Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

. (page 7 of 25)
Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 7 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


For many days, Oliver remained in the Jew’s room, picking the
marks out of the pocket-handkerchief, (of which a great number
were brought home,) and sometimes taking part in the game already
described: which the two boys and the Jew played, regularly, every
morning. At length, he began to languish for fresh air, and took
many occasions of earnestly entreating the old gentleman to allow
him to go out to work with his two companions.

Oliver was rendered the more anxious to be actively employed,
by what he had seen of the stern morality of the old gentleman’s
character. Whenever the Dodger or Charley Bates came home at night,
empty-handed, he would expatiate with great vehemence on the misery
of idle and lazy habits; and would enforce upon them the necessity
of an active life, by sending them supperless to bed. On one
occasion, indeed, he even went so far as to knock them both down a
flight of stairs; but this was carrying out his virtuous precepts to
an unusual extent.

At length, one morning, Oliver obtained the permission he had so
eagerly sought. There had been no handkerchiefs to work upon, for
two or three days, and the dinners had been rather meagre. Perhaps
these were reasons for the old gentleman’s giving his assent; but,
whether they were or no, he told Oliver he might go, and placed him
under the joint guardianship of Charley Bates, and his friend the

The three boys sallied out; the Dodger with his coat-sleeves tucked
up, and his hat cocked, as usual; Master Bates sauntering along with
his hands in his pockets; and Oliver between them, wondering
where they were going, and what branch of manufacture he would be
instructed in, first.

The pace at which they went, was such a very lazy, ill-looking
saunter, that Oliver soon began to think his companions were going
to deceive the old gentleman, by not going to work at all. The
Dodger had a vicious propensity, too, of pulling the caps from the
heads of small boys and tossing them down areas; while Charley Bates
exhibited some very loose notions concerning the rights of property,
by pilfering divers apples and onions from the stalls at the kennel
sides, and thrusting them into pockets which were so surprisingly
capacious, that they seemed to undermine his whole suit of clothes
in every direction. These things looked so bad, that Oliver was on
the point of declaring his intention of seeking his way back, in
the best way he could; when his thoughts were suddenly directed into
another channel, by a very mysterious change of behaviour on the
part of the Dodger.

They were just emerging from a narrow court not far from the
open square in Clerkenwell, which is yet called, by some strange
perversion of terms, ‘The Green’: when the Dodger made a sudden
stop; and, laying his finger on his lip, drew his companions back
again, with the greatest caution and circumspection.

‘What’s the matter?’ demanded Oliver.

‘Hush!’ replied the Dodger. ‘Do you see that old cove at the

‘The old gentleman over the way?’ said Oliver. ‘Yes, I see him.’

‘He’ll do,’ said the Dodger.

‘A prime plant,’ observed Master Charley Bates.

Oliver looked from one to the other, with the greatest surprise; but
he was not permitted to make any inquiries; for the two boys walked
stealthily across the road, and slunk close behind the old gentleman
towards whom his attention had been directed. Oliver walked a few
paces after them; and, not knowing whether to advance or retire,
stood looking on in silent amazement.

The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a
powdered head and gold spectacles. He was dressed in a bottle-green
coat with a black velvet collar; wore white trousers; and carried
a smart bamboo cane under his arm. He had taken up a book from the
stall, and there he stood, reading away, as hard as if he were
in his elbow-chair, in his own study. It is very possible that
he fancied himself there, indeed; for it was plain, from his
abstraction, that he saw not the book-stall, nor the street, nor
the boys, nor, in short, anything but the book itself: which he was
reading straight through: turning over the leaf when he got to the
bottom of a page, beginning at the top line of the next one, and
going regularly on, with the greatest interest and eagerness.

What was Oliver’s horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off,
looking on with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go,
to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman’s pocket,
and draw from thence a handkerchief! To see him hand the same to
Charley Bates; and finally to behold them, both running away round
the corner at full speed!

In an instant the whole mystery of the hankerchiefs, and the
watches, and the jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy’s mind.

He stood, for a moment, with the blood so tingling through all his
veins from terror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire;
then, confused and frightened, he took to his heels; and, not
knowing what he did, made off as fast as he could lay his feet to
the ground.

