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Charles Dickens > Barnaby Rudge > Chapter 33

Barnaby Rudge

Chapter 33

One wintry evening, early in the year of our Lord one thousand
seven hundred and eighty, a keen north wind arose as it grew dark,
and night came on with black and dismal looks. A bitter storm of
sleet, sharp, dense, and icy-cold, swept the wet streets, and
rattled on the trembling windows. Signboards, shaken past
endurance in their creaking frames, fell crashing on the pavement;
old tottering chimneys reeled and staggered in the blast; and many
a steeple rocked again that night, as though the earth were

It was not a time for those who could by any means get light and
warmth, to brave the fury of the weather. In coffee-houses of the
better sort, guests crowded round the fire, forgot to be political,
and told each other with a secret gladness that the blast grew
fiercer every minute. Each humble tavern by the water-side, had
its group of uncouth figures round the hearth, who talked of
vessels foundering at sea, and all hands lost; related many a
dismal tale of shipwreck and drowned men, and hoped that some they
knew were safe, and shook their heads in doubt. In private
dwellings, children clustered near the blaze; listening with timid
pleasure to tales of ghosts and goblins, and tall figures clad in
white standing by bed-sides, and people who had gone to sleep in
old churches and being overlooked had found themselves alone there
at the dead hour of the night: until they shuddered at the thought
of the dark rooms upstairs, yet loved to hear the wind moan too,
and hoped it would continue bravely. From time to time these happy
indoor people stopped to listen, or one held up his finger and
cried 'Hark!' and then, above the rumbling in the chimney, and the
fast pattering on the glass, was heard a wailing, rushing sound,
which shook the walls as though a giant's hand were on them; then a
hoarse roar as if the sea had risen; then such a whirl and tumult
that the air seemed mad; and then, with a lengthened howl, the
waves of wind swept on, and left a moment's interval of rest.

Cheerily, though there were none abroad to see it, shone the
Maypole light that evening. Blessings on the red--deep, ruby,
glowing red--old curtain of the window; blending into one rich
stream of brightness, fire and candle, meat, drink, and company,
and gleaming like a jovial eye upon the bleak waste out of doors!
Within, what carpet like its crunching sand, what music merry as
its crackling logs, what perfume like its kitchen's dainty breath,
what weather genial as its hearty warmth! Blessings on the old
house, how sturdily it stood! How did the vexed wind chafe and
roar about its stalwart roof; how did it pant and strive with its
wide chimneys, which still poured forth from their hospitable
throats, great clouds of smoke, and puffed defiance in its face;
how, above all, did it drive and rattle at the casement, emulous to
extinguish that cheerful glow, which would not be put down and
seemed the brighter for the conflict!

The profusion too, the rich and lavish bounty, of that goodly
tavern! It was not enough that one fire roared and sparkled on its
spacious hearth; in the tiles which paved and compassed it, five
hundred flickering fires burnt brightly also. It was not enough
that one red curtain shut the wild night out, and shed its cheerful
influence on the room. In every saucepan lid, and candlestick, and
vessel of copper, brass, or tin that hung upon the walls, were
countless ruddy hangings, flashing and gleaming with every motion
of the blaze, and offering, let the eye wander where it might,
interminable vistas of the same rich colour. The old oak
wainscoting, the beams, the chairs, the seats, reflected it in a
deep, dull glimmer. There were fires and red curtains in the very
eyes of the drinkers, in their buttons, in their liquor, in the
pipes they smoked.

Mr Willet sat in what had been his accustomed place five years
before, with his eyes on the eternal boiler; and had sat there
since the clock struck eight, giving no other signs of life than
breathing with a loud and constant snore (though he was wide
awake), and from time to time putting his glass to his lips, or
knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and filling it anew. It was
now half-past ten. Mr Cobb and long Phil Parkes were his
companions, as of old, and for two mortal hours and a half, none of
the company had pronounced one word.

Whether people, by dint of sitting together in the same place and
the same relative positions, and doing exactly the same things for
a great many years, acquire a sixth sense, or some unknown power of
influencing each other which serves them in its stead, is a
question for philosophy to settle. But certain it is that old
John Willet, Mr Parkes, and Mr Cobb, were one and all firmly of
opinion that they were very jolly companions--rather choice spirits
than otherwise; that they looked at each other every now and then
as if there were a perpetual interchange of ideas going on among
them; that no man considered himself or his neighbour by any means
silent; and that each of them nodded occasionally when he caught
the eye of another, as if he would say, 'You have expressed
yourself extremely well, sir, in relation to that sentiment, and I
quite agree with you.'

