Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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To these interrogations Mr. Bumble returned very brief and snappish
replies; for the temporary blandness which gin-and-water awakens
in some bosoms had by this time evaporated; and he was once again a

Oliver had not been within the walls of the workhouse a quarter of
an hour, and had scarcely completed the demolition of a second slice
of bread, when Mr. Bumble, who had handed him over to the care of an
old woman, returned; and, telling him it was a board night, informed
him that the board had said he was to appear before it forthwith.

Not having a very clearly defined notion of what a live board was,
Oliver was rather astounded by this intelligence, and was not quite
certain whether he ought to laugh or cry. He had no time to think
about the matter, however; for Mr. Bumble gave him a tap on the
head, with his cane, to wake him up: and another on the back to make
him lively: and bidding him to follow, conducted him into a large
white-washed room, where eight or ten fat gentlemen were sitting
round a table. At the top of the table, seated in an arm-chair
rather higher than the rest, was a particularly fat gentleman with a
very round, red face.

‘Bow to the board,’ said Bumble. Oliver brushed away two or three
tears that were lingering in his eyes; and seeing no board but the
table, fortunately bowed to that.

‘What’s your name, boy?’ said the gentleman in the high chair.

Oliver was frightened at the sight of so many gentlemen, which made
him tremble: and the beadle gave him another tap behind, which
made him cry. These two causes made him answer in a very low and
hesitating voice; whereupon a gentleman in a white waistcoat said
he was a fool. Which was a capital way of raising his spirits, and
putting him quite at his ease.

‘Boy,’ said the gentleman in the high chair, ‘listen to me. You know
you’re an orphan, I suppose?’

‘What’s that, sir?’ inquired poor Oliver.

‘The boy _is_ a fool - I thought he was,’ said the gentleman in the
white waistcoat.

‘Hush!’ said the gentleman who had spoken first. ‘You know you’ve
got no father or mother, and that you were brought up by the parish,
don’t you?’

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Oliver, weeping bitterly.

‘What are you crying for?’ inquired the gentleman in the white
waistcoat. And to be sure it was very extraordinary. What _could_
the boy be crying for?

‘I hope you say your prayers every night,’ said another gentleman 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 was
unconsciously right. It would have been very like a Christian, and a
marvellously good Christian too, if Oliver had prayed for the people
who fed and took care of _him_. But he hadn’t, because nobody had
taught him.

‘Well! You have come here to be educated, and taught a useful
trade,’ said the red-faced gentleman in the high chair.

‘So you’ll begin to pick oakum to-morrow morning at six o’clock,’
added the surly one in the white waistcoat.

For the combination of both these blessings in the one simple
process of picking oakum, Oliver bowed low by the direction of
the beadle, and was then hurried away to a large ward; where, on
a rough, hard bed, he sobbed himself to sleep. What a novel
illustration of the tender laws of England! They let the paupers go
to sleep!

Poor Oliver! He little thought, as he lay sleeping in happy
unconsciousness of all around him, that the board had that very
day arrived at a decision which would exercise the most material
influence over all his future fortunes. But they had. And this was

The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical men;
and when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse,
they found out at once, what ordinary folks would never have
discovered - the poor people liked it! It was a regular place of
public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern where there
was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper all
the year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it was all 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 no time.’
So, they established the rule, that all poor people should have
the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they), of being
starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of
it. With this view, they contracted with the water-works to lay
on an unlimited supply of water; and with a corn-factor to supply
periodically small quantities of oatmeal; and issued three meals
of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll of
Sundays. They made a great many other wise and humane regulations,
having reference to the ladies, which it is not necessary to repeat;
kindly undertook to divorce poor married people, in consequence of
the great expense of a suit in Doctors’ Commons; and, instead of
compelling a man to support his family, as they had theretofore
done, took his family away from him, and made him a bachelor! There
is no saying how many applicants for relief, under these last two
heads, might have started up in all classes of society, if it had
not been coupled with the workhouse; but the board were long-headed
men, and had provided for this difficulty. The relief was
inseparable from the workhouse and the gruel; and that frightened

For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, the
system was in full operation. It was rather expensive at first,
in consequence of the increase in the undertaker’s bill, and
the necessity of taking in the clothes of all the paupers, which
fluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after a week or
two’s gruel. But the number of workhouse inmates got thin as well as
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 an apron for
the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at
mealtimes. Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer,
and no more - except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he
had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides.

