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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBarnaby Rudge - Chapter 7
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Barnaby Rudge - Chapter 7 Post by :danielthorne Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :December 2010 Read :2320

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Barnaby Rudge - Chapter 7

Mrs Varden was a lady of what is commonly called an uncertain
temper--a phrase which being interpreted signifies a temper
tolerably certain to make everybody more or less uncomfortable.
Thus it generally happened, that when other people were merry, Mrs
Varden was dull; and that when other people were dull, Mrs Varden
was disposed to be amazingly cheerful. Indeed the worthy housewife
was of such a capricious nature, that she not only attained a
higher pitch of genius than Macbeth, in respect of her ability to
be wise, amazed, temperate and furious, loyal and neutral in an
instant, but would sometimes ring the changes backwards and
forwards on all possible moods and flights in one short quarter of
an hour; performing, as it were, a kind of triple bob major on the
peal of instruments in the female belfry, with a skilfulness and
rapidity of execution that astonished all who heard her.

It had been observed in this good lady (who did not want for
personal attractions, being plump and buxom to look at, though like
her fair daughter, somewhat short in stature) that this
uncertainty of disposition strengthened and increased with her
temporal prosperity; and divers wise men and matrons, on friendly
terms with the locksmith and his family, even went so far as to
assert, that a tumble down some half-dozen rounds in the world's
ladder--such as the breaking of the bank in which her husband kept
his money, or some little fall of that kind--would be the making
of her, and could hardly fail to render her one of the most
agreeable companions in existence. Whether they were right or
wrong in this conjecture, certain it is that minds, like bodies,
will often fall into a pimpled ill-conditioned state from mere
excess of comfort, and like them, are often successfully cured by
remedies in themselves very nauseous and unpalatable.

Mrs Varden's chief aider and abettor, and at the same time her
principal victim and object of wrath, was her single domestic
servant, one Miss Miggs; or as she was called, in conformity with
those prejudices of society which lop and top from poor hand-
maidens all such genteel excrescences--Miggs. This Miggs was a
tall young lady, very much addicted to pattens in private life;
slender and shrewish, of a rather uncomfortable figure, and though
not absolutely ill-looking, of a sharp and acid visage. As a
general principle and abstract proposition, Miggs held the male sex
to be utterly contemptible and unworthy of notice; to be fickle,
false, base, sottish, inclined to perjury, and wholly undeserving.
When particularly exasperated against them (which, scandal said,
was when Sim Tappertit slighted her most) she was accustomed to
wish with great emphasis that the whole race of women could but die
off, in order that the men might be brought to know the real value
of the blessings by which they set so little store; nay, her
feeling for her order ran so high, that she sometimes declared, if
she could only have good security for a fair, round number--say ten
thousand--of young virgins following her example, she would, to
spite mankind, hang, drown, stab, or poison herself, with a joy
past all expression.

It was the voice of Miggs that greeted the locksmith, when he
knocked at his own house, with a shrill cry of 'Who's there?'

'Me, girl, me,' returned Gabriel.

What, already, sir!' said Miggs, opening the door with a look of
surprise. 'We were just getting on our nightcaps to sit up,--me
and mistress. Oh, she has been SO bad!'

Miggs said this with an air of uncommon candour and concern; but
the parlour-door was standing open, and as Gabriel very well knew
for whose ears it was designed, he regarded her with anything but
an approving look as he passed in.

'Master's come home, mim,' cried Miggs, running before him into the
parlour. 'You was wrong, mim, and I was right. I thought he
wouldn't keep us up so late, two nights running, mim. Master's
always considerate so far. I'm so glad, mim, on your account. I'm
a little'--here Miggs simpered--'a little sleepy myself; I'll own
it now, mim, though I said I wasn't when you asked me. It ain't of
no consequence, mim, of course.'

'You had better,' said the locksmith, who most devoutly wished that
Barnaby's raven was at Miggs's ankles, 'you had better get to bed
at once then.'

'Thanking you kindly, sir,' returned Miggs, 'I couldn't take my
rest in peace, nor fix my thoughts upon my prayers, otherways than
that I knew mistress was comfortable in her bed this night; by
rights she ought to have been there, hours ago.'

'You're talkative, mistress,' said Varden, pulling off his
greatcoat, and looking at her askew.

'Taking the hint, sir,' cried Miggs, with a flushed face, 'and
thanking you for it most kindly, I will make bold to say, that if I
give offence by having consideration for my mistress, I do not ask
your pardon, but am content to get myself into trouble and to be in
suffering.'

Here Mrs Varden, who, with her countenance shrouded in a large
nightcap, had been all this time intent upon the Protestant Manual,
looked round, and acknowledged Miggs's championship by commanding
her to hold her tongue.

Every little bone in Miggs's throat and neck developed itself with
a spitefulness quite alarming, as she replied, 'Yes, mim, I will.'

'How do you find yourself now, my dear?' said the locksmith,
taking a chair near his wife (who had resumed her book), and
rubbing his knees hard as he made the inquiry.

'You're very anxious to know, an't you?' returned Mrs Varden, with
her eyes upon the print. 'You, that have not been near me all day,
and wouldn't have been if I was dying!'

'My dear Martha--' said Gabriel.

Mrs Varden turned over to the next page; then went back again to
the bottom line over leaf to be quite sure of the last words; and
then went on reading with an appearance of the deepest interest and
study.

'My dear Martha,' said the locksmith, 'how can you say such things,
when you know you don't mean them? If you were dying! Why, if
there was anything serious the matter with you, Martha, shouldn't I
be in constant attendance upon you?'

'Yes!' cried Mrs Varden, bursting into tears, 'yes, you would. I
don't doubt it, Varden. Certainly you would. That's as much as to
tell me that you would be hovering round me like a vulture, waiting
till the breath was out of my body, that you might go and marry
somebody else.'

