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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 7
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Dick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 7 Post by :headdreamer Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1428

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Dick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 7

CHAPTER SEVEN

A prisoner in the vault--The headless miller--I continue my explorations--My perilous position--My further attempts at escape--The recess--An unexpected shower-bath--A glimpse of light--I escape from the vault, but not from prison--A lower chamber in Old Grime's mill-- The result of my further endeavours to escape--My signal of distress-- The Revenue-men--My rescue--The search for the smugglers' goods--My hunger relieved--On guard--Meeting with my father--The last of old Grime's mill.

Strange as it may seem, I fell asleep. How long my eyes had been closed I could not tell. I fancied I heard the voices of people coming down through the roof. A door directly opposite to me opened, through which a pale light streamed, when what was my amazement to see "Old Grimes" the miller dressed in his short frock, his iron-grey hair streaming over his shoulders, and holding on his head with both hands, proving that it could not retain its position without such assistance. He glared at me with his saucer-eyes; his lips moved, but what he said I could not make out. Had he approached I thought I would have spoken to him and asked what he wanted, but he did not advance beyond the doorway. Presently he faded from my sight. The light grew dimmer and dimmer. I thought that I got up and tried to make a straight course for the door; but when I reached the wall opposite I could not find it, and so groped my way back to my seat.

It was not until fully a minute after I was awake that I became aware that I had been dreaming. I was soon convinced that the vision of Old Grimes was a mere dream, but I was not quite so well satisfied about the voices I had heard. I listened, expecting to hear them again, but all was silent as before. I now got up, resolving to try and make my way out. Though I had not previously experienced any inconvenience from the want of breakfast, I began to feel excessively hungry; and if I had come across a package of hams or tongues, or a cask of salted herrings, I should have eaten them raw with considerable satisfaction. The more hungry I felt the more desperate I became. I at last fixed on a place for commencing operations. There appeared to be more woodwork there than anywhere else, or else the chests were piled upon each other. At all events they would afford me a foothold. That I might have less chance of slipping I had kicked off my boots, supposing that I could easily find them again. I climbed up and up. Of course I had to move very cautiously, not leaving go with one hand until I had a firm grasp of some fixed object with the other. I got up a considerable distance, and pressing against a board, it gave way, and a tremendous crash followed, as if a number of boxes filled with bottles had fallen to the ground. Putting up my hand, I felt a beam above my head; could it be one of the rafters, or the roof? I was for some time afraid to move, lest I should fall headlong down. I passed my hand along the beam, but could not reach the floor it supported. I now tried to crawl cautiously along on the top of the woodwork or the pile of chests, for I could not determine which they were. Every now and then I stopped and stretched out my hand, but could feel nothing above me.

I must again beg my readers to try and picture to themselves my unpleasant position. The only wonder to myself is that I kept up my spirits. I did not forget that any moment something might give way below me, and that I might pitch down to the floor of the vault on my head. I had gone on some way, when, stretching out my hand, I discovered nothing beyond me. I was on the very edge of the erection. The only thing I could do was to go back the way I had come, or to descend to the floor. Fearing that I should be unable to pass the spot where I had thrown over the cases, I resolved to adopt the latter alternative.

I bethought me that if I had had a pole it would have assisted me greatly to discover the trap-door leading to the vault. It was easier to climb up than to climb down, as I could not feel with my feet as I could with my hands. The attempt, however, must be made. Having got to the edge of the plank and ascertained that it was secure, I gradually let myself down, when I found myself resting on another plank or the edge of a chest, I could not tell which. Let any one try in the dark to do what I was attempting to do, and it will be found no easy matter. Could I have stood securely, I might have crouched down till I could have got hold of the plank on which my foot rested, but there was scarcely room for that, and if I let go the plank above me I might tumble over on my back; yet there was no other way of descent, so holding on with my left hand I tried to find something which I might grasp with my right lower down.

My satisfaction was considerable when my hand came in contact with the rope-handle of a large chest. It appeared to be secure, and holding it I was able to stoop down and fix my other hand on the ledge on which my feet rested. One stage of my descent was thus accomplished. I now held the ledge tight with both hands, let my legs slip off, and felt about with my feet for another resting-place. For some seconds I was swinging about, holding on by my hands. There might be another ledge not half an inch below my feet. I stretched down my toes to the utmost. I could not discover it. Should I let go I might have a serious fall. I worked my way on, hoping to be more fortunate. At last my feet struck against the end of a chest, and after making a little further exertion I found that it was secure, and that I could venture to stand upon it.

