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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 6
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Dick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 6 Post by :Tsnyder Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2201

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Dick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 6

CHAPTER SIX

I revisit the baronet--My information and its worth--Am somewhat taken aback at my reception--Well out of it--Mark's escape--Old Riddle's gratitude--A night of adventure--The run--Night attack on Kidbrooke Farm--The fire--My curiosity overcomes my prudence--The struggle on the beach--The luck of the "Saucy Bess," and ill-luck of Mark--I am again captured by the smugglers--Buried in a chest--My struggle for freedom, and its result--A vault in the old mill--My explorations in the vault.

The next morning I found my father in his study before breakfast. I told him of my having overheard the smugglers arranging the plans for running a cargo shortly, and asked him whether he wished me to let Sir Reginald know.

"You are in duty bound to do so," he answered. "At the same time you must take care it is not known that you gave the information. He'll certainly be pleased, and will be more inclined than before to assist you. You had better set off directly breakfast is over, and I will write a note for you to deliver, which will be an excuse for your appearance at the Hall. Do not say anything about the matter to any one else, as things that we fancy are known only to ourselves are apt to get abroad."

I followed my father's advice, and said nothing during breakfast. As soon as it was over I set out. Aunt Deb saw me, and shouted out, asking me where I was going; but pretending not to hear her, I ran on. I suspect I made her very irate. I noted the people I met on my way, and among others I encountered Ned Burden. He looked hard at me, but said nothing beyond returning my "Good morning, Mr Burden," with "Good morning, Master Dick," and I passed on. I looked back shortly afterwards for a moment, and saw that he had stopped, and was apparently watching me. As soon as I reached the Hall I gave my father's note to a servant, saying that I was waiting to see Sir Reginald. In a short time the man came back and asked me to follow him into the study.

"Well, Master Richard Cheveley," remarked the baronet, without inviting me to sit down, "I wonder you have the face to show yourself here after what has occurred."

"What have I done, sir?" I asked with astonishment.

"Connived or assisted at the escape of the poachers I had shut up in my strong room yesterday evening, waiting the arrival of the constables to convey them to prison."

"I beg your pardon, Sir Reginald. You must be under a mistake," I exclaimed. "I have in no way assisted any poachers to escape. I merely yesterday, with your permission, visited the boy Mark Riddle. He had been captured with two persons much older than himself, and he was, I believe, led astray by them."

"You, or somebody else, left them some tools--a file and a small saw-- with which they managed to cut away a bar in the strong room and effect their escape. Here are the instruments, which they must have dropped as they were getting off. Do you recognise them?"

As Sir Reginald was speaking I recollected giving the knife and file and saw to Mark, that he might amuse himself by cutting out some blocks. When I saw them I at once acknowledged them as mine, telling the baronet my object in giving them to Mark.

"It was thoughtless, to say the least of it, and a very suspicious circumstance, young gentleman," remarked Sir Reginald.

"Have they not been retaken?" I inquired, anxious to know what had become of my friend Mark.

"No, there is but little chance of that," he answered, in a tone of vexation. "Now, let me know what you have come about. Your father gives no reason for your visit."

Without claiming any merit, I at once gave a clear account of all I had heard on the previous evening. Sir Reginald appeared much interested, and his manner became more friendly than at first.

"I am ready to believe that you had no intention to assist young Riddle to escape," he said at last, after taking notes of all I told him. "Now return home, and keep your own counsel."

I confess that I was secretly very glad Mark had made his escape. I hoped that he would return to his father, and keep in hiding till the affair had blown over, and also give up poaching for the future. I wanted as soon as possible to go and see the old sailor, and learn what had become of Mark, but I knew that my father would be expecting me; and accordingly, after leaving the Hall, went directly home. My father complimented me more than I deserved on the way I had conducted the matter. I didn't tell him just then of my having unintentionally assisted Mark and the other poachers to make their escape.

"If the smugglers and their cargo are taken, you will deservedly have the credit of the affair, and Sir Reginald will, I hope, feel bound to assist you as you desire," he observed.

