Imágenes de páginas

as it flickered on the opposite wall, it at last settled on a little knob of brass, and made the thousand scintillations that in a moment .attracted the thief's keen gaze. Before he had scarcely dared to breathe, but now, the peril forgotten in the intenser curiosity, his eager hand was stretched upwards to a broad old shelf; and there, much to the renewing of Togg-anticipated-glory, be found it was a small square oaken box, strongly clasped and riveted with brass.

To know that this was within his grasp, to feel it, to touch it, to find that it was heavy, to be assured that it held enough of gold to pave the way for the very proudest triumph to the gallows, renewed all his patience and temerity, and crouching down within the darkest corner to wait till the old man should go to bed, that huddled mass of humanity in rags gave neither sign of life nor breath, excepting when the lambent eyes turning upwards to the tangibility of Togg-glory glowed with the matchless intellect that society vilified and cursed. By and by, however, and luckily for the thief no candle was brought, the old man fetched forth this


box ; and now was Tom assured more than ever that it was

a money-box, and that it was to be still further enriched with that day's gains. Its lock ticked well and loud, though no sound of the jinking gold followed; yet, nevertheless this only made it more a mystery-box, full, for this reason, to the very brim with tangibility for Togg-glory. In the course of some long time, the lock ticked once more, the flickering thread of light faded quite away, and the old man went to rest, not without some words in blessing on that perished bitterness, that had perhaps played falsely on the divine chords of human love.

So at last, when sleep was sure, the thief crept forth. A few cinders were still alight in the grate, and by these he could just see the old man's sleeping face, and the box that stood on a low chair beside his pillow. lIis watch was on it, but this thief-ambition scorned. With some ado (for the door-latch was old and rusty) he got safely from the room, and into the dreary shop below. Here, however, to his dismay, he found all so stoutly barred and locked, that after a full hour's vain attempt, and the burning out of his bit of candle, he was obliged to take refuge behind the nearest mound of books, and wait till in the re-opening of the shop he might creep forth undetected. Other doors there were into a gloomy yard in the rear, but these, his night's perambulations had shown him, had been fastened up so long, that the locks and bolts were covered thick with rust, and would require a giant's power to lift or move them

backward. IIe next thought to open the box, and conceal the contents about him,—he had not dared to risk discovery by searching for the key,—but it was too stout and strong to be opened without some instrument. Thus left again to his own thoughts, and the box safe beside him, it was not strange perhaps that the fostered intellect of crime should stray into a new and strange channel, and the causation was a natural one. The gas-light from the street, struggling through the topmost chinks of the shutters, fell in broad patches down the mounds of books, only fading into nothingness upon the dusky trodden floor. As his restless hand opened some old volumes that lay strewn arou

round, this light settled on the paper, and, broadening out, flickered gracefully round the type and signs of beautiful and imperishable thought, garnered for the service and exaltation of the human mind. The divine spark of a divine and better nature was touched ; the bending down of evil before the loftiness of good made its first sign; and even he, the felon, the outcast, the vagabond, wondered what this spiritual power could be, that lived in these old books to be so reverenced and adored ! But my

tale waits. At seren o'clock or thereabouts, in that dull street only yet gray dawn, the old man came down, unlocked the shop-door, and admitted another old red-nosed man, who, proceeding to work, brought in the shutters one by one. It was evident the box had not yet been missed. Watching the second shutter to its place in the rear of the shop, the thief safe with his prize got clear into the street, and dived down the first court-way. There he picked up the fragment of a door-mat, that, wound about the box, concealed it from observation ; then making his way by obscure streets, to some disused mews in the vicinity of the Togg establishment, he brought forth from behind the rafters an old file, rived the lock, and cleared the mystery. But nothing for thief-hero-glory; nothing but what would make the whole Togg establishment roar with laughter, and Slimps once more the presiding Apollo ! A strange old book, and a few fragments of womanly apparel, were all it held. And for these he had borne cold and hunger through so many winter nights ! Depressed by hunger and vexation, for he had not tasted food for many hours, he crouched down amidst some mouldy straw; and for the first time, perhaps since his miserable childhood, fairly cried himself to sleep. It was dark drear night again, when he awoke benumbed and almost lifeless with the cold. As the comforts of the Togg

establishment, were only open to such as could give in return some pretty practical tangibility, thus merely imitating the larger world which by no means recognises glory of any abstract kind, the thief, after hiding the box, set forth to the house of a Jew named Cripps, whose dealings with Mrs. Togg, for forty years, had varied between the scale of a rusty key, and a gold snuff-box.

“ Books don't even come up to vipes, as you should know, Tummy," said the Jew with a leer, as snufting the guttering candle with his bony fingers, he looked round upon

the group

of thief-customers gathered in all attitudes round the little counter“ thems isn't painted at the top of Moll's katy-kism, my love. Oh! dear no !

“But, but,” said the boy cagerly, his face so keen with intellect that the eyes of the Jew drooped beneath his look, “it was taken precious care of in a brass-bound box.”

“Ah! ah !” and the Jew, who had already commenced business with a fresh customer, laid his hand eagerly upon the book, and drawing it quickly towards him, said in a whisper, “ Well, a shilling, my love.” That which had struck Cripps in a moment was made apparent to the thief; there must be some intrinsic value in a thing so carefully preserved. He snatched the book from thie Jew's now grasping hand, and made his way to the door, without looking back upon the old man, who, eagerly bent across the counter, was crying out with his cracked squeaking voice—“Stop the boy, two shillings, three shillings, my love. Oh dear, stop the boy!

