Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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glanced at it, and saw that it was directed to Harry Maylie,
Esquire, at some great lord’s house in the country; where, he could
not make out.

‘Shall it go, ma’am?’ asked Oliver, looking up, impatiently.

‘I think not,’ replied Mrs. Maylie, taking it back. ‘I will wait
until to-morrow.’

With these words, she gave Oliver her purse, and he started off,
without more delay, at the greatest speed he could muster.

Swiftly he ran across the fields, and down the little lanes which
sometimes divided them: now almost hidden by the high corn on
either side, and now emerging on an open field, where the mowers and
haymakers were busy at their work: nor did he stop once, save now
and then, for a few seconds, to recover breath, until he came, in a
great heat, and covered with dust, on the little market-place of the
market-town.

Here he paused, and looked about for the inn. There were a white
bank, and a red brewery, and a yellow town-hall; and in one corner
there was a large house, with all the wood about it painted green:
before which was the sign of ‘The George.’ To this he hastened, as
soon as it caught his eye.

He spoke to a postboy who was dozing under the gateway; and who,
after hearing what he wanted, referred him to the ostler; who after
hearing all he had to say again, referred him to the landlord;
who was a tall gentleman in a blue neckcloth, a white hat, drab
breeches, and boots with tops to match, leaning against a pump by
the stable-door, picking his teeth with a silver toothpick.

This gentleman walked with much deliberation into the bar to make
out the bill: which took a long time making out: and after it was
ready, and paid, a horse had to be saddled, and a man to be dressed,
which took up ten good minutes more. Meanwhile Oliver was in such
a desperate state of impatience and anxiety, that he felt as if he
could have jumped upon the horse himself, and galloped away, full
tear, to the next stage. At length, all was ready; and the little
parcel having been handed up, with many injunctions and entreaties
for its speedy delivery, the man set spurs to his horse, and
rattling over the uneven paving of the market-place, was out of the
town, and galloping along the turnpike-road, in a couple of minutes.

As it was something to feel certain that assistance was sent for,
and that no time had been lost, Oliver hurried up the inn-yard, with
a somewhat lighter heart. He was turning out of the gateway when he
accidently stumbled against a tall man wrapped in a cloak, who was
at that moment coming out of the inn door.

‘Hah!’ cried the man, fixing his eyes on Oliver, and suddenly
recoiling. ‘What the devil’s this?’

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ said Oliver; ‘I was in a great hurry to
get home, and didn’t see you were coming.’

‘Death!’ muttered the man to himself, glaring at the boy with his
large dark eyes. ‘Who would have thought it! Grind him to ashes!
He’d start up from a stone coffin, to come in my way!’

‘I am sorry,’ stammered Oliver, confused by the strange man’s wild
look. ‘I hope I have not hurt you!’

‘Rot you!’ murmured the man, in a horrible passion; between his
clenched teeth; ‘if I had only had the courage to say the word, I
might have been free of you in a night. Curses on your head, and
black death on your heart, you imp! What are you doing here?’

The man shook his fist, as he uttered these words incoherently. He
advanced towards Oliver, as if with the intention of aiming a blow
at him, but fell violently on the ground: writhing and foaming, in a
fit.

Oliver gazed, for a moment, at the struggles of the madman (for such
he supposed him to be); and then darted into the house for help.
Having seen him safely carried into the hotel, he turned his face
homewards, running as fast as he could, to make up for lost time:
and recalling with a great deal of astonishment and some fear, the
extraordinary behaviour of the person from whom he had just parted.

The circumstance did not dwell in his recollection long, however:
for when he reached the cottage, there was enough to occupy his
mind, and to drive all considerations of self completely from his
memory.

Rose Maylie had rapidly grown worse; before mid-night she was
delirious. A medical practitioner, who resided on the spot, was in
constant attendance upon her; and after first seeing the patient, he
had taken Mrs. Maylie aside, and pronounced her disorder to be one
of a most alarming nature. ‘In fact,’ he said, ‘it would be little
short of a miracle, if she recovered.’

How often did Oliver start from his bed that night, and stealing
out, with noiseless footstep, to the staircase, listen for the
slightest sound from the sick chamber! How often did a tremble shake
his frame, and cold drops of terror start upon his brow, when a
sudden trampling of feet caused him to fear that something too
dreadful to think of, had even then occurred! And what had been
the fervency of all the prayers he had ever muttered, compared
with those he poured forth, now, in the agony and passion of his
supplication for the life and health of the gentle creature, who was
tottering on the deep grave’s verge!

