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CHAPTER LI

AFFORDING AN EXPLANATION OF MORE MYSTERIES THAN ONE, AND
COMPREHENDING A PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE WITH NO WORD OF SETTLEMENT
OR PIN-MONEY

The events narrated in the last chapter were yet but two days
old, when Oliver found himself, at three o'clock in the
afternoon, in a travelling-carriage rolling fast towards his
native town. Mrs. Maylie, and Rose, and Mrs. Bedwin, and the
good doctor were with him: and Mr. Brownlow followed in a
post-chaise, accompanied by one other person whose name had not
been mentioned.

They had not talked much upon the way; for Oliver was in a
flutter of agitation and uncertainty which deprived him of the
power of collecting his thoughts, and almost of speech, and
appeared to have scarcely less effect on his companions, who
shared it, in at least an equal degree. He and the two ladies
had been very carefully made acquainted by Mr. Brownlow with the
nature of the admissions which had been forced from Monks; and
although they knew that the object of their present journey was
to complete the work which had been so well begun, still the
whole matter was enveloped in enough of doubt and mystery to
leave them in endurance of the most intense suspense.

The same kind friend had, with Mr. Losberne's assistance,
cautiously stopped all channels of communication through which
they could receive intelligence of the dreadful occurrences that
so recently taken place. 'It was quite true,' he said, 'that
they must know them before long, but it might be at a better time
than the present, and it could not be at a worse.' So, they
travelled on in silence: each busied with reflections on the
object which had brought them together: and no one disposed to
give utterance to the thoughts which crowded upon all.

But if Oliver, under these influences, had remained silent while
they journeyed towards his birth-place by a road he had never
seen, how the whole current of his recollections ran back to old
times, and what a crowd of emotions were wakened up in his
breast, when they turned into that which he had traversed on
foot: a poor houseless, wandering boy, without a friend to help
him, or a roof to shelter his head.

'See there, there!' cried Oliver, eagerly clasping the hand of
Rose, and pointing out at the carriage window; 'that's the stile
I came over; there are the hedges I crept behind, for fear any
one should overtake me and force me back! Yonder is the path
across the fields, leading to the old house where I was a little
child! Oh Dick, Dick, my dear old friend, if I could only see
you now!'

'You will see him soon,' replied Rose, gently taking his folded
hands between her own. 'You shall tell him how happy you are,
and how rich you have grown, and that in all your happiness you
have none so great as the coming back to make him happy too.'

'Yes, yes,' said Oliver, 'and we'll--we'll take him away from
here, and have him clothed and taught, and send him to some quiet
country place where he may grow strong and well,--shall we?'

Rose nodded 'yes,' for the boy was smiling through such happy
tears that she could not speak.

'You will be kind and good to him, for you are to every one,'
said Oliver. 'It will make you cry, I know, to hear what he can
tell; but never mind, never mind, it will be all over, and you
will smile again--I know that too--to think how changed he is;
you did the same with me. He said "God bless you" to me when I
ran away,' cried the boy with a burst of affectionate emotion;
'and I will say "God bless you" now, and show him how I love him
for it!'

As they approached the town, and at length drove through its
narrow streets, it became matter of no small difficulty to
restrain the boy within reasonable bounds. There was
Sowerberry's the undertaker's just as it used to be, only smaller
and less imposing in appearance than he remembered it--there were
all the well-known shops and houses, with almost every one of
which he had some slight incident connected--there was Gamfield's
cart, the very cart he used to have, standing at the old
public-house door--there was the workhouse, the dreary prison of
his youthful days, with its dismal windows frowning on the
street--there was the same lean porter standing at the gate, at
sight of whom Oliver involuntarily shrunk back, and then laughed
at himself for being so foolish, then cried, then laughed
again--there were scores of faces at the doors and windows that
he knew quite well--there was nearly everything as if he had left
it but yesterday, and all his recent life had been but a happy
dream.

