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CHAPTER XLIX

MONKS AND MR. BROWNLOW AT LENGTH MEET. THEIR CONVERSATION, AND
THE INTELLIGENCE THAT INTERRUPTS IT

The twilight was beginning to close in, when Mr. Brownlow
alighted from a hackney-coach at his own door, and knocked
softly. The door being opened, a sturdy man got out of the coach
and stationed himself on one side of the steps, while another
man, who had been seated on the box, dismounted too, and stood
upon the other side. At a sign from Mr. Brownlow, they helped
out a third man, and taking him between them, hurried him into
the house. This man was Monks.

They walked in the same manner up the stairs without speaking,
and Mr. Brownlow, preceding them, led the way into a back-room.
At the door of this apartment, Monks, who had ascended with
evident reluctance, stopped. The two men looked at the old
gentleman as if for instructions.

'He knows the alternative,' said Mr. Browlow. 'If he hesitates
or moves a finger but as you bid him, drag him into the street,
call for the aid of the police, and impeach him as a felon in my
name.'

'How dare you say this of me?' asked Monks.

'How dare you urge me to it, young man?' replied Mr. Brownlow,
confronting him with a steady look. 'Are you mad enough to leave
this house? Unhand him. There, sir. You are free to go, and we
to follow. But I warn you, by all I hold most solemn and most
sacred, that instant will have you apprehended on a charge of
fraud and robbery. I am resolute and immoveable. If you are
determined to be the same, your blood be upon your own head!'

'By what authority am I kidnapped in the street, and brought here
by these dogs?' asked Monks, looking from one to the other of the
men who stood beside him.

'By mine,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'Those persons are indemnified
by me. If you complain of being deprived of your liberty--you
had power and opportunity to retrieve it as you came along, but
you deemed it advisable to remain quiet--I say again, throw
yourself for protection on the law. I will appeal to the law
too; but when you have gone too far to recede, do not sue to me
for leniency, when the power will have passed into other hands;
and do not say I plunged you down the gulf into which you rushed,
yourself.'

Monks was plainly disconcerted, and alarmed besides. He
hesitated.

'You will decide quickly,' said Mr. Brownlow, with perfect
firmness and composure. 'If you wish me to prefer my charges
publicly, and consign you to a punishment the extent of which,
although I can, with a shudder, foresee, I cannot control, once
more, I say, for you know the way. If not, and you appeal to my
forbearance, and the mercy of those you have deeply injured, seat
yourself, without a word, in that chair. It has waited for you
two whole days.'

Monks muttered some unintelligible words, but wavered still.

'You will be prompt,' said Mr. Brownlow. 'A word from me, and
the alternative has gone for ever.'

Still the man hesitated.

'I have not the inclination to parley,' said Mr. Brownlow, 'and,
as I advocate the dearest interests of others, I have not the
right.'

'Is there--' demanded Monks with a faltering tongue,--'is
there--no middle course?'

'None.'

Monks looked at the old gentleman, with an anxious eye; but,
reading in his countenance nothing but severity and
determination, walked into the room, and, shrugging his
shoulders, sat down.

'Lock the door on the outside,' said Mr. Brownlow to the
attendants, 'and come when I ring.'

The men obeyed, and the two were left alone together.

'This is pretty treatment, sir,' said Monks, throwing down his
hat and cloak, 'from my father's oldest friend.'

'It is because I was your father's oldest friend, young man,'
returned Mr. Brownlow; 'it is because the hopes and wishes of
young and happy years were bound up with him, and that fair
creature of his blood and kindred who rejoined her God in youth,
and left me here a solitary, lonely man: it is because he knelt
with me beside his only sisters' death-bed when he was yet a boy,
on the morning that would--but Heaven willed otherwise--have made
her my young wife; it is because my seared heart clung to him,
from that time forth, through all his trials and errors, till he
died; it is because old recollections and associations filled my
heart, and even the sight of you brings with it old thoughts of
him; it is because of all these things that I am moved to treat
you gently now--yes, Edward Leeford, even now--and blush for your
unworthiness who bear the name.'

'What has the name to do with it?' asked the other, after
contemplating, half in silence, and half in dogged wonder, the
agitation of his companion. 'What is the name to me?'

'Nothing,' replied Mr. Brownlow, 'nothing to you. But it was
HERS, and even at this distance of time brings back to me, an old
man, the glow and thrill which I once felt, only to hear it
repeated by a stranger. I am very glad you have changed
it--very--very.'

