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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Part 6 out of 10

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The cook and housemaid simultaneously ejaculated 'Lor!' and drew
their chairs closer together.

'I heerd it now, quite apparent,' resumed Mr. Giles. '"Somebody,"
I says, "is forcing of a door, or window; what's to be done?
I'll call up that poor lad, Brittles, and save him from being
murdered in his bed; or his throat," I says, "may be cut from his
right ear to his left, without his ever knowing it."'

Here, all eyes were turned upon Brittles, who fixed his upon the
speaker, and stared at him, with his mouth wide open, and his
face expressive of the most unmitigated horror.

'I tossed off the clothes,' said Giles, throwing away the
table-cloth, and looking very hard at the cook and housemaid,
'got softly out of bed; drew on a pair of--'

'Ladies present, Mr. Giles,' murmured the tinker.

'--Of _shoes_, sir,' said Giles, turning upon him, and laying great
emphasis on the word; 'seized the loaded pistol that always goes
upstairs with the plate-basket; and walked on tiptoes to his
room. "Brittles," I says, when I had woke him, "don't be
frightened!"'

'So you did,' observed Brittles, in a low voice.

'"We're dead men, I think, Brittles," I says,' continued Giles;
'"but don't be frightened."'

'_Was_ he frightened?' asked the cook.

'Not a bit of it,' replied Mr. Giles. 'He was as firm--ah!
pretty near as firm as I was.'

'I should have died at once, I'm sure, if it had been me,'
observed the housemaid.

'You're a woman,' retorted Brittles, plucking up a little.

'Brittles is right,' said Mr. Giles, nodding his head,
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 capitulated 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 timorously 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 his; and offering his disengaged
hand to Mrs. Maylie, led them, with much ceremony and
stateliness, upstairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

'But at so early an age!' urged Rose.

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

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

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

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

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

'Oh, no!' replied Rose, eagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Oh no, aunt!' entreated Rose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Sit still!' said the doctor, waving his hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'What?' cried the doctor.

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

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

CHAPTER XXXI

INVOLVES A CRITICAL POSITION

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Tell your governor that Blathers and Duff is here, will you?'
said the stouter man, smoothing down his hair, and laying a pair
of handcuffs on the table. 'Oh! Good-evening, master. Can I
have a word or two with you in private, if you please?'

This was addressed to Mr. Losberne, who now made his appearance;
that gentleman, motioning Brittles to retire, brought in the two
ladies, and shut the door.

'This is the lady of the house,' said Mr. Losberne, motioning
towards Mrs. Maylie.

Mr. Blathers made a bow. Being desired to sit down, he put his
hat on the floor, and taking a chair, motioned to Duff to do the
same. The latter gentleman, who did not appear quite so much
accustomed to good society, or quite so much at his ease in
it--one of the two--seated himself, after undergoing several
muscular affections of the limbs, and the head of his stick into
his mouth, with some embarrassment.

'Now, with regard to this here robbery, master,' said Blathers.
'What are the circumstances?'

Mr. Losberne, who appeared desirous of gaining time, recounted
them at great length, and with much circumlocution. Messrs.
Blathers and Duff looked very knowing meanwhile, and occasionally
exchanged a nod.

'I can't say, for certain, till I see the work, of course,' said
Blathers; 'but my opinion at once is,--I don't mind committing
myself to that extent,--that this wasn't done by a yokel; eh,
Duff?'

'Certainly not,' replied Duff.

'And, translating the word yokel for the benefit of the ladies, I
apprehend your meaning to be, that this attempt was not made by a
countryman?' said Mr. Losberne, with a smile.

'That's it, master,' replied Blathers. 'This is all about the
robbery, is it?'

'All,' replied the doctor.

'Now, what is this, about this here boy that the servants are
a-talking on?' said Blathers.

'Nothing at all,' replied the doctor. 'One of the frightened
servants chose to take it into his head, that he had something to
do with this attempt to break into the house; but it's nonsense:
sheer absurdity.'

'Wery easy disposed of, if it is,' remarked Duff.

