By Charles Matthews

Saturday, April 9, 2011

15. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 576-613

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 64-67
The keeper of Newgate Prison, Richard Akerman, comes out on the roof of his residence to confront the mob led by Hugh, who orders him to release the imprisoned rioters. Akerman refuses, of course, but he is then surprised to hear Gabriel Varden call out to him. Gabriel, however, doesn't plead for him to release the prisoners but instead says that he was brought there by the crowd "to pick the lock of the great door" and asks him, "Bear witness for me, Mr Akerman, that I refuse to do it; and that I will not do it, come what may of my refusal. If any violence is done to me, please to remember this." Akerman then calls on Hugh and begs him to release Gabriel, which Hugh says he'll do if the keeper releases the rioters. The keeper retreats under a hail of stones, and the mob shoves Gabriel up against the door, where he continues to refuse to work on the lock.
Dennis dealt him a blow upon the face which felled him to the ground. He sprung up again like a man in the prime of life, and with blood upon his forehead, caught him by the throat.

"You cowardly dog!" he said: "Give me my daughter. Give me my daughter." 
The mob surges around Gabriel, and he is about to be felled with a pole-ax by a worker from a slaughterhouse when the one-armed man and another man knock the assailant down and rescue Gabriel. They shout, "Remember the prisoners! remember Barnaby!" as they drag Gabriel away. The mob redirects its efforts to battering down the gate.

The keeper's house is ransacked and the furniture piled up against the prison gate to burn it down. The heat from the blaze grows "so intense that the paint on the houses over against the prison, parched and crackled up, and swelling into boils, as it were from excess of torture, broke and crumbled away." The fire grows so large that the prisoners inside begin to fear that they'll be burned alive, especially the ones on the side of the jail nearest Newgate Street. This section was death row, and an outcry comes from not only the prisoners there, who were set to be executed on Thursday, but also from members of their families outside the prison.

The flames also feed the madness of the crowd when the great gate burns enough to be pushed down. "Hugh leapt upon the blazing heap, and scattering a train of sparks into the air, and making the dark lobby glitter with those that hung upon his dress, dashed into the jail." Dennis follows him, and the mob entering the prison grows so thick that they stamp out the fire on the gate, though the rest of the prison is now in flames.

In his cell, Rudge hears the noise of the mob, but mistakenly thinks that it is coming for him: "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." The fire only increases his panic and frenzy.

The mob surges through the prison, trying to get the inmates out of their locked cells by hacking at the bolts and locks and making openings in the walls and bars to pull them out. "By their legs, their arms, the hair upon their heads, they dragged the prisoners out. The freed prisoners get lost in the intricacies of the prison corridors "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."

They reach Rudge's cell, where he cowers in a corner, still thinking that the riot is focused on him. He is hauled through a window and carried down a ladder and told he is free. "He staggered to his feet, incredulous of what had happened, when the yard was filled again, and a crowd rushed in, hurrying Barnaby among them. In another minute ... 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."

Dennis, meanwhile, takes advantage of his knowledge of the prison layout, and after directing the crowd which way to go, he makes his way to the gallery adjoining the condemned cells. He takes the keys from a cupboard and double-locks a gate, sealing himself off with the condemned prisoners. Then he sits down on a bench outside their cells "and sucked the head of his stick with the utmost complacency, tranquillity, and contentment." The men in the cells sense his presence and begin to plead with him for release. Dickens now comments on the death penalty:
The terrible energy with which they spoke, would have moved any person, no matter how good or just ..., 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.
But Dennis's livelihood has always depended on a steady supply of people to hang, so he's hardly the one to be moved by their pleas. When they reach their hands out through the bars, he raps their knuckles. He chides them for complaining: "'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.'" He assures them that he has "come here to take care of you, and see that you an't burnt, instead of the other thing."

Finally, Hugh arrives in the passage and urges him to release the prisoners. To his astonishment, Dennis refuses: "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." But Hugh persists, and the prisoners are released, though they spook the crowd when they appear outside: "many were seen to shudder, as though they had been actually dead men, when they chanced to touch or brush against their garments."

Haredale has spent the day searching for Emma, and is exhausted. He has been assured "that a proclamation would probably be out upon the morrow, giving to the military, discretionary and unlimited power in the suppression of the riots," and although he's glad to hear this, it doesn't affect his main concern, his niece. As evening comes one he realizes he needs to rest, but he is turned away by a hotel at Charing Cross because the landlord has been ordered by the rioters not to shelter anyone whose house had been destroyed. Then he hears that Newgate is under attack, and he goes there because that's where Rudge has been locked up. In the crowd he is accosted by two men, and he puts up a struggle, only to discover that one of them is the vintner, Langdale, whom he had seen at the Lord Mayor's, and the other one is Gordon's former servant, John Grueby.

