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Barnaby Rudge

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Chapter 51

Promising as these outrages were to Gashford’s view, and much like business as they looked, they extended that night no farther. The soldiers were again called out, again they took half-a-dozen prisoners, and again the crowd dispersed after a short and bloodless scuffle. Hot and drunken though they were, they had not yet broken all bounds and set all law and government at defiance. Something of their habitual deference to the authority erected by society for its own preservation yet remained among them, and had its majesty been vindicated in time, the secretary would have had to digest a bitter disappointment.

By midnight, the streets were clear and quiet, and, save that there stood in two parts of the town a heap of nodding walls and pile of rubbish, where there had been at sunset a rich and handsome building, everything wore its usual aspect. Even the Catholic gentry and tradesmen, of whom there were many resident in different parts of the City and its suburbs, had no fear for their lives or property, and but little indignation for the wrong they had already sustained in the plunder and destruction of their temples of worship. An honest confidence in the government under whose protection they had lived for many years, and a well-founded reliance on the good feeling and right thinking of the great mass of the community, with whom, notwithstanding their religious differences, they were every day in habits of confidential, affectionate, and friendly intercourse, reassured them, even under the excesses that had been committed; and convinced them that they who were Protestants in anything but the name, were no more to be considered as abettors of these disgraceful occurrences, than they themselves were chargeable with the uses of the block, the rack, the gibbet, and the stake in cruel Mary’s reign.

The clock was on the stroke of one, when Gabriel Varden, with his lady and Miss Miggs, sat waiting in the little parlour. This fact; the toppling wicks of the dull, wasted candles; the silence that prevailed; and, above all, the nightcaps of both maid and matron, were sufficient evidence that they had been prepared for bed some time ago, and had some reason for sitting up so far beyond their usual hour.

If any other corroborative testimony had been required, it would have been abundantly furnished in the actions of Miss Miggs, who, having arrived at that restless state and sensitive condition of the nervous system which are the result of long watching, did, by a constant rubbing and tweaking of her nose, a perpetual change of position (arising from the sudden growth of imaginary knots and knobs in her chair), a frequent friction of her eyebrows, the incessant recurrence of a small cough, a small groan, a gasp, a sigh, a sniff, a spasmodic start, and by other demonstrations of that nature, so file down and rasp, as it were, the patience of the locksmith, that after looking at her in silence for some time, he at last broke out into this apostrophe:—

‘Miggs, my good girl, go to bed—do go to bed. You’re really worse than the dripping of a hundred water-butts outside the window, or the scratching of as many mice behind the wainscot. I can’t bear it. Do go to bed, Miggs. To oblige me—do.’

‘You haven’t got nothing to untie, sir,’ returned Miss Miggs, ‘and therefore your requests does not surprise me. But missis has—and while you sit up, mim’—she added, turning to the locksmith’s wife, ‘I couldn’t, no, not if twenty times the quantity of cold water was aperiently running down my back at this moment, go to bed with a quiet spirit.’

Having spoken these words, Miss Miggs made divers efforts to rub her shoulders in an impossible place, and shivered from head to foot; thereby giving the beholders to understand that the imaginary cascade was still in full flow, but that a sense of duty upheld her under that and all other sufferings, and nerved her to endurance.

Mrs Varden being too sleepy to speak, and Miss Miggs having, as the phrase is, said her say, the locksmith had nothing for it but to sigh and be as quiet as he could.

But to be quiet with such a basilisk before him was impossible. If he looked another way, it was worse to feel that she was rubbing her cheek, or twitching her ear, or winking her eye, or making all kinds of extraordinary shapes with her nose, than to see her do it. If she was for a moment free from any of these complaints, it was only because of her foot being asleep, or of her arm having got the fidgets, or of her leg being doubled up with the cramp, or of some other horrible disorder which racked her whole frame. If she did enjoy a moment’s ease, then with her eyes shut and her mouth wide open, she would be seen to sit very stiff and upright in her chair; then to nod a little way forward, and stop with a jerk; then to nod a little farther forward, and stop with another jerk; then to recover herself; then to come forward again—lower—lower—lower—by very slow degrees, until, just as it seemed impossible that she could preserve her balance for another instant, and the locksmith was about to call out in an agony, to save her from dashing down upon her forehead and fracturing her skull, then all of a sudden and without the smallest notice, she would come upright and rigid again with her eyes open, and in her countenance an expression of defiance, sleepy but yet most obstinate, which plainly said, ‘I’ve never once closed ‘em since I looked at you last, and I’ll take my oath of it!’

At length, after the clock had struck two, there was a sound at the street door, as if somebody had fallen against the knocker by accident. Miss Miggs immediately jumping up and clapping her hands, cried with a drowsy mingling of the sacred and profane, ‘Ally Looyer, mim! there’s Simmuns’s knock!’

‘Who’s there?’ said Gabriel.

‘Me!’ cried the well-known voice of Mr Tappertit. Gabriel opened the door, and gave him admission.

He did not cut a very insinuating figure, for a man of his stature suffers in a crowd; and having been active in yesterday morning’s work, his dress was literally crushed from head to foot: his hat being beaten out of all shape, and his shoes trodden down at heel like slippers. His coat fluttered in strips about him, the buckles were torn away both from his knees and feet, half his neckerchief was gone, and the bosom of his shirt was rent to tatters. Yet notwithstanding all these personal disadvantages; despite his being very weak from heat and fatigue; and so begrimed with mud and dust that he might have been in a case, for anything of the real texture (either of his skin or apparel) that the eye could discern; he stalked haughtily into the parlour, and throwing himself into a chair, and endeavouring to thrust his hands into the pockets of his small-clothes, which were turned inside out and displayed upon his legs, like tassels, surveyed the household with a gloomy dignity.

‘Simon,’ said the locksmith gravely, ‘how comes it that you return home at this time of night, and in this condition? Give me an assurance that you have not been among the rioters, and I am satisfied.’

‘Sir,’ replied Mr Tappertit, with a contemptuous look, ‘I wonder at YOUR assurance in making such demands.’

‘You have been drinking,’ said the locksmith.

‘As a general principle, and in the most offensive sense of the words, sir,’ returned his journeyman with great self-possession, ‘I consider you a liar. In that last observation you have unintentionally—unintentionally, sir,—struck upon the truth.’

‘Martha,’ said the locksmith, turning to his wife, and shaking his head sorrowfully, while a smile at the absurd figure beside him still played upon his open face, ‘I trust it may turn out that this poor lad is not the victim of the knaves and fools we have so often had words about, and who have done so much harm to-day. If he has been at Warwick Street or Duke Street to-night—’

‘He has been at neither, sir,’ cried Mr Tappertit in a loud voice, which he suddenly dropped into a whisper as he repeated, with eyes fixed upon the locksmith, ‘he has been at neither.’

‘I am glad of it, with all my heart,’ said the locksmith in a serious tone; ‘for if he had been, and it could be proved against him, Martha, your Great Association would have been to him the cart that draws men to the gallows and leaves them hanging in the air. It would, as sure as we’re alive!’

Mrs Varden was too much scared by Simon’s altered manner and appearance, and by the accounts of the rioters which had reached her ears that night, to offer any retort, or to have recourse to her usual matrimonial policy. Miss Miggs wrung her hands, and wept.

‘He was not at Duke Street, or at Warwick Street, G. Varden,’ said Simon, sternly; ‘but he WAS at Westminster. Perhaps, sir, he kicked a county member, perhaps, sir, he tapped a lord—you may stare, sir, I repeat it—blood flowed from noses, and perhaps he tapped a lord. Who knows? This,’ he added, putting his hand into his waistcoat-pocket, and taking out a large tooth, at the sight of which both Miggs and Mrs Varden screamed, ‘this was a bishop’s. Beware, G. Varden!’

‘Now, I would rather,’ said the locksmith hastily, ‘have paid five hundred pounds, than had this come to pass. You idiot, do you know what peril you stand in?’

‘I know it, sir,’ replied his journeyman, ‘and it is my glory. I was there, everybody saw me there. I was conspicuous, and prominent. I will abide the consequences.’

The locksmith, really disturbed and agitated, paced to and fro in silence—glancing at his former ‘prentice every now and then—and at length stopping before him, said:

‘Get to bed, and sleep for a couple of hours that you may wake penitent, and with some of your senses about you. Be sorry for what you have done, and we will try to save you. If I call him by five o’clock,’ said Varden, turning hurriedly to his wife, and he washes himself clean and changes his dress, he may get to the Tower Stairs, and away by the Gravesend tide-boat, before any search is made for him. From there he can easily get on to Canterbury, where your cousin will give him work till this storm has blown over. I am not sure that I do right in screening him from the punishment he deserves, but he has lived in this house, man and boy, for a dozen years, and I should be sorry if for this one day’s work he made a miserable end. Lock the front-door, Miggs, and show no light towards the street when you go upstairs. Quick, Simon! Get to bed!’

‘And do you suppose, sir,’ retorted Mr Tappertit, with a thickness and slowness of speech which contrasted forcibly with the rapidity and earnestness of his kind-hearted master—‘and do you suppose, sir, that I am base and mean enough to accept your servile proposition?—Miscreant!’

‘Whatever you please, Sim, but get to bed. Every minute is of consequence. The light here, Miggs!’

