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'Carry your memory back--let me see--twelve years, last winter.'
'It's a long time,' said Mr. Bumble. 'Very good. I've done it.'
'The scene, the workhouse.'
'And the time, night.'
'And the place, the crazy hole, wherever it was, in which miserable drabs brought forth the life and health so often denied to themselves--gave birth to puling children for the parish to rear; and hid their shame, rot 'em in the grave!'
'The lying-in room, I suppose?' said Mr. Bumble, not quite following the stranger's excited description.
'Yes,' said the stranger. 'A boy was born there.'
'A many boys,' observed Mr. Bumble, shaking his head, despondingly.
'A murrain on the young devils!' cried the stranger; 'I speak of one; a meek-looking, pale-faced boy, who was apprenticed down here, to a coffin-maker--I wish he had made his coffin, and screwed his body in it--and who afterwards ran away to London, as it was supposed.
'Why, you mean Oliver! Young Twist!' said Mr. Bumble; 'I remember him, of course. There wasn't a obstinater young rascal--'
'It's not of him I want to hear; I've heard enough of him,' said the stranger, stopping Mr. Bumble in the outset of a tirade on the subject of poor Oliver's vices. 'It's of a woman; the hag that nursed his mother. Where is she?'
'Where is she?' said Mr. Bumble, whom the gin-and-water had rendered facetious. 'It would be hard to tell. There's no midwifery there, whichever place she's gone to; so I suppose she's out of employment, anyway.'
'What do you mean?' demanded the stranger, sternly.
'That she died last winter,' rejoined Mr. Bumble.
The man looked fixedly at him when he had given this information, and although he did not withdraw his eyes for some time afterwards, his gaze gradually became vacant and abstracted, and he seemed lost in thought. For some time, he appeared doubtful whether he ought to be relieved or disappointed by the intelligence; but at length he breathed more freely; and withdrawing his eyes, observed that it was no great matter. With that he rose, as if to depart.
But Mr. Bumble was cunning enough; and he at once saw that an opportunity was opened, for the lucrative disposal of some secret in the possession of his better half. He well remembered the night of old Sally's death, which the occurrences of that day had given him good reason to recollect, as the occasion on which he had proposed to Mrs. Corney; and although that lady had never confided to him the disclosure of which she had been the solitary witness, he had heard enough to know that it related to something that had occurred in the old woman's attendance, as workhouse nurse, upon the young mother of Oliver Twist. Hastily calling this circumstance to mind, he informed the stranger, with an air of mystery, that one woman had been closeted with the old harridan shortly before she died; and that she could, as he had reason to believe, throw some light on the subject of his inquiry.
'How can I find her?' said the stranger, thrown off his guard; and plainly showing that all his fears (whatever they were) were aroused afresh by the intelligence.
'Only through me,' rejoined Mr. Bumble.
'When?' cried the stranger, hastily.
'To-morrow,' rejoined Bumble.
'At nine in the evening,' said the stranger, producing a scrap of paper, and writing down upon it, an obscure address by the water-side, in characters that betrayed his agitation; 'at nine in the evening, bring her to me there. I needn't tell you to be secret. It's your interest.'
With these words, he led the way to the door, after stopping to pay for the liquor that had been drunk. Shortly remarking that their roads were different, he departed, without more ceremony than an emphatic repetition of the hour of appointment for the following night.
On glancing at the address, the parochial functionary observed that it contained no name. The stranger had not gone far, so he made after him to ask it.
'What do you want?' cried the man. turning quickly round, as Bumble touched him on the arm. 'Following me?'
'Only to ask a question,' said the other, pointing to the scrap of paper. 'What name am I to ask for?'
'Monks!' rejoined the man; and strode hastily, away.
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Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens