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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 34)


'My dear love,' said the elder lady, as she folded the weepinggirl to her bosom, 'do you think I would harm a hair of hishead?'

'Oh, no!' replied Rose, eagerly.

'No, surely,' said the old lady; 'my days are drawing to theirclose: and may mercy be shown to me as I show it to others! What can I do to save him, sir?'

'Let me think, ma'am,' said the doctor; 'let me think.'

Mr. Losberne thrust his hands into his pockets, and took severalturns up and down the room; often stopping, and balancing himselfon his toes, and frowning frightfully. After variousexclamations of 'I've got it now' and 'no, I haven't,' and asmany renewals of the walking and frowning, he at length made adead halt, and spoke as follows:

'I think if you give me a full and unlimited commission to bullyGiles, and that little boy, Brittles, I can manage it. Giles isa faithful fellow and an old servant, I know; but you can make itup to him in a thousand ways, and reward him for being such agood shot besides. You don't object to that?'

'Unless there is some other way of preserving the child,' repliedMrs. Maylie.

'There is no other,' said the doctor. 'No other, take my wordfor it.'

'Then my aunt invests you with full power,' said Rose, smilingthrough her tears; 'but pray don't be harder upon the poorfellows than is indispensably necessary.'

'You seem to think,' retorted the doctor, 'that everybody isdisposed to be hard-hearted to-day, except yourself, Miss Rose. I only hope, for the sake of the rising male sex generally, thatyou may be found in as vulnerable and soft-hearted a mood by thefirst eligible young fellow who appeals to your compassion; and Iwish I were a young fellow, that I might avail myself, on thespot, of such a favourable opportunity for doing so, as thepresent.'

'You are as great a boy as poor Brittles himself,' returned Rose,blushing.

'Well,' said the doctor, laughing heartily, 'that is no verydifficult matter. But to return to this boy. The great point ofour agreement is yet to come. He will wake in an hour or so, Idare say; and although I have told that thick-headedconstable-fellow downstairs that he musn't be moved or spoken to,on peril of his life, I think we may converse with him withoutdanger. Now I make this stipulation--that I shall examine him inyour presence, and that, if, from what he says, we judge, and Ican show to the satisfaction of your cool reason, that he is areal and thorough bad one (which is more than possible), he shallbe left to his fate, without any farther interference on my part,at all events.'

'Oh no, aunt!' entreated Rose.

'Oh yes, aunt!' said the doctor. 'Is is a bargain?;

'He cannot be hardened in vice,' said Rose; 'It is impossible.'

'Very good,' retorted the doctor; 'then so much the more reasonfor acceding to my proposition.'

Finally the treaty was entered into; and the parties thereuntosat down to wait, with some impatience, until Oliver shouldawake.

The patience of the two ladies was destined to undergo a longertrial than Mr. Losberne had led them to expect; for hour afterhour passed on, and still Oliver slumbered heavily. It wasevening, indeed, before the kind-hearted doctor brought them theintelligence, that he was at length sufficiently restored to bespoken to. The boy was very ill, he said, and weak from the lossof blood; but his mind was so troubled with anxiety to disclosesomething, that he deemed it better to give him the opportunity,than to insist upon his remaining quiet until next morning: which he should otherwise have done.

The conference was a long one. Oliver told them all his simplehistory, and was often compelled to stop, by pain and want ofstrength. It was a solemn thing, to hear, in the darkened room,the feeble voice of the sick child recounting a weary catalogueof evils and calamities which hard men had brought upon him. Oh!if when we oppress and grind our fellow-creatures, we bestowedbut one thought on the dark evidences of human error, which, likedense and heavy clouds, are rising, slowly it is true, but notless surely, to Heaven, to pour their after-vengeance on ourheads; if we heard but one instant, in imagination, the deeptestimony of dead men's voices, which no power can stifle, and nopride shut out; where would be the injury and injustice, thesuffering, misery, cruelty, and wrong, that each day's lifebrings with it!

Oliver's pillow was smoothed by gentle hands that night; andloveliness and virtue watched him as he slept. He felt calm andhappy, and could have died without a murmur.

