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Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy's Progress, is the second novel by English author Charles Dickens and was first published as a serial 1837–39. The story is of the orphan Oliver Twist, who starts his life in a workhouse and is then sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. He escapes from there and travels to London, where he meets the Artful Dodger, a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal, Fagin. Oliver Twist was born into a life of poverty and misfortune in a workhouse in an unnamed town (although when originally published in Bentley's Miscellany in 1837, the town was called Mudfog and said to be within 70 miles north of London – in reality, this is the location of the town of Northampton). Orphaned by his mother's death in childbirth and his father's unexplained absence, Oliver is meagerly provided for under the terms of the Poor Law and spends the first nine years of his life living at a baby farm in the 'care' of a woman named Mrs. Mann. Oliver is brought up with little food and few comforts. Around the time of Oliver's ninth birthday, Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking and weaving oakum at the main workhouse. Oliver, who toils with very little food, remains in the workhouse for six months. One day, the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal tremblingly comes up forward, bowl in hand, and begs Mr. Bumble for gruel with his famous request: "Please, sir, I want some more".
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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
CHAPTER I - TREATS OF THE PLACE WHERE OLIVER TWIST WAS BORN AND OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING HIS BIRTH
CHAPTER II - TREATS OF OLIVER TWIST'S GROWTH, EDUCATION, AND BOARD
CHAPTER III - RELATES HOW OLIVER TWIST WAS VERY NEAR GETTING A PLACE WHICH WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A SINECURE
CHAPTER IV - OLIVER, BEING OFFERED ANOTHER PLACE, MAKES HIS FIRST ENTRY INTO PUBLIC LIFE
CHAPTER V - OLIVER MINGLES WITH NEW ASSOCIATES.GOING TO A FUNERAL FOR THE FIRST TIME,HE FORMS AN UNFAVOURABLE NOTIONOF HIS MASTER'S BUSINESS
CHAPTER VI - OLIVER, BEING GOADED BY THE TAUNTS OF NOAH, ROUSES INTO ACTION, AND RATHER ASTONISHES HIM
CHAPTER VII - OLIVER CONTINUES REFRACTORY
CHAPTER VIII OLIVER WALKS TO LONDON. HE ENCOUNTERS ON THE ROAD A STRANGE SORT OF YOUNG GENTLEMAN
CHAPTER IX - CONTAINING FURTHER PARTICULARS CONCERNING THE LEASANT OLD GENTLEMAN, AND HIS HOPEFUL PUPILS
CHAPTER X - OLIVER BECOMES BETTER ACQUAINTED WITH THE CHARACTERS OF HIS NEW ASSOCIATES; AND PURCHASES EXPERIENCE AT A HIGH PRICE. BEING A SHORT, BUT VERY IMPORTANT CHAPTER, IN THIS HISTORY
CHAPTER XI - TREATS OF MR. FANG THE POLICE MAGISTRATE; AND FURNISHES A SLIGHT SPECIMEN OF HIS MODE OF ADMINISTERING JUSTICE
CHAPTER XII - IN WHICH OLIVER IS TAKEN BETTER CARE OF THAN HE EVER WAS BEFORE. AND IN WHICH THE NARRATIVE REVERTS TO THE MERRY OLD GENTLEMAN AND HIS YOUTHFUL FRIENDS.
CHAPTER XIII - SOME NEW ACQUAINTANCES ARE INTRODUCED TO THE INTELLIGENT READER, CONNECTED WITH WHOM VARIOUS PLEASANT MATTERS ARE RELATED, APPERTAINING TO THIS HISTORY
CHAPTER XIV - COMPRISING FURTHER PARTICULARS OF OLIVER'S STAY AT MR. BROWNLOW'S, WITH THE REMARKABLE PREDICTION WHICH ONE MR. GRIMWIG UTTERED CONCERNING HIM, WHEN HE WENT OUT ON AN ERRAND
CHAPTER XV - SHOWING HOW VERY FOND OF OLIVER TWIST, THE MERRY OLD JEW AND MISS NANCY WERE
CHAPTER XVI - RELATES WHAT BECAME OF OLIVER TWIST, AFTER HE HAD BEEN CLAIMED BY NANCY
CHAPTER XVII - OLIVER'S DESTINY CONTINUING UNPROPITIOUS, BRINGS A GREAT MAN TO LONDON TO INJURE HIS REPUTATION
CHAPTER XVIII - HOW OLIVER PASSED HIS TIME IN THE IMPROVING SOCIETY OF HIS REPUTABLE RIENDS
CHAPTER XIX - IN WHICH A NOTABLE PLAN IS DISCUSSED AND DETERMINED ON
CHAPTER XX - WHEREIN OLIVER IS DELIVERED OVER TO MR. WILLIAM SIKES
CHAPTER XXI - THE EXPEDITION
CHAPTER XXII - THE BURGLARY
CHAPTER XXIII - WHICH CONTAINS THE SUBSTANCE OF A PLEASANT CONVERSATION BETWEEN MR. BUMBLE AND A LADY; AND SHOWS THAT EVEN A BEADLE MAY BE SUSCEPTIBLE ON SOME POINTS
CHAPTER XXIV - TREATS ON A VERY POOR SUBJECT. BUT IS A SHORT ONE, AND MAY BE FOUND OF IMPORTANCE IN THIS HISTORY
CHAPTER XXV - WHEREIN THIS HISTORY REVERTS TO MR. FAGIN AND COMPANY
CHAPTER XXVI - IN WHICH A MYSTERIOUS CHARACTER APPEARS UPON THE SCENE; AND MANY THINGS, INSEPARABLE FROM THIS HISTORY, ARE DONE AND PERFORMED
CHAPTER XXVII - ATONES FOR THE UNPOLITENESS OF A FORMER CHAPTER; WHICH DESERTED A LADY, MOST UNCEREMONIOUSLY
CHAPTER XXVIII - LOOKS AFTER OLIVER, AND PROCEEDS WITH HIS ADVENTURES
CHAPTER XXIX - HAS AN INTRODUCTORY ACCOUNT OF THE INMATES OF THE HOUSE, TO WHICH OLIVER RESORTED
CHAPTER XXX - RELATES WHAT OLIVER'S NEW VISITORS THOUGHT OF HIM
CHAPTER XXXI - INVOLVES A CRITICAL POSITION
CHAPTER XXXII - OF THE HAPPY LIFE OLIVER BEGAN TO LEAD WITH HIS KIND FRIENDS
CHAPTER XXXIII - WHEREIN THE HAPPINESS OF OLIVER AND HIS FRIENDS, EXPERIENCES A SUDDEN CHECK
CHAPTER XXXIV - CONTAINS SOME INTRODUCTORY PARTICULARS RELATIVE TO A YOUNG GENTLEMAN WHO NOW ARRIVES UPON THE SCENE; AND A NEW ADVENTURE WHICH HAPPENED TO OLIVER
CHAPTER XXXV - CONTAINING THE UNSATISFACTORY RESULT OF OLIVER'S ADVENTURE; AND A CONVERSATION OF SOME IMPORTANCE BETWEEN HARRY MAYLIE AND ROSE
CHAPTER XXXVI - IS A VERY SHORT ONE, AND MAY APPEAR OF NO GREAT IMPORTANCE IN ITS PLACE, BUT IT SHOULD BE READ NOTWITHSTANDING, AS A SEQUEL TO THE LAST, AND A KEY TO ONE THAT WILL FOLLOW WHEN ITS TIME ARRIVES
CHAPTER XXXVII - IN WHICH THE READER MAY PERCEIVE A CONTRAST, NOT UNCOMMON IN MATRIMONIAL CASES
CHAPTER XXXVIII - CONTAINING AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT PASSED BETWEEN MR. AND MRS. BUMBLE, AND MR. MONKS, AT THEIR NOCTURNAL INTERVIEW
CHAPTER XXXIX - INTRODUCES SOME RESPECTABLE CHARACTERS WITH WHOM THE READER IS ALREADY ACQUAINTED, AND SHOWS HOW MONKS AND THE JEW LAID THEIR WORTHY HEADS TOGETHER
CHAPTER XL - A STRANGE INTERVIEW, WHICH IS A SEQUEL TO THE LAST CHAMBER
CHAPTER XLI - CONTAINING FRESH DISCOVERIES, AND SHOWING THAT SUPRISES, LIKE MISFORTUNES, SELDOM COME ALONE
