Chapter 32 | The Way In and the Way Out | The Young Castellan

Chapter Thirty Two.

The sentries challenged Roy as he went along the corridors, and it made his heart ache for this to take place in his own old home; but as he was passed on directly, he drew himself up, went to the door, knocked, and the general’s deep hard voice cried, “Come in.”

General Hepburn was seated at a table writing, but he threw down his pen as he saw who it was, and smiled.

“What can I do for you, my restless prisoner?” he said.

“I want you to give me a pass for the sentries, so that I can go and examine the passage through which you brought your men that night, sir.”

“Why? What for?”

“Out of curiosity. Isn’t it natural, sir, that after being here all my life, and then tricked like that, I should want to know how it was done?”

“Yes,” said the general, abruptly; and he took up his pen and wrote something upon a piece of paper, swept some pounce over it, shook it, and gave it to his petitioner. “You can go and see it.”

“And take Sergeant Martlet with me, sir? He was my lieutenant and adviser.”

The general snatched the paper back, wrote in a line, and once more handed it.

“Yes,” he said; “but I must be strict, boy. You will have a sergeant’s guard with you all the time.”

“Of course,” said Roy; “but I am not going to try and escape to-day.”

“No,” said the general, smiling, and taking up his pen again; “you are not going to try and escape to-day.”

As Roy went away, the guard was being changed, and the place rang with the tramp of men, the officer on duty visiting the different posts and examining everything in the keenest way.

“Ah, they’re doing it right enough, Master Roy,” said Ben; and the lad started, for he had not heard the old sergeant’s approach. “Taking a lesson?”

“I was watching them, Ben.”

“Ah, and if they warn’t enemies, and taken our place, I’d say the general was a thorough good soldier, and knew what he was about.”

“You do think that, then?” said Roy, who was glad to hear his own ideas endorsed.

“Course I do, sir. I growled and grumbled because I’m sore; but it does one’s heart good to see the fine discipline, and the way in which they work our guns. He didn’t seem very clever at managing his horse, but I s’pose he was right, for sorry am I to say it, he’s made the castle twice as strong as it was, and only by having his men in such order.”

“Yes; everything goes like clockwork, Ben,” said Roy, sadly.

“Better, sir; clocks get out of order; garrison like this don’t. A man or two may go wrong, but there is always more to take their places. We did our best, and was very proud of it, sir; but it’s one thing to have three trained soldiers for your garrison and to make it stronger out of such men as you can get together, and another thing to march in as many as you can make room for, and all well-drilled. There, it’s of no use to grumble, sir; we did wonders.—So the general won’t let you go and see the fox’s hole?”

“Yes, he will, Ben. I have the pass here to present to the officers on duty.”

“Why didn’t you say so before?” cried Ben, sharply. “Come along, then, sir. I wouldn’t go and say anything to them yonder, because they might feel a bit jealous.”

Roy nodded, and followed by the old sergeant he walked straight to the guard-room, presented his paper, feeling all the while how strange it was to have to ask permission in his own old home. But he had no time for thought. The officer promptly called out a sergeant, and selected four men, and with them for guard, Roy and Ben led across the court to the entrance of the north-west tower.

Roy felt eager and yet depressed as they passed in, the sergeant leading and going up the spiral stairs to Master Pawson’s old room, which was partly dismantled now, and the furniture left just sufficient to provide seats and a table for a dozen men who used it as a second guard-room.

“You don’t know the way out and in by this passage, then, sir?” the sergeant said.

“No,” replied Roy, who was examining the walls. “I have no idea where it is. Surely it can’t be here?”

“Take a look round, sir; perhaps you’ll make it out.”

Roy did look round—an easy thing to do in a round chamber—but the door, the one large cupboard, the locker in the window, and a broad oaken panel over the mantelpiece were examined and in vain. The last took his attention the most, looking as if it might be a low door-way, and sounding hollow; but he could make nothing of it, and he fell to examining the wainscot in other parts and the floor boards.

“Better give it up, sir,” said the sergeant, smiling. “I don’t suppose any one would find it out unless it was by accident. Shall I show you now?”

“No,” said Roy, who was on his mettle; and he examined the whole place again, beginning with the locker in the window, opening an oaken box-like contrivance in which lay a few of the soldiers’ cloaks for which there was no room on the nails and hooks lately driven into the wall.

But after a quarter of an hour’s keen search, Roy gave it up.

“I am wasting time,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” said the sergeant; “but, as children say at play, you were burning more than once.”

