Chapter 10 | Roy Visits the Powder-Magazine | The Young Castellan

Chapter Ten.

“Now, Ben, what next?”

“The thing I’ve been thinking, sir, is that, little as it be, we must make the most of our garrison. It’s war time now, and if you’ll give the order I’ll march the men to the armoury and serve out the weepuns and clothes.”

Roy nodded, gave the word for the men to march, counter-ordered it, at a hint from Ben, and then, telling them to face right, put himself at their head, and marched them to the long, low room at once.

Ben began to serve out the buff jerkins and steel caps.

“Can’t stop for no trying on now,” he said; “you must do as we used in the army,—change about till you get them as fits you.”

This done, the firelocks and bandoleers followed, and, lastly, to each man a belt and sword.

And all the time the old soldier handed every article to the recipient with a grave dignity and a solemnity of manner which seemed to say, “I am giving treasures to you that I part from with the greatest regret,” and he finished with—

“Now, my lads, look here: it’s a great honour to bear arms in the service of your king, and if you’re carrying Sir Granby Royland’s arms you’re carrying the king’s, so take care of ’em. A good soldier wouldn’t have a speck of rust on his helmet or his sword; they’re as bright as I can make ’em now, and as sharp, so mind they’re always so. Now go to your new quarters and put ’em on—proper, mind; and your master, the captain here, will have a parade in an hour’s time.”

The men went off, leaving Roy wondering at the calmness with which he stood by listening while old Ben talked to the men and kept on referring to him as “your master.”

Ben now turned to him. “What do you say, sir?” he said. “Don’t you think we had better go down and see if all’s right in the powder-magazine?”

“But it’s in the cellar, Ben, and you’d want a light.”

“Hardly fair, sir, to call it the cellar. I believe it’s one of the old dungeons where they used to shut people up in the good old times.”

“That would be darker still, Ben. How are we to see?”

“Have to feel, sir; for I don’t fancy taking down a lantern. Once we get there and the place open, we can go round and tell with our hands how many kegs there are on the shelves, and then if we bring one out and try it, and it turns out all right, we shall know we’re safe.”

“Very well: it isn’t a nice job; but, if it has to be done, we’d better get it over.”

“As you say, sir, it aren’t a nice job; but, if we’re very careful, I don’t see as we can come to much harm; so, if you’ll get the keys, sir, we’ll go at once.”

Roy nodded, and went in without a word, to find his mother seated in the library writing.

“What is it, my boy?” she said. “What do you want?”

Roy hesitated for a moment, and then said, rather huskily, “The keys. Ben and I are going down into the magazine.”

Lady Royland looked at him in a wondering way.

“The magazine? Do you mean the store-room?”

“No; the powder-magazine.”

She started now, and looked anxious.

“I had almost forgotten its existence, Roy. But is it necessary? It may be dangerous to go into such a place.”

“We shall take care, mother, and have no light. It is necessary, Ben says, for we must be provided with gunpowder, and he wants to try whether it is good, because it must be very old.”

“Very old, my boy. Probably older than your grandfather’s day. I hardly like you to go upon such an errand.”

“But if I’m to be captain, mother, and look after the place, I can’t go back and tell Ben that. It would look so weak.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Lady Royland, making an effort to be calm and firm. “But you will be very careful, Roy.”

“You may trust me, mother,” he said; and she drew the keys, with a sigh, from the drawer in the old table, and handed them to her son, who took them and returned to his lieutenant.

“Here they are, Ben,” said Roy, quietly. “Ready?”

“Yes, sir, I’m ready. I want to be satisfied about that powder, because it means so much to us, for I’m sure I don’t know how we could get any more in times like these. You might send an order to London or one of the places in Kent where they make it, but I should never expect to see it come down here. Well, we won’t waste time; so come along.”

Taking off his sword, and signing to Roy to do the same, he led the way to the flight of spiral steps in the base of the south-east tower, but, instead of going up, followed it down to where there was a low arched door on their left and an opening on their right.

“Long time since any one’s been in that old dungeon, Master Roy. Hundred years, I dare say. Maybe we shall be putting some one in, one of these days!”

“In there? Whom? What for?”

“Prisoners, sir, for fighting against the king.” The old fellow laughed, and went along through the opening on their right, which proved to be an arched passage very dimly lit by a series of little pipe-like holes sloping inward through the outer wall of the castle and opening about a foot above the moat. On their aft were doors of a row of cellars built beneath the old court-yard; and as Ben walked onward he said—

“Who’d think as there were green grass and flower-beds up above them, Master Roy? But we do see changes in this life. Halt! here we are.”

