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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 48)


They purposed remaining in London only three days, prior todeparting for some weeks to a distant part of the coast. It wasnow midnight of the first day. What course of action could shedetermine upon, which could be adopted in eight-and-forty hours? Or how could she postpone the journey without exciting suspicion?

Mr. Losberne was with them, and would be for the next two days;but Rose was too well acquainted with the excellent gentleman'simpetuosity, and foresaw too clearly the wrath with which, in thefirst explosion of his indignation, he would regard theinstrument of Oliver's recapture, to trust him with the secret,when her representations in the girl's behalf could be secondedby no experienced person. These were all reasons for thegreatest caution and most circumspect behaviour in communicatingit to Mrs. Maylie, whose first impulse would infallibly be tohold a conference with the worthy doctor on the subject. As toresorting to any legal adviser, even if she had known how to doso, it was scarcely to be thought of, for the same reason. Oncethe thought occurred to her of seeking assistance from Harry; butthis awakened the recollection of their last parting, and itseemed unworthy of her to call him back, when--the tears rose toher eyes as she pursued this train of reflection--he might haveby this time learnt to forget her, and to be happier away.

Disturbed by these different reflections; inclining now to onecourse and then to another, and again recoiling from all, as eachsuccessive consideration presented itself to her mind; Rosepassed a sleepless and anxious night. After more communing withherself next day, she arrived at the desperate conclusion ofconsulting Harry.

'If it be painful to him,' she thought, 'to come back here, howpainful it will be to me! But perhaps he will not come; he maywrite, or he may come himself, and studiously abstain frommeeting me--he did when he went away. I hardly thought he would;but it was better for us both.' And here Rose dropped the pen,and turned away, as though the very paper which was to be hermessenger should not see her weep.

She had taken up the same pen, and laid it down again fiftytimes, and had considered and reconsidered the first line of herletter without writing the first word, when Oliver, who had beenwalking in the streets, with Mr. Giles for a body-guard, enteredthe room in such breathless haste and violent agitation, asseemed to betoken some new cause of alarm.

'What makes you look so flurried?' asked Rose, advancing to meethim.

'I hardly know how; I feel as if I should be choked,' replied theboy. 'Oh dear! To think that I should see him at last, and youshould be able to know that I have told you the truth!'

'I never thought you had told us anything but the truth,' saidRose, soothing him. 'But what is this?--of whom do you speak?'

'I have seen the gentleman,' replied Oliver, scarcely able toarticulate, 'the gentleman who was so good to me--Mr. Brownlow,that we have so often talked about.'

'Where?' asked Rose.

'Getting out of a coach,' replied Oliver, shedding tears ofdelight, 'and going into a house. I didn't speak to him--Icouldn't speak to him, for he didn't see me, and I trembled so,that I was not able to go up to him. But Giles asked, for me,whether he lived there, and they said he did. Look here,' saidOliver, opening a scrap of paper, 'here it is; here's where helives--I'm going there directly! Oh, dear me, dear me! Whatshall I do when I come to see him and hear him speak again!'

With her attention not a little distracted by these and a greatmany other incoherent exclamations of joy, Rose read the address,which was Craven Street, in the Strand. She very soon determinedupon turning the discovery to account.

'Quick!' she said. 'Tell them to fetch a hackney-coach, and beready to go with me. I will take you there directly, without aminute's loss of time. I will only tell my aunt that we aregoing out for an hour, and be ready as soon as you are.'

Oliver needed no prompting to despatch, and in little more thanfive minutes they were on their way to Craven Street. When theyarrived there, Rose left Oliver in the coach, under pretence ofpreparing the old gentleman to receive him; and sending up hercard by the servant, requested to see Mr. Brownlow on verypressing business. The servant soon returned, to beg that shewould walk upstairs; and following him into an upper room, MissMaylie was presented to an elderly gentleman of benevolentappearance, in a bottle-green coat. At no great distance fromwhom, was seated another old gentleman, in nankeen breeches andgaiters; who did not look particularly benevolent, and who wassitting with his hands clasped on the top of a thick stick, andhis chin propped thereupon.

