Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 12)

'Before I am sworn, I must beg to say one word,' said Mr.Brownlow; 'and that is, that I really never, without actualexperience, could have believed--'

'Hold your tongue, sir!' said Mr. Fang, peremptorily.

'I will not, sir!' replied the old gentleman.

'Hold your tongue this instant, or I'll have you turned out ofthe office!' said Mr. Fang. 'You're an insolent impertinentfellow. How dare you bully a magistrate!'

'What!' exclaimed the old gentleman, reddening.

'Swear this person!' said Fang to the clerk. 'I'll not hearanother word. Swear him.'

Mr. Brownlow's indignaton was greatly roused; but reflectingperhaps, that he might only injure the boy by giving vent to it,he suppressed his feelings and submitted to be sworn at once.

'Now,' said Fang, 'what's the charge against this boy? What haveyou got to say, sir?'

'I was standing at a bookstall--' Mr. Brownlow began.

'Hold your tongue, sir,' said Mr. Fang. 'Policeman! Where's thepoliceman? Here, swear this policeman. Now, policeman, what isthis?'

The policeman, with becoming humility, related how he had takenthe charge; how he had searched Oliver, and found nothing on hisperson; and how that was all he knew about it.

'Are there any witnesses?' inquired Mr. Fang.

'None, your worship,' replied the policeman.

Mr. Fang sat silent for some minutes, and then, turning round tothe prosecutor, said in a towering passion.

'Do you mean to state what your complaint against this boy is,man, or do you not? You have been sworn. Now, if you standthere, refusing to give evidence, I'll punish you for disrespectto the bench; I will, by--'

By what, or by whom, nobody knows, for the clerk and jailorcoughed very loud, just at the right moment; and the formerdropped a heavy book upon the floor, thus preventing the wordfrom being heard--accidently, of course.

With many interruptions, and repeated insults, Mr. Brownlowcontrived to state his case; observing that, in the surprise ofthe moment, he had run after the boy because he had saw himrunning away; and expressing his hope that, if the magistrateshould believe him, although not actually the thief, to beconnected with the thieves, he would deal as leniently with himas justice would allow.

'He has been hurt already,' said the old gentleman in conclusion.

'And I fear,' he added, with great energy, looking towards thebar, 'I really fear that he is ill.'

'Oh! yes, I dare say!' said Mr. Fang, with a sneer. 'Come, noneof your tricks here, you young vagabond; they won't do. What'syour name?'

Oliver tried to reply but his tongue failed him. He was deadlypale; and the whole place seemed turning round and round.

'What's your name, you hardened scoundrel?' demanded Mr. Fang. 'Officer, what's his name?'

This was addressed to a bluff old fellow, in a striped waistcoat,who was standing by the bar. He bent over Oliver, and repeatedthe inquiry; but finding him really incapable of understandingthe question; and knowing that his not replying would onlyinfuriate the magistrate the more, and add to the severity of hissentence; he hazarded a guess.

'He says his name's Tom White, your worship,' said thekind-hearted thief-taker.

'Oh, he won't speak out, won't he?' said Fang. 'Very well, verywell. Where does he live?'

'Where he can, your worship,' replied the officer; againpretending to receive Oliver's answer.

'Has he any parents?' inquired Mr. Fang.

'He says they died in his infancy, your worship,' replied theofficer: hazarding the usual reply.

At this point of the inquiry, Oliver raised his head; and,looking round with imploring eyes, murmured a feeble prayer for adraught of water.

'Stuff and nonsense!' said Mr. Fang: 'don't try to make a foolof me.'

'I think he really is ill, your worship,' remonstrated theofficer.

'I know better,' said Mr. Fang.

'Take care of him, officer,' said the old gentleman, raising hishands instinctively; 'he'll fall down.'

'Stand away, officer,' cried Fang; 'let him, if he likes.'

Oliver availed himself of the kind permission, and fell to thefloor in a fainting fit. The men in the office looked at eachother, but no one dared to stir.

'I knew he was shamming,' said Fang, as if this wereincontestable proof of the fact. 'Let him lie there; he'll soonbe tired of that.'

'How do you propose to deal with the case, sir?' inquired theclerk in a low voice.

