Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

. (page 3 of 25)
Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 3 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the old gentleman.

‘When I says I will, I means I will,’ replied Mr. Gamfield doggedly.

‘You’re a rough speaker, my friend, but you look an honest,
open-hearted man,’ said the old gentleman: turning his spectacles
in the direction of the candidate for Oliver’s premium, whose
villainous countenance was a regular stamped receipt for cruelty.
But the magistrate was half blind and half childish, so he couldn’t
reasonably 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 about him
for the inkstand.

It was the critical moment of Oliver’s fate. If the inkstand had
been where the old gentleman thought it was, he would have dipped
his pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would have
been straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to be immediately
under his nose, it followed, as a matter of course, that he looked
all over his desk for it, without finding it; and happening in
the course of his search to look straight before him, his gaze
encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist: who,
despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of Bumble, was
regarding the repulsive countenance of his future master, with a
mingled 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 from Oliver
to Mr. Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with a cheerful and
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 other magistrate:
laying aside the paper, and leaning forward with an expression of
interest. ‘Now, boy, tell us what’s the matter: don’t be afraid.’

Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed
that they would order him back to the dark room - that they would
starve him - beat him - kill him if they pleased - rather than send him
away with that dreadful man.

‘Well!’ said Mr. Bumble, raising his hands and eyes with most
impressive solemnity. ‘Well! of all the artful and designing orphans
that ever I see, Oliver, you are one of the most bare-facedest.’

‘Hold your tongue, Beadle,’ said the second old gentleman, when Mr.
Bumble had given vent to this compound adjective.

‘I beg your worship’s pardon,’ said Mr. Bumble, incredulous of
having heard aright. ‘Did your worship speak to me?’

‘Yes. Hold your tongue.’

Mr. Bumble was stupefied with astonishment. A beadle ordered to hold
his tongue! A moral revolution!

The old gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles looked at his
companion, he nodded significantly.

‘We refuse to sanction these indentures,’ said the old gentleman:
tossing aside the piece of parchment as he spoke.

‘I hope,’ stammered Mr. Limbkins: ‘I hope the magistrates will
not form the opinion that the authorities have been guilty of any
improper conduct, on the unsupported testimony of a child.’

‘The magistrates are not called upon to pronounce any opinion on the
matter,’ said the second old gentleman sharply. ‘Take the boy back
to the workhouse, and treat him kindly. He seems to want it.’

That same evening, the gentleman in the white waistcoat most
positively and decidedly affirmed, not only that Oliver would be
hung, but that he would be drawn and quartered into the bargain.
Mr. Bumble shook his head with gloomy mystery, and said he wished he
might come to good; whereunto Mr. Gamfield replied, that he wished
he might come to him; which, although he agreed with the beadle
in most matters, would seem to be a wish of a totally opposite
description.

The next morning, the public were once informed that Oliver Twist
was again To Let, and that five pounds would be paid to anybody who
would take possession of him.



CHAPTER IV - OLIVER, BEING OFFERED ANOTHER PLACE, MAKES HIS FIRST
ENTRY INTO PUBLIC LIFE

In great families, when an advantageous place cannot be obtained,
either in possession, reversion, remainder, or expectancy, for the
young man who is growing up, it is a very general custom to send him
to sea. The board, in imitation of so wise and salutary an example,
took counsel together on the expediency of shipping off Oliver
Twist, in some small trading vessel bound to a good unhealthy port.
This suggested itself as the very best thing that could possibly be
done with him: the probability being, that the skipper would flog
him to death, in a playful mood, some day after dinner, or would
knock his brains out with an iron bar; both pastimes being, as is
pretty generally known, very favourite and common recreations among
gentleman of that class. The more the case presented itself to the
board, in this point of view, the more manifold the advantages of
the step appeared; so, they came to the conclusion that the only way
of providing for Oliver effectually, was to send him to sea without
delay.

Mr. Bumble had been despatched to make various preliminary
inquiries, with the view of finding out some captain or other who
wanted a cabin-boy without any friends; and was returning to
the workhouse to communicate the result of his mission; when he
encountered at the gate, no less a person than Mr. Sowerberry, the
parochial undertaker.

