Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 62)

'If they have--I do not know how they can, but if they have--anyreference to me,' said Rose, 'pray let me hear them at some othertime. I have not strength or spirits now.'

'Nay,' returned the old gentlman, drawing her arm through his;'you have more fortitude than this, I am sure. Do you know thisyoung lady, sir?'

'Yes,' replied Monks.

'I never saw you before,' said Rose faintly.

'I have seen you often,' returned Monks.

'The father of the unhappy Agnes had TWO daughters,' said Mr.Brownlow. 'What was the fate of the other--the child?'

'The child,' replied Monks, 'when her father died in a strangeplace, in a strange name, without a letter, book, or scrap ofpaper that yielded the faintest clue by which his friends orrelatives could be traced--the child was taken by some wretchedcottagers, who reared it as their own.'

'Go on,' said Mr. Brownlow, signing to Mrs. Maylie to approach. 'Go on!'

'You couldn't find the spot to which these people had repaired,'said Monks, 'but where friendship fails, hatred will often forcea way. My mother found it, after a year of cunning search--ay,and found the child.'

'She took it, did she?'

'No. The people were poor and began to sicken--at least the mandid--of their fine humanity; so she left it with them, givingthem a small present of money which would not last long, andpromised more, which she never meant to send. She didn't quiterely, however, on their discontent and poverty for the child'sunhappiness, but told the history of the sister's shame, withsuch alterations as suited her; bade them take good heed of thechild, for she came of bad blood;; and told them she wasillegitimate, and sure to go wrong at one time or other. Thecircumstances countenanced all this; the people believed it; andthere the child dragged on an existence, miserable enough even tosatisfy us, until a widow lady, residing, then, at Chester, sawthe girl by chance, pitied her, and took her home. There wassome cursed spell, I think, against us; for in spite of all ourefforts she remained there and was happy. I lost sight of her,two or three years ago, and saw her no more until a few monthsback.'

'Do you see her now?'

'Yes. Leaning on your arm.'

'But not the less my niece,' cried Mrs. Maylie, folding thefainting girl in her arms; 'not the less my dearest child. Iwould not lose her now, for all the treasures of the world. Mysweet companion, my own dear girl!'

'The only friend I ever had,' cried Rose, clinging to her. 'Thekindest, best of friends. My heart will burst. I cannot bearall this.'

'You have borne more, and have been, through all, the best andgentlest creature that ever shed happiness on every one sheknew,' said Mrs. Maylie, embracing her tenderly. 'Come, come, mylove, remember who this is who waits to clasp you in his arms,poor child! See here--look, look, my dear!'

'Not aunt,' cried Oliver, throwing his arms about her neck; 'I'llnever call her aunt--sister, my own dear sister, that somethingtaught my heart to love so dearly from the first! Rose, dear,darling Rose!'

Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which wereexchanged in the long close embrace between the orphans, besacred. A father, sister, and mother, were gained, and lost, inthat one moment. Joy and grief were mingled in the cup; butthere were no bitter tears: for even grief itself arose sosoftened, and clothed in such sweet and tender recollections,that it became a solemn pleasure, and lost all character of pain.

They were a long, long time alone. A soft tap at the door, atlength announced that some one was without. Oliver opened it,glided away, and gave place to Harry Maylie.

'I know it all,' he said, taking a seat beside the lovely girl. 'Dear Rose, I know it all.'

'I am not here by accident,' he added after a lengthened silence;'nor have I heard all this to-night, for I knew ityesterday--only yesterday. Do you guess that I have come toremind you of a promise?'

'Stay,' said Rose. 'You DO know all.'

'All. You gave me leave, at any time within a year, to renew thesubject of our last discourse.'

'I did.'

'Not to press you to alter your determination,' pursued the youngman, 'but to hear you repeat it, if you would. I was to laywhatever of station or fortune I might possess at your feet, andif you still adhered to your former determination, I pledgedmyself, by no word or act, to seek to change it.'

