By Charles Matthews

Saturday, April 2, 2011

8. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 297-342

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 31-35
Barricaded in his room, Joe waits to be confronted by his father for his assault on Cobb, but when morning comes, he climbs out of his window and leaves, looking "up at the old Maypole, it might be for the last time." He reaches the Black Lion pub in London, where he learns that a recruiting sergeant is signing men up. The recruiter is eager to have him, but Joe wants to wait until that evening, so that he has time to talk to Dolly. The recruiter promises that if he does sign, he'll leave London the next day: "You'll go abroad -- a country where it's all sunshine and plunder -- the finest climate in the world." That sounds to Joe exactly like what he wants. "Needs must when the devil drives; and the devil that drives me is an empty pocket and an unhappy home."

By evening, he has spent all his money on food, while waiting for a time when Mrs. Varden usually goes out to a lecture. He finds Dolly alone (or so he thinks).
Dolly welcomes him in her father's workshop, but when he tells her he is there "to say good-bye -- to say good-bye for I don't know how many years; perhaps for ever. I am going abroad," she reacts coldly. "Dolly released her hand and said, 'Indeed!' She remarked in the same breath that it was a fine night, and in short, betrayed no more emotion than the forge itself." Unfortunately for Joe, "that gallant coachmaker had vowed but the night before that Miss Varden held him bound in adamantine chains." She is expecting to be wooed, not to be forced to confront reality.
Joe had small experience in love affairs, and had no notion how different young ladies are at different times; he had expected to take Dolly up again at the very point where he had left her after that delicious evening ride, and was no more prepared for such an alteration than to see the sun and moon change places.
So even though he now declares, "I love you dearly, with all my heart and soul; with as much truth and earnestness as ever man loved woman in this world, I do believe," Dolly is expecting more. She "was a coquette by nature, and a spoilt child," convinced that "The coachmaker would have been dissolved in tears, and ... done all kinds of poetry." The truth of what she has done by not begging him to stay is slow to hit her. After he has left, she waits for him to come back, looks out into the street, waits some more and then "went upstairs humming a tune, bolted herself in, laid her head down on her bed, and cried as if her heart would break."

After she has gone, Sim comes out from his hiding place in triumph, admires his legs in the mirror, and proclaims, "Tremble, Willet, and despair. She's mine! She's mine!"

Joe goes to the recruiting sergeant and signs up, and the next morning, "The party embarked in a passage-boat bound for Gravesend, whence they were to proceed on foot to Chatham; the wind was in their favour, and they soon left London behind them; a mere dark mist -- a giant phantom in the air."

Dickens announces the parallel father-son story, that of Edward and John Chester, with "Misfortunes, saith the adage, never come singly."
Phiz underscores a point: Notice the picture of Abraham sacrificing Isaac above John Chester.
John and Edward Chester are dining together, the father trying to cheer up the son. But when Edward calls him "father," John protests, "for Heaven's sake don't call me by that obsolete and ancient name. Have some regard for delicacy. Am I grey, or wrinkled, do I go on crutches, have I lost my teeth, that you adopt such a mode of address? Good God, how very coarse!" And Edward only makes it worse when he protests, "I was about to speak to you from my heart, sir." For John, the heart is only "the centre of the blood-vessels and all that sort of thing.... How can you be so very vulgar and absurd? These anatomical allusions should be left to gentlemen of the medical profession. They are really not agreeable in society.... Men are sometimes stabbed to the heart, shot to the heart; but as to speaking from the heart, or to the heart, or being warm-hearted, or cold-hearted, or broken-hearted, or being all heart, or having no heart -- pah! these things are nonsense, Ned."

Edward, perhaps to put an end to his father's lecture, says, "No doubt." But John continues, narrowing his focus to Emma: "No doubt in your mind she was all heart once. Now she has none at all." Edward protests that though she appears to have changed, it was "by vile means, I believe." John insists, "She supposed you to be rich, or at least rich enough; and found you poor. Marriage is a civil contract; people marry to better their worldly condition and improve appearances; it is an affair of house and furniture, of liveries, servants, equipage, and so forth. The lady being poor and you poor also, there is an end of the matter." Dickens certainly wants us to believe that this is John Chester's heartless materialism, and therefore to be dismissed, but modern readers may find some uncomfortable truths in it. And then he goes on to a revelation:
"Edward, my father had a son, who being a fool like you, and, like you, entertaining low and disobedient sentiments, he disinherited and cursed one morning after breakfast. The circumstance occurs to me with a singular clearness of recollection this evening. I remember eating muffins at the time, with marmalade. He led a miserable life (the son, I mean) and died early; it was a happy release on all accounts; he degraded the family very much." 
This would seem to be a significant revelation to Edward: that he had an uncle who went astray. Perhaps his father is only making it up as a warning, but in a novel filled with hints and secrets, such as the identity of the mysterious stranger who robbed Edward and threatens Mrs. Rudge, or the parentage of Hugh and John Chester's motive for his intense scrutiny of Hugh's face, it also give the reader a license to speculate. But only for a moment, for John now responds to his son's plea for an audience to his concerns with a bitter dismissal: "if, in short, you are resolved to take your own course, you must take it, and my curse with it."

