Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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disposed of, she acquainted Mr. Bumble with the old woman’s decease.

‘Very good,’ said that gentleman, sipping his peppermint; ‘I’ll
call at Sowerberry’s as I go home, and tell him to send to-morrow
morning. Was it that as frightened you, love?’

‘It wasn’t anything particular, dear,’ said the lady evasively.

‘It must have been something, love,’ urged Mr. Bumble. ‘Won’t you
tell your own B.?’

‘Not now,’ rejoined the lady; ‘one of these days. After we’re
married, dear.’

‘After we’re married!’ exclaimed Mr. Bumble. ‘It wasn’t any
impudence from any of them male paupers as - ’

‘No, no, love!’ interposed the lady, hastily.

‘If I thought it was,’ continued Mr. Bumble; ‘if I thought as
any one of ‘em had dared to lift his wulgar eyes to that lovely
countenance - ’

‘They wouldn’t have dared to do it, love,’ responded the lady.

‘They had better not!’ said Mr. Bumble, clenching his fist. ‘Let me
see any man, porochial or extra-porochial, as would presume to do
it; and I can tell him that he wouldn’t do it a second time!’

Unembellished by any violence of gesticulation, this might have
seemed no very high compliment to the lady’s charms; but, as Mr.
Bumble accompanied the threat with many warlike gestures, she was
much touched with this proof of his devotion, and protested, with
great admiration, that he was indeed a dove.

The dove then turned up his coat-collar, and put on his cocked
hat; and, having exchanged a long and affectionate embrace with his
future partner, once again braved the cold wind of the night: merely
pausing, for a few minutes, in the male paupers’ ward, to abuse them
a little, with the view of satisfying himself that he could fill
the office of workhouse-master with needful acerbity. Assured of his
qualifications, Mr. Bumble left the building with a light heart, and
bright visions of his future promotion: which served to occupy his
mind until he reached the shop of the undertaker.

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry having gone out to tea and supper: and
Noah Claypole not being at any time disposed to take upon himself
a greater amount of physical exertion than is necessary to a
convenient performance of the two functions of eating and drinking,
the shop was not closed, although it was past the usual hour of
shutting-up. Mr. Bumble tapped with his cane on the counter several
times; but, attracting no attention, and beholding a light shining
through the glass-window of the little parlour at the back of the
shop, he made bold to peep in and see what was going forward; and
when he saw what was going forward, he was not a little surprised.

The cloth was laid for supper; the table was covered with bread and
butter, plates and glasses; a porter-pot and a wine-bottle. At the
upper end of the table, Mr. Noah Claypole lolled negligently in
an easy-chair, with his legs thrown over one of the arms: an open
clasp-knife in one hand, and a mass of buttered bread in the other.
Close beside him stood Charlotte, opening oysters from a barrel:
which Mr. Claypole condescended to swallow, with remarkable avidity.
A more than ordinary redness in the region of the young gentleman’s
nose, and a kind of fixed wink in his right eye, denoted that he was
in a slight degree intoxicated; these symptoms were confirmed by the
intense relish with which he took his oysters, for which nothing
but a strong appreciation of their cooling properties, in cases of
internal fever, could have sufficiently accounted.

‘Here’s a delicious fat one, Noah, dear!’ said Charlotte; ‘try him,
do; only this one.’

‘What a delicious thing is a oyster!’ remarked Mr. Claypole, after
he had swallowed it. ‘What a pity it is, a number of ‘em should ever
make you feel uncomfortable; isn’t it, Charlotte?’

‘It’s quite a cruelty,’ said Charlotte.

‘So it is,’ acquiesced Mr. Claypole. ‘An’t yer fond of oysters?’

‘Not overmuch,’ replied Charlotte. ‘I like to see you eat ‘em, Noah
dear, better than eating ‘em myself.’

‘Lor!’ said Noah, reflectively; ‘how queer!’

‘Have another,’ said Charlotte. ‘Here’s one with such a beautiful,
delicate beard!’

‘I can’t manage any more,’ said Noah. ‘I’m very sorry. Come here,
Charlotte, and I’ll kiss yer.’

‘What!’ said Mr. Bumble, bursting into the room. ‘Say that again,
sir.’

Charlotte uttered a scream, and hid her face in her apron. Mr.
Claypole, without making any further change in his position than
suffering his legs to reach the ground, gazed at the beadle in
drunken terror.

‘Say it again, you wile, owdacious fellow!’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘How
dare you mention such a thing, sir? And how dare you encourage
him, you insolent minx? Kiss her!’ exclaimed Mr. Bumble, in strong
indignation. ‘Faugh!’

