Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 15)

'I haven't got him, my dear,' said the old man.

'Where is he?' screamed Nancy, in a distracted manner.

'Why, the gentleman's got him,' replied the officer.

'What gentleman! Oh, gracious heavens! What gentleman?'exclaimed Nancy.

In reply to this incoherent questioning, the old man informed thedeeply affected sister that Oliver had been taken ill in theoffice, and discharged in consequence of a witness having provedthe robbery to have been committed by another boy, not incustody; and that the prosecutor had carried him away, in aninsensible condition, to his own residence: of and concerningwhich, all the informant knew was, that it was somewhere inPentonville, he having heard that word mentioned in thedirections to the coachman.

In a dreadful state of doubt and uncertainty, the agonised youngwoman staggered to the gate, and then, exchanging her falteringwalk for a swift run, returned by the most devious andcomplicated route she could think of, to the domicile of the Jew.

Mr. Bill Sikes no sooner heard the account of the expeditiondelivered, than he very hastily called up the white dog, and,putting on his hat, expeditiously departed: without devoting anytime to the formality of wishing the company good-morning.

'We must know where he is, my dears; he must be found,' said theJew greatly excited. 'Charley, do nothing but skulk about, tillyou bring home some news of him! Nancy, my dear, I must have himfound. I trust to you, my dear,--to you and the Artful foreverything! Stay, stay,' added the Jew, unlocking a drawer witha shaking hand; 'there's money, my dears. I shall shut up thisshop to-night. You'll know where to find me! Don't stop here aminute. Not an instant, my dears!'

With these words, he pushed them from the room: and carefullydouble-locking and barring the door behind them, drew from itsplace of concealment the box which he had unintentionallydisclosed to Oliver. Then, he hastily proceeded to dispose thewatches and jewellery beneath his clothing.

A rap at the door startled him in this occupation. 'Who'sthere?' he cried in a shrill tone.

'Me!' replied the voice of the Dodger, through the key-hole.

'What now?' cried the Jew impatiently.

'Is he to be kidnapped to the other ken, Nancy says?' inquiredthe Dodger.

'Yes,' replied the Jew, 'wherever she lays hands on him. Findhim, find him out, that's all. I shall know what to do next;never fear.'

The boy murmured a reply of intelligence: and hurried downstairsafter his companions.

'He has not peached so far,' said the Jew as he pursued hisoccupation. 'If he means to blab us among his new friends, wemay stop his mouth yet.'



Oliver soon recovering from the fainting-fit into which Mr.Brownlow's abrupt exclamation had thrown him, the subject of thepicture was carefully avoided, both by the old gentleman and Mrs.Bedwin, in the conversation that ensued: which indeed bore noreference to Oliver's history or prospects, but was confined tosuch topics as might amuse without exciting him. He was stilltoo weak to get up to breakfast; but, when he came down into thehousekeeper's room next day, his first act was to cast an eagerglance at the wall, in the hope of again looking on the face ofthe beautiful lady. His expectations were disappointed, however,for the picture had been removed.

'Ah!' said the housekeeper, watching the direction of Oliver'seyes. 'It is gone, you see.'

'I see it is ma'am,' replied Oliver. 'Why have they taken itaway?'

'It has been taken down, child, because Mr. Brownlow said, thatas it seemed to worry you, perhaps it might prevent your gettingwell, you know,' rejoined the old lady.

'Oh, no, indeed. It didn't worry me, ma'am,' said Oliver. 'Iliked to see it. I quite loved it.'

'Well, well!' said the old lady, good-humouredly; 'you get wellas fast as ever you can, dear, and it shall be hung up again. There! I promise you that! Now, let us talk about somethingelse.'

This was all the information Oliver could obtain about thepicture at that time. As the old lady had been so kind to him inhis illness, he endeavoured to think no more of the subject justthen; so he listened attentively to a great many stories she toldhim, about an amiable and handsome daughter of hers, who wasmarried to an amiable and handsome man, and lived in the country;and about a son, who was clerk to a merchant in the West Indies;and who was, also, such a good young man, and wrote such dutifulletters home four times a-year, that it brought the tears intoher eyes to talk about them. When the old lady had expatiated, along time, on the excellences of her children, and the merits ofher kind good husband besides, who had been dead and gone, poordear soul! just six-and-twenty years, it was time to have tea. After tea she began to teach Oliver cribbage: which he learnt asquickly as she could teach: and at which game they played, withgreat interest and gravity, until it was time for the invalid tohave some warm wine and water, with a slice of dry toast, andthen to go cosily to bed.

