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Charles Dickens > Barnaby Rudge > Chapter 77

Barnaby Rudge

Chapter 77

The time wore on. The noises in the streets became less frequent
by degrees, until silence was scarcely broken save by the bells in
church towers, marking the progress--softer and more stealthy
while the city slumbered--of that Great Watcher with the hoary
head, who never sleeps or rests. In the brief interval of darkness
and repose which feverish towns enjoy, all busy sounds were hushed;
and those who awoke from dreams lay listening in their beds, and
longed for dawn, and wished the dead of the night were past.

Into the street outside the jail's main wall, workmen came
straggling at this solemn hour, in groups of two or three, and
meeting in the centre, cast their tools upon the ground and spoke
in whispers. Others soon issued from the jail itself, bearing on
their shoulders planks and beams: these materials being all brought
forth, the rest bestirred themselves, and the dull sound of hammers
began to echo through the stillness.

Here and there among this knot of labourers, one, with a lantern or
a smoky link, stood by to light his fellows at their work; and by
its doubtful aid, some might be dimly seen taking up the pavement
of the road, while others held great upright posts, or fixed them
in the holes thus made for their reception. Some dragged slowly
on, towards the rest, an empty cart, which they brought rumbling
from the prison-yard; while others erected strong barriers across
the street. All were busily engaged. Their dusky figures moving
to and fro, at that unusual hour, so active and so silent, might
have been taken for those of shadowy creatures toiling at midnight
on some ghostly unsubstantial work, which, like themselves, would
vanish with the first gleam of day, and leave but morning mist and

While it was yet dark, a few lookers-on collected, who had plainly
come there for the purpose and intended to remain: even those who
had to pass the spot on their way to some other place, lingered,
and lingered yet, as though the attraction of that were
irresistible. Meanwhile the noise of saw and mallet went on
briskly, mingled with the clattering of boards on the stone
pavement of the road, and sometimes with the workmen's voices as
they called to one another. Whenever the chimes of the
neighbouring church were heard--and that was every quarter of an
hour--a strange sensation, instantaneous and indescribable, but
perfectly obvious, seemed to pervade them all.

Gradually, a faint brightness appeared in the east, and the air,
which had been very warm all through the night, felt cool and
chilly. Though there was no daylight yet, the darkness was
diminished, and the stars looked pale. The prison, which had been
a mere black mass with little shape or form, put on its usual
aspect; and ever and anon a solitary watchman could be seen upon
its roof, stopping to look down upon the preparations in the
street. This man, from forming, as it were, a part of the jail,
and knowing or being supposed to know all that was passing within,
became an object of as much interest, and was as eagerly looked
for, and as awfully pointed out, as if he had been a spirit.

By and by, the feeble light grew stronger, and the houses with
their signboards and inscriptions, stood plainly out, in the dull
grey morning. Heavy stage waggons crawled from the inn-yard
opposite; and travellers peeped out; and as they rolled sluggishly
away, cast many a backward look towards the jail. And now, the
sun's first beams came glancing into the street; and the night's
work, which, in its various stages and in the varied fancies of the
lookers-on had taken a hundred shapes, wore its own proper form--a
scaffold, and a gibbet.

As the warmth of the cheerful day began to shed itself upon the
scanty crowd, the murmur of tongues was heard, shutters were thrown
open, and blinds drawn up, and those who had slept in rooms over
against the prison, where places to see the execution were let at
high prices, rose hastily from their beds. In some of the houses,
people were busy taking out the window-sashes for the better
accommodation of spectators; in others, the spectators were already
seated, and beguiling the time with cards, or drink, or jokes among
themselves. Some had purchased seats upon the house-tops, and
were already crawling to their stations from parapet and garret-
window. Some were yet bargaining for good places, and stood in
them in a state of indecision: gazing at the slowly-swelling crowd,
and at the workmen as they rested listlessly against the scaffold--
affecting to listen with indifference to the proprietor's eulogy of
the commanding view his house afforded, and the surpassing
cheapness of his terms.

