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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 39)


The night was fast closing in, when he returned homeward: ladenwith flowers which he had culled, with peculiar care, for theadornment of the sick chamber. As he walked briskly along theroad, he heard behind him, the noise of some vehicle, approachingat a furious pace. Looking round, he saw that it was apost-chaise, driven at great speed; and as the horses weregalloping, and the road was narrow, he stood leaning against agate until it should have passed him.

As it dashed on, Oliver caught a glimpse of a man in a whitenitecap, whose face seemed familiar to him, although his view wasso brief that he could not identify the person. In anothersecond or two, the nightcap was thrust out of the chaise-window,and a stentorian voice bellowed to the driver to stop: which hedid, as soon as he could pull up his horses. Then, the nightcaponce again appeared: and the same voice called Oliver by hisname.

'Here!' cried the voice. 'Oliver, what's the news? Miss Rose! Master O-li-ver!'

'Is is you, Giles?' cried Oliver, running up to the chaise-door.

Giles popped out his nightcap again, preparatory to making somereply, when he was suddenly pulled back by a young gentleman whooccupied the other corner of the chaise, and who eagerly demandedwhat was the news.

'In a word!' cried the gentleman, 'Better or worse?'

'Better--much better!' replied Oliver, hastily.

'Thank Heaven!' exclaimed the gentleman. 'You are sure?'

'Quite, sir,' replied Oliver. 'The change took place only a fewhours ago; and Mr. Losberne says, that all danger is at an end.'

The gentleman said not another word, but, opening thechaise-door, leaped out, and taking Oliver hurriedly by the arm,led him aside.

'You are quite certain? There is no possibility of any mistakeon your part, my boy, is there?' demanded the gentleman in atremulous voice. 'Do not deceive me, by awakening hopes that arenot to be fulfilled.'

'I would not for the world, sir,' replied Oliver. 'Indeed youmay believe me. Mr. Losberne's words were, that she would liveto bless us all for many years to come. I heard him say so.'

The tears stood in Oliver's eyes as he recalled the scene whichwas the beginning of so much happiness; and the gentleman turnedhis face away, and remained silent, for some minutes. Oliverthought he heard him sob, more than once; but he feared tointerrupt him by any fresh remark--for he could well guess whathis feelings were--and so stood apart, feigning to be occupiedwith his nosegay.

All this time, Mr. Giles, with the white nightcap on, had beensitting on the steps of the chaise, supporting an elbow on eachknee, and wiping his eyes with a blue cotton pocket-handkerchiefdotted with white spots. That the honest fellow had not beenfeigning emotion, was abundently demonstrated by the very redeyes with which he regarded the young gentleman, when he turnedround and addressed him.

'I think you had better go on to my mother's in the chaise,Giles,' said he. 'I would rather walk slowly on, so as to gain alittle time before I see her. You can say I am coming.'

'I beg your pardon, Mr. Harry,' said Giles: giving a finalpolish to his ruffled countenance with the handkerchief; 'but ifyou would leave the postboy to say that, I should be very muchobliged to you. It wouldn't be proper for the maids to see me inthis state, sir; I should never have any more authority with themif they did.'

'Well,' rejoined Harry Maylie, smiling, 'you can do as you like. Let him go on with the luggage, if you wish it, and do you followwith us. Only first exchange that nightcap for some moreappropriate covering, or we shall be taken for madmen.'

Mr. Giles, reminded of his unbecoming costume, snatched off andpocketed his nightcap; and substituted a hat, of grave and sobershape, which he took out of the chaise. This done, the postboydrove off; Giles, Mr. Maylie, and Oliver, followed at theirleisure.

As they walked along, Oliver glanced from time to time with muchinterest and curiosity at the new comer. He seemed aboutfive-and-twenty years of age, and was of the middle height; hiscountenance was frank and handsome; and his demeanor easy andprepossessing. Notwithstanding the difference between youth andage, he bore so strong a likeness to the old lady, that Oliverwould have had no great difficulty in imagining theirrelationship, if he had not already spoken of her as his mother.

Mrs. Maylie was anxiously waiting to receive her son when hereached the cottage. The meeting did not take place withoutgreat emotion on both sides.

'Mother!' whispered the young man; 'why did you not writebefore?'