‘Yes yes, oh do! Go to bed directly,’ cried the two women together.

Mr Tappertit stood upon his feet, and pushing his chair away to show that he needed no assistance, answered, swaying himself to and fro, and managing his head as if it had no connection whatever with his body:

‘You spoke of Miggs, sir—Miggs may be smothered!’

‘Oh Simmun!’ ejaculated that young lady in a faint voice. ‘Oh mim! Oh sir! Oh goodness gracious, what a turn he has give me!’

‘This family may ALL be smothered, sir,’ returned Mr Tappertit, after glancing at her with a smile of ineffable disdain, ‘excepting Mrs V. I have come here, sir, for her sake, this night. Mrs Varden, take this piece of paper. It’s a protection, ma’am. You may need it.’

With these words he held out at arm’s length, a dirty, crumpled scrap of writing. The locksmith took it from him, opened it, and read as follows:

‘All good friends to our cause, I hope will be particular, and do no injury to the property of any true Protestant. I am well assured that the proprietor of this house is a staunch and worthy friend to the cause.

GEORGE GORDON.’

‘What’s this!’ said the locksmith, with an altered face.

‘Something that’ll do you good service, young feller,’ replied his journeyman, ‘as you’ll find. Keep that safe, and where you can lay your hand upon it in an instant. And chalk “No Popery” on your door to-morrow night, and for a week to come—that’s all.’

‘This is a genuine document,’ said the locksmith, ‘I know, for I have seen the hand before. What threat does it imply? What devil is abroad?’

‘A fiery devil,’ retorted Sim; ‘a flaming, furious devil. Don’t you put yourself in its way, or you’re done for, my buck. Be warned in time, G. Varden. Farewell!’

But here the two women threw themselves in his way—especially Miss Miggs, who fell upon him with such fervour that she pinned him against the wall—and conjured him in moving words not to go forth till he was sober; to listen to reason; to think of it; to take some rest, and then determine.

‘I tell you,’ said Mr Tappertit, ‘that my mind is made up. My bleeding country calls me and I go! Miggs, if you don’t get out of the way, I’ll pinch you.’

Miss Miggs, still clinging to the rebel, screamed once vociferously—but whether in the distraction of her mind, or because of his having executed his threat, is uncertain.

‘Release me,’ said Simon, struggling to free himself from her chaste, but spider-like embrace. ‘Let me go! I have made arrangements for you in an altered state of society, and mean to provide for you comfortably in life—there! Will that satisfy you?’

‘Oh Simmun!’ cried Miss Miggs. ‘Oh my blessed Simmun! Oh mim! what are my feelings at this conflicting moment!’

Of a rather turbulent description, it would seem; for her nightcap had been knocked off in the scuffle, and she was on her knees upon the floor, making a strange revelation of blue and yellow curl-papers, straggling locks of hair, tags of staylaces, and strings of it’s impossible to say what; panting for breath, clasping her hands, turning her eyes upwards, shedding abundance of tears, and exhibiting various other symptoms of the acutest mental suffering.

‘I leave,’ said Simon, turning to his master, with an utter disregard of Miggs’s maidenly affliction, ‘a box of things upstairs. Do what you like with ‘em. I don’t want ‘em. I’m never coming back here, any more. Provide yourself, sir, with a journeyman; I’m my country’s journeyman; henceforward that’s MY line of business.’

‘Be what you like in two hours’ time, but now go up to bed,’ returned the locksmith, planting himself in the doorway. ‘Do you hear me? Go to bed!’

‘I hear you, and defy you, Varden,’ rejoined Simon Tappertit. ‘This night, sir, I have been in the country, planning an expedition which shall fill your bell-hanging soul with wonder and dismay. The plot demands my utmost energy. Let me pass!’

‘I’ll knock you down if you come near the door,’ replied the locksmith. ‘You had better go to bed!’

Simon made no answer, but gathering himself up as straight as he could, plunged head foremost at his old master, and the two went driving out into the workshop together, plying their hands and feet so briskly that they looked like half-a-dozen, while Miggs and Mrs Varden screamed for twelve.

It would have been easy for Varden to knock his old ‘prentice down, and bind him hand and foot; but as he was loth to hurt him in his then defenceless state, he contented himself with parrying his blows when he could, taking them in perfect good part when he could not, and keeping between him and the door, until a favourable opportunity should present itself for forcing him to retreat up-stairs, and shutting him up in his own room. But, in the goodness of his heart, he calculated too much upon his adversary’s weakness, and forgot that drunken men who have lost the power of walking steadily, can often run. Watching his time, Simon Tappertit made a cunning show of falling back, staggered unexpectedly forward, brushed past him, opened the door (he knew the trick of that lock well), and darted down the street like a mad dog. The locksmith paused for a moment in the excess of his astonishment, and then gave chase.

It was an excellent season for a run, for at that silent hour the streets were deserted, the air was cool, and the flying figure before him distinctly visible at a great distance, as it sped away, with a long gaunt shadow following at its heels. But the short-winded locksmith had no chance against a man of Sim’s youth and spare figure, though the day had been when he could have run him down in no time. The space between them rapidly increased, and as the rays of the rising sun streamed upon Simon in the act of turning a distant corner, Gabriel Varden was fain to give up, and sit down on a doorstep to fetch his breath. Simon meanwhile, without once stopping, fled at the same degree of swiftness to The Boot, where, as he well knew, some of his company were lying, and at which respectable hostelry—for he had already acquired the distinction of being in great peril of the law—a friendly watch had been expecting him all night, and was even now on the look-out for his coming.

‘Go thy ways, Sim, go thy ways,’ said the locksmith, as soon as he could speak. ‘I have done my best for thee, poor lad, and would have saved thee, but the rope is round thy neck, I fear.’

So saying, and shaking his head in a very sorrowful and disconsolate manner, he turned back, and soon re-entered his own house, where Mrs Varden and the faithful Miggs had been anxiously expecting his return.

Now Mrs Varden (and by consequence Miss Miggs likewise) was impressed with a secret misgiving that she had done wrong; that she had, to the utmost of her small means, aided and abetted the growth of disturbances, the end of which it was impossible to foresee; that she had led remotely to the scene which had just passed; and that the locksmith’s time for triumph and reproach had now arrived indeed. And so strongly did Mrs Varden feel this, and so crestfallen was she in consequence, that while her husband was pursuing their lost journeyman, she secreted under her chair the little red-brick dwelling-house with the yellow roof, lest it should furnish new occasion for reference to the painful theme; and now hid the same still more, with the skirts of her dress.

But it happened that the locksmith had been thinking of this very article on his way home, and that, coming into the room and not seeing it, he at once demanded where it was.

Mrs Varden had no resource but to produce it, which she did with many tears, and broken protestations that if she could have known—

‘Yes, yes,’ said Varden, ‘of course—I know that. I don’t mean to reproach you, my dear. But recollect from this time that all good things perverted to evil purposes, are worse than those which are naturally bad. A thoroughly wicked woman, is wicked indeed. When religion goes wrong, she is very wrong, for the same reason. Let us say no more about it, my dear.’

So he dropped the red-brick dwelling-house on the floor, and setting his heel upon it, crushed it into pieces. The halfpence, and sixpences, and other voluntary contributions, rolled about in all directions, but nobody offered to touch them, or to take them up.

‘That,’ said the locksmith, ‘is easily disposed of, and I would to Heaven that everything growing out of the same society could be settled as easily.’

‘It happens very fortunately, Varden,’ said his wife, with her handkerchief to her eyes, ‘that in case any more disturbances should happen—which I hope not; I sincerely hope not—’

‘I hope so too, my dear.’

‘—That in case any should occur, we have the piece of paper which that poor misguided young man brought.’

‘Ay, to be sure,’ said the locksmith, turning quickly round. ‘Where is that piece of paper?’

Mrs Varden stood aghast as he took it from her outstretched hand, tore it into fragments, and threw them under the grate.

‘Not use it?’ she said.

‘Use it!’ cried the locksmith. No! Let them come and pull the roof about our ears; let them burn us out of house and home; I’d neither have the protection of their leader, nor chalk their howl upon my door, though, for not doing it, they shot me on my own threshold. Use it! Let them come and do their worst. The first man who crosses my doorstep on such an errand as theirs, had better be a hundred miles away. Let him look to it. The others may have their will. I wouldn’t beg or buy them off, if, instead of every pound of iron in the place, there was a hundred weight of gold. Get you to bed, Martha. I shall take down the shutters and go to work.’

‘So early!’ said his wife.

‘Ay,’ replied the locksmith cheerily, ‘so early. Come when they may, they shall not find us skulking and hiding, as if we feared to take our portion of the light of day, and left it all to them. So pleasant dreams to you, my dear, and cheerful sleep!’

With that he gave his wife a hearty kiss, and bade her delay no longer, or it would be time to rise before she lay down to rest. Mrs Varden quite amiably and meekly walked upstairs, followed by Miggs, who, although a good deal subdued, could not refrain from sundry stimulative coughs and sniffs by the way, or from holding up her hands in astonishment at the daring conduct of master.






Chapter 52

A mob is usually a creature of very mysterious existence, particularly in a large city. Where it comes from or whither it goes, few men can tell. Assembling and dispersing with equal suddenness, it is as difficult to follow to its various sources as the sea itself; nor does the parallel stop here, for the ocean is not more fickle and uncertain, more terrible when roused, more unreasonable, or more cruel.

