Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

. (page 25 of 25)
Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 25 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with me at all, since I have been here; nor, at this time of the
year, is it likely that anything would occur to render necessary my
immediate attendance among them.’

‘Well,’ said the doctor, ‘you are a queer fellow. But of course they
will get you into parliament at the election before Christmas,
and these sudden shiftings and changes are no bad preparation for
political life. There’s something in that. Good training is always
desirable, whether the race be for place, cup, or sweepstakes.’

Harry Maylie looked as if he could have followed up this short
dialogue by one or two remarks that would have staggered the doctor
not a little; but he contented himself with saying, ‘We shall see,’
and pursued the subject no farther. The post-chaise drove up to the
door shortly afterwards; and Giles coming in for the luggage, the
good doctor bustled out, to see it packed.

‘Oliver,’ said Harry Maylie, in a low voice, ‘let me speak a word
with you.’

Oliver walked into the window-recess to which Mr. Maylie beckoned
him; much surprised at the mixture of sadness and boisterous
spirits, which his whole behaviour displayed.

‘You can write well now?’ said Harry, laying his hand upon his arm.

‘I hope so, sir,’ replied Oliver.

‘I shall not be at home again, perhaps for some time; I wish you
would write to me - say once a fort-night: every alternate Monday: to
the General Post Office in London. Will you?’

‘Oh! certainly, sir; I shall be proud to do it,’ exclaimed Oliver,
greatly delighted with the commission.

‘I should like to know how - how my mother and Miss Maylie are,’ said
the young man; ‘and you can fill up a sheet by telling me what
walks you take, and what you talk about, and whether she - they, I
mean - seem happy and quite well. You understand me?’

‘Oh! quite, sir, quite,’ replied Oliver.

‘I would rather you did not mention it to them,’ said Harry,
hurrying over his words; ‘because it might make my mother anxious to
write to me oftener, and it is a trouble and worry to her. Let it
be a secret between you and me; and mind you tell me everything! I
depend upon you.’

Oliver, quite elated and honoured by a sense of his importance,
faithfully promised to be secret and explicit in his communications.
Mr. Maylie took leave of him, with many assurances of his regard and

The doctor was in the chaise; Giles (who, it had been arranged,
should be left behind) held the door open in his hand; and the
women-servants were in the garden, looking on. Harry cast one slight
glance at the latticed window, and jumped into the carriage.

‘Drive on!’ he cried, ‘hard, fast, full gallop! Nothing short of
flying will keep pace with me, to-day.’

‘Halloa!’ cried the doctor, letting down the front glass in a great
hurry, and shouting to the postillion; ‘something very short of
flying will keep pace with _me_. Do you hear?’

Jingling and clattering, till distance rendered its noise inaudible,
and its rapid progress only perceptible to the eye, the vehicle
wound its way along the road, almost hidden in a cloud of dust: now
wholly disappearing, and now becoming visible again, as intervening
objects, or the intricacies of the way, permitted. It was not until
even the dusty cloud was no longer to be seen, that the gazers

And there was one looker-on, who remained with eyes fixed upon the
spot where the carriage had disappeared, long after it was many
miles away; for, behind the white curtain which had shrouded her
from view when Harry raised his eyes towards the window, sat Rose

‘He seems in high spirits and happy,’ she said, at length. ‘I feared
for a time he might be otherwise. I was mistaken. I am very, very

Tears are signs of gladness as well as grief; but those which
coursed down Rose’s face, as she sat pensively at the window, still
gazing in the same direction, seemed to tell more of sorrow than of


Mr. Bumble sat in the workhouse parlour, with his eyes moodily fixed
on the cheerless grate, whence, as it was summer time, no brighter
gleam proceeded, than the reflection of certain sickly rays of the
sun, which were sent back from its cold and shining surface. A paper
fly-cage dangled from the ceiling, to which he occasionally raised
his eyes in gloomy thought; and, as the heedless insects hovered
round the gaudy net-work, Mr. Bumble would heave a deep sigh, while
a more gloomy shadow overspread his countenance. Mr. Bumble was
meditating; it might be that the insects brought to mind, some
painful passage in his own past life.

Nor was Mr. Bumble’s gloom the only thing calculated to awaken a
pleasing melancholy in the bosom of a spectator. There were not
wanting other appearances, and those closely connected with his own
person, which announced that a great change had taken place in the
position of his affairs. The laced coat, and the cocked hat; where
were they? He still wore knee-breeches, and dark cotton stockings
on his nether limbs; but they were not _the_ breeches. The coat
was wide-skirted; and in that respect like _the_ coat, but, oh how
different! The mighty cocked hat was replaced by a modest round one.
Mr. Bumble was no longer a beadle.

There are some promotions in life, which, independent of the more
substantial rewards they offer, require peculiar value and dignity
from the coats and waistcoats connected with them. A field-marshal
has his uniform; a bishop his silk apron; a counsellor his silk
gown; a beadle his cocked hat. Strip the bishop of his apron, or the
beadle of his hat and lace; what are they? Men. Mere men. Dignity,
and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and
waistcoat than some people imagine.