'What he says is quite correct,' observed Blathers, nodding his
head in a confirmatory way, and playing carelessly with the
handcuffs, as if they were a pair of castanets. 'Who is the boy?
What account does he give of himself? Where did he come from?
He didn't drop out of the clouds, did he, master?'

'Of course not,' replied the doctor, with a nervous glance at the
two ladies. 'I know his whole history: but we can talk about
that presently. You would like, first, to see the place where
the thieves made their attempt, I suppose?'

'Certainly,' rejoined Mr. Blathers. 'We had better inspect the
premises first, and examine the servants afterwards. That's the
usual way of doing business.'

Lights were then procured; and Messrs. Blathers and Duff,
attended by the native constable, Brittles, Giles, and everybody
else in short, went into the little room at the end of the
passage and looked out at the window; and afterwards went round
by way of the lawn, and looked in at the window; and after that,
had a candle handed out to inspect the shutter with; and after
that, a lantern to trace the footsteps with; and after that, a
pitchfork to poke the bushes with. This done, amidst the
breathless interest of all beholders, they came in again; and Mr.
Giles and Brittles were put through a melodramatic representation
of their share in the previous night's adventures: which they
performed some six times over: contradicting each other, in not
more than one important respect, the first time, and in not more
than a dozen the last. This consummation being arrived at,
Blathers and Duff cleared the room, and held a long council
together, compared with which, for secrecy and solemnity, a
consultation of great doctors on the knottiest point in medicine,
would be mere child's play.

Meanwhile, the doctor walked up and down the next room in a very
uneasy state; and Mrs. Maylie and Rose looked on, with anxious
faces.

'Upon my word,' he said, making a halt, after a great number of
very rapid turns, 'I hardly know what to do.'

'Surely,' said Rose, 'the poor child's story, faithfully repeated
to these men, will be sufficient to exonerate him.'

'I doubt it, my dear young lady,' said the doctor, shaking his
head. 'I don't think it would exonerate him, either with them,
or with legal functionaries of a higher grade. What is he, after
all, they would say? A runaway. Judged by mere worldly
considerations and probabilities, his story is a very doubtful
one.'

'You believe it, surely?' interrupted Rose.

'_I_ believe it, strange as it is; and perhaps I may be an old
fool for doing so,' rejoined the doctor; 'but I don't think it is
exactly the tale for a practical police-officer, nevertheless.'

'Why not?' demanded Rose.

'Because, my pretty cross-examiner,' replied the doctor:
'because, viewed with their eyes, there are many ugly points
about it; he can only prove the parts that look ill, and none of
those that look well. Confound the fellows, they _will_ have the
why and the wherefore, and will take nothing for granted. On his
own showing, you see, he has been the companion of thieves for
some time past; he has been carried to a police-officer, on a
charge of picking a gentleman's pocket; he has been taken away,
forcibly, from that gentleman's house, to a place which he cannot
describe or point out, and of the situation of which he has not
the remotest idea. He is brought down to Chertsey, by men who
seem to have taken a violent fancy to him, whether he will or no;
and is put through a window to rob a house; and then, just at the
very moment when he is going to alarm the inmates, and so do the
very thing that would set him all to rights, there rushes into
the way, a blundering dog of a half-bred butler, and shoots him!
As if on purpose to prevent his doing any good for himself!
Don't you see all this?'

'I see it, of course,' replied Rose, smiling at the doctor's
impetuosity; 'but still I do not see anything in it, to criminate
the poor child.'

'No,' replied the doctor; 'of course not! Bless the bright eyes
of your sex! They never see, whether for good or bad, more than
one side of any question; and that is, always, the one which
first presents itself to them.'

Having given vent to this result of experience, the doctor put
his hands into his pockets, and walked up and down the room with
even greater rapidity than before.

'The more I think of it,' said the doctor, 'the more I see that
it will occasion endless trouble and difficulty if we put these
men in possession of the boy's real story. I am certain it will
not be believed; and even if they can do nothing to him in the
end, still the dragging it forward, and giving publicity to all
the doubts that will be cast upon it, must interfere, materially,
with your benevolent plan of rescuing him from misery.'

