Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 61)

But it was pure, earnest, joyful reality. They drove straight tothe door of the chief hotel (which Oliver used to stare up at,with awe, and think a mighty palace, but which had somehow fallenoff in grandeur and size); and here was Mr. Grimwig all ready toreceive them, kissing the young lady, and the old one too, whenthey got out of the coach, as if he were the grandfather of thewhole party, all smiles and kindness, and not offering to eat hishead--no, not once; not even when he contradicted a very oldpostboy about the nearest road to London, and maintained he knewit best, though he had only come that way once, and that timefast asleep. There was dinner prepared, and there were bedroomsready, and everything was arranged as if by magic.

Notwithstanding all this, when the hurry of the first half-hourwas over, the same silence and constraint prevailed that hadmarked their journey down. Mr. Brownlow did not join them atdinner, but remained in a separate room. The two other gentlemenhurried in and out with anxious faces, and, during the shortintervals when they were present, conversed apart. Once, Mrs.Maylie was called away, and after being absent for nearly anhour, returned with eyes swollen with weeping. All these thingsmade Rose and Oliver, who were not in any new secrets, nervousand uncomfortable. They sat wondering, in silence; or, if theyexchanged a few words, spoke in whispers, as if they were afraidto hear the sound of their own voices.

At length, when nine o'clock had come, and they began to thinkthey were to hear no more that night, Mr. Losberne and Mr.Grimwig entered the room, followed by Mr. Brownlow and a man whomOliver almost shrieked with surprise to see; for they told him itwas his brother, and it was the same man he had met at themarket-town, and seen looking in with Fagin at the window of hislittle room. Monks cast a look of hate, which, even then, hecould not dissemble, at the astonished boy, and sat down near thedoor. Mr. Brownlow, who had papers in his hand, walked to atable near which Rose and Oliver were seated.

'This is a painful task,' said he, 'but these declarations, whichhave been signed in London before many gentlemen, must besubstance repeated here. I would have spared you thedegradation, but we must hear them from your own lips before wepart, and you know why.'

'Go on,' said the person addressed, turning away his face.'Quick. I have almost done enough, I think. Don't keep mehere.'

'This child,' said Mr. Brownlow, drawing Oliver to him, andlaying his hand upon his head, 'is your half-brother; theillegitimate son of your father, my dear friend Edwin Leeford, bypoor young Agnes Fleming, who died in giving him birth.'

'Yes,' said Monks, scowling at the trembling boy: the beating ofwhose heart he might have heard. 'That is the bastard child.'

'The term you use,' said Mr. Brownlow, sternly, 'is a reproach tothose long since passed beyong the feeble censure of the world. It reflects disgrace on no one living, except you who use it. Let that pass. He was born in this town.'

'In the workhouse of this town,' was the sullen reply. 'You havethe story there.' He pointed impatiently to the papers as hespoke.

'I must have it here, too,' said Mr. Brownlow, looking round uponthe listeners.

'Listen then! You!' returned Monks. 'His father being taken illat Rome, was joined by his wife, my mother, from whom he had beenlong separated, who went from Paris and took me with her--to lookafter his property, for what I know, for she had no greataffection for him, nor he for her. He knew nothing of us, forhis senses were gone, and he slumbered on till next day, when hedied. Among the papers in his desk, were two, dated on the nighthis illness first came on, directed to yourself'; he addressedhimself to Mr. Brownlow; 'and enclosed in a few short lines toyou, with an intimation on the cover of the package that it wasnot to be forwarded till after he was dead. One of these paperswas a letter to this girl Agnes; the other a will.'

'What of the letter?' asked Mr. Brownlow.

'The letter?--A sheet of paper crossed and crossed again, with apenitent confession, and prayers to God to help her. He hadpalmed a tale on the girl that some secret mystery--to beexplained one day--prevented his marrying her just then; and soshe had gone on, trusting patiently to him, until she trusted toofar, and lost what none could ever give her back. She was, atthat time, within a few months of her confinement. He told herall he had meant to do, to hide her shame, if he had lived, andprayed her, if he died, not to curse him memory, or think theconsequences of their sin would be visited on her or their youngchild; for all the guilt was his. He reminded her of the day hehad given her the little locket and the ring with her christianname engraved upon it, and a blank left for that which he hopedone day to have bestowed upon her--prayed her yet to keep it, andwear it next her heart, as she had done before--and then ran on,wildly, in the same words, over and over again, as if he had gonedistracted. I believe he had.'

