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Barnaby Rudge

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Chapter 21

It was for the moment an inexpressible relief to Dolly, to recognise in the person who forced himself into the path so abruptly, and now stood directly in her way, Hugh of the Maypole, whose name she uttered in a tone of delighted surprise that came from her heart.

‘Was it you?’ she said, ‘how glad I am to see you! and how could you terrify me so!’

In answer to which, he said nothing at all, but stood quite still, looking at her.

‘Did you come to meet me?’ asked Dolly.

Hugh nodded, and muttered something to the effect that he had been waiting for her, and had expected her sooner.

‘I thought it likely they would send,’ said Dolly, greatly reassured by this.

‘Nobody sent me,’ was his sullen answer. ‘I came of my own accord.’

The rough bearing of this fellow, and his wild, uncouth appearance, had often filled the girl with a vague apprehension even when other people were by, and had occasioned her to shrink from him involuntarily. 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.

If his manner had been merely dogged and passively fierce, as usual, she would have had no greater dislike to his company than she always felt—perhaps, indeed, would have been rather glad to have had him at hand. But there was something of coarse bold admiration in his look, which terrified her very much. She glanced timidly towards him, uncertain whether to go forward or retreat, and he stood gazing at her like a handsome satyr; and so they remained for some short time without stirring or breaking silence. At length Dolly took courage, shot past him, and hurried on.

‘Why do you spend so much breath in avoiding me?’ said Hugh, accommodating his pace to hers, and keeping close at her side.

‘I wish to get back as quickly as I can, and you walk too near me, answered Dolly.’

‘Too near!’ said Hugh, stooping over her so that she could feel his breath upon her forehead. ‘Why too near? You’re always proud to ME, mistress.’

‘I am proud to no one. You mistake me,’ answered Dolly. ‘Fall back, if you please, or go on.’

‘Nay, mistress,’ he rejoined, endeavouring to draw her arm through his, ‘I’ll walk with you.’

She released herself and clenching her little hand, struck him with right good will. At this, Maypole Hugh burst into a roar of laughter, and passing his arm about her waist, held her in his strong grasp as easily as if she had been a bird.

‘Ha ha ha! Well done, mistress! Strike again. You shall beat my face, and tear my hair, and pluck my beard up by the roots, and welcome, for the sake of your bright eyes. Strike again, mistress. Do. Ha ha ha! I like it.’

‘Let me go,’ she cried, endeavouring with both her hands to push him off. ‘Let me go this moment.’

‘You had as good be kinder to me, Sweetlips,’ said Hugh. ‘You had, indeed. Come. Tell me now. Why are you always so proud? I don’t quarrel with you for it. I love you when you’re proud. Ha ha ha! You can’t hide your beauty from a poor fellow; that’s a comfort!’

She gave him no answer, but as he had not yet checked her progress, continued to press forward as rapidly as she could. At length, between the hurry she had made, her terror, and the tightness of his embrace, her strength failed her, and she could go no further.

‘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.’

‘You had best not,’ he answered. ‘Harkye, little dove, you had best not. All about here know me, and what I dare do if I have a mind. If ever you are going to tell, stop when the words are on your lips, and think of the mischief you’ll bring, if you do, upon some innocent heads that you wouldn’t wish to hurt a hair of. Bring trouble on me, and I’ll bring trouble and something more on them in return. I care no more for them than for so many dogs; not so much—why should I? 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.’

There was something so thoroughly savage in the manner of these expressions, and the looks and gestures by which they were accompanied, that her great fear of him gave her new strength, and enabled her by a sudden effort to extricate herself and run fleetly from him. But Hugh was as nimble, strong, and swift of foot, as any man in broad England, and it was but a fruitless expenditure of energy, for he had her in his encircling arms again before she had gone a hundred yards.

‘Softly, darling—gently—would you fly from rough Hugh, that loves you as well as any drawing-room gallant?’

‘I would,’ she answered, struggling to free herself again. ‘I will. Help!’

‘A fine for crying out,’ said Hugh. ‘Ha ha ha! A fine, pretty one, from your lips. I pay myself! Ha ha ha!’

‘Help! help! help!’ As she shrieked with the utmost violence she could exert, a shout was heard in answer, and another, and another.

‘Thank Heaven!’ cried the girl in an ecstasy. ‘Joe, dear Joe, this way. Help!’

Her assailant paused, and stood irresolute for a moment, but the shouts drawing nearer and coming quick upon them, forced him to a speedy decision. He released her, whispered with a menacing look, ‘Tell HIM: and see what follows!’ and leaping the hedge, was gone in an instant. Dolly darted off, and fairly ran into Joe Willet’s open arms.

‘What is the matter? are you hurt? what was it? who was it? where is he? what was he like?’ with a great many encouraging expressions and assurances of safety, were the first words Joe poured forth. But poor little Dolly was so breathless and terrified that for some time she was quite unable to answer him, and hung upon his shoulder, sobbing and crying as if her heart would break.

Joe had not the smallest objection to have her hanging on his shoulder; no, not the least, though it crushed the cherry-coloured ribbons sadly, and put the smart little hat out of all shape. But he couldn’t bear to see her cry; it went to his very heart. He tried to console her, bent over her, whispered to her—some say kissed her, but that’s a fable. At any rate he said all the kind and tender things he could think of and Dolly let him go on and didn’t interrupt him once, and it was a good ten minutes before she was able to raise her head and thank him.

‘What was it that frightened you?’ said Joe.

A man whose person was unknown to her had followed her, she answered; he began by begging, and went on to threats of robbery, which he was on the point of carrying into execution, and would have executed, but for Joe’s timely aid. The hesitation and confusion with which she said this, Joe attributed to the fright she had sustained, and no suspicion of the truth occurred to him for a moment.

‘Stop when the words are on your lips.’ A hundred times that night, and very often afterwards, when the disclosure was rising to her tongue, Dolly thought of that, and repressed it. A deeply rooted dread of the man; the conviction that his ferocious nature, once roused, would stop at nothing; and the strong assurance that if she impeached him, the full measure of his wrath and vengeance would be wreaked on Joe, who had preserved her; these were considerations she had not the courage to overcome, and inducements to secrecy too powerful for her to surmount.

Joe, for his part, was a great deal too happy to inquire very curiously into the matter; and Dolly being yet too tremulous to walk without assistance, they went forward very slowly, and in his mind very pleasantly, until the Maypole lights were near at hand, twinkling their cheerful welcome, when Dolly stopped suddenly and with a half scream exclaimed,

‘The letter!’

‘What letter?’ cried Joe.

‘That I was carrying—I had it in my hand. My bracelet too,’ she said, clasping her wrist. ‘I have lost them both.’

‘Do you mean just now?’ said Joe.

‘Either I dropped them then, or they were taken from me,’ answered Dolly, vainly searching her pocket and rustling her dress. ‘They are gone, both gone. What an unhappy girl I am!’ With these words poor Dolly, who to do her justice was quite as sorry for the loss of the letter as for her bracelet, fell a-crying again, and bemoaned her fate most movingly.

Joe tried to comfort her with the assurance that directly he had housed her in the Maypole, he would return to the spot with a lantern (for it was now quite dark) and make strict search for the missing articles, which there was great probability of his finding, as it was not likely that anybody had passed that way since, and she was not conscious that they had been forcibly taken from her. Dolly thanked him very heartily for this offer, though with no great hope of his quest being successful; and so with many lamentations on her side, and many hopeful words on his, and much weakness on the part of Dolly and much tender supporting on the part of Joe, they reached the Maypole bar at last, where the locksmith and his wife and old John were yet keeping high festival.

Mr Willet received the intelligence of Dolly’s trouble with that surprising presence of mind and readiness of speech for which he was so eminently distinguished above all other men. Mrs Varden expressed her sympathy for her daughter’s distress by scolding her roundly for being so late; and the honest locksmith divided himself between condoling with and kissing Dolly, and shaking hands heartily with Joe, whom he could not sufficiently praise or thank.

In reference to this latter point, old John was far from agreeing with his friend; for besides that he by no means approved of an adventurous spirit in the abstract, 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. Wherefore, and because he looked with no favourable eye upon young girls, but rather considered that they and the whole female sex were a kind of nonsensical mistake on the part of Nature, he took occasion to retire and shake his head in private at the boiler; inspired by which silent oracle, he was moved to give Joe various stealthy nudges with his elbow, as a parental reproof and gentle admonition to mind his own business and not make a fool of himself.

Joe, however, took down the lantern and lighted it; and arming himself with a stout stick, asked whether Hugh was in the stable.

‘He’s lying asleep before the kitchen fire, sir,’ said Mr Willet. ‘What do you want him for?’

