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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBarnaby Rudge - Chapter 15
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Barnaby Rudge - Chapter 15 Post by :CaptainLou Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :December 2010 Read :1596

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Barnaby Rudge - Chapter 15

At noon next day, John Willet's guest sat lingering over his
breakfast in his own home, surrounded by a variety of comforts,
which left the Maypole's highest flight and utmost stretch of
accommodation at an infinite distance behind, and suggested
comparisons very much to the disadvantage and disfavour of that
venerable tavern.

In the broad old-fashioned window-seat--as capacious as many modern
sofas, and cushioned to serve the purpose of a luxurious settee--in
the broad old-fashioned window-seat of a roomy chamber, Mr Chester
lounged, very much at his ease, over a well-furnished breakfast-
table. He had exchanged his riding-coat for a handsome morning-
gown, his boots for slippers; had been at great pains to atone for
the having been obliged to make his toilet when he rose without the
aid of dressing-case and tiring equipage; and, having gradually
forgotten through these means the discomforts of an indifferent
night and an early ride, was in a state of perfect complacency,
indolence, and satisfaction.

The situation in which he found himself, indeed, was particularly
favourable to the growth of these feelings; for, not to mention the
lazy influence of a late and lonely breakfast, with the additional
sedative of a newspaper, there was an air of repose about his place
of residence peculiar to itself, and which hangs about it, even in
these times, when it is more bustling and busy than it was in days
of yore.

There are, still, worse places than the Temple, on a sultry day,
for basking in the sun, or resting idly in the shade. There is yet
a drowsiness in its courts, and a dreamy dulness in its trees and
gardens; those who pace its lanes and squares may yet hear the
echoes of their footsteps on the sounding stones, and read upon its
gates, in passing from the tumult of the Strand or Fleet Street,
'Who enters here leaves noise behind.' There is still the plash of
falling water in fair Fountain Court, and there are yet nooks and
corners where dun-haunted students may look down from their dusty
garrets, on a vagrant ray of sunlight patching the shade of the
tall houses, and seldom troubled to reflect a passing stranger's
form. There is yet, in the Temple, something of a clerkly monkish
atmosphere, which public offices of law have not disturbed, and
even legal firms have failed to scare away. In summer time, its
pumps suggest to thirsty idlers, springs cooler, and more
sparkling, and deeper than other wells; and as they trace the
spillings of full pitchers on the heated ground, they snuff the
freshness, and, sighing, cast sad looks towards the Thames, and
think of baths and boats, and saunter on, despondent.

It was in a room in Paper Buildings--a row of goodly tenements,
shaded in front by ancient trees, and looking, at the back, upon
the Temple Gardens--that this, our idler, lounged; now taking up
again the paper he had laid down a hundred times; now trifling with
the fragments of his meal; now pulling forth his golden toothpick,
and glancing leisurely about the room, or out at window into the
trim garden walks, where a few early loiterers were already pacing
to and fro. Here a pair of lovers met to quarrel and make up;
there a dark-eyed nursery-maid had better eyes for Templars than
her charge; on this hand an ancient spinster, with her lapdog in a
string, regarded both enormities with scornful sidelong looks; on
that a weazen old gentleman, ogling the nursery-maid, looked with
like scorn upon the spinster, and wondered she didn't know she was
no longer young. Apart from all these, on the river's margin two
or three couple of business-talkers walked slowly up and down in
earnest conversation; and one young man sat thoughtfully on a
bench, alone.

'Ned is amazingly patient!' said Mr Chester, glancing at this last-
named person as he set down his teacup and plied the golden
toothpick, 'immensely patient! He was sitting yonder when I began
to dress, and has scarcely changed his posture since. A most
eccentric dog!'

As he spoke, the figure rose, and came towards him with a rapid
pace.

'Really, as if he had heard me,' said the father, resuming his
newspaper with a yawn. 'Dear Ned!'

Presently the room-door opened, and the young man entered; to whom
his father gently waved his hand, and smiled.

'Are you at leisure for a little conversation, sir?' said Edward.

'Surely, Ned. I am always at leisure. You know my constitution.--
Have you breakfasted?'

'Three hours ago.'

'What a very early dog!' cried his father, contemplating him from
behind the toothpick, with a languid smile.

'The truth is,' said Edward, bringing a chair forward, and seating
himself near the table, 'that I slept but ill last night, and was
glad to rise. The cause of my uneasiness cannot but be known to
you, sir; and it is upon that I wish to speak.'

'My dear boy,' returned his father, 'confide in me, I beg. But you
know my constitution--don't be prosy, Ned.'

'I will be plain, and brief,' said Edward.