But it was pure, earnest, joyful reality. They drove straight to
the door of the chief hotel (which Oliver used to stare up at,
with awe, and think a mighty palace, but which had somehow fallen
off in grandeur and size); and here was Mr. Grimwig all ready to
receive them, kissing the young lady, and the old one too, when
they got out of the coach, as if he were the grandfather of the
whole party, all smiles and kindness, and not offering to eat his
head--no, not once; not even when he contradicted a very old
postboy about the nearest road to London, and maintained he knew
it best, though he had only come that way once, and that time
fast asleep. There was dinner prepared, and there were bedrooms
ready, and everything was arranged as if by magic.

Notwithstanding all this, when the hurry of the first half-hour
was over, the same silence and constraint prevailed that had
marked their journey down. Mr. Brownlow did not join them at
dinner, but remained in a separate room. The two other gentlemen
hurried in and out with anxious faces, and, during the short
intervals when they were present, conversed apart. Once, Mrs.
Maylie was called away, and after being absent for nearly an
hour, returned with eyes swollen with weeping. All these things
made Rose and Oliver, who were not in any new secrets, nervous
and uncomfortable. They sat wondering, in silence; or, if they
exchanged a few words, spoke in whispers, as if they were afraid
to hear the sound of their own voices.

At length, when nine o'clock had come, and they began to think
they were to hear no more that night, Mr. Losberne and Mr.
Grimwig entered the room, followed by Mr. Brownlow and a man whom
Oliver almost shrieked with surprise to see; for they told him it
was his brother, and it was the same man he had met at the
market-town, and seen looking in with Fagin at the window of his
little room. Monks cast a look of hate, which, even then, he
could not dissemble, at the astonished boy, and sat down near the
door. Mr. Brownlow, who had papers in his hand, walked to a
table near which Rose and Oliver were seated.

'This is a painful task,' said he, 'but these declarations, which
have been signed in London before many gentlemen, must be
substance repeated here. I would have spared you the
degradation, but we must hear them from your own lips before we
part, and you know why.'

'Go on,' said the person addressed, turning away his face.
'Quick. I have almost done enough, I think. Don't keep me
here.'

'This child,' said Mr. Brownlow, drawing Oliver to him, and
laying his hand upon his head, 'is your half-brother; the
illegitimate son of your father, my dear friend Edwin Leeford, by
poor young Agnes Fleming, who died in giving him birth.'

'Yes,' said Monks, scowling at the trembling boy: the beating of
whose heart he might have heard. 'That is the bastard child.'

'The term you use,' said Mr. Brownlow, sternly, 'is a reproach to
those long since passed beyong the feeble censure of the world.
It reflects disgrace on no one living, except you who use it.
Let that pass. He was born in this town.'

'In the workhouse of this town,' was the sullen reply. 'You have
the story there.' He pointed impatiently to the papers as he
spoke.

'I must have it here, too,' said Mr. Brownlow, looking round upon
the listeners.

'Listen then! You!' returned Monks. 'His father being taken ill
at Rome, was joined by his wife, my mother, from whom he had been
long separated, who went from Paris and took me with her--to look
after his property, for what I know, for she had no great
affection for him, nor he for her. He knew nothing of us, for
his senses were gone, and he slumbered on till next day, when he
died. Among the papers in his desk, were two, dated on the night
his illness first came on, directed to yourself'; he addressed
himself to Mr. Brownlow; 'and enclosed in a few short lines to
you, with an intimation on the cover of the package that it was
not to be forwarded till after he was dead. One of these papers
was a letter to this girl Agnes; the other a will.'

'What of the letter?' asked Mr. Brownlow.

