By Charles Matthews

Saturday, April 2, 2011

7. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 259-297

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 26-30
Gabriel Varden tells Geoffrey Haredale that he isn't surprised at Mrs. Rudge's decision to forgo her annuity and disappear: He has, after all, witnessed her strange behavior earlier: "I say, in the passage of her house one evening after dark, the highwayman who robbed and wounded Mr Edward Chester, and on the same night threatened me." Moreover, he tells Haredale, she prevented him from apprehending the stranger. Haredale wonders if she has secretly married again: "Suppose she married incautiously -- it is not improbably, for her existence has been a lonely and monotonous one for many years -- and the man turned out a ruffian, she would be anxious to screen him, and yet would revolt from his crimes." Moreover, he wonders if it's possible that Mrs. Rudge had deceived them all along, "that this connection was formed in her husband's lifetime, and led to his and my brother's --"

Gabriel interrupts to protest: "Five-and-twenty years ago, where was there a girl like her? A gay, handsome, laughing, bright-eyed damsel!" He had courted her, and although he thinks she was too good for Rudge, he also thinks she was too good for himself. Haredale retreats from his suspicions, admitting that Varden's characterization of Mary Rudge is correct.

Varden has accompanied Haredale to the meeting at Mrs. Rudge's, but when they arrive they discover only John Chester at the house. He tells them that, as part of his plan to separate Edward and Emma, he has bought off Mrs. Rudge and Barnaby, giving them money and sending them away. "She appointed to see you here to-night, I know, but found it inconvenient, and couldn't wait. Here is the key of the door. I am afraid you'll find it inconveniently large; but as the tenement is yours, your good-nature will excuse that, Haredale, I am certain!"

Chester leaves Varden and Haredale, who are furious at this turn of events, but goes to Varden's house, where he is greeted by Sim Tappertit, who once again reminds Chester of the name of his enemy: Joseph Willet.  Sim admits Chester to the parlor, where Mrs. Varden, Dolly, and Miggs are sitting. Chester pretends to mistake Mrs. Varden for Dolly and to be amazed when Miggs cries out, "If he an't been and took Missis for her own daughter." Then he insists that Dolly must be Mrs. Varden's sister. "'My daughter, indeed, sir,' returned Mrs V., blushing with great juvenility." Dolly, however, has the sense to see through this flattery, and notes that "there was a broad, bold look of admiration in Mr Chester's face, refined and polished though it sought to be, which distressed her very much."

Chester goes on to pretend to piety when he sees Mrs. Varden's copy of the Protestant Manual: "My favourite book, dear madam." (So much for Lord Chesterfield's letters.) He lays it on thick, aware that "as hollow vessels produce a far more musical sound in falling than those which are substantial, so it will oftentimes be found that sentiments which have nothing in them make the loudest ringing in the world, and are the most relished.... Even Dolly ... could not help owning within herself that he was the sweetest-spoken gentleman she had ever seen."

He now presses his advantage by asking Mrs. Varden if he can speak with her privately, and they withdraw to an upstairs sitting-room. There he works his charm first to dissuade her from further support of Edward in his courting of Emma: "there are grave and weighty reasons, pressing family considerations, and apart even from these, points of religious difference, which interpose themselves, and render their union impossible; utterly im-possible." He tells her, moreover, that Edward "is bound by his duty to me, by his honour, by every solemn tie and obligation, to marry some one else." Of course, he doesn't specify that there is a particular "some one else" he is bound to marry, for there isn't. But naturally Mrs. Varden takes it that way, which instantly brands Edward in her mind as a cad.

On the other hand, Mrs. Varden feels a twinge where Emma is concerned: "if you take Miss Emma's lover away, sir, what becomes of the poor thing's heart then?" He assures her, "A marriage with my son, whom I should be compelled to disown, would be followed by yeas of misery; they would be separated, my dear madam, in a twelvemonth." And now he plays his trump card: He has heard that Dolly has been in the company of "a young man (I am sorry to say, a dissolute fellow, of very indifferent character) of whom I have heard Ned speak -- Bullet was it -- Pullet -- Mullet --" She identifies him as Joe Willet, and Chester goes in for the kill: "Suppose this Joseph Willet now, were to aspire to the affections of your charming daughter, and  were to engage them." Mrs. Varden is indignant at the thought.

