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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 36)


'You don't mean to deny that, I suppose?' said the doctor, layingOliver gently down again.

'It was all done for the--for the best, sir,' answered Giles. 'Iam sure I thought it was the boy, or I wouldn't have meddled withhim. I am not of an inhuman disposition, sir.'

'Thought it was what boy?' inquired the senior officer.

'The housebreaker's boy, sir!' replied Giles. 'They--theycertainly had a boy.'

'Well? Do you think so now?' inquired Blathers.

'Think what, now?' replied Giles, looking vacantly at hisquestioner.

'Think it's the same boy, Stupid-head?' rejoined Blathers,impatiently.

'I don't know; I really don't know,' said Giles, with a ruefulcountenance. 'I couldn't swear to him.'

'What do you think?' asked Mr. Blathers.

'I don't know what to think,' replied poor Giles. 'I don't thinkit is the boy; indeed, I'm almost certain that it isn't. Youknow it can't be.'

'Has this man been a-drinking, sir?' inquired Blathers, turningto the doctor.

'What a precious muddle-headed chap you are!' said Duff,addressing Mr. Giles, with supreme contempt.

Mr. Losberne had been feeling the patient's pulse during thisshort dialogue; but he now rose from the chair by the bedside,and remarked, that if the officers had any doubts upon thesubject, they would perhaps like to step into the next room, andhave Brittles before them.

Acting upon this suggestion, they adjourned to a neighbouringapartment, where Mr. Brittles, being called in, involved himselfand his respected superior in such a wonderful maze of freshcontradictions and impossibilities, as tended to throw noparticular light on anything, but the fact of his own strongmystification; except, indeed, his declarations that he shouldn'tknow the real boy, if he were put before him that instant; thathe had only taken Oliver to be he, because Mr. Giles had said hewas; and that Mr. Giles had, five minutes previously, admitted inthe kitchen, that he begain to be very much afraid he had been alittle too hasty.

Among other ingenious surmises, the question was then raised,whether Mr. Giles had really hit anybody; and upon examination ofthe fellow pistol to that which he had fired, it turned out tohave no more destructive loading than gunpowder and brown paper:a discovery which made a considerable impression on everybody butthe doctor, who had drawn the ball about ten minutes before. Upon no one, however, did it make a greater impression than onMr. Giles himself; who, after labouring, for some hours, underthe fear of having mortally wounded a fellow-creature, eagerlycaught at this new idea, and favoured it to the utmost. Finally,the officers, without troubling themselves very much aboutOliver, left the Chertsey constable in the house, and took uptheir rest for that night in the town; promising to return thenext morning.

With the next morning, there came a rumour, that two men and aboy were in the cage at Kingston, who had been apprehended overnight under suspicious circumstances; and to Kingston Messrs.Blathers and Duff journeyed accordingly. The suspiciouscircumstances, however, resolving themselves, on investigation,into the one fact, that they had been discovered sleeping under ahaystack; which, although a great crime, is only punishable byimprisonment, and is, in the merciful eye of the English law, andits comprehensive love of all the King's subjects, held to be nosatisfactory proof, in the absence of all other evidence, thatthe sleeper, or sleepers, have committed burglary accompaniedwith violence, and have therefore rendered themselves liable tothe punishment of death; Messrs. Blathers and Duff came backagain, as wise as they went.

In short, after some more examination, and a great deal moreconversation, a neighbouring magistrate was readily induced totake the joint bail of Mrs. Maylie and Mr. Losberne for Oliver'sappearance if he should ever be called upon; and Blathers andDuff, being rewarded with a couple of guineas, returned to townwith divided opinions on the subject of their expedition: thelatter gentleman on a mature consideration of all thecircumstances, inclining to the belief that the burglariousattempt had originated with the Family Pet; and the former beingequally disposed to concede the full merit of it to the great Mr.Conkey Chickweed.

Meanwhile, Oliver gradually throve and prospered under the unitedcare of Mrs. Maylie, Rose, and the kind-hearted Mr. Losberne. Iffervent prayers, gushing from hearts overcharged with gratitude,be heard in heaven--and if they be not, what prayers are!--theblessings which the orphan child called down upon them, sunk intotheir souls, diffusing peace and happiness.

