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Charles Dickens > Barnaby Rudge > Chapter 6

Barnaby Rudge

Chapter 6

Beyond all measure astonished by the strange occurrences which had
passed with so much violence and rapidity, the locksmith gazed upon
the shuddering figure in the chair like one half stupefied, and
would have gazed much longer, had not his tongue been loosened by
compassion and humanity.

'You are ill,' said Gabriel. 'Let me call some neighbour in.'

'Not for the world,' she rejoined, motioning to him with her
trembling hand, and holding her face averted. 'It is enough that
you have been by, to see this.'

'Nay, more than enough--or less,' said Gabriel.

'Be it so,' she returned. 'As you like. Ask me no questions, I
entreat you.'

'Neighbour,' said the locksmith, after a pause. 'Is this fair, or
reasonable, or just to yourself? Is it like you, who have known me
so long and sought my advice in all matters--like you, who from a
girl have had a strong mind and a staunch heart?'

'I have need of them,' she replied. 'I am growing old, both in
years and care. Perhaps that, and too much trial, have made them
weaker than they used to be. Do not speak to me.'

'How can I see what I have seen, and hold my peace!' returned the
locksmith. 'Who was that man, and why has his coming made this
change in you?'

She was silent, but held to the chair as though to save herself
from falling on the ground.

'I take the licence of an old acquaintance, Mary,' said the
locksmith, 'who has ever had a warm regard for you, and maybe has
tried to prove it when he could. Who is this ill-favoured man, and
what has he to do with you? Who is this ghost, that is only seen
in the black nights and bad weather? How does he know, and why
does he haunt, this house, whispering through chinks and crevices,
as if there was that between him and you, which neither durst so
much as speak aloud of? Who is he?'

'You do well to say he haunts this house,' returned the widow,
faintly. 'His shadow has been upon it and me, in light and
darkness, at noonday and midnight. And now, at last, he has come
in the body!'

'But he wouldn't have gone in the body,' returned the locksmith
with some irritation, 'if you had left my arms and legs at liberty.
What riddle is this?'

'It is one,' she answered, rising as she spoke, 'that must remain
for ever as it is. I dare not say more than that.'

'Dare not!' repeated the wondering locksmith.

'Do not press me,' she replied. 'I am sick and faint, and every
faculty of life seems dead within me.--No!--Do not touch me,

Gabriel, who had stepped forward to render her assistance, fell
back as she made this hasty exclamation, and regarded her in silent

'Let me go my way alone,' she said in a low voice, 'and let the
hands of no honest man touch mine to-night.' When she had
tottered to the door, she turned, and added with a stronger effort,
'This is a secret, which, of necessity, I trust to you. You are a
true man. As you have ever been good and kind to me,--keep it. If
any noise was heard above, make some excuse--say anything but what
you really saw, and never let a word or look between us, recall
this circumstance. I trust to you. Mind, I trust to you. How
much I trust, you never can conceive.'

Casting her eyes upon him for an instant, she withdrew, and left
him there alone.

Gabriel, not knowing what to think, stood staring at the door with
a countenance full of surprise and dismay. The more he pondered on
what had passed, the less able he was to give it any favourable
interpretation. To find this widow woman, whose life for so many
years had been supposed to be one of solitude and retirement, and
who, in her quiet suffering character, had gained the good opinion
and respect of all who knew her--to find her linked mysteriously
with an ill-omened man, alarmed at his appearance, and yet
favouring his escape, was a discovery that pained as much as
startled him. Her reliance on his secrecy, and his tacit
acquiescence, increased his distress of mind. If he had spoken
boldly, persisted in questioning her, detained her when she rose to
leave the room, made any kind of protest, instead of silently
compromising himself, as he felt he had done, he would have been
more at ease.

'Why did I let her say it was a secret, and she trusted it to me!'
said Gabriel, putting his wig on one side to scratch his head with
greater ease, and looking ruefully at the fire. 'I have no more
readiness than old John himself. Why didn't I say firmly, "You
have no right to such secrets, and I demand of you to tell me what
this means," instead of standing gaping at her, like an old moon-
calf as I am! But there's my weakness. I can be obstinate enough
with men if need be, but women may twist me round their fingers at
their pleasure.'

He took his wig off outright as he made this reflection, and,
warming his handkerchief at the fire began to rub and polish his
bald head with it, until it glistened again.

