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‚It’s all bought up as fast as it can be made,‘ said the fellow. ‚There are fourteen water-mills, six steam-engines, and a galvanic battery, always a-working upon it, and they can’t make it fast enough, though the men work so hard that they die off, and the widows is pensioned directly, with twenty pound a-year for each of the children, and a premium of fifty for twins. One penny a square! Two half-pence is all the same, and four farthings is received with joy. One penny a square! Wine-stains, fruit-stains, beer-stains, water-stains, paint-stains, pitch-stains, mud-stains, blood-stains! Here is a stain upon the hat of a gentleman in company, that I’ll take clean out, before he can order me a pint of ale.‘

‚Hah!‘ cried Sikes starting up. ‚Give that back.‘

‚I’ll take it clean out, sir,‘ replied the man, winking to the company, ‚before you can come across the room to get it. Gentlemen all, observe the dark stain upon this gentleman’s hat, no wider than a shilling, but thicker than a half-crown. Whether it is a wine-stain, fruit-stain, beer-stain, water-stain, paint-stain, pitch-stain, mud-stain, or blood-stain–‚

The man got no further, for Sikes with a hideous imprecation overthrew the table, and tearing the hat from him, burst out of the house.

With the same perversity of feeling and irresolution that had fastened upon him, despite himself, all day, the murderer, finding that he was not followed, and that they most probably considered him some drunken sullen fellow, turned back up the town, and getting out of the glare of the lamps of a stage-coach that was standing in the street, was walking past, when he recognised the mail from London, and saw that it was standing at the little post-office. He almost knew what was to come; but he crossed over, and listened.

The guard was standing at the door, waiting for the letter-bag. A man, dressed like a game-keeper, came up at the moment, and he handed him a basket which lay ready on the pavement.

‚That’s for your people,‘ said the guard. ‚Now, look alive in there, will you. Damn that ‚ere bag, it warn’t ready night afore last; this won’t do, you know!‘

‚Anything new up in town, Ben?‘ asked the game-keeper, drawing back to the window-shutters, the better to admire the horses.

‚No, nothing that I knows on,‘ replied the man, pulling on his gloves. ‚Corn’s up a little. I heerd talk of a murder, too, down Spitalfields way, but I don’t reckon much upon it.‘

‚Oh, that’s quite true,‘ said a gentleman inside, who was looking out of the window. ‚And a dreadful murder it was.‘

‚Was it, sir?‘ rejoined the guard, touching his hat. ‚Man or woman, pray, sir?‘

‚A woman,‘ replied the gentleman. ‚It is supposed–‚

‚Now, Ben,‘ replied the coachman impatiently.

‚Damn that ‚ere bag,‘ said the guard; ‚are you gone to sleep in there?‘

‚Coming!‘ cried the office keeper, running out.

‚Coming,‘ growled the guard. ‚Ah, and so’s the young ‚ooman of property that’s going to take a fancy to me, but I don’t know when. Here, give hold. All ri–ight!‘

The horn sounded a few cheerful notes, and the coach was gone.

Sikes remained standing in the street, apparently unmoved by what he had just heard, and agitated by no stronger feeling than a doubt where to go. At length he went back again, and took the road which leads from Hatfield to St. Albans.

He went on doggedly; but as he left the town behind him, and plunged into the solitude and darkness of the road, he felt a dread and awe creeping upon him which shook him to the core. Every object before him, substance or shadow, still or moving, took the semblance of some fearful thing; but these fears were nothing compared to the sense that haunted him of that morning’s ghastly figure following at his heels. He could trace its shadow in the gloom, supply the smallest item of the outline, and note how stiff and solemn it seemed to stalk along. He could hear its garments rustling in the leaves, and every breath of wind came laden with that last low cry. If he stopped it did the same. If he ran, it followed–not running too: that would have been a relief: but like a corpse endowed with the mere machinery of life, and borne on one slow melancholy wind that never rose or fell.

At times, he turned, with desperate determination, resolved to beat this phantom off, though it should look him dead; but the hair rose on his head, and his blood stood still, for it had turned with him and was behind him then. He had kept it before him that morning, but it was behind now–always. He leaned his back against a bank, and felt that it stood above him, visibly out against the cold night-sky. He threw himself upon the road–on his back upon the road. At his head it stood, silent, erect, and still–a living grave-stone, with its epitaph in blood.

Let no man talk of murderers escaping justice, and hint that Providence must sleep. There were twenty score of violent deaths in one long minute of that agony of fear.

There was a shed in a field he passed, that offered shelter for the night. Before the door, were three tall poplar trees, which made it very dark within; and the wind moaned through them with a dismal wail. He _could not_ walk on, till daylight came again; and here he stretched himself close to the wall–to undergo new torture.

For now, a vision came before him, as constant and more terrible than that from which he had escaped. Those widely staring eyes, so lustreless and so glassy, that he had better borne to see them than think upon them, appeared in the midst of the darkness: light in themselves, but giving light to nothing. There were but two, but they were everywhere. If he shut out the sight, there came the room with every well-known object–some, indeed, that he would have forgotten, if he had gone over its contents from memory–each in its accustomed place. The body was in _its_ place, and its eyes were as he saw them when he stole away. He got up, and rushed into the field without. The figure was behind him. He re-entered the shed, and shrunk down once more. The eyes were there, before he had laid himself along.

And here he remained in such terror as none but he can know, trembling in every limb, and the cold sweat starting from every pore, when suddenly there arose upon the night-wind the noise of distant shouting, and the roar of voices mingled in alarm and wonder. Any sound of men in that lonely place, even though it conveyed a real cause of alarm, was something to him. He regained his strength and energy at the prospect of personal danger; and springing to his feet, rushed into the open air.

The broad sky seemed on fire. Rising into the air with showers of sparks, and rolling one above the other, were sheets of flame, lighting the atmosphere for miles round, and driving clouds of smoke in the direction where he stood. The shouts grew louder as new voices swelled the roar, and he could hear the cry of Fire! mingled with the ringing of an alarm-bell, the fall of heavy bodies, and the crackling of flames as they twined round some new obstacle, and shot aloft as though refreshed by food. The noise increased as he looked. There were people there–men and women–light, bustle. It was like new life to him. He darted onward–straight, headlong–dashing through brier and brake, and leaping gate and fence as madly as his dog, who careered with loud and sounding bark before him.

He came upon the spot. There were half-dressed figures tearing to and fro, some endeavouring to drag the frightened horses from the stables, others driving the cattle from the yard and out-houses, and others coming laden from the burning pile, amidst a shower of falling sparks, and the tumbling down of red-hot beams. The apertures, where doors and windows stood an hour ago, disclosed a mass of raging fire; walls rocked and crumbled into the burning well; the molten lead and iron poured down, white hot, upon the ground. Women and children shrieked, and men encouraged each other with noisy shouts and cheers. The clanking of the engine-pumps, and the spirting and hissing of the water as it fell upon the blazing wood, added to the tremendous roar. He shouted, too, till he was hoarse; and flying from memory and himself, plunged into the thickest of the throng. Hither and thither he dived that night: now working at the pumps, and now hurrying through the smoke and flame, but never ceasing to engage himself wherever noise and men were thickest. Up and down the ladders, upon the roofs of buildings, over floors that quaked and trembled with his weight, under the lee of falling bricks and stones, in every part of that great fire was he; but he bore a charmed life, and had neither scratch nor bruise, nor weariness nor thought, till morning dawned again, and only smoke and blackened ruins remained.

This mad excitement over, there returned, with ten-fold force, the dreadful consciousness of his crime. He looked suspiciously about him, for the men were conversing in groups, and he feared to be the subject of their talk. The dog obeyed the significant beck of his finger, and they drew off, stealthily, together. He passed near an engine where some men were seated, and they called to him to share in their refreshment. He took some bread and meat; and as he drank a draught of beer, heard the firemen, who were from London, talking about the murder. ‚He has gone to Birmingham, they say,‘ said one: ‚but they’ll have him yet, for the scouts are out, and by to-morrow night there’ll be a cry all through the country.‘

He hurried off, and walked till he almost dropped upon the ground; then lay down in a lane, and had a long, but broken and uneasy sleep. He wandered on again, irresolute and undecided, and oppressed with the fear of another solitary night.