The people who were boisterous at Westminster upon the Friday morning, and were eagerly bent upon the work of devastation in Duke Street and Warwick Street at night, were, in the mass, the same. Allowing for the chance accessions of which any crowd is morally sure in a town where there must always be a large number of idle and profligate persons, one and the same mob was at both places. Yet they spread themselves in various directions when they dispersed in the afternoon, made no appointment for reassembling, had no definite purpose or design, and indeed, for anything they knew, were scattered beyond the hope of future union.

At The Boot, which, as has been shown, was in a manner the head-quarters of the rioters, there were not, upon this Friday night, a dozen people. Some slept in the stable and outhouses, some in the common room, some two or three in beds. The rest were in their usual homes or haunts. Perhaps not a score in all lay in the adjacent fields and lanes, and under haystacks, or near the warmth of brick-kilns, who had not their accustomed place of rest beneath the open sky. As to the public ways within the town, they had their ordinary nightly occupants, and no others; the usual amount of vice and wretchedness, but no more.

The experience of one evening, however, had taught the reckless leaders of disturbance, that they had but to show themselves in the streets, to be immediately surrounded by materials which they could only have kept together when their aid was not required, at great risk, expense, and trouble. Once possessed of this secret, they were as confident as if twenty thousand men, devoted to their will, had been encamped about them, and assumed a confidence which could not have been surpassed, though that had really been the case. All day, Saturday, they remained quiet. On Sunday, they rather studied how to keep their men within call, and in full hope, than to follow out, by any fierce measure, their first day’s proceedings.

‘I hope,’ said Dennis, as, with a loud yawn, he raised his body from a heap of straw on which he had been sleeping, and supporting his head upon his hand, appealed to Hugh on Sunday morning, ‘that Muster Gashford allows some rest? Perhaps he’d have us at work again already, eh?’

‘It’s not his way to let matters drop, you may be sure of that,’ growled Hugh in answer. ‘I’m in no humour to stir yet, though. I’m as stiff as a dead body, and as full of ugly scratches as if I had been fighting all day yesterday with wild cats.’

‘You’ve so much enthusiasm, that’s it,’ said Dennis, looking with great admiration at the uncombed head, matted beard, and torn hands and face of the wild figure before him; ‘you’re such a devil of a fellow. You hurt yourself a hundred times more than you need, because you will be foremost in everything, and will do more than the rest.’

‘For the matter of that,’ returned Hugh, shaking back his ragged hair and glancing towards the door of the stable in which they lay; ‘there’s one yonder as good as me. What did I tell you about him? Did I say he was worth a dozen, when you doubted him?’

Mr Dennis rolled lazily over upon his breast, and resting his chin upon his hand in imitation of the attitude in which Hugh lay, said, as he too looked towards the door:

‘Ay, ay, you knew him, brother, you knew him. But who’d suppose to look at that chap now, that he could be the man he is! Isn’t it a thousand cruel pities, brother, that instead of taking his nat’ral rest and qualifying himself for further exertions in this here honourable cause, he should be playing at soldiers like a boy? And his cleanliness too!’ said Mr Dennis, who certainly had no reason to entertain a fellow feeling with anybody who was particular on that score; ‘what weaknesses he’s guilty of; with respect to his cleanliness! At five o’clock this morning, there he was at the pump, though any one would think he had gone through enough, the day before yesterday, to be pretty fast asleep at that time. But no—when I woke for a minute or two, there he was at the pump, and if you’d seen him sticking them peacock’s feathers into his hat when he’d done washing—ah! I’m sorry he’s such a imperfect character, but the best on us is incomplete in some pint of view or another.’

The subject of this dialogue and of these concluding remarks, which were uttered in a tone of philosophical meditation, was, as the reader will have divined, no other than Barnaby, who, with his flag in hand, stood sentry in the little patch of sunlight at the distant door, or walked to and fro outside, singing softly to himself; and keeping time to the music of some clear church bells. Whether he stood still, leaning with both hands on the flagstaff, or, bearing it upon his shoulder, paced slowly up and down, the careful arrangement of his poor dress, and his erect and lofty bearing, showed how high a sense he had of the great importance of his trust, and how happy and how proud it made him. To Hugh and his companion, who lay in a dark corner of the gloomy shed, he, and the sunlight, and the peaceful Sabbath sound to which he made response, seemed like a bright picture framed by the door, and set off by the stable’s blackness. The whole formed such a contrast to themselves, as they lay wallowing, like some obscene animals, in their squalor and wickedness on the two heaps of straw, that for a few moments they looked on without speaking, and felt almost ashamed.

‘Ah!’ said Hugh at length, carrying it off with a laugh: ‘He’s a rare fellow is Barnaby, and can do more, with less rest, or meat, or drink, than any of us. As to his soldiering, I put him on duty there.’

‘Then there was a object in it, and a proper good one too, I’ll be sworn,’ retorted Dennis with a broad grin, and an oath of the same quality. ‘What was it, brother?’

‘Why, you see,’ said Hugh, crawling a little nearer to him, ‘that our noble captain yonder, came in yesterday morning rather the worse for liquor, and was—like you and me—ditto last night.’

Dennis looked to where Simon Tappertit lay coiled upon a truss of hay, snoring profoundly, and nodded.

‘And our noble captain,’ continued Hugh with another laugh, ‘our noble captain and I, have planned for to-morrow a roaring expedition, with good profit in it.’

‘Again the Papists?’ asked Dennis, rubbing his hands.

‘Ay, against the Papists—against one of ‘em at least, that some of us, and I for one, owe a good heavy grudge to.’

‘Not Muster Gashford’s friend that he spoke to us about in my house, eh?’ said Dennis, brimfull of pleasant expectation.

‘The same man,’ said Hugh.

‘That’s your sort,’ cried Mr Dennis, gaily shaking hands with him, ‘that’s the kind of game. Let’s have revenges and injuries, and all that, and we shall get on twice as fast. Now you talk, indeed!’

‘Ha ha ha! The captain,’ added Hugh, ‘has thoughts of carrying off a woman in the bustle, and—ha ha ha!—and so have I!’

Mr Dennis received this part of the scheme with a wry face, observing that as a general principle he objected to women altogether, as being unsafe and slippery persons on whom there was no calculating with any certainty, and who were never in the same mind for four-and-twenty hours at a stretch. He might have expatiated on this suggestive theme at much greater length, but that it occurred to him to ask what connection existed between the proposed expedition and Barnaby’s being posted at the stable-door as sentry; to which Hugh cautiously replied in these words:

‘Why, the people we mean to visit, were friends of his, once upon a time, and I know that much of him to feel pretty sure that if he thought we were going to do them any harm, he’d be no friend to our side, but would lend a ready hand to the other. So I’ve persuaded him (for I know him of old) that Lord George has picked him out to guard this place to-morrow while we’re away, and that it’s a great honour—and so he’s on duty now, and as proud of it as if he was a general. Ha ha! What do you say to me for a careful man as well as a devil of a one?’

Mr Dennis exhausted himself in compliments, and then added,

‘But about the expedition itself—’

‘About that,’ said Hugh, ‘you shall hear all particulars from me and the great captain conjointly and both together—for see, he’s waking up. Rouse yourself, lion-heart. Ha ha! Put a good face upon it, and drink again. Another hair of the dog that bit you, captain! Call for drink! There’s enough of gold and silver cups and candlesticks buried underneath my bed,’ he added, rolling back the straw, and pointing to where the ground was newly turned, ‘to pay for it, if it was a score of casks full. Drink, captain!’

Mr Tappertit received these jovial promptings with a very bad grace, being much the worse, both in mind and body, for his two nights of debauch, and but indifferently able to stand upon his legs. With Hugh’s assistance, however, he contrived to stagger to the pump; and having refreshed himself with an abundant draught of cold water, and a copious shower of the same refreshing liquid on his head and face, he ordered some rum and milk to be served; and upon that innocent beverage and some biscuits and cheese made a pretty hearty meal. That done, he disposed himself in an easy attitude on the ground beside his two companions (who were carousing after their own tastes), and proceeded to enlighten Mr Dennis in reference to to-morrow’s project.

That their conversation was an interesting one, was rendered manifest by its length, and by the close attention of all three. That it was not of an oppressively grave character, but was enlivened by various pleasantries arising out of the subject, was clear from their loud and frequent roars of laughter, which startled Barnaby on his post, and made him wonder at their levity. But he was not summoned to join them, until they had eaten, and drunk, and slept, and talked together for some hours; not, indeed, until the twilight; when they informed him that they were about to make a slight demonstration in the streets—just to keep the people’s hands in, as it was Sunday night, and the public might otherwise be disappointed—and that he was free to accompany them if he would.

Without the slightest preparation, saving that they carried clubs and wore the blue cockade, they sallied out into the streets; and, with no more settled design than that of doing as much mischief as they could, paraded them at random. Their numbers rapidly increasing, they soon divided into parties; and agreeing to meet by-and-by, in the fields near Welbeck Street, scoured the town in various directions. The largest body, and that which augmented with the greatest rapidity, was the one to which Hugh and Barnaby belonged. This took its way towards Moorfields, where there was a rich chapel, and in which neighbourhood several Catholic families were known to reside.

