Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 35)

'Certainly,' rejoined Mr. Blathers. 'We had better inspect thepremises first, and examine the servants afterwards. That's theusual way of doing business.'

Lights were then procured; and Messrs. Blathers and Duff,attended by the native constable, Brittles, Giles, and everybodyelse in short, went into the little room at the end of thepassage and looked out at the window; and afterwards went roundby way of the lawn, and looked in at the window; and after that,had a candle handed out to inspect the shutter with; and afterthat, a lantern to trace the footsteps with; and after that, apitchfork to poke the bushes with. This done, amidst thebreathless interest of all beholders, they came in again; and Mr.Giles and Brittles were put through a melodramatic representationof their share in the previous night's adventures: which theyperformed some six times over: contradiction each other, in notmore than one important respect, the first time, and in not morethan a dozen the last. This consummation being arrived at,Blathers and Duff cleared the room, and held a long counciltogether, compared with which, for secrecy and solemnity, aconsultation of great doctors on the knottiest point in medicine,would be mere child's play.

Meanwhile, the doctor walked up and down the next room in a veryuneasy state; and Mrs. Maylie and Rose looked on, with anxiousfaces.

'Upon my word,' he said, making a halt, after a great number ofvery rapid turns, 'I hardly know what to do.'

'Surely,' said Rose, 'the poor child's story, faithfully repeatedto these men, will be sufficient to exonerate him.'

'I doubt it, my dear young lady,' said the doctor, shaking hishead. 'I don't think it would exonerate him, either with them,or with legal functionaries of a higher grade. What is he, afterall, they would say? A runaway. Judged by mere worldlyconsiderations and probabilities, his story is a very doubtfulone.'

'You believe it, surely?' interrupted Rose.

'_I_ believe it, strange as it is; and perhaps I may be an oldfool for doing so,' rejoined the doctor; 'but I don't think it isexactly the tale for a practical police-officer, nevertheless.'

'Why not?' demanded Rose.

'Because, my pretty cross-examiner,' replied the doctor:'because, viewed with their eyes, there are many ugly pointsabout it; he can only prove the parts that look ill, and none ofthose that look well. Confound the fellows, they WILL have theway and the wherefore, and will take nothing for granted. On hisown showing, you see, he has been the companion of thieves forsome time past; he has been carried to a police-officer, on acharge of picking a gentleman's pocket; he has been taken away,forcibly, from that gentleman's house, to a place which he cannotdescribe or point out, and of the situation of which he has notthe remotest idea. He is brought down to Chertsey, by men whoseem to have taken a violent fancy to him, whether he will or no;and is put through a window to rob a house; and then, just at thevery moment when he is going to alarm the inmates, and so do thevery thing that would set him all to rights, there rushes intothe way, a blundering dog of a half-bred butler, and shoots him! As if on purpose to prevent his doing any good for himself! Don't you see all this?'

'I see it, of course,' replied Rose, smiling at the doctor'simpetuosity; 'but still I do not see anything in it, to criminatethe poor child.'

'No,' replied the doctor; 'of course not! Bless the bright eyesof your sex! They never see, whether for good or bad, more thanone side of any question; and that is, always, the one whichfirst presents itself to them.'

Having given vent to this result of experience, the doctor puthis hands into his pockets, and walked up and down the room witheven greater rapidity than before.

'The more I think of it,' said the doctor, 'the more I see thatit will occasion endless trouble and difficulty if we put thesemen in possession of the boy's real story. I am certain it willnot be believed; and even if they can do nothing to him in theend, still the dragging it forward, and giving publicity to allthe doubts that will be cast upon it, must interfere, materially,with your benevolent plan of rescuing him from misery.'

'Oh! what is to be done?' cried Rose. 'Dear, dear! whyddid theysend for these people?'

'Why, indeed!' exclaimed Mrs. Maylie. 'I would not have had themhere, for the world.'

'All I know is,' said Mr. Losberne, at last: sitting down with akind of desperate calmness, 'that we must try and carry it offwith a bold face. The object is a good one, and that must be ourexcuse. The boy has strong symptoms of fever upon him, and is inno condition to be talked to any more; that's one comfort. Wemust make the best of it; and if bad be the best, it is no faultof ours. Come in!'

