Oliver Twist – Day 90 of 173

‘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?’

‘Let me think, ma’am,’ said the doctor; ‘let me think.’

Mr. Losberne thrust his hands into his pockets, and took several turns up and down the room; often stopping, and balancing himself on his toes, and frowning frightfully. After various exclamations of ‘I’ve got it now’ and ‘no, I haven’t,’ and as many renewals of the walking and frowning, he at length made a dead halt, and spoke as follows:

‘I think if you give me a full and unlimited commission to bully Giles, and that little boy, Brittles, I can manage it. Giles is a faithful fellow and an old servant, I know; but you can make it up to him in a thousand ways, and reward him for being such a good shot besides. You don’t object to that?’

‘Unless there is some other way of preserving the child,’ replied Mrs. Maylie.

‘There is no other,’ said the doctor. ‘No other, take my word for it.’

‘Then my aunt invests you with full power,’ said Rose, smiling through her tears; ‘but pray don’t be harder upon the poor fellows than is indispensably necessary.’

‘You seem to think,’ retorted the doctor, ‘that everybody is disposed to be hard-hearted to-day, except yourself, Miss Rose. I only hope, for the sake of the rising male sex generally, that you may be found in as vulnerable and soft-hearted a mood by the first eligible young fellow who appeals to your compassion; and I wish I were a young fellow, that I might avail myself, on the spot, of such a favourable opportunity for doing so, as the present.’

‘You are as great a boy as poor Brittles himself,’ returned Rose, blushing.

‘Well,’ said the doctor, laughing heartily, ‘that is no very difficult matter. But to return to this boy. The great point of our agreement is yet to come. He will wake in an hour or so, I dare say; and although I have told that thick-headed constable-fellow downstairs that he musn’t be moved or spoken to, on peril of his life, I think we may converse with him without danger. Now I make this stipulation–that I shall examine him in your presence, and that, if, from what he says, we judge, and I can show to the satisfaction of your cool reason, that he is a real and thorough bad one (which is more than possible), he shall be left to his fate, without any farther interference on my part, at all events.’

‘Oh no, aunt!’ entreated Rose.

‘Oh yes, aunt!’ said the doctor. ‘Is is a bargain?’

‘He cannot be hardened in vice,’ said Rose; ‘It is impossible.’

‘Very good,’ retorted the doctor; ‘then so much the more reason for acceding to my proposition.’

Finally the treaty was entered into; and the parties thereunto sat down to wait, with some impatience, until Oliver should awake.

The patience of the two ladies was destined to undergo a longer trial than Mr. Losberne had led them to expect; for hour after hour passed on, and still Oliver slumbered heavily. It was evening, indeed, before the kind-hearted doctor brought them the intelligence, that he was at length sufficiently restored to be spoken to. The boy was very ill, he said, and weak from the loss of blood; but his mind was so troubled with anxiety to disclose something, that he deemed it better to give him the opportunity, than to insist upon his remaining quiet until next morning: which he should otherwise have done.

The conference was a long one. Oliver told them all his simple history, and was often compelled to stop, by pain and want of strength. It was a solemn thing, to hear, in the darkened room, the feeble voice of the sick child recounting a weary catalogue of evils and calamities which hard men had brought upon him. Oh! if when we oppress and grind our fellow-creatures, we bestowed but one thought on the dark evidences of human error, which, like dense and heavy clouds, are rising, slowly it is true, but not less surely, to Heaven, to pour their after-vengeance on our heads; if we heard but one instant, in imagination, the deep testimony of dead men’s voices, which no power can stifle, and no pride shut out; where would be the injury and injustice, the suffering, misery, cruelty, and wrong, that each day’s life brings with it!

Oliver’s pillow was smoothed by gentle hands that night; and loveliness and virtue watched him as he slept. He felt calm and happy, and could have died without a murmur.

The momentous interview was no sooner concluded, and Oliver composed to rest again, than the doctor, after wiping his eyes, and condemning them for being weak all at once, betook himself downstairs to open upon Mr. Giles. And finding nobody about the parlours, it occurred to him, that he could perhaps originate the proceedings with better effect in the kitchen; so into the kitchen he went.

There were assembled, in that lower house of the domestic parliament, the women-servants, Mr. Brittles, Mr. Giles, the tinker (who had received a special invitation to regale himself for the remainder of the day, in consideration of his services), and the constable. The latter gentleman had a large staff, a large head, large features, and large half-boots; and he looked as if he had been taking a proportionate allowance of ale–as indeed he had.

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