Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

. (page 24 of 25)
Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 24 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


they retired, with light and thankful hearts, to take that rest of
which, after the doubt and suspense they had recently undergone,
they stood much in need.

Oliver rose next morning, in better heart, and went about his usual
occupations, with more hope and pleasure than he had known for
many days. The birds were once more hung out, to sing, in their old
places; and the sweetest wild flowers that could be found, were
once more gathered to gladden Rose with their beauty. The melancholy
which had seemed to the sad eyes of the anxious boy to hang, for
days past, over every object, beautiful as all were, was dispelled
by magic. The dew seemed to sparkle more brightly on the green
leaves; the air to rustle among them with a sweeter music; and the
sky itself to look more blue and bright. Such is the influence
which the condition of our own thoughts, exercise, even over the
appearance of external objects. Men who look on nature, and their
fellow-men, and cry that all is dark and gloomy, are in the right;
but the sombre colours are reflections from their own jaundiced eyes
and hearts. The real hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.

It is worthy of remark, and Oliver did not fail to note it at the
time, that his morning expeditions were no longer made alone. Harry
Maylie, after the very first morning when he met Oliver coming laden
home, was seized with such a passion for flowers, and displayed
such a taste in their arrangement, as left his young companion far
behind. If Oliver were behindhand in these respects, he knew where
the best were to be found; and morning after morning they scoured
the country together, and brought home the fairest that blossomed.
The window of the young lady’s chamber was opened now; for she
loved to feel the rich summer air stream in, and revive her with its
freshness; but there always stood in water, just inside the lattice,
one particular little bunch, which was made up with great care,
every morning. Oliver could not help noticing that the withered
flowers were never thrown away, although the little vase was
regularly replenished; nor, could he help observing, that whenever
the doctor came into the garden, he invariably cast his eyes up to
that particular corner, and nodded his head most expressively, as
he set forth on his morning’s walk. Pending these observations, the
days were flying by; and Rose was rapidly recovering.

Nor did Oliver’s time hang heavy on his hands, although the young
lady had not yet left her chamber, and there were no evening walks,
save now and then, for a short distance, with Mrs. Maylie. He
applied himself, with redoubled assiduity, to the instructions of
the white-headed old gentleman, and laboured so hard that his quick
progress surprised even himself. It was while he was engaged in
this pursuit, that he was greatly startled and distressed by a most
unexpected occurrence.

The little room in which he was accustomed to sit, when busy at his
books, was on the ground-floor, at the back of the house. It was
quite a cottage-room, with a lattice-window: around which were
clusters of jessamine and honeysuckle, that crept over the casement,
and filled the place with their delicious perfume. It looked into
a garden, whence a wicket-gate opened into a small paddock; all
beyond, was fine meadow-land and wood. There was no other dwelling
near, in that direction; and the prospect it commanded was very
extensive.

One beautiful evening, when the first shades of twilight were
beginning to settle upon the earth, Oliver sat at this window,
intent upon his books. He had been poring over them for some time;
and, as the day had been uncommonly sultry, and he had exerted
himself a great deal, it is no disparagement to the authors, whoever
they may have been, to say, that gradually and by slow degrees, he
fell asleep.

There is a kind of sleep that steals upon us sometimes, which, while
it holds the body prisoner, does not free the mind from a sense of
things about it, and enable it to ramble at its pleasure. So far as
an overpowering heaviness, a prostration of strength, and an utter
inability to control our thoughts or power of motion, can be called
sleep, this is it; and yet, we have a consciousness of all that is
going on about us, and, if we dream at such a time, words which
are really spoken, or sounds which really exist at the moment,
accommodate themselves with surprising readiness to our visions,
until reality and imagination become so strangely blended that it is
afterwards almost matter of impossibility to separate the two. Nor
is this, the most striking phenomenon incidental to such a state. It
is an undoubted fact, that although our senses of touch and sight
be for the time dead, yet our sleeping thoughts, and the visionary
scenes that pass before us, will be influenced and materially
influenced, by the _mere silent presence_ of some external object;
which may not have been near us when we closed our eyes: and of
whose vicinity we have had no waking consciousness.