'The will,' said Mr. Brownlow, as Oliver's tears fell fast.

Monks was silent.

'The will,' said Mr. Brownlow, speaking for him, 'was in the samespirit as the letter. He talked of miseries which his wife hadbrought upon him; of the rebellious disposition, vice, malice,and premature bad passions of you his only son, who had beentrained to hate him; and left you, and your mother, each anannuity of eight hundred pounds. The bulk of his property hedivided into two equal portions--one for Agnes Fleming, and theother for their child, it it should be born alive, and ever comeof age. If it were a girl, it was to inherit the moneyunconditionally; but if a boy, only on the stipulation that inhis minority he should never have stained his name with anypublic act of dishonour, meanness, cowardice, or wrong. He didthis, he said, to mark his confidence in the other, and hisconviction--only strengthened by approaching death--that thechild would share her gentle heart, and noble nature. If he weredisappointed in this expectation, then the money was to come toyou: for then, and not till then, when both children were equal,would he recognise your prior claim upon his purse, who had noneupon his heart, but had, from an infant, repulsed him withcoldness and aversion.'

'My mother,' said Monks, in a louder tone, 'did what a womanshould have done. She burnt this will. The letter never reachedits destination; but that, and other proofs, she kept, in casethey ever tried to lie away the blot. The girl's father had thetruth from her with every aggravation that her violent hate--Ilove her for it now--could add. Goaded by shame and dishonour hefled with his children into a remote corner of Wales, changinghis very name that his friends might never know of his retreat;and here, no great while afterwards, he was found dead in hisbed. The girl had left her home, in secret, some weeks before;he had searched for her, on foot, in every town and village near;it was on the night when he returned home, assured that she haddestroyed herself, to hide her shame and his, that his old heartbroke.'

There was a short silence here, until Mr. Brownlow took up thethread of the narrative.

'Years after this,' he said, 'this man's--EdwardLeeford's--mother came to me. He had left her, when onlyeighteen; robbed her of jewels and money; gambled, squandered,forged, and fled to London: where for two years he hadassociated with the lowest outcasts. She was sinking under apainful and incurable disease, and wished to recover him beforeshe died. Inquiries were set on foot, and strict searches made. They were unavailing for a long time, but ultimately successful;and he went back with her to France.

'There she died,' said Monks, 'after a lingering illness; and, onher death-bed, she bequeathed these secrets to me, together withher unquenchable and deadly hatred of all whom theyinvolved--though she need not have left me that, for I hadinherited it long before. She would not believe that the girlhad destroyed herself, and the child too, but was filled with theimpression that a male child had been born, and was alive. Iswore to her, if ever it crossed my path, to hunt it down; neverto let it rest; to pursue it with the bitterest and mostunrelenting animosity; to vent upon it the hatred that I deeplyfelt, and to spit upon the empty vaunt of that insulting will bydraggin it, if I could, to the very gallows-foot. She was right.

He came in my way at last. I began well; and, but for babblingdrabs, I would have finished as I began!'

As the villain folded his arms tight together, and mutteredcurses on himself in the impotence of baffled malice, Mr.Brownlow turned to the terrified group beside him, and explainedthat the Jew, who had been his old accomplice and confidant, hada large reward for keeping Oliver ensnared: of which some partwas to be given up, in the event of his being rescued: and thata dispute on this head had led to their visit to the countryhouse for the purpose of identifying him.

'The locket and ring?' said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Monks.

'I bought them from the man and woman I told you of, who stolethem from the nurse, who stole them from the corpse,' answeredMonks without raising his eyes. 'You know what became of them.'

