Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 13)

Oliver dozed off again, soon after this; when he awoke, it wasnearly twelve o'clock. The old lady tenderly bade him good-nightshortly afterwards, and left him in charge of a fat old woman whohad just come: bringing with her, in a little bundle, a smallPrayer Book and a large nightcap. Putting the latter on her headand the former on the table, the old woman, after telling Oliverthat she had come to sit up with him, drew her chair close to thefire and went off into a series of short naps, chequered atfrequent intervals with sundry tumblings forward, and diversmoans and chokings. These, however, had no worse effect thancausing her to rub her nose very hard, and then fall asleepagain.

And thus the night crept slowly on. Oliver lay awake for sometime, counting the little circles of light which the reflectionof the rushlight-shade threw upon the ceiling; or tracing withhis languid eyes the intricate pattern of the paper on the wall. The darkness and the deep stillness of the room were very solemn;as they brought into the boy's mind the thought that death hadbeen hovering there, for many days and nights, and might yet fillit with the gloom and dread of his awful presence, he turned hisface upon the pillow, and fervently prayed to Heaven.

Gradually, he fell into that deep tranquil sleep which ease fromrecent suffering alone imparts; that calm and peaceful rest whichit is pain to wake from. Who, if this were death, would beroused again to all the struggles and turmoils of life; to allits cares for the present; its anxieties for the future; morethan all, its weary recollections of the past!

It had been bright day, for hours, when Oliver opened his eyes;he felt cheerful and happy. The crisis of the disease was safelypast. He belonged to the world again.

In three days' time he was able to sit in an easy-chair, wellpropped up with pillows; and, as he was still too weak to walk,Mrs. Bedwin had him carried downstairs into the littlehousekeeper's room, which belonged to her. Having him set, here,by the fire-side, the good old lady sat herself down too; and,being in a state of considerable delight at seeing him so muchbetter, forthwith began to cry most violently.

'Never mind me, my dear,' said the old lady; 'I'm only having aregular good cry. There; it's all over now; and I'm quitecomfortable.'

'You're very, very kind to me, ma'am,' said Oliver.

'Well, never you mind that, my dear,' said the old lady; 'that'sgot nothing to do with your broth; and it's full time you had it;for the doctor says Mr. Brownlow may come in to see you thismorning; and we must get up our best looks, because the better welook, the more he'll be pleased.' And with this, the old ladyapplied herself to warming up, in a little saucepan, a basin fullof broth: strong enough, Oliver thought, to furnish an ampledinner, when reduced to the regulation strength, for threehundred and fifty paupers, at the lowest computation.

'Are you fond of pictures, dear?' inquired the old lady, seeingthat Oliver had fixed his eyes, most intently, on a portraitwhich hung against the wall; just opposite his chair.

'I don't quite know, ma'am,' said Oliver, without taking his eyesfrom the canvas; 'I have seen so few that I hardly know. What abeautiful, mild face that lady's is!'

'Ah!' said the old lady, 'painters always make ladies outprettier than they are, or they wouldn't get any custom, child. The man that invented the machine for taking likenesses mighthave known that would never succeed; it's a deal too honest. Adeal,' said the old lady, laughing very heartily at her ownacuteness.

'Is--is that a likeness, ma'am?' said Oliver.

'Yes,' said the old lady, looking up for a moment from the broth;'that's a portrait.'

'Whose, ma'am?' asked Oliver.

'Why, really, my dear, I don't know,' answered the old lady in agood-humoured manner. 'It's not a likeness of anybody that youor I know, I expect. It seems to strike your fancy, dear.'

'It is so pretty,' replied Oliver.

'Why, sure you're not afraid of it?' said the old lady: observingin great surprise, the look of awe with which the child regardedthe painting.

'Oh no, no,' returned Oliver quickly; 'but the eyes look sosorrowful; and where I sit, they seem fixed upon me. It makes myheart beat,' added Oliver in a low voice, 'as if it was alive,and wanted to speak to me, but couldn't.'

'Lord save us!' exclaimed the old lady, starting; 'don't talk inthat way, child. You're weak and nervous after your illness. Let me wheel your chair round to the other side; and then youwon't see it. There!' said the old lady, suiting the action tothe word; 'you don't see it now, at all events.'