Suddenly, he took the desperate resolution to going back to London.

‚There’s somebody to speak to there, at all event,‘ he thought. ‚A good hiding-place, too. They’ll never expect to nab me there, after this country scent. Why can’t I lie by for a week or so, and, forcing blunt from Fagin, get abroad to France? Damme, I’ll risk it.‘


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He acted upon this impulse without delay, and choosing the least frequented roads began his journey back, resolved to lie concealed within a short distance of the metropolis, and, entering it at dusk by a circuitous route, to proceed straight to that part of it which he had fixed on for his destination.

The dog, though. If any description of him were out, it would not be forgotten that the dog was missing, and had probably gone with him. This might lead to his apprehension as he passed along the streets. He resolved to drown him, and walked on, looking about for a pond: picking up a heavy stone and tying it to his handkerchief as he went.

The animal looked up into his master’s face while these preparations were making; whether his instinct apprehended something of their purpose, or the robber’s sidelong look at him was sterner than ordinary, he skulked a little farther in the rear than usual, and cowered as he came more slowly along. When his master halted at the brink of a pool, and looked round to call him, he stopped outright.

‚Do you hear me call? Come here!‘ cried Sikes.

The animal came up from the very force of habit; but as Sikes stooped to attach the handkerchief to his throat, he uttered a low growl and started back.

‚Come back!‘ said the robber.

The dog wagged his tail, but moved not. Sikes made a running noose and called him again.

The dog advanced, retreated, paused an instant, and scoured away at his hardest speed.

The man whistled again and again, and sat down and waited in the expectation that he would return. But no dog appeared, and at length he resumed his journey.

CHAPTER XLIX

MONKS AND MR. BROWNLOW AT LENGTH MEET. THEIR CONVERSATION, AND THE INTELLIGENCE THAT INTERRUPTS IT

The twilight was beginning to close in, when Mr. Brownlow alighted from a hackney-coach at his own door, and knocked softly. The door being opened, a sturdy man got out of the coach and stationed himself on one side of the steps, while another man, who had been seated on the box, dismounted too, and stood upon the other side. At a sign from Mr. Brownlow, they helped out a third man, and taking him between them, hurried him into the house. This man was Monks.

They walked in the same manner up the stairs without speaking, and Mr. Brownlow, preceding them, led the way into a back-room. At the door of this apartment, Monks, who had ascended with evident reluctance, stopped. The two men looked at the old gentleman as if for instructions.

‚He knows the alternative,‘ said Mr. Browlow. ‚If he hesitates or moves a finger but as you bid him, drag him into the street, call for the aid of the police, and impeach him as a felon in my name.‘

‚How dare you say this of me?‘ asked Monks.

‚How dare you urge me to it, young man?‘ replied Mr. Brownlow, confronting him with a steady look. ‚Are you mad enough to leave this house? Unhand him. There, sir. You are free to go, and we to follow. But I warn you, by all I hold most solemn and most sacred, that instant will have you apprehended on a charge of fraud and robbery. I am resolute and immoveable. If you are determined to be the same, your blood be upon your own head!‘

‚By what authority am I kidnapped in the street, and brought here by these dogs?‘ asked Monks, looking from one to the other of the men who stood beside him.

‚By mine,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‚Those persons are indemnified by me. If you complain of being deprived of your liberty–you had power and opportunity to retrieve it as you came along, but you deemed it advisable to remain quiet–I say again, throw yourself for protection on the law. I will appeal to the law too; but when you have gone too far to recede, do not sue to me for leniency, when the power will have passed into other hands; and do not say I plunged you down the gulf into which you rushed, yourself.‘

Monks was plainly disconcerted, and alarmed besides. He hesitated.

‚You will decide quickly,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, with perfect firmness and composure. ‚If you wish me to prefer my charges publicly, and consign you to a punishment the extent of which, although I can, with a shudder, foresee, I cannot control, once more, I say, for you know the way. If not, and you appeal to my forbearance, and the mercy of those you have deeply injured, seat yourself, without a word, in that chair. It has waited for you two whole days.‘

Monks muttered some unintelligible words, but wavered still.

‚You will be prompt,‘ said Mr. Brownlow. ‚A word from me, and the alternative has gone for ever.‘

Still the man hesitated.

‚I have not the inclination to parley,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, ‚and, as I advocate the dearest interests of others, I have not the right.‘

‚Is there–‚ demanded Monks with a faltering tongue,–‚is there–no middle course?‘

‚None.‘

Monks looked at the old gentleman, with an anxious eye; but, reading in his countenance nothing but severity and determination, walked into the room, and, shrugging his shoulders, sat down.

‚Lock the door on the outside,‘ said Mr. Brownlow to the attendants, ‚and come when I ring.‘

The men obeyed, and the two were left alone together.

‚This is pretty treatment, sir,‘ said Monks, throwing down his hat and cloak, ‚from my father’s oldest friend.‘


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‚It is because I was your father’s oldest friend, young man,‘ returned Mr. Brownlow; ‚it is because the hopes and wishes of young and happy years were bound up with him, and that fair creature of his blood and kindred who rejoined her God in youth, and left me here a solitary, lonely man: it is because he knelt with me beside his only sisters’s death-bed when he was yet a boy, on the morning that would–but Heaven willed otherwise–have made her my young wife; it is because my seared heart clung to him, from that time forth, through all his trials and errors, till he died; it is because old recollections and associations filled my heart, and even the sight of you brings with it old thoughts of him; it is because of all these things that I am moved to treat you gently now–yes, Edward Leeford, even now–and blush for your unworthiness who bear the name.‘

‚What has the name to do with it?‘ asked the other, after contemplating, half in silence, and half in dogged wonder, the agitation of his companion. ‚What is the name to me?‘

‚Nothing,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow, ’nothing to you. But it was _hers_, and even at this distance of time brings back to me, an old man, the glow and thrill which I once felt, only to hear it repeated by a stranger. I am very glad you have changed it–very–very.‘

‚This is all mighty fine,‘ said Monks (to retain his assumed designation) after a long silence, during which he had jerked himself in sullen defiance to and fro, and Mr. Brownlow had sat, shading his face with his hand. ‚But what do you want with me?‘

‚You have a brother,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, rousing himself: ‚a brother, the whisper of whose name in your ear when I came behind you in the street, was, in itself, almost enough to make you accompany me hither, in wonder and alarm.‘

‚I have no brother,‘ replied Monks. ‚You know I was an only child. Why do you talk to me of brothers? You know that, as well as I.‘

‚Attend to what I do know, and you may not,‘ said Mr. Brownlow. ‚I shall interest you by and by. I know that of the wretched marriage, into which family pride, and the most sordid and narrowest of all ambition, forced your unhappy father when a mere boy, you were the sole and most unnatural issue.‘

‚I don’t care for hard names,‘ interrupted Monks with a jeering laugh. ‚You know the fact, and that’s enough for me.‘

‚But I also know,‘ pursued the old gentleman, ‚the misery, the slow torture, the protracted anguish of that ill-assorted union. I know how listlessly and wearily each of that wretched pair dragged on their heavy chain through a world that was poisoned to them both. I know how cold formalities were succeeded by open taunts; how indifference gave place to dislike, dislike to hate, and hate to loathing, until at last they wrenched the clanking bond asunder, and retiring a wide space apart, carried each a galling fragment, of which nothing but death could break the rivets, to hide it in new society beneath the gayest looks they could assume. Your mother succeeded; she forgot it soon. But it rusted and cankered at your father’s heart for years.‘