Beginning with the private houses so occupied, they broke open the doors and windows; and while they destroyed the furniture and left but the bare walls, made a sharp search for tools and engines of destruction, such as hammers, pokers, axes, saws, and such like instruments. Many of the rioters made belts of cord, of handkerchiefs, or any material they found at hand, and wore these weapons as openly as pioneers upon a field-day. There was not the least disguise or concealment—indeed, on this night, very little excitement or hurry. From the chapels, they tore down and took away the very altars, benches, pulpits, pews, and flooring; from the dwelling-houses, the very wainscoting and stairs. This Sunday evening’s recreation they pursued like mere workmen who had a certain task to do, and did it. Fifty resolute men might have turned them at any moment; a single company of soldiers could have scattered them like dust; but no man interposed, no authority restrained them, and, except by the terrified persons who fled from their approach, they were as little heeded as if they were pursuing their lawful occupations with the utmost sobriety and good conduct.

In the same manner, they marched to the place of rendezvous agreed upon, made great fires in the fields, and reserving the most valuable of their spoils, burnt the rest. Priestly garments, images of saints, rich stuffs and ornaments, altar-furniture and household goods, were cast into the flames, and shed a glare on the whole country round; but they danced and howled, and roared about these fires till they were tired, and were never for an instant checked.

As the main body filed off from this scene of action, and passed down Welbeck Street, they came upon Gashford, who had been a witness of their proceedings, and was walking stealthily along the pavement. Keeping up with him, and yet not seeming to speak, Hugh muttered in his ear:

‘Is this better, master?’

‘No,’ said Gashford. ‘It is not.’

‘What would you have?’ said Hugh. ‘Fevers are never at their height at once. They must get on by degrees.’

‘I would have you,’ said Gashford, pinching his arm with such malevolence that his nails seemed to meet in the skin; ‘I would have you put some meaning into your work. Fools! Can you make no better bonfires than of rags and scraps? Can you burn nothing whole?’

‘A little patience, master,’ said Hugh. ‘Wait but a few hours, and you shall see. Look for a redness in the sky, to-morrow night.’

With that, he fell back into his place beside Barnaby; and when the secretary looked after him, both were lost in the crowd.






Chapter 53

The next day was ushered in by merry peals of bells, and by the firing of the Tower guns; flags were hoisted on many of the church-steeples; the usual demonstrations were made in honour of the anniversary of the King’s birthday; and every man went about his pleasure or business as if the city were in perfect order, and there were no half-smouldering embers in its secret places, which, on the approach of night, would kindle up again and scatter ruin and dismay abroad. The leaders of the riot, rendered still more daring by the success of last night and by the booty they had acquired, kept steadily together, and only thought of implicating the mass of their followers so deeply that no hope of pardon or reward might tempt them to betray their more notorious confederates into the hands of justice.

Indeed, the sense of having gone too far to be forgiven, held the timid together no less than the bold. Many who would readily have pointed out the foremost rioters and given evidence against them, felt that escape by that means was hopeless, when their every act had been observed by scores of people who had taken no part in the disturbances; who had suffered in their persons, peace, or property, by the outrages of the mob; who would be most willing witnesses; and whom the government would, no doubt, prefer to any King’s evidence that might be offered. Many of this class had deserted their usual occupations on the Saturday morning; some had been seen by their employers active in the tumult; others knew they must be suspected, and that they would be discharged if they returned; others had been desperate from the beginning, and comforted themselves with the homely proverb, that, being hanged at all, they might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. They all hoped and believed, in a greater or less degree, that the government they seemed to have paralysed, would, in its terror, come to terms with them in the end, and suffer them to make their own conditions. The least sanguine among them reasoned with himself that, at the worst, they were too many to be all punished, and that he had as good a chance of escape as any other man. The great mass never reasoned or thought at all, but were stimulated by their own headlong passions, by poverty, by ignorance, by the love of mischief, and the hope of plunder.

One other circumstance is worthy of remark; and that is, that from the moment of their first outbreak at Westminster, every symptom of order or preconcerted arrangement among them vanished. When they divided into parties and ran to different quarters of the town, it was on the spontaneous suggestion of the moment. Each party swelled as it went along, like rivers as they roll towards the sea; new leaders sprang up as they were wanted, disappeared when the necessity was over, and reappeared at the next crisis. Each tumult took shape and form from the circumstances of the moment; sober workmen, going home from their day’s labour, were seen to cast down their baskets of tools and become rioters in an instant; mere boys on errands did the like. In a word, a moral plague ran through the city. The noise, and hurry, and excitement, had for hundreds and hundreds an attraction they had no firmness to resist. The contagion spread like a dread fever: an infectious madness, as yet not near its height, seized on new victims every hour, and society began to tremble at their ravings.

It was between two and three o’clock in the afternoon when Gashford looked into the lair described in the last chapter, and seeing only Barnaby and Dennis there, inquired for Hugh.

He was out, Barnaby told him; had gone out more than an hour ago; and had not yet returned.

‘Dennis!’ said the smiling secretary, in his smoothest voice, as he sat down cross-legged on a barrel, ‘Dennis!’

The hangman struggled into a sitting posture directly, and with his eyes wide open, looked towards him.

‘How do you do, Dennis?’ said Gashford, nodding. ‘I hope you have suffered no inconvenience from your late exertions, Dennis?’

‘I always will say of you, Muster Gashford,’ returned the hangman, staring at him, ‘that that ‘ere quiet way of yours might almost wake a dead man. It is,’ he added, with a muttered oath—still staring at him in a thoughtful manner—‘so awful sly!’

‘So distinct, eh Dennis?’

‘Distinct!’ he answered, scratching his head, and keeping his eyes upon the secretary’s face; ‘I seem to hear it, Muster Gashford, in my wery bones.’

‘I am very glad your sense of hearing is so sharp, and that I succeed in making myself so intelligible,’ said Gashford, in his unvarying, even tone. ‘Where is your friend?’

Mr Dennis looked round as in expectation of beholding him asleep upon his bed of straw; then remembering he had seen him go out, replied:

‘I can’t say where he is, Muster Gashford, I expected him back afore now. I hope it isn’t time that we was busy, Muster Gashford?’

‘Nay,’ said the secretary, ‘who should know that as well as you? How can I tell you, Dennis? You are perfect master of your own actions, you know, and accountable to nobody—except sometimes to the law, eh?’

Dennis, who was very much baffled by the cool matter-of-course manner of this reply, recovered his self-possession on his professional pursuits being referred to, and pointing towards Barnaby, shook his head and frowned.

‘Hush!’ cried Barnaby.

‘Ah! Do hush about that, Muster Gashford,’ said the hangman in a low voice, ‘pop’lar prejudices—you always forget—well, Barnaby, my lad, what’s the matter?’

‘I hear him coming,’ he answered: ‘Hark! Do you mark that? That’s his foot! Bless you, I know his step, and his dog’s too. Tramp, tramp, pit-pat, on they come together, and, ha ha ha!—and here they are!’ he cried, joyfully welcoming Hugh with both hands, and then patting him fondly on the back, as if instead of being the rough companion he was, he had been one of the most prepossessing of men. ‘Here he is, and safe too! I am glad to see him back again, old Hugh!’

‘I’m a Turk if he don’t give me a warmer welcome always than any man of sense,’ said Hugh, shaking hands with him with a kind of ferocious friendship, strange enough to see. ‘How are you, boy?’

‘Hearty!’ cried Barnaby, waving his hat. ‘Ha ha ha! And merry too, Hugh! And ready to do anything for the good cause, and the right, and to help the kind, mild, pale-faced gentleman—the lord they used so ill—eh, Hugh?’

‘Ay!’ returned his friend, dropping his hand, and looking at Gashford for an instant with a changed expression before he spoke to him. ‘Good day, master!’

‘And good day to you,’ replied the secretary, nursing his leg.

‘And many good days—whole years of them, I hope. You are heated.’

‘So would you have been, master,’ said Hugh, wiping his face, ‘if you’d been running here as fast as I have.’

‘You know the news, then? Yes, I supposed you would have heard it.’

‘News! what news?’

‘You don’t?’ cried Gashford, raising his eyebrows with an exclamation of surprise. ‘Dear me! Come; then I AM the first to make you acquainted with your distinguished position, after all. Do you see the King’s Arms a-top?’ he smilingly asked, as he took a large paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and held it out for Hugh’s inspection.

‘Well!’ said Hugh. ‘What’s that to me?’

‘Much. A great deal,’ replied the secretary. ‘Read it.’

‘I told you, the first time I saw you, that I couldn’t read,’ said Hugh, impatiently. ‘What in the Devil’s name’s inside of it?’

‘It is a proclamation from the King in Council,’ said Gashford, ‘dated to-day, and offering a reward of five hundred pounds—five hundred pounds is a great deal of money, and a large temptation to some people—to any one who will discover the person or persons most active in demolishing those chapels on Saturday night.’

‘Is that all?’ cried Hugh, with an indifferent air. ‘I knew of that.’

‘Truly I might have known you did,’ said Gashford, smiling, and folding up the document again. ‘Your friend, I might have guessed—indeed I did guess—was sure to tell you.’

‘My friend!’ stammered Hugh, with an unsuccessful effort to appear surprised. ‘What friend?’

