By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

4. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 119-167

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 9-14
Miggs helps Mrs. Varden get ready for bed, and then seats herself at the window of her room. But hearing a noise downstairs, she discovers Sim Tappertit's secret: that he has a copy of the house-key. So she takes some fine ash and fills the lock with it.
"There!" cried Miggs, rubbing her hands, "now let's see whether you won't be glad to take some notice of me, mister. He, he, he! You'll have eyes for somebody besides Miss Dolly now, I think. A fat-faced puss she is, as ever I come across!" 
So she sits up all night waiting for Sim's return.
He returns at dawn, and bends his key when it jams in the lock, so that Miggs, pretending to be frightened, has to go down and let him in. She also feigns reluctance, so that Sim is forced to pay court to her: "'My darling Miggs -- ' Miggs screamed slightly. ' -- That I love so much, and can never help thinking of,' and it is impossible to describe the use he made of his eyes when he said this -- 'do, -- for my sake, do.'" She does, after making him promise not to kiss her, which he swears he won't, "with remarkable earnestness."

She faints when she lets him in, and "Mr Tappertit leant her against the wall as one might dispose of a walking-stick or umbrella, until he had secured the window, when he took her in his arms again, and, in short stages and with great difficulty -- arising from her being tall and his being short ... carried her upstairs, and planting her, in the same umbrella and walking-stick fashion, just inside her door, left her to her repose."

At the Maypole that morning, Willet receives a guest, "a staid, grave, placid gentleman, something past the prime of life, yet upright in his carriage, for all that, and slim as a greyhound." The man wants his horse stabled, an early dinner, and a room. Joe Willet has been sent to London on business, so Willet is forced to call on his servant, Hugh, for help. He gives the man the best apartment in the Maypole, which "had the melancholy aspect of grandeur in decay, and was much too vast for comfort.
The guest asks for a message to be sent to the Warren, and Willet calls on Barnaby to deliver it, which surprises the man, who says, "I saw him in London last night." Willet explains that Barnaby goes back and forth between there and the city all the time. The man observes that Barnaby's mother has said that he often goes to the Warren, and Willet confides that Barnaby's father was murdered there, and that "Mrs Rudge lives on a little pension from the family, and that Barnaby's as free of the house as any cat or dog about it." So the man agrees to have Barnaby run the errand, and tells Willet to tell Barnaby "it's Mr Chester. He will remember my name, I dare say."

Dickens has typically withheld the identification of the man as John Chester, Edward's father. Willet is very surprised that Chester should be holding any kind of communication with Geoffrey Haredale, but he keeps his surprise to himself as he summons Barnaby. Chester tells Barnaby to wait for a reply from Haredale and bring it back, or else to tell Haredale that he is at the inn and will receive him there at his convenience. But before Barnaby leaves, he takes Chester to the window and shows him the clothes hanging on the line to dry, revealing that he sees them not as clothes but as ghosts: "You don't see shadowy people there, like those that live in sleep -- not you. Nor eyes in the knotted panes of glass, nor swift ghosts when it blows hard, nor do you hear voices in the air, nor see men stalking in the sky -- not you!  I lead a merrier life than you, with all your cleverness." Then he departs on his errand.

Willet goes about his work, astonished "That Mr Chester, between whom and Mr Haredale, it was notorious to all the neighbourhood, a deep and bitter animosity existed, should come down there for the sole purpose, as it seemed, of seeing him, and should choose the Maypole for their place of meeting, and should send to him express."

Barnaby is late in returning, and decides to spend the night at the Maypole, so Willet offers him the bed that "Your noble son -- a fine young gentleman -- slept in ... last, sir, half a year ago." (Edward Chester apparently didn't sleep there on the night before he was attacked on the way to London.) John Chester doesn't take this as much of a recommendation, however.

Barnaby returns with word that Haredale would be there in an hour. Meanwhile, the regular customers gather, having heard of the pending encounter between Chester and Haredale: "Here was a good, dark-looking mystery progressing under that very roof." Barnaby pretends to be asleep in the chimney corner, while Hugh is asleep on the other side of the hearth. Hugh is "a young man, of a hale athletic figure, and a giant's strength, whose sunburnt face and swarthy throat, overgrown with jet black hair, might have served a painter for a model." (It serves Phiz as a model for the illustration, anyway.) "The negligence and disorder of the whole man, with something fierce and sullen in his features, gave him a picturesque appearance, that attracted the regards even of the Maypole customers who knew him well." Willet comments, "He's more at his ease among horses than men. I look upon him as a animal himself."
Willet informs them that Hugh's mother was hanged when he was a little boy, for passing counterfeit money, and that he can't read or write.

The talk turns to the coming meeting between Chester and Haredale, and Solomon Daisy is convinced that they are going to fight a duel. They then speculate on whether it will be swords or pistols, and Willet worries for a moment about breakage until he remembers that one of the two men will be alive afterward to pay for it. Then they talk about the potential bloodstains on the floor, and Solomon claims that there is a spot in the Warren where Haredale's brother was killed, and that "Mr Geoffrey made that room his study, and sits there, always, with his foot (as I have heard) upon it; and he believes, through thinking of it long and very much, that it will never fade until he finds the man who did the deed." Just then Haredale arrives and Willet offers to show him to the room where Chester awaits: "old John, in his agitation, ingeniously lighting everything but the way, and making a stumble on every second step."