I was still uncertain how far I was off the ground; all the difficulty I experienced arose from being in darkness. I could probably, I knew, have scrambled over the whole of the building with perfect ease had there been light. I might already be close to the ground, but at the same time I might be many feet above it, and I therefore could not venture to step down without going through the same process as before. Leaning on my elbows, I stretched my arms along the top of the chest. I slipped off, and unexpectedly found my feet touch the ground. I was too eager to escape to allow myself time to rest after my exertions. I once more began to search round the vault, hoping to find an oar, a boat's mast or spar, or somewhat that might serve my purpose. I felt about in vain; indeed it was not likely that the smugglers should have placed such things in the vault.

I at last reached the part where the boxes or chests, as I supposed they were, rested, and I began to stumble among them. The region in which I had spent the last two or three hours was considerably disarranged. I fancied that I knew every part, and now I was completely thrown out in my calculations. One chest stood up on end on another. I feared, should I move it, that I might bring others down on my head. I should have liked to have put them all back in their places, but that was impossible. By great care I made my way among them; when I at last reached the walls, it was the part I had not before examined. How I could have passed it I could not account for, unless I had been prevented reaching it by the chests piled up in front, and which I had displaced. As I was extending my arms my hands touched what felt like a wooden latch. There was no doubt about it; it was the latch of a door. I lifted it up and pulled it towards me. The door opened, but all was dark within the recess. I felt sure that it must be the entrance to the vault. I was going to step forward when it occurred to me that it might lead to a lower vault and that I should be precipitated into an unknown depth should I move without feeling my way. I knelt down, extending my hands, when they touched the ground as far as I could reach. This satisfied me that my first conjecture was correct.

Cautiously feeling my way, I stepped forward and explored the recess as I had the larger vault. Contrary to my expectation, I could discover no ladder. I was thus no nearer to my deliverance than before. I felt round and round this smaller vault, without being able to decide as to its object. That it was the entrance to the vault I thought very likely. I wished that I could find out the height of the roof, and of what it was composed. It seemed probable that it was lower than that of the larger vault. I thought that I might drag in some of the smaller chests and place one on another against the wall and climb up. I made my way accordingly back to the large vault, in search of some which I could move.

In going along my foot struck an object on the ground. It was a long spar--the very thing I was in search of. I supposed it had fallen down with the boxes, having either been placed upon them or assisting to support them. It appeared, as far as I could judge, to be twelve or fourteen feet long, and was thick enough to enable me to swarm up it, and thus to serve the purpose of a ladder. I first tried to reach the roof of the large vault with it, but it was not long enough, though I lifted it as high as I could; and then carrying it in my hands went back to the recess, and, eager to ascertain the height, I struck upwards. It at once met with resistance, not as I supposed, from a beam or vaulted roof, but from some soft object. That soft object must be removed.

I poked and poked again and again, now in one part, now in another, when suddenly down came a shower of powder, which, before I could make my escape, covered me from head to foot. I was certain that it was, from the smell and feel, flour, though old and musty. The flour filled my nose, eyes, and mouth, nearly suffocating me. I, however, willingly endured this dry shower-bath, for as it fell a glimpse of light came through a hole which I had burst in the upper part of the sack, which had evidently been drawn across the trap leading to the vault for the purpose of concealing it. I worked away with my pole until I had pretty nearly emptied the sack of flour, and then, with a little more exertion, I brought the whole down, and had a clear view upwards. For a minute or so my eyes, long accustomed to darkness, were so dazzled with the light that I could not make out anything distinctly. They were, besides, so full of flour that it took me some time to clear them.

After this I did not delay in endeavouring to get out of the vault. Having placed the upper end of the pole against the corner of the trap, I tried to swarm up it. At first my exertions made the pole slip, and I ran the risk of having a disagreeable fall; but descending, I placed the half rotten sack with some of the flour round the foot, and then drew in several pieces of wood, with which I further secured it.

I now made another determined effort to climb up it by twining my arms and legs round it. With considerable effort I succeeded in catching hold of the edge or sill of the trap, and then getting up my knees I was out of the vault, but not out of prison. I was, however, far better off than before. Instead of darkness, I had light--instead of a close vault, an airy chamber, on the lower floor of which sacks of flour had evidently been kept. There were no regular windows, but only a few slits high up above my head to admit light and air. The door was securely closed. The room was in much better order than I should have supposed from the generally ruinous appearance of the building from the outside.