Mr. Bumble had married Mrs. Corney, and was master of the workhouse.
Another beadle had come into power. On him the cocked hat,
gold-laced coat, and staff, had all three descended.

‘And to-morrow two months it was done!’ said Mr. Bumble, with a
sigh. ‘It seems a age.’

Mr. Bumble might have meant that he had concentrated a whole
existence of happiness into the short space of eight weeks; but the
sigh - there was a vast deal of meaning in the sigh.

‘I sold myself,’ said Mr. Bumble, pursuing the same train of
relection, ‘for six teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and a
milk-pot; with a small quantity of second-hand furniture, and twenty
pound in money. I went very reasonable. Cheap, dirt cheap!’

‘Cheap!’ cried a shrill voice in Mr. Bumble’s ear: ‘you would have
been dear at any price; and dear enough I paid for you, Lord above
knows that!’

Mr. Bumble turned, and encountered the face of his interesting
consort, who, imperfectly comprehending the few words she had
overheard of his complaint, had hazarded the foregoing remark at a

‘Mrs. Bumble, ma’am!’ said Mr. Bumble, with a sentimental sternness.

‘Well!’ cried the lady.

‘Have the goodness to look at me,’ said Mr. Bumble, fixing his eyes
upon her. (If she stands such a eye as that,’ said Mr. Bumble to
himself, ‘she can stand anything. It is a eye I never knew to fail
with paupers. If it fails with her, my power is gone.’)

Whether an exceedingly small expansion of eye be sufficient to quell
paupers, who, being lightly fed, are in no very high condition; or
whether the late Mrs. Corney was particularly proof against eagle
glances; are matters of opinion. The matter of fact, is, that the
matron was in no way overpowered by Mr. Bumble’s scowl, but, on the
contrary, treated it with great disdain, and even raised a laugh
thereat, which sounded as though it were genuine.

On hearing this most unexpected sound, Mr. Bumble looked, first
incredulous, and afterwards amazed. He then relapsed into his
former state; nor did he rouse himself until his attention was again
awakened by the voice of his partner.

‘Are you going to sit snoring there, all day?’ inquired Mrs. Bumble.

‘I am going to sit here, as long as I think proper, ma’am,’ rejoined
Mr. Bumble; ‘and although I was _not_ snoring, I shall snore, gape,
sneeze, laugh, or cry, as the humour strikes me; such being my

‘_Your_ prerogative!’ sneered Mrs. Bumble, with ineffable contempt.

‘I said the word, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘The prerogative of a man
is to command.’

‘And what’s the prerogative of a woman, in the name of Goodness?’
cried the relict of Mr. Corney deceased.

‘To obey, ma’am,’ thundered Mr. Bumble. ‘Your late unfortunate
husband should have taught it you; and then, perhaps, he might have
been alive now. I wish he was, poor man!’

Mrs. Bumble, seeing at a glance, that the decisive moment had now
arrived, and that a blow struck for the mastership on one side or
other, must necessarily be final and conclusive, no sooner heard
this allusion to the dead and gone, than she dropped into a chair,
and with a loud scream that Mr. Bumble was a hard-hearted brute,
fell into a paroxysm of tears.

But, tears were not the things to find their way to Mr. Bumble’s
soul; his heart was waterproof. Like washable beaver hats that
improve with rain, his nerves were rendered stouter and more
vigorous, by showers of tears, which, being tokens of weakness, and
so far tacit admissions of his own power, pleased and exalted him.
He eyed his good lady with looks of great satisfaction, and begged,
in an encouraging manner, that she should cry her hardest: the
exercise being looked upon, by the faculty, as strongly conducive to

‘It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and
softens down the temper,’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘So cry away.’

As he discharged himself of this pleasantry, Mr. Bumble took his hat
from a peg, and putting it on, rather rakishly, on one side, as a
man might, who felt he had asserted his superiority in a becoming
manner, thrust his hands into his pockets, and sauntered towards
the door, with much ease and waggishness depicted in his whole

Now, Mrs. Corney that was, had tried the tears, because they were
less troublesome than a manual assault; but, she was quite prepared
to make trial of the latter mode of proceeding, as Mr. Bumble was
not long in discovering.

The first proof he experienced of the fact, was conveyed in a hollow
sound, immediately succeeded by the sudden flying off of his hat
to the opposite end of the room. This preliminary proceeding laying
bare his head, the expert lady, clasping him tightly round the
throat with one hand, inflicted a shower of blows (dealt with
singular vigour and dexterity) upon it with the other. This done,
she created a little variety by scratching his face, and tearing his
hair; and, having, by this time, inflicted as much punishment as she
deemed necessary for the offence, she pushed him over a chair, which
was luckily well situated for the purpose: and defied him to talk
about his prerogative again, if he dared.

‘Get up!’ said Mrs. Bumble, in a voice of command. ‘And take
yourself away from here, unless you want me to do something

Mr. Bumble rose with a very rueful countenance: wondering much what
something desperate might be. Picking up his hat, he looked towards
the door.

‘Are you going?’ demanded Mrs. Bumble.

