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THE SIEGE OF HILLSIDE
'Ferments arise, imprisoned factions roar, Represt ambition struggles round the shore; Till, overwrought, the general system feels Its motion stop, or frenzy fire the wheels.'--GOLDSMITH.
Griffith had come straight home this year. There were no Peacock gaieties to tempt him in London, for old Sir Henry had died suddenly soon after the ball in December; nor was there much of a season that year, owing to the illness and death of George IV.
A regiment containing two old schoolmates of his was at Bristol, and he spent a good deal of time there, and also in Yeomanry drill. As autumn came on we rejoiced in having so stalwart a protector, for the agricultural riots had begun, and the forebodings of another French Revolution seemed about to be realised. We stayed on at Chantry House. My father thought his duty lay there as a magistrate, and my mother would not leave him; nor indeed was any other place much safer, certainly not London, whence Clarence wrote accounts of formidable mobs who were expected to do more harm than they accomplished; though their hatred of the hero of our country filled us with direful prognostications, and made us think of the guillotine, which was linked with revolution in our minds, before we had I beheld the numerous changes that followed upon the thirty years of peace in which we grew up.
The ladies did not much like losing so stalwart a defender when Griff returned to Oxford; and Jane the housemaid went to bed every night with the pepper-pot and a poker, the first wherewith to blind the enemy, the second to charge them with. From our height we could more than once see blazing ricks, and were glad that the home farm was not in our own hands, and that our only stack of hay was a good way from the house. When the onset came at last, it was December, and the enemy only consisted of about thirty dreary-looking men and boys in smock-frocks and chalked or smutted faces, armed only with sticks and an old gun diverted from its purpose of bird-scaring. They shouted for food, money, and arms; but my father spoke to them from the hall steps, told them they had better go home and learn that the public-house was a worse enemy to them than any machine that had ever been invented, and assured them that they would get no help from him in breaking the laws and getting themselves into trouble. A stone or two was picked up, whereupon he went back and had the hall door shut and barred, the heavy shutters of the windows having all been closed already, so that we could have stood a much more severe siege than from these poor fellows. One or two windows were broken, as well as the glass of the conservatory, and the flower beds were trampled; but finding our fortress impregnable they sneaked away before dark. We fared better than our neighbours, some of whom were seriously frightened, and suffered loss of property. Old Mr. Fordyce had for many years past been an active magistrate-- that a clergyman should be on the bench having been quite correct according to the notions of his younger days; and in spite of his beneficence he incurred a good deal of unpopularity for withstanding the lax good-nature which made his brother magistrates give orders for parish relief refused to able-bodied paupers by their own Vestries. This was a mischievous abuse of the old poor-law times, which made people dispose of every one's money save their own. He had also been a keen sportsman; and though his son had given up field sports in deference to higher notions of clerical duty (his wife's, as people said), the old man's feeling prompted him to severity on poachers. Frank Fordyce, while by far the most earnest, hardworking clergyman in the neighbourhood, worked off his superfluous energy on scientific farming, making the glebe and the hereditary estate as much the model farm as Hillside was the model parish. He had lately set up a threshing-machine worked by horses, which was as much admired by the intelligent as it was vituperated by the ignorant.
Neither paupers nor poachers abounded in Hillside; the natives were chiefly tenants and employed on the property, and, between good management and beneficence, there was little real want and much friendly confidence and affection; and thus, in spite of surrounding riots, Hillside seemed likely to be an exception, proving what could he done by rightful care and attention. Nor indeed did the attack come from thence; but the two parsons were bitterly hated by outsiders beyond the reach of their personal influence and benevolence.
It was on a Saturday evening, the day after Griff had come back for the Christmas vacation, that, as Emily was giving Amos his lesson, she saw that the boy was crying, and after examination he let out that 'folk should say that the lads were agoing to break Parson Fordy's machine and fire his ricks that very night;' but he would not give his authority, and when he saw her about to give warning, entreated, 'Now, dont'ze say nothing, Miss Emily--'
'What?' she cried indignantly; 'do you think I could hear of such a thing without trying to stop it?'
