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CHAPTER XXXII

OF THE HAPPY LIFE OLIVER BEGAN TO LEAD WITH HIS KIND FRIENDS

Oliver's ailings were neither slight nor few. In addition to the
pain and delay attendant on a broken limb, his exposure to the
wet and cold had brought on fever and ague: which hung about him
for many weeks, and reduced him sadly. But, at length, he began,
by slow degrees, to get better, and to be able to say sometimes,
in a few tearful words, how deeply he felt the goodness of the
two sweet ladies, and how ardently he hoped that when he grew
strong and well again, he could do something to show his
gratitude; only something, which would let them see the love and
duty with which his breast was full; something, however slight,
which would prove to them that their gentle kindness had not been
cast away; but that the poor boy whom their charity had rescued
from misery, or death, was eager to serve them with his whole
heart and soul.

'Poor fellow!' said Rose, when Oliver had been one day feebly
endeavouring to utter the words of thankfulness that rose to his
pale lips; 'you shall have many opportunities of serving us, if
you will. We are going into the country, and my aunt intends
that you shall accompany us. The quiet place, the pure air, and
all the pleasure and beauties of spring, will restore you in a
few days. We will employ you in a hundred ways, when you can
bear the trouble.'

'The trouble!' cried Oliver. 'Oh! dear lady, if I could but work
for you; if I could only give you pleasure by watering your
flowers, or watching your birds, or running up and down the whole
day long, to make you happy; what would I give to do it!'

'You shall give nothing at all,' said Miss Maylie, smiling; 'for,
as I told you before, we shall employ you in a hundred ways; and
if you only take half the trouble to please us, that you promise
now, you will make me very happy indeed.'

'Happy, ma'am!' cried Oliver; 'how kind of you to say so!'

'You will make me happier than I can tell you,' replied the young
lady. 'To think that my dear good aunt should have been the
means of rescuing any one from such sad misery as you have
described to us, would be an unspeakable pleasure to me; but to
know that the object of her goodness and compassion was sincerely
grateful and attached, in consequence, would delight me, more
than you can well imagine. Do you understand me?' she inquired,
watching Oliver's thoughtful face.

'Oh yes, ma'am, yes!' replied Oliver eagerly; 'but I was thinking
that I am ungrateful now.'

'To whom?' inquired the young lady.

'To the kind gentleman, and the dear old nurse, who took so much
care of me before,' rejoined Oliver. 'If they knew how happy I
am, they would be pleased, I am sure.'

'I am sure they would,' rejoined Oliver's benefactress; 'and Mr.
Losberne has already been kind enough to promise that when you
are well enough to bear the journey, he will carry you to see
them.'

'Has he, ma'am?' cried Oliver, his face brightening with
pleasure. 'I don't know what I shall do for joy when I see their
kind faces once again!'

In a short time Oliver was sufficiently recovered to undergo the
fatigue of this expedition. One morning he and Mr. Losberne set
out, accordingly, in a little carriage which belonged to Mrs.
Maylie. When they came to Chertsey Bridge, Oliver turned very
pale, and uttered a loud exclamation.

'What's the matter with the boy?' cried the doctor, as usual, all
in a bustle. 'Do you see anything--hear anything--feel
anything--eh?'

'That, sir,' cried Oliver, pointing out of the carriage window.
'That house!'

'Yes; well, what of it? Stop coachman. Pull up here,' cried the
doctor. 'What of the house, my man; eh?'

'The thieves--the house they took me to!' whispered Oliver.

'The devil it is!' cried the doctor. 'Hallo, there! let me out!'

But, before the coachman could dismount from his box, he had
tumbled out of the coach, by some means or other; and, running
down to the deserted tenement, began kicking at the door like a
madman.

'Halloa?' said a little ugly hump-backed man: opening the door
so suddenly, that the doctor, from the very impetus of his last
kick, nearly fell forward into the passage. 'What's the matter
here?'

'Matter!' exclaimed the other, collaring him, without a moment's
reflection. 'A good deal. Robbery is the matter.'

'There'll be Murder the matter, too,' replied the hump-backed
man, coolly, 'if you don't take your hands off. Do you hear me?'