They were happy days, those of Oliver's recovery. Everything wasso quiet, and neat, and orderly; everybody so kind and gentle;that after the noise and turbulence in the midst of which he hadalways lived, it seemed like Heaven itself. He was no soonerstrong enough to put his clothes on, properly, than Mr. Brownlowcaused a complete new suit, and a new cap, and a new pair ofshoes, to be provided for him. As Oliver was told that he mightdo what he liked with the old clothes, he gave them to a servantwho had been very kind to him, and asked her to sell them to aJew, and keep the money for herself. This she very readily did;and, as Oliver looked out of the parlour window, and saw the Jewroll them up in his bag and walk away, he felt quite delighted tothink that they were safely gone, and that there was now nopossible danger of his ever being able to wear them again. Theywere sad rags, to tell the truth; and Oliver had never had a newsuit before.

One evening, about a week after the affair of the picture, as hewas sitting talking to Mrs. Bedwin, there came a message downfrom Mr. Brownlow, that if Oliver Twist felt pretty well, heshould like to see him in his study, and talk to him a littlewhile.

'Bless us, and save us! Wash your hands, and let me part yourhair nicely for you, child,' said Mrs. Bedwin. 'Dear heartalive! If we had known he would have asked for you, we wouldhave put you a clean collar on, and made you as smart assixpence!'

Oliver did as the old lady bade him; and, although she lamentedgrievously, meanwhile, that there was not even time to crimp thelittle frill that bordered his shirt-collar; he looked sodelicate and handsome, despite that important personal advantage,that she went so far as to say: looking at him with greatcomplacency from head to foot, that she really didn't think itwould have been possible, on the longest notice, to have mademuch difference in him for the better.

Thus encouraged, Oliver tapped at the study door. On Mr.Brownlow calling to him to come in, he found himself in a littleback room, quite full of books, with a window, looking into somepleasant little gardens. There was a table drawn up before thewindow, at which Mr. Brownlow was seated reading. When he sawOliver, he pushed the book away from him, and told him to comenear the table, and sit down. Oliver complied; marvelling wherethe people could be found to read such a great number of books asseemed to be written to make the world wiser. Which is still amarvel to more experienced people than Oliver Twist, every day oftheir lives.

'There are a good many books, are there not, my boy?' said Mr.Brownlow, observing the curiosity with which Oliver surveyed theshelves that reached from the floor to the ceiling.

'A great number, sir,' replied Oliver. 'I never saw so many.'

'You shall read them, if you behave well,' said the old gentlemankindly; 'and you will like that, better than looking at theoutsides,--that is, some cases; because there are books of whichthe backs and covers are by far the best parts.'

'I suppose they are those heavy ones, sir,' said Oliver, pointingto some large quartos, with a good deal of gilding about thebinding.

'Not always those,' said the old gentleman, patting Oliver on thehead, and smiling as he did so; 'there are other equally heavyones, though of a much smaller size. How should you like to growup a clever man, and write books, eh?'

'I think I would rather read them, sir,' replied Oliver.

'What! wouldn't you like to be a book-writer?' said the oldgentleman.

Oliver considered a little while; and at last said, he shouldthink it would be a much better thing to be a book-seller; uponwhich the old gentleman laughed heartily, and declared he hadsaid a very good thing. Which Oliver felt glad to have done,though he by no means knew what it was.

'Well, well,' said the old gentleman, composing his features.'Don't be afraid! We won't make an author of you, while there'san honest trade to be learnt, or brick-making to turn to.'

'Thank you, sir,' said Oliver. At the earnest manner of hisreply, the old gentleman laughed again; and said something abouta curious instinct, which Oliver, not understanding, paid no verygreat attention to.

