The offence had been committed within the district, and indeed in th_mmediate neighborhood of, a very notorious metropolitan police office. Th_rowd had only the satisfaction of accompanying Oliver through two or thre_treets, and down a place called Mutton Hill, when he was led beneath a lo_rchway, and up a dirty court, into this dispensary of summary justice, by th_ack way. It was a small paved yard into which they turned; and here the_ncountered a stout man with a bunch of whiskers on his face, and a bunch o_eys in his hand.
'What's the matter now?' said the man carelessly.
'A young fogle-hunter,' replied the man who had Oliver in charge.
'Are you the party that's been robbed, sir?' inquired the man with the keys.
'Yes, I am,' replied the old gentleman; 'but I am not sure that this bo_ctually took the handkerchief. I—I would rather not press the case.'
'Must go before the magistrate now, sir,' replied the man. 'His worship wil_e disengaged in half a minute. Now, young gallows!'
This was an invitation for Oliver to enter through a door which he unlocked a_e spoke, and which led into a stone cell. Here he was searched; and nothin_eing found upon him, locked up.
This cell was in shape and size something like an area cellar, only not s_ight. It was most intolerably dirty; for it was Monday morning; and it ha_een tenanted by six drunken people, who had been locked up, elsewhere, sinc_aturday night. But this is little. In our station-houses, men and women ar_very night confined on the most trivial charges—the word is worth noting—i_ungeons, compared with which, those in Newgate, occupied by the mos_trocious felons, tried, found guilty, and under sentence of death, ar_alaces. Let any one who doubts this, compare the two.
The old gentleman looked almost as rueful as Oliver when the key grated in th_ock. He turned with a sigh to the book, which had been the innocent cause o_ll this disturbance.
'There is something in that boy's face,' said the old gentleman to himself a_e walked slowly away, tapping his chin with the cover of the book, in _houghtful manner; 'something that touches and interests me. _Can_ he b_nnocent? He looked like—Bye the bye,' exclaimed the old gentleman, haltin_ery abruptly, and staring up into the sky, 'Bless my soul!—where have I see_omething like that look before?'
After musing for some minutes, the old gentleman walked, with the sam_editative face, into a back anteroom opening from the yard; and there, retiring into a corner, called up before his mind's eye a vast amphitheatre o_aces over which a dusky curtain had hung for many years. 'No,' said the ol_entleman, shaking his head; 'it must be imagination.
He wandered over them again. He had called them into view, and it was not eas_o replace the shroud that had so long concealed them. There were the faces o_riends, and foes, and of many that had been almost strangers peerin_ntrusively from the crowd; there were the faces of young and blooming girl_hat were now old women; there were faces that the grave had changed an_losed upon, but which the mind, superior to its power, still dressed in thei_ld freshness and beauty, calling back the lustre of the eyes, the brightnes_f the smile, the beaming of the soul through its mask of clay, and whisperin_f beauty beyond the tomb, changed but to be heightened, and taken from eart_nly to be set up as a light, to shed a soft and gentle glow upon the path t_eaven.
But the old gentleman could recall no one countenance of which Oliver'_eatures bore a trace. So, he heaved a sigh over the recollections h_wakened; and being, happily for himself, an absent old gentleman, buried the_gain in the pages of the musty book.
He was roused by a touch on the shoulder, and a request from the man with th_eys to follow him into the office. He closed his book hastily; and was a_nce ushered into the imposing presence of the renowned Mr. Fang.
The office was a front parlour, with a panelled wall. Mr. Fang sat behind _ar, at the upper end; and on one side the door was a sort of wooden pen i_hich poor little Oliver was already deposited; trembling very much at th_wfulness of the scene.
Mr. Fang was a lean, long-backed, stiff-necked, middle-sized man, with n_reat quantity of hair, and what he had, growing on the back and sides of hi_ead. His face was stern, and much flushed. If he were really not in the habi_f drinking rather more than was exactly good for him, he might have brough_ction against his countenance for libel, and have recovered heavy damages.
The old gentleman bowed respectfully; and advancing to the magistrate's desk, said, suiting the action to the word, 'That is my name and address, sir.' H_hen withdrew a pace or two; and, with another polite and gentlemanl_nclination of the head, waited to be questioned.
Now, it so happened that Mr. Fang was at that moment perusing a leadin_rticle in a newspaper of the morning, adverting to some recent decision o_is, and commending him, for the three hundred and fiftieth time, to th_pecial and particular notice of the Secretary of State for the Hom_epartment. He was out of temper; and he looked up with an angry scowl.
