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Chapter 65

  • During the whole course of the terrible scene which was now at its height, on_an in the jail suffered a degree of fear and mental torment which had n_arallel in the endurance, even of those who lay under sentence of death.
  • When the rioters first assembled before the building, the murderer was rouse_rom sleep—if such slumbers as his may have that blessed name—by the roar o_oices, and the struggling of a great crowd. He started up as these sounds me_is ear, and, sitting on his bedstead, listened.
  • After a short interval of silence the noise burst out again. Still listenin_ttentively, he made out, in course of time, that the jail was besieged by _urious multitude. His guilty conscience instantly arrayed these men agains_imself, and brought the fear upon him that he would be singled out, and tor_o pieces.
  • Once impressed with the terror of this conceit, everything tended to confir_nd strengthen it. His double crime, the circumstances under which it had bee_ommitted, the length of time that had elapsed, and its discovery in spite o_ll, made him, as it were, the visible object of the Almighty’s wrath. In al_he crime and vice and moral gloom of the great pest-house of the capital, h_tood alone, marked and singled out by his great guilt, a Lucifer among th_evils. The other prisoners were a host, hiding and sheltering each other—_rowd like that without the walls. He was one man against the whole unite_oncourse; a single, solitary, lonely man, from whom the very captives in th_ail fell off and shrunk appalled.
  • It might be that the intelligence of his capture having been bruited abroad, they had come there purposely to drag him out and kill him in the street; o_t might be that they were the rioters, and, in pursuance of an old design, had come to sack the prison. But in either case he had no belief or hope tha_hey would spare him. Every shout they raised, and every sound they made, wa_ blow upon his heart. As the attack went on, he grew more wild and frantic i_is terror: tried to pull away the bars that guarded the chimney and prevente_im from climbing up: called loudly on the turnkeys to cluster round the cel_nd save him from the fury of the rabble; or put him in some dungeo_nderground, no matter of what depth, how dark it was, or loathsome, or bese_ith rats and creeping things, so that it hid him and was hard to find.
  • But no one came, or answered him. Fearful, even while he cried to them, o_ttracting attention, he was silent. By and bye, he saw, as he looked from hi_rated window, a strange glimmering on the stone walls and pavement of th_ard. It was feeble at first, and came and went, as though some officers wit_orches were passing to and fro upon the roof of the prison. Soon it reddened, and lighted brands came whirling down, spattering the ground with fire, an_urning sullenly in corners. One rolled beneath a wooden bench, and set it i_ blaze; another caught a water-spout, and so went climbing up the wall, leaving a long straight track of fire behind it. After a time, a slow thic_hower of burning fragments, from some upper portion of the prison which wa_lazing nigh, began to fall before his door. Remembering that it opene_utwards, he knew that every spark which fell upon the heap, and in the ac_ost its bright life, and died an ugly speck of dust and rubbish, helped t_ntomb him in a living grave. Still, though the jail resounded with shriek_nd cries for help,—though the fire bounded up as if each separate flame ha_ad a tiger’s life, and roared as though, in every one, there were a hungr_oice—though the heat began to grow intense, and the air suffocating, and th_lamour without increased, and the danger of his situation even from on_erciless element was every moment more extreme,—still he was afraid to rais_is voice again, lest the crowd should break in, and should, of their own ear_r from the information given them by the other prisoners, get the clue to hi_lace of confinement. Thus fearful alike, of those within the prison and o_hose without; of noise and silence; light and darkness; of being released, and being left there to die; he was so tortured and tormented, that nothin_an has ever done to man in the horrible caprice of power and cruelty, exceed_is self-inflicted punishment.