I had to wait till the next day to go over and see old Roger. I almost expected to find that Mark had returned home, and was concealed in the house; but none of his family knew anything about him, except that he had escaped from Sir Reginald's strong room. They all thanked me warmly for the assistance I had given him, and of which they had heard by some means or other. They would not believe that I had had no intention, when I lent him my knife and other things, of helping him to get out. I took care to return home at an early hour, as I had no wish to encounter Ned Burden or the other men on the way. I waited somewhat impatiently for the result of the information I had given. I was very sure the baronet would take the necessary steps for capturing the smugglers. The weather, which had for a long time been fine, now completely changed. A strong westerly gale sprung up, the sky was clouded over, and as there was no moon the nights were very dark. The evening on which I had heard the smugglers propose to run the cargo arrived. I should have been wise to have gone to bed at the regular hour, as if I had had nothing to do in the matter. Instead of that, as soon as Ned was asleep I slipped on my clothes and went out by the back door, which I carefully closed behind me. As soon as I got clear of the village, and could see to a distance, I turned my eyes towards Kidbrooke Farm, which the smugglers had planned to attack in order to draw off the coastguard-men from the spot where the cargo was to be run. In a few minutes I observed a bright light burst forth from the surrounding darkness, and rapidly increase until it assumed the appearance of a huge bonfire. I then knew that the outlaws had carried out the first part of their plan, as I concluded they would the second. It seemed to me that the whole farm and all the stacks would speedily be in a blaze. Eager to see the fire, I ran towards the farm. On getting nearer, the hum of human voices showed me that a number of people had assembled, some of whom were engaged in throwing water over the stacks, others in pulling down the burning one. As I got up to them, I found that they were mostly labourers from Leighton, together with those belonging to the farm, with a few of the villagers from Sandgate. There were, I remarked, none of the revenue-men present, by which I concluded that they had not been drawn away from the coast, as the smugglers expected they would be. Precautions having been taken in time, and there being plenty of hands to extinguish the flames, the fire didn't communicate to the other ricks; and, as far as I could see, even a portion of the first was saved.

It would have been better for me had I returned home and gone to bed again; but I was curious to know if the "Saucy Bess" had succeeded in running her cargo, or whether Sir Reginald had acted on the information I had given him, and had sent the coastguard-men to watch for the smugglers and capture them. Without stopping, therefore, in the neighbourhood of the burning rick, I hurried away towards the spot at which I had heard Ned Burden and his companions propose to run the cargo. I must have been running on for twenty minutes or so when I heard a pistol-shot fired; it was succeeded by two or three others. This made me more than ever eager to ascertain what was going forward. I doubled my speed. The path was tolerably good, and I knew the way. All the time I had not met a single person. After some time I heard more shouts, sounding much nearer, and cries mingled with the clashing of cutlasses, so it seemed to me. I had no doubt that the coastguard-men and the smugglers were having a desperate fight, the latter endeavouring to defend their property, and the former to capture it. Which would succeed in their object seemed doubtful. I pictured the whole scene, though as yet I could see nothing. This I was eager to do, forgetting that bullets flying about were no respecters of persons. At last I reached the top of a cliff overlooking the bay, whence I could see a lugger, which I guessed to be the "Saucy Bess," with her sails loose, a short distance from the shore, and two or three boats near her; while on the sands were a number of men, who from their movements, and the babel of tongues arising from the spot, were evidently struggling. That the revenue-men had the best of it, I had no doubt. It appeared to me that they had captured part of the cargo, and some of the smugglers, and that others were endeavouring to rescue their comrades. That this was the case I had little doubt, when I saw the lugger's head turned seawards, and presently she disappeared in the gloom of night I was now satisfied that Sir Reginald had acted on the information I had given him, and that he would find it had been correct. I was at last about to return home, when, just as I reached a lane leading from the cliffs, I heard footsteps close to me, and, turning round, saw three men approaching. Whoever they were I thought it better to keep out of their way, and began to run. But they must have seen me, and at once made chase. I could easily have kept ahead, but unfortunately stepping into a deep rut, I stumbled, and before I got under weigh again the men were upon me.

"Where are you bound for, youngster?" cried one of them, whom I recognised by the voice to be Ned Burden.

"I came to see what was going forward," I answered.

"Not the first time you have done that, young gentleman," said one, in an angry voice. "We know who you are. Somebody gave information about the run which was to be made to-night, and putting two or three things together no one will doubt that it was you. Shall we heave him over the cliffs, or what shall we do with him, mates?"

"Let us take him along with us, at all events," said one of the other men. "If he has spoiled our plans to-night, he deserves to be knocked on the head."