'Oh! what is to be done?' cried Rose. 'Dear, dear! why did they
send for these people?'

'Why, indeed!' exclaimed Mrs. Maylie. 'I would not have had them
here, for the world.'

'All I know is,' said Mr. Losberne, at last: sitting down with a
kind of desperate calmness, 'that we must try and carry it off
with a bold face. The object is a good one, and that must be our
excuse. The boy has strong symptoms of fever upon him, and is in
no condition to be talked to any more; that's one comfort. We
must make the best of it; and if bad be the best, it is no fault
of ours. Come in!'

'Well, master,' said Blathers, entering the room followed by his
colleague, and making the door fast, before he said any more.
'This warn't a put-up thing.'

'And what the devil's a put-up thing?' demanded the doctor,
impatiently.

'We call it a put-up robbery, ladies,' said Blathers, turning to
them, as if he pitied their ignorance, but had a contempt for the
doctor's, 'when the servants is in it.'

'Nobody suspected them, in this case,' said Mrs. Maylie.

'Wery likely not, ma'am,' replied Blathers; 'but they might have
been in it, for all that.'

'More likely on that wery account,' said Duff.

'We find it was a town hand,' said Blathers, continuing his
report; 'for the style of work is first-rate.'

'Wery pretty indeed it is,' remarked Duff, in an undertone.

'There was two of 'em in it,' continued Blathers; 'and they had a
boy with 'em; that's plain from the size of the window. That's
all to be said at present. We'll see this lad that you've got
upstairs at once, if you please.'

'Perhaps they will take something to drink first, Mrs. Maylie?'
said the doctor: his face brightening, as if some new thought had
occurred to him.

'Oh! to be sure!' exclaimed Rose, eagerly. 'You shall have it
immediately, if you will.'

'Why, thank you, miss!' said Blathers, drawing his coat-sleeve
across his mouth; 'it's dry work, this sort of duty. Anythink
that's handy, miss; don't put yourself out of the way, on our
accounts.'

'What shall it be?' asked the doctor, following the young lady to
the sideboard.

'A little drop of spirits, master, if it's all the same,' replied
Blathers. 'It's a cold ride from London, ma'am; and I always
find that spirits comes home warmer to the feelings.'

This interesting communication was addressed to Mrs. Maylie, who
received it very graciously. While it was being conveyed to her,
the doctor slipped out of the room.

'Ah!' said Mr. Blathers: not holding his wine-glass by the stem,
but grasping the bottom between the thumb and forefinger of his
left hand: and placing it in front of his chest; 'I have seen a
good many pieces of business like this, in my time, ladies.'

'That crack down in the back lane at Edmonton, Blathers,' said
Mr. Duff, assisting his colleague's memory.

'That was something in this way, warn't it?' rejoined Mr.
Blathers; 'that was done by Conkey Chickweed, that was.'

'You always gave that to him' replied Duff. 'It was the Family
Pet, I tell you. Conkey hadn't any more to do with it than I
had.'

'Get out!' retorted Mr. Blathers; 'I know better. Do you mind
that time when Conkey was robbed of his money, though? What a
start that was! Better than any novel-book _I_ ever see!'

'What was that?' inquired Rose: anxious to encourage any
symptoms of good-humour in the unwelcome visitors.

'It was a robbery, miss, that hardly anybody would have been down
upon,' said Blathers. 'This here Conkey Chickweed--'

'Conkey means Nosey, ma'am,' interposed Duff.