Mr. Sowerberry was a tall gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in a
suit of threadbare black, with darned cotton stockings of the
same colour, and shoes to answer. His features were not naturally
intended to wear a smiling aspect, but he was in general rather
given to professional jocosity. His step was elastic, and his face
betokened inward pleasantry, as he advanced to Mr. Bumble, and shook
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, as he
thrust his thumb and forefinger into the proffered snuff-box of the
undertaker: which was an ingenious little model of a patent coffin.
‘I say you’ll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,’ repeated Mr.
Bumble, tapping the undertaker on the shoulder, in a friendly
manner, with his cane.

‘Think so?’ said the undertaker in a tone which half admitted and
half disputed the probability of the event. ‘The prices allowed by
the board are very small, Mr. Bumble.’

‘So are the coffins,’ replied the beadle: with precisely as near an
approach to a laugh as a great official ought to indulge in.

Mr. Sowerberry was much tickled at this: as of course he ought to
be; and laughed a long time without cessation. ‘Well, well, Mr.
Bumble,’ he said at length, ‘there’s no denying that, since the new
system of feeding has come in, the coffins are something narrower
and more shallow than they used to be; but we must have some profit,
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. A
fair profit is, of course, allowable.’

‘Of course, of course,’ replied the undertaker; ‘and if I don’t get
a profit upon this or that particular article, why, I make it up in
the long-run, you see - he! he! he!’

‘Just so,’ said Mr. Bumble.

‘Though I must say,’ continued the undertaker, resuming the current
of observations which the beadle had interrupted: ‘though I must
say, Mr. Bumble, that I have to contend against one very great
disadvantage: which is, that all the stout people go off the
quickest. The people who have been better off, and have paid rates
for many years, are the first to sink when they come into the house;
and let me tell you, Mr. Bumble, that three or four inches over
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 an
ill-used man; and as Mr. Bumble felt that it rather tended to convey
a reflection on the honour of the parish; the latter gentleman
thought it advisable to change the subject. Oliver Twist being
uppermost in his mind, he made him his theme.

‘By the bye,’ said Mr. Bumble, ‘you don’t know anybody who wants a
boy, do you? A porochial ‘prentis, who is at present a dead-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 distinct raps
upon the words ‘five pounds’: which were printed thereon in Roman
capitals of gigantic size.

‘Gadso!’ said the undertaker: taking Mr. Bumble by the gilt-edged
lappel of his official coat; ‘that’s just the very thing I wanted
to speak to you about. You know - dear me, what a very elegant button
this is, Mr. Bumble! I never noticed it before.’

‘Yes, I think it rather pretty,’ said the beadle, glancing proudly
downwards at the large brass buttons which embellished his coat.
‘The die is the same as the porochial seal - the Good Samaritan
healing the sick and bruised man. The board presented it to me on
Newyear’s morning, Mr. Sowerberry. I put it on, I remember, for the
first time, to attend the inquest on that reduced tradesman, 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 necessaries of
life,” didn’t they?’

Mr. Bumble nodded.

‘And they made it a special verdict, I think,’ said the undertaker,
‘by adding some words to the effect, that if the relieving officer
had - ’

‘Tush! Foolery!’ interposed the beadle. ‘If the board attended to
all the nonsense that ignorant jurymen talk, they’d have enough to
do.’

‘Very true,’ said the undertaker; ‘they would indeed.’

‘Juries,’ said Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane tightly, as was his
wont 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 ‘em
than that,’ said the beadle, snapping his fingers contemptuously.

‘No more they have,’ acquiesced the undertaker.

‘I despise ‘em,’ said the beadle, growing very red in the face.

‘So do I,’ rejoined the undertaker.

‘And I only wish we’d a jury of the independent sort, in the house
for a week or two,’ said the beadle; ‘the rules and regulations of
the board would soon bring their spirit down for ‘em.’

‘Let ‘em alone for that,’ replied the undertaker. So saying, he
smiled, approvingly: to calm the rising wrath of the indignant
parish officer.

