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CHAPTER XXIX

HAS AN INTRODUCTORY ACCOUNT OF THE INMATES OF THE HOUSE, TO WHICH
OLIVER RESORTED

In a handsome room: though its furniture had rather the air of
old-fashioned comfort, than of modern elegance: there sat two
ladies at a well-spread breakfast-table. Mr. Giles, dressed with
scrupulous care in a full suit of black, was in attendance upon
them. He had taken his station some half-way between the
side-board and the breakfast-table; and, with his body drawn up
to its full height, his head thrown back, and inclined the merest
trifle on one side, his left leg advanced, and his right hand
thrust into his waist-coat, while his left hung down by his side,
grasping a waiter, looked like one who laboured under a very
agreeable sense of his own merits and importance.

Of the two ladies, one was well advanced in years; but the
high-backed oaken chair in which she sat, was not more upright
than she. Dressed with the utmost nicety and precision, in a
quaint mixture of by-gone costume, with some slight concessions
to the prevailing taste, which rather served to point the old
style pleasantly than to impair its effect, she sat, in a stately
manner, with her hands folded on the table before her. Her eyes
(and age had dimmed but little of their brightness) were
attentively upon her young companion.

The younger lady was in the lovely bloom and spring-time of
womanhood; at that age, when, if ever angels be for God's good
purposes enthroned in mortal forms, they may be, without impiety,
supposed to abide in such as hers.

She was not past seventeen. Cast in so slight and exquisite a
mould; so mild and gentle; so pure and beautiful; that earth
seemed not her element, nor its rough creatures her fit
companions. The very intelligence that shone in her deep blue
eye, and was stamped upon her noble head, seemed scarcely of her
age, or of the world; and yet the changing expression of
sweetness and good humour, the thousand lights that played about
the face, and left no shadow there; above all, the smile, the
cheerful, happy smile, were made for Home, and fireside peace and
happiness.

She was busily engaged in the little offices of the table.
Chancing to raise her eyes as the elder lady was regarding her,
she playfully put back her hair, which was simply braided on her
forehead; and threw into her beaming look, such an expression of
affection and artless loveliness, that blessed spirits might have
smiled to look upon her.

'And Brittles has been gone upwards of an hour, has he?' asked
the old lady, after a pause.

'An hour and twelve minutes, ma'am,' replied Mr. Giles, referring
to a silver watch, which he drew forth by a black ribbon.

'He is always slow,' remarked the old lady.

'Brittles always was a slow boy, ma'am,' replied the attendant.
And seeing, by the bye, that Brittles had been a slow boy for
upwards of thirty years, there appeared no great probability of
his ever being a fast one.

'He gets worse instead of better, I think,' said the elder lady.

'It is very inexcusable in him if he stops to play with any other
boys,' said the young lady, smiling.

Mr. Giles was apparently considering the propriety of indulging
in a respectful smile himself, when a gig drove up to the
garden-gate: out of which there jumped a fat gentleman, who ran
straight up to the door: and who, getting quickly into the house
by some mysterious process, burst into the room, and nearly
overturned Mr. Giles and the breakfast-table together.

'I never heard of such a thing!' exclaimed the fat gentleman. 'My
dear Mrs. Maylie--bless my soul--in the silence of the night,
too--I NEVER heard of such a thing!'

With these expressions of condolence, the fat gentleman shook
hands with both ladies, and drawing up a chair, inquired how they
found themselves.

'You ought to be dead; positively dead with the fright,' said the
fat gentleman. 'Why didn't you send? Bless me, my man should
have come in a minute; and so would I; and my assistant would
have been delighted; or anybody, I'm sure, under such
circumstances. Dear, dear! So unexpected! In the silence of
the night, too!'

The doctor seemed expecially troubled by the fact of the robbery
having been unexpected, and attempted in the night-time; as if it
were the established custom of gentlemen in the housebreaking way
to transact business at noon, and to make an appointment, by
post, a day or two previous.

'And you, Miss Rose,' said the doctor, turning to the young lady,
'I--'

'Oh! very much so, indeed,' said Rose, interrupting him; 'but
there is a poor creature upstairs, whom aunt wishes you to see.'

'Ah! to be sure,' replied the doctor, 'so there is. That was
your handiwork, Giles, I understand.'

Mr. Giles, who had been feverishly putting the tea-cups to
rights, blushed very red, and said that he had had that honour.

'Honour, eh?' said the doctor; 'well, I don't know; perhaps it's
as honourable to hit a thief in a back kitchen, as to hit your
man at twelve paces. Fancy that he fired in the air, and you've
fought a duel, Giles.'

Mr. Giles, who thought this light treatment of the matter an
unjust attempt at diminishing his glory, answered respectfully,
that it was not for the like of him to judge about that; but he
rather thought it was no joke to the opposite party.

'Gad, that's true!' said the doctor. 'Where is he? Show me the
way. I'll look in again, as I come down, Mrs. Maylie. That's
the little window that he got in at, eh? Well, I couldn't have
believed it!'

Talking all the way, he followed Mr. Giles upstairs; and while he
is going upstairs, the reader may be informed, that Mr. Losberne,
a surgeon in the neighbourhood, known through a circuit of ten
miles round as 'the doctor,' had grown fat, more from good-humour
than from good living: and was as kind and hearty, and withal as
eccentric an old bachelor, as will be found in five times that
space, by any explorer alive.

The doctor was absent, much longer than either he or the ladies
had anticipated. A large flat box was fetched out of the gig;
and a bedroom bell was rung very often; and the servants ran up
and down stairs perpetually; from which tokens it was justly
concluded that something important was going on above. At length
he returned; and in reply to an anxious inquiry after his
patient; looked very mysterious, and closed the door, carefully.

'This is a very extraordinary thing, Mrs. Maylie,' said the
doctor, standing with his back to the door, as if to keep it
shut.

'He is not in danger, I hope?' said the old lady.

'Why, that would NOT be an extraordinary thing, under the
circumstances,' replied the doctor; 'though I don't think he is.
Have you seen the thief?'

'No,' rejoined the old lady.

'Nor heard anything about him?'

'No.'

'I beg your pardon, ma'am, interposed Mr. Giles; 'but I was going
to tell you about him when Doctor Losberne came in.'

The fact was, that Mr. Giles had not, at first, been able to
bring his mind to the avowal, that he had only shot a boy. Such
commendations had been bestowed upon his bravery, that he could
not, for the life of him, help postponing the explanation for a
few delicious minutes; during which he had flourished, in the
very zenith of a brief reputation for undaunted courage.

'Rose wished to see the man,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'but I wouldn't
hear of it.'

'Humph!' rejoined the doctor. 'There is nothing very alarming in
his appearance. Have you any objection to see him in my
presence?'

'If it be necessary,' replied the old lady, 'certainly not.'

'Then I think it is necessary,' said the doctor; 'at all events,
I am quite sure that you would deeply regret not having done so,
if you postponed it. He is perfectly quiet and comfortable now.
Allow me--Miss Rose, will you permit me? Not the slightest fear,
I pledge you my honour!'





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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