Now it's Edward's turn to surprise us: "'The curse may pass your lips,' said Edward, 'but it will be but empty breath. I do not believe that any man on earth has greater power to call one down upon his fellow -- least of all, upon his own child -- than he has to make one drop of rain or flake of snow fall from the clouds above us at his impious bidding." This is the kind of skepticism about melodramatic devises such as paternal curses that we would normally expect from John Chester, not from Edward. But John Chester naturally knows how to turn it back on his son: "You are so very irreligious, so exceedingly undutiful, so horribly profane.... Return to this roof no more, I beg you. Go, sir, since you have no moral sense remaining; and go to the Devil, at my express desire. Good day."

Edward leaves, "and turned his back upon the house for ever." So with both Joe and Edward cast adrift upon the world, Dickens now jumps ahead five years, from 1775 to 1780. 
It's a night of terrible weather, and Joe Willet, Tom Cobb, and Phil Parkes are waiting for their companion, Solomon Daisy, in the coziness of the Maypole kitchen. Dickens makes much of the contrast between the warm, quiet interior and the cold, windy night outside, so much so that it's almost an inversion of the disjunction between nature and humanity that we saw earlier when John Chester was making his way inattentively through a beautiful spring day. It is half past ten at night, and Willet is snoring -- although he is awake: "his breathing was pretty much the same, awake or asleep, saving that in the latter case he sometimes experienced a slight difficulty in respiration" (which we would call apnea).

Over the chimney there is a poster of "a youth of tender years running away very fast." After Joe's disappearance, Willet had distributed these, offering a reward of five pounds, but he "obstinately peristed, despite the advice and entreaties of his friends, in describing his son as a 'young boy;' and furthermore as being from eighteen inches to a couple of feet shorter than he really was," with the result that he has had delivered to him "at various times and at a vast expense, ... some five-and-forty runaways varying from six years old to twelve."

Finally a cry is heard outside and Solomon Daisy enters, terror-stricken and for a moment unable to speak. Willet decides the way to get him to tell them what has happened is to bully him: "Tell us what's the matter, sir, ... or I'll kill you.... How dare you look like that?" Finally Daisy is able to tell them "to lock the house-door and close and bar the shutters of the room, without a moment's loss of time." They follow his advice, and he begins to moan, "Why did I leave this house to-night! On the nineteenth of March -- of all nights in the year, on the nineteenth of March!" This is the anniversary of the murder of Reuben Haredale, twenty-seven years ago. He tells them that he realized that he had forgotten to wind the clock in the church, and he went to do it, even though the storm was raging outside, and no one else was about. When he got there, he realized it was the nineteenth of March, and "at the very same moment, I heard a voice outside the tower -- rising from among the graves." It was the kind of cry one might give "if something dreadful followed us in a dream, and came upon us unawares; and then it died off: seeming to pass quite round the church."

When he opened the church door to leave, "there crossed me -- so close, that by stretching out my finger I could have touched it -- something in the likeness of a man. It was bare-headed to the storm. It turned its face without stopping, and it fixed its eyes on mine. It was a ghost -- a spirit." He falls back weakly as the others demand "Whose?" but only Willet hears the answer: "'Gentlemen,' said Mr Willet after a long pause, 'you needn't ask. The likeness of a murdered man. This is the nineteenth of March.'"

Receiving this news, they all vow to keep it to themselves. But after they leave, Willet decides that he has to share this information with Geoffrey Haredale as soon as possible. So he summons Hugh, who complains about going out at midnight in a storm, but whom Willet needs to lead him through the darkness to the Warren. When they reach it, the place is dark except for a light in one of the towers, which Willet realizes is "Mr Reuben's own apartment, God be with us! I wonder his brother likes to sit there, so late at night -- on this night too." Hugh scoffs at this: "Is it less warm or dry, because a man was killed there?" Willet begins "to think it just barely possible that he was something of a dangerous character, and that it might be advisable to get rid of him one of these days."

Haredale lets them in, and they climb the stairs to the room, though Haredale asks Hugh to wait outside. "He has an evil eye," he tells Willet. After Willet tells him what Solomon Daisy saw, Haredale says it was a good idea to keep it secret, though he regards the story as "a foolish fancy on he part of this weak-brained man, bred in his fears and superstition. But Miss Haredale, though she would know it to be so, would be disturbed by it if it reached her ears."

When Willet prepares to leave, Haredale offers Hugh a drink, and when he gives it to him, Hugh "threw part of it upon the floor." Willet scolds him, but Hugh says, "'I'm drinking a toast... to this house and its master.' With that he muttered something to himself, and drank the rest, and setting down the glass, preceded them without another word." Willet is "scandalised" by this. And when they leave, Willet notices that Haredale's "face had changed so much and grown so haggard since their entrance, that he almost seemed another man."