A fairer morning never shone. From the roofs and upper stories of
these buildings, the spires of city churches and the great
cathedral dome were visible, rising up beyond the prison, into the
blue sky, and clad in the colour of light summer clouds, and
showing in the clear atmosphere their every scrap of tracery and
fretwork, and every niche and loophole. All was brightness and
promise, excepting in the street below, into which (for it yet lay
in shadow) the eye looked down as into a dark trench, where, in the
midst of so much life, and hope, and renewal of existence, stood
the terrible instrument of death. It seemed as if the very sun
forbore to look upon it.

But it was better, grim and sombre in the shade, than when, the day
being more advanced, it stood confessed in the full glare and glory
of the sun, with its black paint blistering, and its nooses
dangling in the light like loathsome garlands. It was better in
the solitude and gloom of midnight with a few forms clustering
about it, than in the freshness and the stir of morning: the centre
of an eager crowd. It was better haunting the street like a
spectre, when men were in their beds, and influencing perchance the
city's dreams, than braving the broad day, and thrusting its
obscene presence upon their waking senses.

Five o'clock had struck--six--seven--and eight. Along the two main
streets at either end of the cross-way, a living stream had now
set in, rolling towards the marts of gain and business. Carts,
coaches, waggons, trucks, and barrows, forced a passage through the
outskirts of the throng, and clattered onward in the same
direction. Some of these which were public conveyances and had
come from a short distance in the country, stopped; and the driver
pointed to the gibbet with his whip, though he might have spared
himself the pains, for the heads of all the passengers were turned
that way without his help, and the coach-windows were stuck full of
staring eyes. In some of the carts and waggons, women might be
seen, glancing fearfully at the same unsightly thing; and even
little children were held up above the people's heads to see what
kind of a toy a gallows was, and learn how men were hanged.

Two rioters were to die before the prison, who had been concerned
in the attack upon it; and one directly afterwards in Bloomsbury
Square. At nine o'clock, a strong body of military marched into
the street, and formed and lined a narrow passage into Holborn,
which had been indifferently kept all night by constables. Through
this, another cart was brought (the one already mentioned had been
employed in the construction of the scaffold), and wheeled up to
the prison-gate. These preparations made, the soldiers stood at
ease; the officers lounged to and fro, in the alley they had made,
or talked together at the scaffold's foot; and the concourse,
which had been rapidly augmenting for some hours, and still
received additions every minute, waited with an impatience which
increased with every chime of St Sepulchre's clock, for twelve at

Up to this time they had been very quiet, comparatively silent,
save when the arrival of some new party at a window, hitherto
unoccupied, gave them something new to look at or to talk of. But,
as the hour approached, a buzz and hum arose, which, deepening
every moment, soon swelled into a roar, and seemed to fill the air.
No words or even voices could be distinguished in this clamour, nor
did they speak much to each other; though such as were better
informed upon the topic than the rest, would tell their neighbours,
perhaps, that they might know the hangman when he came out, by his
being the shorter one: and that the man who was to suffer with him
was named Hugh: and that it was Barnaby Rudge who would be hanged
in Bloomsbury Square.

The hum grew, as the time drew near, so loud, that those who were
at the windows could not hear the church-clock strike, though it
was close at hand. Nor had they any need to hear it, either, for
they could see it in the people's faces. So surely as another
quarter chimed, there was a movement in the crowd--as if something
had passed over it--as if the light upon them had been changed--in
which the fact was readable as on a brazen dial, figured by a
giant's hand.

Three quarters past eleven! The murmur now was deafening, yet
every man seemed mute. Look where you would among the crowd, you
saw strained eyes and lips compressed; it would have been difficult
for the most vigilant observer to point this way or that, and say
that yonder man had cried out. It were as easy to detect the
motion of lips in a sea-shell.

Three quarters past eleven! Many spectators who had retired from
the windows, came back refreshed, as though their watch had just
begun. Those who had fallen asleep, roused themselves; and every
person in the crowd made one last effort to better his position--
which caused a press against the sturdy barriers that made them
bend and yield like twigs. The officers, who until now had kept
together, fell into their several positions, and gave the words of
command. Swords were drawn, muskets shouldered, and the bright
steel winding its way among the crowd, gleamed and glittered in the
sun like a river. Along this shining path, two men came hurrying
on, leading a horse, which was speedily harnessed to the cart at
the prison-door. Then, a profound silence replaced the tumult that
had so long been gathering, and a breathless pause ensued. Every
window was now choked up with heads; the house-tops teemed with
people--clinging to chimneys, peering over gable-ends, and holding
on where the sudden loosening of any brick or stone would dash them
down into the street. The church tower, the church roof, the
church yard, the prison leads, the very water-spouts and
lampposts--every inch of room--swarmed with human life.

