< BackForward >
Such were the locksmith's thoughts when first seated in the snug
corner, and slowly recovering from a pleasant defect of vision--
pleasant, because occasioned by the wind blowing in his eyes--which
made it a matter of sound policy and duty to himself, that he
should take refuge from the weather, and tempted him, for the same
reason, to aggravate a slight cough, and declare he felt but
poorly. Such were still his thoughts more than a full hour
afterwards, when, supper over, he still sat with shining jovial
face in the same warm nook, listening to the cricket-like chirrup
of little Solomon Daisy, and bearing no unimportant or slightly
respected part in the social gossip round the Maypole fire.
'I wish he may be an honest man, that's all,' said Solomon, winding
up a variety of speculations relative to the stranger, concerning
whom Gabriel had compared notes with the company, and so raised a
grave discussion; 'I wish he may be an honest man.'
'So we all do, I suppose, don't we?' observed the locksmith.
'I don't,' said Joe.
'No!' cried Gabriel.
'No. He struck me with his whip, the coward, when he was mounted
and I afoot, and I should be better pleased that he turned out what
I think him.'
'And what may that be, Joe?'
'No good, Mr Varden. You may shake your head, father, but I say no
good, and will say no good, and I would say no good a hundred times
over, if that would bring him back to have the drubbing he
'Hold your tongue, sir,' said John Willet.
'I won't, father. It's all along of you that he ventured to do
what he did. Seeing me treated like a child, and put down like a
fool, HE plucks up a heart and has a fling at a fellow that he
thinks--and may well think too--hasn't a grain of spirit. But he's
mistaken, as I'll show him, and as I'll show all of you before
'Does the boy know what he's a saying of!' cried the astonished
'Father,' returned Joe, 'I know what I say and mean, well--better
than you do when you hear me. I can bear with you, but I cannot
bear the contempt that your treating me in the way you do, brings
upon me from others every day. Look at other young men of my age.
Have they no liberty, no will, no right to speak? Are they obliged
to sit mumchance, and to be ordered about till they are the
laughing-stock of young and old? I am a bye-word all over
Chigwell, and I say--and it's fairer my saying so now, than waiting
till you are dead, and I have got your money--I say, that before
long I shall be driven to break such bounds, and that when I do, it
won't be me that you'll have to blame, but your own self, and no
John Willet was so amazed by the exasperation and boldness of his
hopeful son, that he sat as one bewildered, staring in a ludicrous
manner at the boiler, and endeavouring, but quite ineffectually, to
collect his tardy thoughts, and invent an answer. The guests,
scarcely less disturbed, were equally at a loss; and at length,
with a variety of muttered, half-expressed condolences, and pieces
of advice, rose to depart; being at the same time slightly muddled
The honest locksmith alone addressed a few words of coherent and
sensible advice to both parties, urging John Willet to remember
that Joe was nearly arrived at man's estate, and should not be
ruled with too tight a hand, and exhorting Joe himself to bear with
his father's caprices, and rather endeavour to turn them aside by
temperate remonstrance than by ill-timed rebellion. This advice
was received as such advice usually is. On John Willet it made
almost as much impression as on the sign outside the door, while
Joe, who took it in the best part, avowed himself more obliged than
he could well express, but politely intimated his intention
nevertheless of taking his own course uninfluenced by anybody.
'You have always been a very good friend to me, Mr Varden,' he
said, as they stood without, in the porch, and the locksmith was
equipping himself for his journey home; 'I take it very kind of
you to say all this, but the time's nearly come when the Maypole
and I must part company.'
'Roving stones gather no moss, Joe,' said Gabriel.
'Nor milestones much,' replied Joe. 'I'm little better than one
here, and see as much of the world.'
'Then, what would you do, Joe?' pursued the locksmith, stroking
his chin reflectively. 'What could you be? Where could you go,
'I must trust to chance, Mr Varden.'
'A bad thing to trust to, Joe. I don't like it. I always tell my
girl when we talk about a husband for her, never to trust to
chance, but to make sure beforehand that she has a good man and
true, and then chance will neither make her nor break her. What
are you fidgeting about there, Joe? Nothing gone in the harness, I
'No no,' said Joe--finding, however, something very engrossing to
do in the way of strapping and buckling--'Miss Dolly quite well?'
'Hearty, thankye. She looks pretty enough to be well, and good
'She's always both, sir'--
'So she is, thank God!'
