Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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A minute ago, the boy had looked the quiet child, mild, dejected
creature that harsh treatment had made him. But his spirit was
roused at last; the cruel insult to his dead mother had set his
blood on fire. His breast heaved; his attitude was erect; his eye
bright and vivid; his whole person changed, as he stood glaring over
the cowardly tormentor who now lay crouching at his feet; and defied
him with an energy he had never known before.

‘He’ll murder me!’ blubbered Noah. ‘Charlotte! missis! Here’s
the new boy a murdering of me! Help! help! Oliver’s gone mad!
Char - lotte!’

Noah’s shouts were responded to, by a loud scream from Charlotte,
and a louder from Mrs. Sowerberry; the former of whom rushed into
the kitchen by a side-door, while the latter paused on the
staircase till she was quite certain that it was consistent with the
preservation of human life, to come further down.

‘Oh, you little wretch!’ screamed Charlotte: seizing Oliver with her
utmost force, which was about equal to that of a moderately strong
man in particularly good training. ‘Oh, you little un-grate-ful,
mur-de-rous, hor-rid villain!’ And between every syllable, Charlotte
gave Oliver a blow with all her might: accompanying it with a
scream, for the benefit of society.

Charlotte’s fist was by no means a light one; but, lest it should
not be effectual in calming Oliver’s wrath, Mrs. Sowerberry plunged
into the kitchen, and assisted to hold him with one hand, while she
scratched his face with the other. In this favourable position of
affairs, Noah rose from the ground, and pommelled him behind.

This was rather too violent exercise to last long. When they were
all wearied out, and could tear and beat no longer, they dragged
Oliver, struggling and shouting, but nothing daunted, into the
dust-cellar, and there locked him up. This being done, Mrs.
Sowerberry sunk into a chair, and burst into tears.

‘Bless her, she’s going off!’ said Charlotte. ‘A glass of water,
Noah, dear. Make haste!’

‘Oh! Charlotte,’ said Mrs. Sowerberry: speaking as well as she
could, through a deficiency of breath, and a sufficiency of cold
water, which Noah had poured over her head and shoulders. ‘Oh!
Charlotte, what a mercy we have not all been murdered in our beds!’

‘Ah! mercy indeed, ma’am,’ was the reply. I only hope this’ll teach
master not to have any more of these dreadful creatures, that are
born to be murderers and robbers from their very cradle. Poor Noah!
He was all but killed, ma’am, when I come in.’

‘Poor fellow!’ said Mrs. Sowerberry: looking piteously on the

Noah, whose top waistcoat-button might have been somewhere on a
level with the crown of Oliver’s head, rubbed his eyes with the
inside of his wrists while this commiseration was bestowed upon him,
and performed some affecting tears and sniffs.

‘What’s to be done!’ exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry. ‘Your master’s not
at home; there’s not a man in the house, and he’ll kick that door
down in ten minutes.’ Oliver’s vigorous plunges against the bit of
timber in question, rendered this occurance highly probable.

‘Dear, dear! I don’t know, ma’am,’ said Charlotte, ‘unless we send
for the police-officers.’

‘Or the millingtary,’ suggested Mr. Claypole.

‘No, no,’ said Mrs. Sowerberry: bethinking herself of Oliver’s
old friend. ‘Run to Mr. Bumble, Noah, and tell him to come here
directly, and not to lose a minute; never mind your cap! Make haste!
You can hold a knife to that black eye, as you run along. It’ll keep
the swelling down.’

Noah stopped to make no reply, but started off at his fullest speed;
and very much it astonished the people who were out walking, to see
a charity-boy tearing through the streets pell-mell, with no cap on
his head, and a clasp-knife at his eye.


Noah Claypole ran along the streets at his swiftest pace, and paused
not once for breath, until he reached the workhouse-gate. Having
rested here, for a minute or so, to collect a good burst of sobs
and an imposing show of tears and terror, he knocked loudly at the
wicket; and presented such a rueful face to the aged pauper who
opened it, that even he, who saw nothing but rueful faces about him
at the best of times, started back in astonishment.

‘Why, what’s the matter with the boy!’ said the old pauper.

‘Mr. Bumble! Mr. Bumble!’ cried Noah, with well-affected dismay: and
in tones so loud and agitated, that they not only caught the ear of
Mr. Bumble himself, who happened to be hard by, but alarmed him so
much that he rushed into the yard without his cocked hat, - which is
a very curious and remarkable circumstance: as showing that even a
beadle, acted upon a sudden and powerful impulse, may be afflicted
with a momentary visitation of loss of self-possession, and
forgetfulness of personal dignity.

