Barnaby Rudge Chapter 73 by Charles Dickens Audiobook

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Chapter 73
By this Friday nightófor it was on Friday in the riot week, that Emma and Dolly were
rescued, by the timely aid of Joe and Edward Chesteróthe disturbances were entirely quelled,
and peace and order were restored to the affrighted city. True, after what had happened, it was
impossible for any man to say how long this better state of things might last, or how
suddenly new outrages, exceeding even those so lately witnessed, might burst forth and
fill its streets with ruin and bloodshed; for this reason, those who had fled from the
recent tumults still kept at a distance, and many families, hitherto unable to procure
the means of flight, now availed themselves of the calm, and withdrew into the country.
The shops, too, from Tyburn to Whitechapel, were still shut; and very little business
was transacted in any of the places of great commercial resort. But, notwithstanding, and
in spite of the melancholy forebodings of that numerous class of society who see with
the greatest clearness into the darkest perspectives, the town remained profoundly quiet. The strong
military force disposed in every advantageous quarter, and stationed at every commanding
point, held the scattered fragments of the mob in check; the search after rioters was
prosecuted with unrelenting vigour; and if there were any among them so desperate and
reckless as to be inclined, after the terrible scenes they had beheld, to venture forth again,
they were so daunted by these resolute measures, that they quickly shrunk into their hiding-places,
and had no thought but for their safety. In a word, the crowd was utterly routed. Upwards
of two hundred had been shot dead in the streets. Two hundred and fifty more were lying, badly
wounded, in the hospitals; of whom seventy or eighty died within a short time afterwards.
A hundred were already in custody, and more were taken every hour. How many perished in
the conflagrations, or by their own excesses, is unknown; but that numbers found a terrible
grave in the hot ashes of the flames they had kindled, or crept into vaults and cellars
to drink in secret or to nurse their sores, and never saw the light again, is certain.
When the embers of the fires had been black and cold for many weeks, the labourers' spades
proved this, beyond a doubt. Seventy-two private houses and four strong
jails were destroyed in the four great days of these riots. The total loss of property,
as estimated by the sufferers, was one hundred and fifty-five thousand pounds; at the lowest
and least partial estimate of disinterested persons, it exceeded one hundred and twenty-five
thousand pounds. For this immense loss, compensation was soon afterwards made out of the public
purse, in pursuance of a vote of the House of Commons; the sum being levied on the various
wards in the city, on the county, and the borough of Southwark. Both Lord Mansfield
and Lord Saville, however, who had been great sufferers, refused to accept of any compensation
whatever. The House of Commons, sitting on Tuesday with
locked and guarded doors, had passed a resolution to the effect that, as soon as the tumults
subsided, it would immediately proceed to consider the petitions presented from many
of his Majesty's Protestant subjects, and would take the same into its serious consideration.
While this question was under debate, Mr Herbert, one of the members present, indignantly rose
and called upon the House to observe that Lord George Gordon was then sitting under
the gallery with the blue cockade, the signal of rebellion, in his hat. He was not only
obliged, by those who sat near, to take it out; but offering to go into the street to
pacify the mob with the somewhat indefinite assurance that the House was prepared to give
them 'the satisfaction they sought,' was actually held down in his seat by the combined force
of several members. In short, the disorder and violence which reigned triumphant out
of doors, penetrated into the senate, and there, as elsewhere, terror and alarm prevailed,
and ordinary forms were for the time forgotten. On the Thursday, both Houses had adjourned
until the following Monday se'nnight, declaring it impossible to pursue their deliberations
with the necessary gravity and freedom, while they were surrounded by armed troops. And
now that the rioters were dispersed, the citizens were beset with a new fear; for, finding the
public thoroughfares and all their usual places of resort filled with soldiers entrusted with
the free use of fire and sword, they began to lend a greedy ear to the rumours which
were afloat of martial law being declared, and to dismal stories of prisoners having
been seen hanging on lamp-posts in Cheapside and Fleet Street. These terrors being promptly
dispelled by a Proclamation declaring that all the rioters in custody would be tried
by a special commission in due course of law, a fresh alarm was engendered by its being
whispered abroad that French money had been found on some of the rioters, and that the
disturbances had been fomented by foreign powers who sought to compass the overthrow
and ruin of England. This report, which was strengthened by the diffusion of anonymous
handbills, but which, if it had any foundation at all, probably owed its origin to the circumstance
of some few coins which were not English money having been swept into the pockets of the
insurgents with other miscellaneous booty, and afterwards discovered on the prisoners
or the dead bodies,ócaused a great sensation; and men's minds being in that excited state
when they are most apt to catch at any shadow of apprehension, was bruited about with much
industry. All remaining quiet, however, during the whole
of this Friday, and on this Friday night, and no new discoveries being made, confidence
began to be restored, and the most timid and desponding breathed again. In Southwark, no
fewer than three thousand of the inhabitants formed themselves into a watch, and patrolled
the streets every hour. Nor were the citizens slow to follow so good an example: and it
being the manner of peaceful men to be very bold when the danger is over, they were abundantly
fierce and daring; not scrupling to question the stoutest passenger with great severity,
and carrying it with a very high hand over all errand-boys, servant-girls, and 'prentices.