Oliver knew, perfectly well, that he was in his own little room;
that his books were lying on the table before him; that the sweet
air was stirring among the creeping plants outside. And yet he
was asleep. Suddenly, the scene changed; the air became close and
confined; and he thought, with a glow of terror, that he was in the
Jew’s house again. There sat the hideous old man, in his accustomed
corner, pointing at him, and whispering to another man, with his
face averted, who sat beside him.

‘Hush, my dear!’ he thought he heard the Jew say; ‘it is he, sure
enough. Come away.’

‘He!’ the other man seemed to answer; ‘could I mistake him, think
you? If a crowd of ghosts were to put themselves into his exact
shape, and he stood amongst them, there is something that would tell
me how to point him out. If you buried him fifty feet deep, and took
me across his grave, I fancy I should know, if there wasn’t a mark
above it, that he lay buried there?’

The man seemed to say this, with such dreadful hatred, that Oliver
awoke with the fear, and started up.

Good Heaven! what was that, which sent the blood tingling to
his heart, and deprived him of his voice, and of power to move!
There - there - at the window - close before him - so close, that he
could have almost touched him before he started back: with his eyes
peering into the room, and meeting his: there stood the Jew! And
beside him, white with rage or fear, or both, were the scowling
features of the man who had accosted him in the inn-yard.

It was but an instant, a glance, a flash, before his eyes; and they
were gone. But they had recognised him, and he them; and their look
was as firmly impressed upon his memory, as if it had been deeply
carved in stone, and set before him from his birth. He stood
transfixed for a moment; then, leaping from the window into the
garden, called loudly for help.



CHAPTER XXXV - CONTAINING THE UNSATISFACTORY RESULT OF OLIVER’S
ADVENTURE; AND A CONVERSATION OF SOME IMPORTANCE BETWEEN HARRY
MAYLIE AND ROSE

When the inmates of the house, attracted by Oliver’s cries, hurried
to the spot from which they proceeded, they found him, pale and
agitated, pointing in the direction of the meadows behind the house,
and scarcely able to articulate the words, ‘The Jew! the Jew!’

Mr. Giles was at a loss to comprehend what this outcry meant; but
Harry Maylie, whose perceptions were something quicker, and who had
heard Oliver’s history from his mother, understood it at once.

‘What direction did he take?’ he asked, catching up a heavy stick
which was standing in a corner.

‘That,’ replied Oliver, pointing out the course the man had taken;
‘I missed them in an instant.’

‘Then, they are in the ditch!’ said Harry. ‘Follow! And keep as near
me, as you can.’ So saying, he sprang over the hedge, and darted off
with a speed which rendered it matter of exceeding difficulty for
the others to keep near him.

Giles followed as well as he could; and Oliver followed too; and
in the course of a minute or two, Mr. Losberne, who had been out
walking, and just then returned, tumbled over the hedge after them,
and picking himself up with more agility than he could have been
supposed to possess, struck into the same course at no contemptible
speed, shouting all the while, most prodigiously, to know what was
the matter.

On they all went; nor stopped they once to breathe, until the
leader, striking off into an angle of the field indicated by Oliver,
began to search, narrowly, the ditch and hedge adjoining; which
afforded time for the remainder of the party to come up; and for
Oliver to communicate to Mr. Losberne the circumstances that had led
to so vigorous a pursuit.

The search was all in vain. There were not even the traces of recent
footsteps, to be seen. They stood now, on the summit of a little
hill, commanding the open fields in every direction for three or
four miles. There was the village in the hollow on the left; but, in
order to gain that, after pursuing the track Oliver had pointed
out, the men must have made a circuit of open ground, which it was
impossible they could have accomplished in so short a time. A thick
wood skirted the meadow-land in another direction; but they could
not have gained that covert for the same reason.

‘It must have been a dream, Oliver,’ said Harry Maylie.

‘Oh no, indeed, sir,’ replied Oliver, shuddering at the very
recollection of the old wretch’s countenance; ‘I saw him too plainly
for that. I saw them both, as plainly as I see you now.’

‘Who was the other?’ inquired Harry and Mr. Losberne, together.

‘The very same man I told you of, who came so suddenly upon me at
the inn,’ said Oliver. ‘We had our eyes fixed full upon each other;
and I could swear to him.’

‘They took this way?’ demanded Harry: ‘are you sure?’