Willet and Hugh take to the road again, but are suddenly almost run down by three men on horseback. They stop and ask if this is the road to London. "'If you follow it right, it is,' replied Hugh roughly." The man who asked calls Hugh's manner "churlish," but Willet assures them it is, and then scolds Hugh for provoking "three great neck-or-nothing chaps, that could keep on running over use, back'ards and for'ards, till we was dead, and then take our bodies up behind 'em, and drown us ten miles off." When he informs the men that London is thirteen miles away, they decide it's too far to ride that night, and ask for an inn, which Willet is happy to answer.

One of the men then asks if Willet has "one excellent bed, landlord? Hem! A bed that you can recommend -- a bed that you are sure is well aired -- a bed that has been slept in by some perfectly respectable and unexceptionable person?" And he launches into a long speech about how "forty thousand men of this our island in the wave (exclusive of women and children) rivet their eyes and thoughts on Lord George Gordon; and every day, from the rising up of the sun to the going down of the same, pray for his health and vigour." And so on. He insists that only Gordon needs the bed: "Let me sleep on a chair -- the carpet -- anywhere. No one will repine if I take cold or fever." And as for the third man, "Let John Grueby pass the night beneath the open sky -- no one will repine for him."

Willet, "who had never heard so many words spoken together at one time, or delivered with such volubility and emphasis as by the long-winded gentleman," assures them that he has accommodations for all three of them. And we learn that the three men are Gordon, his secretary Gashford ("the long-winded gentleman"), and his servant, John Grueby. Gordon says they will follow Willet and Hugh to the Maypole, but Grueby doesn't like Hugh's looks and insists on riding ahead with him. As they proceed, Hugh sizes Grueby up:
He was a square-built, strong-made, bull-necked fellow, of the true English breed; and as Hugh measured him with his eye, he measured Hugh, regarding him meanwhile with a look of bluff disdain. He was much older than the Maypole man, being to all appearance five-and-forty; but was one of those self-possessed, hard-headed, imperturbable fellows, who, if they are ever beaten at fisticuffs, or other kind of warfare, never know it, and go on coolly till they win.
Which is pretty much what happens now, as Hugh decides to challenge Grueby on his skill with a cudgel, waving his about and receiving a blow on the head from the butt end of Grueby's whip. Grueby comments, "You wear your hear too long; I should have cracked your crown if it had been a little shorter." Hugh meditates on escalating the combat, but backs down, recognizing that he was dealing with "a customer of almost supernatural toughness."
 Willet shows them to the Maypole, where he observes that Gordon is "about the middle height, of a slender make, and sallow complexion, with an aquiline nose, and long hair of a reddish brown, combed perfectly straight and smooth about his ears, and slightly powdered, but without the faintest vestige of a curl." He is "not yet thirty," and "his face ... was thin and mild, and wore an air of melancholy; but it was suggestive of an indefinable uneasiness." Gashford "was taller, angularly made, high-shouldered, bony, and ungraceful.... His manner was smooth and humble, but very sly and slinking. He wore the aspect of a man who was always lying in wait for something that wouldn't come to pass; but he looked patient -- very patient -- and fawned like a spaniel dog." (Dickens will do this better when he creates Uriah Heep, though "lying in wait for something that wouldn't come to pass" is quite wonderful.)

When they are settled in, Gordon and Gashford look back on what Gashford calls "the blessed work of a most blessed day," and Gordon prompts the secretary to tell him how he moved the Protestants of Suffolk: "They cried to be led against the Papists, they vowed a dreadful vengeance on their heads, they roared like men possessed." He goes on to say, "when you cried 'Perish the Pope and all his base adherents; the penal laws against them shall never be repealed while Englishmen have hearts and hands' -- and waved your own an touched your sword; and when they cried, 'No Popery!' and you cried 'No; not even if we wade in blood,' and they threw up their hats and cried 'Hurrah! not even if we wade in blood; No Popery! Lord George! Down with the Papists -- Vengeance on their heads.'"

Gordon seems to be under Gashford's spell. He even asks, "But -- dear Gashford -- did I really say all that?" Gashford assures him he did, and he reminds him that he, Gashford, had been "stricken by the magic of his eloquence in Scotland but a year ago, [and] abjured the errors of the Romish church." Gordon continues to be in something of a daze, and to need Gashford's reassurance. He has "a heightened colour" and puts a "fevered hand" on Gashford's shoulder; "struggling through his Puritan's demeanour, was something wild and ungovernable which broke through all restraint." Meanwhile, Gashford is taking more than his share of the mulled wine.

Willet and Grueby arrive to show "the deluded lord into his chamber." Gashford falls asleep by the fire, only to be awakened by Grueby, who is concerned about his master's state of mind: "'Between Bloody Marys, and blue cockades, and glorious Queen Besses, and no Popery, and Protestant associations, and making of speeches,' pursued John Grueby, ... 'my lord's half off his head.... One of these evenings, when the weather gets warmer and Protestants are thirsty, they'll be pulling London down, -- and I never heard that Bloody Mary went as far as that.'"  

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