This was all done in a minute’s space. In the very instant when
Oliver began to run, the old gentleman, putting his hand to his
pocket, and missing his handkerchief, turned sharp round. Seeing the
boy scudding away at such a rapid pace, he very naturally concluded
him to be the depredator; and shouting ‘Stop thief!’ with all his
might, made off after him, book in hand.

But the old gentleman was not the only person who raised the
hue-and-cry. The Dodger and Master Bates, unwilling to attract
public attention by running down the open street, had merely retired
into the very first doorway round the corner. They no sooner heard
the cry, and saw Oliver running, than, guessing exactly how the
matter stood, they issued forth with great promptitude; and,
shouting ‘Stop thief!’ too, joined in the pursuit like good

Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was
not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that
self-preservation is the first law of nature. If he had been,
perhaps he would have been prepared for this. Not being prepared,
however, it alarmed him the more; so away he went like the wind,
with the old gentleman and the two boys roaring and shouting behind

‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’ There is a magic in the sound. The
tradesman leaves his counter, and the car-man his waggon; the
butcher throws down his tray; the baker his basket; the milkman his
pail; the errand-boy his parcels; the school-boy his marbles;
the paviour his pickaxe; the child his battledore. Away they run,
pell-mell, helter-skelter, slap-dash: tearing, yelling, screaming,
knocking down the passengers as they turn the corners, rousing
up the dogs, and astonishing the fowls: and streets, squares, and
courts, re-echo with the sound.

‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’ The cry is taken up by a hundred voices,
and the crowd accumulate at every turning. Away they fly, splashing
through the mud, and rattling along the pavements: up go the
windows, out run the people, onward bear the mob, a whole audience
desert Punch in the very thickest of the plot, and, joining the
rushing throng, swell the shout, and lend fresh vigour to the cry,
‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’

‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’ There is a passion for _hunting_
_something_ deeply implanted in the human breast. One wretched
breathless child, panting with exhaustion; terror in his looks;
agony in his eyes; large drops of perspiration streaming down his
face; strains every nerve to make head upon his pursuers; and as
they follow on his track, and gain upon him every instant, they hail
his decreasing strength with joy. ‘Stop thief!’ Ay, stop him for
God’s sake, were it only in mercy!

Stopped at last! A clever blow. He is down upon the pavement; and
the crowd eagerly gather round him: each new comer, jostling and
struggling with the others to catch a glimpse. ‘Stand aside!’ ‘Give
him a little air!’ ‘Nonsense! he don’t deserve it.’ ‘Where’s the
gentleman?’ ‘Here his is, coming down the street.’ ‘Make room there
for the gentleman!’ ‘Is this the boy, sir!’ ‘Yes.’

Oliver lay, covered with mud and dust, and bleeding from the mouth,
looking wildly round upon the heap of faces that surrounded him,
when the old gentleman was officiously dragged and pushed into the
circle by the foremost of the pursuers.

‘Yes,’ said the gentleman, ‘I am afraid it is the boy.’

‘Afraid!’ murmured the crowd. ‘That’s a good ‘un!’

‘Poor fellow!’ said the gentleman, ‘he has hurt himself.’

‘_I_ did that, sir,’ said a great lubberly fellow, stepping forward;
‘and preciously I cut my knuckle agin’ his mouth. I stopped him,

The fellow touched his hat with a grin, expecting something for
his pains; but, the old gentleman, eyeing him with an expression of
dislike, look anxiously round, as if he contemplated running away
himself: which it is very possible he might have attempted to do,
and thus have afforded another chase, had not a police officer (who
is generally the last person to arrive in such cases) at that moment
made his way through the crowd, and seized Oliver by the collar.

‘Come, get up,’ said the man, roughly.

‘It wasn’t me indeed, sir. Indeed, indeed, it was two other boys,’
said Oliver, clasping his hands passionately, and looking round.
‘They are here somewhere.’

‘Oh no, they ain’t,’ said the officer. He meant this to be ironical,
but it was true besides; for the Dodger and Charley Bates had filed
off down the first convenient court they came to.

‘Come, get up!’

‘Don’t hurt him,’ said the old gentleman, compassionately.

‘Oh no, I won’t hurt him,’ replied the officer, tearing his jacket
half off his back, in proof thereof. ‘Come, I know you; it won’t do.
Will you stand upon your legs, you young devil?’