CHAPTER XXXII

OF THE HAPPY LIFE OLIVER BEGAN TO LEAD WITH HIS KIND FRIENDS

Oliver's ailings were neither slight nor few. In addition to thepain and delay attendant on a broken limb, his exposure to thewet and cold had brought on fever and ague: which hung about himfor many weeks, and reduced him sadly. But, at length, he began,by slow degrees, to get better, and to be able to say sometimes,in a few tearful words, how deeply he felt the goodness of thetwo sweet ladies, and how ardently he hoped that when he grewstrong and well again, he could do something to show hisgratitude; only something, which would let them see the love andduty with which his breast was full; something, however slight,which would prove to them that their gentle kindness had not beencast away; but that the poor boy whom their charity had rescuedfrom misery, or death, was eager to serve them with his wholeheart and soul.

'Poor fellow!' said Rose, when Oliver had been one day feeblyendeavouring to utter the words of thankfulness that rose to hispale lips; 'you shall have many opportunities of serving us, ifyou will. We are going into the country, and my aunt intendsthat you shall accompany us. The quiet place, the pure air, andall the pleasure and beauties of spring, will restore you in afew days. We will employ you in a hundred ways, when you canbear the trouble.'

'The trouble!' cried Oliver. 'Oh! dear lady, if I could but workfor you; if I could only give you pleasure by watering yourflowers, or watching your birds, or running up and down the wholeday long, to make you happy; what would I give to do it!'

'You shall give nothing at all,' said Miss Maylie, smiling; 'for,as I told you before, we shall employ you in a hundred ways; andif you only take half the trouble to please us, that you promisenow, you will make me very happy indeed.'

'Happy, ma'am!' cried Oliver; 'how kind of you to say so!'

'You will make me happier than I can tell you,' replied the younglady. 'To think that my dear good aunt should have been themeans of rescuing any one from such sad misery as you havedescribed to us, would be an unspeakable pleasure to me; but toknow that the object of her goodness and compassion was sincerelygrateful and attached, in consequence, would delight me, morethan you can well imagine. Do you understand me?' she inquired,watching Oliver's thoughtful face.

'Oh yes, ma'am, yes!' replied Oliver eagerly; 'but I was thinkingthat I am ungrateful now.'

'To whom?' inquired the young lady.

'To the kind gentleman, and the dear old nurse, who took so muchcare of me before,' rejoined Oliver. 'If they knew how happy Iam, they would be pleased, I am sure.'

'I am sure they would,' rejoined Oliver's benefactress; 'and Mr.Losberne has already been kind enough to promise that when youare well enough to bear the journey, he will carry you to seethem.'

'Has he, ma'am?' cried Oliver, his face brightening withpleasure. 'I don't know what I shall do for joy when I see theirkind faces once again!'

In a short time Oliver was sufficiently recovered to undergo thefatigue of this expedition. One morning he and Mr. Losberne setout, accordingly, in a little carriage which belonged to Mrs.Maylie. When they came to Chertsey Bridge, Oliver turned verypale, and uttered a loud exclamation.

'What's the matter with the boy?' cried the doctor, as usual, allin a bustle. 'Do you see anything--hear anything--feelanything--eh?'

'That, sir,' cried Oliver, pointing out of the carriage window. 'That house!'

'Yes; well, what of it? Stop coachman. Pull up here,' cried thedoctor. 'What of the house, my man; eh?'

'The thieves--the house they took me to!' whispered Oliver.

'The devil it is!' cried the doctor. 'Hallo, there! let me out!'

But, before the coachman could dismount from his box, he hadtumbled out of the coach, by some means or other; and, runningdown to the deserted tenement, began kicking at the door like amadman.

'Halloa?' said a little ugly hump-backed man: opening the doorso suddenly, that the doctor, from the very impetus of his lastkick, nearly fell forward into the passage. 'What's the matterhere?'

'Matter!' exclaimed the other, collaring him, without a moment'sreflection. 'A good deal. Robbery is the matter.'

'There'll be Murder the matter, too,' replied the hump-backedman, coolly, 'if you don't take your hands off. Do you hear me?'