'The letter?--A sheet of paper crossed and crossed again, with a
penitent confession, and prayers to God to help her. He had
palmed a tale on the girl that some secret mystery--to be
explained one day--prevented his marrying her just then; and so
she had gone on, trusting patiently to him, until she trusted too
far, and lost what none could ever give her back. She was, at
that time, within a few months of her confinement. He told her
all he had meant to do, to hide her shame, if he had lived, and
prayed her, if he died, not to curse him memory, or think the
consequences of their sin would be visited on her or their young
child; for all the guilt was his. He reminded her of the day he
had given her the little locket and the ring with her christian
name engraved upon it, and a blank left for that which he hoped
one day to have bestowed upon her--prayed her yet to keep it, and
wear it next her heart, as she had done before--and then ran on,
wildly, in the same words, over and over again, as if he had gone
distracted. I believe he had.'

'The will,' said Mr. Brownlow, as Oliver's tears fell fast.

Monks was silent.

'The will,' said Mr. Brownlow, speaking for him, 'was in the same
spirit as the letter. He talked of miseries which his wife had
brought upon him; of the rebellious disposition, vice, malice,
and premature bad passions of you his only son, who had been
trained to hate him; and left you, and your mother, each an
annuity of eight hundred pounds. The bulk of his property he
divided into two equal portions--one for Agnes Fleming, and the
other for their child, it it should be born alive, and ever come
of age. If it were a girl, it was to inherit the money
unconditionally; but if a boy, only on the stipulation that in
his minority he should never have stained his name with any
public act of dishonour, meanness, cowardice, or wrong. He did
this, he said, to mark his confidence in the other, and his
conviction--only strengthened by approaching death--that the
child would share her gentle heart, and noble nature. If he were
disappointed in this expectation, then the money was to come to
you: for then, and not till then, when both children were equal,
would he recognise your prior claim upon his purse, who had none
upon his heart, but had, from an infant, repulsed him with
coldness and aversion.'

'My mother,' said Monks, in a louder tone, 'did what a woman
should have done. She burnt this will. The letter never reached
its destination; but that, and other proofs, she kept, in case
they ever tried to lie away the blot. The girl's father had the
truth from her with every aggravation that her violent hate--I
love her for it now--could add. Goaded by shame and dishonour he
fled with his children into a remote corner of Wales, changing
his very name that his friends might never know of his retreat;
and here, no great while afterwards, he was found dead in his
bed. The girl had left her home, in secret, some weeks before;
he had searched for her, on foot, in every town and village near;
it was on the night when he returned home, assured that she had
destroyed herself, to hide her shame and his, that his old heart
broke.'

There was a short silence here, until Mr. Brownlow took up the
thread of the narrative.

'Years after this,' he said, 'this man's--Edward
Leeford's--mother came to me. He had left her, when only
eighteen; robbed her of jewels and money; gambled, squandered,
forged, and fled to London: where for two years he had
associated with the lowest outcasts. She was sinking under a
painful and incurable disease, and wished to recover him before
she died. Inquiries were set on foot, and strict searches made.
They were unavailing for a long time, but ultimately successful;
and he went back with her to France.

'There she died,' said Monks, 'after a lingering illness; and, on
her death-bed, she bequeathed these secrets to me, together with
her unquenchable and deadly hatred of all whom they
involved--though she need not have left me that, for I had
inherited it long before. She would not believe that the girl
had destroyed herself, and the child too, but was filled with the
impression that a male child had been born, and was alive. I
swore to her, if ever it crossed my path, to hunt it down; never
to let it rest; to pursue it with the bitterest and most
unrelenting animosity; to vent upon it the hatred that I deeply
felt, and to spit upon the empty vaunt of that insulting will by
draggin it, if I could, to the very gallows-foot. She was right.

He came in my way at last. I began well; and, but for babbling
drabs, I would have finished as I began!'

As the villain folded his arms tight together, and muttered
curses on himself in the impotence of baffled malice, Mr.
Brownlow turned to the terrified group beside him, and explained
that the Jew, who had been his old accomplice and confidant, had
a large reward for keeping Oliver ensnared: of which some part
was to be given up, in the event of his being rescued: and that
a dispute on this head had led to their visit to the country
house for the purpose of identifying him.