'Of course the lady knows that, don't she?' demanded Mr.
Blathers. 'Always interrupting, you are, partner! This here
Conkey Chickweed, miss, kept a public-house over Battlebridge
way, and he had a cellar, where a good many young lords went to
see cock-fighting, and badger-drawing, and that; and a wery
intellectual manner the sports was conducted in, for I've seen
'em off'en. He warn't one of the family, at that time; and one
night he was robbed of three hundred and twenty-seven guineas in
a canvas bag, that was stole out of his bedroom in the dead of
night, by a tall man with a black patch over his eye, who had
concealed himself under the bed, and after committing the
robbery, jumped slap out of window: which was only a story high.
He was wery quick about it. But Conkey was quick, too; for he
fired a blunderbuss arter him, and roused the neighbourhood. They
set up a hue-and-cry, directly, and when they came to look about
'em, found that Conkey had hit the robber; for there was traces
of blood, all the way to some palings a good distance off; and
there they lost 'em. However, he had made off with the blunt;
and, consequently, the name of Mr. Chickweed, licensed witler,
appeared in the Gazette among the other bankrupts; and all manner
of benefits and subscriptions, and I don't know what all, was got
up for the poor man, who was in a wery low state of mind about
his loss, and went up and down the streets, for three or four
days, a pulling his hair off in such a desperate manner that many
people was afraid he might be going to make away with himself.
One day he came up to the office, all in a hurry, and had a
private interview with the magistrate, who, after a deal of talk,
rings the bell, and orders Jem Spyers in (Jem was a active
officer), and tells him to go and assist Mr. Chickweed in
apprehending the man as robbed his house. "I see him, Spyers,"
said Chickweed, "pass my house yesterday morning," "Why didn't
you up, and collar him!" says Spyers. "I was so struck all of a
heap, that you might have fractured my skull with a toothpick,"
says the poor man; "but we're sure to have him; for between ten
and eleven o'clock at night he passed again." Spyers no sooner
heard this, than he put some clean linen and a comb, in his
pocket, in case he should have to stop a day or two; and away he
goes, and sets himself down at one of the public-house windows
behind the little red curtain, with his hat on, all ready to bolt
out, at a moment's notice. He was smoking his pipe here, late at
night, when all of a sudden Chickweed roars out, "Here he is!
Stop thief! Murder!" Jem Spyers dashes out; and there he sees
Chickweed, a-tearing down the street full cry. Away goes Spyers;
on goes Chickweed; round turns the people; everybody roars out,
"Thieves!" and Chickweed himself keeps on shouting, all the time,
like mad. Spyers loses sight of him a minute as he turns a
corner; shoots round; sees a little crowd; dives in; "Which is
the man?" "D--me!" says Chickweed, "I've lost him again!" It
was a remarkable occurrence, but he warn't to be seen nowhere, so
they went back to the public-house. Next morning, Spyers took his
old place, and looked out, from behind the curtain, for a tall
man with a black patch over his eye, till his own two eyes ached
again. At last, he couldn't help shutting 'em, to ease 'em a
minute; and the very moment he did so, he hears Chickweed
a-roaring out, "Here he is!" Off he starts once more, with
Chickweed half-way down the street ahead of him; and after twice
as long a run as the yesterday's one, the man's lost again! This
was done, once or twice more, till one-half the neighbours gave
out that Mr. Chickweed had been robbed by the devil, who was
playing tricks with him arterwards; and the other half, that poor
Mr. Chickweed had gone mad with grief.'

'What did Jem Spyers say?' inquired the doctor; who had returned
to the room shortly after the commencement of the story.

'Jem Spyers,' resumed the officer, 'for a long time said nothing
at all, and listened to everything without seeming to, which
showed he understood his business. But, one morning, he walked
into the bar, and taking out his snuffbox, says "Chickweed, I've
found out who done this here robbery." "Have you?" said
Chickweed. "Oh, my dear Spyers, only let me have wengeance, and
I shall die contented! Oh, my dear Spyers, where is the
villain!" "Come!" said Spyers, offering him a pinch of snuff,
"none of that gammon! You did it yourself." So he had; and a
good bit of money he had made by it, too; and nobody would never
have found it out, if he hadn't been so precious anxious to keep
up appearances!' said Mr. Blathers, putting down his wine-glass,
and clinking the handcuffs together.

'Very curious, indeed,' observed the doctor. 'Now, if you
please, you can walk upstairs.'