'Dear me,' said the gentleman, in the bottle-green coat, hastilyrising with great politeness, 'I beg your pardon, young lady--Iimagined it was some importunate person who--I beg you willexcuse me. Be seated, pray.'

'Mr. Brownlow, I believe, sir?' said Rose, glancing from theother gentleman to the one who had spoken.

'That is my name,' said the old gentleman. 'This is my friend,Mr. Grimwig. Grimwig, will you leave us for a few minutes?'

'I believe,' interposed Miss Maylie, 'that at this period of ourinterview, I need not give that gentleman the trouble of goingaway. If I am correctly informed, he is cognizant of thebusiness on which I wish to speak to you.'

Mr. Brownlow inclined his head. Mr. Grimwig, who had made onevery stiff bow, and risen from his chair, made another very stiffbow, and dropped into it again.

'I shall surprise you very much, I have no doubt,' said Rose,naturally embarrassed; 'but you once showed great benevolence andgoodness to a very dear young friend of mine, and I am sure youwill take an interest in hearing of him again.'

'Indeed!' said Mr. Brownlow.

'Oliver Twist you knew him as,' replied Rose.

The words no sooner escaped her lips, than Mr. Grimwig, who hadbeen affecting to dip into a large book that lay on the table,upset it with a great crash, and falling back in his chair,discharged from his features every expression but one ofunmitigated wonder, and indulged in a prolonged and vacant stare;then, as if ashamed of having betrayed so much emotion, he jerkedhimself, as it were, by a convulsion into his former attitude,and looking out straight before him emitted a long deep whistle,which seemed, at last, not to be discharged on empty air, but todie away in the innermost recesses of his stomach.

Mr. Browlow was no less surprised, although his astonishment wasnot expressed in the same eccentric manner. He drew his chairnearer to Miss Maylie's, and said,

'Do me the favour, my dear young lady, to leave entirely out ofthe question that goodness and benevolence of which you speak,and of which nobody else knows anything; and if you have it inyour power to produce any evidence which will alter theunfavourable opinion I was once induced to entertain of that poorchild, in Heaven's name put me in possession of it.'

'A bad one! I'll eat my head if he is not a bad one,' growledMr. Grimwig, speaking by some ventriloquial power, without movinga muscle of his face.

'He is a child of a noble nature and a warm heart,' said Rose,colouring; 'and that Power which has thought fit to try himbeyond his years, has planted in his breast affections andfeelings which would do honour to many who have numbered his dayssix times over.'

'I'm only sixty-one,' said Mr. Grimwig, with the same rigid face.

'And, as the devil's in it if this Oliver is not twelve years oldat least, I don't see the application of that remark.'

'Do not heed my friend, Miss Maylie,' said Mr. Brownlow; 'he doesnot mean what he says.'

'Yes, he does,' growled Mr. Grimwig.

'No, he does not,' said Mr. Brownlow, obviously rising in wrathas he spoke.

'He'll eat his head, if he doesn't,' growled Mr. Grimwig.

'He would deserve to have it knocked off, if he does,' said Mr.Brownlow.

'And he'd uncommonly like to see any man offer to do it,'responded Mr. Grimwig, knocking his stick upon the floor.

Having gone thus far, the two old gentlemen severally took snuff,and afterwards shook hands, according to their invariable custom.

'Now, Miss Maylie,' said Mr. Brownlow, 'to return to the subjectin which your humanity is so much interested. Will you let meknow what intelligence you have of this poor child: allowing meto promise that I exhausted every means in my power ofdiscovering him, and that since I have been absent from thiscountry, my first impression that he had imposed upon me, and hadbeen persuaded by his former associates to rob me, has beenconsiderably shaken.'

Rose, who had had time to collect her thoughts, at once related,in a few natural words, all that had befallen Oliver since heleft Mr. Brownlow's house; reserving Nancy's information for thatgentleman's private ear, and concluding with the assurance thathis only sorrow, for some months past, had been not being able tomeet with his former benefactor and friend.

'Thank God!' said the old gentleman. 'This is great happiness tome, great happiness. But you have not told me where he is now,Miss Maylie. You must pardon my finding fault with you,--but whynot have brought him?'

