‘I’ll not open the door!’ said Mr. Wyley from within; ’they will rob and murder me. They are come to kill me, and I may as well die here. There’s no help.’
‘There is help, dear uncle!’ cried Miss Anne; ’there are other people from Botfield; and help is coming from Longville. Oh, let me in!’
‘No,’ said the master, ’they all hate me. They’ll kill me, and say it was done in the fire. I’ll not open to anybody.’
She prayed and expostulated in vain; he cared little for their danger, so hardened was he by a selfish fear for himself. The fire was gaining ground quickly, for a brisk wind had sprung up, and the long-seasoned timber in the old walls burnt like touchwood. The servant lay insensible on the threshold of the master’s chamber; and Miss Anne and Stephen looked out from a front casement upon the gathering crowd, who implored them, with frenzied earnestness, to throw open the door.
‘Miss Anne,’ cried Stephen, ’you can get through the pantry window; you are little enough. Oh, be quick, and let me see you safe!’
‘I cannot,’ she answered: ’not yet! Not till the last moment. I dare not leave my uncle and that poor girl. Oh, Stephen, if Martha would but come!’
She rested her head against the casement, sobbing, as though her grief could not be assuaged. Stephen felt heart-sick with his intense longing for the arrival of help from Longville, as he watched the progress of the fire; but at last, after what appeared ages of waiting, they heard a shout in the distance, and saw a little band of horsemen galloping up to the burning house.
‘They are come from Longville, uncle,’ cried Miss Anne. ’You must open now; there is not a moment to spare. The fire is gaining upon us fast.’
He had seen their approach himself, and now he opened the doors, and gave the keys to Miss Anne. He had collected all his papers and notes in one large bundle, which he had clasped in his arms; and as soon as the crowd swept in through the open doors, he cried aloud to the constable from Longville to come and guard him. There was very little time for saving anything out of the house, for before long the flames gathered such volume and strength as to drive every one out before them; and as Stephen stood beside the miserable old man, who was shivering in the bitter night wind, he beheld his dwelling destroyed as suddenly and entirely as the hut at Fern’s Hollow had been.
Mr. Wyley would not stir from the place where he could gaze upon his old home burning to the ground. He stood rooted to the spot, like one fascinated and enchained by a power he could not resist, grasping his precious bundle to his breast, and clinging firmly to the arm of the Longville doctor, who had been one of those who hastened to his rescue. Now and then he broke out into a deep cry, which he did not