The events narrated in the last chapter were yet but two days old, when Olive_ound himself, at three o'clock in the afternoon, in a travelling-carriag_olling 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 o_gitation and uncertainty which deprived him of the power of collecting hi_houghts, and almost of speech, and appeared to have scarcely less effect o_is companions, who shared it, in at least an equal degree. He and the tw_adies had been very carefully made acquainted by Mr. Brownlow with the natur_f the admissions which had been forced from Monks; and although they kne_hat the object of their present journey was to complete the work which ha_een so well begun, still the whole matter was enveloped in enough of doub_nd mystery to leave them in endurance of the most intense suspense.
The same kind friend had, with Mr. Losberne's assistance, cautiously stoppe_ll channels of communication through which they could receive intelligence o_he dreadful occurrences that so recently taken place. 'It was quite true,' h_aid, 'that they must know them before long, but it might be at a better tim_han the present, and it could not be at a worse.' So, they travelled on i_ilence: each busied with reflections on the object which had brought the_ogether: and no one disposed to give utterance to the thoughts which crowde_pon all.
But if Oliver, under these influences, had remained silent while the_ourneyed towards his birth-place by a road he had never seen, how the whol_urrent of his recollections ran back to old times, and what a crowd o_motions were wakened up in his breast, when they turned into that which h_ad traversed on foot: a poor houseless, wandering boy, without a friend t_elp him, or a roof to shelter his head.
'See there, there!' cried Oliver, eagerly clasping the hand of Rose, an_ointing out at the carriage window; 'that's the stile I came over; there ar_he hedges I crept behind, for fear any one should overtake me and force m_ack! Yonder is the path across the fields, leading to the old house where _as a little child! Oh Dick, Dick, my dear old friend, if I could only see yo_ow!'
'You will see him soon,' replied Rose, gently taking his folded hands betwee_er 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 t_ake him happy too.'
'Yes, yes,' said Oliver, 'and we'll—we'll take him away from here, and hav_im clothed and taught, and send him to some quiet country place where he ma_row strong and well,—shall we?'
Rose nodded 'yes,' for the boy was smiling through such happy tears that sh_ould not speak.
'You will be kind and good to him, for you are to every one,' said Oliver. 'I_ill make you cry, I know, to hear what he can tell; but never mind, neve_ind, it will be all over, and you will smile again—I know that too—to thin_ow changed he is; you did the same with me. He said "God bless you" to m_hen I ran away,' cried the boy with a burst of affectionate emotion; 'and _ill 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 reasonabl_ounds. There was Sowerberry's the undertaker's just as it used to be, onl_maller and less imposing in appearance than he remembered it—there were al_he well-known shops and houses, with almost every one of which he had som_light incident connected—there was Gamfield's cart, the very cart he used t_ave, standing at the old public-house door—there was the workhouse, th_reary prison of his youthful days, with its dismal windows frowning on th_treet—there was the same lean porter standing at the gate, at sight of who_liver involuntarily shrunk back, and then laughed at himself for being s_oolish, then cried, then laughed again—there were scores of faces at th_oors and windows that he knew quite well—there was nearly everything as if h_ad 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 o_he chief hotel (which Oliver used to stare up at, with awe, and think _ighty palace, but which had somehow fallen off in grandeur and size); an_ere was Mr. Grimwig all ready to receive them, kissing the young lady, an_he old one too, when they got out of the coach, as if he were the grandfathe_f the whole party, all smiles and kindness, and not offering to eat hi_ead—no, not once; not even when he contradicted a very old postboy about th_earest road to London, and maintained he knew it best, though he had onl_ome that way once, and that time fast asleep. There was dinner prepared, an_here were bedrooms ready, and everything was arranged as if by magic.
Notwithstanding all this, when the hurry of the first half-hour was over, th_ame 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 tw_ther gentlemen hurried in and out with anxious faces, and, during the shor_ntervals when they were present, conversed apart. Once, Mrs. Maylie wa_alled away, and after being absent for nearly an hour, returned with eye_wollen with weeping. All these things made Rose and Oliver, who were not i_ny new secrets, nervous and uncomfortable. They sat wondering, in silence; or, if they exchanged a few words, spoke in whispers, as if they were afrai_o hear the sound of their own voices.
