Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens

Chapter 49

Monks and Mr. Brownlow at length meet. Their conversation, and the intelligence that interrupts it

The twilight was beginning to close in, when Mr. Brownlow alighted from a hackney-coach at his own door, and knocked softly. The door being opened, a sturdy man got out of the coach and stationed himself on one side of the steps, while another man, who had been seated on the box, dismounted too, and stood upon the other side. At a sign from Mr. Brownlow, they helped out a third man, and taking him between them, hurried him into the house. This man was Monks.

They walked in the same manner up the stairs without speaking, and Mr. Brownlow, preceding them, led the way into a back-room. At the door of this apartment, Monks, who had ascended with evident reluctance, stopped. The two men looked at the old gentleman as if for instructions.

‘He knows the alternative,’ said Mr. Browlow. ‘If he hesitates or moves a finger but as you bid him, drag him into the street, call for the aid of the police, and impeach him as a felon in my name.’

‘How dare you say this of me?’ asked Monks.

‘How dare you urge me to it, young man?’ replied Mr. Brownlow, confronting him with a steady look. ‘Are you mad enough to leave this house? Unhand him. There, sir. You are free to go, and we to follow. But I warn you, by all I hold most solemn and most sacred, that instant will have you apprehended on a charge of fraud and robbery. I am resolute and immoveable. If you are determined to be the same, your blood be upon your own head!’

‘By what authority am I kidnapped in the street, and brought here by these dogs?’ asked Monks, looking from one to the other of the men who stood beside him.

‘By mine,’ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‘Those persons are indemnified by me. If you complain of being deprived of your liberty — you had power and opportunity to retrieve it as you came along, but you deemed it advisable to remain quiet — I say again, throw yourself for protection on the law. I will appeal to the law too; but when you have gone too far to recede, do not sue to me for leniency, when the power will have passed into other hands; and do not say I plunged you down the gulf into which you rushed, yourself.’

Monks was plainly disconcerted, and alarmed besides. He hesitated.

‘You will decide quickly,’ said Mr. Brownlow, with perfect firmness and composure. ‘If you wish me to prefer my charges publicly, and consign you to a punishment the extent of which, although I can, with a shudder, foresee, I cannot control, once more, I say, for you know the way. If not, and you appeal to my forbearance, and the mercy of those you have deeply injured, seat yourself, without a word, in that chair. It has waited for you two whole days.’

Monks muttered some unintelligible words, but wavered still.

‘You will be prompt,’ said Mr. Brownlow. ‘A word from me, and the alternative has gone for ever.’

Still the man hesitated.

‘I have not the inclination to parley,’ said Mr. Brownlow, ‘and, as I advocate the dearest interests of others, I have not the right.’

‘Is there —’ demanded Monks with a faltering tongue — ‘is there — no middle course?’

‘None.’

Monks looked at the old gentleman, with an anxious eye; but, reading in his countenance nothing but severity and determination, walked into the room, and, shrugging his shoulders, sat down.

‘Lock the door on the outside,’ said Mr. Brownlow to the attendants, ‘and come when I ring.’

The men obeyed, and the two were left alone together.

‘This is pretty treatment, sir,’ said Monks, throwing down his hat and cloak, ‘from my father’s oldest friend.’

‘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’ 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 whithter, 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 —’

‘Why not?’ asked Monks hastily.

‘Because you know it well.’

‘I!’

‘Denial to me is vain,’ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‘I shall show you that I know more than that.’

‘You — you — can’t prove anything against me,’ stammered Monks. ‘I defy you to do it!’

‘We shall see,’ returned the old gentleman with a searching glance. ‘I lost the boy, and no efforts of mine could recover him. Your mother being dead, I knew that you alone could solve the mystery if anybody could, and as when I had last heard of you you were on your own estate in the West Indies — whither, as you well know, you retired upon your mother’s death to escape the consequences of vicious courses here — I made the voyage. You had left it, months before, and were supposed to be in London, but no one could tell where. I returned. Your agents had no clue to your residence. You came and went, they said, as strangely as you had ever done: sometimes for days together and sometimes not for months: keeping to all appearance the same low haunts and mingling with the same infamous herd who had been your associates when a fierce ungovernable boy. I wearied them with new applications. I paced the streets by night and day, but until two hours ago, all my efforts were fruitless, and I never saw you for an instant.’

‘And now you do see me,’ said Monks, rising boldly, ‘what then? Fraud and robbery are high-sounding words — justified, you think, by a fancied resemblance in some young imp to an idle daub of a dead man’s Brother! You don’t even know that a child was born of this maudlin pair; you don’t even know that.’