‘Oh, Mr. Bumble, sir!’ said Noah: ‘Oliver, sir, - Oliver has - ’

‘What? What?’ interposed Mr. Bumble: with a gleam of pleasure in his
metallic eyes. ‘Not run away; he hasn’t run away, has he, Noah?’

‘No, sir, no. Not run away, sir, but he’s turned wicious,’ replied
Noah. ‘He tried to murder me, sir; and then he tried to murder
Charlotte; and then missis. Oh! what dreadful pain it is!

Such agony, please, sir!’ And here, Noah writhed and twisted his
body into an extensive variety of eel-like positions; thereby giving
Mr. Bumble to understand that, from the violent and sanguinary onset
of Oliver Twist, he had sustained severe internal injury and damage,
from which he was at that moment suffering the acutest torture.

When Noah saw that the intelligence he communicated perfectly
paralysed Mr. Bumble, he imparted additional effect thereunto, by
bewailing his dreadful wounds ten times louder than before; and when
he observed a gentleman in a white waistcoat crossing the yard, he
was more tragic in his lamentations than ever: rightly conceiving it
highly expedient to attract the notice, and rouse the indignation,
of the gentleman aforesaid.

The gentleman’s notice was very soon attracted; for he had not
walked three paces, when he turned angrily round, and inquired what
that young cur was howling for, and why Mr. Bumble did not favour
him with something which would render the series of vocular
exclamations so designated, an involuntary process?

‘It’s a poor boy from the free-school, sir,’ replied Mr. Bumble,
‘who has been nearly murdered - all but murdered, sir, - by young

‘By Jove!’ exclaimed the gentleman in the white waistcoat, stopping
short. ‘I knew it! I felt a strange presentiment from the very
first, that that audacious young savage would come to be hung!’

‘He has likewise attempted, sir, to murder the female servant,’ said
Mr. Bumble, with a face of ashy paleness.

‘And his missis,’ interposed Mr. Claypole.

‘And his master, too, I think you said, Noah?’ added Mr. Bumble.

‘No! he’s out, or he would have murdered him,’ replied Noah. ‘He
said he wanted to.’

‘Ah! Said he wanted to, did he, my boy?’ inquired the gentleman in
the white waistcoat.

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Noah. ‘And please, sir, missis wants to know
whether Mr. Bumble can spare time to step up there, directly, and
flog him - ‘cause master’s out.’

‘Certainly, my boy; certainly,’ said the gentleman in the white
waistcoat: smiling benignly, and patting Noah’s head, which was
about three inches higher than his own. ‘You’re a good boy - a
very good boy. Here’s a penny for you. Bumble, just step up to
Sowerberry’s with your cane, and see what’s best to be done. Don’t
spare him, Bumble.’

‘No, I will not, sir,’ replied the beadle. And the cocked hat
and cane having been, by this time, adjusted to their owner’s
satisfaction, Mr. Bumble and Noah Claypole betook themselves with
all speed to the undertaker’s shop.

Here the position of affairs had not at all improved. Sowerberry had
not yet returned, and Oliver continued to kick, with undiminished
vigour, at the cellar-door. The accounts of his ferocity as related
by Mrs. Sowerberry and Charlotte, were of so startling a nature,
that Mr. Bumble judged it prudent to parley, before opening the
door. With this view he gave a kick at the outside, by way of
prelude; and, then, applying his mouth to the keyhole, said, in a
deep and impressive tone:


‘Come; you let me out!’ replied Oliver, from the inside.

‘Do you know this here voice, Oliver?’ said Mr. Bumble.

‘Yes,’ replied Oliver.

‘Ain’t you afraid of it, sir? Ain’t you a-trembling while I speak,
sir?’ said Mr. Bumble.

‘No!’ replied Oliver, boldly.

An answer so different from the one he had expected to elicit, and
was in the habit of receiving, staggered Mr. Bumble not a little. He
stepped back from the keyhole; drew himself up to his full height;
and looked from one to another of the three bystanders, in mute

‘Oh, you know, Mr. Bumble, he must be mad,’ said Mrs. Sowerberry.

‘No boy in half his senses could venture to speak so to you.’