'If _you_ please, sir,' returned Mr. Blathers. Closely following
Mr. Losberne, the two officers ascended to Oliver's bedroom; Mr.
Giles preceding the party, with a lighted candle.

Oliver had been dozing; but looked worse, and was more feverish
than he had appeared yet. Being assisted by the doctor, he
managed to sit up in bed for a minute or so; and looked at the
strangers without at all understanding what was going forward--in
fact, without seeming to recollect where he was, or what had been
passing.

'This,' said Mr. Losberne, speaking softly, but with great
vehemence notwithstanding, 'this is the lad, who, being
accidently wounded by a spring-gun in some boyish trespass on Mr.
What-d' ye-call-him's grounds, at the back here, comes to the
house for assistance this morning, and is immediately laid hold
of and maltreated, by that ingenious gentleman with the candle in
his hand: who has placed his life in considerable danger, as I
can professionally certify.'

Messrs. Blathers and Duff looked at Mr. Giles, as he was thus
recommended to their notice. The bewildered butler gazed from
them towards Oliver, and from Oliver towards Mr. Losberne, with a
most ludicrous mixture of fear and perplexity.

'You don't mean to deny that, I suppose?' said the doctor, laying
Oliver gently down again.

'It was all done for the--for the best, sir,' answered Giles. 'I
am sure I thought it was the boy, or I wouldn't have meddled with
him. I am not of an inhuman disposition, sir.'

'Thought it was what boy?' inquired the senior officer.

'The housebreaker's boy, sir!' replied Giles. 'They--they
certainly had a boy.'

'Well? Do you think so now?' inquired Blathers.

'Think what, now?' replied Giles, looking vacantly at his
questioner.

'Think it's the same boy, Stupid-head?' rejoined Blathers,
impatiently.

'I don't know; I really don't know,' said Giles, with a rueful
countenance. 'I couldn't swear to him.'

'What do you think?' asked Mr. Blathers.

'I don't know what to think,' replied poor Giles. 'I don't think
it is the boy; indeed, I'm almost certain that it isn't. You
know it can't be.'

'Has this man been a-drinking, sir?' inquired Blathers, turning
to the doctor.

'What a precious muddle-headed chap you are!' said Duff,
addressing Mr. Giles, with supreme contempt.

Mr. Losberne had been feeling the patient's pulse during this
short dialogue; but he now rose from the chair by the bedside,
and remarked, that if the officers had any doubts upon the
subject, they would perhaps like to step into the next room, and
have Brittles before them.

Acting upon this suggestion, they adjourned to a neighbouring
apartment, where Mr. Brittles, being called in, involved himself
and his respected superior in such a wonderful maze of fresh
contradictions and impossibilities, as tended to throw no
particular light on anything, but the fact of his own strong
mystification; except, indeed, his declarations that he shouldn't
know the real boy, if he were put before him that instant; that
he had only taken Oliver to be he, because Mr. Giles had said he
was; and that Mr. Giles had, five minutes previously, admitted in
the kitchen, that he began to be very much afraid he had been a
little too hasty.

Among other ingenious surmises, the question was then raised,
whether Mr. Giles had really hit anybody; and upon examination of
the fellow pistol to that which he had fired, it turned out to
have no more destructive loading than gunpowder and brown paper:
a discovery which made a considerable impression on everybody but
the doctor, who had drawn the ball about ten minutes before.
Upon no one, however, did it make a greater impression than on
Mr. Giles himself; who, after labouring, for some hours, under
the fear of having mortally wounded a fellow-creature, eagerly
caught at this new idea, and favoured it to the utmost. Finally,
the officers, without troubling themselves very much about
Oliver, left the Chertsey constable in the house, and took up
their rest for that night in the town; promising to return the
next morning.