'Well, master,' said Blathers, entering the room followed by hiscolleague, and making the door fast, before he said any more. 'This warn't a put-up thing.'

'And what the devil's a put-up thing?' demanded the doctor,impatiently.

'We call it a put-up robbery, ladies,' said Blathers, turning tothem, as if he pitied their ignorance, but had a contempt for thedoctor's, 'when the servants is in it.'

'Nobody suspected them, in this case,' said Mrs. Maylie.

'Wery likely not, ma'am,' replied Blathers; 'but they might havebeen in it, for all that.'

'More likely on that wery account,' said Duff.

'We find it was a town hand,' said Blathers, continuing hisreport; 'for the style of work is first-rate.'

'Wery pretty indeed it is,' remarked Duff, in an undertone.

'There was two of 'em in it,' continued Blathers; 'and they had aboy with 'em; that's plain from the size of the window. That'sall to be said at present. We'll see this lad that you've gotupstairs at once, if you please.'

'Perhaps they will take something to drink first, Mrs. Maylie?'said the doctor: his face brightening, as if some new thought hadoccurred to him.

'Oh! to be sure!' exclaimed Rose, eagerly. 'You shall have itimmediately, if you will.'

'Why, thank you, miss!' said Blathers, drawing his coat-sleeveacross his mouth; 'it's dry work, this sort of duty. Anythinkthat's handy, miss; don't put yourself out of the way, on ouraccounts.'

'What shall it be?' asked the doctor, following the young lady tothe sideboard.

'A little drop of spirits, master, if it's all the same,' repliedBlathers. 'It's a cold ride from London, ma'am; and I alwaysfind that spirits comes home warmer to the feelings.'

This interesting communication was addressed to Mrs. Maylie, whoreceived it very graciously. While it was being conveyed to her,the doctor slipped out of the room.

'Ah!' said Mr. Blathers: not holding his wine-glass by the stem,but grasping the bottom between the thumb and forefinger of hisleft hand: and placing it in front of his chest; 'I have seen agood many pieces of business like this, in my time, ladies.'

'That crack down in the back lane at Edmonton, Blathers,' saidMr. Duff, assisting his colleague's memory.

'That was something in this way, warn't it?' rejoined Mr.Blathers; 'that was done by Conkey Chickweed, that was.'

'You always gave that to him' replied Duff. 'It was the FamilyPet, I tell you. Conkey hadn't any more to do with it than Ihad.'

'Get out!' retorted Mr. Blathers; 'I know better. Do you mindthat time when Conkey was robbed of his money, though? What astart that was! Better than any novel-book _I_ ever see!'

'What was that?' inquired Rose: anxious to encourage anysymptoms of good-humour in the unwelcome visitors.

'It was a robbery, miss, that hardly anybody would have been downupon,' said Blathers. 'This here Conkey Chickweed--'

'Conkey means Nosey, ma'am,' interposed Duff.

'Of course the lady knows that, don't she?' demanded Mr.Blathers. 'Always interrupting, you are, partner! This hereConkey Chickweed, miss, kept a public-house over Battlebridgeway, and he had a cellar, where a good many young lords went tosee cock-fighting, and badger-drawing, and that; and a weryintellectural manner the sports was conducted in, for I've seen'em off'en. He warn't one of the family, at that time; and onenight he was robbed of three hundred and twenty-seven guineas ina canvas bag, that was stole out of his bedrrom in the dead ofnight, by a tall man with a black patch over his eye, who hadconcealed himself under the bed, and after committing therobbery, jumped slap out of window: which was only a story high.