‘I want him to come with me to look after this bracelet and letter,’ answered Joe. ‘Halloa there! Hugh!’

Dolly turned pale as death, and felt as if she must faint forthwith. After a few moments, Hugh came staggering in, stretching himself and yawning according to custom, and presenting every appearance of having been roused from a sound nap.

‘Here, sleepy-head,’ said Joe, giving him the lantern. ‘Carry this, and bring the dog, and that small cudgel of yours. And woe betide the fellow if we come upon him.’

‘What fellow?’ growled Hugh, rubbing his eyes and shaking himself.

‘What fellow?’ returned Joe, who was in a state of great valour and bustle; ‘a fellow you ought to know of and be more alive about. It’s well for the like of you, lazy giant that you are, to be snoring your time away in chimney-corners, when honest men’s daughters can’t cross even our quiet meadows at nightfall without being set upon by footpads, and frightened out of their precious lives.’

‘They never rob me,’ cried Hugh with a laugh. ‘I have got nothing to lose. But I’d as lief knock them at head as any other men. How many are there?’

‘Only one,’ said Dolly faintly, for everybody looked at her.

‘And what was he like, mistress?’ said Hugh with a glance at young Willet, so slight and momentary that the scowl it conveyed was lost on all but her. ‘About my height?’

‘Not—not so tall,’ Dolly replied, scarce knowing what she said.

‘His dress,’ said Hugh, looking at her keenly, ‘like—like any of ours now? I know all the people hereabouts, and maybe could give a guess at the man, if I had anything to guide me.’

Dolly faltered and turned paler yet; then answered that he was wrapped in a loose coat and had his face hidden by a handkerchief and that she could give no other description of him.

‘You wouldn’t know him if you saw him then, belike?’ said Hugh with a malicious grin.

‘I should not,’ answered Dolly, bursting into tears again. ‘I don’t wish to see him. I can’t bear to think of him. I can’t talk about him any more. Don’t go to look for these things, Mr Joe, pray don’t. I entreat you not to go with that man.’

‘Not to go with me!’ cried Hugh. ‘I’m too rough for them all. They’re all afraid of me. Why, bless you mistress, I’ve the tenderest heart alive. I love all the ladies, ma’am,’ said Hugh, turning to the locksmith’s wife.

Mrs Varden opined that if he did, he ought to be ashamed of himself; such sentiments being more consistent (so she argued) with a benighted Mussulman or wild Islander than with a stanch Protestant. Arguing from this imperfect state of his morals, Mrs Varden further opined that he had never studied the Manual. Hugh admitting that he never had, and moreover that he couldn’t read, Mrs Varden declared with much severity, that he ought to be even more ashamed of himself than before, and strongly recommended him to save up his pocket-money for the purchase of one, and further to teach himself the contents with all convenient diligence. She was still pursuing this train of discourse, when Hugh, somewhat unceremoniously and irreverently, followed his young master out, and left her to edify the rest of the company. This she proceeded to do, and finding that Mr Willet’s eyes were fixed upon her with an appearance of deep attention, gradually addressed the whole of her discourse to him, whom she entertained with a moral and theological lecture of considerable length, in the conviction that great workings were taking place in his spirit. The simple truth was, however, that Mr Willet, although his eyes were wide open and he saw a woman before him whose head by long and steady looking at seemed to grow bigger and bigger until it filled the whole bar, was to all other intents and purposes fast asleep; and so sat leaning back in his chair with his hands in his pockets until his son’s return caused him to wake up with a deep sigh, and a faint impression that he had been dreaming about pickled pork and greens—a vision of his slumbers which was no doubt referable to the circumstance of Mrs Varden’s having frequently pronounced the word ‘Grace’ with much emphasis; which word, entering the portals of Mr Willet’s brain as they stood ajar, and coupling itself with the words ‘before meat,’ which were there ranging about, did in time suggest a particular kind of meat together with that description of vegetable which is usually its companion.

The search was wholly unsuccessful. Joe had groped along the path a dozen times, and among the grass, and in the dry ditch, and in the hedge, but all in vain. Dolly, who was quite inconsolable for her loss, wrote a note to Miss Haredale giving her the same account of it that she had given at the Maypole, which Joe undertook to deliver as soon as the family were stirring next day. That done, they sat down to tea in the bar, where there was an uncommon display of buttered toast, and—in order that they might not grow faint for want of sustenance, and might have a decent halting-place or halfway house between dinner and supper—a few savoury trifles in the shape of great rashers of broiled ham, which being well cured, done to a turn, and smoking hot, sent forth a tempting and delicious fragrance.

Mrs Varden was seldom very Protestant at meals, unless it happened that they were underdone, or overdone, or indeed that anything occurred to put her out of humour. Her spirits rose considerably on beholding these goodly preparations, and from the nothingness of good works, she passed to the somethingness of ham and toast with great cheerfulness. Nay, under the influence of these wholesome stimulants, she sharply reproved her daughter for being low and despondent (which she considered an unacceptable frame of mind), and remarked, as she held her own plate for a fresh supply, that it would be well for Dolly, who pined over the loss of a toy and a sheet of paper, if she would reflect upon the voluntary sacrifices of the missionaries in foreign parts who lived chiefly on salads.

The proceedings of such a day occasion various fluctuations in the human thermometer, and especially in instruments so sensitively and delicately constructed as Mrs Varden. Thus, at dinner Mrs V. stood at summer heat; genial, smiling, and delightful. After dinner, in the sunshine of the wine, she went up at least half-a-dozen degrees, and was perfectly enchanting. As its effect subsided, she fell rapidly, went to sleep for an hour or so at temperate, and woke at something below freezing. Now she was at summer heat again, in the shade; and when tea was over, and old John, producing a bottle of cordial from one of the oaken cases, insisted on her sipping two glasses thereof in slow succession, she stood steadily at ninety for one hour and a quarter. Profiting by experience, the locksmith took advantage of this genial weather to smoke his pipe in the porch, and in consequence of this prudent management, he was fully prepared, when the glass went down again, to start homewards directly.

The horse was accordingly put in, and the chaise brought round to the door. Joe, who would on no account be dissuaded from escorting them until they had passed the most dreary and solitary part of the road, led out the grey mare at the same time; and having helped Dolly into her seat (more happiness!) sprung gaily into the saddle. Then, after many good nights, and admonitions to wrap up, and glancing of lights, and handing in of cloaks and shawls, the chaise rolled away, and Joe trotted beside it—on Dolly’s side, no doubt, and pretty close to the wheel too.






Chapter 22

It was a fine bright night, and for all her lowness of spirits Dolly kept looking up at the stars in a manner so bewitching (and SHE knew it!) that Joe was clean out of his senses, and plainly showed that if ever a man were—not to say over head and ears, but over the Monument and the top of Saint Paul’s in love, that man was himself. The road was a very good one; not at all a jolting road, or an uneven one; and yet Dolly held the side of the chaise with one little hand, all the way. If there had been an executioner behind him with an uplifted axe ready to chop off his head if he touched that hand, Joe couldn’t have helped doing it. From putting his own hand upon it as if by chance, and taking it away again after a minute or so, he got to riding along without taking it off at all; as if he, the escort, were bound to do that as an important part of his duty, and had come out for the purpose. The most curious circumstance about this little incident was, that Dolly didn’t seem to know of it. She looked so innocent and unconscious when she turned her eyes on Joe, that it was quite provoking.

She talked though; talked about her fright, and about Joe’s coming up to rescue her, and about her gratitude, and about her fear that she might not have thanked him enough, and about their always being friends from that time forth—and about all that sort of thing. 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.

In this manner they travelled along, talking very little above a whisper, and wishing the road could be stretched out to some dozen times its natural length—at least that was Joe’s desire—when, as they were getting clear of the forest and emerging on the more frequented road, they heard behind them the sound of a horse’s feet at a round trot, which growing rapidly louder as it drew nearer, elicited a scream from Mrs Varden, and the cry ‘a friend!’ from the rider, who now came panting up, and checked his horse beside them.

‘This man again!’ cried Dolly, shuddering.

‘Hugh!’ said Joe. ‘What errand are you upon?’

‘I come to ride back with you,’ he answered, glancing covertly at the locksmith’s daughter. ‘HE sent me.’

‘My father!’ said poor Joe; adding under his breath, with a very unfilial apostrophe, ‘Will he never think me man enough to take care of myself!’

‘Aye!’ returned Hugh to the first part of the inquiry. ‘The roads are not safe just now, he says, and you’d better have a companion.’

‘Ride on then,’ said Joe. ‘I’m not going to turn yet.’