Oh! the suspense, the fearful, acute suspense, of standing idly by
while the life of one we dearly love, is trembling in the balance!
Oh! the racking thoughts that crowd upon the mind, and make the
heart beat violently, and the breath come thick, by the force of the
images they conjure up before it; the desperate anxiety _to be doing
something_ to relieve the pain, or lessen the danger, which we have
no power to alleviate; the sinking of soul and spirit, which the sad
remembrance of our helplessness produces; what tortures can equal
these; what reflections or endeavours can, in the full tide and
fever of the time, allay them!

Morning came; and the little cottage was lonely and still. People
spoke in whispers; anxious faces appeared at the gate, from time to
time; women and children went away in tears. All the livelong day,
and for hours after it had grown dark, Oliver paced softly up and
down the garden, raising his eyes every instant to the sick chamber,
and shuddering to see the darkened window, looking as if death lay
stretched inside. Late that night, Mr. Losberne arrived. ‘It is
hard,’ said the good doctor, turning away as he spoke; ‘so young; so
much beloved; but there is very little hope.’

Another morning. The sun shone brightly; as brightly as if it looked
upon no misery or care; and, with every leaf and flower in full
bloom about her; with life, and health, and sounds and sights of
joy, surrounding her on every side: the fair young creature lay,
wasting fast. Oliver crept away to the old churchyard, and sitting
down on one of the green mounds, wept and prayed for her, in
silence.

There was such peace and beauty in the scene; so much of brightness
and mirth in the sunny landscape; such blithesome music in the songs
of the summer birds; such freedom in the rapid flight of the rook,
careering overhead; so much of life and joyousness in all; that,
when the boy raised his aching eyes, and looked about, the thought
instinctively occurred to him, that this was not a time for death;
that Rose could surely never die when humbler things were all so
glad and gay; that graves were for cold and cheerless winter: not
for sunlight and fragrance. He almost thought that shrouds were
for the old and shrunken; and that they never wrapped the young and
graceful form in their ghastly folds.

A knell from the church bell broke harshly on these youthful
thoughts. Another! Again! It was tolling for the funeral service.
A group of humble mourners entered the gate: wearing white favours;
for the corpse was young. They stood uncovered by a grave; and there
was a mother - a mother once - among the weeping train. But the sun
shone brightly, and the birds sang on.

Oliver turned homeward, thinking on the many kindnesses he had
received from the young lady, and wishing that the time could
come again, that he might never cease showing her how grateful and
attached he was. He had no cause for self-reproach on the score of
neglect, or want of thought, for he had been devoted to her service;
and yet a hundred little occasions rose up before him, on which
he fancied he might have been more zealous, and more earnest, and
wished he had been. We need be careful how we deal with those about
us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors,
thoughts of so much omitted, and so little done - of so many things
forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired! There
is no remorse so deep as that which is unavailing; if we would be
spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.

When he reached home Mrs. Maylie was sitting in the little parlour.
Oliver’s heart sank at sight of her; for she had never left the
bedside of her niece; and he trembled to think what change could
have driven her away. He learnt that she had fallen into a deep
sleep, from which she would waken, either to recovery and life, or
to bid them farewell, and die.

They sat, listening, and afraid to speak, for hours. The untasted
meal was removed, with looks which showed that their thoughts were
elsewhere, they watched the sun as he sank lower and lower, and, at
length, cast over sky and earth those brilliant hues which herald
his departure. Their quick ears caught the sound of an approaching
footstep. They both involuntarily darted to the door, as Mr.
Losberne entered.

‘What of Rose?’ cried the old lady. ‘Tell me at once! I can bear it;
anything but suspense! Oh, tell me! in the name of Heaven!’

‘You must compose yourself,’ said the doctor supporting her. ‘Be
calm, my dear ma’am, pray.’

‘Let me go, in God’s name! My dear child! She is dead! She is
dying!’

‘No!’ cried the doctor, passionately. ‘As He is good and merciful,
she will live to bless us all, for years to come.’

The lady fell upon her knees, and tried to fold her hands together;
but the energy which had supported her so long, fled up to Heaven
with her first thanksgiving; and she sank into the friendly arms
which were extended to receive her.



