Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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Losberne has already been kind enough to promise that when you are
well enough to bear the journey, he will carry you to see them.’

‘Has he, ma’am?’ cried Oliver, his face brightening with pleasure.
‘I don’t know what I shall do for joy when I see their kind faces
once again!’

In a short time Oliver was sufficiently recovered to undergo the
fatigue of this expedition. One morning he and Mr. Losberne set out,
accordingly, in a little carriage which belonged to Mrs. Maylie.
When they came to Chertsey Bridge, Oliver turned very pale, and
uttered a loud exclamation.

‘What’s the matter with the boy?’ cried the doctor, as usual, all in
a bustle. ‘Do you see anything - hear anything - feel anything - eh?’

‘That, sir,’ cried Oliver, pointing out of the carriage window.
‘That house!’

‘Yes; well, what of it? Stop coachman. Pull up here,’ cried the
doctor. ‘What of the house, my man; eh?’

‘The thieves - the house they took me to!’ whispered Oliver.

‘The devil it is!’ cried the doctor. ‘Hallo, there! let me out!’

But, before the coachman could dismount from his box, he had tumbled
out of the coach, by some means or other; and, running down to the
deserted tenement, began kicking at the door like a madman.

‘Halloa?’ said a little ugly hump-backed man: opening the door so
suddenly, that the doctor, from the very impetus of his last kick,
nearly fell forward into the passage. ‘What’s the matter here?’

‘Matter!’ exclaimed the other, collaring him, without a moment’s
reflection. ‘A good deal. Robbery is the matter.’

‘There’ll be Murder the matter, too,’ replied the hump-backed man,
coolly, ‘if you don’t take your hands off. Do you hear me?’

‘I hear you,’ said the doctor, giving his captive a hearty shake.

‘Where’s - confound the fellow, what’s his rascally name - Sikes;
that’s it. Where’s Sikes, you thief?’

The hump-backed man stared, as if in excess of amazement and
indignation; then, twisting himself, dexterously, from the doctor’s
grasp, growled forth a volley of horrid oaths, and retired into the
house. Before he could shut the door, however, the doctor had passed
into the parlour, without a word of parley.

He looked anxiously round; not an article of furniture; not a
vestige of anything, animate or inanimate; not even the position of
the cupboards; answered Oliver’s description!

‘Now!’ said the hump-backed man, who had watched him keenly, ‘what
do you mean by coming into my house, in this violent way? Do you
want to rob me, or to murder me? Which is it?’

‘Did you ever know a man come out to do either, in a chariot and
pair, you ridiculous old vampire?’ said the irritable doctor.

‘What do you want, then?’ demanded the hunchback. ‘Will you take
yourself off, before I do you a mischief? Curse you!’

‘As soon as I think proper,’ said Mr. Losberne, looking into the
other parlour; which, like the first, bore no resemblance whatever
to Oliver’s account of it. ‘I shall find you out, some day, my
friend.’

‘Will you?’ sneered the ill-favoured cripple. ‘If you ever want
me, I’m here. I haven’t lived here mad and all alone, for
five-and-twenty years, to be scared by you. You shall pay for this;
you shall pay for this.’ And so saying, the mis-shapen little demon
set up a yell, and danced upon the ground, as if wild with rage.

‘Stupid enough, this,’ muttered the doctor to himself; ‘the boy
must have made a mistake. Here! Put that in your pocket, and shut
yourself up again.’ With these words he flung the hunchback a piece
of money, and returned to the carriage.

The man followed to the chariot door, uttering the wildest
imprecations and curses all the way; but as Mr. Losberne turned to
speak to the driver, he looked into the carriage, and eyed Oliver
for an instant with a glance so sharp and fierce and at the same
time so furious and vindictive, that, waking or sleeping, he could
not forget it for months afterwards. He continued to utter the most
fearful imprecations, until the driver had resumed his seat; and
when they were once more on their way, they could see him some
distance behind: beating his feet upon the ground, and tearing his
hair, in transports of real or pretended rage.

‘I am an ass!’ said the doctor, after a long silence. ‘Did you know
that before, Oliver?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Then don’t forget it another time.’

