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Chapter 55

  • 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.