'This is all mighty fine,' said Monks (to retain his assumed
designation) after a long silence, during which he had jerked
himself in sullen defiance to and fro, and Mr. Brownlow had sat,
shading his face with his hand. 'But what do you want with me?'

'You have a brother,' said Mr. Brownlow, rousing himself: 'a
brother, the whisper of whose name in your ear when I came behind
you in the street, was, in itself, almost enough to make you
accompany me hither, in wonder and alarm.'

'I have no brother,' replied Monks. 'You know I was an only
child. Why do you talk to me of brothers? You know that, as
well as I.'

'Attend to what I do know, and you may not,' said Mr. Brownlow.
'I shall interest you by and by. I know that of the wretched
marriage, into which family pride, and the most sordid and
narrowest of all ambition, forced your unhappy father when a mere
boy, you were the sole and most unnatural issue.'

'I don't care for hard names,' interrupted Monks with a jeering
laugh. 'You know the fact, and that's enough for me.'

'But I also know,' pursued the old gentleman, 'the misery, the
slow torture, the protracted anguish of that ill-assorted union.
I know how listlessly and wearily each of that wretched pair
dragged on their heavy chain through a world that was poisoned to
them both. I know how cold formalities were succeeded by open
taunts; how indifference gave place to dislike, dislike to hate,
and hate to loathing, until at last they wrenched the clanking
bond asunder, and retiring a wide space apart, carried each a
galling fragment, of which nothing but death could break the
rivets, to hide it in new society beneath the gayest looks they
could assume. Your mother succeeded; she forgot it soon. But it
rusted and cankered at your father's heart for years.'

'Well, they were separated,' said Monks, 'and what of that?'

'When they had been separated for some time,' returned Mr.
Brownlow, 'and your mother, wholly given up to continental
frivolities, had utterly forgotten the young husband ten good
years her junior, who, with prospects blighted, lingered on at
home, he fell among new friends. This circumstance, at least,
you know already.'

'Not I,' said Monks, turning away his eyes and beating his foot
upon the ground, as a man who is determined to deny everything.
'Not I.'

'Your manner, no less than your actions, assures me that you have
never forgotten it, or ceased to think of it with bitterness,'
returned Mr. Brownlow. 'I speak of fifteen years ago, when you
were not more than eleven years old, and your father but
one-and-thirty--for he was, I repeat, a boy, when HIS father
ordered him to marry. Must I go back to events which cast a shade
upon the memory of your parent, or will you spare it, and
disclose to me the truth?'

'I have nothing to disclose,' rejoined Monks. 'You must talk on
if you will.'

'These new friends, then,' said Mr. Brownlow, 'were a naval
officer retired from active service, whose wife had died some
half-a-year before, and left him with two children--there had
been more, but, of all their family, happily but two survived.
They were both daughters; one a beautiful creature of nineteen,
and the other a mere child of two or three years old.'

'What's this to me?' asked Monks.

'They resided,' said Mr. Brownlow, without seeming to hear the
interruption, 'in a part of the country to which your father in
his wandering had repaired, and where he had taken up his abode.
Acquaintance, intimacy, friendship, fast followed on each other.
Your father was gifted as few men are. He had his sister's soul
and person. As the old officer knew him more and more, he grew
to love him. I would that it had ended there. His daughter did
the same.

The old gentleman paused; Monks was biting his lips, with his
eyes fixed upon the floor; seeing this, he immediately resumed:

'The end of a year found him contracted, solemnly contracted, to
that daughter; the object of the first, true, ardent, only
passion of a guileless girl.'

'Your tale is of the longest,' observed Monks, moving restlessly
in his chair.

'It is a true tale of grief and trial, and sorrow, young man,'
returned Mr. Brownlow, 'and such tales usually are; if it were
one of unmixed joy and happiness, it would be very brief. At
length one of those rich relations to strengthen whose interest
and importance your father had been sacrificed, as others are
often--it is no uncommon case--died, and to repair the misery he
had been instrumental in occasioning, left him his panacea for
all griefs--Money. It was necessary that he should immediately
repair to Rome, whither this man had sped for health, and where
he had died, leaving his affairs in great confusion. He went;
was seized with mortal illness there; was followed, the moment
the intelligence reached Paris, by your mother who carried you
with her; he died the day after her arrival, leaving no will--NO
WILL--so that the whole property fell to her and you.'

