Oliver Twist – Day 118 of 173

As Mr. Bumble spoke, he made a melancholy feint of grasping his lantern with fierce determination; and plainly showed, by the alarmed expression of every feature, that he did want a little rousing, and not a little, prior to making any very warlike demonstration: unless, indeed, against paupers, or other person or persons trained down for the purpose.

‘You are a fool,’ said Mrs. Bumble, in reply; ‘and had better hold your tongue.’

‘He had better have cut it out, before he came, if he can’t speak in a lower tone,’ said Monks, grimly. ‘So! He’s your husband, eh?’

‘He my husband!’ tittered the matron, parrying the question.

‘I thought as much, when you came in,’ rejoined Monks, marking the angry glance which the lady darted at her spouse as she spoke. ‘So much the better; I have less hesitation in dealing with two people, when I find that there’s only one will between them. I’m in earnest. See here!’

He thrust his hand into a side-pocket; and producing a canvas bag, told out twenty-five sovereigns on the table, and pushed them over to the woman.

‘Now,’ he said, ‘gather them up; and when this cursed peal of thunder, which I feel is coming up to break over the house-top, is gone, let’s hear your story.’

The thunder, which seemed in fact much nearer, and to shiver and break almost over their heads, having subsided, Monks, raising his face from the table, bent forward to listen to what the woman should say. The faces of the three nearly touched, as the two men leant over the small table in their eagerness to hear, and the woman also leant forward to render her whisper audible. The sickly rays of the suspended lantern falling directly upon them, aggravated the paleness and anxiety of their countenances: which, encircled by the deepest gloom and darkness, looked ghastly in the extreme.

‘When this woman, that we called old Sally, died,’ the matron began, ‘she and I were alone.’

‘Was there no one by?’ asked Monks, in the same hollow whisper; ‘No sick wretch or idiot in some other bed? No one who could hear, and might, by possibility, understand?’

‘Not a soul,’ replied the woman; ‘we were alone. I stood alone beside the body when death came over it.’

‘Good,’ said Monks, regarding her attentively. ‘Go on.’

‘She spoke of a young creature,’ resumed the matron, ‘who had brought a child into the world some years before; not merely in the same room, but in the same bed, in which she then lay dying.’

‘Ay?’ said Monks, with quivering lip, and glancing over his shoulder, ‘Blood! How things come about!’

‘The child was the one you named to him last night,’ said the matron, nodding carelessly towards her husband; ‘the mother this nurse had robbed.’

‘In life?’ asked Monks.

‘In death,’ replied the woman, with something like a shudder. ‘She stole from the corpse, when it had hardly turned to one, that which the dead mother had prayed her, with her last breath, to keep for the infant’s sake.’

‘She sold it,’ cried Monks, with desperate eagerness; ‘did she sell it? Where? When? To whom? How long before?’

‘As she told me, with great difficulty, that she had done this,’ said the matron, ‘she fell back and died.’

‘Without saying more?’ cried Monks, in a voice which, from its very suppression, seemed only the more furious. ‘It’s a lie! I’ll not be played with. She said more. I’ll tear the life out of you both, but I’ll know what it was.’

‘She didn’t utter another word,’ said the woman, to all appearance unmoved (as Mr. Bumble was very far from being) by the strange man’s violence; ‘but she clutched my gown, violently, with one hand, which was partly closed; and when I saw that she was dead, and so removed the hand by force, I found it clasped a scrap of dirty paper.’

‘Which contained–‘ interposed Monks, stretching forward.

‘Nothing,’ replied the woman; ‘it was a pawnbroker’s duplicate.’

‘For what?’ demanded Monks.

‘In good time I’ll tell you.’ said the woman. ‘I judge that she had kept the trinket, for some time, in the hope of turning it to better account; and then had pawned it; and had saved or scraped together money to pay the pawnbroker’s interest year by year, and prevent its running out; so that if anything came of it, it could still be redeemed. Nothing had come of it; and, as I tell you, she died with the scrap of paper, all worn and tattered, in her hand. The time was out in two days; I thought something might one day come of it too; and so redeemed the pledge.’

‘Where is it now?’ asked Monks quickly.

There,’ replied the woman. And, as if glad to be relieved of it, she hastily threw upon the table a small kid bag scarcely large enough for a French watch, which Monks pouncing upon, tore open with trembling hands. It contained a little gold locket: in which were two locks of hair, and a plain gold wedding-ring.

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