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CHAPTER XXXI

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 his
hand.

'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 sinister-looking nose.

'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?' said Blathers.

'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 Duff.

'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, I suppose?'

'Certainly,' rejoined 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: contradiction 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 Rose.

'_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, nevertheless.'

'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
way 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 them.'

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! whyddid they
send for these people?'

'Why, indeed!' exclaimed Mrs. Maylie. 'I would not have had them
here, for the world.'

'All I know is,' said Mr. Losberne, at last: sitting down with a
kind of desperate calmness, 'that we must try and carry it off
with a bold face. The object is a good one, and that must be our
excuse. The boy has strong symptoms of fever upon him, and is in
no condition to be talked to any more; that's one comfort. We
must make the best of it; and if bad be the best, it is no fault
of ours. Come in!'

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

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

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

'Nobody suspected them, in this case,' said Mrs. Maylie.

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

'More likely on that wery account,' said Duff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Conkey means Nosey, ma'am,' interposed Duff.

'Of course the lady knows that, don't she?' demanded Mr.
Blathers. 'Always interrupting, you are, partner! This here
Conkey Chickweed, miss, kept a public-house over Battlebridge
way, and he had a cellar, where a good many young lords went to
see cock-fighting, and badger-drawing, and that; and a wery
intellectural 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 bedrrom in the dead of
night, by a tall man with a black patch over his eye, who had
concealed himself under the bed, and after committing the
robbery, jumped slap out of window: which was only a story high.

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

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

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

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

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

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

'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 certify.'

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 disposition, sir.'

'Thought it was what boy?' inquired the senior officer.

'The housebreaker's boy, sir!' replied Giles. 'They--they
certainly had a boy.'

'Well? Do you think so now?' inquired Blathers.

'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 him.'

'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 be.'

'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 begain 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.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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