  • Now, now, the door was down. Now they came rushing through the jail, callin_o each other in the vaulted passages; clashing the iron gates dividing yar_rom yard; beating at the doors of cells and wards; wrenching off bolts an_ocks and bars; tearing down the door-posts to get men out; endeavouring t_rag them by main force through gaps and windows where a child could scarcel_ass; whooping and yelling without a moment’s rest; and running through th_eat and flames as if they were cased in metal. By their legs, their arms, th_air upon their heads, they dragged the prisoners out. Some threw themselve_pon the captives as they got towards the door, and tried to file away thei_rons; some danced about them with a frenzied joy, and rent their clothes, an_ere ready, as it seemed, to tear them limb from limb. Now a party of a doze_en came darting through the yard into which the murderer cast fearful glance_rom his darkened window; dragging a prisoner along the ground whose dres_hey had nearly torn from his body in their mad eagerness to set him free, an_ho was bleeding and senseless in their hands. Now a score of prisoners ran t_nd fro, who had lost themselves in the intricacies of the prison, and were s_ewildered with the noise and glare that they knew not where to turn or wha_o do, and still cried out for help, as loudly as before. Anon some famishe_retch whose theft had been a loaf of bread, or scrap of butcher’s meat, cam_kulking past, barefooted— going slowly away because that jail, his house, wa_urning; not because he had any other, or had friends to meet, or old haunt_o revisit, or any liberty to gain, but liberty to starve and die. And then _not of highwaymen went trooping by, conducted by the friends they had amon_he crowd, who muffled their fetters as they went along, with handkerchief_nd bands of hay, and wrapped them in coats and cloaks, and gave them drin_rom bottles, and held it to their lips, because of their handcuffs whic_here was no time to remove. All this, and Heaven knows how much more, wa_one amidst a noise, a hurry, and distraction, like nothing that we know of, even in our dreams; which seemed for ever on the rise, and never to decreas_or the space of a single instant.
  • He was still looking down from his window upon these things, when a band o_en with torches, ladders, axes, and many kinds of weapons, poured into th_ard, and hammering at his door, inquired if there were any prisoner within.
  • He left the window when he saw them coming, and drew back into the remotes_orner of the cell; but although he returned them no answer, they had a fanc_hat some one was inside, for they presently set ladders against it, and bega_o tear away the bars at the casement; not only that, indeed, but wit_ickaxes to hew down the very stones in the wall.
  • As soon as they had made a breach at the window, large enough for th_dmission of a man’s head, one of them thrust in a torch and looked all roun_he room. He followed this man’s gaze until it rested on himself, and hear_im demand why he had not answered, but made him no reply.
  • In the general surprise and wonder, they were used to this; without sayin_nything more, they enlarged the breach until it was large enough to admit th_ody of a man, and then came dropping down upon the floor, one after another, until the cell was full. They caught him up among them, handed him to th_indow, and those who stood upon the ladders passed him down upon the pavemen_f the yard. Then the rest came out, one after another, and, bidding him fly, and lose no time, or the way would be choked up, hurried away to rescu_thers.
  • It seemed not a minute’s work from first to last. He staggered to his feet, incredulous of what had happened, when the yard was filled again, and a crow_ushed on, hurrying Barnaby among them. In another minute—not so much: anothe_inute! the same instant, with no lapse or interval between!—he and his so_ere being passed from hand to hand, through the dense crowd in the street, and were glancing backward at a burning pile which some one said was Newgate.
  • From the moment of their first entrance into the prison, the crowd disperse_hemselves about it, and swarmed into every chink and crevice, as if they ha_ perfect acquaintance with its innermost parts, and bore in their minds a_xact plan of the whole. For this immediate knowledge of the place, they were, no doubt, in a great degree, indebted to the hangman, who stood in the lobby, directing some to go this way, some that, and some the other; and wh_aterially assisted in bringing about the wonderful rapidity with which th_elease of the prisoners was effected.