Mr Bumble lifted off his cocked hat; took a handkerchief from the
inside of the crown; wiped from his forehead the perspiration which
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 pay a
good deal towards the poor’s rates.’

‘Hem!’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘Well?’

‘Well,’ replied the undertaker, ‘I was thinking that if I pay so
much 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 into
the building. Mr. Sowerberry was closeted with the board for five
minutes; and it was arranged that Oliver should go to him that
evening ‘upon liking’ - a phrase which means, in the case of a parish
apprentice, that if the master find, upon a short trial, that he can
get enough work out of a boy without putting too much food into him,
he shall have him for a term of years, to do what he likes with.

When little Oliver was taken before ‘the gentlemen’ that evening;
and informed that he was to go, that night, as general house-lad
to a coffin-maker’s; and that if he complained of his situation, or
ever came back to the parish again, he would be sent to sea, there
to be drowned, or knocked on the head, as the case might be, he
evinced so little emotion, that they by common consent pronounced
him a hardened young rascal, and ordered Mr. Bumble to remove him
forthwith.

Now, although it was very natural that the board, of all people in
the world, should feel in a great state of virtuous astonishment
and horror at the smallest tokens of want of feeling on the part
of anybody, they were rather out, in this particular instance.
The simple fact was, that Oliver, instead of possessing too little
feeling, possessed rather too much; and was in a fair way of being
reduced, for life, to a state of brutal stupidity and sullenness by
the ill usage he had received. He heard the news of his destination,
in perfect silence; and, having had his luggage put into his
hand - which was not very difficult to carry, inasmuch as it was all
comprised within the limits of a brown paper parcel, about half a
foot square by three inches deep - he pulled his cap over his eyes;
and once more attaching himself to Mr. Bumble’s coat cuff, was led
away by that dignitary to a new scene of suffering.

For some time, Mr. Bumble drew Oliver along, without notice or
remark; for the beadle carried his head very erect, as a beadle
always should: and, it being a windy day, little Oliver was
completely enshrouded by the skirts of Mr. Bumble’s coat as they
blew open, and disclosed to great advantage his flapped waistcoat
and drab plush knee-breeches. As they drew near to their
destination, however, Mr. Bumble thought it expedient to look down,
and see that the boy was in good order for inspection by his new
master: which he accordingly did, with a fit and becoming air of
gracious patronage.

‘Oliver!’ said Mr. Bumble.

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Oliver, in a low, tremulous voice.

‘Pull that cap off your eyes, and hold up your head, sir.’

Although Oliver did as he was desired, at once; and passed the back
of his unoccupied hand briskly across his eyes, he left a tear in
them when he looked up at his conductor. As Mr. Bumble gazed sternly
upon him, it rolled down his cheek. It was followed by another, and
another. The child made a strong effort, but it was an unsuccessful
one. Withdrawing his other hand from Mr. Bumble’s he covered his
face with both; and wept until the tears sprung out from between his
chin and bony fingers.

‘Well!’ exclaimed Mr. Bumble, stopping short, and darting at his
little charge a look of intense malignity. ‘Well! Of _all_ the
ungratefullest, and worst-disposed boys as ever I see, Oliver, you
are the - ’

‘No, no, sir,’ sobbed Oliver, clinging to the hand which held the
well-known cane; ‘no, no, sir; I will be good indeed; indeed, indeed
I will, sir! I am a very little boy, sir; and it is so - so - ’

‘So what?’ inquired Mr. Bumble in amazement.

‘So lonely, sir! So very lonely!’ cried the child. ‘Everybody hates
me. Oh! sir, don’t, don’t pray be cross to me!’ The child beat his
hand upon his heart; and looked in his companion’s face, with tears
of real agony.

Mr. Bumble regarded Oliver’s piteous and helpless look, with some
astonishment, for a few seconds; hemmed three or four times in a
husky manner; and after muttering something about ‘that troublesome
cough,’ bade Oliver dry his eyes and be a good boy. Then once more
taking his hand, he walked on with him in silence.

The undertaker, who had just put up the shutters of his shop,
was making some entries in his day-book by the light of a most
appropriate dismal candle, when Mr. Bumble entered.

