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By a remarkable coincidence, the other two had been visited with
the same unpleasant sensation at that precise moment. It was
quite obvious, therefore, that it was the gate; especially as
there was no doubt regarding the time at which the change had
taken place, because all three remembered that they had come in
sight of the robbers at the instant of its occurance.
This dialogue was held between the two men who had surprised the
burglars, and a travelling tinker who had been sleeping in an
outhouse, and who had been roused, together with his two mongrel
curs, to join in the pursuit. Mr. Giles acted in the double
capacity of butler and steward to the old lady of the mansion;
Brittles was a lad of all-work: who, having entered her service a
mere child, was treated as a promising young boy still, though he
was something past thirty.
Encouraging each other with such converse as this; but, keeping
very close together, notwithstanding, and looking apprehensively
round, whenever a fresh gust rattled through the boughs; the
three men hurried back to a tree, behind which they had left
their lantern, lest its light should inform the thieves in what
direction to fire. Catching up the light, they made the best of
their way home, at a good round trot; and long after their dusky
forms had ceased to be discernible, the light might have been
seen twinkling and dancing in the distance, like some exhalation
of the damp and gloomy atmosphere through which it was swiftly
The air grew colder, as day came slowly on; and the mist rolled
along the ground like a dense cloud of smoke. The grass was wet;
the pathways, and low places, were all mire and water; the damp
breath of an unwholesome wind went languidly by, with a hollow
moaning. Still, Oliver lay motionless and insensible on the spot
where Sikes had left him.
Morning drew on apace. The air become more sharp and piercing,
as its first dull hue--the death of night, rather than the birth
of day--glimmered faintly in the sky. The objects which had
looked dim and terrible in the darkness, grew more and more
defined, and gradually resolved into their familiar shapes. The
rain came down, thick and fast, and pattered noisily among the
leafless bushes. But, Oliver felt it not, as it beat against
him; for he still lay stretched, helpless and unconscious, on his
bed of clay.
At length, a low cry of pain broke the stillness that prevailed;
and uttering it, the boy awoke. His left arm, rudely bandaged in
a shawl, hung heavy and useless at his side; the bandage was
saturated with blood. He was so weak, that he could scarcely
raise himself into a sitting posture; when he had done so, he
looked feebly round for help, and groaned with pain. Trembling
in every joint, from cold and exhaustion, he made an effort to
stand upright; but, shuddering from head to foot, fell prostrate
on the ground.
After a short return of the stupor in which he had been so long
plunged, Oliver: urged by a creeping sickness at his heart,
which seemed to warn him that if he lay there, he must surely
die: got upon his feet, and essayed to walk. His head was dizzy,
and he staggered to and from like a drunken man. But he kept up,
nevertheless, and, with his head drooping languidly on his
breast, went stumbling onward, he knew not whither.
And now, hosts of bewildering and confused ideas came crowding on
his mind. He seemed to be still walking between Sikes and
Crackit, who were angrily disputing--for the very words they
said, sounded in his ears; and when he caught his own attention,
as it were, by making some violent effort to save himself from
falling, he found that he was talking to them. Then, he was alone
with Sikes, plodding on as on the previous day; and as shadowy
people passed them, he felt the robber's grasp upon his wrist.
Suddenly, he started back at the report of firearms; there rose
into the air, loud cries and shouts; lights gleamed before his
eyes; all was noise and tumult, as some unseen hand bore him
hurriedly away. Through all these rapid visions, there ran an
undefined, uneasy conscious of pain, which wearied and tormented
Thus he staggered on, creeping, almost mechanically, between the
bars of gates, or through hedge-gaps as they came in his way,
until he reached a road. Here the rain began to fall so heavily,
that it roused him.
He looked about, and saw that at no great distance there was a
house, which perhaps he could reach. Pitying his condition, they
might have compassion on him; and if they did not, it would be
better, he thought, to die near human beings, than in the lonely
open fields. He summoned up all his strength for one last trial,
and bent his faltering steps towards it.
As he drew nearer to this house, a feeling come over him that he
had seen it before. He remembered nothing of its details; but
the shape and aspect of the building seemed familiar to him.