At this part of the recital Monks held his breath, and listened
with a face of intense eagerness, though his eyes were not
directed towards the speaker. As Mr. Brownlow paused, he changed
his position with the air of one who has experienced a sudden
relief, and wiped his hot face and hands.

'Before he went abroad, and as he passed through London on his
way,' said Mr. Brownlow, slowly, and fixing his eyes upon the
other's face, 'he came to me.'

'I never heard of that,' interrupted MOnks in a tone intended to
appear incredulous, but savouring more of disagreeable surprise.

'He came to me, and left with me, among some other things, a
picture--a portrait painted by himself--a likeness of this poor
girl--which he did not wish to leave behind, and could not carry
forward on his hasty journey. He was worn by anxiety and remorse
almost to a shadow; talked in a wild, distracted way, of ruin and
dishonour worked by himself; confided to me his intention to
convert his whole property, at any loss, into money, and, having
settled on his wife and you a portion of his recent acquisition,
to fly the country--I guessed too well he would not fly
alone--and never see it more. Even from me, his old and early
friend, whose strong attachment had taken root in the earth that
covered one most dear to both--even from me he withheld any more
particular confession, promising to write and tell me all, and
after that to see me once again, for the last time on earth.
Alas! THAT was the last time. I had no letter, and I never saw
him more.'

'I went,' said Mr. Brownlow, after a short pause, 'I went, when
all was over, to the scene of his--I will use the term the world
would freely use, for worldly harshness or favour are now alike
to him--of his guilty love, resolved that if my fears were
realised that erring child should find one heart and home to
shelter and compassionate her. The family had left that part a
week before; they had called in such trifling debts as were
outstanding, discharged them, and left the place by night. Why,
or whithter, none can tell.'

Monks drew his breath yet more freely, and looked round with a
smile of triumph.

'When your brother,' said Mr. Brownlow, drawing nearer to the
other's chair, 'When your brother: a feeble, ragged, neglected
child: was cast in my way by a stronger hand than chance, and
rescued by me from a life of vice and infamy--'

'What?' cried Monks.

'By me,' said Mr. Brownlow. 'I told you I should interest you
before long. I say by me--I see that your cunning associate
suppressed my name, although for ought he knew, it would be quite
strange to your ears. When he was rescued by me, then, and lay
recovering from sickness in my house, his strong resemblance to
this picture I have spoken of, struck me with astonishment. Even
when I first saw him in all his dirt and misery, there was a
lingering expression in his face that came upon me like a glimpse
of some old friend flashing on one in a vivid dream. I need not
tell you he was snared away before I knew his history--'

'Why not?' asked Monks hastily.

'Because you know it well.'

'I!'

'Denial to me is vain,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'I shall show you
that I know more than that.'

'You--you--can't prove anything against me,' stammered Monks. 'I
defy you to do it!'

'We shall see,' returned the old gentleman with a searching
glance. 'I lost the boy, and no efforts of mine could recover
him. Your mother being dead, I knew that you alone could solve
the mystery if anybody could, and as when I had last heard of you
you were on your own estate in the West Indies--whither, as you
well know, you retired upon your mother's death to escape the
consequences of vicious courses here--I made the voyage. You had
left it, months before, and were supposed to be in London, but no
one could tell where. I returned. Your agents had no clue to
your residence. You came and went, they said, as strangely as
you had ever done: sometimes for days together and sometimes not
for months: keeping to all appearance the same low haunts and
mingling with the same infamous herd who had been your associates
when a fierce ungovernable boy. I wearied them with new
applications. I paced the streets by night and day, but until
two hours ago, all my efforts were fruitless, and I never saw you
for an instant.'

'And now you do see me,' said Monks, rising boldly, 'what then?
Fraud and robbery are high-sounding words--justified, you think,
by a fancied resemblance in some young imp to an idle daub of a
dead man's Brother! You don't even know that a child was born of
this maudlin pair; you don't even know that.'

'I DID NOT,' replied Mr. Brownlow, rising too; 'but within the
last fortnight I have learnt it all. You have a brother; you
know it, and him. There was a will, which your mother destroyed,
leaving the secret and the gain to you at her own death. It
contained a reference to some child likely to be the result of
this sad connection, which child was born, and accidentally
encountered by you, when your suspicions were first awakened by
his resemblance to your father. You repaired to the place of his
birth. There existed proofs--proofs long suppressed--of his birth
and parentage. Those proofs were destroyed by you, and now, in
your own words to your accomplice the Jew, "THE ONLY PROOFS OF
THE BOY'S IDENTITY LIE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER, AND THE OLD
HAG THAT RECEIVED THEM FORM THE MOTHER IS ROTTING IN HER COFFIN."