At the first stroke of twelve the prison-bell began to toll. Then
the roar--mingled now with cries of 'Hats off!' and 'Poor fellows!'
and, from some specks in the great concourse, with a shriek or
groan--burst forth again. It was terrible to see--if any one in
that distraction of excitement could have seen--the world of eager
eyes, all strained upon the scaffold and the beam.

The hollow murmuring was heard within the jail as plainly as
without. The three were brought forth into the yard, together, as
it resounded through the air. They knew its import well.

'D'ye hear?' cried Hugh, undaunted by the sound. 'They expect us!
I heard them gathering when I woke in the night, and turned over on
t'other side and fell asleep again. We shall see how they welcome
the hangman, now that it comes home to him. Ha, ha, ha!'

The Ordinary coming up at this moment, reproved him for his
indecent mirth, and advised him to alter his demeanour.

'And why, master?' said Hugh. 'Can I do better than bear it
easily? YOU bear it easily enough. Oh! never tell me,' he cried,
as the other would have spoken, 'for all your sad look and your
solemn air, you think little enough of it! They say you're the
best maker of lobster salads in London. Ha, ha! I've heard that,
you see, before now. Is it a good one, this morning--is your hand
in? How does the breakfast look? I hope there's enough, and to
spare, for all this hungry company that'll sit down to it, when the
sight's over.'

'I fear,' observed the clergyman, shaking his head, 'that you are

'You're right. I am,' rejoined Hugh sternly. 'Be no hypocrite,
master! You make a merry-making of this, every month; let me be
merry, too. If you want a frightened fellow there's one that'll
suit you. Try your hand upon him.'

He pointed, as he spoke, to Dennis, who, with his legs trailing on
the ground, was held between two men; and who trembled so, that all
his joints and limbs seemed racked by spasms. Turning from this
wretched spectacle, he called to Barnaby, who stood apart.

'What cheer, Barnaby? Don't be downcast, lad. Leave that to HIM.'

'Bless you,' cried Barnaby, stepping lightly towards him, 'I'm not
frightened, Hugh. I'm quite happy. I wouldn't desire to live now,
if they'd let me. Look at me! Am I afraid to die? Will they see
ME tremble?'

Hugh gazed for a moment at his face, on which there was a strange,
unearthly smile; and at his eye, which sparkled brightly; and
interposing between him and the Ordinary, gruffly whispered to the

'I wouldn't say much to him, master, if I was you. He may spoil
your appetite for breakfast, though you ARE used to it.'

He was the only one of the three who had washed or trimmed himself
that morning. Neither of the others had done so, since their doom
was pronounced. He still wore the broken peacock's feathers in his
hat; and all his usual scraps of finery were carefully disposed
about his person. His kindling eye, his firm step, his proud and
resolute bearing, might have graced some lofty act of heroism; some
voluntary sacrifice, born of a noble cause and pure enthusiasm;
rather than that felon's death.

But all these things increased his guilt. They were mere
assumptions. The law had declared it so, and so it must be. The
good minister had been greatly shocked, not a quarter of an hour
before, at his parting with Grip. For one in his condition, to
fondle a bird!--The yard was filled with people; bluff civic
functionaries, officers of justice, soldiers, the curious in such
matters, and guests who had been bidden as to a wedding. Hugh
looked about him, nodded gloomily to some person in authority, who
indicated with his hand in what direction he was to proceed; and
clapping Barnaby on the shoulder, passed out with the gait of a

They entered a large room, so near to the scaffold that the voices
of those who stood about it, could be plainly heard: some
beseeching the javelin-men to take them out of the crowd: others
crying to those behind, to stand back, for they were pressed to
death, and suffocating for want of air.

In the middle of this chamber, two smiths, with hammers, stood
beside an anvil. Hugh walked straight up to them, and set his foot
upon it with a sound as though it had been struck by a heavy
weapon. Then, with folded arms, he stood to have his irons knocked
off: scowling haughtily round, as those who were present eyed him
narrowly and whispered to each other.

