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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 41)


'I did not mean that,' said Rose, weeping; 'I only wish you hadleft here, that you might have turned to high and noble pursuitsagain; to pursuits well worthy of you.'

'There is no pursuit more worthy of me: more worthy of thehighest nature that exists: than the struggle to win such aheart as yours,' said the young man, taking her hand. 'Rose, myown dear Rose! For years--for years--I have loved you; hoping towin my way to fame, and then come proudly home and tell you ithad been pursued only for you to share; thinking, in mydaydreams, how I would remind you, in that happy moment, of themany silent tokens I had given of a boy's attachment, and claimyour hand, as in redemption of some old mute contract that hadbeen sealed between us! That time has not arrived; but here,with not fame won, and no young vision realised, I offer you theheart so long your own, and stake my all upon the words withwhich you greet the offer.'

'Your behaviour has ever been kind and noble.' said Rose,mastering the emotions by which she was agitated. 'As youbelieve that I am not insensible or ungrateful, so hear myanswer.'

'It is, that I may endeavour to deserve you; it is, dear Rose?'

'It is,' replied Rose, 'that you must endeavour to forget me; notas your old and dearly-attached companion, for that would woundme deeply; but, as the object of your love. Look into the world;think how many hearts you would be proud to gain, are there. Confide some other passion to me, if you will; I will be thetruest, warmest, and most faithful friend you have.'

There was a pause, during which, Rose, who had covered her facewith one hand, gave free vent to her tears. Harry still retainedthe other.

'And your reasons, Rose,' he said, at length, in a low voice;'your reasons for this decision?'

'You have a right to know them,' rejoined Rose. 'You can saynothing to alter my resolution. It is a duty that I mustperform. I owe it, alike to others, and to myself.'

'To yourself?'

'Yes, Harry. I owe it to myself, that I, a friendless,portionless, girl, with a blight upon my name, should not giveyour friends reason to suspect that I had sordidly yielded toyour first passion, and fastened myself, a clog, on all yourhopes and projects. I owe it to you and yours, to prevent youfrom opposing, in the warmth of your generous nature, this greatobstacle to your progress in the world.'

'If your inclinations chime with your sense of duty--' Harrybegan.

'They do not,' replied Rose, colouring deeply.

'Then you return my love?' said Harry. 'Say but that, dear Rose;say but that; and soften the bitterness of this harddisappointment!'

'If I could have done so, without doing heavy wrong to him Iloved,' rejoined Rose, 'I could have--'

'Have received this declaration very differently?' said Harry. 'Do not conceal that from me, at least, Rose.'

'I could,' said Rose. 'Stay!' she added, disengaging her hand,'why should we prolong this painful interview? Most painful tome, and yet productive of lasting happiness, notwithstanding; forit WILL be happiness to know that I once held the high place inyour regard which I now occupy, and every triumph you achieve inlife will animate me with new fortitude and firmness. Farewell,Harry! As we have met to-day, we meet no more; but in otherrelations than those in which this conversation have placed us,we may be long and happily entwined; and may every blessing thatthe prayers of a true and earnest heart can call down from thesource of all truth and sincerity, cheer and prosper you!'

'Another word, Rose,' said Harry. 'Your reason in your ownwords. From your own lips, let me hear it!'

'The prospect before you,' answered Rose, firmly, 'is a brilliantone. All the honours to which great talents and powerfulconnections can help men in public life, are in store for you. But those connections are proud; and I will neither mingle withsuch as may hold in scorn the mother who gave me life; nor bringdisgrace or failure on the son of her who has so well suppliedthat mother's place. In a word,' said the young lady, turningaway, as her temporary firmness forsook her, 'there is a stainupon my name, which the world visits on innocent heads. I willcarry it into no blood but my own; and the reproach shall restalone on me.'

'One word more, Rose. Dearest Rose! one more!' cried Harry,throwing himself before her. 'If I had been less--lessfortunate, the world would call it--if some obscure and peacefullife had been my destiny--if I had been poor, sick,helpless--would you have turned from me then? Or has my probableadvancement to riches and honour, given this scruple birth?'

'Do not press me to reply,' answered Rose. 'The question doesnot arise, and never will. It is unfair, almost unkind, to urgeit.'

