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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 58)


'I have no brother,' replied Monks. 'You know I was an onlychild. Why do you talk to me of brothers? You know that, aswell as I.'

'Attend to what I do know, and you may not,' said Mr. Brownlow. 'I shall interest you by and by. I know that of the wretchedmarriage, into which family pride, and the most sordid andnarrowest of all ambition, forced your unhappy father when a mereboy, you were the sole and most unnatural issue.'

'I don't care for hard names,' interrupted Monks with a jeeringlaugh. 'You know the fact, and that's enough for me.'

'But I also know,' pursued the old gentleman, 'the misery, theslow torture, the protracted anguish of that ill-assorted union. I know how listlessly and wearily each of that wretched pairdragged on their heavy chain through a world that was poisoned tothem both. I know how cold formalities were succeeded by opentaunts; how indifference gave place to dislike, dislike to hate,and hate to loathing, until at last they wrenched the clankingbond asunder, and retiring a wide space apart, carried each agalling fragment, of which nothing but death could break therivets, to hide it in new society beneath the gayest looks theycould assume. Your mother succeeded; she forgot it soon. But itrusted and cankered at your father's heart for years.'

'Well, they were separated,' said Monks, 'and what of that?'

'When they had been separated for some time,' returned Mr.Brownlow, 'and your mother, wholly given up to continentalfrivolities, had utterly forgotten the young husband ten goodyears her junior, who, with prospects blighted, lingered on athome, he fell among new friends. This circumstance, at least,you know already.'

'Not I,' said Monks, turning away his eyes and beating his footupon the ground, as a man who is determined to deny everything. 'Not I.'

'Your manner, no less than your actions, assures me that you havenever forgotten it, or ceased to think of it with bitterness,'returned Mr. Brownlow. 'I speak of fifteen years ago, when youwere not more than eleven years old, and your father butone-and-thirty--for he was, I repeat, a boy, when HIS fatherordered him to marry. Must I go back to events which cast a shadeupon the memory of your parent, or will you spare it, anddisclose to me the truth?'

'I have nothing to disclose,' rejoined Monks. 'You must talk onif you will.'

'These new friends, then,' said Mr. Brownlow, 'were a navalofficer retired from active service, whose wife had died somehalf-a-year before, and left him with two children--there hadbeen more, but, of all their family, happily but two survived. They were both daughters; one a beautiful creature of nineteen,and the other a mere child of two or three years old.'

'What's this to me?' asked Monks.

'They resided,' said Mr. Brownlow, without seeming to hear theinterruption, 'in a part of the country to which your father inhis wandering had repaired, and where he had taken up his abode. Acquaintance, intimacy, friendship, fast followed on each other. Your father was gifted as few men are. He had his sister's souland person. As the old officer knew him more and more, he grewto love him. I would that it had ended there. His daughter didthe same.

The old gentleman paused; Monks was biting his lips, with hiseyes fixed upon the floor; seeing this, he immediately resumed:

'The end of a year found him contracted, solemnly contracted, tothat daughter; the object of the first, true, ardent, onlypassion of a guileless girl.'

'Your tale is of the longest,' observed Monks, moving restlesslyin his chair.

'It is a true tale of grief and trial, and sorrow, young man,'returned Mr. Brownlow, 'and such tales usually are; if it wereone of unmixed joy and happiness, it would be very brief. Atlength one of those rich relations to strengthen whose interestand importance your father had been sacrificed, as others areoften--it is no uncommon case--died, and to repair the misery hehad been instrumental in occasioning, left him his panacea forall griefs--Money. It was necessary that he should immediatelyrepair to Rome, whither this man had sped for health, and wherehe had died, leaving his affairs in great confusion. He went;was seized with mortal illness there; was followed, the momentthe intelligence reached Paris, by your mother who carried youwith her; he died the day after her arrival, leaving no will--NOWILL--so that the whole property fell to her and you.'

At this part of the recital Monks held his breath, and listenedwith a face of intense eagerness, though his eyes were notdirected towards the speaker. As Mr. Brownlow paused, he changedhis position with the air of one who has experienced a suddenrelief, and wiped his hot face and hands.

