To be plain, Mr. Francis made seven bonfires of bed-curtains, chairs, and other combustibles in the servants' garrets, lighted them contemporaneously, and retired to the basement, convinced he had taken the surest means to deliver his friend out of Drayton House: and with a certain want of candour that characterises the weak, proceeded to black his other bad master's shoes with singular assiduity.
There was no wind to blow the flame; but it was a clear frost; and soon fiery tongues shot out of three garret-windows into the night, and lurid gleams burnished four more, and the old house was burning merrily overhead, and ringing with hilarity on the first floor.
But the neighbours saw, pointed, wondered, comprehended, shouted, rang, knocked, and surged round the iron gate. "Fire! fire! fire!" and "Fire!" went down the road, and men on horseback galloped for engines; and the terror-stricken porter opened and the people rushed in and hammered at the hall doors, and when Rooke ran down and opened, "Fire!" was the word that met him from a score of eager throats and glittering eyes.
"Where! Why, _you_ are on fire. Blazing!"
He ran out and looked up at the tongues of flame and volleys of smoke. "Shut the gate," he roared. "Call the police. Fire! fire!" And he dashed back, and calling to the other keepers to unlock all the doors they had keys of, ran up to the garrets to see what could be done. He came out awe-stricken at what he saw. He descended hastily to the third floor. Now the third floor of that wing was occupied principally by servants. In fact, the only patients at that time were Dodd and Alfred. Rooke called to the men below to send Hayes up to No. 75 with his key directly; he then ran down to the next floor--of which he had keys--and opened all the doors, and said to the inmates with a ghastly attempt at cheerfulness, belied by his shaking voice, "Get up, gentlemen; there is a ball and supper going on below." He was afraid to utter the word "fire" to them. The other keepers were as rapid, each on his beat, and soon the more rational patients took the alarm and were persuaded or driven out half-dressed into the yard, where they cowered together in extremity of fear; for the fire began to roar overhead like a lion, and lighted up the whole interior red and bright. All was screaming and confusion; and then came a struggle to get the incurable out from the basement story. There was no time to handcuff them. The keepers trusted to the terror of the scene to cow them, and so opened the doors and got them out anyhow. Wild, weird forms, with glaring eyes and matted hair, leaped out and ran into the hall, and laughed, and danced, and cursed in the lurid reflection of the fires above. Hell seemed discharging demons. Men recoiled from them. And well they did; for now the skylight exploded, and the pieces fell tinkling on the marble hall fast as hail. The crowd recoiled and ran; but those awful figures continued their gambols. One picked up the burning glass and ground it in his hands that bled directly: but he felt neither burn nor cut. The keepers rushed in to withdraw them from so dangerous a place: all but one obeyed with sudden tameness: that one struggled and yelled like a demon. In the midst. of which fearful contest came a sudden thundering at a door on the third floor.
"It is Mr. Hardie," screamed the Robin. "You have left him locked in."
"I told Hayes to let him out long ago."
"But Hayes hasn't got the key. You've got it."