'Don't say you will, my good fellow,' returned his father, crossing
his legs, 'or you certainly will not. You are going to tell me'--

'Plainly this, then,' said the son, with an air of great concern,
'that I know where you were last night--from being on the spot,
indeed--and whom you saw, and what your purpose was.'

'You don't say so!' cried his father. 'I am delighted to hear it.
It saves us the worry, and terrible wear and tear of a long
explanation, and is a great relief for both. At the very house!
Why didn't you come up? I should have been charmed to see you.'

'I knew that what I had to say would be better said after a night's
reflection, when both of us were cool,' returned the son.

''Fore Gad, Ned,' rejoined the father, 'I was cool enough last
night. That detestable Maypole! By some infernal contrivance of
the builder, it holds the wind, and keeps it fresh. You remember
the sharp east wind that blew so hard five weeks ago? I give you
my honour it was rampant in that old house last night, though out
of doors there was a dead calm. But you were saying'--

'I was about to say, Heaven knows how seriously and earnestly, that
you have made me wretched, sir. Will you hear me gravely for a
moment?'

'My dear Ned,' said his father, 'I will hear you with the patience
of an anchorite. Oblige me with the milk.'

'I saw Miss Haredale last night,' Edward resumed, when he had
complied with this request; 'her uncle, in her presence,
immediately after your interview, and, as of course I know, in
consequence of it, forbade me the house, and, with circumstances of
indignity which are of your creation I am sure, commanded me to
leave it on the instant.'

'For his manner of doing so, I give you my honour, Ned, I am not
accountable,' said his father. 'That you must excuse. He is a
mere boor, a log, a brute, with no address in life.--Positively a
fly in the jug. The first I have seen this year.'

Edward rose, and paced the room. His imperturbable parent sipped
his tea.

'Father,' said the young man, stopping at length before him, 'we
must not trifle in this matter. We must not deceive each other, or
ourselves. Let me pursue the manly open part I wish to take, and
do not repel me by this unkind indifference.'

'Whether I am indifferent or no,' returned the other, 'I leave you,
my dear boy, to judge. A ride of twenty-five or thirty miles,
through miry roads--a Maypole dinner--a tete-a-tete with Haredale,
which, vanity apart, was quite a Valentine and Orson business--a
Maypole bed--a Maypole landlord, and a Maypole retinue of idiots
and centaurs;--whether the voluntary endurance of these things
looks like indifference, dear Ned, or like the excessive anxiety,
and devotion, and all that sort of thing, of a parent, you shall
determine for yourself.'

'I wish you to consider, sir,' said Edward, 'in what a cruel
situation I am placed. Loving Miss Haredale as I do'--

'My dear fellow,' interrupted his father with a compassionate
smile, 'you do nothing of the kind. You don't know anything about
it. There's no such thing, I assure you. Now, do take my word for
it. You have good sense, Ned,--great good sense. I wonder you
should be guilty of such amazing absurdities. You really surprise
me.'

'I repeat,' said his son firmly, 'that I love her. You have
interposed to part us, and have, to the extent I have just now told
you of, succeeded. May I induce you, sir, in time, to think more
favourably of our attachment, or is it your intention and your
fixed design to hold us asunder if you can?'

'My dear Ned,' returned his father, taking a pinch of snuff and
pushing his box towards him, 'that is my purpose most undoubtedly.'

'The time that has elapsed,' rejoined his son, 'since I began to
know her worth, has flown in such a dream that until now I have
hardly once paused to reflect upon my true position. What is it?
From my childhood I have been accustomed to luxury and idleness,
and have been bred as though my fortune were large, and my
expectations almost without a limit. The idea of wealth has been
familiarised to me from my cradle. I have been taught to look upon
those means, by which men raise themselves to riches and
distinction, as being beyond my heeding, and beneath my care. I
have been, as the phrase is, liberally educated, and am fit for
nothing. I find myself at last wholly dependent upon you, with no
resource but in your favour. In this momentous question of my life
we do not, and it would seem we never can, agree. I have shrunk
instinctively alike from those to whom you have urged me to pay
court, and from the motives of interest and gain which have
rendered them in your eyes visible objects for my suit. If there
never has been thus much plain-speaking between us before, sir, the
fault has not been mine, indeed. If I seem to speak too plainly
now, it is, believe me father, in the hope that there may be a
franker spirit, a worthier reliance, and a kinder confidence
between us in time to come.'

'My good fellow,' said his smiling father, 'you quite affect me.
Go on, my dear Edward, I beg. But remember your promise. There is
great earnestness, vast candour, a manifest sincerity in all you
say, but I fear I observe the faintest indications of a tendency to
prose.'