‘Aha!’ said the undertaker; looking up from the book, and pausing in
the middle of a word; ‘is that you, Bumble?’

‘No one else, Mr. Sowerberry,’ replied the beadle. ‘Here! I’ve
brought the boy.’ Oliver made a bow.

‘Oh! that’s the boy, is it?’ said the undertaker: raising the candle
above his head, to get a better view of Oliver. ‘Mrs. Sowerberry,
will you have the goodness to come here a moment, my dear?’

Mrs. Sowerberry emerged from a little room behind the shop, and
presented the form of a short, then, squeezed-up woman, with a
vixenish countenance.

‘My dear,’ said Mr. Sowerberry, deferentially, ‘this is the boy from
the workhouse that I told you of.’ Oliver bowed again.

‘Dear me!’ said the undertaker’s wife, ‘he’s very small.’

‘Why, he _is_ rather small,’ replied Mr. Bumble: looking at Oliver
as if it were his fault that he was no bigger; ‘he is small. There’s
no denying it. But he’ll grow, Mrs. Sowerberry - he’ll grow.’

‘Ah! I dare say he will,’ replied the lady pettishly, ‘on our
victuals and our drink. I see no saving in parish children, not I;
for they always cost more to keep, than they’re worth. However, men
always think they know best. There! Get downstairs, little bag o’
bones.’ With this, the undertaker’s wife opened a side door, and
pushed Oliver down a steep flight of stairs into a stone cell, damp
and dark: forming the ante-room to the coal-cellar, and denominated
‘kitchen’; wherein sat a slatternly girl, in shoes down at heel, and
blue worsted stockings very much out of repair.

‘Here, Charlotte,’ said Mr. Sowerberry, who had followed Oliver
down, ‘give this boy some of the cold bits that were put by for
Trip. He hasn’t come home since the morning, so he may go without
‘em. I dare say the boy isn’t too dainty to eat ‘em - are you, boy?’

Oliver, whose eyes had glistened at the mention of meat, and who was
trembling with eagerness to devour it, replied in the negative; and
a plateful of coarse broken victuals was set before him.

I wish some well-fed philosopher, whose meat and drink turn to gall
within him; whose blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have
seen Oliver Twist clutching at the dainty viands that the dog had
neglected. I wish he could have witnessed the horrible avidity with
which Oliver tore the bits asunder with all the ferocity of famine.
There is only one thing I should like better; and that would be to
see the Philosopher making the same sort of meal himself, with the
same relish.

‘Well,’ said the undertaker’s wife, when Oliver had finished his
supper: which she had regarded in silent horror, and with fearful
auguries of his future appetite: ‘have you done?’

There being nothing eatable within his reach, Oliver replied in the
affirmative.

‘Then come with me,’ said Mrs. Sowerberry: taking up a dim and dirty
lamp, and leading the way upstairs; ‘your bed’s under the counter.
You don’t mind sleeping among the coffins, I suppose? But it doesn’t
much matter whether you do or don’t, for you can’t sleep anywhere
else. Come; don’t keep me here all night!’

Oliver lingered no longer, but meekly followed his new mistress.



CHAPTER V - OLIVER MINGLES WITH NEW ASSOCIATES. GOING TO A FUNERAL
FOR THE FIRST TIME, HE FORMS AN UNFAVOURABLE NOTION OF HIS MASTER’S
BUSINESS

Oliver, being left to himself in the undertaker’s shop, set the
lamp down on a workman’s bench, and gazed timidly about him with a
feeling of awe and dread, which many people a good deal older than
he will be at no loss to understand. An unfinished coffin on black
tressels, which stood in the middle of the shop, looked so gloomy
and death-like that a cold tremble came over him, every time his
eyes wandered in the direction of the dismal object: from which he
almost expected to see some frightful form slowly rear its head, to
drive him mad with terror. Against the wall were ranged, in regular
array, a long row of elm boards cut in the same shape: looking in
the dim light, like high-shouldered ghosts with their hands in their
breeches pockets. Coffin-plates, elm-chips, bright-headed nails,
and shreds of black cloth, lay scattered on the floor; and the wall
behind the counter was ornamented with a lively representation of
two mutes in very stiff neckcloths, on duty at a large private
door, with a hearse drawn by four black steeds, approaching in the
distance. The shop was close and hot. The atmosphere seemed tainted
with the smell of coffins. The recess beneath the counter in which
his flock mattress was thrust, looked like a grave.

