RELATES WHAT OLIVER’S NEW VISITORS THOUGHT OF HIM
With many loquacious assurances that
they would be agreeably surprised in the aspect of
the criminal, the doctor drew the young lady’s
arm through one of his; and offering his disengaged
hand to Mrs. Maylie, led them, with much ceremony
and stateliness, upstairs.
‘Now,’ said the doctor,
in a whisper, as he softly turned the handle of a
bedroom-door, ’let us hear what you think of
him. He has not been shaved very recently, but
he don’t look at all ferocious notwithstanding.
Stop, though! Let me first see that he is in
Stepping before them, he looked into
the room. Motioning them to advance, he closed
the door when they had entered; and gently drew back
the curtains of the bed. Upon it, in lieu of
the dogged, black-visaged ruffian they had expected
to behold, there lay a mere child: worn with
pain and exhaustion, and sunk into a deep sleep.
His wounded arm, bound and splintered up, was crossed
upon his breast; his head reclined upon the other
arm, which was half hidden by his long hair, as it
streamed over the pillow.
The honest gentleman held the curtain
in his hand, and looked on, for a minute or so, in
silence. Whilst he was watching the patient thus,
the younger lady glided softly past, and seating herself
in a chair by the bedside, gathered Oliver’s
hair from his face. As she stooped over him,
her tears fell upon his forehead.
The boy stirred, and smiled in his
sleep, as though these marks of pity and compassion
had awakened some pleasant dream of a love and affection
he had never known. Thus, a strain of gentle
music, or the rippling of water in a silent place,
or the odour of a flower, or the mention of a familiar
word, will sometimes call up sudden dim remembrances
of scenes that never were, in this life; which vanish
like a breath; which some brief memory of a happier
existence, long gone by, would seem to have awakened;
which no voluntary exertion of the mind can ever recall.
‘What can this mean?’
exclaimed the elder lady. ’This poor child
can never have been the pupil of robbers!’
‘Vice,’ said the surgeon,
replacing the curtain, ’takes up her abode in
many temples; and who can say that a fair outside shell
not enshrine her?’
‘But at so early an age!’ urged Rose.
‘My dear young lady,’
rejoined the surgeon, mournfully shaking his head;
’crime, like death, is not confined to the old
and withered alone. The youngest and fairest
are too often its chosen victims.’
’But, can you oh!
can you really believe that this delicate boy has
been the voluntary associate of the worst outcasts
of society?’ said Rose.
The surgeon shook his head, in a manner
which intimated that he feared it was very possible;
and observing that they might disturb the patient,
led the way into an adjoining apartment.
‘But even if he has been wicked,’
pursued Rose, ’think how young he is; think
that he may never have known a mother’s love,
or the comfort of a home; that ill-usage and blows,
or the want of bread, may have driven him to herd
with men who have forced him to guilt. Aunt,
dear aunt, for mercy’s sake, think of this,
before you let them drag this sick child to a prison,
which in any case must be the grave of all his chances
of amendment. Oh! as you love me, and know that
I have never felt the want of parents in your goodness
and affection, but that I might have done so, and
might have been equally helpless and unprotected with
this poor child, have pity upon him before it is too
‘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
‘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
‘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.
The adventures of the previous night
were still under discussion; for Mr. Giles was expatiating
upon his presence of mind, when the doctor entered;
Mr. Brittles, with a mug of ale in his hand, was corroborating
everything, before his superior said it.
‘Sit still!’ said the doctor, waving his
’Thank you, sir, said Mr. Giles.
’Misses wished some ale to be given out, sir;
and as I felt no ways inclined for my own little room,
sir, and was disposed for company, I am taking mine
among ’em here.’
Brittles headed a low murmur, by which
the ladies and gentlemen generally were understood
to express the gratification they derived from Mr.
Giles’s condescension. Mr. Giles looked
round with a patronising air, as much as to say that
so long as they behaved properly, he would never desert
‘How is the patient to-night, sir?’ asked
‘So-so’; returned the
doctor. ’I am afraid you have got yourself
into a scrape there, Mr. Giles.’
‘I hope you don’t mean
to say, sir,’ said Mr. Giles, trembling, ’that
he’s going to die. If I thought it, I should
never be happy again. I wouldn’t cut a
boy off: no, not even Brittles here; not for
all the plate in the county, sir.’
‘That’s not the point,’
said the doctor, mysteriously. ’Mr. Giles,
are you a Protestant?’
‘Yes, sir, I hope so,’
faltered Mr. Giles, who had turned very pale.
‘And what are you, boy?’
said the doctor, turning sharply upon Brittles.
‘Lord bless me, sir!’
replied Brittles, starting violently; ’I’m
the same as Mr. Giles, sir.’
‘Then tell me this,’ said
the doctor, ’both of you, both of you! Are
you going to take upon yourselves to swear, that that
boy upstairs is the boy that was put through the little
window last night? Out with it! Come!
We are prepared for you!’
The doctor, who was universally considered
one of the best-tempered creatures on earth, made
this demand in such a dreadful tone of anger, that
Giles and Brittles, who were considerably muddled by
ale and excitement, stared at each other in a state
‘Pay attention to the reply,
constable, will you?’ said the doctor, shaking
his forefinger with great solemnity of manner, and
tapping the bridge of his nose with it, to bespeak
the exercise of that worthy’s utmost acuteness.
‘Something may come of this before long.’
The constable looked as wise as he
could, and took up his staff of office: which
had been reclining indolently in the chimney-corner.
‘It’s a simple question
of identity, you will observe,’ said the doctor.
‘That’s what it is, sir,’
replied the constable, coughing with great violence;
for he had finished his ale in a hurry, and some of
it had gone the wrong way.
‘Here’s the house broken
into,’ said the doctor, ’and a couple of
men catch one moment’s glimpse of a boy, in
the midst of gunpowder smoke, and in all the distraction
of alarm and darkness. Here’s a boy comes
to that very same house, next morning, and because
he happens to have his arm tied up, these men lay
violent hands upon him by doing which,
they place his life in great danger and
swear he is the thief. Now, the question is,
whether these men are justified by the fact; if not,
in what situation do they place themselves?’
The constable nodded profoundly.
He said, if that wasn’t law, he would be glad
to know what was.
‘I ask you again,’ thundered
the doctor, ’are you, on your solemn oaths,
able to identify that boy?’
Brittles looked doubtfully at Mr.
Giles; Mr. Giles looked doubtfully at Brittles; the
constable put his hand behind his ear, to catch the
reply; the two women and the tinker leaned forward
to listen; the doctor glanced keenly round; when a
ring was heard at the gate, and at the same moment,
the sound of wheels.
‘It’s the runners!’
cried Brittles, to all appearance much relieved.
‘The what?’ exclaimed the doctor, aghast
in his turn.
‘The Bow Street officers, sir,’
replied Brittles, taking up a candle; ’me and
Mr. Giles sent for ’em this morning.’
‘What?’ cried the doctor.
‘Yes,’ replied Brittles;
’I sent a message up by the coachman, and I
only wonder they weren’t here before, sir.’
’You did, did you? Then
confound your slow coaches down here; that’s
all,’ said the doctor, walking away.