‘As I am that the men were at the window,’ replied Oliver, pointing
down, as he spoke, to the hedge which divided the cottage-garden
from the meadow. ‘The tall man leaped over, just there; and the Jew,
running a few paces to the right, crept through that gap.’

The two gentlemen watched Oliver’s earnest face, as he spoke, and
looking from him to each other, seemed to feel satisfied of the
accuracy of what he said. Still, in no direction were there any
appearances of the trampling of men in hurried flight. The grass was
long; but it was trodden down nowhere, save where their own feet had
crushed it. The sides and brinks of the ditches were of damp clay;
but in no one place could they discern the print of men’s shoes, or
the slightest mark which would indicate that any feet had pressed
the ground for hours before.

‘This is strange!’ said Harry.

‘Strange?’ echoed the doctor. ‘Blathers and Duff, themselves, could
make nothing of it.’

Notwithstanding the evidently useless nature of their search, they
did not desist until the coming on of night rendered its further
prosecution hopeless; and even then, they gave it up with
reluctance. Giles was dispatched to the different ale-houses in the
village, furnished with the best description Oliver could give of
the appearance and dress of the strangers. Of these, the Jew was, at
all events, sufficiently remarkable to be remembered, supposing
he had been seen drinking, or loitering about; but Giles returned
without any intelligence, calculated to dispel or lessen the
mystery.

On the next day, fresh search was made, and the inquiries renewed;
but with no better success. On the day following, Oliver and Mr.
Maylie repaired to the market-town, in the hope of seeing or hearing
something of the men there; but this effort was equally fruitless.
After a few days, the affair began to be forgotten, as most affairs
are, when wonder, having no fresh food to support it, dies away of
itself.

Meanwhile, Rose was rapidly recovering. She had left her room: was
able to go out; and mixing once more with the family, carried joy
into the hearts of all.

But, although this happy change had a visible effect on the little
circle; and although cheerful voices and merry laughter were once
more heard in the cottage; there was at times, an unwonted restraint
upon some there: even upon Rose herself: which Oliver could not fail
to remark. Mrs. Maylie and her son were often closeted together for
a long time; and more than once Rose appeared with traces of tears
upon her face. After Mr. Losberne had fixed a day for his departure
to Chertsey, these symptoms increased; and it became evident that
something was in progress which affected the peace of the young
lady, and of somebody else besides.

At length, one morning, when Rose was alone in the
breakfast-parlour, Harry Maylie entered; and, with some hesitation,
begged permission to speak with her for a few moments.

‘A few - a very few - will suffice, Rose,’ said the young man, drawing
his chair towards her. ‘What I shall have to say, has already
presented itself to your mind; the most cherished hopes of my heart
are not unknown to you, though from my lips you have not heard them
stated.’

Rose had been very pale from the moment of his entrance; but that
might have been the effect of her recent illness. She merely bowed;
and bending over some plants that stood near, waited in silence for
him to proceed.

‘I - I - ought to have left here, before,’ said Harry.

‘You should, indeed,’ replied Rose. ‘Forgive me for saying so, but I
wish you had.’

‘I was brought here, by the most dreadful and agonising of all
apprehensions,’ said the young man; ‘the fear of losing the one dear
being on whom my every wish and hope are fixed. You had been dying;
trembling between earth and heaven. We know that when the young, the
beautiful, and good, are visited with sickness, their pure spirits
insensibly turn towards their bright home of lasting rest; we know,
Heaven help us! that the best and fairest of our kind, too often
fade in blooming.’

There were tears in the eyes of the gentle girl, as these words were
spoken; and when one fell upon the flower over which she bent, and
glistened brightly in its cup, making it more beautiful, it seemed
as though the outpouring of her fresh young heart, claimed kindred
naturally, with the loveliest things in nature.