Oliver, who could hardly stand, made a shift to raise himself on his
feet, and was at once lugged along the streets by the jacket-collar,
at a rapid pace. The gentleman walked on with them by the officer’s
side; and as many of the crowd as could achieve the feat, got a
little ahead, and stared back at Oliver from time to time. The boys
shouted in triumph; and on they went.


The offence had been committed within the district, and indeed in
the immediate neighborhood of, a very notorious metropolitan police
office. The crowd had only the satisfaction of accompanying Oliver
through two or three streets, and down a place called Mutton Hill,
when he was led beneath a low archway, and up a dirty court, into
this dispensary of summary justice, by the back way. It was a small
paved yard into which they turned; and here they encountered a stout
man with a bunch of whiskers on his face, and a bunch of keys in his

‘What’s the matter now?’ said the man carelessly.

‘A young fogle-hunter,’ replied the man who had Oliver in charge.

‘Are you the party that’s been robbed, sir?’ inquired the man with
the keys.

‘Yes, I am,’ replied the old gentleman; ‘but I am not sure that this
boy actually took the handkerchief. I - I would rather not press the

‘Must go before the magistrate now, sir,’ replied the man. ‘His
worship will be disengaged in half a minute. Now, young gallows!’

This was an invitation for Oliver to enter through a door which he
unlocked as he spoke, and which led into a stone cell. Here he was
searched; and nothing being found upon him, locked up.

This cell was in shape and size something like an area cellar,
only not so light. It was most intolerably dirty; for it was Monday
morning; and it had been tenanted by six drunken people, who had
been locked up, elsewhere, since Saturday night. But this is little.
In our station-houses, men and women are every night confined on
the most trivial charges - the word is worth noting - in dungeons,
compared with which, those in Newgate, occupied by the most
atrocious felons, tried, found guilty, and under sentence of death,
are palaces. Let any one who doubts this, compare the two.

The old gentleman looked almost as rueful as Oliver when the key
grated in the lock. He turned with a sigh to the book, which had
been the innocent cause of all this disturbance.

‘There is something in that boy’s face,’ said the old gentleman to
himself as he walked slowly away, tapping his chin with the cover
of the book, in a thoughtful manner; ‘something that touches and
interests me. _Can_ he be innocent? He looked like - Bye the bye,’
exclaimed the old gentleman, halting very abruptly, and staring up
into the sky, ‘Bless my soul! - where have I seen something like that
look before?’

After musing for some minutes, the old gentleman walked, with the
same meditative face, into a back anteroom opening from the yard;
and there, retiring into a corner, called up before his mind’s eye
a vast amphitheatre of faces over which a dusky curtain had hung for
many years. ‘No,’ said the old gentleman, shaking his head; ‘it must
be imagination.

He wandered over them again. He had called them into view, and it
was not easy to replace the shroud that had so long concealed them.
There were the faces of friends, and foes, and of many that had been
almost strangers peering intrusively from the crowd; there were the
faces of young and blooming girls that were now old women; there
were faces that the grave had changed and closed upon, but which the
mind, superior to its power, still dressed in their old freshness
and beauty, calling back the lustre of the eyes, the brightness of
the smile, the beaming of the soul through its mask of clay, and
whispering of beauty beyond the tomb, changed but to be heightened,
and taken from earth only to be set up as a light, to shed a soft
and gentle glow upon the path to Heaven.

But the old gentleman could recall no one countenance of which
Oliver’s features bore a trace. So, he heaved a sigh over the
recollections he awakened; and being, happily for himself, an absent
old gentleman, buried them again in the pages of the musty book.

He was roused by a touch on the shoulder, and a request from the
man with the keys to follow him into the office. He closed his book
hastily; and was at once ushered into the imposing presence of the
renowned Mr. Fang.

The office was a front parlour, with a panelled wall. Mr. Fang sat
behind a bar, at the upper end; and on one side the door was a sort
of wooden pen in which poor little Oliver was already deposited;
trembling very much at the awfulness of the scene.

Mr. Fang was a lean, long-backed, stiff-necked, middle-sized man,
with no great quantity of hair, and what he had, growing on the back
and sides of his head. His face was stern, and much flushed. If
he were really not in the habit of drinking rather more than was
exactly good for him, he might have brought action against his
countenance for libel, and have recovered heavy damages.