As day deepened into evening, and darkness crept into the nooks and corners of the town
as if it were mustering in secret and gathering strength to venture into the open ways, Barnaby
sat in his dungeon, wondering at the silence, and listening in vain for the noise and outcry
which had ushered in the night of late. Beside him, with his hand in hers, sat one in whose
companionship he felt at peace. She was worn, and altered, full of grief, and heavy-hearted;
but the same to him. 'Mother,' he said, after a long silence: 'how
long,óhow many days and nights,óshall I be kept here?'
'Not many, dear. I hope not many.' 'You hope! Ay, but your hoping will not undo
these chains. I hope, but they don't mind that. Grip hopes, but who cares for Grip?'
The raven gave a short, dull, melancholy croak. It said 'Nobody,' as plainly as a croak could
speak. 'Who cares for Grip, except you and me?' said
Barnaby, smoothing the bird's rumpled feathers with his hand. 'He never speaks in this place;
he never says a word in jail; he sits and mopes all day in his dark corner, dozing sometimes,
and sometimes looking at the light that creeps in through the bars, and shines in his bright
eye as if a spark from those great fires had fallen into the room and was burning yet.
But who cares for Grip?' The raven croaked againóNobody.
'And by the way,' said Barnaby, withdrawing his hand from the bird, and laying it upon
his mother's arm, as he looked eagerly in her face; 'if they kill meóthey may: I heard
it said they wouldówhat will become of Grip when I am dead?'
The sound of the word, or the current of his own thoughts, suggested to Grip his old phrase
'Never say die!' But he stopped short in the middle of it, drew a dismal cork, and subsided
into a faint croak, as if he lacked the heart to get through the shortest sentence.
'Will they take HIS life as well as mine?' said Barnaby. 'I wish they would. If you and
I and he could die together, there would be none to feel sorry, or to grieve for us. But
do what they will, I don't fear them, mother!' 'They will not harm you,' she said, her tears
choking her utterance. 'They never will harm you, when they know all. I am sure they never
will.' 'Oh! Don't be too sure of that,' cried Barnaby,
with a strange pleasure in the belief that she was self-deceived, and in his own sagacity.
'They have marked me from the first. I heard them say so to each other when they brought
me to this place last night; and I believe them. Don't you cry for me. They said that
I was bold, and so I am, and so I will be. You may think that I am silly, but I can die
as well as another.óI have done no harm, have I?' he added quickly.
'None before Heaven,' she answered. 'Why then,' said Barnaby, 'let them do their
worst. You told me onceóyouówhen I asked you what death meant, that it was nothing
to be feared, if we did no harmóAha! mother, you thought I had forgotten that!'
His merry laugh and playful manner smote her to the heart. She drew him closer to her,
and besought him to talk to her in whispers and to be very quiet, for it was getting dark,
and their time was short, and she would soon have to leave him for the night.
'You will come to-morrow?' said Barnaby. Yes. And every day. And they would never part
again. He joyfully replied that this was well, and
what he wished, and what he had felt quite certain she would tell him; and then he asked
her where she had been so long, and why she had not come to see him when he had been a
great soldier, and ran through the wild schemes he had had for their being rich and living
prosperously, and with some faint notion in his mind that she was sad and he had made
her so, tried to console and comfort her, and talked of their former life and his old
sports and freedom: little dreaming that every word he uttered only increased her sorrow,
and that her tears fell faster at the freshened recollection of their lost tranquillity.
'Mother,' said Barnaby, as they heard the man approaching to close the cells for the
night,' when I spoke to you just now about my father you cried "Hush!" and turned away
your head. Why did you do so? Tell me why, in a word. You thought HE was dead. You are
not sorry that he is alive and has come back to us. Where is he? Here?'
'Do not ask any one where he is, or speak about him,' she made answer.
