Kate Dickinson Sweetser.

Ten Boys from Dickens online

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Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Andrea Ball and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team.


Kate Dickinson Sweetser

Illustrated by
George Alfred Williams



In this small volume there are presented as complete stories the boy-lives
portrayed in the works of Charles Dickens. The boys are followed only to
the threshold of manhood, and in all cases the original text of the story
has been kept, except where of necessity a phrase or paragraph has been
inserted to connect passages; - while the net-work of characters with which
the boys are surrounded in the books from which they are taken, has been
eliminated, except where such characters seem necessary to the development
of the story in hand.

Charles Dickens was a loyal champion of all boys, and underlying his pen
pictures of them was an earnest desire to remedy evils which he had found
existing in London and its suburbs. Poor Jo, who was always being "moved
on," David Copperfield, whose early life was a picture of Dickens' own
childhood, workhouse-reared Oliver, and the miserable wretches at Dotheboy
Hall were no mere creations of an author's vivid imagination. They were
descriptions of living boys, the victims of tyranny and oppression which
Dickens felt he must in some way alleviate. And so he wrote his novels
with the histories in them which affected the London public far more
deeply, of course, than they affect us, and awakened a storm of
indignation and protest.

Schools, work-houses, and other public institutions were subjected to a
rigorous examination, and in consequence several were closed, while all
were greatly improved. Thus, in his sketches of boy-life, Dickens
accomplished his object.

My aim is to bring these sketches, with all their beauty and pathos, to
the notice of the young people of to-day. If through this volume any boy
or girl should be aroused to a keener interest in the great writer, and
should learn to love him and his work, my labour will be richly repaid.














[Illustration: TINY TIM AND HIS FATHER.]

Charles Dickens has given us no picture of Tiny Tim, but at the thought of
him comes a vision of a delicate figure, less boy than spirit. We seem to
see a face oval in shape and fair in colouring. We see eyes deep-set and
grey, shaded by lashes as dark as the hair parted from the middle of his
low forehead. We see a sunny, patient smile which from time to time lights
up his whole face, and a mouth whose firm, strong lines reveal clearly the
beauty of character, and the happiness of disposition, which were Tiny

He was a rare little chap indeed, and a prime favourite as well. Ask the
Crachits old and young, whose smile they most desired, whose applause they
most coveted, whose errands they almost fought with one another to run,
whose sadness or pain could most affect the family happiness, and with one
voice they would answer, "Tim's!"

It was Christmas Day, and in all the suburbs of London there was to be no
merrier celebration than at the Crachits. To be sure, Bob Crachit had but
fifteen "Bob" himself a week on which to clothe and feed all the little
Crachits, but what they lacked in luxuries they made up in affection and
contentment, and would not have changed places, one of them, with any king
or queen.

While Bob took Tiny Tim to church, preparations for the feast were going
on at home. Mrs. Crachit was dressed in a twice-turned gown, but brave in
ribbons which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid
the cloth, assisted by Belinda, second of her daughters, also brave in
ribbons, while Master Peter Crachit plunged a fork into a saucepan full of
potatoes, getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob's private
property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his
mouth, but rejoiced to find himself so finely dressed, and yearning to
show his linen in the fashionable Parks.

Two smaller Crachits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that
outside the baker's they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own;
and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onions, these young Crachits
danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Crachit to the skies,
while he (not proud, although his collar almost choked him) blew the fire,
until the slow potatoes, bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid
to be let out and peeled.

"What has ever got your precious father, then?" said Mrs. Crachit. "And
your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn't as late last Christmas Day by
half an hour!"

"Here's Martha, mother!" cried the two young Crachits. "_Hurrah_! there's
_such_ a goose, Martha!"

"Why, bless your heart alive, dear, how late you are!" said Mrs. Crachit,
kissing the daughter, who lived away from home, a dozen times. "Well,
never mind as long as you are come!"

"There's father coming!" cried the two young Crachits, who were everywhere
at once. "_Hide_, Martha, _hide_!"

So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father, with at least
three feet of comforter hanging down before him, and his threadbare
clothes darned up and brushed to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his
shoulder. Why was the child thus carried? Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a
little crutch and had his limbs supported by an iron frame! Patient little
Tim, - never was he heard to utter a fretful or complaining word. No wonder
they cherished him so tenderly!

"Why, where's our Martha?" cried Bob Crachit looking round.

"Not coming!" said Mrs. Crachit.