'Now,' said Mr. Brownlow, speaking if possible in a kinder, butat the same time in a much more serious manner, than Oliver hadever known him assume yet, 'I want you to pay great attention, myboy, to what I am going to say. I shall talk to you without anyreserve; because I am sure you are well able to understand me, asmany older persons would be.'

'Oh, don't tell you are going to send me away, sir, pray!'exclaimed Oliver, alarmed at the serious tone of the oldgentleman's commencement! 'Don't turn me out of doors to wanderin the streets again. Let me stay here, and be a servant. Don'tsend me back to the wretched place I came from. Have mercy upona poor boy, sir!'

'My dear child,' said the old gentleman, moved by the warmth ofOliver's sudden appeal; 'you need not be afraid of my desertingyou, unless you give me cause.'

'I never, never will, sir,' interposed Oliver.

'I hope not,' rejoined the old gentleman. 'I do not think youever will. I have been deceived, before, in the objects whom Ihave endeavoured to benefit; but I feel strongly disposed totrust you, nevertheless; and I am more interested in your behalfthan I can well account for, even to myself. The persons on whomI have bestowed my dearest love, lie deep in their graves; but,although the happiness and delight of my life lie buried theretoo, I have not made a coffin of my heart, and sealed it up,forever, on my best affections. Deep affliction has butstrengthened and refined them.'

As the old gentleman said this in a low voice: more to himselfthan to his companion: and as he remained silent for a shorttime afterwards: Oliver sat quite still.

'Well, well!' said the old gentleman at length, in a morecheerful tone, 'I only say this, because you have a young heart;and knowing that I have suffered great pain and sorrow, you willbe more careful, perhaps, not to wound me again. You say you arean orphan, without a friend in the world; all the inquiries Ihave been able to make, confirm the statement. Let me hear yourstory; where you come from; who brought you up; and how you gotinto the company in which I found you. Speak the truth, and youshall not be friendless while I live.'

Oliver's sobs checked his utterance for some minutes; when he wason the point of beginning to relate how he had been brought up atthe farm, and carried to the workhouse by Mr. Bumble, apeculiarly impatient little double-knock was heard at thestreet-door: and the servant, running upstairs, announced Mr.Grimwig.

'Is he coming up?' inquired Mr. Brownlow.

'Yes, sir,' replied the servant. 'He asked if there were anymuffins in the house; and, when I told him yes, he said he hadcome to tea.'

Mr. Brownlow smiled; and, turning to Oliver, said that Mr.Grimwig was an old friend of his, and he must not mind his beinga little rough in his manners; for he was a worthy creature atbottom, as he had reason to know.

'Shall I go downstairs, sir?' inquired Oliver.

'No,' replied Mr. Brownlow, 'I would rather you remained here.'

At this moment, there walked into the room: supporting himselfby a thick stick: a stout old gentleman, rather lame in one leg,who was dressed in a blue coat, striped waistcoat, nankeenbreeches and gaiters, and a broad-brimmed white hat, with thesides turned up with green. A very small-plaited shirt frillstuck out from his waistcoat; and a very long steel watch-chain,with nothing but a key at the end, dangled loosely below it. Theends of his white neckerchief were twisted into a ball about thesize of an orange; the variety of shapes into which hiscountenance was twisted, defy description. He had a manner ofscrewing his head on one side when he spoke; and of looking outof the corners of his eyes at the same time: which irresistiblyreminded the beholder of a parrot. In this attitude, he fixedhimself, the moment he made his appearance; and, holding out asmall piece of orange-peel at arm's length, exclaimed, in agrowling, discontented voice.

'Look here! do you see this! Isn't it a most wonderful andextraordinary thing that I can't call at a man's house but I finda piece of this poor surgeon's friend on the staircase? I've beenlamed with orange-peel once, and I know orange-peel will be mydeath, or I'll be content to eat my own head, sir!'

This was the handsome offer with which Mr. Grimwig backed andconfirmed nearly every assertion he made; and it was the moresingular in his case, because, even admitting for the sake ofargument, the possibility of scientific improvements beingbrought to that pass which will enable a gentleman to eat his ownhead in the event of his being so disposed, Mr. Grimwig's headwas such a particularly large one, that the most sanguine manalive could hardly entertain a hope of being able to get throughit at a sitting--to put entirely out of the question, a verythick coating of powder.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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