'Before he went abroad, and as he passed through London on hisway,' said Mr. Brownlow, slowly, and fixing his eyes upon theother's face, 'he came to me.'

'I never heard of that,' interrupted MOnks in a tone intended toappear incredulous, but savouring more of disagreeable surprise.

'He came to me, and left with me, among some other things, apicture--a portrait painted by himself--a likeness of this poorgirl--which he did not wish to leave behind, and could not carryforward on his hasty journey. He was worn by anxiety and remorsealmost to a shadow; talked in a wild, distracted way, of ruin anddishonour worked by himself; confided to me his intention toconvert his whole property, at any loss, into money, and, havingsettled on his wife and you a portion of his recent acquisition,to fly the country--I guessed too well he would not flyalone--and never see it more. Even from me, his old and earlyfriend, whose strong attachment had taken root in the earth thatcovered one most dear to both--even from me he withheld any moreparticular confession, promising to write and tell me all, andafter that to see me once again, for the last time on earth.Alas! THAT was the last time. I had no letter, and I never sawhim more.'

'I went,' said Mr. Brownlow, after a short pause, 'I went, whenall was over, to the scene of his--I will use the term the worldwould freely use, for worldly harshness or favour are now aliketo him--of his guilty love, resolved that if my fears wererealised that erring child should find one heart and home toshelter and compassionate her. The family had left that part aweek before; they had called in such trifling debts as wereoutstanding, discharged them, and left the place by night. Why,or whithter, none can tell.'

Monks drew his breath yet more freely, and looked round with asmile of triumph.

'When your brother,' said Mr. Brownlow, drawing nearer to theother's chair, 'When your brother: a feeble, ragged, neglectedchild: was cast in my way by a stronger hand than chance, andrescued by me from a life of vice and infamy--'

'What?' cried Monks.

'By me,' said Mr. Brownlow. 'I told you I should interest youbefore long. I say by me--I see that your cunning associatesuppressed my name, although for ought he knew, it would be quitestrange to your ears. When he was rescued by me, then, and layrecovering from sickness in my house, his strong resemblance tothis picture I have spoken of, struck me with astonishment. Evenwhen I first saw him in all his dirt and misery, there was alingering expression in his face that came upon me like a glimpseof some old friend flashing on one in a vivid dream. I need nottell you he was snared away before I knew his history--'

'Why not?' asked Monks hastily.

'Because you know it well.'

'I!'

'Denial to me is vain,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'I shall show youthat I know more than that.'

'You--you--can't prove anything against me,' stammered Monks. 'Idefy you to do it!'

'We shall see,' returned the old gentleman with a searchingglance. 'I lost the boy, and no efforts of mine could recoverhim. Your mother being dead, I knew that you alone could solvethe mystery if anybody could, and as when I had last heard of youyou were on your own estate in the West Indies--whither, as youwell know, you retired upon your mother's death to escape theconsequences of vicious courses here--I made the voyage. You hadleft it, months before, and were supposed to be in London, but noone could tell where. I returned. Your agents had no clue toyour residence. You came and went, they said, as strangely asyou had ever done: sometimes for days together and sometimes notfor months: keeping to all appearance the same low haunts andmingling with the same infamous herd who had been your associateswhen a fierce ungovernable boy. I wearied them with newapplications. I paced the streets by night and day, but untiltwo hours ago, all my efforts were fruitless, and I never saw youfor an instant.'

'And now you do see me,' said Monks, rising boldly, 'what then? Fraud and robbery are high-sounding words--justified, you think,by a fancied resemblance in some young imp to an idle daub of adead man's Brother! You don't even know that a child was born ofthis maudlin pair; you don't even know that.'

'I DID NOT,' replied Mr. Brownlow, rising too; 'but within thelast fortnight I have learnt it all. You have a brother; youknow it, and him. There was a will, which your mother destroyed,leaving the secret and the gain to you at her own death. Itcontained a reference to some child likely to be the result ofthis sad connection, which child was born, and accidentallyencountered by you, when your suspicions were first awakened byhis resemblance to your father. You repaired to the place of hisbirth. There existed proofs--proofs long suppressed--of his birthand parentage. Those proofs were destroyed by you, and now, inyour own words to your accomplice the Jew, "THE ONLY PROOFS OFTHE BOY'S IDENTITY LIE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER, AND THE OLDHAG THAT RECEIVED THEM FORM THE MOTHER IS ROTTING IN HER COFFIN."

