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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 37)


The coach rolled on. It stopped. No; that was the wrong house;the next door. It went on a few paces, and stopped again. Oliver looked up at the windows, with tears of happy expectationcoursing down his face.

Alas! the white house was empty, and there was a bill in thewindow. 'To Let.'

'Knock at the next door,' cried Mr. Losberne, taking Oliver's armin his. 'What has become of Mr. Brownlow, who used to live inthe adjoining house, do you know?'

The servant did not know; but would go and inquire. Shepresently returned, and said, that Mr. Brownlow had sold off hisgoods, and gone to the West Indies, six weeks before. Oliverclasped his hands, and sank feebly backward.

'Has his housekeeper gone too?' inquired Mr. Losberne, after amoment's pause.

'Yes, sir'; replied the servant. 'The old gentleman, thehousekeeper, and a gentleman who was a friend of Mr. Brownlow's,all went together.

'Then turn towards home again,' said Mr. Losberne to the driver;'and don't stop to bait the horses, till you get out of thisconfounded London!'

'The book-stall keeper, sir?' said Oliver. 'I know the waythere. See him, pray, sir! Do see him!'

'My poor boy, this is disappointment enough for one day,' saidthe doctor. 'Quite enough for both of us. If we go to thebook-stall keeper's, we shall certainly find that he is dead, orhas set his house on fire, or run away. No; home againstraight!' And in obedience to the doctor's impulse, home theywent.

This bitter disappointment caused Oliver much sorrow and grief,even in the midst of his happiness; for he had pleased himself,many times during his illness, with thinking of all that Mr.Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin would say to him: and what delight itwould be to tell them how many long days and nights he had passedin reflecting on what they had done for him, and in bewailing hiscruel separation from them. The hope of eventually clearinghimself with them, too, and explaining how he had been forcedaway, had buoyed him up, and sustained him, under many of hisrecent trials; and now, the idea that they should have gone sofar, and carried with them the belief that the was an impostorand a robber--a belief which might remain uncontradicted to hisdying day--was almost more than he could bear.

The circumstance occasioned no alteration, however, in thebehaviour of his benefactors. After another fortnight, when thefine warm weather had fairly begun, and every tree and flower wasputting forth its young leaves and rich blossoms, they madepreparations for quitting the house at Chertsey, for some months.

Sending the plate, which had so excited Fagin's cupidity, to thebanker's; and leaving Giles and another servant in care of thehouse, they departed to a cottage at some distance in thecountry, and took Oliver with them.

Who can describe the pleasure and delight, the peace of mind andsoft tranquillity, the sickly boy felt in the balmy air, andamong the green hills and rich woods, of an inland village! Whocan tell how scenes of peace and quietude sink into the minds ofpain-worn dwellers in close and noisy places, and carry their ownfreshness, deep into their jaded hearts! Men who have lived incrowded, pent-up streets, through lives of toil, and who havenever wished for change; men, to whom custom has indeed beensecond nature, and who have come almost to love each brick andstone that formed the narrow boundaries of their daily walks;even they, with the hand of death upon them, have been known toyearn at last for one short glimpse of Nature's face; and,carried far from the scenes of their old pains and pleasures,have seemed to pass at once into a new state of being. Crawlingforth, from day to day, to some green sunny spot, they have hadsuch memories wakened up within them by the sight of the sky, andhill and plain, and glistening water, that a foretaste of heavenitself has soothed their quick decline, and they have sunk intotheir tombs, as peacefully as the sun whose setting they watchedfrom their lonely chamber window but a few hours before, fadedfrom their dim and feeble sight! The memories which peacefulcountry scenes call up, are not of this world, nor of itsthoughts and hopes. Their gentle influence may teach us how toweave fresh garlands for the graves of those we loved: maypurify our thoughts, and bear down before it old enmity andhatred; but beneath all this, there lingers, in the leastreflective mind, a vague and half-formed consciousness of havingheld such feelings long before, in some remote and distant time,which calls up solemn thoughts of distant times to come, andbends down pride and worldliness beneath it.

