It was indeed high time, for all efforts to extinguish the flames had proved vain; every part of the castle was on fire; the fiery element streamed from the lower windows, and curled upwards around the towers; it crackled and hissed in its fury, and the atmosphere became unfit to breathe; it was like inhaling flame. Sparks flew about in all directions, dense stifling smoke filled every room. Not a man remained in the hall, when Redwald rushed down the gallery, holding his breath, for the hot air scorched the lungs; when, just as he arrived, the staircase fell with a huge crash, and the flames shot up in his face, igniting hair and beard, and scorching his flesh. He rushed back to the opposite end of the passage, only to meet another blast of fire and smoke—for they had ignited the hall in twenty places at once; they had done their work all too well. He rushed to the room he had left, shut the door for a moment’s respite from flame and smoke, and then, springing at the window, strove to tear the bars down, but all in vain.
“There must be some egress. How did they escape? How could they escape?” he cried; and he sought in vain for the exit, for they had closed the door again, and he knew not where to look; in vain he lifted the tapestry, he could not discover the secret; and at last, overpowered by the heat, he sprang again to the window, and drank in deep draughts of fresh cool air to appease the burning feeling in his throat.
Crash! crash! part of the roof had given way, and the whole chamber trembled; then a single tongue of flame shot up through the floor, then another; the door had caught outside. Even in that moment he beheld his men, his faithful followers, madly seeking death from the swords of the foe; they had lowered the drawbridge, and dashed out without a leader.
“Would I were with them!” he cried. “Oh, to die like this!”
“Behold,” cried a voice without, “he hath digged and graven a pit, and is fallen himself into the destruction he made for others.”
It was Father Swithin, who had observed the face at the window, and who raised the cry which now drew all the enemy to gaze upon him, for they had no longer a foe to destroy.
The flames now filled the room, but still he clung to the window, and thus protracted his torments; his foes, even the stern monk, could but pity him now, so marred and blackened was his visage, so agonised his lineaments; like, as they said, the rude pictures of the lost, where the last judgment was painted on the walls of the churches. Yet he uttered no cry, he had resolved to die bravely; all was lost now. Another moment, and those who watched saw the huge beams which supported the building bend and quiver; then the whole framework collapsed, and with a sound like thunder the roof tumbled in, and the unhappy Ragnar was buried in the ruin; while the flames from his funeral pyre rose to the very heavens, and the smoke blotted the stars from view.