"Spoilt our plans indeed he has," said Burden; and he presently detailed to his companions how he had caught me listening at the old barn, and how, not supposing that I had heard anything of importance, he had let me go.

I could not deny this, and I saw that it would be useless to attempt to defend myself. My captors, without more ado, proceeded to tie my arms behind my back, and to bind a handkerchief over my eyes.

"Remember, youngster," said Burden, "if you shout out or utter a word we'll send a bullet through your head."

From the fierce way in which he spoke I thought he was very likely to do this. I did not tell him that I knew who he was, as I was sure that this would only make matters worse for me. I did not, however, believe that they really meant to kill me; but what they would do was more than I could guess. Two of them taking me one by each arm led me along the road, without wasting another word on me. They walked very fast indeed. Had they not supported me I should have fallen several times. Every moment I thought they would stop. I tried to ascertain in what direction they were leading me, but very soon lost all means of doing so. At length they made me sit down on what I supposed was a bank. I tried to judge from what quarter the wind was blowing, but the spot was sheltered, and sometimes it blew on one cheek and sometimes on the other. I could hear the roar of the waves, by which I knew that I could be at no great distance from the shore. While one of them held me tightly by the arm, the others withdrew to a distance to consult as to how they should proceed. After a time they came back, and we continued our march at the same rate as before. On and on we went. I was getting very tired, and would gladly have again sat down. When I complained, the men laughed at me.

"You'll soon have time enough to rest yourself, youngster," said one of them. "You may consider yourself fortunate that things are no worse with you."

Finding that it would be useless to say anything more, I held my tongue. I must own that I now bitterly regretted having interfered against the smugglers. They were fully convinced that I had done so, and I could not defend myself. I had heard of the fearful punishment that they had at times inflicted on informers; and even should they spare my life, I thought it too probable that they would ship me off to some distant part of the world, or shut me up in a cavern or some other place from which I could not make my escape. It seemed to me that several hours had passed since I was captured, and that it must now be broad daylight; but the bandage was so tightly secured over my eyes that I could not move it with my eyebrows, nor could I, from my arms being fastened behind my back, get my hands free to do so. Again and again I begged my captors to listen to me and loosen my arms, as the ropes hurt me. When I declared that I could go no farther, one of the men answered fiercely:--

"We'll soon see that, youngster."

He gave me a prod with the point of a knife or cutlass, I could not tell which. It showed me that they were not likely to treat me very ceremoniously. "I must make the best of a bad matter, I suppose," I thought, and did not attempt to stop. Suddenly the men brought up, and then turning sharp round told me to lift my feet, and I found that we were walking up some wooden steps. This I could judge of by the sound made by our feet. Then we went along a level floor. Presently, after passing through two or three doorways, as I supposed, we descended also by wooden steps, till I felt convinced, by the closeness of the atmosphere, that we had reached a vault.

"You may make yourself comfortable here, young gentleman, for the rest of your life," said one of the men, with a hoarse laugh. "I've a notion that you'll not again be inclined to go and inform against poor fellows who are carrying on their business without wishing to do you or any one else harm."

"Stay; that jacket of his, and his waistcoat, are a great deal too good for him," observed another man.

And forthwith, having released my arms, they took off the garments they spoke of.

My first impulse, on getting my hands free, was to try and get the bandage from my eyes, but one of the men caught hold of my hands and prevented me from accomplishing my object. I, however, clutched hold of my clothes with the other, unwilling to give them up; but they quickly mastered me, leaving me only my shirt and trousers. I now began to fear that they intended some serious violence. In vain I struggled; I felt myself lifted up by the shoulders and feet, and placed on a rough board. As I now had my hands free, I immediately tore off the bandage. A gleam of light, which came from one side, showed me that I was in what appeared to be a large chest, placed on its side; but before I could turn myself round the lid was shut down, and I heard the men securing it. I was thus imprisoned in, so far as I could tell, a living tomb. I shouted and shrieked, and tried to force open the lid. My captors were holding it on the outside, and it seemed to me were driving in screws. I could hear them talking outside, but what they said I could not make out. Could it be possible that they intended to leave me here to perish by hunger? The act would be too diabolical for the worst of wretches to think of, and yet what other reason could they have for shutting me up in such a place? Finding that I could not release myself, I thought I would try to move their feelings.