'I hear you,' said the doctor, giving his captive a hearty shake.

'Where's--confound the fellow, what's his rascally name--Sikes;
that's it. Where's Sikes, you thief?'

The hump-backed man stared, as if in excess of amazement and
indignation; then, twisting himself, dexterously, from the
doctor's grasp, growled forth a volley of horrid oaths, and
retired into the house. Before he could shut the door, however,
the doctor had passed into the parlour, without a word of parley.

He looked anxiously round; not an article of furniture; not a
vestige of anything, animate or inanimate; not even the position
of the cupboards; answered Oliver's description!

'Now!' said the hump-backed man, who had watched him keenly,
'what do you mean by coming into my house, in this violent way?
Do you want to rob me, or to murder me? Which is it?'

'Did you ever know a man come out to do either, in a chariot and
a pair, you ridiculous old vampire?' said the irritable doctor.

'What do you want, then?' demanded the hunchback. 'Will you take
yourself off, before I do you a mischief? Curse you!'

'As soon as I think proper,' said Mr. Losberne, looking into the
other parlour; which, like the first, bore no resemblance
whatever to Oliver's account of it. 'I shall find you out, some
day, my friend.'

'Will you?' sneered the ill-favoured cripple. 'If you ever want
me, I'm here. I haven't lived here mad and all alone, for
five-and-twenty years, to be scared by you. You shall pay for
this; you shall pay for this.' And so saying, the mis-shapen
little demon set up a yell, and danced upon the ground, as if
wild with rage.

'Stupid enough, this,' muttered the doctor to himself; 'the boy
must have made a mistake. Here! Put that in your pocket, and
shut yourself up again.' With these words he flung the hunchback
a piece of money, and returned to the carriage.

The man followed to the chariot door, uttering the wildest
imprecations and curses all the way; but as Mr. Losberne turned
to speak to the driver, he looked into the carriage, and eyed
Oliver for an instant with a glance so sharp and fierce and at
the same time so furious and vindictive, that, waking or
sleeping, he could not forget it for months afterwards. He
continued to utter the most fearful imprecations, until the
driver had resumed his seat; and when they were once more on
their way, they could see him some distance behind: beating his
feet upon the ground, and tearing his hair, in transports of real
or pretended rage.

'I am an ass!' said the doctor, after a long silence. 'Did you
know that before, Oliver?'

'No, sir.'

'Then don't forget it another time.'

'An ass,' said the doctor again, after a further silence of some
minutes. 'Even if it had been the right place, and the right
fellows had been there, what could I have done, single-handed?
And if I had had assistance, I see no good that I should have
done, except leading to my own exposure, and an unavoidable
statement of the manner in which I have hushed up this business.
That would have served me right, though. I am always involving
myself in some scrape or other, by acting on impulse. It might
have done me good.'

Now, the fact was that the excellent doctor had never acted upon
anything but impulse all through his life, and if was no bad
compliment to the nature of the impulses which governed him, that
so far from being involved in any peculiar troubles or
misfortunes, he had the warmest respect and esteem of all who
knew him. If the truth must be told, he was a little out of
temper, for a minute or two, at being disappointed in procuring
corroborative evidence of Oliver's story on the very first
occasion on which he had a chance of obtaining any. He soon came
round again, however; and finding that Oliver's replies to his
questions, were still as straightforward and consistent, and
still delivered with as much apparent sincerity and truth, as
they had ever been, he made up his mind to attach full credence
to them, from that time forth.

As Oliver knew the name of the street in which Mr. Brownlow
resided, they were enabled to drive straight thither. When the
coach turned into it, his heart beat so violently, that he could
scarcely draw his breath.

'Now, my boy, which house is it?' inquired Mr. Losberne.

'That! That!' replied Oliver, pointing eagerly out of the
window. 'The white house. Oh! make haste! Pray make haste! I
feel as if I should die: it makes me tremble so.'

'Come, come!' said the good doctor, patting him on the shoulder.
'You will see them directly, and they will be overjoyed to find
you safe and well.'