That garden wall! On the grass inside, he had fallen on his
knees last night, and prayed the two men's mercy. It was the
very house they had attempted to rob.
Oliver felt such fear come over him when he recognised the place,
that, for the instant, he forgot the agony of his wound, and
thought only of flight. Flight! He could scarcely stand: and
if he were in full possession of all the best powers of his
slight and youthful frame, whither could he fly? He pushed
against the garden-gate; it was unlocked, and swung open on its
hinges. He tottered across the lawn; climbed the steps; knocked
faintly at the door; and, his whole strength failing him, sunk
down against one of the pillars of the little portico.
It happened that about this time, Mr. Giles, Brittles, and the
tinker, were recruiting themselves, after the fatigues and
terrors of the night, with tea and sundries, in the kitchen. Not
that it was Mr. Giles's habit to admit to too great familiarity
the humbler servants: towards whom it was rather his wont to
deport himself with a lofty affability, which, while it
gratified, could not fail to remind them of his superior position
in society. But, death, fires, and burglary, make all men
equals; so Mr. Giles sat with his legs stretched out before the
kitchen fender, leaning his left arm on the table, while, with
his right, he illustrated a circumstantial and minute account of
the robbery, to which his bearers (but especially the cook and
housemaid, who were of the party) listened with breathless
'It was about half-past tow,' said Mr. Giles, 'or I wouldn't
swear that it mightn't have been a little nearer three, when I
woke up, and, turning round in my bed, as it might be so, (here
Mr. Giles turned round in his chair, and pulled the corner of the
table-cloth over him to imitate bed-clothes,) I fancied I heerd a
At this point of the narrative the cook turned pale, and asked
the housemaid to shut the door: who asked Brittles, who asked the
tinker, who pretended not to hear.
'--Heerd a noise,' continued Mr. Giles. 'I says, at first, "This
is illusion"; and was composing myself off to sleep, when I heerd
the noise again, distinct.'
'What sort of a noise?' asked the cook.
'A kind of a busting noise,' replied Mr. Giles, looking round
'More like the noise of powdering a iron bar on a nutmeg-grater,'
'It was, when you HEERD it, sir,' rejoined Mr. Giles; 'but, at
this time, it had a busting sound. I turned down the clothes';
continued Giles, rolling back the table-cloth, 'sat up in bed;
The cook and housemaid simultaneously ejaculated 'Lor!' and drew
their chairs closer together.
'I heerd it now, quite apparent,' resumed Mr. Giles. '"Somebody,"
I says, "is forcing of a door, or window; what's to be done?
I'll call up that poor lad, Brittles, and save him from being
murdered in his bed; or his throat," I says, "may be cut from his
right ear to his left, without his ever knowing it."'
Here, all eyes were turned upon Brittles, who fixed his upon the
speaker, and stared at him, with his mouth wide open, and his
face expressive of the most unmitigated horror.
'I tossed off the clothes,' said Giles, throwing away the
table-cloth, and looking very hard at the cook and housemaid,
'got softly out of bed; drew on a pair of--'
'Ladies present, Mr. Giles,' murmured the tinker.
'--Of SHOES, sir,' said Giles, turning upon him, and laying great
emphasis on the word; 'seized the loaded pistol that always goes
upstairs with the plate-basket; and walked on tiptoes to his
room. "Brittles," I says, when I had woke him, "don't be
'So you did,' observed Brittles, in a low voice.
'"We're dead men, I think, Brittles," I says,' continued Giles;
'"but don't be frightened."'
'WAS he frightened?' asked the cook.
'Not a bit of it,' replied Mr. Giles. 'He was as firm--ah!
pretty near as firm as I was.'
'I should have died at once, I'm sure, if it had been me,'
observed the housemaid.
'You're a woman,' retorted Brittles, plucking up a little.
'Brittles is right,' said Mr. Giles, nodding his head,
approvingly; 'from a woman, nothing else was to be expected. We,
being men, took a dark lantern that was standing on Brittle's
hob, and groped our way downstairs in the pitch dark,--as it
might be so.'
Mr. Giles had risen from his seat, and taken two steps with his
eyes shut, to accompany his description with appropriate action,
when he started violently, in common with the rest of the