CHAPTER XLII - AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE OF OLIVER'S, EXHIBITING DECIDED MARKS OF GENIUS, BECOMES A PUBLIC CHARACTER IN THE METROPOLIS
CHAPTER XLIII - WHEREIN IS SHOWN HOW THE ARTFUL DODGER GOT INTO TROUBLE
CHAPTER XLIV - THE TIME ARRIVES FOR NANCY TO REDEEM HER PLEDGE TO ROSE MAYLIE. SHE FAILS.
CHAPTER XLV - NOAH CLAYPOLE IS EMPLOYED BY FAGIN ON A SECRET MISSION
CHAPTER XLVI - THE APPOINTMENT KEPT
CHAPTER XLVII - FATAL CONSEQUENCES
CHAPTER XLVIII - THE FLIGHT OF SIKES
CHAPTER XLIX - MONKS AND MR. BROWNLOW AT LENGTH MEET. THEIR CONVERSATION, AND THE INTELLIGENCE THAT INTERRUPTS IT
CHAPTER L - THE PURSUIT AND ESCAPE
CHAPTER LI - AFFORDING AN EXPLANATION OF MORE MYSTERIES THAN ONE, AND COMPREHENDING A PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE WITH NO WORD OF SETTLEMENT OR PIN-MONEY
CHAPTER LII - FAGIN'S LAST NIGHT ALIVE
CHAPTER LIII - AND LAST
Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.
For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had, that being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any age or country.
Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,—a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now, if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them. The result was, that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.
As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of his lungs, the patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articulated the words, 'Let me see the child, and die.'
The surgeon had been sitting with his face turned towards the fire: giving the palms of his hands a warm and a rub alternately. As the young woman spoke, he rose, and advancing to the bed's head, said, with more kindness than might have been expected of him:
'Oh, you must not talk about dying yet.'
'Lor bless her dear heart, no!' interposed the nurse, hastily depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of which she had been tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction.
'Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have, sir, and had thirteen children of her own, and all on 'em dead except two, and them in the wurkus with me, she'll know better than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! Think what it is to be a mother, there's a dear young lamb do.'
Apparently this consolatory perspective of a mother's prospects failed in producing its due effect. The patient shook her head, and stretched out her hand towards the child.
The surgeon deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold white lips passionately on its forehead; passed her hands over her face; gazed wildly round; shuddered; fell back—and died. They chafed her breast, hands, and temples; but the blood had stopped forever. They talked of hope and comfort. They had been strangers too long.
'It's all over, Mrs. Thingummy!' said the surgeon at last.
'Ah, poor dear, so it is!' said the nurse, picking up the cork of the green bottle, which had fallen out on the pillow, as she stooped to take up the child. 'Poor dear!'
'You needn't mind sending up to me, if the child cries, nurse,' said the surgeon, putting on his gloves with great deliberation. 'It's very likely it will be troublesome. Give it a little gruel if it is.' He put on his hat, and, pausing by the bed-side on his way to the door, added, 'She was a good-looking girl, too; where did she come from?'
'She was brought here last night,' replied the old woman, 'by the overseer's order. She was found lying in the street. She had walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows.'
The surgeon leaned over the body, and raised the left hand. 'The old story,' he said, shaking his head: 'no wedding-ring, I see. Ah! Good-night!'
The medical gentleman walked away to dinner; and the nurse, having once more applied herself to the green bottle, sat down on a low chair before the fire, and proceeded to dress the infant.
What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society. But now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once—a parish child—the orphan of a workhouse—the humble, half-starved drudge—to be cuffed and buffeted through the world—despised by all, and pitied by none.
Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of church-wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder.
For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of asystematic course of treachery and deception. He was brought up byhand. The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan wasduly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parishauthorities. The parish authorities inquired with dignity of theworkhouse authorities, whether there was no female then domiciledin 'the house' who was in a situation to impart to Oliver Twist,the consolation and nourishment of which he stood in need. Theworkhouse authorities replied with humility, that there was not.Upon this, the parish authorities magnanimously and humanelyresolved, that Oliver should be 'farmed,' or, in other words, thathe should be dispatched to a branch-workhouse some three miles off,where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders against thepoor-laws, rolled about the floor all day, without theinconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under theparental superintendence of an elderly female, who received theculprits at and for the consideration of sevenpence-halfpenny persmall head per week. Sevenpence-halfpenny's worth per week is agood round diet for a child; a great deal may be got forsevenpence-halfpenny, quite enough to overload its stomach, andmake it uncomfortable. The elderly female was a woman of wisdom andexperience; she knew what was good for children; and she had a veryaccurate perception of what was good for herself. So, sheappropriated the greater part of the weekly stipend to her own use,and consigned the rising parochial generation to even ashorterallowance than was originally provided for them. Therebyfinding in the lowest depth a deeper still; and proving herself avery great experimental philosopher.
Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopherwho had a great theory about a horse being able to live withouteating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he had got his ownhorse down to a straw a day, and would unquestionably have renderedhim a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at all, if hehad not died, four-and-twenty hours before he was to have had hisfirst comfortable bait of air. Unfortunately for, the experimentalphilosophy of the female to whose protecting care Oliver Twist wasdelivered over, a similar result usually attended the operation ofher system; for at the very moment when the child had contrived toexist upon the smallest possible portion of the weakest possiblefood, it did perversely happen in eight and a half cases out often, either that it sickened from want and cold, or fell into thefire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident; in any one ofwhich cases, the miserable little being was usually summoned intoanother world, and there gathered to the fathers it had never knownin this.
Occasionally, when there was some more than usually interestinginquest upon a parish child who had been overlooked in turning up abedstead, or inadvertently scalded to death when there happened tobe a washing—though the latter accident was very scarce,anything approaching to a washing being of rare occurrence in thefarm—the jury would take it into their heads to asktroublesome questions, or the parishioners would rebelliously affixtheir signatures to a remonstrance. But these impertinences werespeedily checked by the evidence of the surgeon, and the testimonyof the beadle; the former of whom had always opened the body andfound nothing inside (which was very probable indeed), and thelatter of whom invariably swore whatever the parish wanted; whichwas very self-devotional. Besides, the board made periodicalpilgrimages to the farm, and always sent the beadle the day before,to say they were going. The children were neat and clean to behold,when they went; and what more would the people have!
It cannot be expected that this system of farming would produceany very extraordinary or luxuriant crop. Oliver Twist's ninthbirthday found him a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive instature, and decidedly small in circumference. But nature orinheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver's breast.It had had plenty of room to expand, thanks to the spare diet ofthe establishment; and perhaps to this circumstance may beattributed his having any ninth birth-day at all. Be this as itmay, however, it was his ninth birthday; and he was keeping it inthe coal-cellar with a select party of two other young gentleman,who, after participating with him in a sound thrashing, had beenlocked up for atrociously presuming to be hungry, when Mrs. Mann,the good lady of the house, was unexpectedly startled by theapparition of Mr. Bumble, the beadle, striving to undo the wicketof the garden-gate.
'Goodness gracious! Is that you, Mr. Bumble, sir?' said Mrs.Mann, thrusting her head out of the window in well-affectedecstasies of joy. '(Susan, take Oliver and them two brats upstairs,and wash 'em directly.)—My heart alive! Mr. Bumble, how gladI am to see you, sure-ly!'
Now, Mr. Bumble was a fat man, and a choleric; so, instead ofresponding to this open-hearted salutation in a kindred spirit, hegave the little wicket a tremendous shake, and then bestowed uponit a kick which could have emanated from no leg but a beadle's.
'Lor, only think,' said Mrs. Mann, running out,—for thethree boys had been removed by this time,—'only think ofthat! That I should have forgotten that the gate was bolted on theinside, on account of them dear children! Walk in sir; walk in,pray, Mr. Bumble, do, sir.'
Although this invitation was accompanied with a curtsey thatmight have softened the heart of a church-warden, it by no meansmollified the beadle.
'Do you think this respectful or proper conduct, Mrs. Mann,'inquired Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane, 'to keep the parishofficers a waiting at your garden-gate, when they come here uponporochial business with the porochial orphans? Are you aweer, Mrs.Mann, that you are, as I may say, a porochial delegate, and astipendiary?'
'I'm sure Mr. Bumble, that I was only a telling one or two ofthe dear children as is so fond of you, that it was you a coming,'replied Mrs. Mann with great humility.
Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his oratorical powers and hisimportance. He had displayed the one, and vindicated the other. Herelaxed.
'Well, well, Mrs. Mann,' he replied in a calmer tone; 'it may beas you say; it may be. Lead the way in, Mrs. Mann, for I come onbusiness, and have something to say.'
Mrs. Mann ushered the beadle into a small parlour with a brickfloor; placed a seat for him; and officiously deposited his cockedhat and cane on the table before him. Mr. Bumble wiped from hisforehead the perspiration which his walk had engendered, glancedcomplacently at the cocked hat, and smiled. Yes, he smiled. Beadlesare but men: and Mr. Bumble smiled.
'Now don't you be offended at what I'm a going to say,' observedMrs. Mann, with captivating sweetness. 'You've had a long walk, youknow, or I wouldn't mention it. Now, will you take a little drop ofsomethink, Mr. Bumble?'
'Not a drop. Nor a drop,' said Mr. Bumble, waving his right handin a dignified, but placid manner.
'I think you will,' said Mrs. Mann, who had noticed the tone ofthe refusal, and the gesture that had accompanied it. 'Just aleetle drop, with a little cold water, and a lump of sugar.'
Mr. Bumble coughed.
'Now, just a leetle drop,' said Mrs. Mann persuasively.
'What is it?' inquired the beadle.
'Why, it's what I'm obliged to keep a little of in the house, toput into the blessed infants' Daffy, when they ain't well, Mr.Bumble,' replied Mrs. Mann as she opened a corner cupboard, andtook down a bottle and glass. 'It's gin. I'll not deceive you, Mr.B. It's gin.'
'Do you give the children Daffy, Mrs. Mann?' inquired Bumble,following with his eyes the interesting process of mixing.
'Ah, bless 'em, that I do, dear as it is,' replied the nurse. 'Icouldn't see 'em suffer before my very eyes, you know sir.'
'No'; said Mr. Bumble approvingly; 'no, you could not. You are ahumane woman, Mrs. Mann.' (Here she set down the glass.) 'I shalltake a early opportunity of mentioning it to the board, Mrs. Mann.'(He drew it towards him.) 'You feel as a mother, Mrs. Mann.' (Hestirred the gin-and-water.) 'I—I drink your health withcheerfulness, Mrs. Mann'; and he swallowed half of it.
'And now about business,' said the beadle, taking out a leathernpocket-book. 'The child that was half-baptized Oliver Twist, isnine year old to-day.'
'Bless him!' interposed Mrs. Mann, inflaming her left eye withthe corner of her apron.
