Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 40)

It is worthy of remark, and Oliver did not fail to note it at thetime, that his morning expeditions were no longer made alone. Harry Maylie, after the very first morning when he met Olivercoming laden home, was seized with such a passion for flowers,and displayed such a taste in their arrangement, as left hisyoung companion far behind. If Oliver were behindhand in theserespects, he knew where the best were to be found; and morningafter morning they scoured the country together, and brought homethe fairest that blossomed. The window of the young lady'schamber was opened now; for she loved to feel the rich summer airstream in, and revive her with its freshness; but there alwaysstood in water, just inside the lattice, one particular littlebunch, which was made up with great care, every morning. Olivercould not help noticing that the withered flowers were neverthrown away, although the little vase was regularly replenished;nor, could he help observing, that whenever the doctor came intothe garden, he invariably cast his eyes up to that particularcorner, and nodded his head most expressively, as he set forth onhis morning's walk. Pending these observations, the days wereflying by; and Rose was rapidly recovering.

Nor did Oliver's time hang heavy on his hands, although the younglady had not yet left her chamber, and there were no eveningwalks, save now and then, for a short distance, with Mrs. Maylie.

He applied himself, with redoubled assiduity, to the instructionsof the white-headed old gentleman, and laboured so hard that hisquick progress surprised even himself. It was while he wasengaged in this pursuit, that he was greatly startled anddistressed by a most unexpected occurence.

The little room in which he was accustomed to sit, when busy athis books, was on the ground-floor, at the back of the house. Itwas quite a cottage-room, with a lattice-window: around whichwere clusters of jessamine and honeysuckle, that crept over thecasement, and filled the place with their delicious perfume. Itlooked into a garden, whence a wicket-gate opened into a smallpaddock; all beyond, was fine meadow-land and wood. There was noother dwelling near, in that direction; and the prospect itcommanded was very extensive.

One beautiful evening, when the first shades of twilight werebeginning to settle upon the earth, Oliver sat at this window,intent upon his books. He had been poring over them for sometime; and, as the day had been uncommonly sultry, and he hadexerted himself a great deal, it it no disparagement to theauthors, whoever they may have been, to say, that gradually andby slow degrees, he fell asleep.

There is a kind of sleep that steals upon us sometimes, which,while it holds the body prisoner, does not free the mind from asense of things about it, and enable it to ramble at itspleasure. So far as an overpowering heaviness, a prostration ofstrength, and an utter inability to control our thoughts or powerof motion, can be called sleep, this is it; and yet, we have aconsciousness of all that is going on about us, and, if we dreamat such a time, words which are really spoken, or sounds whichreally exist at the moment, accommodate themselves withsurprising readiness to our visions, until reality andimagination become so strangely blended that it is afterwardsalmost matter of impossibility to separate the two. Nor is this,the most striking phenomenon indcidental to such a state. It isan undoubted fact, that although our senses of touch and sight befor the time dead, yet our sleeping thoughts, and the visionaryscenes that pass before us, will be influenced and materiallyinfluenced, by the MERE SILENT PRESENCE of some external object;which may not have been near us when we closed our eyes: and ofwhose vicinity we have had no waking consciousness.

Oliver knew, perfectly well, that he was in his own little room;that his books were lying on the table before him; that the sweetair was stirring among the creeping plants outside. And yet hewas asleep. Suddenly, the scene changed; the air became closeand confined; and he thought, with a glow of terror, that he wasin the Jew's house again. There sat the hideous old man, in hisaccustomed corner, pointing at him, and whispering to anotherman, with his face averted, who sat beside him.

'Hush, my dear!' he thought he heard the Jew say; 'it is he, sureenough. Come away.'

'He!' the other man seemed to answer; 'could I mistake him, thinkyou? If a crowd of ghosts were to put themselves into his exactshape, and he stood amongst them, there is something that wouldtell me how to point him out. If you buried him fifty feet deep,and took me across his grave, I fancy I should know, if therewasn't a mark above it, that he lay buried there?'