Hugh complied, and they went on again. It was his whim or humour to ride immediately before the chaise, and from this position he constantly turned his head, and looked back. Dolly felt that he looked at her, but she averted her eyes and feared to raise them once, so great was the dread with which he had inspired her.

This interruption, and the consequent wakefulness of Mrs Varden, who had been nodding in her sleep up to this point, except for a minute or two at a time, when she roused herself to scold the locksmith for audaciously taking hold of her to prevent her nodding herself out of the chaise, put a restraint upon the whispered conversation, and made it difficult of resumption. Indeed, before they had gone another mile, Gabriel stopped at his wife’s desire, and that good lady protested she would not hear of Joe’s going a step further on any account whatever. It was in vain for Joe to protest on the other hand that he was by no means tired, and would turn back presently, and would see them safely past such a point, and so forth. Mrs Varden was obdurate, and being so was not to be overcome by mortal agency.

‘Good night—if I must say it,’ said Joe, sorrowfully.

‘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. She had therefore nothing for it but to suffer Joe to give her hand a gentle squeeze, and when the chaise had gone on for some distance, to look back and wave it, as he still lingered on the spot where they had parted, with the tall dark figure of Hugh beside him.

What she thought about, going home; and whether the coach-maker held as favourable a place in her meditations as he had occupied in the morning, is unknown. They reached home at last—at last, for it was a long way, made none the shorter by Mrs Varden’s grumbling. Miggs hearing the sound of wheels was at the door immediately.

‘Here they are, Simmun! Here they are!’ cried Miggs, clapping her hands, and issuing forth to help her mistress to alight. ‘Bring a chair, Simmun. Now, an’t you the better for it, mim? Don’t you feel more yourself than you would have done if you’d have stopped at home? Oh, gracious! how cold you are! Goodness me, sir, she’s a perfect heap of ice.’

‘I can’t help it, my good girl. You had better take her in to the fire,’ said the locksmith.

‘Master sounds unfeeling, mim,’ said Miggs, in a tone of commiseration, ‘but such is not his intentions, I’m sure. After what he has seen of you this day, I never will believe but that he has a deal more affection in his heart than to speak unkind. Come in and sit yourself down by the fire; there’s a good dear—do.’

Mrs Varden complied. The locksmith followed with his hands in his pockets, and Mr Tappertit trundled off with the chaise to a neighbouring stable.

‘Martha, my dear,’ said the locksmith, when they reached the parlour, ‘if you’ll look to Dolly yourself or let somebody else do it, perhaps it will be only kind and reasonable. She has been frightened, you know, and is not at all well to-night.’

In fact, Dolly had thrown herself upon the sofa, quite regardless of all the little finery of which she had been so proud in the morning, and with her face buried in her hands was crying very much.

At first sight of this phenomenon (for Dolly was by no means accustomed to displays of this sort, rather learning from her mother’s example to avoid them as much as possible) Mrs Varden expressed her belief that never was any woman so beset as she; that her life was a continued scene of trial; that whenever she was disposed to be well and cheerful, so sure were the people around her to throw, by some means or other, a damp upon her spirits; and that, as she had enjoyed herself that day, and Heaven knew it was very seldom she did enjoy herself so she was now to pay the penalty. To all such propositions Miggs assented freely. Poor Dolly, however, grew none the better for these restoratives, but rather worse, indeed; and seeing that she was really ill, both Mrs Varden and Miggs were moved to compassion, and tended her in earnest.

But even then, their very kindness shaped itself into their usual course of policy, and though Dolly was in a swoon, it was rendered clear to the meanest capacity, that Mrs Varden was the sufferer. Thus when Dolly began to get a little better, and passed into that stage in which matrons hold that remonstrance and argument may be successfully applied, her mother represented to her, with tears in her eyes, that if she had been flurried and worried that day, she must remember it was the common lot of humanity, and in especial of womankind, who through the whole of their existence must expect no less, and were bound to make up their minds to meek endurance and patient resignation. Mrs Varden entreated her to remember that one of these days she would, in all probability, have to do violence to her feelings so far as to be married; and that marriage, as she might see every day of her life (and truly she did) was a state requiring great fortitude and forbearance. She represented to her in lively colours, that if she (Mrs V.) had not, in steering her course through this vale of tears, been supported by a strong principle of duty which alone upheld and prevented her from drooping, she must have been in her grave many years ago; in which case she desired to know what would have become of that errant spirit (meaning the locksmith), of whose eye she was the very apple, and in whose path she was, as it were, a shining light and guiding star?

Miss Miggs also put in her word to the same effect. She said that indeed and indeed Miss Dolly might take pattern by her blessed mother, who, she always had said, and always would say, though she were to be hanged, drawn, and quartered for it next minute, was the mildest, amiablest, forgivingest-spirited, longest-sufferingest female as ever she could have believed; the mere narration of whose excellencies had worked such a wholesome change in the mind of her own sister-in-law, that, whereas, before, she and her husband lived like cat and dog, and were in the habit of exchanging brass candlesticks, pot-lids, flat-irons, and other such strong resentments, they were now the happiest and affectionatest couple upon earth; as could be proved any day on application at Golden Lion Court, number twenty-sivin, second bell-handle on the right-hand doorpost. After glancing at herself as a comparatively worthless vessel, but still as one of some desert, she besought her to bear in mind that her aforesaid dear and only mother was of a weakly constitution and excitable temperament, who had constantly to sustain afflictions in domestic life, compared with which thieves and robbers were as nothing, and yet never sunk down or gave way to despair or wrath, but, in prize-fighting phraseology, always came up to time with a cheerful countenance, and went in to win as if nothing had happened. When Miggs finished her solo, her mistress struck in again, and the two together performed a duet to the same purpose; the burden being, that Mrs Varden was persecuted perfection, and Mr Varden, as the representative of mankind in that apartment, a creature of vicious and brutal habits, utterly insensible to the blessings he enjoyed. Of so refined a character, indeed, was their talent of assault under the mask of sympathy, that when Dolly, recovering, embraced her father tenderly, as in vindication of his goodness, Mrs Varden expressed her solemn hope that this would be a lesson to him for the remainder of his life, and that he would do some little justice to a woman’s nature ever afterwards—in which aspiration Miss Miggs, by divers sniffs and coughs, more significant than the longest oration, expressed her entire concurrence.

But the great joy of Miggs’s heart was, that she not only picked up a full account of what had happened, but had the exquisite delight of conveying it to Mr Tappertit for his jealousy and torture. For that gentleman, on account of Dolly’s indisposition, had been requested to take his supper in the workshop, and it was conveyed thither by Miss Miggs’s own fair hands.

‘Oh Simmun!’ said the young lady, ‘such goings on to-day! Oh, gracious me, Simmun!’

Mr Tappertit, who was not in the best of humours, and who 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, eyed her over in his loftiest style, and deigned to express no curiosity whatever.

‘I never heard the like, nor nobody else,’ pursued Miggs. ‘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!’

Finding there was a lady in the case, Mr Tappertit haughtily requested his fair friend to be more explicit, and demanded to know what she meant by ‘her.’

‘Why, that Dolly,’ said Miggs, with an extremely sharp emphasis on the name. ‘But, oh upon my word and honour, young Joseph Willet is a brave one; and he do deserve her, that he do.’

‘Woman!’ said Mr Tappertit, jumping off the counter on which he was seated; ‘beware!’

‘My stars, Simmun!’ cried Miggs, in affected astonishment. ‘You frighten me to death! What’s the matter?’

‘There are strings,’ said Mr Tappertit, flourishing his bread-and-cheese knife in the air, ‘in the human heart that had better not be wibrated. That’s what’s the matter.’

‘Oh, very well—if you’re in a huff,’ cried Miggs, turning away.

‘Huff or no huff,’ said Mr Tappertit, detaining her by the wrist. ‘What do you mean, Jezebel? What were you going to say? Answer me!’

Notwithstanding this uncivil exhortation, Miggs gladly did as she was required; and told him how that their young mistress, being alone in the meadows after dark, had been attacked by three or four tall men, who would have certainly borne her away and perhaps murdered her, but for the timely arrival of Joseph Willet, who with his own single hand put them all to flight, and rescued her; to the lasting admiration of his fellow-creatures generally, and to the eternal love and gratitude of Dolly Varden.

‘Very good,’ said Mr Tappertit, fetching a long breath when the tale was told, and rubbing his hair up till it stood stiff and straight on end all over his head. ‘His days are numbered.’

‘Oh, Simmun!’

‘I tell you,’ said the ‘prentice, ‘his days are numbered. Leave me. Get along with you.’

