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Chapter 5

  • As soon as the business of the day was over, the locksmith sallied forth, alone, to visit the wounded gentleman and ascertain the progress of hi_ecovery. The house where he had left him was in a by-street in Southwark, no_ar from London Bridge; and thither he hied with all speed, bent upo_eturning with as little delay as might be, and getting to bed betimes.
  • The evening was boisterous—scarcely better than the previous night had been.
  • It was not easy for a stout man like Gabriel to keep his legs at the stree_orners, or to make head against the high wind, which often fairly got th_etter of him, and drove him back some paces, or, in defiance of all hi_nergy, forced him to take shelter in an arch or doorway until the fury of th_ust was spent. Occasionally a hat or wig, or both, came spinning an_rundling past him, like a mad thing; while the more serious spectacle o_alling tiles and slates, or of masses of brick and mortar or fragments o_tone-coping rattling upon the pavement near at hand, and splitting int_ragments, did not increase the pleasure of the journey, or make the way les_reary.
  • ‘A trying night for a man like me to walk in!’ said the locksmith, as h_nocked softly at the widow’s door. ‘I’d rather be in old John’s chimney- corner, faith!’
  • ‘Who’s there?’ demanded a woman’s voice from within. Being answered, it adde_ hasty word of welcome, and the door was quickly opened.
  • She was about forty—perhaps two or three years older—with a cheerful aspect, and a face that had once been pretty. It bore traces of affliction and care, but they were of an old date, and Time had smoothed them. Any one who ha_estowed but a casual glance on Barnaby might have known that this was hi_other, from the strong resemblance between them; but where in his face ther_as wildness and vacancy, in hers there was the patient composure of lon_ffort and quiet resignation.
  • One thing about this face was very strange and startling. You could not loo_pon it in its most cheerful mood without feeling that it had som_xtraordinary capacity of expressing terror. It was not on the surface. It wa_n no one feature that it lingered. You could not take the eyes or mouth, o_ines upon the cheek, and say, if this or that were otherwise, it would not b_o. Yet there it always lurked—something for ever dimly seen, but ever there, and never absent for a moment. It was the faintest, palest shadow of som_ook, to which an instant of intense and most unutterable horror only coul_ave given birth; but indistinct and feeble as it was, it did suggest wha_hat look must have been, and fixed it in the mind as if it had had existenc_n a dream.
  • More faintly imaged, and wanting force and purpose, as it were, because of hi_arkened intellect, there was this same stamp upon the son. Seen in a picture, it must have had some legend with it, and would have haunted those who looke_pon the canvas. They who knew the Maypole story, and could remember what th_idow was, before her husband’s and his master’s murder, understood it well.
  • They recollected how the change had come, and could call to mind that when he_on was born, upon the very day the deed was known, he bore upon his wris_hat seemed a smear of blood but half washed out.
  • ‘God save you, neighbour!’ said the locksmith, as he followed her, with th_ir of an old friend, into a little parlour where a cheerful fire was burning.
  • ‘And you,’ she answered smiling. ‘Your kind heart has brought you here again.
  • Nothing will keep you at home, I know of old, if there are friends to serve o_omfort, out of doors.’
  • ‘Tut, tut,’ returned the locksmith, rubbing his hands and warming them. ‘Yo_omen are such talkers. What of the patient, neighbour?’
  • ‘He is sleeping now. He was very restless towards daylight, and for some hour_ossed and tumbled sadly. But the fever has left him, and the doctor says h_ill soon mend. He must not be removed until to-morrow.’
  • ‘He has had visitors to-day—humph?’ said Gabriel, slyly.
  • ‘Yes. Old Mr Chester has been here ever since we sent for him, and had no_een gone many minutes when you knocked.’
  • ‘No ladies?’ said Gabriel, elevating his eyebrows and looking disappointed.
  • ‘A letter,’ replied the widow.
  • ‘Come. That’s better than nothing!’ replied the locksmith. ‘Who was th_earer?’
  • ‘Barnaby, of course.’
  • ‘Barnaby’s a jewel!’ said Varden; ‘and comes and goes with ease where we wh_hink ourselves much wiser would make but a poor hand of it. He is not ou_andering, again, I hope?’
  • ‘Thank Heaven he is in his bed; having been up all night, as you know, and o_is feet all day. He was quite tired out. Ah, neighbour, if I could but se_im oftener so—if I could but tame down that terrible restlessness—’
  • ‘In good time,’ said the locksmith, kindly, ‘in good time—don’t be down- hearted. To my mind he grows wiser every day.’
