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Charles Dickens > Barnaby Rudge > Chapter 65

Barnaby Rudge

Chapter 65

During the whole course of the terrible scene which was now at its
height, one man in the jail suffered a degree of fear and mental
torment which had no parallel in the endurance, even of those who
lay under sentence of death.

When the rioters first assembled before the building, the murderer
was roused from sleep--if such slumbers as his may have that
blessed name--by the roar of voices, and the struggling of a great
crowd. He started up as these sounds met his ear, and, sitting on
his bedstead, listened.

After a short interval of silence the noise burst out again. Still
listening attentively, he made out, in course of time, that the
jail was besieged by a furious multitude. His guilty conscience
instantly arrayed these men against himself, and brought the fear
upon him that he would be singled out, and torn to pieces.

Once impressed with the terror of this conceit, everything tended
to confirm and strengthen it. His double crime, the circumstances
under which it had been committed, the length of time that had
elapsed, and its discovery in spite of all, made him, as it were,
the visible object of the Almighty's wrath. In all the crime and
vice and moral gloom of the great pest-house of the capital, he
stood alone, marked and singled out by his great guilt, a Lucifer
among the devils. The other prisoners were a host, hiding and
sheltering each other--a crowd like that without the walls. He was
one man against the whole united concourse; a single, solitary,
lonely man, from whom the very captives in the jail 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; or it 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 that they would spare
him. Every shout they raised, and every sound they made, was a
blow upon his heart. As the attack went on, he grew more wild and
frantic in his terror: tried to pull away the bars that guarded the
chimney and prevented him from climbing up: called loudly on the
turnkeys to cluster round the cell and save him from the fury of
the rabble; or put him in some dungeon underground, no matter of
what depth, how dark it was, or loathsome, or beset with 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, of attracting attention, he was silent. By and bye, he saw,
as he looked from his grated window, a strange glimmering on the
stone walls and pavement of the yard. It was feeble at first, and
came and went, as though some officers with torches 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, and
burning sullenly in corners. One rolled beneath a wooden bench,
and set it in a 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 thick shower of burning fragments, from
some upper portion of the prison which was blazing nigh, began to
fall before his door. Remembering that it opened outwards, he knew
that every spark which fell upon the heap, and in the act lost its
bright life, and died an ugly speck of dust and rubbish, helped to
entomb him in a living grave. Still, though the jail resounded
with shrieks and cries for help,--though the fire bounded up as if
each separate flame had had a tiger's life, and roared as though,
in every one, there were a hungry voice--though the heat began to
grow intense, and the air suffocating, and the clamour without
increased, and the danger of his situation even from one merciless
element was every moment more extreme,--still he was afraid to
raise his voice again, lest the crowd should break in, and should,
of their own ears or from the information given them by the other
prisoners, get the clue to his place of confinement. Thus fearful
alike, of those within the prison and of those without; of noise
and silence; light and darkness; of being released, and being left
there to die; he was so tortured and tormented, that nothing man
has ever done to man in the horrible caprice of power and cruelty,
exceeds his self-inflicted punishment.

Now, now, the door was down. Now they came rushing through the
jail, calling to each other in the vaulted passages; clashing the
iron gates dividing yard from yard; beating at the doors of cells
and wards; wrenching off bolts and locks and bars; tearing down the
door-posts to get men out; endeavouring to drag them by main force
through gaps and windows where a child could scarcely pass;
whooping and yelling without a moment's rest; and running through
the heat and flames as if they were cased in metal. By their legs,
their arms, the hair upon their heads, they dragged the prisoners
out. Some threw themselves upon the captives as they got towards
the door, and tried to file away their irons; some danced about
them with a frenzied joy, and rent their clothes, and were ready,
as it seemed, to tear them limb from limb. Now a party of a dozen
men came darting through the yard into which the murderer cast
fearful glances from his darkened window; dragging a prisoner along
the ground whose dress they had nearly torn from his body in their
mad eagerness to set him free, and who was bleeding and senseless
in their hands. Now a score of prisoners ran to and fro, who had
lost themselves in the intricacies of the prison, and were so
bewildered with the noise and glare that they knew not where to
turn or what to do, and still cried out for help, as loudly as
before. Anon some famished wretch whose theft had been a loaf of
bread, or scrap of butcher's meat, came skulking past, barefooted--
going slowly away because that jail, his house, was burning; not
because he had any other, or had friends to meet, or old haunts to
revisit, or any liberty to gain, but liberty to starve and die.
And then a knot of highwaymen went trooping by, conducted by the
friends they had among the crowd, who muffled their fetters as they
went along, with handkerchiefs and bands of hay, and wrapped them
in coats and cloaks, and gave them drink from bottles, and held it
to their lips, because of their handcuffs which there was no time
to remove. All this, and Heaven knows how much more, was done
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 decrease for the space of a single instant.