'I did,' replied Mrs. Maylie; 'but, on reflection, I determinedto keep back the letter until I had heard Mr. Losberne'sopinion.'

'But why,' said the young man, 'why run the chance of thatoccurring which so nearly happened? If Rose had--I cannot utterthat word now--if this illness had terminated differently, howcould you ever have forgiven yourself! How could I ever haveknow happiness again!'

'If that HAD been the case, Harry,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'I fearyour happiness would have been effectually blighted, and thatyour arrival here, a day sooner or a day later, would have beenof very, very little import.'

'And who can wonder if it be so, mother?' rejoined the young man;'or why should I say, IF?--It is--it is--you know it, mother--youmust know it!'

'I know that she deserves the best and purest love the heart ofman can offer,' said Mrs. Maylie; 'I know that the devotion andaffection of her nature require no ordinary return, but one thatshall be deep and lasting. If I did not feel this, and know,besides, that a changed behaviour in one she loved would breakher heart, I should not feel my task so difficult of performance,or have to encounter so many struggles in my own bosom, when Itake what seems to me to be the strict line of duty.'

'This is unkind, mother,' said Harry. 'Do you still suppose thatI am a boy ignorant of my own mind, and mistaking the impulses ofmy own soul?'

'I think, my dear son,' returned Mrs. Maylie, laying her handupon his shoulder, 'that youth has many generous impulses whichdo not last; and that among them are some, which, beinggratified, become only the more fleeting. Above all, I think'said the lady, fixing her eyes on her son's face, 'that if anenthusiastic, ardent, and ambitious man marry a wife on whosename there is a stain, which, though it originate in no fault ofhers, may be visited by cold and sordid people upon her, and uponhis children also: and, in exact proportion to his success in theworld, be cast in his teeth, and made the subject of sneersagainst him: he may, no matter how generous and good his nature,one day repent of the connection he formed in early life. Andshe may have the pain of knowing that he does so.'

'Mother,' said the young man, impatiently, 'he would be a selfishbrute, unworthy alike of the name of man and of the woman youdescribe, who acted thus.'

'You think so now, Harry,' replied his mother.

'And ever will!' said the young man. 'The mental agony I havesuffered, during the last two days, wrings from me the avowal toyou of a passion which, as you well know, is not one ofyesterday, nor one I have lightly formed. On Rose, sweet, gentlegirl! my heart is set, as firmly as ever heart of man was set onwoman. I have no thought, no view, no hope in life, beyond her;and if you oppose me in this great stake, you take my peace andhappiness in your hands, and cast them to the wind. Mother,think better of this, and of me, and do not disregard thehappiness of which you seem to think so little.'

'Harry,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'it is because I think so much of warmand sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded.

But we have said enough, and more than enough, on this matter,just now.'

'Let it rest with Rose, then,' interposed Harry. 'You will notpress these overstrained opinions of yours, so far, as to throwany obstacle in my way?'

'I will not,' rejoined Mrs. Maylie; 'but I would have youconsider--'

'I HAVE considered!' was the impatient reply; 'Mother, I haveconsidered, years and years. I have considered, ever since Ihave been capable of serious reflection. My feelings remainunchanged, as they ever will; and why should I suffer the pain ofa delay in giving them vent, which can be productive of noearthly good? No! Before I leave this place, Rose shall hearme.'

'She shall,' said Mrs. Maylie.

'There is something in your manner, which would almost imply thatshe will hear me coldly, mother,' said the young man.

'Not coldly,' rejoined the old lady; 'far from it.'

'How then?' urged the young man. 'She has formed no otherattachment?'

'No, indeed,' replied his mother; 'you have, or I mistake, toostrong a hold on her affections already. What I would say,'resumed the old lady, stopping her son as he was about to speak,'is this. Before you stake your all on this chance; before yousuffer yourself to be carried to the highest point of hope;reflect for a few moments, my dear child, on Rose's history, andconsider what effect the knowledge of her doubtful birth may haveon her decision: devoted as she is to us, with all the intensityof her noble mind, and with that perfect sacrifice of self which,in all matters, great or trifling, has always been hercharacteristic.'

'What do you mean?'

'That I leave you to discover,' replied Mrs. Maylie. 'I must goback to her. God bless you!'