The old gentleman bowed respectfully; and advancing to the
magistrate’s desk, said, suiting the action to the word, ‘That is
my name and address, sir.’ He then withdrew a pace or two; and, with
another polite and gentlemanly inclination of the head, waited to be

Now, it so happened that Mr. Fang was at that moment perusing a
leading article in a newspaper of the morning, adverting to some
recent decision of his, and commending him, for the three hundred
and fiftieth time, to the special and particular notice of the
Secretary of State for the Home Department. He was out of temper;
and he looked up with an angry scowl.

‘Who are you?’ said Mr. Fang.

The old gentleman pointed, with some surprise, to his card.

‘Officer!’ said Mr. Fang, tossing the card contemptuously away with
the newspaper. ‘Who is this fellow?’

‘My name, sir,’ said the old gentleman, speaking _like_ a gentleman,
‘my name, sir, is Brownlow. Permit me to inquire the name of the
magistrate who offers a gratuitous and unprovoked insult to a
respectable person, under the protection of the bench.’ Saying this,
Mr. Brownlow looked around the office as if in search of some person
who would afford him the required information.

‘Officer!’ said Mr. Fang, throwing the paper on one side, ‘what’s
this fellow charged with?’

‘He’s not charged at all, your worship,’ replied the officer. ‘He
appears against this boy, your worship.’

His worship knew this perfectly well; but it was a good annoyance,
and a safe one.

‘Appears against the boy, does he?’ said Mr. Fang, surveying Mr.
Brownlow contemptuously from head to foot. ‘Swear him!’

‘Before I am sworn, I must beg to say one word,’ said Mr. Brownlow;
‘and that is, that I really never, without actual experience, could
have believed - ’

‘Hold your tongue, sir!’ said Mr. Fang, peremptorily.

‘I will not, sir!’ replied the old gentleman.

‘Hold your tongue this instant, or I’ll have you turned out of the
office!’ said Mr. Fang. ‘You’re an insolent impertinent fellow. How
dare you bully a magistrate!’

‘What!’ exclaimed the old gentleman, reddening.

‘Swear this person!’ said Fang to the clerk. ‘I’ll not hear another
word. Swear him.’

Mr. Brownlow’s indignation was greatly roused; but reflecting
perhaps, that he might only injure the boy by giving vent to it, he
suppressed his feelings and submitted to be sworn at once.

‘Now,’ said Fang, ‘what’s the charge against this boy? What have you
got to say, sir?’

‘I was standing at a bookstall - ’ Mr. Brownlow began.

‘Hold your tongue, sir,’ said Mr. Fang. ‘Policeman! Where’s the
policeman? Here, swear this policeman. Now, policeman, what is

The policeman, with becoming humility, related how he had taken the
charge; how he had searched Oliver, and found nothing on his person;
and how that was all he knew about it.

‘Are there any witnesses?’ inquired Mr. Fang.

‘None, your worship,’ replied the policeman.

Mr. Fang sat silent for some minutes, and then, turning round to the
prosecutor, said in a towering passion.

‘Do you mean to state what your complaint against this boy is,
man, or do you not? You have been sworn. Now, if you stand there,
refusing to give evidence, I’ll punish you for disrespect to the
bench; I will, by - ’

By what, or by whom, nobody knows, for the clerk and jailor coughed
very loud, just at the right moment; and the former dropped a
heavy book upon the floor, thus preventing the word from being
heard - accidently, of course.

With many interruptions, and repeated insults, Mr. Brownlow
contrived to state his case; observing that, in the surprise of
the moment, he had run after the boy because he had saw him running
away; and expressing his hope that, if the magistrate should believe
him, although not actually the thief, to be connected with the
thieves, he would deal as leniently with him as justice would allow.

‘He has been hurt already,’ said the old gentleman in conclusion.
‘And I fear,’ he added, with great energy, looking towards the bar,
‘I really fear that he is ill.’

‘Oh! yes, I dare say!’ said Mr. Fang, with a sneer. ‘Come, none of
your tricks here, you young vagabond; they won’t do. What’s your

Oliver tried to reply but his tongue failed him. He was deadly pale;
and the whole place seemed turning round and round.

‘What’s your name, you hardened scoundrel?’ demanded Mr. Fang.
‘Officer, what’s his name?’