'And notwithstanding a offered reward of ten pound, which wasafterwards increased to twenty pound. Notwithstanding the mostsuperlative, and, I may say, supernat'ral exertions on the part ofthis parish,' said Bumble, 'we have never been able to discover whois his father, or what was his mother's settlement, name, orcondition.'
Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment; but added, after amoment's reflection, 'How comes he to have any name at all,then?'
The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, 'Iinwented it.'
'You, Mr. Bumble!'
'I, Mrs. Mann. We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. Thelast was a S,—Swubble, I named him. This was aT,—Twist, I named him. The next one comes will be Unwin, andthe next Vilkins. I have got names ready made to the end of thealphabet, and all the way through it again, when we come to Z.'
'Why, you're quite a literary character, sir!' said Mrs.Mann.
'Well, well,' said the beadle, evidently gratified with thecompliment; 'perhaps I may be. Perhaps I may be, Mrs. Mann.' Hefinished the gin-and-water, and added, 'Oliver being now too old toremain here, the board have determined to have him back into thehouse. I have come out myself to take him there. So let me see himat once.'
'I'll fetch him directly,' said Mrs. Mann, leaving the room forthat purpose. Oliver, having had by this time as much of the outercoat of dirt which encrusted his face and hands, removed, as couldbe scrubbed off in one washing, was led into the room by hisbenevolent protectress.
'Make a bow to the gentleman, Oliver,' said Mrs. Mann.
Oliver made a bow, which was divided between the beadle on thechair, and the cocked hat on the table.
'Will you go along with me, Oliver?' said Mr. Bumble, in amajestic voice.
Oliver was about to say that he would go along with anybody withgreat readiness, when, glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs.Mann, who had got behind the beadle's chair, and was shaking herfist at him with a furious countenance. He took the hint at once,for the fist had been too often impressed upon his body not to bedeeply impressed upon his recollection.
'Will she go with me?' inquired poor Oliver.
'No, she can't,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'But she'll come and seeyou sometimes.'
This was no very great consolation to the child. Young as hewas, however, he had sense enough to make a feint of feeling greatregret at going away. It was no very difficult matter for the boyto call tears into his eyes. Hunger and recent ill-usage are greatassistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried very naturallyindeed. Mrs. Mann gave him a thousand embraces, and what Oliverwanted a great deal more, a piece of bread and butter, less heshould seem too hungry when he got to the workhouse. With the sliceof bread in his hand, and the little brown-cloth parish cap on hishead, Oliver was then led away by Mr. Bumble from the wretched homewhere one kind word or look had never lighted the gloom of hisinfant years. And yet he burst into an agony of childish grief, asthe cottage-gate closed after him. Wretched as were the littlecompanions in misery he was leaving behind, they were the onlyfriends he had ever known; and a sense of his loneliness in thegreat wide world, sank into the child's heart for the firsttime.
Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides; little Oliver, firmlygrasping his gold-laced cuff, trotted beside him, inquiring at theend of every quarter of a mile whether they were 'nearly there.' Tothese interrogations Mr. Bumble returned very brief and snappishreplies; for the temporary blandness which gin-and-water awakens insome bosoms had by this time evaporated; and he was once again abeadle.
Oliver had not been within the walls of the workhouse a quarterof an hour, and had scarcely completed the demolition of a secondslice of bread, when Mr. Bumble, who had handed him over to thecare of an old woman, returned; and, telling him it was a boardnight, informed him that the board had said he was to appear beforeit forthwith.
Not having a very clearly defined notion of what a live boardwas, Oliver was rather astounded by this intelligence, and was notquite certain whether he ought to laugh or cry. He had no time tothink about the matter, however; for Mr. Bumble gave him a tap onthe head, with his cane, to wake him up: and another on the back tomake him lively: and bidding him to follow, conducted him into alarge white-washed room, where eight or ten fat gentlemen weresitting round a table. At the top of the table, seated in anarm-chair rather higher than the rest, was a particularly fatgentleman with a very round, red face.
'Bow to the board,' said Bumble. Oliver brushed away two orthree tears that were lingering in his eyes; and seeing no boardbut the table, fortunately bowed to that.
'What's your name, boy?' said the gentleman in the highchair.
Oliver was frightened at the sight of so many gentlemen, whichmade him tremble: and the beadle gave him another tap behind, whichmade him cry. These two causes made him answer in a very low andhesitating voice; whereupon a gentleman in a white waistcoat saidhe was a fool. Which was a capital way of raising his spirits, andputting him quite at his ease.
'Boy,' said the gentleman in the high chair, 'listen to me. Youknow you're an orphan, I suppose?'
'What's that, sir?' inquired poor Oliver.
'The boy is a fool—I thought he was,' said the gentlemanin the white waistcoat.
'Hush!' said the gentleman who had spoken first. 'You knowyou've got no father or mother, and that you were brought up by theparish, don't you?'
'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver, weeping bitterly.
'What are you crying for?' inquired the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat. And to be sure it was very extraordinary. What could theboy be crying for?
'I hope you say your prayers every night,' said anothergentleman in a gruff voice; 'and pray for the people who feed you,and take care of you—like a Christian.'
'Yes, sir,' stammered the boy. The gentleman who spoke last wasunconsciously right. It would have been very like a Christian, anda marvellously good Christian too, if Oliver had prayed for thepeople who fed and took care of him. But he hadn't, because nobodyhad taught him.
'Well! You have come here to be educated, and taught a usefultrade,' said the red-faced gentleman in the high chair.
'So you'll begin to pick oakum to-morrow morning at sixo'clock,' added the surly one in the white waistcoat.
For the combination of both these blessings in the one simpleprocess of picking oakum, Oliver bowed low by the direction of thebeadle, and was then hurried away to a large ward; where, on arough, hard bed, he sobbed himself to sleep. What a novelillustration of the tender laws of England! They let the paupers goto sleep!
Poor Oliver! He little thought, as he lay sleeping in happyunconsciousness of all around him, that the board had that very dayarrived at a decision which would exercise the most materialinfluence over all his future fortunes. But they had. And this wasit:
The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophicalmen; and when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse,they found out at once, what ordinary folks would never havediscovered—the poor people liked it! It was a regular placeof public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern wherethere was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, andsupper all the year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it wasall play and no work. 'Oho!' said the board, looking very knowing;'we are the fellows to set this to rights; we'll stop it all, in notime.' So, they established the rule, that all poor people shouldhave the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they), ofbeing starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick oneout of it. With this view, they contracted with the water-works tolay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a corn-factor tosupply periodically small quantities of oatmeal; and issued threemeals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half aroll of Sundays. They made a great many other wise and humaneregulations, having reference to the ladies, which it is notnecessary to repeat; kindly undertook to divorce poor marriedpeople, in consequence of the great expense of a suit in Doctors'Commons; and, instead of compelling a man to support his family, asthey had theretofore done, took his family away from him, and madehim a bachelor! There is no saying how many applicants for relief,under these last two heads, might have started up in all classes ofsociety, if it had not been coupled with the workhouse; but theboard were long-headed men, and had provided for this difficulty.The relief was inseparable from the workhouse and the gruel; andthat frightened people.