‘I didn’t mean to do it!’ said Noah, blubbering. ‘She’s always
a-kissing of me, whether I like it, or not.’

‘Oh, Noah,’ cried Charlotte, reproachfully.

‘Yer are; yer know yer are!’ retorted Noah. ‘She’s always a-doin’ of
it, Mr. Bumble, sir; she chucks me under the chin, please, sir; and
makes all manner of love!’

‘Silence!’ cried Mr. Bumble, sternly. ‘Take yourself downstairs,
ma’am. Noah, you shut up the shop; say another word till your master
comes home, at your peril; and, when he does come home, tell him
that Mr. Bumble said he was to send a old woman’s shell after
breakfast to-morrow morning. Do you hear sir? Kissing!’ cried Mr.
Bumble, holding up his hands. ‘The sin and wickedness of the lower
orders in this porochial district is frightful! If Parliament don’t
take their abominable courses under consideration, this country’s
ruined, and the character of the peasantry gone for ever!’ With
these words, the beadle strode, with a lofty and gloomy air, from
the undertaker’s premises.

And now that we have accompanied him so far on his road home, and
have made all necessary preparations for the old woman’s funeral,
let us set on foot a few inquires after young Oliver Twist, and
ascertain whether he be still lying in the ditch where Toby Crackit
left him.



CHAPTER XXVIII - LOOKS AFTER OLIVER, AND PROCEEDS WITH HIS
ADVENTURES

‘Wolves tear your throats!’ muttered Sikes, grinding his teeth. ‘I
wish I was among some of you; you’d howl the hoarser for it.’

As Sikes growled forth this imprecation, with the most desperate
ferocity that his desperate nature was capable of, he rested the
body of the wounded boy across his bended knee; and turned his head,
for an instant, to look back at his pursuers.

There was little to be made out, in the mist and darkness; but the
loud shouting of men vibrated through the air, and the barking
of the neighbouring dogs, roused by the sound of the alarm bell,
resounded in every direction.

‘Stop, you white-livered hound!’ cried the robber, shouting after
Toby Crackit, who, making the best use of his long legs, was already
ahead. ‘Stop!’

The repetition of the word, brought Toby to a dead stand-still.
For he was not quite satisfied that he was beyond the range of
pistol-shot; and Sikes was in no mood to be played with.

‘Bear a hand with the boy,’ cried Sikes, beckoning furiously to his
confederate. ‘Come back!’

Toby made a show of returning; but ventured, in a low voice, broken
for want of breath, to intimate considerable reluctance as he came
slowly along.

‘Quicker!’ cried Sikes, laying the boy in a dry ditch at his feet,
and drawing a pistol from his pocket. ‘Don’t play booty with me.’

At this moment the noise grew louder. Sikes, again looking round,
could discern that the men who had given chase were already climbing
the gate of the field in which he stood; and that a couple of dogs
were some paces in advance of them.

‘It’s all up, Bill!’ cried Toby; ‘drop the kid, and show ‘em your
heels.’ With this parting advice, Mr. Crackit, preferring the chance
of being shot by his friend, to the certainty of being taken by his
enemies, fairly turned tail, and darted off at full speed. Sikes
clenched his teeth; took one look around; threw over the prostrate
form of Oliver, the cape in which he had been hurriedly muffled;
ran along the front of the hedge, as if to distract the attention of
those behind, from the spot where the boy lay; paused, for a second,
before another hedge which met it at right angles; and whirling his
pistol high into the air, cleared it at a bound, and was gone.

‘Ho, ho, there!’ cried a tremulous voice in the rear. ‘Pincher!
Neptune! Come here, come here!’

The dogs, who, in common with their masters, seemed to have no
particular relish for the sport in which they were engaged, readily
answered to the command. Three men, who had by this time advanced
some distance into the field, stopped to take counsel together.

‘My advice, or, leastways, I should say, my _orders_, is,’ said the
fattest man of the party, ‘that we ‘mediately go home again.’

‘I am agreeable to anything which is agreeable to Mr. Giles,’ said a
shorter man; who was by no means of a slim figure, and who was very
pale in the face, and very polite: as frightened men frequently are.

‘I shouldn’t wish to appear ill-mannered, gentlemen,’ said the
third, who had called the dogs back, ‘Mr. Giles ought to know.’

‘Certainly,’ replied the shorter man; ‘and whatever Mr. Giles says,
it isn’t our place to contradict him. No, no, I know my sitiwation!
Thank my stars, I know my sitiwation.’ To tell the truth, the little
man _did_ seem to know his situation, and to know perfectly well
that it was by no means a desirable one; for his teeth chattered in
his head as he spoke.

