By Charles Matthews

Thursday, March 31, 2011

6. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 217-259

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 21-25
Dolly is happy to discover that the man who has accosted her on the way from the Warren to the Maypole is just Hugh. She doesn't stay happy for long: "The having him for an unbidden companion in so solitary a place, with the darkness fast gathering about them, renewed and even increased the alarm she had felt at first." Moreover, he looks at her "like a handsome satyr," and when she protests his walking so near to her, he draws even closer, "passing his harm about her waist, held her in his strong grasp as easily as if she had been a bird." He even addresses her as "Sweetlips."
"'Hugh,' cried the panting girl, 'good Hugh; if you will leave me I will give you anything -- everything I have -- and never tell one word of this to any living creature.'" He assures her that he intends to hold her to that promise: "Bring trouble on me, and I'll bring trouble and something more on them" -- meaning Dolly's family -- "in return....  I'd sooner kill a man than a dog any day. I've never been sorry for a man's death in all my life, and I have for a dog's."

She runs away, but he catches up with her. Then her cry for help is answered by a shout from Joe Willet. Hugh runs off, but warns her, "Tell him; and see what follows!" So when Joe arrives, and takes her in his arms, she tells him that she didn't know who the man was, and that "he began by begging, and went on to threats of robbery." Hugh has convinced her that if she reveals his identity, he will do harm to Joe. Then she discovers that both the letter and the bracelet Emma had given her are missing.

At the Maypole, Gabriel Varden lavishes praise and thanks on Joe for rescuing his daughter. John Willet, as usual, is unimpressed with anything his son has done, and "it occurred to him that if his son and heir had been seriously damaged in a scuffle, the consequences would assuredly have been expensive and inconvenient, and might perhaps have proved detrimental to the Maypole business." But Joe is determined to go back and hunt for the missing letter and bracelet. To Dolly's dismay, he calls for Hugh to help him. And when Hugh asks her to describe the man who attacked her, Dolly lies and says he wasn't as tall as Hugh and that he was wearing a loose coat and had his face covered with a handkerchief. The search, of course, is unsuccessful.

After dinner at the Maypole, the Vardens depart in their chaise, with Joe riding alongside. He is hopelessly smitten, and she vows that they will always be "friends from that time forth.... And when Joe said, not friends he hoped, Dolly was quite surprised, and said not enemies she hoped; and when Joe said, couldn't they be something much better than either, Dolly all of a sudden found out a star which was brighter than all the other stars, and begged to call his attention to the same, and was ten thousand times more innocent and unconscious than ever."

Joe's bliss is interrupted by the arrival of Hugh, who says he was sent by Joe's father to ride back with him. Joe is disgusted by the parental treatment, and goes along further with the Vardens, though Hugh follows. When he finally decides that it's time to leave them, he tells Dolly good night.
"Good night," said Dolly. She would have added, "Take care of that man, and pray don't trust him," but he had turned his horse's head, and was standing close to them.
What she thought about, going home; and whether the coachmaker held as favourable a place in her meditations as he had occupied in the morning, is unknown.
This is an instance of Dickens's coyness and his insouciance about point of view, for within the space of a very few lines he has first been in Dolly's thoughts -- reporting her desire to tell Joe not to trust Hugh -- and then contradicted himself by denying his ability to read them. Narrative finesse always takes a back seat in Dickens in favor of color and sentiment.

The Vardens arrive home safely, and Dolly breaks down in tears. This being Mrs. Varden's stock in trade, Dolly at first gets very little sympathy from her or from the sycophant Miggs. Dolly, Dickens notes, "was by no means accustomed to displays of this sort, rather learning from her mother's example to avoid them as much as possible." So when Dolly breaks down, Mrs. Varden's reaction is to make it all about herself. "To all such propositions Miggs assented freely." When it becomes apparent that Dolly is not comforted by their selfishness, "and seeing that she was really ill, both Mrs. Varden and Miggs were moved to compassion, and tended her in earnest." But as soon as Dolly begins to recover, once again it's Mrs. Varden who is the victim and the sufferer.