  • The widow shook her head. And yet, though she knew the locksmith sought t_heer her, and spoke from no conviction of his own, she was glad to hear eve_his praise of her poor benighted son.
  • ‘He will be a ‘cute man yet,’ resumed the locksmith. ‘Take care, when we ar_rowing old and foolish, Barnaby doesn’t put us to the blush, that’s all. Bu_ur other friend,’ he added, looking under the table and about th_loor—‘sharpest and cunningest of all the sharp and cunning ones—where’s he?’
  • ‘In Barnaby’s room,’ rejoined the widow, with a faint smile.
  • ‘Ah! He’s a knowing blade!’ said Varden, shaking his head. ‘I should be sorr_o talk secrets before him. Oh! He’s a deep customer. I’ve no doubt he ca_ead, and write, and cast accounts if he chooses. What was that? Him tappin_t the door?’
  • ‘No,’ returned the widow. ‘It was in the street, I think. Hark! Yes. Ther_gain! ’Tis some one knocking softly at the shutter. Who can it be!’
  • They had been speaking in a low tone, for the invalid lay overhead, and th_alls and ceilings being thin and poorly built, the sound of their voice_ight otherwise have disturbed his slumber. The party without, whoever it was, could have stood close to the shutter without hearing anything spoken; and, seeing the light through the chinks and finding all so quiet, might have bee_ersuaded that only one person was there.
  • ‘Some thief or ruffian maybe,’ said the locksmith. ‘Give me the light.’
  • ‘No, no,’ she returned hastily. ‘Such visitors have never come to this poo_welling. Do you stay here. You’re within call, at the worst. I would rathe_o myself—alone.’
  • ‘Why?’ said the locksmith, unwillingly relinquishing the candle he had caugh_p from the table.
  • ‘Because—I don’t know why—because the wish is so strong upon me,’ sh_ejoined. ‘There again—do not detain me, I beg of you!’
  • Gabriel looked at her, in great surprise to see one who was usually so mil_nd quiet thus agitated, and with so little cause. She left the room an_losed the door behind her. She stood for a moment as if hesitating, with he_and upon the lock. In this short interval the knocking came again, and _oice close to the window—a voice the locksmith seemed to recollect, and t_ave some disagreeable association with—whispered ‘Make haste.’
  • The words were uttered in that low distinct voice which finds its way s_eadily to sleepers’ ears, and wakes them in a fright. For a moment i_tartled even the locksmith; who involuntarily drew back from the window, an_istened.
  • The wind rumbling in the chimney made it difficult to hear what passed, but h_ould tell that the door was opened, that there was the tread of a man upo_he creaking boards, and then a moment’s silence—broken by a suppresse_omething which was not a shriek, or groan, or cry for help, and yet migh_ave been either or all three; and the words ‘My God!’ uttered in a voice i_hilled him to hear.
  • He rushed out upon the instant. There, at last, was that dreadful look—th_ery one he seemed to know so well and yet had never seen before—upon he_ace. There she stood, frozen to the ground, gazing with starting eyes, an_ivid cheeks, and every feature fixed and ghastly, upon the man he ha_ncountered in the dark last night. His eyes met those of the locksmith. I_as but a flash, an instant, a breath upon a polished glass, and he was gone.
  • The locksmith was upon him—had the skirts of his streaming garment almost i_is grasp—when his arms were tightly clutched, and the widow flung hersel_pon the ground before him.
  • ‘The other way—the other way,’ she cried. ‘He went the other way. Turn—turn!’
  • ‘The other way! I see him now,’ rejoined the locksmith, pointing— ‘yonder—there—there is his shadow passing by that light. What— who is this?
  • Let me go.’
  • ‘Come back, come back!’ exclaimed the woman, clasping him; ‘Do not touch hi_n your life. I charge you, come back. He carries other lives besides his own.
  • Come back!’
  • ‘What does this mean?’ cried the locksmith.
  • ‘No matter what it means, don’t ask, don’t speak, don’t think about it. He i_ot to be followed, checked, or stopped. Come back!’
  • The old man looked at her in wonder, as she writhed and clung about him; and, borne down by her passion, suffered her to drag him into the house. It was no_ntil she had chained and double-locked the door, fastened every bolt and ba_ith the heat and fury of a maniac, and drawn him back into the room, that sh_urned upon him, once again, that stony look of horror, and, sinking down int_ chair, covered her face, and shuddered, as though the hand of death were o_er.