Oliver Twist – Day 94 of 173

‘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!’

‘Well, master,’ said Blathers, entering the room followed by his colleague, and making the door fast, before he said any more. ‘This warn’t a put-up thing.’

‘And what the devil’s a put-up thing?’ demanded the doctor, impatiently.

‘We call it a put-up robbery, ladies,’ said Blathers, turning to them, as if he pitied their ignorance, but had a contempt for the doctor’s, ‘when the servants is in it.’

‘Nobody suspected them, in this case,’ said Mrs. Maylie.

‘Wery likely not, ma’am,’ replied Blathers; ‘but they might have been in it, for all that.’

‘More likely on that wery account,’ said Duff.

‘We find it was a town hand,’ said Blathers, continuing his report; ‘for the style of work is first-rate.’

‘Wery pretty indeed it is,’ remarked Duff, in an undertone.

‘There was two of ’em in it,’ continued Blathers; ‘and they had a boy with ’em; that’s plain from the size of the window. That’s all to be said at present. We’ll see this lad that you’ve got upstairs at once, if you please.’

‘Perhaps they will take something to drink first, Mrs. Maylie?’ said the doctor: his face brightening, as if some new thought had occurred to him.

‘Oh! to be sure!’ exclaimed Rose, eagerly. ‘You shall have it immediately, if you will.’

‘Why, thank you, miss!’ said Blathers, drawing his coat-sleeve across his mouth; ‘it’s dry work, this sort of duty. Anythink that’s handy, miss; don’t put yourself out of the way, on our accounts.’

‘What shall it be?’ asked the doctor, following the young lady to the sideboard.

‘A little drop of spirits, master, if it’s all the same,’ replied Blathers. ‘It’s a cold ride from London, ma’am; and I always find that spirits comes home warmer to the feelings.’

This interesting communication was addressed to Mrs. Maylie, who received it very graciously. While it was being conveyed to her, the doctor slipped out of the room.

‘Ah!’ said Mr. Blathers: not holding his wine-glass by the stem, but grasping the bottom between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand: and placing it in front of his chest; ‘I have seen a good many pieces of business like this, in my time, ladies.’

‘That crack down in the back lane at Edmonton, Blathers,’ said Mr. Duff, assisting his colleague’s memory.

‘That was something in this way, warn’t it?’ rejoined Mr. Blathers; ‘that was done by Conkey Chickweed, that was.’

‘You always gave that to him’ replied Duff. ‘It was the Family Pet, I tell you. Conkey hadn’t any more to do with it than I had.’

‘Get out!’ retorted Mr. Blathers; ‘I know better. Do you mind that time when Conkey was robbed of his money, though? What a start that was! Better than any novel-book I ever see!’

‘What was that?’ inquired Rose: anxious to encourage any symptoms of good-humour in the unwelcome visitors.

‘It was a robbery, miss, that hardly anybody would have been down upon,’ said Blathers. ‘This here Conkey Chickweed–‘

‘Conkey means Nosey, ma’am,’ interposed Duff.