'The same reasons which influenced me then, will influence meknow,' said Rose firmly. 'If I ever owed a strict and rigid dutyto her, whose goodness saved me from a life of indigence andsuffering, when should I ever feel it, as I should to-night? Itis a struggle,' said Rose, 'but one I am proud to make; it is apang, but one my heart shall bear.'

'The disclosure of to-night,'--Harry began.

'The disclosure of to-night,' replied Rose softly, 'leaves me inthe same position, with reference to you, as that in which Istood before.'

'You harden your heart against me, Rose,' urged her lover.

'Oh Harry, Harry,' said the young lady, bursting into tears; 'Iwish I could, and spare myself this pain.'

'Then why inflict it on yourself?' said Harry, taking her hand. 'Think, dear Rose, think what you have heard to-night.'

'And what have I heard! What have I heard!' cried Rose. 'That asense of his deep disgrace so worked upon my own father that heshunned all--there, we have said enough, Harry, we have saidenough.'

'Not yet, not yet,' said the young man, detaining her as sherose. 'My hopes, my wishes, prospects, feeling: every thoughtin life except my love for you: have undergone a change. Ioffer you, now, no distinction among a bustling crowd; nomingling with a world of malice and detraction, where the bloodis called into honest cheeks by aught but real disgrace andshame; but a home--a heart and home--yes, dearest Rose, andthose, and those alone, are all I have to offer.'

'What do you mean!' she faltered.

'I mean but this--that when I left you last, I left you with afirm determination to level all fancied barriers between yourselfand me; resolved that if my world could not be yours, I wouldmake yours mine; that no pride of birth should curl the lip atyou, for I would turn from it. This I have done. Those who haveshrunk from me because of this, have shrunk from you, and provedyou so far right. Such power and patronage: such relatives ofinfluence and rank: as smiled upon me then, look coldly now; butthere are smiling fields and waving trees in England's richestcounty; and by one village church--mine, Rose, my own!--therestands a rustic dwelling which you can make me prouder of, thanall the hopes I have renounced, measured a thousandfold. This ismy rank and station now, and here I lay it down!'

* * * * * * *

'It's a trying thing waiting supper for lovers,' said Mr.Grimwig, waking up, and pulling his pocket-handkerchief from overhis head.

Truth to tell, the supper had been waiting a most unreasonabletime. Neither Mrs. Maylie, nor Harry, nor Rose (who all came intogether), could offer a word in extenuation.

'I had serious thoughts of eating my head to-night,' said Mr.Grimwig, 'for I began to think I should get nothing else. I'lltake the liberty, if you'll allow me, of saluting the bride thatis to be.'

Mr. Grimwig lost no time in carrying this notice into effect uponthe blushing girl; and the example, being contagious, wasfollowed both by the doctor and Mr. Brownlow: some people affirmthat Harry Maylie had been observed to set it, orginally, in adark room adjoining; but the best authorities consider thisdownright scandal: he being young and a clergyman.

'Oliver, my child,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'where have you been, andwhy do you look so sad? There are tears stealing down your faceat this moment. What is the matter?'

It is a world of disappointment: often to the hopes we mostcherish, and hopes that do our nature the greatest honour.

Poor Dick was dead!



The court was paved, from floor to roof, with human faces.Inquisitive and eager eyes peered from every inch of space. Fromthe rail before the dock, away into the sharpest angle of thesmallest corner in the galleries, all looks were fixed upon oneman--Fagin. Before him and behind: above, below, on the rightand on the left: he seemed to stand surrounded by a firmament,all bright with gleaming eyes.

He stood there, in all this glare of living light, with one handresting on the wooden slab before him, the other held to his ear,and his head thrust forward to enable him to catch with greaterdistinctness every word that fell from the presiding judge, whowas delivering his charge to the jury. At times, he turned hiseyes sharply upon them to observe the effect of the slightestfeatherweight in his favour; and when the points against him werestated with terrible distinctness, looked towards his counsel, inmute appeal that he would, even then, urge something in hisbehalf. Beyond these manifestations of anxiety, he stirred nothand or foot. He had scarcely moved since the trial began; andnow that the judge ceased to speak, he still remained in the samestrained attitude of close attention, with his gaze ben on him,as though he listened still.

