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Charles Dickens > Oliver Twist > Chapter XXXIV

Oliver Twist

Chapter XXXIV


It was almost too much happiness to bear. Oliver felt stunned
and stupefied by the unexpected intelligence; he could not weep,
or speak, or rest. He had scarcely the power of understanding
anything that had passed, until, after a long ramble in the quiet
evening air, a burst of tears came to his relief, and he seemed
to awaken, all at once, to a full sense of the joyful change that
had occurred, and the almost insupportable load of anguish which
had been taken from his breast.

The night was fast closing in, when he returned homeward: laden
with flowers which he had culled, with peculiar care, for the
adornment of the sick chamber. As he walked briskly along the
road, he heard behind him, the noise of some vehicle, approaching
at a furious pace. Looking round, he saw that it was a
post-chaise, driven at great speed; and as the horses were
galloping, and the road was narrow, he stood leaning against a
gate until it should have passed him.

As it dashed on, Oliver caught a glimpse of a man in a white
nitecap, whose face seemed familiar to him, although his view was
so brief that he could not identify the person. In another
second or two, the nightcap was thrust out of the chaise-window,
and a stentorian voice bellowed to the driver to stop: which he
did, as soon as he could pull up his horses. Then, the nightcap
once again appeared: and the same voice called Oliver by his

'Here!' cried the voice. 'Oliver, what's the news? Miss Rose!
Master O-li-ver!'

'Is is you, Giles?' cried Oliver, running up to the chaise-door.

Giles popped out his nightcap again, preparatory to making some
reply, when he was suddenly pulled back by a young gentleman who
occupied the other corner of the chaise, and who eagerly demanded
what was the news.

'In a word!' cried the gentleman, 'Better or worse?'

'Better--much better!' replied Oliver, hastily.

'Thank Heaven!' exclaimed the gentleman. 'You are sure?'

'Quite, sir,' replied Oliver. 'The change took place only a few
hours ago; and Mr. Losberne says, that all danger is at an end.'

The gentleman said not another word, but, opening the
chaise-door, leaped out, and taking Oliver hurriedly by the arm,
led him aside.

'You are quite certain? There is no possibility of any mistake
on your part, my boy, is there?' demanded the gentleman in a
tremulous voice. 'Do not deceive me, by awakening hopes that are
not to be fulfilled.'

'I would not for the world, sir,' replied Oliver. 'Indeed you
may believe me. Mr. Losberne's words were, that she would live
to bless us all for many years to come. I heard him say so.'

The tears stood in Oliver's eyes as he recalled the scene which
was the beginning of so much happiness; and the gentleman turned
his face away, and remained silent, for some minutes. Oliver
thought he heard him sob, more than once; but he feared to
interrupt him by any fresh remark--for he could well guess what
his feelings were--and so stood apart, feigning to be occupied
with his nosegay.

All this time, Mr. Giles, with the white nightcap on, had been
sitting on the steps of the chaise, supporting an elbow on each
knee, and wiping his eyes with a blue cotton pocket-handkerchief
dotted with white spots. That the honest fellow had not been
feigning emotion, was abundently demonstrated by the very red
eyes with which he regarded the young gentleman, when he turned
round and addressed him.

'I think you had better go on to my mother's in the chaise,
Giles,' said he. 'I would rather walk slowly on, so as to gain a
little time before I see her. You can say I am coming.'

'I beg your pardon, Mr. Harry,' said Giles: giving a final
polish to his ruffled countenance with the handkerchief; 'but if
you would leave the postboy to say that, I should be very much
obliged to you. It wouldn't be proper for the maids to see me in
this state, sir; I should never have any more authority with them
if they did.'

'Well,' rejoined Harry Maylie, smiling, 'you can do as you like.
Let him go on with the luggage, if you wish it, and do you follow
with us. Only first exchange that nightcap for some more
appropriate covering, or we shall be taken for madmen.'

Mr. Giles, reminded of his unbecoming costume, snatched off and
pocketed his nightcap; and substituted a hat, of grave and sober
shape, which he took out of the chaise. This done, the postboy
drove off; Giles, Mr. Maylie, and Oliver, followed at their

As they walked along, Oliver glanced from time to time with much
interest and curiosity at the new comer. He seemed about
five-and-twenty years of age, and was of the middle height; his
countenance was frank and handsome; and his demeanor easy and
prepossessing. Notwithstanding the difference between youth and
age, he bore so strong a likeness to the old lady, that Oliver
would have had no great difficulty in imagining their
relationship, if he had not already spoken of her as his mother.

