John Willet, left alone in his dismantled bar, continued to sit staring abou_im; awake as to his eyes, certainly, but with all his powers of reason an_eflection in a sound and dreamless sleep. He looked round upon the room whic_ad been for years, and was within an hour ago, the pride of his heart; an_ot a muscle of his face was moved. The night, without, looked black and col_hrough the dreary gaps in the casement; the precious liquids, now nearl_eaked away, dripped with a hollow sound upon the floor; the Maypole peere_uefully 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 wit_recious fragments. Currents of air rushed in, as the old doors jarred an_reaked upon their hinges; the candles flickered and guttered down, and mad_ong winding-sheets; the cheery deep-red curtains flapped and fluttered idl_n the wind; even the stout Dutch kegs, overthrown and lying empty in dar_orners, seemed the mere husks of good fellows whose jollity had departed, an_ho could kindle with a friendly glow no more. John saw this desolation, an_et saw it not. He was perfectly contented to sit there, staring at it, an_elt no more indignation or discomfort in his bonds than if they had bee_obes 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 fragment_f 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 mor_pparent. But quiet or noisy, it was all one to John. If a train of heav_rtillery 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. _host couldn’t have overtaken him.
By and by he heard a footstep—a hurried, and yet cautious footstep—coming o_owards the house. It stopped, advanced again, then seemed to go quite roun_t. 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 th_uttering candles. A pale, worn, withered face; the eyes— but that was owin_o its gaunt condition—unnaturally large and bright; the hair, a grizzle_lack. 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 i_istinctly. After a moment’s pause, the man got in at the window. John was no_t all surprised at this, either. There had been so much getting in and out o_indow in the course of the last hour or so, that he had quite forgotten th_oor, and seemed to have lived among such exercises from infancy.
The man wore a large, dark, faded cloak, and a slouched hat; he walked u_lose 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 i_ hurry, and left him in his former state.
‘You would do well to speak,’ said the man; ‘you may keep a whole skin, thoug_ou 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 perfec_ood faith—he couldn’t point; he was so tightly bound—in exactly the opposit_irection to the right one.
‘You lie!’ said the man angrily, and with a threatening gesture. ‘I came tha_ay. You would betray me.’
It was so evident that John’s imperturbability was not assumed, but was th_esult of the late proceedings under his roof, that the man stayed his hand i_he very act of striking him, and turned away.
John looked after him without so much as a twitch in a single nerve of hi_ace. He seized a glass, and holding it under one of the little casks until _ew drops were collected, drank them greedily off; then throwing it down upo_he floor impatiently, he took the vessel in his hands and drained it into hi_hroat. Some scraps of bread and meat were scattered about, and on these h_ell next; eating them with voracity, and pausing every now and then to liste_or some fancied noise outside. When he had refreshed himself in this manne_ith violent haste, and raised another barrel to his lips, he pulled his ha_pon 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 t_hrow the key of the room in which they were, out of window, for thei_eeping. 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 tollin_f an alarm-bell, and then a bright and vivid glare streamed up, whic_llumined, not only the whole chamber, but all the country.
It was not the sudden change from darkness to this dreadful light, it was no_he sound of distant shrieks and shouts of triumph, it was not this drea_nvasion of the serenity and peace of night, that drove the man back as thoug_ thunderbolt had struck him. It was the Bell. If the ghastliest shape th_uman mind has ever pictured in its wildest dreams had risen up before him, h_ould not have staggered backward from its touch, as he did from the firs_ound of that loud iron voice. With eyes that started from his head, his limb_onvulsed, his face most horrible to see, he raised one arm high up into th_ir, and holding something visionary back and down, with his other hand, drov_t it as though he held a knife and stabbed it to the heart. He clutched hi_air, and stopped his ears, and travelled madly round and round; then gave _rightful cry, and with it rushed away: still, still, the Bell tolled on an_eemed to follow him—louder and louder, hotter and hotter yet. The glare gre_righter, the roar of voices deeper; the crash of heavy bodies falling, shoo_he air; bright streams of sparks rose up into the sky; but louder than the_ll— rising faster far, to Heaven—a million times more fierce an_urious—pouring forth dreadful secrets after its long silence— speaking th_anguage of the dead—the Bell—the Bell!
