Impressions of Barnaby Rudge

Barnaby Rudge stamps and shouts and waves the candle above his head. Gabriel tries to keep him quiet: “Softly – gently” he says, and backs away a step from the whirling flame.

Barnaby is raving about his dreams, though he doesn’t call them dreams: “There have been great faces coming and going – close to my face, and then a mile away . . .” In his excitement he continues to whisk the candlestick around, its fire blazing in the air about him as he waves his arms haphazardly. Images in Gabriel’s mind of the flame leaping to set the furniture on fire, or the heavy candlestick itself brought down on his head in Barnaby’s reckless excitement.

Finally, to Gabriel’s great relief, Barnaby ceases to hop and chatter, and turns to guide him quietly up the stairs and up to the room of Edward, the man they found injured the night before, now convalescing in this house. Entering the room, Barnaby puts the candle down, stirs the fire in the hearth with a heavy metal poker, and flings the poker down beside the fire with a crash. He’s now sitting quietly by the fireplace, pulling some string from his pocket that he proceeds to wind around his fingers.

Gabriel approaches Edward: “Speak low, if you please. Barnaby means no harm, but I have watched him oftener than you, and I know, little as you would think it, that he’s listening now.” How can Gabriel be so sure that Barnaby means no harm? That no dark intention lurks in that “benighted” soul? Certainly, as Edward peers past Gabriel to watch Barnaby, seemingly absorbed with his string game, we detect a look of consternation in the man, at the news that one apparently so innocent could in fact be so devious. And while Gabriel believes that Barnaby could mean no harm, yet he might do harm, if he were to speak some secret at the wrong time, or forget himself as he whirled some dangerous object in his hand, a heavy candlestick or the poker he so carelessly flung down.

Turning back to Gabriel, Edward begins to talk. But Gabriel soon interrupts, as the conversation turns to a particular man: “Don’t mention his name, sir . . .” This unsettles Edward again. He must be cautious, speaking softly enough that he can’t be heard over the crackle of the fireplace that stands between them and Barnaby. The almost-silence stifles Edward for a moment, afraid to utter a word, certain that Barnaby will hear. His eyes are fixed for a moment on the poker on the ground at Barnaby’s feet, and then up at Barnaby himself, seemingly so indifferent to their conversation. Finally, he turns back to Gabriel as he begins to speak again in a low whisper. No sound from Barnaby. The only sound for a while the murmurs of the two men and the soft crackling of the fire.

And then, Edward starts violently as he’s interrupted by a rushing sound from the other end of the room, followed by a dull solid thud in front of him. Gabriel is suddenly wide eyed, stunned, and a loud voice starts up behind him:

“Halloa, halloa, halloa! Bow wow wow. What’s the matter here! Hal-loa!”

It’s Grip the raven, swooping into the room, and landing heavily on the chair as it opens its beak to speak, startling Gabriel as if a ghost had appeared. Barnaby had remained absorbed by the fire with his piece of string until the moment the bird shrieked. And now the time for tales is over, with Barnaby and the bird flapping around the room, laughing and squawking, and the door swung open and Mrs Rudge enters the room with a look of terror still on her face . . .

(I’ve been reading Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. These are my notes on Chapter 6.)

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