Oliver Twist – Day 89 of 173

‘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?’

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