‘Of course the lady knows that, don’t she?’ demanded Mr. Blathers. ‘Always interrupting, you are, partner! This here Conkey Chickweed, miss, kept a public-house over Battlebridge way, and he had a cellar, where a good many young lords went to see cock-fighting, and badger-drawing, and that; and a wery intellectual manner the sports was conducted in, for I’ve seen ’em off’en. He warn’t one of the family, at that time; and one night he was robbed of three hundred and twenty-seven guineas in a canvas bag, that was stole out of his bedroom in the dead of night, by a tall man with a black patch over his eye, who had concealed himself under the bed, and after committing the robbery, jumped slap out of window: which was only a story high. He was wery quick about it. But Conkey was quick, too; for he fired a blunderbuss arter him, and roused the neighbourhood. They set up a hue-and-cry, directly, and when they came to look about ’em, found that Conkey had hit the robber; for there was traces of blood, all the way to some palings a good distance off; and there they lost ’em. However, he had made off with the blunt; and, consequently, the name of Mr. Chickweed, licensed witler, appeared in the Gazette among the other bankrupts; and all manner of benefits and subscriptions, and I don’t know what all, was got up for the poor man, who was in a wery low state of mind about his loss, and went up and down the streets, for three or four days, a pulling his hair off in such a desperate manner that many people was afraid he might be going to make away with himself. One day he came up to the office, all in a hurry, and had a private interview with the magistrate, who, after a deal of talk, rings the bell, and orders Jem Spyers in (Jem was a active officer), and tells him to go and assist Mr. Chickweed in apprehending the man as robbed his house. “I see him, Spyers,” said Chickweed, “pass my house yesterday morning,” “Why didn’t you up, and collar him!” says Spyers. “I was so struck all of a heap, that you might have fractured my skull with a toothpick,” says the poor man; “but we’re sure to have him; for between ten and eleven o’clock at night he passed again.” Spyers no sooner heard this, than he put some clean linen and a comb, in his pocket, in case he should have to stop a day or two; and away he goes, and sets himself down at one of the public-house windows behind the little red curtain, with his hat on, all ready to bolt out, at a moment’s notice. He was smoking his pipe here, late at night, when all of a sudden Chickweed roars out, “Here he is! Stop thief! Murder!” Jem Spyers dashes out; and there he sees Chickweed, a-tearing down the street full cry. Away goes Spyers; on goes Chickweed; round turns the people; everybody roars out, “Thieves!” and Chickweed himself keeps on shouting, all the time, like mad. Spyers loses sight of him a minute as he turns a corner; shoots round; sees a little crowd; dives in; “Which is the man?” “D–me!” says Chickweed, “I’ve lost him again!” It was a remarkable occurrence, but he warn’t to be seen nowhere, so they went back to the public-house. Next morning, Spyers took his old place, and looked out, from behind the curtain, for a tall man with a black patch over his eye, till his own two eyes ached again. At last, he couldn’t help shutting ’em, to ease ’em a minute; and the very moment he did so, he hears Chickweed a-roaring out, “Here he is!” Off he starts once more, with Chickweed half-way down the street ahead of him; and after twice as long a run as the yesterday’s one, the man’s lost again! This was done, once or twice more, till one-half the neighbours gave out that Mr. Chickweed had been robbed by the devil, who was playing tricks with him arterwards; and the other half, that poor Mr. Chickweed had gone mad with grief.’

‘What did Jem Spyers say?’ inquired the doctor; who had returned to the room shortly after the commencement of the story.

‘Jem Spyers,’ resumed the officer, ‘for a long time said nothing at all, and listened to everything without seeming to, which showed he understood his business. But, one morning, he walked into the bar, and taking out his snuffbox, says “Chickweed, I’ve found out who done this here robbery.” “Have you?” said Chickweed. “Oh, my dear Spyers, only let me have wengeance, and I shall die contented! Oh, my dear Spyers, where is the villain!” “Come!” said Spyers, offering him a pinch of snuff, “none of that gammon! You did it yourself.” So he had; and a good bit of money he had made by it, too; and nobody would never have found it out, if he hadn’t been so precious anxious to keep up appearances!’ said Mr. Blathers, putting down his wine-glass, and clinking the handcuffs together.

‘Very curious, indeed,’ observed the doctor. ‘Now, if you please, you can walk upstairs.’

‘If you please, sir,’ returned Mr. Blathers. Closely following Mr. Losberne, the two officers ascended to Oliver’s bedroom; Mr. Giles preceding the party, with a lighted candle.

Oliver had been dozing; but looked worse, and was more feverish than he had appeared yet. Being assisted by the doctor, he managed to sit up in bed for a minute or so; and looked at the strangers without at all understanding what was going forward–in fact, without seeming to recollect where he was, or what had been passing.

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