The room was so very warm, the tobacco so very good, and the fire
so very soothing, that Mr Willet by degrees began to doze; but as
he had perfectly acquired, by dint of long habit, the art of
smoking in his sleep, and as his breathing was pretty much the
same, awake or asleep, saving that in the latter case he sometimes
experienced a slight difficulty in respiration (such as a carpenter
meets with when he is planing and comes to a knot), neither of his
companions was aware of the circumstance, until he met with one of
these impediments and was obliged to try again.

'Johnny's dropped off,' said Mr Parkes in a whisper.

'Fast as a top,' said Mr Cobb.

Neither of them said any more until Mr Willet came to another knot--
one of surpassing obduracy--which bade fair to throw him into
convulsions, but which he got over at last without waking, by an
effort quite superhuman.

'He sleeps uncommon hard,' said Mr Cobb.

Mr Parkes, who was possibly a hard-sleeper himself, replied with
some disdain, 'Not a bit on it;' and directed his eyes towards a
handbill pasted over the chimney-piece, which was decorated at the
top with a woodcut representing a youth of tender years running
away very fast, with a bundle over his shoulder at the end of a
stick, and--to carry out the idea--a finger-post and a milestone
beside him. Mr Cobb likewise turned his eyes in the same
direction, and surveyed the placard as if that were the first time
he had ever beheld it. Now, this was a document which Mr Willet
had himself indited on the disappearance of his son Joseph,
acquainting the nobility and gentry and the public in general with
the circumstances of his having left his home; describing his dress
and appearance; and offering a reward of five pounds to any person
or persons who would pack him up and return him safely to the
Maypole at Chigwell, or lodge him in any of his Majesty's jails
until such time as his father should come and claim him. In this
advertisement Mr Willet had obstinately persisted, despite the
advice and entreaties of his friends, in describing his son as a
'young boy;' and furthermore as being from eighteen inches to a
couple of feet shorter than he really was; two circumstances which
perhaps accounted, in some degree, for its never having been
productive of any other effect than the transmission to Chigwell
at various times and at a vast expense, of some five-and-forty
runaways varying from six years old to twelve.

Mr Cobb and Mr Parkes looked mysteriously at this composition, at
each other, and at old John. From the time he had pasted it up
with his own hands, Mr Willet had never by word or sign alluded to
the subject, or encouraged any one else to do so. Nobody had the
least notion what his thoughts or opinions were, connected with it;
whether he remembered it or forgot it; whether he had any idea that
such an event had ever taken place. Therefore, even while he
slept, no one ventured to refer to it in his presence; and for such
sufficient reasons, these his chosen friends were silent now.

Mr Willet had got by this time into such a complication of knots,
that it was perfectly clear he must wake or die. He chose the
former alternative, and opened his eyes.

'If he don't come in five minutes,' said John, 'I shall have supper
without him.'

The antecedent of this pronoun had been mentioned for the last time
at eight o'clock. Messrs Parkes and Cobb being used to this style
of conversation, replied without difficulty that to be sure Solomon
was very late, and they wondered what had happened to detain him.

'He an't blown away, I suppose,' said Parkes. 'It's enough to
carry a man of his figure off his legs, and easy too. Do you hear
it? It blows great guns, indeed. There'll be many a crash in the
Forest to-night, I reckon, and many a broken branch upon the ground

'It won't break anything in the Maypole, I take it, sir,' returned
old John. 'Let it try. I give it leave--what's that?'

'The wind,' cried Parkes. 'It's howling like a Christian, and has
been all night long.'

'Did you ever, sir,' asked John, after a minute's contemplation,
'hear the wind say "Maypole"?'

'Why, what man ever did?' said Parkes.

'Nor "ahoy," perhaps?' added John.

'No. Nor that neither.'

'Very good, sir,' said Mr Willet, perfectly unmoved; 'then if that
was the wind just now, and you'll wait a little time without
speaking, you'll hear it say both words very plain.'

Mr Willet was right. After listening for a few moments, they could
clearly hear, above the roar and tumult out of doors, this shout
repeated; and that with a shrillness and energy, which denoted that
it came from some person in great distress or terror. They looked
at each other, turned pale, and held their breath. No man stirred.