And having achieve his goal (and Sim Tappertit's as well), Mr. Chester takes his leave. Only Dolly is not completely seduced: "For all his politeness and pleasant speaking, I am pretty sure he was making game of us, more than once." Mrs. Varden is so shocked by this that she bursts into tears.

It has to be said here that although Dickens's characters are really just caricatures, he plays with them so skillfully that a reader can't help becoming indignant at John Chester's villainy, Mrs. Varden's credulousness, and the predicament into which he has cast Dolly, Joe, Edward and Emma.

Chester retires to "a noted coffee-house in Covent Garden" where he gloats (and stiffs the waiter). Then he returns home where he finds Hugh asleep on the staircase. While Hugh sleeps, Chester bends over and examines his face closely, observing the sleeping man "with a searching eye." The only reason for this action would seem to be that Chester has some suspicions about Hugh's identity, his true parentage. Finally he wakes Hugh, who tells him that he has had a "curious" dream in which Chester was a part. "'I hope it may never come true, master." It is "a comfort," he says, that we're not where I thought we were.' He looked round him as he spoke, and in particular looked above his head, as though he half expected to be standing under some object which had had existence in his dream." Dickens doesn't tell us what the object is: the gallows, perhaps?

They go into Chester's drawing room, where Hugh explains that he's there because Edward had tried to see Emma but was unsuccessful, so he left a "letter or some message" for Joe to deliver to her. But John Willet forbade Joe from delivering it: "He says (that's the old one does) that none of his people shall interfere and get him in trouble." Chester calls John Willet "a jewel ... and the better for being a dull one." Dolly also wrote Emma a message to tell her that she had lost the letter she was supposed to give to Edward, which Joe was also forbidden to deliver. Joe gave it to Hugh to deliver, but he now hands it over to Chester.

But to Hugh's surprise, Chester doesn't burn this letter as he did the one from Emma to Edward. Again he chides Hugh for breaking the law: "Don't you know that the letter you brought to me, was directed to my son who resides in this very place? And can you descry no difference between his letters and those addressed to other people?" Chester tells Hugh that he will deliver it, and asks when Emma usually walks in the garden at the Warren. Hugh tells him, and Chester cautions him not to show signs around other people that they have any prior acquaintance other than the casual one of Maypole servant and Maypole guest.

Hugh departs, and after reflecting "the plot thickens," Chester goes to bed and falls asleep, "but had not slept long when he started up and thought that Hugh was at the outer door, calling in a strange voice, very different from his own, to be admitted." He gets up and looks out, and even calls Hugh's name, but no one is there. Finally he falls asleep again. The plot thickens, indeed.

The next day Chester rides to the Warren to see Emma. Dickens uses the journey to moralize: "The thoughts of worldly men are for ever regulated by a moral law of gravitation, which, like the physical one, holds them down to earth. The bright glory of day, and the silent wonders of a starlit night, appeal to their minds in vain." So it is that Chester rides through a beautiful spring day, "so fair a world" redolent with "hope and promise," but takes no notice of it. He has "no greater thought of the day or the scene through which he moved, than that he was fortunate (being choicely dressed) to have such favourable weather. He smiled very complacently at such times, but rather as if he were satisfied with himself than with anything else."

He stops at the Maypole, where Hugh comes out to assist him at the same time that John Willet appears. Willet is "rather surprised by the quickness with which he appeared," and treats Hugh harshly. Then, after Chester observes that Hugh is "an active fellow," Willet orders Hugh to perform a trick for him: to hang Willet's wig from the weathercock, which Hugh does with "inconceivable rapidity" and then vaults on his horse and leaves. "There never was such a chap for flinging himself about and never hurting his bones," Willet comments. Chester asks about Joe, and Willet informs him, "My son, sir, is upon his patrole." This confuses Chester, "who naturally thought that being on patrole, implied walking about somewhere." Chester, it turns out, means that Joe is "on parole," or as he explains, "He is upon patrole of honour, sir, not to leave the premises," to keep him from "doing anything unpleasant in opposing your desires."
Chester makes his way to the Warren, where he finds Emma taking her walk and accosts her, introducing himself as "the father of him whom you honour and distinguish above all other men." She is a little alarmed, but he assures her, "Edward is well -- quite well. It is of him I wish to speak, certainly; but I have no misfortune to communicate." Then he says, "You have heard me described as cold-hearted, calculating, selfish --" But she assures him that neither Edward nor her uncle has ever spoken of him that way. Of her uncle she says, "It is not his nature to stab in the dark, nor is it mine to love such deeds." This is the opening Chester needs so he can proclaim, "apostrophising the air; 'it is this frank, ingenuous, noble nature, Ned, that you can wound so lightly. Shame -- shame upon you, boy!'"

