Outside “The Bower” they halted for a moment. One tradesman, a furniture dealer, bolder than the rest, advanced to the front-door and knocked.
The boy in buttons answered with a white face. In a moment the truth was out.
This whisper among the crowd grew to a murmur, the murmur to a roar. In vain the church-bell tolled out the single note that summons the parson. The dismay of the cheated town waxed to hot indignation. Even Miss Limpenny, issuing from her front door, heard the news, and returned in a stupor to watch matters from her bedroom window. She had not missed a morning service for fourteen years.
Then as if by one impulse passion gave way to action. Like an invading army the townspeople poured in at the gate, trampling the turf and crushing the flower-beds. They forced the front door (whence the page fled, to hide in the cellar), pushed into the hall, swarmed into the drawing-room—upstairs—all over the house.
Only in the bedrooms were there signs of a hasty flight; but they were enough. The strangers had decamped. There was a pause of indecision, but for no long time.
“Sunday or no Sunday,” screamed the choleric upholsterer, “every stick of mine will I take off this morning!”
He tucked up his sleeves, and, flinging open the French window of the drawing-room, caught up an arm-chair, and began to drag it out towards the lawn.
A cheer followed. The Trojan blood was up.
It was the signal for a general sack. Flinging off his Sunday coat, each deluded tradesman seized upon his property, or ransacked the house until he found it. The ironmonger caught up his fire-irons, the carpenter pulled down his shelves, the grocer dived into the pantry and emerged with tea and candles. It is said that the coal-merchant—who was a dandy—procured a sack, and with his own hand emptied the coal-cellar within half an hour.
As each fresh article was confiscated, the crowd cheered anew.
Never was such a scene in Troy. Even the local aristocracy— the Cumeelfo—mingled with the throng and watched the havoc as curiously as their neighbours.
No member of the Buzza family was there, nor Mr. Moggridge. But few others did Miss Limpenny fail to perceive as she sat with hands hanging limply and mourned to Lavinia—
“What disgrace! What a lasting blemish upon our society! There goes Hancock with the music-stool. To run away just before quarter-day, and they so refined to all appearance, so—My dear, they will have the house down. Papa told me once that during the Bristol riots— I declare, there’s the Doctor looking on! I wonder how he can.”
And the poor lady hid her face in her hands.
By half past twelve all was over, and “The Bower” stripped of every article of furniture or consumption for which the money was owing. And yet, to the honour of Troy, no single theft or act of wanton destruction was perpetrated. Save for the trampled flowers and marks of dusty boots upon the carpets, the house was left as it stood on the day when Mr. and Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys arrived. It should be mentioned, perhaps, that Seth Udy’s little boy was detected with his fist in a jar of moist sugar; but Mrs. Udy, it was remarked, was a Penpoodle woman.