Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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I ain’t much injured. He didn’t make a very desperate resistance,
miss! I was soon too many for him.’

‘Hush!’ replied the young lady; ‘you frighten my aunt as much as the
thieves did. Is the poor creature much hurt?’

‘Wounded desperate, miss,’ replied Giles, with indescribable
complacency.

‘He looks as if he was a-going, miss,’ bawled Brittles, in the same
manner as before. ‘Wouldn’t you like to come and look at him, miss,
in case he should?’

‘Hush, pray; there’s a good man!’ rejoined the lady. ‘Wait quietly
only one instant, while I speak to aunt.’

With a footstep as soft and gentle as the voice, the speaker tripped
away. She soon returned, with the direction that the wounded person
was to be carried, carefully, upstairs to Mr. Giles’s room; and
that Brittles was to saddle the pony and betake himself instantly
to Chertsey: from which place, he was to despatch, with all speed, a
constable and doctor.

‘But won’t you take one look at him, first, miss?’ asked Mr. Giles,
with as much pride as if Oliver were some bird of rare plumage, that
he had skilfully brought down. ‘Not one little peep, miss?’

‘Not now, for the world,’ replied the young lady. ‘Poor fellow! Oh!
treat him kindly, Giles for my sake!’

The old servant looked up at the speaker, as she turned away, with a
glance as proud and admiring as if she had been his own child. Then,
bending over Oliver, he helped to carry him upstairs, with the care
and solicitude of a woman.



CHAPTER XXIX - HAS AN INTRODUCTORY ACCOUNT OF THE INMATES OF THE
HOUSE, TO WHICH OLIVER RESORTED

In a handsome room: though its furniture had rather the air of
old-fashioned comfort, than of modern elegance: there sat two ladies
at a well-spread breakfast-table. Mr. Giles, dressed with scrupulous
care in a full suit of black, was in attendance upon them. He had
taken his station some half-way between the side-board and the
breakfast-table; and, with his body drawn up to its full height, his
head thrown back, and inclined the merest trifle on one side, his
left leg advanced, and his right hand thrust into his waist-coat,
while his left hung down by his side, grasping a waiter, looked like
one who laboured under a very agreeable sense of his own merits and
importance.

Of the two ladies, one was well advanced in years; but the
high-backed oaken chair in which she sat, was not more upright
than she. Dressed with the utmost nicety and precision, in a quaint
mixture of by-gone costume, with some slight concessions to the
prevailing taste, which rather served to point the old style
pleasantly than to impair its effect, she sat, in a stately manner,
with her hands folded on the table before her. Her eyes (and age
had dimmed but little of their brightness) were attentively upon her
young companion.

The younger lady was in the lovely bloom and spring-time of
womanhood; at that age, when, if ever angels be for God’s good
purposes enthroned in mortal forms, they may be, without impiety,
supposed to abide in such as hers.

She was not past seventeen. Cast in so slight and exquisite a mould;
so mild and gentle; so pure and beautiful; that earth seemed not
her element, nor its rough creatures her fit companions. The very
intelligence that shone in her deep blue eye, and was stamped upon
her noble head, seemed scarcely of her age, or of the world; and yet
the changing expression of sweetness and good humour, the thousand
lights that played about the face, and left no shadow there; above
all, the smile, the cheerful, happy smile, were made for Home, and
fireside peace and happiness.

She was busily engaged in the little offices of the table. Chancing
to raise her eyes as the elder lady was regarding her, she playfully
put back her hair, which was simply braided on her forehead; and
threw into her beaming look, such an expression of affection and
artless loveliness, that blessed spirits might have smiled to look
upon her.

‘And Brittles has been gone upwards of an hour, has he?’ asked the
old lady, after a pause.

‘An hour and twelve minutes, ma’am,’ replied Mr. Giles, referring to
a silver watch, which he drew forth by a black ribbon.

‘He is always slow,’ remarked the old lady.

‘Brittles always was a slow boy, ma’am,’ replied the attendant. And
seeing, by the bye, that Brittles had been a slow boy for upwards of
thirty years, there appeared no great probability of his ever being
a fast one.

‘He gets worse instead of better, I think,’ said the elder lady.

‘It is very inexcusable in him if he stops to play with any other
boys,’ said the young lady, smiling.

Mr. Giles was apparently considering the propriety of indulging in
a respectful smile himself, when a gig drove up to the garden-gate:
out of which there jumped a fat gentleman, who ran straight up to
the door: and who, getting quickly into the house by some mysterious
process, burst into the room, and nearly overturned Mr. Giles and
the breakfast-table together.

