INVOLVES A CRITICAL POSITION
‘Who’s that?’ inquired
Brittles, opening the door a little way, with the
chain up, and peeping out, shading the candle with
‘Open the door,’ replied
a man outside; ’it’s the officers from
Bow Street, as was sent to to-day.’
Much comforted by this assurance,
Brittles opened the door to its full width, and confronted
a portly man in a great-coat; who walked in, without
saying anything more, and wiped his shoes on the mat,
as coolly as if he lived there.
‘Just send somebody out to relieve
my mate, will you, young man?’ said the officer;
’he’s in the gig, a-minding the prad.
Have you got a coach ‘us here, that you could
put it up in, for five or ten minutes?’
Brittles replying in the affirmative,
and pointing out the building, the portly man stepped
back to the garden-gate, and helped his companion
to put up the gig: while Brittles lighted them,
in a state of great admiration. This done, they
returned to the house, and, being shown into a parlour,
took off their great-coats and hats, and showed like
what they were.
The man who had knocked at the door,
was a stout personage of middle height, aged about
fifty: with shiny black hair, cropped pretty close;
half-whiskers, a round face, and sharp eyes.
The other was a red-headed, bony man, in top-boots;
with a rather ill-favoured countenance, and a turned-up
‘Tell your governor that Blathers
and Duff is here, will you?’ said the stouter
man, smoothing down his hair, and laying a pair of
handcuffs on the table. ’Oh! Good-evening,
master. Can I have a word or two with you in
private, if you please?’
This was addressed to Mr. Losberne,
who now made his appearance; that gentleman, motioning
Brittles to retire, brought in the two ladies, and
shut the door.
‘This is the lady of the house,’
said Mr. Losberne, motioning towards Mrs. Maylie.
Mr. Blathers made a bow. Being
desired to sit down, he put his hat on the floor,
and taking a chair, motioned to Duff to do the same.
The latter gentleman, who did not appear quite so
much accustomed to good society, or quite so much
at his ease in it one of the two seated
himself, after undergoing several muscular affections
of the limbs, and the head of his stick into his mouth,
with some embarrassment.
‘Now, with regard to this here
robbery, master,’ said Blathers. ’What
are the circumstances?’
Mr. Losberne, who appeared desirous
of gaining time, recounted them at great length, and
with much circumlocution. Messrs. Blathers and
Duff looked very knowing meanwhile, and occasionally
exchanged a nod.
‘I can’t say, for certain,
till I see the work, of course,’ said Blathers;
’but my opinion at once is, I don’t
mind committing myself to that extent, that
this wasn’t done by a yokel; eh, Duff?’
‘Certainly not,’ replied Duff.
’And, translating the word yokel
for the benefit of the ladies, I apprehend your meaning
to be, that this attempt was not made by a countryman?’
said Mr. Losberne, with a smile.
‘That’s it, master,’
replied Blathers. ’This is all about the
robbery, is it?’
‘All,’ replied the doctor.
’Now, what is this, about this
here boy that the servants are a-talking on?’
‘Nothing at all,’ replied
the doctor. ’One of the frightened servants
chose to take it into his head, that he had something
to do with this attempt to break into the house; but
it’s nonsense: sheer absurdity.’
‘Wery easy disposed of, if it is,’ remarked
‘What he says is quite correct,’
observed Blathers, nodding his head in a confirmatory
way, and playing carelessly with the handcuffs, as
if they were a pair of castanets. ’Who
is the boy? What account does he give of himself?
Where did he come from? He didn’t drop
out of the clouds, did he, master?’
‘Of course not,’ replied
the doctor, with a nervous glance at the two ladies.
’I know his whole history: but we can talk
about that presently. You would like, first,
to see the place where the thieves made their attempt,
Mr. Blathers. ’We had better inspect the
premises first, and examine the servants afterwards.
That’s the usual way of doing business.’
Lights were then procured; and Messrs.
Blathers and Duff, attended by the native constable,
Brittles, Giles, and everybody else in short, went
into the little room at the end of the passage and
looked out at the window; and afterwards went round
by way of the lawn, and looked in at the window; and
after that, had a candle handed out to inspect the
shutter with; and after that, a lantern to trace the
footsteps with; and after that, a pitchfork to poke
the bushes with. This done, amidst the breathless
interest of all beholders, they came in again; and
Mr. Giles and Brittles were put through a melodramatic
representation of their share in the previous night’s
adventures: which they performed some six times
over: contradicting each other, in not more than
one important respect, the first time, and in not
more than a dozen the last. This consummation
being arrived at, Blathers and Duff cleared the room,
and held a long council together, compared with which,
for secrecy and solemnity, a consultation of great
doctors on the knottiest point in medicine, would
be mere child’s play.