CHAPTER XXXIV - CONTAINS SOME INTRODUCTORY PARTICULARS RELATIVE
TO A YOUNG GENTLEMAN WHO NOW ARRIVES UPON THE SCENE; AND A NEW
ADVENTURE WHICH HAPPENED TO OLIVER

It was almost too much happiness to bear. Oliver felt stunned and
stupefied by the unexpected intelligence; he could not weep, or
speak, or rest. He had scarcely the power of understanding anything
that had passed, until, after a long ramble in the quiet evening
air, a burst of tears came to his relief, and he seemed to awaken,
all at once, to a full sense of the joyful change that had occurred,
and the almost insupportable load of anguish which had been taken
from his breast.

The night was fast closing in, when he returned homeward: laden with
flowers which he had culled, with peculiar care, for the adornment
of the sick chamber. As he walked briskly along the road, he heard
behind him, the noise of some vehicle, approaching at a furious
pace. Looking round, he saw that it was a post-chaise, driven at
great speed; and as the horses were galloping, and the road was
narrow, he stood leaning against a gate until it should have passed
him.

As it dashed on, Oliver caught a glimpse of a man in a white
nightcap, whose face seemed familiar to him, although his view was
so brief that he could not identify the person. In another second
or two, the nightcap was thrust out of the chaise-window, and a
stentorian voice bellowed to the driver to stop: which he did, as
soon as he could pull up his horses. Then, the nightcap once again
appeared: and the same voice called Oliver by his name.

‘Here!’ cried the voice. ‘Oliver, what’s the news? Miss Rose! Master
O-li-ver!’

‘Is is you, Giles?’ cried Oliver, running up to the chaise-door.

Giles popped out his nightcap again, preparatory to making some
reply, when he was suddenly pulled back by a young gentleman who
occupied the other corner of the chaise, and who eagerly demanded
what was the news.

‘In a word!’ cried the gentleman, ‘Better or worse?’

‘Better - much better!’ replied Oliver, hastily.

‘Thank Heaven!’ exclaimed the gentleman. ‘You are sure?’

‘Quite, sir,’ replied Oliver. ‘The change took place only a few
hours ago; and Mr. Losberne says, that all danger is at an end.’

The gentleman said not another word, but, opening the chaise-door,
leaped out, and taking Oliver hurriedly by the arm, led him aside.

‘You are quite certain? There is no possibility of any mistake on
your part, my boy, is there?’ demanded the gentleman in a tremulous
voice. ‘Do not deceive me, by awakening hopes that are not to be
fulfilled.’

‘I would not for the world, sir,’ replied Oliver. ‘Indeed you may
believe me. Mr. Losberne’s words were, that she would live to bless
us all for many years to come. I heard him say so.’

The tears stood in Oliver’s eyes as he recalled the scene which was
the beginning of so much happiness; and the gentleman turned his
face away, and remained silent, for some minutes. Oliver thought he
heard him sob, more than once; but he feared to interrupt him by any
fresh remark - for he could well guess what his feelings were - and so
stood apart, feigning to be occupied with his nosegay.

All this time, Mr. Giles, with the white nightcap on, had been
sitting on the steps of the chaise, supporting an elbow on each
knee, and wiping his eyes with a blue cotton pocket-handkerchief
dotted with white spots. That the honest fellow had not been
feigning emotion, was abundantly demonstrated by the very red eyes
with which he regarded the young gentleman, when he turned round and
addressed him.

‘I think you had better go on to my mother’s in the chaise, Giles,’
said he. ‘I would rather walk slowly on, so as to gain a little time
before I see her. You can say I am coming.’

‘I beg your pardon, Mr. Harry,’ said Giles: giving a final polish
to his ruffled countenance with the handkerchief; ‘but if you would
leave the postboy to say that, I should be very much obliged to you.
It wouldn’t be proper for the maids to see me in this state, sir; I
should never have any more authority with them if they did.’

‘Well,’ rejoined Harry Maylie, smiling, ‘you can do as you like. Let
him go on with the luggage, if you wish it, and do you follow with
us. Only first exchange that nightcap for some more appropriate
covering, or we shall be taken for madmen.’

Mr. Giles, reminded of his unbecoming costume, snatched off and
pocketed his nightcap; and substituted a hat, of grave and sober
shape, which he took out of the chaise. This done, the postboy drove
off; Giles, Mr. Maylie, and Oliver, followed at their leisure.

