By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

17. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 653-738

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapter 73 through Chapter the Last
The riots are over, and Dickens sums up the death and destruction: "Upwards of two hundred had been shot dead in the streets. Two hundred and fifty more were lying, badly wounded, in the hospitals; of whom seventy or eighty died within a short time afterwards.... How many perished in the conflagrations, or by their own excesses, is unknown.... Seventy-two private houses and four strong jails were destroyed in the four great days of these riots." And so on. (The note points out that Dickens's figures are unreliable, and in the case of financial estimates, his numbers are inconsistent; more recent research also suggests that less than half that number of houses were destroyed.)

Barnaby is visited in his cell by his mother, and Grip is there to keep him company. (Grip's whereabouts at any given time, except when Dickens needs him to make a point, are a mystery. Did Barnaby carry him when he was marched off by the soldiers? A similar mystery attends the whereabouts of Miggs, whose departure from their place of captivity is not accounted for. Did she accompany the Vardens to the Black Lion? Did she stay to plague the gravely wounded Sim? She now disappears until the novel's end.) When Barnaby asks, "who cares for Grip?" the raven's reply is "Nobody," an exchange repeated twice, and a reminder that Grip was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe's "Nevermore"-croaking raven.
"Will they take his life as well as mine?" said Barnaby. "I wish they would. If you and I and he could die together, there would be none to feel sorry, or to grieve for us. But do what they will, I don't fear them, mother!" 
He also asks why his mother shushed him when he mentioned his father, and she tells him, "the endeavour of my life has been to keep you two asunder.... The time has come when you must know it. He has shed the blood of one who loved him well, and trusted him, and never did him wrong in word or deed." Barnaby, whose fear of blood has been established, shudders and hides his bloodstain birthmark. She goes on to caution him, "Do not seem to know him, except as one who fled with you from the jail, and if they question you about him, do not answer them."

She leaves Barnaby because visitors are being told to go, but she decides to pay a last visit to her husband. She tells him that Barnaby is also in the prison, but he is indifferent to the fact: "He can no more aid me than I can aid him." She retorts that Barnaby was "brought here by your guilt; ... for he has been led astray in the darkness of his intellect, and that is the terrible consequence of your crime." (She seems to blame Barnaby's mental retardation -- if that's what it is -- on Rudge's crime, which he confessed to her during her pregnancy.) She urges him to pray for God's forgiveness, but instead he curses her and Barnaby.

Elsewhere, justice is being meted out, though unequally: "the timorous Lord Mayor, who was summoned that night before the Privy Council to answer for his conduct, came back contented; observing to all his friends that he had got off very well with a reprimand." Lord George Gordon has been sent to the Tower, charged with High Treason.

Dennis is in jail, but he remains sure that his previous work as hangman will be taken into consideration and "relieve him from the consequences of his late proceedings, and would certainly restore him to his old place in the happy social system." But when he is moved to Newgate, "where some of the ruined cells had been hastily fitted up for the safe keeping of rioters," he finds to his terror that he is forced to share a cell with the man he betrayed: Hugh.
Hugh is asleep when Dennis enters, and the frightened hangman cowers behind a chair until he awakes. When Hugh recognizes him, he grabs Dennis by the collar and shakes him as Dennis tries to claim that he was forced to betray him, or he would be shot, "and what a sight that would have been -- a fine young man like you!" He tries to persuade Hugh that they won't be convicted, and even if they are, hanging isn't so bad: "when it's well done, it's so neat, so skilful, so captiwating, if that don't seem too strong a word, that you'd hardly believe it could be brought to sich perfection." 

Hugh calms down, and accepts his fate: "I'd as soon die as live, or live as die. Why should I trouble myself to have revenge on you? To eat, and drink, and go to sleep, as long as I stay here, is all I care for.... That's all the care I have for myself. Why should I care for you?" Dennis suggests that Hugh should call on his friends and relations, but Hugh scoffs at that: "He talks of friends to me -- talks of relations to a man whose mother died the death in store for her son." Dennis is startled to hear this, and says, "you don't mean to say --." Hugh replies, "I mean to say ... that they hung her up at Tyburn." Dennis wants to hear more about this, but Hugh wants to go back to sleep. 

A month later, Sir John Chester is having his breakfast in bed and savoring the news that Hugh, Dennis and Barnaby have been sentenced to death. He notes that Barnaby would have been pardoned except for the testimony of the Lord Mayor's brother, who affirmed that Barnaby "was sane, and had, to his knowledge, wandered about the country with a vagabond parent, avowing revolutionary and rebellious sentiments." The Lord Mayor's brother is, of course, the "genuine John Bull" who had wanted to buy Grip after being entertained by him when Barnaby and Mrs. Rudge were on the road to London. "Grip little thought how much he had to answer for." Sir John is also entertained by the thought that Hugh "would make a very handsome preparation in Surgeons' Hall." (Executed criminals were turned over to the surgeons for dissection.) 

Sir John's breakfast is interrupted by a visit from Gabriel Varden, who tells him that he has just come from Newgate. This sends Sir John into a brief fit because Newgate is full of "jail-fevers, and ragged people, and bare-footed men and women, and a thousand horrors!" He orders Peak, his servant, to disinfect Gabriel and his surroundings with camphor. But once this is done, Sir John resumes his pleasant attitude. 

Gabriel informs Sir John that he was sent there by Dennis, who has some information for him. Upon learning that Hugh's mother was hanged, Dennis realized that he had been the executioner, and that the woman, a gipsy, had talked with him before her death, vowing, "If I had a dagger within these fingers and he was within my each, I would strike him dead before me, even now." Dennis asked who, and she said she meant the father of her boy. 
He asked her where it was, its name, and whether she had any wish respecting it. She had but one, she said. It was that the boy might live and grow, in utter ignorance of his father, so that no arts might teach him to be gentle and forgiving. When he became a man, she trusted to the God of their tribe to bring the father and son together, and revenge her through her child.
He learned no more from the woman, but years later a gipsy man was sentenced to death, and while he was in prison carved the likeness of Dennis on a stick, which he gave to the hangman. The gipsy told Dennis that he had know the woman who was hanged, and that she had been seduced and abandoned by "a fine gentleman," and was outcast from her tribe. He "told him, too, her real name, which only her own people and the gentleman for whose sake she had left them, knew. -- That name he will tell again, Sir John, to none but you." 

Gabriel now confronts Sir John with the assertion "that you believe this doomed man, Hugh, to be your son." Sir John lightly scoffs at the idea, but Gabriel tells him, "in a fantastic pattern on the stick, he had carved some letters, and when the hangman asked it, he bade him, especially if he should ever meet with her son in after life, remember that place well." The place is Chester. Sir John maintains his composure as Gabriel tells him that if he wants confirmation of the gipsy's revelation to Dennis, he must visit the hangman in his prison cell. And he notes that whereas Sir John remains estranged from his legitimate son, Edward, he still has years left in which to reconcile with him, whereas he has only a few hours left to make his peace with Hugh. 

Sir John dismisses Gabriel's revelations and recommendations with his usual airiness, but after Gabriel leaves, "the smile gave place to a haggard and anxious expression, like that of a weary actor jaded by the performance of a difficult part." (The simile comes naturally to the theater-loving Dickens.) But the anxious mood passes quickly. He consoles himself that he gave Hugh "very good advice. I told him he would certainly be hanged. I could have done no more if I had known of our relationship; and there are a great many fathers who have never done as much for their natural children." 

As Gabriel walks away, the clock strikes twelve, which he knows is the time when Rudge's execution was scheduled. Haredale was there to witness, and Gabriel now goes to meet him. His thoughts turn to tomorrow's executions, and his hope that he can still save Barnaby. "Barnaby was to die," Dickens now writes, and over the next two paragraphs repeats the phrase three more times, as a death-knell. (And as a sign to the sophisticated reader that Barnaby will do no such thing.)  

Mrs. Rudge is at the prison with her son. Dennis and Hugh are on the other side of the courtyard from them, Hugh taking the events as they come, Dennis gibbering in terror. "Hugh's was the dogged desperation of a savage at the stake; the hangman was reduced to a condition little better, if any, than that of a hound with the halter round his neck." When Mrs. Rudge has to leave, she sends Barnaby for her bible, but the guards take her away before he returns. 

Dickens then describes the preparations for the executions, including the building of the gallows and the gathering of the crowds who are eager to witness. "A fairer morning never shone" on the day for the executions. Hugh and Dennis are to be hanged at Newgate, but Barnaby's execution is to take place in Bloomsbury Square. The clergyman who tries to pray with Hugh pronounces him "incorrigible," which Hugh admits he is: "Be no hypocrite, master! You make a merry-making of this, every month; let me be merry, too. If you want a frightened fellow there's one that'll suit you. Try your hand upon him." He means Dennis, of course, "who trembled so, that all his joints and limbs seemed racked by spasms." Barnaby is cheerfully resigned to his death. "The law had declared it so, and so it must be. The good minister had been greatly shocked, not a quarter of an hour before, at his parting with Grip. For one in his condition, to fondle a bird!" 

When called to have his shackles struck off, Hugh "passed out with the gait of a lion." Dennis, of course, has to be dragged out. He begs the prison attendants to check to see if his pardon is on the way, and he reminds them of his "service" as hangman -- maybe they've forgotten about it. But someone says, "since it may possibly produce in this unhappy man a better frame of mind, ... let me assure him that he was well known to have been the hangman, when his sentence was considered." He even pleads to be sent to Bloomsbury Square instead of Barnaby, just to buy a little more time. 