The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their
spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this
operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as
large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such
eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which
it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their
fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any stray
splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boys have
generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions
suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last
they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was
tall for his age, and hadn’t been used to that sort of thing
(for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his
companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he
was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next
him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild,
hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held;
lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that
evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in
his cook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper
assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served
out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel
disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver;
while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was
desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the
table; 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. He gazed
in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and
then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were 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. Bumble rushed
into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in
the high chair, said,

‘Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

‘For _more_!’ said Mr. Limbkins. ‘Compose yourself, Bumble, and
answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after
he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?’

‘He did, sir,’ replied Bumble.

‘That boy will be hung,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.
‘I know that boy will be hung.’

Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman’s opinion. An animated
discussion took place. Oliver was ordered into instant confinement;
and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside of the gate,
offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who would take Oliver
Twist off the hands of the parish. In other words, five pounds
and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman who wanted an
apprentice to any trade, business, or calling.

‘I never was more convinced of anything in my life,’ said the
gentleman in the white waistcoat, as he knocked at the gate and read
the bill next morning: ‘I never was more convinced of anything in my
life, than I am that that boy will come to be hung.’

As I purpose to show in the sequel whether the white waistcoated
gentleman was right or not, I should perhaps mar the interest of
this narrative (supposing it to possess any at all), if I ventured
to hint just yet, whether the life of Oliver Twist had this violent
termination or no.


For a week after the commission of the impious and profane offence
of asking for more, Oliver remained a close prisoner in the dark and
solitary room to which he had been consigned by the wisdom and
mercy of the board. It appears, at first sight not unreasonable to
suppose, that, if he had entertained a becoming feeling of respect
for the prediction of the gentleman in the white waistcoat, he would
have established that sage individual’s prophetic character, once
and for ever, by tying one end of his pocket-handkerchief to a hook
in the wall, and attaching himself to the other. To the performance
of this feat, however, there was one obstacle: namely, that
pocket-handkerchiefs being decided articles of luxury, had been, for
all future times and ages, removed from the noses of paupers by the
express order of the board, in council assembled: solemnly given and
pronounced under their hands and seals. There was a still greater
obstacle in Oliver’s youth and childishness. He only cried bitterly
all day; and, when the long, dismal night came on, spread his little
hands before his eyes to shut out the darkness, and crouching in
the corner, tried to sleep: ever and anon waking with a start and
tremble, and drawing himself closer and closer to the wall, as if to
feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the gloom and
loneliness which surrounded him.

Let it not be supposed by the enemies of ‘the system,’ that, during
the period of his solitary incarceration, Oliver was denied the
benefit of exercise, the pleasure of society, or the advantages of
religious consolation. As for exercise, it was nice cold weather,
and he was allowed to perform his ablutions every morning under the
pump, in a stone yard, in the presence of Mr. Bumble, who prevented
his catching cold, and caused a tingling sensation to pervade his
frame, by repeated applications of the cane. As for society, he
was carried every other day into the hall where the boys dined, and
there sociably flogged as a public warning and example. And so far
from being denied the advantages of religious consolation, he was
kicked into the same apartment every evening at prayer-time, and
there permitted to listen to, and console his mind with, a general
supplication of the boys, containing a special clause, therein
inserted by authority of the board, in which they entreated to be
made good, virtuous, contented, and obedient, and to be guarded from
the sins and vices of Oliver Twist: whom the supplication distinctly
set forth to be under the exclusive patronage and protection of the
powers of wickedness, and an article direct from the manufactory of
the very Devil himself.

