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10 Life in the country

 

  The weeks slipped contentedly past, and spring turned into summer. O liver was now a strong and healthy boy, and very fond of Rose and Mrs May lie as They were of him.

  One hot summer evening, after a walk in the country, Rose became very weak and pale, and confessed she felt ill. By the next morning she was in a dangerous fever, and Mrs May lie and O liver were afraid she might die. Mrs May lie sent O liver to the nearest town, four miles away, to post two express letters. One was to Dr Losberne in Chertsey, the other to

  Harry May lie, Mrs May lie's son.

  O liver, filled with anxiety, ran as fast as he could along the country roads and across the fields until, hot and exhausted, he reached the town. He posted the letters and turned to hurry home again. As he was running past a pub in the main street, he accidentally bumped into a tall man in black coming out. The man stared at O liver. 'What the devil's this? ' he said, stepping back.

  'I'm sorry, sir. I was in a hurry, and didn' t see you. '

  The man murmured angrily to himself, 'Who would have thought it? Curse him! I can't get away from him! '

  'I'm sorry, sir, repeated O liver, frightened by the man' s wild, staring eyes.

  'The devil break your bones! 'the man said through his teeth. 'What are you doing here? He raised his hand and started towards O liver with a mad look in his eyes, but fell violently to the ground, shaking and gasping, in a fit. People hurried up and helped the man into the pub while O liver, thinking that the man was mad, ran quickly home/

  Mrs May lie and O liver passed a sleepless night, and Rose grew steadily worse as the fever burned in herO liver said every prayer he had ever learnt ten times over.

  Late the next day Dr Losberne and Harry May lie arrived, and the house was full of worried faces and anxious whispers. But the danger passed, and by the next night Dr Losberne was able to announce that, though seriously ill, Rose would not die. O liver cried for joy.

  A day or two later, Mrs May lie talked privately to her son. Harry was a hand some young man of about twenty-five, with a cheerful, honest face and friendly manners He was clearly very fond of Rose.

  'I know that you want to marry Rose Mrs May lie told her son, 'and she is the nicest person I know But I want you to remember one thingher birth. '

  'Mother, that means nothing to me, 'said The young man. 'I love her. '

  'I know you do, Harry, but she herself is well aware of her doubtful birth, and this might affect her answer if you ask her to marry you I know you have ambitions to enter politics. If you marry a woman with a stain on her name, even though it's not her fault, it might spoil your chances of success in life. Society is cruel, Harry. People might use the knowledge of your wife's doubtful birth against you and against your children, too. And one day, you might begin to regret your marriage. '

  'Only a selfish man would do that, Mother! 'Harry answered impatiently. 'No, I am quite determined. I have loved Rose for a long time, and nothing will ever change that. '

  Mrs May lie sighed. 'And she, I know, is very fond of you. But she herself may try to protect you, and refuse an offer of marriage frpm you, for your sake. Remember that, Harry. But now, I must go back and sit with her. '

  'Will you tell her how much I've worried about her? ' asked Harry. 'And how anxious I am to see her again?

  'Of course I will, 'replied Mrs May lie.

  Some days after this conversation, O liver was sitting in the room where he studied in the evenings. It was a warm night, and he had been studying hard for some hours. He fell asleep at his desk and started dreaming. He dreamt that he was in Fagin's house again, and could see the old man sitting in his corner, whispering to another man. Yes, my dear, he heard Fagin say, 'you're right. That's him. '

  In O liver's dream the other man answered. 'Of course it is! I told you I'd seen him. I'd recognize him anywhere. If I walked across his unmarked grave, I'd know it was him buried under the ground. '

  He said this with such hatred that O liver woke up from fear. In front of him, at the open window, so near he could almost touch the m, were Fagin and the strange, wild man he had bumped into outside the pub in the town. In a flash, They were gone. O liver sat still, white with terror, for a second, the n shouted loudly for help.

  Harry and Dr Losberne came running, and hearing what had happened, They rushed outside into the night and searched the garden and the fields around. The re was no sign of anybody.

  'It must have been a bad dream, O liver, ' said Harry, breathless after running through the fields. He had heard all about O liver's past from his mother.

  'No, 'replied O liver, still frightened. 'I saw the m both as plainly as I see you now. '

  Nothing more was seen or heard of the two men, and after a few days, the event was forgotten. Rose recovered rapidly and was soon able to go outside again. Harry May lie waited a few days, the n, as his mother had expected, he asked Rose to marry him. And as his mother had warned him, Rose refused.

  'Don't you love me? ' he asked her, holding her hand .

  'I do, 'she whispered, ' but please try to forget me. It would ruin your future as a politician if anybody found out about my birth. I could never, never forgive myself. '

  Harry paused for a few minutes. 'Tell me one thing, dear Rose. Could you have accepted if your past had been different? Or if I had been poor and friendless, with no hope of riches or success? '

  'I could, 'answered Rose, covering her face to hide her tears. 'But as you are, I can never be more than a friend to you.

  'I shall ask you once more, said Harry softly. 'In a year's time or less, I shall ask you to change your mind. '

  The girl shook her head and smiled sadly. 'No, it will be useless. '

  Harry left the next day, having asked O liver to write to him secretly with news of his mother and Rose. From an upstairs window, Rose watched him leave with tears in her eyes.

