By Charles Matthews

Thursday, April 7, 2011

12. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 441-482

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 48-52
As Mrs. Rudge and Barnaby decide what to do now, they find a recessed area on the bridge and sit down to rest. They notice that "a vast throng of persons were crossing the river from the Middlesex to the Surrey short, in unusual haste and evident excitement." Most of the men are wearing blue ribbon cockades in their hats of the kind John Grueby complained about wearing much earlier: an insignia of the Protestant Association. Although the people crossing seem to be in groups of two or three, the crowd finally grows so large that for two hours the bridge is jammed.

Finally, a man stops and sits beside them, and informs them that the crowd is made up of "Lord George Gordon's great association. This is the day that he presents the petition against the Catholics, God bless him!" Moreover, he says, "his lordship has declared he won't present it to the house at all, unless it is attended to the door by forty thousand good and true men at least." Barnaby grows excited, telling his mother, "You remember what the blind man said, about the gold. Here's a brave crowd!" Mrs. Rudge tries to calm him, but a hackney-coach stops and offers him a blue cockade. She tries to discourage the man from giving it to him, but he tosses it to Barnaby and says, "Make haste to St George's Fields."
As she pleads with Barnaby not to go, two men appear, walking along the other side of the road. They are Gashford and Lord George Gordon, and they persuade Barnaby to join them. Mrs. Rudge protests, "He is not in his right senses, he is not, indeed!" Gordon scolds her as an "unnatural mother" for speaking that way of her son, and Gashford calls her "a very sad picture of female depravity," and they succeed in getting Barnaby to follow them, with Mrs. Rudge, consumed with "fear and grief," trailing after them.

When they reach St. George's Fields, the crowd has gathered in regiments, marching with a variety of blue flags and singing hymns. Gordon suggests that they find one for Barnaby to join. Suddenly a man appears out of the crowd "and smote Barnaby on the shoulders with his heavy hand." It's Hugh, delighted to see him again, and he tells Gordon, "'He shall march, my lord, between me and Dennis; and she shall carry,' he added, taking a flag of a tired man who tendered it, 'the gayest silken streamer in this valiant army.'" As Mrs. Rudge cries out for Barnaby, Sim Tappertit also appears and protests, "Ladies are carrying off our gallant soldiers from their duty." Mrs. Rudge is "thrown to the ground; the whole field was in motion; Barnaby was whirled away into the heart of a dense mass of men, and she saw him no more."
Hugh plays on Barnaby's gullibility, assuring him that "His flag's the largest of the lot, the brightest too" and when he worries about his mother, he tells him, "I've provided for her, and sent half-a-dozen gentlemen, every one of 'em with a blue flag (but not half as fine as yours), to take her, in state, to a grand house all hung round with gold and silver banners." And he adds, "Money, cocked hats and feathers, red coats and gold lace; all the fine things there are, ever were, or will be; will belong to us if we are true to that noble gentleman." He whispers to Dennis, "the lad's a natural, and can be got to do anything, if you take him the right way."

The groups then proceed to Westminster, forming a "vast throng, sprinkled doubtless here and there with honest zealots, but composed for the most part of the very scum and refuse of London." Members of Parliament were forced to work their way through the mob:
Lords, commoners, and reverend bishops, with little distinction of person or party, were kicked and pinched and hustled; passed from hand to hand through various stages of ill-usage; and sent to their fellow-senators at last with their clothes hanging in ribands about them, their bagwigs torn off, themselves speechless and breathless, and their persons covered with the powder which had been cuffed and beaten out of their hair.... The mob raged and roared, like a mad monster as it was, unceasingly, and each new outrage served to swell its fury.... when the door of the House, partially and cautiously opened by those within for [Gordon's] admission, gave them a momentary glimpse of the interior, they grew more wild and savage, like beasts at the sight of prey, and made a rush against the portal which strained its locks and bolts in their staples, and shook the very beams.