With the next morning, there came a rumour, that two men and a
boy were in the cage at Kingston, who had been apprehended over
night under suspicious circumstances; and to Kingston Messrs.
Blathers and Duff journeyed accordingly. The suspicious
circumstances, however, resolving themselves, on investigation,
into the one fact, that they had been discovered sleeping under a
haystack; which, although a great crime, is only punishable by
imprisonment, and is, in the merciful eye of the English law, and
its comprehensive love of all the King's subjects, held to be no
satisfactory proof, in the absence of all other evidence, that
the sleeper, or sleepers, have committed burglary accompanied
with violence, and have therefore rendered themselves liable to
the punishment of death; Messrs. Blathers and Duff came back
again, as wise as they went.

In short, after some more examination, and a great deal more
conversation, a neighbouring magistrate was readily induced to
take the joint bail of Mrs. Maylie and Mr. Losberne for Oliver's
appearance if he should ever be called upon; and Blathers and
Duff, being rewarded with a couple of guineas, returned to town
with divided opinions on the subject of their expedition: the
latter gentleman on a mature consideration of all the
circumstances, inclining to the belief that the burglarious
attempt had originated with the Family Pet; and the former being
equally disposed to concede the full merit of it to the great Mr.
Conkey Chickweed.

Meanwhile, Oliver gradually throve and prospered under the united
care of Mrs. Maylie, Rose, and the kind-hearted Mr. Losberne. If
fervent prayers, gushing from hearts overcharged with gratitude,
be heard in heaven--and if they be not, what prayers are!--the
blessings which the orphan child called down upon them, sunk into
their souls, diffusing peace and happiness.

CHAPTER XXXII

OF THE HAPPY LIFE OLIVER BEGAN TO LEAD WITH HIS KIND FRIENDS

Oliver's ailings were neither slight nor few. In addition to the
pain and delay attendant on a broken limb, his exposure to the
wet and cold had brought on fever and ague: which hung about him
for many weeks, and reduced him sadly. But, at length, he began,
by slow degrees, to get better, and to be able to say sometimes,
in a few tearful words, how deeply he felt the goodness of the
two sweet ladies, and how ardently he hoped that when he grew
strong and well again, he could do something to show his
gratitude; only something, which would let them see the love and
duty with which his breast was full; something, however slight,
which would prove to them that their gentle kindness had not been
cast away; but that the poor boy whom their charity had rescued
from misery, or death, was eager to serve them with his whole
heart and soul.

'Poor fellow!' said Rose, when Oliver had been one day feebly
endeavouring to utter the words of thankfulness that rose to his
pale lips; 'you shall have many opportunities of serving us, if
you will. We are going into the country, and my aunt intends
that you shall accompany us. The quiet place, the pure air, and
all the pleasure and beauties of spring, will restore you in a
few days. We will employ you in a hundred ways, when you can
bear the trouble.'

'The trouble!' cried Oliver. 'Oh! dear lady, if I could but work
for you; if I could only give you pleasure by watering your
flowers, or watching your birds, or running up and down the whole
day long, to make you happy; what would I give to do it!'

'You shall give nothing at all,' said Miss Maylie, smiling; 'for,
as I told you before, we shall employ you in a hundred ways; and
if you only take half the trouble to please us, that you promise
now, you will make me very happy indeed.'

'Happy, ma'am!' cried Oliver; 'how kind of you to say so!'

'You will make me happier than I can tell you,' replied the young
lady. 'To think that my dear good aunt should have been the
means of rescuing any one from such sad misery as you have
described to us, would be an unspeakable pleasure to me; but to
know that the object of her goodness and compassion was sincerely
grateful and attached, in consequence, would delight me, more
than you can well imagine. Do you understand me?' she inquired,
watching Oliver's thoughtful face.

'Oh yes, ma'am, yes!' replied Oliver eagerly; 'but I was thinking
that I am ungrateful now.'

'To whom?' inquired the young lady.

'To the kind gentleman, and the dear old nurse, who took so much
care of me before,' rejoined Oliver. 'If they knew how happy I
am, they would be pleased, I am sure.'

'I am sure they would,' rejoined Oliver's benefactress; 'and Mr.
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
every 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 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 desparate
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.

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