For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, thesystem was in full operation. It was rather expensive at first, inconsequence of the increase in the undertaker's bill, and thenecessity oftaking in the clothes of all the paupers, whichfluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after a week ortwo's gruel. But the number of workhouse inmates got thin as wellas the paupers; and the board were in ecstasies.
The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall,with a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in anapron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled thegruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition each boy had oneporringer, and no more—except on occasions of great publicrejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of breadbesides.
The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them withtheir spoons till they shone again; and when they had performedthis operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearlyas large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, withsuch eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks ofwhich it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in suckingtheir fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up anystray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boyshave generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companionssuffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at lastthey got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who wastall for his age, and hadn't been used to that sort of thing (forhis father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to hiscompanions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, hewas afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept nexthim, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had awild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council washeld; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supperthat evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.
The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, inhis cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauperassistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out;and a long grace was said over the short commons. The grueldisappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver;while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he wasdesperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from thetable; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said:somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
'Please, sir, I want some more.'
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. Hegazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for someseconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistantswere paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
'What!' said the master at length, in a faint voice.
'Please, sir,' replied Oliver, 'I want some more.'
The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle;pinioned him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.
The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumblerushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing thegentleman in the high chair, said,
'Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has askedfor more!'
There was a general start. Horror was depicted on everycountenance.
'For more!' said Mr. Limbkins. 'Compose yourself, Bumble, andanswer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, afterhe had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?'
'He did, sir,' replied Bumble.
'That boy will be hung,' said the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat. 'I know that boy will be hung.'
Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman's opinion. Ananimated discussion took place. Oliver was ordered into instantconfinement; and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside ofthe gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who wouldtake Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish. In other words, fivepounds and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman who wantedan apprentice to any trade, business, or calling.
'I never was more convinced of anything in my life,' said thegentleman in the white waistcoat, as he knocked at the gate andread the bill next morning: 'I never was more convinced of anythingin my life, than I am that that boy will come to be hung.'
As I purpose to show in the sequel whether the white waistcoatedgentleman was right or not, I should perhaps mar the interest ofthis narrative (supposing it to possess any at all), if I venturedto hint just yet, whether the life of Oliver Twist had this violenttermination or no.
For a week after the commission of the impious and profaneoffence of asking for more, Oliver remained a close prisoner in thedark and solitary room to which he had been consigned by the wisdomand mercy of the board. It appears, at first sight not unreasonableto suppose, that, if he had entertained a becoming feeling ofrespect for the prediction of the gentleman in the white waistcoat,he would have established that sage individual's propheticcharacter, once and for ever, by tying one end of hispocket-handkerchief to a hook in the wall, and attaching himself tothe other. To the performance of this feat, however, there was oneobstacle: namely, that pocket-handkerchiefs being decided articlesof luxury, had been, for all future times and ages, removed fromthe noses of paupers by the express order of the board, in councilassembled: solemnly given and pronounced under their hands andseals. There was a still greater obstacle in Oliver's youth andchildishness. He only cried bitterly all day; and, when the long,dismal night came on, spread his little hands before his eyes toshut out the darkness, and crouching in the corner, tried to sleep:ever and anon waking with a start and tremble, and drawing himselfcloser and closer to the wall, as if to feel even its cold hardsurface were a protection in the gloom and loneliness whichsurrounded him.
Let it not be supposed by the enemies of 'the system,' that,during the period of his solitary incarceration, Oliver was deniedthe benefit of exercise, the pleasure of society, or the advantagesof religious consolation. As for exercise, it was nice coldweather, and he was allowed to perform his ablutions every morningunder the pump, in a stone yard, in the presence of Mr. Bumble, whoprevented his catching cold, and caused a tingling sensation topervade his frame, by repeated applications of the cane. As forsociety, he was carried every other day into the hall where theboys dined, and there sociably flogged as a public warning andexample. And so far from being denied the advantages of religiousconsolation, he was kicked into the same apartment every evening atprayer-time, and there permitted to listen to, and console his mindwith, a general supplication of the boys, containing a specialclause, therein inserted by authority of the board, in which theyentreated to be made good, virtuous, contented, and obedient, andto be guarded from the sins and vices of Oliver Twist: whom thesupplication distinctly set forth to be under the exclusivepatronage and protection of the powers of wickedness, and anarticle direct from the manufactory of the very Devil himself.
It chanced one morning, while Oliver's affairs were in thisauspicious and comfortable state, that Mr. Gamfield, chimney-sweep,went his way down the High Street, deeply cogitating in his mindhis ways and means of paying certain arrears of rent, for which hislandlord had become rather pressing. Mr. Gamfield's most sanguineestimate of his finances could not raise them within full fivepounds of the desired amount; and, in a species of arithmeticaldesperation, he was alternately cudgelling his brains and hisdonkey, when passing the workhouse, his eyes encountered the billon the gate.
'Wo—o!' said Mr. Gamfield to the donkey.
The donkey was in a state of profound abstraction: wondering,probably, whether he was destined to be regaled with acabbage-stalk or two when he had disposed of the two sacks of sootwith which the little cart was laden; so, without noticing the wordof command, he jogged onward.
Mr. Gamfield growled a fierce imprecation on the donkeygenerally, but more particularly on his eyes; and, running afterhim, bestowed a blow on his head, which would inevitably havebeaten in any skull but a donkey's. Then, catching hold of thebridle, he gave his jaw a sharp wrench, by way of gentle reminderthat he was not his own master; and by these means turned himround. He then gave him another blow on the head, just to stun himtill he came back again. Having completed these arrangements, hewalked up to the gate, to read the bill.
The gentleman with the white waistcoat was standing at the gatewith his hands behind him, after having delivered himself of someprofound sentiments in the board-room. Having witnessed the littledispute between Mr. Gamfield and the donkey, he smiled joyouslywhen that person came up to read the bill, for he saw at once thatMr. Gamfield was exactly the sort of master Oliver Twist wanted.Mr. Gamfield smiled, too, as he perused the document; for fivepounds was just the sum he had been wishing for; and, as to the boywith which it was encumbered, Mr. Gamfield, knowing what thedietary of the workhouse was, well knew he would be a nice smallpattern, just the very thing for register stoves. So, he spelt thebill through again, from beginning to end; and then, touching hisfur cap in token of humility, accosted the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat.