Afterward, Miggs brings Sim his supper in the workshop, and takes the opportunity to give her view on the events of the evening. Sim is at first not inclined to pay Miggs much attention: He "disliked Miss Miggs more when she laid her hand on her heart and panted for breath than at any other time, as her deficiency of outline was most apparent under such circumstances." ("Deficiency of outline" is a lovely Victorianism for flat-chestedness.) But he is incensed when Miggs badmouths Dolly: "The idea of interfering with her. What people can see in her to make it worth their while to do so, that's the joke -- he he he!" And she adds to his irritation when she praises Sim's archenemy: "But, oh upon my word and honour, young Joseph Willet is a brave one; and he do deserve her, that he do."

Sim now demands a full account of what happened, and Miggs obliges by telling him that Dolly "had been attacked by three or four tall men" and that Joe has "with his own single hand put them all the flight" and thereby earned "the eternal love and gratitude of Dolly Varden." Whereupon Sim vows, "His days are numbered" and orders Miggs to leave.
The next morning, John Chester is in his dressing room reading his bible: Lord Chesterfield's letters to his son, with their Machiavellian advice on making one's way in society. He relishes each "captivating hypocrisy" and "superlative piece of selfishness." A servant enters to inform him that a man has arrived to return "the riding-whip you lost the other day." Chester gives the servant the word for the man to come up providing "he rubs his shoes for exactly five minutes first."

Hugh enters, "followed by a dog, as rough and sullen as himself." Chester studiously ignores him for several moments as he attends to his toilette. It's his way of taming Hugh, and it works: "Hard words he could have returned, violence he would have repaid with interest; but this cool, complacent, contemptuous, self-possessed reception, caused him to feel his inferiority more completely than the most elaborate arguments." Finally, Hugh asks, "am I the man that you privately left your whip with before you rode away from the Maypole, and told to bring it back whenever he might want to see you on a certain subject?" Chester grants that he is, and Hugh presents him with the letter he stole from Dolly. Chester then asks if Hugh stole anything else. He denies that he did so -- except for, he says, "a kiss" -- but Chester confronts him with his knowledge that Hugh stole the bracelet as well. How he knows this, we aren't told here, but it has the appropriate effect of cowing Hugh even further. But he lets Hugh have the bracelet, saying, "I am neither a thief, nor a receiver." Hugh protests this claim, "striking the letter with his heavy hand," but Chester coolly tell him that the letter is "quite another thing," and offers Hugh a drink.

The drink, which is quickly followed by several more, is another way of controlling Hugh, who says, "Give me enough of this ... and I'll do murder if you ask me!... What else has given me the strength and courage of a man, when men would have left me to die, a puny child?" Chester questions him about his age, and Hugh admits that he doesn't know. Whereupon Chester observes, "you are young enough to escape what I may call a natural death for some years to come. How can you trust yourself in my hands on so short an acquaintance, with a halter round your neck? What a confiding nature yours must be!"

Hugh is taken aback as Chester continues, "Robbery on the king's highway, my young friend, is a very dangerous and ticklish occupation," and if Hugh continues to confide in others that he has committed it, "I am afraid your career will be an extremely short one." In short, Chester has Hugh under his control. "Hugh's submission was complete. He dreaded him beyond description; and felt that accident and artifice had spun a web about him, which at a touch from such a master-hand as his, would bind him to the gallows."

Chester then reads the letter Emma wrote to Edward and burns it. He gives Hugh some money, and tells him that if other such information comes his way to bring it to him. "This was said with a smile which implied -- or Hugh thought it did -- 'fail to do so at your peril!' He answered that he would." And Chester tells him, "Your neck is as safe in my hands, my good fellow, as though a baby's fingers clasped it, I assure you."

Chester then asks if Hugh has any other name, and is told that he doesn't. He never knew his father and when he was six years old, "they hung my mother up at Tyburn for a couple of thousand men to stare at." He indicates his dog and says, "Such a dog as that, and one of the same breed, was the only living thing except me that howled that day.... Out of the two thousand odd -- there was a larger crowd for its being a woman -- the dog and I alone had any pity."