'And yet,' said the locksmith, softening under this soothing
process, and stopping to smile, 'it MAY be nothing. Any drunken
brawler trying to make his way into the house, would have alarmed a
quiet soul like her. But then'--and here was the vexation--'how
came it to be that man; how comes he to have this influence over
her; how came she to favour his getting away from me; and, more
than all, how came she not to say it was a sudden fright, and
nothing more? It's a sad thing to have, in one minute, reason to
mistrust a person I have known so long, and an old sweetheart into
the bargain; but what else can I do, with all this upon my mind!--
Is that Barnaby outside there?'

'Ay!' he cried, looking in and nodding. 'Sure enough it's
Barnaby--how did you guess?'

'By your shadow,' said the locksmith.

'Oho!' cried Barnaby, glancing over his shoulder, 'He's a merry
fellow, that shadow, and keeps close to me, though I AM silly. We
have such pranks, such walks, such runs, such gambols on the grass!
Sometimes he'll be half as tall as a church steeple, and sometimes
no bigger than a dwarf. Now, he goes on before, and now behind,
and anon he'll be stealing on, on this side, or on that, stopping
whenever I stop, and thinking I can't see him, though I have my eye
on him sharp enough. Oh! he's a merry fellow. Tell me--is he
silly too? I think he is.'

'Why?' asked Gabriel.

'Because be never tires of mocking me, but does it all day long.--
Why don't you come?'


'Upstairs. He wants you. Stay--where's HIS shadow? Come. You're
a wise man; tell me that.'

'Beside him, Barnaby; beside him, I suppose,' returned the locksmith.

'No!' he replied, shaking his head. 'Guess again.'

'Gone out a walking, maybe?'

'He has changed shadows with a woman,' the idiot whispered in his
ear, and then fell back with a look of triumph. 'Her shadow's
always with him, and his with her. That's sport I think, eh?'

'Barnaby,' said the locksmith, with a grave look; 'come hither,

'I know what you want to say. I know!' he replied, keeping away
from him. 'But I'm cunning, I'm silent. I only say so much to
you--are you ready?' As he spoke, he caught up the light, and
waved it with a wild laugh above his head.

'Softly--gently,' said the locksmith, exerting all his influence to
keep him calm and quiet. 'I thought you had been asleep.'

'So I HAVE been asleep,' he rejoined, with widely-opened eyes.
'There have been great faces coming and going--close to my face,
and then a mile away--low places to creep through, whether I would
or no--high churches to fall down from--strange creatures crowded
up together neck and heels, to sit upon the bed--that's sleep, eh?'

'Dreams, Barnaby, dreams,' said the locksmith.

'Dreams!' he echoed softly, drawing closer to him. 'Those are not

'What are,' replied the locksmith, 'if they are not?'

'I dreamed,' said Barnaby, passing his arm through Varden's, and
peering close into his face as he answered in a whisper, 'I dreamed
just now that something--it was in the shape of a man--followed me--
came softly after me--wouldn't let me be--but was always hiding
and crouching, like a cat in dark corners, waiting till I should
pass; when it crept out and came softly after me.--Did you ever see
me run?'

'Many a time, you know.'

'You never saw me run as I did in this dream. Still it came
creeping on to worry me. Nearer, nearer, nearer--I ran faster--
leaped--sprung out of bed, and to the window--and there, in the
street below--but he is waiting for us. Are you coming?'

'What in the street below, Barnaby?' said Varden, imagining that he
traced some connection between this vision and what had actually

Barnaby looked into his face, muttered incoherently, waved the
light above his head again, laughed, and drawing the locksmith's
arm more tightly through his own, led him up the stairs in silence.

They entered a homely bedchamber, garnished in a scanty way with
chairs, whose spindle-shanks bespoke their age, and other furniture
of very little worth; but clean and neatly kept. Reclining in an
easy-chair before the fire, pale and weak from waste of blood, was
Edward Chester, the young gentleman who had been the first to quit
the Maypole on the previous night, and who, extending his hand to
the locksmith, welcomed him as his preserver and friend.

'Say no more, sir, say no more,' said Gabriel. 'I hope I would
have done at least as much for any man in such a strait, and most
of all for you, sir. A certain young lady,' he added, with some
hesitation, 'has done us many a kind turn, and we naturally feel--I
hope I give you no offence in saying this, sir?'

The young man smiled and shook his head; at the same time moving in
his chair as if in pain.

'It's no great matter,' he said, in answer to the locksmith's
sympathising look, 'a mere uneasiness arising at least as much from
being cooped up here, as from the slight wound I have, or from the
loss of blood. Be seated, Mr Varden.'

'If I may make so bold, Mr Edward, as to lean upon your chair,'
returned the locksmith, accommodating his action to his speech, and
bending over him, 'I'll stand here for the convenience of speaking
low. Barnaby is not in his quietest humour to-night, and at such
times talking never does him good.'