'Summarily,' replied Mr. Fang. 'He stands committed for threemonths--hard labour of course. Clear the office.'

The door was opened for this purpose, and a couple of men werepreparing to carry the insensible boy to his cell; when anelderly man of decent but poor appearance, clad in an old suit ofblack, rushed hastily into the office, and advanced towards thebench.

'Stop, stop! don't take him away! For Heaven's sake stop amoment!' cried the new comer, breathless with haste.

Although the presiding Genii in such an office as this, exercisea summary and arbitrary power over the liberties, the good name,the character, almost the lives, of Her Majesty's subjects,expecially of the poorer class; and although, within such walls,enough fantastic tricks are daily played to make the angels blindwith weeping; they are closed to the public, save through themedium of the daily press.(Footnote: Or were virtually, then.) Mr. Fang was consequently not a little indignant to see anunbidden guest enter in such irreverent disorder.

'What is this? Who is this? Turn this man out. Clear theoffice!' cried Mr. Fang.

'I WILL speak,' cried the man; 'I will not be turned out. I sawit all. I keep the book-stall. I demand to be sworn. I will notbe put down. Mr. Fang, you must hear me. You must not refuse,sir.'

The man was right. His manner was determined; and the matter wasgrowing rather too serious to be hushed up.

'Swear the man,' growled Mr. Fang. with a very ill grace. 'Now,man, what have you got to say?'

'This,' said the man: 'I saw three boys: two others and theprisoner here: loitering on the opposite side of the way, whenthis gentleman was reading. The robbery was committed by anotherboy. I saw it done; and I saw that this boy was perfectly amazedand stupified by it.' Having by this time recovered a littlebreath, the worthy book-stall keeper proceeded to relate, in amore coherent manner the exact circumstances of the robbery.

'Why didn't you come here before?' said Fang, after a pause.

'I hadn't a soul to mind the shop,' replied the man. 'Everybodywho could have helped me, had joined in the pursuit. I could getnobody till five minutes ago; and I've run here all the way.'

'The prosecutor was reading, was he?' inquired Fang, afteranother pause.

'Yes,' replied the man. 'The very book he has in his hand.'

'Oh, that book, eh?' said Fang. 'Is it paid for?'

'No, it is not,' replied the man, with a smile.

'Dear me, I forgot all about it!' exclaimed the absent oldgentleman, innocently.

'A nice person to prefer a charge against a poor boy!' said Fang,with a comical effort to look humane. 'I consider, sir, that youhave obtained possession of that book, under very suspicious anddisreputable circumstances; and you may think yourself veryfortunate that the owner of the property declines to prosecute. Let this be a lesson to you, my man, or the law will overtake youyet. The boy is discharged. Clear the office!'

'D--n me!' cried the old gentleman, bursting out with the rage hehad kept down so long, 'd--n me! I'll--'

'Clear the office!' said the magistrate. 'Officers, do you hear?

Clear the office!'

The mandate was obeyed; and the indignant Mr. Brownlow wasconveyed out, with the book in one hand, and the bamboo cane inthe other: in a perfect phrenzy of rage and defiance. Hereached the yard; and his passion vanished in a moment. LittleOliver Twist lay on his back on the pavement, with his shirtunbuttoned, and his temples bathed with water; his face a deadlywhite; and a cold tremble convulsing his whole frame.

'Poor boy, poor boy!' said Mr. Brownlow, bending over him. 'Calla coach, somebody, pray. Directly!'

A coach was obtained, and Oliver having been carefully laid onthe seat, the old gentleman got in and sat himself on the other.

'May I accompany you?' said the book-stall keeper, looking in.

'Bless me, yes, my dear sir,' said Mr. Brownlow quickly. 'Iforgot you. Dear, dear! I have this unhappy book still! Jumpin. Poor fellow! There's no time to lose.'

The book-stall keeper got into the coach; and away they drove.



The coach rattled away, over nearly the same ground as that whichOliver had traversed when he first entered London in company withthe Dodger; and, turning a different way when it reached theAngel at Islington, stopped at length before a neat house, in aquiet shady street near Pentonville. Here, a bed was prepared,without loss of time, in which Mr. Brownlow saw his young chargecarefully and comfortably deposited; and here, he was tended witha kindness and solicitude that knew no bounds.