'I am very sorry, sir.'

'I am very sorry, too, Ned, but you know that I cannot fix my mind
for any long period upon one subject. If you'll come to the point
at once, I'll imagine all that ought to go before, and conclude it
said. Oblige me with the milk again. Listening, invariably makes
me feverish.'

'What I would say then, tends to this,' said Edward. 'I cannot
bear this absolute dependence, sir, even upon you. Time has been
lost and opportunity thrown away, but I am yet a young man, and may
retrieve it. Will you give me the means of devoting such abilities
and energies as I possess, to some worthy pursuit? Will you let me
try to make for myself an honourable path in life? For any term
you please to name--say for five years if you will--I will pledge
myself to move no further in the matter of our difference without
your fall concurrence. During that period, I will endeavour
earnestly and patiently, if ever man did, to open some prospect for
myself, and free you from the burden you fear I should become if I
married one whose worth and beauty are her chief endowments. Will
you do this, sir? At the expiration of the term we agree upon, let
us discuss this subject again. Till then, unless it is revived by
you, let it never be renewed between us.'

'My dear Ned,' returned his father, laying down the newspaper at
which he had been glancing carelessly, and throwing himself back in
the window-seat, 'I believe you know how very much I dislike what
are called family affairs, which are only fit for plebeian
Christmas days, and have no manner of business with people of our
condition. But as you are proceeding upon a mistake, Ned--
altogether upon a mistake--I will conquer my repugnance to entering
on such matters, and give you a perfectly plain and candid answer,
if you will do me the favour to shut the door.'

Edward having obeyed him, he took an elegant little knife from his
pocket, and paring his nails, continued:

'You have to thank me, Ned, for being of good family; for your
mother, charming person as she was, and almost broken-hearted, and
so forth, as she left me, when she was prematurely compelled to
become immortal--had nothing to boast of in that respect.'

'Her father was at least an eminent lawyer, sir,' said Edward.

'Quite right, Ned; perfectly so. He stood high at the bar, had a
great name and great wealth, but having risen from nothing--I have
always closed my eyes to the circumstance and steadily resisted its
contemplation, but I fear his father dealt in pork, and that his
business did once involve cow-heel and sausages--he wished to marry
his daughter into a good family. He had his heart's desire, Ned.
I was a younger son's younger son, and I married her. We each had
our object, and gained it. She stepped at once into the politest
and best circles, and I stepped into a fortune which I assure you
was very necessary to my comfort--quite indispensable. Now, my
good fellow, that fortune is among the things that have been. It
is gone, Ned, and has been gone--how old are you? I always
forget.'

'Seven-and-twenty, sir.'

'Are you indeed?' cried his father, raising his eyelids in a
languishing surprise. 'So much! Then I should say, Ned, that as
nearly as I remember, its skirts vanished from human knowledge,
about eighteen or nineteen years ago. It was about that time when
I came to live in these chambers (once your grandfather's, and
bequeathed by that extremely respectable person to me), and
commenced to live upon an inconsiderable annuity and my past
reputation.'

'You are jesting with me, sir,' said Edward.

'Not in the slightest degree, I assure you,' returned his father
with great composure. 'These family topics are so extremely dry,
that I am sorry to say they don't admit of any such relief. It is
for that reason, and because they have an appearance of business,
that I dislike them so very much. Well! You know the rest. A
son, Ned, unless he is old enough to be a companion--that is to
say, unless he is some two or three and twenty--is not the kind of
thing to have about one. He is a restraint upon his father, his
father is a restraint upon him, and they make each other mutually
uncomfortable. Therefore, until within the last four years or so--
I have a poor memory for dates, and if I mistake, you will correct
me in your own mind--you pursued your studies at a distance, and
picked up a great variety of accomplishments. Occasionally we
passed a week or two together here, and disconcerted each other as
only such near relations can. At last you came home. I candidly
tell you, my dear boy, that if you had been awkward and overgrown,
I should have exported you to some distant part of the world.'

'I wish with all my soul you had, sir,' said Edward.

'No you don't, Ned,' said his father coolly; 'you are mistaken, I
assure you. I found you a handsome, prepossessing, elegant
fellow, and I threw you into the society I can still command.
Having done that, my dear fellow, I consider that I have provided
for you in life, and rely upon your doing something to provide for
me in return.'

'I do not understand your meaning, sir.'

'My meaning, Ned, is obvious--I observe another fly in the cream-
jug, but have the goodness not to take it out as you did the first,
for their walk when their legs are milky, is extremely ungraceful
and disagreeable--my meaning is, that you must do as I did; that
you must marry well and make the most of yourself.'