'Oh! I hope so!' cried Oliver. 'They were so good to me; so
very, very good to me.'

The coach rolled on. It stopped. No; that was the wrong house;
the next door. It went on a few paces, and stopped again.
Oliver looked up at the windows, with tears of happy expectation
coursing down his face.

Alas! the white house was empty, and there was a bill in the
window. 'To Let.'

'Knock at the next door,' cried Mr. Losberne, taking Oliver's arm
in his. 'What has become of Mr. Brownlow, who used to live in
the adjoining house, do you know?'

The servant did not know; but would go and inquire. She
presently returned, and said, that Mr. Brownlow had sold off his
goods, and gone to the West Indies, six weeks before. Oliver
clasped his hands, and sank feebly backward.

'Has his housekeeper gone too?' inquired Mr. Losberne, after a
moment's pause.

'Yes, sir'; replied the servant. 'The old gentleman, the
housekeeper, and a gentleman who was a friend of Mr. Brownlow's,
all went together.

'Then turn towards home again,' said Mr. Losberne to the driver;
'and don't stop to bait the horses, till you get out of this
confounded London!'

'The book-stall keeper, sir?' said Oliver. 'I know the way
there. See him, pray, sir! Do see him!'

'My poor boy, this is disappointment enough for one day,' said
the doctor. 'Quite enough for both of us. If we go to the
book-stall keeper's, we shall certainly find that he is dead, or
has set his house on fire, or run away. No; home again
straight!' And in obedience to the doctor's impulse, home they
went.

This bitter disappointment caused Oliver much sorrow and grief,
even in the midst of his happiness; for he had pleased himself,
many times during his illness, with thinking of all that Mr.
Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin would say to him: and what delight it
would be to tell them how many long days and nights he had passed
in reflecting on what they had done for him, and in bewailing his
cruel separation from them. The hope of eventually clearing
himself with them, too, and explaining how he had been forced
away, had buoyed him up, and sustained him, under many of his
recent trials; and now, the idea that they should have gone so
far, and carried with them the belief that the was an impostor
and a robber--a belief which might remain uncontradicted to his
dying day--was almost more than he could bear.

The circumstance occasioned no alteration, however, in the
behaviour of his benefactors. After another fortnight, when the
fine warm weather had fairly begun, and every tree and flower was
putting forth its young leaves and rich blossoms, they made
preparations for quitting the house at Chertsey, for some months.

Sending the plate, which had so excited Fagin's cupidity, to the
banker's; and leaving Giles and another servant in care of the
house, they departed to a cottage at some distance in the
country, and took Oliver with them.

Who can describe the pleasure and delight, the peace of mind and
soft tranquillity, the sickly boy felt in the balmy air, and
among the green hills and rich woods, of an inland village! Who
can tell how scenes of peace and quietude sink into the minds of
pain-worn dwellers in close and noisy places, and carry their own
freshness, deep into their jaded hearts! Men who have lived in
crowded, pent-up streets, through lives of toil, and who have
never wished for change; men, to whom custom has indeed been
second nature, and who have come almost to love each brick and
stone that formed the narrow boundaries of their daily walks;
even they, with the hand of death upon them, have been known to
yearn at last for one short glimpse of Nature's face; and,
carried far from the scenes of their old pains and pleasures,
have seemed to pass at once into a new state of being. Crawling
forth, from day to day, to some green sunny spot, they have had
such memories wakened up within them by the sight of the sky, and
hill and plain, and glistening water, that a foretaste of heaven
itself has soothed their quick decline, and they have sunk into
their tombs, as peacefully as the sun whose setting they watched
from their lonely chamber window but a few hours before, faded
from their dim and feeble sight! The memories which peaceful
country scenes call up, are not of this world, nor of its
thoughts and hopes. Their gentle influence may teach us how to
weave fresh garlands for the graves of those we loved: may
purify our thoughts, and bear down before it old enmity and
hatred; but beneath all this, there lingers, in the least
reflective mind, a vague and half-formed consciousness of having
held such feelings long before, in some remote and distant time,
which calls up solemn thoughts of distant times to come, and
bends down pride and worldliness beneath it.

