By Charles Matthews

Monday, March 28, 2011

3. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 86-118

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 5-8
Varden goes to Mrs. Rudge's house in Southwark, near London Bridge, to check on the wounded Edward Chester. Mary Rudge is "about forty -- perhaps two or three years older -- with a cheerful aspect, and a face that had once been pretty." There is a family resemblance between her and Barnaby, "but where in his face there was wildness and vacancy, in hers there was the patient composure of long effort and quiet resignation." In addition, there is "the faintest, palest shadow of some look, to which an instant of intense and most unutterable horror only could have given birth." Those who knew her before her husband was murdered "recollected how the change had come, and could call to mind that when her son was born, upon the very day the deed was known, he bore upon his wrist what seemed a smear of blood but half washed out."

Varden learns that Edward's father has visited him. He also makes reference to "our other friend, ... sharpest and cunningest of all the sharp and cunning ones." This is Dickens being coy, just as he was coy about the identity of Edward Chester as the preoccupied young man at the Maypole. Varden is referring to Barnaby's raven, whom we meet in the next chapter. Mrs. Rudge tells him that the raven is in Barnaby's room.

They are interrupted by the sound of someone knocking at the shutter, and Varden offers to go check it out. But Mrs. Rudge insists on going to see by herself. As she does so, "the knocking came again, and a voice close to the window -- a voice the locksmith seemed to recollect, and to have some disagreeable association with -- whispered 'Make haste.'"
The wind rumbling in the chimney made it difficult to hear what passed, but he could tell that the door was opened, that there was the tread of a man upon the creaking boards, and then a moment's silence -- broken by a suppressed something which was not a shriek, or groan, or cry for help, and yet might have been either or all three; and the words "My God!" uttered in a voice it chilled him to hear. 
He rushes out and sees the horrified Mrs. Rudge staring at the man he had nearly collided with on the road, the stranger from the Maypole, who immediately runs away. Varden pursues him, but Mrs. Rudge calls him back: "Do not touch him on your life. I charge you, come back. He carries other lives besides his own. Come back!" She drags him back into the house where she bolts every door.

Although he begs her to tell him who the man is, she refuses, telling him that she doesn't dare say anything more about him and to swear not to "let a word or look between us, recall this circumstance." She leaves him alone, puzzling about the matter, and he finally persuades himself "it may be nothing." Then Barnaby enters to tell him "I dreamed just now that something -- it was in the shape of a man -- followed me -- came softly after me -- wouldn't let me be -- but was always hiding and crouching, like a cat in dark corners, waiting till I should pass.... Nearer, nearer, nearer -- I ran faster -- leaped -- sprung out of bed, and to the window -- and there, in the street below -- but he is waiting for us. Are you coming?"

Varden tries to figure out if there is a connection between Barnaby's dream and what has just happened, but Barnaby leads him upstairs to see Edward Chester. Varden asks Chester to tell him what happened after he left the Maypole: He says he was overtaken on the road by a rider who asked the way to London and then tried to run him down. The man's hat was blown off and Chester saw that the man's head was wrapped in a dark handkerchief. He hadn't seen the stranger at the Maypole clearly, "But, if he and the robber were two different persons, their voices were strangely and most remarkably alike; for directly the man addressed me in the road, I recognised his speech again." Varden realizes that this was the same man whom he had just seen downstairs.

But now they are interrupted by the raven, who has been listening to their conversation and begins to chatter and make noise. Varden asks Barnaby to call the raven, but Barnaby insists "He calls me, and makes me go where he will. He goes on before, and I follow. He's the master, and I'm the man. Is that the truth, Grip?" Mrs. Rudge enters the room, and Chester asks about the noise he heard earlier. Varden tells him it was a drunk who "mistook the house, and tried to force an entrance."

When Varden takes his leave, he tells Mrs. Rudge that he told a lie for her sake, and worries about leaving Chester there: "I doubt the safety of this roof, and am glad he leaves it so soon." And as he walks away, he hears the raven barking like a dog and thinks, "If there's any wickedness going on, that raven's in it, I'll be sworn."

At Varden's house, he is being awaited by his wife, "a lady of what is commonly called an uncertain temper -- a phrase which being interpreted signifies a temper tolerably certain to make everybody more or less uncomfortable.... [Her] chief aider and abettor, and at the same time her principal victim and object of wrath, was her single domestic servant, one Miss Miggs ... [who] held the male sex to be utterly contemptible and unworthy of notice." So he is not exactly greeted pleasantly when he gets home. Still, Varden reflects, "all of us have our faults. I'll not be hard upon hers. We have been man and wife too long for that."

Meanwhile, his apprentice, Sim Tappertit, has made a copy of the house key, so he can sneak out after Varden goes to bed. He goes to a street "of more than questionable character" and enters "a low-browed doorway [that] led into a blind court, or yard, profoundly dark, unpaved, and reeking with stagnant odours." He enters a house where he is greeted as "the captain" and goes to the cellar, a damp room where "the air was sickening, tainted, and offensive. It seemed, from one strong flavour which was uppermost among the various odours of the place, that it had, at no very distant period, been used as a storehouse for cheeses." The proprietor of the place, named Stagg, is blind.

It seems that Tappertit is the presiding figure of a group of apprentices known as the 'Prentice Knights. He is saluted by Stagg with "drink, noble governor. Death to all masters, life to all 'prentices, and love to all fair damsels. Drink, brave general, and warm your gallant heart!" Tappertit takes the glass and "Stagg then dropped on one knee, and gently smoothed the calves of [Tappertit's] legs, with an air of humble admiration." Tappertit is gratified by this appreciation of "his favourite limbs."

He then enters a room where the others are gathered and is handed a human thigh-bone, "a sceptre and staff of authority," and climbs up on "a large table, whereon a chair of state, cheerfully ornamented with a couple of skills, was placed ready for his reception." Another man enters with a large book and sits on a lower chair on the table.
A ceremony follows to induct a new apprentice in the organization:
"Mark Gilbert. Age, nineteen. Bound to Thomas Curzon, hosier, Golden Fleece, Aldgate. Loves Curzon's daughter. Cannot say that Curzon's daughter loves him. Should think it probable. Curzon pulled his ear last Tuesday week." 
Captain Tappertit orders a black mark put beside Curzon's name, and after additional information about the master's offenses, ups it to three black crosses, though he doesn't respond to Gilbert's specific request that the 'Prentice Knights burn Curzon's house down and help him carry off his daughter. He then leads the novice through oaths of fealty to the Constitution, Church, State "and everything established -- but the masters." And he describes "their general objects; which were briefly vengeance on their Tyrant Masters ... and the restoration ... of their ancient rights and holidays; for neither of which objects were they now quite ripe, being barely twenty strong, but which they pledged themselves to pursue with fire and sword when needful."

After the novice is welcomed to the society, Tappertit collects from him a wax impression of the novice's door-key, "for he had constructed secret door-keys for the whole society, and perhaps owed something of his influence to that mean and trivial circumstance -- on such slight accidents do even men of mind depend!" He also has the secretary of the group "write and post against the wall, a notice, proscribing one Joseph Willet (commonly known as Joe) of Chigwell; forbidding all 'Prentice Knights to succour, comfort, or hold communion with him; and requiring them, on pain of excommunication, to molest, hurt, wrong, annoy, and pick quarrels with the said Joseph, whensoever and wheresoever they, or any of them, should happen to encounter him."

After the group breaks up and heads for home as dawn is breaking, Stagg mutters, "Farewell, brave general. Bye, bye, illustrious commander. Good luck go with you for a -- conceited, bragging, empty-headed, duck-legged idiot."

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