Barnaby Rudge HTML version

Chapter 18
Gliding along the silent streets, and holding his course where they were darkest and
most gloomy, the man who had left the widow's house crossed London Bridge, and
arriving in the City, plunged into the backways, lanes, and courts, between Cornhill and
Smithfield; with no more fixedness of purpose than to lose himself among their
windings, and baffle pursuit, if any one were dogging his steps.
It was the dead time of the night, and all was quiet. Now and then a drowsy watchman's
footsteps sounded on the pavement, or the lamplighter on his rounds went flashing
past, leaving behind a little track of smoke mingled with glowing morsels of his hot red
link. He hid himself even from these partakers of his lonely walk, and, shrinking in some
arch or doorway while they passed, issued forth again when they were gone and so
pursued his solitary way.
To be shelterless and alone in the open country, hearing the wind moan and watching
for day through the whole long weary night; to listen to the falling rain, and crouch for
warmth beneath the lee of some old barn or rick, or in the hollow of a tree; are dismal
things--but not so dismal as the wandering up and down where shelter is, and beds and
sleepers are by thousands; a houseless rejected creature. To pace the echoing stones
from hour to hour, counting the dull chimes of the clocks; to watch the lights twinkling in
chamber windows, to think what happy forgetfulness each house shuts in; that here are
children coiled together in their beds, here youth, here age, here poverty, here wealth,
all equal in their sleep, and all at rest; to have nothing in common with the slumbering
world around, not even sleep, Heaven's gift to all its creatures, and be akin to nothing
but despair; to feel, by the wretched contrast with everything on every hand, more
utterly alone and cast away than in a trackless desert; this is a kind of suffering, on
which the rivers of great cities close full many a time, and which the solitude in crowds
alone awakens.
The miserable man paced up and down the streets--so long, so wearisome, so like each
other--and often cast a wistful look towards the east, hoping to see the first faint streaks
of day. But obdurate night had yet possession of the sky, and his disturbed and restless
walk found no relief.
One house in a back street was bright with the cheerful glare of lights; there was the
sound of music in it too, and the tread of dancers, and there were cheerful voices, and
many a burst of laughter. To this place--to be near something that was awake and glad-
-he returned again and again; and more than one of those who left it when the
merriment was at its height, felt it a check upon their mirthful mood to see him flitting to
and fro like an uneasy ghost. At last the guests departed, one and all; and then the
house was close shut up, and became as dull and silent as the rest.