The man seemed to say this, with such dreadful hatred, thatOliver awoke with the fear, and started up.

Good Heaven! what was that, which sent the blood tingling to hisheart, and deprived him of his voice, and of power to move! There--there--at the window--close before him--so close, that hecould have almost touched him before he started back: with hiseyes peering into the room, and meeting his: there stood theJew! And beside him, white with rage or fear, or both, were thescowling features of the man who had accosted him in theinn-yard.

It was but an instant, a glance, a flash, before his eyes; andthey were gone. But they had recognised him, and he them; andtheir look was as firmly impressed upon his memory, as if it hadbeen deeply carved in stone, and set before him from his birth. He stood transfixed for a moment; then, leaping from the windowinto the garden, called loudly for help.



When the inmates of the house, attracted by Oliver's cries,hurried to the spot from which they proceeded, they found him,pale and agitated, pointing in the direction of the meadowsbehind the house, and scarcely able to articulate the words, 'TheJew! the Jew!'

Mr. Giles was at a loss to comprehend what this outcry meant; butHarry Maylie, whose perceptions were something quicker, and whohad heard Oliver's history from his mother, understood it atonce.

'What direction did he take?' he asked, catching up a heavy stickwhich was standing in a corner.

'That,' replied Oliver, pointing out the course the man hadtaken; 'I missed them in an instant.'

'Then, they are in the ditch!' said Harry. 'Follow! And keep asnear me, as you can.' So saying, he sprang over the hedge, anddarted off with a speed which rendered it matter of exceedingdifficulty for the others to keep near him.

Giles followed as well as he could; and Oliver followed too; andin the course of a minute or two, Mr. Losberne, who had been outwalking, and just then returned, tumbled over the hedge afterthem, and picking himself up with more agility than he could havebeen supposed to possess, struck into the same course at nocontemptible speed, shouting all the while, most prodigiously, toknow what was the matter.

On they all went; nor stopped they once to breathe, until theleader, striking off into an angle of the field indicated byOliver, began to search, narrowly, the ditch and hedge adjoining;which afforded time for the remainder of the party to come up;and for Oliver to communicate to Mr. Losberne the circumstancesthat had led to so vigorous a pursuit.

The search was all in vain. There were not even the traces ofrecent footsteps, to be seen. They stood now, on the summit of alittle hill, commanding the open fields in every direction forthree or four miles. There was the village in the hollow on theleft; but, in order to gain that, after pursuing the track Oliverhad pointed out, the men must have made a circuit of open ground,which it was impossible they could have accomplished in so shorta time. A thick wood skirted the meadow-land in anotherdirection; but they could not have gained that covert for thesame reason.

'It must have been a dream, Oliver,' said Harry Maylie.

'Oh no, indeed, sir,' replied Oliver, shuddering at the veryrecollection of the old wretch's countenance; 'I saw him tooplainly for that. I saw them both, as plainly as I see you now.'

'Who was the other?' inquired Harry and Mr. Losberne, together.

'The very same man I told you of, who came so suddenly upon me atthe inn,' said Oliver. 'We had our eyes fixed full upon eachother; and I could swear to him.'

'They took this way?' demanded Harry: 'are you sure?'

'As I am that the men were at the window,' replied Oliver,pointing down, as he spoke, to the hedge which divided thecottage-garden from the meadow. 'The tall man leaped over, justthere; and the Jew, running a few paces to the right, creptthrough that gap.'

The two gentlemen watched Oliver's earnest face, as he spoke, andlooking from him to each other, seemed to fell satisfied of theaccuracy of what he said. Still, in no direction were there anyappearances of the trampling of men in hurried flight. The grasswas long; but it was trodden down nowhere, save where their ownfeet had crushed it. The sides and brinks of the ditches were ofdamp clay; but in no one place could they discern the print ofmen's shoes, or the slightest mark which would indicate that anyfeet had pressed the ground for hours before.

'This is strange!' said Harry.

'Strange?' echoed the doctor. 'Blathers and Duff, themselves,could make nothing of it.'