Miggs departed at his bidding, but less because of his bidding than because she desired to chuckle in secret. When she had given vent to her satisfaction, she returned to the parlour; where the locksmith, stimulated by quietness and Toby, had become talkative, and was disposed to take a cheerful review of the occurrences of the day. But Mrs Varden, whose practical religion (as is not uncommon) was usually of the retrospective order, cut him short by declaiming on the sinfulness of such junketings, and holding that it was high time to go to bed. To bed therefore she withdrew, with an aspect as grim and gloomy as that of the Maypole’s own state couch; and to bed the rest of the establishment soon afterwards repaired.






Chapter 23

Twilight had given place to night some hours, and it was high noon in those quarters of the town in which ‘the world’ condescended to dwell—the world being then, as now, of very limited dimensions and easily lodged—when Mr Chester reclined upon a sofa in his dressing-room in the Temple, entertaining himself with a book.

He was dressing, as it seemed, by easy stages, and having performed half the journey was taking a long rest. Completely attired as to his legs and feet in the trimmest fashion of the day, he had yet the remainder of his toilet to perform. The coat was stretched, like a refined scarecrow, on its separate horse; the waistcoat was displayed to the best advantage; the various ornamental articles of dress were severally set out in most alluring order; and yet he lay dangling his legs between the sofa and the ground, as intent upon his book as if there were nothing but bed before him.

‘Upon my honour,’ he said, at length raising his eyes to the ceiling with the air of a man who was reflecting seriously on what he had read; ‘upon my honour, the most masterly composition, the most delicate thoughts, the finest code of morality, and the most gentlemanly sentiments in the universe! Ah Ned, Ned, if you would but form your mind by such precepts, we should have but one common feeling on every subject that could possibly arise between us!’

This apostrophe was addressed, like the rest of his remarks, to empty air: for Edward was not present, and the father was quite alone.

‘My Lord Chesterfield,’ he said, pressing his hand tenderly upon the book as he laid it down, ‘if I could but have profited by your genius soon enough to have formed my son on the model you have left to all wise fathers, both he and I would have been rich men. Shakespeare was undoubtedly very fine in his way; Milton good, though prosy; Lord Bacon deep, and decidedly knowing; but the writer who should be his country’s pride, is my Lord Chesterfield.’

He became thoughtful again, and the toothpick was in requisition.

‘I thought I was tolerably accomplished as a man of the world,’ he continued, ‘I flattered myself that I was pretty well versed in all those little arts and graces which distinguish men of the world from boors and peasants, and separate their character from those intensely vulgar sentiments which are called the national character. Apart from any natural prepossession in my own favour, I believed I was. Still, in every page of this enlightened writer, I find some captivating hypocrisy which has never occurred to me before, or some superlative piece of selfishness to which I was utterly a stranger. I should quite blush for myself before this stupendous creature, if remembering his precepts, one might blush at anything. An amazing man! a nobleman indeed! any King or Queen may make a Lord, but only the Devil himself—and the Graces—can make a Chesterfield.’

Men who are thoroughly false and hollow, seldom try to hide those vices from themselves; and yet in the very act of avowing them, they lay claim to the virtues they feign most to despise. ‘For,’ say they, ‘this is honesty, this is truth. All mankind are like us, but they have not the candour to avow it.’ The more they affect to deny the existence of any sincerity in the world, the more they would be thought to possess it in its boldest shape; and this is an unconscious compliment to Truth on the part of these philosophers, which will turn the laugh against them to the Day of Judgment.

Mr Chester, having extolled his favourite author, as above recited, took up the book again in the excess of his admiration and was composing himself for a further perusal of its sublime morality, when he was disturbed by a noise at the outer door; occasioned as it seemed by the endeavours of his servant to obstruct the entrance of some unwelcome visitor.

‘A late hour for an importunate creditor,’ he said, raising his eyebrows with as indolent an expression of wonder as if the noise were in the street, and one with which he had not the smallest possible concern. ‘Much after their accustomed time. The usual pretence I suppose. No doubt a heavy payment to make up tomorrow. Poor fellow, he loses time, and time is money as the good proverb says—I never found it out though. Well. What now? You know I am not at home.’

‘A man, sir,’ replied the servant, who was to the full as cool and negligent in his way as his master, ‘has brought home the riding-whip you lost the other day. I told him you were out, but he said he was to wait while I brought it in, and wouldn’t go till I did.’

‘He was quite right,’ returned his master, ‘and you’re a blockhead, possessing no judgment or discretion whatever. Tell him to come in, and see that he rubs his shoes for exactly five minutes first.’

The man laid the whip on a chair, and withdrew. The master, who had only heard his foot upon the ground and had not taken the trouble to turn round and look at him, shut his book, and pursued the train of ideas his entrance had disturbed.

‘If time were money,’ he said, handling his snuff-box, ‘I would compound with my creditors, and give them—let me see—how much a day? There’s my nap after dinner—an hour—they’re extremely welcome to that, and to make the most of it. In the morning, between my breakfast and the paper, I could spare them another hour; in the evening before dinner say another. Three hours a day. They might pay themselves in calls, with interest, in twelve months. I think I shall propose it to them. Ah, my centaur, are you there?’

‘Here I am,’ replied Hugh, striding in, followed by a dog, as rough and sullen as himself; ‘and trouble enough I’ve had to get here. What do you ask me to come for, and keep me out when I DO come?’

‘My good fellow,’ returned the other, raising his head a little from the cushion and carelessly surveying him from top to toe, ‘I am delighted to see you, and to have, in your being here, the very best proof that you are not kept out. How are you?’

‘I’m well enough,’ said Hugh impatiently.

‘You look a perfect marvel of health. Sit down.’

‘I’d rather stand,’ said Hugh.

‘Please yourself my good fellow,’ returned Mr Chester rising, slowly pulling off the loose robe he wore, and sitting down before the dressing-glass. ‘Please yourself by all means.’

Having said this in the politest and blandest tone possible, he went on dressing, and took no further notice of his guest, who stood in the same spot as uncertain what to do next, eyeing him sulkily from time to time.

‘Are you going to speak to me, master?’ he said, after a long silence.

‘My worthy creature,’ returned Mr Chester, ‘you are a little ruffled and out of humour. I’ll wait till you’re quite yourself again. I am in no hurry.’

This behaviour had its intended effect. It humbled and abashed the man, and made him still more irresolute and uncertain. 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. Everything contributed to this effect. His own rough speech, contrasted with the soft persuasive accents of the other; his rude bearing, and Mr Chester’s polished manner; the disorder and negligence of his ragged dress, and the elegant attire he saw before him; with all the unaccustomed luxuries and comforts of the room, and the silence that gave him leisure to observe these things, and feel how ill at ease they made him; all these influences, which have too often some effect on tutored minds and become of almost resistless power when brought to bear on such a mind as his, quelled Hugh completely. He moved by little and little nearer to Mr Chester’s chair, and glancing over his shoulder at the reflection of his face in the glass, as if seeking for some encouragement in its expression, said at length, with a rough attempt at conciliation,

‘ARE you going to speak to me, master, or am I to go away?’

‘Speak you,’ said Mr Chester, ‘speak you, good fellow. I have spoken, have I not? I am waiting for you.’

‘Why, look’ee, sir,’ returned Hugh with increased embarrassment, ‘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?’

‘No doubt the same, or you have a twin brother,’ said Mr Chester, glancing at the reflection of his anxious face; ‘which is not probable, I should say.’

‘Then I have come, sir,’ said Hugh, ‘and I have brought it back, and something else along with it. A letter, sir, it is, that I took from the person who had charge of it.’ As he spoke, he laid upon the dressing-table, Dolly’s lost epistle. The very letter that had cost her so much trouble.

‘Did you obtain this by force, my good fellow?’ said Mr Chester, casting his eye upon it without the least perceptible surprise or pleasure.

‘Not quite,’ said Hugh. ‘Partly.’

‘Who was the messenger from whom you took it?’

‘A woman. One Varden’s daughter.’

‘Oh indeed!’ said Mr Chester gaily. ‘What else did you take from her?’

‘What else?’

‘Yes,’ said the other, in a drawling manner, for he was fixing a very small patch of sticking plaster on a very small pimple near the corner of his mouth. ‘What else?’

‘Well a kiss,’ replied Hugh, after some hesitation.

‘And what else?’

‘Nothing.’

‘I think,’ said Mr Chester, in the same easy tone, and smiling twice or thrice to try if the patch adhered—‘I think there was something else. I have heard a trifle of jewellery spoken of—a mere trifle—a thing of such little value, indeed, that you may have forgotten it. Do you remember anything of the kind—such as a bracelet now, for instance?’