'Us says,' he blurted out, 'as how Winslows be always fain of ought as happens to the Fordys--'
'We are not such wicked Winslows as you have heard of,' returned Emily with dignity; and she rushed off in quest of papa and Griff, but when she brought them to the bookroom, Amos had decamped, and was nowhere to be found that night. We afterwards learnt that he lay hidden in the hay-loft, not daring to return to his granny's, lest he should be suspected of being a traitor to his kind; for our lawless, untamed, discontented parish furnished a large quota to the rioters, and he has since told me that though all seemed to know what was about to be done, he did not hear it from any one in particular.
It was no time to make light of a warning, but very difficult to know what to do. Rural police were non-existent; there were no soldiers nearer than Keynsham, and the Yeomanry were all in their own homesteads. However, the captain of Griff's troop, Sir George Eastwood, lived about three miles beyond Wattlesea, and had a good many dependants in the corps, so it was resolved to send him a note by the gardener, good James Ellis, a steady, resolute man, on Emily's fast-trotting pony, while my father and Griff should hasten to Hillside to warn the Fordyces, who were not unlikely to be able to muster trustworthy defenders among their own people, and might send the ladies to take shelter at Chantry House.
My mother's brave spirit disdained to detain an effective man for her own protection, and the groom was to go to Hillside; he was in the Yeomanry, and, like Griff, put on his uniform, while my father had the Riot Act in his pocket. All the horses were thus absorbed, but Chapman and the man-servant followed on foot.
Never did I feel my incapacity more than on that strange night, when Emily was flying about with Martyn to all the doors and windows in a wild state of excitement, humming to herself -
'When the dawn on the mountain was misty and gray,
My true love has mounted his steed and away.'
My mother was equally restless, prolonging as much as possible the preparation of rooms for possible guests; and when she did come and sit down, she netted her purse with vehement jerks, and scolded Emily for jumping up and leaving doors open.
At last, after an hour according to the clock, but far more by our feelings, wheels were heard in the distance; Emily was off like a shot to reconnoitre, and presently Martyn bounced in with the tidings that a pair of carriage lamps were coming up the drive. My mother hurried out into the hall; I made my best speed after her, and found her hastily undoing the door-chain as she recognised the measured, courteous voice of old Mr. Fordyce. In a moment more they were all in the house, the old gentleman giving his arm to his daughter-in-law, who was quite overcome with distress and alarm; then came his tall, slim granddaughter, carrying her little sister with arms full of dolls, and sundry maid-servants completed the party of fugitives.
'We are taking advantage of Mr. Winslow's goodness,' said the old Rector. 'He assured us that you would be kind enough to receive those who would only be an encumbrance.'
'Oh, but I must go back to Frank now that you and the children are safe,' cried the poor lady. 'Don't send away the carriage; I must go back to Frank.'
'Nonsense, my dear,' returned Mr. Fordyce, 'Frank is in no danger. He will get on much better for knowing you are safe. Mrs. Winslow will tell you so.'
My mother was enforcing this assurance, when the little girl's sobs burst out in spite of her sister, who had been trying to console her. 'It is Celestina Mary,' she cried, pointing to three dolls whom she had carried in clasped to her breast. 'Poor Celestina Mary! She is left behind, and Ellen won't let me go and see if she is in the carriage.'
'My dear, if she is in the carriage, she will be quite safe in the morning.'
'Oh, but she will be so cold. She had nothing on but Rosella's old petticoat.'
The distress was so real that I had my hand on the bell to cause a search to be instituted for the missing damsel, when Mrs. Fordyce begged me to do no such thing, as it was only a doll. The child, while endeavouring to shelter with a shawl the dolls, snatched in their night-gear from their beds, wept so piteously at the rebuff that her grandfather had nearly gone in quest of the lost one, but was stopped by a special entreaty that he would not spoil the child. Martyn, however, who had been standing in open-mouthed wonder at such feeling for a doll, exclaimed, 'Don't cry, don't cry. I'll go and get it for you;' and rushed off to the stable-yard.
