Barnaby Rudge HTML version

Chapter 10
It was on one of those mornings, common in early spring, when the year, fickle and
changeable in its youth like all other created things, is undecided whether to step
backward into winter or forward into summer, and in its uncertainty inclines now to the
one and now to the other, and now to both at once--wooing summer in the sunshine,
and lingering still with winter in the shade--it was, in short, on one of those mornings,
when it is hot and cold, wet and dry, bright and lowering, sad and cheerful, withering
and genial, in the compass of one short hour, that old John Willet, who was dropping
asleep over the copper boiler, was roused by the sound of a horse's feet, and glancing
out at window, beheld a traveller of goodly promise, checking his bridle at the Maypole
He was none of your flippant young fellows, who would call for a tankard of mulled ale,
and make themselves as much at home as if they had ordered a hogshead of wine;
none of your audacious young swaggerers, who would even penetrate into the bar--that
solemn sanctuary--and, smiting old John upon the back, inquire if there was never a
pretty girl in the house, and where he hid his little chambermaids, with a hundred other
impertinences of that nature; none of your free-and-easy companions, who would
scrape their boots upon the firedogs in the common room, and be not at all particular on
the subject of spittoons; none of your unconscionable blades, requiring impossible
chops, and taking unheard-of pickles for granted. He was a staid, grave, placid
gentleman, something past the prime of life, yet upright in his carriage, for all that, and
slim as a greyhound. He was well-mounted upon a sturdy chestnut cob, and had the
graceful seat of an experienced horseman; while his riding gear, though free from such
fopperies as were then in vogue, was handsome and well chosen. He wore a riding-coat
of a somewhat brighter green than might have been expected to suit the taste of a
gentleman of his years, with a short, black velvet cape, and laced pocket-holes and
cuffs, all of a jaunty fashion; his linen, too, was of the finest kind, worked in a rich
pattern at the wrists and throat, and scrupulously white. Although he seemed, judging
from the mud he had picked up on the way, to have come from London, his horse was
as smooth and cool as his own iron-grey periwig and pigtail. Neither man nor beast had
turned a single hair; and saving for his soiled skirts and spatter-dashes, this gentleman,
with his blooming face, white teeth, exactly-ordered dress, and perfect calmness, might
have come from making an elaborate and leisurely toilet, to sit for an equestrian portrait
at old John Willet's gate.
It must not be supposed that John observed these several characteristics by other than
very slow degrees, or that he took in more than half a one at a time, or that he even
made up his mind upon that, without a great deal of very serious consideration. Indeed,
if he had been distracted in the first instance by questionings and orders, it would have
taken him at the least a fortnight to have noted what is here set down; but it happened
that the gentleman, being struck with the old house, or with the plump pigeons which
were skimming and curtseying about it, or with the tall maypole, on the top of which a
weathercock, which had been out of order for fifteen years, performed a perpetual walk