Hugh with a muttered oath thrust his hand into his breast, and drawing the bracelet forth, wrapped in a scrap of hay, was about to lay it on the table likewise, when his patron stopped his hand and bade him put it up again.

‘You took that for yourself my excellent friend,’ he said, ‘and may keep it. I am neither a thief nor a receiver. Don’t show it to me. You had better hide it again, and lose no time. Don’t let me see where you put it either,’ he added, turning away his head.

‘You’re not a receiver!’ said Hugh bluntly, despite the increasing awe in which he held him. ‘What do you call THAT, master?’ striking the letter with his heavy hand.

‘I call that quite another thing,’ said Mr Chester coolly. ‘I shall prove it presently, as you will see. You are thirsty, I suppose?’

Hugh drew his sleeve across his lips, and gruffly answered yes.

‘Step to that closet and bring me a bottle you will see there, and a glass.’

He obeyed. His patron followed him with his eyes, and when his back was turned, smiled as he had never done when he stood beside the mirror. On his return he filled the glass, and bade him drink. That dram despatched, he poured him out another, and another.

‘How many can you bear?’ he said, filling the glass again.

‘As many as you like to give me. Pour on. Fill high. A bumper with a bead in the middle! Give me enough of this,’ he added, as he tossed it down his hairy throat, ‘and I’ll do murder if you ask me!’

‘As I don’t mean to ask you, and you might possibly do it without being invited if you went on much further,’ said Mr Chester with great composure, ‘we will stop, if agreeable to you, my good friend, at the next glass. You were drinking before you came here.’

‘I always am when I can get it,’ cried Hugh boisterously, waving the empty glass above his head, and throwing himself into a rude dancing attitude. ‘I always am. Why not? Ha ha ha! What’s so good to me as this? What ever has been? What else has kept away the cold on bitter nights, and driven hunger off in starving times? What else has given me the strength and courage of a man, when men would have left me to die, a puny child? I should never have had a man’s heart but for this. I should have died in a ditch. Where’s he who when I was a weak and sickly wretch, with trembling legs and fading sight, bade me cheer up, as this did? I never knew him; not I. I drink to the drink, master. Ha ha ha!’

‘You are an exceedingly cheerful young man,’ said Mr Chester, putting on his cravat with great deliberation, and slightly moving his head from side to side to settle his chin in its proper place. ‘Quite a boon companion.’

‘Do you see this hand, master,’ said Hugh, ‘and this arm?’ baring the brawny limb to the elbow. ‘It was once mere skin and bone, and would have been dust in some poor churchyard by this time, but for the drink.’

‘You may cover it,’ said Mr Chester, ‘it’s sufficiently real in your sleeve.’

‘I should never have been spirited up to take a kiss from the proud little beauty, master, but for the drink,’ cried Hugh. ‘Ha ha ha! It was a good one. As sweet as honeysuckle, I warrant you. I thank the drink for it. I’ll drink to the drink again, master. Fill me one more. Come. One more!’

‘You are such a promising fellow,’ said his patron, putting on his waistcoat with great nicety, and taking no heed of this request, ‘that I must caution you against having too many impulses from the drink, and getting hung before your time. What’s your age?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘At any rate,’ said Mr Chester, ‘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 fell back a pace or two and surveyed him with a look of mingled terror, indignation, and surprise. Regarding himself in the glass with the same complacency as before, and speaking as smoothly as if he were discussing some pleasant chit-chat of the town, his patron went on:

‘Robbery on the king’s highway, my young friend, is a very dangerous and ticklish occupation. It is pleasant, I have no doubt, while it lasts; but like many other pleasures in this transitory world, it seldom lasts long. And really if in the ingenuousness of youth, you open your heart so readily on the subject, I am afraid your career will be an extremely short one.’

‘How’s this?’ said Hugh. ‘What do you talk of master? Who was it set me on?’

‘Who?’ said Mr Chester, wheeling sharply round, and looking full at him for the first time. ‘I didn’t hear you. Who was it?’

Hugh faltered, and muttered something which was not audible.

‘Who was it? I am curious to know,’ said Mr Chester, with surpassing affability. ‘Some rustic beauty perhaps? But be cautious, my good friend. They are not always to be trusted. Do take my advice now, and be careful of yourself.’ With these words he turned to the glass again, and went on with his toilet.

Hugh would have answered him that he, the questioner himself had set him on, but the words stuck in his throat. The consummate art with which his patron had led him to this point, and managed the whole conversation, perfectly baffled him. He did not doubt that if he had made the retort which was on his lips when Mr Chester turned round and questioned him so keenly, he would straightway have given him into custody and had him dragged before a justice with the stolen property upon him; in which case it was as certain he would have been hung as it was that he had been born. The ascendency which it was the purpose of the man of the world to establish over this savage instrument, was gained from that time. 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.

With these thoughts passing through his mind, and yet wondering at the very same time how he who came there rioting in the confidence of this man (as he thought), should be so soon and so thoroughly subdued, Hugh stood cowering before him, regarding him uneasily from time to time, while he finished dressing. When he had done so, he took up the letter, broke the seal, and throwing himself back in his chair, read it leisurely through.

‘Very neatly worded upon my life! Quite a woman’s letter, full of what people call tenderness, and disinterestedness, and heart, and all that sort of thing!’

As he spoke, he twisted it up, and glancing lazily round at Hugh as though he would say ‘You see this?’ held it in the flame of the candle. When it was in a full blaze, he tossed it into the grate, and there it smouldered away.

‘It was directed to my son,’ he said, turning to Hugh, ‘and you did quite right to bring it here. I opened it on my own responsibility, and you see what I have done with it. Take this, for your trouble.’

Hugh stepped forward to receive the piece of money he held out to him. As he put it in his hand, he added:

‘If you should happen to find anything else of this sort, or to pick up any kind of information you may think I would like to have, bring it here, will you, my good fellow?’

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 don’t,’ said his patron, with an air of the very kindest patronage, ‘don’t be at all downcast or uneasy respecting that little rashness we have been speaking of. Your neck is as safe in my hands, my good fellow, as though a baby’s fingers clasped it, I assure you.—Take another glass. You are quieter now.’

Hugh accepted it from his hand, and looking stealthily at his smiling face, drank the contents in silence.

‘Don’t you—ha, ha!—don’t you drink to the drink any more?’ said Mr Chester, in his most winning manner.

‘To you, sir,’ was the sullen answer, with something approaching to a bow. ‘I drink to you.’

‘Thank you. God bless you. By the bye, what is your name, my good soul? You are called Hugh, I know, of course—your other name?’

‘I have no other name.’

‘A very strange fellow! Do you mean that you never knew one, or that you don’t choose to tell it? Which?’

‘I’d tell it if I could,’ said Hugh, quickly. ‘I can’t. I have been always called Hugh; nothing more. I never knew, nor saw, nor thought about a father; and I was a boy of six—that’s not very old—when they hung my mother up at Tyburn for a couple of thousand men to stare at. They might have let her live. She was poor enough.’

‘How very sad!’ exclaimed his patron, with a condescending smile. ‘I have no doubt she was an exceedingly fine woman.’

‘You see that dog of mine?’ said Hugh, abruptly.

‘Faithful, I dare say?’ rejoined his patron, looking at him through his glass; ‘and immensely clever? Virtuous and gifted animals, whether man or beast, always are so very hideous.’

‘Such a dog as that, and one of the same breed, was the only living thing except me that howled that day,’ said Hugh. ‘Out of the two thousand odd—there was a larger crowd for its being a woman—the dog and I alone had any pity. If he’d have been a man, he’d have been glad to be quit of her, for she had been forced to keep him lean and half-starved; but being a dog, and not having a man’s sense, he was sorry.’

‘It was dull of the brute, certainly,’ said Mr Chester, ‘and very like a brute.’

Hugh made no rejoinder, but whistling to his dog, who sprung up at the sound and came jumping and sporting about him, bade his sympathising friend good night.

‘Good night,’ he returned. ‘Remember; you’re safe with me—quite safe. So long as you deserve it, my good fellow, as I hope you always will, you have a friend in me, on whose silence you may rely. Now do be careful of yourself, pray do, and consider what jeopardy you might have stood in. Good night! bless you!’

Hugh truckled before the hidden meaning of these words as much as such a being could, and crept out of the door so submissively and subserviently—with an air, in short, so different from that with which he had entered—that his patron on being left alone, smiled more than ever.

‘And yet,’ he said, as he took a pinch of snuff, ‘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.’

With this comforting reflection, he put on his coat, took a farewell glance at the glass, and summoned his man, who promptly attended, followed by a chair and its two bearers.