It took so much time to drag Dennis in, that this ceremony was over
with Hugh, and nearly over with Barnaby, before he appeared. He no
sooner came into the place he knew so well, however, and among
faces with which he was so familiar, than he recovered strength and
sense enough to clasp his hands and make a last appeal.

'Gentlemen, good gentlemen,' cried the abject creature, grovelling
down upon his knees, and actually prostrating himself upon the
stone floor: 'Governor, dear governor--honourable sheriffs--worthy
gentlemen--have mercy upon a wretched man that has served His
Majesty, and the Law, and Parliament, for so many years, and don't--
don't let me die--because of a mistake.'

'Dennis,' said the governor of the jail, 'you know what the course
is, and that the order came with the rest. You know that we could
do nothing, even if we would.'

'All I ask, sir,--all I want and beg, is time, to make it sure,'
cried the trembling wretch, looking wildly round for sympathy.
'The King and Government can't know it's me; I'm sure they can't
know it's me; or they never would bring me to this dreadful
slaughterhouse. They know my name, but they don't know it's the
same man. Stop my execution--for charity's sake stop my execution,
gentlemen--till they can be told that I've been hangman here, nigh
thirty year. Will no one go and tell them?' he implored, clenching
his hands and glaring round, and round, and round again--'will no
charitable person go and tell them!'

'Mr Akerman,' said a gentleman who stood by, after a moment's
pause, 'since it may possibly produce in this unhappy man a better
frame of mind, even at this last minute, let me assure him that he
was well known to have been the hangman, when his sentence was

'--But perhaps they think on that account that the punishment's not
so great,' cried the criminal, shuffling towards this speaker on
his knees, and holding up his folded hands; 'whereas it's worse,
it's worse a hundred times, to me than any man. Let them know
that, sir. Let them know that. They've made it worse to me by
giving me so much to do. Stop my execution till they know that!'

The governor beckoned with his hand, and the two men, who had
supported him before, approached. He uttered a piercing cry:

'Wait! Wait. Only a moment--only one moment more! Give me a last
chance of reprieve. One of us three is to go to Bloomsbury Square.
Let me be the one. It may come in that time; it's sure to come.
In the Lord's name let me be sent to Bloomsbury Square. Don't hang
me here. It's murder.'

They took him to the anvil: but even then he could he heard above
the clinking of the smiths' hammers, and the hoarse raging of the
crowd, crying that he knew of Hugh's birth--that his father was
living, and was a gentleman of influence and rank--that he had
family secrets in his possession--that he could tell nothing unless
they gave him time, but must die with them on his mind; and he
continued to rave in this sort until his voice failed him, and he
sank down a mere heap of clothes between the two attendants.

It was at this moment that the clock struck the first stroke of
twelve, and the bell began to toll. The various officers, with the
two sheriffs at their head, moved towards the door. All was ready
when the last chime came upon the ear.

They told Hugh this, and asked if he had anything to say.

'To say!' he cried. 'Not I. I'm ready.--Yes,' he added, as his
eye fell upon Barnaby, 'I have a word to say, too. Come hither,

There was, for the moment, something kind, and even tender,
struggling in his fierce aspect, as he wrung his poor companion by
the hand.

'I'll say this,' he cried, looking firmly round, 'that if I had ten
lives to lose, and the loss of each would give me ten times the
agony of the hardest death, I'd lay them all down--ay, I would,
though you gentlemen may not believe it--to save this one. This
one,' he added, wringing his hand again, 'that will be lost through

'Not through you,' said the idiot, mildly. 'Don't say that. You
were not to blame. You have always been very good to me.--Hugh, we
shall know what makes the stars shine, NOW!'

'I took him from her in a reckless mood, and didn't think what harm
would come of it,' said Hugh, laying his hand upon his head, and
speaking in a lower voice. 'I ask her pardon; and his.--Look
here,' he added roughly, in his former tone. 'You see this lad?'

They murmured 'Yes,' and seemed to wonder why he asked.

'That gentleman yonder--' pointing to the clergyman--'has often in
the last few days spoken to me of faith, and strong belief. You
see what I am--more brute than man, as I have been often told--but
I had faith enough to believe, and did believe as strongly as any
of you gentlemen can believe anything, that this one life would be
spared. See what he is!--Look at him!'