There are two short flights of stairs on either side of "a kind of well, or unglazed skylight, for the admission of light and air into the lobby, which might be some eighteen or twenty feet below." (Dickens is better at giving the atmosphere and color of a setting than he is at describing it so one can visualize it.) Gordon appears at the head of one of the stairs from time to time to report on what is happening in the House. Barnaby, Hugh and Dennis are on the stairs, too, along with Gashford. The roar of the crowd is so loud that Hugh has to bellow for quiet so Gordon can be heard.

Then two men come from inside and push past Gordon to address the crowd. One is General Conway, and the other is Colonel Gordon -- who says he is Lord George's "near relation" -- and they both warn the mob that they are prepared to defend the House from anyone who dares to enter it. The crowd is at first intimidated -- they "faltered and stared at each other with irresolute and timid looks" -- but at a signal from Gashford, Hugh urges them on, and then "threw himself headlong over the bannisters into the lobby below. He had hardly touched the ground when Barnaby was at his side." Then the mob "threw themselves against the doors pell-mell and besieged the House in earnest."

But then a rumor that troops are approaching spreads through the crowd, and it begins to retreat in panic, carrying Hugh and Barnaby along with it, as "a large detachment of the Guards, both horse and foot, came hurrying up; clearing the ground before them so rapidly that the people seemed to melt away as they advanced." They "made straight towards Barnaby and Hugh, who had no doubt been pointed out as the two men who dropped into the lobby." Barnaby is sickened at the sight of blood, which the Guards had shed, but Hugh makes him stand his ground and he knocks a soldier from his charging horse with his flagpole, then the two of them run for the river, where they jump into a boat and make their escape. They learn that a magistrate had offered to withdraw the troops if the mob would disperse, and thereby put an end to the riot. Back on land, they narrowly miss an encounter with soldiers escorting the prisoners they had taken to Newgate, and make their way to The Boot.

They are joined at the tavern by Sim Tappertit and Dennis. The latter is disgusted at the ease with which the mob was persuaded to disperse, but he praises Hugh and Barnaby for their conduct. The group in The Boot grows smaller until only Dennis, Hugh and Barnaby are there when Gashford arrives. He tells them that Gordon's petition has been rejected by a vote of 192 to 6, and he starts ripping the blue cockade out of his hat. He also tells them that a reward may be offered for the apprehension of Barnaby and Hugh. The latter is still fired up, and he has persuaded Barnaby "that he was among the most virtuous and disinterested heroes in the world," so Gashford says, "I hear -- but I cannot say whether it be true or false -- that the men who are loitering in the streets to-night are half disposed to pull down a Romish chapel or two, and that they only want leaders." So Hugh, Dennis and Barnaby take the hint and rush out to where the action is.

Gashford then strolls about and listens to the rumors that are flying about. After a while, "a great many women and children came flying along the street -- often panting and looking back." He takes shelter in a house where he watches from an upstairs window as the torch-bearing mob passes, carrying the spoils they have taken from a Catholic church: "the vestments of priests, and rich fragments of altar furniture." Barnaby, Hugh and Dennis are at the head of the crowd, "their hands and faces jagged and bleeding with the wounds of rusty nails." The mob is filled with people who have been hurt by "falling bricks, and stones, and beams." It is "a dream of demon heads and savage eyes, and sticks and iron bars uplifted in the air, and whirled about."

Gashford goes back outside after the mob has passed, and hears a scream. Someone tells him "that a widow woman had descried her son among the rioters. 'Is that all?' said the secretary, turning his face homewards. 'Well! I think this looks a little more like business.'"

At the Vardens, Gabriel, his wife, and Miggs are waiting up for the arrival of Sim. Miggs has "arrived at that restless state and sensitive condition of the nervous system which are the result of long watching," and is annoying Gabriel with her twitches and sighs. Some time after two a.m. "there was a sound at the street door, as if somebody had fallen against the knocker by accident." Gabriel goes and admits the tattered and filthy Sim, who is drunk. When Sim says that he wasn't at the scene of the destruction of the Catholic churches, Gabriel says he's glad to hear it, "for if he had been, and it could be proved against him, Martha, your Great Association would have been to him the cart that draws men to the gallows and leaves them hanging in the air."

