Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 49)

'Not exactly that,' rejoined Mr. Brownlow, laughing; 'but we mustproceed gently and with great care.'

'Gentleness and care,' exclaimed the doctor. 'I'd send them oneand all to--'

'Never mind where,' interposed Mr. Brownlow. 'But reflectwhether sending them anywhere is likely to attain the object wehave in view.'

'What object?' asked the doctor.

'Simply, the discovery of Oliver's parentage, and regaining forhim the inheritance of which, if this story be true, he has beenfraudulently deprived.'

'Ah!' said Mr. Losberne, cooling himself with hispocket-handkerchief; 'I almost forgot that.'

'You see,' pursued Mr. Brownlow; 'placing this poor girl entirelyout of the question, and supposing it were possible to bringthese scoundrels to justice without compromising her safety, whatgood should we bring about?'

'Hanging a few of them at least, in all probability,' suggestedthe doctor, 'and transporting the rest.'

'Very good,' replied Mr. Brownlow, smiling; 'but no doubt theywill bring that about for themselves in the fulness of time, andif we step in to forestall them, it seems to me that we shall beperforming a very Quixotic act, in direct opposition to our owninterest--or at least to Oliver's, which is the same thing.'

'How?' inquired the doctor.

'Thus. It is quite clear that we shall have extreme difficultyin getting to the bottom of this mystery, unless we can bringthis man, Monks, upon his knees. That can only be done bystratagem, and by catching him when he is not surrounded by thesepeople. For, suppose he were apprehended, we have no proofagainst him. He is not even (so far as we know, or as the factsappear to us) concerned with the gang in any of their robberies. If he were not discharged, it is very unlikely that he couldreceive any further punishment than being committed to prison asa rogue and vagabond; and of course ever afterwards his mouthwould be so obstinately closed that he might as well, for ourpurposes, be deaf, dumb, blind, and an idiot.'

'Then,' said the doctor impetuously, 'I put it to you again,whether you think it reasonable that this promise to the girlshould be considered binding; a promise made with the best andkindest intentions, but really--'

'Do not discuss the point, my dear young lady, pray,' said Mr.Brownlow, interrupting Rose as she was about to speak. 'Thepromise shall be kept. I don't think it will, in the slightestdegree, interfere with our proceedings. But, before we canresolve upon any precise course of action, it will be necessaryto see the girl; to ascertain from her whether she will point outthis Monks, on the understanding that he is to be dealt with byus, and not by the law; or, if she will not, or cannot do that,to procure from her such an account of his haunts and descriptionof his person, as will enable us to identify him. She cannot beseen until next Sunday night; this is Tuesday. I would suggestthat in the meantime, we remain perfectly quiet, and keep thesematters secret even from Oliver himself.'

Although Mr. Loseberne received with many wry faces a proposalinvolving a delay of five whole days, he was fain to admit thatno better course occurred to him just then; and as both Rose andMrs. Maylie sided very strongly with Mr. Brownlow, thatgentleman's proposition was carried unanimously.

'I should like,' he said, 'to call in the aid of my friendGrimwig. He is a strange creature, but a shrewd one, and mightprove of material assistance to us; I should say that he was breda lawyer, and quitted the Bar in disgust because he had only onebrief and a motion of course, in twenty years, though whetherthat is recommendation or not, you must determine foryourselves.'

'I have no objection to your calling in your friend if I may callin mine,' said the doctor.

'We must put it to the vote,' replied Mr. Brownlow, 'who may hebe?'

'That lady's son, and this young lady's--very old friend,' saidthe doctor, motioning towards Mrs. Maylie, and concluding with anexpressive glance at her niece.

Rose blushed deeply, but she did not make any audible objectionto this motion (possibly she felt in a hopeless minority); andHarry Maylie and Mr. Grimwig were accordingly added to thecommittee.

'We stay in town, of course,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'while thereremains the slightest prospect of prosecuting this inquiry with achance of success. I will spare neither trouble nor expense inbehalf of the object in which we are all so deeply interested,and I am content to remain here, if it be for twelve months, solong as you assure me that any hope remains.'