‚Well, they were separated,‘ said Monks, ‚and what of that?‘

‚When they had been separated for some time,‘ returned Mr. Brownlow, ‚and your mother, wholly given up to continental frivolities, had utterly forgotten the young husband ten good years her junior, who, with prospects blighted, lingered on at home, he fell among new friends. This circumstance, at least, you know already.‘

‚Not I,‘ said Monks, turning away his eyes and beating his foot upon the ground, as a man who is determined to deny everything. ‚Not I.‘

‚Your manner, no less than your actions, assures me that you have never forgotten it, or ceased to think of it with bitterness,‘ returned Mr. Brownlow. ‚I speak of fifteen years ago, when you were not more than eleven years old, and your father but one-and-thirty–for he was, I repeat, a boy, when _his_ father ordered him to marry. Must I go back to events which cast a shade upon the memory of your parent, or will you spare it, and disclose to me the truth?‘

‚I have nothing to disclose,‘ rejoined Monks. ‚You must talk on if you will.‘

‚These new friends, then,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, ‚were a naval officer retired from active service, whose wife had died some half-a-year before, and left him with two children–there had been more, but, of all their family, happily but two survived. They were both daughters; one a beautiful creature of nineteen, and the other a mere child of two or three years old.‘

‚What’s this to me?‘ asked Monks.

‚They resided,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, without seeming to hear the interruption, ‚in a part of the country to which your father in his wandering had repaired, and where he had taken up his abode. Acquaintance, intimacy, friendship, fast followed on each other. Your father was gifted as few men are. He had his sister’s soul and person. As the old officer knew him more and more, he grew to love him. I would that it had ended there. His daughter did the same.‘

The old gentleman paused; Monks was biting his lips, with his eyes fixed upon the floor; seeing this, he immediately resumed:

‚The end of a year found him contracted, solemnly contracted, to that daughter; the object of the first, true, ardent, only passion of a guileless girl.‘

‚Your tale is of the longest,‘ observed Monks, moving restlessly in his chair.

‚It is a true tale of grief and trial, and sorrow, young man,‘ returned Mr. Brownlow, ‚and such tales usually are; if it were one of unmixed joy and happiness, it would be very brief. At length one of those rich relations to strengthen whose interest and importance your father had been sacrificed, as others are often–it is no uncommon case–died, and to repair the misery he had been instrumental in occasioning, left him his panacea for all griefs–Money. It was necessary that he should immediately repair to Rome, whither this man had sped for health, and where he had died, leaving his affairs in great confusion. He went; was seized with mortal illness there; was followed, the moment the intelligence reached Paris, by your mother who carried you with her; he died the day after her arrival, leaving no will–_no will_–so that the whole property fell to her and you.‘

At this part of the recital Monks held his breath, and listened with a face of intense eagerness, though his eyes were not directed towards the speaker. As Mr. Brownlow paused, he changed his position with the air of one who has experienced a sudden relief, and wiped his hot face and hands.

‚Before he went abroad, and as he passed through London on his way,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, slowly, and fixing his eyes upon the other’s face, ‚he came to me.‘

‚I never heard of that,‘ interrupted Monks in a tone intended to appear incredulous, but savouring more of disagreeable surprise.

‚He came to me, and left with me, among some other things, a picture–a portrait painted by himself–a likeness of this poor girl–which he did not wish to leave behind, and could not carry forward on his hasty journey. He was worn by anxiety and remorse almost to a shadow; talked in a wild, distracted way, of ruin and dishonour worked by himself; confided to me his intention to convert his whole property, at any loss, into money, and, having settled on his wife and you a portion of his recent acquisition, to fly the country–I guessed too well he would not fly alone–and never see it more. Even from me, his old and early friend, whose strong attachment had taken root in the earth that covered one most dear to both–even from me he withheld any more particular confession, promising to write and tell me all, and after that to see me once again, for the last time on earth. Alas! _That_ was the last time. I had no letter, and I never saw him more.‘

‚I went,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, after a short pause, ‚I went, when all was over, to the scene of his–I will use the term the world would freely use, for worldly harshness or favour are now alike to him–of his guilty love, resolved that if my fears were realised that erring child should find one heart and home to shelter and compassionate her. The family had left that part a week before; they had called in such trifling debts as were outstanding, discharged them, and left the place by night. Why, or whither, none can tell.‘

Monks drew his breath yet more freely, and looked round with a smile of triumph.

‚When your brother,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, drawing nearer to the other’s chair, ‚When your brother: a feeble, ragged, neglected child: was cast in my way by a stronger hand than chance, and rescued by me from a life of vice and infamy–‚

‚What?‘ cried Monks.

‚By me,‘ said Mr. Brownlow. ‚I told you I should interest you before long. I say by me–I see that your cunning associate suppressed my name, although for ought he knew, it would be quite strange to your ears. When he was rescued by me, then, and lay recovering from sickness in my house, his strong resemblance to this picture I have spoken of, struck me with astonishment. Even when I first saw him in all his dirt and misery, there was a lingering expression in his face that came upon me like a glimpse of some old friend flashing on one in a vivid dream. I need not tell you he was snared away before I knew his history–‚


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‚Why not?‘ asked Monks hastily.

‚Because you know it well.‘

‚I!‘

‚Denial to me is vain,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‚I shall show you that I know more than that.‘

‚You–you–can’t prove anything against me,‘ stammered Monks. ‚I defy you to do it!‘

‚We shall see,‘ returned the old gentleman with a searching glance. ‚I lost the boy, and no efforts of mine could recover him. Your mother being dead, I knew that you alone could solve the mystery if anybody could, and as when I had last heard of you you were on your own estate in the West Indies–whither, as you well know, you retired upon your mother’s death to escape the consequences of vicious courses here–I made the voyage. You had left it, months before, and were supposed to be in London, but no one could tell where. I returned. Your agents had no clue to your residence. You came and went, they said, as strangely as you had ever done: sometimes for days together and sometimes not for months: keeping to all appearance the same low haunts and mingling with the same infamous herd who had been your associates when a fierce ungovernable boy. I wearied them with new applications. I paced the streets by night and day, but until two hours ago, all my efforts were fruitless, and I never saw you for an instant.‘

‚And now you do see me,‘ said Monks, rising boldly, ‚what then? Fraud and robbery are high-sounding words–justified, you think, by a fancied resemblance in some young imp to an idle daub of a dead man’s Brother! You don’t even know that a child was born of this maudlin pair; you don’t even know that.‘

‚I _did not_,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow, rising too; ‚but within the last fortnight I have learnt it all. You have a brother; you know it, and him. There was a will, which your mother destroyed, leaving the secret and the gain to you at her own death. It contained a reference to some child likely to be the result of this sad connection, which child was born, and accidentally encountered by you, when your suspicions were first awakened by his resemblance to your father. You repaired to the place of his birth. There existed proofs–proofs long suppressed–of his birth and parentage. Those proofs were destroyed by you, and now, in your own words to your accomplice the Jew, „_the only proofs of the boy’s identity lie at the bottom of the river, and the old hag that received them from the mother is rotting in her coffin_.“ Unworthy son, coward, liar,–you, who hold your councils with thieves and murderers in dark rooms at night,–you, whose plots and wiles have brought a violent death upon the head of one worth millions such as you,–you, who from your cradle were gall and bitterness to your own father’s heart, and in whom all evil passions, vice, and profligacy, festered, till they found a vent in a hideous disease which had made your face an index even to your mind–you, Edward Leeford, do you still brave me!‘

‚No, no, no!‘ returned the coward, overwhelmed by these accumulated charges.

