Oliver Twist – Day 93 of 173

‘That’s it, master,’ replied Blathers. ‘This is all about the robbery, is it?’

‘All,’ replied the doctor.

‘Now, what is this, about this here boy that the servants are a-talking on?’ said Blathers.

‘Nothing at all,’ replied the doctor. ‘One of the frightened servants chose to take it into his head, that he had something to do with this attempt to break into the house; but it’s nonsense: sheer absurdity.’

‘Wery easy disposed of, if it is,’ remarked Duff.

‘What he says is quite correct,’ observed Blathers, nodding his head in a confirmatory way, and playing carelessly with the handcuffs, as if they were a pair of castanets. ‘Who is the boy? What account does he give of himself? Where did he come from? He didn’t drop out of the clouds, did he, master?’

‘Of course not,’ replied the doctor, with a nervous glance at the two ladies. ‘I know his whole history: but we can talk about that presently. You would like, first, to see the place where the thieves made their attempt, I suppose?’

‘Certainly,’ rejoined Mr. Blathers. ‘We had better inspect the premises first, and examine the servants afterwards. That’s the usual way of doing business.’

Lights were then procured; and Messrs. Blathers and Duff, attended by the native constable, Brittles, Giles, and everybody else in short, went into the little room at the end of the passage and looked out at the window; and afterwards went round by way of the lawn, and looked in at the window; and after that, had a candle handed out to inspect the shutter with; and after that, a lantern to trace the footsteps with; and after that, a pitchfork to poke the bushes with. This done, amidst the breathless interest of all beholders, they came in again; and Mr. Giles and Brittles were put through a melodramatic representation of their share in the previous night’s adventures: which they performed some six times over: contradicting each other, in not more than one important respect, the first time, and in not more than a dozen the last. This consummation being arrived at, Blathers and Duff cleared the room, and held a long council together, compared with which, for secrecy and solemnity, a consultation of great doctors on the knottiest point in medicine, would be mere child’s play.

Meanwhile, the doctor walked up and down the next room in a very uneasy state; and Mrs. Maylie and Rose looked on, with anxious faces.

‘Upon my word,’ he said, making a halt, after a great number of very rapid turns, ‘I hardly know what to do.’

‘Surely,’ said Rose, ‘the poor child’s story, faithfully repeated to these men, will be sufficient to exonerate him.’

‘I doubt it, my dear young lady,’ said the doctor, shaking his head. ‘I don’t think it would exonerate him, either with them, or with legal functionaries of a higher grade. What is he, after all, they would say? A runaway. Judged by mere worldly considerations and probabilities, his story is a very doubtful one.’

‘You believe it, surely?’ interrupted Rose.

I believe it, strange as it is; and perhaps I may be an old fool for doing so,’ rejoined the doctor; ‘but I don’t think it is exactly the tale for a practical police-officer, nevertheless.’

‘Why not?’ demanded Rose.

‘Because, my pretty cross-examiner,’ replied the doctor: ‘because, viewed with their eyes, there are many ugly points about it; he can only prove the parts that look ill, and none of those that look well. Confound the fellows, they will have the why and the wherefore, and will take nothing for granted. On his own showing, you see, he has been the companion of thieves for some time past; he has been carried to a police-officer, on a charge of picking a gentleman’s pocket; he has been taken away, forcibly, from that gentleman’s house, to a place which he cannot describe or point out, and of the situation of which he has not the remotest idea. He is brought down to Chertsey, by men who seem to have taken a violent fancy to him, whether he will or no; and is put through a window to rob a house; and then, just at the very moment when he is going to alarm the inmates, and so do the very thing that would set him all to rights, there rushes into the way, a blundering dog of a half-bred butler, and shoots him! As if on purpose to prevent his doing any good for himself! Don’t you see all this?’

‘I see it, of course,’ replied Rose, smiling at the doctor’s impetuosity; ‘but still I do not see anything in it, to criminate the poor child.’

‘No,’ replied the doctor; ‘of course not! Bless the bright eyes of your sex! They never see, whether for good or bad, more than one side of any question; and that is, always, the one which first presents itself to them.’

Having given vent to this result of experience, the doctor put his hands into his pockets, and walked up and down the room with even greater rapidity than before.

‘The more I think of it,’ said the doctor, ‘the more I see that it will occasion endless trouble and difficulty if we put these men in possession of the boy’s real story. I am certain it will not be believed; and even if they can do nothing to him in the end, still the dragging it forward, and giving publicity to all the doubts that will be cast upon it, must interfere, materially, with your benevolent plan of rescuing him from misery.’

‘Oh! what is to be done?’ cried Rose. ‘Dear, dear! why did they send for these people?’

‘Why, indeed!’ exclaimed Mrs. Maylie. ‘I would not have had them here, for the world.’

‘All I know is,’ said Mr. Losberne, at last: sitting down with a kind of desperate calmness, ‘that we must try and carry it off with a bold face. The object is a good one, and that must be our excuse. The boy has strong symptoms of fever upon him, and is in no condition to be talked to any more; that’s one comfort. We must make the best of it; and if bad be the best, it is no fault of ours. Come in!’

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