He was still looking down from his window upon these things, when a
band of men with torches, ladders, axes, and many kinds of weapons,
poured into the yard, 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 remotest corner of the cell; but
although he returned them no answer, they had a fancy that some one
was inside, for they presently set ladders against it, and began to
tear away the bars at the casement; not only that, indeed, but with
pickaxes to hew down the very stones in the wall.

As soon as they had made a breach at the window, large enough for
the admission of a man's head, one of them thrust in a torch and
looked all round the room. He followed this man's gaze until it
rested on himself, and heard him demand why he had not answered,
but made him no reply.

In the general surprise and wonder, they were used to this; without
saying anything more, they enlarged the breach until it was large
enough to admit the body 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 the window, and those who stood
upon the ladders passed him down upon the pavement of 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
rescue others.

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 crowd rushed on, hurrying Barnaby among them.
In another minute--not so much: another minute! the same instant,
with no lapse or interval between!--he and his son were 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
dispersed themselves about it, and swarmed into every chink and
crevice, as if they had a perfect acquaintance with its innermost
parts, and bore in their minds an exact 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
who materially assisted in bringing about the wonderful rapidity
with which the release 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 to every 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 in the wall, and
going by a kind of passage near the chapel (it joined the governors
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 its opposite extremity by two doors and
a thick grate. Having double locked the wicket, and assured
himself that the other entrances were well secured, he sat down on
a bench in the gallery, and sucked the head of his stick with the
utmost complacency, tranquillity, and contentment.

It would have been strange enough, a man's enjoying himself in this
quiet manner, 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 the building, and moreover with the prayers
and cries of the four men under sentence sounding in his ears, and
their hands, stretched our through the gratings in their cell-
doors, clasped in frantic entreaty before his very eyes, it was
particularly remarkable. Indeed, Mr Dennis appeared to think it an
uncommon circumstance, and to banter himself upon it; for he thrust
his hat on one side as some men do when they are in a waggish
humour, sucked the head of 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, and quite a

He sat in this way for some minutes, while the four men in the
cells, who were certain that somebody had entered the gallery, but
could not see who, gave vent to such piteous entreaties as wretches
in their miserable condition may be supposed to have been inspired
with: urging, whoever it was, to set them at liberty, for the love
of Heaven; and protesting, with great fervour, and truly enough,
perhaps, for the time, that if they escaped, they would amend their
ways, and would never, never, never again do wrong before God or
man, but would lead penitent and sober lives, and sorrowfully
repent the crimes they had committed. The terrible energy with
which they spoke, would have moved any person, no matter how good
or just (if any good or just person could have strayed 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 have
saved them from this last dreadful and repulsive penalty; which
never turned a man inclined to evil, and has hardened thousands who
were half inclined to good.

Mr Dennis, who had been bred and nurtured in the good old school,
and had administered the good old laws on the good old plan, always
once and sometimes twice every six weeks, for a long time, bore
these appeals with a deal of philosophy. Being at last, however,
rather disturbed in his pleasant reflection 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 day but one; and again implored his aid.

'Aid! For what!' said Mr Dennis, playfully rapping the knuckles of
the hand nearest him.

'To save us!' they cried.

'Oh, certainly,' said Mr Dennis, winking at the wall in the absence
of any friend 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

'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 off that '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 the other, 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: 'laws have 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 constitootional officer's appointed a' purpose for you;
carts is maintained a' purpose for you--and yet you're not
contented!--WILL you hold that noise, you sir in the furthest?'

A groan was the only answer.

'So well as I can make out,' said Mr Dennis, in a tone of mingled
badinage and remonstrance, 'there's not a man among you. I begin
to think I'm on the opposite side, and among the ladies; though for
the matter of that, I've seen a many ladies face it out, in a
manner that did honour to the sex.--You in number 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'm
ashamed of you. You're a disgrace to the Bailey.'