Mrs. Maylie was anxiously waiting to receive her son when he
reached the cottage. The meeting did not take place without
great emotion on both sides.

'Mother!' whispered the young man; 'why did you not write

'I did,' replied Mrs. Maylie; 'but, on reflection, I determined
to keep back the letter until I had heard Mr. Losberne's

'But why,' said the young man, 'why run the chance of that
occurring which so nearly happened? If Rose had--I cannot utter
that word now--if this illness had terminated differently, how
could you ever have forgiven yourself! How could I ever have
know happiness again!'

'If that HAD been the case, Harry,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'I fear
your happiness would have been effectually blighted, and that
your arrival here, a day sooner or a day later, would have been
of very, very little import.'

'And who can wonder if it be so, mother?' rejoined the young man;
'or why should I say, IF?--It is--it is--you know it, mother--you
must know it!'

'I know that she deserves the best and purest love the heart of
man can offer,' said Mrs. Maylie; 'I know that the devotion and
affection of her nature require no ordinary return, but one that
shall be deep and lasting. If I did not feel this, and know,
besides, that a changed behaviour in one she loved would break
her heart, I should not feel my task so difficult of performance,
or have to encounter so many struggles in my own bosom, when I
take what seems to me to be the strict line of duty.'

'This is unkind, mother,' said Harry. 'Do you still suppose that
I am a boy ignorant of my own mind, and mistaking the impulses of
my own soul?'

'I think, my dear son,' returned Mrs. Maylie, laying her hand
upon his shoulder, 'that youth has many generous impulses which
do not last; and that among them are some, which, being
gratified, become only the more fleeting. Above all, I think'
said the lady, fixing her eyes on her son's face, 'that if an
enthusiastic, ardent, and ambitious man marry a wife on whose
name there is a stain, which, though it originate in no fault of
hers, may be visited by cold and sordid people upon her, and upon
his children also: and, in exact proportion to his success in the
world, be cast in his teeth, and made the subject of sneers
against him: he may, no matter how generous and good his nature,
one day repent of the connection he formed in early life. And
she may have the pain of knowing that he does so.'

'Mother,' said the young man, impatiently, 'he would be a selfish
brute, unworthy alike of the name of man and of the woman you
describe, who acted thus.'

'You think so now, Harry,' replied his mother.

'And ever will!' said the young man. 'The mental agony I have
suffered, during the last two days, wrings from me the avowal to
you of a passion which, as you well know, is not one of
yesterday, nor one I have lightly formed. On Rose, sweet, gentle
girl! my heart is set, as firmly as ever heart of man was set on
woman. I have no thought, no view, no hope in life, beyond her;
and if you oppose me in this great stake, you take my peace and
happiness in your hands, and cast them to the wind. Mother,
think better of this, and of me, and do not disregard the
happiness of which you seem to think so little.'

'Harry,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'it is because I think so much of warm
and sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded.

But we have said enough, and more than enough, on this matter,
just now.'

'Let it rest with Rose, then,' interposed Harry. 'You will not
press these overstrained opinions of yours, so far, as to throw
any obstacle in my way?'

'I will not,' rejoined Mrs. Maylie; 'but I would have you

'I HAVE considered!' was the impatient reply; 'Mother, I have
considered, years and years. I have considered, ever since I
have been capable of serious reflection. My feelings remain
unchanged, as they ever will; and why should I suffer the pain of
a delay in giving them vent, which can be productive of no
earthly good? No! Before I leave this place, Rose shall hear

'She shall,' said Mrs. Maylie.

'There is something in your manner, which would almost imply that
she will hear me coldly, mother,' said the young man.

'Not coldly,' rejoined the old lady; 'far from it.'

'How then?' urged the young man. 'She has formed no other

'No, indeed,' replied his mother; 'you have, or I mistake, too
strong a hold on her affections already. What I would say,'
resumed the old lady, stopping her son as he was about to speak,
'is this. Before you stake your all on this chance; before you
suffer yourself to be carried to the highest point of hope;
reflect for a few moments, my dear child, on Rose's history, and
consider what effect the knowledge of her doubtful birth may have
on her decision: devoted as she is to us, with all the intensity
of her noble mind, and with that perfect sacrifice of self which,
in all matters, great or trifling, has always been her

'What do you mean?'

'That I leave you to discover,' replied Mrs. Maylie. 'I must go
back to her. God bless you!'