‘I never heard of such a thing!’ exclaimed the fat gentleman. ‘My
dear Mrs. Maylie - bless my soul - in the silence of the night, too - I
_never_ heard of such a thing!’

With these expressions of condolence, the fat gentleman shook hands
with both ladies, and drawing up a chair, inquired how they found
themselves.

‘You ought to be dead; positively dead with the fright,’ said the
fat gentleman. ‘Why didn’t you send? Bless me, my man should have
come in a minute; and so would I; and my assistant would have been
delighted; or anybody, I’m sure, under such circumstances. Dear,
dear! So unexpected! In the silence of the night, too!’

The doctor seemed expecially troubled by the fact of the robbery
having been unexpected, and attempted in the night-time; as if it
were the established custom of gentlemen in the housebreaking way
to transact business at noon, and to make an appointment, by post, a
day or two previous.

‘And you, Miss Rose,’ said the doctor, turning to the young lady,
‘I - ’

‘Oh! very much so, indeed,’ said Rose, interrupting him; ‘but there
is a poor creature upstairs, whom aunt wishes you to see.’

‘Ah! to be sure,’ replied the doctor, ‘so there is. That was your
handiwork, Giles, I understand.’

Mr. Giles, who had been feverishly putting the tea-cups to rights,
blushed very red, and said that he had had that honour.

‘Honour, eh?’ said the doctor; ‘well, I don’t know; perhaps it’s as
honourable to hit a thief in a back kitchen, as to hit your man at
twelve paces. Fancy that he fired in the air, and you’ve fought a
duel, Giles.’

Mr. Giles, who thought this light treatment of the matter an unjust
attempt at diminishing his glory, answered respectfully, that it was
not for the like of him to judge about that; but he rather thought
it was no joke to the opposite party.

‘Gad, that’s true!’ said the doctor. ‘Where is he? Show me the way.
I’ll look in again, as I come down, Mrs. Maylie. That’s the little
window that he got in at, eh? Well, I couldn’t have believed it!’

Talking all the way, he followed Mr. Giles upstairs; and while he
is going upstairs, the reader may be informed, that Mr. Losberne, a
surgeon in the neighbourhood, known through a circuit of ten miles
round as ‘the doctor,’ had grown fat, more from good-humour
than from good living: and was as kind and hearty, and withal as
eccentric an old bachelor, as will be found in five times that
space, by any explorer alive.

The doctor was absent, much longer than either he or the ladies
had anticipated. A large flat box was fetched out of the gig; and a
bedroom bell was rung very often; and the servants ran up and down
stairs perpetually; from which tokens it was justly concluded that
something important was going on above. At length he returned;
and in reply to an anxious inquiry after his patient; looked very
mysterious, and closed the door, carefully.

‘This is a very extraordinary thing, Mrs. Maylie,’ said the doctor,
standing with his back to the door, as if to keep it shut.

‘He is not in danger, I hope?’ said the old lady.

‘Why, that would _not_ be an extraordinary thing, under the
circumstances,’ replied the doctor; ‘though I don’t think he is.
Have you seen the thief?’

‘No,’ rejoined the old lady.

‘Nor heard anything about him?’

‘No.’

‘I beg your pardon, ma’am, interposed Mr. Giles; ‘but I was going to
tell you about him when Doctor Losberne came in.’

The fact was, that Mr. Giles had not, at first, been able to
bring his mind to the avowal, that he had only shot a boy. Such
commendations had been bestowed upon his bravery, that he could
not, for the life of him, help postponing the explanation for a
few delicious minutes; during which he had flourished, in the very
zenith of a brief reputation for undaunted courage.

‘Rose wished to see the man,’ said Mrs. Maylie, ‘but I wouldn’t hear
of it.’

‘Humph!’ rejoined the doctor. ‘There is nothing very alarming in his
appearance. Have you any objection to see him in my presence?’

‘If it be necessary,’ replied the old lady, ‘certainly not.’

‘Then I think it is necessary,’ said the doctor; ‘at all events, I
am quite sure that you would deeply regret not having done so, if
you postponed it. He is perfectly quiet and comfortable now. Allow
me - Miss Rose, will you permit me? Not the slightest fear, I pledge
you my honour!’