'Why not?' said Barnaby. 'Because he is a stern man, and talks roughly? Well! I don't
like him, or want to be with him by myself; but why not speak about him?'
'Because I am sorry that he is alive; sorry that he has come back; and sorry that he and
you have ever met. Because, dear Barnaby, the endeavour of my life has been to keep
you two asunder.' 'Father and son asunder! Why?'
'He has,' she whispered in his ear, 'he has shed blood. The time has come when you must
know it. He has shed the blood of one who loved him well, and trusted him, and never
did him wrong in word or deed.' Barnaby recoiled in horror, and glancing at
his stained wrist for an instant, wrapped it, shuddering, in his dress.
'But,' she added hastily as the key turned in the lock, 'although we shun him, he is
your father, dearest, and I am his wretched wife. They seek his life, and he will lose
it. It must not be by our means; nay, if we could win him back to penitence, we should
be bound to love him yet. Do not seem to know him, except as one who fled with you from
the jail, and if they question you about him, do not answer them. God be with you through
the night, dear boy! God be with you!' She tore herself away, and in a few seconds
Barnaby was alone. He stood for a long time rooted to the spot, with his face hidden in
his hands; then flung himself, sobbing, on his miserable bed.
But the moon came slowly up in all her gentle glory, and the stars looked out, and through
the small compass of the grated window, as through the narrow crevice of one good deed
in a murky life of guilt, the face of Heaven shone bright and merciful. He raised his head;
gazed upward at the quiet sky, which seemed to smile upon the earth in sadness, as if
the night, more thoughtful than the day, looked down in sorrow on the sufferings and evil
deeds of men; and felt its peace sink deep into his heart. He, a poor idiot, caged in
his narrow cell, was as much lifted up to God, while gazing on the mild light, as the
freest and most favoured man in all the spacious city; and in his ill-remembered prayer, and
in the fragment of the childish hymn, with which he sung and crooned himself asleep,
there breathed as true a spirit as ever studied homily expressed, or old cathedral arches
echoed. As his mother crossed a yard on her way out,
she saw, through a grated door which separated it from another court, her husband, walking
round and round, with his hands folded on his breast, and his head hung down. She asked
the man who conducted her, if she might speak a word with this prisoner. Yes, but she must
be quick for he was locking up for the night, and there was but a minute or so to spare.
Saying this, he unlocked the door, and bade her go in.
It grated harshly as it turned upon its hinges, but he was deaf to the noise, and still walked
round and round the little court, without raising his head or changing his attitude
in the least. She spoke to him, but her voice was weak, and failed her. At length she put
herself in his track, and when he came near, stretched out her hand and touched him.
He started backward, trembling from head to foot; but seeing who it was, demanded why
she came there. Before she could reply, he spoke again.
'Am I to live or die? Do you murder too, or spare?'
'My sonóour son,' she answered, 'is in this prison.'
'What is that to me?' he cried, stamping impatiently on the stone pavement. 'I know it. He can
no more aid me than I can aid him. If you are come to talk of him, begone!'
As he spoke he resumed his walk, and hurried round the court as before. When he came again
to where she stood, he stopped, and said, 'Am I to live or die? Do you repent?'
'Oh!ódo YOU?' she answered. 'Will you, while time remains? Do not believe that I could
save you, if I dared.' 'Say if you would,' he answered with an oath,
as he tried to disengage himself and pass on. 'Say if you would.'
'Listen to me for one moment,' she returned; 'for but a moment. I am but newly risen from
a sick-bed, from which I never hoped to rise again. The best among us think, at such a
time, of good intentions half-performed and duties left undone. If I have ever, since
that fatal night, omitted to pray for your repentance before deathóif I omitted, even
then, anything which might tend to urge it on you when the horror of your crime was freshóif,
in our later meeting, I yielded to the dread that was upon me, and forgot to fall upon
my knees and solemnly adjure you, in the name of him you sent to his account with Heaven,
to prepare for the retribution which must come, and which is stealing on you nowóI
humbly before you, and in the agony of supplication in which you see me, beseech that you will
let me make atonement.' 'What is the meaning of your canting words?'
he answered roughly. 'Speak so that I may understand you.'
'I will,' she answered, 'I desire to. Bear with me for a moment more. The hand of Him
who set His curse on murder, is heavy on us now. You cannot doubt it. Our son, our innocent
boy, on whom His anger fell before his birth, is in this place in peril of his lifeóbrought
here by your guilt; yes, by that alone, as Heaven sees and knows, for he has been led
astray in the darkness of his intellect, and that is the terrible consequence of your crime.'
'If you come, woman-like, to load me with reproachesó' he muttered, again endeavouring
to break away. 'I do not. I have a different purpose. You
must hear it. If not to-night, to-morrow; if not to-morrow, at another time. You MUST
hear it. Husband, escape is hopelessóimpossible.' 'You tell me so, do you?' he said, raising
his manacled hand, and shaking it. 'You!' 'Yes,' she said, with indescribable earnestness.
'But why?' 'To make me easy in this jail. To make the
time 'twixt this and death, pass pleasantly. For my goodóyes, for my good, of course,'
he said, grinding his teeth, and smiling at her with a livid face.
'Not to load you with reproaches,' she replied; 'not to aggravate the tortures and miseries
of your condition, not to give you one hard word, but to restore you to peace and hope.
Husband, dear husband, if you will but confess this dreadful crime; if you will but implore
forgiveness of Heaven and of those whom you have wronged on earth; if you will dismiss
these vain uneasy thoughts, which never can be realised, and will rely on Penitence and
on the Truth, I promise you, in the great name of the Creator, whose image you have
defaced, that He will comfort and console you. And for myself,' she cried, clasping
her hands, and looking upward, 'I swear before Him, as He knows my heart and reads it now,
that from that hour I will love and cherish you as I did of old, and watch you night and
day in the short interval that will remain to us, and soothe you with my truest love
and duty, and pray with you, that one threatening judgment may be arrested, and that our boy
may be spared to bless God, in his poor way, in the free air and light!'
He fell back and gazed at her while she poured out these words, as though he were for a moment
awed by her manner, and knew not what to do. But anger and fear soon got the mastery of
him, and he spurned her from him. 'Begone!' he cried. 'Leave me! You plot, do
you! You plot to get speech with me, and let them know I am the man they say I am. A curse
on you and on your boy.' 'On him the curse has already fallen,' she
replied, wringing her hands. 'Let it fall heavier. Let it fall on one and
all. I hate you both. The worst has come to me. The only comfort that I seek or I can
have, will be the knowledge that it comes to you. Now go!'
She would have urged him gently, even then, but he menaced her with his chain.
'I say goóI say it for the last time. The gallows has me in its grasp, and it is a black
phantom that may urge me on to something more. Begone! I curse the hour that I was born,
the man I slew, and all the living world!' In a paroxysm of wrath, and terror, and the
fear of death, he broke from her, and rushed into the darkness of his cell, where he cast
himself jangling down upon the stone floor, and smote it with his ironed hands. The man
returned to lock the dungeon door, and having done so, carried her away.
On that warm, balmy night in June, there were glad faces and light hearts in all quarters
of the town, and sleep, banished by the late horrors, was doubly welcomed. On that night,
families made merry in their houses, and greeted each other on the common danger they had escaped;
and those who had been denounced, ventured into the streets; and they who had been plundered,
got good shelter. Even the timorous Lord Mayor, who was summoned that night before the Privy
Council to answer for his conduct, came back contented; observing to all his friends that
he had got off very well with a reprimand, and repeating with huge satisfaction his memorable
defence before the Council, 'that such was his temerity, he thought death would have
been his portion.' On that night, too, more of the scattered
remnants of the mob were traced to their lurking-places, and taken; and in the hospitals, and deep
among the ruins they had made, and in the ditches, and fields, many unshrouded wretches
lay dead: envied by those who had been active in the disturbances, and who pillowed their
doomed heads in the temporary jails. And in the Tower, in a dreary room whose thick
stone walls shut out the hum of life, and made a stillness which the records left by
former prisoners with those silent witnesses seemed to deepen and intensify; remorseful
for every act that had been done by every man among the cruel crowd; feeling for the
time their guilt his own, and their lives put in peril by himself; and finding, amidst
such reflections, little comfort in fanaticism, or in his fancied call; sat the unhappy author
of allóLord George Gordon. He had been made prisoner that evening. 'If
you are sure it's me you want,' he said to the officers, who waited outside with the
warrant for his arrest on a charge of High Treason, 'I am ready to accompany youó' which
he did without resistance. He was conducted first before the Privy Council, and afterwards
to the Horse Guards, and then was taken by way of Westminster Bridge, and back over London
Bridge (for the purpose of avoiding the main streets), to the Tower, under the strongest
guard ever known to enter its gates with a single prisoner.
Of all his forty thousand men, not one remained to bear him company. Friends, dependents,
followers,ónone were there. His fawning secretary had played the traitor; and he whose weakness
had been goaded and urged on by so many for their own purposes, was desolate and alone.