The Story So Far:
All the principal characters return to London as the story rushes headlong towards its ultimate conclusion. Finch is determined to rescue Lady Tabitha from the heartless snares of his former friend the Earl of Choir. The Earl, in turn, must evade the clutches of the Hebrew moneylenderess Hepzibah Schlierbeck. Meanwhile, the Reverend Belcher becomes more involved with Godfrey Egan]s anarchist sect, as public events begin to impinge on the private lives of our protagonists.


Chapter Nine The matter of Saint Steven's Tower had become acute. It was not merely the expense, though people did grumble at the imagined cost of keeping an entire building ablaze "at His Majesty's pleasure," as the latest proclamation put it, when food was increasingly scarce. Only last week there had been a disturbance in Seven Dials over a promised shipment of bread. No, the main argument against the flaming pillar was that, for those who lived within its precincts, it changed night to day. The light was so intense that shades, drapes, even nailed boards sealing off windows proved powerless against it. Savage in penetration, it pried open the sleeping eye, interrupted the natural relations of husband and wife, washed out people's very dreams, reducing these purgative, oracular enactments of life's inner drama to wavering, translucent, half-conscious speculation. Thus society's invaluable safety valve was stoppered. But in daytime too, the additional light wreaked havoc. There was no shade! None of the natural gradation from shadow to glare. Everything was horribly harsh and, at the same time, increasingly unreal. The air itself glowed. Those susceptible to madness needed no more than this, a violation of the perceived order, to cast off the chains of reason, as well as their clothes, and try bathing in the sizzling atoms of light. It was a common and disturbing sight, the seemingly solid banker, the doting mother, while her children looked on first in idiotic amusement changing shortly thereafter to terror, stumbling out of a last persistent article of dress and trying to roll through the air, a cut of meat dredging itself in flour, thinking they could imbue their frail skin with the brightness all around, until the police, with growing reluctance, came to restrain and carry off the unfortunate victim of this modern madness, as still the Tower burned.
Winter did nothing to halt the spread of this phenomenon. If anything, the crystalline cold that settled on the city made the light appear sharper, more knife-like in its sudden, blinding twists and turns. If only there had been snow, a reassuring blanket of white cloaking all reality in its child's vision of softness. But instead, January brought a biting north wind that sucked the life out of everything, leaving even stone walls puckered and salty. People beat their sides for warmth. The poor scavenged for coal, or, failing to find even the stray lump, tore up empty houses and burnt the wood. Parts of the city were transformed, overnight, into ruins.
Where have they all come from? Carrier wondered, noting a frigid bundle of rags camped on the very doorstep of Choir and Finch's illustrious address. He knew what Godfrey Egan would answer, that they had been there all along, that it was only Carrier's (though he would say Jack Pierce's) eyes that had been opened.
"And it weren't no book on Anarchy that did it," he heard the giant's plummy voice announce, as if addressing a constituency meeting or a crowd assembled at the rail of a pub, rather than the bleeding man with a broken nose he had just rescued from Inspector Jenkins' thugs. "And it weren't me, jawing on into the wee hours, plying you with drink and stories of deprivation. No sir. It were His Majesty's Investigatory Services. They are the true revolutionaries, I tell you. They make more converts to the cause in a night than I could in a week."
It had been utterly without warning, the appearance, the questioning, and then the assault, all because he had denied knowledge of his young master's whereabouts. Lord knows what would have happened had it not been for Egan's fortuitous arrival. This unlikely confluence of events, and the ringleader's understandable misinterpretation of what he had interrupted, had immeasurably raised "Jack Pierce's" standing within the group. Whatever suspicions other members may have regarded him with were laid to rest when, at the next meeting, he modestly displayed his bruises. But Carrier himself was troubled. He had entered into this clandestine activity, spying on the gathering of modern day Levellers, taking part in their less serious escapades, for a variety of reasons. It was partly a lark (he had never done anything "bad" before), partly out of boredom, and partly to follow his program of self-education. In short, he was curious. He had intended, should things get out of hand, to make a full and detailed report to the proper authorities. It was his duty, as a citizen. He believed firmly in order, indeed, had devoted his life to maintaining it, not in some vague, theoretical way, but in the practical sphere of glasses and coasters, the proper placement of cutlery, the laying out of clothes, and so on. There was not a cell in his body that responded to the anarchist creed. Yet, as Egan said, it had taken only one visit from the very guardians of the order he had been taught to admire to make him now doubt those very precepts.
As he stood, watching the cold (for you could actually see it, reducing men to stick figures as they marched their stiffened limbs up and down the street) he thought, What am I doing here, overseeing the renewal of this feathered nest for two of the idle rich who have never gone hungry a day in their lives? He had some respect for them, for their honor and amiability, for their appreciation of finery and their respect for tradition, but these seemed luxuries rather than essential virtues when, from the cozy bay window, he fancied he saw a woman shiver one final time, then go limp, give up an unusually large plume of breath that hovered a moment, as if containing her immortal soul, before dissipating in the frozen air. A constable came by and prodded at her with his toe. He said something, repeated it, telling her to move on, no doubt.
"She is dead, you sod," Carrier said softly, and turned away as the ignorant youth lifted his truncheon to begin beating her lifeless torso.