Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 63)

Here, he was searched, that he might not have about him the meansof anticipating the law; this ceremony performed, they led him toone of the condemned cells, and left him there--alone.

He sat down on a stone bench opposite the door, which served forseat and bedstead; and casting his blood-shot eyes upon theground, tried to collect his thoughts. After awhile, he began toremember a few disjointed fragments of what the judge had said: though it had seemed to him, at the time, that he could not heara word. These gradually fell into their proper places, and bydegrees suggested more: so that in a little time he had thewhole, almost as it was delivered. To be hanged by the neck,till he was dead--that was the end. To be hanged by the necktill he was dead.

As it came on very dark, he began to think of all the men he hadknown who had died upon the scaffold; some of them through hismeans. They rose up, in such quick succession, that he couldhardly count them. He had seen some of them die,--and had jokedtoo, because they died with prayers upon their lips. With what arattling noise the drop went down; and how suddenly they changed,from strong and vigorous men to dangling heaps of clothes!

Some of them might have inhabited that very cell--sat upon thatvery spot. It was very dark; why didn't they bring a light? Thecell had been built for many years. Scores of men must havepassed their last hours there. It was like sitting in a vaultstrewn with dead bodies--the cap, the noose, the pinioned arms,the faces that he knew, even beneath that hideous veil.--Light,light!

At length, when his hands were raw with beating against the heavydoor and walls, two men appeared: one bearing a candle, which hethrust into an iron candlestick fixed against the wall: theother dragging in a mattress on which to pass the night; for theprisoner was to be left alone no more.

Then came the night--dark, dismal, silent night. Other watchersare glad to hear this church-clock strike, for they tell of lifeand coming day. To him they brought despair. The boom of everyiron bell came laden with the one, deep, hollow sound--Death. What availed the noise and bustle of cheerful morning, whichpenetrated even there, to him? It was another form of knell,with mockery added to the warning.

The day passed off. Day? There was no day; it was gone as soonas come--and night came on again; night so long, and yet soshort; long in its dreadful silence, and short in its fleetinghours. At one time he raved and blasphemed; and at anotherhowled and tore his hair. Venerable men of his own persuasionhad come to pray beside him, but he had driven them away withcurses. They renewed their charitable efforts, and he beat themoff.

Saturday night. He had only one night more to live. And as hethought of this, the day broke--Sunday.

It was not until the night of this last awful day, that awithering sense of his helpless, desperate state came in its fullintensity upon his blighted soul; not that he had ever held anydefined or positive hope of mercy, but that he had never beenable to consider more than the dim probability of dying so soon. He had spoken little to either of the two men, who relieved eachother in their attendance upon him; and they, for their parts,made no effort to rouse his attention. He had sat there, awake,but dreaming. Now, he started up, every minute, and with gaspingmouth and burning skin, hurried to and fro, in such a paroxysm offear and wrath that even they--used to such sights--recoiled fromhim with horror. He grew so terrible, at last, in all thetortures of his evil conscience, that one man could not bear tosit there, eyeing him alone; and so the two kept watch together.

He cowered down upon his stone bed, and thought of the past. Hehad been wounded with some missiles from the crowd on the day ofhis capture, and his head was bandaged with a linen cloth. Hisred hair hung down upon his bloodless face; his beard was torn,and twisted into knots; his eyes shone with a terrible light; hisunwashed flesh crackled with the fever that burnt him up. Eight--nine--then. If it was not a trick to frighten him, andthose were the real hours treading on each other's heels, wherewould he be, when they came round again! Eleven! Anotherstruck, before the voice of the previous hour had ceased tovibrate. At eight, he would be the only mourner in his ownfuneral train; at eleven--

Those dreadful walls of Newgate, which have hidden so much miseryand such unspeakable anguish, not only from the eyes, but, toooften, and too long, from the thoughts, of men, never held sodread a spectacle as that. The few who lingered as they passed,and wondered what the man was doing who was to be hangedto-morrow, would have slept but ill that night, if they couldhave seen him.