As they walked along, Oliver glanced from time to time with
much interest and curiosity at the new comer. He seemed about
five-and-twenty years of age, and was of the middle height; his
countenance was frank and handsome; and his demeanor easy and
prepossessing. Notwithstanding the difference between youth and age,
he bore so strong a likeness to the old lady, that Oliver would have
had no great difficulty in imagining their relationship, if he had
not already spoken of her as his mother.

Mrs. Maylie was anxiously waiting to receive her son when he reached
the cottage. The meeting did not take place without great emotion on
both sides.

‘Mother!’ whispered the young man; ‘why did you not write before?’

‘I did,’ replied Mrs. Maylie; ‘but, on reflection, I determined to
keep back the letter until I had heard Mr. Losberne’s opinion.’

‘But why,’ said the young man, ‘why run the chance of that occurring
which so nearly happened? If Rose had - I cannot utter that word
now - if this illness had terminated differently, how could you ever
have forgiven yourself! How could I ever have know happiness again!’

‘If that _had_ been the case, Harry,’ said Mrs. Maylie, ‘I fear
your happiness would have been effectually blighted, and that your
arrival here, a day sooner or a day later, would have been of very,
very little import.’

‘And who can wonder if it be so, mother?’ rejoined the young man;
‘or why should I say, _if_? - It is - it is - you know it, mother - you
must know it!’

‘I know that she deserves the best and purest love the heart of
man can offer,’ said Mrs. Maylie; ‘I know that the devotion and
affection of her nature require no ordinary return, but one that
shall be deep and lasting. If I did not feel this, and know,
besides, that a changed behaviour in one she loved would break her
heart, I should not feel my task so difficult of performance, or
have to encounter so many struggles in my own bosom, when I take
what seems to me to be the strict line of duty.’

‘This is unkind, mother,’ said Harry. ‘Do you still suppose that I
am a boy ignorant of my own mind, and mistaking the impulses of my
own soul?’

‘I think, my dear son,’ returned Mrs. Maylie, laying her hand upon
his shoulder, ‘that youth has many generous impulses which do not
last; and that among them are some, which, being gratified, become
only the more fleeting. Above all, I think’ said the lady, fixing
her eyes on her son’s face, ‘that if an enthusiastic, ardent, and
ambitious man marry a wife on whose name there is a stain, which,
though it originate in no fault of hers, may be visited by cold and
sordid people upon her, and upon his children also: and, in exact
proportion to his success in the world, be cast in his teeth,
and made the subject of sneers against him: he may, no matter how
generous and good his nature, one day repent of the connection he
formed in early life. And she may have the pain of knowing that he
does so.’

‘Mother,’ said the young man, impatiently, ‘he would be a selfish
brute, unworthy alike of the name of man and of the woman you
describe, who acted thus.’

‘You think so now, Harry,’ replied his mother.

‘And ever will!’ said the young man. ‘The mental agony I have
suffered, during the last two days, wrings from me the avowal to you
of a passion which, as you well know, is not one of yesterday, nor
one I have lightly formed. On Rose, sweet, gentle girl! my heart
is set, as firmly as ever heart of man was set on woman. I have no
thought, no view, no hope in life, beyond her; and if you oppose me
in this great stake, you take my peace and happiness in your hands,
and cast them to the wind. Mother, think better of this, and of me,
and do not disregard the happiness of which you seem to think so
little.’

‘Harry,’ said Mrs. Maylie, ‘it is because I think so much of warm
and sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded.
But we have said enough, and more than enough, on this matter, just
now.’

‘Let it rest with Rose, then,’ interposed Harry. ‘You will not
press these overstrained opinions of yours, so far, as to throw any
obstacle in my way?’

‘I will not,’ rejoined Mrs. Maylie; ‘but I would have you
consider - ’

‘I _have_ considered!’ was the impatient reply; ‘Mother, I have
considered, years and years. I have considered, ever since I have
been capable of serious reflection. My feelings remain unchanged,
as they ever will; and why should I suffer the pain of a delay in
giving them vent, which can be productive of no earthly good? No!
Before I leave this place, Rose shall hear me.’

‘She shall,’ said Mrs. Maylie.