Meanwhile, the doctor walked up and
down the next room in a very uneasy state; and Mrs.
Maylie and Rose looked on, with anxious faces.
‘Upon my word,’ he said,
making a halt, after a great number of very rapid
turns, ‘I hardly know what to do.’
‘Surely,’ said Rose, ’the
poor child’s story, faithfully repeated to these
men, will be sufficient to exonerate him.’
‘I doubt it, my dear young lady,’
said the doctor, shaking his head. ’I don’t
think it would exonerate him, either with them, or
with legal functionaries of a higher grade.
What is he, after all, they would say? A runaway.
Judged by mere worldly considerations and probabilities,
his story is a very doubtful one.’
‘You believe it, surely?’ interrupted
’I believe it, strange
as it is; and perhaps I may be an old fool for doing
so,’ rejoined the doctor; ’but I don’t
think it is exactly the tale for a practical police-officer,
‘Why not?’ demanded Rose.
‘Because, my pretty cross-examiner,’
replied the doctor: ’because, viewed with
their eyes, there are many ugly points about it; he
can only prove the parts that look ill, and none of
those that look well. Confound the fellows, they
will have the why and the wherefore, and will
take nothing for granted. On his own showing,
you see, he has been the companion of thieves for
some time past; he has been carried to a police-officer,
on a charge of picking a gentleman’s pocket;
he has been taken away, forcibly, from that gentleman’s
house, to a place which he cannot describe or point
out, and of the situation of which he has not the
remotest idea. He is brought down to Chertsey,
by men who seem to have taken a violent fancy to him,
whether he will or no; and is put through a window
to rob a house; and then, just at the very moment
when he is going to alarm the inmates, and so do the
very thing that would set him all to rights, there
rushes into the way, a blundering dog of a half-bred
butler, and shoots him! As if on purpose to prevent
his doing any good for himself! Don’t you
see all this?’
‘I see it, of course,’
replied Rose, smiling at the doctor’s impetuosity;
’but still I do not see anything in it, to criminate
the poor child.’
‘No,’ replied the doctor;
’of course not! Bless the bright eyes of
your sex! They never see, whether for good or
bad, more than one side of any question; and that
is, always, the one which first presents itself to
Having given vent to this result of
experience, the doctor put his hands into his pockets,
and walked up and down the room with even greater
rapidity than before.
‘The more I think of it,’
said the doctor, ’the more I see that it will
occasion endless trouble and difficulty if we put these
men in possession of the boy’s real story.
I am certain it will not be believed; and even if
they can do nothing to him in the end, still the dragging
it forward, and giving publicity to all the doubts
that will be cast upon it, must interfere, materially,
with your benevolent plan of rescuing him from misery.’
‘Oh! what is to be done?’
cried Rose. ’Dear, dear! why did they send
for these people?’
‘Why, indeed!’ exclaimed
Mrs. Maylie. ’I would not have had them
here, for the world.’
‘All I know is,’ said
Mr. Losberne, at last: sitting down with a kind
of desperate calmness, ’that we must try and
carry it off with a bold face. The object is
a good one, and that must be our excuse. The
boy has strong symptoms of fever upon him, and is
in no condition to be talked to any more; that’s
one comfort. We must make the best of it; and
if bad be the best, it is no fault of ours. Come
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
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
‘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
‘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
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.
‘This,’ said Mr. Losberne,
speaking softly, but with great vehemence notwithstanding,
’this is the lad, who, being accidently wounded
by a spring-gun in some boyish trespass on Mr. What-d’
ye-call-him’s grounds, at the back here, comes
to the house for assistance this morning, and is immediately
laid hold of and maltreated, by that ingenious gentleman
with the candle in his hand: who has placed his
life in considerable danger, as I can professionally
Messrs. Blathers and Duff looked at
Mr. Giles, as he was thus recommended to their notice.
The bewildered butler gazed from them towards Oliver,
and from Oliver towards Mr. Losberne, with a most
ludicrous mixture of fear and perplexity.