‚Every word!‘ cried the gentleman, ‚every word that has passed between you and this detested villain, is known to me. Shadows on the wall have caught your whispers, and brought them to my ear; the sight of the persecuted child has turned vice itself, and given it the courage and almost the attributes of virtue. Murder has been done, to which you were morally if not really a party.‘

‚No, no,‘ interposed Monks. ‚I–I knew nothing of that; I was going to inquire the truth of the story when you overtook me. I didn’t know the cause. I thought it was a common quarrel.‘

‚It was the partial disclosure of your secrets,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‚Will you disclose the whole?‘

‚Yes, I will.‘

‚Set your hand to a statement of truth and facts, and repeat it before witnesses?‘

‚That I promise too.‘

‚Remain quietly here, until such a document is drawn up, and proceed with me to such a place as I may deem most advisable, for the purpose of attesting it?‘

‚If you insist upon that, I’ll do that also,‘ replied Monks.

‚You must do more than that,‘ said Mr. Brownlow. ‚Make restitution to an innocent and unoffending child, for such he is, although the offspring of a guilty and most miserable love. You have not forgotten the provisions of the will. Carry them into execution so far as your brother is concerned, and then go where you please. In this world you need meet no more.‘

While Monks was pacing up and down, meditating with dark and evil looks on this proposal and the possibilities of evading it: torn by his fears on the one hand and his hatred on the other: the door was hurriedly unlocked, and a gentleman (Mr. Losberne) entered the room in violent agitation.

‚The man will be taken,‘ he cried. ‚He will be taken to-night!‘

‚The murderer?‘ asked Mr. Brownlow.

‚Yes, yes,‘ replied the other. ‚His dog has been seen lurking about some old haunt, and there seems little doubt that his master either is, or will be, there, under cover of the darkness. Spies are hovering about in every direction. I have spoken to the men who are charged with his capture, and they tell me he cannot escape. A reward of a hundred pounds is proclaimed by Government to-night.‘

‚I will give fifty more,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, ‚and proclaim it with my own lips upon the spot, if I can reach it. Where is Mr. Maylie?‘

‚Harry? As soon as he had seen your friend here, safe in a coach with you, he hurried off to where he heard this,‘ replied the doctor, ‚and mounting his horse sallied forth to join the first party at some place in the outskirts agreed upon between them.‘

‚Fagin,‘ said Mr. Brownlow; ‚what of him?‘

‚When I last heard, he had not been taken, but he will be, or is, by this time. They’re sure of him.‘

‚Have you made up your mind?‘ asked Mr. Brownlow, in a low voice, of Monks.

‚Yes,‘ he replied. ‚You–you–will be secret with me?‘

‚I will. Remain here till I return. It is your only hope of safety.‘

They left the room, and the door was again locked.


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‚What have you done?‘ asked the doctor in a whisper.

‚All that I could hope to do, and even more. Coupling the poor girl’s intelligence with my previous knowledge, and the result of our good friend’s inquiries on the spot, I left him no loophole of escape, and laid bare the whole villainy which by these lights became plain as day. Write and appoint the evening after to-morrow, at seven, for the meeting. We shall be down there, a few hours before, but shall require rest: especially the young lady, who _may_ have greater need of firmness than either you or I can quite foresee just now. But my blood boils to avenge this poor murdered creature. Which way have they taken?‘

‚Drive straight to the office and you will be in time,‘ replied Mr. Losberne. ‚I will remain here.‘

The two gentlemen hastily separated; each in a fever of excitement wholly uncontrollable.

CHAPTER L

THE PURSUIT AND ESCAPE

Near to that part of the Thames on which the church at Rotherhithe abuts, where the buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackest with the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low-roofed houses, there exists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London, wholly unknown, even by name, to the great mass of its inhabitants.

To reach this place, the visitor has to penetrate through a maze of close, narrow, and muddy streets, thronged by the roughest and poorest of waterside people, and devoted to the traffic they may be supposed to occasion. The cheapest and least delicate provisions are heaped in the shops; the coarsest and commonest articles of wearing apparel dangle at the salesman’s door, and stream from the house-parapet and windows. Jostling with unemployed labourers of the lowest class, ballast-heavers, coal-whippers, brazen women, ragged children, and the raff and refuse of the river, he makes his way with difficulty along, assailed by offensive sights and smells from the narrow alleys which branch off on the right and left, and deafened by the clash of ponderous waggons that bear great piles of merchandise from the stacks of warehouses that rise from every corner. Arriving, at length, in streets remoter and less-frequented than those through which he has passed, he walks beneath tottering house-fronts projecting over the pavement, dismantled walls that seem to totter as he passes, chimneys half crushed half hesitating to fall, windows guarded by rusty iron bars that time and dirt have almost eaten away, every imaginable sign of desolation and neglect.

In such a neighborhood, beyond Dockhead in the Borough of Southwark, stands Jacob’s Island, surrounded by a muddy ditch, six or eight feet deep and fifteen or twenty wide when the tide is in, once called Mill Pond, but known in the days of this story as Folly Ditch. It is a creek or inlet from the Thames, and can always be filled at high water by opening the sluices at the Lead Mills from which it took its old name. At such times, a stranger, looking from one of the wooden bridges thrown across it at Mill Lane, will see the inhabitants of the houses on either side lowering from their back doors and windows, buckets, pails, domestic utensils of all kinds, in which to haul the water up; and when his eye is turned from these operations to the houses themselves, his utmost astonishment will be excited by the scene before him. Crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud, and threatening to fall into it–as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations; every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage; all these ornament the banks of Folly Ditch.

In Jacob’s Island, the warehouses are roofless and empty; the walls are crumbling down; the windows are windows no more; the doors are falling into the streets; the chimneys are blackened, but they yield no smoke. Thirty or forty years ago, before losses and chancery suits came upon it, it was a thriving place; but now it is a desolate island indeed. The houses have no owners; they are broken open, and entered upon by those who have the courage; and there they live, and there they die. They must have powerful motives for a secret residence, or be reduced to a destitute condition indeed, who seek a refuge in Jacob’s Island.

In an upper room of one of these houses–a detached house of fair size, ruinous in other respects, but strongly defended at door and window: of which house the back commanded the ditch in manner already described–there were assembled three men, who, regarding each other every now and then with looks expressive of perplexity and expectation, sat for some time in profound and gloomy silence. One of these was Toby Crackit, another Mr. Chitling, and the third a robber of fifty years, whose nose had been almost beaten in, in some old scuffle, and whose face bore a frightful scar which might probably be traced to the same occasion. This man was a returned transport, and his name was Kags.

‚I wish,‘ said Toby turning to Mr. Chitling, ‚that you had picked out some other crib when the two old ones got too warm, and had not come here, my fine feller.‘

‚Why didn’t you, blunder-head!‘ said Kags.

‚Well, I thought you’d have been a little more glad to see me than this,‘ replied Mr. Chitling, with a melancholy air.

‚Why, look’e, young gentleman,‘ said Toby, ‚when a man keeps himself so very ex-clusive as I have done, and by that means has a snug house over his head with nobody a prying and smelling about it, it’s rather a startling thing to have the honour of a wisit from a young gentleman (however respectable and pleasant a person he may be to play cards with at conweniency) circumstanced as you are.‘

‚Especially, when the exclusive young man has got a friend stopping with him, that’s arrived sooner than was expected from foreign parts, and is too modest to want to be presented to the Judges on his return,‘ added Mr. Kags.

There was a short silence, after which Toby Crackit, seeming to abandon as hopeless any further effort to maintain his usual devil-may-care swagger, turned to Chitling and said,

‚When was Fagin took then?‘

‚Just at dinner-time–two o’clock this afternoon. Charley and I made our lucky up the wash-us chimney, and Bolter got into the empty water-butt, head downwards; but his legs were so precious long that they stuck out at the top, and so they took him too.‘

‚And Bet?‘

‚Poor Bet! She went to see the Body, to speak to who it was,‘ replied Chitling, his countenance falling more and more, ‚and went off mad, screaming and raving, and beating her head against the boards; so they put a strait-weskut on her and took her to the hospital–and there she is.‘

‚Wot’s come of young Bates?‘ demanded Kags.