‘Tut tut—do you suppose I don’t know where you have been?’ retorted Gashford, rubbing his hands, and beating the back of one on the palm of the other, and looking at him with a cunning eye. ‘How dull you think me! Shall I say his name?’

‘No,’ said Hugh, with a hasty glance towards Dennis.

‘You have also heard from him, no doubt,’ resumed the secretary, after a moment’s pause, ‘that the rioters who have been taken (poor fellows) are committed for trial, and that some very active witnesses have had the temerity to appear against them. Among others—’ and here he clenched his teeth, as if he would suppress by force some violent words that rose upon his tongue; and spoke very slowly. ‘Among others, a gentleman who saw the work going on in Warwick Street; a Catholic gentleman; one Haredale.’

Hugh would have prevented his uttering the word, but it was out already. Hearing the name, Barnaby turned swiftly round.

‘Duty, duty, bold Barnaby!’ cried Hugh, assuming his wildest and most rapid manner, and thrusting into his hand his staff and flag which leant against the wall. ‘Mount guard without loss of time, for we are off upon our expedition. Up, Dennis, and get ready! Take care that no one turns the straw upon my bed, brave Barnaby; we know what’s underneath it—eh? Now, master, quick! What you have to say, say speedily, for the little captain and a cluster of ‘em are in the fields, and only waiting for us. Sharp’s the word, and strike’s the action. Quick!’

Barnaby was not proof against this bustle and despatch. The look of mingled astonishment and anger which had appeared in his face when he turned towards them, faded from it as the words passed from his memory, like breath from a polished mirror; and grasping the weapon which Hugh forced upon him, he proudly took his station at the door, beyond their hearing.

‘You might have spoiled our plans, master,’ said Hugh. ‘YOU, too, of all men!’

‘Who would have supposed that HE would be so quick?’ urged Gashford.

‘He’s as quick sometimes—I don’t mean with his hands, for that you know, but with his head—as you or any man,’ said Hugh. ‘Dennis, it’s time we were going; they’re waiting for us; I came to tell you. Reach me my stick and belt. Here! Lend a hand, master. Fling this over my shoulder, and buckle it behind, will you?’

‘Brisk as ever!’ said the secretary, adjusting it for him as he desired.

‘A man need be brisk to-day; there’s brisk work a-foot.’

‘There is, is there?’ said Gashford. He said it with such a provoking assumption of ignorance, that Hugh, looking over his shoulder and angrily down upon him, replied:

‘Is there! You know there is! Who knows better than you, master, that the first great step to be taken is to make examples of these witnesses, and frighten all men from appearing against us or any of our body, any more?’

‘There’s one we know of,’ returned Gashford, with an expressive smile, ‘who is at least as well informed upon that subject as you or I.’

‘If we mean the same gentleman, as I suppose we do,’ Hugh rejoined softly, ‘I tell you this—he’s as good and quick information about everything as—’ here he paused and looked round, as if to make sure that the person in question was not within hearing, ‘as Old Nick himself. Have you done that, master? How slow you are!’

‘It’s quite fast now,’ said Gashford, rising. ‘I say—you didn’t find that your friend disapproved of to-day’s little expedition? Ha ha ha! It is fortunate it jumps so well with the witness policy; for, once planned, it must have been carried out. And now you are going, eh?’

‘Now we are going, master!’ Hugh replied. ‘Any parting words?’

‘Oh dear, no,’ said Gashford sweetly. ‘None!’

‘You’re sure?’ cried Hugh, nudging the grinning Dennis.

‘Quite sure, eh, Muster Gashford?’ chuckled the hangman.

Gashford paused a moment, struggling with his caution and his malice; then putting himself between the two men, and laying a hand upon the arm of each, said, in a cramped whisper:

‘Do not, my good friends—I am sure you will not—forget our talk one night—in your house, Dennis—about this person. No mercy, no quarter, no two beams of his house to be left standing where the builder placed them! Fire, the saying goes, is a good servant, but a bad master. Make it his master; he deserves no better. But I am sure you will be firm, I am sure you will be very resolute, I am sure you will remember that he thirsts for your lives, and those of all your brave companions. If you ever acted like staunch fellows, you will do so to-day. Won’t you, Dennis—won’t you, Hugh?’

The two looked at him, and at each other; then bursting into a roar of laughter, brandished their staves above their heads, shook hands, and hurried out.

When they had been gone a little time, Gashford followed. They were yet in sight, and hastening to that part of the adjacent fields in which their fellows had already mustered; Hugh was looking back, and flourishing his hat to Barnaby, who, delighted with his trust, replied in the same way, and then resumed his pacing up and down before the stable-door, where his feet had worn a path already. And when Gashford himself was far distant, and looked back for the last time, he was still walking to and fro, with the same measured tread; the most devoted and the blithest champion that ever maintained a post, and felt his heart lifted up with a brave sense of duty, and determination to defend it to the last.

Smiling at the simplicity of the poor idiot, Gashford betook himself to Welbeck Street by a different path from that which he knew the rioters would take, and sitting down behind a curtain in one of the upper windows of Lord George Gordon’s house, waited impatiently for their coming. They were so long, that although he knew it had been settled they should come that way, he had a misgiving they must have changed their plans and taken some other route. But at length the roar of voices was heard in the neighbouring fields, and soon afterwards they came thronging past, in a great body.

However, they were not all, nor nearly all, in one body, but were, as he soon found, divided into four parties, each of which stopped before the house to give three cheers, and then went on; the leaders crying out in what direction they were going, and calling on the spectators to join them. The first detachment, carrying, by way of banners, some relics of the havoc they had made in Moorfields, proclaimed that they were on their way to Chelsea, whence they would return in the same order, to make of the spoil they bore, a great bonfire, near at hand. The second gave out that they were bound for Wapping, to destroy a chapel; the third, that their place of destination was East Smithfield, and their object the same. All this was done in broad, bright, summer day. Gay carriages and chairs stopped to let them pass, or turned back to avoid them; people on foot stood aside in doorways, or perhaps knocked and begged permission to stand at a window, or in the hall, until the rioters had passed: but nobody interfered with them; and when they had gone by, everything went on as usual.

There still remained the fourth body, and for that the secretary looked with a most intense eagerness. At last it came up. It was numerous, and composed of picked men; for as he gazed down among them, he recognised many upturned faces which he knew well—those of Simon Tappertit, Hugh, and Dennis in the front, of course. They halted and cheered, as the others had done; but when they moved again, they did not, like them, proclaim what design they had. Hugh merely raised his hat upon the bludgeon he carried, and glancing at a spectator on the opposite side of the way, was gone.

Gashford followed the direction of his glance instinctively, and saw, standing on the pavement, and wearing the blue cockade, Sir John Chester. He held his hat an inch or two above his head, to propitiate the mob; and, resting gracefully on his cane, smiling pleasantly, and displaying his dress and person to the very best advantage, looked on in the most tranquil state imaginable. For all that, and quick and dexterous as he was, Gashford had seen him recognise Hugh with the air of a patron. He had no longer any eyes for the crowd, but fixed his keen regards upon Sir John.

He stood in the same place and posture until the last man in the concourse had turned the corner of the street; then very deliberately took the blue cockade out of his hat; put it carefully in his pocket, ready for the next emergency; refreshed himself with a pinch of snuff; put up his box; and was walking slowly off, when a passing carriage stopped, and a lady’s hand let down the glass. Sir John’s hat was off again immediately. After a minute’s conversation at the carriage-window, in which it was apparent that he was vastly entertaining on the subject of the mob, he stepped lightly in, and was driven away.

The secretary smiled, but he had other thoughts to dwell upon, and soon dismissed the topic. Dinner was brought him, but he sent it down untasted; and, in restless pacings up and down the room, and constant glances at the clock, and many futile efforts to sit down and read, or go to sleep, or look out of the window, consumed four weary hours. When the dial told him thus much time had crept away, he stole upstairs to the top of the house, and coming out upon the roof sat down, with his face towards the east.

Heedless of the fresh air that blew upon his heated brow, of the pleasant meadows from which he turned, of the piles of roofs and chimneys upon which he looked, of the smoke and rising mist he vainly sought to pierce, of the shrill cries of children at their evening sports, the distant hum and turmoil of the town, the cheerful country breath that rustled past to meet it, and to droop, and die; he watched, and watched, till it was dark save for the specks of light that twinkled in the streets below and far away—and, as the darkness deepened, strained his gaze and grew more eager yet.

‘Nothing but gloom in that direction, still!’ he muttered restlessly. ‘Dog! where is the redness in the sky, you promised me!’






Chapter 54

Rumours of the prevailing disturbances had, by this time, begun to be pretty generally circulated through the towns and villages round London, and the tidings were everywhere received with that appetite for the marvellous and love of the terrible which have probably been among the natural characteristics of mankind since the creation of the world. These accounts, however, appeared, to many persons at that day—as they would to us at the present, but that we know them to be matter of history—so monstrous and improbable, that a great number of those who were resident at a distance, and who were credulous enough on other points, were really unable to bring their minds to believe that such things could be; and rejected the intelligence they received on all hands, as wholly fabulous and absurd.

Mr Willet—not so much, perhaps, on account of his having argued and settled the matter with himself, as by reason of his constitutional obstinacy—was one of those who positively refused to entertain the current topic for a moment. On this very evening, and perhaps at the very time when Gashford kept his solitary watch, old John was so red in the face with perpetually shaking his head in contradiction of his three ancient cronies and pot companions, that he was quite a phenomenon to behold, and lighted up the Maypole Porch wherein they sat together, like a monstrous carbuncle in a fairy tale.