Sim reiterates that he wasn't at those places but that he was at Westminster and that he roughed up some of the members of Parliament: "'Who knows? This,' he added, putting his hand into his waistcoat-pocket and taking out a large tooth, at the sight of which both Miggs and Mrs Varden screamed, 'this was a bishop's. Beware, G. Varden!'" Gabriel says, "Be sorry for what you have done, and we will try to save you." He offers to clean him up and get him out of London, and says that Mrs. Varden's cousin in Canterbury can "give him work till this storm has blown over." But Sim defies his aid, and produces a letter signed by Gordon proclaiming that "the proprietor of this house is a staunch and worth friend to the cause." If Gabriel will keep the letter safe and write "No Popery" in chalk on his door for the next week, no harm will come to them. Then he bids them farewell. Mrs. Varden and Miggs try to prevent his leaving, and he threatens to pinch Miggs if she doesn't get out of the way.
"Release me," said Simon, struggling to free himself from her chaste, but spider-like embrace. "Let me go! I have made arrangements for you in an altered state of society, and mean to provide for you comfortably in life -- there! Will that satisfy you?"

"Oh Simmun!" cried Miss Miggs. "Oh my blessed Simmon! Oh mim! what are my feelings at this conflicting moment?" 
Gabriel continues to try to put some sense in Sim's head, but he resists the effort: "This night, sir, I have been in the country, planning an expedition which shall fill your bell-hanging soul with wonder and dismay. The plot demands my utmost energy." Finally, he manages to get to the door, and though Gabriel chases him down the street he can't catch up with him. He makes his way to The Boot where he knows he is awaited.

Gabriel returns to the house where he demands the little cash box which Mrs. Varden used for contributions to the Protestant Association, and which she has already decided to hide from him. She gives it up and he smashes it. "'That,' said the locksmith, 'is easily disposed of, and I would to Heaven that everything growing out of the same society could be settled as easily.'" Then he tears the letter from Gordon into pieces, sends Mrs. Varden and Miggs to bed, and goes to work in his shop.

At The Boot, Hugh and Dennis awake. Hugh is covered with scratches, and Dennis observes, "You hurt yourself a hundred times more than you need, because you will be foremost in everything, and will do more than the rest." But Hugh singles out Barnaby for praise: "What did I tell you about him? Did I say he was worth a dozen, when you doubted him?" But the only thing that bothers Dennis about Barnaby is that he washes himself so much. Barnaby is now standing sentry outside the tavern with his flagstaff. Sim is asleep still.

Hugh tells Dennis that he and Sim "have planned for to-morrow a roaring expedition, with good profit in it. Moreover Sim "has thoughts of carrying off a woman in the bustle, and -- ha ha ha! -- and so have I!" Dennis, who "as a general principle ... objected to women altogether," is not so enthusiastic about that part of it. The only thing is that Barnaby can't be part of it because "the people we mean to visit, were friends of his, once upon a time," so Hugh has persuaded him "that Lord George has picked him out to guard this place to-morrow while we're away."

Sim awakens, and Hugh suggests he have a drink -- "Another hair of the dog that bit you, captain!" He has enough money to pay for it because he has a stash "of gold and silver cups and candlesticks buried" under his bed. Sim, who is hung over, is not so enthusiastic about the drink, but he settles down with the other two to plan their escapade, and "their loud and frequent roars of laughter ... startled Barnaby on his post, and made him wonder at their levity."

At twilight, joined by others, they go out again "towards Moorfields, where there was a rich chapel, and in which neighbourhood several Catholic families were known to reside." They loot and vandalize the houses and the church.
Fifty resolute men might have turned them at any moment; a single company of soldiers could have scattered them like dust; but no man interposed, no authority restrained them, and, except by the terrified persons who fled from their approach, they were as little heeded as if they were pursuing their lawful occupations with the utmost sobriety and good conduct.
They build bonfires of the less valuable part of their looting, and dance around them till they are tired. As Hugh and the others are walking away from the scene, they encounter Gashford, who is disgusted with their antics. Hugh insists, "Fevers are never at their height at once. They must get on by degrees." Gashford wants something more than bonfires: "Can you burn nothing whole?"

Hugh counsels patience: "Wait but a few hours, and you shall see. Look for a redness in the sky, to-morrow night."

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