It was a lovely spot to which they repaired. Oliver, whose dayshad been spent among squalid crowds, and in the midst of noiseand brawling, seemed to enter on a new existence there. The roseand honeysuckle clung to the cottage walls; the ivy crept roundthe trunks of the trees; and the garden-flowers perfumed the airwith delicious odours. Hard by, was a little churchyard; notcrowded with tall unsightly gravestones, but full of humblemounds, covered with fresh turf and moss: beneath which, the oldpeople of the village lay at rest. Oliver often wandered here;and, thinking of the wretched grave in which his mother lay,would sometimes sit him down and sob unseen; but, when he raisedhis eyes to the deep sky overhead, he would cease to think of heras lying in the ground, and would weep for her, sadly, butwithout pain.

It was a happy time. The days were peaceful and serene; thenights brought with them neither fear nor care; no languishing ina wretched prison, or associating with wretched men; nothing butpleasant and happy thoughts. Every morning he went to awhite-headed old gentleman, who lived near the little church: who taught him to read better, and to write: and who spoke sokindly, and took such pains, that Oliver could never try enoughto please him. Then, he would walk with Mrs. Maylie and Rose,and hear them talk of books; or perhaps sit near them, in someshady place, and listen whilst the young lady read: which hecould have done, until it grew too dark to see the letters. Then, he had his own lesson for the next day to prepare; and atthis, he would work hard, in a little room which looked into thegarden, till evening came slowly on, when the ladies would walkout again, and he with them: listening with such pleasure to allthey said: and so happy if they wanted a flower that he couldclimb to reach, or had forgotten anything he could run to fetch: that he could never be quick enought about it. When it becamequite dark, and they returned home, the young lady would sit downto the piano, and play some pleasant air, or sing, in a low andgentle voice, some old song which it pleased her aunt to hear. There would be no candles lighted at such times as these; andOliver would sit by one of the windows, listening to the sweetmusic, in a perfect rapture.

And when Sunday came, how differently the day was spent, from anyway in which he had ever spent it yet! and how happily too; likeall the other days in that most happy time! There was the littlechurch, in the morning, with the green leaves fluttering at thewindows: the birds singing without: and the sweet-smelling airstealing in at the low porch, and filling the homely buildingwith its fragrance. The poor people were so neat and clean, andknelt so reverently in prayer, that it seemed a pleasure, not atedious duty, their assembling there together; and though thesinging might be rude, it was real, and sounded more musical (toOliver's ears at least) than any he had ever heard in churchbefore. Then, there were the walks as usual, and many calls atthe clean houses of the labouring men; and at night, Oliver reada chapter or two from the Bible, which he had been studying allthe week, and in the performance of which duty he felt more proudand pleased, than if he had been the clergyman himself.

In the morning, Oliver would be a-foot by six o'clock, roamingthe fields, and plundering the hedges, far and wide, for nosegaysof wild flowers, with which he would return laden, home; andwhich it took great care and consideration to arrange, to thebest advantage, for the embellishment of the breakfast-table. There was fresh groundsel, too, for Miss Maylie's birds, withwhich Oliver, who had been studying the subject under the abletuition of the village clerk, would decorate the cages, in themost approved taste. When the birds were made all spruce andsmart for the day, there was usually some little commission ofcharity to execute in the village; or, failing that, there wasrare cricket-playing, sometimes, on the green; or, failing that,there was always something to do in the garden, or about theplants, to which Oliver (who had studied this science also, underthe same master, who was a gardener by trade,) applied himselfwith hearty good-will, until Miss Rose made her appearance: whenthere were a thousand commendations to be bestowed on all he haddone.

So three months glided away; three months which, in the life ofthe most blessed and favoured of mortals, might have beenunmingled happiness, and which, in Oliver's were true felicity. With the purest and most amiable generousity on one side; and thetruest, warmest, soul-felt gratitude on the other; it is nowonder that, by the end of that short time, Oliver Twist hadbecome completely domesticated with the old lady and her niece,and that the fervent attachment of his young and sensitive heart,was repaid by their pride in, and attachment to, himself.