‘An ass,’ said the doctor again, after a further silence of some
minutes. ‘Even if it had been the right place, and the right fellows
had been there, what could I have done, single-handed? And if I
had had assistance, I see no good that I should have done, except
leading to my own exposure, and an unavoidable statement of the
manner in which I have hushed up this business. That would have
served me right, though. I am always involving myself in some scrape
or other, by acting on impulse. It might have done me good.’

Now, the fact was that the excellent doctor had never acted upon
anything but impulse all through his life, and it was no bad
compliment to the nature of the impulses which governed him, that so
far from being involved in any peculiar troubles or misfortunes, he
had the warmest respect and esteem of all who knew him. If the truth
must be told, he was a little out of temper, for a minute or two, at
being disappointed in procuring corroborative evidence of Oliver’s
story on the very first occasion on which he had a chance of
obtaining any. He soon came round again, however; and finding that
Oliver’s replies to his questions, were still as straightforward and
consistent, and still delivered with as much apparent sincerity and
truth, as they had ever been, he made up his mind to attach full
credence to them, from that time forth.

As Oliver knew the name of the street in which Mr. Brownlow resided,
they were enabled to drive straight thither. When the coach turned
into it, his heart beat so violently, that he could scarcely draw
his breath.

‘Now, my boy, which house is it?’ inquired Mr. Losberne.

‘That! That!’ replied Oliver, pointing eagerly out of the window.
‘The white house. Oh! make haste! Pray make haste! I feel as if I
should die: it makes me tremble so.’

‘Come, come!’ said the good doctor, patting him on the shoulder.
‘You will see them directly, and they will be overjoyed to find you
safe and well.’

‘Oh! I hope so!’ cried Oliver. ‘They were so good to me; so very,
very good to me.’

The coach rolled on. It stopped. No; that was the wrong house; the
next door. It went on a few paces, and stopped again. Oliver looked
up at the windows, with tears of happy expectation coursing down his
face.

Alas! the white house was empty, and there was a bill in the window.
‘To Let.’

‘Knock at the next door,’ cried Mr. Losberne, taking Oliver’s arm
in his. ‘What has become of Mr. Brownlow, who used to live in the
adjoining house, do you know?’

The servant did not know; but would go and inquire. She presently
returned, and said, that Mr. Brownlow had sold off his goods, and
gone to the West Indies, six weeks before. Oliver clasped his hands,
and sank feebly backward.

‘Has his housekeeper gone too?’ inquired Mr. Losberne, after a
moment’s pause.

‘Yes, sir’; replied the servant. ‘The old gentleman, the
housekeeper, and a gentleman who was a friend of Mr. Brownlow’s, all
went together.’

‘Then turn towards home again,’ said Mr. Losberne to the driver;
‘and don’t stop to bait the horses, till you get out of this
confounded London!’

‘The book-stall keeper, sir?’ said Oliver. ‘I know the way there.
See him, pray, sir! Do see him!’

‘My poor boy, this is disappointment enough for one day,’ said the
doctor. ‘Quite enough for both of us. If we go to the book-stall
keeper’s, we shall certainly find that he is dead, or has set
his house on fire, or run away. No; home again straight!’ And in
obedience to the doctor’s impulse, home they went.

This bitter disappointment caused Oliver much sorrow and grief,
even in the midst of his happiness; for he had pleased himself, many
times during his illness, with thinking of all that Mr. Brownlow and
Mrs. Bedwin would say to him: and what delight it would be to tell
them how many long days and nights he had passed in reflecting on
what they had done for him, and in bewailing his cruel separation
from them. The hope of eventually clearing himself with them, too,
and explaining how he had been forced away, had buoyed him up, and
sustained him, under many of his recent trials; and now, the idea
that they should have gone so far, and carried with them the belief
that he was an impostor and a robber - a belief which might remain
uncontradicted to his dying day - was almost more than he could bear.

The circumstance occasioned no alteration, however, in the behaviour
of his benefactors. After another fortnight, when the fine warm
weather had fairly begun, and every tree and flower was putting
forth its young leaves and rich blossoms, they made preparations for
quitting the house at Chertsey, for some months.

Sending the plate, which had so excited Fagin’s cupidity, to the
banker’s; and leaving Giles and another servant in care of the
house, they departed to a cottage at some distance in the country,
and took Oliver with them.