‘You don’t mean to deny
that, I suppose?’ said the doctor, laying Oliver
gently down again.
‘It was all done for the for
the best, sir,’ answered Giles. ’I
am sure I thought it was the boy, or I wouldn’t
have meddled with him. I am not of an inhuman
‘Thought it was what boy?’ inquired the
‘The housebreaker’s boy,
sir!’ replied Giles. ’They they
certainly had a boy.’
‘Well? Do you think so now?’ inquired
‘Think what, now?’ replied Giles, looking
vacantly at his questioner.
‘Think it’s the same boy, Stupid-head?’
rejoined Blathers, impatiently.
‘I don’t know; I really
don’t know,’ said Giles, with a rueful
countenance. ‘I couldn’t swear to
‘What do you think?’ asked Mr. Blathers.
‘I don’t know what to
think,’ replied poor Giles. ’I don’t
think it is the boy; indeed, I’m almost certain
that it isn’t. You know it can’t
‘Has this man been a-drinking,
sir?’ inquired Blathers, turning to the doctor.
‘What a precious muddle-headed
chap you are!’ said Duff, addressing Mr. Giles,
with supreme contempt.
Mr. Losberne had been feeling the
patient’s pulse during this short dialogue;
but he now rose from the chair by the bedside, and
remarked, that if the officers had any doubts upon
the subject, they would perhaps like to step into
the next room, and have Brittles before them.
Acting upon this suggestion, they
adjourned to a neighbouring apartment, where Mr. Brittles,
being called in, involved himself and his respected
superior in such a wonderful maze of fresh contradictions
and impossibilities, as tended to throw no particular
light on anything, but the fact of his own strong
mystification; except, indeed, his declarations that
he shouldn’t know the real boy, if he were put
before him that instant; that he had only taken Oliver
to be he, because Mr. Giles had said he was; and that
Mr. Giles had, five minutes previously, admitted in
the kitchen, that he began to be very much afraid
he had been a little too hasty.
Among other ingenious surmises, the
question was then raised, whether Mr. Giles had really
hit anybody; and upon examination of the fellow pistol
to that which he had fired, it turned out to have no
more destructive loading than gunpowder and brown
paper: a discovery which made a considerable
impression on everybody but the doctor, who had drawn
the ball about ten minutes before. Upon no one,
however, did it make a greater impression than on
Mr. Giles himself; who, after labouring, for some
hours, under the fear of having mortally wounded a
fellow-creature, eagerly caught at this new idea, and
favoured it to the utmost. Finally, the officers,
without troubling themselves very much about Oliver,
left the Chertsey constable in the house, and took
up their rest for that night in the town; promising
to return the next morning.
With the next morning, there came
a rumour, that two men and a boy were in the cage
at Kingston, who had been apprehended over night under
suspicious circumstances; and to Kingston Messrs. Blathers
and Duff journeyed accordingly. The suspicious
circumstances, however, resolving themselves, on investigation,
into the one fact, that they had been discovered sleeping
under a haystack; which, although a great crime, is
only punishable by imprisonment, and is, in the merciful
eye of the English law, and its comprehensive love
of all the King’s subjects, held to be no satisfactory
proof, in the absence of all other evidence, that
the sleeper, or sleepers, have committed burglary accompanied
with violence, and have therefore rendered themselves
liable to the punishment of death; Messrs. Blathers
and Duff came back again, as wise as they went.
In short, after some more examination,
and a great deal more conversation, a neighbouring
magistrate was readily induced to take the joint bail
of Mrs. Maylie and Mr. Losberne for Oliver’s
appearance if he should ever be called upon; and Blathers
and Duff, being rewarded with a couple of guineas,
returned to town with divided opinions on the subject
of their expedition: the latter gentleman on a
mature consideration of all the circumstances, inclining
to the belief that the burglarious attempt had originated
with the Family Pet; and the former being equally
disposed to concede the full merit of it to the great
Mr. Conkey Chickweed.
Meanwhile, Oliver gradually throve
and prospered under the united care of Mrs. Maylie,
Rose, and the kind-hearted Mr. Losberne. If fervent
prayers, gushing from hearts overcharged with gratitude,
be heard in heaven and if they be not,
what prayers are! the blessings which the
orphan child called down upon them, sunk into their
souls, diffusing peace and happiness.