But, for many days, Oliver remained insensible to all thegoodness of his new friends. The sun rose and sank, and rose andsank again, and many times after that; and still the boy laystretched on his uneasy bed, dwindling away beneath the dry andwasting heat of fever. The worm does not work more surely on thedead body, than does this slow creeping fire upon the livingframe.

Weak, and thin, and pallid, he awoke at last from what seemed tohave been a long and troubled dream. Feebly raising himself inthe bed, with his head resting on his trembling arm, he lookedanxiously around.

'What room is this? Where have I been brought to?' said Oliver. 'This is not the place I went to sleep in.'

He uttered these words in a feeble voice, being very faint andweak; but they were overheard at once. The curtain at the bed'shead was hastily drawn back, and a motherly old lady, very neatlyand precisely dressed, rose as she undrew it, from an arm-chairclose by, in which she had been sitting at needle-work.

'Hush, my dear,' said the old lady softly. 'You must be veryquiet, or you will be ill again; and you have been very bad,--asbad as bad could be, pretty nigh. Lie down again; there's adear!' With those words, the old lady very gently placedOliver's head upon the pillow; and, smoothing back his hair fromhis forehead, looked so kindly and loving in his face, that hecould not help placing his little withered hand in hers, anddrawing it round his neck.

'Save us!' said the old lady, with tears in her eyes. 'What agrateful little dear it is. Pretty creetur! What would hismother feel if she had sat by him as I have, and could see himnow!'

'Perhaps she does see me,' whispered Oliver, folding his handstogether; 'perhaps she has sat by me. I almost feel as if shehad.'

'That was the fever, my dear,' said the old lady mildly.

'I suppose it was,' replied Oliver, 'because heaven is a long wayoff; and they are too happy there, to come down to the bedside ofa poor boy. But if she knew I was ill, she must have pitied me,even there; for she was very ill herself before she died. Shecan't know anything about me though,' added Oliver after amoment's silence. 'If she had seen me hurt, it would have madehere sorrowful; and her face has always looked sweet and happy,when I have dreamed of her.'

The old lady made no reply to this; but wiping her eyes first,and her spectacles, which lay on the counterpane, afterwards, asif they were part and parcel of those features, brought some coolstuff for Oliver to drink; and then, patting him on the cheek,told him he must lie very quiet, or he would be ill again.

So, Oliver kept very still; partly because he was anxious to obeythe kind old lady in all things; and partly, to tell the truth,because he was completely exhausted with what he had alreadysaid. He soon fell into a gentle doze, from which he wasawakened by the light of a candle: which, being brought near thebed, showed him a gentleman with a very large and loud-tickinggold watch in his hand, who felt his pulse, and said he was agreat deal better.

'You ARE a great deal better, are you not, my dear?' said thegentleman.

'Yes, thank you, sir,' replied Oliver.

'Yes, I know you are,' said the gentleman: 'You're hungry too,an't you?'

'No, sir,' answered Oliver.

'Hem!' said the gentleman. 'No, I know you're not. He is nothungry, Mrs. Bedwin,' said the gentleman: looking very wise.

The old lady made a respectful inclination of the head, whichseemed to say that she thought the doctor was a very clever man. The doctor appeared much of the same opinion himself.

'You feel sleepy, don't you, my dear?' said the doctor.

'No, sir,' replied Oliver.

'No,' said the doctor, with a very shrewd and satisfied look.'You're not sleepy. Nor thirsty. Are you?'

'Yes, sir, rather thirsty,' answered Oliver.

'Just as I expected, Mrs. Bedwin,' said the doctor. 'It's verynatural that he should be thirsty. You may give him a littletea, ma'am, and some dry toast without any butter. Don't keephim too warm, ma'am; but be careful that you don't let him be toocold; will you have the goodness?'

The old lady dropped a curtsey. The doctor, after tasting thecool stuff, and expressing a qualified approval of it, hurriedaway: his boots creaking in a very important and wealthy manneras he went downstairs.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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