'The locket and ring?' said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Monks.

'I bought them from the man and woman I told you of, who stole
them from the nurse, who stole them from the corpse,' answered
Monks without raising his eyes. 'You know what became of them.'

Mr. Brownlow merely nodded to Mr. Grimwig, who disappearing with
great alacrity, shortly returned, pushing in Mrs. Bumble, and
dragging her unwilling consort after him.

'Do my hi's deceive me!' cried Mr. Bumble, with ill-feigned
enthusiasm, 'or is that little Oliver? Oh O-li-ver, if you
know'd how I've been a-grieving for you--'

'Hold your tongue, fool,' murmured Mrs. Bumble.

'Isn't natur, natur, Mrs. Bumble?' remonstrated the workhouse
master. 'Can't I be supposed to feel--_I_ as brought him up
porochially--when I see him a-setting here among ladies and
gentlemen of the very affablest description! I always loved that
boy as if he'd been my--my--my own grandfather,' said Mr. Bumble,
halting for an appropriate comparison. 'Master Oliver, my dear,
you remember the blessed gentleman in the white waistcoat? Ah!
he went to heaven last week, in a oak coffin with plated handles,
Oliver.'

'Come, sir,' said Mr. Grimwig, tartly; 'suppress your feelings.'

'I will do my endeavours, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'How do you
do, sir? I hope you are very well.'

This salutation was addressed to Mr. Brownlow, who had stepped up
to within a short distance of the respectable couple. He
inquired, as he pointed to Monks,

'Do you know that person?'

'No,' replied Mrs. Bumble flatly.

'Perhaps YOU don't?' said Mr. Brownlow, addressing her spouse.

'I never saw him in all my life,' said Mr. Bumble.

'Nor sold him anything, perhaps?'

'No,' replied Mrs. Bumble.

'You never had, perhaps, a certain gold locket and ring?' said
Mr. Brownlow.

'Certainly not,' replied the matron. 'Why are we brought here to
answer to such nonsense as this?'

Again Mr. Brownlow nodded to Mr. Grimwig; and again that
gentleman limped away with extraordinary readiness. But not
again did he return with a stout man and wife; for this time, he
led in two palsied women, who shook and tottered as they walked.

'You shut the door the night old Sally died,' said the foremost
one, raising her shrivelled hand, 'but you couldn't shut out the
sound, nor stop the chinks.'

'No, no,' said the other, looking round her and wagging her
toothless jaws. 'No, no, no.'

'We heard her try to tell you what she'd done, and saw you take a
paper from her hand, and watched you too, next day, to the
pawnbroker's shop,' said the first.

'Yes,' added the second, 'and it was a "locket and gold ring."
We found out that, and saw it given you. We were by. Oh! we
were by.'

'And we know more than that,' resumed the first, 'for she told us
often, long ago, that the young mother had told her that, feeling
she should never get over it, she was on her way, at the time
that she was taken ill, to die near the grave of the father of
the child.'

'Would you like to see the pawnbroker himself?' asked Mr. Grimwig
with a motion towards the door.

'No,' replied the woman; 'if he--she pointed to Monks--'has been
coward enough to confess, as I see he had, and you have sounded
all these hags till you have found the right ones, I have nothing
more to say. I DID sell them, and they're where you'll never get
them. What then?'

'Nothing,' replied Mr. Brownlow, 'except that it remains for us
to take care that neither of you is employed in a situation of
trust again. You may leave the room.'

'I hope,' said Mr. Bumble, looking about him with great
ruefulness, as Mr. Grimwig disappeared with the two old women:
'I hope that this unfortunate little circumstance will not
deprive me of my porochial office?'

'Indeed it will,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'You may make up your
mind to that, and think yourself well off besides.'

