Such were the locksmith’s thoughts when first seated in the snug corner, an_lowly recovering from a pleasant defect of vision— pleasant, becaus_ccasioned by the wind blowing in his eyes—which made it a matter of soun_olicy and duty to himself, that he should take refuge from the weather, an_empted him, for the same reason, to aggravate a slight cough, and declare h_elt but poorly. Such were still his thoughts more than a full hou_fterwards, when, supper over, he still sat with shining jovial face in th_ame warm nook, listening to the cricket-like chirrup of little Solomon Daisy, and bearing no unimportant or slightly respected part in the social gossi_ound the Maypole fire.
‘I wish he may be an honest man, that’s all,’ said Solomon, winding up _ariety of speculations relative to the stranger, concerning whom Gabriel ha_ompared notes with the company, and so raised a grave discussion; ‘I wish h_ay be an honest man.’
‘So we all do, I suppose, don’t we?’ observed the locksmith.
‘I don’t,’ said Joe.
‘No!’ cried Gabriel.
‘No. He struck me with his whip, the coward, when he was mounted and I afoot, and I should be better pleased that he turned out what I think him.’
‘And what may that be, Joe?’
‘No good, Mr Varden. You may shake your head, father, but I say no good, an_ill say no good, and I would say no good a hundred times over, if that woul_ring him back to have the drubbing he deserves.’
‘Hold your tongue, sir,’ said John Willet.
‘I won’t, father. It’s all along of you that he ventured to do what he did.
Seeing me treated like a child, and put down like a fool, he plucks up a hear_nd has a fling at a fellow that he thinks—and may well think too—hasn’t _rain of spirit. But he’s mistaken, as I’ll show him, and as I’ll show all o_ou before long.’
‘Does the boy know what he’s a saying of!’ cried the astonished John Willet.
‘Father,’ returned Joe, ‘I know what I say and mean, well—better than you d_hen you hear me. I can bear with you, but I cannot bear the contempt tha_our treating me in the way you do, brings upon me from others every day. Loo_t other young men of my age. Have they no liberty, no will, no right t_peak? Are they obliged to sit mumchance, and to be ordered about till the_re the laughing-stock of young and old? I am a bye-word all over Chigwell, and I say—and it’s fairer my saying so now, than waiting till you are dead, and I have got your money—I say, that before long I shall be driven to brea_uch bounds, and that when I do, it won’t be me that you’ll have to blame, bu_our own self, and no other.’
John Willet was so amazed by the exasperation and boldness of his hopeful son, that he sat as one bewildered, staring in a ludicrous manner at the boiler, and endeavouring, but quite ineffectually, to collect his tardy thoughts, an_nvent an answer. The guests, scarcely less disturbed, were equally at a loss; and at length, with a variety of muttered, half-expressed condolences, an_ieces of advice, rose to depart; being at the same time slightly muddled wit_iquor.
The honest locksmith alone addressed a few words of coherent and sensibl_dvice to both parties, urging John Willet to remember that Joe was nearl_rrived at man’s estate, and should not be ruled with too tight a hand, an_xhorting Joe himself to bear with his father’s caprices, and rather endeavou_o turn them aside by temperate remonstrance than by ill-timed rebellion. Thi_dvice was received as such advice usually is. On John Willet it made almos_s much impression as on the sign outside the door, while Joe, who took it i_he best part, avowed himself more obliged than he could well express, bu_olitely intimated his intention nevertheless of taking his own cours_ninfluenced by anybody.
‘You have always been a very good friend to me, Mr Varden,’ he said, as the_tood without, in the porch, and the locksmith was equipping himself for hi_ourney home; ‘I take it very kind of you to say all this, but the time’_early come when the Maypole and I must part company.’
‘Roving stones gather no moss, Joe,’ said Gabriel.
‘Nor milestones much,’ replied Joe. ‘I’m little better than one here, and se_s much of the world.’
‘Then, what would you do, Joe?’ pursued the locksmith, stroking his chi_eflectively. ‘What could you be? Where could you go, you see?’
‘I must trust to chance, Mr Varden.’
‘A bad thing to trust to, Joe. I don’t like it. I always tell my girl when w_alk about a husband for her, never to trust to chance, but to make sur_eforehand that she has a good man and true, and then chance will neither mak_er nor break her. What are you fidgeting about there, Joe? Nothing gone i_he harness, I hope?’
‘No no,’ said Joe—finding, however, something very engrossing to do in the wa_f strapping and buckling—‘Miss Dolly quite well?’
‘Hearty, thankye. She looks pretty enough to be well, and good too.’
‘She’s always both, sir’—
‘So she is, thank God!’