From early in the evening until nearly midnight, little groups oftwo and three presented themselves at the lodge-gate, andinquired, with anxious faces, whether any reprieve had beenreceived. These being answered in the negative, communicated thewelcome intelligence to clusters in the street, who pointed outto one another the door from which he must come out, and showedwhere the scaffold would be built, and, walking with unwillingsteps away, turned back to conjure up the scene. By degrees theyfell off, one by one; and, for an hour, in the dead of night, thestreet was left to solitude and darkness.

The space before the prison was cleared, and a few strongbarriers, painted black, had been already thrown across the roadto break the pressure of the expected crowd, when Mr. Brownlowand Oliver appeared at the wicket, and presented an order ofadmission to the prisoner, signed by one of the sheriffs. Theywere immediately admitted into the lodge.

'Is the young gentleman to come too, sir?' said the man whoseduty it was to conduct them. 'It's not a sight for children,sir.'

'It is not indeed, my friend,' rejoined Mr. Brownlow; 'but mybusiness with this man is intimately connected with him; and asthis child has seen him in the full career of his success andvillainy, I think it as well--even at the cost of some pain andfear--that he should see him now.'

These few words had been said apart, so as to be inaudible toOliver. The man touched his hat; and glancing at Oliver withsome curiousity, opened another gate, opposite to that by whichthey had entered, and led them on, through dark and winding ways,towards the cells.

'This,' said the man, stopping in a gloomy passage where a coupleof workmen were making some preparations in profoundsilence--'this is the place he passes through. If you step thisway, you can see the door he goes out at.'

He led them into a stone kitchen, fitted with coppers fordressing the prison food, and pointed to a door. There was anopen grating above it, throught which came the sound of men'svoices, mingled with the noise of hammering, and the throwingdown of boards. There were putting up the scaffold.

From this place, they passed through several strong gates, openedby other turnkeys from the inner side; and, having entered anopen yard, ascended a flight of narrow steps, and came into apassage with a row of strong doors on the left hand. Motioningthem to remain where they were, the turnkey knocked at one ofthese with his bunch of keys. The two attendants, after a littlewhispering, came out into the passage, stretching themselves asif glad of the temporary relief, and motioned the visitors tofollow the jailer into the cell. They did so.

The condemned criminal was seated on his bed, rocking himselffrom side to side, with a countenance more like that of a snaredbeast than the face of a man. His mind was evidently wanderingto his old life, for he continued to mutter, without appearingconscious of their presence otherwise than as a part of hisvision.

'Good boy, Charley--well done--' he mumbled. 'Oliver, too, ha!ha! ha! Oliver too--quite the gentleman now--quite the--takethat boy away to bed!'

The jailer took the disengaged hand of Oliver; and, whisperinghim not to be alarmed, looked on without speaking.

'Take him away to bed!' cried Fagin. 'Do you hear me, some ofyou? He has been the--the--somehow the cause of all this. It'sworth the money to bring him up to it--Bolter's throat, Bill;never mind the girl--Bolter's throat as deep as you can cut. Sawhis head off!'

'Fagin,' said the jailer.

'That's me!' cried the Jew, falling instantly, into the attitudeof listening he had assumed upon his trial. 'An old man, myLord; a very old, old man!'

'Here,' said the turnkey, laying his hand upon his breast to keephim down. 'Here's somebody wants to see you, to ask you somequestions, I suppose. Fagin, Fagin! Are you a man?'

'I shan't be one long,' he replied, looking up with a faceretaining no human expression but rage and terror. 'Strike themall dead! What right have they to butcher me?'

As he spoke he caught sight of Oliver and Mr. Brownlow. Shrinkingto the furthest corner of the seat, he demanded to know what theywanted there.

'Steady,' said the turnkey, still holding him down. 'Now, sir,tell him what you want. Quick, if you please, for he grows worseas the time gets on.'

'You have some papers,' said Mr. Brownlow advancing, 'which wereplaced in your hands, for better security, by a man calledMonks.'

'It's all a lie together,' replied Fagin. 'I haven't one--notone.'