It was in this emergency that Mr Willet displayed something of that
strength of mind and plenitude of mental resource, which rendered
him the admiration of all his friends and neighbours. After
looking at Messrs Parkes and Cobb for some time in silence, he
clapped his two hands to his cheeks, and sent forth a roar which
made the glasses dance and rafters ring--a long-sustained,
discordant bellow, that rolled onward with the wind, and startling
every echo, made the night a hundred times more boisterous--a deep,
loud, dismal bray, that sounded like a human gong. Then, with
every vein in his head and face swollen with the great exertion,
and his countenance suffused with a lively purple, he drew a little
nearer to the fire, and turning his back upon it, said with dignity:

'If that's any comfort to anybody, they're welcome to it. If it
an't, I'm sorry for 'em. If either of you two gentlemen likes to
go out and see what's the matter, you can. I'm not curious,

While he spoke the cry drew nearer and nearer, footsteps passed the
window, the latch of the door was raised, it opened, was violently
shut again, and Solomon Daisy, with a lighted lantern in his hand,
and the rain streaming from his disordered dress, dashed into the

A more complete picture of terror than the little man presented, it
would be difficult to imagine. The perspiration stood in beads
upon his face, his knees knocked together, his every limb trembled,
the power of articulation was quite gone; and there he stood,
panting for breath, gazing on them with such livid ashy looks, that
they were infected with his fear, though ignorant of its occasion,
and, reflecting his dismayed and horror-stricken visage, stared
back again without venturing to question him; until old John
Willet, in a fit of temporary insanity, made a dive at his cravat,
and, seizing him by that portion of his dress, shook him to and fro
until his very teeth appeared to rattle in his head.

'Tell us what's the matter, sir,' said John, 'or I'll kill you.
Tell us what's the matter, sir, or in another second I'll have your
head under the biler. How dare you look like that? Is anybody a-
following of you? What do you mean? Say something, or I'll be the
death of you, I will.'

Mr Willet, in his frenzy, was so near keeping his word to the very
letter (Solomon Daisy's eyes already beginning to roll in an
alarming manner, and certain guttural sounds, as of a choking man,
to issue from his throat), that the two bystanders, recovering in
some degree, plucked him off his victim by main force, and placed
the little clerk of Chigwell in a chair. Directing a fearful gaze
all round the room, he implored them in a faint voice to give him
some drink; and above all to lock the house-door and close and bar
the shutters of the room, without a moment's loss of time. The
latter request did not tend to reassure his hearers, or to fill
them with the most comfortable sensations; they complied with it,
however, with the greatest expedition; and having handed him a
bumper of brandy-and-water, nearly boiling hot, waited to hear what
he might have to tell them.

'Oh, Johnny,' said Solomon, shaking him by the hand. 'Oh, Parkes.
Oh, Tommy Cobb. Why did I leave this house to-night! On the
nineteenth of March--of all nights in the year, on the nineteenth
of March!'

They all drew closer to the fire. Parkes, who was nearest to the
door, started and looked over his shoulder. Mr Willet, with great
indignation, inquired what the devil he meant by that--and then
said, 'God forgive me,' and glanced over his own shoulder, and came
a little nearer.

'When I left here to-night,' said Solomon Daisy, 'I little thought
what day of the month it was. I have never gone alone into the
church after dark on this day, for seven-and-twenty years. I have
heard it said that as we keep our birthdays when we are alive, so
the ghosts of dead people, who are not easy in their graves, keep
the day they died upon.--How the wind roars!'

Nobody spoke. All eyes were fastened on Solomon.

'I might have known,' he said, 'what night it was, by the foul
weather. There's no such night in the whole year round as this is,
always. I never sleep quietly in my bed on the nineteenth of

'Go on,' said Tom Cobb, in a low voice. 'Nor I neither.'

Solomon Daisy raised his glass to his lips; put it down upon the
floor with such a trembling hand that the spoon tinkled in it like
a little bell; and continued thus:

'Have I ever said that we are always brought back to this subject
in some strange way, when the nineteenth of this month comes round?
Do you suppose it was by accident, I forgot to wind up the church-
clock? I never forgot it at any other time, though it's such a
clumsy thing that it has to be wound up every day. Why should it
escape my memory on this day of all others?

'I made as much haste down there as I could when I went from here,
but I had to go home first for the keys; and the wind and rain
being dead against me all the way, it was pretty well as much as I
could do at times to keep my legs. I got there at last, opened the
church-door, and went in. I had not met a soul all the way, and
you may judge whether it was dull or not. Neither of you would
bear me company. If you could have known what was to come, you'd
have been in the right.

'The wind was so strong, that it was as much as I could do to shut
the church-door by putting my whole weight against it; and even as
it was, it burst wide open twice, with such strength that any of
you would have sworn, if you had been leaning against it, as I was,
that somebody was pushing on the other side. However, I got the
key turned, went into the belfry, and wound up the clock--which was
very near run down, and would have stood stock-still in half an

'As I took up my lantern again to leave the church, it came upon me
all at once that this was the nineteenth of March. It came upon me
with a kind of shock, as if a hand had struck the thought upon my
forehead; at the very same moment, I heard a voice outside the
tower--rising from among the graves.'

Here old John precipitately interrupted the speaker, and begged
that if Mr Parkes (who was seated opposite to him and was staring
directly over his head) saw anything, he would have the goodness
to mention it. Mr Parkes apologised, and remarked that he was only
listening; to which Mr Willet angrily retorted, that his listening
with that kind of expression in his face was not agreeable, and
that if he couldn't look like other people, he had better put his
pocket-handkerchief over his head. Mr Parkes with great submission
pledged himself to do so, if again required, and John Willet
turning to Solomon desired him to proceed. After waiting until a
violent gust of wind and rain, which seemed to shake even that
sturdy house to its foundation, had passed away, the little man

'Never tell me that it was my fancy, or that it was any other sound
which I mistook for that I tell you of. I heard the wind whistle
through the arches of the church. I heard the steeple strain and
creak. I heard the rain as it came driving against the walls. I
felt the bells shake. I saw the ropes sway to and fro. And I
heard that voice.'

'What did it say?' asked Tom Cobb.

'I don't know what; I don't know that it spoke. It gave a kind of
cry, as any one of us might do, if something dreadful followed us
in a dream, and came upon us unawares; and then it died off:
seeming to pass quite round the church.'

'I don't see much in that,' said John, drawing a long breath, and
looking round him like a man who felt relieved.

'Perhaps not,' returned his friend, 'but that's not all.'

'What more do you mean to say, sir, is to come?' asked John,
pausing in the act of wiping his face upon his apron. 'What are
you a-going to tell us of next?'

'What I saw.'

'Saw!' echoed all three, bending forward.

'When I opened the church-door to come out,' said the little man,
with an expression of face which bore ample testimony to the
sincerity of his conviction, 'when I opened the church-door to come
out, which I did suddenly, for I wanted to get it shut again before
another gust of wind came up, there crossed me--so close, that by
stretching out my finger I could have touched it--something in the
likeness of a man. It was bare-headed to the storm. It turned its
face without stopping, and fixed its eyes on mine. It was a ghost--
a spirit.'

'Whose?' they all three cried together.

In the excess of his emotion (for he fell back trembling in his
chair, and waved his hand as if entreating them to question him no
further), his answer was lost on all but old John Willet, who
happened to be seated close beside him.

'Who!' cried Parkes and Tom Cobb, looking eagerly by turns at
Solomon Daisy and at Mr Willet. 'Who was it?'

'Gentlemen,' said Mr Willet after a long pause, 'you needn't ask.
The likeness of a murdered man. This is the nineteenth of March.'

A profound silence ensued.

'If you'll take my advice,' said John, 'we had better, one and all,
keep this a secret. Such tales would not be liked at the Warren.
Let us keep it to ourselves for the present time at all events, or
we may get into trouble, and Solomon may lose his place. Whether
it was really as he says, or whether it wasn't, is no matter.
Right or wrong, nobody would believe him. As to the probabilities,
I don't myself think,' said Mr Willet, eyeing the corners of the
room in a manner which showed that, like some other philosophers,
he was not quite easy in his theory, 'that a ghost as had been a
man of sense in his lifetime, would be out a-walking in such
weather--I only know that I wouldn't, if I was one.'

But this heretical doctrine was strongly opposed by the other
three, who quoted a great many precedents to show that bad weather
was the very time for such appearances; and Mr Parkes (who had had
a ghost in his family, by the mother's side) argued the matter with
so much ingenuity and force of illustration, that John was only
saved from having to retract his opinion by the opportune
appearance of supper, to which they applied themselves with a
dreadful relish. Even Solomon Daisy himself, by dint of the
elevating influences of fire, lights, brandy, and good company, so
far recovered as to handle his knife and fork in a highly
creditable manner, and to display a capacity both of eating and
drinking, such as banished all fear of his having sustained any
lasting injury from his fright.

Supper done, they crowded round the fire again, and, as is common
on such occasions, propounded all manner of leading questions
calculated to surround the story with new horrors and surprises.
But Solomon Daisy, notwithstanding these temptations, adhered so
steadily to his original account, and repeated it so often, with
such slight variations, and with such solemn asseverations of its
truth and reality, that his hearers were (with good reason) more
astonished than at first. As he took John Willet's view of the
matter in regard to the propriety of not bruiting the tale abroad,
unless the spirit should appear to him again, in which case it
would be necessary to take immediate counsel with the clergyman, it
was solemnly resolved that it should be hushed up and kept quiet.
And as most men like to have a secret to tell which may exalt their
own importance, they arrived at this conclusion with perfect

As it was by this time growing late, and was long past their usual
hour of separating, the cronies parted for the night. Solomon
Daisy, with a fresh candle in his lantern, repaired homewards under
the escort of long Phil Parkes and Mr Cobb, who were rather more
nervous than himself. Mr Willet, after seeing them to the door,
returned to collect his thoughts with the assistance of the boiler,
and to listen to the storm of wind and rain, which had not yet
abated one jot of its fury.

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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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