Oliver Twist 121

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‚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’s 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 whither, 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–‚

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