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and the air, and the drink that had been forced upon him, put his hand mechanically into that which Sikes extended for the purpose.
"Take his other hand, Toby," said Sikes. "Look out, Barney!" The man went to the door, and returned to announce that all was quiet. The two robbers issued forth with Oliver between them; and Barney, having made all fast, rolled himself up as before, and was soon asleep again.
It was now intensely dark. The fog was much heavier than it had been in the early part of the night, and the atmosphere was so damp that, although no rain fell, Oliver's hair and eyebrows within a few minutes after leaving the house had become stiff with the half-frozen moisture that was floating about. They crossed the bridge, and kept on towards the lights which he had seen before. They were at no great distance off; and, as they walked pretty briskly, they soon arrived at Chertsey.
"Slap through the town," whispered Sikes: "there'll be nobody in the way to-night to see us."
Toby acquiesced; and they hurried through the main street of the little town, which at that late hour was wholly deserted. A dim light shone at intervals from some bed-room window, and the hoarse barking of dogs occasionally broke the silence of the night; but there was nobody abroad, and they had cleared the town as the church bell struck two.
Quickening their pace, they turned up a road upon the left hand; after walking about a quarter of a mile, they stopped before a detached house surrounded by a wall, to the top of which, Toby Crackit, scarcely pausing to take breath, climbed in a twinkling.
'The boy next," said Toby. "Hoist him up: I'll catch hold of him."
Before Oliver had time to look round, Sikes had caught him under the arms, and in three or four seconds he and Toby were lying on the grass on the other side. Sikes followed directly, and they stole cautiously towards the house.
And now, for the first time, Oliver, well-nigh mad with grief and terror, saw that housebreaking and robbery, if not murder, were the ob. jects of the expedition. He clasped his hands together, and involuntarily uttered a subdued exclamation of horror. A mist came before his eyes, the cold sweat stood npon his ashy face, his limbs failed him, and he sunk upon his knees.
"Get up!" murmured Sikes, trembling with rage, and drawing the pistol from his pocket; "get up, or I'll strew your brains upon the grass!"
"Oh! for God's sake let me go!" cried Oliver; "let me run away and die in the fields. I will never come near London-never, never! Oh! pray have mercy upon me, and do not make me steal; for the love of all the bright angels that rest in heaven, have mercy upon me!"
The man to whom this appeal was made swore a dreadful oath, and had cocked the pistol, when Toby, striking it from his grasp, placed his hand upon the boy's mouth and dragged him to the house.
"Hush!" cried the man; "it won't answer here. Say another word, and I'll do your business myself with a crack on the head that makes no noise, and is quite as certain and more genteel. Here, Bill,
wrench the shutter open. He's game enough now, I'll engage. I've seen older hands of his age took the same way for a minute or two on a cold night."
Sikes, invoking terrific imprecations upon Fagin's head for sending Oliver on such an errand, plied the crowbar vigorously, but with little noise; and, after some delay and some assistance from Toby, the shut. ter to which he had referred swung open on its hinges.
It was a little lattice window, about five feet and a half above the ground, at the back of the house, belonging to a scullery or small brewing-place at the end of the passage: the aperture was so small that the inmates had probably not thought it worth while to defend it more securely; but it was large enough to admit a boy of Oliver's size nevertheless. A very brief exercise of Mr. Sike's art sufficed to overcome the fastening of the lattice, and it soon stood wide open also.
"Now listen, you young limb!" whispered Sikes, drawing a dark lantern from his pocket, and throwing the glare full on Oliver's face; "I'm a-going to put you through there. Take this light, go softly up the steps straight afore you, and along the little hall to the street-door. Unfasten it, and let us in."
"There's a bolt at the top you won't be able to reach," interposd Toby. "Stand upon one of the hall chairs; there are three there, Bill, with a jolly large blue unicorn and a gold pitchfork on 'em, which is the old lady's arms.
"Keep quiet, can't you?" replied Sikes with a savage look. "The room door is open, is it?"