‘You are afraid, Brittles,’ said Mr. Giles.

‘I an’t,’ said Brittles.

‘You are,’ said Giles.

‘You’re a falsehood, Mr. Giles,’ said Brittles.

‘You’re a lie, Brittles,’ said Mr. Giles.

Now, these four retorts arose from Mr. Giles’s taunt; and Mr.
Giles’s taunt had arisen from his indignation at having the
responsibility of going home again, imposed upon himself under cover
of a compliment. The third man brought the dispute to a close, most
philosophically.

‘I’ll tell you what it is, gentlemen,’ said he, ‘we’re all afraid.’

‘Speak for yourself, sir,’ said Mr. Giles, who was the palest of the
party.

‘So I do,’ replied the man. ‘It’s natural and proper to be afraid,
under such circumstances. I am.’

‘So am I,’ said Brittles; ‘only there’s no call to tell a man he is,
so bounceably.’

These frank admissions softened Mr. Giles, who at once owned that
_he_ was afraid; upon which, they all three faced about, and ran
back again with the completest unanimity, until Mr. Giles (who had
the shortest wind of the party, as was encumbered with a pitchfork)
most handsomely insisted on stopping, to make an apology for his
hastiness of speech.

‘But it’s wonderful,’ said Mr. Giles, when he had explained, ‘what a
man will do, when his blood is up. I should have committed murder - I
know I should - if we’d caught one of them rascals.’

As the other two were impressed with a similar presentiment; and
as their blood, like his, had all gone down again; some speculation
ensued upon the cause of this sudden change in their temperament.

‘I know what it was,’ said Mr. Giles; ‘it was the gate.’

‘I shouldn’t wonder if it was,’ exclaimed Brittles, catching at the
idea.

‘You may depend upon it,’ said Giles, ‘that that gate stopped the
flow of the excitement. I felt all mine suddenly going away, as I
was climbing over it.’

By a remarkable coincidence, the other two had been visited with
the same unpleasant sensation at that precise moment. It was quite
obvious, therefore, that it was the gate; especially as there was
no doubt regarding the time at which the change had taken place,
because all three remembered that they had come in sight of the
robbers at the instant of its occurance.

This dialogue was held between the two men who had surprised the
burglars, and a travelling tinker who had been sleeping in an
outhouse, and who had been roused, together with his two mongrel
curs, to join in the pursuit. Mr. Giles acted in the double capacity
of butler and steward to the old lady of the mansion; Brittles was
a lad of all-work: who, having entered her service a mere child, was
treated as a promising young boy still, though he was something past
thirty.

Encouraging each other with such converse as this; but, keeping very
close together, notwithstanding, and looking apprehensively round,
whenever a fresh gust rattled through the boughs; the three men
hurried back to a tree, behind which they had left their lantern,
lest its light should inform the thieves in what direction to fire.
Catching up the light, they made the best of their way home, at a
good round trot; and long after their dusky forms had ceased to be
discernible, the light might have been seen twinkling and dancing in
the distance, like some exhalation of the damp and gloomy atmosphere
through which it was swiftly borne.

The air grew colder, as day came slowly on; and the mist rolled
along the ground like a dense cloud of smoke. The grass was wet; the
pathways, and low places, were all mire and water; the damp breath
of an unwholesome wind went languidly by, with a hollow moaning.
Still, Oliver lay motionless and insensible on the spot where Sikes
had left him.

Morning drew on apace. The air become more sharp and piercing, as
its first dull hue - the death of night, rather than the birth of
day - glimmered faintly in the sky. The objects which had looked
dim and terrible in the darkness, grew more and more defined, and
gradually resolved into their familiar shapes. The rain came down,
thick and fast, and pattered noisily among the leafless bushes.
But, Oliver felt it not, as it beat against him; for he still lay
stretched, helpless and unconscious, on his bed of clay.

At length, a low cry of pain broke the stillness that prevailed;
and uttering it, the boy awoke. His left arm, rudely bandaged in a
shawl, hung heavy and useless at his side; the bandage was saturated
with blood. He was so weak, that he could scarcely raise himself
into a sitting posture; when he had done so, he looked feebly round
for help, and groaned with pain. Trembling in every joint, from cold
and exhaustion, he made an effort to stand upright; but, shuddering
from head to foot, fell prostrate on the ground.

