The men in the office looked at each other, but no one dared to stir.
'I knew he was shamming,' said Fang, as if this were incontestable proof of the fact. 'Let him lie there; he'll soon be tired of that.'
'How do you propose to deal with the case, sir?' inquired the clerk in a low voice.
'Summarily,' replied Mr. Fang. 'He stands committed for three months--hard labour of course. Clear the office.'
The door was opened for this purpose, and a couple of men were preparing to carry the insensible boy to his cell; when an elderly man of decent but poor appearance, clad in an old suit of black, rushed hastily into the office, and advanced towards the bench.
'Stop, stop! don't take him away! For Heaven's sake stop a moment!' cried the new comer, breathless with haste.
Although the presiding Genii in such an office as this, exercise a summary and arbitrary power over the liberties, the good name, the character, almost the lives, of Her Majesty's subjects, expecially of the poorer class; and although, within such walls, enough fantastic tricks are daily played to make the angels blind with weeping; they are closed to the public, save through the medium of the daily press.(Footnote: Or were virtually, then.) Mr. Fang was consequently not a little indignant to see an unbidden guest enter in such irreverent disorder.
'What is this? Who is this? Turn this man out. Clear the office!' cried Mr. Fang.
'I WILL speak,' cried the man; 'I will not be turned out. I saw it all. I keep the book-stall. I demand to be sworn. I will not be put down. Mr. Fang, you must hear me. You must not refuse, sir.'
The man was right. His manner was determined; and the matter was growing rather too serious to be hushed up.
'Swear the man,' growled Mr. Fang. with a very ill grace. 'Now, man, what have you got to say?'
'This,' said the man: 'I saw three boys: two others and the prisoner here: loitering on the opposite side of the way, when this gentleman was reading. The robbery was committed by another boy. I saw it done; and I saw that this boy was perfectly amazed and stupified by it.' Having by this time recovered a little breath, the worthy book-stall keeper proceeded to relate, in a more coherent manner the exact circumstances of the robbery.
'Why didn't you come here before?' said Fang, after a pause.
'I hadn't a soul to mind the shop,' replied the man. 'Everybody who could have helped me, had joined in the pursuit. I could get nobody till five minutes ago; and I've run here all the way.'
'The prosecutor was reading, was he?' inquired Fang, after another pause.
'Yes,' replied the man. 'The very book he has in his hand.'
'Oh, that book, eh?' said Fang. 'Is it paid for?'
'No, it is not,' replied the man, with a smile.
'Dear me, I forgot all about it!' exclaimed the absent old gentleman, innocently.
'A nice person to prefer a charge against a poor boy!' said Fang, with a comical effort to look humane. 'I consider, sir, that you have obtained possession of that book, under very suspicious and disreputable circumstances; and you may think yourself very fortunate that the owner of the property declines to prosecute. Let this be a lesson to you, my man, or the law will overtake you yet. The boy is discharged. Clear the office!'
'D--n me!' cried the old gentleman, bursting out with the rage he had kept down so long, 'd--n me! I'll--'
'Clear the office!' said the magistrate. 'Officers, do you hear?
Clear the office!'
The mandate was obeyed; and the indignant Mr. Brownlow was conveyed out, with the book in one hand, and the bamboo cane in the other: in a perfect phrenzy of rage and defiance. He reached the yard; and his passion vanished in a moment. Little Oliver Twist lay on his back on the pavement, with his shirt unbuttoned, and his temples bathed with water; his face a deadly white; and a cold tremble convulsing his whole frame.
'Poor boy, poor boy!' said Mr. Brownlow, bending over him. 'Call a coach, somebody, pray.