Oliver DID see it in his mind's eye as distinctly as if he hadnot altered his position; but he thought it better not to worrythe kind old lady; so he smiled gently when she looked at him;and Mrs. Bedwin, satisfied that he felt more comfortable, saltedand broke bits of toasted bread into the broth, with all thebustle befitting so solemn a preparation. Oliver got through itwith extraordinary expedition. He had scarcely swallowed thelast spoonful, when there came a soft rap at the door. 'Comein,' said the old lady; and in walked Mr. Brownlow.

Now, the old gentleman came in as brisk as need be; but, he hadno sooner raised his spectacles on his forehead, and thrust hishands behind the skirts of his dressing-gown to take a good longlook at Oliver, than his countenance underwent a very greatvariety of odd contortions. Oliver looked very worn and shadowyfrom sickness, and made an ineffectual attempt to stand up, outof respect to his benefactor, which terminated in his sinkingback into the chair again; and the fact is, if the truth must betold, that Mr. Brownlow's heart, being large enough for any sixordinary old gentlemen of humane disposition, forced a supply oftears into his eyes, by some hydraulic process which we are notsufficiently philosophical to be in a condition to explain.

'Poor boy, poor boy!' said Mr. Brownlow, clearing his throat.'I'm rather hoarse this morning, Mrs. Bedwin. I'm afraid I havecaught cold.'

'I hope not, sir,' said Mrs. Bedwin. 'Everything you have had,has been well aired, sir.'

'I don't know, Bedwin. I don't know,' said Mr. Brownlow; 'Irather think I had a damp napkin at dinner-time yesterday; butnever mind that. How do you feel, my dear?'

'Very happy, sir,' replied Oliver. 'And very grateful indeed,sir, for your goodness to me.'

'Good by,' said Mr. Brownlow, stoutly. 'Have you given him anynourishment, Bedwin? Any slops, eh?'

'He has just had a basin of beautiful strong broth, sir,' repliedMrs. Bedwin: drawing herself up slightly, and laying strongemphasis on the last word: to intimate that between slops, andbroth will compounded, there existed no affinity or connectionwhatsoever.

'Ugh!' said Mr. Brownlow, with a slight shudder; 'a couple ofglasses of port wine would have done him a great deal more good. Wouldn't they, Tom White, eh?'

'My name is Oliver, sir,' replied the little invalid: with alook of great astonishment.

'Oliver,' said Mr. Brownlow; 'Oliver what? Oliver White, eh?'

'No, sir, Twist, Oliver Twist.'

'Queer name!' said the old gentleman. 'What made you tell themagistrate your name was White?'

'I never told him so, sir,' returned Oliver in amazement.

This sounded so like a falsehood, that the old gentleman lookedsomewhat sternly in Oliver's face. It was impossible to doubthim; there was truth in every one of its thin and sharpenedlineaments.

'Some mistake,' said Mr. Brownlow. But, although his motive forlooking steadily at Oliver no longer existed, the old idea of theresemblance between his features and some familiar face came uponhim so strongly, that he could not withdraw his gaze.

'I hope you are not angry with me, sir?' said Oliver, raising hiseyes beseechingly.

'No, no,' replied the old gentleman. 'Why! what's this? Bedwin,look there!'

As he spoke, he pointed hastily to the picture over Oliver'shead, and then to the boy's face. There was its living copy. Theeyes, the head, the mouth; every feature was the same. Theexpression was, for the instant, so precisely alike, that theminutest line seemed copied with startling accuracy!

Oliver knew not the cause of this sudden exclamation; for, notbeing strong enough to bear the start it gave him, he faintedaway. A weakness on his part, which affords the narrative anopportunity of relieving the reader from suspense, in behalf ofthe two young pupils of the Merry Old Gentleman; and ofrecording--

