Oliver Twist – Day 51 of 173

‘Come in, come in,’ said the old lady: ‘I knew we should hear of him. Poor dear! I knew we should! I was certain of it. Bless his heart! I said so all along.’

Having heard this, the worthy old lady hurried back into the parlour again; and seating herself on a sofa, burst into tears. The girl, who was not quite so susceptible, had run upstairs meanwhile; and now returned with a request that Mr. Bumble would follow her immediately: which he did.

He was shown into the little back study, where sat Mr. Brownlow and his friend Mr. Grimwig, with decanters and glasses before them. The latter gentleman at once burst into the exclamation:

‘A beadle. A parish beadle, or I’ll eat my head.’

‘Pray don’t interrupt just now,’ said Mr. Brownlow. ‘Take a seat, will you?’

Mr. Bumble sat himself down; quite confounded by the oddity of Mr. Grimwig’s manner. Mr. Brownlow moved the lamp, so as to obtain an uninterrupted view of the beadle’s countenance; and said, with a little impatience,

‘Now, sir, you come in consequence of having seen the advertisement?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Mr. Bumble.

‘And you are a beadle, are you not?’ inquired Mr. Grimwig.

‘I am a porochial beadle, gentlemen,’ rejoined Mr. Bumble proudly.

‘Of course,’ observed Mr. Grimwig aside to his friend, ‘I knew he was. A beadle all over!’

Mr. Brownlow gently shook his head to impose silence on his friend, and resumed:

‘Do you know where this poor boy is now?’

‘No more than nobody,’ replied Mr. Bumble.

‘Well, what do you know of him?’ inquired the old gentleman. ‘Speak out, my friend, if you have anything to say. What do you know of him?’

‘You don’t happen to know any good of him, do you?’ said Mr. Grimwig, caustically; after an attentive perusal of Mr. Bumble’s features.

Mr. Bumble, catching at the inquiry very quickly, shook his head with portentous solemnity.

‘You see?’ said Mr. Grimwig, looking triumphantly at Mr. Brownlow.

Mr. Brownlow looked apprehensively at Mr. Bumble’s pursed-up countenance; and requested him to communicate what he knew regarding Oliver, in as few words as possible.

Mr. Bumble put down his hat; unbuttoned his coat; folded his arms; inclined his head in a retrospective manner; and, after a few moments’ reflection, commenced his story.

It would be tedious if given in the beadle’s words: occupying, as it did, some twenty minutes in the telling; but the sum and substance of it was, that Oliver was a foundling, born of low and vicious parents. That he had, from his birth, displayed no better qualities than treachery, ingratitude, and malice. That he had terminated his brief career in the place of his birth, by making a sanguinary and cowardly attack on an unoffending lad, and running away in the night-time from his master’s house. In proof of his really being the person he represented himself, Mr. Bumble laid upon the table the papers he had brought to town. Folding his arms again, he then awaited Mr. Brownlow’s observations.

‘I fear it is all too true,’ said the old gentleman sorrowfully, after looking over the papers. ‘This is not much for your intelligence; but I would gladly have given you treble the money, if it had been favourable to the boy.’

It is not improbable that if Mr. Bumble had been possessed of this information at an earlier period of the interview, he might have imparted a very different colouring to his little history. It was too late to do it now, however; so he shook his head gravely, and, pocketing the five guineas, withdrew.

Mr. Brownlow paced the room to and fro for some minutes; evidently so much disturbed by the beadle’s tale, that even Mr. Grimwig forbore to vex him further.

At length he stopped, and rang the bell violently.

‘Mrs. Bedwin,’ said Mr. Brownlow, when the housekeeper appeared; ‘that boy, Oliver, is an imposter.’

‘It can’t be, sir. It cannot be,’ said the old lady energetically.

‘I tell you he is,’ retorted the old gentleman. ‘What do you mean by can’t be? We have just heard a full account of him from his birth; and he has been a thorough-paced little villain, all his life.’

‘I never will believe it, sir,’ replied the old lady, firmly. ‘Never!’

‘You old women never believe anything but quack-doctors, and lying story-books,’ growled Mr. Grimwig. ‘I knew it all along. Why didn’t you take my advise in the beginning; you would if he hadn’t had a fever, I suppose, eh? He was interesting, wasn’t he? Interesting! Bah!’ And Mr. Grimwig poked the fire with a flourish.

‘He was a dear, grateful, gentle child, sir,’ retorted Mrs. Bedwin, indignantly. ‘I know what children are, sir; and have done these forty years; and people who can’t say the same, shouldn’t say anything about them. That’s my opinion!’

This was a hard hit at Mr. Grimwig, who was a bachelor. As it extorted nothing from that gentleman but a smile, the old lady tossed her head, and smoothed down her apron preparatory to another speech, when she was stopped by Mr. Brownlow.

‘Silence!’ said the old gentleman, feigning an anger he was far from feeling. ‘Never let me hear the boy’s name again. I rang to tell you that. Never. Never, on any pretence, mind! You may leave the room, Mrs. Bedwin. Remember! I am in earnest.’

There were sad hearts at Mr. Brownlow’s that night.

Oliver’s heart sank within him, when he thought of his good friends; it was well for him that he could not know what they had heard, or it might have broken outright.

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