“Hurra!” shouted the mob with the military, who came up with them.
“Hurra!” shouted the others in reply.
“Quick march!” said the officer; and then, in a loud, commanding tone, he shouted, “Clear the way, there! clear the way.”
“Ay, there’s room enough for you,” said old Mason; “what are you making so much noise about?”
There was a general laugh at the officer, who took no notice of the words, but ordered his men up before the burning pile, which was now an immense mass of flame.
The mob who had accompanied the military now mingled with the mob that had set the house of Sir Francis Varney on fire ere the military had come up with them.
“Halt!” cried out the officer; and the men, obedient to the word of command, halted, and drew up in a double line before the house.
There were then some words of command issued, and some more given to some of the subalterns, and a party of men, under the command of a sergeant, was sent off from the main body, to make a circuit of the house and grounds.
The officer gazed for some moments upon the burning pile without speaking; and then, turning to the next in command, he said in low tones, as he looked upon the mob,—
“We have come too late.”
“The house is now nearly gutted.”
“And those who came crowding along with us are inextricably mingled with the others who have been the cause of all this mischief: there’s no distinguishing them one from another.”
“And if you did, you could not say who had done it, and who had not; you could prove nothing.”
“I shall not attempt to take prisoners, unless any act is perpetrated beyond what has been done.”
“It is a singular affair.”
“This Sir Francis Varney is represented to be a courteous, gentlemanly man,” said the officer.
“No doubt about it, but he’s beset by a parcel of people who do not mind cutting a throat if they can get an opportunity of doing so.”
“And I expect they will.”
“Yes, when there is a popular excitement against any man, he had better leave this part at once and altogether. It is dangerous to tamper with popular prejudices; no man who has any value for his life ought to do so. It is a sheer act of suicide.”
THE BURNING OF VARNEY’S HOUSE.—A NIGHT SCENE.—POPULAR SUPERSTITION.
The officer ceased to speak, and then the party whom he had sent round the house and grounds returned, and gained the main body orderly enough, and the sergeant went forward to make his report to his superior officer.
After the usual salutation, he waited for the inquiry to be put to him as to what he had seen.
“Well, Scott, what have you done?”