'I hope,' said Joe after some hesitation, 'that you won't tell this
story against me--this of my having been beat like the boy they'd
make of me--at all events, till I have met this man again and
settled the account. It'll be a better story then.'
'Why who should I tell it to?' returned Gabriel. 'They know it
here, and I'm not likely to come across anybody else who would care
'That's true enough,' said the young fellow with a sigh. 'I quite
forgot that. Yes, that's true!'
So saying, he raised his face, which was very red,--no doubt from
the exertion of strapping and buckling as aforesaid,--and giving
the reins to the old man, who had by this time taken his seat,
sighed again and bade him good night.
'Good night!' cried Gabriel. 'Now think better of what we have
just been speaking of; and don't be rash, there's a good fellow! I
have an interest in you, and wouldn't have you cast yourself away.
Returning his cheery farewell with cordial goodwill, Joe Willet
lingered until the sound of wheels ceased to vibrate in his ears,
and then, shaking his head mournfully, re-entered the house.
Gabriel Varden went his way towards London, thinking of a great
many things, and most of all of flaming terms in which to relate
his adventure, and so account satisfactorily to Mrs Varden for
visiting the Maypole, despite certain solemn covenants between
himself and that lady. Thinking begets, not only thought, but
drowsiness occasionally, and the more the locksmith thought, the
more sleepy he became.
A man may be very sober--or at least firmly set upon his legs on
that neutral ground which lies between the confines of perfect
sobriety and slight tipsiness--and yet feel a strong tendency to
mingle up present circumstances with others which have no manner of
connection with them; to confound all consideration of persons,
things, times, and places; and to jumble his disjointed thoughts
together in a kind of mental kaleidoscope, producing combinations
as unexpected as they are transitory. This was Gabriel Varden's
state, as, nodding in his dog sleep, and leaving his horse to
pursue a road with which he was well acquainted, he got over the
ground unconsciously, and drew nearer and nearer home. He had
roused himself once, when the horse stopped until the turnpike gate
was opened, and had cried a lusty 'good night!' to the toll-
keeper; but then he awoke out of a dream about picking a lock in
the stomach of the Great Mogul, and even when he did wake, mixed up
the turnpike man with his mother-in-law who had been dead twenty
years. It is not surprising, therefore, that he soon relapsed, and
jogged heavily along, quite insensible to his progress.
And, now, he approached the great city, which lay outstretched
before him like a dark shadow on the ground, reddening the sluggish
air with a deep dull light, that told of labyrinths of public ways
and shops, and swarms of busy people. Approaching nearer and
nearer yet, this halo began to fade, and the causes which produced
it slowly to develop themselves. Long lines of poorly lighted
streets might be faintly traced, with here and there a lighter
spot, where lamps were clustered round a square or market, or round
some great building; after a time these grew more distinct, and the
lamps themselves were visible; slight yellow specks, that seemed to
be rapidly snuffed out, one by one, as intervening obstacles hid
them from the sight. Then, sounds arose--the striking of church
clocks, the distant bark of dogs, the hum of traffic in the
streets; then outlines might be traced--tall steeples looming in
the air, and piles of unequal roofs oppressed by chimneys; then,
the noise swelled into a louder sound, and forms grew more distinct
and numerous still, and London--visible in the darkness by its own
faint light, and not by that of Heaven--was at hand.
The locksmith, however, all unconscious of its near vicinity, still
jogged on, half sleeping and half waking, when a loud cry at no
great distance ahead, roused him with a start.
For a moment or two he looked about him like a man who had been
transported to some strange country in his sleep, but soon
recognising familiar objects, rubbed his eyes lazily and might have
relapsed again, but that the cry was repeated--not once or twice or
thrice, but many times, and each time, if possible, with increased
vehemence. Thoroughly aroused, Gabriel, who was a bold man and not
easily daunted, made straight to the spot, urging on his stout
little horse as if for life or death.
The matter indeed looked sufficiently serious, for, coming to the
place whence the cries had proceeded, he descried the figure of a
man extended in an apparently lifeless state upon the pathway,
and, hovering round him, another person with a torch in his hand,
which he waved in the air with a wild impatience, redoubling
meanwhile those cries for help which had brought the locksmith to
'What's here to do?' said the old man, alighting. 'How's this--
The bearer of the torch shook his long loose hair back from his
eyes, and thrusting his face eagerly into that of the locksmith,
fixed upon him a look which told his history at once.
'You know me, Barnaby?' said Varden.