That when the Dodger, and his accomplished friend Master Bates,joined in the hue-and-cry which was raised at Oliver's heels, inconsequence of their executing an illegal conveyance of Mr.Brownlow's personal property, as has been already described, theywere actuated by a very laudable and becoming regard forthemselves; and forasmuch as the freedom of the subject and theliberty of the individual are among the first and proudest boastsof a true-hearted Englishman, so, I need hardly beg the reader toobserve, that this action should tend to exalt them in theopinion of all public and patriotic men, in almost as great adegree as this strong proof of their anxiety for their ownpreservation and safety goes to corroborate and confirm thelittle code of laws which certain profound and sound-judgingphilosophers have laid down as the main-springs of all Nature'sdeeds and actions: the said philosophers very wisely reducingthe good lady's proceedings to matters of maxim and theory: and,by a very neat and pretty compliment to her exalted wisdom andunderstanding, putting entirely out of sight any considerationsof heart, or generous impulse and feeling. For, these are matterstotally beneath a female who is acknowledged by universaladmission to be far above the numerous little foibles andweaknesses of her sex.

If I wanted any further proof of the strictly philosophicalnature of the conduct of these young gentlemen in their verydelicate predicament, I should at once find it in the fact (alsorecorded in a foregoing part of this narrative), of theirquitting the pursuit, when the general attention was fixed uponOliver; and making immediately for their home by the shortestpossible cut. Although I do not mean to assert that it isusually the practice of renowned and learned sages, to shortenthe road to any great conclusion (their course indeed beingrather to lengthen the distance, by various circumlocations anddiscursive staggerings, like unto those in which drunken menunder the pressure of a too mighty flow of ideas, are prone toindulge); still, I do mean to say, and do say distinctly, that itis the invariable practice of many mighty philosophers, incarrying out their theories, to evince great wisdom and foresightin providing against every possible contingency which can besupposed at all likely to affect themselves. Thus, to do a greatright, you may do a little wrong; and you may take any meanswhich the end to be attained, will justify; the amount of theright, or the amount of the wrong, or indeed the distinctionbetween the two, being left entirely to the philosopherconcerned, to be settled and determined by his clear,comprehensive, and impartial view of his own particular case.

It was not until the two boys had scoured, with great rapidity,through a most intricate maze of narrow streets and courts, thatthey ventured to halt beneath a low and dark archway. Havingremained silent here, just long enough to recover breath tospeak, Master Bates uttered an exclamation of amusement anddelight; and, bursting into an uncontrollable fit of laughter,flung himself upon a doorstep, and rolled thereon in a transportof mirth.

'What's the matter?' inquired the Dodger.

'Ha! ha! ha!' roared Charley Bates.

'Hold your noise,' remonstrated the Dodger, looking cautiouslyround. 'Do you want to be grabbed, stupid?'

'I can't help it,' said Charley, 'I can't help it! To see himsplitting away at that pace, and cutting round the corners, andknocking up again' the posts, and starting on again as if he wasmade of iron as well as them, and me with the wipe in my pocket,singing out arter him--oh, my eye!' The vivid imagination ofMaster Bates presented the scene before him in too strongcolours. As he arrived at this apostrophe, he again rolled uponthe door-step, and laughed louder than before.

'What'll Fagin say?' inquired the Dodger; taking advantage of thenext interval of breathlessness on the part of his friend topropound the question.

'What?' repeated Charley Bates.

'Ah, what?' said the Dodger.

'Why, what should he say?' inquired Charley: stopping rathersuddenly in his merriment; for the Dodger's manner wasimpressive. 'What should he say?'

Mr. Dawkins whistled for a couple of minutes; then, taking offhis hat, scratched his head, and nodded thrice.

'What do you mean?' said Charley.

'Toor rul lol loo, gammon and spinnage, the frog he wouldn't, andhigh cockolorum,' said the Dodger: with a slight sneer on hisintellectual countenance.

This was explanatory, but not satisfactory. Master Bates felt itso; and again said, 'What do you mean?'

The Dodger made no reply; but putting his hat on again, andgathering the skirts of his long-tailed coat under his arm,thrust his tongue into his cheek, slapped the bridge of his nosesome half-dozen times in a familiar but expressive manner, andturning on his heel, slunk down the court. Master Batesfollowed, with a thoughtful countenance.

The noise of footsteps on the creaking stairs, a few minutesafter the occurrence of this conversation, roused the merry oldgentleman as he sat over the fire with a saveloy and a small loafin his hand; a pocket-knife in his right; and a pewter pot on thetrivet. There was a rascally smile on his white face as heturned round, and looking sharply out from under his thick redeyebrows, bent his ear towards the door, and listened.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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