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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 33)


These precautions having been taken, Mr. Giles held on fast bythe tinker's arm (to prevent his running away, as he pleasantlysaid), and gave the word of command to open the door. Brittlesobeyed; the group, peeping timourously over each other'sshoulders, beheld no more formidable object than poor littleOliver Twist, speechless and exhausted, who raised his heavyeyes, and mutely solicited their compassion.

'A boy!' exclaimed Mr. Giles, valiantly, pushing the tinker intothe background. 'What's the matter withthe--eh?--Why--Brittles--look here--don't you know?'

Brittles, who had got behind the door to open it, no sooner sawOliver, than he uttered a loud cry. Mr. Giles, seizing the boyby one leg and one arm (fortunately not the broken limb) luggedhim straight into the hall, and deposited him at full length onthe floor thereof.

'Here he is!' bawled Giles, calling in a state of greatexcitement, up the staircase; 'here's one of the thieves, ma'am! Here's a thief, miss! Wounded, miss! I shot him, miss; andBrittles held the light.'

'--In a lantern, miss,' cried Brittles, applying one hand to theside of his mouth, so that his voice might travel the better.

The two women-servants ran upstairs to carry the intelligencethat Mr. Giles had captured a robber; and the tinker busiedhimself in endeavouring to restore Oliver, lest he should diebefore he could be hanged. In the midst of all this noise andcommotion, there was heard a sweet female voice, which quelled itin an instant.

'Giles!' whispered the voice from the stair-head.

'I'm here, miss,' replied Mr. Giles. 'Don't be frightened, miss;I ain't much injured. He didn't make a very desperateresistance, miss! I was soon too many for him.'

'Hush!' replied the young lady; 'you frighten my aunt as much asthe thieves did. Is the poor creature much hurt?'

'Wounded desperate, miss,' replied Giles, with indescribablecomplacency.

'He looks as if he was a-going, miss,' bawled Brittles, in thesame manner as before. 'Wouldn't you like to come and look athim, miss, in case he should?'

'Hush, pray; there's a good man!' rejoined the lady. 'Waitquietly only one instant, while I speak to aunt.'

With a footstep as soft and gentle as the voice, the speakertripped away. She soon returned, with the direction that thewounded person was to be carried, carefully, upstairs to Mr.Giles's room; and that Brittles was to saddle the pony and betakehimself instantly to Chertsey: from which place, he was todespatch, with all speed, a constable and doctor.

'But won't you take one look at him, first, miss?' asked Mr.Giles, with as much pride as if Oliver were some bird of rareplumage, that he had skilfully brought down. 'Not one littlepeep, miss?'

'Not now, for the world,' replied the young lady. 'Poor fellow! Oh! treat him kindly, Giles for my sake!'

The old servant looked up at the speaker, as she turned away,with a glance as proud and admiring as if she had been his ownchild. Then, bending over Oliver, he helped to carry himupstairs, with the care and solicitude of a woman.

CHAPTER XXIX

HAS AN INTRODUCTORY ACCOUNT OF THE INMATES OF THE HOUSE, TO WHICHOLIVER RESORTED

In a handsome room: though its furniture had rather the air ofold-fashioned comfort, than of modern elegance: there sat twoladies at a well-spread breakfast-table. Mr. Giles, dressed withscrupulous care in a full suit of black, was in attendance uponthem. He had taken his station some half-way between theside-board and the breakfast-table; and, with his body drawn upto its full height, his head thrown back, and inclined the meresttrifle on one side, his left leg advanced, and his right handthrust into his waist-coat, while his left hung down by his side,grasping a waiter, looked like one who laboured under a veryagreeable sense of his own merits and importance.

Of the two ladies, one was well advanced in years; but thehigh-backed oaken chair in which she sat, was not more uprightthan she. Dressed with the utmost nicety and precision, in aquaint mixture of by-gone costume, with some slight concessionsto the prevailing taste, which rather served to point the oldstyle pleasantly than to impair its effect, she sat, in a statelymanner, with her hands folded on the table before her. Her eyes(and age had dimmed but little of their brightness) wereattentively upon her young companion.

The younger lady was in the lovely bloom and spring-time ofwomanhood; at that age, when, if ever angels be for God's goodpurposes enthroned in mortal forms, they may be, without impiety,supposed to abide in such as hers.