In the room, the two men confront each other.
The one was soft-spoken, delicately made, precise, and elegant; the other, a burly square-built man, negligently dressed, rough and abrupt in manner, stern, and, in his present mood, forbidding both in look and speech. The one preserved a calm and placid smile; the other, a distrustful frown. The new-comer, indeed, appeared bent on showing by his every tone and gesture his determined opposition and hostility to the man he had come to meet. 
Haredale skips the pleasantries Chester offers and wants to get right to business. That business is the attraction between Chester's son and Haredale's niece. Chester proposes that they approach "each other sensibly" and "prevent it, and part them." Haredale says he loves his niece, and Chester says, "I like Ned too -- or, as you say, love him -- that's the word among such near relations. I'm very fond of Ned." But "independently of the religious differences between us -- and damn it, that's important -- I couldn't afford a match of this description." (Dickens is, of course, not ready to tell us what those religious differences are.) Haredale is angry at the very fact that there might be any love between his niece and "any one who was akin to you." He demands to know who are "their go-betweens, and agents," and Chester reveals that Barnaby is the chief one.

Haredale vows, "Trust me, Mr Chester, my niece shall change from this time. I will appeal ... to her woman's heart, her dignity, her pride, her duty --" Chester concurs as far as his son goes, but in a rather different tone:
"I shall represent to him that we cannot possibly afford it -- that I have always looked forward to his marrying well, for a genteel provision for myself in the autumn of life -- that there are a great many clamorous dogs to pay, whose claims are perfectly just and right, and who must be paid out of his wife's fortune. In short, that the very highest and most honourable feelings of our nature, with every consideration of filial duty and affection, and all that sort of thing, imperatively demand that he should run away with an heiress." 
Haredale responds to Chester's caddishness by saying, "you have the head and heart of an evil spirit in all matters of deception." Chester takes it as a compliment and assures Haredale that he will "exert those powers on which you flatter me so highly" and "resort to a few little trivial subterfuges" to separate them. Haredale says he means "treachery" and "lying." But Chester brushes this off as "Only a little management, a little diplomacy, a little -- intriguing, that's the word." Though he's uneasy about the business, Haredale agrees to "second your endeavours to the utmost of my power" and that they weill "act in concert, but apart."

Downstairs, the group is "very much astonished to see Mr Haredale come down without a scratch, call for his horse, and ride away thoughtfully at a footpace." While they are debating whether to go up and see if Chester is dead, he rings the guest's bell, and Willet goes up to find him whole and asking for his bed.

Joe Willet has gone to London because it is the twenty-fifth of March, the end of a quarter when his father's accounts with the vintner and distiller in the city has to be settled. Joe has argued with his father because he won't give him any money of his own when he goes to the city, except for a shilling for use in case the horse throws a shoe, and sixpence "to spend in the diversions of London; and the diversion I recommend is going to the top of the Monument, and sitting there. There's no temptation there, sir -- no drink -- no young women -- no bad characters of any sort -- nothing but imagination. That's the way I enjoyed myself when I was your age, sir."

But before he took the road to London, he stopped at the Warren, where he looked up at a window until "a small white hand was waved to him for an instant from this casement, and the young man, with a respectful bow, departed." Dickens is coy about it, of course, but we can assume that this signifies there is no message from Emma Haredale for Joe to deliver to Edward Chester.

After settling his father's business in London, Joe goes to the Vardens, "attracted by the eyes of blooming Dolly Varden, for whom he has plucked a nosegay of snowdrops and crocuses (and been scolded by his father for it). But Gabriel Varden prevents him from giving them to Dolly and tells him to give them to Mrs. Varden instead. Mrs. Varden, however, associates Joe with the Maypole, which she views "as a sort of human mantrap, or decoy for husbands," and she pretends that the flowers make her ill and has him put them outside the window.

Finally, after Mrs. Varden carries on about the evils of drink and she and Miggs join in a pious litany of contemptus mundi, with Miggs contributing, "I hope I know my own unworthiness, and that I hate and despise myself and all my fellow-creatures as every practicable Christian should," Dolly enters and strikes Joe "quite dumb with her beauty." Unfortunately, she is on her way to a party, and he is forced to sit "tamely there, when she was at a dance with more lovers than man could calculate fluttering about her -- with the whole party doting on and adoring her." So he heads for home, convinced that "the only congenial prospect left him, was to go for a soldier or a sailor, and get some obliging enemy to knock his brains out as soon as possible."

On the road home, he meets up with Edward Chester, and offers to go with him to the Warren to spare him the walk from the Maypole and back again. As they pass the Maypole, they notice that there are lights in the large room and in the best bedchamber, and wonder who is there. At the Warren, Edward is met at the gate by a female servant, who takes him to where Emma is waiting. "Almost at the same instant a heavy hand was laid upon her arm, Edward felt himself thrust away, and Mr Haredale stood between them."
Haredale orders him to leave "and return no more." They exchange words, and Edward asserts, "Your niece has plighted her faith to me, and I have plighted mine to her." But he is outmatched by her uncle and leaves. "A few words to Joe as he mounted his horse sufficiently explained what had passed, and renewed all that young gentleman's despondency with tenfold aggravation."

At the Maypole, Edward learns from John Willet that his father is staying there and that "Mr Haredale has been having a long talk with him, and hasn't been gone an hour." Edward decides to get on his horse and go back to London.

No comments:

Post a Comment