'Good!' rejoined Mr. Brownlow. 'And as I see on the faces aboutme, a disposition to inquire how it happened that I was not inthe way to corroborate Oliver's tale, and had so suddenly leftthe kingdom, let me stipulate that I shall be asked no questionsuntil such time as I may deem it expedient to forestall them bytelling my own story. Believe me, I make this request with goodreason, for I might otherwise excite hopes destined never to berealised, and only increase difficulties and disappointmentsalready quite numerous enough. Come! Supper has been announced,and young Oliver, who is all alone in the next room, will havebegun to think, by this time, that we have wearied of hiscompany, and entered into some dark conspiracy to thrust himforth upon the world.'

With these words, the old gentleman gave his hand to Mrs. Maylie,and escorted her into the supper-room. Mr. Losberne followed,leading Rose; and the council was, for the present, effectuallybroken up.



Upon the night when Nancy, having lulled Mr. Sikes to sleep,hurried on her self-imposed mission to Rose Maylie, thereadvanced towards London, by the Great North Road, two persons,upon whom it is expedient that this history should bestow someattention.

They were a man and woman; or perhaps they would be betterdescribed as a male and female: for the former was one of thoselong-limbed, knock-kneed, shambling, bony people, to whom it isdifficult to assign any precise age,--looking as they do, whenthey are yet boys, like undergrown men, and when they are almostmen, like overgrown boys. The woman was young, but of a robustand hardy make, as she need have been to bear the weight of theheavy bundle which was strapped to her back. Her companion wasnot encumbered with much luggage, as there merely dangled from astick which he carried over his shoulder, a small parcel wrappedin a common handkerchief, and apparently light enough. Thiscircumstance, added to the length of his legs, which were ofunusual extent, enabled him with much ease to keep somehalf-dozen paces in advance of his companion, to whom heoccasionally turned with an impatient jerk of the head: as ifreproaching her tardiness, and urging her to greater exertion.

Thus, they had toiled along the dusty road, taking little heed ofany object within sight, save when they stepped aside to allow awider passage for the mail-coaches which were whirling out oftown, until they passed through Highgate archway; when theforemost traveller stopped and called impatiently to hiscompanion,

'Come on, can't yer? What a lazybones yer are, Charlotte.'

'It's a heavy load, I can tell you,' said the female, coming up,almost breathless with fatigue.

'Heavy! What are yer talking about? What are yer made for?'rejoined the male traveller, changing his own little bundle as hespoke, to the other shoulder. 'Oh, there yer are, resting again!

Well, if yer ain't enough to tire anybody's patience out, I don'tknow what is!'

'Is it much farther?' asked the woman, resting herself against abank, and looking up with the perspiration streaming from herface.

'Much farther! Yer as good as there,' said the long-leggedtramper, pointing out before him. 'Look there! Those are thelights of London.'

'They're a good two mile off, at least,' said the womandespondingly.

'Never mind whether they're two mile off, or twenty,' said NoahClaypole; for he it was; 'but get up and come on, or I'll kickyer, and so I give yer notice.'

As Noah's red nose grew redder with anger, and as he crossed theroad while speaking, as if fully prepared to put his threat intoexecution, the woman rose without any further remark, and trudgedonward by his side.

'Where do you mean to stop for the night, Noah?' she asked, afterthey had walked a few hundred yards.

'How should I know?' replied Noah, whose temper had beenconsiderably impaired by walking.

'Near, I hope,' said Charlotte.

'No, not near,' replied Mr. Claypole. 'There! Not near; sodon't think it.'

'Why not?'

'When I tell yer that I don't mean to do a thing, that's enough,without any why or because either,' replied Mr. Claypole withdignity.

'Well, you needn't be so cross,' said his companion.

'A pretty thing it would be, wouldn't it to go and stop at thevery first public-house outside the town, so that Sowerberry, ifhe come up after us, might poke in his old nose, and have ustaken back in a cart with handcuffs on,' said Mr. Claypole in ajeering tone. 'No! I shall go and lose myself among thenarrowest streets I can find, and not stop till we come to thevery out-of-the-wayest house I can set eyes on. 'Cod, yer maythanks yer stars I've got a head; for if we hadn't gone, atfirst, the wrong road a purpose, and come back across country,yer'd have been locked up hard and fast a week ago, my lady. Andserve yer right for being a fool.'

