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Charles Dickens > Barnaby Rudge > Chapter 68

Barnaby Rudge

Chapter 68

While Newgate was burning on the previous night, Barnaby and his
father, having been passed among the crowd from hand to hand, stood
in Smithfield, on the outskirts of the mob, gazing at the flames
like men who had been suddenly roused from sleep. Some moments
elapsed before they could distinctly remember where they were, or
how they got there; or recollected that while they were standing
idle and listless spectators of the fire, they had tools in their
hands which had been hurriedly given them that they might free
themselves from their fetters.

Barnaby, heavily ironed as he was, if he had obeyed his first
impulse, or if he had been alone, would have made his way back to
the side of Hugh, who to his clouded intellect now shone forth with
the new lustre of being his preserver and truest friend. But his
father's terror of remaining in the streets, communicated itself to
him when he comprehended the full extent of his fears, and
impressed him with the same eagerness to fly to a place of safety.

In a corner of the market among the pens for cattle, Barnaby knelt
down, and pausing every now and then to pass his hand over his
father's face, or look up to him with a smile, knocked off his
irons. When he had seen him spring, a free man, to his feet, and
had given vent to the transport of delight which the sight
awakened, he went to work upon his own, which soon fell rattling
down upon the ground, and left his limbs unfettered.

Gliding away together when this task was accomplished, and passing
several groups of men, each gathered round a stooping figure to
hide him from those who passed, but unable to repress the clanking
sound of hammers, which told that they too were busy at the same
work,--the two fugitives made towards Clerkenwell, and passing
thence to Islington, as the nearest point of egress, were quickly
in the fields. After wandering about for a long time, they found
in a pasture near Finchley a poor shed, with walls of mud, and roof
of grass and brambles, built for some cowherd, but now deserted.
Here, they lay down for the rest of the night.

They wandered to and fro when it was day, and once Barnaby went off
alone to a cluster of little cottages two or three miles away, to
purchase some bread and milk. But finding no better shelter, they
returned to the same place, and lay down again to wait for night.

Heaven alone can tell, with what vague hopes of duty, and
affection; with what strange promptings of nature, intelligible to
him as to a man of radiant mind and most enlarged capacity; with
what dim memories of children he had played with when a child
himself, who had prattled of their fathers, and of loving them, and
being loved; with how many half-remembered, dreamy associations of
his mother's grief and tears and widowhood; he watched and tended
this man. But that a vague and shadowy crowd of such ideas came
slowly on him; that they taught him to be sorry when he looked upon
his haggard face, that they overflowed his eyes when he stooped to
kiss him, that they kept him waking in a tearful gladness, shading
him from the sun, fanning him with leaves, soothing him when he
started in his sleep--ah! what a troubled sleep it was--and
wondering when SHE would come to join them and be happy, is the
truth. He sat beside him all that day; listening for her footsteps
in every breath of air, looking for her shadow on the gently-waving
grass, twining the hedge flowers for her pleasure when she came,
and his when he awoke; and stooping down from time to time to
listen to his mutterings, and wonder why he was so restless in that
quiet place. The sun went down, and night came on, and he was
still quite tranquil; busied with these thoughts, as if there were
no other people in the world, and the dull cloud of smoke hanging
on the immense city in the distance, hid no vices, no crimes, no
life or death, or cause of disquiet--nothing but clear air.

But the hour had now come when he must go alone to find out the
blind man (a task that filled him with delight) and bring him to
that place; taking especial care that he was not watched or
followed on his way back. He listened to the directions he must
observe, repeated them again and again, and after twice or thrice
returning to surprise his father with a light-hearted laugh, went
forth, at last, upon his errand: leaving Grip, whom he had carried
from the jail in his arms, to his care.

Fleet of foot, and anxious to return, he sped swiftly on towards
the city, but could not reach it before the fires began, and made
the night angry with their dismal lustre. When he entered the
town--it might be that he was changed by going there without his
late companions, and on no violent errand; or by the beautiful
solitude in which he had passed the day, or by the thoughts that
had come upon him,--but it seemed peopled by a legion of devils.
This flight and pursuit, this cruel burning and destroying, these
dreadful cries and stunning noises, were THEY the good lord's noble

Though almost stupefied by the bewildering scene, still be found
the blind man's house. It was shut up and tenantless.

He waited for a long while, but no one came. At last he withdrew;
and as he knew by this time that the soldiers were firing, and many
people must have been killed, he went down into Holborn, where he
heard the great crowd was, to try if he could find Hugh, and
persuade him to avoid the danger, and return with him.

If he had been stunned and shocked before, his horror was
increased a thousandfold when he got into this vortex of the riot,
and not being an actor in the terrible spectacle, had it all before
his eyes. But there, in the midst, towering above them all, close
before the house they were attacking now, was Hugh on horseback,
calling to the rest!

