The few people that were about made a rush, and Coventry, driven by an awful curiosity, went in with them; for why should he be suspected any more than they?
He had not gone in half a minute when Mr. Ransome arrived with several policemen, and closed the doors at once against all comers.
Strange to say, the last explosion had rung the bell in the police- office; hence this prompt appearance of the police.
The five or six persons who got in with Coventry knew nothing, and ran hither and thither. Coventry, better informed, darted at once to Little's quarters, and there beheld an awful sight; the roof presented the appearance of a sieve: of the second floor little remained but a few of the joists, and these were most of them broken and stood on and across each other, like a hedgehog's bristles.
In Little's room, a single beam in the center, with a fragment of board, kept its place, but the joists were all dislocated or broken in two, and sticking up here and there in all directions: huge holes had been blown in the walls of both rooms and much of the contents of the rooms blown out by them; so vast were these apertures, that it seemed wonderful how the structure hung together; the fog was as thick in the dismembered and torn building as outside, but a large gas-pipe in Little's room was wrenched into the form of a snake and broken, and the gas set on fire and flaring, so that the devastation was visible; the fireplace also hung on, heaven knows how.
Coventry cast his eyes round, and recoiled with horror at what he had done: his foot struck something; it was the letter-box, full of letters, still attached to the broken door. By some instinct of curiosity he stooped and peered. There was one letter addressed "Grace Carden."
"He tried to open the box: he could not: he gave it a wrench, it was a latticed box, and came to pieces. He went down the stairs with the fragments and the letters in his hand; feet approached, and he heard a voice close to him say, "This way, Mr. Ransome, for God's sake!" A sort of panic seized him; he ran back, and in his desperation jumped on to the one beam that was standing, and from that through the open wall, and fell on the soft mud by the river bank. Though the ground was soft, the descent shook him and imbedded him so deeply he could not extricate himself for some time. But terror lends energy, and he was now thoroughly terrified: he thrust the letters in his pocket, and, being an excellent swimmer, dashed at once into the river; but he soon found it choked up with masonry and debris of every kind: he coasted this, got into the stream, and swam across to the other side. Then taking the lowest and darkest streets, contrived at last to get home, wet and filthy, and quaking.
Ransome and his men examined the shattered building within and without; but no trace could be found of any human being, alive or dead.