Who can describe the pleasure and delight, the peace of mind and
soft tranquillity, the sickly boy felt in the balmy air, and among
the green hills and rich woods, of an inland village! Who can tell
how scenes of peace and quietude sink into the minds of pain-worn
dwellers in close and noisy places, and carry their own freshness,
deep into their jaded hearts! Men who have lived in crowded, pent-up
streets, through lives of toil, and who have never wished for
change; men, to whom custom has indeed been second nature, and who
have come almost to love each brick and stone that formed the narrow
boundaries of their daily walks; even they, with the hand of death
upon them, have been known to yearn at last for one short glimpse of
Nature’s face; and, carried far from the scenes of their old pains
and pleasures, have seemed to pass at once into a new state of
being. Crawling forth, from day to day, to some green sunny spot,
they have had such memories wakened up within them by the sight of
the sky, and hill and plain, and glistening water, that a foretaste
of heaven itself has soothed their quick decline, and they have
sunk into their tombs, as peacefully as the sun whose setting they
watched from their lonely chamber window but a few hours before,
faded from their dim and feeble sight! The memories which peaceful
country scenes call up, are not of this world, nor of its thoughts
and hopes. Their gentle influence may teach us how to weave fresh
garlands for the graves of those we loved: may purify our thoughts,
and bear down before it old enmity and hatred; but beneath all this,
there lingers, in the least reflective mind, a vague and half-formed
consciousness of having held such feelings long before, in some
remote and distant time, which calls up solemn thoughts of distant
times to come, and bends down pride and worldliness beneath it.

It was a lovely spot to which they repaired. Oliver, whose days
had been spent among squalid crowds, and in the midst of noise and
brawling, seemed to enter on a new existence there. The rose and
honeysuckle clung to the cottage walls; the ivy crept round the
trunks of the trees; and the garden-flowers perfumed the air with
delicious odours. Hard by, was a little churchyard; not crowded with
tall unsightly gravestones, but full of humble mounds, covered with
fresh turf and moss: beneath which, the old people of the village
lay at rest. Oliver often wandered here; and, thinking of the
wretched grave in which his mother lay, would sometimes sit him
down and sob unseen; but, when he raised his eyes to the deep sky
overhead, he would cease to think of her as lying in the ground, and
would weep for her, sadly, but without pain.

It was a happy time. The days were peaceful and serene; the nights
brought with them neither fear nor care; no languishing in a
wretched prison, or associating with wretched men; nothing but
pleasant and happy thoughts. Every morning he went to a white-headed
old gentleman, who lived near the little church: who taught him to
read better, and to write: and who spoke so kindly, and took such
pains, that Oliver could never try enough to please him. Then, he
would walk with Mrs. Maylie and Rose, and hear them talk of books;
or perhaps sit near them, in some shady place, and listen whilst the
young lady read: which he could have done, until it grew too dark
to see the letters. Then, he had his own lesson for the next day
to prepare; and at this, he would work hard, in a little room which
looked into the garden, till evening came slowly on, when the ladies
would walk out again, and he with them: listening with such pleasure
to all they said: and so happy if they wanted a flower that he could
climb to reach, or had forgotten anything he could run to fetch:
that he could never be quick enough about it. When it became quite
dark, and they returned home, the young lady would sit down to the
piano, and play some pleasant air, or sing, in a low and gentle
voice, some old song which it pleased her aunt to hear. There would
be no candles lighted at such times as these; and Oliver would sit
by one of the windows, listening to the sweet music, in a perfect
rapture.

And when Sunday came, how differently the day was spent, from any
way in which he had ever spent it yet! and how happily too; like all
the other days in that most happy time! There was the little church,
in the morning, with the green leaves fluttering at the windows: the
birds singing without: and the sweet-smelling air stealing in at the
low porch, and filling the homely building with its fragrance.
The poor people were so neat and clean, and knelt so reverently
in prayer, that it seemed a pleasure, not a tedious duty, their
assembling there together; and though the singing might be rude, it
was real, and sounded more musical (to Oliver’s ears at least) than
any he had ever heard in church before. Then, there were the walks
as usual, and many calls at the clean houses of the labouring men;
and at night, Oliver read a chapter or two from the Bible, which he
had been studying all the week, and in the performance of which duty
he felt more proud and pleased, than if he had been the clergyman
himself.