‘Foh!’ said Mr Chester. ‘The very atmosphere that centaur has breathed, seems tainted with the cart and ladder. Here, Peak. Bring some scent and sprinkle the floor; and take away the chair he sat upon, and air it; and dash a little of that mixture upon me. I am stifled!’

The man obeyed; and the room and its master being both purified, nothing remained for Mr Chester but to demand his hat, to fold it jauntily under his arm, to take his seat in the chair and be carried off; humming a fashionable tune.






Chapter 24

How the accomplished gentleman spent the evening in the midst of a dazzling and brilliant circle; how he enchanted all those with whom he mingled by the grace of his deportment, the politeness of his manner, the vivacity of his conversation, and the sweetness of his voice; how it was observed in every corner, that Chester was a man of that happy disposition that nothing ruffled him, that he was one on whom the world’s cares and errors sat lightly as his dress, and in whose smiling face a calm and tranquil mind was constantly reflected; how honest men, who by instinct knew him better, bowed down before him nevertheless, deferred to his every word, and courted his favourable notice; how people, who really had good in them, went with the stream, and fawned and flattered, and approved, and despised themselves while they did so, and yet had not the courage to resist; how, in short, he was one of those who are received and cherished in society (as the phrase is) by scores who individually would shrink from and be repelled by the object of their lavish regard; are things of course, which will suggest themselves. Matter so commonplace needs but a passing glance, and there an end.

The despisers of mankind—apart from the mere fools and mimics, of that creed—are of two sorts. They who believe their merit neglected and unappreciated, make up one class; they who receive adulation and flattery, knowing their own worthlessness, compose the other. Be sure that the coldest-hearted misanthropes are ever of this last order.

Mr Chester sat up in bed next morning, sipping his coffee, and remembering with a kind of contemptuous satisfaction how he had shone last night, and how he had been caressed and courted, when his servant brought in a very small scrap of dirty paper, tightly sealed in two places, on the inside whereof was inscribed in pretty large text these words: ‘A friend. Desiring of a conference. Immediate. Private. Burn it when you’ve read it.’

‘Where in the name of the Gunpowder Plot did you pick up this?’ said his master.

It was given him by a person then waiting at the door, the man replied.

‘With a cloak and dagger?’ said Mr Chester.

With nothing more threatening about him, it appeared, than a leather apron and a dirty face. ‘Let him come in.’ In he came—Mr Tappertit; with his hair still on end, and a great lock in his hand, which he put down on the floor in the middle of the chamber as if he were about to go through some performances in which it was a necessary agent.

‘Sir,’ said Mr Tappertit with a low bow, ‘I thank you for this condescension, and am glad to see you. Pardon the menial office in which I am engaged, sir, and extend your sympathies to one, who, humble as his appearance is, has inn’ard workings far above his station.’

Mr Chester held the bed-curtain farther back, and looked at him with a vague impression that he was some maniac, who had not only broken open the door of his place of confinement, but had brought away the lock. Mr Tappertit bowed again, and displayed his legs to the best advantage.

‘You have heard, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, laying his hand upon his breast, ‘of G. Varden Locksmith and bell-hanger and repairs neatly executed in town and country, Clerkenwell, London?’

‘What then?’ asked Mr Chester.

‘I’m his ‘prentice, sir.’

‘What THEN?’

‘Ahem!’ said Mr Tappertit. ‘Would you permit me to shut the door, sir, and will you further, sir, give me your honour bright, that what passes between us is in the strictest confidence?’

Mr Chester laid himself calmly down in bed again, and turning a perfectly undisturbed face towards the strange apparition, which had by this time closed the door, begged him to speak out, and to be as rational as he could, without putting himself to any very great personal inconvenience.

‘In the first place, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, producing a small pocket-handkerchief and shaking it out of the folds, ‘as I have not a card about me (for the envy of masters debases us below that level) allow me to offer the best substitute that circumstances will admit of. If you will take that in your own hand, sir, and cast your eye on the right-hand corner,’ said Mr Tappertit, offering it with a graceful air, ‘you will meet with my credentials.’

‘Thank you,’ answered Mr Chester, politely accepting it, and turning to some blood-red characters at one end. ‘“Four. Simon Tappertit. One.” Is that the—’

‘Without the numbers, sir, that is my name,’ replied the ‘prentice. ‘They are merely intended as directions to the washerwoman, and have no connection with myself or family. YOUR name, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, looking very hard at his nightcap, ‘is Chester, I suppose? You needn’t pull it off, sir, thank you. I observe E. C. from here. We will take the rest for granted.’

‘Pray, Mr Tappertit,’ said Mr Chester, ‘has that complicated piece of ironmongery which you have done me the favour to bring with you, any immediate connection with the business we are to discuss?’

‘It has not, sir,’ rejoined the ‘prentice. ‘It’s going to be fitted on a ware’us-door in Thames Street.’

‘Perhaps, as that is the case,’ said Mr Chester, ‘and as it has a stronger flavour of oil than I usually refresh my bedroom with, you will oblige me so far as to put it outside the door?’

‘By all means, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, suiting the action to the word.

‘You’ll excuse my mentioning it, I hope?’

‘Don’t apologise, sir, I beg. And now, if you please, to business.’

During the whole of this dialogue, Mr Chester had suffered nothing but his smile of unvarying serenity and politeness to appear upon his face. Sim Tappertit, who had far too good an opinion of himself to suspect that anybody could be playing upon him, thought within himself that this was something like the respect to which he was entitled, and drew a comparison from this courteous demeanour of a stranger, by no means favourable to the worthy locksmith.

‘From what passes in our house,’ said Mr Tappertit, ‘I am aware, sir, that your son keeps company with a young lady against your inclinations. Sir, your son has not used me well.’

‘Mr Tappertit,’ said the other, ‘you grieve me beyond description.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ replied the ‘prentice. ‘I’m glad to hear you say so. He’s very proud, sir, is your son; very haughty.’

‘I am afraid he IS haughty,’ said Mr Chester. ‘Do you know I was really afraid of that before; and you confirm me?’

‘To recount the menial offices I’ve had to do for your son, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit; ‘the chairs I’ve had to hand him, the coaches I’ve had to call for him, the numerous degrading duties, wholly unconnected with my indenters, that I’ve had to do for him, would fill a family Bible. Besides which, sir, he is but a young man himself and I do not consider “thank’ee Sim,” a proper form of address on those occasions.’

‘Mr Tappertit, your wisdom is beyond your years. Pray go on.’

‘I thank you for your good opinion, sir,’ said Sim, much gratified, ‘and will endeavour so to do. Now sir, on this account (and perhaps for another reason or two which I needn’t go into) I am on your side. And what I tell you is this—that as long as our people go backwards and forwards, to and fro, up and down, to that there jolly old Maypole, lettering, and messaging, and fetching and carrying, you couldn’t help your son keeping company with that young lady by deputy,—not if he was minded night and day by all the Horse Guards, and every man of ‘em in the very fullest uniform.’

Mr Tappertit stopped to take breath after this, and then started fresh again.

‘Now, sir, I am a coming to the point. You will inquire of me, “how is this to be prevented?” I’ll tell you how. If an honest, civil, smiling gentleman like you—’

‘Mr Tappertit—really—’

‘No, no, I’m serious,’ rejoined the ‘prentice, ‘I am, upon my soul. If an honest, civil, smiling gentleman like you, was to talk but ten minutes to our old woman—that’s Mrs Varden—and flatter her up a bit, you’d gain her over for ever. Then there’s this point got—that her daughter Dolly,’—here a flush came over Mr Tappertit’s face—‘wouldn’t be allowed to be a go-between from that time forward; and till that point’s got, there’s nothing ever will prevent her. Mind that.’

‘Mr Tappertit, your knowledge of human nature—’

‘Wait a minute,’ said Sim, folding his arms with a dreadful calmness. ‘Now I come to THE point. Sir, there is 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, as certainly and as surely as if he was the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. He will, sir, for the hatred and malice that he bears to you; let alone the pleasure of doing a bad action, which to him is its own reward. If you knew how this chap, this Joseph Willet—that’s his name—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,—worse than I do, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit wildly, putting his hair up straighter, and making a crunching noise with his teeth; ‘if sich a thing is possible.’

‘A little private vengeance in this, Mr Tappertit?’

‘Private vengeance, sir, or public sentiment, or both combined—destroy him,’ said Mr Tappertit. ‘Miggs says so too. Miggs and me both say so. We can’t bear the plotting and undermining that takes place. Our souls recoil from it. Barnaby Rudge and Mrs Rudge are in it likewise; but the villain, Joseph Willet, is the ringleader. Their plottings and schemes are known to me and Miggs. If you want information of ‘em, apply to us. Put Joseph Willet down, sir. Destroy him. Crush him. And be happy.’