At length, when nine o'clock had come, and they began to think they were t_ear no more that night, Mr. Losberne and Mr. Grimwig entered the room, followed by Mr. Brownlow and a man whom Oliver almost shrieked with surpris_o see; for they told him it was his brother, and it was the same man he ha_et at the market-town, and seen looking in with Fagin at the window of hi_ittle room. Monks cast a look of hate, which, even then, he could no_issemble, 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 wer_eated.
'This is a painful task,' said he, 'but these declarations, which have bee_igned in London before many gentlemen, must be in substance repeated here. _ould have spared you the degradation, but we must hear them from your ow_ips before we part, and you know why.'
'Go on,' said the person addressed, turning away his face. 'Quick. I hav_lmost done enough, I think. Don't keep me here.'
'This child,' said Mr. Brownlow, drawing Oliver to him, and laying his han_pon his head, 'is your half-brother; the illegitimate son of your father, m_ear friend Edwin Leeford, by poor young Agnes Fleming, who died in giving hi_irth.'
'Yes,' said Monks, scowling at the trembling boy: the beating of whose hear_e might have heard. 'That is the bastard child.'
'The term you use,' said Mr. Brownlow, sternly, 'is a reproach to those lon_ince passed beyond the feeble censure of the world. It reflects disgrace o_o one living, except you who use it. Let that pass. He was born in thi_own.'
'In the workhouse of this town,' was the sullen reply. 'You have the stor_here.' He pointed impatiently to the papers as he spoke.
'I must have it here, too,' said Mr. Brownlow, looking round upon th_isteners.
'Listen then! You!' returned Monks. 'His father being taken ill at Rome, wa_oined by his wife, my mother, from whom he had been long separated, who wen_rom 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 firs_ame on, directed to yourself'; he addressed himself to Mr. Brownlow; 'an_nclosed in a few short lines to you, with an intimation on the cover of th_ackage that it was not to be forwarded till after he was dead. One of thes_apers 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 peniten_onfession, and prayers to God to help her. He had palmed a tale on the gir_hat some secret mystery—to be explained one day—prevented his marrying he_ust then; and so she had gone on, trusting patiently to him, until sh_rusted too far, and lost what none could ever give her back. She was, at tha_ime, within a few months of her confinement. He told her all he had meant t_o, to hide her shame, if he had lived, and prayed her, if he died, not t_urse his memory, or think the consequences of their sin would be visited o_er or their young child; for all the guilt was his. He reminded her of th_ay he had given her the little locket and the ring with her christian nam_ngraved upon it, and a blank left for that which he hoped one day to hav_estowed upon her—prayed her yet to keep it, and wear it next her heart, a_he had done before—and then ran on, wildly, in the same words, over and ove_gain, 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 a_he letter. He talked of miseries which his wife had brought upon him; of th_ebellious disposition, vice, malice, and premature bad passions of you hi_nly 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 divide_nto two equal portions—one for Agnes Fleming, and the other for their child, if it should be born alive, and ever come of age. If it were a girl, it was t_nherit the money unconditionally; but if a boy, only on the stipulation tha_n his minority he should never have stained his name with any public act o_ishonour, meanness, cowardice, or wrong. He did this, he said, to mark hi_onfidence in the other, and his conviction—only strengthened by approachin_eath—that the child would share her gentle heart, and noble nature. If h_ere disappointed in this expectation, then the money was to come to you: fo_hen, and not till then, when both children were equal, would he recognis_our prior claim upon his purse, who had none upon his heart, but had, from a_nfant, 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, an_ther proofs, she kept, in case they ever tried to lie away the blot. Th_irl's father had the truth from her with every aggravation that her violen_ate—I love her for it now—could add. Goaded by shame and dishonour he fle_ith his children into a remote corner of Wales, changing his very name tha_is friends might never know of his retreat; and here, no great whil_fterwards, he was found dead in his bed. The girl had left her home, i_ecret, some weeks before; he had searched for her, on foot, in every town an_illage near; it was on the night when he returned home, assured that she ha_estroyed 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 th_arrative.
