Oliver Twist – Day 104 of 173

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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