When the flame ignited the rocket it went off with a rush and roar in quite the opposite direction to the sea, crashed through a window, and disappeared in the tow, tallow, and tar warehouse.
One precious gift of nature is accorded freely to Englishmen of all ranks and ages—the aptitude of doing the right thing at the right moment; in a word, presence of mind. Those present, the whole crowd of men and boys—instantly realised the gravity of the situation, and did that which was best to be done—they took to their heels. The first to go was the storekeeper who had contributed the rocket, and he went home as fast as the rocket had gone into the tow and tallow shop, slipped into bed, and called his wife’s attention to the clock to enable her to swear that he had been laid up at that time of the evening with a bronchial catarrh. He was followed by everyone who had lent a hand or given a halfpenny towards the celebration. Thus the explosion of the ham-bone cleared the quay in five minutes.
The bargemen looked on from their boats in complacent expectation of a bonfire bigger than that on which Lazarus was burning. Only a few men stood about the pyre, and endeavoured with rakes to thrust it over the edge of the wharf into the pool before the police appeared.
Joanna had not observed what had taken place. She had indeed seen the flash of the rocket and heard the cheers, but from her chest of drawers she could not see the tow and tallow store.
Why had the crowd dispersed so suddenly? Why was the bonfire being put out, and the half-consumed Lazarus in his flaming chair toppled into Sutton Pool?
Joanna was roused by the sound of her master’s key in the side door. She remembered that she had bolted the door, so she descended to withdraw the bar and admit him. Then her pent-up wrath found vent, and she told him of the outrage.
‘Well,’ said Lazarus, without signs of discomposure, ‘it won’t cost me a penny. Have they singed one of my coats? burnt my cap? Not a bit! so it don’t matter to me. Run out, Joanna, with your shovel, and see if you cannot rescue some of the coals which are being wasted, and then look sharp and get me my supper ready. Dear, dear! The figure was dressed like me, and all the beautiful clothes burning. Don’t you think that we might fish him out of the water and see what can be done with the garments—they cannot be utterly