It chanced one morning, while Oliver’s affairs were in this
auspicious and comfortable state, that Mr. Gamfield, chimney-sweep,
went his way down the High Street, deeply cogitating in his mind
his ways and means of paying certain arrears of rent, for which his
landlord had become rather pressing. Mr. Gamfield’s most sanguine
estimate of his finances could not raise them within full five
pounds of the desired amount; and, in a species of arithmetical
desperation, he was alternately cudgelling his brains and his
donkey, when passing the workhouse, his eyes encountered the bill on
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 a cabbage-stalk
or two when he had disposed of the two sacks of soot with which the
little cart was laden; so, without noticing the word of command, he
jogged onward.

Mr. Gamfield growled a fierce imprecation on the donkey generally,
but more particularly on his eyes; and, running after him, bestowed
a blow on his head, which would inevitably have beaten in any skull
but a donkey’s. Then, catching hold of the bridle, he gave his jaw
a sharp wrench, by way of gentle reminder that he was not his
own master; and by these means turned him round. He then gave him
another blow on the head, just to stun him till he came back again.
Having completed these arrangements, he walked up to the gate, to
read the bill.

The gentleman with the white waistcoat was standing at the gate
with his hands behind him, after having delivered himself of some
profound sentiments in the board-room. Having witnessed the little
dispute between Mr. Gamfield and the donkey, he smiled joyously when
that person came up to read the bill, for he saw at once that Mr.
Gamfield was exactly the sort of master Oliver Twist wanted. Mr.
Gamfield smiled, too, as he perused the document; for five pounds
was just the sum he had been wishing for; and, as to the boy with
which it was encumbered, Mr. Gamfield, knowing what the dietary of
the workhouse was, well knew he would be a nice small pattern, just
the very thing for register stoves. So, he spelt the bill through
again, from beginning to end; and then, touching his fur cap in
token of humility, accosted the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

‘This here boy, sir, wot the parish wants to ‘prentis,’ said Mr.

‘Ay, my man,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, with a
condescending 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 on the head,
and another wrench of the jaw, as a caution not to run away in his
absence, followed the gentleman with the white waistcoat into the
room where Oliver had first seen him.

‘It’s a nasty trade,’ said Mr. Limbkins, when Gamfield had again
stated his wish.

‘Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now,’ said
another gentleman.

‘That’s acause they damped the straw afore they lit it in the
chimbley to make ‘em come down again,’ said Gamfield; ‘that’s all
smoke, and no blaze; vereas smoke ain’t o’ no use at all in making
a boy come down, for it only sinds him to sleep, and that’s wot he
likes. Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy, Gen’l’men, and there’s
nothink 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 the
chimbley, roasting their feet makes ‘em struggle to hextricate

The gentleman in the white waistcoat appeared very much amused by
this explanation; but his mirth was speedily checked by a look from
Mr. Limbkins. The board then proceeded to converse among themselves
for a few minutes, but in so low a tone, that the words ‘saving of
expenditure,’ ‘looked well in the accounts,’ ‘have a printed report
published,’ were alone audible. These only chanced to be heard,
indeed, or account of their being very frequently repeated with
great emphasis.

At length the whispering ceased; and the members of the board,
having resumed their seats and their solemnity, Mr. Limbkins said:

‘We have considered your proposition, and we don’t approve of it.’

‘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 imputation of
having bruised three or four boys to death already, it occurred to
him that the board had, perhaps, in some unaccountable freak, taken
it into their heads that this extraneous circumstance ought to
influence their proceedings. It was very unlike their general mode
of doing business, if they had; but still, as he had no particular
wish to revive the rumour, he twisted his cap in his hands, 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 we offered.’

Mr. Gamfield’s countenance brightened, as, with a quick step, he
returned to the table, and said,

‘What’ll you give, gen’l’men? Come! Don’t be too hard on a poor man.
What’ll you give?’