‘I DID NOT,’ replied Mr. Brownlow, rising too; ‘but within the last fortnight I have learnt it all. You have a brother; you know it, and him. There was a will, which your mother destroyed, leaving the secret and the gain to you at her own death. It contained a reference to some child likely to be the result of this sad connection, which child was born, and accidentally encountered by you, when your suspicions were first awakened by his resemblance to your father. You repaired to the place of his birth. There existed proofs — proofs long suppressed — of his birth and parentage. Those proofs were destroyed by you, and now, in your own words to your accomplice the Jew, “THE ONLY PROOFS OF THE BOY’S IDENTITY LIE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER, AND THE OLD HAG THAT RECEIVED THEM FORM THE MOTHER IS ROTTING IN HER COFFIN.”

Unworthy son, coward, liar — you, who hold your councils with thieves and murderers in dark rooms at night — you, whose plots and wiles have brought a violent death upon the head of one worth millions such as you — you, who from your cradle were gall and bitterness to your own father’s heart, and in whom all evil passions, vice, and profligacy, festered, till they found a vent in a hideous disease which had made your face an index even to your mind — you, Edward Leeford, do you still brave me!’

‘No, no, no!’ returned the coward, overwhelmed by these accumulated charges.

‘Every word!’ cried the gentleman, ‘every word that has passed between you and this detested villain, is known to me. Shadows on the wall have caught your whispers, and brought them to my ear; the sight of the persecuted child has turned vice itself, and given it the courage and almost the attributes of virtue. Murder has been done, to which you were morally if not really a party.’

‘No, no,’ interposed Monks. ‘I— I knew nothing of that; I was going to inquire the truth of the story when you overtook me. I didn’t know the cause. I thought it was a common quarrel.’

‘It was the partial disclosure of your secrets,’ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‘Will you disclose the whole?’

‘Yes, I will.’

‘Set your hand to a statement of truth and facts, and repeat it before witnesses?’

‘That I promise too.’

‘Remain quietly here, until such a document is drawn up, and proceed with me to such a place as I may deem most advisable, for the purpose of attesting it?’

‘If you insist upon that, I’ll do that also,’ replied Monks.

‘You must do more than that,’ said Mr. Brownlow. ‘Make restitution to an innocent and unoffending child, for such he is, although the offspring of a guilty and most miserable love. You have not forgotten the provisions of the will. Carry them into execution so far as your brother is concerned, and then go where you please. In this world you need meet no more.’

While Monks was pacing up and down, meditating with dark and evil looks on this proposal and the possibilities of evading it: torn by his fears on the one hand and his hatred on the other: the door was hurriedly unlocked, and a gentleman (Mr. Losberne) entered the room in violent agitation.

‘The man will be taken,’ he cried. ‘He will be taken to-night!’

‘The murderer?’ asked Mr. Brownlow.

‘Yes, yes,’ replied the other. ‘His dog has been seen lurking about some old haunt, and there seems little doubt hat his master either is, or will be, there, under cover of the darkness. Spies are hovering about in every direction. I have spoken to the men who are charged with his capture, and they tell me he cannot escape. A reward of a hundred pounds is proclaimed by Government to-night.’

‘I will give fifty more,’ said Mr. Brownlow, ‘and proclaim it with my own lips upon the spot, if I can reach it. Where is Mr. Maylie?’

‘Harry? As soon as he had seen your friend here, safe in a coach with you, he hurried off to where he heard this,’ replied the doctor, ‘and mounting his horse sallied forth to join the first party at some place in the outskirts agreed upon between them.’

‘Fagin,’ said Mr. Brownlow; ‘what of him?’

‘When I last heard, he had not been taken, but he will be, or is, by this time. They’re sure of him.’

‘Have you made up your mind?’ asked Mr. Brownlow, in a low voice, of Monks.

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘You — you — will be secret with me?’

‘I will. Remain here till I return. It is your only hope of safety.

They left the room, and the door was again locked.

‘What have you done?’ asked the doctor in a whisper.

‘All that I could hope to do, and even more. Coupling the poor girl’s intelligence with my previous knowledge, and the result of our good friend’s inquiries on the spot, I left him no loophole of escape, and laid bare the whole villainy which by these lights became plain as day. Write and appoint the evening after to-morrow, at seven, for the meeting. We shall be down there, a few hours before, but shall require rest: especially the young lady, who MAY have greater need of firmness than either you or I can quite foresee just now. But my blood boils to avenge this poor murdered creature. Which way have they taken?’

‘Drive straight to the office and you will be in time,’ replied Mr. Losberne. ‘I will remain here.’

The two gentlemen hastily separated; each in a fever of excitement wholly uncontrollable.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30