Unworthy son, coward, liar,--you, who hold your councils withthieves and murderers in dark rooms at night,--you, whose plotsand wiles have brought a violent death upon the head of one worthmillions such as you,--you, who from your cradle were gall andbitterness to your own father's heart, and in whom all evilpassions, vice, and profligacy, festered, till they found a ventin a hideous disease which had made your face an index even toyour mind--you, Edward Leeford, do you still brave me!'

'No, no, no!' returned the coward, overwhelmed by theseaccumulated charges.

'Every word!' cried the gentleman, 'every word that has passedbetween you and this detested villain, is known to me. Shadowson the wall have caught your whispers, and brought them to myear; the sight of the persecuted child has turned vice itself,and given it the courage and almost the attributes of virtue. Murder has been done, to which you were morally if not really aparty.'

'No, no,' interposed Monks. 'I--I knew nothing of that; I wasgoing to inquire the truth of the story when you overtook me. Ididn't know the cause. I thought it was a common quarrel.'

'It was the partial disclosure of your secrets,' replied Mr.Brownlow. 'Will you disclose the whole?'

'Yes, I will.'

'Set your hand to a statement of truth and facts, and repeat itbefore witnesses?'

'That I promise too.'

'Remain quietly here, until such a document is drawn up, andproceed with me to such a place as I may deem most advisable, forthe purpose of attesting it?'

'If you insist upon that, I'll do that also,' replied Monks.

'You must do more than that,' said Mr. Brownlow. 'Makerestitution to an innocent and unoffending child, for such he is,although the offspring of a guilty and most miserable love. Youhave not forgotten the provisions of the will. Carry them intoexecution so far as your brother is concerned, and then go whereyou please. In this world you need meet no more.'

While Monks was pacing up and down, meditating with dark and evillooks on this proposal and the possibilities of evading it: tornby his fears on the one hand and his hatred on the other: thedoor was hurriedly unlocked, and a gentleman (Mr. Losberne)entered the room in violent agitation.

'The man will be taken,' he cried. 'He will be taken to-night!'

'The murderer?' asked Mr. Brownlow.

'Yes, yes,' replied the other. 'His dog has been seen lurkingabout some old haunt, and there seems little doubt hat his mastereither is, or will be, there, under cover of the darkness. Spiesare hovering about in every direction. I have spoken to the menwho are charged with his capture, and they tell me he cannotescape. A reward of a hundred pounds is proclaimed by Governmentto-night.'

'I will give fifty more,' said Mr. Brownlow, 'and proclaim itwith my own lips upon the spot, if I can reach it. Where is Mr.Maylie?'

'Harry? As soon as he had seen your friend here, safe in a coachwith you, he hurried off to where he heard this,' replied thedoctor, 'and mounting his horse sallied forth to join the firstparty at some place in the outskirts agreed upon between them.'

'Fagin,' said Mr. Brownlow; 'what of him?'

'When I last heard, he had not been taken, but he will be, or is,by this time. They're sure of him.'

'Have you made up your mind?' asked Mr. Brownlow, in a low voice,of Monks.

'Yes,' he replied. 'You--you--will be secret with me?'

'I will. Remain here till I return. It is your only hope ofsafety.

They left the room, and the door was again locked.

'What have you done?' asked the doctor in a whisper.

'All that I could hope to do, and even more. Coupling the poorgirl's intelligence with my previous knowledge, and the result ofour good friend's inquiries on the spot, I left him no loopholeof escape, and laid bare the whole villainy which by these lightsbecame plain as day. Write and appoint the evening afterto-morrow, at seven, for the meeting. We shall be down there, afew hours before, but shall require rest: especially the younglady, who MAY have greater need of firmness than either you or Ican quite foresee just now. But my blood boils to avenge thispoor murdered creature. Which way have they taken?'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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