'I shall see you again to-night?' said the young man, eagerly.

'By and by,' replied the lady; 'when I leave Rose.'

'You will tell her I am here?' said Harry.

'Of course,' replied Mrs. Maylie.

'And say how anxious I have been, and how much I have suffered,
and how I long to see her. You will not refuse to do this,

'No,' said the old lady; 'I will tell her all.' And pressing her
son's hand, affectionately, she hastened from the room.

Mr. Losberne and Oliver had remained at another end of the
apartment while this hurried conversation was proceeding. The
former now held out his hand to Harry Maylie; and hearty
salutations were exchanged between them. The doctor then
communicated, in reply to multifarious questions from his young
friend, a precise account of his patient's situation; which was
quite as consolatory and full of promise, as Oliver's statement
had encouraged him to hope; and to the whole of which, Mr. Giles,
who affected to be busy about the luggage, listened with greedy

'Have you shot anything particular, lately, Giles?' inquired the
doctor, when he had concluded.

'Nothing particular, sir,' replied Mr. Giles, colouring up to the

'Nor catching any thieves, nor identifying any house-breakers?'
said the doctor.

'None at all, sir,' replied Mr. Giles, with much gravity.

'Well,' said the doctor, 'I am sorry to hear it, because you do
that sort of thing admirably. Pray, how is Brittles?'

'The boy is very well, sir,' said Mr. Giles, recovering his usual
tone of patronage; 'and sends his respectful duty, sir.'

'That's well,' said the doctor. 'Seeing you here, reminds me,
Mr. Giles, that on the day before that on which I was called away
so hurriedly, I executed, at the request of your good mistress, a
small commission in your favour. Just step into this corner a
moment, will you?'

Mr. Giles walked into the corner with much importance, and some
wonder, and was honoured with a short whispering conference with
the doctor, on the termination of which, he made a great many
bows, and retired with steps of unusual stateliness. The subject
matter of this conference was not disclosed in the parlour, but
the kitchen was speedily enlightened concerning it; for Mr. Giles
walked straight thither, and having called for a mug of ale,
announced, with an air of majesty, which was highly effective,
that it had pleased his mistress, in consideration of his gallant
behaviour on the occasion of that attempted robbery, to depost,
in the local savings-bank, the sum of five-and-twenty pounds, for
his sole use and benefit. At this, the two women-servants lifted
up their hands and eyes, and supposed that Mr. Giles, pulling out
his shirt-frill, replied, 'No, no'; and that if they observed
that he was at all haughty to his inferiors, he would thank them
to tell him so. And then he made a great many other remarks, no
less illustrative of his humility, which were received with equal
favour and applause, and were, withal, as original and as much to
the purpose, as the remarks of great men commonly are.

Above stairs, the remainder of the evening passed cheerfully
away; for the doctor was in high spirits; and however fatigued or
thoughtful Harry Maylie might have been at first, he was not
proof against the worthy gentleman's good humour, which displayed
itself in a great variety of sallies and professional
recollections, and an abundance of small jokes, which struck
Oliver as being the drollest things he had ever heard, and caused
him to laugh proportionately; to the evident satisfaction of the
doctor, who laughed immoderately at himself, and made Harry laugh
almost as heartily, by the very force of sympathy. So, they were
as pleasant a party as, under the circumstances, they could well
have been; and it was late before they retired, with light and
thankful hearts, to take that rest of which, after the doubt and
suspense they had recently undergone, they stood much in need.

Oliver rose next morning, in better heart, and went about his
usual occupations, with more hope and pleasure than he had known
for many days. The birds were once more hung out, to sing, in
their old places; and the sweetest wild flowers that could be
found, were once more gathered to gladden Rose with their beauty.
The melancholy which had seemed to the sad eyes of the anxious
boy to hang, for days past, over every object, beautiful as all
were, was dispelled by magic. The dew seemed to sparkle more
brightly on the green leaves; the air to rustle among them with a
sweeter music; and the sky itself to look more blue and bright.
Such is the influence which the condition of our own thoughts,
exercise, even over the appearance of external objects. Men who
look on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is dark
and gloomy, are in the right; but the sombre colours are
reflections from their own jaundiced eyes and hearts. The real
hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.

