On the Track — Page 119
Felix O. C. Darley
9.1 x 8.5 cm vignetted
Frontispiece for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, volume 4, in the Hurd and Houghton (NewYork) Household Edition.
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham from his personal collection.
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"By George and the Draggin!" cried Riderhood, "if he ain't a going to bathe!"
"He had passed back, on and among the trunks of trees again, and has passed on to the water-side and had begun undressing on the grass. For a moment it had a suspicious look of suicide, arranged to counterfeit accident. "But you wouldn't have fetched a bundle under your arm, from among that timber, if such was your game!" said Riderhood. Nevertheless it was a relief to him when the bather after a plunge and a few strokes came out. "For I shouldn't," he said in a feeling manner, "have liked to lose you till I had made more money out of you neither."
Prone in another ditch (he had changed his ditch as his man had changed his position), and holding apart so small a patch of the hedge that the sharpest eyes could not have detected him, Rogue Riderhood watched the bather dressing. And now gradually came the wonder that he stood up, completely clothed, another man, and not the Bargeman.
"Aha!" said Riderhood. "Much as you was dressed that night. I see. You're a taking me with you, now. You're deep. But I knows a deeper."
When the bather had finished dressing, he kneeled on the grass, doing something with his hands, and again stood up with his bundle under his arm. Looking all around him with great attention, he then went to the river's edge, and flung it in as far, and yet as lightly as he could. It was not until he was so decidedly upon his way again as to be beyond a bend of the river and for the time out of view, that Riderhood scrambled from the ditch.
"Now," was his debate with himself, "shall I foller you on, or shall I let you loose for this once, and go a fishing?" The debate continuing, he followed, as a precautionary measure in any case, and got him again in sight. "If I was to let you loose this once," said Riderhood then, still following, "I could make you come to me agin, or I could find you out in one way or another. If I wasn't to go a fishing, others might. — I'll let you loose this once, and go a fishing!" With that, he suddenly dropped the pursuit and turned. — Vol. 4, Book Four, Ch. 7, "Better to be Cain than Abel," p. 118-119.
Commentary: Bradley Headstone and Rogue Riderhood
Early reviewers noted the neurotic nature of the schoolmaster, and that he is what we today would call a "stalker," shadowing both Lizzie Hexam and Eugene Wrayburn; here, the stalker becomes the prey as Rogue Riderhood (now lock-keeper at Plashwater Weir Lock) determines to get to the bottom of Bradley Headstone's odd behaviour. Riderhood in his new situation has had ample opportunity to observe the comings and goings of the young lawyer ("T' other governor") on his frequent visits to Lizzie, who works at the paper-mill, and "The Governor," their stalker. School holidays have given Headstone the freedom to observe the pair, for which activity he has adopted the expedient of wearing clothing exactly like Riderhood's. Although all of these characters are what one contemporary reviewer termed "mere supernumeraries in the drama" (cited in Grass, 244), readers of the final numbers were apparently fascinated by how Dickens utilised the surveillance of the lock-keeper as a means of coherently developing the love-triangle that is likely to lead to murder.
In the frontispiece for the fourth and final "Household Edition" volume of 1866, the illustrator sets up a proleptic reading of Riderhood's following the activities of the jealous schoolmaster in what was originally Part 17 (September 1865 in Great Britain, October 1865 in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in America). Merely studying the illustration, the reader cannot determine who is following whom by the river, but the identities of both men must have been fully apparent as the reader approached Book Four, Chapter 7, when, after a brutal assault on Wrayburn, his perceived rival, Headstone returns to the lock in order to implicate Riderhood himself. As the pair share a meal, Headstone accidentally cuts himself, spattering blood on Riderhood's clothes. Suspicious, the lock-master follows Headstone, and sees him changing back into his schoolmaster's clothes before throwing a bundle (the bloody disguise) into the river. Subsequent to the moment illustrated, Rogue immediately comes out of hiding once Headstone has left, and fishes the bundle out of the river. At the close of the episode the reader is left wondering whether Wrayburn will die as a result of the attack, and whether Riderhood will use the evidence to blackmail Headstone or whether he will turn it over to the police with an account of the schoolmaster's recent activities upriver. In the American serial, two parts yet remained for Dickens to resolve these plot complications by having Headstone and Riderhood kill one another in a sensational climax at the Plashwater Weir. The natural backdrop, one of Darley's strengths throughout his frontispieces, is almost tropical here, suggesting that this is not the Wordsworthian, mellow nature of the Betty Higdin frontispiece, but a Darwinian jungle whose only ethic is survival by strength and stealth. Since Dickens develops the narrative here from Riderhood's perspective, as the reader overhears Riderhood processing aloud what he is observing, Darley has appropriately placed the observer nearest the reader since Riderhood is a surrogate for the reader as the observer and overhearer of all the characters in the story. The juxtaposition of the two unknown men at the very beginning of the fourth volume sets up a series of questions and anticipations in the reader's mind that only a subsequent reading of the next hundred-odd pages can resolve.
Early illustrators such as Marcus Stone and Sol Eytinge, Junior, introduced readers to the "thoroughly decent young man of six-and-twenty" (vol. 2, p. 12), Bradley Headstone, in professional garb: "decent black coat and waistcoat, and decent white shirt, and decent formal black tie, and decent pantaloons of pepper and salt" (Book Two, Chapter 1, "Of an Educational Character"), but also attempted to communicate something of his disturbed, volatile personality in his proud, moody, and sullen expression. By introducing Headstone as a small figure in the distance here, Darley has had to forego the opportunity to provide visual cues to Headstone's disturbed psyche, so effectively realised in Stone's September 1865 (in America, October 1865) wood-engraving, Better to be Cain than Abel in which the self-styled murderer of Eugene Wrayburn begins to unravel. The only clue that Darley provides to the identity of the stalker in the foreground is the fur hat which he grips in his left hand, almost a signature for this character seen in the original Stone illustration The Bird of Prey brought down (Chapter 14), although this feature is not seen in such later illustrations of the rascal as Kyd's Player's Cigarette Card Number 33, Rogue Riderhood (1910).
Bradley Headstone in the original and later editions, 1865-1875
Left: Marcus Stone's September 1865 serial illustration of Bradley Headstone in the throes of dementia, Better to be Cain than Abel. Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the highly strung schoolmaster and his disciple, Bradley Headstone and Charley Hexam (1867). Right: James Mahoney's Household Edition illustration of the lawyers and the schoolmaster, They almost ran against Bradley Headstone (1875). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Marcus Stone's winding up of the Headstone-Riderhood subplot at Plashwater Mill Weir, Not to be Shaken off (Part 19, November 1865). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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F. O. C.
Last modified 14 November 2015