After a short return of the stupor in which he had been so long
plunged, Oliver: urged by a creeping sickness at his heart, which
seemed to warn him that if he lay there, he must surely die: got
upon his feet, and essayed to walk. His head was dizzy, and
he staggered to and fro like a drunken man. But he kept up,
nevertheless, and, with his head drooping languidly on his breast,
went stumbling onward, he knew not whither.

And now, hosts of bewildering and confused ideas came crowding on
his mind. He seemed to be still walking between Sikes and Crackit,
who were angrily disputing - for the very words they said, sounded
in his ears; and when he caught his own attention, as it were, by
making some violent effort to save himself from falling, he found
that he was talking to them. Then, he was alone with Sikes, plodding
on as on the previous day; and as shadowy people passed them, he
felt the robber’s grasp upon his wrist. Suddenly, he started back
at the report of firearms; there rose into the air, loud cries and
shouts; lights gleamed before his eyes; all was noise and tumult,
as some unseen hand bore him hurriedly away. Through all these rapid
visions, there ran an undefined, uneasy consciousness of pain, which
wearied and tormented him incessantly.

Thus he staggered on, creeping, almost mechanically, between the
bars of gates, or through hedge-gaps as they came in his way, until
he reached a road. Here the rain began to fall so heavily, that it
roused him.

He looked about, and saw that at no great distance there was a
house, which perhaps he could reach. Pitying his condition, they
might have compassion on him; and if they did not, it would be
better, he thought, to die near human beings, than in the lonely
open fields. He summoned up all his strength for one last trial, and
bent his faltering steps towards it.

As he drew nearer to this house, a feeling come over him that he had
seen it before. He remembered nothing of its details; but the shape
and aspect of the building seemed familiar to him.

That garden wall! On the grass inside, he had fallen on his knees
last night, and prayed the two men’s mercy. It was the very house
they had attempted to rob.

Oliver felt such fear come over him when he recognised the place,
that, for the instant, he forgot the agony of his wound, and thought
only of flight. Flight! He could scarcely stand: and if he were in
full possession of all the best powers of his slight and youthful
frame, whither could he fly? He pushed against the garden-gate; it
was unlocked, and swung open on its hinges. He tottered across the
lawn; climbed the steps; knocked faintly at the door; and, his whole
strength failing him, sunk down against one of the pillars of the
little portico.

It happened that about this time, Mr. Giles, Brittles, and the
tinker, were recruiting themselves, after the fatigues and terrors
of the night, with tea and sundries, in the kitchen. Not that it
was Mr. Giles’s habit to admit to too great familiarity the humbler
servants: towards whom it was rather his wont to deport himself with
a lofty affability, which, while it gratified, could not fail to
remind them of his superior position in society. But, death, fires,
and burglary, make all men equals; so Mr. Giles sat with his legs
stretched out before the kitchen fender, leaning his left arm on the
table, while, with his right, he illustrated a circumstantial and
minute account of the robbery, to which his bearers (but especially
the cook and housemaid, who were of the party) listened with
breathless interest.

‘It was about half-past two,’ said Mr. Giles, ‘or I wouldn’t swear
that it mightn’t have been a little nearer three, when I woke up,
and, turning round in my bed, as it might be so, (here Mr. Giles
turned round in his chair, and pulled the corner of the table-cloth
over him to imitate bed-clothes,) I fancied I heerd a noise.’

At this point of the narrative the cook turned pale, and asked
the housemaid to shut the door: who asked Brittles, who asked the
tinker, who pretended not to hear.

‘ - Heerd a noise,’ continued Mr. Giles. ‘I says, at first, “This is
illusion”; and was composing myself off to sleep, when I heerd the
noise again, distinct.’

‘What sort of a noise?’ asked the cook.

‘A kind of a busting noise,’ replied Mr. Giles, looking round him.

‘More like the noise of powdering a iron bar on a nutmeg-grater,’
suggested Brittles.

‘It was, when _you_ heerd it, sir,’ rejoined Mr. Giles; ‘but, at
this time, it had a busting sound. I turned down the clothes’;
continued Giles, rolling back the table-cloth, ‘sat up in bed; and
listened.’

The cook and housemaid simultaneously ejaculated ‘Lor!’ and drew
their chairs closer together.

‘I heerd it now, quite apparent,’ resumed Mr. Giles. ‘“Somebody,” I
says, “is forcing of a door, or window; what’s to be done? I’ll call
up that poor lad, Brittles, and save him from being murdered in his
bed; or his throat,” I says, “may be cut from his right ear to his
left, without his ever knowing it.”’

Here, all eyes were turned upon Brittles, who fixed his upon the
speaker, and stared at him, with his mouth wide open, and his face
expressive of the most unmitigated horror.