Unworthy son, coward, liar,--you, who hold your councils with
thieves and murderers in dark rooms at night,--you, whose plots
and wiles have brought a violent death upon the head of one worth
millions such as you,--you, who from your cradle were gall and
bitterness to your own father's heart, and in whom all evil
passions, vice, and profligacy, festered, till they found a vent
in a hideous disease which had made your face an index even to
your mind--you, Edward Leeford, do you still brave me!'

'No, no, no!' returned the coward, overwhelmed by these
accumulated charges.

'Every word!' cried the gentleman, 'every word that has passed
between you and this detested villain, is known to me. Shadows
on the wall have caught your whispers, and brought them to my
ear; the sight of the persecuted child has turned vice itself,
and given it the courage and almost the attributes of virtue.
Murder has been done, to which you were morally if not really a
party.'

'No, no,' interposed Monks. 'I--I knew nothing of that; I was
going to inquire the truth of the story when you overtook me. I
didn't know the cause. I thought it was a common quarrel.'

'It was the partial disclosure of your secrets,' replied Mr.
Brownlow. 'Will you disclose the whole?'

'Yes, I will.'

'Set your hand to a statement of truth and facts, and repeat it
before witnesses?'

'That I promise too.'

'Remain quietly here, until such a document is drawn up, and
proceed with me to such a place as I may deem most advisable, for
the purpose of attesting it?'

'If you insist upon that, I'll do that also,' replied Monks.

'You must do more than that,' said Mr. Brownlow. 'Make
restitution to an innocent and unoffending child, for such he is,
although the offspring of a guilty and most miserable love. You
have not forgotten the provisions of the will. Carry them into
execution so far as your brother is concerned, and then go where
you please. In this world you need meet no more.'

While Monks was pacing up and down, meditating with dark and evil
looks on this proposal and the possibilities of evading it: torn
by his fears on the one hand and his hatred on the other: the
door was hurriedly unlocked, and a gentleman (Mr. Losberne)
entered the room in violent agitation.

'The man will be taken,' he cried. 'He will be taken to-night!'

'The murderer?' asked Mr. Brownlow.

'Yes, yes,' replied the other. 'His dog has been seen lurking
about some old haunt, and there seems little doubt hat his master
either is, or will be, there, under cover of the darkness. Spies
are hovering about in every direction. I have spoken to the men
who are charged with his capture, and they tell me he cannot
escape. A reward of a hundred pounds is proclaimed by Government
to-night.'

'I will give fifty more,' said Mr. Brownlow, 'and proclaim it
with my own lips upon the spot, if I can reach it. Where is Mr.
Maylie?'

'Harry? As soon as he had seen your friend here, safe in a coach
with you, he hurried off to where he heard this,' replied the
doctor, 'and mounting his horse sallied forth to join the first
party at some place in the outskirts agreed upon between them.'

'Fagin,' said Mr. Brownlow; 'what of him?'

'When I last heard, he had not been taken, but he will be, or is,
by this time. They're sure of him.'

'Have you made up your mind?' asked Mr. Brownlow, in a low voice,
of Monks.

'Yes,' he replied. 'You--you--will be secret with me?'

'I will. Remain here till I return. It is your only hope of
safety.

They left the room, and the door was again locked.

'What have you done?' asked the doctor in a whisper.

'All that I could hope to do, and even more. Coupling the poor
girl's intelligence with my previous knowledge, and the result of
our good friend's inquiries on the spot, I left him no loophole
of escape, and laid bare the whole villainy which by these lights
became plain as day. Write and appoint the evening after
to-morrow, at seven, for the meeting. We shall be down there, a
few hours before, but shall require rest: especially the young
lady, who MAY have greater need of firmness than either you or I
can quite foresee just now. But my blood boils to avenge this
poor murdered creature. Which way have they taken?'

'Drive straight to the office and you will be in time,' replied
Mr. Losberne. 'I will remain here.'

The two gentlemen hastily separated; each in a fever of
excitement wholly uncontrollable.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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