‘A creature,’ continued the young man, passionately, ‘a creature
as fair and innocent of guile as one of God’s own angels, fluttered
between life and death. Oh! who could hope, when the distant world
to which she was akin, half opened to her view, that she would
return to the sorrow and calamity of this! Rose, Rose, to know that
you were passing away like some soft shadow, which a light from
above, casts upon the earth; to have no hope that you would be
spared to those who linger here; hardly to know a reason why you
should be; to feel that you belonged to that bright sphere whither
so many of the fairest and the best have winged their early flight;
and yet to pray, amid all these consolations, that you might be
restored to those who loved you - these were distractions almost too
great to bear. They were mine, by day and night; and with them,
came such a rushing torrent of fears, and apprehensions, and selfish
regrets, lest you should die, and never know how devotedly I
loved you, as almost bore down sense and reason in its course. You
recovered. Day by day, and almost hour by hour, some drop of health
came back, and mingling with the spent and feeble stream of life
which circulated languidly within you, swelled it again to a high
and rushing tide. I have watched you change almost from death, to
life, with eyes that turned blind with their eagerness and deep
affection. Do not tell me that you wish I had lost this; for it has
softened my heart to all mankind.’

‘I did not mean that,’ said Rose, weeping; ‘I only wish you had left
here, that you might have turned to high and noble pursuits again;
to pursuits well worthy of you.’

‘There is no pursuit more worthy of me: more worthy of the highest
nature that exists: than the struggle to win such a heart as yours,’
said the young man, taking her hand. ‘Rose, my own dear Rose! For
years - for years - I have loved you; hoping to win my way to fame,
and then come proudly home and tell you it had been pursued only for
you to share; thinking, in my daydreams, how I would remind you, in
that happy moment, of the many silent tokens I had given of a boy’s
attachment, and claim your hand, as in redemption of some old mute
contract that had been sealed between us! That time has not arrived;
but here, with not fame won, and no young vision realised, I offer
you the heart so long your own, and stake my all upon the words with
which you greet the offer.’

‘Your behaviour has ever been kind and noble.’ said Rose, mastering
the emotions by which she was agitated. ‘As you believe that I am
not insensible or ungrateful, so hear my answer.’

‘It is, that I may endeavour to deserve you; it is, dear Rose?’

‘It is,’ replied Rose, ‘that you must endeavour to forget me; not
as your old and dearly-attached companion, for that would wound me
deeply; but, as the object of your love. Look into the world; think
how many hearts you would be proud to gain, are there. Confide some
other passion to me, if you will; I will be the truest, warmest, and
most faithful friend you have.’

There was a pause, during which, Rose, who had covered her face
with one hand, gave free vent to her tears. Harry still retained the
other.

‘And your reasons, Rose,’ he said, at length, in a low voice; ‘your
reasons for this decision?’

‘You have a right to know them,’ rejoined Rose. ‘You can say nothing
to alter my resolution. It is a duty that I must perform. I owe it,
alike to others, and to myself.’

‘To yourself?’

‘Yes, Harry. I owe it to myself, that I, a friendless, portionless,
girl, with a blight upon my name, should not give your friends
reason to suspect that I had sordidly yielded to your first passion,
and fastened myself, a clog, on all your hopes and projects. I owe
it to you and yours, to prevent you from opposing, in the warmth of
your generous nature, this great obstacle to your progress in the
world.’

‘If your inclinations chime with your sense of duty - ’ Harry began.

‘They do not,’ replied Rose, colouring deeply.

‘Then you return my love?’ said Harry. ‘Say but that, dear Rose; say
but that; and soften the bitterness of this hard disappointment!’

‘If I could have done so, without doing heavy wrong to him I loved,’
rejoined Rose, ‘I could have - ’

‘Have received this declaration very differently?’ said Harry. ‘Do
not conceal that from me, at least, Rose.’

‘I could,’ said Rose. ‘Stay!’ she added, disengaging her hand, ‘why
should we prolong this painful interview? Most painful to me, and
yet productive of lasting happiness, notwithstanding; for it _will_
be happiness to know that I once held the high place in your regard
which I now occupy, and every triumph you achieve in life will
animate me with new fortitude and firmness. Farewell, Harry! As we
have met to-day, we meet no more; but in other relations than
those in which this conversation have placed us, we may be long and
happily entwined; and may every blessing that the prayers of a true
and earnest heart can call down from the source of all truth and
sincerity, cheer and prosper you!’

‘Another word, Rose,’ said Harry. ‘Your reason in your own words.
From your own lips, let me hear it!’

‘The prospect before you,’ answered Rose, firmly, ‘is a brilliant
one. All the honours to which great talents and powerful connections
can help men in public life, are in store for you. But those
connections are proud; and I will neither mingle with such as may
hold in scorn the mother who gave me life; nor bring disgrace or
failure on the son of her who has so well supplied that mother’s
place. In a word,’ said the young lady, turning away, as her
temporary firmness forsook her, ‘there is a stain upon my name,
which the world visits on innocent heads. I will carry it into no
blood but my own; and the reproach shall rest alone on me.’