"Wide," replied Toby, after peeping in to satisfy himself. "The game of that is that they always leave it open with a catch, so that the dog, who's got a bed in here, may walk up and down the passage when he feels wakeful. Ha ha! Barney 'ticed him away to-night so neat."
Although Mr. Crackit spoke in a scarcely audible whisper, and laughed without noise, Sikes imperiously commanded him to be silent, and to get to work. Toby complied by first producing his lantern, and placing it on the ground; and then planting himself firmly with his head against the wall beneath the window, and his hands upon his knees, so as to make a step of his back. This was no sooner done than Sikes, mounting upon him, put Oliver gently through the window, with his feet first; and, without leaving hold of his collar, planted him safely on the floor inside.
"Take this lantern," said Sikes, looking into the room. the stairs afore you?"
Oliver, more dead than alive, gasped out, " Yes ;" and Sikes, pointing to the street door with the pistol barrel, briefly advise him to take notice that he was within shot all the way, and that if he faltered he would fall dead that instant.
"It's done in a minute," said Sikes in the same low whisper. rectly I leave go of you, do your work. Hark!”
"What's that?" whispered the other man.
They listened intently.
"Nothing," said Sikes, releasing his hold of Oliver. "Now!"
In the short time he had had to collect his senses, the boy had firmly resolved that, whether he died in the attempt or not, he would make one
effort to dart up stairs from the hall and alarm the family. Filled with this idea, he advanced at once, but stealthily.
"Come back!" suddenly cried Sikes aloud.
Scared by the sudden breaking of the dead stillness of the place, and a loud cry which followed it, Oliver let his lantern fall, and knew not whether to advance or fly. The cry was repeated-a light appeared -a vision of two terrified half-dressed men at the top of the stairs swam before his eyes-a flash-a loud noise-a smoke-a crash somewhere, but where he knew not-and he staggered back.
Sikes had disappeared for an instant; but he was up again, and had him by the collar before the smoke had cleared away. He fired his own pistol after the men, who were already retreating, and dragged the
"Clasp your arm tighter," said Sikes as he drew him through the window. "Give me a shawl here. They've hit him. Quick! Damnation, how the boy bleeds!"
Then came the loud ringing of a bell, mingled with the noise of firearms and the shouts of men, and the sensation of being carried over uneven ground at a rapid pace. And then the noises grew confused in the distance, and a cold deadly feeling crept over the boy's heart, and he saw or heard no more.
THE END OF THE FIRST BOOK.
FRENCH LITERARY LADIES.
BY GEORGE HOGARTH.
THE influence of the fair sex in society is acconnted, and very reasonably, a test of the progress of civilization; and the French mean to imply their superiority to all the rest of the world in this respect by the use of their favorite proverbial phrase, "La belle France est le paradis des femmes." There can be no doubt that the ladies of France, in modern times at least, have exercised a greater degree of influence, not only over the habits, manners, and character of the male part of the creation, but over their most important affairs and avocations, public as well as private, than they have done in any other country whatever. The Salique Law, notwithstanding its long prevalence in France, may be said to have been little more than a dead letter; for where was the use of providing against a female succession to the crown, when the nation never ceased to be virtually under petticoat government? What did it matter that the throne could not be occupied by a female sovereign, when the whole power of the state was wielded by some female or other, who wanted nothing of sovereignty but the name? What, after all, was the much-boasted LOUIS LE GRAND but a crowned and sceptered puppet, while the real monarch of France, for the time, was Maintenon, or La Valliere, or Montespan? What was his successor but the slave of a Du Barry and a Pompadour? And what was the best and most virtuous of the race, the unhappy Louis the Sixteenth, but an instrument in the hands of his Austrian consort, whose imperious temper, and reckless interference with affairs of state, which she had neither knowledge to comprehend nor wisdom to conduct, precipitated the catastrophe which swept her family from the earth, and levelled in the dust the ancient monarchy of France? Seldom, however, has a French king been under so legitimate a sovereignty as that of his consort. The picture of the Grand Monarque holding his council in the boudoir of Madame de Maintenon, while the lady sat at her little table, with her work-basket before her, listening to the deliberations of grave statesmen, and quietly putting in her all-powerful word, represents, in fact, the machinery of the government of France for a century, at least, before the Revolution.