He stopped at the end of the passage, where there was a massive oak door-way facing them beneath a curious old Norman arch, and, after trying hard with three different keys, the rusty wards of the old lock allowed one to turn, and the door was pushed wide open, creaking back against the wall.

“Rather dark, sir,” said Ben. “Get on a deal better with a candle; but it wouldn’t do.”

Roy peered in, and, as his eyes grew more accustomed to the obscurity, he made out that he was gazing into a small stone chamber; but there was no sign of chest or keg, or door leading onward.

“Why, the place is empty, Ben,” said the boy, with a sigh of relief.

“We don’t know that yet, sir, because we haven’t seen it,” said Ben, quietly. “This is only the way to the magazine. People in the old days knew what dangerous tackle it was, and took care of it according. But it’s going to be a dark job, and no mistake.”

The old soldier stepped in, and, stooping down in the middle of the blank stone chamber, took hold of a large copper ring and drew up one side of a heavy flagstone, which turned silently upon copper pivots, and this flag he laid back till it was supported by the ring.

“Looks darker down there, sir,” said Ben, as Roy stood beside him and they tried to pierce the gloom, but only for the latter to make out the dim outline of a stone step or two.

“You’ve been down here before, of course?” whispered Roy, as if the place impressed him.

“Yes, sir; once. There’s a door at the bottom, and that’s the magazine. It will be all feeling, sir. Will you go back while I try and get a keg?”

“No,” said Roy, firmly, but with an intense desire to say yes. “I shall stay while you go down. There can be no danger if you have no light.”

“Unless the rusty key strikes a light, sir.”

“Oh, that’s impossible,” whispered Roy.

“I suppose I’d better pull off my boots before I go down; it’ll perhaps be safer.”

He seated himself on the floor and pulled them off, Roy standing up, leaning against the wall, and doing the same.

“What’s that for?” said Ben.

“Coming with you. I want to know what the place is like.”

“Oh, there’s no need for two of us to go, sir. One’s enough.”

Roy said nothing, but followed the old fellow down eight stone steps, and then they stood together against a door, which felt to the touch to be very strongly made of stone, while, after a little searching about for a keyhole, Ben said, with a grunt—

“Forgot! There aren’t no key to this. It’s fastened with these two wooden bars.”

“I thought they were part of the door, Ben,” said Roy, in the same suppressed tone.

“So did I, sir, at first. I ought to have remembered, and I think I do now. Yes! that’s the way; they turn on pins in the middle like wooden buttons, and you turns one up and the other down out of the notches they fit in, and then push the door, which has stone hinges.”

As he spoke, Ben turned the two great wooden bars, and then pressed upon the door.

“Hope the stones won’t strike a light, sir,” said Ben, in a low growl.

Roy felt as if a hand had suddenly compressed his heart, and he peered wildly through the door-way, half expecting to see a tiny spark or two, as a dull, grating sound arose; but the only sparks the door made were those glittering in his own eyes, and he drew a deeper, harder breath as the door ceased to move.

“Now, we’ve got to be careful, or we shall be hitting against one another, sir! Let me see: there’s one step down, and then you’re in a place like a dairy, with two sets of stone shelves,—one just above the floor, to keep it out of the damp; the other just about as high as a man’s breast,—and there’s kegs of powder piled-up on them all. You stand still, and I’ll go in.”

“No; let me,” said Roy, though why he said this puzzled the boy himself, when the exciting minutes had passed.

“Well, sir, you’re master, and if you’d rather, of course you can. But I don’t mind going if you like.”

“I’ll go,” said Roy, huskily, and, stretching out his hands in the now profound darkness, he felt for and touched the side of the entrance, then made a step forward to place his stockinged foot down upon the cold stone floor, which struck up like ice. Bringing forward his second foot, he reached out for the side of the vault, and found the place just as his companion had described, for his hands came in contact with small wooden barrels, neatly piled one upon the other on a great stone shelf, beneath which was another shelf laden in a similar way.

“Feel anything, sir?” said Ben, from the entrance.

“Yes: barrels, numbers of them,” said Roy, huskily, his voice sounding a mere whisper in the darkness. “They go on—yes, to here. It is only a small vault.”

“Yes, sir, but big enough. Try the other side now.”

Three steps took Roy there, and his hands touched barrels again piled-up in the same way, and he whispered his experience.