'Who are you?' said Mr. Fang.
The old gentleman pointed, with some surprise, to his card.
'Officer!' said Mr. Fang, tossing the card contemptuously away with th_ewspaper. 'Who is this fellow?'
'My name, sir,' said the old gentleman, speaking _like_ a gentleman, 'my name, sir, is Brownlow. Permit me to inquire the name of the magistrate who offers _ratuitous and unprovoked insult to a respectable person, under the protectio_f the bench.' Saying this, Mr. Brownlow looked around the office as if i_earch of some person who would afford him the required information.
'Officer!' said Mr. Fang, throwing the paper on one side, 'what's this fello_harged with?'
'He's not charged at all, your worship,' replied the officer. 'He appear_gainst this boy, your worship.'
His worship knew this perfectly well; but it was a good annoyance, and a saf_ne.
'Appears against the boy, does he?' said Mr. Fang, surveying Mr. Brownlo_ontemptuously from head to foot. 'Swear him!'
'Before I am sworn, I must beg to say one word,' said Mr. Brownlow; 'and tha_s, that I really never, without actual experience, could have believed—'
'Hold your tongue, sir!' said Mr. Fang, peremptorily.
'I will not, sir!' replied the old gentleman.
'Hold your tongue this instant, or I'll have you turned out of the office!'
said Mr. Fang. 'You're an insolent impertinent fellow. How dare you bully _agistrate!'
'What!' exclaimed the old gentleman, reddening.
'Swear this person!' said Fang to the clerk. 'I'll not hear another word.
Mr. Brownlow's indignation was greatly roused; but reflecting perhaps, that h_ight only injure the boy by giving vent to it, he suppressed his feelings an_ubmitted to be sworn at once.
'Now,' said Fang, 'what's the charge against this boy? What have you got t_ay, sir?'
'I was standing at a bookstall—' Mr. Brownlow began.
'Hold your tongue, sir,' said Mr. Fang. 'Policeman! Where's the policeman?
Here, swear this policeman. Now, policeman, what is this?'
The policeman, with becoming humility, related how he had taken the charge; how he had searched Oliver, and found nothing on his person; and how that wa_ll he knew about it.
'Are there any witnesses?' inquired Mr. Fang.
'None, your worship,' replied the policeman.
Mr. Fang sat silent for some minutes, and then, turning round to th_rosecutor, said in a towering passion.
'Do you mean to state what your complaint against this boy is, man, or do yo_ot? You have been sworn. Now, if you stand there, refusing to give evidence, I'll punish you for disrespect to the bench; I will, by—'
By what, or by whom, nobody knows, for the clerk and jailor coughed very loud, just at the right moment; and the former dropped a heavy book upon the floor, thus preventing the word from being heard—accidently, of course.
With many interruptions, and repeated insults, Mr. Brownlow contrived to stat_is case; observing that, in the surprise of the moment, he had run after th_oy because he had saw him running away; and expressing his hope that, if th_agistrate should believe him, although not actually the thief, to b_onnected with the thieves, he would deal as leniently with him as justic_ould allow.
'He has been hurt already,' said the old gentleman in conclusion. 'And _ear,' he added, with great energy, looking towards the bar, 'I really fea_hat he is ill.'
'Oh! yes, I dare say!' said Mr. Fang, with a sneer. 'Come, none of your trick_ere, you young vagabond; they won't do. What's your name?'
Oliver tried to reply but his tongue failed him. He was deadly pale; and th_hole place seemed turning round and round.
'What's your name, you hardened scoundrel?' demanded Mr. Fang. 'Officer, what's his name?'
This was addressed to a bluff old fellow, in a striped waistcoat, who wa_tanding by the bar. He bent over Oliver, and repeated the inquiry; bu_inding him really incapable of understanding the question; and knowing tha_is not replying would only infuriate the magistrate the more, and add to th_everity of his sentence; he hazarded a guess.
'He says his name's Tom White, your worship,' said the kind-hearted thief- taker.
'Oh, he won't speak out, won't he?' said Fang. 'Very well, very well. Wher_oes he live?'
'Where he can, your worship,' replied the officer; again pretending to receiv_liver's answer.
'Has he any parents?' inquired Mr. Fang.
'He says they died in his infancy, your worship,' replied the officer: hazarding the usual reply.
At this point of the inquiry, Oliver raised his head; and, looking round wit_mploring eyes, murmured a feeble prayer for a draught of water.
'Stuff and nonsense!' said Mr. Fang: 'don't try to make a fool of me.'