'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 associate_ith the lowest outcasts. She was sinking under a painful and incurabl_isease, and wished to recover him before she died. Inquiries were set o_oot, and strict searches made. They were unavailing for a long time, bu_ltimately 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 an_eadly 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 ha_estroyed herself, and the child too, but was filled with the impression tha_ male child had been born, and was alive. I swore to her, if ever it crosse_y path, to hunt it down; never to let it rest; to pursue it with th_itterest and most unrelenting animosity; to vent upon it the hatred that _eeply felt, and to spit upon the empty vaunt of that insulting will b_raggin it, if I could, to the very gallows-foot. She was right. He came in m_ay at last. I began well; and, but for babbling drabs, I would have finishe_s I began!'
As the villain folded his arms tight together, and muttered curses on himsel_n the impotence of baffled malice, Mr. Brownlow turned to the terrified grou_eside him, and explained that the Jew, who had been his old accomplice an_onfidant, had a large reward for keeping Oliver ensnared: of which some par_as to be given up, in the event of his being rescued: and that a dispute o_his head had led to their visit to the country house for the purpose o_dentifying 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 th_urse, who stole them from the corpse,' answered Monks without raising hi_yes. 'You know what became of them.'
Mr. Brownlow merely nodded to Mr. Grimwig, who disappearing with grea_lacrity, shortly returned, pushing in Mrs. Bumble, and dragging her unwillin_onsort after him.
'Do my hi's deceive me!' cried Mr. Bumble, with ill-feigned enthusiasm, 'or i_hat little Oliver? Oh O-li-ver, if you know'd how I've been a-grieving fo_ou—'
'Hold your tongue, fool,' murmured Mrs. Bumble.
'Isn't natur, natur, Mrs. Bumble?' remonstrated the workhouse master. 'Can't _e supposed to feel—_I_ as brought him up porochially—when I see him a-settin_ere among ladies and gentlemen of the very affablest description! I alway_oved 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 remembe_he 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? _ope you are very well.'
This salutation was addressed to Mr. Brownlow, who had stepped up to within _hort 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 t_uch nonsense as this?'
Again Mr. Brownlow nodded to Mr. Grimwig; and again that gentleman limped awa_ith extraordinary readiness. But not again did he return with a stout man an_ife; for this time, he led in two palsied women, who shook and tottered a_hey walked.
'You shut the door the night old Sally died,' said the foremost one, raisin_er shrivelled hand, 'but you couldn't shut out the sound, nor stop th_hinks.'
'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 fro_er hand, and watched you too, next day, to the pawnbroker's shop,' said th_irst.
'Yes,' added the second, 'and it was a "locket and gold ring." We found ou_hat, 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, lon_go, that the young mother had told her that, feeling she should never ge_ver it, she was on her way, at the time that she was taken ill, to die nea_he grave of the father of the child.'
'Would you like to see the pawnbroker himself?' asked Mr. Grimwig with _otion towards the door.
'No,' replied the woman; 'if he—she pointed to Monks—'has been coward enoug_o confess, as I see he has, and you have sounded all these hags till you hav_ound the right ones, I have nothing more to say. I _did_ sell them, an_hey're where you'll never get them. What then?'
'Nothing,' replied Mr. Brownlow, 'except that it remains for us to take car_hat neither of you is employed in a situation of trust again. You may leav_he 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 unfortunat_ittle 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 lookin_ound to ascertain that his partner had left the room.
'That is no excuse,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'You were present on the occasio_f the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed are the more guilty of th_wo, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts unde_our direction.'
'If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically i_oth hands, 'the law is a ass—a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the la_s a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened b_xperience—by experience.'
Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words, Mr. Bumble fixed hi_at on very tight, and putting his hands in his pockets, followed his helpmat_ownstairs.
'Young lady,' said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Rose, 'give me your hand. Do no_remble. 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 t_e,' said Rose, 'pray let me hear them at some other time. I have not strengt_r spirits now.'
'Nay,' returned the old gentlman, drawing her arm through his; 'you have mor_ortitude 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 _trange name, without a letter, book, or scrap of paper that yielded th_aintest clue by which his friends or relatives could be traced—the child wa_aken 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 foun_t, 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 thei_ine humanity; so she left it with them, giving them a small present of mone_hich 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 th_hild's unhappiness, but told the history of the sister's shame, with suc_lterations as suited her; bade them take good heed of the child, for she cam_f bad blood; and told them she was illegitimate, and sure to go wrong at on_ime or other. The circumstances countenanced all this; the people believe_t; and there the child dragged on an existence, miserable enough even t_atisfy us, until a widow lady, residing, then, at Chester, saw the girl b_hance, 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 fe_onths back.'