‘Do you think, sir,’ said Mr Willet, looking hard at Solomon Daisy—for it was his custom in cases of personal altercation to fasten upon the smallest man in the party—‘do you think, sir, that I’m a born fool?’

‘No, no, Johnny,’ returned Solomon, looking round upon the little circle of which he formed a part: ‘We all know better than that. You’re no fool, Johnny. No, no!’

Mr Cobb and Mr Parkes shook their heads in unison, muttering, ‘No, no, Johnny, not you!’ But as such compliments had usually the effect of making Mr Willet rather more dogged than before, he surveyed them with a look of deep disdain, and returned for answer:

‘Then what do you mean by coming here, and telling me that this evening you’re a-going to walk up to London together—you three—you—and have the evidence of your own senses? An’t,’ said Mr Willet, putting his pipe in his mouth with an air of solemn disgust, ‘an’t the evidence of MY senses enough for you?’

‘But we haven’t got it, Johnny,’ pleaded Parkes, humbly.

‘You haven’t got it, sir?’ repeated Mr Willet, eyeing him from top to toe. ‘You haven’t got it, sir? You HAVE got it, sir. Don’t I tell you that His blessed Majesty King George the Third would no more stand a rioting and rollicking in his streets, than he’d stand being crowed over by his own Parliament?’

‘Yes, Johnny, but that’s your sense—not your senses,’ said the adventurous Mr Parkes.

‘How do you know?’ retorted John with great dignity. ‘You’re a contradicting pretty free, you are, sir. How do YOU know which it is? I’m not aware I ever told you, sir.’

Mr Parkes, finding himself in the position of having got into metaphysics without exactly seeing his way out of them, stammered forth an apology and retreated from the argument. There then ensued a silence of some ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, at the expiration of which period Mr Willet was observed to rumble and shake with laughter, and presently remarked, in reference to his late adversary, ‘that he hoped he had tackled him enough.’ Thereupon Messrs Cobb and Daisy laughed, and nodded, and Parkes was looked upon as thoroughly and effectually put down.

‘Do you suppose if all this was true, that Mr Haredale would be constantly away from home, as he is?’ said John, after another silence. ‘Do you think he wouldn’t be afraid to leave his house with them two young women in it, and only a couple of men, or so?’

‘Ay, but then you know,’ returned Solomon Daisy, ‘his house is a goodish way out of London, and they do say that the rioters won’t go more than two miles, or three at the farthest, off the stones. Besides, you know, some of the Catholic gentlefolks have actually sent trinkets and suchlike down here for safety—at least, so the story goes.’

‘The story goes!’ said Mr Willet testily. ‘Yes, sir. The story goes that you saw a ghost last March. But nobody believes it.’

‘Well!’ said Solomon, rising, to divert the attention of his two friends, who tittered at this retort: ‘believed or disbelieved, it’s true; and true or not, if we mean to go to London, we must be going at once. So shake hands, Johnny, and good night.’

‘I shall shake hands,’ returned the landlord, putting his into his pockets, ‘with no man as goes to London on such nonsensical errands.’

The three cronies were therefore reduced to the necessity of shaking his elbows; having performed that ceremony, and brought from the house their hats, and sticks, and greatcoats, they bade him good night and departed; promising to bring him on the morrow full and true accounts of the real state of the city, and if it were quiet, to give him the full merit of his victory.

John Willet looked after them, as they plodded along the road in the rich glow of a summer evening; and knocking the ashes out of his pipe, laughed inwardly at their folly, until his sides were sore. When he had quite exhausted himself—which took some time, for he laughed as slowly as he thought and spoke—he sat himself comfortably with his back to the house, put his legs upon the bench, then his apron over his face, and fell sound asleep.

How long he slept, matters not; but it was for no brief space, for when he awoke, the rich light had faded, the sombre hues of night were falling fast upon the landscape, and a few bright stars were already twinkling overhead. The birds were all at roost, the daisies on the green had closed their fairy hoods, the honeysuckle twining round the porch exhaled its perfume in a twofold degree, as though it lost its coyness at that silent time and loved to shed its fragrance on the night; the ivy scarcely stirred its deep green leaves. How tranquil, and how beautiful it was!

Was there no sound in the air, besides the gentle rustling of the trees and the grasshopper’s merry chirp? Hark! Something very faint and distant, not unlike the murmuring in a sea-shell. Now it grew louder, fainter now, and now it altogether died away. Presently, it came again, subsided, came once more, grew louder, fainter—swelled into a roar. It was on the road, and varied with its windings. All at once it burst into a distinct sound—the voices, and the tramping feet of many men.

It is questionable whether old John Willet, even then, would have thought of the rioters but for the cries of his cook and housemaid, who ran screaming upstairs and locked themselves into one of the old garrets,—shrieking dismally when they had done so, by way of rendering their place of refuge perfectly secret and secure. These two females did afterwards depone that Mr Willet in his consternation uttered but one word, and called that up the stairs in a stentorian voice, six distinct times. But as this word was a monosyllable, which, however inoffensive when applied to the quadruped it denotes, is highly reprehensible when used in connection with females of unimpeachable character, many persons were inclined to believe that the young women laboured under some hallucination caused by excessive fear; and that their ears deceived them.

Be this as it may, John Willet, in whom the very uttermost extent of dull-headed perplexity supplied the place of courage, stationed himself in the porch, and waited for their coming up. Once, it dimly occurred to him that there was a kind of door to the house, which had a lock and bolts; and at the same time some shadowy ideas of shutters to the lower windows, flitted through his brain. But he stood stock still, looking down the road in the direction in which the noise was rapidly advancing, and did not so much as take his hands out of his pockets.

He had not to wait long. A dark mass, looming through a cloud of dust, soon became visible; the mob quickened their pace; shouting and whooping like savages, they came rushing on pell mell; and in a few seconds he was bandied from hand to hand, in the heart of a crowd of men.

‘Halloa!’ cried a voice he knew, as the man who spoke came cleaving through the throng. ‘Where is he? Give him to me. Don’t hurt him. How now, old Jack! Ha ha ha!’

Mr Willet looked at him, and saw it was Hugh; but he said nothing, and thought nothing.

‘These lads are thirsty and must drink!’ cried Hugh, thrusting him back towards the house. ‘Bustle, Jack, bustle. Show us the best—the very best—the over-proof that you keep for your own drinking, Jack!’

John faintly articulated the words, ‘Who’s to pay?’

‘He says “Who’s to pay?”’ cried Hugh, with a roar of laughter which was loudly echoed by the crowd. Then turning to John, he added, ‘Pay! Why, nobody.’

John stared round at the mass of faces—some grinning, some fierce, some lighted up by torches, some indistinct, some dusky and shadowy: some looking at him, some at his house, some at each other—and while he was, as he thought, in the very act of doing so, found himself, without any consciousness of having moved, in the bar; sitting down in an arm-chair, and watching the destruction of his property, as if it were some queer play or entertainment, of an astonishing and stupefying nature, but having no reference to himself—that he could make out—at all.

Yes. Here was the bar—the bar that the boldest never entered without special invitation—the sanctuary, the mystery, the hallowed ground: here it was, crammed with men, clubs, sticks, torches, pistols; filled with a deafening noise, oaths, shouts, screams, hootings; changed all at once into a bear-garden, a madhouse, an infernal temple: men darting in and out, by door and window, smashing the glass, turning the taps, drinking liquor out of China punchbowls, sitting astride of casks, smoking private and personal pipes, cutting down the sacred grove of lemons, hacking and hewing at the celebrated cheese, breaking open inviolable drawers, putting things in their pockets which didn’t belong to them, dividing his own money before his own eyes, wantonly wasting, breaking, pulling down and tearing up: nothing quiet, nothing private: men everywhere—above, below, overhead, in the bedrooms, in the kitchen, in the yard, in the stables—clambering in at windows when there were doors wide open; dropping out of windows when the stairs were handy; leaping over the bannisters into chasms of passages: new faces and figures presenting themselves every instant—some yelling, some singing, some fighting, some breaking glass and crockery, some laying the dust with the liquor they couldn’t drink, some ringing the bells till they pulled them down, others beating them with pokers till they beat them into fragments: more men still—more, more, more—swarming on like insects: noise, smoke, light, darkness, frolic, anger, laughter, groans, plunder, fear, and ruin!

Nearly all the time while John looked on at this bewildering scene, Hugh kept near him; and though he was the loudest, wildest, most destructive villain there, he saved his old master’s bones a score of times. Nay, even when Mr Tappertit, excited by liquor, came up, and in assertion of his prerogative politely kicked John Willet on the shins, Hugh bade him return the compliment; and if old John had had sufficient presence of mind to understand this whispered direction, and to profit by it, he might no doubt, under Hugh’s protection, have done so with impunity.