‘I should say, three pound ten was plenty,’ said Mr. Limbkins.

‘Ten shillings too much,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

‘Come!’ said Gamfield; ‘say four pound, gen’l’men. Say four pound,
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 white waistcoat.
‘He’d be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium. Take him, you
silly fellow! He’s just the boy for you. He wants the stick, now and
then: it’ll do him good; and his board needn’t come very 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 smile
himself. The bargain was made. Mr. Bumble, was at once instructed
that Oliver Twist and his indentures were to be conveyed before the
magistrate, for signature and approval, that very afternoon.

In pursuance of this determination, little Oliver, to his excessive
astonishment, was released from bondage, and ordered to put himself
into a clean shirt. He had hardly achieved this very unusual
gymnastic performance, when Mr. Bumble brought him, with his own
hands, a basin of gruel, and the holiday allowance of two ounces and
a quarter of bread. At this tremendous sight, Oliver began to cry
very piteously: thinking, not unnaturally, that the board must have
determined to kill him for some useful purpose, or they never would
have begun to fatten him up in that way.

‘Don’t make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food and be
thankful,’ 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 gentleman
which is so many parents to you, Oliver, when you have none of your
own: are a going to ‘prentice’ you: and to set you up in life, and
make a man of you: although the expense to the parish is three pound
ten! - three pound ten, Oliver! - seventy shillins - one hundred and
forty sixpences! - and all for a naughty orphan which nobody can’t

As Mr. Bumble paused to take breath, after delivering this address
in an awful voice, the tears rolled down the poor child’s face, and
he sobbed bitterly.

‘Come,’ said Mr. Bumble, somewhat less pompously, for it was
gratifying to his feelings to observe the effect his eloquence
had produced; ‘Come, Oliver! Wipe your eyes with the cuffs of your
jacket, and don’t cry into your gruel; that’s a very foolish action,
Oliver.’ It certainly was, for there was quite enough water in it

On their way to the magistrate, Mr. Bumble instructed Oliver that
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, that he
should like it very much indeed; both of which injunctions Oliver
promised to obey: the rather as Mr. Bumble threw in a gentle hint,
that if he failed in either particular, there was no telling what
would be done to him. When they arrived at the office, he was shut
up in a little room by himself, and admonished by Mr. Bumble to stay
there, until he came back to fetch him.

There the boy remained, with a palpitating heart, for half an hour.
At the expiration of which time Mr. Bumble thrust in his head,
unadorned with the cocked hat, and said aloud:

‘Now, Oliver, my dear, come to the gentleman.’ As Mr. Bumble said
this, he put on a grim and threatening look, and added, in a low
voice, ‘Mind what I told you, you young rascal!’

Oliver stared innocently in Mr. Bumble’s face at this somewhat
contradictory style of address; but that gentleman prevented his
offering any remark thereupon, by leading him at once into an
adjoining room: the door of which was open. It was a large room,
with a great window. Behind a desk, sat two old gentleman with
powdered heads: one of whom was reading the newspaper; while
the other was perusing, with the aid of a pair of tortoise-shell
spectacles, 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 or
three bluff-looking men, in top-boots, were lounging about.

The old gentleman with the spectacles gradually dozed off, over the
little bit of parchment; and there was a short pause, after Oliver
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 head
for 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

Oliver roused himself, and made his best obeisance. He had been
wondering, with his eyes fixed on the magistrates’ powder, whether
all boards were born with that white stuff on their heads, and were
boards from thenceforth on that account.

‘Well,’ said the old gentleman, ‘I suppose he’s fond of

‘He doats on it, your worship,’ replied Bumble; giving Oliver a sly
pinch, to intimate that he had better not say he didn’t.

‘And he _will_ be a sweep, will he?’ inquired the old gentleman.

‘If we was to bind him to any other trade to-morrow, he’d run away
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 sort of thing, will you?’ said

Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 2 of 25)