‘I hope,’ said Joe after some hesitation, ‘that you won’t tell this stor_gainst me—this of my having been beat like the boy they’d make of me—at al_vents, till I have met this man again and settled the account. It’ll be _etter story then.’
‘Why who should I tell it to?’ returned Gabriel. ‘They know it here, and I’_ot likely to come across anybody else who would care about it.’
‘That’s true enough,’ said the young fellow with a sigh. ‘I quite forgot that.
Yes, that’s true!’
So saying, he raised his face, which was very red,—no doubt from the exertio_f strapping and buckling as aforesaid,—and giving the reins to the old man, who had by this time taken his seat, sighed again and bade him good night.
‘Good night!’ cried Gabriel. ‘Now think better of what we have just bee_peaking of; and don’t be rash, there’s a good fellow! I have an interest i_ou, and wouldn’t have you cast yourself away. Good night!’
Returning his cheery farewell with cordial goodwill, Joe Willet lingered unti_he sound of wheels ceased to vibrate in his ears, and then, shaking his hea_ournfully, re-entered the house.
Gabriel Varden went his way towards London, thinking of a great many things, and most of all of flaming terms in which to relate his adventure, and s_ccount satisfactorily to Mrs Varden for visiting the Maypole, despite certai_olemn covenants between himself and that lady. Thinking begets, not onl_hought, but drowsiness occasionally, and the more the locksmith thought, th_ore sleepy he became.
A man may be very sober—or at least firmly set upon his legs on that neutra_round which lies between the confines of perfect sobriety and sligh_ipsiness—and yet feel a strong tendency to mingle up present circumstance_ith others which have no manner of connection with them; to confound al_onsideration of persons, things, times, and places; and to jumble hi_isjointed thoughts together in a kind of mental kaleidoscope, producin_ombinations as unexpected as they are transitory. This was Gabriel Varden’_tate, as, nodding in his dog sleep, and leaving his horse to pursue a roa_ith which he was well acquainted, he got over the ground unconsciously, an_rew nearer and nearer home. He had roused himself once, when the hors_topped until the turnpike gate was opened, and had cried a lusty ‘goo_ight!’ to the toll- keeper; but then he awoke out of a dream about picking _ock in the stomach of the Great Mogul, and even when he did wake, mixed u_he turnpike man with his mother-in-law who had been dead twenty years. It i_ot surprising, therefore, that he soon relapsed, and jogged heavily along, quite insensible to his progress.
And, now, he approached the great city, which lay outstretched before him lik_ dark shadow on the ground, reddening the sluggish air with a deep dul_ight, that told of labyrinths of public ways and shops, and swarms of bus_eople. Approaching nearer and nearer yet, this halo began to fade, and th_auses which produced it slowly to develop themselves. Long lines of poorl_ighted streets might be faintly traced, with here and there a lighter spot, where lamps were clustered round a square or market, or round some grea_uilding; after a time these grew more distinct, and the lamps themselves wer_isible; slight yellow specks, that seemed to be rapidly snuffed out, one b_ne, as intervening obstacles hid them from the sight. Then, sounds arose—th_triking of church clocks, the distant bark of dogs, the hum of traffic in th_treets; then outlines might be traced—tall steeples looming in the air, an_iles of unequal roofs oppressed by chimneys; then, the noise swelled into _ouder sound, and forms grew more distinct and numerous still, an_ondon—visible in the darkness by its own faint light, and not by that o_eaven—was at hand.
The locksmith, however, all unconscious of its near vicinity, still jogged on, half sleeping and half waking, when a loud cry at no great distance ahead, roused him with a start.
For a moment or two he looked about him like a man who had been transported t_ome strange country in his sleep, but soon recognising familiar objects, rubbed his eyes lazily and might have relapsed again, but that the cry wa_epeated—not once or twice or thrice, but many times, and each time, i_ossible, with increased vehemence. Thoroughly aroused, Gabriel, who was _old man and not easily daunted, made straight to the spot, urging on hi_tout little horse as if for life or death.
The matter indeed looked sufficiently serious, for, coming to the place whenc_he cries had proceeded, he descried the figure of a man extended in a_pparently lifeless state upon the pathway, and, hovering round him, anothe_erson with a torch in his hand, which he waved in the air with a wil_mpatience, redoubling meanwhile those cries for help which had brought th_ocksmith to the spot.
‘What’s here to do?’ said the old man, alighting. ‘How’s this— what—Barnaby?’
The bearer of the torch shook his long loose hair back from his eyes, an_hrusting his face eagerly into that of the locksmith, fixed upon him a loo_hich told his history at once.
‘You know me, Barnaby?’ said Varden.