'I hear you,' said the doctor, giving his captive a hearty shake.

'Where's--confound the fellow, what's his rascally name--Sikes;that's it. Where's Sikes, you thief?'

The hump-backed man stared, as if in excess of amazement andindignation; then, twisting himself, dexterously, from thedoctor's grasp, growled forth a volley of horrid oaths, andretired into the house. Before he could shut the door, however,the doctor had passed into the parlour, without a word of parley.

He looked anxiously round; not an article of furniture; not avestige of anything, animate or inanimate; not even the positionof the cupboards; answered Oliver's description!

'Now!' said the hump-backed man, who had watched him keenly,'what do you mean by coming into my house, in this violent way? Do you want to rob me, or to murder me? Which is it?'

'Did you ever know a man come out to do either, in a chariot anda pair, you ridiculous old vampire?' said the irritable doctor.

'What do you want, then?' demanded the hunchback. 'Will you takeyourself off, before I do you a mischief? Curse you!'

'As soon as I think proper,' said Mr. Losberne, looking into theother parlour; which, like the first, bore no resemblancewhatever to Oliver's account of it. 'I shall find you out, someday, my friend.'

'Will you?' sneered the ill-favoured cripple. 'If you ever wantme, I'm here. I haven't lived here mad and all alone, forfive-and-twenty years, to be scared by you. You shall pay forthis; you shall pay for this.' And so saying, the mis-shapenlittle demon set up a yell, and danced upon the ground, as ifwild with rage.

'Stupid enough, this,' muttered the doctor to himself; 'the boymust have made a mistake. Here! Put that in your pocket, andshut yourself up again.' With these words he flung the hunchbacka piece of money, and returned to the carriage.

The man followed to the chariot door, uttering the wildestimprecations and curses all the way; but as Mr. Losberne turnedto speak to the driver, he looked into the carriage, and eyedOliver for an instant with a glance so sharp and fierce and atthe same time so furious and vindictive, that, waking orsleeping, he could not forget it for months afterwards. Hecontinued to utter the most fearful imprecations, until thedriver had resumed his seat; and when they were once more ontheir way, they could see him some distance behind: beating hisfeet upon the ground, and tearing his hair, in transports of realor pretended rage.

'I am an ass!' said the doctor, after a long silence. 'Did youknow that before, Oliver?'

'No, sir.'

'Then don't forget it another time.'

'An ass,' said the doctor again, after a further silence of someminutes. 'Even if it had been the right place, and the rightfellows had been there, what could I have done, single-handed? And if I had had assistance, I see no good that I should havedone, except leading to my own exposure, and an unavoidablestatement of the manner in which I have hushed up this business. That would have served me right, though. I am always involvingmyself in some scrape or other, by acting on impulse. It mighthave done me good.'

Now, the fact was that the excellent doctor had never acted uponanything but impulse all through his life, and if was no badcompliment to the nature of the impulses which governed him, thatso far from being involved in any peculiar troubles ormisfortunes, he had the warmest respect and esteem of all whoknew him. If the truth must be told, he was a little out oftemper, for a minute or two, at being disappointed in procuringcorroborative evidence of Oliver's story on the very firstoccasion on which he had a chance of obtaining any. He soon cameround again, however; and finding that Oliver's replies to hisquestions, were still as straightforward and consistent, andstill delivered with as much apparent sincerity and truth, asthey had ever been, he made up his mind to attach full credenceto them, from that time forth.

As Oliver knew the name of the street in which Mr. Brownlowresided, they were enabled to drive straight thither. When thecoach turned into it, his heart beat so violently, that he couldscarcely draw his breath.

'Now, my boy, which house is it?' inquired Mr. Losberne.

'That! That!' replied Oliver, pointing eagerly out of thewindow. 'The white house. Oh! make haste! Pray make haste! Ifeel as if I should die: it makes me tremble so.'

'Come, come!' said the good doctor, patting him on the shoulder. 'You will see them directly, and they will be overjoyed to findyou safe and well.'

'Oh! I hope so!' cried Oliver. 'They were so good to me; sovery, very good to me.'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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