'I think he really is ill, your worship,' remonstrated the officer.
'I know better,' said Mr. Fang.
'Take care of him, officer,' said the old gentleman, raising his hand_nstinctively; 'he'll fall down.'
'Stand away, officer,' cried Fang; 'let him, if he likes.'
Oliver availed himself of the kind permission, and fell to the floor in _ainting fit. The men in the office looked at each other, but no one dared t_tir.
'I knew he was shamming,' said Fang, as if this were incontestable proof o_he fact. 'Let him lie there; he'll soon be tired of that.'
'How do you propose to deal with the case, sir?' inquired the clerk in a lo_oice.
'Summarily,' replied Mr. Fang. 'He stands committed for three months—har_abour of course. Clear the office.'
The door was opened for this purpose, and a couple of men were preparing t_arry the insensible boy to his cell; when an elderly man of decent but poo_ppearance, clad in an old suit of black, rushed hastily into the office, an_dvanced towards the bench.
'Stop, stop! don't take him away! For Heaven's sake stop a moment!' cried th_ew comer, breathless with haste.
Although the presiding Genii in such an office as this, exercise a summary an_rbitrary power over the liberties, the good name, the character, almost th_ives, of Her Majesty's subjects, expecially of the poorer class; an_lthough, within such walls, enough fantastic tricks are daily played to mak_he angels blind with weeping; they are closed to the public, save through th_edium of the daily press.[Footnote: Or were virtually, then.] Mr. Fang wa_onsequently not a little indignant to see an unbidden guest enter in suc_rreverent disorder.
'What is this? Who is this? Turn this man out. Clear the office!' cried Mr.
'I _will_ speak,' cried the man; 'I will not be turned out. I saw it all. _eep the book-stall. I demand to be sworn. I will not be put down. Mr. Fang, you must hear me. You must not refuse, sir.'
The man was right. His manner was determined; and the matter was growin_ather too serious to be hushed up.
'Swear the man,' growled Mr. Fang. with a very ill grace. 'Now, man, what hav_ou got to say?'
'This,' said the man: 'I saw three boys: two others and the prisoner here: loitering on the opposite side of the way, when this gentleman was reading.
The robbery was committed by another boy. I saw it done; and I saw that thi_oy was perfectly amazed and stupified by it.' Having by this time recovered _ittle breath, the worthy book-stall keeper proceeded to relate, in a mor_oherent manner the exact circumstances of the robbery.
'Why didn't you come here before?' said Fang, after a pause.
'I hadn't a soul to mind the shop,' replied the man. 'Everybody who could hav_elped me, had joined in the pursuit. I could get nobody till five minute_go; and I've run here all the way.'
'The prosecutor was reading, was he?' inquired Fang, after another pause.
'Yes,' replied the man. 'The very book he has in his hand.'
'Oh, that book, eh?' said Fang. 'Is it paid for?'
'No, it is not,' replied the man, with a smile.
'Dear me, I forgot all about it!' exclaimed the absent old gentleman, innocently.
'A nice person to prefer a charge against a poor boy!' said Fang, with _omical effort to look humane. 'I consider, sir, that you have obtaine_ossession of that book, under very suspicious and disreputable circumstances; and you may think yourself very fortunate that the owner of the propert_eclines to prosecute. Let this be a lesson to you, my man, or the law wil_vertake you yet. The boy is discharged. Clear the office!'
'D—n me!' cried the old gentleman, bursting out with the rage he had kept dow_o long, 'd—n me! I'll—'
'Clear the office!' said the magistrate. 'Officers, do you hear? Clear th_ffice!'
The mandate was obeyed; and the indignant Mr. Brownlow was conveyed out, wit_he book in one hand, and the bamboo cane in the other: in a perfect phrenz_f rage and defiance. He reached the yard; and his passion vanished in _oment. Little Oliver Twist lay on his back on the pavement, with his shir_nbuttoned, and his temples bathed with water; his face a deadly white; and _old tremble convulsing his whole frame.
'Poor boy, poor boy!' said Mr. Brownlow, bending over him. 'Call a coach, somebody, pray. Directly!'
A coach was obtained, and Oliver having been carefully laid on the seat, th_ld gentleman got in and sat himself on the other.
'May I accompany you?' said the book-stall keeper, looking in.
'Bless me, yes, my dear sir,' said Mr. Brownlow quickly. 'I forgot you. Dear, dear! I have this unhappy book still! Jump in. Poor fellow! There's no time t_ose.'
The book-stall keeper got into the coach; and away they drove.