“That’s it, sir; just what I thought. But what we want to know now is, are they full? Would you mind lifting one, or shall I come and do it?”

Roy shuddered a little, but he did not shrink. Stretching out his hands, he took a careful hold of one of the kegs, raised it to find it fairly heavy, and then replaced it.

“Try another, sir.”

Roy felt less compunction in lifting the second, and this being replaced, he began to sound others with his knuckles, to find that they all gave forth the same dull dead note.

“That’s all we want to know down here, Master Roy,” said the old soldier at last; “and now I think we’d better get back and take a couple of the little kegs with us. I’d take one from each side, sir. You pass ’em to me and I’ll carry ’em up safely. It wouldn’t do to drop one in case it should go off.”

These words, lightly spoken, made Roy thrill as he lifted down one of the kegs, getting his fingers tightly fitted to the ends, and then stood there in the black darkness, afraid to stir for fear he should strike his elbow against anything and jerk the keg to the floor.

“Got him, sir?”

“Yes,” said Roy, hoarsely. “Whereabouts are you?”

“Here, just at the door, sir; I haven’t moved,” was the reply.

“Reach out your hands, then, and take hold very carefully. Tell me when you’ve got it tight.”

“Tight hold,” said Ben, the next moment.


“Yes, sir; let it go, and I’ll carry it up.”

Roy quitted his hold of the keg unwillingly, and his heart beat violently as he listened to the soft pat, pat, of his companion’s feet, and thought of the consequences of a fall. Possibly one vivid flash and the whole place destroyed; and yet for years they had all been living so close to this terribly destructive power.

“If Ben should drop that keg!”

But Ben only set it down quietly a short distance from the top of the steps and descended.

“T’other one, sir, please,” he said; and Roy placed this in the man’s hands with the same shrinking feeling of reluctance.

It was carried up, and Roy stepped out, drawing the door after him, and after a few trials managing to close the two bars which secured the place.

“Don’t want no help there, sir?”

“No; I have done it,” was the reply; and Roy ascended the steps and waited for his companion to close the stone trap.

“Not a bad hole this to shut any one up in if we ever wanted to get rid of him, eh? He’d have to shout pretty hard to make any one hear.”

“Don’t talk; let’s get away from the dreadful place,” said Roy, whose face was wet with perspiration. “Can you carry both kegs?”

“Half a dozen if you’d range ’em, sir,” replied Ben.

“Then I’ll fasten the doors after us; and, mind this, the magazine must always be most carefully locked up.”

“You trust me for that, sir!” replied Ben. “I know too well what powder can do to try any tricks or trust anybody with it but myself. Why, do you know, sir, what would happen if I gave a fellow like Tom Rogers a keg to carry?”

“No; how can I tell?” said Roy, shortly.

“Well, I can, sir: he’d set it up on end, sit upon it, and take out a flint and steel to light his pipe as like as not.”

“Don’t talk any more, please, Ben,” said the boy as he proceeded to lock one of the doors.

“No, sir; I only did it so as to keep you from thinking about what we’ve been doing. I suppose one would get used to it, but it does seem to me rather ugly work even to an old soldier.”

“Where are we to put these two kegs?” said Roy.

“In the big closet in the armoury, sir,” replied Ben. “Don’t you fidget about them; they shall be all right, for that’s my part of the place, and nobody goes in there without my leave.”

“It’s impossible to help feeling a little uncomfortable about them, Ben, but I know you’ll take care.”

“I just think I will, sir. I’m very particular about no harm coming to Sergeant Benjamin Martlet; and as to doing anything that might mean risks for my lady—but there, I needn’t say nothing about that. You can come and see me put ’em away.”

Roy insisted upon carrying one of the kegs, in spite of the old soldier’s opposition, not to relieve him of the load, but as a lesson to himself in the art of getting used to the dangerous composition. In addition, it had occurred to him that he should have to be present when the barrels were opened, and the gun or guns fired to test their utility and strength after lying by for so many years. Roy had never even heard a big gun fired, and he told himself that it would not do for him to display the slightest dread before the men.

Consequently he hid his nervousness, and helped to deposit the kegs in the great cupboard which contained Ben’s tools and cleaning apparatus.

“There!” said that individual, “as soon as we’ve had our parade, and dismissed the troops, we’ll see to that powder, and find out what it’s like.”

He thrust the key into his pocket, buckled on his sword again, and, drawing himself up, asked the “captain” to lead the way to the entrance gate.