"Not coming?" said Bob, with a sudden declension in his high spirits; for
he had been Tim's blood horse all the way from church, and had come home

"Not coming upon Christmas Day!"

Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so
she ran out from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the
two young Crachits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house,
that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.

"And how did little Tim behave?" asked Mrs. Crachit; when she had rallied
Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart's

"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful,
sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever
heard. He told me, coming home, that 'he hoped the people saw him in the
church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to
remember upon Christmas Day, Who made lame beggars walk and blind men

Bob's voice was tremulous when he told them this, and it trembled more
when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty.

His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came Tiny Tim
before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother and sister to his
stool before the fire; and while Bob compounded some hot mixture in a jug
and put it on the hob to simmer, Master Peter and the two young Crachits
went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought the goose the rarest of
all birds, and in truth it _was_ something very like it in that house.
Mrs. Crachit made the gravy hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes
with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple sauce; Martha
dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a corner at the
table; the two young Crachits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting
themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their
mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be
helped. At last the dishes were set on and grace was said. It was
succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Crachit, looking slowly along the
carving knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast. When she did one
murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by
the two young Crachits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife,
and feebly cried "Hurrah!"

There never was such a goose! its tenderness and size, flavour and
cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by
apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, every one had enough, and the youngest
Crachits were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the
plates being changed, Mrs. Crachit left the room alone - too nervous to
bear witnesses - to take the pudding up, and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning
out! All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! a great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper, and in
half a minute Mrs. Crachit entered, flushed, but smiling proudly, with the
pudding blazing in ignited brandy, and with Christmas holly stuck into the

Its appearance was hailed with cheers and with exclamations of joyous
admiration. Then, when it was safely landed upon the table, what a racket
and clatter there was! Such stories and songs and jokes, and such riotous
applause no one can imagine who was not there to see and hear!

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept,
and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted and pronounced
perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table and a shovelful of
chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Crachit family drew round the hearth,
Tiny Tim very close to his father's side, upon his little stool, while he
gave them a song in his plaintive little voice, about a lost child, and
sang it very well indeed.

At Bob Crachit's elbow stood the family display of glass; two tumblers and
a custard cup without a handle. These held the hot stuff from the jug,
however, as well as golden goblets would have done, and Bob served it out
with beaming looks, while the chestnuts sputtered and cracked noisily.
Then Bob proposed:

"_A merry Christmas to us all, my dears, - God bless us_!"

which was just what was needed to bring the joy and enthusiasm to a
climax. Cheer after cheer went up, over and over the toast was re-echoed,
and then one was added for the family ogre, Bob's hard employer, Mr.
Scrooge, and one for old and for young, for sick and for well, for Father
Christmas and for Father Crachit and for all the little Crachits; - for
everyone everywhere who had heard the holiday bells, there was a toast
given. Then when the uproar ceased for a moment, low and sweet spoke Tiny
Tim alone:

"_God bless us every one!"_

Clearly it rang out in the earnest childish voice. There was a sudden hush
of the merriment, while Bob's arm stole round his son with a firmer grasp
and for a moment the shadow of a coming Christmas fell upon him, when the
little stool would be vacant and the little crutch unused.

Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God! Thou didst not know
that in the benediction of lives like thine, is given the answer to such
prayers. Much did thy loved ones learn from thee; much can the world learn
of the nobility of patience from thy sweet child life. Unawares thou wert
thyself an answer to thy Christmas prayer:

"_God bless us every one!"_


[Illustration: OLIVER TWIST.]

Oliver Twist was the child of an unknown woman who died in the workhouse
of an English village, almost as soon as her babe drew his first breath.
The mother's name being unknown, the workhouse officials called the child
Oliver Twist, under which title he grew up. For nine years he was farmed
out at a branch poorhouse, where with twenty or thirty other children he
bore all the miseries consequent on neglect, abuse, and starvation. He was
then removed to the workhouse proper to be taught a useful trade.

His ninth birthday found him a pale, thin child, diminutive in stature,
and decidedly small in circumference, but possessed of a good sturdy
spirit, which was not broken by the policy of the officials who tried to
get as much work out of the paupers as possible, and to keep them on as
scant a supply of food as would sustain life.