This episode had restored Mrs. Fordyce, and while providing some of our guests with wine, and others with tea, we heard the story, only interrupted by Martyn's return from a vain search, and Anne's consequent tears, which, however, were somehow hushed and smothered by fears of being sent to bed, coupled with his promises to search every step of the way to-morrow.
It appeared that while the Fordyce family were at dinner, shouts, howls and yells had startled them. The rabble had surrounded the Rectory, bawling out abuse of the parsons and their machines, and occasionally throwing stones. There was no help to be expected; the only hope was in the strength of the doors and windows, and the knowledge that personal violence was very uncommon; but those were terrible moments, and poor Mrs. Fordyce was nearly dead with suppressed terror when her husband tried haranguing from an upper window, and was received with execrations and a volley of stones, while the glass crashed round him.
At that instant the shouts turned to yells of dismay, 'The so'diers! the so'diers!'
Our party had found everything still and dark in the village, for in truth the men had hidden themselves. They were being too much attached to their masters to join in the attack, but were afraid of being compelled to assist the rioters, and not resolute enough against their own class either to inform against them or oppose them.
Through the midnight-like stillness of the street rose the tumult around the Rectory; and by the light of a few lanterns, and from the upper windows, they could see a mass of old hats, smock-frocked shoulders, and the tops of bludgeons; while at soonest, Sir George Eastwood's troop could not be expected for an hour or more.
'We must get to them somehow,' said my father and Griff to one another; and Griff added, 'These rascals are arrant cowards, and they can't see the number of us.'
Then, before my father knew what he was about--certainly before he could get hold of the Riot Act--he found the stable lantern made over to him, and Griff's sword flashing in light, as, making all possible clatter and jingling with their accoutrements, the two yeomen dashed among the throng, shouting with all their might, and striking with the flat of their swords. The rioters, ill-fed, dull- hearted men for the most part--many dragged out by compulsion, and already terrified--went tumbling over one another and running off headlong, bearing off with them (as we afterwards learnt) their leaders by their weight, taking the blows and pushes they gave one another in their pell-mell rush for those of the soldiery, and falling blindly against the low wall of the enclosure. The only difficulty was in clearing them out at the two gates of the drive.
When Mr. Fordyce opened the door to hail his rescuers he was utterly amazed to behold only three, and asked in a bewildered voice, 'Where are the others?'
There were two prisoners, Petty the ratcatcher, who had attempted some resistance and had been knocked down by Griff's horse, and a young lad in a smock-frock who had fallen off the wall and hurt his knee, and who blubbered piteously, declaring that them chaps had forced him to go with them, or they would duck him in the horse- pond. They were supposed to be given in charge to some one, but were lost sight of, and no wonder! For just then it was discovered that the machine shed was on fire. The rioters had apparently detached one of their number to kindle the flame before assaulting the house. The matter was specially serious, because the stackyard was on a line with the Rectory, at some distance indeed, but on lower ground; and what with barns, hay and wheat ricks, sheds, cowhouses and stables, all thatched, a big wood-pile, and a long old-fashioned greenhouse, there was almost continuous communication. Clouds of smoke and an ominous smell were already perceptible on the wind, generated by the heat, and the loose straw in the centre of the farmyard was beginning to be ignited by the flakes and sparks, carrying the mischief everywhere, and rendering it exceedingly difficult to release the animals and drive them to a place of safety. Water was scarce. There were only two wells, besides the pump in the house, and a shallow pond. The brook was a quarter of a mile off in the valley, and the nearest engine, a poor feeble thing, at Wattlesea. Moreover, the assailants might discover how small was the force of rescuers, and return to the attack. Thus, while Griff, who had given amateur assistance at all the fires he could reach in London; was striving to organise resistance to this new enemy, my father induced the gentlemen to cause the horses to be put to the various vehicles, and employ them in carrying the women and children to Chantry House. The old Rector was persuaded to go to take care of his daughter-in-law, and she only thought of putting her girls in safety. She listened to reason, and indeed