‘One word more, Rose. Dearest Rose! one more!’ cried Harry, throwing
himself before her. ‘If I had been less - less fortunate, the
world would call it - if some obscure and peaceful life had been my
destiny - if I had been poor, sick, helpless - would you have turned
from me then? Or has my probable advancement to riches and honour,
given this scruple birth?’

‘Do not press me to reply,’ answered Rose. ‘The question does not
arise, and never will. It is unfair, almost unkind, to urge it.’

‘If your answer be what I almost dare to hope it is,’ retorted
Harry, ‘it will shed a gleam of happiness upon my lonely way, and
light the path before me. It is not an idle thing to do so much, by
the utterance of a few brief words, for one who loves you beyond all
else. Oh, Rose: in the name of my ardent and enduring attachment;
in the name of all I have suffered for you, and all you doom me to
undergo; answer me this one question!’

‘Then, if your lot had been differently cast,’ rejoined Rose; ‘if
you had been even a little, but not so far, above me; if I could
have been a help and comfort to you in any humble scene of peace
and retirement, and not a blot and drawback in ambitious and
distinguished crowds; I should have been spared this trial. I have
every reason to be happy, very happy, now; but then, Harry, I own I
should have been happier.’

Busy recollections of old hopes, cherished as a girl, long ago,
crowded into the mind of Rose, while making this avowal; but they
brought tears with them, as old hopes will when they come back
withered; and they relieved her.

‘I cannot help this weakness, and it makes my purpose stronger,’
said Rose, extending her hand. ‘I must leave you now, indeed.’

‘I ask one promise,’ said Harry. ‘Once, and only once more, - say
within a year, but it may be much sooner, - I may speak to you again
on this subject, for the last time.’

‘Not to press me to alter my right determination,’ replied Rose,
with a melancholy smile; ‘it will be useless.’

‘No,’ said Harry; ‘to hear you repeat it, if you will - finally
repeat it! I will lay at your feet, whatever of station of fortune
I may possess; and if you still adhere to your present resolution,
will not seek, by word or act, to change it.’

‘Then let it be so,’ rejoined Rose; ‘it is but one pang the more,
and by that time I may be enabled to bear it better.’

She extended her hand again. But the young man caught her to his
bosom; and imprinting one kiss on her beautiful forehead, hurried
from the room.



CHAPTER XXXVI - IS A VERY SHORT ONE, AND MAY APPEAR OF NO GREAT
IMPORTANCE IN ITS PLACE, BUT IT SHOULD BE READ NOTWITHSTANDING, AS A
SEQUEL TO THE LAST, AND A KEY TO ONE THAT WILL FOLLOW WHEN ITS TIME
ARRIVES

‘And so you are resolved to be my travelling companion this morning;
eh?’ said the doctor, as Harry Maylie joined him and Oliver at the
breakfast-table. ‘Why, you are not in the same mind or intention two
half-hours together!’

‘You will tell me a different tale one of these days,’ said Harry,
colouring without any perceptible reason.

‘I hope I may have good cause to do so,’ replied Mr. Losberne;
‘though I confess I don’t think I shall. But yesterday morning
you had made up your mind, in a great hurry, to stay here, and to
accompany your mother, like a dutiful son, to the sea-side. Before
noon, you announce that you are going to do me the honour of
accompanying me as far as I go, on your road to London. And at
night, you urge me, with great mystery, to start before the ladies
are stirring; the consequence of which is, that young Oliver here is
pinned down to his breakfast when he ought to be ranging the meadows
after botanical phenomena of all kinds. Too bad, isn’t it, Oliver?’

‘I should have been very sorry not to have been at home when you and
Mr. Maylie went away, sir,’ rejoined Oliver.

‘That’s a fine fellow,’ said the doctor; ‘you shall come and see
me when you return. But, to speak seriously, Harry; has any
communication from the great nobs produced this sudden anxiety on
your part to be gone?’

‘The great nobs,’ replied Harry, ‘under which designation, I
presume, you include my most stately uncle, have not communicated


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 24

Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 24 of 25)