Many years ago a gentleman named Haredale lived at a house called The Warren, near London. His wife was dead and he had one baby daughter, Emma.
One morning he was found murdered in his house, which had been robbed. Both the gardener and the steward, Rudge, were missing, and some people thought one had done it and some thought the other. But some days later a disfigured body was found in a pond on the grounds which, by its clothes and a watch and ring, was recognized as that of Rudge, the missing steward. Then, of course, every one believed the gardener had murdered both, and the police searched for him a long time, but he was never found.
On the same day this cruel murder was discovered, a baby was born to Mrs. Rudge, the wife of the steward—a pretty boy, though with a birth-mark on the wrist as red as blood, and a strange look of terror on the baby face. He was named Barnaby, and his mother loved him all the more because it was soon seen he was weak-minded, and[Pg 78] could never be in his right senses. She herself, poor woman! seemed never able to forget the horror of that day.
Geoffrey Haredale, the brother and heir of the murdered man, took up his abode at The Warren and adopted the little Emma, his niece, as his own daughter. He was kind to Mrs. Rudge also. Not only did he let her live rent-free in a house he owned, but he did many a kind deed secretly for her half-witted son as he grew older.
Barnaby Rudge grew up a strange, weird creature. His hair was long and red and hung in disorder about his shoulders. His skin was pale, his eyes bright and his clothes he trimmed most curiously with bits of gaudy lace and bright ribbons and glass toys. He wore a cluster of broken peacock feathers in his hat and girded at his side was the broken hilt of an old sword without a blade. But strangest of all was a little wicker basket he always carried on his back. When he set this down and opened it, there hopped out a tame raven who would cock its head on one side and say hoarsely and very knowingly:
"Hello! Hello! Hello! What's the matter here? Keep up your spirits. Never say die. I'm a devil, I'm a devil, I'm a devil! Hurrah!"
Then it would whistle or make a noise like the drawing of a cork out of a bottle, repeated a great many times, and flap its wings against its sides as if it were bursting with laughter[Pg 79]. This raven was named Grip and was Barnaby's constant companion. The neighbors used to say it was one hundred and twenty years old (for ravens live a very long time), and some said it knew altogether too much to be only a bird. But Barnaby would hear nothing said against it, and, next to his mother, loved it better than anything in the world.
Barnaby knew that folks called him half-witted, but he cared little for that. Sometimes he would laugh at what they said.
"Why," he would say, "how much better to be silly than as wise as you! You don't see shadowy people like those that live in sleep—not you. Nor eyes in the knotted panes of glass, nor swift ghosts when it blows hard, nor do you hear voices in the air, nor see men stalking in the sky—not you. I lead a merrier life than you with all your cleverness. You're the dull men. We're the bright ones. Ha, ha! I'll not change with you, not I!"
Haredale, who had been so kind to Barnaby's mother, was a burly, stern man who had few acquaintances and lived much alone. When first he came to live at The Warren an enemy of his, Sir John Chester, had circulated suspicious rumors about him, so that some came half to believe he himself had had something to do with his brother's murder.
These whispers so affected Haredale that as time passed he grew gloomy and morose and lived in[Pg 80] seclusion, thinking only how he could solve the mystery of the murder, and loving more and more the little Emma as she grew into a beautiful girl. He neglected The Warren so that the property looked quite desolate and ruined, and at length superstitious people in the neighborhood came to mutter that it was haunted by the ghost of Rudge, the steward, whose body had been found in the pond.
The old bell-ringer of the near-by church even said he had seen this ghost once, when he went, late one night, to wind the church clock. But of course others, who knew there were no such things as ghosts, only smiled at these stories.
Sir John Chester, who so hated Haredale, was just as smooth and smiling and elegant as the other was rough. Haredale had been Sir John's drudge and scapegoat at school and the latter had always despised him. And as the years went by Sir John came to hate him.
His own son Edward had fallen in love with Emma, Haredale's niece, and she loved him in return. Sir John had been all his life utterly selfish and without conscience. He had little money and was much in debt and wanted his son to marry an heiress, so that he himself could continue his life of pleasure. Edward, however, gave his father to understand that he would never give up his love for Emma. Sir John believed that if Haredale chose, he could make his niece dislike Edward,[Pg 81] and because he did not, Sir John hated Haredale the more bitterly.
Emma had a close friend named Dolly Varden, the daughter of a locksmith. Dolly was a pretty, dimpled, roguish little flirt, as rosy and sparkling and fresh as an apple, and she had a great many lovers.
One of these was her father's apprentice, who lived in the same house. His name was Simon Tappertit—a conceited, bragging, empty-headed young man with a great opinion of his own good looks. When he looked at his thin legs, which he admired exceedingly, he could not see how it was that Dolly could help worshiping him.
Tappertit had ambitions of his own and thought himself a great man who was kept down by a tyrannical master, though the good-natured locksmith was the kindest man in London. He had formed a society of apprentices whose toast was, "Death to all masters, life to all apprentices, and love to all fair damsels!" He was their leader. He had made them all keys to fit their masters' doors, and at night, when they were supposed to be asleep in bed, they would steal out to meet in a dirty cellar owned by an old blind man, where they kept a skull and cross-bones and signed high-sounding oaths with a pen dipped in blood, and did other silly things. The object of the society was to hurt, annoy, wrong and pick quarrels with such of their masters as happened not to please them. With[Pg 82] such cheap fooleries Tappertit had convinced himself that he was fit to be a great general.
But with all his smirking, Dolly Varden only laughed at him. To tell the truth, she was very fond of young Joe Willet, whose father kept the Maypole Inn, very near The Warren where her friend Emma Haredale lived. Joe was a good, brave fellow, and was head over ears in love with Dolly, but Dolly was a coquette, and never let him know how much she cared for him. Joe was not contented at home, for his father seemed to think him a child and did not treat him according to his years, so that but for leaving Dolly Varden he would long ago have run away to seek his fortune.
Both Joe and Dolly knew how Edward Chester loved Emma Haredale, and they used sometimes to carry notes from one to the other, since the hatred of Sir John for Emma's uncle often prevented the lovers from meeting.
Sir John found this out, and bribed a hostler at the Maypole Inn to spy for him and prevent, if he could, these letters passing. The hostler was an uncouth, drunken giant that people called Maypole Hugh, as strong as an ox, and cruel and cunning. Hugh watched carefully, and from time to time would go to Sir John's house in London and report what he had seen.
Thank you for reading!
We process all of our transactions with PayPal. Please don't close this window, and wait until you are redirected...