He was wery quick about it. But Conkey was quick, too; for hefired a blunderbuss arter him, and roused the neighbourhood. Theyset up a hue-and-cry, directly, and when they came to look about'em, found that Conkey had hit the robber; for there was tracesof blood, all the way to some palings a good distance off; andthere they lost 'em. However, he had made off with the blunt;and, consequently, the name of Mr. Chickweed, licensed witler,appeared in the Gazette among the other bankrupts; and all mannerof benefits and subscriptions, and I don't know what all, was gotup for the poor man, who was in a wery low state of mind abouthis loss, and went up and down the streets, for three or fourdays, a pulling his hair off in such a desperate manner that manypeople was afraid he might be going to make away with himself. One day he came up to the office, all in a hurry, and had aprivate interview with the magistrate, who, after a deal of talk,rings the bell, and orders Jem Spyers in (Jem was a activeofficer), and tells him to go and assist Mr. Chickweed inapprehending the man as robbed his house. "I see him, Spyers,"said Chickweed, "pass my house yesterday morning," "Why didn'tyou up, and collar him!" says Spyers. "I was so struck all of aheap, that you might have fractured my skull with a toothpick,"says the poor man; "but we're sure to have him; for between tenand eleven o'clock at night he passed again." Spyers no soonerheard this, than he put some clean linen and a comb, in hispocket, in case he should have to stop a day or two; and away hegoes, and sets himself down at one of the public-house windowsbehind the little red curtain, with his hat on, all ready to boltout, at a moment's notice. He was smoking his pipe here, late atnight, when all of a sudden Chickweed roars out, "Here he is! Stop thief! Murder!" Jem Spyers dashes out; and there he seesChickweed, a-tearing down the street full cry. Away goes Spyers;on goes Chickweed; round turns the people; everybody roars out,"Thieves!" and Chickweed himself keeps on shouting, all the time,like mad. Spyers loses sight of him a minute as he turns acorner; shoots round; sees a little crowd; dives in; "Which isthe man?" "D--me!" says Chickweed, "I've lost him again!" Itwas a remarkable occurrence, but he warn't to be seen nowhere, sothey went back to the public-house. Next morning, Spyers took hisold place, and looked out, from behind the curtain, for a tallman with a black patch over his eye, till his own two eyes achedagain. At last, he couldn't help shutting 'em, to ease 'em aminute; and the very moment he did so, he hears Chickweeda-roaring out, "Here he is!" Off he starts once more, withChickweed half-way down the street ahead of him; and after twiceas long a run as the yesterday's one, the man's lost again! Thiswas done, once or twice more, till one-half the neighbours gaveout that Mr. Chickweed had been robbed by the devil, who wasplaying tricks with him arterwards; and the other half, that poorMr. Chickweed had gone mad with grief.'

'What did Jem Spyers say?' inquired the doctor; who had returnedto the room shortly after the commencement of the story.

'Jem Spyers,' resumed the officer, 'for a long time said nothingat all, and listened to everything without seeming to, whichshowed he understood his business. But, one morning, he walkedinto the bar, and taking out his snuffbox, says "Chickweed, I'vefound out who done this here robbery." "Have you?" saidChickweed. "Oh, my dear Spyers, only let me have wengeance, andI shall die contented! Oh, my dear Spyers, where is thevillain!" "Come!" said Spyers, offering him a pinch of snuff,"none of that gammon! You did it yourself." So he had; and agood bit of money he had made by it, too; and nobody would neverhave found it out, if he hadn't been so precious anxious to keepup appearances!' said Mr. Blathers, putting down his wine-glass,and clinking the handcuffs together.

'Very curious, indeed,' observed the doctor. 'Now, if youplease, you can walk upstairs.'

'If YOU please, sir,' returned Mr. Blathers. Closely followingMr. Losberne, the two officers ascended to Oliver's bedroom; Mr.Giles preceding the party, with a lighted candle.

Oliver had been dozing; but looked worse, and was more feverishthan he had appeared yet. Being assisted by the doctor, hemanaged to sit up in bed for a minute or so; and looked at thestrangers without at all understanding what was going forward--infact, without seeming to recollect where he was, or what had beenpassing.

'This,' said Mr. Losberne, speaking softly, but with greatvehemence notwithstanding, 'this is the lad, who, beingaccidently wounded by a spring-gun in some boyish trespass on Mr.What-d' ye-call-him's grounds, at the back here, comes to thehouse for assistance this morning, and is immediately laid holdof and maltreated, by that ingenious gentleman with the candle inhis hand: who has placed his life in considerable danger, as Ican professionally certify.'

Messrs. Blathers and Duff looked at Mr. Giles, as he was thusrecommended to their notice. The bewildered butler gazed fromthem towards Oliver, and from Oliver towards Mr. Losberne, with amost ludicrous mixture of fear and perplexity.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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