Barnaby Rudge HTML version

Chapter 8
Clear of the locksmith's house, Sim Tappertit laid aside his cautious manner, and
assuming in its stead that of a ruffling, swaggering, roving blade, who would rather kill a
man than otherwise, and eat him too if needful, made the best of his way along the
darkened streets.
Half pausing for an instant now and then to smite his pocket and assure himself of the
safety of his master key, he hurried on to Barbican, and turning into one of the
narrowest of the narrow streets which diverged from that centre, slackened his pace
and wiped his heated brow, as if the termination of his walk were near at hand.
It was not a very choice spot for midnight expeditions, being in truth one of more than
questionable character, and of an appearance by no means inviting. From the main
street he had entered, itself little better than an alley, a low-browed doorway led into a
blind court, or yard, profoundly dark, unpaved, and reeking with stagnant odours. Into
this ill-favoured pit, the locksmith's vagrant 'prentice groped his way; and stopping at a
house from whose defaced and rotten front the rude effigy of a bottle swung to and fro
like some gibbeted malefactor, struck thrice upon an iron grating with his foot. After
listening in vain for some response to his signal, Mr Tappertit became impatient, and
struck the grating thrice again.
A further delay ensued, but it was not of long duration. The ground seemed to open at
his feet, and a ragged head appeared.
'Is that the captain?' said a voice as ragged as the head.
'Yes,' replied Mr Tappertit haughtily, descending as he spoke, 'who should it be?'
'It's so late, we gave you up,' returned the voice, as its owner stopped to shut and fasten
the grating. 'You're late, sir.'
'Lead on,' said Mr Tappertit, with a gloomy majesty, 'and make remarks when I require
you. Forward!'
This latter word of command was perhaps somewhat theatrical and unnecessary,
inasmuch as the descent was by a very narrow, steep, and slippery flight of steps, and
any rashness or departure from the beaten track must have ended in a yawning water-
butt. But Mr Tappertit being, like some other great commanders, favourable to strong
effects, and personal display, cried 'Forward!' again, in the hoarsest voice he could
assume; and led the way, with folded arms and knitted brows, to the cellar down below,
where there was a small copper fixed in one corner, a chair or two, a form and table, a
glimmering fire, and a truckle-bed, covered with a ragged patchwork rug.