  • But this functionary of the law reserved one important piece of intelligence, and kept it snugly to himself. When he had issued his instructions relative t_very other part of the building, and the mob were dispersed from end to end, and busy at their work, he took a bundle of keys from a kind of cupboard i_he wall, and going by a kind of passage near the chapel (it joined th_overnors house, and was then on fire), betook himself to the condemned cells, which were a series of small, strong, dismal rooms, opening on a low gallery, guarded, at the end at which he entered, by a strong iron wicket, and at it_pposite extremity by two doors and a thick grate. Having double locked th_icket, and assured himself that the other entrances were well secured, he sa_own on a bench in the gallery, and sucked the head of his stick with th_tmost complacency, tranquillity, and contentment.
  • It would have been strange enough, a man’s enjoying himself in this quie_anner, while the prison was burning, and such a tumult was cleaving the air, though he had been outside the walls. But here, in the very heart of th_uilding, and moreover with the prayers and cries of the four men unde_entence sounding in his ears, and their hands, stretched our through th_ratings in their cell- doors, clasped in frantic entreaty before his ver_yes, it was particularly remarkable. Indeed, Mr Dennis appeared to think i_n uncommon circumstance, and to banter himself upon it; for he thrust his ha_n one side as some men do when they are in a waggish humour, sucked the hea_f his stick with a higher relish, and smiled as though he would say, ‘Dennis, you’re a rum dog; you’re a queer fellow; you’re capital company, Dennis, an_uite a character!’
  • He sat in this way for some minutes, while the four men in the cells, who wer_ertain that somebody had entered the gallery, but could not see who, gav_ent to such piteous entreaties as wretches in their miserable condition ma_e supposed to have been inspired with: urging, whoever it was, to set them a_iberty, for the love of Heaven; and protesting, with great fervour, and trul_nough, perhaps, for the time, that if they escaped, they would amend thei_ays, and would never, never, never again do wrong before God or man, bu_ould lead penitent and sober lives, and sorrowfully repent the crimes the_ad committed. The terrible energy with which they spoke, would have moved an_erson, no matter how good or just (if any good or just person could hav_trayed into that sad place that night), to have set them at liberty: and, while he would have left any other punishment to its free course, to hav_aved them from this last dreadful and repulsive penalty; which never turned _an inclined to evil, and has hardened thousands who were half inclined t_ood.
  • Mr Dennis, who had been bred and nurtured in the good old school, and ha_dministered the good old laws on the good old plan, always once and sometime_wice every six weeks, for a long time, bore these appeals with a deal o_hilosophy. Being at last, however, rather disturbed in his pleasan_eflection by their repetition, he rapped at one of the doors with his stick, and cried:
  • ‘Hold your noise there, will you?’
  • At this they all cried together that they were to be hanged on the next da_ut one; and again implored his aid.
  • ‘Aid! For what!’ said Mr Dennis, playfully rapping the knuckles of the han_earest him.
  • ‘To save us!’ they cried.
  • ‘Oh, certainly,’ said Mr Dennis, winking at the wall in the absence of an_riend with whom he could humour the joke. ‘And so you’re to be worked off, are you, brothers?’
  • ‘Unless we are released to-night,’ one of them cried, ‘we are dead men!’
  • ‘I tell you what it is,’ said the hangman, gravely; ‘I’m afraid, my friend, that you’re not in that ‘ere state of mind that’s suitable to your condition, then; you’re not a-going to be released: don’t think it—Will you leave of_hat ‘ere indecent row? I wonder you an’t ashamed of yourselves, I do.’
  • He followed up this reproof by rapping every set of knuckles one after th_ther, and having done so, resumed his seat again with a cheerful countenance.
  • ‘You’ve had law,’ he said, crossing his legs and elevating his eyebrows: ‘law_ave been made a’ purpose for you; a wery handsome prison’s been made a’ purpose for you; a parson’s kept a purpose for you; a constitootiona_fficer’s appointed a’ purpose for you; carts is maintained a’ purpose fo_ou—and yet you’re not contented!—WILL you hold that noise, you sir in th_urthest?’
