By Charles Matthews

Sunday, March 27, 2011

2. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 58-86

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 2-4
When Solomon Daisy has finished his story, the stranger calls for his horse: "He is but a hack hired from a roadside posting house, but he must carry me to London to-night." Joe is surprised at the request and at the stranger's rudeness when he questions it. When he brings the horse to the stranger he expresses pity for the animal, "for he has felt your spurs, poor beast." The stranger rebukes Joe's insolence and "struck him on the head with the butt end of his whip, and galloped away."

It's a stormy night and the road is rough but the stranger rides away hard, "more like a hunted phantom than a man," until he narrowly avoids a collision with a vehicle. The driver of the vehicle has a lantern, and the stranger asks to borrow it to see if his horse has been hurt. The driver, "a round, red-faced, sturdy yeoman, with a double chin and a voice husky with good living, good sleeping, good humour, and good health," agrees.

The horse is unhurt, but the stranger gives a start when he recognizes the driver as the locksmith Gabriel Varden. "The ruddy features of the locksmith so set off and heightened the excessive paleness of the man on horseback, that he looked like a bloodless ghost," but Varden doesn't recognize him. Varden is surprised, however, when the man tells him, "you were never in such peril of your life as you have been within these few moments," and from the man's own hand. Then he spurs the horse and gallops away.

After this encounter, Varden decides to stop in at the Maypole, even though he has promised his wife, Martha, that he wouldn't. There he hears what the company gathered in the inn have to say about the stranger, including Joe's statement that the man "struck me with his whip, the coward, when he was mounted and I afoot." Joe's father tells him to be quiet, and Joe protests bitterly:
"I won't, father. It's all along of you that he ventured to do what he did. Seeing me treated like a child, and put down like a fool, he plucks up a heart and has a fling at a fellow that he thinks -- and may well think too -- hasn't a grain of spirit. But he's mistaken, as I'll show him, and as I'll show all of you before long."
Varden tries to make peace between father and son, but "This advice was received as such advice usually is." When Varden takes his leave, Joe assists him with his carriage, and tells him, "the time's nearly come when the Maypole and I must part company." He plans to take his chances in the world rather than suffer his father's condescension and abuse. Varden replies, "I always tell my girl when we talk about a husband for her, never to trust to chance." Joe's reaction, to pretend to be very interested in the harness on the wagon, reveals that the mention of Varden's daughter is significant to him, and he asks, "Miss Dolly quite well?" He also requests that Varden make no further mention to anyone of his "having been beat like the boy they'd make of me," and his face turns "very red, -- no doubt from the exertion of strapping and buckling as aforesaid."

Varden makes his way toward home in the suburbs of London, and falls asleep along the way, which the horse knows very well. But as he gets near home he is awakened by a loud cry repeated several times and sees "the figure of a man extended in an apparently lifeless state upon the pathway, and, hovering round him, another person with a torch in his hand." Varden recognizes the person with the torch as Barnaby Rudge.
Barnaby is about twenty-three, "of a fair height and strong make," with red hair "hanging in disorder about his face and shoulders." His eyes are large and protruding. He is dressed in green and his hat is adorned with peacock feathers that are "limp and broken, and now trailed negligently down his back." He wears the steel hilt of an old sword with no blade or scabbard. "Startling as his aspect was, the features were good, and there was something even plaintive in his wan and haggard aspect. But, the absence of the soul is far more terrible in a living man than in a dead one; and in this unfortunate being its noblest powers were wanting."

Varden discovers that the man is wounded but not dead, but when he asks Barnaby to help load him into his carriage, Barnaby quails at the sight of blood. Varden persuades him to help, however, though Barnaby protests, "Cover him, then, wrap him close -- don't let me see it -- smell it -- hear the word. Don't speak the word -- don't!" Varden is pleased that he now has an excuse for his lateness "which would silence Mrs Varden on the subject of the Maypole, for that night, or there was no faith in woman."

The Vardens live in Clerkenwell, which was then a suburb but is now part of Central London. Like all of Dickens's desirable houses, the Vardens' is old and quaint, "a modest building, not very straight, not large, not tall; not bold-faced,with great staring windows, but a shy blinking house, with a conical roof going up into a peak over its garret window of four small panes of glass, like a cocked hat on the head of an elderly gentleman with one eye. It was ... not planned with a dull and wearisome regard to regularity, for no one window matched the other, or seemed to have the slightest reference to anything besides itself." Mrs. Varden keeps it "scrupulously tidy" and "punctiliously ordered. Varden's locksmith shop is located in the building.

When he reaches home, he looks at one of the upstairs windows and sees his daughter, Dolly, "a pretty, laughing girl; dimpled and fresh, and healthful -- the very impersonation of good-humour and blooming beauty." She warns him that Mrs. Varden is not yet awake, having stayed up waiting for him the night before. He also notices that his apprentice, Simon Tappertit, is eavesdropping on his conversation with Dolly. (I suppose this is the moment to comment that "Tappertit" is one of Dickens's sillier names, and not one that you'd want to bring to the attention of a 12-year-old boy.) Sim, "as he was called in the locksmith's family," is "an old-fashioned, thin-faced, sleek-haired, sharp-nosed little fellow, very little more than five feet high, and thoroughly convinced in his own mind that he was above the middle size; rather tallk, in fact, than otherwise." He is particularly enamored of his own legs, "perfect curiosities of littleness" with which, however, "he was enraptured to a degree amounting to enthusiasm." He is also in love with Dolly.

At the breakfast table, Dolly asks about the wounded man, whose name is Edward Chester. Varden had never seen him before, but when he took the man to Mrs. Rudge's house, she recognized him. Dolly knows that Edward Chester is in love with Emma Haredale, and she frets that the news that he has been wounded will cause her to "go distracted." But Varden says that he learned from Mrs. Rudge that "Miss Emma was with her uncle at the masquerade at Carlisle House," so he went there to give her the news, "and I no sooner whispered to her what the matter was -- as softly, Doll, and with nearly as much art as you could have used yourself -- than she gives a kind of scream and faints away."

As he is telling this, Sim Tappertit, trying to flirt with Dolly, "began to screw and twist his face ... into such extraordinary, hideous, and unparalleled contortions, that Gabriel, who happened to look towards him, was stricken with amazement." After this interruption, Varden tells Dolly about Joe Willet's quarrel with his father and his intention to seek his fortune, which brings about a reaction from her that surprises him: "Why, what's the matter, Doll? You are making faces now. The girls are as bad as the boys every bit!" Dolly says it's because the tea is so hot.

Mrs. Varden sends word that she is indisposed and is going to have breakfast in her room, and she requests her copy of the Protestant Manual. "Like some other ladies who in remote ages flourished upon this globe, Mrs Varden was most devout when most ill-tempered. Whenever she and her husband were at unusual variance, then the Protestant Manual was in high feather."

After breakfast, they all turn to their duties, but Sim is distracted by what he has heard at the table. "At length, a gloomy derision came upon his features, and he smiled; uttering meanwhile with supreme contempt the monosyllable 'Joe!'" As he works at the grindstone, he vows, "Something will come of this. I hope it mayn't be human gore!"

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