It is worthy of remark, and Oliver did not fail to note it at the
time, that his morning expeditions were no longer made alone.
Harry Maylie, after the very first morning when he met Oliver
coming laden home, was seized with such a passion for flowers,
and displayed such a taste in their arrangement, as left his
young companion far behind. If Oliver were behindhand in these
respects, he knew where the best were to be found; and morning
after morning they scoured the country together, and brought home
the fairest that blossomed. The window of the young lady's
chamber was opened now; for she loved to feel the rich summer air
stream in, and revive her with its freshness; but there always
stood in water, just inside the lattice, one particular little
bunch, which was made up with great care, every morning. Oliver
could not help noticing that the withered flowers were never
thrown away, although the little vase was regularly replenished;
nor, could he help observing, that whenever the doctor came into
the garden, he invariably cast his eyes up to that particular
corner, and nodded his head most expressively, as he set forth on
his morning's walk. Pending these observations, the days were
flying by; and Rose was rapidly recovering.

Nor did Oliver's time hang heavy on his hands, although the young
lady had not yet left her chamber, and there were no evening
walks, save now and then, for a short distance, with Mrs. Maylie.

He applied himself, with redoubled assiduity, to the instructions
of the white-headed old gentleman, and laboured so hard that his
quick progress surprised even himself. It was while he was
engaged in this pursuit, that he was greatly startled and
distressed by a most unexpected occurence.

The little room in which he was accustomed to sit, when busy at
his books, was on the ground-floor, at the back of the house. It
was quite a cottage-room, with a lattice-window: around which
were clusters of jessamine and honeysuckle, that crept over the
casement, and filled the place with their delicious perfume. It
looked into a garden, whence a wicket-gate opened into a small
paddock; all beyond, was fine meadow-land and wood. There was no
other dwelling near, in that direction; and the prospect it
commanded was very extensive.

One beautiful evening, when the first shades of twilight were
beginning to settle upon the earth, Oliver sat at this window,
intent upon his books. He had been poring over them for some
time; and, as the day had been uncommonly sultry, and he had
exerted himself a great deal, it it no disparagement to the
authors, whoever they may have been, to say, that gradually and
by slow degrees, he fell asleep.

There is a kind of sleep that steals upon us sometimes, which,
while it holds the body prisoner, does not free the mind from a
sense of things about it, and enable it to ramble at its
pleasure. So far as an overpowering heaviness, a prostration of
strength, and an utter inability to control our thoughts or power
of motion, can be called sleep, this is it; and yet, we have a
consciousness of all that is going on about us, and, if we dream
at such a time, words which are really spoken, or sounds which
really exist at the moment, accommodate themselves with
surprising readiness to our visions, until reality and
imagination become so strangely blended that it is afterwards
almost matter of impossibility to separate the two. Nor is this,
the most striking phenomenon indcidental to such a state. It is
an undoubted fact, that although our senses of touch and sight be
for the time dead, yet our sleeping thoughts, and the visionary
scenes that pass before us, will be influenced and materially
influenced, by the MERE SILENT PRESENCE of some external object;
which may not have been near us when we closed our eyes: and of
whose vicinity we have had no waking consciousness.

Oliver knew, perfectly well, that he was in his own little room;
that his books were lying on the table before him; that the sweet
air was stirring among the creeping plants outside. And yet he
was asleep. Suddenly, the scene changed; the air became close
and confined; and he thought, with a glow of terror, that he was
in the Jew's house again. There sat the hideous old man, in his
accustomed corner, pointing at him, and whispering to another
man, with his face averted, who sat beside him.

'Hush, my dear!' he thought he heard the Jew say; 'it is he, sure
enough. Come away.'

'He!' the other man seemed to answer; 'could I mistake him, think
you? If a crowd of ghosts were to put themselves into his exact
shape, and he stood amongst them, there is something that would
tell me how to point him out. If you buried him fifty feet deep,
and took me across his grave, I fancy I should know, if there
wasn't a mark above it, that he lay buried there?'

The man seemed to say this, with such dreadful hatred, that
Oliver awoke with the fear, and started up.

Good Heaven! what was that, which sent the blood tingling to his
heart, and deprived him of his voice, and of power to move!
There--there--at the window--close before him--so close, that he
could have almost touched him before he started back: with his
eyes peering into the room, and meeting his: there stood the
Jew! And beside him, white with rage or fear, or both, were the
scowling features of the man who had accosted him in the

It was but an instant, a glance, a flash, before his eyes; and
they were gone. But they had recognised him, and he them; and
their look was as firmly impressed upon his memory, as if it had
been deeply carved in stone, and set before him from his birth.
He stood transfixed for a moment; then, leaping from the window
into the garden, called loudly for help.

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