  • A groan was the only answer.
  • ‘So well as I can make out,’ said Mr Dennis, in a tone of mingled badinage an_emonstrance, ‘there’s not a man among you. I begin to think I’m on th_pposite side, and among the ladies; though for the matter of that, I’ve see_ many ladies face it out, in a manner that did honour to the sex.—You i_umber two, don’t grind them teeth of yours. Worse manners,’ said the hangman, rapping at the door with his stick, ‘I never see in this place afore. I’_shamed of you. You’re a disgrace to the Bailey.’
  • After pausing for a moment to hear if anything could be pleaded i_ustification, Mr Dennis resumed in a sort of coaxing tone:
  • ‘Now look’ee here, you four. I’m come here to take care of you, and see tha_ou an’t burnt, instead of the other thing. It’s no use your making any noise, for you won’t be found out by them as has broken in, and you’ll only be hoars_hen you come to the speeches,—which is a pity. What I say in respect to th_peeches always is, “Give it mouth.” That’s my maxim. Give it mouth. I’v_eerd,’ said the hangman, pulling off his hat to take his handkerchief fro_he crown and wipe his face, and then putting it on again a little more on on_ide than before, ‘I’ve heerd a eloquence on them boards—you know what board_ mean—and have heerd a degree of mouth given to them speeches, that they wa_s clear as a bell, and as good as a play. There’s a pattern! And always, whe_ thing of this natur’s to come off, what I stand up for, is, a proper fram_f mind. Let’s have a proper frame of mind, and we can go through with it, creditable—pleasant— sociable. Whatever you do (and I address myself i_articular, to you in the furthest), never snivel. I’d sooner by half, thoug_ lose by it, see a man tear his clothes a’ purpose to spile ’em before the_ome to me, than find him snivelling. It’s ten to one a better frame of mind, every way!’
  • While the hangman addressed them to this effect, in the tone and with the ai_f a pastor in familiar conversation with his flock, the noise had been i_ome degree subdued; for the rioters were busy in conveying the prisoners t_he Sessions House, which was beyond the main walls of the prison, thoug_onnected with it, and the crowd were busy too, in passing them from thenc_long the street. But when he had got thus far in his discourse, the sound o_oices in the yard showed plainly that the mob had returned and were comin_hat way; and directly afterwards a violent crashing at the grate below, gav_ote of their attack upon the cells (as they were called) at last.
  • It was in vain the hangman ran from door to door, and covered the grates, on_fter another, with his hat, in futile efforts to stifle the cries of the fou_en within; it was in vain he dogged their outstretched hands, and beat the_ith his stick, or menaced them with new and lingering pains in the executio_f his office; the place resounded with their cries. These, together with th_eeling that they were now the last men in the jail, so worked upon an_timulated the besiegers, that in an incredibly short space of time the_orced the strong grate down below, which was formed of iron rods two inche_quare, drove in the two other doors, as if they had been but deal partitions, and stood at the end of the gallery with only a bar or two between them an_he cells.
  • ‘Halloa!’ cried Hugh, who was the first to look into the dusky passage: ‘Dennis before us! Well done, old boy. Be quick, and open here, for we shal_e suffocated in the smoke, going out.’
  • ‘Go out at once, then,’ said Dennis. ‘What do you want here?’
  • ‘Want!’ echoed Hugh. ‘The four men.’
  • ‘Four devils!’ cried the hangman. ‘Don’t you know they’re left for death o_hursday? Don’t you respect the law—the constitootion— nothing? Let the fou_en be.’
  • ‘Is this a time for joking?’ cried Hugh. ‘Do you hear ’em? Pull away thes_ars that have got fixed between the door and the ground; and let us in.’
  • ‘Brother,’ said the hangman, in a low voice, as he stooped under pretence o_oing what Hugh desired, but only looked up in his face, ‘can’t you leav_hese here four men to me, if I’ve the whim! You do what you like, and hav_hat you like of everything for your share,—give me my share. I want thes_our men left alone, I tell you!’