CHAPTER XXX - RELATES WHAT OLIVER’S NEW VISITORS THOUGHT OF HIM

With many loquacious assurances that they would be agreeably
surprised in the aspect of the criminal, the doctor drew the young
lady’s arm through one of his; and offering his disengaged hand to
Mrs. Maylie, led them, with much ceremony and stateliness, upstairs.

‘Now,’ said the doctor, in a whisper, as he softly turned the handle
of a bedroom-door, ‘let us hear what you think of him. He has
not been shaved very recently, but he don’t look at all ferocious
notwithstanding. Stop, though! Let me first see that he is in
visiting order.’

Stepping before them, he looked into the room. Motioning them to
advance, he closed the door when they had entered; and gently
drew back the curtains of the bed. Upon it, in lieu of the dogged,
black-visaged ruffian they had expected to behold, there lay a mere
child: worn with pain and exhaustion, and sunk into a deep sleep.
His wounded arm, bound and splintered up, was crossed upon his
breast; his head reclined upon the other arm, which was half hidden
by his long hair, as it streamed over the pillow.

The honest gentleman held the curtain in his hand, and looked on,
for a minute or so, in silence. Whilst he was watching the patient
thus, the younger lady glided softly past, and seating herself in a
chair by the bedside, gathered Oliver’s hair from his face. As she
stooped over him, her tears fell upon his forehead.

The boy stirred, and smiled in his sleep, as though these marks of
pity and compassion had awakened some pleasant dream of a love and
affection he had never known. Thus, a strain of gentle music, or the
rippling of water in a silent place, or the odour of a flower, or
the mention of a familiar word, will sometimes call up sudden dim
remembrances of scenes that never were, in this life; which vanish
like a breath; which some brief memory of a happier existence, long
gone by, would seem to have awakened; which no voluntary exertion of
the mind can ever recall.

‘What can this mean?’ exclaimed the elder lady. ‘This poor child can
never have been the pupil of robbers!’

‘Vice,’ said the surgeon, replacing the curtain, ‘takes up her
abode in many temples; and who can say that a fair outside shell not
enshrine her?’

‘But at so early an age!’ urged Rose.

‘My dear young lady,’ rejoined the surgeon, mournfully shaking his
head; ‘crime, like death, is not confined to the old and withered
alone. The youngest and fairest are too often its chosen victims.’

‘But, can you - oh! can you really believe that this delicate boy has
been the voluntary associate of the worst outcasts of society?’ said
Rose.

The surgeon shook his head, in a manner which intimated that he
feared it was very possible; and observing that they might disturb
the patient, led the way into an adjoining apartment.

‘But even if he has been wicked,’ pursued Rose, ‘think how young
he is; think that he may never have known a mother’s love, or the
comfort of a home; that ill-usage and blows, or the want of bread,
may have driven him to herd with men who have forced him to guilt.
Aunt, dear aunt, for mercy’s sake, think of this, before you let
them drag this sick child to a prison, which in any case must be the
grave of all his chances of amendment. Oh! as you love me, and know
that I have never felt the want of parents in your goodness and
affection, but that I might have done so, and might have been
equally helpless and unprotected with this poor child, have pity
upon him before it is too late!’

‘My dear love,’ said the elder lady, as she folded the weeping girl
to her bosom, ‘do you think I would harm a hair of his head?’

‘Oh, no!’ replied Rose, eagerly.

‘No, surely,’ said the old lady; ‘my days are drawing to their
close: and may mercy be shown to me as I show it to others! What can
I do to save him, sir?’

‘Let me think, ma’am,’ said the doctor; ‘let me think.’

Mr. Losberne thrust his hands into his pockets, and took several
turns up and down the room; often stopping, and balancing himself
on his toes, and frowning frightfully. After various exclamations of
‘I’ve got it now’ and ‘no, I haven’t,’ and as many renewals of the
walking and frowning, he at length made a dead halt, and spoke as
follows:

‘I think if you give me a full and unlimited commission to bully
Giles, and that little boy, Brittles, I can manage it. Giles is a
faithful fellow and an old servant, I know; but you can make it up
to him in a thousand ways, and reward him for being such a good shot
besides. You don’t object to that?’

‘Unless there is some other way of preserving the child,’ replied
Mrs. Maylie.

‘There is no other,’ said the doctor. ‘No other, take my word for
it.’

‘Then my aunt invests you with full power,’ said Rose, smiling
through her tears; ‘but pray don’t be harder upon the poor fellows
than is indispensably necessary.’