The vintner tells him that Grueby is now his servant, providing him intelligence about the plans of the rioters. Grueby insists, however, that he will give no evidence against Gordon, whom he describes as "a misled men -- a kind-hearted man, sir. My lord never intended this." They take Haredale to the vintner's house on Holborn Hill, where he collapses. Grueby goes for a surgeon, who bleeds Haredale, who recovers and is given "cordial and some toast, and presently a pretty strong composing-draught, under the influence of which  he soon fell into a lethargy, and, for a time, forgot his troubles."

During the night, Grueby and others bring Langdale news of what has been happening, and they begin to hear the rattling of the chains of the freed prisoners in the streets, and the flames from the burning prison "shone so brightly through the vintner's skylights, that the rooms and staircases below were nearly as light as in broad day." They hear that the mob has attacked Lord Mansfield's house, destroying "a beautiful gallery of pictures, the rarest collection of manuscripts ever possessed by any one private person in the world, and worse than all, because nothing could replace this loss, the great Law Library, on almost every page of which were notes in the Judge's own hand, of inestimable value." The mob is dispersed by the arrival of soldiers, who fire on the crowd and kill six men and a woman and wound many others, but when the soldiers depart the crowd returns for the bodies and parades through the streets with them.

A dozen other houses, including Sir John Fielding's, are put to the torch, and the fire hoses are cut by the mob. At one house, caged canaries are found and tossed into the flames, and a child's doll is shown to to mob "as the image of some unholy saint which the late occupants had worshipped." One man "harangued the crowd from a pamphlet circulated by the Association, relative to the true principles of Christianity! Meanwhile the Lord Mayor, with his hands in his pockets, looked on as an idle man might look at any other show, and seemed mightily satisfied to have got a good place."
The next day, word goes out that the rioters plan to attack the debtors' prisons next, and the wardens allow the inmates to leave with their belongings. "There were some broken men among these debtors who had been in jail so long, and were so miserable and destitute of friends, so dead to the world, and utterly forgotten and uncared for, that they implored their jailers not to set them free, and to send them, if need were, to some other place of custody." Some of the prisoners who had been liberated from Newgate return to the ruins of the prison and are recaptured there. Rumors fly: "It was said that they meant to throw the gates of Bedlam open, and let all the madmen loose.

That evening, the Privy Council announces that the military now has full authority to use "their utmost force, to repress the disturbances," and warns that citizens are to stay indoors that night. But the rioters are undeterred, and soon thirty-six new fires are burning throughout the city. Some streets have been blocked off with heavy chains, and "there the fighting and the loss of life were greatest; but there was hot work and bloodshed in almost every leading thoroughfare."

Hugh is still leading the rioters, riding "a brewer's horse of great size and strength, caparisoned with fetters taken out of Newgate, which clanked and jingled as he went." He carries an ax in his right hand, and seems to have no fear of the soldiers, "dashing on as though he bore a charmed life, and was proof against ball and powder." In fact, the soldiers are trying to take him alive.

Now he leads a mob in an attack on the vintner's house. The vintner and Haredale go to the roof to look down on the crowd, and realizing that the attack is imminent and can't be prevented, they decide to try to escape. They first try going along the rooftops of the adjoining houses, hoping to find an attic window they can enter and escape to the street, but they are spotted. The vintner persuades Haredale to return to his house and go to the cellar where there's a passage through which casks are rolled in and out. Langdale's house is a particularly appealing target for the mob because of the wines and spirits that are stored in it.

They make their way back to the house, which is already being broken into when they reach the entrance to the cellar. They hurry through the dark vaults, but soon see light behind them as the crowd breaks in with torches.
They hurried on, not the less quickly for this; and had reached the only vault which lay between them and the passage out, when suddenly, from the direction in which they were going, a strong light gleamed upon their faces; and before they could slip aside, or turn back, or hide themselves, two men (one bearing a torch) came upon them and cried in an astonished whisper, "Here they are!"

At the same instant they pulled off what they wore upon their heads. Mr Haredale saw before him Edward Chester, and then saw, when the vintner gasped his name, Joe Willet. 
Well, you knew it already, didn't you?  
Langdale, of course, is the vintner whose bill Joe used to be sent to London every quarter to pay. He immediately assures him that he's there to help. Haredale, of course, is a little more wary of Edward, for good reason. But Joe steps in to assure him that "time have come when we ought to know friends from enemies, and make no confusion of names," and that Edward has helped slow the rioters down by striking Hugh off his horse. "Once in the house, he would have found you, here or anywhere. The rest owe you no particular grudge, and, unless they see you, will only think of drinking themselves dead."

They lead Haredale and the vintner, explaining that they had been let in the back door by John Grueby. They crawl through the passage that the vintner had indicated as a way of escape, and reach the street.

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