‘It’s not Madness, ma’am,’ replied Mr. Bumble, after a few moments
of deep meditation. ‘It’s Meat.’

‘What?’ exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry.

‘Meat, ma’am, meat,’ replied Bumble, with stern emphasis. ‘You’ve
over-fed him, ma’am. You’ve raised a artificial soul and spirit in
him, ma’am unbecoming a person of his condition: as the board, Mrs.
Sowerberry, who are practical philosophers, will tell you. What have
paupers to do with soul or spirit? It’s quite enough that we let
‘em have live bodies. If you had kept the boy on gruel, ma’am, this
would never have happened.’

‘Dear, dear!’ ejaculated Mrs. Sowerberry, piously raising her eyes
to the kitchen ceiling: ‘this comes of being liberal!’

The liberality of Mrs. Sowerberry to Oliver, had consisted of a
profuse bestowal upon him of all the dirty odds and ends which
nobody else would eat; so there was a great deal of meekness and
self-devotion in her voluntarily remaining under Mr. Bumble’s heavy
accusation. Of which, to do her justice, she was wholly innocent, in
thought, word, or deed.

‘Ah!’ said Mr. Bumble, when the lady brought her eyes down to earth
again; ‘the only thing that can be done now, that I know of, is to
leave him in the cellar for a day or so, till he’s a little starved
down; and then to take him out, and keep him on gruel all through
the apprenticeship. He comes of a bad family. Excitable natures,
Mrs. Sowerberry! Both the nurse and doctor said, that that mother of
his made her way here, against difficulties and pain that would have
killed any well-disposed woman, weeks before.’

At this point of Mr. Bumble’s discourse, Oliver, just hearing enough
to know that some allusion was being made to his mother, recommenced
kicking, with a violence that rendered every other sound inaudible.
Sowerberry returned at this juncture. Oliver’s offence having been
explained to him, with such exaggerations as the ladies thought
best calculated to rouse his ire, he unlocked the cellar-door in a
twinkling, and dragged his rebellious apprentice out, by the collar.

Oliver’s clothes had been torn in the beating he had received; his
face was bruised and scratched; and his hair scattered over his
forehead. The angry flush had not disappeared, however; and when he
was pulled out of his prison, he scowled boldly on Noah, and looked
quite undismayed.

‘Now, you are a nice young fellow, ain’t you?’ said Sowerberry;
giving Oliver a shake, and a box on the ear.

‘He called my mother names,’ replied Oliver.

‘Well, and what if he did, you little ungrateful wretch?’ said Mrs.
Sowerberry. ‘She deserved what he said, and worse.’

‘She didn’t’ said Oliver.

‘She did,’ said Mrs. Sowerberry.

‘It’s a lie!’ said Oliver.

Mrs. Sowerberry burst into a flood of tears.

This flood of tears left Mr. Sowerberry no alternative. If he had
hesitated for one instant to punish Oliver most severely, it must
be quite clear to every experienced reader that he would have been,
according to all precedents in disputes of matrimony established, a
brute, an unnatural husband, an insulting creature, a base imitation
of a man, and various other agreeable characters too numerous for
recital within the limits of this chapter. To do him justice, he
was, as far as his power went - it was not very extensive - kindly
disposed towards the boy; perhaps, because it was his interest to
be so; perhaps, because his wife disliked him. The flood of tears,
however, left him no resource; so he at once gave him a drubbing,
which satisfied even Mrs. Sowerberry herself, and rendered Mr.
Bumble’s subsequent application of the parochial cane, rather
unnecessary. For the rest of the day, he was shut up in the back
kitchen, in company with a pump and a slice of bread; and at night,
Mrs. Sowerberry, after making various remarks outside the door, by
no means complimentary to the memory of his mother, looked into the
room, and, amidst the jeers and pointings of Noah and Charlotte,
ordered him upstairs to his dismal bed.

It was not until he was left alone in the silence and stillness of
the gloomy workshop of the undertaker, that Oliver gave way to the
feelings which the day’s treatment may be supposed likely to have
awakened in a mere child. He had listened to their taunts with a
look of contempt; he had borne the lash without a cry: for he felt
that pride swelling in his heart which would have kept down a shriek
to the last, though they had roasted him alive. But now, when there
were none to see or hear him, he fell upon his knees on the floor;
and, hiding his face in his hands, wept such tears as, God send for
the credit of our nature, few so young may ever have cause to pour
out before him!