‘There is something in your manner, which would almost imply that
she will hear me coldly, mother,’ said the young man.

‘Not coldly,’ rejoined the old lady; ‘far from it.’

‘How then?’ urged the young man. ‘She has formed no other
attachment?’

‘No, indeed,’ replied his mother; ‘you have, or I mistake, too
strong a hold on her affections already. What I would say,’ resumed
the old lady, stopping her son as he was about to speak, ‘is this.
Before you stake your all on this chance; before you suffer yourself
to be carried to the highest point of hope; reflect for a few
moments, my dear child, on Rose’s history, and consider what effect
the knowledge of her doubtful birth may have on her decision:
devoted as she is to us, with all the intensity of her noble mind,
and with that perfect sacrifice of self which, in all matters, great
or trifling, has always been her characteristic.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘That I leave you to discover,’ replied Mrs. Maylie. ‘I must go back
to her. God bless you!’

‘I shall see you again to-night?’ said the young man, eagerly.

‘By and by,’ replied the lady; ‘when I leave Rose.’

‘You will tell her I am here?’ said Harry.

‘Of course,’ replied Mrs. Maylie.

‘And say how anxious I have been, and how much I have suffered, and
how I long to see her. You will not refuse to do this, mother?’

‘No,’ said the old lady; ‘I will tell her all.’ And pressing her
son’s hand, affectionately, she hastened from the room.

Mr. Losberne and Oliver had remained at another end of the apartment
while this hurried conversation was proceeding. The former now held
out his hand to Harry Maylie; and hearty salutations were exchanged
between them. The doctor then communicated, in reply to multifarious
questions from his young friend, a precise account of his patient’s
situation; which was quite as consolatory and full of promise, as
Oliver’s statement had encouraged him to hope; and to the whole
of which, Mr. Giles, who affected to be busy about the luggage,
listened with greedy ears.

‘Have you shot anything particular, lately, Giles?’ inquired the
doctor, when he had concluded.

‘Nothing particular, sir,’ replied Mr. Giles, colouring up to the
eyes.

‘Nor catching any thieves, nor identifying any house-breakers?’ said
the doctor.

‘None at all, sir,’ replied Mr. Giles, with much gravity.

‘Well,’ said the doctor, ‘I am sorry to hear it, because you do that
sort of thing admirably. Pray, how is Brittles?’

‘The boy is very well, sir,’ said Mr. Giles, recovering his usual
tone of patronage; ‘and sends his respectful duty, sir.’

‘That’s well,’ said the doctor. ‘Seeing you here, reminds me, Mr.
Giles, that on the day before that on which I was called away so
hurriedly, I executed, at the request of your good mistress, a small
commission in your favour. Just step into this corner a moment, will
you?’

Mr. Giles walked into the corner with much importance, and some
wonder, and was honoured with a short whispering conference with the
doctor, on the termination of which, he made a great many bows, and
retired with steps of unusual stateliness. The subject matter of
this conference was not disclosed in the parlour, but the kitchen
was speedily enlightened concerning it; for Mr. Giles walked
straight thither, and having called for a mug of ale, announced,
with an air of majesty, which was highly effective, that it had
pleased his mistress, in consideration of his gallant behaviour on
the occasion of that attempted robbery, to deposit, in the local
savings-bank, the sum of five-and-twenty pounds, for his sole use
and benefit. At this, the two women-servants lifted up their hands
and eyes, and supposed that Mr. Giles, pulling out his shirt-frill,
replied, ‘No, no’; and that if they observed that he was at all
haughty to his inferiors, he would thank them to tell him so. And
then he made a great many other remarks, no less illustrative of his
humility, which were received with equal favour and applause, and
were, withal, as original and as much to the purpose, as the remarks
of great men commonly are.

Above stairs, the remainder of the evening passed cheerfully
away; for the doctor was in high spirits; and however fatigued or
thoughtful Harry Maylie might have been at first, he was not proof
against the worthy gentleman’s good humour, which displayed itself
in a great variety of sallies and professional recollections, and an
abundance of small jokes, which struck Oliver as being the drollest
things he had ever heard, and caused him to laugh proportionately;
to the evident satisfaction of the doctor, who laughed immoderately
at himself, and made Harry laugh almost as heartily, by the very
force of sympathy. So, they were as pleasant a party as, under the
circumstances, they could well have been; and it was late before


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 23 of 25)