'If your answer be what I almost dare to hope it is,' retortedHarry, 'it will shed a gleam of happiness upon my lonely way, andlight the path before me. It is not an idle thing to do so much,by the utterance of a few brief words, for one who loves youbeyond all else. Oh, Rose: in the name of my ardent and enduringattachment; in the name of all I have suffered for you, and allyou doom me to undergo; answer me this one question!'

'Then, if your lot had been differently cast,' rejoined Rose; 'ifyou had been even a little, but not so far, above me; if I couldhave been a help and comfort to you in any humble scene of peaceand retirement, and not a blot and drawback in ambitious anddistinguished crowds; I should have been spared this trial. Ihave every reason to be happy, very happy, now; but then, Harry,I own I should have been happier.'

Busy recollections of old hopes, cherished as a girl, long ago,crowded into the mind of Rose, while making this avowal; but theybrought tears with them, as old hopes will when they come backwithered; and they relieved her.

'I cannot help this weakness, and it makes my purpose stronger,'said Rose, extending her hand. 'I must leave you now, indeed.'

'I ask one promise,' said Harry. 'Once, and only once more,--saywithin a year, but it may be much sooner,--I may speak to youagain on this subject, for the last time.'

'Not to press me to alter my right determination,' replied Rose,with a melancholy smile; 'it will be useless.'

'No,' said Harry; 'to hear you repeat it, if you will--finallyrepeat it! I will lay at your feet, whatever of station offortune I may possess; and if you still adhere to your presentresolution, will not seek, by word or act, to change it.'

'Then let it be so,' rejoined Rose; 'it is but one pang the more,and by that time I may be enabled to bear it better.'

She extended her hand again. But the young man caught her to hisbosom; and imprinting one kiss on her beautiful forehead, hurriedfrom the room.

CHAPTER XXXVI

IS A VERY SHORT ONE, AND MAY APPEAR OF NO GREAT IMPORTANCE IN ITSPLACE, BUT IT SHOULD BE READ NOTWITHSTANDING, AS A SEQUEL TO THELAST, AND A KEY TO ONE THAT WILL FOLLOW WHEN ITS TIME ARRIVES

'And so you are resolved to be my travelling companion thismorning; eh?' said the doctor, as Harry Maylie joined him andOliver at the breakfast-table. 'Why, you are not in the samemind or intention two half-hours together!'

'You will tell me a different tale one of these days,' saidHarry, colouring without any perceptible reason.

'I hope I may have good cause to do so,' replied Mr. Losberne;'though I confess I don't think I shall. But yesterday morningyou had made up your mind, in a great hurry, to stay here, and toaccompany your mother, like a dutiful son, to the sea-side. Before noon, you announce that you are going to do me the honourof accompanying me as far as I go, on your road to London. Andat night, you urge me, with great mystery, to start before theladies are stirring; the consequence of which is, that youngOliver here is pinned down to his breakfast when he ought to beranging the meadows after botanical phenomena of all kinds. Toobad, isn't it, Oliver?'

'I should have been very sorry not to have been at home when youand Mr. Maylie went away, sir,' rejoined Oliver.

'That's a fine fellow,' said the doctor; 'you shall come and seeme when you return. But, to speak seriously, Harry; has anycommunication from the great nobs produced this sudden anxiety onyour part to be gone?'

'The great nobs,' replied Harry, 'under which designation, Ipresume, you include my most stately uncle, have not communicatedwith me at all, since I have been here; nor, at this time of theyear, is it likely that anything would occur to render necessarymy immediate attendance among them.'

'Well,' said the doctor, 'you are a queer fellow. But of coursethey will get you into parliament at the election beforeChristmas, and these sudden shiftings and changes are no badpreparation for political life. There's something in that. Goodtraining is always desirable, whether the race be for place, cup,or sweepstakes.'

Harry Maylie looked as if he could have followed up this shortdialogue by one or two remarks that would have staggered thedoctor not a little; but he contented himself with saying, 'Weshall see,' and pursued the subject no farther. The post-chaisedrove up to the door shortly afterwards; and Giles coming in forthe luggage, the good doctor bustled out, to see it packed.

'Oliver,' said Harry Maylie, in a low voice, 'let me speak a wordwith you.'