He nodded--not once or twice, but a score of times, and that with a
fantastic exaggeration which would have kept his head in motion for
an hour, but that the locksmith held up his finger, and fixing his
eye sternly upon him caused him to desist; then pointed to the body
with an inquiring look.
'There's blood upon him,' said Barnaby with a shudder. 'It makes
'How came it there?' demanded Varden.
'Steel, steel, steel!' he replied fiercely, imitating with his hand
the thrust of a sword.
'Is he robbed?' said the locksmith.
Barnaby caught him by the arm, and nodded 'Yes;' then pointed
towards the city.
'Oh!' said the old man, bending over the body and looking round as
he spoke into Barnaby's pale face, strangely lighted up by
something that was NOT intellect. 'The robber made off that way,
did he? Well, well, never mind that just now. Hold your torch
this way--a little farther off--so. Now stand quiet, while I try
to see what harm is done.'
With these words, he applied himself to a closer examination of the
prostrate form, while Barnaby, holding the torch as he had been
directed, looked on in silence, fascinated by interest or
curiosity, but repelled nevertheless by some strong and secret
horror which convulsed him in every nerve.
As he stood, at that moment, half shrinking back and half bending
forward, both his face and figure were full in the strong glare of
the link, and as distinctly revealed as though it had been broad
day. He was about three-and-twenty years old, and though rather
spare, of a fair height and strong make. His hair, of which he had
a great profusion, was red, and hanging in disorder about his face
and shoulders, gave to his restless looks an expression quite
unearthly--enhanced by the paleness of his complexion, and the
glassy lustre of his large protruding eyes. Startling as his
aspect was, the features were good, and there was something even
plaintive in his wan and haggard aspect. But, the absence of the
soul is far more terrible in a living man than in a dead one; and
in this unfortunate being its noblest powers were wanting.
His dress was of green, clumsily trimmed here and there--apparently
by his own hands--with gaudy lace; brightest where the cloth was
most worn and soiled, and poorest where it was at the best. A pair
of tawdry ruffles dangled at his wrists, while his throat was
nearly bare. He had ornamented his hat with a cluster of peacock's
feathers, but they were limp and broken, and now trailed
negligently down his back. Girt to his side was the steel hilt of
an old sword without blade or scabbard; and some particoloured ends
of ribands and poor glass toys completed the ornamental portion of
his attire. The fluttered and confused disposition of all the
motley scraps that formed his dress, bespoke, in a scarcely less
degree than his eager and unsettled manner, the disorder of his
mind, and by a grotesque contrast set off and heightened the more
impressive wildness of his face.
'Barnaby,' said the locksmith, after a hasty but careful
inspection, 'this man is not dead, but he has a wound in his side,
and is in a fainting-fit.'
'I know him, I know him!' cried Barnaby, clapping his hands.
'Know him?' repeated the locksmith.
'Hush!' said Barnaby, laying his fingers upon his lips. 'He went
out to-day a wooing. I wouldn't for a light guinea that he should
never go a wooing again, for, if he did, some eyes would grow dim
that are now as bright as--see, when I talk of eyes, the stars come
out! Whose eyes are they? If they are angels' eyes, why do they
look down here and see good men hurt, and only wink and sparkle all
'Now Heaven help this silly fellow,' murmured the perplexed
locksmith; 'can he know this gentleman? His mother's house is not
far off; I had better see if she can tell me who he is. Barnaby,
my man, help me to put him in the chaise, and we'll ride home
'I can't touch him!' cried the idiot falling back, and shuddering
as with a strong spasm; he's bloody!'
'It's in his nature, I know,' muttered the locksmith, 'it's cruel
to ask him, but I must have help. Barnaby--good Barnaby--dear
Barnaby--if you know this gentleman, for the sake of his life and
everybody's life that loves him, help me to raise him and lay him
'Cover him then, wrap him close--don't let me see it--smell it--
hear the word. Don't speak the word--don't!'
'No, no, I'll not. There, you see he's covered now. Gently. Well
done, well done!'
They placed him in the carriage with great ease, for Barnaby was
strong and active, but all the time they were so occupied he
shivered from head to foot, and evidently experienced an ecstasy of
This accomplished, and the wounded man being covered with Varden's
own greatcoat which he took off for the purpose, they proceeded
onward at a brisk pace: Barnaby gaily counting the stars upon his
fingers, and Gabriel inwardly congratulating himself upon having an
adventure now, which would silence Mrs Varden on the subject of the
Maypole, for that night, or there was no faith in woman.