She was not past seventeen. Cast in so slight and exquisite a mould; so mild and gentle; so pure and beautiful; that earthseemed not her element, nor its rough creatures her fitcompanions. The very intelligence that shone in her deep blueeye, and was stamped upon her noble head, seemed scarcely of herage, or of the world; and yet the changing expression ofsweetness and good humour, the thousand lights that played aboutthe face, and left no shadow there; above all, the smile, thecheerful, happy smile, were made for Home, and fireside peace andhappiness.

She was busily engaged in the little offices of the table.Chancing to raise her eyes as the elder lady was regarding her,she playfully put back her hair, which was simply braided on herforehead; and threw into her beaming look, such an expression ofaffection and artless loveliness, that blessed spirits might havesmiled to look upon her.

'And Brittles has been gone upwards of an hour, has he?' askedthe old lady, after a pause.

'An hour and twelve minutes, ma'am,' replied Mr. Giles, referringto a silver watch, which he drew forth by a black ribbon.

'He is always slow,' remarked the old lady.

'Brittles always was a slow boy, ma'am,' replied the attendant. And seeing, by the bye, that Brittles had been a slow boy forupwards of thirty years, there appeared no great probability ofhis ever being a fast one.

'He gets worse instead of better, I think,' said the elder lady.

'It is very inexcusable in him if he stops to play with any otherboys,' said the young lady, smiling.

Mr. Giles was apparently considering the propriety of indulgingin a respectful smile himself, when a gig drove up to thegarden-gate: out of which there jumped a fat gentleman, who ranstraight up to the door: and who, getting quickly into the houseby some mysterious process, burst into the room, and nearlyoverturned Mr. Giles and the breakfast-table together.

'I never heard of such a thing!' exclaimed the fat gentleman. 'Mydear Mrs. Maylie--bless my soul--in the silence of the night,too--I NEVER heard of such a thing!'

With these expressions of condolence, the fat gentleman shookhands with both ladies, and drawing up a chair, inquired how theyfound themselves.

'You ought to be dead; positively dead with the fright,' said thefat gentleman. 'Why didn't you send? Bless me, my man shouldhave come in a minute; and so would I; and my assistant wouldhave been delighted; or anybody, I'm sure, under suchcircumstances. Dear, dear! So unexpected! In the silence ofthe night, too!'

The doctor seemed expecially troubled by the fact of the robberyhaving been unexpected, and attempted in the night-time; as if itwere the established custom of gentlemen in the housebreaking wayto transact business at noon, and to make an appointment, bypost, a day or two previous.

'And you, Miss Rose,' said the doctor, turning to the young lady,'I--'

'Oh! very much so, indeed,' said Rose, interrupting him; 'butthere is a poor creature upstairs, whom aunt wishes you to see.'

'Ah! to be sure,' replied the doctor, 'so there is. That wasyour handiwork, Giles, I understand.'

Mr. Giles, who had been feverishly putting the tea-cups torights, blushed very red, and said that he had had that honour.

'Honour, eh?' said the doctor; 'well, I don't know; perhaps it'sas honourable to hit a thief in a back kitchen, as to hit yourman at twelve paces. Fancy that he fired in the air, and you'vefought a duel, Giles.'

Mr. Giles, who thought this light treatment of the matter anunjust attempt at diminishing his glory, answered respectfully,that it was not for the like of him to judge about that; but herather thought it was no joke to the opposite party.

'Gad, that's true!' said the doctor. 'Where is he? Show me theway. I'll look in again, as I come down, Mrs. Maylie. That'sthe little window that he got in at, eh? Well, I couldn't havebelieved it!'

Talking all the way, he followed Mr. Giles upstairs; and while heis going upstairs, the reader may be informed, that Mr. Losberne,a surgeon in the neighbourhood, known through a circuit of tenmiles round as 'the doctor,' had grown fat, more from good-humourthan from good living: and was as kind and hearty, and withal aseccentric an old bachelor, as will be found in five times thatspace, by any explorer alive.

The doctor was absent, much longer than either he or the ladieshad anticipated. A large flat box was fetched out of the gig;and a bedroom bell was rung very often; and the servants ran upand down stairs perpetually; from which tokens it was justlyconcluded that something important was going on above. At lengthhe returned; and in reply to an anxious inquiry after hispatient; looked very mysterious, and closed the door, carefully.

'This is a very extraordinary thing, Mrs. Maylie,' said thedoctor, standing with his back to the door, as if to keep itshut.