Oliver walked into the window-recess to which Mr. Maylie beckonedhim; much surprised at the mixture of sadness and boisterousspirits, which his whole behaviour displayed.

'You can write well now?' said Harry, laying his hand upon hisarm.

'I hope so, sir,' replied Oliver.

'I shall not be at home again, perhaps for some time; I wish youwould write to me--say once a fort-night: every alternateMonday: to the General Post Office in London. Will you?'

'Oh! certainly, sir; I shall be proud to do it,' exclaimedOliver, greatly delighted with the commission.

'I should like to know how--how my mother and Miss Maylie are,'said the young man; 'and you can fill up a sheet by telling mewhat walks you take, and what you talk about, and whethershe--they, I mean--seem happy and quite well. You understand me?'

'Oh! quite, sir, quite,' replied Oliver.

'I would rather you did not mention it to them,' said Harry,hurrying over his words; 'because it might make my mother anxiousto write to me oftener, and it is a trouble and worry to her. Let is be a secret between you and me; and mind you tell meeverything! I depend upon you.'

Oliver, quite elated and honoured by a sense of his importance,faithfully promised to be secret and explicit in hiscommunications. Mr. Maylie took leave of him, with manyassurances of his regard and protection.

The doctor was in the chaise; Giles (who, it had been arranged,should be left behind) held the door open in his hand; and thewomen-servants were in the garden, looking on. Harry cast oneslight glance at the latticed window, and jumped into thecarriage.

'Drive on!' he cried, 'hard, fast, full gallop! Nothing short offlying will keep pace with me, to-day.'

'Halloa!' cried the doctor, letting down the front glass in agreat hurry, and shouting to the postillion; 'something veryshort of flyng will keep pace with me. Do you hear?'

Jingling and clattering, till distance rendered its noiseinaudible, and its rapid progress only perceptible to the eye,the vehicle wound its way along the road, almost hidden in acloud of dust: now wholly disappearing, and now becoming visibleagain, as intervening objects, or the intricacies of the way,permitted. It was not until even the dusty cloud was no longerto be seen, that the gazers dispersed.

And there was one looker-on, who remained with eyes fixed uponthe spot where the carriage had disappeared, long after it wasmany miles away; for, behind the white curtain which had shroudedher from view when Harry raised his eyes towards the window, satRose herself.

'He seems in high spirits and happy,' she said, at length. 'Ifeared for a time he might be otherwise. I was mistaken. I amvery, very glad.'

Tears are signs of gladness as well as grief; but those whichcoursed down Rose's face, as she sat pensively at the window,still gazing in the same direction, seemed to tell more of sorrowthan of joy.

CHAPTER XXXVII

IN WHICH THE READER MAY PERCEIVE A CONTRAST, NOT UNCOMMON INMATRIMONIAL CASES

Mr. Bumble sat in the workhouse parlour, with his eyes moodilyfixed on the cheerless grate, whence, as it was summer time, nobrighter gleam proceeded, than the reflection of certain sicklyrays of the sun, which were sent back from its cold and shiningsurface. A paper fly-cage dangled from the ceiling, to which heoccasionally raised his eyes in gloomy thought; and, as theheedless insects hovered round the gaudy net-work, Mr. Bumblewould heave a deep sigh, while a more gloomy shadow overspreadhis countenance. Mr. Bumble was meditating; it might be that theinsects brought to mind, some painful passage in his own pastlife.

Nor was Mr. Bumble's gloom the only thing calculated to awaken apleasing melancholy in the bosom of a spectator. There were notwanting other appearances, and those closely connected with hisown person, which announced that a great change had taken placein the position of his affairs. The laced coat, and the cockedhat; where were they? He still wore knee-breeches, and darkcotton stockings on his nether limbs; but they were not THEbreeches. The coat was wide-skirted; and in that respect likeTHE coat, but, oh how different! The mighty cocked hat wasreplaced by a modest round one. Mr. Bumble was no longer abeadle.

There are some promotions in life, which, independent of the moresubstantial rewards they offer, require peculiar value anddignity from the coats and waistcoats connected with them. Afield-marshal has his uniform; a bishop his silk apron; acounsellor his silk gown; a beadle his cocked hat. Strip thebishop of his apron, or the beadle of his hat and lace; what arethey? Men. Mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too,sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than somepeople imagine.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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