‘You seem to think,’ retorted the doctor, ‘that everybody is
disposed to be hard-hearted to-day, except yourself, Miss Rose. I
only hope, for the sake of the rising male sex generally, that you
may be found in as vulnerable and soft-hearted a mood by the first
eligible young fellow who appeals to your compassion; and I wish I
were a young fellow, that I might avail myself, on the spot, of such
a favourable opportunity for doing so, as the present.’

‘You are as great a boy as poor Brittles himself,’ returned Rose,
blushing.

‘Well,’ said the doctor, laughing heartily, ‘that is no very
difficult matter. But to return to this boy. The great point of our
agreement is yet to come. He will wake in an hour or so, I dare
say; and although I have told that thick-headed constable-fellow
downstairs that he musn’t be moved or spoken to, on peril of his
life, I think we may converse with him without danger. Now I make
this stipulation - that I shall examine him in your presence,
and that, if, from what he says, we judge, and I can show to the
satisfaction of your cool reason, that he is a real and thorough
bad one (which is more than possible), he shall be left to his fate,
without any farther interference on my part, at all events.’

‘Oh no, aunt!’ entreated Rose.

‘Oh yes, aunt!’ said the doctor. ‘Is is a bargain?’

‘He cannot be hardened in vice,’ said Rose; ‘It is impossible.’

‘Very good,’ retorted the doctor; ‘then so much the more reason for
acceding to my proposition.’

Finally the treaty was entered into; and the parties thereunto sat
down to wait, with some impatience, until Oliver should awake.

The patience of the two ladies was destined to undergo a longer
trial than Mr. Losberne had led them to expect; for hour after
hour passed on, and still Oliver slumbered heavily. It was
evening, indeed, before the kind-hearted doctor brought them the
intelligence, that he was at length sufficiently restored to be
spoken to. The boy was very ill, he said, and weak from the loss
of blood; but his mind was so troubled with anxiety to disclose
something, that he deemed it better to give him the opportunity,
than to insist upon his remaining quiet until next morning: which he
should otherwise have done.

The conference was a long one. Oliver told them all his simple
history, and was often compelled to stop, by pain and want of
strength. It was a solemn thing, to hear, in the darkened room, the
feeble voice of the sick child recounting a weary catalogue of evils
and calamities which hard men had brought upon him. Oh! if when we
oppress and grind our fellow-creatures, we bestowed but one thought
on the dark evidences of human error, which, like dense and heavy
clouds, are rising, slowly it is true, but not less surely, to
Heaven, to pour their after-vengeance on our heads; if we heard
but one instant, in imagination, the deep testimony of dead men’s
voices, which no power can stifle, and no pride shut out; where
would be the injury and injustice, the suffering, misery, cruelty,
and wrong, that each day’s life brings with it!

Oliver’s pillow was smoothed by gentle hands that night; and
loveliness and virtue watched him as he slept. He felt calm and
happy, and could have died without a murmur.

The momentous interview was no sooner concluded, and Oliver
composed to rest again, than the doctor, after wiping his eyes,
and condemning them for being weak all at once, betook himself
downstairs to open upon Mr. Giles. And finding nobody about the
parlours, it occurred to him, that he could perhaps originate the
proceedings with better effect in the kitchen; so into the kitchen
he went.

There were assembled, in that lower house of the domestic
parliament, the women-servants, Mr. Brittles, Mr. Giles, the tinker
(who had received a special invitation to regale himself for the
remainder of the day, in consideration of his services), and the
constable. The latter gentleman had a large staff, a large head,
large features, and large half-boots; and he looked as if he had
been taking a proportionate allowance of ale - as indeed he had.

The adventures of the previous night were still under discussion;
for Mr. Giles was expatiating upon his presence of mind, when the
doctor entered; Mr. Brittles, with a mug of ale in his hand, was
corroborating everything, before his superior said it.

‘Sit still!’ said the doctor, waving his hand.

‘Thank you, sir, said Mr. Giles. ‘Misses wished some ale to be given
out, sir; and as I felt no ways inclined for my own little room,
sir, and was disposed for company, I am taking mine among ‘em here.’

Brittles headed a low murmur, by which the ladies and gentlemen
generally were understood to express the gratification they derived
from Mr. Giles’s condescension. Mr. Giles looked round with a
patronising air, as much as to say that so long as they behaved
properly, he would never desert them.

‘How is the patient to-night, sir?’ asked Giles.

‘So-so’; returned the doctor. ‘I am afraid you have got yourself
into a scrape there, Mr. Giles.’