This was addressed to a bluff old fellow, in a striped waistcoat,
who was standing by the bar. He bent over Oliver, and repeated
the inquiry; but finding him really incapable of understanding the
question; and knowing that his not replying would only infuriate
the magistrate the more, and add to the severity of his sentence; he
hazarded a guess.

‘He says his name’s Tom White, your worship,’ said the kind-hearted

‘Oh, he won’t speak out, won’t he?’ said Fang. ‘Very well, very
well. Where does he live?’

‘Where he can, your worship,’ replied the officer; again pretending
to receive Oliver’s answer.

‘Has he any parents?’ inquired Mr. Fang.

‘He says they died in his infancy, your worship,’ replied the
officer: hazarding the usual reply.

At this point of the inquiry, Oliver raised his head; and, looking
round with imploring eyes, murmured a feeble prayer for a draught of

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Mr. Fang: ‘don’t try to make a fool of

‘I think he really is ill, your worship,’ remonstrated the officer.

‘I know better,’ said Mr. Fang.

‘Take care of him, officer,’ said the old gentleman, raising his
hands instinctively; ‘he’ll fall down.’

‘Stand away, officer,’ cried Fang; ‘let him, if he likes.’

Oliver availed himself of the kind permission, and fell to the floor
in a fainting fit. The men in the office looked at each other, but
no one dared to stir.

‘I knew he was shamming,’ said Fang, as if this were incontestable
proof of the fact. ‘Let him lie there; he’ll soon be tired of that.’

‘How do you propose to deal with the case, sir?’ inquired the clerk
in a low voice.

‘Summarily,’ replied Mr. Fang. ‘He stands committed for three
months - hard labour of course. Clear the office.’

The door was opened for this purpose, and a couple of men were
preparing to carry the insensible boy to his cell; when an elderly
man of decent but poor appearance, clad in an old suit of black,
rushed hastily into the office, and advanced towards the bench.

‘Stop, stop! don’t take him away! For Heaven’s sake stop a moment!’
cried the new comer, breathless with haste.

Although the presiding Genii in such an office as this, exercise a
summary and arbitrary power over the liberties, the good name, the
character, almost the lives, of Her Majesty’s subjects, expecially
of the poorer class; and although, within such walls, enough
fantastic tricks are daily played to make the angels blind with
weeping; they are closed to the public, save through the medium of
the daily press.[Footnote: Or were virtually, then.] Mr. Fang was
consequently not a little indignant to see an unbidden guest enter
in such irreverent disorder.

‘What is this? Who is this? Turn this man out. Clear the office!’
cried Mr. Fang.

‘I _will_ speak,’ cried the man; ‘I will not be turned out. I saw it
all. I keep the book-stall. I demand to be sworn. I will not be put
down. Mr. Fang, you must hear me. You must not refuse, sir.’

The man was right. His manner was determined; and the matter was
growing rather too serious to be hushed up.

‘Swear the man,’ growled Mr. Fang, with a very ill grace. ‘Now, man,
what have you got to say?’

‘This,’ said the man: ‘I saw three boys: two others and the prisoner
here: loitering on the opposite side of the way, when this gentleman
was reading. The robbery was committed by another boy. I saw it
done; and I saw that this boy was perfectly amazed and stupified
by it.’ Having by this time recovered a little breath, the worthy
book-stall keeper proceeded to relate, in a more coherent manner the
exact circumstances of the robbery.

‘Why didn’t you come here before?’ said Fang, after a pause.

‘I hadn’t a soul to mind the shop,’ replied the man. ‘Everybody who
could have helped me, had joined in the pursuit. I could get nobody
till five minutes ago; and I’ve run here all the way.’

‘The prosecutor was reading, was he?’ inquired Fang, after another

‘Yes,’ replied the man. ‘The very book he has in his hand.’

‘Oh, that book, eh?’ said Fang. ‘Is it paid for?’

‘No, it is not,’ replied the man, with a smile.

‘Dear me, I forgot all about it!’ exclaimed the absent old
gentleman, innocently.

‘A nice person to prefer a charge against a poor boy!’ said Fang,
with a comical effort to look humane. ‘I consider, sir, that you
have obtained possession of that book, under very suspicious
and disreputable circumstances; and you may think yourself very

Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 7 of 25)