‘I tossed off the clothes,’ said Giles, throwing away the
table-cloth, and looking very hard at the cook and housemaid, ‘got
softly out of bed; drew on a pair of - ’

‘Ladies present, Mr. Giles,’ murmured the tinker.

‘ - Of _shoes_, sir,’ said Giles, turning upon him, and laying great
emphasis on the word; ‘seized the loaded pistol that always goes
upstairs with the plate-basket; and walked on tiptoes to his room.
“Brittles,” I says, when I had woke him, “don’t be frightened!”’

‘So you did,’ observed Brittles, in a low voice.

‘“We’re dead men, I think, Brittles,” I says,’ continued Giles;
‘“but don’t be frightened.”’

‘_Was_ he frightened?’ asked the cook.

‘Not a bit of it,’ replied Mr. Giles. ‘He was as firm - ah! pretty
near as firm as I was.’

‘I should have died at once, I’m sure, if it had been me,’ observed
the housemaid.

‘You’re a woman,’ retorted Brittles, plucking up a little.

‘Brittles is right,’ said Mr. Giles, nodding his head, approvingly;
‘from a woman, nothing else was to be expected. We, being men, took
a dark lantern that was standing on Brittle’s hob, and groped our
way downstairs in the pitch dark, - as it might be so.’

Mr. Giles had risen from his seat, and taken two steps with his eyes
shut, to accompany his description with appropriate action, when
he started violently, in common with the rest of the company, and
hurried back to his chair. The cook and housemaid screamed.

‘It was a knock,’ said Mr. Giles, assuming perfect serenity. ‘Open
the door, somebody.’

Nobody moved.

‘It seems a strange sort of a thing, a knock coming at such a time
in the morning,’ said Mr. Giles, surveying the pale faces which
surrounded him, and looking very blank himself; ‘but the door must
be opened. Do you hear, somebody?’

Mr. Giles, as he spoke, looked at Brittles; but that young man,
being naturally modest, probably considered himself nobody, and so
held that the inquiry could not have any application to him; at all
events, he tendered no reply. Mr. Giles directed an appealing glance
at the tinker; but he had suddenly fallen asleep. The women were out
of the question.

‘If Brittles would rather open the door, in the presence of
witnesses,’ said Mr. Giles, after a short silence, ‘I am ready to
make one.’

‘So am I,’ said the tinker, waking up, as suddenly as he had fallen
asleep.

Brittles capitulated on these terms; and the party being somewhat
re-assured by the discovery (made on throwing open the shutters)
that it was now broad day, took their way upstairs; with the dogs in
front. The two women, who were afraid to stay below, brought up the
rear. By the advice of Mr. Giles, they all talked very loud, to warn
any evil-disposed person outside, that they were strong in numbers;
and by a master-stoke of policy, originating in the brain of the
same ingenious gentleman, the dogs’ tails were well pinched, in the
hall, to make them bark savagely.

These precautions having been taken, Mr. Giles held on fast by the
tinker’s arm (to prevent his running away, as he pleasantly said),
and gave the word of command to open the door. Brittles obeyed; the
group, peeping timorously over each other’s shoulders, beheld no
more formidable object than poor little Oliver Twist, speechless
and exhausted, who raised his heavy eyes, and mutely solicited their
compassion.

‘A boy!’ exclaimed Mr. Giles, valiantly, pushing the tinker into the
background. ‘What’s the matter with the - eh? - Why - Brittles - look
here - don’t you know?’

Brittles, who had got behind the door to open it, no sooner saw
Oliver, than he uttered a loud cry. Mr. Giles, seizing the boy by
one leg and one arm (fortunately not the broken limb) lugged him
straight into the hall, and deposited him at full length on the
floor thereof.

‘Here he is!’ bawled Giles, calling in a state of great excitement,
up the staircase; ‘here’s one of the thieves, ma’am! Here’s a thief,
miss! Wounded, miss! I shot him, miss; and Brittles held the light.’

‘ - In a lantern, miss,’ cried Brittles, applying one hand to the
side of his mouth, so that his voice might travel the better.

The two women-servants ran upstairs to carry the intelligence that
Mr. Giles had captured a robber; and the tinker busied himself in
endeavouring to restore Oliver, lest he should die before he could
be hanged. In the midst of all this noise and commotion, there was
heard a sweet female voice, which quelled it in an instant.

‘Giles!’ whispered the voice from the stair-head.

‘I’m here, miss,’ replied Mr. Giles. ‘Don’t be frightened, miss;


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 19 of 25)