‚He hung about, not to come over here afore dark, but he’ll be here soon,‘ replied Chitling. ‚There’s nowhere else to go to now, for the people at the Cripples are all in custody, and the bar of the ken–I went up there and see it with my own eyes–is filled with traps.‘

‚This is a smash,‘ observed Toby, biting his lips. ‚There’s more than one will go with this.‘

‚The sessions are on,‘ said Kags: ‚if they get the inquest over, and Bolter turns King’s evidence: as of course he will, from what he’s said already: they can prove Fagin an accessory before the fact, and get the trial on on Friday, and he’ll swing in six days from this, by G–!‘

‚You should have heard the people groan,‘ said Chitling; ‚the officers fought like devils, or they’d have torn him away. He was down once, but they made a ring round him, and fought their way along. You should have seen how he looked about him, all muddy and bleeding, and clung to them as if they were his dearest friends. I can see ‚em now, not able to stand upright with the pressing of the mob, and draggin him along amongst ‚em; I can see the people jumping up, one behind another, and snarling with their teeth and making at him; I can see the blood upon his hair and beard, and hear the cries with which the women worked themselves into the centre of the crowd at the street corner, and swore they’d tear his heart out!‘

The horror-stricken witness of this scene pressed his hands upon his ears, and with his eyes closed got up and paced violently to and fro, like one distracted.

While he was thus engaged, and the two men sat by in silence with their eyes fixed upon the floor, a pattering noise was heard upon the stairs, and Sikes’s dog bounded into the room. They ran to the window, downstairs, and into the street. The dog had jumped in at an open window; he made no attempt to follow them, nor was his master to be seen.

‚What’s the meaning of this?‘ said Toby when they had returned. ‚He can’t be coming here. I–I–hope not.‘

‚If he was coming here, he’d have come with the dog,‘ said Kags, stooping down to examine the animal, who lay panting on the floor. ‚Here! Give us some water for him; he has run himself faint.‘


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‚He’s drunk it all up, every drop,‘ said Chitling after watching the dog some time in silence. ‚Covered with mud–lame–half blind–he must have come a long way.‘

‚Where can he have come from!‘ exclaimed Toby. ‚He’s been to the other kens of course, and finding them filled with strangers come on here, where he’s been many a time and often. But where can he have come from first, and how comes he here alone without the other!‘

‚He‘–(none of them called the murderer by his old name)–‚He can’t have made away with himself. What do you think?‘ said Chitling.

Toby shook his head.

‚If he had,‘ said Kags, ‚the dog ‚ud want to lead us away to where he did it. No. I think he’s got out of the country, and left the dog behind. He must have given him the slip somehow, or he wouldn’t be so easy.‘

This solution, appearing the most probable one, was adopted as the right; the dog, creeping under a chair, coiled himself up to sleep, without more notice from anybody.

It being now dark, the shutter was closed, and a candle lighted and placed upon the table. The terrible events of the last two days had made a deep impression on all three, increased by the danger and uncertainty of their own position. They drew their chairs closer together, starting at every sound. They spoke little, and that in whispers, and were as silent and awe-stricken as if the remains of the murdered woman lay in the next room.

They had sat thus, some time, when suddenly was heard a hurried knocking at the door below.

‚Young Bates,‘ said Kags, looking angrily round, to check the fear he felt himself.

The knocking came again. No, it wasn’t he. He never knocked like that.

Crackit went to the window, and shaking all over, drew in his head. There was no need to tell them who it was; his pale face was enough. The dog too was on the alert in an instant, and ran whining to the door.

‚We must let him in,‘ he said, taking up the candle.

‚Isn’t there any help for it?‘ asked the other man in a hoarse voice.

‚None. He _must_ come in.‘

‚Don’t leave us in the dark,‘ said Kags, taking down a candle from the chimney-piece, and lighting it, with such a trembling hand that the knocking was twice repeated before he had finished.

Crackit went down to the door, and returned followed by a man with the lower part of his face buried in a handkerchief, and another tied over his head under his hat. He drew them slowly off. Blanched face, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, beard of three days‘ growth, wasted flesh, short thick breath; it was the very ghost of Sikes.

He laid his hand upon a chair which stood in the middle of the room, but shuddering as he was about to drop into it, and seeming to glance over his shoulder, dragged it back close to the wall–as close as it would go–and ground it against it–and sat down.

Not a word had been exchanged. He looked from one to another in silence. If an eye were furtively raised and met his, it was instantly averted. When his hollow voice broke silence, they all three started. They seemed never to have heard its tones before.

‚How came that dog here?‘ he asked.

‚Alone. Three hours ago.‘

‚To-night’s paper says that Fagin’s took. Is it true, or a lie?‘

‚True.‘

They were silent again.

‚Damn you all!‘ said Sikes, passing his hand across his forehead.

‚Have you nothing to say to me?‘

There was an uneasy movement among them, but nobody spoke.

‚You that keep this house,‘ said Sikes, turning his face to Crackit, ‚do you mean to sell me, or to let me lie here till this hunt is over?‘

‚You may stop here, if you think it safe,‘ returned the person addressed, after some hesitation.

Sikes carried his eyes slowly up the wall behind him: rather trying to turn his head than actually doing it: and said, ‚Is–it–the body–is it buried?‘

They shook their heads.


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‚Why isn’t it!‘ he retorted with the same glance behind him. ‚Wot do they keep such ugly things above the ground for?–Who’s that knocking?‘

Crackit intimated, by a motion of his hand as he left the room, that there was nothing to fear; and directly came back with Charley Bates behind him. Sikes sat opposite the door, so that the moment the boy entered the room he encountered his figure.

‚Toby,‘ said the boy falling back, as Sikes turned his eyes towards him, ‚why didn’t you tell me this, downstairs?‘

There had been something so tremendous in the shrinking off of the three, that the wretched man was willing to propitiate even this lad. Accordingly he nodded, and made as though he would shake hands with him.

‚Let me go into some other room,‘ said the boy, retreating still farther.

‚Charley!‘ said Sikes, stepping forward. ‚Don’t you–don’t you know me?‘

‚Don’t come nearer me,‘ answered the boy, still retreating, and looking, with horror in his eyes, upon the murderer’s face. ‚You monster!‘

The man stopped half-way, and they looked at each other; but Sikes’s eyes sunk gradually to the ground.

‚Witness you three,‘ cried the boy shaking his clenched fist, and becoming more and more excited as he spoke. ‚Witness you three–I’m not afraid of him–if they come here after him, I’ll give him up; I will. I tell you out at once. He may kill me for it if he likes, or if he dares, but if I am here I’ll give him up. I’d give him up if he was to be boiled alive. Murder! Help! If there’s the pluck of a man among you three, you’ll help me. Murder! Help! Down with him!‘

Pouring out these cries, and accompanying them with violent gesticulation, the boy actually threw himself, single-handed, upon the strong man, and in the intensity of his energy and the suddenness of his surprise, brought him heavily to the ground.

The three spectators seemed quite stupefied. They offered no interference, and the boy and man rolled on the ground together; the former, heedless of the blows that showered upon him, wrenching his hands tighter and tighter in the garments about the murderer’s breast, and never ceasing to call for help with all his might.

The contest, however, was too unequal to last long. Sikes had him down, and his knee was on his throat, when Crackit pulled him back with a look of alarm, and pointed to the window. There were lights gleaming below, voices in loud and earnest conversation, the tramp of hurried footsteps–endless they seemed in number–crossing the nearest wooden bridge. One man on horseback seemed to be among the crowd; for there was the noise of hoofs rattling on the uneven pavement. The gleam of lights increased; the footsteps came more thickly and noisily on. Then, came a loud knocking at the door, and then a hoarse murmur from such a multitude of angry voices as would have made the boldest quail.

‚Help!‘ shrieked the boy in a voice that rent the air.