As the bell begins to toll twelve o'clock, Hugh is asked if he has any last words. At first he says no, and then he sees Barnaby. 
There was, for the moment, something kind, and even tender, struggling in his fierce aspect, as he wrong his poor companion by the hand. 

"I'll say this," he cried, looking firmly round, "that if I had ten lives to lose, and the loss of each would give me ten times the agony of the hardest death, I'd lay them all down -- ay, I would, though you gentlemen may not believe it -- to save this one. This one," he added, wringing [Barnaby's] hand again, "that will be lost through me."
"You see what I am -- more brute than man, as I have been often told -- but I had faith enough to believe, and did believe as strongly as any of you gentlemen can believe anything, that this one life would be spared. See what he is! -- Look at him!"
"What else should teach me -- me, born as I was born, and reared as I have been reared -- to hope for any mercy in this hardened, cruel, unrelenting place! Upon these human shambles, I, who never raised this hand in prayer till now, call down the wrath of God! On that black tree, of which I am the ripened fruit, I do invoke the curse of all its victims, past, and present, and to come. On the head of that man, who, in his conscience, owns me for his son, I leave the wish that he may never sicken on his bed of down, but die a violent death as I do now, and have the night-wind for his only mourner. To this I say, Amen, amen!"
His last gesture is to say that if anyone wants a dog, they'll find his "at the house I came from, and it wouldn't be easy to find a better. He'll whine at first, but he'll soon get over that. -- You wonder that I think about a dog just now.... If any man deserved it of me half as well, I'd think of him." He goes out to his execution, and Dennis is carried out after him, "and the crowd beheld the rest." 

Barnaby is taken out to the cart that will transport him to Bloomsbury Square, and he avoids looking at where Hugh and Dennis are hanging. Dickens then notes that two crippled boys were hanged at Bloomsbury Square, opposite the ruins of Lord Mansfield's house, and enumerates hangings of other boys and women that day. "In a word, those who suffered as rioters were, for the most part, the weakest, meanest, and most miserable among them. It was an exquisite satire upon the false religious cry which had led to so much misery, that some of these people owned themselves to be Catholics, and begged to be attended by their own priests." 

Meanwhile, John Willet and his son are at the Black Lion, where Joe tells his father that Edward Chester has made his fortune in the West Indies and plans to return there. He has assured Joe that he can provide employment for him, so Joe plans to take him up on the offer. But before his father can say anything, "Dolly Varden came running into the room, in tears, threw herself on Joe's breast without a word of explanation, and clasped her white arms round his neck." 
She more or less proposes to Joe, assuring him that it's all right with her father and mother, and he accepts. Joe asks his father, who is still not quite all there, if he knows who Dolly is, and urges him to say something "if it's only 'how d'ye do.'" All John Willet can muster is "Certainly, Joseph.... Oh yes! Why not?" And he sits there motionless for half an hour until he startles them with "a very loud and very short laugh," says "Certainly, Joseph. Oh yes! Why not?" again, and goes out for a walk. 

The damage to the Vardens' house has been repaired in the month since the riots, but "the house had a look of sadness and an air of mourning; which the neighbours, who in old days had often seen poor Barnaby go in and out, were at no loss to understand." Mrs. Rudge is there today, and Haredale and Edward Chester now arrive. Gabriel is out, and has been so all night, trying to get a reprieve for Barnaby. Haredale now confronts the issue that stands between him and Edward: "Sir, you still love my niece, and she is still attached to you." He leaves the room and comes back with Emma, giving them his blessing. He also tells them that when they leave England for the West Indies, he is going to the continent. "There are cloisters abroad; and now that the two great objects of my life are set at rest, I know no better home." 
He prepares to leave them together, but there is a great noise in the streets outside, and he and Edward go out to see what it is. Gabriel and Barnaby are being swept along by a great crowd of people, and when they finally make it to the house, Barnaby rushes upstairs to see his mother. Gabriel and Haredale had spent the night working on a reprieve for Barnaby, and had succeeded in obtaining a full pardon between eleven and twelve o'clock that morning. Haredale had gone straight to the Varden house to inform Mrs. Varden and Mrs. Rudge, and Gabriel had stayed behind to accompany Barnaby. 

That night Edward takes Hugh's body to a churchyard for burial. 