At length the band began to reassemble outside the house, and to call to those within, to join them, for they were losing time. These murmurs increasing, and attaining a high pitch, Hugh, and some of those who yet lingered in the bar, and who plainly were the leaders of the troop, took counsel together, apart, as to what was to be done with John, to keep him quiet until their Chigwell work was over. Some proposed to set the house on fire and leave him in it; others, that he should be reduced to a state of temporary insensibility, by knocking on the head; others, that he should be sworn to sit where he was until to-morrow at the same hour; others again, that he should be gagged and taken off with them, under a sufficient guard. All these propositions being overruled, it was concluded, at last, to bind him in his chair, and the word was passed for Dennis.

‘Look’ee here, Jack!’ said Hugh, striding up to him: ‘We are going to tie you, hand and foot, but otherwise you won’t be hurt. D’ye hear?’

John Willet looked at another man, as if he didn’t know which was the speaker, and muttered something about an ordinary every Sunday at two o’clock.

‘You won’t be hurt I tell you, Jack—do you hear me?’ roared Hugh, impressing the assurance upon him by means of a heavy blow on the back. ‘He’s so dead scared, he’s woolgathering, I think. Give him a drop of something to drink here. Hand over, one of you.’

A glass of liquor being passed forward, Hugh poured the contents down old John’s throat. Mr Willet feebly smacked his lips, thrust his hand into his pocket, and inquired what was to pay; adding, as he looked vacantly round, that he believed there was a trifle of broken glass—

‘He’s out of his senses for the time, it’s my belief,’ said Hugh, after shaking him, without any visible effect upon his system, until his keys rattled in his pocket. ‘Where’s that Dennis?’

The word was again passed, and presently Mr Dennis, with a long cord bound about his middle, something after the manner of a friar, came hurrying in, attended by a body-guard of half-a-dozen of his men.

‘Come! Be alive here!’ cried Hugh, stamping his foot upon the ground. ‘Make haste!’

Dennis, with a wink and a nod, unwound the cord from about his person, and raising his eyes to the ceiling, looked all over it, and round the walls and cornice, with a curious eye; then shook his head.

‘Move, man, can’t you!’ cried Hugh, with another impatient stamp of his foot. ‘Are we to wait here, till the cry has gone for ten miles round, and our work’s interrupted?’

‘It’s all very fine talking, brother,’ answered Dennis, stepping towards him; ‘but unless—’ and here he whispered in his ear—‘unless we do it over the door, it can’t be done at all in this here room.’

‘What can’t?’ Hugh demanded.

‘What can’t!’ retorted Dennis. ‘Why, the old man can’t.’

‘Why, you weren’t going to hang him!’ cried Hugh.

‘No, brother?’ returned the hangman with a stare. ‘What else?’

Hugh made no answer, but snatching the rope from his companion’s hand, proceeded to bind old John himself; but his very first move was so bungling and unskilful, that Mr Dennis entreated, almost with tears in his eyes, that he might be permitted to perform the duty. Hugh consenting, he achieved it in a twinkling.

‘There,’ he said, looking mournfully at John Willet, who displayed no more emotion in his bonds than he had shown out of them. ‘That’s what I call pretty and workmanlike. He’s quite a picter now. But, brother, just a word with you—now that he’s ready trussed, as one may say, wouldn’t it be better for all parties if we was to work him off? It would read uncommon well in the newspapers, it would indeed. The public would think a great deal more on us!’

Hugh, inferring what his companion meant, rather from his gestures than his technical mode of expressing himself (to which, as he was ignorant of his calling, he wanted the clue), rejected this proposition for the second time, and gave the word ‘Forward!’ which was echoed by a hundred voices from without.

‘To the Warren!’ shouted Dennis as he ran out, followed by the rest. ‘A witness’s house, my lads!’

A loud yell followed, and the whole throng hurried off, mad for pillage and destruction. Hugh lingered behind for a few moments to stimulate himself with more drink, and to set all the taps running, a few of which had accidentally been spared; then, glancing round the despoiled and plundered room, through whose shattered window the rioters had thrust the Maypole itself,—for even that had been sawn down,—lighted a torch, clapped the mute and motionless John Willet on the back, and waving his light above his head, and uttering a fierce shout, hastened after his companions.






Chapter 55

John Willet, left alone in his dismantled bar, continued to sit staring about him; awake as to his eyes, certainly, but with all his powers of reason and reflection in a sound and dreamless sleep. He looked round upon the room which had been for years, and was within an hour ago, the pride of his heart; and not a muscle of his face was moved. The night, without, looked black and cold through the dreary gaps in the casement; the precious liquids, now nearly leaked away, dripped with a hollow sound upon the floor; the Maypole peered ruefully in through the broken window, like the bowsprit of a wrecked ship; the ground might have been the bottom of the sea, it was so strewn with precious fragments. Currents of air rushed in, as the old doors jarred and creaked upon their hinges; the candles flickered and guttered down, and made long winding-sheets; the cheery deep-red curtains flapped and fluttered idly in the wind; even the stout Dutch kegs, overthrown and lying empty in dark corners, seemed the mere husks of good fellows whose jollity had departed, and who could kindle with a friendly glow no more. John saw this desolation, and yet saw it not. He was perfectly contented to sit there, staring at it, and felt no more indignation or discomfort in his bonds than if they had been robes of honour. So far as he was personally concerned, old Time lay snoring, and the world stood still.

Save for the dripping from the barrels, the rustling of such light fragments of destruction as the wind affected, and the dull creaking of the open doors, all was profoundly quiet: indeed, these sounds, like the ticking of the death-watch in the night, only made the silence they invaded deeper and more apparent. But quiet or noisy, it was all one to John. If a train of heavy artillery could have come up and commenced ball practice outside the window, it would have been all the same to him. He was a long way beyond surprise. A ghost couldn’t have overtaken him.

By and by he heard a footstep—a hurried, and yet cautious footstep—coming on towards the house. It stopped, advanced again, then seemed to go quite round it. Having done that, it came beneath the window, and a head looked in.

It was strongly relieved against the darkness outside by the glare of the guttering candles. A pale, worn, withered face; the eyes—but that was owing to its gaunt condition—unnaturally large and bright; the hair, a grizzled black. It gave a searching glance all round the room, and a deep voice said:

‘Are you alone in this house?’

John made no sign, though the question was repeated twice, and he heard it distinctly. After a moment’s pause, the man got in at the window. John was not at all surprised at this, either. There had been so much getting in and out of window in the course of the last hour or so, that he had quite forgotten the door, and seemed to have lived among such exercises from infancy.

The man wore a large, dark, faded cloak, and a slouched hat; he walked up close to John, and looked at him. John returned the compliment with interest.

‘How long have you been sitting thus?’ said the man.

John considered, but nothing came of it.

‘Which way have the party gone?’

Some wandering speculations relative to the fashion of the stranger’s boots, got into Mr Willet’s mind by some accident or other, but they got out again in a hurry, and left him in his former state.

‘You would do well to speak,’ said the man; ‘you may keep a whole skin, though you have nothing else left that can be hurt. Which way have the party gone?’

‘That!’ said John, finding his voice all at once, and nodding with perfect good faith—he couldn’t point; he was so tightly bound—in exactly the opposite direction to the right one.

‘You lie!’ said the man angrily, and with a threatening gesture. ‘I came that way. You would betray me.’

It was so evident that John’s imperturbability was not assumed, but was the result of the late proceedings under his roof, that the man stayed his hand in the very act of striking him, and turned away.

John looked after him without so much as a twitch in a single nerve of his face. He seized a glass, and holding it under one of the little casks until a few drops were collected, drank them greedily off; then throwing it down upon the floor impatiently, he took the vessel in his hands and drained it into his throat. Some scraps of bread and meat were scattered about, and on these he fell next; eating them with voracity, and pausing every now and then to listen for some fancied noise outside. When he had refreshed himself in this manner with violent haste, and raised another barrel to his lips, he pulled his hat upon his brow as though he were about to leave the house, and turned to John.

‘Where are your servants?’

Mr Willet indistinctly remembered to have heard the rioters calling to them to throw the key of the room in which they were, out of window, for their keeping. He therefore replied, ‘Locked up.’

‘Well for them if they remain quiet, and well for you if you do the like,’ said the man. ‘Now show me the way the party went.’

This time Mr Willet indicated it correctly. The man was hurrying to the door, when suddenly there came towards them on the wind, the loud and rapid tolling of an alarm-bell, and then a bright and vivid glare streamed up, which illumined, not only the whole chamber, but all the country.

It was not the sudden change from darkness to this dreadful light, it was not the sound of distant shrieks and shouts of triumph, it was not this dread invasion of the serenity and peace of night, that drove the man back as though a thunderbolt had struck him. It was the Bell. If the ghastliest shape the human mind has ever pictured in its wildest dreams had risen up before him, he could not have staggered backward from its touch, as he did from the first sound of that loud iron voice. With eyes that started from his head, his limbs convulsed, his face most horrible to see, he raised one arm high up into the air, and holding something visionary back and down, with his other hand, drove at it as though he held a knife and stabbed it to the heart. He clutched his hair, and stopped his ears, and travelled madly round and round; then gave a frightful cry, and with it rushed away: still, still, the Bell tolled on and seemed to follow him—louder and louder, hotter and hotter yet. The glare grew brighter, the roar of voices deeper; the crash of heavy bodies falling, shook the air; bright streams of sparks rose up into the sky; but louder than them all—rising faster far, to Heaven—a million times more fierce and furious—pouring forth dreadful secrets after its long silence—speaking the language of the dead—the Bell—the Bell!