They both glanced at the subject of this remark, who had taken a
seat on the other side of the fire, and, smiling vacantly, was
making puzzles on his fingers with a skein of string.

'Pray, tell me, sir,' said Varden, dropping his voice still lower,
'exactly what happened last night. I have my reason for inquiring.
You left the Maypole, alone?'

'And walked homeward alone, until I had nearly reached the place
where you found me, when I heard the gallop of a horse.'

'Behind you?' said the locksmith.

'Indeed, yes--behind me. It was a single rider, who soon overtook
me, and checking his horse, inquired the way to London.'

'You were on the alert, sir, knowing how many highwaymen there are,
scouring the roads in all directions?' said Varden.

'I was, but I had only a stick, having imprudently left my pistols
in their holster-case with the landlord's son. I directed him as
he desired. Before the words had passed my lips, he rode upon me
furiously, as if bent on trampling me down beneath his horse's
hoofs. In starting aside, I slipped and fell. You found me with
this stab and an ugly bruise or two, and without my purse--in which
he found little enough for his pains. And now, Mr Varden,' he
added, shaking the locksmith by the hand, 'saving the extent of my
gratitude to you, you know as much as I.'

'Except,' said Gabriel, bending down yet more, and looking
cautiously towards their silent neighhour, 'except in respect of
the robber himself. What like was he, sir? Speak low, if you
please. Barnaby means no harm, but I have watched him oftener than
you, and I know, little as you would think it, that he's listening

It required a strong confidence in the locksmith's veracity to
lead any one to this belief, for every sense and faculty that
Barnahy possessed, seemed to be fixed upon his game, to the
exclusion of all other things. Something in the young man's face
expressed this opinion, for Gabriel repeated what he had just said,
more earnestly than before, and with another glance towards
Barnaby, again asked what like the man was.

'The night was so dark,' said Edward, 'the attack so sudden, and
he so wrapped and muffled up, that I can hardly say. It seems

'Don't mention his name, sir,' returned the locksmith, following
his look towards Barnaby; 'I know HE saw him. I want to know what
YOU saw.'

'All I remember is,' said Edward, 'that as he checked his horse his
hat was blown off. He caught it, and replaced it on his head,
which I observed was bound with a dark handkerchief. A stranger
entered the Maypole while I was there, whom I had not seen--for I
had sat apart for reasons of my own--and when I rose to leave the
room and glanced round, he was in the shadow of the chimney and
hidden from my sight. But, if he and the robber were two different
persons, their voices were strangely and most remarkably alike; for
directly the man addressed me in the road, I recognised his speech

'It is as I feared. The very man was here to-night,' thought the
locksmith, changing colour. 'What dark history is this!'

'Halloa!' cried a hoarse voice in his ear. 'Halloa, halloa,
halloa! Bow wow wow. What's the matter here! Hal-loa!'

The speaker--who made the locksmith start as if he had been some
supernatural agent--was a large raven, who had perched upon the top
of the easy-chair, unseen by him and Edward, and listened with a
polite attention and a most extraordinary appearance of
comprehending every word, to all they had said up to this point;
turning his head from one to the other, as if his office were to
judge between them, and it were of the very last importance that he
should not lose a word.

'Look at him!' said Varden, divided between admiration of the bird
and a kind of fear of him. 'Was there ever such a knowing imp as
that! Oh he's a dreadful fellow!'

The raven, with his head very much on one side, and his bright eye
shining like a diamond, preserved a thoughtful silence for a few
seconds, and then replied in a voice so hoarse and distant, that it
seemed to come through his thick feathers rather than out of his

'Halloa, halloa, halloa! What's the matter here! Keep up your
spirits. Never say die. Bow wow wow. I'm a devil, I'm a devil,
I'm a devil. Hurrah!'--And then, as if exulting in his infernal
character, he began to whistle.

'I more than half believe he speaks the truth. Upon my word I do,'
said Varden. 'Do you see how he looks at me, as if he knew what I
was saying?'

To which the bird, balancing himself on tiptoe, as it were, and
moving his body up and down in a sort of grave dance, rejoined,
'I'm a devil, I'm a devil, I'm a devil,' and flapped his wings
against his sides as if he were bursting with laughter. Barnaby
clapped his hands, and fairly rolled upon the ground in an ecstasy
of delight.

'Strange companions, sir,' said the locksmith, shaking his head,
and looking from one to the other. 'The bird has all the wit.'

'Strange indeed!' said Edward, holding out his forefinger to the
raven, who, in acknowledgment of the attention, made a dive at it
immediately with his iron bill. 'Is he old?'