With these words, Mr Tappertit, who seemed to expect no reply, and to hold it as a necessary consequence of his eloquence that his hearer should be utterly stunned, dumbfoundered, and overwhelmed, folded his arms so that the palm of each hand rested on the opposite shoulder, and disappeared after the manner of those mysterious warners of whom he had read in cheap story-books.

‘That fellow,’ said Mr Chester, relaxing his face when he was fairly gone, ‘is good practice. I HAVE some command of my features, beyond all doubt. He fully confirms what I suspected, though; and blunt tools are sometimes found of use, where sharper instruments would fail. I fear I may be obliged to make great havoc among these worthy people. A troublesome necessity! I quite feel for them.’

With that he fell into a quiet slumber:—subsided into such a gentle, pleasant sleep, that it was quite infantine.






Chapter 25

Leaving the favoured, and well-received, and flattered of the world; him of the world most worldly, who never compromised himself by an ungentlemanly action, and never was guilty of a manly one; to lie smilingly asleep—for even sleep, working but little change in his dissembling face, became with him a piece of cold, conventional hypocrisy—we follow in the steps of two slow travellers on foot, making towards Chigwell.

Barnaby and his mother. Grip in their company, of course.

The widow, to whom each painful mile seemed longer than the last, toiled wearily along; while Barnaby, yielding to every inconstant impulse, fluttered here and there, now leaving her far behind, now lingering far behind himself, now darting into some by-lane or path and leaving her to pursue her way alone, until he stealthily emerged again and came upon her with a wild shout of merriment, as his wayward and capricious nature prompted. Now he would call to her from the topmost branch of some high tree by the roadside; now using his tall staff as a leaping-pole, come flying over ditch or hedge or five-barred gate; now run with surprising swiftness for a mile or more on the straight road, and halting, sport upon a patch of grass with Grip till she came up. These were his delights; and when his patient mother heard his merry voice, or looked into his flushed and healthy face, she would not have abated them by one sad word or murmur, though each had been to her a source of suffering in the same degree as it was to him of pleasure.

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!

Ye men of gloom and austerity, who paint the face of Infinite Benevolence with an eternal frown; read in the Everlasting Book, wide open to your view, the lesson it would teach. Its pictures are not in black and sombre hues, but bright and glowing tints; its music—save when ye drown it—is not in sighs and groans, but songs and cheerful sounds. Listen to the million voices in the summer air, and find one dismal as your own. Remember, if ye can, the sense of hope and pleasure which every glad return of day awakens in the breast of all your kind who have not changed their nature; and learn some wisdom even from the witless, when their hearts are lifted up they know not why, by all the mirth and happiness it brings.

The widow’s breast was full of care, was laden heavily with secret dread and sorrow; but her boy’s gaiety of heart gladdened her, and beguiled the long journey. Sometimes he would bid her lean upon his arm, and would keep beside her steadily for a short distance; but it was more his nature to be rambling to and fro, and she better liked to see him free and happy, even than to have him near her, because she loved him better than herself.

She had quitted the place to which they were travelling, directly after the event which had changed her whole existence; and for two-and-twenty years had never had courage to revisit it. It was her native village. How many recollections crowded on her mind when it appeared in sight!

Two-and-twenty years. Her boy’s whole life and history. The last time she looked back upon those roofs among the trees, she carried him in her arms, an infant. How often since that time had she sat beside him night and day, watching for the dawn of mind that never came; how had she feared, and doubted, and yet hoped, long after conviction forced itself upon her! The little stratagems she had devised to try him, the little tokens he had given in his childish way—not of dulness but of something infinitely worse, so ghastly and unchildlike in its cunning—came back as vividly as if but yesterday had intervened. The room in which they used to be; the spot in which his cradle stood; he, old and elfin-like in face, but ever dear to her, gazing at her with a wild and vacant eye, and crooning some uncouth song as she sat by and rocked him; every circumstance of his infancy came thronging back, and the most trivial, perhaps, the most distinctly.

His older childhood, too; the strange imaginings he had; his terror of certain senseless things—familiar objects he endowed with life; the slow and gradual breaking out of that one horror, in which, before his birth, his darkened intellect began; how, in the midst of all, she had found some hope and comfort in his being unlike another child, and had gone on almost believing in the slow development of his mind until he grew a man, and then his childhood was complete and lasting; one after another, all these old thoughts sprung up within her, strong after their long slumber and bitterer than ever.

She took his arm and they hurried through the village street. It was the same as it was wont to be in old times, yet different too, and wore another air. The change was in herself, not it; but she never thought of that, and wondered at its alteration, and where it lay, and what it was.

The people all knew Barnaby, and the children of the place came flocking round him—as she remembered to have done with their fathers and mothers round some silly beggarman, when a child herself. None of them knew her; they passed each well-remembered house, and yard, and homestead; and striking into the fields, were soon alone again.

The Warren was the end of their journey. Mr Haredale was walking in the garden, and seeing them as they passed the iron gate, unlocked it, and bade them enter that way.

‘At length you have mustered heart to visit the old place,’ he said to the widow. ‘I am glad you have.’

‘For the first time, and the last, sir,’ she replied.

‘The first for many years, but not the last?’

‘The very last.’

‘You mean,’ said Mr Haredale, regarding her with some surprise, ‘that having made this effort, you are resolved not to persevere and are determined to relapse? This is unworthy of you. I have often told you, you should return here. You would be happier here than elsewhere, I know. As to Barnaby, it’s quite his home.’

‘And Grip’s,’ said Barnaby, holding the basket open. The raven hopped gravely out, and perching on his shoulder and addressing himself to Mr Haredale, cried—as a hint, perhaps, that some temperate refreshment would be acceptable—‘Polly put the ket-tle on, we’ll all have tea!’

‘Hear me, Mary,’ said Mr Haredale kindly, as he motioned her to walk with him towards the house. ‘Your life has been an example of patience and fortitude, except in this one particular which has often given me great pain. It is enough to know that you were cruelly involved in the calamity which deprived me of an only brother, and Emma of her father, without being obliged to suppose (as I sometimes am) that you associate us with the author of our joint misfortunes.’

‘Associate you with him, sir!’ she cried.

‘Indeed,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘I think you do. I almost believe that because your husband was bound by so many ties to our relation, and died in his service and defence, you have come in some sort to connect us with his murder.’

‘Alas!’ she answered. ‘You little know my heart, sir. You little know the truth!’

‘It is natural you should do so; it is very probable you may, without being conscious of it,’ said Mr Haredale, speaking more to himself than her. ‘We are a fallen house. Money, dispensed with the most lavish hand, would be a poor recompense for sufferings like yours; and thinly scattered by hands so pinched and tied as ours, it becomes a miserable mockery. I feel it so, God knows,’ he added, hastily. ‘Why should I wonder if she does!’

‘You do me wrong, dear sir, indeed,’ she rejoined with great earnestness; ‘and yet when you come to hear what I desire your leave to say—’

‘I shall find my doubts confirmed?’ he said, observing that she faltered and became confused. ‘Well!’

He quickened his pace for a few steps, but fell back again to her side, and said:

‘And have you come all this way at last, solely to speak to me?’

She answered, ‘Yes.’

‘A curse,’ he muttered, ‘upon the wretched state of us proud beggars, from whom the poor and rich are equally at a distance; the one being forced to treat us with a show of cold respect; the other condescending to us in their every deed and word, and keeping more aloof, the nearer they approach us.—Why, if it were pain to you (as it must have been) to break for this slight purpose the chain of habit forged through two-and-twenty years, could you not let me know your wish, and beg me to come to you?’

‘There was not time, sir,’ she rejoined. ‘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 had by this time reached the house. Mr Haredale paused for a moment, and looked at her as if surprised by the energy of her manner. Observing, however, that she took no heed of him, but glanced up, shuddering, at the old walls with which such horrors were connected in her mind, he led her by a private stair into his library, where Emma was seated in a window, reading.

The young lady, seeing who approached, hastily rose and laid aside her book, and with many kind words, and not without tears, gave her a warm and earnest welcome. But the widow shrunk from her embrace as though she feared her, and sunk down trembling on a chair.

‘It is the return to this place after so long an absence,’ said Emma gently. ‘Pray ring, dear uncle—or stay—Barnaby will run himself and ask for wine—’

‘Not for the world,’ she cried. ‘It would have another taste—I could not touch it. I want but a minute’s rest. Nothing but that.’