‘Certainly, my dear, certainly,’ rejoined Mr. Bumble, making a
quicker motion towards the door. ‘I didn’t intend to - I’m going, my
dear! You are so very violent, that really I - ’

At this instant, Mrs. Bumble stepped hastily forward to replace
the carpet, which had been kicked up in the scuffle. Mr. Bumble
immediately darted out of the room, without bestowing another
thought on his unfinished sentence: leaving the late Mrs. Corney in
full possession of the field.

Mr. Bumble was fairly taken by surprise, and fairly beaten. He had a
decided propensity for bullying: derived no inconsiderable pleasure
from the exercise of petty cruelty; and, consequently, was (it is
needless to say) a coward. This is by no means a disparagement to
his character; for many official personages, who are held in high
respect and admiration, are the victims of similar infirmities. The
remark is made, indeed, rather in his favour than otherwise, and
with a view of impressing the reader with a just sense of his
qualifications for office.

But, the measure of his degradation was not yet full. After making
a tour of the house, and thinking, for the first time, that the
poor-laws really were too hard on people; and that men who ran away
from their wives, leaving them chargeable to the parish, ought, in
justice to be visited with no punishment at all, but rather rewarded
as meritorious individuals who had suffered much; Mr. Bumble came
to a room where some of the female paupers were usually employed in
washing the parish linen: when the sound of voices in conversation,
now proceeded.

‘Hem!’ said Mr. Bumble, summoning up all his native dignity. ‘These
women at least shall continue to respect the prerogative. Hallo!
hallo there! What do you mean by this noise, you hussies?’

With these words, Mr. Bumble opened the door, and walked in with a
very fierce and angry manner: which was at once exchanged for a most
humiliated and cowering air, as his eyes unexpectedly rested on the
form of his lady wife.

‘My dear,’ said Mr. Bumble, ‘I didn’t know you were here.’

‘Didn’t know I was here!’ repeated Mrs. Bumble. ‘What do _you_ do

‘I thought they were talking rather too much to be doing their work
properly, my dear,’ replied Mr. Bumble: glancing distractedly at
a couple of old women at the wash-tub, who were comparing notes of
admiration at the workhouse-master’s humility.

‘_You_ thought they were talking too much?’ said Mrs. Bumble. ‘What
business is it of yours?’

‘Why, my dear - ’ urged Mr. Bumble submissively.

‘What business is it of yours?’ demanded Mrs. Bumble, again.

‘It’s very true, you’re matron here, my dear,’ submitted Mr. Bumble;
‘but I thought you mightn’t be in the way just then.’

‘I’ll tell you what, Mr. Bumble,’ returned his lady. ‘We don’t want
any of your interference. You’re a great deal too fond of poking
your nose into things that don’t concern you, making everybody in
the house laugh, the moment your back is turned, and making yourself
look like a fool every hour in the day. Be off; come!’

Mr. Bumble, seeing with excruciating feelings, the delight of the
two old paupers, who were tittering together most rapturously,
hesitated for an instant. Mrs. Bumble, whose patience brooked no
delay, caught up a bowl of soap-suds, and motioning him towards
the door, ordered him instantly to depart, on pain of receiving the
contents upon his portly person.

What could Mr. Bumble do? He looked dejectedly round, and slunk
away; and, as he reached the door, the titterings of the paupers
broke into a shrill chuckle of irrepressible delight. It wanted but
this. He was degraded in their eyes; he had lost caste and station
before the very paupers; he had fallen from all the height and pomp
of beadleship, to the lowest depth of the most snubbed hen-peckery.

‘All in two months!’ said Mr. Bumble, filled with dismal thoughts.
‘Two months! No more than two months ago, I was not only my own
master, but everybody else’s, so far as the porochial workhouse was
concerned, and now! - ’

It was too much. Mr. Bumble boxed the ears of the boy who opened
the gate for him (for he had reached the portal in his reverie); and
walked, distractedly, into the street.

He walked up one street, and down another, until exercise had abated
the first passion of his grief; and then the revulsion of feeling
made him thirsty. He passed a great many public-houses; but, at
length paused before one in a by-way, whose parlour, as he gathered
from a hasty peep over the blinds, was deserted, save by one
solitary customer. It began to rain, heavily, at the moment. This
determined him. Mr. Bumble stepped in; and ordering something to
drink, as he passed the bar, entered the apartment into which he had
looked from the street.

The man who was seated there, was tall and dark, and wore a large
cloak. He had the air of a stranger; and seemed, by a certain
haggardness in his look, as well as by the dusty soils on his dress,
to have travelled some distance. He eyed Bumble askance, as he
entered, but scarcely deigned to nod his head in acknowledgment of
his salutation.

Mr. Bumble had quite dignity enough for two; supposing even that the
stranger had been more familiar: so he drank his gin-and-water
in silence, and read the paper with great show of pomp and

It so happened, however: as it will happen very often, when men fall
into company under such circumstances: that Mr. Bumble felt, every
now and then, a powerful inducement, which he could not resist,
to steal a look at the stranger: and that whenever he did so, he
withdrew his eyes, in some confusion, to find that the stranger was
at that moment stealing a look at him. Mr. Bumble’s awkwa

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 25

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