It was a lovely spot to which they repaired. Oliver, whose days
had been spent among squalid crowds, and in the midst of noise
and brawling, seemed to enter on a new existence there. The rose
and honeysuckle clung to the cottage walls; the ivy crept round
the trunks of the trees; and the garden-flowers perfumed the air
with delicious odours. Hard by, was a little churchyard; not
crowded with tall unsightly gravestones, but full of humble
mounds, covered with fresh turf and moss: beneath which, the old
people of the village lay at rest. Oliver often wandered here;
and, thinking of the wretched grave in which his mother lay,
would sometimes sit him down and sob unseen; but, when he raised
his eyes to the deep sky overhead, he would cease to think of her
as lying in the ground, and would weep for her, sadly, but
without pain.

It was a happy time. The days were peaceful and serene; the
nights brought with them neither fear nor care; no languishing in
a wretched prison, or associating with wretched men; nothing but
pleasant and happy thoughts. Every morning he went to a
white-headed old gentleman, who lived near the little church:
who taught him to read better, and to write: and who spoke so
kindly, and took such pains, that Oliver could never try enough
to please him. Then, he would walk with Mrs. Maylie and Rose,
and hear them talk of books; or perhaps sit near them, in some
shady place, and listen whilst the young lady read: which he
could have done, until it grew too dark to see the letters.
Then, he had his own lesson for the next day to prepare; and at
this, he would work hard, in a little room which looked into the
garden, till evening came slowly on, when the ladies would walk
out again, and he with them: listening with such pleasure to all
they said: and so happy if they wanted a flower that he could
climb to reach, or had forgotten anything he could run to fetch:
that he could never be quick enought about it. When it became
quite dark, and they returned home, the young lady would sit down
to the piano, and play some pleasant air, or sing, in a low and
gentle voice, some old song which it pleased her aunt to hear.
There would be no candles lighted at such times as these; and
Oliver would sit by one of the windows, listening to the sweet
music, in a perfect rapture.

And when Sunday came, how differently the day was spent, from any
way in which he had ever spent it yet! and how happily too; like
all the other days in that most happy time! There was the little
church, in the morning, with the green leaves fluttering at the
windows: the birds singing without: and the sweet-smelling air
stealing in at the low porch, and filling the homely building
with its fragrance. The poor people were so neat and clean, and
knelt so reverently in prayer, that it seemed a pleasure, not a
tedious duty, their assembling there together; and though the
singing might be rude, it was real, and sounded more musical (to
Oliver's ears at least) than any he had ever heard in church
before. Then, there were the walks as usual, and many calls at
the clean houses of the labouring men; and at night, Oliver read
a chapter or two from the Bible, which he had been studying all
the week, and in the performance of which duty he felt more proud
and pleased, than if he had been the clergyman himself.

In the morning, Oliver would be a-foot by six o'clock, roaming
the fields, and plundering the hedges, far and wide, for nosegays
of wild flowers, with which he would return laden, home; and
which it took great care and consideration to arrange, to the
best advantage, for the embellishment of the breakfast-table.
There was fresh groundsel, too, for Miss Maylie's birds, with
which Oliver, who had been studying the subject under the able
tuition of the village clerk, would decorate the cages, in the
most approved taste. When the birds were made all spruce and
smart for the day, there was usually some little commission of
charity to execute in the village; or, failing that, there was
rare cricket-playing, sometimes, on the green; or, failing that,
there was always something to do in the garden, or about the
plants, to which Oliver (who had studied this science also, under
the same master, who was a gardener by trade,) applied himself
with hearty good-will, until Miss Rose made her appearance: when
there were a thousand commendations to be bestowed on all he had
done.

So three months glided away; three months which, in the life of
the most blessed and favoured of mortals, might have been
unmingled happiness, and which, in Oliver's were true felicity.
With the purest and most amiable generousity on one side; and the
truest, warmest, soul-felt gratitude on the other; it is no
wonder that, by the end of that short time, Oliver Twist had
become completely domesticated with the old lady and her niece,
and that the fervent attachment of his young and sensitive heart,
was repaid by their pride in, and attachment to, himself.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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