'This here boy, sir, wot the parish wants to 'prentis,' said Mr.Gamfield.
'Ay, my man,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, with acondescending smile. 'What of him?'
'If the parish vould like him to learn a right pleasant trade,in a good 'spectable chimbley-sweepin' bisness,' said Mr. Gamfield,'I wants a 'prentis, and I am ready to take him.'
'Walk in,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. Mr.Gamfield having lingered behind, to give the donkey another blow onthe head, and another wrench of the jaw, as a caution not to runaway in his absence, followed the gentleman with the whitewaistcoat into the room where Oliver had first seen him.
'It's a nasty trade,' said Mr. Limbkins, when Gamfield had againstated his wish.
'Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now,' saidanother gentleman.
'That's acause they damped the straw afore they lit it in thechimbley to make 'em come down again,' said Gamfield; 'that's allsmoke, and no blaze; vereas smoke ain't o' no use at all in makinga boy come down, for it only sinds him to sleep, and that's wot helikes. Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy, Gen'l'men, and there'snothink like a good hot blaze to make 'em come down vith a run.It's humane too, gen'l'men, acause, even if they've stuck in thechimbley, roasting their feet makes 'em struggle to hextricatetheirselves.'
The gentleman in the white waistcoat appeared very much amusedby this explanation; but his mirth was speedily checked by a lookfrom Mr. Limbkins. The board then proceeded to converse amongthemselves for a few minutes, but in so low a tone, that the words'saving of expenditure,' 'looked well in the accounts,' 'have aprinted report published,' were alone audible. These only chancedto be heard, indeed, or account of their being very frequentlyrepeated with great emphasis.
At length the whispering ceased; and the members of the board,having resumed their seats and their solemnity, Mr. Limbkinssaid:
'We have considered your proposition, and we don't approve ofit.'
'Not at all,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.
'Decidedly not,' added the other members.
As Mr. Gamfield did happen to labour under the slight imputationof having bruised three or four boys to death already, it occurredto him that the board had, perhaps, in some unaccountable freak,taken it into their heads that this extraneous circumstance oughtto influence their proceedings. Itwas very unlike their generalmode of doing business, if they had; but still, as he had noparticular wish to revive the rumour, he twisted his cap in hishands, and walked slowly from the table.
'So you won't let me have him, gen'l'men?' said Mr. Gamfield,pausing near the door.
'No,' replied Mr. Limbkins; 'at least, as it's a nasty business,we think you ought to take something less than the premium weoffered.'
Mr. Gamfield's countenance brightened, as, with a quick step, hereturned to the table, and said,
'What'll you give, gen'l'men? Come! Don't be too hard on a poorman. What'll you give?'
'I should say, three pound ten was plenty,' said Mr.Limbkins.
'Ten shillings too much,' said the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat.
'Come!' said Gamfield; 'say four pound, gen'l'men. Say fourpound, and you've got rid of him for good and all. There!'
'Three pound ten,' repeated Mr. Limbkins, firmly.
'Come! I'll split the diff'erence, gen'l'men,' urged Gamfield.'Three pound fifteen.'
'Not a farthing more,' was the firm reply of Mr. Limbkins.
'You're desperate hard upon me, gen'l'men,' said Gamfield,wavering.
'Pooh! pooh! nonsense!' said the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat. 'He'd be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium. Takehim, you silly fellow! He's just the boy for you. He wants thestick, now and then: it'll do him good; and his board needn't comevery expensive, for he hasn't been overfed since he was born. Ha!ha! ha!'
Mr. Gamfield gave an arch look at the faces round the table,and, observing a smile on all of them, gradually broke into a smilehimself. The bargain was made. Mr. Bumble, was at once instructedthat Oliver Twist and his indentures were to be conveyed before themagistrate, for signature and approval, that very afternoon.
In pursuance of this determination, little Oliver, to hisexcessive astonishment, was released from bondage, and ordered toput himself into a clean shirt. He had hardly achieved this veryunusual gymnastic performance, when Mr. Bumble brought him, withhis own hands, a basin of gruel, and the holiday allowance of twoounces and a quarter of bread. At this tremendous sight, Oliverbegan to cry very piteously: thinking, not unnaturally, that theboard must have determined to kill him for some useful purpose, orthey never would have begun to fatten him up in that way.
'Don't make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food and bethankful,' said Mr. Bumble, in a tone of impressive pomposity.'You're a going to be made a 'prentice of, Oliver.'
'A prentice, sir!' said the child, trembling.
'Yes, Oliver,' said Mr. Bumble. 'The kind and blessed gentlemanwhich is so many parents to you, Oliver, when you have none of yourown: are a going to 'prentice' you: and to set you up in life, andmake a man of you: although the expense to the parish is threepound ten!—three pound ten, Oliver!—seventyshillins—one hundred and forty sixpences!—and all for anaughty orphan which nobody can't love.'
As Mr. Bumble paused to take breath, after delivering thisaddress in an awful voice, the tears rolled down the poor child'sface, and he sobbed bitterly.
'Come,' said Mr. Bumble, somewhat less pompously, for it wasgratifying to his feelings to observe the effect his eloquence hadproduced; 'Come, Oliver! Wipe your eyes with the cuffs of yourjacket, and don't cry into your gruel; that's a very foolishaction, Oliver.' It certainly was, for there was quite enough waterin it already.
On their way to the magistrate, Mr. Bumble instructed Oliverthat all he would have to do, would be to look very happy, and say,when the gentleman asked him if he wanted to be apprenticed, thathe should like it very much indeed; both of which injunctionsOliver promised to obey: the rather as Mr.Bumble threw in a gentlehint, that if he failed in either particular, there was no tellingwhat would be done to him. When they arrived at the office, he wasshut up in a little room by himself, and admonished by Mr. Bumbleto stay there, until he came back to fetch him.
There the boy remained, with a palpitating heart, for half anhour. At the expiration of which time Mr. Bumble thrust in hishead, unadorned with the cocked hat, and said aloud:
'Now, Oliver, my dear, come to the gentleman.' As Mr. Bumblesaid this, he put on a grim and threatening look, and added, in alow voice, 'Mind what I told you, you young rascal!'