For a long time, Oliver remained motionless in this attitude. The
candle was burning low in the socket when he rose to his feet.
Having gazed cautiously round him, and listened intently, he gently
undid the fastenings of the door, and looked abroad.

It was a cold, dark night. The stars seemed, to the boy’s eyes,
farther from the earth than he had ever seen them before; there was
no wind; and the sombre shadows thrown by the trees upon the ground,
looked sepulchral and death-like, from being so still. He softly
reclosed the door. Having availed himself of the expiring light of
the candle to tie up in a handkerchief the few articles of wearing
apparel he had, sat himself down upon a bench, to wait for morning.

With the first ray of light that struggled through the crevices in
the shutters, Oliver arose, and again unbarred the door. One timid
look around - one moment’s pause of hesitation - he had closed it
behind him, and was in the open street.

He looked to the right and to the left, uncertain whither to fly.

He remembered to have seen the waggons, as they went out, toiling up
the hill. He took the same route; and arriving at a footpath across
the fields: which he knew, after some distance, led out again into
the road; struck into it, and walked quickly on.

Along this same footpath, Oliver well-remembered he had trotted
beside Mr. Bumble, when he first carried him to the workhouse from
the farm. His way lay directly in front of the cottage. His heart
beat quickly when he bethought himself of this; and he half resolved
to turn back. He had come a long way though, and should lose a great
deal of time by doing so. Besides, it was so early that there was
very little fear of his being seen; so he walked on.

He reached the house. There was no appearance of its inmates
stirring at that early hour. Oliver stopped, and peeped into the
garden. A child was weeding one of the little beds; as he stopped,
he raised his pale face and disclosed the features of one of his
former companions. Oliver felt glad to see him, before he went;
for, though younger than himself, he had been his little friend and
playmate. They had been beaten, and starved, and shut up together,
many and many a time.

‘Hush, Dick!’ said Oliver, as the boy ran to the gate, and thrust
his thin arm between the rails to greet him. ‘Is any one up?’

‘Nobody but me,’ replied the child.

‘You musn’t say you saw me, Dick,’ said Oliver. ‘I am running away.
They beat and ill-use me, Dick; and I am going to seek my fortune,
some long way off. I don’t know where. How pale you are!’

‘I heard the doctor tell them I was dying,’ replied the child with a
faint smile. ‘I am very glad to see you, dear; but don’t stop, don’t

‘Yes, yes, I will, to say good-b’ye to you,’ replied Oliver. ‘I
shall see you again, Dick. I know I shall! You will be well and

‘I hope so,’ replied the child. ‘After I am dead, but not before.
I know the doctor must be right, Oliver, because I dream so much of
Heaven, and Angels, and kind faces that I never see when I am awake.
Kiss me,’ said the child, climbing up the low gate, and flinging his
little arms round Oliver’s neck. ‘Good-b’ye, dear! God bless you!’

The blessing was from a young child’s lips, but it was the first
that Oliver had ever heard invoked upon his head; and through the
struggles and sufferings, and troubles and changes, of his after
life, he never once forgot it.


Oliver reached the stile at which the by-path terminated; and once
more gained the high-road. It was eight o’clock now. Though he was
nearly five miles away from the town, he ran, and hid behind the
hedges, by turns, till noon: fearing that he might be pursued and
overtaken. Then he sat down to rest by the side of the milestone,
and began to think, for the first time, where he had better go and
try to live.

The stone by which he was seated, bore, in large characters, an
intimation that it was just seventy miles from that spot to London.
The name awakened a new train of ideas in the boy’s mind.

London! - that great place! - nobody - not even Mr. Bumble - could ever
find him there! He had often heard the old men in the workhouse,
too, say that no lad of spirit need want in London; and that there
were ways of living in that vast city, which those who had been
bred up in country parts had no idea of. It was the very place for
a homeless boy, who must die in the streets unless some one helped
him. As these things passed through his thoughts, he jumped upon his
feet, and again walked forward.

He had diminished the distance between himself and London by full
four miles more, before he recollected how much he must undergo
ere he could hope to reach his place of destination. As this
consideration forced itself upon him, he slackened his pace a
little, and meditated upon his means of getting there. He had a
crust of bread, a coarse shirt, and two pairs of stockings, in
his bundle. He had a penny too - a gift of Sowerberry’s after some
funeral in which he had acquitted himself more than ordinarily
well - in his pocket. ‘A clean shirt,’ thought Oliver, ‘is a very
comfortable thing; and so are two pairs of darned stockings; and so
is a penny; but they are small helps to a sixty-five miles’ walk
in winter time.’ But Oliver’s thoughts, like those of most other
people, although they were extremely ready and active to point out
his difficulties, were wholly at a loss to suggest any feasible
mode of surmounting them; so, after a good deal of thinking to no
particular purpose, he changed his little bundle over to the other
shoulder, and trudged on.