  Mr Bumble was now a married man, and not a happy one. He was no longer a beadle but the manager of the workhouse, and his wife, formerly Mrs Corney, scolded and argued with him day and night. One evening, after a particularly violent fight, when she threw things at him and chased him out of the house, he went for a walk alone through the town. He felt very sorry for himself, and finally went into a pub to find comfort in ginandwater. A tall dark man, sitting in the corner, watched Mr Bumble while he drank. The stranger's clothe s were dusty and muddy, as if he had travelled a long way. Mr Bumble began to feel uncomfortable at the man's hard stare, and tried to avoid meeting his eyes.

  'I've seen you before, 'the stranger said, eventually. 'you were the beadle here. '

  'I was. But I don't recognize you. '

  'It doesn't matter. I came here to look for you, and I'm lucky to have found you. I'd like some information. ' He pushed a couple of coins across the table.

  'What information? ' asked Mr Bumble suspiciously, slipping the coins into his pocket.

  'About a workhouse birth. A boy called O liver Twist. '

  'Young Twist! I remember him! He was a dreadful!'

  'It's not him I want to talk about, interrupted the stranger. 'I've heard enough of him. It's the old woman who was the nurse for his mother. Where is she? '

  'Oh- she died last winter, 'said Mr Bumble. The n he remembered that his wife had been the re when old Sally had died, and he realized that this information might be worth something. He told the man that one woman had been with the nurse when she died, and had heard some secret from her.

  'Where can I find this woman? the stranger asked quickly, showing in his pale face how important this was to him.

  'I can bring her to meet you tomorrow, 'said Mr Bumble.

  'All right Down by the river, at nine in the evening. ' The man wrote the address on a piece of paper.

  'And your name? asked Mr Bumble.

  'Monks, replied the stranger, 'but you don't need to remember it. 'The n he quickly left the pub.

  The next evening was dark and cloudy; a storm threatened and already the first drops of rain were falling. Mr and Mrs Bumble walked up the main street of the town, the n turned towards a group of ruined old houses next to the river. Mr Bumble went first, carrying a dim light, and his wife followed closely behind. At the oldest and most ruined building, They stopped and Mr Bumble took out his piece of paper. The first distant crash of thunder shook the air, and the rain began to pour down heavily. The n They heard Monks calling out of an upstairs window.

  'Is that the man? ' Mrs Bumble asked her husband.

  'Yes. '

  'The n be careful to say as little as you can. Don't tell him I'm your wife. '

  Monks opened a small door, saying impatiently, 'Come in! Don't keep me waiting! '

  Mr Bumble was only brave when dealing with poor, helpless people. He felt very uneasy about entering this dark building with an illtempered stranger. However, he was equally afraid of his wife. Nervously, he followed her through the door.

  Inside, Monks stared at Mrs Bumble for some time. 'So this is the woman, is it? '

  'Yes, 'replied Mr Bumble cautiously.

  As They walked upstairs, the re was a bright flash of lightning outside, followed by loud thunder. They sat dowu at the table and Monks started immediately.

  'So you were present when the old woman died, is that right? And she told you something? He stared at Mrs Bumble again.

  'Yes, 'said Mrs Bumble. 'Something about the mother of O liver Twist. But first, how much will you pay me for the information? '

  'If it's what I want to hear-twentyfive pounds, 'said Monks. 'But it's a lot of money for something which has been lying dead for twelve years. 'Reluctantly, he pushed the money across the table towards her, the n bent forward to listen. The faces of the three nearly touched, as the two men leant over the table to hear what the woman had to say, and the woman leant over towards the m so that They could hear her whisper. In the dim lamplight their faces looked pale and ghostly.

  'The old woman who was the nurse died with only me in the room, 'said Mrs Bumble.

  'No one else was the re? ' asked Monks fiercely.

  'No one. '

  'Good, 'said Monks. 'Go on. '

  'She spoke about a young woman who had given birth in the same bed some years before. The child was O liver Twist. And this nurse had robbed the child's mother. '

  'Robbed in life? ' asked Monks.

  'In death. She stole from the body when it was hardly cold. But the old woman fell back and died before she could tell memore'

  'It's a lie'shouted Monks furiously 'You know moreI'll kill you both if you don't tell me what else she said'

  'She said no more'repeated Mrs Bumble calmlyshowingunlike Mr Bumbleno fear of the strange man's violence 'But in her hand I found a piece of dirty paper'

  'Which contained´'

  'NothingIt was only a receipt from a pawnbrokerI went to the pawnbroker and got back a little gold locketInside was a gold wedding ring and on the locket itselfthe name

  ^Agnes ̄'She put the locket on the table in front of Monks

  He picked it up immediately and looked at it closelyhis hand s shaking 'Is this all'

  'It isAnd now I want to ask you a questionWhat do youintend to do with the locket'

  'ThisSo it can never be used against me'Monks suddenly pushed the table to one side and opened a small door in the floorDown below rushed the riverits muddy waters swollen by the heavy rain

  'If you threw a man's body down the rewhere would it be to morrow'asked Monks

  'Twelve miles down the riverand cut to pieces'replied Mr Bumble in a shaky voice

  Monks tied the locket to a heavy weight and dropped it in to the waterIn a secondit was goneThe three of the m lookedinto each other's facesand seemed to breathe more freely

  'Now we have nothing more to say'said Monkswith athreatening look at Mr Bumble 'And nothing to say to any one else eitherDo you understand'

  'Certainly'said Mr Bumblevery politelyHe move da way from the strange mananxious to leave quickly

  At the door to the streetMonks turned again to Mr Bumble 'And if we ever meet againwe don't know each otherDo you understand that as well'

  'Perfectly'said the relieved Mr Bumblemoving away into the rain and pulling his wife with him