He nodded—not once or twice, but a score of times, and that with a fantasti_xaggeration which would have kept his head in motion for an hour, but tha_he locksmith held up his finger, and fixing his eye sternly upon him cause_im to desist; then pointed to the body with an inquiring look.
‘There’s blood upon him,’ said Barnaby with a shudder. ‘It makes me sick!’
‘How came it there?’ demanded Varden.
‘Steel, steel, steel!’ he replied fiercely, imitating with his hand the thrus_f a sword.
‘Is he robbed?’ said the locksmith.
Barnaby caught him by the arm, and nodded ‘Yes;’ then pointed towards th_ity.
‘Oh!’ said the old man, bending over the body and looking round as he spok_nto Barnaby’s pale face, strangely lighted up by something that was no_ntellect. ‘The robber made off that way, did he? Well, well, never mind tha_ust now. Hold your torch this way—a little farther off—so. Now stand quiet, while I try to see what harm is done.’
With these words, he applied himself to a closer examination of the prostrat_orm, while Barnaby, holding the torch as he had been directed, looked on i_ilence, fascinated by interest or curiosity, but repelled nevertheless b_ome strong and secret horror which convulsed him in every nerve.
As he stood, at that moment, half shrinking back and half bending forward, both his face and figure were full in the strong glare of the link, and a_istinctly revealed as though it had been broad day. He was about three-and- twenty years old, and though rather spare, of a fair height and strong make.
His hair, of which he had a great profusion, was red, and hanging in disorde_bout his face and shoulders, gave to his restless looks an expression quit_nearthly—enhanced by the paleness of his complexion, and the glassy lustre o_is large protruding eyes. Startling as his aspect was, the features wer_ood, and there was something even plaintive in his wan and haggard aspect.
But, the absence of the soul is far more terrible in a living man than in _ead one; and in this unfortunate being its noblest powers were wanting.
His dress was of green, clumsily trimmed here and there—apparently by his ow_ands—with gaudy lace; brightest where the cloth was most worn and soiled, an_oorest where it was at the best. A pair of tawdry ruffles dangled at hi_rists, while his throat was nearly bare. He had ornamented his hat with _luster of peacock’s feathers, but they were limp and broken, and now traile_egligently down his back. Girt to his side was the steel hilt of an old swor_ithout blade or scabbard; and some particoloured ends of ribands and poo_lass toys completed the ornamental portion of his attire. The fluttered an_onfused disposition of all the motley scraps that formed his dress, bespoke, in a scarcely less degree than his eager and unsettled manner, the disorder o_is mind, and by a grotesque contrast set off and heightened the mor_mpressive wildness of his face.
‘Barnaby,’ said the locksmith, after a hasty but careful inspection, ‘this ma_s not dead, but he has a wound in his side, and is in a fainting-fit.’
‘I know him, I know him!’ cried Barnaby, clapping his hands.
‘Know him?’ repeated the locksmith.
‘Hush!’ said Barnaby, laying his fingers upon his lips. ‘He went out to-day _ooing. I wouldn’t for a light guinea that he should never go a wooing again, for, if he did, some eyes would grow dim that are now as bright as—see, when _alk of eyes, the stars come out! Whose eyes are they? If they are angels’ eyes, why do they look down here and see good men hurt, and only wink an_parkle all the night?’
‘Now Heaven help this silly fellow,’ murmured the perplexed locksmith; ‘can h_now this gentleman? His mother’s house is not far off; I had better see i_he can tell me who he is. Barnaby, my man, help me to put him in the chaise, and we’ll ride home together.’
‘I can’t touch him!’ cried the idiot falling back, and shuddering as with _trong spasm; he’s bloody!’
‘It’s in his nature, I know,’ muttered the locksmith, ‘it’s cruel to ask him, but I must have help. Barnaby—good Barnaby—dear Barnaby—if you know thi_entleman, for the sake of his life and everybody’s life that loves him, hel_e to raise him and lay him down.’
‘Cover him then, wrap him close—don’t let me see it—smell it— hear the word.
Don’t speak the word—don’t!’
‘No, no, I’ll not. There, you see he’s covered now. Gently. Well done, wel_one!’
They placed him in the carriage with great ease, for Barnaby was strong an_ctive, but all the time they were so occupied he shivered from head to foot, and evidently experienced an ecstasy of terror.
This accomplished, and the wounded man being covered with Varden’s ow_reatcoat which he took off for the purpose, they proceeded onward at a bris_ace: Barnaby gaily counting the stars upon his fingers, and Gabriel inwardl_ongratulating himself upon having an adventure now, which would silence Mr_arden on the subject of the Maypole, for that night, or there was no faith i_oman.