Oliver stared innocently in Mr. Bumble's face at this somewhatcontradictory style of address; but that gentleman prevented hisoffering any remark thereupon, by leading him at once into anadjoining room: the door of which was open. It was a large room,with a great window. Behind a desk, sat two old gentleman withpowdered heads: one of whom was reading the newspaper; while theother was perusing, with the aid of a pair of tortoise-shellspectacles, a small piece of parchment which lay before him. Mr.Limbkins was standing in front of the desk on one side; and Mr.Gamfield, with a partially washed face, on the other; while two orthree bluff-looking men, in top-boots, were lounging about.
The old gentleman with the spectacles gradually dozed off, overthe little bit of parchment; and there was a short pause, afterOliver had been stationed by Mr. Bumble in front of the desk.
'This is the boy, your worship,' said Mr. Bumble.
The old gentleman who was reading the newspaper raised his headfor a moment, and pulled the other old gentleman by the sleeve;whereupon, the last-mentioned old gentleman woke up.
'Oh, is this the boy?' said the old gentleman.
'This is him, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'Bow to the magistrate,my dear.'
Oliver roused himself, and made his best obeisance. He had beenwondering, with his eyes fixed on the magistrates' powder, whetherall boards were born with that white stuff on their heads, and wereboards from thenceforth on that account.
'Well,' said the old gentleman, 'I suppose he's fond ofchimney-sweeping?'
'He doats on it, your worship,' replied Bumble; giving Oliver asly pinch, to intimate that he had better not say he didn't.
'And he will be a sweep, will he?' inquired the oldgentleman.
'If we was to bind him to any other trade to-morrow, he'd runaway simultaneous, your worship,' replied Bumble.
'And this man that's to be his master—you,sir—you'll treat him well, and feed him, and do all that sortof thing, will you?' said the old gentleman.
'When I says I will, I means I will,' replied Mr. Gamfielddoggedly.
'You're a rough speaker, my friend, but you look an honest,open-hearted man,' said the old gentleman: turning his spectaclesin the direction of the candidate for Oliver's premium, whosevillainous countenance was a regular stamped receipt for cruelty.But the magistrate was half blind and half childish, so he couldn'treasonably be expected to discern what other people did.
'I hope I am, sir,' said Mr. Gamfield, with an ugly leer.
'I have no doubt you are, my friend,' replied the old gentleman:fixing his spectacles more firmly on his nose, and looking abouthim for the inkstand.
It was the critical moment of Oliver's fate. If the inkstand hadbeen where the old gentleman thought it was, he would have dippedhis pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would havebeen straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to be immediatelyunder his nose, it followed, as a matter of course, that he lookedall over his desk for it, without finding it; and happening in thecourse of his search to look straight before him, his gazeencountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist: who,despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of Bumble, wasregarding the repulsivecountenance of his future master, with amingled expression of horror and fear, too palpable to be mistaken,even by a half-blind magistrate.
The old gentleman stopped, laid down his pen, and looked fromOliver to Mr. Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with a cheerfuland unconcerned aspect.
'My boy!' said the old gentleman, 'you look pale and alarmed.What is the matter?'
'Stand a little away from him, Beadle,' said the othermagistrate: laying aside the paper, and leaning forward with anexpression of interest. 'Now, boy, tell us what's the matter: don'tbe afraid.'
Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together,prayed that they would order him back to the dark room—thatthey would starve him—beat him—kill him if theypleased—rather than send him away with that dreadful man.
'Well!' said Mr. Bumble, raising his hands and eyes with mostimpressive solemnity. 'Well! of all the artful and designingorphans that ever I see, Oliver, you are one of the mostbare-facedest.'
'Hold your tongue, Beadle,' said the second old gentleman, whenMr. Bumble had given vent to this compound adjective.
'I beg your worship's pardon,' said Mr. Bumble, incredulous ofhaving heard aright. 'Did your worship speak to me?'
'Yes. Hold your tongue.'
Mr. Bumble was stupefied with astonishment. A beadle ordered tohold his tongue! A moral revolution!
The old gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles looked at hiscompanion, he nodded significantly.
'We refuse to sanction these indentures,' said the oldgentleman: tossing aside the piece of parchment as he spoke.
'I hope,' stammered Mr. Limbkins: 'I hope the magistrates willnot form the opinion that the authorities have been guilty of anyimproper conduct, on the unsupported testimony of a child.'
'The magistrates are not called upon to pronounce any opinion onthe matter,' said the second old gentleman sharply. 'Take the boyback to the workhouse, and treat him kindly. He seems to wantit.'
That same evening, the gentleman in the white waistcoat mostpositively and decidedly affirmed, not only that Oliver would behung, but that he would be drawn and quartered into the bargain.Mr. Bumble shook his head with gloomy mystery, and said he wishedhe might come to good; whereunto Mr. Gamfield replied, that hewished he might come to him; which, although he agreed with thebeadle in most matters, would seem to be a wish of a totallyopposite description.
The next morning, the public were once informed that OliverTwist was again To Let, and that five pounds would be paid toanybody who would take possession of him.
In great families, when an advantageous place cannot beobtained, either in possession, reversion, remainder, orexpectancy, for the young man who is growing up, it is a verygeneral custom to send him to sea. The board, in imitation of sowise and salutary an example, took counsel together on theexpediency of shipping off Oliver Twist, in some small tradingvessel bound to a good unhealthy port. This suggested itself as thevery best thing that could possibly be done with him: theprobability being,that the skipper would flog him to death, in aplayful mood, some day after dinner, or would knock his brains outwith an iron bar; both pastimes being, as is pretty generallyknown, very favourite and common recreations among gentleman ofthat class. The more the case presented itself to the board, inthis point of view, the more manifold the advantages of the stepappeared; so, they came to the conclusion that the only way ofproviding for Oliver effectually, was to send him to sea withoutdelay.
Mr. Bumble had been despatched to make various preliminaryinquiries, with the view of finding out some captain or other whowanted a cabin-boy without any friends; and was returning to theworkhouse to communicate the result of his mission; when heencountered at the gate, no less a person than Mr. Sowerberry, theparochial undertaker.
Mr. Sowerberry was a tall gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in asuit of threadbare black, with darned cotton stockings of the samecolour, and shoes to answer. His features were not naturallyintended to wear a smiling aspect, but he was in general rathergiven to professional jocosity. His step was elastic, and his facebetokened inward pleasantry, as he advanced to Mr. Bumble, andshook him cordially by the hand.
