All accounts agreed that the mob were out, in stronger numbers and more numerous parties than had yet appeared; that the streets were unsafe; that no man's house or life was worth an hour's purchase; that the public consternation was increasing every moment; and that many families had already fled the city. One fellow who wore the popular colour, damned them for not having cockades in their hats, and bade them set a good watch to-morrow night upon their prison doors, for the locks would have a straining; another asked if they were fire-proof, that they walked abroad without the distinguishing mark of all good and true men;--and a third who rode on horseback, and was quite alone, ordered them to throw each man a shilling, in his hat, towards the support of the rioters. Although they were afraid to refuse compliance with this demand, and were much alarmed by these reports, they agreed, having come so far, to go forward, and see the real state of things with their own eyes. So they pushed on quicker, as men do who are excited by portentous news; and ruminating on what they had heard, spoke little to each other.
It was now night, and as they came nearer to the city they had dismal confirmation of this intelligence in three great fires, all close together, which burnt fiercely and were gloomily reflected in the sky. Arriving in the immediate suburbs, they found that almost every house had chalked upon its door in large characters 'No Popery,' that the shops were shut, and that alarm and anxiety were depicted in every face they passed.
Noting these things with a degree of apprehension which neither of the three cared to impart, in its full extent, to his companions, they came to a turnpike-gate, which was shut. They were passing through the turnstile on the path, when a horseman rode up from London at a hard gallop, and called to the toll-keeper in a voice of great agitation, to open quickly in the name of God.
The adjuration was so earnest and vehement, that the man, with a lantern in his hand, came running out--toll-keeper though he was-- and was about to throw the gate open, when happening to look behind him, he exclaimed, 'Good Heaven, what's that! Another fire!'
At this, the three turned their heads, and saw in the distance-- straight in the direction whence they had come--a broad sheet of flame, casting a threatening light upon the clouds, which glimmered as though the conflagration were behind them, and showed like a wrathful sunset.
'My mind misgives me,' said the horseman, 'or I know from what far building those flames come. Don't stand aghast, my good fellow. Open the gate!'
'Sir,' cried the man, laying his hand upon his horse's bridle as he let him through: 'I know you now, sir; be advised by me; do not go on. I saw them pass, and know what kind of men they are. You will be murdered.'
'So be it!' said the horseman, looking intently towards the fire, and not at him who spoke.
'But sir--sir,' cried the man, grasping at his rein more tightly yet, 'if you do go on, wear the blue riband. Here, sir,' he added, taking one from his own hat, 'it's necessity, not choice, that makes me wear it; it's love of life and home, sir. Wear it for this one night, sir; only for this one night.'
'Do!' cried the three friends, pressing round his horse. 'Mr Haredale--worthy sir--good gentleman--pray be persuaded.'
'Who's that?' cried Mr Haredale, stooping down to look. 'Did I hear Daisy's voice?'
'You did, sir,' cried the little man. 'Do be persuaded, sir. This gentleman says very true. Your life may hang upon it.'
'Are you,' said Mr Haredale abruptly, 'afraid to come with me?'
'Put that riband in your hat. If we meet the rioters, swear that I took you prisoner for wearing it. I will tell them so with my own lips; for as I hope for mercy when I die, I will take no quarter from them, nor shall they have quarter from me, if we come hand to hand to-night. Up here--behind me--quick! Clasp me tight round the body, and fear nothing.'
In an instant they were riding away, at full gallop, in a dense cloud of dust, and speeding on, like hunters in a dream.