'He is waiting in a coach at the door,' replied Rose.

'At this door!' cried the old gentleman. With which he hurriedout of the room, down the stairs, up the coachsteps, and into thecoach, without another word.

When the room-door closed behind him, Mr. Grimwig lifted up hishead, and converting one of the hind legs of his chair into apivot, described three distinct circles with the assistance ofhis stick and the table; stitting in it all the time. Afterperforming this evolution, he rose and limped as fast as he couldup and down the room at least a dozen times, and then stoppingsuddenly before Rose, kissed her without the slightest preface.

'Hush!' he said, as the young lady rose in some alarm at thisunusual proceeding. 'Don't be afraid. I'm old enough to be yourgrandfather. You're a sweet girl. I like you. Here they are!'

In fact, as he threw himself at one dexterous dive into hisformer seat, Mr. Brownlow returned, accompanied by Oliver, whomMr. Grimwig received very graciously; and if the gratification ofthat moment had been the only reward for all her anxiety and carein Oliver's behalf, Rose Maylie would have been well repaid.

'There is somebody else who should not be forgotten, by the bye,'said Mr. Brownlow, ringing the bell. 'Send Mrs. Bedwin here, ifyou please.'

The old housekeeper answered the summons with all dispatch; anddropping a curtsey at the door, waited for orders.

'Why, you get blinder every day, Bedwin,' said Mr. Brownlow,rather testily.

'Well, that I do, sir,' replied the old lady. 'People's eyes, atmy time of life, don't improve with age, sir.'

'I could have told you that,' rejoined Mr. Brownlow; 'but put onyour glasses, and see if you can't find out what you were wantedfor, will you?'

The old lady began to rummage in her pocket for her spectacles. But Oliver's patience was not proof against this new trial; andyielding to his first impulse, he sprang into her arms.

'God be good to me!' cried the old lady, embracing him; 'it is myinnocent boy!'

'My dear old nurse!' cried Oliver.

'He would come back--I knew he would,' said the old lady, holdinghim in her arms. 'How well he looks, and how like a gentleman'sson he is dressed again! Where have you been, this long, longwhile? Ah! the same sweet face, but not so pale; the same softeye, but not so sad. I have never forgotten them or his quietsmile, but have seen them every day, side by side with those ofmy own dear children, dead and gone since I was a lightsome youngcreature.' Running on thus, and now holding Oliver from her tomark how he had grown, now clasping him to her and passing herfingers fondly through his hair, the good soul laughed and weptupon his neck by turns.

Leaving her and Oliver to compare notes at leisure, Mr. Brownlowled the way into another room; and there, heard from Rose a fullnarration of her interview with Nancy, which occasioned him nolittle surprise and perplexity. Rose also explained her reasonsfor not confiding in her friend Mr. Losberne in the firstinstance. The old gentleman considered that she had actedprudently, and readily undertook to hold solemn conference withthe worthy doctor himself. To afford him an early opportunityfor the execution of this design, it was arranged that he shouldcall at the hotel at eight o'clock that evening, and that in themeantime Mrs. Maylie should be cautiously informed of all thathad occurred. These preliminaries adjusted, Rose and Oliverreturned home.

Rose had by no means overrated the measure of the good doctor'swrath. Nancy's history was no sooner unfolded to him, than hepoured forth a shower of mingled threats and execrations;threatened to make her the first victim of the combined ingenuityof Messrs. Blathers and Duff; and actually put on his hatpreparatory to sallying forth to obtain the assistance of thoseworthies. And, doubtless, he would, in this first outbreak, havecarried the intention into effect without a moment'sconsideration of the consequences, if he had not been restrained,in part, by corresponding violence on the side of Mr. Brownlow,who was himself of an irascible temperament, and party by sucharguments and representations as seemed best calculated todissuade him from his hotbrained purpose.

'Then what the devil is to be done?' said the impetuous doctor,when they had rejoined the two ladies. 'Are we to pass a vote ofthanks to all these vagabonds, male and female, and beg them toaccept a hundred pounds, or so, apiece, as a trifling mark of ouresteem, and some slight acknowledgment of their kindness toOliver?'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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