'I have taken the measure of the two women that died last night,Mr. Bumble,' said the undertaker.
'You'll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,' said the beadle, ashe thrust his thumb and forefinger into the proffered snuff-box ofthe undertaker: which was an ingenious little model of a patentcoffin. 'I say you'll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,' repeatedMr. Bumble, tapping the undertaker on the shoulder, in a friendlymanner, with his cane.
'Think so?' said the undertaker in a tone which half admittedand half disputed the probability of the event. 'The prices allowedby the board are very small, Mr. Bumble.'
'So are the coffins,' replied the beadle: with precisely as nearan approach to a laugh as a great official ought to indulge in.
Mr. Sowerberry was much tickled at this: as of course he oughtto be; and laughed a long time without cessation. 'Well, well, Mr.Bumble,' he said at length, 'there's no denying that, since the newsystem of feeding has come in, the coffins are something narrowerand more shallow than they used to be; but we must have someprofit, Mr. Bumble. Well-seasoned timber is an expensive article,sir; and all the iron handles come, by canal, from Birmingham.'
'Well, well,' said Mr. Bumble, 'every trade has its drawbacks. Afair profit is, of course, allowable.'
'Of course, of course,' replied the undertaker; 'and if I don'tget a profit upon this or that particular article, why, I make itup in the long-run, you see—he! he! he!'
'Just so,' said Mr. Bumble.
'Though I must say,' continued the undertaker, resuming thecurrent of observations which the beadle had interrupted: 'though Imust say, Mr. Bumble, that I have to contend against one very greatdisadvantage: which is, that all the stout people go off thequickest. The people who have been better off, and have paid ratesfor many years, are the first to sink when they come into thehouse; and let me tell you, Mr. Bumble, that three or four inchesover one's calculation makes a great hole in one's profits:especially when one has a family to provide for, sir.'
As Mr. Sowerberry said this, with the becoming indignation of anill-used man; and as Mr. Bumble felt that it rather tended toconvey a reflection on the honour of the parish; the lattergentleman thought it advisable to change the subject. Oliver Twistbeing uppermost in his mind, he made him his theme.
'By the bye,' said Mr. Bumble, 'you don't know anybody who wantsa boy, do you? A porochial 'prentis, who is at present adead-weight; a millstone, as I may say, round the porochial throat?Liberal terms, Mr. Sowerberry, liberal terms?' As Mr. Bumble spoke,he raised his cane to the bill above him, and gave three distinctraps upon the words 'five pounds': which were printed thereon inRoman capitals of gigantic size.
'Gadso!' said the undertaker: taking Mr. Bumble by thegilt-edged lappel of his official coat; 'that's just the very thingI wanted to speak to you about. You know—dear me, what a veryelegant button this is, Mr. Bumble! I never noticed it before.'
'Yes, I think it rather pretty,' said the beadle, glancingproudly downwards at the large brass buttons which embellished hiscoat. 'The die is the same as the porochial seal—the GoodSamaritan healing the sick and bruised man. The board presented itto me on Newyear's morning, Mr. Sowerberry. I put it on, Iremember, for the first time, to attend the inquest on that reducedtradesman, who died in a doorway at midnight.'
'I recollect,' said the undertaker. 'The jury brought it in,"Died from exposure to the cold, and want of the common necessariesof life," didn't they?'
Mr. Bumble nodded.
'And they made it a special verdict, I think,' said theundertaker, 'by adding some words to the effect, that if therelieving officer had—'
'Tush! Foolery!' interposed the beadle. 'If the board attendedto all the nonsense that ignorant jurymen talk, they'd have enoughto do.'
'Very true,' said the undertaker; 'they would indeed.'
'Juries,' said Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane tightly, as was hiswont when working into a passion: 'juries is ineddicated, vulgar,grovelling wretches.'
'So they are,' said the undertaker.
'They haven't no more philosophy nor political economy about 'emthan that,' said the beadle, snapping his fingerscontemptuously.
'No more they have,' acquiesced the undertaker.
'I despise 'em,' said the beadle, growing very red in theface.
'So do I,' rejoined the undertaker.
'And I only wish we'd a jury of the independent sort, in thehouse for a week or two,' said the beadle; 'the rules andregulations of the board would soon bring their spirit down for'em.'
'Let 'em alone for that,' replied the undertaker. So saying, hesmiled, approvingly: to calm the rising wrath of the indignantparish officer.
Mr Bumble lifted off his cocked hat; took a handkerchief fromthe inside of the crown; wiped from his forehead the perspirationwhich his rage had engendered; fixed the cocked hat on again; and,turning to the undertaker, said in a calmer voice:
'Well; what about the boy?'
'Oh!' replied the undertaker; 'why, you know, Mr. Bumble, I paya good deal towards the poor's rates.'
'Hem!' said Mr. Bumble. 'Well?'
'Well,' replied the undertaker, 'I was thinking that if I pay somuch towards 'em, I've a right to get as much out of 'em as I can,Mr. Bumble; and so—I think I'll take the boy myself.'
Mr. Bumble grasped the undertaker by the arm, and led him intothe building. Mr. Sowerberry was closeted with the board for fiveminutes; and it was arranged that Oliver should go to him thatevening 'upon liking'—a phrase which means, in the case of aparish apprentice, that if the master find, upon a short trial,that he can get enough work out of a boy without putting too muchfood into him, he shall have him for a term of years, to do what helikes with.
When little Oliver was taken before 'the gentlemen' thatevening; and informed that he was to go, that night, as generalhouse-lad to a coffin-maker's; and that if he complained of hissituation, or ever came back to the parish again, he would be sentto sea, there to be drowned, or knocked on the head,as the casemight be, he evinced so little emotion, that they by common consentpronounced him a hardened young rascal, and ordered Mr. Bumble toremove him forthwith.
Now, although it was very natural that the board, of all peoplein the world, should feel in a great state of virtuous astonishmentand horror at the smallest tokens of want of feeling on the part ofanybody, they were rather out, in this particular instance. Thesimple fact was, that Oliver, instead of possessing too littlefeeling, possessed rather too much; and was in a fair way of beingreduced, for life, to a state of brutal stupidity and sullenness bythe ill usage he had received. He heard the news of hisdestination, in perfect silence; and, having had his luggage putinto his hand—which was not very difficult to carry, inasmuchas it was all comprised within the limits of a brown paper parcel,about half a foot square by three inches deep—he pulled hiscap over his eyes; and once more attaching himself to Mr. Bumble'scoat cuff, was led away by that dignitary to a new scene ofsuffering.
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