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Charles Dickens > Barnaby Rudge > Chapter 72

Barnaby Rudge

Chapter 72

The Black Lion was so far off, and occupied such a length of time
in the getting at, that notwithstanding the strong presumptive
evidence she had about her of the late events being real and of
actual occurrence, Dolly could not divest herself of the belief
that she must be in a dream which was lasting all night. Nor was
she quite certain that she saw and heard with her own proper
senses, even when the coach, in the fulness of time, stopped at the
Black Lion, and the host of that tavern approached in a gush of
cheerful light to help them to dismount, and give them hearty

There too, at the coach door, one on one side, one upon the other,
were already Edward Chester and Joe Willet, who must have followed
in another coach: and this was such a strange and unaccountable
proceeding, that Dolly was the more inclined to favour the idea of
her being fast asleep. But when Mr Willet appeared--old John
himself--so heavy-headed and obstinate, and with such a double
chin as the liveliest imagination could never in its boldest
flights have conjured up in all its vast proportions--then she
stood corrected, and unwillingly admitted to herself that she was
broad awake.

And Joe had lost an arm--he--that well-made, handsome, gallant
fellow! As Dolly glanced towards him, and thought of the pain he
must have suffered, and the far-off places in which he had been
wandering, and wondered who had been his nurse, and hoped that
whoever it was, she had been as kind and gentle and considerate as
she would have been, the tears came rising to her bright eyes, one
by one, little by little, until she could keep them back no longer,
and so before them all, wept bitterly.

'We are all safe now, Dolly,' said her father, kindly. 'We shall
not be separated any more. Cheer up, my love, cheer up!'

The locksmith's wife knew better perhaps, than he, what ailed her
daughter. But Mrs Varden being quite an altered woman--for the
riots had done that good--added her word to his, and comforted her
with similar representations.

'Mayhap,' said Mr Willet, senior, looking round upon the company,
'she's hungry. That's what it is, depend upon it--I am, myself.'

The Black Lion, who, like old John, had been waiting supper past
all reasonable and conscionable hours, hailed this as a
philosophical discovery of the profoundest and most penetrating
kind; and the table being already spread, they sat down to supper

The conversation was not of the liveliest nature, nor were the
appetites of some among them very keen. But, in both these
respects, old John more than atoned for any deficiency on the part
of the rest, and very much distinguished himself.

It was not in point of actual conversation that Mr Willet shone so
brilliantly, for he had none of his old cronies to 'tackle,' and
was rather timorous of venturing on Joe; having certain vague
misgivings within him, that he was ready on the shortest notice,
and on receipt of the slightest offence, to fell the Black Lion to
the floor of his own parlour, and immediately to withdraw to China
or some other remote and unknown region, there to dwell for
evermore, or at least until he had got rid of his remaining arm and
both legs, and perhaps an eye or so, into the bargain. It was with
a peculiar kind of pantomime that Mr Willet filled up every pause;
and in this he was considered by the Black Lion, who had been his
familiar for some years, quite to surpass and go beyond himself,
and outrun the expectations of his most admiring friends.

The subject that worked in Mr Willet's mind, and occasioned these
demonstrations, was no other than his son's bodily disfigurement,
which he had never yet got himself thoroughly to believe, or
comprehend. Shortly after their first meeting, he had been
observed to wander, in a state of great perplexity, to the kitchen,
and to direct his gaze towards the fire, as if in search of his
usual adviser in all matters of doubt and difficulty. But there
being no boiler at the Black Lion, and the rioters having so beaten
and battered his own that it was quite unfit for further service,
he wandered out again, in a perfect bog of uncertainty and mental
confusion, and in that state took the strangest means of resolving
his doubts: such as feeling the sleeve of his son's greatcoat as
deeming it possible that his arm might be there; looking at his own
arms and those of everybody else, as if to assure himself that two
and not one was the usual allowance; sitting by the hour together
in a brown study, as if he were endeavouring to recall Joe's image
in his younger days, and to remember whether he really had in those
times one arm or a pair; and employing himself in many other
speculations of the same kind.

Finding himself at this supper, surrounded by faces with which he
had been so well acquainted in old times, Mr Willet recurred to the
subject with uncommon vigour; apparently resolved to understand it
now or never. Sometimes, after every two or three mouthfuls, he
laid down his knife and fork, and stared at his son with all his
might--particularly at his maimed side; then, he looked slowly
round the table until he caught some person's eye, when he shook
his head with great solemnity, patted his shoulder, winked, or as
one may say--for winking was a very slow process with him--went to
sleep with one eye for a minute or two; and so, with another solemn
shaking of his head, took up his knife and fork again, and went on
eating. Sometimes, he put his food into his mouth abstractedly,
and, with all his faculties concentrated on Joe, gazed at him in a
fit of stupefaction as he cut his meat with one hand, until he was
recalled to himself by symptoms of choking on his own part, and was
by that means restored to consciousness. At other times he
resorted to such small devices as asking him for the salt, the
pepper, the vinegar, the mustard--anything that was on his maimed
side--and watching him as he handed it. By dint of these
experiments, he did at last so satisfy and convince himself, that,
after a longer silence than he had yet maintained, he laid down his
knife and fork on either side his plate, drank a long draught from
a tankard beside him (still keeping his eyes on Joe), and leaning
backward in his chair and fetching a long breath, said, as he
looked all round the board:

'It's been took off!'