'He is not in danger, I hope?' said the old lady.

'Why, that would NOT be an extraordinary thing, under thecircumstances,' replied the doctor; 'though I don't think he is. Have you seen the thief?'

'No,' rejoined the old lady.

'Nor heard anything about him?'

'No.'

'I beg your pardon, ma'am, interposed Mr. Giles; 'but I was goingto tell you about him when Doctor Losberne came in.'

The fact was, that Mr. Giles had not, at first, been able tobring his mind to the avowal, that he had only shot a boy. Suchcommendations had been bestowed upon his bravery, that he couldnot, for the life of him, help postponing the explanation for afew delicious minutes; during which he had flourished, in thevery zenith of a brief reputation for undaunted courage.

'Rose wished to see the man,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'but I wouldn'thear of it.'

'Humph!' rejoined the doctor. 'There is nothing very alarming inhis appearance. Have you any objection to see him in mypresence?'

'If it be necessary,' replied the old lady, 'certainly not.'

'Then I think it is necessary,' said the doctor; 'at all events,I am quite sure that you would deeply regret not having done so,if you postponed it. He is perfectly quiet and comfortable now. Allow me--Miss Rose, will you permit me? Not the slightest fear,I pledge you my honour!'

CHAPTER XXX

RELATES WHAT OLIVER'S NEW VISITORS THOUGHT OF HIM

With many loquacious assurances that they would be agreeablysurprised in the aspect of the criminal, the doctor drew theyoung lady's arm through one of him; and offering his disengagedhand to Mrs. Maylie, led them, with much ceremony andstateliness, upstairs.

'Now,' said the doctor, in a whisper, as he softly turned thehandle of a bedroom-door, 'let us hear what you think of him. Hehas not been shaved very recently, but he don't look at allferocious notwithstanding. Stop, though! Let me first see thathe is in visiting order.'

Stepping before them, he looked into the room. Motioning them toadvance, he closed the door when they had entered; and gentlydrew back the curtains of the bed. Upon it, in lieu of thedogged, black-visaged ruffian they had expected to behold, therelay a mere child: worn with pain and exhaustion, and sunk into adeep sleep. His wounded arm, bound and splintered up, wascrossed upon his breast; his head reclined upon the other arm,which was half hidden by his long hair, as it streamed over thepillow.

The honest gentleman held the curtain in his hand, and looked on,for a minute or so, in silence. Whilst he was watching thepatient thus, the younger lady glided softly past, and seatingherself in a chair by the bedside, gathered Oliver's hair fromhis face. As she stooped over him, her tears fell upon hisforehead.

The boy stirred, and smiled in his sleep, as though these marksof pity and compassion had awakened some pleasant dream of a loveand affection he had never known. Thus, a strain of gentlemusic, or the rippling of water in a silent place, or the odourof a flower, or the mention of a familiar word, will sometimescall up sudden dim remembrances of scenes that never were, inthis life; which vanish like a breath; which some brief memory ofa happier existence, long gone by, would seem to have awakened;which no voluntary exertion of the mind can ever recall.

'What can this mean?' exclaimed the elder lady. 'This poor childcan never have been the pupil of robbers!'

'Vice,' said the surgeon, replacing the curtain, 'takes up herabode in many temples; and who can say that a fair outside shellnot enshrine her?'

'But at so early an age!' urged Rose.

'My dear young lady,' rejoined the surgeon, mournfully shakinghis head; 'crime, like death, is not confined to the old andwithered alone. The youngest and fairest are too often itschosen victims.'

'But, can you--oh! can you really believe that this delicate boyhas been the voluntary associate of the worst outcasts ofsociety?' said Rose.

The surgeon shook his head, in a manner which intimated that hefeared it was very possible; and observing that they mightdisturb the patient, led the way into an adjoining apartment.

'But even if he has been wicked,' pursued Rose, 'think how younghe is; think that he may never have known a mother's love, or thecomfort of a home; that ill-usage and blows, or the want ofbread, may have driven him to herd with men who have forced himto guilt. Aunt, dear aunt, for mercy's sake, think of this,before you let them drag this sick child to a prison, which inany case must be the grave of all his chances of amendment. Oh!as you love me, and know that I have never felt the want ofparents in your goodness and affection, but that I might havedone so, and might have been equally helpless and unprotectedwith this poor child, have pity upon him before it is too late!'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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