What hunt of spectres could surpass that dread pursuit and flight! Had there been a legion of them on his track, he could have better borne it. They would have had a beginning and an end, but here all space was full. The one pursuing voice was everywhere: it sounded in the earth, the air; shook the long grass, and howled among the trembling trees. The echoes caught it up, the owls hooted as it flew upon the breeze, the nightingale was silent and hid herself among the thickest boughs: it seemed to goad and urge the angry fire, and lash it into madness; everything was steeped in one prevailing red; the glow was everywhere; nature was drenched in blood: still the remorseless crying of that awful voice—the Bell, the Bell!

It ceased; but not in his ears. The knell was at his heart. No work of man had ever voice like that which sounded there, and warned him that it cried unceasingly to Heaven. Who could hear that bell, and not know what it said! There was murder in its every note—cruel, relentless, savage murder—the murder of a confiding man, by one who held his every trust. Its ringing summoned phantoms from their graves. What face was that, in which a friendly smile changed to a look of half incredulous horror, which stiffened for a moment into one of pain, then changed again into an imploring glance at Heaven, and so fell idly down with upturned eyes, like the dead stags’ he had often peeped at when a little child: shrinking and shuddering—there was a dreadful thing to think of now!—and clinging to an apron as he looked! He sank upon the ground, and grovelling down as if he would dig himself a place to hide in, covered his face and ears: but no, no, no,—a hundred walls and roofs of brass would not shut out that bell, for in it spoke the wrathful voice of God, and from that voice, the whole wide universe could not afford a refuge!

While he rushed up and down, not knowing where to turn, and while he lay crouching there, the work went briskly on indeed. When they left the Maypole, the rioters formed into a solid body, and advanced at a quick pace towards the Warren. Rumour of their approach having gone before, they found the garden-doors fast closed, the windows made secure, and the house profoundly dark: not a light being visible in any portion of the building. After some fruitless ringing at the bells, and beating at the iron gates, they drew off a few paces to reconnoitre, and confer upon the course it would be best to take.

Very little conference was needed, when all were bent upon one desperate purpose, infuriated with liquor, and flushed with successful riot. The word being given to surround the house, some climbed the gates, or dropped into the shallow trench and scaled the garden wall, while others pulled down the solid iron fence, and while they made a breach to enter by, made deadly weapons of the bars. The house being completely encircled, a small number of men were despatched to break open a tool-shed in the garden; and during their absence on this errand, the remainder contented themselves with knocking violently at the doors, and calling to those within, to come down and open them on peril of their lives.

No answer being returned to this repeated summons, and the detachment who had been sent away, coming back with an accession of pickaxes, spades, and hoes, they,—together with those who had such arms already, or carried (as many did) axes, poles, and crowbars,—struggled into the foremost rank, ready to beset the doors and windows. They had not at this time more than a dozen lighted torches among them; but when these preparations were completed, flaming links were distributed and passed from hand to hand with such rapidity, that, in a minute’s time, at least two-thirds of the whole roaring mass bore, each man in his hand, a blazing brand. Whirling these about their heads they raised a loud shout, and fell to work upon the doors and windows.

Amidst the clattering of heavy blows, the rattling of broken glass, the cries and execrations of the mob, and all the din and turmoil of the scene, Hugh and his friends kept together at the turret-door where Mr Haredale had last admitted him and old John Willet; and spent their united force on that. It was a strong old oaken door, guarded by good bolts and a heavy bar, but it soon went crashing in upon the narrow stairs behind, and made, as it were, a platform to facilitate their tearing up into the rooms above. Almost at the same moment, a dozen other points were forced, and at every one the crowd poured in like water.

A few armed servant-men were posted in the hall, and when the rioters forced an entrance there, they fired some half-a-dozen shots. But these taking no effect, and the concourse coming on like an army of devils, they only thought of consulting their own safety, and retreated, echoing their assailants’ cries, and hoping in the confusion to be taken for rioters themselves; in which stratagem they succeeded, with the exception of one old man who was never heard of again, and was said to have had his brains beaten out with an iron bar (one of his fellows reported that he had seen the old man fall), and to have been afterwards burnt in the flames.

The besiegers being now in complete possession of the house, spread themselves over it from garret to cellar, and plied their demon labours fiercely. While some small parties kindled bonfires underneath the windows, others broke up the furniture and cast the fragments down to feed the flames below; where the apertures in the wall (windows no longer) were large enough, they threw out tables, chests of drawers, beds, mirrors, pictures, and flung them whole into the fire; while every fresh addition to the blazing masses was received with shouts, and howls, and yells, which added new and dismal terrors to the conflagration. Those who had axes and had spent their fury on the movables, chopped and tore down the doors and window frames, broke up the flooring, hewed away the rafters, and buried men who lingered in the upper rooms, in heaps of ruins. Some searched the drawers, the chests, the boxes, writing-desks, and closets, for jewels, plate, and money; while others, less mindful of gain and more mad for destruction, cast their whole contents into the courtyard without examination, and called to those below, to heap them on the blaze. Men who had been into the cellars, and had staved the casks, rushed to and fro stark mad, setting fire to all they saw—often to the dresses of their own friends—and kindling the building in so many parts that some had no time for escape, and were seen, with drooping hands and blackened faces, hanging senseless on the window-sills to which they had crawled, until they were sucked and drawn into the burning gulf. The more the fire crackled and raged, the wilder and more cruel the men grew; as though moving in that element they became fiends, and changed their earthly nature for the qualities that give delight in hell.

The burning pile, revealing rooms and passages red hot, through gaps made in the crumbling walls; the tributary fires that licked the outer bricks and stones, with their long forked tongues, and ran up to meet the glowing mass within; the shining of the flames upon the villains who looked on and fed them; the roaring of the angry blaze, so bright and high that it seemed in its rapacity to have swallowed up the very smoke; the living flakes the wind bore rapidly away and hurried on with, like a storm of fiery snow; the noiseless breaking of great beams of wood, which fell like feathers on the heap of ashes, and crumbled in the very act to sparks and powder; the lurid tinge that overspread the sky, and the darkness, very deep by contrast, which prevailed around; the exposure to the coarse, common gaze, of every little nook which usages of home had made a sacred place, and the destruction by rude hands of every little household favourite which old associations made a dear and precious thing: all this taking place—not among pitying looks and friendly murmurs of compassion, but brutal shouts and exultations, which seemed to make the very rats who stood by the old house too long, creatures with some claim upon the pity and regard of those its roof had sheltered:—combined to form a scene never to be forgotten by those who saw it and were not actors in the work, so long as life endured.

And who were they? The alarm-bell rang—and it was pulled by no faint or hesitating hands—for a long time; but not a soul was seen. Some of the insurgents said that when it ceased, they heard the shrieks of women, and saw some garments fluttering in the air, as a party of men bore away no unresisting burdens. No one could say that this was true or false, in such an uproar; but where was Hugh? Who among them had seen him, since the forcing of the doors? The cry spread through the body. Where was Hugh!

‘Here!’ he hoarsely cried, appearing from the darkness; out of breath, and blackened with the smoke. ‘We have done all we can; the fire is burning itself out; and even the corners where it hasn’t spread, are nothing but heaps of ruins. Disperse, my lads, while the coast’s clear; get back by different ways; and meet as usual!’ With that, he disappeared again,—contrary to his wont, for he was always first to advance, and last to go away,—leaving them to follow homewards as they would.

It was not an easy task to draw off such a throng. If Bedlam gates had been flung wide open, there would not have issued forth such maniacs as the frenzy of that night had made. There were men there, who danced and trampled on the beds of flowers as though they trod down human enemies, and wrenched them from the stalks, like savages who twisted human necks. There were men who cast their lighted torches in the air, and suffered them to fall upon their heads and faces, blistering the skin with deep unseemly burns. There were men who rushed up to the fire, and paddled in it with their hands as if in water; and others who were restrained by force from plunging in, to gratify their deadly longing. On the skull of one drunken lad—not twenty, by his looks—who lay upon the ground with a bottle to his mouth, the lead from the roof came streaming down in a shower of liquid fire, white hot; melting his head like wax. When the scattered parties were collected, men—living yet, but singed as with hot irons—were plucked out of the cellars, and carried off upon the shoulders of others, who strove to wake them as they went along, with ribald jokes, and left them, dead, in the passages of hospitals. But of all the howling throng not one learnt mercy from, or sickened at, these sights; nor was the fierce, besotted, senseless rage of one man glutted.

Slowly, and in small clusters, with hoarse hurrahs and repetitions of their usual cry, the assembly dropped away. The last few red-eyed stragglers reeled after those who had gone before; the distant noise of men calling to each other, and whistling for others whom they missed, grew fainter and fainter; at length even these sounds died away, and silence reigned alone.

Silence indeed! The glare of the flames had sunk into a fitful, flashing light; and the gentle stars, invisible till now, looked down upon the blackening heap. A dull smoke hung upon the ruin, as though to hide it from those eyes of Heaven; and the wind forbore to move it. Bare walls, roof open to the sky—chambers, where the beloved dead had, many and many a fair day, risen to new life and energy; where so many dear ones had been sad and merry; which were connected with so many thoughts and hopes, regrets and changes—all gone. Nothing left but a dull and dreary blank—a smouldering heap of dust and ashes—the silence and solitude of utter desolation.