Miggs groaned in sympathy--a little short groan, checked in its
birth, and changed into a cough. It seemed to say, 'I can't help
it. It's wrung from me by the dreadful brutality of that monster
master.'

'But you'll break my heart one of these days,' added Mrs Varden,
with more resignation, 'and then we shall both be happy. My only
desire is to see Dolly comfortably settled, and when she is, you
may settle ME as soon as you like.'

'Ah!' cried Miggs--and coughed again.

Poor Gabriel twisted his wig about in silence for a long time, and
then said mildly, 'Has Dolly gone to bed?'

'Your master speaks to you,' said Mrs Varden, looking sternly over
her shoulder at Miss Miggs in waiting.

'No, my dear, I spoke to you,' suggested the locksmith.

'Did you hear me, Miggs?' cried the obdurate lady, stamping her
foot upon the ground. 'YOU are beginning to despise me now, are
you? But this is example!'

At this cruel rebuke, Miggs, whose tears were always ready, for
large or small parties, on the shortest notice and the most
reasonable terms, fell a crying violently; holding both her hands
tight upon her heart meanwhile, as if nothing less would prevent
its splitting into small fragments. Mrs Varden, who likewise
possessed that faculty in high perfection, wept too, against Miggs;
and with such effect that Miggs gave in after a time, and, except
for an occasional sob, which seemed to threaten some remote
intention of breaking out again, left her mistress in possession of
the field. Her superiority being thoroughly asserted, that lady
soon desisted likewise, and fell into a quiet melancholy.

The relief was so great, and the fatiguing occurrences of last
night so completely overpowered the locksmith, that he nodded in
his chair, and would doubtless have slept there all night, but for
the voice of Mrs Varden, which, after a pause of some five minutes,
awoke him with a start.

'If I am ever,' said Mrs V.--not scolding, but in a sort of
monotonous remonstrance--'in spirits, if I am ever cheerful, if I
am ever more than usually disposed to be talkative and comfortable,
this is the way I am treated.'

'Such spirits as you was in too, mim, but half an hour ago!' cried
Miggs. 'I never see such company!'

'Because,' said Mrs Varden, 'because I never interfere or
interrupt; because I never question where anybody comes or goes;
because my whole mind and soul is bent on saving where I can save,
and labouring in this house;--therefore, they try me as they do.'

'Martha,' urged the locksmith, endeavouring to look as wakeful as
possible, 'what is it you complain of? I really came home with
every wish and desire to be happy. I did, indeed.'

'What do I complain of!' retorted his wife. 'Is it a chilling
thing to have one's husband sulking and falling asleep directly he
comes home--to have him freezing all one's warm-heartedness, and
throwing cold water over the fireside? Is it natural, when I know
he went out upon a matter in which I am as much interested as
anybody can be, that I should wish to know all that has happened,
or that he should tell me without my begging and praying him to do
it? Is that natural, or is it not?'

'I am very sorry, Martha,' said the good-natured locksmith. 'I was
really afraid you were not disposed to talk pleasantly; I'll tell
you everything; I shall only be too glad, my dear.'

'No, Varden,' returned his wife, rising with dignity. 'I dare say--
thank you! I'm not a child to be corrected one minute and petted
the next--I'm a little too old for that, Varden. Miggs, carry the
light.--YOU can be cheerful, Miggs, at least'

Miggs, who, to this moment, had been in the very depths of
compassionate despondency, passed instantly into the liveliest
state conceivable, and tossing her head as she glanced towards the
locksmith, bore off her mistress and the light together.

'Now, who would think,' thought Varden, shrugging his shoulders and
drawing his chair nearer to the fire, 'that that woman could ever
be pleasant and agreeable? And yet she can be. Well, well, all of
us have our faults. I'll not be hard upon hers. We have been man
and wife too long for that.'

He dozed again--not the less pleasantly, perhaps, for his hearty
temper. While his eyes were closed, the door leading to the upper
stairs was partially opened; and a head appeared, which, at sight
of him, hastily drew back again.

'I wish,' murmured Gabriel, waking at the noise, and looking round
the room, 'I wish somebody would marry Miggs. But that's
impossible! I wonder whether there's any madman alive, who would
marry Miggs!'

This was such a vast speculation that he fell into a doze again,
and slept until the fire was quite burnt out. At last he roused
himself; and having double-locked the street-door according to
custom, and put the key in his pocket, went off to bed.

He had not left the room in darkness many minutes, when the head
again appeared, and Sim Tappertit entered, bearing in his hand a
little lamp.

'What the devil business has he to stop up so late!' muttered Sim,
passing into the workshop, and setting it down upon the forge.
'Here's half the night gone already. There's only one good that
has ever come to me, out of this cursed old rusty mechanical trade,
and that's this piece of ironmongery, upon my soul!'

As he spoke, he drew from the right hand, or rather right leg
pocket of his smalls, a clumsy large-sized key, which he inserted
cautiously in the lock his master had secured, and softly opened
the door. That done, he replaced his piece of secret workmanship
in his pocket; and leaving the lamp burning, and closing the door
carefully and without noise, stole out into the street--as little
suspected by the locksmith in his sound deep sleep, as by Barnaby
himself in his phantom-haunted dreams.

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Clear of the locksmith's house, Sim Tappertit laid aside his cautious manner, and assuming in its stead that of a ruffling, swaggering, roving blade, who would rather kill a man than otherwise, and eat him too if needful, made the best of his way along the darkened streets.Half pausing for an instant now and then to smite his pocket and assure himself of the safety of his master key, he hurried on to Barbican, and turning into one of the narrowest of the narrow streets which diverged from that centre, slackened his pace and wiped his heated brow, as if the
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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.
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