What hunt of spectres could surpass that dread pursuit and flight! Had ther_een a legion of them on his track, he could have better borne it. They woul_ave had a beginning and an end, but here all space was full. The one pursuin_oice 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 hoote_s it flew upon the breeze, the nightingale was silent and hid herself amon_he thickest boughs: it seemed to goad and urge the angry fire, and lash i_nto madness; everything was steeped in one prevailing red; the glow wa_verywhere; nature was drenched in blood: still the remorseless crying of tha_wful voice—the Bell, the Bell!
It ceased; but not in his ears. The knell was at his heart. No work of man ha_ver voice like that which sounded there, and warned him that it crie_nceasingly to Heaven. Who could hear that hell, and not know what it said!
There was murder in its every note—cruel, relentless, savage murder—the murde_f a confiding man, by one who held his every trust. Its ringing summone_hantoms from their graves. What face was that, in which a friendly smil_hanged to a look of half incredulous horror, which stiffened for a momen_nto one of pain, then changed again into an imploring glance at Heaven, an_o fell idly down with upturned eyes, like the dead stags’ he had often peepe_t when a little child: shrinking and shuddering—there was a dreadful thing t_hink 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 hi_ace and ears: but no, no, no,—a hundred walls and roofs of brass would no_hut out that bell, for in it spoke the wrathful voice of God, and from tha_oice, the whole wide universe could not afford a refuge!
While he rushed up and down, not knowing where to turn, and while he la_rouching 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 th_arren. Rumour of their approach having gone before, they found the garden-
doors fast closed, the windows made secure, and the house profoundly dark: no_ light being visible in any portion of the building. After some fruitles_inging at the bells, and beating at the iron gates, they drew off a few pace_o reconnoitre, and confer upon the course it would be best to take.
Very little conference was needed, when all were bent upon one desperat_urpose, infuriated with liquor, and flushed with successful riot. The wor_eing given to surround the house, some climbed the gates, or dropped into th_hallow trench and scaled the garden wall, while others pulled down the soli_ron fence, and while they made a breach to enter by, made deadly weapons o_he bars. The house being completely encircled, a small number of men wer_espatched to break open a tool-shed in the garden; and during their absenc_n this errand, the remainder contented themselves with knocking violently a_he doors, and calling to those within, to come down and open them on peril o_heir lives.
No answer being returned to this repeated summons, and the detachment who ha_een 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 bese_he doors and windows. They had not at this time more than a dozen lighte_orches among them; but when these preparations were completed, flaming link_ere distributed and passed from hand to hand with such rapidity, that, in _inute’s time, at least two-thirds of the whole roaring mass bore, each man i_is hand, a blazing brand. Whirling these about their heads they raised a lou_hout, and fell to work upon the doors and windows.
Amidst the clattering of heavy blows, the rattling of broken glass, the crie_nd execrations of the mob, and all the din and turmoil of the scene, Hugh an_is friends kept together at the turret-door where Mr Haredale had las_dmitted him and old John Willet; and spent their united force on that. It wa_ strong old oaken door, guarded by good bolts and a heavy bar, but it soo_ent crashing in upon the narrow stairs behind, and made, as it were, _latform to facilitate their tearing up into the rooms above. Almost at th_ame moment, a dozen other points were forced, and at every one the crow_oured in like water.
A few armed servant-men were posted in the hall, and when the rioters force_n entrance there, they fired some half-a-dozen shots. But these taking n_ffect, and the concourse coming on like an army of devils, they only though_f consulting their own safety, and retreated, echoing their assailants’
cries, and hoping in the confusion to be taken for rioters themselves; i_hich stratagem they succeeded, with the exception of one old man who wa_ever heard of again, and was said to have had his brains beaten out with a_ron bar (one of his fellows reported that he had seen the old man fall), an_o have been afterwards burnt in the flames.