Of course, having thus far freed myself, I did not despair of getting out by some means or other. I was in a hurry to do so lest the smugglers should come back, and thrust me back into my prison, or treat me even worse. Looking round the room I observed an opening on one side opposite the windows. It struck me that if I could get to it I might make my way into the main part of the building. Once there, there could be no difficulty in escaping. In the last few minutes I had forgotten my hunger, but it again came upon me; and as I had no other food, I thought I would try some of the flour, which would stay my appetite, even though eaten raw. I believe that a person eating nothing else for several days would make himself ill, if he did not die. I made a hole in one of several sacks leaning against the wall, and which had been there probably since the occupant's death. It was excessively musty, but hunger prevented me from being particular, and rolling it up into little balls I swallowed several in rapid succession. Having eaten on till I had sated my appetite, I hauled up the pole with which I had made my escape from the vault below.

I then placed it against the foot of the small door high up in the wall. It was sufficiently long. But then the thought occurred to me, will the door be closed so that I shall be unable to open it? That point must be settled by experiment; so having assured myself that the upper end would not slip, I began to ascend. It was not at all an easy task, and I did not feel satisfied that it would not give way. Up and up I went, remembering what my father often used to say, that "fortune favours the brave." I gained the top, and holding on to the sill beneath the door, pressed against it. It moved, and, contrary to my expectation, opened. It was a difficult matter notwithstanding to get in; but I managed at last to get my knee on the sill, and then creeping forward I found myself in a gallery in the main part of the mill, in the centre of which was the shaft and the machinery for working the grindstones beneath. I ran round the gallery till I came to a ladder leading to the floor below, expecting that I should find the main door open. It was firmly closed and locked, so that I could not get out. This was a disappointment.

Having in vain tried to find any other outlet, I ran up the steps again to the gallery, looked out of one of several windows to ascertain if I could reach the ground by any of the woodwork; but the height was too great to allow me to drop out without danger of breaking my legs. I observed several people in the distance passing along by a path which led by the foot of a hill on which the mill was situated. My first thought was that they were smugglers; but then I recollected that such characters were not likely to be abroad in a body during daylight, and the glitter of the gold lace round the cap of one of them convinced me that they were the revenue-men. I shouted at the top of my voice. Hungry and faint as I was, it did not sound as loud as usual. They did not hear me. I was afraid they would go on. Again and again I shouted. One of the men turned his head. Having no handkerchief, in a moment I stripped off my shirt, and waved it wildly out of the window. The men saw it, and came hurrying up the hill.

"Who are you, youngster?" shouted one of the men as they came near.

"Master Cheveley, son of the Vicar of Sandgate," I answered.

"Why, he looks more like the ghost of a miller," said one of the men.

"How did you get up there?" inquired the first speaker a head boatman in charge of the party.

"I got up out of a vault where the smugglers put me," I answered. "Make haste and come in, for I'm almost starved."

"Here's a door," cried the head boatman; "but I say, mates, it's locked. Is there no other way in?" he shouted.

"None that I know of," I answered. "I have been trying to open the door, but could not."

"We'll see what we can do," said the man.

And he with two others placing their shoulders to it quickly sent it flying inward shattered into fragments, the rotten wood giving way before their sturdy shoves.

I ran down to meet them. The head boatman, a strong seamanlike-looking man, at once began to question me as to what had happened. I told him as briefly as I could adding--

"But, I say, I'm desperately hungry, as I've only had some lumps of musty flour to eat for several hours, and thirsty too. I shall faint if I don't have some food."

"We'll get you that, youngster; and then you must try and show us the way into the vault," said the speaker. "We may get a better haul than we've had for many a day if it should prove one of the smugglers' hiding-places."

He then directed one of the men to run down to the next farmhouse and bring up some bread and cheese, or anything else he could obtain, and a jug of milk, or if that was not to be procured, some water.

I thanked him, begging the man to make haste, for now that the excitement was over I could scarcely stand.

"Do you know you are whitened all over?" he asked. "You look as if you had come out of a flour-bin!"

I had for the moment forgotten how I must have looked. The man good-naturedly began to brush the flour off my clothes and hair, and one of them lent me his handkerchief to wipe my face. They inquired what had become of my jacket and waistcoat. I told them how the smugglers had taken them from me.

"Perhaps the fellows may have hidden them somewhere about here. They wouldn't like to have the things found on them. Jenkins and Brown, do you go and search all round. Maybe we'll come upon another opening into the vault."

The two men hurried off to obey the orders they had received, while the others examined the mill; and the chief boatman sat by me fanning my face, for he evidently thought me in a bad way. The time appeared very long since the man had started for the provisions, but I believe he was not absent many minutes. I was thankful when he returned, bringing a basket with some eggs, and ham, and cheese, and some delicious bread, and a bottle of milk. I fell to immediately like a hungry wolf, and felt very much better by the time I had finished.

"We'll keep the remainder in case you want any more, my lad. And now we must get you to show us the way into the vault," said the officer.