CHAPTER XXXIII

WHEREIN THE HAPPINESS OF OLIVER AND HIS FRIENDS, EXPERIENCES ASUDDEN CHECK

Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came. If the village had beenbeautiful at first it was now in the full glow and luxuriance ofits richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken andbare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life andhealth; and stretching forth their green arms over the thirstyground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, wherewas a deep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wideprospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched beyond. Theearth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed herrichest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of theyear; all things were glad and flourishing.

Still, the same quiet life went on at the little cottage, and thesame cheerful serenity prevailed among its inmates. Oliver hadlong since grown stout and healthy; but health or sickness madeno difference in his warm feelings of a great many people. Hewas still the same gentle, attached, affectionate creature thathe had been when pain and suffering had wasted his strength, andwhen he was dependent for every slight attention, and comfort onthose who tended him.

One beautiful night, when they had taken a longer walk than wascustomary with them: for the day had been unusually warm, andthere was a brilliant moon, and a light wind had sprung up, whichwas unusually refreshing. Rose had been in high spirits, too,and they had walked on, in merry conversation, until they had farexceeded their ordinary bounds. Mrs. Maylie being fatigued, theyreturned more slowly home. The young lady merely throwing offher simple bonnet, sat down to the piano as usual. After runningabstractedly over the keys for a few minutes, she fell into a lowand very solemn air; and as she played it, they heard a sound asif she were weeping.

'Rose, my dear!' said the elder lady.

Rose made no reply, but played a little quicker, as though thewords had roused her from some painful thoughts.

'Rose, my love!' cried Mrs. Maylie, rising hastily, and bendingover her. 'What is this? In tears! My dear child, whatdistresses you?'

'Nothing, aunt; nothing,' replied the young lady. 'I don't knowwhat it is; I can't describe it; but I feel--'

'Not ill, my love?' interposed Mrs. Maylie.

'No, no! Oh, not ill!' replied Rose: shuddering as though somedeadly chillness were passing over her, while she spoke; 'I shallbe better presently. Close the window, pray!'

Oliver hastened to comply with her request. The young lady,making an effort to recover her cheerfulness, strove to play somelivelier tune; but her fingers dropped powerless over the keys. Covering her face with her hands, she sank upon a sofa, and gavevent to the tears which she was now unable to repress.

'My child!' said the elderly lady, folding her arms about her, 'Inever saw you so before.'

'I would not alarm you if I could avoid it,' rejoined Rose; 'butindeed I have tried very hard, and cannot help this. I fear I AMill, aunt.'

She was, indeed; for, when candles were brought, they saw that inthe very short time which had elapsed since their return home,the hue of her countenance had changed to a marble whiteness. Its expression had lost nothing of its beauty; but it waschanged; and there was an anxious haggard look about the gentleface, which it had never worn before. Another minute, and it wassuffused with a crimson flush: and a heavy wildness came overthe soft blue eye. Again this disappeared, like the shadowthrown by a passing cloud; and she was once more deadly pale.

Oliver, who watched the old lady anxiously, observed that she wasalarmed by these appearances; and so in truth, was he; but seeingthat she affected to make light of them, he endeavoured to do thesame, and they so far succeeded, that when Rose was persuaded byher aunt to retire for the night, she was in better spirits; andappeared even in better health: assuring them that she feltcertain she should rise in the morning, quite well.

'I hope,' said Oliver, when Mrs. Maylie returned, 'that nothingis the matter? She don't look well to-night, but--'

The old lady motioned to him not to speak; and sitting herselfdown in a dark corner of the room, remained silent for some time.

At length, she said, in a trembling voice:

'I hope not, Oliver. I have been very happy with her for someyears: too happy, perhaps. It may be time that I should meetwith some misfortune; but I hope it is not this.'

'What?' inquired Oliver.

'The heavy blow,' said the old lady, 'of losing the dear girl whohas so long been my comfort and happiness.'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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