Mr. Brownlow merely nodded to Mr. Grimwig, who disappearing withgreat alacrity, shortly returned, pushing in Mrs. Bumble, anddragging her unwilling consort after him.

'Do my hi's deceive me!' cried Mr. Bumble, with ill-feignedenthusiasm, 'or is that little Oliver? Oh O-li-ver, if youknow'd how I've been a-grieving for you--'

'Hold your tongue, fool,' murmured Mrs. Bumble.

'Isn't natur, natur, Mrs. Bumble?' remonstrated the workhousemaster. 'Can't I be supposed to feel--_I_ as brought him upporochially--when I see him a-setting here among ladies andgentlemen of the very affablest description! I always loved thatboy as if he'd been my--my--my own grandfather,' said Mr. Bumble,halting for an appropriate comparison. 'Master Oliver, my dear,you remember the blessed gentleman in the white waistcoat? Ah!he went to heaven last week, in a oak coffin with plated handles,Oliver.'

'Come, sir,' said Mr. Grimwig, tartly; 'suppress your feelings.'

'I will do my endeavours, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'How do youdo, sir? I hope you are very well.'

This salutation was addressed to Mr. Brownlow, who had stepped upto within a short distance of the respectable couple. Heinquired, as he pointed to Monks,

'Do you know that person?'

'No,' replied Mrs. Bumble flatly.

'Perhaps YOU don't?' said Mr. Brownlow, addressing her spouse.

'I never saw him in all my life,' said Mr. Bumble.

'Nor sold him anything, perhaps?'

'No,' replied Mrs. Bumble.

'You never had, perhaps, a certain gold locket and ring?' saidMr. Brownlow.

'Certainly not,' replied the matron. 'Why are we brought here toanswer to such nonsense as this?'

Again Mr. Brownlow nodded to Mr. Grimwig; and again thatgentleman limped away with extraordinary readiness. But notagain did he return with a stout man and wife; for this time, heled in two palsied women, who shook and tottered as they walked.

'You shut the door the night old Sally died,' said the foremostone, raising her shrivelled hand, 'but you couldn't shut out thesound, nor stop the chinks.'

'No, no,' said the other, looking round her and wagging hertoothless jaws. 'No, no, no.'

'We heard her try to tell you what she'd done, and saw you take apaper from her hand, and watched you too, next day, to thepawnbroker's shop,' said the first.

'Yes,' added the second, 'and it was a "locket and gold ring." We found out that, and saw it given you. We were by. Oh! wewere by.'

'And we know more than that,' resumed the first, 'for she told usoften, long ago, that the young mother had told her that, feelingshe should never get over it, she was on her way, at the timethat she was taken ill, to die near the grave of the father ofthe child.'

'Would you like to see the pawnbroker himself?' asked Mr. Grimwigwith a motion towards the door.

'No,' replied the woman; 'if he--she pointed to Monks--'has beencoward enough to confess, as I see he had, and you have soundedall these hags till you have found the right ones, I have nothingmore to say. I DID sell them, and they're where you'll never getthem. What then?'

'Nothing,' replied Mr. Brownlow, 'except that it remains for usto take care that neither of you is employed in a situation oftrust again. You may leave the room.'

'I hope,' said Mr. Bumble, looking about him with greatruefulness, as Mr. Grimwig disappeared with the two old women: 'I hope that this unfortunate little circumstance will notdeprive me of my porochial office?'

'Indeed it will,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'You may make up yourmind to that, and think yourself well off besides.'

'It was all Mrs. Bumble. She WOULD do it,' urged Mr. Bumble;first looking round to ascertain that his partner had left theroom.

'That is no excuse,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'You were present onthe occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed arethe more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the lawsupposes that your wife acts under your direction.'

'If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hatemphatically in both hands, 'the law is a ass--a idiot. Ifthat's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst Iwish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience--byexperience.'

Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words, Mr.Bumble fixed his hat on very tight, and putting his hands in hispockets, followed his helpmate downstairs.

'Young lady,' said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Rose, 'give me yourhand. Do not tremble. You need not fear to hear the fewremaining words we have to say.'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 144059 times


Page generation 0.002 seconds