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Charles Dickens > Barnaby Rudge > Chapter 20

Barnaby Rudge

Chapter 20

The proud consciousness of her trust, and the great importance she
derived from it, might have advertised it to all the house if she
had had to run the gauntlet of its inhabitants; but as Dolly had
played in every dull room and passage many and many a time, when a
child, and had ever since been the humble friend of Miss Haredale,
whose foster-sister she was, she was as free of the building as the
young lady herself. So, using no greater precaution than holding
her breath and walking on tiptoe as she passed the library door,
she went straight to Emma's room as a privileged visitor.

It was the liveliest room in the building. The chamber was sombre
like the rest for the matter of that, but the presence of youth and
beauty would make a prison cheerful (saving alas! that confinement
withers them), and lend some charms of their own to the gloomiest
scene. Birds, flowers, books, drawing, music, and a hundred such
graceful tokens of feminine loves and cares, filled it with more of
life and human sympathy than the whole house besides seemed made to
hold. There was heart in the room; and who that has a heart, ever
fails to recognise the silent presence of another!

Dolly had one undoubtedly, and it was not a tough one either,
though there was a little mist of coquettishness about it, such as
sometimes surrounds that sun of life in its morning, and slightly
dims its lustre. Thus, when Emma rose to greet her, and kissing
her affectionately on the cheek, told her, in her quiet way, that
she had been very unhappy, the tears stood in Dolly's eyes, and she
felt more sorry than she could tell; but next moment she happened
to raise them to the glass, and really there was something there so
exceedingly agreeable, that as she sighed, she smiled, and felt
surprisingly consoled.

'I have heard about it, miss,' said Dolly, 'and it's very sad
indeed, but when things are at the worst they are sure to mend.'

'But are you sure they are at the worst?' asked Emma with a smile.

'Why, I don't see how they can very well be more unpromising than
they are; I really don't,' said Dolly. 'And I bring something to
begin with.'

'Not from Edward?'

Dolly nodded and smiled, and feeling in her pockets (there were
pockets in those days) with an affectation of not being able to
find what she wanted, which greatly enhanced her importance, at
length produced the letter. As Emma hastily broke the seal and
became absorbed in its contents, Dolly's eyes, by one of those
strange accidents for which there is no accounting, wandered to the
glass again. She could not help wondering whether the coach-maker
suffered very much, and quite pitied the poor man.

It was a long letter--a very long letter, written close on all four
sides of the sheet of paper, and crossed afterwards; but it was not
a consolatory letter, for as Emma read it she stopped from time to
time to put her handkerchief to her eyes. To be sure Dolly
marvelled greatly to see her in so much distress, for to her
thinking a love affair ought to be one of the best jokes, and the
slyest, merriest kind of thing in life. But she set it down in her
own mind that all this came from Miss Haredale's being so constant,
and that if she would only take on with some other young gentleman--
just in the most innocent way possible, to keep her first lover up
to the mark--she would find herself inexpressibly comforted.

'I am sure that's what I should do if it was me,' thought Dolly.
'To make one's sweetheart miserable is well enough and quite right,
but to be made miserable one's self is a little too much!'

However it wouldn't do to say so, and therefore she sat looking on
in silence. She needed a pretty considerable stretch of patience,
for when the long letter had been read once all through it was read
again, and when it had been read twice all through it was read
again. During this tedious process, Dolly beguiled the time in the
most improving manner that occurred to her, by curling her hair on
her fingers, with the aid of the looking-glass before mentioned,
and giving it some killing twists.

Everything has an end. Even young ladies in love cannot read their
letters for ever. In course of time the packet was folded up, and
it only remained to write the answer.

But as this promised to be a work of time likewise, Emma said she
would put it off until after dinner, and that Dolly must dine with
her. As Dolly had made up her mind to do so beforehand, she
required very little pressing; and when they had settled this
point, they went to walk in the garden.

They strolled up and down the terrace walks, talking incessantly--
at least, Dolly never left off once--and making that quarter of the
sad and mournful house quite gay. Not that they talked loudly or
laughed much, but they were both so very handsome, and it was such
a breezy day, and their light dresses and dark curls appeared so
free and joyous in their abandonment, and Emma was so fair, and
Dolly so rosy, and Emma so delicately shaped, and Dolly so plump,
and--in short, there are no flowers for any garden like such
flowers, let horticulturists say what they may, and both house and
garden seemed to know it, and to brighten up sensibly.

After this, came the dinner and the letter writing, and some more
talking, in the course of which Miss Haredale took occasion to
charge upon Dolly certain flirtish and inconstant propensities,
which accusations Dolly seemed to think very complimentary indeed,
and to be mightily amused with. Finding her quite incorrigible in
this respect, Emma suffered her to depart; but not before she had
confided to her that important and never-sufficiently-to-be-taken-
care-of answer, and endowed her moreover with a pretty little
bracelet as a keepsake. Having clasped it on her arm, and again
advised her half in jest and half in earnest to amend her roguish
ways, for she knew she was fond of Joe at heart (which Dolly
stoutly denied, with a great many haughty protestations that she
hoped she could do better than that indeed! and so forth), she bade
her farewell; and after calling her back to give her more
supplementary messages for Edward, than anybody with tenfold the
gravity of Dolly Varden could be reasonably expected to remember,
at length dismissed her.

Dolly bade her good bye, and tripping lightly down the stairs
arrived at the dreaded library door, and was about to pass it again
on tiptoe, when it opened, and behold! there stood Mr Haredale.
Now, Dolly had from her childhood associated with this gentleman
the idea of something grim and ghostly, and being at the moment
conscience-stricken besides, the sight of him threw her into such a
flurry that she could neither acknowledge his presence nor run
away, so she gave a great start, and then with downcast eyes stood
still and trembled.