‚He’s here! Break down the door!‘

‚In the King’s name,‘ cried the voices without; and the hoarse cry arose again, but louder.

‚Break down the door!‘ screamed the boy. ‚I tell you they’ll never open it. Run straight to the room where the light is. Break down the door!‘

Strokes, thick and heavy, rattled upon the door and lower window-shutters as he ceased to speak, and a loud huzzah burst from the crowd; giving the listener, for the first time, some adequate idea of its immense extent.

‚Open the door of some place where I can lock this screeching Hell-babe,‘ cried Sikes fiercely; running to and fro, and dragging the boy, now, as easily as if he were an empty sack. ‚That door. Quick!‘ He flung him in, bolted it, and turned the key. ‚Is the downstairs door fast?‘

‚Double-locked and chained,‘ replied Crackit, who, with the other two men, still remained quite helpless and bewildered.

‚The panels–are they strong?‘

‚Lined with sheet-iron.‘

‚And the windows too?‘

‚Yes, and the windows.‘

‚Damn you!‘ cried the desperate ruffian, throwing up the sash and menacing the crowd. ‚Do your worst! I’ll cheat you yet!‘

Of all the terrific yells that ever fell on mortal ears, none could exceed the cry of the infuriated throng. Some shouted to those who were nearest to set the house on fire; others roared to the officers to shoot him dead. Among them all, none showed such fury as the man on horseback, who, throwing himself out of the saddle, and bursting through the crowd as if he were parting water, cried, beneath the window, in a voice that rose above all others, ‚Twenty guineas to the man who brings a ladder!‘

The nearest voices took up the cry, and hundreds echoed it. Some called for ladders, some for sledge-hammers; some ran with torches to and fro as if to seek them, and still came back and roared again; some spent their breath in impotent curses and execrations; some pressed forward with the ecstasy of madmen, and thus impeded the progress of those below; some among the boldest attempted to climb up by the water-spout and crevices in the wall; and all waved to and fro, in the darkness beneath, like a field of corn moved by an angry wind: and joined from time to time in one loud furious roar.

‚The tide,‘ cried the murderer, as he staggered back into the room, and shut the faces out, ‚the tide was in as I came up. Give me a rope, a long rope. They’re all in front. I may drop into the Folly Ditch, and clear off that way. Give me a rope, or I shall do three more murders and kill myself.‘

The panic-stricken men pointed to where such articles were kept; the murderer, hastily selecting the longest and strongest cord, hurried up to the house-top.

All the window in the rear of the house had been long ago bricked up, except one small trap in the room where the boy was locked, and that was too small even for the passage of his body. But, from this aperture, he had never ceased to call on those without, to guard the back; and thus, when the murderer emerged at last on the house-top by the door in the roof, a loud shout proclaimed the fact to those in front, who immediately began to pour round, pressing upon each other in an unbroken stream.

He planted a board, which he had carried up with him for the purpose, so firmly against the door that it must be matter of great difficulty to open it from the inside; and creeping over the tiles, looked over the low parapet.


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The water was out, and the ditch a bed of mud.

The crowd had been hushed during these few moments, watching his motions and doubtful of his purpose, but the instant they perceived it and knew it was defeated, they raised a cry of triumphant execration to which all their previous shouting had been whispers. Again and again it rose. Those who were at too great a distance to know its meaning, took up the sound; it echoed and re-echoed; it seemed as though the whole city had poured its population out to curse him.

On pressed the people from the front–on, on, on, in a strong struggling current of angry faces, with here and there a glaring torch to lighten them up, and show them out in all their wrath and passion. The houses on the opposite side of the ditch had been entered by the mob; sashes were thrown up, or torn bodily out; there were tiers and tiers of faces in every window; cluster upon cluster of people clinging to every house-top. Each little bridge (and there were three in sight) bent beneath the weight of the crowd upon it. Still the current poured on to find some nook or hole from which to vent their shouts, and only for an instant see the wretch.

‚They have him now,‘ cried a man on the nearest bridge. ‚Hurrah!‘

The crowd grew light with uncovered heads; and again the shout uprose.

‚I will give fifty pounds,‘ cried an old gentleman from the same quarter, ‚to the man who takes him alive. I will remain here, till he come to ask me for it.‘

There was another roar. At this moment the word was passed among the crowd that the door was forced at last, and that he who had first called for the ladder had mounted into the room. The stream abruptly turned, as this intelligence ran from mouth to mouth; and the people at the windows, seeing those upon the bridges pouring back, quitted their stations, and running into the street, joined the concourse that now thronged pell-mell to the spot they had left: each man crushing and striving with his neighbor, and all panting with impatience to get near the door, and look upon the criminal as the officers brought him out. The cries and shrieks of those who were pressed almost to suffocation, or trampled down and trodden under foot in the confusion, were dreadful; the narrow ways were completely blocked up; and at this time, between the rush of some to regain the space in front of the house, and the unavailing struggles of others to extricate themselves from the mass, the immediate attention was distracted from the murderer, although the universal eagerness for his capture was, if possible, increased.

The man had shrunk down, thoroughly quelled by the ferocity of the crowd, and the impossibility of escape; but seeing this sudden change with no less rapidity than it had occurred, he sprang upon his feet, determined to make one last effort for his life by dropping into the ditch, and, at the risk of being stifled, endeavouring to creep away in the darkness and confusion.

Roused into new strength and energy, and stimulated by the noise within the house which announced that an entrance had really been effected, he set his foot against the stack of chimneys, fastened one end of the rope tightly and firmly round it, and with the other made a strong running noose by the aid of his hands and teeth almost in a second. He could let himself down by the cord to within a less distance of the ground than his own height, and had his knife ready in his hand to cut it then and drop.

At the very instant when he brought the loop over his head previous to slipping it beneath his arm-pits, and when the old gentleman before-mentioned (who had clung so tight to the railing of the bridge as to resist the force of the crowd, and retain his position) earnestly warned those about him that the man was about to lower himself down–at that very instant the murderer, looking behind him on the roof, threw his arms above his head, and uttered a yell of terror.

‚The eyes again!‘ he cried in an unearthly screech.

Staggering as if struck by lightning, he lost his balance and tumbled over the parapet. The noose was on his neck. It ran up with his weight, tight as a bow-string, and swift as the arrow it speeds. He fell for five-and-thirty feet. There was a sudden jerk, a terrific convulsion of the limbs; and there he hung, with the open knife clenched in his stiffening hand.

The old chimney quivered with the shock, but stood it bravely. The murderer swung lifeless against the wall; and the boy, thrusting aside the dangling body which obscured his view, called to the people to come and take him out, for God’s sake.

A dog, which had lain concealed till now, ran backwards and forwards on the parapet with a dismal howl, and collecting himself for a spring, jumped for the dead man’s shoulders. Missing his aim, he fell into the ditch, turning completely over as he went; and striking his head against a stone, dashed out his brains.

CHAPTER LI

AFFORDING AN EXPLANATION OF MORE MYSTERIES THAN ONE, AND COMPREHENDING A PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE WITH NO WORD OF SETTLEMENT OR PIN-MONEY

The events narrated in the last chapter were yet but two days old, when Oliver found himself, at three o’clock in the afternoon, in a travelling-carriage rolling fast towards his native town. Mrs. Maylie, and Rose, and Mrs. Bedwin, and the good doctor were with him: and Mr. Brownlow followed in a post-chaise, accompanied by one other person whose name had not been mentioned.

They had not talked much upon the way; for Oliver was in a flutter of agitation and uncertainty which deprived him of the power of collecting his thoughts, and almost of speech, and appeared to have scarcely less effect on his companions, who shared it, in at least an equal degree. He and the two ladies had been very carefully made acquainted by Mr. Brownlow with the nature of the admissions which had been forced from Monks; and although they knew that the object of their present journey was to complete the work which had been so well begun, still the whole matter was enveloped in enough of doubt and mystery to leave them in endurance of the most intense suspense.