In the morning, Oliver would be a-foot by six o’clock, roaming the
fields, and plundering the hedges, far and wide, for nosegays of
wild flowers, with which he would return laden, home; and which it
took great care and consideration to arrange, to the best advantage,
for the embellishment of the breakfast-table. There was fresh
groundsel, too, for Miss Maylie’s birds, with which Oliver, who
had been studying the subject under the able tuition of the village
clerk, would decorate the cages, in the most approved taste. When
the birds were made all spruce and smart for the day, there was
usually some little commission of charity to execute in the village;
or, failing that, there was rare cricket-playing, sometimes, on the
green; or, failing that, there was always something to do in the
garden, or about the plants, to which Oliver (who had studied this
science also, under the same master, who was a gardener by trade,)
applied himself with hearty good-will, until Miss Rose made her
appearance: when there were a thousand commendations to be bestowed
on all he had done.

So three months glided away; three months which, in the life of
the most blessed and favoured of mortals, might have been unmingled
happiness, and which, in Oliver’s were true felicity. With the
purest and most amiable generosity on one side; and the truest,
warmest, soul-felt gratitude on the other; it is no wonder that,
by the end of that short time, Oliver Twist had become completely
domesticated with the old lady and her niece, and that the fervent
attachment of his young and sensitive heart, was repaid by their
pride in, and attachment to, himself.



CHAPTER XXXIII - WHEREIN THE HAPPINESS OF OLIVER AND HIS FRIENDS,
EXPERIENCES A SUDDEN CHECK

Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came. If the village had been
beautiful at first it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its
richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in
the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health; and
stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground, converted
open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep and
pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped
in sunshine, which lay stretched beyond. The earth had donned her
mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad.
It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and
flourishing.

Still, the same quiet life went on at the little cottage, and the
same cheerful serenity prevailed among its inmates. Oliver had
long since grown stout and healthy; but health or sickness made no
difference in his warm feelings of a great many people. He was still
the same gentle, attached, affectionate creature that he had been
when pain and suffering had wasted his strength, and when he was
dependent for every slight attention, and comfort on those who
tended him.

One beautiful night, when they had taken a longer walk than was
customary with them: for the day had been unusually warm, and there
was a brilliant moon, and a light wind had sprung up, which was
unusually refreshing. Rose had been in high spirits, too, and they
had walked on, in merry conversation, until they had far exceeded
their ordinary bounds. Mrs. Maylie being fatigued, they returned
more slowly home. The young lady merely throwing off her simple
bonnet, sat down to the piano as usual. After running abstractedly
over the keys for a few minutes, she fell into a low and very
solemn air; and as she played it, they heard a sound as if she were
weeping.

‘Rose, my dear!’ said the elder lady.

Rose made no reply, but played a little quicker, as though the words
had roused her from some painful thoughts.

‘Rose, my love!’ cried Mrs. Maylie, rising hastily, and bending over
her. ‘What is this? In tears! My dear child, what distresses you?’

‘Nothing, aunt; nothing,’ replied the young lady. ‘I don’t know what
it is; I can’t describe it; but I feel - ’

‘Not ill, my love?’ interposed Mrs. Maylie.

‘No, no! Oh, not ill!’ replied Rose: shuddering as though some
deadly chillness were passing over her, while she spoke; ‘I shall be
better presently. Close the window, pray!’

Oliver hastened to comply with her request. The young lady, making
an effort to recover her cheerfulness, strove to play some livelier
tune; but her fingers dropped powerless over the keys. Covering
her face with her hands, she sank upon a sofa, and gave vent to the
tears which she was now unable to repress.

‘My child!’ said the elderly lady, folding her arms about her, ‘I
never saw you so before.’

‘I would not alarm you if I could avoid it,’ rejoined Rose; ‘but
indeed I have tried very hard, and cannot help this. I fear I _am_
ill, aunt.’

She was, indeed; for, when candles were brought, they saw that in
the very short time which had elapsed since their return home,
the hue of her countenance had changed to a marble whiteness. Its
expression had lost nothing of its beauty; but it was changed; and
there was an anxious haggard look about the gentle face, which it
had never worn before. Another minute, and it was suffused with a
crimson flush: and a heavy wildness came over the soft blue eye.
Again this disappeared, like the shadow thrown by a passing cloud;
and she was once more deadly pale.