Even had the Togg supper been, on this particular night, a freewill affair, the thief could not face the old woman or the girl ; for he had dropped hints of coming glory, and to fall short of this was a degradation too low even for humanity in rags. So creeping back to the mews he found the girl Bella waiting for him.

“ You ain't a coming that dodge over Togg,” she asked, with something like contempt, as she watched the thief draw the precious volume from beneath his miserable shirt ;

o bless you, I shall have a firm foot with yer all the way to the gallows, Tummy, but I sha'n't be good enough, if yer come to that. So put it by, Tummy; them as is made by grand people to live like hats and owls, ha' got nothink so precious in natar as to prig and snatch when they can; so Tummy, flout the horn-book, and be a hero!” This advice, added to certain information of Slimp's progress, so darkened all again the beautiful young light of

natural good, that on the production of a few pence, the book was carefully hidden, and the dimness of the squalid chamber changed in a few minutes for the warmth and gorgeousness of the nearest gin-shop. Some privileged customer was just at that instant opening one of the evening papers, and as his literary courage had been lately fortified with a glass, he immediately read, for the edification of the few around him, an advertisement that met his eye on the first page :--" £20 Reward and a Free Pardon. Stolen from the shop of David Brandle, bookseller, Street, Cheapside, last night, or early this morning, a brass-bound box, containing a book." The thief stopped to hear no more, but placing back upon the counter the untouched glass of gin, wistfully looked round to see if the girl had heard or observed; but as she was at a distance, amidst the struggling crowd of that death-sea, he glided into the street, and kept on with a swift step. All the visions of Togg glory shone again ; and as all that were his friends were too ignorant to solve the mystery that lay between this advertisement and Cripps's sudden cagerness, he determined, with one of those impulses that sometimes seem to be angel-wise promptings of our more spiritual nature, to understand and find the clue himself. There was a newly-opened school in that neighbourhood, where crime and squalor, as he had often heard told with blasplıemous lips in the roar of Togg glory, met with kindly ministration; and so the next threshold stepped on from the gin-shop was that of the ragged school. The heart of brazen guilt was courageous till this last step was made; and then, with the abject and the coward fear of guiltiness, it stooped lowlily, in meek confession of its abjectness, before the beaming light of good. But taking courage at last, he passed in with vacillating step, and full of shame at the abjectness of his rags, yet to be kindly hailed, as one boasting the form of the Divine ; that hand that had been stretched forth to thieve on the foregone night, now held the horn-book, and the wondering and the thirsty ear heard as it were the silver-noted music of a heaven not eren fashioned forth in the hopefullest of dreams !

Of course, the motive was yet towards that vision of Togg glory. When he could read, and tell what was within the book, what a sum he might sell it for ! So mingled the evil and the good, as the thief crouched back into the straw that night to dream, however, more of the horn-book than the halter, and waking in the morning to find that the poor Duckling had been

there, and left some food. The act for the first time fell like dew upon the coarse hard nature of neglect and crime !

Yet, though the purpose still leant towards the furtherance of Togg glory, it was wonderful with what rapidity the poor thief learnt. Weeks did for him, what only months for others ! He was the wondrous prodigy of the school, and this knowledge grew from day to day; the vision of Togg glory dimmed, the petty theft scarcely supplied the exigencies of hunger, and, not only scouted at by Togg and her crew, he all at once found himself opposed to the bitter malice of the Jew, who had not forgotten the prize his fingers had clutched. Driven by this from his miserable lodging, he had to find shelter as he might, sometimes beneath bridge-arches, or dank blind court-ways, and even with the Duckling in his lonely sewer ; for the little shrivelled creature had lately fallen ill, and of course all the glories of the Togg establishment were closed in the absence of some sort of tangibility. It was Tom's turn now to be the friend. When he could no longer thieve—when the paralysis of crime passed into the iron nerve and strenuous force of growing knowledge—when the last theft hung like a shadow on his spirit—he gathered together the refuse of markets, earned a few pence at wharves and stables, and when not, starved with his drooping friend. Wonderful often too was the Rembrandt picture of light and shade in the lonely sewer. Beside the narrow fire, sparkling up fitfully towards the dank roof, he told the pallid wretch of that inner life that is linked to divineness of good, or read scraps of newspapers picked up in the streets, or went over the marvellous one-page stuck like tempting fruit in some shop window; and so at last, even in this nursery of vileness, the intellectual nature of the outcast worshipped in spirit and truth. Now came the glorious night, when he could read well enough to open the bookseller's quaint treasure, beside the Duckling's fire. Now no longer was it the curiosity of guilt—but the curiosity of good. It was a volume of ancient madrigals, with appropriate music; and “Daisy Brandle” was the name written on the fly-leaf. It opened everywhere, where the music and the poetry were twin in gracefulness. Now it was certain that here was no Togg treasury, but some old memory of an earth-sorrow; and the matter before thought of, was now resolved

upon ;


so, in a few days, (God bless thee, Tom!) with an honest earned shilling, though fearfully hungered for, the lock was mended, the book and the few things replaced with a reverent

« AnteriorContinuar »