HAS AN INTRODUCTORY ACCOUNT OF THE INMATES OF THE HOUSE, TO WHICH OLIVER RESORTED.
In a handsome room: though its furniture had rather the air of old-fashioned comfort, than of modern elegance: there sat two ladies at a well-spread breakfast-table. Mr. Giles, dressed with scrupulous care in a full suit of black, was in attendance upon them. He had taken his station some half-way between the side-board and the breakfast-table; and, with his body drawn up to its full height, his head thrown back, and inclined the merest trifle on one side, his left leg advanced, and his right hand thrust into his waist-coat, while his left hung down by his side, grasping a waiter, looked like one who laboured under a very agreeable sense of his own merits and importance.
Of the two ladies, one was well advanced in years; but the high-backed oaken chair in which she sat, was not more upright than she. Dressed with the utmost nicety and precision, in a quaint mixture of by-gone costume, with some slight concessions to the prevailing taste, which rather served to point the old style pleasantly than to impair its effect, she sat, in a stately manner, with her hands folded on the table before her. Her eyes (and age had dimmed but little of their brightness) were attentively upon her young companion.
The younger lady was in the lovely bloom and spring-time of womanhood; at that age, when, if ever angels be for God’s good purposes enthroned in mortal forms, they may be, without impiety, supposed to abide in such as hers.
She was not past seventeen. Cast in so slight and exquisite a mould; so mild and gentle; so pure and beautiful; that earth seemed not her element, nor its rough creatures her fit companions. The very intelligence that shone in her deep blue eye, and was stamped upon her noble head, seemed scarcely of her age, or of the world; and yet the changing expression of sweetness and good humour, the thousand lights that played about the face, and left no shadow there; above all, the smile, the cheerful, happy smile, were made for Home, and fireside peace and happiness.
She was busily engaged in the little offices of the table. Chancing to raise her eyes as the elder lady was regarding her, she playfully put back her hair, which was simply braided on her forehead; and threw into her beaming look, such an expression of affection and artless loveliness, that blessed spirits might have smiled to look upon her.
‘And Brittles has been gone upwards of an hour, has he?’ asked the old lady, after a pause.
‘An hour and twelve minutes, ma’am,’ replied Mr. Giles, referring to a silver watch, which he drew forth by a black ribbon.
‘He is always slow,’ remarked the old lady.
‘Brittles always was a slow boy, ma’am,’ replied the attendant. And seeing, by the bye, that Brittles had been a slow boy for upwards of thirty years, there appeared no great probability of his ever being a fast one.
‘He gets worse instead of better, I think,’ said the elder lady.
‘It is very inexcusable in him if he stops to play with any other boys,’ said the young lady, smiling.
Mr. Giles was apparently considering the propriety of indulging in a respectful smile himself, when a gig drove up to the garden-gate: out of which there jumped a fat gentleman, who ran straight up to the door: and who, getting quickly into the house by some mysterious process, burst into the room, and nearly overturned Mr. Giles and the breakfast-table together.
‘I never heard of such a thing!’ exclaimed the fat gentleman. ‘My dear Mrs. Maylie—bless my soul—in the silence of the night, too—I never heard of such a thing!’
With these expressions of condolence, the fat gentleman shook hands with both ladies, and drawing up a chair, inquired how they found themselves.
‘You ought to be dead; positively dead with the fright,’ said the fat gentleman. ‘Why didn’t you send? Bless me, my man should have come in a minute; and so would I; and my assistant would have been delighted; or anybody, I’m sure, under such circumstances. Dear, dear! So unexpected! In the silence of the night, too!’
The doctor seemed expecially troubled by the fact of the robbery having been unexpected, and attempted in the night-time; as if it were the established custom of gentlemen in the housebreaking way to transact business at noon, and to make an appointment, by post, a day or two previous.
‘And you, Miss Rose,’ said the doctor, turning to the young lady, ‘I—’
‘Oh! very much so, indeed,’ said Rose, interrupting him; ‘but there is a poor creature upstairs, whom aunt wishes you to see.’
‘Ah! to be sure,’ replied the doctor, ‘so there is. That was your handiwork, Giles, I understand.’
Mr. Giles, who had been feverishly putting the tea-cups to rights, blushed very red, and said that he had had that honour.
‘Honour, eh?’ said the doctor; ‘well, I don’t know; perhaps it’s as honourable to hit a thief in a back kitchen, as to hit your man at twelve paces. Fancy that he fired in the air, and you’ve fought a duel, Giles.’
Mr. Giles, who thought this light treatment of the matter an unjust attempt at diminishing his glory, answered respectfully, that it was not for the like of him to judge about that; but he rather thought it was no joke to the opposite party.
‘Gad, that’s true!’ said the doctor. ‘Where is he? Show me the way. I’ll look in again, as I come down, Mrs. Maylie. That’s the little window that he got in at, eh? Well, I couldn’t have believed it!’
Talking all the way, he followed Mr. Giles upstairs; and while he is going upstairs, the reader may be informed, that Mr. Losberne, a surgeon in the neighbourhood, known through a circuit of ten miles round as ‘the doctor,’ had grown fat, more from good-humour than from good living: and was as kind and hearty, and withal as eccentric an old bachelor, as will be found in five times that space, by any explorer alive.
The doctor was absent, much longer than either he or the ladies had anticipated. A large flat box was fetched out of the gig; and a bedroom bell was rung very often; and the servants ran up and down stairs perpetually; from which tokens it was justly concluded that something important was going on above. At length he returned; and in reply to an anxious inquiry after his patient; looked very mysterious, and closed the door, carefully.
‘This is a very extraordinary thing, Mrs. Maylie,’ said the doctor, standing with his back to the door, as if to keep it shut.
‘He is not in danger, I hope?’ said the old lady.
‘Why, that would not be an extraordinary thing, under the circumstances,’ replied the doctor; ‘though I don’t think he is. Have you seen the thief?’
‘No,’ rejoined the old lady.
‘Nor heard anything about him?’
‘I beg your pardon, ma’am, interposed Mr. Giles; ‘but I was going to tell you about him when Doctor Losberne came in.’
The fact was, that Mr. Giles had not, at first, been able to bring his mind to the avowal, that he had only shot a boy. Such commendations had been bestowed upon his bravery, that he could not, for the life of him, help postponing the explanation for a few delicious minutes; during which he had flourished, in the very zenith of a brief reputation for undaunted courage.
‘Rose wished to see the man,’ said Mrs. Maylie, ‘but I wouldn’t hear of it.’
‘Humph!’ rejoined the doctor. ‘There is nothing very alarming in his appearance. Have you any objection to see him in my presence?’
‘If it be necessary,’ replied the old lady, ‘certainly not.’
‘Then I think it is necessary,’ said the doctor; ‘at all events, I am quite sure that you would deeply regret not having done so, if you postponed it. He is perfectly quiet and comfortable now. Allow me—Miss Rose, will you permit me? Not the slightest fear, I pledge you my honour!’