The momentous interview was no sooner concluded, and Olivercomposed to rest again, than the doctor, after wiping his eyes,and condemning them for being weak all at once, betook himselfdownstairs to open upon Mr. Giles. And finding nobody about theparlours, it occurred to him, that he could perhaps originate theproceedings with better effect in the kitchen; so into thekitchen he went.

There were assembled, in that lower house of the domesticparliament, the women-servants, Mr. Brittles, Mr. Giles, thetinker (who had received a special invitation to regale himselffor the remainder of the day, in consideration of his services),and the constable. The latter gentleman had a large staff, alarge head, large features, and large half-boots; and he lookedas if he had been taking a proportionate allowance of ale--asindeed he had.

The adventures of the previous night were still under discussion;for Mr. Giles was expatiating upon his presence of mind, when thedoctor entered; Mr. Brittles, with a mug of ale in his hand, wascorroborating everything, before his superior said it.

'Sit still!' said the doctor, waving his hand.

'Thank you, sir, said Mr. Giles. 'Misses wished some ale to begiven out, sir; and as I felt no ways inclined for my own littleroom, sir, and was disposed for company, I am taking mine among'em here.'

Brittles headed a low murmur, by which the ladies and gentlemengenerally were understood to express the gratification theyderived from Mr. Giles's condescension. Mr. Giles looked roundwith a patronising air, as much as to say that so long as theybehaved properly, he would never desert them.

'How is the patient to-night, sir?' asked Giles.

'So-so'; returned the doctor. 'I am afraid you have got yourselfinto a scrape there, Mr. Giles.'

'I hope you don't mean to say, sir,' said Mr. Giles, trembling,'that he's going to die. If I thought it, I should never behappy again. I wouldn't cut a boy off: no, not even Brittleshere; not for all the plate in the county, sir.'

'That's not the point,' said the doctor, mysteriously. 'Mr.Giles, are you a Protestant?'

'Yes, sir, I hope so,' faltered Mr. Giles, who had turned verypale.

'And what are YOU, boy?' said the doctor, turning sharply uponBrittles.

'Lord bless me, sir!' replied Brittles, starting violently; 'I'mthe same as Mr. Giles, sir.'

'Then tell me this,' said the doctor, 'both of you, both of you! Are you going to take upon yourselves to swear, that that boyupstairs is the boy that was put through the little window lastnight? Out with it! Come! We are prepared for you!'

The doctor, who was universally considered one of thebest-tempered creatures on earth, made this demand in such adreadful tone of anger, that Giles and Brittles, who wereconsiderably muddled by ale and excitement, stared at each otherin a state of stupefaction.

'Pay attention to the reply, constable, will you?' said thedoctor, shaking his forefinger with great solemnity of manner,and tapping the bridge of his nose with it, to bespeak theexercise of that worthy's utmost acuteness. 'Something may comeof this before long.'

The constable looked as wise as he could, and took up his staffof office: which had been recling indolently in thechimney-corner.

'It's a simple question of identity, you will observe,' said thedoctor.

'That's what it is, sir,' replied the constable, coughing withgreat violence; for he had finished his ale in a hurry, and someof it had gone the wrong way.

'Here's the house broken into,' said the doctor, 'and a couple ofmen catch one moment's glimpse of a boy, in the midst ofgunpowder smoke, and in all the distraction of alarm anddarkness. Here's a boy comes to that very same house, nextmorning, and because he happens to have his arm tied up, thesemen lay violent hands upon him--by doing which, they place hislife in great danger--and swear he is the thief. Now, thequestion is, whether these men are justified by the fact; if not,in what situation do they place themselves?'

The constable nodded profoundly. He said, if that wasn't law, hewould be glad to know what was.

'I ask you again,' thundered the doctor, 'are you, on your solemnoaths, able to identify that boy?'

Brittles looked doubtfully at Mr. Giles; Mr. Giles lookeddoubtfully at Brittles; the constable put his hand behind hisear, to catch the reply; the two women and the tinker leanedforward to listen; the doctor glanced keenly round; when a ringwas heard at the gate, and at the same moment, the sound ofwheels.

'It's the runners!' cried Brittles, to all appearance muchrelieved.