'It was all Mrs. Bumble. She WOULD do it,' urged Mr. Bumble;
first looking round to ascertain that his partner had left the
room.

'That is no excuse,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'You were present on
the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed are
the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law
supposes that your wife acts under your direction.'

'If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat
emphatically in both hands, 'the law is a ass--a idiot. If
that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I
wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience--by
experience.'

Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words, Mr.
Bumble fixed his hat on very tight, and putting his hands in his
pockets, followed his helpmate downstairs.

'Young lady,' said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Rose, 'give me your
hand. Do not tremble. You need not fear to hear the few
remaining words we have to say.'

'If they have--I do not know how they can, but if they have--any
reference to me,' said Rose, 'pray let me hear them at some other
time. I have not strength or spirits now.'

'Nay,' returned the old gentlman, drawing her arm through his;
'you have more fortitude than this, I am sure. Do you know this
young lady, sir?'

'Yes,' replied Monks.

'I never saw you before,' said Rose faintly.

'I have seen you often,' returned Monks.

'The father of the unhappy Agnes had TWO daughters,' said Mr.
Brownlow. 'What was the fate of the other--the child?'

'The child,' replied Monks, 'when her father died in a strange
place, in a strange name, without a letter, book, or scrap of
paper that yielded the faintest clue by which his friends or
relatives could be traced--the child was taken by some wretched
cottagers, who reared it as their own.'

'Go on,' said Mr. Brownlow, signing to Mrs. Maylie to approach.
'Go on!'

'You couldn't find the spot to which these people had repaired,'
said Monks, 'but where friendship fails, hatred will often force
a way. My mother found it, after a year of cunning search--ay,
and found the child.'

'She took it, did she?'

'No. The people were poor and began to sicken--at least the man
did--of their fine humanity; so she left it with them, giving
them a small present of money which would not last long, and
promised more, which she never meant to send. She didn't quite
rely, however, on their discontent and poverty for the child's
unhappiness, but told the history of the sister's shame, with
such alterations as suited her; bade them take good heed of the
child, for she came of bad blood;; and told them she was
illegitimate, and sure to go wrong at one time or other. The
circumstances countenanced all this; the people believed it; and
there the child dragged on an existence, miserable enough even to
satisfy us, until a widow lady, residing, then, at Chester, saw
the girl by chance, pitied her, and took her home. There was
some cursed spell, I think, against us; for in spite of all our
efforts she remained there and was happy. I lost sight of her,
two or three years ago, and saw her no more until a few months
back.'

'Do you see her now?'

'Yes. Leaning on your arm.'

'But not the less my niece,' cried Mrs. Maylie, folding the
fainting girl in her arms; 'not the less my dearest child. I
would not lose her now, for all the treasures of the world. My
sweet companion, my own dear girl!'

'The only friend I ever had,' cried Rose, clinging to her. 'The
kindest, best of friends. My heart will burst. I cannot bear
all this.'

'You have borne more, and have been, through all, the best and
gentlest creature that ever shed happiness on every one she
knew,' said Mrs. Maylie, embracing her tenderly. 'Come, come, my
love, remember who this is who waits to clasp you in his arms,
poor child! See here--look, look, my dear!'

'Not aunt,' cried Oliver, throwing his arms about her neck; 'I'll
never call her aunt--sister, my own dear sister, that something
taught my heart to love so dearly from the first! Rose, dear,
darling Rose!'

Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which were
exchanged in the long close embrace between the orphans, be
sacred. A father, sister, and mother, were gained, and lost, in
that one moment. Joy and grief were mingled in the cup; but
there were no bitter tears: for even grief itself arose so
softened, and clothed in such sweet and tender recollections,
that it became a solemn pleasure, and lost all character of pain.

They were a long, long time alone. A soft tap at the door, at
length announced that some one was without. Oliver opened it,
glided away, and gave place to Harry Maylie.