The same kind friend had, with Mr. Losberne’s assistance, cautiously stopped all channels of communication through which they could receive intelligence of the dreadful occurrences that so recently taken place. ‚It was quite true,‘ he said, ‚that they must know them before long, but it might be at a better time than the present, and it could not be at a worse.‘ So, they travelled on in silence: each busied with reflections on the object which had brought them together: and no one disposed to give utterance to the thoughts which crowded upon all.

But if Oliver, under these influences, had remained silent while they journeyed towards his birth-place by a road he had never seen, how the whole current of his recollections ran back to old times, and what a crowd of emotions were wakened up in his breast, when they turned into that which he had traversed on foot: a poor houseless, wandering boy, without a friend to help him, or a roof to shelter his head.

‚See there, there!‘ cried Oliver, eagerly clasping the hand of Rose, and pointing out at the carriage window; ‚that’s the stile I came over; there are the hedges I crept behind, for fear any one should overtake me and force me back! Yonder is the path across the fields, leading to the old house where I was a little child! Oh Dick, Dick, my dear old friend, if I could only see you now!‘

‚You will see him soon,‘ replied Rose, gently taking his folded hands between her own. ‚You shall tell him how happy you are, and how rich you have grown, and that in all your happiness you have none so great as the coming back to make him happy too.‘

‚Yes, yes,‘ said Oliver, ‚and we’ll–we’ll take him away from here, and have him clothed and taught, and send him to some quiet country place where he may grow strong and well,–shall we?‘

Rose nodded ‚yes,‘ for the boy was smiling through such happy tears that she could not speak.

‚You will be kind and good to him, for you are to every one,‘ said Oliver. ‚It will make you cry, I know, to hear what he can tell; but never mind, never mind, it will be all over, and you will smile again–I know that too–to think how changed he is; you did the same with me. He said „God bless you“ to me when I ran away,‘ cried the boy with a burst of affectionate emotion; ‚and I will say „God bless you“ now, and show him how I love him for it!‘

As they approached the town, and at length drove through its narrow streets, it became matter of no small difficulty to restrain the boy within reasonable bounds. There was Sowerberry’s the undertaker’s just as it used to be, only smaller and less imposing in appearance than he remembered it–there were all the well-known shops and houses, with almost every one of which he had some slight incident connected–there was Gamfield’s cart, the very cart he used to have, standing at the old public-house door–there was the workhouse, the dreary prison of his youthful days, with its dismal windows frowning on the street–there was the same lean porter standing at the gate, at sight of whom Oliver involuntarily shrunk back, and then laughed at himself for being so foolish, then cried, then laughed again–there were scores of faces at the doors and windows that he knew quite well–there was nearly everything as if he had left it but yesterday, and all his recent life had been but a happy dream.

But it was pure, earnest, joyful reality. They drove straight to the door of the chief hotel (which Oliver used to stare up at, with awe, and think a mighty palace, but which had somehow fallen off in grandeur and size); and here was Mr. Grimwig all ready to receive them, kissing the young lady, and the old one too, when they got out of the coach, as if he were the grandfather of the whole party, all smiles and kindness, and not offering to eat his head–no, not once; not even when he contradicted a very old postboy about the nearest road to London, and maintained he knew it best, though he had only come that way once, and that time fast asleep. There was dinner prepared, and there were bedrooms ready, and everything was arranged as if by magic.

Notwithstanding all this, when the hurry of the first half-hour was over, the same silence and constraint prevailed that had marked their journey down. Mr. Brownlow did not join them at dinner, but remained in a separate room. The two other gentlemen hurried in and out with anxious faces, and, during the short intervals when they were present, conversed apart. Once, Mrs. Maylie was called away, and after being absent for nearly an hour, returned with eyes swollen with weeping. All these things made Rose and Oliver, who were not in any new secrets, nervous and uncomfortable. They sat wondering, in silence; or, if they exchanged a few words, spoke in whispers, as if they were afraid to hear the sound of their own voices.

At length, when nine o’clock had come, and they began to think they were to hear no more that night, Mr. Losberne and Mr. Grimwig entered the room, followed by Mr. Brownlow and a man whom Oliver almost shrieked with surprise to see; for they told him it was his brother, and it was the same man he had met at the market-town, and seen looking in with Fagin at the window of his little room. Monks cast a look of hate, which, even then, he could not dissemble, at the astonished boy, and sat down near the door. Mr. Brownlow, who had papers in his hand, walked to a table near which Rose and Oliver were seated.

‚This is a painful task,‘ said he, ‚but these declarations, which have been signed in London before many gentlemen, must be in substance repeated here. I would have spared you the degradation, but we must hear them from your own lips before we part, and you know why.‘


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‚Go on,‘ said the person addressed, turning away his face. ‚Quick. I have almost done enough, I think. Don’t keep me here.‘

‚This child,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, drawing Oliver to him, and laying his hand upon his head, ‚is your half-brother; the illegitimate son of your father, my dear friend Edwin Leeford, by poor young Agnes Fleming, who died in giving him birth.‘

‚Yes,‘ said Monks, scowling at the trembling boy: the beating of whose heart he might have heard. ‚That is the bastard child.‘

‚The term you use,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, sternly, ‚is a reproach to those long since passed beyond the feeble censure of the world. It reflects disgrace on no one living, except you who use it. Let that pass. He was born in this town.‘

‚In the workhouse of this town,‘ was the sullen reply. ‚You have the story there.‘ He pointed impatiently to the papers as he spoke.

‚I must have it here, too,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, looking round upon the listeners.

‚Listen then! You!‘ returned Monks. ‚His father being taken ill at Rome, was joined by his wife, my mother, from whom he had been long separated, who went from Paris and took me with her–to look after his property, for what I know, for she had no great affection for him, nor he for her. He knew nothing of us, for his senses were gone, and he slumbered on till next day, when he died. Among the papers in his desk, were two, dated on the night his illness first came on, directed to yourself‘; he addressed himself to Mr. Brownlow; ‚and enclosed in a few short lines to you, with an intimation on the cover of the package that it was not to be forwarded till after he was dead. One of these papers was a letter to this girl Agnes; the other a will.‘

‚What of the letter?‘ asked Mr. Brownlow.

‚The letter?–A sheet of paper crossed and crossed again, with a penitent confession, and prayers to God to help her. He had palmed a tale on the girl that some secret mystery–to be explained one day–prevented his marrying her just then; and so she had gone on, trusting patiently to him, until she trusted too far, and lost what none could ever give her back. She was, at that time, within a few months of her confinement. He told her all he had meant to do, to hide her shame, if he had lived, and prayed her, if he died, not to curse his memory, or think the consequences of their sin would be visited on her or their young child; for all the guilt was his. He reminded her of the day he had given her the little locket and the ring with her christian name engraved upon it, and a blank left for that which he hoped one day to have bestowed upon her–prayed her yet to keep it, and wear it next her heart, as she had done before–and then ran on, wildly, in the same words, over and over again, as if he had gone distracted. I believe he had.‘

‚The will,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, as Oliver’s tears fell fast.

Monks was silent.