'I know I ain't as cunning as you are,' replied Charlotte; 'butdon't put all the blame on me, and say I should have been lockedup. You would have been if I had been, any way.'

'Yer took the money from the till, yer know yer did,' said Mr.Claypole.

'I took it for you, Noah, dear,' rejoined Charlotte.

'Did I keep it?' asked Mr. Claypole.

'No; you trusted in me, and let me carry it like a dear, and soyou are,' said the lady, chucking him under the chin, and drawingher arm through his.

This was indeed the case; but as it was not Mr. Claypole's habitto repose a blind and foolish confidence in anybody, it should beobserved, in justice to that gentleman, that he had trustedCharlotte to this extent, in order that, if they were pursued,the money might be found on her: which would leave him anopportunity of asserting his innocence of any theft, and wouldgreatly facilitate his chances of escape. Of course, he enteredat this juncture, into no explanation of his motives, and theywalked on very lovingly together.

In pursuance of this cautious plan, Mr. Claypole went on, withouthalting, until he arrived at the Angel at Islington, where hewisely judged, from the crowd of passengers and numbers ofvehicles, that London began in earnest. Just pausing to observewhich appeared the most crowded streets, and consequently themost to be avoided, he crossed into Saint John's Road, and wassoon deep in the obscurity of the intricate and dirty ways,which, lying between Gray's Inn Lane and Smithfield, render thatpart of the town one of the lowest and worst that improvement hasleft in the midst of London.

Through these streets, Noah Claypole walked, dragging Charlotteafter him; now stepping into the kennel to embrace at a glancethe whole external character of some small public-house; nowjogging on again, as some fancied appearance induced him tobelieve it too public for his purpose. At length, he stopped infront of one, more humble in appearance and more dirty than anyhe had yet seen; and, having crossed over and surveyed it fromthe opposite pavement, graciously announced his intention ofputting up there, for the night.

'So give us the bundle,' said Noah, unstrapping it from thewoman's shoulders, and slinging it over his own; 'and don't yerspeak, except when yer spoke to. What's the name of thehouse--t-h-r--three what?'

'Cripples,' said Charlotte.

'Three Cripples,' repeated Noah, 'and a very good sign too. Now,then! Keep close at my heels, and come along.' With theseinjunctions, he pushed the rattling door with his shoulder, andentered the house, followed by his companion.

There was nobody in the bar but a young Jew, who, with his twoelbows on the counter, was reading a dirty newspaper. He staredvery hard at Noah, and Noah stared very hard at him.

If Noah had been attired in his charity-boy's dress, there mighthave been some reason for the Jew opening his eyes so wide; butas he had discarded the coat and badge, and wore a shortsmock-frock over his leathers, there seemed no particular reasonfor his appearance exciting so much attention in a public-house.

'Is this the Three Cripples?' asked Noah.

'That is the dabe of this 'ouse,' replied the Jew.

'A gentleman we met on the road, coming up from the country,recommended us here,' said Noah, nudging Charlotte, perhaps tocall her attention to this most ingenious device for attractingrespect, and perhaps to warn her to betray no surprise. 'We wantto sleep here to-night.'

'I'b dot certaid you cad,' said Barney, who was the attendantsprite; 'but I'll idquire.'

'Show us the tap, and give us a bit of cold meat and a drop ofbeer while yer inquiring, will yer?' said Noah.

Barney complied by ushering them into a small back-room, andsetting the required viands before them; having done which, heinformed the travellers that they could be lodged that night, andleft the amiable couple to their refreshment.

Now, this back-room was immediately behind the bar, and somesteps lower, so that any person connected with the house,undrawing a small curtain which concealed a single pane of glassfixed in the wall of the last-named apartment, about five feetfrom its flooring, could not only look down upon any guests inthe back-room without any great hazard of being observed (theglass being in a dark angle of the wall, between which and alarge upright beam the observer had to thrust himself), butcould, by applying his ear to the partition, ascertain withtolerable distinctness, their subject of conversation. Thelandlord of the house had not withdrawn his eye from this placeof espial for five minutes, and Barney had only just returnedfrom making the communication above related, when Fagin, in thecourse of his evening's business, came into the bar to inquireafter some of his young pupils.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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