  • ‘Pull the bars down, or stand out of the way,’ was Hugh’s reply.
  • ‘You can turn the crowd if you like, you know that well enough, brother,’ sai_he hangman, slowly. ‘What! You will come in, will you?’
  • ‘Yes.’
  • ‘You won’t let these men alone, and leave ’em to me? You’ve no respect fo_othing—haven’t you?’ said the hangman, retreating to the door by which he ha_ntered, and regarding his companion with a scowl. ‘You will come in, wil_ou, brother!’
  • ‘I tell you, yes. What the devil ails you? Where are you going?’
  • ‘No matter where I’m going,’ rejoined the hangman, looking in again at th_ron wicket, which he had nearly shut upon himself, and held ajar. ‘Remembe_here you’re coming. That’s all!’
  • With that, he shook his likeness at Hugh, and giving him a grin, compared wit_hich his usual smile was amiable, disappeared, and shut the door.
  • Hugh paused no longer, but goaded alike by the cries of the convicts, and b_he impatience of the crowd, warned the man immediately behind him—the way wa_nly wide enough for one abreast—to stand back, and wielded a sledge-hamme_ith such strength, that after a few blows the iron bent and broke, and gav_hem free admittance.
  • It the two sons of one of these men, of whom mention has been made, wer_urious in their zeal before, they had now the wrath and vigour of lions.
  • Calling to the man within each cell, to keep as far back as he could, lest th_xes crashing through the door should wound him, a party went to work upo_ach one, to beat it in by sheer strength, and force the bolts and staple_rom their hold. But although these two lads had the weakest party, and th_orst armed, and did not begin until after the others, having stopped t_hisper to him through the grate, that door was the first open, and that ma_as the first out. As they dragged him into the gallery to knock off hi_rons, he fell down among them, a mere heap of chains, and was carried out i_hat state on men’s shoulders, with no sign of life.
  • The release of these four wretched creatures, and conveying them, astounde_nd bewildered, into the streets so full of life—a spectacle they had neve_hought to see again, until they emerged from solitude and silence upon tha_ast journey, when the air should be heavy with the pent-up breath o_housands, and the streets and houses should be built and roofed with huma_aces, not with bricks and tiles and stones—was the crowning horror of th_cene. Their pale and haggard looks and hollow eyes; their staggering feet, and hands stretched out as if to save themselves from falling; their wanderin_nd uncertain air; the way they heaved and gasped for breath, as though i_ater, when they were first plunged into the crowd; all marked them for th_en. No need to say ‘this one was doomed to die;’ for there were the word_roadly stamped and branded on his face. The crowd fell off, as if they ha_een laid out for burial, and had risen in their shrouds; and many were see_o shudder, as though they had been actually dead men, when they chanced t_ouch or brush against their garments.
  • At the bidding of the mob, the houses were all illuminated that night—lighte_p from top to bottom as at a time of public gaiety and joy. Many year_fterwards, old people who lived in their youth near this part of the city, remembered being in a great glare of light, within doors and without, and a_hey looked, timid and frightened children, from the windows, seeing a face g_y. Though the whole great crowd and all its other terrors had faded fro_heir recollection, this one object remained; alone, distinct, and wel_emembered. Even in the unpractised minds of infants, one of these doomed me_arting past, and but an instant seen, was an image of force enough to dim th_hole concourse; to find itself an all-absorbing place, and hold it eve_fter.
  • When this last task had been achieved, the shouts and cries grew fainter; th_lank of fetters, which had resounded on all sides as the prisoners escaped, was heard no more; all the noises of the crowd subsided into a hoarse an_ullen murmur as it passed into the distance; and when the human tide ha_olled away, a melancholy heap of smoking ruins marked the spot where it ha_ately chafed and roared.