‘I hope you don’t mean to say, sir,’ said Mr. Giles, trembling,
‘that he’s going to die. If I thought it, I should never be happy
again. I wouldn’t cut a boy off: no, not even Brittles here; not for
all the plate in the county, sir.’

‘That’s not the point,’ said the doctor, mysteriously. ‘Mr. Giles,
are you a Protestant?’

‘Yes, sir, I hope so,’ faltered Mr. Giles, who had turned very pale.

‘And what are _you_, boy?’ said the doctor, turning sharply upon
Brittles.

‘Lord bless me, sir!’ replied Brittles, starting violently; ‘I’m the
same as Mr. Giles, sir.’

‘Then tell me this,’ said the doctor, ‘both of you, both of you! Are
you going to take upon yourselves to swear, that that boy upstairs
is the boy that was put through the little window last night? Out
with it! Come! We are prepared for you!’

The doctor, who was universally considered one of the best-tempered
creatures on earth, made this demand in such a dreadful tone of
anger, that Giles and Brittles, who were considerably muddled by ale
and excitement, stared at each other in a state of stupefaction.

‘Pay attention to the reply, constable, will you?’ said the doctor,
shaking his forefinger with great solemnity of manner, and tapping
the bridge of his nose with it, to bespeak the exercise of that
worthy’s utmost acuteness. ‘Something may come of this before long.’

The constable looked as wise as he could, and took up his staff of
office: which had been reclining indolently in the chimney-corner.

‘It’s a simple question of identity, you will observe,’ said the
doctor.

‘That’s what it is, sir,’ replied the constable, coughing with great
violence; for he had finished his ale in a hurry, and some of it had
gone the wrong way.

‘Here’s the house broken into,’ said the doctor, ‘and a couple of
men catch one moment’s glimpse of a boy, in the midst of gunpowder
smoke, and in all the distraction of alarm and darkness. Here’s
a boy comes to that very same house, next morning, and because he
happens to have his arm tied up, these men lay violent hands upon
him - by doing which, they place his life in great danger - and
swear he is the thief. Now, the question is, whether these men
are justified by the fact; if not, in what situation do they place
themselves?’

The constable nodded profoundly. He said, if that wasn’t law, he
would be glad to know what was.

‘I ask you again,’ thundered the doctor, ‘are you, on your solemn
oaths, able to identify that boy?’

Brittles looked doubtfully at Mr. Giles; Mr. Giles looked doubtfully
at Brittles; the constable put his hand behind his ear, to catch the
reply; the two women and the tinker leaned forward to listen; the
doctor glanced keenly round; when a ring was heard at the gate, and
at the same moment, the sound of wheels.

‘It’s the runners!’ cried Brittles, to all appearance much relieved.

‘The what?’ exclaimed the doctor, aghast in his turn.

‘The Bow Street officers, sir,’ replied Brittles, taking up a
candle; ‘me and Mr. Giles sent for ‘em this morning.’

‘What?’ cried the doctor.

‘Yes,’ replied Brittles; ‘I sent a message up by the coachman, and I
only wonder they weren’t here before, sir.’

‘You did, did you? Then confound your - slow coaches down here;
that’s all,’ said the doctor, walking away.



CHAPTER XXXI - INVOLVES A CRITICAL POSITION

‘Who’s that?’ inquired Brittles, opening the door a little way, with
the chain up, and peeping out, shading the candle with his hand.

‘Open the door,’ replied a man outside; ‘it’s the officers from Bow
Street, as was sent to to-day.’

Much comforted by this assurance, Brittles opened the door to its
full width, and confronted a portly man in a great-coat; who walked
in, without saying anything more, and wiped his shoes on the mat, as
coolly as if he lived there.

‘Just send somebody out to relieve my mate, will you, young man?’
said the officer; ‘he’s in the gig, a-minding the prad. Have you
got a coach ‘us here, that you could put it up in, for five or ten
minutes?’

Brittles replying in the affirmative, and pointing out the building,
the portly man stepped back to the garden-gate, and helped his
companion to put up the gig: while Brittles lighted them, in a state
of great admiration. This done, they returned to the house, and,
being shown into a parlour, took off their great-coats and hats, and
showed like what they were.

The man who had knocked at the door, was a stout personage of middle
height, aged about fifty: with shiny black hair, cropped pretty
close; half-whiskers, a round face, and sharp eyes. The other was
a red-headed, bony man, in top-boots; with a rather ill-favoured
countenance, and a turned-up sinister-looking nose.

‘Tell your governor that Blathers and Duff is here, will you?’


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 20 of 25)