It was the same influence which, more than anything else, gave the French society of those days its singular grace, elegance, and refinement. Other things, no doubt, contributed to produce that most remarkable state of manners: that constitutional gaiety and liveliness which makes a French man or woman, of whatever rank or station, an eminently social animal, must no doubt come in for its share. In the aristocratic society of the metropolis its exclusiveness had a similar tendency. No degree of wealth, or merely personal distinction, unaccompanied by rank, could admit any one within its pale. If men of letters and votaries of the arts were received into its circles, it was as literati and artists, whose position was perfectly understood on all hands. They had no pretensions which could interfere with those of the class with whom they were allowed to mingle; the toe
of the poet could not gall the kibe of the courtier. They did not require to be kept down by any assumption of superiority; and hence their social intercourse with the great was on a footing of apparent equality and freedom from restraint." Something, too, must be ascribed to the very insignificance of the French aristocracy as a political body. They had no political power, no political functions, no political interests, no political cares; they had nothing to do but to hunt on their estates, or pursue the pleasures of the capital. The French noblesse of the seventeenth century accordingly were a de. graded race; ignorant and vicious, coarse in their habits and brutal in their amusements. From this debasement female influence contri. buted greatly to raise them. The crowd of. men of genius, whose simultaneous appearance shed lustre over the age of Louis the Fourteenth, found, amongst the ladies of his brilliant court, their greatest admirers and patrons. It was through the influence of the fair sex that literature became the fashion, and that its professors came to be looked upon as the ornaments of polite society.
Nothing can be more captivating than the accounts, contained in the numerous French biographies and memoirs of the last age, of these social circles, of which the elements were rank, beauty, learning, and genius. It had, however, its dark, as well as its light side. There was none of the restraint arising from the jealousy of rank and station, and the necessity of repelling the pretensions of infe. riors but the distinction acquired by wit and brilliancy of conversation introduced pretensions of another kind; and these noctes canaque Deum, were apt to become scenes of jealousy, rivalry, and laborious efforts of the company to outshine each other. perceived," says Marmontel, speaking of his first admission into this society, "that each guest arrived ready to play his part, and that the desire of exhibiting frequently prevented the conversation from following its easy and natural course. It was who should seize most quickly the passing moment, to bring out his epigram, his tale, his anecdote, his maxim, or his light and pointed satire; and very unnatural round-abouts were taken, in order to obtain a fit oppor. tunity." There were, besides, other evils of a more serious nature.
* Professors of literature, mingled in the society of the noble and the wealthy upon sufferance, held a rank scarcely higher than that of musicians or actors, from among whom individuals have often, by their talents and character, become members of the best society, while the castes to which such individuals belong remain in general exposed to the most humiliating contempt. The lady of quality, who smiled on the man of letters, and the man of rank who admitted him to his intimacy, still retained their consciousness that he was not, like themselves, formed out of "the porcelain clay of the earth:" and even while receiving their bounties, or participating in their pleasures, the favorite savant must often have been disturbed by the reflection that he was only considered as a creature of sufferance, whom the caprice of fashion, or a sudden reaction of the ancient etiquette, might fling out of the society where he was at present tolerated. Under this disheartening and even degrading inferiority, the man of letters might be tempted invidiously to compare the luxurious style of living at which he sat a permitted guest with his own paltry hired apartment, and scanty and uncertain chance of support. And even those of a nobler mood, when they had conceded to their benefactors all the gratitude they could justly demand, must sometimes have regretted their own situation-
"Condemn'd as needy supplicants to wait,
Sir Walter Scott's Life of Napoleon, vol. i.