'A mere boy, sir,' replied the locksmith. 'A hundred and twenty,
or thereabouts. Call him down, Barnaby, my man.'

'Call him!' echoed Barnaby, sitting upright upon the floor, and
staring vacantly at Gabriel, as he thrust his hair back from his
face. 'But who can make him come! He calls me, and makes me go
where he will. He goes on before, and I follow. He's the master,
and I'm the man. Is that the truth, Grip?'

The raven gave a short, comfortable, confidential kind of croak;--a
most expressive croak, which seemed to say, 'You needn't let these
fellows into our secrets. We understand each other. It's all

'I make HIM come?' cried Barnaby, pointing to the bird. 'Him, who
never goes to sleep, or so much as winks!--Why, any time of night,
you may see his eyes in my dark room, shining like two sparks. And
every night, and all night too, he's broad awake, talking to
himself, thinking what he shall do to-morrow, where we shall go,
and what he shall steal, and hide, and bury. I make HIM come!
Ha ha ha!'

On second thoughts, the bird appeared disposed to come of himself.
After a short survey of the ground, and a few sidelong looks at the
ceiling and at everybody present in turn, he fluttered to the
floor, and went to Barnaby--not in a hop, or walk, or run, but in a
pace like that of a very particular gentleman with exceedingly
tight boots on, trying to walk fast over loose pebbles. Then,
stepping into his extended hand, and condescending to be held out
at arm's length, he gave vent to a succession of sounds, not unlike
the drawing of some eight or ten dozen of long corks, and again
asserted his brimstone birth and parentage with great distinctness.

The locksmith shook his head--perhaps in some doubt of the
creature's being really nothing but a bird--perhaps in pity for
Bamaby, who by this time had him in his arms, and was rolling
about, with him, on the ground. As he raised his eyes from the
poor fellow he encountered those of his mother, who had entered the
room, and was looking on in silence.

She was quite white in the face, even to her lips, but had wholly
subdued her emotion, and wore her usual quiet look. Varden fancied
as he glanced at her that she shrunk from his eye; and that she
busied herself about the wounded gentleman to avoid him the better.

It was time he went to bed, she said. He was to be removed to his
own home on the morrow, and he had already exceeded his time for
sitting up, by a full hour. Acting on this hint, the locksmith
prepared to take his leave.

'By the bye,' said Edward, as he shook him by the hand, and looked
from him to Mrs Rudge and back again, 'what noise was that below?
I heard your voice in the midst of it, and should have inquired
before, but our other conversation drove it from my memory. What
was it?'

The locksmith looked towards her, and bit his lip. She leant
against the chair, and bent her eyes upon the ground. Barnaby too--
he was listening.

--'Some mad or drunken fellow, sir,' Varden at length made answer,
looking steadily at the widow as he spoke. 'He mistook the house,
and tried to force an entrance.'

She breathed more freely, but stood quite motionless. As the
locksmith said 'Good night,' and Barnaby caught up the candle to
light him down the stairs, she took it from him, and charged him--
with more haste and earnestness than so slight an occasion appeared
to warrant--not to stir. The raven followed them to satisfy
himself that all was right below, and when they reached the street-
door, stood on the bottom stair drawing corks out of number.

With a trembling hand she unfastened the chain and bolts, and
turned the key. As she had her hand upon the latch, the locksmith
said in a low voice,

'I have told a lie to-night, for your sake, Mary, and for the sake
of bygone times and old acquaintance, when I would scorn to do so
for my own. I hope I may have done no harm, or led to none. I
can't help the suspicions you have forced upon me, and I am loth, I
tell you plainly, to leave Mr Edward here. Take care he comes to
no hurt. I doubt the safety of this roof, and am glad he leaves it
so soon. Now, let me go.'

For a moment she hid her face in her hands and wept; but resisting
the strong impulse which evidently moved her to reply, opened the
door--no wider than was sufficient for the passage of his body--
and motioned him away. As the locksmith stood upon the step, it
was chained and locked behind him, and the raven, in furtherance of
these precautions, barked like a lusty house-dog.

'In league with that ill-looking figure that might have fallen from
a gibbet--he listening and hiding here--Barnaby first upon the spot
last night--can she who has always borne so fair a name be guilty
of such crimes in secret!' said the locksmith, musing. 'Heaven
forgive me if I am wrong, and send me just thoughts; but she is
poor, the temptation may be great, and we daily hear of things as
strange.--Ay, bark away, my friend. If there's any wickedness
going on, that raven's in it, I'll be sworn.'

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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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