After pausing for a moment to hear if anything could be pleaded in
justification, 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 that you 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 hoarse when you come to the
speeches,--which is a pity. What I say in respect to the speeches
always is, "Give it mouth." That's my maxim. Give it mouth. I've
heerd,' said the hangman, pulling off his hat to take his
handkerchief from the crown and wipe his face, and then putting it
on again a little more on one side than before, 'I've heerd a
eloquence on them boards--you know what boards I mean--and have
heerd a degree of mouth given to them speeches, that they was as
clear as a bell, and as good as a play. There's a pattern! And
always, when a thing of this natur's to come off, what I stand up
for, is, a proper frame of 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 in particular, to
you in the furthest), never snivel. I'd sooner by half, though I
lose by it, see a man tear his clothes a' purpose to spile 'em
before they come 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 air of a pastor in familiar conversation with his flock,
the noise had been in some degree subdued; for the rioters were
busy in conveying the prisoners to the Sessions House, which was
beyond the main walls of the prison, though connected with it, and
the crowd were busy too, in passing them from thence along the
street. But when he had got thus far in his discourse, the sound
of voices in the yard showed plainly that the mob had returned and
were coming that way; and directly afterwards a violent crashing at
the grate below, gave note 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, one after another, with his hat, in futile efforts to
stifle the cries of the four men within; it was in vain he dogged
their outstretched hands, and beat them with his stick, or menaced
them with new and lingering pains in the execution of his office;
the place resounded with their cries. These, together with the
feeling that they were now the last men in the jail, so worked upon
and stimulated the besiegers, that in an incredibly short space of
time they forced the strong grate down below, which was formed of
iron rods two inches square, 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 and the 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 shall be 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 on Thursday? Don't you respect the law--the constitootion--
nothing? Let the four men be.'

'Is this a time for joking?' cried Hugh. 'Do you hear 'em? Pull
away these bars 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 of doing what Hugh desired, but only looked up in his
face, 'can't you leave these here four men to me, if I've the whim!
You do what you like, and have what you like of everything for your
share,--give me my share. I want these four men left alone, I tell

'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,' said the hangman, slowly. 'What! You WILL come in, will


'You won't let these men alone, and leave 'em to me? You've no
respect for nothing--haven't you?' said the hangman, retreating to
the door by which he had entered, and regarding his companion with
a scowl. 'You WILL come in, will you, 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 the iron wicket, which he had nearly shut upon himself, and
held ajar. 'Remember where you're coming. That's all!'

With that, he shook his likeness at Hugh, and giving him a grin,
compared with which his usual smile was amiable, disappeared, and
shut the door.

Hugh paused no longer, but goaded alike by the cries of the
convicts, and by the impatience of the crowd, warned the man
immediately behind him--the way was only wide enough for one
abreast--to stand back, and wielded a sledge-hammer with such
strength, that after a few blows the iron bent and broke, and gave
them free admittance.

It the two sons of one of these men, of whom mention has been made,
were furious 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 the axes crashing through the door
should wound him, a party went to work upon each one, to beat it in
by sheer strength, and force the bolts and staples from their hold.
But although these two lads had the weakest party, and the worst
armed, and did not begin until after the others, having stopped to
whisper to him through the grate, that door was the first open, and
that man was the first out. As they dragged him into the gallery
to knock off his irons, he fell down among them, a mere heap of
chains, and was carried out in that state on men's shoulders, with
no sign of life.

The release of these four wretched creatures, and conveying them,
astounded and bewildered, into the streets so full of life--a
spectacle they had never thought to see again, until they emerged
from solitude and silence upon that last journey, when the air
should be heavy with the pent-up breath of thousands, and the
streets and houses should be built and roofed with human faces, not
with bricks and tiles and stones--was the crowning horror of the
scene. Their pale and haggard looks and hollow eyes; their
staggering feet, and hands stretched out as if to save themselves
from falling; their wandering and uncertain air; the way they
heaved and gasped for breath, as though in water, when they were
first plunged into the crowd; all marked them for the men. No need
to say 'this one was doomed to die;' for there were the words
broadly stamped and branded on his face. The crowd fell off, as if
they had been laid out for burial, and had risen in their shrouds;
and many were seen to shudder, as though they had been actually
dead men, when they chanced to touch or brush against their

At the bidding of the mob, the houses were all illuminated that
night--lighted up from top to bottom as at a time of public gaiety
and joy. Many years afterwards, 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 as they looked, timid and
frightened children, from the windows, seeing a FACE go by. Though
the whole great crowd and all its other terrors had faded from
their recollection, this one object remained; alone, distinct, and
well remembered. Even in the unpractised minds of infants, one of
these doomed men darting past, and but an instant seen, was an
image of force enough to dim the whole concourse; to find itself an
all-absorbing place, and hold it ever after.

When this last task had been achieved, the shouts and cries grew
fainter; the clank 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 and sullen murmur as it passed into
the distance; and when the human tide had rolled away, a melancholy
heap of smoking ruins marked the spot where it had lately chafed
and roared.

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Index Index

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64
Chapter 65
Chapter 66
Chapter 67
Chapter 68
Chapter 69
Chapter 70
Chapter 71
Chapter 72
Chapter 73
Chapter 74
Chapter 75
Chapter 76
Chapter 77
Chapter 78
Chapter 79
Chapter 80
Chapter 81
Chapter 82

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