Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens



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approvingly; 'from a woman, nothing else was to be expected. We,
being men, took a dark lantern that was standing on Brittle's
hob, and groped our way downstairs in the pitch dark,--as it
might be so.'

Mr. Giles had risen from his seat, and taken two steps with his


eyes shut, to accompany his description with appropriate action,
when he started violently, in common with the rest of the
company, and hurried back to his chair. The cook and housemaid
screamed.

'It was a knock,' said Mr. Giles, assuming perfect serenity.


'Open the door, somebody.'

Nobody moved.

'It seems a strange sort of a thing, a knock coming at such a
time in the morning,' said Mr. Giles, surveying the pale faces
which surrounded him, and looking very blank himself; 'but the
door must be opened. Do you hear, somebody?'

Mr. Giles, as he spoke, looked at Brittles; but that young man,


being naturally modest, probably considered himself nobody, and
so held that the inquiry could not have any application to him;
at all events, he tendered no reply. Mr. Giles directed an
appealing glance at the tinker; but he had suddenly fallen
asleep. The women were out of the question.

'If Brittles would rather open the door, in the presence of


witnesses,' said Mr. Giles, after a short silence, 'I am ready to
make one.'

'So am I,' said the tinker, waking up, as suddenly as he had


fallen asleep.

Brittles capitualated on these terms; and the party being


somewhat re-assured by the discovery (made on throwing open the
shutters) that it was now broad day, took their way upstairs;
with the dogs in front. The two women, who were afraid to stay
below, brought up the rear. By the advice of Mr. Giles, they all
talked very loud, to warn any evil-disposed person outside, that
they were strong in numbers; and by a master-stoke of policy,
originating in the brain of the same ingenious gentleman, the
dogs' tails were well pinched, in the hall, to make them bark
savagely.

These precautions having been taken, Mr. Giles held on fast by


the tinker's arm (to prevent his running away, as he pleasantly
said), and gave the word of command to open the door. Brittles
obeyed; the group, peeping timourously over each other's
shoulders, beheld no more formidable object than poor little
Oliver Twist, speechless and exhausted, who raised his heavy
eyes, and mutely solicited their compassion.

'A boy!' exclaimed Mr. Giles, valiantly, pushing the tinker into


the background. 'What's the matter with
the--eh?--Why--Brittles--look here--don't you know?'

Brittles, who had got behind the door to open it, no sooner saw


Oliver, than he uttered a loud cry. Mr. Giles, seizing the boy
by one leg and one arm (fortunately not the broken limb) lugged
him straight into the hall, and deposited him at full length on
the floor thereof.

'Here he is!' bawled Giles, calling in a state of great


excitement, up the staircase; 'here's one of the thieves, ma'am!
Here's a thief, miss! Wounded, miss! I shot him, miss; and
Brittles held the light.'

'--In a lantern, miss,' cried Brittles, applying one hand to the


side of his mouth, so that his voice might travel the better.

The two women-servants ran upstairs to carry the intelligence


that Mr. Giles had captured a robber; and the tinker busied
himself in endeavouring to restore Oliver, lest he should die
before he could be hanged. In the midst of all this noise and
commotion, there was heard a sweet female voice, which quelled it
in an instant.

'Giles!' whispered the voice from the stair-head.

'I'm here, miss,' replied Mr. Giles. 'Don't be frightened, miss;
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 him; 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.

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