The besiegers being now in complete possession of the house, spread themselve_ver it from garret to cellar, and plied their demon labours fiercely. Whil_ome small parties kindled bonfires underneath the windows, others broke u_he furniture and cast the fragments down to feed the flames below; where th_pertures in the wall (windows no longer) were large enough, they threw ou_ables, chests of drawers, beds, mirrors, pictures, and flung them whole int_he fire; while every fresh addition to the blazing masses was received wit_houts, and howls, and yells, which added new and dismal terrors to th_onflagration. 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, i_eaps of ruins. Some searched the drawers, the chests, the boxes, writing-
desks, and closets, for jewels, plate, and money; while others, less mindfu_f gain and more mad for destruction, cast their whole contents into th_ourtyard without examination, and called to those below, to heap them on th_laze. Men who had been into the cellars, and had staved the casks, rushed t_nd fro stark mad, setting fire to all they saw—often to the dresses of thei_wn friends—and kindling the building in so many parts that some had no tim_or escape, and were seen, with drooping hands and blackened faces, hangin_enseless on the window-sills to which they had crawled, until they wer_ucked 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 the_ecame fiends, and changed their earthly nature for the qualities that giv_elight in hell.
The burning pile, revealing rooms and passages red hot, through gaps made i_he crumbling walls; the tributary fires that licked the outer bricks an_tones, with their long forked tongues, and ran up to meet the glowing mas_ithin; the shining of the flames upon the villains who looked on and fe_hem; the roaring of the angry blaze, so bright and high that it seemed in it_apacity to have swallowed up the very smoke; the living flakes the wind bor_apidly away and hurried on with, like a storm of fiery snow; the noiseles_reaking of great beams of wood, which fell like feathers on the heap o_shes, and crumbled in the very act to sparks and powder; the lurid tinge tha_verspread the sky, and the darkness, very deep by contrast, which prevaile_round; the exposure to the coarse, common gaze, of every little nook whic_sages of home had made a sacred place, and the destruction by rude hands o_very little household favourite which old associations made a dear an_recious thing: all this taking place—not among pitying looks and friendl_urmurs of compassion, but brutal shouts and exultations, which seemed to mak_he very rats who stood by the old house too long, creatures with some clai_pon the pity and regard of those its roof had sheltered:—combined to form _cene never to be forgotten by those who saw it and were not actors in th_ork, so long as life endured.
And who were they? The alarm-bell rang—and it was pulled by no faint o_esitating hands—for a long time; but not a soul was seen. Some of th_nsurgents said that when it ceased, they heard the shrieks of women, and sa_ome garments fluttering in the air, as a party of men bore away n_nresisting burdens. No one could say that this was true or false, in such a_proar; but where was Hugh? Who among them had seen him, since the forcing o_he doors? The cry spread through the body. Where was Hugh!
‘Here!’ he hoarsely cried, appearing from the darkness; out of breath, an_lackened with the smoke. ‘We have done all we can; the fire is burning itsel_ut; and even the corners where it hasn’t spread, are nothing but heaps o_uins. 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, fo_e was always first to advance, and last to go away,—leaving them to follo_omewards as they would.
It was not an easy task to draw off such a throng. If Bedlam gates had bee_lung wide open, there would not have issued forth such maniacs as the frenz_f that night had made. There were men there, who danced and trampled on th_eds of flowers as though they trod down human enemies, and wrenched them fro_he stalks, like savages who twisted human necks. There were men who cas_heir lighted torches in the air, and suffered them to fall upon their head_nd faces, blistering the skin with deep unseemly burns. There were men wh_ushed up to the fire, and paddled in it with their hands as if in water; an_thers who were restrained by force from plunging in, to gratify their deadl_onging. On the skull of one drunken lad—not twenty, by his looks—who lay upo_he ground with a bottle to his mouth, the lead from the roof came streamin_own in a shower of liquid fire, white hot; melting his head like wax. Whe_he scattered parties were collected, men— living yet, but singed as with ho_rons—were plucked out of the cellars, and carried off upon the shoulders o_thers, who strove to wake them as they went along, with ribald jokes, an_eft them, dead, in the passages of hospitals. But of all the howling thron_ot 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 thei_sual cry, the assembly dropped away. The last few red- eyed stragglers reele_fter those who had gone before; the distant noise of men calling to eac_ther, and whistling for others whom they missed, grew fainter and fainter; a_ength even these sounds died away, and silence reigned alone.
Silence indeed! The glare of the flames had sunk into a fitful, flashin_ight; and the gentle stars, invisible till now, looked down upon th_lackening heap. A dull smoke hung upon the ruin, as though to hide it fro_hose eyes of Heaven; and the wind forbore to move it. Bare walls, roof ope_o 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—al_one. Nothing left but a dull and dreary blank—a smouldering heap of dust an_shes—the silence and solitude of utter desolation.