She is angered at this, but he proceeds to flatter her in preparation for saying, "Miss Haredale, you are deceived; you are deceived by your unworthy lover, and my unworthy son." He gives her Dolly's note, claiming, "It reached my hands by chance, and by mistake, and should have accounted to you (as I am told) for my son's not answering some other note of yours." She responds to this as he hoped she would, as "something so very candid, so scrupulously honourable, so very truthful and just," and bursts into tears. He comforts her, and moves in for the kill:
"Edward seeks to break with you upon a false and most unwarrantable pretence. I have it on his own showing; in his own hand.... There lies on his desk at this present moment, ready for transmission to you, a letter, in which he tells you that our poverty -- our poverty; his and mine, Miss Haredale -- forbids him to pursue his claim upon your hand; in which he offers, voluntarily proposes, to free you from your pledge; and talks magnanimously (men do so, very commonly, in such cases) of being in time more worthy of your regard -- and so forth."
He puts it more bluntly: Edward, he says "not only jilts you ... but affects to make a merit and a virtue of the act."

Just as she is falling for this line, her uncle appears and demands an explanation for his presence. She leaves them, and Chester tells Haredale that he was informing Emma that his son has written a letter breaking off with her, "a boyish, honest, sentimental composition, which remains as yet in his desk, because he hasn't had the heart to send it.... If she receives Ned's letter by to-morrow noon, you may date their parting from to-morrow night." Haredale informs Chester that he is sorry he ever got involved with him. "When I am most remorseful for this treachery, I will think of you and your marriage, and try to justify myself in such remembrances, for having torn asunder Emma and your son, at any cost." We now learn that Haredale had been in love with the woman whom Chester married, or as Chester puts it, as he leaves Haredale, he "could not keep his mistress when he had won her, and threw me in her way to carry off the prize; I triumph in the present and the past." Chester also draws his sword, thinking how much he would enjoy crossing swords with Haredale, but puts the sword away and became "his unruffled self again."

Joe Willet, meanwhile, is suffering from his father's treatment more than ever, and John Willet's "Maypole cronies" aid and abet his harshness, praising him as "a father of the good old English sort" and claiming "that there were no new-fangled notions or modern ways in him; that he put them in mind of what their fathers were when they were boys," and so on. "In short, between old John and old John's friends, there never was an unfortunate young fellow so bullied, badgered, worried, fretted, and brow-beaten; so constantly beset, or made so tired of his life, as poor Joe Willet."
When Chester reaches the Maypole and his horse is brought out, Joe goes to help him, but is reined in by his father: "No breaking of patroles. How dare you come out of the door, sir, without leave?" But Joe also notices "the smile upon their visitor's face, and observes the pleasure his disgrace afforded him." He goes in and lays his head on his arms on a table and reflects that "but for Dolly, who I couldn't bear should think me the rascal they would make me out to be if I ran away, this house and I should part to-night."

That evening, the usual company of Willet's friends are at the Maypole, and Tom Cobb provokes Joe with another admonition to "obey his father in all things." Joe tells him, "don't talk to me," but Cobb sneers at him for talking back.
Crowding into one moment the vexation and the wrath of years, Joe started up, overturned the table, fell upon his long enemy, pummelled him with all his might and main, and finished by driving him with surprising swiftness against a heap of spittoons in one corner; plunging into which, head foremost, with a tremendous crash, he lay at full length among the ruins, stunned and motionless.
Joe goes to his room and barricades the door with furniture, then thinks, "The Maypole and I must part company. I'm a roving vagabond -- she hates me for evermore -- it's all over!"

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