Barnaby had moved towards the door, and stood beckoning him to

'If this was not faith, and strong belief!' cried Hugh, raising
his right arm aloft, and looking upward like a savage prophet whom
the near approach of Death had filled with inspiration, 'where are
they! What else should teach me--me, born as I was born, and
reared as I have been reared--to hope for any mercy in this
hardened, cruel, unrelenting place! Upon these human shambles, I,
who never raised this hand in prayer till now, call down the wrath
of God! On that black tree, of which I am the ripened fruit, I do
invoke the curse of all its victims, past, and present, and to
come. On the head of that man, who, in his conscience, owns me for
his son, I leave the wish that he may never sicken on his bed of
down, but die a violent death as I do now, and have the night-wind
for his only mourner. To this I say, Amen, amen!'

His arm fell downward by his side; he turned; and moved towards
them with a steady step, the man he had been before.

'There is nothing more?' said the governor.

Hugh motioned Barnaby not to come near him (though without looking
in the direction where he stood) and answered, 'There is nothing

'Move forward!'

'--Unless,' said Hugh, glancing hurriedly back,--'unless any
person here has a fancy for a dog; and not then, unless he means to
use him well. There's one, belongs to me, at the house I came
from, and it wouldn't be easy to find a better. He'll whine at
first, but he'll soon get over that.--You wonder that I think about
a dog just now, he added, with a kind of laugh. 'If any man
deserved it of me half as well, I'd think of HIM.'

He spoke no more, but moved onward in his place, with a careless
air, though listening at the same time to the Service for the Dead,
with something between sullen attention, and quickened curiosity.
As soon as he had passed the door, his miserable associate was
carried out; and the crowd beheld the rest.

Barnaby would have mounted the steps at the same time--indeed he
would have gone before them, but in both attempts he was
restrained, as he was to undergo the sentence elsewhere. In a few
minutes the sheriffs reappeared, the same procession was again
formed, and they passed through various rooms and passages to
another door--that at which the cart was waiting. He held down his
head to avoid seeing what he knew his eyes must otherwise
encounter, and took his seat sorrowfully,--and yet with something
of a childish pride and pleasure,--in the vehicle. The officers
fell into their places at the sides, in front and in the rear; the
sheriffs' carriages rolled on; a guard of soldiers surrounded the
whole; and they moved slowly forward through the throng and
pressure toward Lord Mansfield's ruined house.

It was a sad sight--all the show, and strength, and glitter,
assembled round one helpless creature--and sadder yet to note, as
he rode along, how his wandering thoughts found strange
encouragement in the crowded windows and the concourse in the
streets; and how, even then, he felt the influence of the bright
sky, and looked up, smiling, into its deep unfathomable blue. But
there had been many such sights since the riots were over--some so
moving in their nature, and so repulsive too, that they were far
more calculated to awaken pity for the sufferers, than respect for
that law whose strong arm seemed in more than one case to be as
wantonly stretched forth now that all was safe, as it had been
basely paralysed in time of danger.

Two cripples--both mere boys--one with a leg of wood, one who
dragged his twisted limbs along by the help of a crutch, were
hanged in this same Bloomsbury Square. As the cart was about to
glide from under them, it was observed that they stood with their
faces from, not to, the house they had assisted to despoil; and
their misery was protracted that this omission might be remedied.
Another boy was hanged in Bow Street; other young lads in various
quarters of the town. Four wretched women, too, were put to
death. In a word, those who suffered as rioters were, for the most
part, the weakest, meanest, and most miserable among them. It was
a most exquisite satire upon the false religious cry which had led
to so much misery, that some of these people owned themselves to be
Catholics, and begged to be attended by their own priests.

One young man was hanged in Bishopsgate Street, whose aged grey-
headed father waited for him at the gallows, kissed him at its foot
when he arrived, and sat there, on the ground, till they took him
down. They would have given him the body of his child; but he had
no hearse, no coffin, nothing to remove it in, being too poor--and
walked meekly away beside the cart that took it back to prison,
trying, as he went, to touch its lifeless hand.

But the crowd had forgotten these matters, or cared little about
them if they lived in their memory: and while one great multitude
fought and hustled to get near the gibbet before Newgate, for a
parting look, another followed in the train of poor lost Barnaby,
to swell the throng that waited for him on the spot.

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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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