‚The will,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, speaking for him, ‚was in the same spirit as the letter. He talked of miseries which his wife had brought upon him; of the rebellious disposition, vice, malice, and premature bad passions of you his only son, who had been trained to hate him; and left you, and your mother, each an annuity of eight hundred pounds. The bulk of his property he divided into two equal portions–one for Agnes Fleming, and the other for their child, if it should be born alive, and ever come of age. If it were a girl, it was to inherit the money unconditionally; but if a boy, only on the stipulation that in his minority he should never have stained his name with any public act of dishonour, meanness, cowardice, or wrong. He did this, he said, to mark his confidence in the other, and his conviction–only strengthened by approaching death–that the child would share her gentle heart, and noble nature. If he were disappointed in this expectation, then the money was to come to you: for then, and not till then, when both children were equal, would he recognise your prior claim upon his purse, who had none upon his heart, but had, from an infant, repulsed him with coldness and aversion.‘

‚My mother,‘ said Monks, in a louder tone, ‚did what a woman should have done. She burnt this will. The letter never reached its destination; but that, and other proofs, she kept, in case they ever tried to lie away the blot. The girl’s father had the truth from her with every aggravation that her violent hate–I love her for it now–could add. Goaded by shame and dishonour he fled with his children into a remote corner of Wales, changing his very name that his friends might never know of his retreat; and here, no great while afterwards, he was found dead in his bed. The girl had left her home, in secret, some weeks before; he had searched for her, on foot, in every town and village near; it was on the night when he returned home, assured that she had destroyed herself, to hide her shame and his, that his old heart broke.‘

There was a short silence here, until Mr. Brownlow took up the thread of the narrative.

‚Years after this,‘ he said, ‚this man’s–Edward Leeford’s–mother came to me. He had left her, when only eighteen; robbed her of jewels and money; gambled, squandered, forged, and fled to London: where for two years he had associated with the lowest outcasts. She was sinking under a painful and incurable disease, and wished to recover him before she died. Inquiries were set on foot, and strict searches made. They were unavailing for a long time, but ultimately successful; and he went back with her to France.‘

‚There she died,‘ said Monks, ‚after a lingering illness; and, on her death-bed, she bequeathed these secrets to me, together with her unquenchable and deadly hatred of all whom they involved–though she need not have left me that, for I had inherited it long before. She would not believe that the girl had destroyed herself, and the child too, but was filled with the impression that a male child had been born, and was alive. I swore to her, if ever it crossed my path, to hunt it down; never to let it rest; to pursue it with the bitterest and most unrelenting animosity; to vent upon it the hatred that I deeply felt, and to spit upon the empty vaunt of that insulting will by draggin it, if I could, to the very gallows-foot. She was right. He came in my way at last. I began well; and, but for babbling drabs, I would have finished as I began!‘

As the villain folded his arms tight together, and muttered curses on himself in the impotence of baffled malice, Mr. Brownlow turned to the terrified group beside him, and explained that the Jew, who had been his old accomplice and confidant, had a large reward for keeping Oliver ensnared: of which some part was to be given up, in the event of his being rescued: and that a dispute on this head had led to their visit to the country house for the purpose of identifying him.

‚The locket and ring?‘ said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Monks.

‚I bought them from the man and woman I told you of, who stole them from the nurse, who stole them from the corpse,‘ answered Monks without raising his eyes. ‚You know what became of them.‘

Mr. Brownlow merely nodded to Mr. Grimwig, who disappearing with great alacrity, shortly returned, pushing in Mrs. Bumble, and dragging her unwilling consort after him.

‚Do my hi’s deceive me!‘ cried Mr. Bumble, with ill-feigned enthusiasm, ‚or is that little Oliver? Oh O-li-ver, if you know’d how I’ve been a-grieving for you–‚

‚Hold your tongue, fool,‘ murmured Mrs. Bumble.

‚Isn’t natur, natur, Mrs. Bumble?‘ remonstrated the workhouse master. ‚Can’t I be supposed to feel–_I_ as brought him up porochially–when I see him a-setting here among ladies and gentlemen of the very affablest description! I always loved that boy as if he’d been my–my–my own grandfather,‘ said Mr. Bumble, halting for an appropriate comparison. ‚Master Oliver, my dear, you remember the blessed gentleman in the white waistcoat? Ah! he went to heaven last week, in a oak coffin with plated handles, Oliver.‘

‚Come, sir,‘ said Mr. Grimwig, tartly; ’suppress your feelings.‘

‚I will do my endeavours, sir,‘ replied Mr. Bumble. ‚How do you do, sir? I hope you are very well.‘

This salutation was addressed to Mr. Brownlow, who had stepped up to within a short distance of the respectable couple. He inquired, as he pointed to Monks,

‚Do you know that person?‘

‚No,‘ replied Mrs. Bumble flatly.

‚Perhaps _you_ don’t?‘ said Mr. Brownlow, addressing her spouse.

‚I never saw him in all my life,‘ said Mr. Bumble.


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Oliver Twist 128


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‚Nor sold him anything, perhaps?‘

‚No,‘ replied Mrs. Bumble.

‚You never had, perhaps, a certain gold locket and ring?‘ said Mr. Brownlow.

‚Certainly not,‘ replied the matron. ‚Why are we brought here to answer to such nonsense as this?‘

Again Mr. Brownlow nodded to Mr. Grimwig; and again that gentleman limped away with extraordinary readiness. But not again did he return with a stout man and wife; for this time, he led in two palsied women, who shook and tottered as they walked.

‚You shut the door the night old Sally died,‘ said the foremost one, raising her shrivelled hand, ‚but you couldn’t shut out the sound, nor stop the chinks.‘

‚No, no,‘ said the other, looking round her and wagging her toothless jaws. ‚No, no, no.‘

‚We heard her try to tell you what she’d done, and saw you take a paper from her hand, and watched you too, next day, to the pawnbroker’s shop,‘ said the first.

‚Yes,‘ added the second, ‚and it was a „locket and gold ring.“ We found out that, and saw it given you. We were by. Oh! we were by.‘

‚And we know more than that,‘ resumed the first, ‚for she told us often, long ago, that the young mother had told her that, feeling she should never get over it, she was on her way, at the time that she was taken ill, to die near the grave of the father of the child.‘

‚Would you like to see the pawnbroker himself?‘ asked Mr. Grimwig with a motion towards the door.

‚No,‘ replied the woman; ‚if he‘–she pointed to Monks–‚has been coward enough to confess, as I see he has, and you have sounded all these hags till you have found the right ones, I have nothing more to say. I _did_ sell them, and they’re where you’ll never get them. What then?‘

‚Nothing,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow, ‚except that it remains for us to take care that neither of you is employed in a situation of trust again. You may leave the room.‘

‚I hope,‘ said Mr. Bumble, looking about him with great ruefulness, as Mr. Grimwig disappeared with the two old women: ‚I hope that this unfortunate little circumstance will not deprive me of my porochial office?‘

‚Indeed it will,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‚You may make up your mind to that, and think yourself well off besides.‘

‚It was all Mrs. Bumble. She _would_ do it,‘ urged Mr. Bumble; first looking round to ascertain that his partner had left the room.

‚That is no excuse,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‚You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.‘

‚If the law supposes that,‘ said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, ‚the law is a ass–a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience–by experience.‘

Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words, Mr. Bumble fixed his hat on very tight, and putting his hands in his pockets, followed his helpmate downstairs.

‚Young lady,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Rose, ‚give me your hand. Do not tremble. You need not fear to hear the few remaining words we have to say.‘

‚If they have–I do not know how they can, but if they have–any reference to me,‘ said Rose, ‚pray let me hear them at some other time. I have not strength or spirits now.‘

‚Nay,‘ returned the old gentlman, drawing her arm through his; ‚you have more fortitude than this, I am sure. Do you know this young lady, sir?‘

‚Yes,‘ replied Monks.

‚I never saw you before,‘ said Rose faintly.

‚I have seen you often,‘ returned Monks.

‚The father of the unhappy Agnes had _two_ daughters,‘ said Mr. Brownlow. ‚What was the fate of the other–the child?‘

‚The child,‘ replied Monks, ‚when her father died in a strange place, in a strange name, without a letter, book, or scrap of paper that yielded the faintest clue by which his friends or relatives could be traced–the child was taken by some wretched cottagers, who reared it as their own.‘

‚Go on,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, signing to Mrs. Maylie to approach. ‚Go on!‘

‚You couldn’t find the spot to which these people had repaired,‘ said Monks, ‚but where friendship fails, hatred will often force a way. My mother found it, after a year of cunning search–ay, and found the child.‘

‚She took it, did she?‘


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