Just who is Octavius Guy?
Simple answer: he’s a minor character from Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone. I shall let Mr Murthwaite elaborate since he manages to do it without spoilers:
‘Colonel Palgrave! Octavius! Calm yourselves, both of you!’ Mr Murthwaite reprimanded us sternly. ‘Colonel, I’ll have you know that if it were not for this lad here, the little matter of the Moonstone might never have been resolved!’
Colonel Palgrave frowned. ‘The Moonstone, sir?’
‘Before he was elected to Parliament, the MP Mr Franklin Blake was embroiled in a mystery that nearly brought him to the very brink of madness—the theft of a rare and precious jewel. By a concerted effort, he and his friends managed to trace the gem’s location to a certain bank, and yet had this boy not been present on the day the thief redeemed it—well, I dread to imagine the outcome! It is through his efforts and his efforts alone that the perpetrator was ever unmasked. Do not be misled by his age, sir; there is no sharper-eyed, quicker-witted youth in all of England than the lad you see before you in this room.’
—From my novel Oh, No, Octavius: Octavius Guy & the Case of the Quibbling Cleric
Sergeant Cuff would agree with him. As he says of Octavius in The Moonstone, ‘One of these days that boy will do great things in my late profession. He is the brightest and cleverest little chap I have met with for many a long year past.’
And yet surprisingly few readers (even fans) of Collins’s book manage to recall young Octavius. I’m not sure why. It’s not as if he isn’t instantly recognizable; the nickname his employer’s clerks have bestowed on him is Gooseberry—on account of his bulging eyes. Yes, Collins gave him exophthalmos, potentially caused by an overactive thyroid. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to suggest that he does so in order for the boy to see more—most especially who the culprit was at the bank. Considering he’s little more than a street urchin, he also gave him a rather grandiose name…and a nickname that ranks as one of the most memorable in literature. All of which is a bit of a puzzle, given that Gooseberry is such a slight character.
He doesn’t feature as one of Collins’s many narrators. Indeed, if you run all of his speeches together, you’ll find that he contributes a mere 121 spoken words to the whole of that tome. Here is a passage from the climax that contains 26 of them. It is Mr Bruff, the lawyer (and Gooseberry’s employer), who is currently narrating:
I felt another pull at my coat-tails. Gooseberry had not done with me yet.
‘Robbery!’ whispered the boy, pointing, in high delight, to the empty box.
‘You were told to wait down-stairs,’ I said. ‘Go away!’
‘And Murder!’ added Gooseberry, pointing, with a keener relish still, to the man on the bed.
There was something so hideous in the boy’s enjoyment of the horror of the scene, that I took him by the two shoulders and put him out of the room.
At the moment when I crossed the threshold of the door, I heard Sergeant Cuff’s voice, asking where I was. He met me, as I returned into the room, and forced me to go back with him to the bedside.
‘Mr. Blake!’ he said. ‘Look at the man’s face. It is a face disguised—and here’s a proof of it!’
He traced with his finger a thin line of livid white, running backward from the dead man’s forehead, between the swarthy complexion, and the slightly-disturbed black hair. ‘Let’s see what is under this,’ said the Sergeant, suddenly seizing the black hair, with a firm grip of his hand.
My nerves were not strong enough to bear it. I turned away again from the bed.
The first sight that met my eyes, at the other end of the room, was the irrepressible Gooseberry, perched on a chair, and looking with breathless interest, over the heads of his elders, at the Sergeant’s proceedings.
‘He’s pulling off his wig!’ whispered Gooseberry, compassionating my position, as the only person in the room who could see nothing.
There was a pause—and then a cry of astonishment among the people round the bed.
‘He’s pulled off his beard!’ cried Gooseberry.
There was another pause—Sergeant Cuff asked for something. The landlord went to the wash-hand-stand, and returned to the bed with a basin of water and a towel.
Gooseberry danced with excitement on the chair. ‘Come up here, along with me, sir! He's washing off his complexion now!’
—From The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
A hundred and fifty years (or so) on from its original publication, The Moonstone still brims with warmth and humour and wonderful characters—despite the somewhat archaic language and punctuation. I just hope that Wilkie Collins would approve of what I’ve done with them. Since he was a bit of a rebel himself, I suspect that he might.