Oliver, who watched the old lady anxiously, observed that she was
alarmed by these appearances; and so in truth, was he; but seeing
that she affected to make light of them, he endeavoured to do the
same, and they so far succeeded, that when Rose was persuaded by
her aunt to retire for the night, she was in better spirits; and
appeared even in better health: assuring them that she felt certain
she should rise in the morning, quite well.

‘I hope,’ said Oliver, when Mrs. Maylie returned, ‘that nothing is
the matter? She don’t look well to-night, but - ’

The old lady motioned to him not to speak; and sitting herself down
in a dark corner of the room, remained silent for some time. At
length, she said, in a trembling voice:

‘I hope not, Oliver. I have been very happy with her for some years:
too happy, perhaps. It may be time that I should meet with some
misfortune; but I hope it is not this.’

‘What?’ inquired Oliver.

‘The heavy blow,’ said the old lady, ‘of losing the dear girl who
has so long been my comfort and happiness.’

‘Oh! God forbid!’ exclaimed Oliver, hastily.

‘Amen to that, my child!’ said the old lady, wringing her hands.

‘Surely there is no danger of anything so dreadful?’ said Oliver.
‘Two hours ago, she was quite well.’

‘She is very ill now,’ rejoined Mrs. Maylies; ‘and will be worse, I
am sure. My dear, dear Rose! Oh, what shall I do without her!’

She gave way to such great grief, that Oliver, suppressing his own
emotion, ventured to remonstrate with her; and to beg, earnestly,
that, for the sake of the dear young lady herself, she would be more
calm.

‘And consider, ma’am,’ said Oliver, as the tears forced themselves
into his eyes, despite of his efforts to the contrary. ‘Oh! consider
how young and good she is, and what pleasure and comfort she gives
to all about her. I am sure - certain - quite certain - that, for your
sake, who are so good yourself; and for her own; and for the sake of
all she makes so happy; she will not die. Heaven will never let her
die so young.’

‘Hush!’ said Mrs. Maylie, laying her hand on Oliver’s head.
‘You think like a child, poor boy. But you teach me my duty,
notwithstanding. I had forgotten it for a moment, Oliver, but I hope
I may be pardoned, for I am old, and have seen enough of illness and
death to know the agony of separation from the objects of our love.
I have seen enough, too, to know that it is not always the youngest
and best who are spared to those that love them; but this should
give us comfort in our sorrow; for Heaven is just; and such things
teach us, impressively, that there is a brighter world than this;
and that the passage to it is speedy. God’s will be done! I love
her; and He knows how well!’

Oliver was surprised to see that as Mrs. Maylie said these words,
she checked her lamentations as though by one effort; and drawing
herself up as she spoke, became composed and firm. He was still more
astonished to find that this firmness lasted; and that, under all
the care and watching which ensued, Mrs. Maylie was ever ready and
collected: performing all the duties which had devolved upon her,
steadily, and, to all external appearances, even cheerfully. But he
was young, and did not know what strong minds are capable of, under
trying circumstances. How should he, when their possessors so seldom
know themselves?

An anxious night ensued. When morning came, Mrs. Maylie’s
predictions were but too well verified. Rose was in the first stage
of a high and dangerous fever.

‘We must be active, Oliver, and not give way to useless grief,’ said
Mrs. Maylie, laying her finger on her lip, as she looked steadily
into his face; ‘this letter must be sent, with all possible
expedition, to Mr. Losberne. It must be carried to the market-town:
which is not more than four miles off, by the footpath across the
field: and thence dispatched, by an express on horseback, straight
to Chertsey. The people at the inn will undertake to do this: and I
can trust to you to see it done, I know.’

Oliver could make no reply, but looked his anxiety to be gone at
once.

‘Here is another letter,’ said Mrs. Maylie, pausing to reflect;
‘but whether to send it now, or wait until I see how Rose goes on, I
scarcely know. I would not forward it, unless I feared the worst.’

‘Is it for Chertsey, too, ma’am?’ inquired Oliver; impatient to
execute his commission, and holding out his trembling hand for the
letter.

‘No,’ replied the old lady, giving it to him mechanically. Oliver


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 22 of 25)