I was quite ready to do this, for I confess that I had a bitter feeling against the smugglers on account of the treatment I had received. We soon reached the trap which had been covered over by the sacks of flour. The men looked down, not quite liking to descend into the darkness. The spar by which I had got up was still in its place. I offered to go down first, but this the chief boatman would not allow, and he and another man at once lowered themselves to the bottom. It was, however, so dark beyond the smaller vault, that they declared they could see nothing, and they had to wait until a man was sent to the farm for a lantern. We then too descended, but as the lantern only dimly lighted up the vault, I could scarcely believe that it was the same place in which I had spent so many hours. I had fancied that it was of immense size and height, and crowded with piles of boxes, and bales, and casks. Instead of this there were only a few old packing-cases, in one of which I found I had been shut up. There were besides about a dozen bales, most of them apparently damaged, and what the revenue-men considered of more value, nearly half-a-hundred small casks of spirits, and some boxes of tobacco. These had been covered over with planks. I had not felt them on my exploring expeditions in the dark. The revenue-men were well satisfied with their haul, as they called it, though they had thought that it was possible they might find some articles of value.

As I was anxious to return home to relieve the anxiety of my father and mother, I begged the chief boatman to let me do so at once.

"We cannot let you go alone; some of these smugglers might meet you and give you a clout on the head for having shown us their hiding-place. Wait a bit until I can send one of the men with you. We must first get these casks up. We can't spare a hand at present, as one of the men must go on to the station to give information of our find, and to procure some carts for carrying the things away."

In hunting about the men had discovered a coil of rope and some blocks, which had evidently been used for lowering the casks into the vault. The seamen were not long in fitting up a tackle to hoist them out. While one of the men was sent off as proposed, the rest worked away with a will. In a short time the chief contents of the vault were hoisted up and rolled outside.

"Here's a job for you, my lad," said the chief boatman. "You stay by these things, and give us notice if you see any suspicious characters coming, while we get up the remainder."

This task I gladly undertook, for I was heartily sick of the vault where I had spent so many unpleasant hours, and glad to breathe the fresh air outside. I sat down on the cask, nibbling away at some of the contents of the basket, for my appetite had returned. At last a drowsiness stole over me, and slipping off the cask, against which I placed my back, I fell fast asleep. I was awakened by hearing some one shouting, and looking up I saw a person running towards me. I sprang to my feet, when what was my surprise to see my father, who rushed forward, and at the joy of seeing him I leaped into his arms.

"Why, Dick, my boy," he exclaimed, "we have been in fearful anxiety about you. How have you got into this plight? Where have you been? What has happened?"

I answered him as fast as I could.

"I won't find fault with you now, though you had no business to steal out of the house at night. You have had a narrow escape. Though the ruffians who carried you off and put you into the vault might not have intended to leave you to starve, they most probably would have been unable to return. Several have been captured, and so hot is the hue and cry after the rest that they would have been afraid to come back to the spot to bring you food, or to carry you off, as you fancy they intended to do."

The chief boatman now came out of the mill, and was evidently well pleased to hand me over to my father, who thanked him for the attention he had paid me.

Just as we were setting off the carts arrived with a party of revenue-men, armed to the teeth, to carry off the smugglers' goods, for it was thought likely that a rescue might be attempted. We had got to no great distance, when on looking back I saw a cloud of smoke issuing from the old building. It increased in density, and presently flames burst out.

"Could they have set the place on fire?"

"Not intentionally," said my father; "but it is very evident that the mill is burning, and from the nature of the materials of which it is composed there is not the slightest chance of its escaping destruction."

Tired as I was, I persuaded him to go back to see what had happened. As we got nearer the building we saw that the whole of it was enveloped in flame. The revenue-men were busily engaged in loading the carts. They had soon found that any attempt to save the mill would be useless, and that they would only run the risk of losing their lives. We were at some short distance when a tremendous roar was heard, the ground shook beneath our feet, and the whole building came toppling down, a vast heap of burning ruins; while planks, and beams, and masses of earth, were thrown up into the air, showing that an explosion had taken place in the vault where I had been confined. No one suspected that any casks of powder had been deposited there, but that such was the case there was no doubt. I had now reason to be very thankful that I had not found a tinder-box, for I should certainly have tried to light a fire in the vault, and probably the sparks would have communicated to the powder. How the fire originated no one could tell, but I suspected that one of the men had lit his pipe, and that the ashes had fallen out upon some loose grains of powder. We, as well as the revenue-men, had a narrow escape from being crushed by the ruins which fell close to us.

Such was the end of Old Grime's mill.

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