'A mere fortune-hunter!' cried the son, indignantly.

'What in the devil's name, Ned, would you be!' returned the father.
'All men are fortune-hunters, are they not? The law, the church,
the court, the camp--see how they are all crowded with fortune-
hunters, jostling each other in the pursuit. The stock-exchange,
the pulpit, the counting-house, the royal drawing-room, the
senate,--what but fortune-hunters are they filled with? A fortune-
hunter! Yes. You ARE one; and you would be nothing else, my dear
Ned, if you were the greatest courtier, lawyer, legislator,
prelate, or merchant, in existence. If you are squeamish and
moral, Ned, console yourself with the reflection that at the very
worst your fortune-hunting can make but one person miserable or
unhappy. How many people do you suppose these other kinds of
huntsmen crush in following their sport--hundreds at a step? Or
thousands?'

The young man leant his head upon his hand, and made no answer.

'I am quite charmed,' said the father rising, and walking slowly to
and fro--stopping now and then to glance at himself in the mirror,
or survey a picture through his glass, with the air of a
connoisseur, 'that we have had this conversation, Ned, unpromising
as it was. It establishes a confidence between us which is quite
delightful, and was certainly necessary, though how you can ever
have mistaken our positions and designs, I confess I cannot
understand. I conceived, until I found your fancy for this girl,
that all these points were tacitly agreed upon between us.'

'I knew you were embarrassed, sir,' returned the son, raising his
head for a moment, and then falling into his former attitude, 'but
I had no idea we were the beggared wretches you describe. How
could I suppose it, bred as I have been; witnessing the life you
have always led; and the appearance you have always made?'

'My dear child,' said the father--'for you really talk so like a
child that I must call you one--you were bred upon a careful
principle; the very manner of your education, I assure you,
maintained my credit surprisingly. As to the life I lead, I must
lead it, Ned. I must have these little refinements about me. I
have always been used to them, and I cannot exist without them.
They must surround me, you observe, and therefore they are here.
With regard to our circumstances, Ned, you may set your mind at
rest upon that score. They are desperate. Your own appearance is
by no means despicable, and our joint pocket-money alone devours
our income. That's the truth.'

'Why have I never known this before? Why have you encouraged me,
sir, to an expenditure and mode of life to which we have no right
or title?'

'My good fellow,' returned his father more compassionately than
ever, 'if you made no appearance, how could you possibly succeed in
the pursuit for which I destined you? As to our mode of life,
every man has a right to live in the best way he can; and to make
himself as comfortable as he can, or he is an unnatural scoundrel.
Our debts, I grant, are very great, and therefore it the more
behoves you, as a young man of principle and honour, to pay them
off as speedily as possible.'

'The villain's part,' muttered Edward, 'that I have unconsciously
played! I to win the heart of Emma Haredale! I would, for her
sake, I had died first!'

'I am glad you see, Ned,' returned his father, 'how perfectly self-
evident it is, that nothing can be done in that quarter. But apart
from this, and the necessity of your speedily bestowing yourself
on another (as you know you could to-morrow, if you chose), I wish
you'd look upon it pleasantly. In a religious point of view alone,
how could you ever think of uniting yourself to a Catholic, unless
she was amazingly rich? You ought to be so very Protestant,
coming of such a Protestant family as you do. Let us be moral,
Ned, or we are nothing. Even if one could set that objection
aside, which is impossible, we come to another which is quite
conclusive. The very idea of marrying a girl whose father was
killed, like meat! Good God, Ned, how disagreeable! Consider the
impossibility of having any respect for your father-in-law under
such unpleasant circumstances--think of his having been "viewed" by
jurors, and "sat upon" by coroners, and of his very doubtful
position in the family ever afterwards. It seems to me such an
indelicate sort of thing that I really think the girl ought to have
been put to death by the state to prevent its happening. But I
tease you perhaps. You would rather be alone? My dear Ned, most
willingly. God bless you. I shall be going out presently, but we
shall meet to-night, or if not to-night, certainly to-morrow.
Take care of yourself in the mean time, for both our sakes. You
are a person of great consequence to me, Ned--of vast consequence
indeed. God bless you!'

With these words, the father, who had been arranging his cravat in
the glass, while he uttered them in a disconnected careless manner,
withdrew, humming a tune as he went. The son, who had appeared so
lost in thought as not to hear or understand them, remained quite
still and silent. After the lapse of half an hour or so, the elder
Chester, gaily dressed, went out. The younger still sat with his
head resting on his hands, in what appeared to be a kind of stupor.

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