Miss Haredale stood beside her chair, regarding her with silent pity. She remained for a little time quite still; then rose and turned to Mr Haredale, who had sat down in his easy chair, and was contemplating her with fixed attention.

The tale connected with the mansion borne in mind, it seemed, as has been already said, the chosen theatre for such a deed as it had known. The room in which this group were now assembled—hard by the very chamber where the act was done—dull, dark, and sombre; heavy with worm-eaten books; deadened and shut in by faded hangings, muffling every sound; shadowed mournfully by trees whose rustling boughs gave ever and anon a spectral knocking at the glass; wore, beyond all others in the house, a ghostly, gloomy air. Nor were the group assembled there, unfitting tenants of the spot. The widow, with her marked and startling face and downcast eyes; Mr Haredale stern and despondent ever; his niece beside him, like, yet most unlike, the picture of her father, which gazed reproachfully down upon them from the blackened wall; Barnaby, with his vacant look and restless eye; were all in keeping with the place, and actors in the legend. Nay, the very raven, who had hopped upon the table and with the air of some old necromancer appeared to be profoundly studying a great folio volume that lay open on a desk, was strictly in unison with the rest, and looked like the embodied spirit of evil biding his time of mischief.

‘I scarcely know,’ said the widow, breaking silence, ‘how to begin. You will think my mind disordered.’

‘The whole tenor of your quiet and reproachless life since you were last here,’ returned Mr Haredale, mildly, ‘shall bear witness for you. Why do you fear to awaken such a suspicion? You do not speak to strangers. You have not to claim our interest or consideration for the first time. Be more yourself. Take heart. Any advice or assistance that I can give you, you know is yours of right, and freely yours.’

‘What if I came, sir,’ she rejoined, ‘I who have but one other friend on earth, 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!’

‘You would have, if you came to me for such a purpose,’ said Mr Haredale calmly, ‘some reason to assign for conduct so extraordinary, which—if one may entertain the possibility of anything so wild and strange—would have its weight, of course.’

‘That, sir,’ she answered, ‘is the misery of my distress. I can give no reason whatever. My own bare word is all that I can offer. It is my duty, my imperative and bounden duty. 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.’

As though she felt relieved at having said so much, and had nerved herself to the remainder of her task, she spoke from this time with a firmer voice and heightened courage.

‘Heaven is my witness, as my own heart is—and yours, dear young lady, will speak for me, I know—that I have lived, since that time we all have bitter reason to remember, in unchanging devotion, and gratitude to this family. Heaven is my witness that go where I may, I shall preserve those feelings unimpaired. And it is my witness, too, that they alone impel me to the course I must take, and from which nothing now shall turn me, as I hope for mercy.’

‘These are strange riddles,’ said Mr Haredale.

‘In this world, sir,’ she replied, ‘they may, perhaps, never be explained. In another, the Truth will be discovered in its own good time. And may that time,’ she added in a low voice, ‘be far distant!’

‘Let me be sure,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘that I understand you, for I am doubtful of my own senses. Do you mean that you are resolved voluntarily to deprive yourself of those means of support you have received from us so long—that you are 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? In the name of God, under what delusion are you labouring?’

‘As I am deeply thankful,’ she made answer, ‘for the kindness of those, alive and dead, who have owned this house; and as I would not have its roof fall down and crush me, or its very walls drip blood, my name being spoken in their hearing; I never will again subsist upon their bounty, or let it help me to subsistence. You do not know,’ she added, suddenly, ‘to what uses it may be applied; into what hands it may pass. I do, and I renounce it.’

‘Surely,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘its uses rest with you.’

‘They did. They rest with me no longer. It may be—it IS—devoted to purposes that mock the dead in their graves. It never can prosper with me. It will bring some other heavy judgement on the head of my dear son, whose innocence will suffer for his mother’s guilt.’

‘What words are these!’ cried Mr Haredale, regarding her with wonder. ‘Among what associates have you fallen? Into what guilt have you ever been betrayed?’

‘I am guilty, and yet innocent; wrong, yet right; good in intention, though constrained to shield and aid the bad. Ask me no more questions, sir; but believe that I am rather to be pitied than condemned. I must leave my house to-morrow, for while I stay there, it is haunted. My future dwelling, if I am to live in peace, must be a secret. If my poor boy should ever stray this way, do not tempt him to disclose it or have him watched when he returns; for if we are hunted, we must fly again. And now this load is off my mind, I beseech you—and you, dear Miss Haredale, too—to trust me if you can, and think of me kindly as you have been used to do. If I die and cannot tell my secret even then (for that may come to pass), it will sit the lighter on my breast in that hour for this day’s work; and on that day, and every day until it comes, I will pray for and thank you both, and trouble you no more.’

With that, she would have left them, but they detained her, and with many soothing words and kind entreaties, besought her to consider what she did, and above all to repose more freely upon them, and say what weighed so sorely on her mind. Finding her deaf to their persuasions, Mr Haredale suggested, as a last resource, that she should confide in Emma, of whom, as a young person and one of her own sex, she might stand in less dread than of himself. From this proposal, however, she recoiled with the same indescribable repugnance she had manifested when they met. The utmost that could be wrung from her was, a promise that she would receive Mr Haredale at her own house next evening, and in the mean time reconsider her determination and their dissuasions—though any change on her part, as she told them, was quite hopeless. This condition made at last, they reluctantly suffered her to depart, since she would neither eat nor drink within the house; and she, and Barnaby, and Grip, accordingly went out as they had come, by the private stair and garden-gate; seeing and being seen of no one by the way.

It was remarkable in the raven that during the whole interview he had kept his eye on his book with exactly the air of a very sly human rascal, who, under the mask of pretending to read hard, was listening to everything. He still appeared to have the conversation very strongly in his mind, for although, when they were alone again, he issued orders for the instant preparation of innumerable kettles for purposes of tea, he was thoughtful, and rather seemed to do so from an abstract sense of duty, than with any regard to making himself agreeable, or being what is commonly called good company.

They were to return by the coach. As there was an interval of full two hours before it started, and they needed rest and some refreshment, Barnaby begged hard for a visit to the Maypole. But his mother, who had no wish to be recognised by any of those who had known her long ago, and who feared besides that Mr Haredale might, on second thoughts, despatch some messenger to that place of entertainment in quest of her, proposed to wait in the churchyard instead. As it was easy for Barnaby to buy and carry thither such humble viands as they required, he cheerfully assented, and in the churchyard they sat down to take their frugal dinner.

Here again, the raven was in a highly reflective state; walking up and down when he had dined, with an air of elderly complacency which was strongly suggestive of his having his hands under his coat-tails; and appearing to read the tombstones with a very critical taste. Sometimes, after a long inspection of an epitaph, he would strop his beak upon the grave to which it referred, and cry in his hoarse tones, ‘I’m a devil, I’m a devil, I’m a devil!’ but whether he addressed his observations to any supposed person below, or merely threw them off as a general remark, is matter of uncertainty.

It was 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. She sat here, thoughtful and apart, until their time was out, and the distant horn told that the coach was coming.

Barnaby, who had been sleeping on the grass, sprung up quickly at the sound; and Grip, who appeared to understand it equally well, walked into his basket straightway, entreating society in general (as though he intended a kind of satire upon them in connection with churchyards) never to say die on any terms. They were soon on the coach-top and rolling along the road.

It went round by the Maypole, and stopped at the door. Joe was from home, and Hugh came sluggishly out to hand up the parcel that it called for. There was no fear of old John coming out. They could see him from the coach-roof fast asleep in his cosy bar. It was a part of John’s character. He made a point of going to sleep at the coach’s time. He despised gadding about; he looked upon coaches as things that ought to be indicted; as disturbers of the peace of mankind; as restless, bustling, busy, horn-blowing contrivances, quite beneath the dignity of men, and only suited to giddy girls that did nothing but chatter and go a-shopping. ‘We know nothing about coaches here, sir,’ John would say, if any unlucky stranger made inquiry touching the offensive vehicles; ‘we don’t book for ‘em; we’d rather not; they’re more trouble than they’re worth, with their noise and rattle. If you like to wait for ‘em you can; but we don’t know anything about ‘em; they may call and they may not—there’s a carrier—he was looked upon as quite good enough for us, when I was a boy.’

She dropped her veil as Hugh climbed up, and while he hung behind, and talked to Barnaby in whispers. But neither he nor any other person spoke to her, or noticed her, or had any curiosity about her; and so, an alien, she visited and left the village where she had been born, and had lived a merry child, a comely girl, a happy wife—where she had known all her enjoyment of life, and had entered on its hardest sorrows.