'By George!' said the Black Lion, striking the table with his hand,
'he's got it!'

'Yes, sir,' said Mr Willet, with the look of a man who felt that he
had earned a compliment, and deserved it. 'That's where it is.
It's been took off.'

'Tell him where it was done,' said the Black Lion to Joe.

'At the defence of the Savannah, father.'

'At the defence of the Salwanners,' repeated Mr Willet, softly;
again looking round the table.

'In America, where the war is,' said Joe.

'In America, where the war is,' repeated Mr Willet. 'It was took
off in the defence of the Salwanners in America where the war is.'
Continuing to repeat these words to himself in a low tone of voice
(the same information had been conveyed to him in the same terms,
at least fifty times before), Mr Willet arose from table, walked
round to Joe, felt his empty sleeve all the way up, from the cuff,
to where the stump of his arm remained; shook his hand; lighted his
pipe at the fire, took a long whiff, walked to the door, turned
round once when he had reached it, wiped his left eye with the back
of his forefinger, and said, in a faltering voice: 'My son's arm--
was took off--at the defence of the--Salwanners--in America--where
the war is'--with which words he withdrew, and returned no more
that night.

Indeed, on various pretences, they all withdrew one after another,
save Dolly, who was left sitting there alone. It was a great
relief to be alone, and she was crying to her heart's content, when
she heard Joe's voice at the end of the passage, bidding somebody
good night.

Good night! Then he was going elsewhere--to some distance,
perhaps. To what kind of home COULD he be going, now that it was
so late!

She heard him walk along the passage, and pass the door. But there
was a hesitation in his footsteps. He turned back--Dolly's heart
beat high--he looked in.

'Good night!'--he didn't say Dolly, but there was comfort in his
not saying Miss Varden.

'Good night!' sobbed Dolly.

'I am sorry you take on so much, for what is past and gone,' said
Joe kindly. 'Don't. I can't bear to see you do it. Think of it
no longer. You are safe and happy now.'

Dolly cried the more.

'You must have suffered very much within these few days--and yet
you're not changed, unless it's for the better. They said you
were, but I don't see it. You were--you were always very
beautiful,' said Joe, 'but you are more beautiful than ever, now.
You are indeed. There can be no harm in my saying so, for you must
know it. You are told so very often, I am sure.'

As a general principle, Dolly DID know it, and WAS told so, very
often. But the coachmaker had turned out, years ago, to be a
special donkey; and whether she had been afraid of making similar
discoveries in others, or had grown by dint of long custom to be
careless of compliments generally, certain it is that although she
cried so much, she was better pleased to be told so now, than ever
she had been in all her life.

'I shall bless your name,' sobbed the locksmith's little daughter,
'as long as I live. I shall never hear it spoken without feeling
as if my heart would burst. I shall remember it in my prayers,
every night and morning till I die!'

'Will you?' said Joe, eagerly. 'Will you indeed? It makes me--
well, it makes me very glad and proud to hear you say so.'

Dolly still sobbed, and held her handkerchief to her eyes. Joe
still stood, looking at her.

'Your voice,' said Joe, 'brings up old times so pleasantly, that,
for the moment, I feel as if that night--there can be no harm in
talking of that night now--had come back, and nothing had happened
in the mean time. I feel as if I hadn't suffered any hardships,
but had knocked down poor Tom Cobb only yesterday, and had come to
see you with my bundle on my shoulder before running away.--You

Remember! But she said nothing. She raised her eyes for an
instant. It was but a glance; a little, tearful, timid glance. It
kept Joe silent though, for a long time.

'Well!' he said stoutly, 'it was to be otherwise, and was. I have
been abroad, fighting all the summer and frozen up all the winter,
ever since. I have come back as poor in purse as I went, and
crippled for life besides. But, Dolly, I would rather have lost
this other arm--ay, I would rather have lost my head--than have
come back to find you dead, or anything but what I always pictured
you to myself, and what I always hoped and wished to find you.
Thank God for all!'

Oh how much, and how keenly, the little coquette of five years ago,
felt now! She had found her heart at last. Never having known its
worth till now, she had never known the worth of his. How
priceless it appeared!

'I did hope once,' said Joe, in his homely way, 'that I might come
back a rich man, and marry you. But I was a boy then, and have
long known better than that. I am a poor, maimed, discharged
soldier, and must be content to rub through life as I can. I can't
say, even now, that I shall be glad to see you married, Dolly; but
I AM glad--yes, I am, and glad to think I can say so--to know that
you are admired and courted, and can pick and choose for a happy
life. It's a comfort to me to know that you'll talk to your
husband about me; and I hope the time will come when I may be able
to like him, and to shake hands with him, and to come and see you
as a poor friend who knew you when you were a girl. God bless

His hand DID tremble; but for all that, he took it away again, and
left 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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