'For the love of God,' said Mr. Brownlow solemnly, 'do not saythat now, upon the very verge of death; but tell me where theyare. You know that Sikes is dead; that Monks has confessed; thatthere is no hope of any further gain. Where are those papers?'

'Oliver,' cried Fagin, beckoning to him. 'Here, here! Let mewhisper to you.'

'I am not afraid,' said Oliver in a low voice, as he relinquishedMr. Brownlow's hand.

'The papers,' said Fagin, drawing Oliver towards him, 'are in acanvas bag, in a hole a little way up the chimney in the topfront-room. I want to talk to you, my dear. I want to talk toyou.'

'Yes, yes,' returned Oliver. 'Let me say a prayer. Do! Let mesay one prayer. Say only one, upon your knees, with me, and wewill talk till morning.'

'Outside, outside,' replied Fagin, pushing the boy before himtowards the door, and looking vacantly over his head. 'Say I'vegone to sleep--they'll believe you. You can get me out, if youtake me so. Now then, now then!'

'Oh! God forgive this wretched man!' cried the boy with a burstof tears.

'That's right, that's right,' said Fagin. 'That'll help us on. This door first. If I shake and tremble, as we pass the gallows,don't you mind, but hurry on. Now, now, now!'

'Have you nothing else to ask him, sir?' inquired the turnkey.

'No other question,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'If I hoped we couldrecall him to a sense of his position--'

'Nothing will do that, sir,' replied the man, shaking his head. 'You had better leave him.'

The door of the cell opened, and the attendants returned.

'Press on, press on,' cried Fagin. 'Softly, but not so slow. Faster, faster!'

The men laid hands upon him, and disengaging Oliver from hisgrasp, held him back. He struggled with the power ofdesperation, for an instant; and then sent up cry upon cry thatpenetrated even those massive walls, and rang in their ears untilthey reached the open yard.

It was some time before they left the prison. Oliver nearlyswooned after this frightful scene, and was so weak that for anhour or more, he had not the strength to walk.

Day was dawning when they again emerged. A great multitude hadalready assembled; the windows were filled with people, smokingand playing cards to beguile the time; the crowd were pushing,quarrelling, joking. Everything told of life and animation, butone dark cluster of objects in the centre of all--the black stage, the cross-beam, the rope, and all the hideous apparatus of death.



The fortunes of those who have figured in this tale are nearlyclosed. The little that remains to their historian to relate, istold in few and simple words.

Before three months had passed, Rose Fleming and Harry Mayliewere married in the village church which was henceforth to be thescene of the young clergyman's labours; on the same day theyentered into possession of their new and happy home.

Mrs. Maylie took up her abode with her son and daughter-in-law,to enjoy, during the tranquil remainder of her days, the greatestfelicity that age and worth can know--the contemplation of thehappiness of those on whom the warmest affections and tenderestcares of a well-spent life, have been unceasingly bestowed.

It appeared, on full and careful investigation, that if the wreckof property remaining in the custody of Monks (which had neverprospered either in his hands or in those of his mother) wereequally divided between himself and Oliver, it would yield, toeach, little more than three thousand pounds. By the provisionsof his father's will, Oliver would have been entitled to thewhole; but Mr. Brownlow, unwilling to deprive the elder son ofthe opportunity of retrieving his former vices and pursuing anhonest career, proposed this mode of distribution, to which hisyoung charge joyfully acceded.

Monks, still bearing that assumed name, retired with his portionto a distant part of the New World; where, having quicklysquandered it, he once more fell into his old courses, and, afterundergoing a long confinement for some fresh act of fraud andknavery, at length sunk under an attack of his old disorder, anddied in prison. As far from home, died the chief remainingmembers of his friend Fagin's gang.

Mr. Brownlow adopted Oliver as his son. Removing with him andthe old housekeeper to within a mile of the parsonage-house,where his dear friends resided, he gratified the only remainingwish of Oliver's warm and earnest heart, and thus linked togethera little society, whose condition approached as nearly to one ofperfect happiness as can ever be known in this changing world.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 144057 times


Page generation 0.002 seconds