"I am very sorry if I have brought you or any others into trouble," I said. "If you'll ask Roger Riddle, he'll tell you that I have no ill-feeling towards smugglers. I was the means of getting his son Mark out of prison. If you keep me here you'll make my father and mother very miserable, for they won't know what has become of me. You can't be so cruel, surely."

The men went talking on. I was sure they heard me, though they made no answer. It then occurred to me that perhaps they had shut me up in the chest for the purpose of carrying me on board a vessel, and that I should then be set free and enjoy the light of heaven and the warmth of the sun. Then I recollected having read how cruelly boys are treated on board ship, and that if I were sent under such circumstances I should have to lead a dog's life at the best. Well, it was some consolation to have reason to hope that I was not to be murdered as I at first feared, or to be kept shut up in this horrible vault for an indefinite period, when I might be forgotten, and possibly be allowed to die of starvation.

These thoughts passed rapidly through my mind. As soon as I grew calm, I listened to ascertain what the men were about. As far as I could judge, in a short time they quitted the vault, and I was left alone. I listened and listened. No sound could I hear. A sufficient amount of air came through the chinks in the chest, and enabled me to breathe without difficulty. I had no notion of staying where I was without some endeavour to extricate myself. I knew that after a time I should grow weak from want of food. I was in total darkness, and the chest, for so I supposed it, was large enough to enable me to move about. It struck me, as I was feeling round the sides, that it was perhaps a bunk, such as is fitted on board ship for the men to sleep in. If my captors had not taken away my jacket I should have had my knife, and I might then, I thought, have cut my way out; but they left me without any means of effecting my purpose. The only way of freeing myself was to knock out by main strength either the top or one side of the bunk or chest. I feared that if I at once commenced doing this the noise I should have to make would attract the attention of my jailers. I therefore lay still for some time, listening attentively. Not a sound of any description reached my ears. I thought that it must now be day, though no light penetrated into the vault. If it had I should have seen it, I thought, through the chinks of the chest. It was very roughly put together, and this circumstance gave me better hope of being able to force it open. At length I determined to commence operations, and placing myself on my back, with one hand to defend my head, and one foot against the end, I struck out with the other on the part above me. A cracking sound encouraged me to go on. Each time I struck out the planks appeared to move slightly. I used so much force that every nerve in my body was jarred, and I was afraid of laming myself. Notwithstanding that, I persevered, stopping every now and then to listen, lest my captors should return; but as no one came I was satisfied that they had gone away, and now redoubled my efforts. Several loud cracks were the result; and at length, to my intense satisfaction, the planks above me fell off, shattered by my foot.

I was thankful for my success. At all events I should not have to die shut up in a chest. But I was very far from being free. Getting up on my feet I thrust my head through the hole I had made, and tore back the broken pieces of plank. Had I possessed a light I should have seen how next to proceed, but I was still in total darkness. I could not tell what I might find outside the chest. Moving carefully I climbed out, moving about with my feet to find the ground, which was lower I thus ascertained than the bottom of the chest, but how much lower I could not tell. I therefore held tight on with my hands while I let myself down, and I then discovered that it had been placed on another chest of about the same size; but I had to move very cautiously, as there might be still some lower depth beneath my feet, though I didn't think that very likely. The ground was dry and hard, without either bricks or flagstones. This I found out by stopping down and touching it with my hand. I now began to move on very carefully, feeling my way from chest to chest. I discovered in my progress not only chests, but casks and bales. I had little doubt, therefore, that I had been conveyed to the smugglers' store, but where it was situated I was totally unable to surmise. That it was some way inland I thought probable, as I could not hear the sound of the surf breaking on the sea shore, which I thought I should have done had I been near the coast. I tried to think if I recollected any building which it was at all probable would be thus used by the smugglers. There were, I at last remembered, two mills not far from the coast, but one was in the possession of too respectable a farmer to allow any lawless proceedings to be carried on in his premises. The other was an old windmill that had been abandoned the last two or three years; two of the arms had fallen down, and the whole building was in a very ruinous and tottering condition. The property I had heard was in Chancery, the exact meaning of which I didn't understand, but knew no one was ever seen about the place, and that the villagers from the neighbouring hamlet were unwilling to approach it after dark, there being a report that it was haunted by a headless miller, who had been killed while in a fit of drunkenness by his own machinery. Could this be the place, I thought. The idea didn't make me feel more comfortable, not that I had any strong belief in ghosts or other spirits walking the earth in bodily shape; but yet I didn't feel perfectly certain that such beings did not exist, and I confess to having had an indefinite dread of seeing the headless miller appear out of the darkness surrounded by a blue light. I tried to banish the idea, and felt much more at my ease. I suddenly recollected that although I was in darkness it was daylight outside, and that the headless miller was possibly resting quietly in his grave in the churchyard a mile away.