The boys were fed in a large stone hall, with a copper at one end, out of
which the gruel was ladled at meal-times. 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, they would
sit staring at the copper, as if they could have devoured the very bricks
of which it was composed; sucking their fingers, 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 that one boy hinted darkly that unless he had
another basin of gruel a day, he was afraid he might some night happen to
eat the boy who slept next him. 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, and ask for more, and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The gruel was served out,
and a long grace was said. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each
other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child
as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose
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
stupified 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 arms; and shrieked for the beadle, and when that gentleman appeared,
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 any body 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.

Mr. Sowerberry, the parish undertaker, finally applied for the prize, and
carried Oliver away with him, which, for the poor boy, was a matter of
falling from the frying pan into the fire, and in his short career as
undertaker's assistant he even sighed for the workhouse, - miserable as his
life there had been. At the undertaker's, Oliver's bed was in the shop.
The atmosphere seemed tainted with the smell of coffins. The recess behind
the counter in which his mattress was thrust, looked like a grave. His
food was broken bits left from the meals of others, and his constant
companion was an older boy, Noah Claypole, who, although a charity boy
himself, was not a workhouse orphan, and therefore considered himself in a
position above Oliver. He made Oliver's days hideous with his abuse, which
the younger boy bore as quietly as he could, until the day when Noah made
a sneering remark about Oliver's dead mother. That was too much. Crimson
with fury, Oliver started up, seized Noah by the throat, shook him till
his teeth chattered, and then with one heavy blow, felled him to the

This brought about a violent scene, for Noah accused Oliver of attempting
to murder him, and Mrs. Sowerberry, the maid, and the beadle, - who had
been hastily summoned, - agreed that Oliver was a hardened wretch, only fit
for confinement, and he was accordingly placed in the cellar, till the
undertaker came in, when he was dragged out again to have the story
retold. To do Mr. Sowerberry justice, he would have been kindly disposed
towards Oliver, but for the prejudice of his wife against the boy.
However, to satisfy her, he gave Oliver a sound beating, and shut him up
in the back kitchen until night, when, amidst the jeers and pointings of
Noah and Mrs. Sowerberry, he was ordered up-stairs to his dismal bed.

It was then, alone, in the silence of the gloomy workshop, that Oliver
gave way to his feelings, wept bitterly, and resolved no longer to bear
such treatment. Softly he undid the fastenings of the door, and looked
abroad. It was a cold 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 looked sepulchral and death-like, from being so still.
He softly reclosed the door, and 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 to wait for morning.

With the first ray of light, Oliver arose, and again unbarred the door.
One timid look around, - one minute's pause of hesitation, - he had closed
it behind him.

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, so he took the same route; and arriving at a footpath which he knew
led out into the road, struck into it, and walked quickly on.

For seven long days he tramped in the direction of London, tasting nothing
but such scraps of meals as he could beg from the occasional cottages by
the roadside. On the seventh morning he limped slowly into the little town
of Barnet, and as he was resting for a few moments on the steps of a
public-house, a boy crossed over, and walking close to him, said,

"Hullo! my covey! What's the row?"

The boy who addressed this inquiry to the young wayfarer, was about his
own age: but one of the queerest looking boys that Oliver had ever seen.
He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a
juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and
manners of a man. He was short, with bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly,
eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head, and he wore a man's coat
that reached nearly to his heels.

"Hullo, my covey! What's the row?" said this strange young gentleman to

"I am very hungry and tired," replied Oliver; the tears standing in his
eyes as he spoke. "I have walked a long way. I have been walking these
seven days."

"Going to London?" inquired the strange boy.


"Got any lodgings?"




The strange boy whistled; and put his arms into his pockets.

"Do you live in London?" inquired Oliver.

"Yes, I do when I'm at home," replied the boy. "I suppose you want some
place to sleep in to-night, don't you?"

Upon Oliver answering in the affirmative, the strange boy, whose name was
Jack Dawkins, said, "I've got to be in London to-night; and I know a
'spectable old genelman as lives there, wot'll give you lodgings for
nothink, and never ask for the change - that is, if any genelman he knows
interduces you."

This offer of shelter was too tempting to be resisted, and Oliver trudged
off with his new friend. Into the city they passed, and through the worst
and darkest streets, the sight of which filled Oliver with alarm. At
length they reached the door of a house, which Jack entered, drawing
Oliver after him, into its dark passage-way, and closing the door after

Oliver, groping his way with one hand, and having the other firmly grasped
by his companion, ascended with much difficulty the dark and broken
stairs, which his conductor mounted with an expedition that showed he was
well acquainted with them. He threw open the door of a back-room and drew
Oliver in after him.