'I shall see you again to-night?' said the young man, eagerly.

'By and by,' replied the lady; 'when I leave Rose.'

'You will tell her I am here?' said Harry.

'Of course,' replied Mrs. Maylie.

'And say how anxious I have been, and how much I have suffered,and how I long to see her. You will not refuse to do this,mother?'

'No,' said the old lady; 'I will tell her all.' And pressing herson's hand, affectionately, she hastened from the room.

Mr. Losberne and Oliver had remained at another end of theapartment while this hurried conversation was proceeding. Theformer now held out his hand to Harry Maylie; and heartysalutations were exchanged between them. The doctor thencommunicated, in reply to multifarious questions from his youngfriend, a precise account of his patient's situation; which wasquite as consolatory and full of promise, as Oliver's statementhad encouraged him to hope; and to the whole of which, Mr. Giles,who affected to be busy about the luggage, listened with greedyears.

'Have you shot anything particular, lately, Giles?' inquired thedoctor, when he had concluded.

'Nothing particular, sir,' replied Mr. Giles, colouring up to theeyes.

'Nor catching any thieves, nor identifying any house-breakers?'said the doctor.

'None at all, sir,' replied Mr. Giles, with much gravity.

'Well,' said the doctor, 'I am sorry to hear it, because you dothat sort of thing admirably. Pray, how is Brittles?'

'The boy is very well, sir,' said Mr. Giles, recovering his usualtone of patronage; 'and sends his respectful duty, sir.'

'That's well,' said the doctor. 'Seeing you here, reminds me,Mr. Giles, that on the day before that on which I was called awayso hurriedly, I executed, at the request of your good mistress, asmall commission in your favour. Just step into this corner amoment, will you?'

Mr. Giles walked into the corner with much importance, and somewonder, and was honoured with a short whispering conference withthe doctor, on the termination of which, he made a great manybows, and retired with steps of unusual stateliness. The subjectmatter of this conference was not disclosed in the parlour, butthe kitchen was speedily enlightened concerning it; for Mr. Gileswalked straight thither, and having called for a mug of ale,announced, with an air of majesty, which was highly effective,that it had pleased his mistress, in consideration of his gallantbehaviour on the occasion of that attempted robbery, to depost,in the local savings-bank, the sum of five-and-twenty pounds, forhis sole use and benefit. At this, the two women-servants liftedup their hands and eyes, and supposed that Mr. Giles, pulling outhis shirt-frill, replied, 'No, no'; and that if they observedthat he was at all haughty to his inferiors, he would thank themto tell him so. And then he made a great many other remarks, noless illustrative of his humility, which were received with equalfavour and applause, and were, withal, as original and as much tothe purpose, as the remarks of great men commonly are.

Above stairs, the remainder of the evening passed cheerfullyaway; for the doctor was in high spirits; and however fatigued orthoughtful Harry Maylie might have been at first, he was notproof against the worthy gentleman's good humour, which displayeditself in a great variety of sallies and professionalrecollections, and an abundance of small jokes, which struckOliver as being the drollest things he had ever heard, and causedhim to laugh proportionately; to the evident satisfaction of thedoctor, who laughed immoderately at himself, and made Harry laughalmost as heartily, by the very force of sympathy. So, they wereas pleasant a party as, under the circumstances, they could wellhave been; and it was late before they retired, with light andthankful hearts, to take that rest of which, after the doubt andsuspense they had recently undergone, they stood much in need.

Oliver rose next morning, in better heart, and went about hisusual occupations, with more hope and pleasure than he had knownfor many days. The birds were once more hung out, to sing, intheir old places; and the sweetest wild flowers that could befound, were once more gathered to gladden Rose with their beauty.The melancholy which had seemed to the sad eyes of the anxiousboy to hang, for days past, over every object, beautiful as allwere, was dispelled by magic. The dew seemed to sparkle morebrightly on the green leaves; the air to rustle among them with asweeter music; and the sky itself to look more blue and bright. Such is the influence which the condition of our own thoughts,exercise, even over the appearance of external objects. Men wholook on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is darkand gloomy, are in the right; but the sombre colours arereflections from their own jaundiced eyes and hearts. The realhues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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