Nor were these the only dismal feelings which depressed Oliver.
He was alone in a strange place; and we all know how chilled and
desolate the best of us will sometimes feel in such a situation. The
boy had no friends to care for, or to care for him. The regret of no
recent separation was fresh in his mind; the absence of no loved and
well-remembered face sank heavily into his heart.

But his heart was heavy, notwithstanding; and he wished, as he crept
into his narrow bed, that that were his coffin, and that he could be
lain in a calm and lasting sleep in the churchyard ground, with the
tall grass waving gently above his head, and the sound of the old
deep bell to soothe him in his sleep.

Oliver was awakened in the morning, by a loud kicking at the outside
of the shop-door: which, before he could huddle on his clothes, was
repeated, in an angry and impetuous manner, about twenty-five times.
When he began to undo the chain, the legs desisted, and a voice
began.

‘Open the door, will yer?’ cried the voice which belonged to the
legs which had kicked at the door.

‘I will, directly, sir,’ replied Oliver: undoing the chain, and
turning the key.

‘I suppose yer the new boy, ain’t yer?’ said the voice through the
key-hole.

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Oliver.

‘How old are yer?’ inquired the voice.

‘Ten, sir,’ replied Oliver.

‘Then I’ll whop yer when I get in,’ said the voice; ‘you just see if
I don’t, that’s all, my work’us brat!’ and having made this obliging
promise, the voice began to whistle.

Oliver had been too often subjected to the process to which the very
expressive monosyllable just recorded bears reference, to entertain
the smallest doubt that the owner of the voice, whoever he might
be, would redeem his pledge, most honourably. He drew back the bolts
with a trembling hand, and opened the door.

For a second or two, Oliver glanced up the street, and down the
street, and over the way: impressed with the belief that the
unknown, who had addressed him through the key-hole, had walked
a few paces off, to warm himself; for nobody did he see but a big
charity-boy, sitting on a post in front of the house, eating a
slice of bread and butter: which he cut into wedges, the size of his
mouth, with a clasp-knife, and then consumed with great dexterity.

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ said Oliver at length: seeing that no
other visitor made his appearance; ‘did you knock?’

‘I kicked,’ replied the charity-boy.

‘Did you want a coffin, sir?’ inquired Oliver, innocently.

At this, the charity-boy looked monstrous fierce; and said that
Oliver would want one before long, if he cut jokes with his
superiors in that way.

‘Yer don’t know who I am, I suppose, Work’us?’ said the charity-boy,
in continuation: descending from the top of the post, meanwhile,
with edifying gravity.

‘No, sir,’ rejoined Oliver.

‘I’m Mister Noah Claypole,’ said the charity-boy, ‘and you’re under
me. Take down the shutters, yer idle young ruffian!’ With this, Mr.
Claypole administered a kick to Oliver, and entered the shop with
a dignified air, which did him great credit. It is difficult for
a large-headed, small-eyed youth, of lumbering make and heavy
countenance, to look dignified under any circumstances; but it is
more especially so, when superadded to these personal attractions
are a red nose and yellow smalls.

Oliver, having taken down the shutters, and broken a pane of glass
in his effort to stagger away beneath the weight of the first one
to a small court at the side of the house in which they were kept
during the day, was graciously assisted by Noah: who having consoled
him with the assurance that ‘he’d catch it,’ condescended to help
him. Mr. Sowerberry came down soon after. Shortly afterwards, Mrs.
Sowerberry appeared. Oliver having ‘caught it,’ in fulfilment of
Noah’s prediction, followed that young gentleman down the stairs to
breakfast.

‘Come near the fire, Noah,’ said Charlotte. ‘I saved a nice little



Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 3 of 25)