Sickened by the sights surrounding him on every side, and by the
heat and roar, and crash, he forced his way among the crowd (where
many recognised him, and with shouts pressed back to let him pass),
and in time was nearly up with Hugh, who was savagely threatening
some one, but whom or what he said, he could not, in the great
confusion, understand. At that moment the crowd forced their way
into the house, and Hugh--it was impossible to see by what means,
in such a concourse--fell headlong down.

Barnaby was beside him when he staggered to his feet. It was well
he made him hear his voice, or Hugh, with his uplifted axe, would
have cleft his skull in twain.

'Barnaby--you! Whose hand was that, that struck me down?'

'Not mine.'

'Whose!--I say, whose!' he cried, reeling back, and looking wildly
round. 'What are you doing? Where is he? Show me!'

'You are hurt,' said Barnaby--as indeed he was, in the head, both
by the blow he had received, and by his horse's hoof. 'Come away
with me.'

As he spoke, he took the horse's bridle in his hand, turned him,
and dragged Hugh several paces. This brought them out of the
crowd, which was pouring from the street into the vintner's

'Where's--where's Dennis?' said Hugh, coming to a stop, and
checking Barnaby with his strong arm. 'Where has he been all day?
What did he mean by leaving me as he did, in the jail, last night?
Tell me, you--d'ye hear!'

With a flourish of his dangerous weapon, he fell down upon the
ground like a log. After a minute, though already frantic with
drinking and with the wound in his head, he crawled to a stream of
burning spirit which was pouring down the kennel, and began to
drink at it as if it were a brook of water.

Barnaby drew him away, and forced him to rise. Though he could
neither stand nor walk, he involuntarily staggered to his horse,
climbed upon his back, and clung there. After vainly attempting to
divest the animal of his clanking trappings, Barnaby sprung up
behind him, snatched the bridle, turned into Leather Lane, which
was close at hand, and urged the frightened horse into a heavy

He looked back, once, before he left the street; and looked upon a
sight not easily to be erased, even from his remembrance, so long
as he had life.

The vintner's house with a half-a-dozen others near at hand, was
one great, glowing blaze. All night, no one had essayed to quench
the flames, or stop their progress; but now a body of soldiers
were actively engaged in pulling down two old wooden houses, which
were every moment in danger of taking fire, and which could
scarcely fail, if they were left to burn, to extend the
conflagration immensely. The tumbling down of nodding walls and
heavy blocks of wood, the hooting and the execrations of the crowd,
the distant firing of other military detachments, the distracted
looks and cries of those whose habitations were in danger, the
hurrying to and fro of frightened people with their goods; the
reflections in every quarter of the sky, of deep, red, soaring
flames, as though the last day had come and the whole universe were
burning; the dust, and smoke, and drift of fiery particles,
scorching and kindling all it fell upon; the hot unwholesome
vapour, the blight on everything; the stars, and moon, and very
sky, obliterated;--made up such a sum of dreariness and ruin, that
it seemed as if the face of Heaven were blotted out, and night, in
its rest and quiet, and softened light, never could look upon the
earth again.

But there was a worse spectacle than this--worse by far than fire
and smoke, or even the rabble's unappeasable and maniac rage. The
gutters of the street, and every crack and fissure in the stones,
ran with scorching spirit, which being dammed up by busy hands,
overflowed the road and pavement, and formed a great pool, into
which the people dropped down dead by dozens. They lay in heaps
all round this fearful pond, husbands and wives, fathers and sons,
mothers and daughters, women with children in their arms and babies
at their breasts, and drank until they died. While some stooped
with their lips to the brink and never raised their heads again,
others sprang up from their fiery draught, and danced, half in a
mad triumph, and half in the agony of suffocation, until they fell,
and steeped their corpses in the liquor that had killed them. Nor
was even this the worst or most appalling kind of death that
happened on this fatal night. From the burning cellars, where they
drank out of hats, pails, buckets, tubs, and shoes, some men were
drawn, alive, but all alight from head to foot; who, in their
unendurable anguish and suffering, making for anything that had the
look of water, rolled, hissing, in this hideous lake, and splashed
up liquid fire which lapped in all it met with as it ran along the
surface, and neither spared the living nor the dead. On this last
night of the great riots--for the last night it was--the wretched
victims of a senseless outcry, became themselves the dust and ashes
of the flames they had kindled, and strewed the public streets of

With all he saw in this last glance fixed indelibly upon his mind,
Barnaby hurried from the city which enclosed such horrors; and
holding down his head that he might not even see the glare of the
fires upon the quiet landscape, was soon in the still country

He stopped at about half-a-mile from the shed where his father
lay, and with some difficulty making Hugh sensible that he must
dismount, sunk the horse's furniture in a pool of stagnant water,
and turned the animal loose. That done, he supported his companion
as well as he could, and led him slowly forward.

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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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