was too much exhausted to move when once she was laid on the sofa. She would not hear of going to bed, though her little daughter Anne was sent off with her nurse, grandpapa persuading her that Rosella and the others were very much tired. When she was gone, he declared his fears that he had sat down on Celestina's head, and showed so much compunction that we were much amused at his relief when Martyn assured him of having searched the carriage with a stable lantern, so that whatever had befallen the lady he was not the guilty person. He really seemed more concerned about this than at the loss of all his own barns and stores. And little Anne was certainly as lovely and engaging a little creature as ever I saw; while, as to her elder sister, in all the trouble and anxiety of the night, I could not help enjoying the sight of her beautiful eager face and form. She was tall and very slight, sylph-like, as it was the fashion to call it, but every limb was instinct with grace and animation. Her face was, perhaps, rather too thin for robust health, though this enhanced the idea of her being all spirit, as also did the transparency of complexion, tinted with an exquisite varying carnation. Her eyes were of a clear, bright, rather light brown, and were sparkling with the lustre of excitement, her delicate lips parted, showing the pretty pearly teeth, as she was telling Emily, in a low voice of enthusiasm, scarcely designed for my ears, how glorious a sight our brother had been, riding there in his glancing silver, bearing down all before him with his good sword, like the Captal de Buch dispersing the Jacquerie.
To which Emily responded, 'Oh, don't you love the Captal de Buch?' And their friendship was cemented.
Next I heard, 'And that you should have been so good after all my rudeness. But I thought you were like the old Winslows; and instead of that you have come to the rescue of your enemies. Isn't it beautiful?'
'Oh no, not enemies,' said Emily. 'That was all over a hundred years ago!'
'So my papa and grandpapa say,' returned Miss Fordyce; 'but the last Mr. Winslow was not a very nice man, and never would be civil to us.'
A report was brought that the glare of the fire could be seen over the hill from the top of the house, and off went the two young ladies to the leads, after satisfying themselves that Anne was asleep among her homeless dolls.
Old Mr. Fordyce devoted himself to keeping up the spirits of his daughter-in-law as the night advanced without any tidings, except that the girls, from time to time, rushed down to tell us of fresh outbursts of red flame reflected in the sky, then that the glow was diminishing; by which time they were tired out, and, both sinking into a big armchair, they went to sleep in each other's arms. Indeed I believe we all dozed more or less before any one returned from the scene of action--at about three o'clock.
The struggle with the flames had been very unequal. The long tongues soon reached the roof of the large barn, which was filled with straw, nor could the flakes of burning thatch be kept from the stable, while the water of the pond was soon reduced to mud. Helpers began to flock in, but who could tell which were trustworthy? and all were uncomprehending.
There was so little hope of saving the house that the removal of everything valuable was begun under my father's superintendence. Frank Fordyce was here, there, and everywhere; while Griffith, like a gallant general, fought the foe with very helpless unmanageable forces. Villagers, male and female, had emerged and stood gaping round; but, let him rage and storm as he might, they would not go and collect pails and buckets and form a line to the brook. Still less would they assist in overthrowing and carrying away the faggots of a big wood-pile so as to cut off the communication with the offices. Only Chapman and one other man gave any help in this; and presently the stack caught, and Griff, on the top, was in great peril of the faggots rolling down with him into the middle, and imprisoning him in the blazing pile. 'I never felt so like Dido,' said Griff.
That woodstack gave fearful aliment to the roaring flame, which came on so fast that the destruction of the adjoining buildings quickly followed. The Wattlesea engine had come, but the yard well was unattainable, and all that could be done was to saturate the house with water from its own well, and cover the side with wet blankets; but these reeked with steam, and then shrivelled away in the intense glow of heat.
However, by this time the Eastwood Yeomanry, together with some reasonable men, had arrived. A raid was made on the cottages for buckets, a chain formed to the river, and at last the fire was got under, having made a wreck of everything out-of-doors, and consumed one whole wing of the house, though the older and more esteemed portion was saved.
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