Hugh takes his leave with Chester's assurance that "you have a friend in me, on whose silence you may rely." Then Chester prepares to go out, reflecting, "I do not like their having hanged his mother. The fellow has a fine eye, and I am sure she was handsome. But very probably she was coarse -- red-nosed, perhaps, and had clumsy feet. Aye, it was all for the best, no doubt." He tells his servant to sprinkle perfume on the floor and air the chair in which Hugh sat, then is carried off in his sedan chair, "humming a fashionable tune."
The next morning, Chester has another visitor: Sim Tappertit. He wants to act as a spy on Edward and Emma, and as a reward to enlist Chester in his revenge against Joe Willet, "a villain at that Maypole, a monster in human shape, a vagabond of the deepest dye, that unless you get rid of, and have kidnapped and carried off at the very least -- nothing less will do -- will marry your son to that young woman." He claims that Joe "comes backwards and forwards to our house, libelling, and denouncing, and threatening you, and how I shudder when I hear him, you'd hate him worse than I do." When Sim takes his leave, Chester reflects, "I fear I may be obliged to make great havoc among these worthy people. A troublesome necessity! I quite feel for them." And he falls into "such a gentle, pleasant sleep, that it was quite infantine."

Mrs. Rudge and Barnaby make their way to Chigwell on foot, allowing Dickens to spend some time meditating on the careworn mother and her carefree son:
It is something to look upon enjoyment, so that it be free and wild and in the face of nature, though it is but the enjoyment of an idiot. It is something to know that Heaven has left the capacity of gladness in such a creature's breast; it is something to be assured that, however lightly men may crush that faculty in their fellows, the Great Creator of mankind imparts it even to his despised and slighted work. Who would not rather see a poor idiot happy in the sunlight, than a wise man pining in a darkened jail! 
Well, yes, if those are the alternatives offered. And he goes on for another paragraph, until we get to the purpose of Mrs. Rudge's journey. She is going to the Warren, which she left twenty-two years ago "after the event which had changed her whole existence." When they reach there, Haredale is walking in the garden and unlocks the gate to admit them. He tells her that he is worried that, because her husband had been his brother's steward, "and died in his service and defence, you have come in some sort to connect us with his murder." She insists that nothing could be further from the truth -- and in a tone that suggests that she knows a truth about the murder that he doesn't. He asks why she has made the journey when he would have been glad to come to see her instead, and she tells him, "I took my resolution but last night, and taking it, felt that I must not lose a day -- a day! an hour -- in having speech with you."
  They enter the house and go to the library, where Emma has been reading. She rises to greet them, "But the widow shrunk from her embrace as though she feared her, and sunk down trembling on a chair." She hesitates to tell them why she came -- "You will think my mind disordered" -- but finally says that she is there "to reject your aid from this moment, and to say that henceforth I launch myself upon the world, alone and unassisted, to sink or swim as Heaven may decree!" She proclaims it her duty to do so. "If I did not discharge it, I should be a base and guilty wretch. Having said that, my lips are sealed, and I can say no more."

Haredale is astonished that she is "determined to resign the annuity we settled on you twenty years ago -- to leave house, and home, and goods, and begin life anew -- and this, for some secret reason or monstrous fancy which is incapable of explanation, which only now exists, and has been dormant all this time?" All she can say in reply is, "You do not know ... to what uses it may be applied; into what hands it may pass. I do, and I renounce it." She intends to leave the house in Southwark tomorrow and to keep secret wherever she goes, and asks that if Barnaby shows up at the Warren, "do not tempt him to disclose it or have him watched when he returns; for if we are hunted, we must fly again." She will allow Haredale to visit her at the house tomorrow, and agrees to reconsider her decision, but she assures them that she won't change her mind.

"It was remarkable in the raven that during the whole interview he had kept his eye on [a book on the desk] with exactly the air of a very sly human rascal, who, under the mask of pretending to read hard, was listening to everything." They leave the Warren and wait for the coach back to London in the churchyard, "a quiet pretty spot, but a sad one for Barnaby's mother; for Mr Reuben Haredale lay there, and near the vault in which his ashes rested, was a stone to the memory of her own husband, with a brief inscription recording how and when he had lost his life."

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