Oliver walked twenty miles that day; and all that time tasted
nothing but the crust of dry bread, and a few draughts of water,
which he begged at the cottage-doors by the road-side. When the
night came, he turned into a meadow; and, creeping close under a
hay-rick, determined to lie there, till morning. He felt frightened
at first, for the wind moaned dismally over the empty fields: and
he was cold and hungry, and more alone than he had ever felt before.
Being very tired with his walk, however, he soon fell asleep and
forgot his troubles.

He felt cold and stiff, when he got up next morning, and so hungry
that he was obliged to exchange the penny for a small loaf, in the
very first village through which he passed. He had walked no more
than twelve miles, when night closed in again. His feet were sore,
and his legs so weak that they trembled beneath him. Another night
passed in the bleak damp air, made him worse; when he set forward on
his journey next morning he could hardly crawl along.

He waited at the bottom of a steep hill till a stage-coach came up,
and then begged of the outside passengers; but there were very few
who took any notice of him: and even those told him to wait till
they got to the top of the hill, and then let them see how far he
could run for a halfpenny. Poor Oliver tried to keep up with the
coach a little way, but was unable to do it, by reason of his
fatigue and sore feet. When the outsides saw this, they put their
halfpence back into their pockets again, declaring that he was an
idle young dog, and didn’t deserve anything; and the coach rattled
away and left only a cloud of dust behind.

In some villages, large painted boards were fixed up: warning all
persons who begged within the district, that they would be sent to
jail. This frightened Oliver very much, and made him glad to get out
of those villages with all possible expedition. In others, he would
stand about the inn-yards, and look mournfully at every one who
passed: a proceeding which generally terminated in the landlady’s
ordering one of the post-boys who were lounging about, to drive that
strange boy out of the place, for she was sure he had come to steal
something. If he begged at a farmer’s house, ten to one but they
threatened to set the dog on him; and when he showed his nose in
a shop, they talked about the beadle - which brought Oliver’s heart
into his mouth, - very often the only thing he had there, for many
hours together.

In fact, if it had not been for a good-hearted turnpike-man, and a
benevolent old lady, Oliver’s troubles would have been shortened by
the very same process which had put an end to his mother’s; in other
words, he would most assuredly have fallen dead upon the king’s
highway. But the turnpike-man gave him a meal of bread and cheese;
and the old lady, who had a shipwrecked grandson wandering barefoot
in some distant part of the earth, took pity upon the poor orphan,
and gave him what little she could afford - and more - with such kind
and gentle words, and such tears of sympathy and compassion, that
they sank deeper into Oliver’s soul, than all the sufferings he had
ever undergone.

Early on the seventh morning after he had left his native
place, Oliver limped slowly into the little town of Barnet. The
window-shutters were closed; the street was empty; not a soul had
awakened to the business of the day. The sun was rising in all its
splendid beauty; but the light only served to show the boy his
own lonesomeness and desolation, as he sat, with bleeding feet and
covered with dust, upon a door-step.

By degrees, the shutters were opened; the window-blinds were drawn
up; and people began passing to and fro. Some few stopped to gaze at
Oliver for a moment or two, or turned round to stare at him as they
hurried by; but none relieved him, or troubled themselves to inquire
how he came there. He had no heart to beg. And there he sat.

He had been crouching on the step for some time: wondering at the
great number of public-houses (every other house in Barnet was a
tavern, large or small), gazing listlessly at the coaches as they
passed through, and thinking how strange it seemed that they could
do, with ease, in a few hours, what it had taken him a whole week
of courage and determination beyond his years to accomplish: when
he was roused by observing that a boy, who had passed him carelessly
some minutes before, had returned, and was now surveying him most
earnestly from the opposite side of the way. He took little heed of
this at first; but the boy remained in the same attitude of close
observation so long, that Oliver raised his head, and returned his
steady look. Upon this, the boy crossed over; and walking close up
to Oliver, said,

‘Hullo, my covey! What’s the row?’

Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 5 of 25)