A slight bustle in the court, recalled him to himself. Lookinground, he saw that the juryman had turned together, to considertheir verdict. As his eyes wandered to the gallery, he could seethe people rising above each other to see his face: some hastilyapplying their glasses to their eyes: and others whisperingtheir neighbours with looks expressive of abhorrence. A fewthere were, who seemed unmindful of him, and looked only to thejury, in impatient wonder how they could delay. But in no oneface--not even among the women, of whom there were manythere--could he read the faintest sympathy with himself, or anyfeeling but one of all-absorbing interest that he should becondemned.

As he saw all this in one bewildered glance, the deathlikestillness came again, and looking back he saw that the jurymenhad turned towards the judge. Hush!

They only sought permission to retire.

He looked, wistfully, into their faces, one by one when theypassed out, as though to see which way the greater number leant;but that was fruitless. The jailed touched him on the shoulder. He followed mechanically to the end of the dock, and sat down ona chair. The man pointed it out, or he would not have seen it.

He looked up into the gallery again. Some of the people wereeating, and some fanning themselves with handkerchiefs; for thecrowded place was very hot. There was one young man sketchinghis face in a little note-book. He wondered whether it was like,and looked on when the artist broke his pencil-point, and madeanother with his knife, as any idle spectator might have done.

In the same way, when he turned his eyes towards the judge, hismind began to busy itself with the fashion of his dress, and whatit cost, and how he put it on. There was an old fat gentleman onthe bench, too, who had gone out, some half an hour before, andnow come back. He wondered within himself whether this man hadbeen to get his dinner, what he had had, and where he had had it;and pursued this train of careless thought until some new objectcaught his eye and roused another.

Not that, all this time, his mind was, for an instant, free fromone oppressive overwhelming sense of the grave that opened at hisfeet; it was ever present to him, but in a vague and general way,and he could not fix his thoughts upon it. Thus, even while hetrembled, and turned burning hot at the idea of speedy death, hefell to counting the iron spikes before him, and wondering howthe head of one had been broken off, and whether they would mendit, or leave it as it was. Then, he thought of all the horrorsof the gallows and the scaffold--and stopped to watch a mansprinkling the floor to cool it--and then went on to think again.

At length there was a cry of silence, and a breathless look fromall towards the door. The jury returned, and passed him close. He could glean nothing from their faces; they might as well havebeen of stone. Perfect stillness ensued--not a rustle--not abreath--Guilty.

The building rang with a tremendous shout, and another, andanother, and then it echoed loud groans, that gathered strengthas they swelled out, like angry thunder. It was a peal of joyfrom the populace outside, greeting the news that he would die onMonday.

The noise subsided, and he was asked if he had anything to saywhy sentence of death should not be passed upon him. He hadresumed his listening attitude, and looked intently at hisquestioner while the demand was made; but it was twice repeatedbefore he seemed to hear it, and then he only muttered that hewas an old man--an old man--and so, dropping into a whisper, wassilent again.

The judge assumed the black cap, and the prisoner still stoodwith the same air and gesture. A woman in the gallery, utteredsome exclamation, called forth by this dread solemnity; he lookedhastily up as if angry at the interruption, and bent forward yetmore attentively. The address was solemn and impressive; thesentence fearful to hear. But he stood, like a marble figure,without the motion of a nerve. His haggard face was still thrustforward, his under-jaw hanging down, and his eyes staring outbefore him, when the jailer put his hand upon his arm, andbeckoned him away. He gazed stupidly about him for an instant,and obeyed.

They led him through a paved room under the court, where someprisoners were waiting till their turns came, and others weretalking to their friends, who crowded round a grate which lookedinto the open yard. There was nobody there to speak to HIM; but,as he passed, the prisoners fell back to render him more visibleto the people who were clinging to the bars: and they assailedhim with opprobrious names, and screeched and hissed. He shookhis fist, and would have spat upon them; but his conductorshurried him on, through a gloomy passage lighted by a few dimlamps, into the interior of the prison.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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