Roy felt disposed to renew his quest, but he refrained, and the sergeant went to the casement window, and as Roy watched him, opened it till it stood at a certain angle, which allowed him to thrust down a pin and secure it—a simple enough thing to do, and apparently to keep the wind from blowing it to and fro.

“That unlocks the trap-door, sir,” said the man. “If you open it more or less, it doesn’t act. Look here.”

He opened the lid of the locker, and turned a catch over it to keep it from shutting down again, then threw out the cloaks.

“Now pull up that end, sir.”

Roy took hold of the panelled oaken side of the locker on his left, and to his astonishment the end of the coffer-like affair glided easily up, bringing with it one end of the oaken bottom; while the other end, turning upon a pivot on the middle, went down, laying open a square shaft going at a slope apparently into the thickness of the wall.

Roy uttered an ejaculation of wonder, while the sergeant struck a light, lit a lantern, got feet first into the locker, and let himself slide; and they saw him descend a dozen feet at an easy slope, stand upright, and hold the light for them to follow and stand by him in a narrow passage with an arched roof.

“Easy enough, when you know how,” said the man.

“Ay, easy enough, when you know how,” growled Ben, while Roy examined a short, stout ladder hanging from a couple of hooks by the arched ceiling.

“For going back?” he said.

“Yes, sir,” was the reply, as the sergeant moved forward a few steps to allow his men to follow, which they did as if quite accustomed to the task.

The narrow passage ended at the top of a spiral staircase just wide enough to allow a man to pass along, and down this he went with a light, the others following, till they had descended to a great depth.

“Hundred steps,” growled Ben, as they stood now in a square crypt-like chamber, with a pointed archway in the centre of the wall at one end.

“There you are, sir,” said the sergeant, holding up the lantern, “cut right through the stone. It’s as dry as tinder, though it does go straight under the moat. Isn’t it strange that you didn’t know of this?”

“Strange!” cried Ben, taking the answer out of his young master’s lips; “why, I didn’t know anything about it myself. I mean, where it was.”

Roy was silent, for he was thinking of how easily the passage could have been blocked, or a few men have held it against a host.

“Want to go any farther, sir?” asked the sergeant.

“Farther? Yes!” cried Roy, excitedly. “I want to go right to the end.”

“Long way, sir, and it’s all alike. It comes out in the old ruined place at the top of that little hill.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Roy. “Lead on, please.”

The sergeant went forward with the light, and Roy followed, whispering to his companion as they went along.

“Oh, Ben, if we had only found it out!”

“Ay, sir. If we had only found it out; but it wanted a man like Master Pawson.”

“Why, Ben,” cried Roy, who had a flash of inspiration; “he must have found out about it in one of those old books from the library, one of those which tell about the building of the castle.”

“Why, o’ course, sir!” growled Ben; “and you, with all those books to look at when you liked, and not find it out yourself.”

“And I know the very book,” cried Roy, “and have looked at the pictures in it scores of times. But, I remember now, I have not seen it since that wretch has been here.”

They had to increase their pace, for the sergeant was striding along over the fairly level floor, which had doubtless been lately cleared, for the lantern showed where portions of the arched roof had shaled off, though much of it was in almost the same condition as when it was laboriously chipped away with the mason’s hammers, whose marks were plainly enough to be seen.

“Seen one bit, we’ve seen all, Master Roy,” said Ben at last in a disgusted tone; “but it don’t want a trained soldier to take a castle if he’s got a way in, made ready for him like this.”

But they proceeded, and went right to the end, which was carefully masked in the ruin of the old chapel. But some time before they reached the other opening they were challenged, and Roy felt no surprise on finding a strong body of horse bivouacked in the ancient ruin.

On the way back to the castle Roy gleaned a few facts from the sergeant, which only, however, endorsed those already gathered,—to wit, that the ex-secretary had been holding communications with the enemy for some time before they came to terms, visiting the camp again and again at night, and eluding the vigilance of those who tried to follow him, dodging, as he always did, and then doubling back and reaching the ruins where they were not watched. It was not until General Hepburn had realised that it would be a very long and tedious task to reduce the castle, and only to be achieved at the cost of much bloodshed, that he, after communication with headquarters, came to Pawson’s terms, and then the result was immediate.

Roy’s first step on returning was to seek Lady Royland and tell her of his visit, at the same time asking her opinion about the book, which she remembered at once.

“Yes,” she said, at last; “if ever we find that book again, we shall read the story of our ruin there.”