'I know it all,' he said, taking a seat beside the lovely girl.
'Dear Rose, I know it all.'

'I am not here by accident,' he added after a lengthened silence;
'nor have I heard all this to-night, for I knew it
yesterday--only yesterday. Do you guess that I have come to
remind you of a promise?'

'Stay,' said Rose. 'You DO know all.'

'All. You gave me leave, at any time within a year, to renew the
subject of our last discourse.'

'I did.'

'Not to press you to alter your determination,' pursued the young
man, 'but to hear you repeat it, if you would. I was to lay
whatever of station or fortune I might possess at your feet, and
if you still adhered to your former determination, I pledged
myself, by no word or act, to seek to change it.'

'The same reasons which influenced me then, will influence me
know,' said Rose firmly. 'If I ever owed a strict and rigid duty
to her, whose goodness saved me from a life of indigence and
suffering, when should I ever feel it, as I should to-night? It
is a struggle,' said Rose, 'but one I am proud to make; it is a
pang, but one my heart shall bear.'

'The disclosure of to-night,'--Harry began.

'The disclosure of to-night,' replied Rose softly, 'leaves me in
the same position, with reference to you, as that in which I
stood before.'

'You harden your heart against me, Rose,' urged her lover.

'Oh Harry, Harry,' said the young lady, bursting into tears; 'I
wish I could, and spare myself this pain.'

'Then why inflict it on yourself?' said Harry, taking her hand.
'Think, dear Rose, think what you have heard to-night.'

'And what have I heard! What have I heard!' cried Rose. 'That a
sense of his deep disgrace so worked upon my own father that he
shunned all--there, we have said enough, Harry, we have said
enough.'

'Not yet, not yet,' said the young man, detaining her as she
rose. 'My hopes, my wishes, prospects, feeling: every thought
in life except my love for you: have undergone a change. I
offer you, now, no distinction among a bustling crowd; no
mingling with a world of malice and detraction, where the blood
is called into honest cheeks by aught but real disgrace and
shame; but a home--a heart and home--yes, dearest Rose, and
those, and those alone, are all I have to offer.'

'What do you mean!' she faltered.

'I mean but this--that when I left you last, I left you with a
firm determination to level all fancied barriers between yourself
and me; resolved that if my world could not be yours, I would
make yours mine; that no pride of birth should curl the lip at
you, for I would turn from it. This I have done. Those who have
shrunk from me because of this, have shrunk from you, and proved
you so far right. Such power and patronage: such relatives of
influence and rank: as smiled upon me then, look coldly now; but
there are smiling fields and waving trees in England's richest
county; and by one village church--mine, Rose, my own!--there
stands a rustic dwelling which you can make me prouder of, than
all the hopes I have renounced, measured a thousandfold. This is
my rank and station now, and here I lay it down!'

* * * * * * *

'It's a trying thing waiting supper for lovers,' said Mr.
Grimwig, waking up, and pulling his pocket-handkerchief from over
his head.

Truth to tell, the supper had been waiting a most unreasonable
time. Neither Mrs. Maylie, nor Harry, nor Rose (who all came in
together), could offer a word in extenuation.

'I had serious thoughts of eating my head to-night,' said Mr.
Grimwig, 'for I began to think I should get nothing else. I'll
take the liberty, if you'll allow me, of saluting the bride that
is to be.'

Mr. Grimwig lost no time in carrying this notice into effect upon
the blushing girl; and the example, being contagious, was
followed both by the doctor and Mr. Brownlow: some people affirm
that Harry Maylie had been observed to set it, orginally, in a
dark room adjoining; but the best authorities consider this
downright scandal: he being young and a clergyman.

'Oliver, my child,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'where have you been, and
why do you look so sad? There are tears stealing down your face
at this moment. What is the matter?'

It is a world of disappointment: often to the hopes we most
cherish, and hopes that do our nature the greatest honour.

Poor Dick was dead!





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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