That evening, the Vardens, including son-in-law-to-be Joe Willet, are sitting down to tea when there's a knock on the door of the workshop, which had been closed that day. Joe goes to open it, and returns laughing. He is followed shortly by Miggs, accompanied by "a small boy and a very large box." Gabriel bursts out, "Damme, if it an't Miggs come back!" 
"Here's forgivenesses of injuries, here's amicablenesses!" she chortles. She has arrived under the mistaken impression that she will be welcomed back by the Vardens, and orders the boy, her nephew, to take her trunk upstairs. Gabriel asks his wife if she really wants this, and Mrs. Varden proclaims, "I am astonished -- I am amazed -- at her audacity. Let her leave the house this moment." 
Miggs, hearing this, let her end of the box fall heavily to the floor, gave a very loud sniff, crossed her arms, screwed down the corners of her mouth, and cried, in an ascending scale, "Ho, good gracious!" three distinct times. 
She then delivers herself of her usual Miggsish observations, such as, "It must be great vexations, 'specially considering how ill you always spoke of Mr Joe -- to have him for a son-in-law at last; and I wonder Miss Dolly can put up with him either, after being off and on for so many years with a coachmaker.... It an't so much of a catch, after looking out so sharp ever since she was a little chit, and costing such a deal in dress and show, to get a poor, common soldier, with one arm, is it, mim?" She bursts out in tears and pulls the hair of her nephew as she orders him to carry her box out again. So he runs off and leaves her with it in the street, where she "sat down upon her property to rest and grieve, until she could ensnare some other youth to help her home."

Another month passes, and it's the end of August. Haredale is getting ready to leave for the continent, but he decides to make one last visit to the ruins of the Warren. The sun is setting, and he walks around the building, then "uttered a half-suppressed exclamation, started, and stood still. Reclining, in an easy attitude, with his back against a tree, and contemplating the ruin with an expression of pleasure" was Sir John Chester, "the man whose presence, of all mankind, in any place, and least of all in that, he could least endure." Sir John comments on the ruins of Haredale's house, "How very picturesque this is!" Haredale replies, "You praise your own work very freely." Sir John protests that it isn't his work, but Haredale says, "you set on Gashford to this work -- this work before us now." And he puts his hand to his sword. "In all, you have been the same cold-blooded, hollow, false, unworthy villain. For the second time, and for the last, I cast these charges in your teeth, and spurn you from me as I would a faithless dog!" 

He strikes Sir John on the breast, and Sir John draws his sword and lunges at his heart. Haredale evades the blow and lowers his sword, then cries out, "In God's name, not to-night!" Sir John also lowers his weapon, but he continues to taunt Haredale, calling Edward a fool for being "trapped into marriage by such an uncle and such a niece." Haredale once again urges him not to provoke a duel that night, but when Sir John calls him a coward, the fight is on. Both men sustain wounds, but Haredale finally "plunged his sword through his opponent's body to the hilt." Even in dying, Sir John keeps up appearances, first regarding Haredale "with scorn and hatred in his look; but, seeming to remember, even then, that this expression would distort his features after death, he tried to smile, and, faintly moving his right hand, as if to hide his bloody linen in his vest, fell back dead." 
"Chapter the Last" rounds up everybody in the novel. 
  • Haredale flees to the continent, enters a monastery known "for the rigour and severity of its discipline" and dies there. 
  • Sir John's body is found two days later. His valet runs off with all the household cash and valuables, poses as a gentleman, almost marries an heiress, but dies of what is "vulgarly termed the jail fever."
  • Lord George Gordon is found not guilty of High Treason, is excommunicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, writes a libelous pamphlet about the Queen of France, converts to Judaism, is imprisoned for libel in Newgate, and dies there at the age of forty-three, faithfully served till his death by John Grueby. 
  • Gashford becomes a spy for the government and dies in poverty, a suicide. 
  • Sim Tappertit does time in prison after a hospital stay. Now with two wooden legs, he appeals to Gabriel Varden for assistance and is set up as a shoeblack, earning enough to take on two apprentices and marry "the widow of an eminent bone and rag collector." 
  • Miggs becomes the turnkey of a women's prison. "It was observed of this lady that while she was inflexible and grim to all her female flock, she was particularly so to those who could establish any claim to beauty." 
  • Joe Willet and Dolly Varden marry, but instead of going to the West Indies, they reopen the Maypole and make it a great success. They also have a farm, and numerous children. 
  • John Willet is set up by his son with a cottage at Chigwell, where he entertains Tom Cobb, Phil Parkes and Solomon Daisy every night. "He never recovered the surprise the Rioters had given him, and remained in the same mental condition down to the last moment of his life. On his deathbed, his last words are "I'm a-going, Joseph, ... to the Salwanners" -- i.e., Savannah. Joe inherits a great deal of money on his death. 
  • Barnaby and his mother live on Joe Willet's farm, tending the animals. He also seeks out Hugh's dog and takes care of him. 
  • Edward and Emma return to England "with a family almost as numerous as Dolly's." 
  • Grip is silent for a year after the experience in Newgate, but he regained his speech "and, as he was a mere infant for a raven when Barnaby was grey, he has very probably gone on talking to the present time."

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