Notwithstanding the evidently useless nature of their search,they did not desist until the coming on of night rendered itsfurther prosecution hopeless; and even then, they gave it up withreluctance. Giles was dispatched to the different ale-houses inthe village, furnished with the best description Oliver couldgive of the appearance and dress of the strangers. Of these, theJew was, at all events, sufficiently remarkable to be remembered,supposing he had been seen drinking, or loitering about; butGiles returned without any intelligence, calculated to dispel orlessen the mystery.

On the next day, fresh search was made, and the inquiriesrenewed; but with no better success. On the day following,Oliver and Mr. Maylie repaired to the market-town, in the hope ofseeing or hearing something of the men there; but this effort wasequally fruitless. After a few days, the affair began to beforgotten, as most affairs are, when wonder, having no fresh foodto support it, dies away of itself.

Meanwhile, Rose was rapidly recovering. She had left her room: was able to go out; and mixing once more with the family, carriedjoy into the hearts of all.

But, although this happy change had a visible effect on thelittle circle; and although cheerful voices and merry laughterwere once more heard in the cottage; there was at times, anunwonted restraint upon some there: even upon Rose herself: which Oliver could not fail to remark. Mrs. Maylie and her sonwere often closeted together for a long time; and more than onceRose appeared with traces of tears upon her face. After Mr.Losberne had fixed a day for his departure to Chertsey, thesesymptoms increased; and it became evident that something was inprogress which affected the peace of the young lady, and ofsomebody else besides.

At length, one morning, when Rose was alone in thebreakfast-parlour, Harry Maylie entered; and, with somehesitation, begged permission to speak with her for a fewmoments.

'A few--a very few--will suffice, Rose,' said the young man,drawing his chair towards her. 'What I shall have to say, hasalready presented itself to your mind; the most cherished hopesof my heart are not unknown to you, though from my lips you havenot heard them stated.'

Rose had been very pale from the moment of his entrance; but thatmight have been the effect of her recent illness. She merelybowed; and bending over some plants that stood near, waited insilence for him to proceed.

'I--I--ought to have left here, before,' said Harry.

'You should, indeed,' replied Rose. 'Forgive me for saying so,but I wish you had.'

'I was brought here, by the most dreadful and agonising of allapprehensions,' said the young man; 'the fear of losing the onedear being on whom my every wish and hope are fixed. You hadbeen dying; trembling between earth and heaven. We know thatwhen the young, the beautiful, and good, are visited withsickness, their pure spirits insensibly turn towards their brighthome of lasting rest; we know, Heaven help us! that the best andfairest of our kind, too often fade in blooming.'

There were tears in the eyes of the gentle girl, as these wordswere spoken; and when one fell upon the flower over which shebent, and glistened brightly in its cup, making it morebeautiful, it seemed as though the outpouring of her fresh youngheart, claimed kindred naturally, with the loveliest things innature.

'A creature,' continued the young man, passionately, 'a creatureas fair and innocent of guile as one of God's own angels,fluttered between life and death. Oh! who could hope, when thedistant world to which she was akin, half opened to her view,that she would return to the sorrow and calamity of this! Rose,Rose, to know that you were passing away like some soft shadow,which a light from above, casts upon the earth; to have no hopethat you would be spared to those who linger here; hardly to knowa reason why you should be; to feel that you belonged to thatbright sphere whither so many of the fairest and the best havewinged their early flight; and yet to pray, amid all theseconsolations, that you might be restored to those who lovedyou--these were distractions almost too great to bear. They weremine, by day and night; and with them, came such a rushingtorrent of fears, and apprehensions, and selfish regrets, lestyou should die, and never know how devotedly I loved you, asalmost bore down sense and reason in its course. You recovered. Day by day, and almost hour by hour, some drop of health cameback, and mingling with the spent and feeble stream of life whichcirculated languidly within you, swelled it again to a high andrushing tide. I have watched you change almost from death, tolife, with eyes that turned blind with their eagerness and deepaffection. Do not tell me that you wish I had lost this; for ithas softened my heart to all mankind.'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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