Oliver Twist – Day 100 of 173

‘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.

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