'The what?' exclaimed the doctor, aghast in his turn.

'The Bow Street officers, sir,' replied Brittles, taking up acandle; 'me and Mr. Giles sent for 'em this morning.'

'What?' cried the doctor.

'Yes,' replied Brittles; 'I sent a message up by the coachman,and I only wonder they weren't here before, sir.'

'You did, did you? Then confound your--slow coaches down here;that's all,' said the doctor, walking away.

CHAPTER XXXI

INVOLVES A CRITICAL POSITION

'Who's that?' inquired Brittles, opening the door a little way,with the chain up, and peeping out, shading the candle with hishand.

'Open the door,' replied a man outside; 'it's the officers fromBow Street, as was sent to to-day.'

Much comforted by this assurance, Brittles opened the door to itsfull width, and confronted a portly man in a great-coat; whowalked in, without saying anything more, and wiped his shoes onthe mat, as coolly as if he lived there.

'Just send somebody out to relieve my mate, will you, young man?'said the officer; 'he's in the gig, a-minding the prad. Have yougot a coach 'us here, that you could put it up in, for five orten minutes?'

Brittles replying in the affirmative, and pointing out thebuilding, the portly man stepped back to the garden-gate, andhelped his companion to put up the gig: while Brittles lightedthem, in a state of great admiration. This done, they returnedto the house, and, being shown into a parlour, took off theirgreat-coats and hats, and showed like what they were.

The man who had knocked at the door, was a stout personage ofmiddle height, aged about fifty: with shiny black hair, croppedpretty close; half-whiskers, a round face, and sharp eyes. Theother was a red-headed, bony man, in top-boots; with a ratherill-favoured countenance, and a turned-up sinister-looking nose.

'Tell your governor that Blathers and Duff is here, will you?'said the stouter man, smoothing down his hair, and laying a pairof handcuffs on the table. 'Oh! Good-evening, master. Can Ihave a word or two with you in private, if you please?'

This was addressed to Mr. Losberne, who now made his appearance;that gentleman, motioning Brittles to retire, brought in the twoladies, and shut the door.

'This is the lady of the house,' said Mr. Losberne, motioningtowards Mrs. Maylie.

Mr. Blathers made a bow. Being desired to sit down, he put hishat on the floor, and taking a chair, motioned to Duff to do thesame. The latter gentleman, who did not appear quite so muchaccustomed to good society, or quite so much at his ease init--one of the two--seated himself, after undergoing severalmuscular affections of the limbs, and the head of his stick intohis mouth, with some embarrassment.

'Now, with regard to this here robbery, master,' said Blathers. 'What are the circumstances?'

Mr. Losberne, who appeared desirous of gaining time, recountedthem at great length, and with much circumlocution. Messrs.Blathers and Duff looked very knowing meanwhile, and occasionallyexchanged a nod.

'I can't say, for certain, till I see the work, of course,' saidBlathers; 'but my opinion at once is,--I don't mind committingmyself to that extent,--that this wasn't done by a yokel; eh,Duff?'

'Certainly not,' replied Duff.

'And, translating the word yokel for the benefit of the ladies, Iapprehend your meaning to be, that this attempt was not made by acountryman?' said Mr. Losberne, with a smile.

'That's it, master,' replied Blathers. 'This is all about therobbery, is it?'

'All,' replied the doctor.

'Now, what is this, about this here boy that the servants area-talking on?' said Blathers.

'Nothing at all,' replied the doctor. 'One of the frightenedservants chose to take it into his head, that he had something todo with this attempt to break into the house; but it's nonsense:sheer absurdity.'

'Wery easy disposed of, if it is,' remarked Duff.

'What he says is quite correct,' observed Blathers, nodding hishead in a confirmatory way, and playing carelessly with thehandcuffs, as if they were a pair of castanets. 'Who is the boy?

What account does he give of himself? Where did he come from? He didn't drop out of the clouds, did he, master?'

'Of course not,' replied the doctor, with a nervous glance at thetwo ladies. 'I know his whole history: but we can talk aboutthat presently. You would like, first, to see the place wherethe thieves made their attempt, I suppose?'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 88264 times

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