The Eve Of The Third Day
: The Doomsman
A touch upon Constans's shoulder and a voice in his ear aroused him. He
sprang to his feet; the sunshine was streaming through the glazeless
casements, and Constans, being yet heavy with sleep, blinked against it
as a man drunken with wine. Oxenford confronted him. "The attack?"
questioned Constans, and for the life of him could not help yawning
Red Oxenford laughed. "In that case I should h
ve pulled your ear off
instead of wasting time shouting into it. By the thunders of God, man,
but you sleep soundly."
Constans was fully awake now. He glanced at the sun, which was high in
the sky, and then at Oxenford's gaunt face.
"I have left you to do the watching alone," he said, apologetically.
"What matter?" was the indifferent answer. "For me slumber would not
have meant forgetfulness, and the watching made the waiting so much the
Constans stood by the window looking across the Citadel Square and
directly up the Palace Road. "I see no sign of Piers Major," he said at
"Down in the square," replied Oxenford, laconically.
In truth there was a most unusual activity pervading the stronghold of
the Doomsmen. Already the long rows of guard-huts were tenanted by a
throng of women and children, and the number was being constantly
reinforced by fresh arrivals. Guards were pacing the walls, and a squad
of the younger men were engaged in setting up the artillery machines for
hurling stones so as to command the open space in front of the north
gate. New ropes were being fitted to the torsion levers, and an ox-cart
loaded with ammunition, in the shape of rounded boulders, creaked
noisily through the gateway.
"The warning must have come down from the High Bridge at an early hour,"
said Constans, thoughtfully. "How long has all this been going on?"
"Only within the last hour," returned Oxenford. "I waited for the old
gray wolf himself to seek his lair before arousing you. He has but just
crawled into it--out of arrow-shot," he added, regretfully.
Constans could see half a dozen of the green-jerkined guards lounging
about the entrance to the White Tower, evidence that Dom Gillian was
resting within. There was nothing to be seen of Quinton Edge, but surely
he would not be far away from the storm-centre. Probably he was
directing the defence at the northern boundary or even at the High
Slowly the day dragged on for the watchers in the "Flat-iron." It was
impossible to form any conjecture as to how the preliminary conflict was
proceeding; it was not even certain that it had begun. Piers Major had
undoubtedly forced the passage of the bridge, but apparently he had been
content with holding his advantage. He might not begin to move until
late in the day, and he would proceed slowly and cautiously.
From time to time a messenger galloped down the Palace Road. At once he
would be surrounded by an eager throng and escorted to the guard-room of
the White Tower, where Ulick had set up his headquarters. For it was
Ulick who had been left in command of the citadel garrison and intrusted
with the preparations for the impending siege. Twice Constans had caught
him fairly with his binoculars, and he could not be mistaken in the
features and carriage of his friend. His friend--one might say the only
friend that he had ever had--and Constans felt his heart heavy within
him, knowing that they must henceforth walk on diverging paths.
Constans found it difficult to keep his men under discipline. It was
all-important that their presence should be unsuspected by the enemy,
but it would have been betrayed a score of times had not his vigilance
intervened. Red Oxenford, in particular, grew more and more
unmanageable; he had neither eaten nor slept now for three days, and the
strain was telling on him. Finally he announced that he would wait no
longer. The north gate was open, and what should prevent his walking
straight up to the White Tower and sticking his boar-spear into the gray
wolf's hide? "And I will--by the seven thunders of God!" His voice rose
into a shriek.
It took half a dozen men to gag and bind him; he lay on a truss of
straw, his eyes fixed malevolently on Constans, whose orders had
prevented him from carrying out a plan so eminently practicable.
The shadows were growing long when Piers Minor pointed out a cloud of
dust far up the Palace Road. Later on they could distinguish the figures
of men and horses. Stragglers and wounded began to dribble away from the
fighting-line; they came running down the Palace Road, one by one, then
in bunches of two and three and four. Piers Major, with his greatly
superior force, was evidently driving the defenders back.
Half an hour later the conjecture became accomplished fact. The
Doomsmen, retreating with admirable steadiness, fell back upon the
shelter of the citadel walls. Quinton Edge, with a score of mounted
cross-bowmen, brought up the rear, and he himself was the last man to
pass through the north gate.
Three hundred yards away the Stockaders came suddenly into view, but it
was close to sunset, the time for the evening meal, and, as though by
mutual consent, both sides laid aside their arms for the homelier
utensils of the cuisine. Down in the Citadel Square a hundred little
fires started up, and as many pots and kettles began to bubble
cheerfully. The invaders contented themselves with building huge
bonfires, intended for warmth rather than for cooking, since their light
marching order precluded the carrying of anything more than cold
rations. From far up the avenue came the boom of an ox-horn, militant,
almost brazen in its sonority. A drum, beaten noisily, rattled back an
impudent defiance from the citadel.