The walls and ceiling of the room were perfectly black with age and dirt.
There was a clothes-horse, over which a great number of silk handkerchiefs
were hanging; and a deal table before the fire; upon which were a candle,
stuck in a ginger-beer bottle, two or three pewter pots, a loaf and
butter, and a plate. In a frying pan, which was on the fire, some sausages
were cooking, and standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand,
was a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villanous-looking and repulsive face
was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair.

Several rough beds, made of old sacks, were huddled side by side on the
floor. Seated round the table were four or five boys, none older than Jack
Dawkins, familiarly called the Dodger. The boys all crowded about their
associate, as he whispered a few words to the Jew; and then they turned
round and grinned at Oliver. So did the Jew himself, toasting-fork in

"This is him, Fagin," said Jack Dawkins; "my friend Oliver Twist."

The Jew, making a low bow to Oliver, took him by the hand, and hoped he
should have the honour of his intimate acquaintance. Upon this the young
gentlemen came round him, and shook his hand very hard, especially the one
in which he held his little bundle.

"We are very glad to see you, Oliver, very," said the Jew. "Dodger take
off the sausages; and draw a tub near the fire for Oliver. Ah, you're
a-staring at the pocket-handkerchiefs! eh, my dear? There are a good many
of 'em, ain't there? We've just looked 'em out ready for the wash; that's
all, Oliver, that's all. Ha! ha! ha!"

The latter part of this speech was hailed by a boisterous shout from the
boys, who, Oliver found, were all pupils of the merry old gentleman. In
the midst of which they went to supper.

Oliver ate his share, and the Jew then mixed him a glass of hot gin and
water, telling him he must drink it off directly because another gentleman
wanted the tumbler. Oliver did as he was desired. Immediately afterwards,
he felt himself gently lifted on to one of the sacks; and then he sunk
into a deep sleep.

It was late next morning when Oliver awoke, from a sound, long sleep.
There was no other person in the room but the old Jew, who was boiling
some coffee in a saucepan for breakfast, and whistling softly to himself
as he stirred it. He would stop every now and then to listen when there
was the least noise below; and, when he had satisfied himself, he would go
on, whistling and stirring again, as before.

When the coffee was done, the Jew drew the saucepan to the hob, then he
turned and looked at Oliver, and called him by name, but the boy did not
answer, and was to all appearances asleep. After satisfying himself upon
this head, the Jew stepped gently to the door, which he fastened. He then
drew forth as it seemed to Oliver, from some trap in the floor a small
box, which he placed carefully on the table. His eyes glistened as he
raised the lid, and looked in. Dragging an old chair to the table, he sat
down, and took from it a magnificent gold watch, sparkling with jewels.

At least half a dozen more were severally drawn forth from the same box,
besides rings, brooches, bracelets, and other articles of jewellery, of
such magnificent materials, and costly workmanship, that Oliver had no
idea, even of their names.

At length the bright, dark eyes of the Jew, which had been staring
vacantly before him, fell on Oliver's face; the boy's eyes were fixed on
his in mute curiosity; and, although the recognition was only for an
instant, - it was enough to show the man that he had been observed. He
closed the lid of the box with a loud crash; and, laying his hand on a
bread knife which was on the table, started furiously up.

"What's that?" said the Jew. "What do you watch me for? Why are you awake?
What have you seen? Speak out, boy! Quick - quick! for your life!"

"I wasn't able to sleep any longer, sir," replied Oliver meekly. "I am
very sorry if I have disturbed you, sir."

"You were not awake an hour ago?" said the Jew, scowling fiercely.

"No! No indeed!" replied Oliver.

"Are you sure?" cried the Jew, with a still fiercer look than before, and
a threatening attitude.

"Upon my word I was not, sir," replied Oliver, earnestly. "I was not,
indeed, sir."

"Tush, tush, my dear!" said the Jew, abruptly resuming his old manner. "Of
course I know that, my dear, I only tried to frighten you. You're a brave
boy. Ha! ha! you're a brave boy, Oliver!"

The Jew rubbed his hands with a chuckle, but glanced uneasily at the box,

"Did you see any of these pretty things, my dear?" said the Jew.

"Yes, sir," replied Oliver.

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Online LibraryKate Dickinson SweetserTen Boys from Dickens → online text (page 1 of 14)