'Come here, girl,' said Mr Haredale, taking her by the hand. 'I
want to speak to you.'

'If you please, sir, I'm in a hurry,' faltered Dolly, 'and--you
have frightened me by coming so suddenly upon me, sir--I would
rather go, sir, if you'll be so good as to let me.'

'Immediately,' said Mr Haredale, who had by this time led her into
the room and closed the door. You shall go directly. You have
just left Emma?'

'Yes, sir, just this minute.--Father's waiting for me, sir, if
you'll please to have the goodness--'

I know. I know,' said Mr Haredale. 'Answer me a question. What
did you bring here to-day?'

'Bring here, sir?' faltered Dolly.

'You will tell me the truth, I am sure. Yes.'

Dolly hesitated for a little while, and somewhat emboldened by his
manner, said at last, 'Well then, sir. It was a letter.'

'From Mr Edward Chester, of course. And you are the bearer of the

Dolly hesitated again, and not being able to decide upon any other
course of action, burst into tears.

'You alarm yourself without cause,' said Mr Haredale. 'Why are you
so foolish? Surely you can answer me. You know that I have but
to put the question to Emma and learn the truth directly. Have you
the answer with you?'

Dolly had what is popularly called a spirit of her own, and being
now fairly at bay, made the best of it.

'Yes, sir,' she rejoined, trembling and frightened as she was.
'Yes, sir, I have. You may kill me if you please, sir, but I won't
give it up. I'm very sorry,--but I won't. There, sir.'

'I commend your firmness and your plain-speaking,' said Mr
Haredale. 'Rest assured that I have as little desire to take your
letter as your life. You are a very discreet messenger and a good

Not feeling quite certain, as she afterwards said, whether he might
not be 'coming over her' with these compliments, Dolly kept as far
from him as she could, cried again, and resolved to defend her
pocket (for the letter was there) to the last extremity.

'I have some design,' said Mr Haredale after a short silence,
during which a smile, as he regarded her, had struggled through
the gloom and melancholy that was natural to his face, 'of
providing a companion for my niece; for her life is a very lonely
one. Would you like the office? You are the oldest friend she
has, and the best entitled to it.'

'I don't know, sir,' answered Dolly, not sure but he was bantering
her; 'I can't say. I don't know what they might wish at home. I
couldn't give an opinion, sir.'

'If your friends had no objection, would you have any?' said Mr
Haredale. 'Come. There's a plain question; and easy to answer.'

'None at all that I know of sir,' replied Dolly. 'I should be very
glad to be near Miss Emma of course, and always am.'

'That's well,' said Mr Haredale. 'That is all I had to say. You
are anxious to go. Don't let me detain you.'

Dolly didn't let him, nor did she wait for him to try, for the
words had no sooner passed his lips than she was out of the room,
out of the house, and in the fields again.

The first thing to be done, of course, when she came to herself and
considered what a flurry she had been in, was to cry afresh; and
the next thing, when she reflected how well she had got over it,
was to laugh heartily. The tears once banished gave place to the
smiles, and at last Dolly laughed so much that she was fain to lean
against a tree, and give vent to her exultation. When she could
laugh no longer, and was quite tired, she put her head-dress to
rights, dried her eyes, looked back very merrily and triumphantly
at the Warren chimneys, which were just visible, and resumed her

The twilight had come on, and it was quickly growing dusk, but the
path was so familiar to her from frequent traversing that she
hardly thought of this, and certainly felt no uneasiness at being
left alone. Moreover, there was the bracelet to admire; and when
she had given it a good rub, and held it out at arm's length, it
sparkled and glittered so beautifully on her wrist, that to look at
it in every point of view and with every possible turn of the arm,
was quite an absorbing business. There was the letter too, and it
looked so mysterious and knowing, when she took it out of her
pocket, and it held, as she knew, so much inside, that to turn it
over and over, and think about it, and wonder how it began, and how
it ended, and what it said all through, was another matter of
constant occupation. Between the bracelet and the letter, there
was quite enough to do without thinking of anything else; and
admiring each by turns, Dolly went on gaily.

As she passed through a wicket-gate to where the path was narrow,
and lay between two hedges garnished here and there with trees, she
heard a rustling close at hand, which brought her to a sudden stop.
She listened. All was very quiet, and she went on again--not
absolutely frightened, but a little quicker than before perhaps,
and possibly not quite so much at her ease, for a check of that
kind is startling.

She had no sooner moved on again, than she was conscious of the
same sound, which was like that of a person tramping stealthily
among bushes and brushwood. Looking towards the spot whence it
appeared to come, she almost fancied she could make out a crouching
figure. She stopped again. All was quiet as before. On she went
once more--decidedly faster now--and tried to sing softly to
herself. It must he the wind.

But how came the wind to blow only when she walked, and cease when
she stood still? She stopped involuntarily as she made the
reflection, and the rustling noise stopped likewise. She was
really frightened now, and was yet hesitating what to do, when the
bushes crackled and snapped, and a man came plunging through them,
close before her.

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Index Index

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64
Chapter 65
Chapter 66
Chapter 67
Chapter 68
Chapter 69
Chapter 70
Chapter 71
Chapter 72
Chapter 73
Chapter 74
Chapter 75
Chapter 76
Chapter 77
Chapter 78
Chapter 79
Chapter 80
Chapter 81
Chapter 82

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