One thing I had to do, and that was to get out of my prison as soon as possible. I felt round and round the vault. My great object was to discover the steps by which my captors and I had descended, but to my dismay I could not find them. Either they had been drawn up through a trap-door above, or we had come through a door in the side of the vault which had been closed by them when they went out. I searched and searched in vain for such a door, one side consisting of a blank wall partly of stone and partly of perpendicular timbers, which I concluded supported the superstructure. This made me more certain than before that I was in a vault beneath the old mill. I was in hopes by this time that the smugglers had gone away, and that I should thus be able to make my escape without interruption. How to do so was the question. I remembered that we had descended the building by steps to the bottom of the vault. I concluded, therefore, that the roof must be a considerable height above my head. There were numerous boxes, chests, and bales, as far as I could judge, in the vault, and if I had had light I should have found, I thought, little difficulty in piling one upon another, and thus reaching the top; but in the dark this was a difficult and hazardous undertaking. I could scarcely expect to place them with sufficient evenness to make a firm structure, and they might, after I had got up some distance, topple down again with me under them, and perhaps an arm or a leg broken. Still I could think of no other way of getting out. I again felt about, and tried to lift some chests and bales, but they were mostly too heavy for my strength; I might, however, discover some which I could tackle.

It must be remembered that all this time I was perfectly ignorant of my surroundings. I was, indeed, in the position of a blind man suddenly placed in a position which he had never before visited without any one to give him a description of the scenery. The only knowledge that I had obtained of the vault was from the sense of touch. I now determined to take a further survey, if so I could call it, of my prison, to start from a certain point to feel my way round, and reach as high as I could, to extend my arms, and to grope along the floor from one side to the other. One point I considered was to my advantage. My captors would suppose that I was shut up in the chest, and would therefore not have taken much trouble to secure the outlet to the vault. Probably, indeed, they had gone away, as they would certainly avoid being seen in the neighbourhood of the old mill during daylight. I didn't suppose that they intended to murder me, and I therefore expected that they would come back again at night to bring me some food, or perhaps to carry me off and ship me on board some vessel, for such I was convinced was their intention. I must therefore effect my escape before nightfall. The necessity of obtaining food would alone induce me to do this, though as yet I did not feel very hungry.

Serious as the situation was, I did not give way to despair. I could not believe that I was doomed to die, but how my deliverance was to be effected was more than I could tell. Again starting from the chest in which I had been shut up, and which I could distinguish by the short fragments of the top, I continued groping my way round and round the vault. My first object was to try and find the door, which I was persuaded existed, as I thought I had previously missed it. Any one who has played at blind man's buff may have a faint idea of my situation. Only the objects round me remained stationary, whereas in the game people run away from the blinded person, and he has to try and catch them as they run round him. I had the advantage over the blinded man in the game. I was sure that in time I should gain a knowledge of my locality. Time, however, was precious, and it would not do for me to delay my search.

I would have given anything for a tinder-box and flint and steel, so that I might light up the vault even for a few seconds; but as that was not to be had, I tried to make use of my other senses. Stretching out my arms and feet as I went along, touching one place with my left hand, while I felt about my head as far as I could reach straight out with my right; I then brought my left up to the spot my right had last touched, and so I went on. Occasionally my right foot struck against a bale or chest which extended beyond the others above it. Had there been an opening in the pile of goods I was sure that I could not have missed it. For the supposed door I searched in vain, and at length came to the conclusion that the only entrance to the vault was from the roof above. It did not occur to me that there might be one above my reach by which my captors might have made their exit with the assistance of a short ladder. Though I had moved slowly, what with the exercise I had taken during the night, and the efforts I had made to get out of the chest, I felt very tired; and, discovering a bale of convenient height, I sat down to rest myself, and to consider with such calmness as I could command, what I should next do.

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