a lot of weight you get into a thrust like that? One of your pokes would have done nothing. One like that last would have sent your blade through a man. Now again."
Roy was now fully upon his mettle, and he tried hard to acquire some portion of the old soldier's skill, till his arm ached, and Ben cried "Halt!" and began to chat about the old-fashioned armour.
"Lots of it was too clumsy, sir. Strong men were regularly loaded down; and I've thought for a long time that all a man wants is a steel cap and steel gloves. All the rest he ought to be able to do with his sword."
"But you can't ward off bullets with a sword, Ben," said Roy.
"No, sir; nor you can't ward 'em off with armour. They find out the jyntes, if they don't go through."
"Would that suit of half-armour be much too big for me, Ben?" said Roy, pausing before a bronzed ornamental set of defensive weapons, which had evidently been the work of some Italian artist.
"No, sir, I shouldn't think it would. You see that was made for a small man, and you're a big lad. If you were to put that on, and used a bit o' stuffing here and there, you wouldn't be so much amiss. It's in fine condition, too, with its leather lining, and that's all as lissome and good as when it was first made."
"I should like to try that on some day, Ben," said the boy, eagerly examining the handsome suit.
"Well, I don't see why not, sir. You'd look fine in that. Wants three or four white ostrich feathers in the little gilt holder of the helmet. White uns would look well with that dark armour. Looks just like copper, don't it?"
"How long would it take to put it on?" said Roy.
"Hour, sir; and you'd want some high buff boots to wear with it."
"An hour?" said Roy. "There wouldn't be time before breakfast."
"No, sir. But I tell you what—I've only cleaned and polished and iled the straps. If you feels as if you'd like to put it on, I'll go over it well, and see to the buckles and studs: shall I?"
"Yes, do, Ben."
"That I will, sir. And I say, if, when you're ready, I was to saddle one of the horses proper, and you was to mount and her ladyship see you, she'd be sorry as ever she wanted you to be a statesman."
Roy shook his head dubiously.
"Oh, but she would, sir. Man looks grand in his armour and feathers."
"But I'm only a boy," said Roy, sadly.
"Who's to know that when you're in armour and your visor down, sir? A suit of armour like that, and you on a grand horse, would make a man of you. It's fine, and no mistake."
"But you were sneering at armour a little while ago, Ben," said Roy.
"For fighting in, sir, but not for show. You see, there's something about armour and feathers and flags that gets hold of people, and a soldier's a man who likes to look well. I'm an old un now, but I wouldn't say no to a good new uniform, with a bit o' colour in it; but if you want me to fight, I don't want to be all plates and things like a lobster, and not able to move. I want to be free to use my arms. Right enough for show, sir, and make a regiment look handsome; but fighting's like gardening,—want to take your coat off when you go to work."
"But you will get that armour ready, Ben?"
"Course I will, sir. On'y too glad to see you take a liking to a bit o' armour and a sword. Now, then, what do you say to beginning again?"
"I'm ready," said Roy, but with a longing look at the armour.
"Then you shall just put that helmet on, and have the visor down. You won't be able to see so well, but it will save your face from an accidental cut."
He placed the helmet on the boy's head, adjusted the cheek straps, and drew back.
"Find it heavy, sir?"
"Rather! Feels as if it would topple off as soon as I begin to move."
"But it won't, sir. The leather cap inside will stop that. Now, then, if you please, we'll begin. I'm going to cut at you slowly and softly, and you've got to guard yourself, and then turn off. I shall be very slow, but after a bit I shall cut like lightning, and before I've done I shan't be no more able to hit you than you're able now to hit me."
Roy said nothing, and the man began cutting at him to right and to left, upward from the same direction and downward, as if bent upon cleaving his shoulders; and for every cut Ben showed him how to make the proper guard, holding his weapon so that the stroke should glance off, and laying especial weight upon the necessity for catching the blow aimed upon the forte of the blade toward the hilt, and not upon the faible near the point.
Then came the turn of the head, and the horizontal and down right cuts were, after further instruction, received so that they, too, glanced off. Roy gaining more and more confidence at every stroke. But that helmet was an utter nuisance, and half buried the wearer.
"I'm beginning to think you're right, Ben, about the armour," said the lad, at last.
"Yes, 'tis a bit awkward, sir; but you'll get used to it. If you can defend yourself well with that on, why, of course, you can without. Now, then, suppose, for a change, you have a cut at me."
"Why, what tomfoolery is this?" said a highly-pitched voice; and Roy tried to snatch off his helmet as he caught sight of the secretary standing in the door-way looking on.
But the helmet would not come off easily, and, after a tug or two, Roy was fain to turn to the old soldier.
"Here," he said, hastily, "unfasten this, Ben, quick!"
"Yes, sir; but I don't see as you've any call to be in such a hurry. You've a right to learn to use a sword if you like. Only the strap fastened over this stud, and there you are."
Red-faced and annoyed, Roy faced the secretary, who had walked slowly into the armoury, to stand looking about him with a sneer of contempt upon his lip.
"Only practising a little sword-play, sir," said the boy, as soon as his head was relieved.
"Sword-play! Is there no other kind of play a boy like you can take to? What do you want with sword-play?"
"My father's a soldier," said Roy.
"Yes; but you are not going to be a fighting man, sir; and, behindhand as you are with your studies, I think you might try a little more to do your instructor credit, and not waste time with one of the servants in such a barbaric pursuit as this. Lady Royland is waiting breakfast. You had better come at once."
Feeling humbled and abashed before the old soldier, Roy followed the secretary without a word, and they entered the breakfast-room together, Lady Royland looking up pale and disturbed, and, upon seeing her son's face, exclaiming—
"Why, Roy, how hot and tired you look! Have you been running?"
The secretary laughed contemptuously.
"No, mother; practising fencing with Ben."
"Oh, Roy!" cried his mother, reproachfully; "what can you want with fencing? My dear boy, pray think more of your books."
Master Pawson gave the lad a peculiar look, and Roy felt as if he should like to kick out under the table so viciously that the sneering smile might give place to a contraction expressing pain.
But Roy did not speak, and the breakfast went on.
BEN MARTLET FEELS RUSTY.
"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."
"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?"