'Do you see her now?'
'Yes. Leaning on your arm.'
'But not the less my niece,' cried Mrs. Maylie, folding the fainting girl i_er arms; 'not the less my dearest child. I would not lose her now, for al_he treasures of the world. My sweet companion, my own dear girl!'
'The only friend I ever had,' cried Rose, clinging to her. 'The kindest, bes_f friends. My heart will burst. I cannot bear all this.'
'You have borne more, and have been, through all, the best and gentles_reature that ever shed happiness on every one she knew,' said Mrs. Maylie, embracing her tenderly. 'Come, come, my love, remember who this is who wait_o 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 cal_er aunt—sister, my own dear sister, that something taught my heart to love s_early from the first! Rose, dear, darling Rose!'
Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which were exchanged in th_ong close embrace between the orphans, be sacred. A father, sister, an_other, were gained, and lost, in that one moment. Joy and grief were mingle_n the cup; but there were no bitter tears: for even grief itself arose s_oftened, and clothed in such sweet and tender recollections, that it became _olemn pleasure, and lost all character of pain.
They were a long, long time alone. A soft tap at the door, at length announce_hat some one was without. Oliver opened it, glided away, and gave place t_arry Maylie.
'I know it all,' he said, taking a seat beside the lovely girl. 'Dear Rose, _now it all.'
'I am not here by accident,' he added after a lengthened silence; 'nor have _eard all this to-night, for I knew it yesterday—only yesterday. Do you gues_hat 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 o_ur last discourse.'
'Not to press you to alter your determination,' pursued the young man, 'but t_ear you repeat it, if you would. I was to lay whatever of station or fortun_ might possess at your feet, and if you still adhered to your forme_etermination, I pledged myself, by no word or act, to seek to change it.'
'The same reasons which influenced me then, will influence me now,' said Ros_irmly. 'If I ever owed a strict and rigid duty to her, whose goodness save_e from a life of indigence and suffering, when should I ever feel it, as _hould to-night? It is a struggle,' said Rose, 'but one I am proud to make; i_s 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 sam_osition, 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, dea_ose, think what you have heard to-night.'
'And what have I heard! What have I heard!' cried Rose. 'That a sense of hi_eep disgrace so worked upon my own father that he shunned all—there, we hav_aid 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 bustlin_rowd; no mingling with a world of malice and detraction, where the blood i_alled into honest cheeks by aught but real disgrace and shame; but a home—_eart and home—yes, dearest Rose, and those, and those alone, are all I hav_o offer.'
'What do you mean!' she faltered.
'I mean but this—that when I left you last, I left you with a fir_etermination to level all fancied barriers between yourself and me; resolve_hat if my world could not be yours, I would make yours mine; that no pride o_irth 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, an_roved you so far right. Such power and patronage: such relatives of influenc_nd rank: as smiled upon me then, look coldly now; but there are smilin_ields and waving trees in England's richest county; and by one villag_hurch—mine, Rose, my own!—there stands a rustic dwelling which you can mak_e 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. Neithe_rs. Maylie, nor Harry, nor Rose (who all came in together), could offer _ord in extenuation.
'I had serious thoughts of eating my head to-night,' said Mr. Grimwig, 'for _egan to think I should get nothing else. I'll take the liberty, if you'l_llow me, of saluting the bride that is to be.'
Mr. Grimwig lost no time in carrying this notice into effect upon the blushin_irl; and the example, being contagious, was followed both by the doctor an_r. Brownlow: some people affirm that Harry Maylie had been observed to se_t, orginally, in a dark room adjoining; but the best authorities conside_his downright scandal: he being young and a clergyman.
'Oliver, my child,' said Mrs. Maylie, 'where have you been, and why do yo_ook so sad? There are tears stealing down your face at this moment. What i_he matter?'
It is a world of disappointment: often to the hopes we most cherish, and hope_hat do our nature the greatest honour.